Ukraine: Fighting Rages on in Debaltseve, Putin Issues Plea

Fighting in the eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve has raged on despite a tenuous cease fire agreement struck in Minsk last week. The New York Times reports that up to 8,000 Ukrainian forces currently find themselves trapped in the area surrounding Debaltseve. Reports describing the area as lost to the Ukrainian military were seemingly substantiated by Russian news correspondents who managed to walk unfettered down a key supply channel for the Ukrainian military. If the report by Russian media is to be believed the Ukrainian military has no means of resupplying forces entrenched in rebel-controlled territory.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a plea to the Ukrainian soldiers to surrender to rebel forces, a proposition that is unlikely to be received well by Kiev. The ordeal has served as still more evidence that peace deals struck by Russian and Ukrainian leaders have been worth little more than the paper they’ve been signed on. Shares in Russian companies and the value of the Russian ruble have both continued to fall.

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News Briefs:

  • The International Bank for Reconstruction of Development recently committed $195mn to a railway project to be built in Uzbekistan. The investment will make up part of the IBRD’s Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation program and “strengthen support in the Fergana Valley” via more sophisticated, efficient transport systems. The IBRD is one of five member institutions which make up the World Bank.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that Beijing is considering a merger of its two largest oil companies. The Chinese government has reportedly been interested in combatting large multinationals, namely ExxonMobil, as well as withstand sinking oil prices. In order to accomplish this, officials are studying the prospect of joining China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) and China Petrochemical Corp. (Sinopec), among other possibilities. The initiative, if completed, would represent a significant victory for President Xi Jinping in his efforts to make Chinese firms increasingly competitive on the global stage.
  • Kazakhstan has pledged financial support for and has joined a project that would link Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Oman. The project, ratified in Turkmenistan as the Ashgabat Agreement, would function as one of the first north-south corridors connecting Central Asian nations with the Persian Gulf. Rail shipments between the countries involved in the project increased by nearly 2.3 million tons in 2014, and this quantity is expected to grow even more in 2015.
  • The Turkmen Institute of Oil and Gas posted a scathing critique of Russian energy giant Gazprom, decrying the company as an “unstable partner,” and alleging that the company “violates agreements” on various levels of engagement. The attack on Gazprom is perhaps unsurprising due to Gazprom’s recent announcement that it would cut imports from Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan has similarly been affected by the currency crisis in Russia, and recently devalued the manat by 19%.
  • The Kyrgyz Ministry for the Interior announced yesterday that it would “prosecute as mercenaries” Kyrgyz citizens that return from fighting in Syria with Islamic State/ISIL. Kyrgyzstan’s security forces have reportedly identified approximately 300 Kyrgyz that are fighting in Syria, and plan to detain them immediately should they return home. One of the articles that comprise the Kyrgyz criminal code allows for prosecution of citizens fighting abroad, and a penalty of up to seven years.
  • The New York Times, via Radio Free Asia, reports that a suicide bomber in Xinjiang province, China, killed 8 this past Friday. The explosion was allegedly detonated by a member of the “Uighur ethnic group” near the Hotan Prefecture, one of the poorest areas of Xinjiang. The Chinese national media has yet to report on the issue.
  • Tajik state-owned aluminum producer Talco is close to coming to terms with Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum maker. The settlement, expected to total close to $400mn USD, comes after a series of “troubled deals” struck between Talco and Rusal. Talco then sought arbitration in Switzerland but failed to win arbitration hearings. The settlement has reportedly received Tajik approval and is awaiting approval by senior officials at Rusal. The fact that a deal is being made now probably owes itself to the fact that Tajik membership in the Eurasian Economic Union is of interest to the Kremlin.

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