Longtime dissident and former deputy prime minister of Russia Boris Nemtsov was shot four times in the back and killed in an attack that has left Russian civil society in an uproar. In the weeks before his death, Nemtsov constantly raised suspicions that he would be targeted by the Putin regime for assassination. Nemtsov was one of the primary organizers against policy in Ukraine and embezzlement and fraud during last year’s Sochi Olympics. Mr. Putin responded immediately with a letter to Nemtsov’s mother promising retribution to his killers. Other dissidents blame the Kremlin security service for the killing, the details of which are still very unclear. Some report that Nemtsov’s girlfriend is still in custody by the government.
Supporters of the Putin regime have been adamant that the death was staged by other members of the opposition to create a martyr, or that Islamic extremists were behind his death. The Kremlin website even lists the probable motivation for death as “provocation.” Whatever the situation, the death draws more negative attention at a very difficult time for the Putin regime, which is preparing for a severe recession, rising food prices, and popularity that is becoming more and more questionable as time goes on.
In other news, the ruble and the price of oil have risen in tandem, which is no coincidence, and many believe that a rally is on its way that will springboard the Russian economy back into prominence. Investors have now priced in the sovereign debt downgrade.
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- The government of Ukraine has made another gas payment ahead of talks with Gazprom of $15 million, which Gazprom accepted but said would only be acceptable payent for one day of supplies. The deal brokered last October (called the “winter package”) by the EU and IMF, Russia agreed to supply Ukraine through March 31 in return for advance payments and tensions rose last week when Kiev missed a payment deadline, sparking another round of talks that are sure to complicate the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Talks in Brussels will be ongoing today between Energy Ministers from both countries.
- US President Barack Obama said he would veto a bill that allows Congressional oversight into the Iran deal before an agreement could be struck. The law is called the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review – and spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council Bernadette Meehan said that the law in addition to being unconstitutional to the power of the executive branch, also complicates efforts to solve a crisis when negotiators should be given as much leeway and space to make a decision as possible.
- Avalanches in Afghanistan not far from the capital have killed a total of 250 people (varying by reports). Rescuers cleared rubble away from roads in the Panjshir valley. Hundreds more have been displaced from their villages and unable to move due to a heavy late winter snowfall that has cut them off from government aid for the better part of a week. Ashraf Ghani made announcements and received calls from other heads of state promising aid to deal with the latest crisis.
- The government of Austria has asked Switzerland to carry out the autopsy of Rakhat Aliyev, the former high ranking minister of Kazakhstan who was found dead in his prison cell awaiting trial for murder in Vienna. Mr. Aliyev was one of the last remaining prominent enemies of Nursultan Nazarbayev, currently the president of Kazakhstan. Aliyev opposed his continued term in 2007 and has been on the run ever since. Mr. Aliyev’s lawyers contend the apparent suicide was actually murder and have beseeched the Austrian government to allow for redundant investigations to allow for complete thoroughness.
- Tajikistan’s Presidential party that supports current President and dictator Emmomali Rahmon won a huge reelection. Rahmon’s main appeal to his foreign backers in Moscow is his strong anti-Islam and secular stance, despite the lack of economic development and improvement of well-being. Most exit opinion polls show that Tajik citizens did indeed vote for the Presidential party, citing fears that displacing Rahmon’s incumbent regime would invite back the chaos of the civil war in the nineties. The Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), though it won only 2 seats in the last Parliamentary election, is considered the main contender for the people’s affections.
- China is kicking off a large investment plan that will connect Gansu province to Central Asia via a large system of roadways that will span some 6,000 kilometers. All of these projects revolve around efforts to improve transportation infrastructure and promote trade. The New Silk Road Economic Belt project is thought to be the source of this substantial funding of some $79.8 billion. The project aims to create more transportation corridors via ports, roads, and airports with Europe, India, and Southeast Asia all via routes through Central Asia. In related news, Chinese investment in Kazakhstan has not slowed despite anemic growth related to the halving of oil prices in the past six months.
- No recent shelling or casualties have been reported in eastern Ukraine over the weekend, with only sporadic small arms fire to report. Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that separatists continue to “provoke” government forces, but thus far, the truce has held. However, Lysenko also claimed that the flow of arms had not ceased across the border into Ukraine from Russia – the current breathing room allows for Ukraine to handle its upcoming gas talks with Gazprom, for which it has made its initial pre-payment. Other sources report the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from both sides of the divide.