Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Ashgabat, Turkmenistan yesterday to make a concerted effort to push the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project forward, which would supply energy consuming Pakistan and India with Turkmen natural gas. Sharif met with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and issued several memorandums of understanding to lay the framework for specific agreements regarding volumes of gas deliveries, and expected construction schedules.
Turkmenistan, which owns the world’s fourth largest natural gas reserves, has been extremely busy of late making plans and promises to Eastern Europe, China, and India on the basis of these projects. In related news, Turkmen authorities are revealing a campaign to court foreign companies’ investment of about $3 billion in projects on the Caspian Sea this year, in comparison with the $2.5 billion in investment received in 2014.
Some of the largest foreign companies operating in Turkmenistan include Malaysia’s Petronas, British Dragon Oil, German RWE, Russian Itera, and Turkish Buried Hill are all busy prospecting on the Caspian Sea shelf.
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- Uzbekistan’s government is reportedly restricting access to dollars for citizens and business owners, according to EurasiaNet. This matches the publication of a letter two days ago by RFE/RL detailing that the government is suffering from a lack of sufficient flows of cash in Uzbek soms, citing lack of confidence. Dollars are considered the best form of currency for the Uzbek business community and thus the National Bank of Uzbekistan has “halted all convertibility operations for an unspecified period.”
- European Union leaders gathered in Latvia for the Eastern Partnership Summit, which will discuss how to address associate members of the EU like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine especially in terms of their relations with Russia. The stipulations of the last Eastern Partnership Summit in 2013, led to the Maidan protests which overthrew former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who decided to forego the EU association in favor of joining with Russia’s EEU.
- Tajik lawmakers have signed an extradition treaty with China that will allow the mutual prosecution of suspected and convicted felons. This is an odd move for China, considering that it has very few extradition treaties with other nations, notably Western ones. The extradition practices are thought by human rights groups mostly to mask the exchange of political prisoners and as just another tool for authoritarian regimes to keep close track of their citizens abroad.
- The Russian government released its own statement on the Ukrainian law approved by Kiev’s Parliament yesterday citing the fact that it may choose to ignore its debt repayment schedule if conditions demand it. The Russian Finance Ministry, the largest holder of Ukrainian debt, said that this position was tantamount to a nominal default. In response, they threatened to take Kiev to international courts if necessary. In a statement on the law, Putin noted that the IMF is strictly prohibited from lending to countries that are in default.
- Foreign Affairs has published an overarching piece on the oil and gas market in Central Asia, speculating that ending of NATO operations in Afghanistan has created a vacuum for security and economic players like Russia and China to fill. Additionally, it was surprisingly touting the benefits of the Eurasian Economic Union, highlighting the fact that the bloc now controls a portion of the world’s energy supply comparable to OPEC. Certainly worth the read: here is the link.
- At least four Ukrainian soldiers were killed as violence erupted in the eastern region again. One major aspect of the war that is overlooked will be the cost of reconstruction. Much of the eastern region’s wealth came from mining and steel industries and a recent news item has highlighted the fact that 60% of mines in the east are now flooded and irreparably damaged. The fact that many of these mines are coal, which supply the domestic steel industry means that the recovery will see far fewer industrial jobs than before the conflict began.
- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has finally announced his nominee for the post of Defense Minister today. He is former Communications Minister Masoum Stanikzai, and has been the head of the secretariat of the High Peace Council, a government-appointed group created to negotiate with the Taliban. To give some perspective, Ghani was officially elected to his post last August/September and his cabinet has only recently been appointed.