Talks on peace and de-escalation appear to be in progress between Kiev, Separatists, Russia, and the EU. Foreign Ministers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France will speak over the phone on January 9 as the first step in a collaborative effort to stop violence in eastern Ukraine and reach a political solution. The phone conference will discuss the preparation for a large set of peace talks, tentatively scheduled for January 15 in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan. This reveals last month’s purpose in talks between Nazarbayev and Poroshenko, but questions remain, as premiers remain largely standoffish on substantive issues related to Ukrainian financial solvency, and transportation of oil and gas to key end markets throughout Europe.
The OSCE has reported that following two rounds of peace negotiations in Donetsk between government and separatist representatives, violence has declined rapidly from their previous levels during December. “Humanitarian” convoys are still delivering aid from Russia’s Rostov region, marking the 11th convoy since the war began.
In a surprising move, the US has refrained from taking part in upcoming peace negotiations in Kazakhstan, announced Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the State Department. They have also refused to participate in the Minsk agreements, which so far have been moderately successful in creating agreement among the parties.
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- Kazakhstan’s state oil and gas company KazMunayGaz has withdrawn its offer to take a listed exploration unit private, blaming crude prices volatility and lack of acquisition offers. The offer, announced in July, was a critical step toward the Kazakh government privatizing the entire company, which was a goal of government officials.
- Famed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny has cut off his house-arrest bracelet in a show of defiance of the Russian government after his brother Oleg was sentenced to three years in prison last week. Navalny’s own sentence remains suspended at 3 and a half years, pending appeal of the conviction. Navalny has claimed that it is illegal to keep someone under house arrest post-conviction.
- The Liberal Democratic Party has gained a majority in Uzbek Parliament, according to election results held on December 21. The Central Election Commission reported that Democratic Party Milly Tiklanish got 36 seats, the People’s Democratic Party received 27, and the Social Democratic Party Adolat received 20 seats. 15 more MP’s were elected by Uzbekistan’s Ecological Movement. However, all of these political parties support dictator Islam Karimov, and the enormous rates of voter participation and observance by Western election monitors make claims of election fairness or legitimacy dubious.
- Russia’s 2014 oil output was the highest since Soviet days, averaging some 10.58 million barrels per day, rising by 0.7 percent year-on-year, in recently released data from the Energy Ministry. Oil and gas production hit its record in December. Exports to China in particular reached a new high of 22.6 million tons, or roughly 452,000 bpd, up some 43% from last year as Russia looks to diversify its customer base.
- Kazakhstan has codified its arrest rights, a rough equivalent to the United States “Miranda” rights, whereby police or officials making arrests have to read suspects their rights under Kazakh law. The newly adopted Criminal-Procedural code also includes provision for plea bargains, deals under which charges or potential punishment a suspect faces are reduced in exchange for an admission of guilt and cooperation with prosecutors.
- Islamic State militants have posted a video asking Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, for permission to fight infidels in Tajikistan. Ethnic Tajiks have long been suspected and reprimanded by the Tajik government for fighting in Syria. Fighters in the video say that he and his fellow Tajik militants wish to return to Tajikistan to fight with the extremist group Jamaat Ansarullah, but Baghdadi apparently did not give his permission.