The battle between Afghan security forces and the Taliban still rages in Kunduz, a province of northern Afghanistan – all while Taliban representatives met with Afghan political figures in Qatar to discuss possible ceasefires. The major source of disagreement was the continued presence of US troops in the country. The Afghan government has made no official statement on the meetings, apart from confirming that they were indeed taking place and being held in good faith.
The talks ended with no agreement, apart from the promise to hold another meeting in the UAE next month. NATO officials have largely ignored the proceedings and stated that the Taliban offensive in Kunduz has failed, and will likely be repelled in the coming days, citing the government’s superior technology and air power.
The only stipulation to emerge from the deal of note was the statement that a permanent political office should be established in Qatar to allow negotiations to proceed. The government reversed its earlier position of non-recognition of the Taliban office there, but as President Ghani has made negotiations with the Taliban his priority, he has likely decided it is worthwhile to keep the office open.
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- State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke dismissed rumors that a US oil delegation is due to visit Tehran to review investment opportunities. Rathke said that any actions by the private sector to review such opportunities would be sanctionable under the (still) strict regime, but also said it is difficult to verify the report since “not a single individual or company is identified in it.” The deadline for the final deal is set for June 30.
- Chinese President Xi Jinping has scheduled visits to Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus on an upcoming trip to visit Moscow to commemorate the May 9 Russian Victory Day, which celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Soviet Red Army. The selection of the three countries is also no accident, since they are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and China is currently attempting to promote its own economic plan for the region entitled the Silk Road Economic Belt.
- Ukraine announced it seeks some $16 billion from Gazprom as part of an arbitration on its gas debts. Kiev is technically still bound by a 10-year agreement signed in 2009, but they are challenging the amount that is owed, saying that the Russian state owned-oil company has overcharged in the preceding years, and that Kiev will accept $10 billion in damages to compensate for the loss, according to Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
- In Kazakhstan, many observers are noting the similarities with Ukraine. A Russian minority says that its way of life is increasingly under attack, and vocal doctrines by Putin to protect ethnic Russians wherever they may be has made the Kazakh political elite wary of Moscow. While economic integration has continued with the emergence of the EEU framework, Kazakh authorities are distancing themselves politically from pro-Moscow stances and local politics are more or less divided along ethnic lines. The spark for this seems to be the life of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the only completely autonomous ruler of the country.
- The media seems largely conflicted on the state of the Russian economy. The rate cut last week has led to a softening in the value of the ruble, and the Central Bank said it would be attempting to ease its policy over the coming months to alleviate the effects of the recession. But many news outlets and analyses are still emphasizing the complete lack of positive signs in the major sources of Russian wealth, within its energy and mining sectors, as well as consumer price inflation and lack of credit. Bloomberg touts the relative strength of the ruble in the past month as a negative, citing its negative effects on export values, but Stratfor claims that a weakening of the ruble will further degrade the economy.