Russia is playing host to a gathering of approximately 150 politicians from Europe’s far right. The event, held in St. Petersburg, is being attended by 12 different European parties, including members of Greece’s Golden Dawn and Germany’s National Democratic Party. Both parties have praised Russia’s adherence to “traditional values” and seemingly adopted the belief that the West is to blame for the Ukraine crisis, rather than Moscow.
The meeting does not constitute the first Russian attempt to influence EU politics, as Russia has also sought to bolster the influence of the French Front National by way of millions of Euros in donations. The former head of the British national Party, Nick Griffin, is also reported to be in attendance. The event coincides with celebrations held throughout Russia marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany as well as the opening of the first Russian museum dedicated to Stalin.
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- French energy major Total is set to begin development on a $27bn natural gas project in the Russian arctic. The project will largely be financed by Chinese banks due to sanctions levied against Russia that could complicate fundraising efforts. The initiative itself does not run afoul of existing sanctions regimes, though some of the possible individuals involved do. Chinese banks are expected to provide up to $15bn in funding.
- Reuters reports on a supposed Iranian attempt to build a “regional empire” prior to the signing of a nuclear deal. The author of the report alleges that Tehran has taken concerted steps to reestablish a “Persian and Shi’ite” empire on “Arab land,” and states that a commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Qassem Soleimani, is behind it. Soleimani had previously been nearly invisible to the public eye, but since the emergence of ISIL in Iraq, Soleimani has frequently been photographed in the battlefield. The report goes on to mention Shi’ite movements in Yemen and Lebanon, as well as in the predominantly Shi’ite Iraq, as evidence of growing Iranian influence in the region.
- Turkmenistan announced that it will construct a fiber optic cable underneath the Caspian Sea. The Turkmenistan-Baku fiber-optic line is expected to connect the Azeri capital with Ashgabat, and provide a much-needed boost in internet speed to Azerbaijan. The initiative has been lauded by the leaders of both countries as a step towards socioeconomic development in the region.
- Famed Uzbek first daughter Gulnara Karimova is alleged to have elicited $1bn in bribes from Norwegian telecommunication firms prior to being placed under house arrest by her strongman father. A report released by an independent research firm alleges that Karimova used extortion and “influence-peddling” in a “pay-to-play” scheme with foreign telecom companies. Karimova is under house arrest in Tashkent and is the subject of ongoing money laundering investigations in Sweden and Switzerland.
- The son of the deposed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych drowned earlier this week after his vehicle crashed through a barrier and into an icy lake near the Russia-Mongolia border. While details of the crash are scarce, it appears that the 33 year old lost control of the vehicle due to icy terrain.