On his way to the BRICS conference in Moscow, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a pit stop in Astana, signing 5 agreements with President Nursultan Nazarbayev ranging from defense and terrorism to arranging for the transfer of uranium reserves from Kazakhstan to India. This is the first complete tour of the five post-Soviet “republics” by an Indian prime minister since the early 1990’s – Nazarbayev and Modi’s diplomatic intercourse was mainly marked by ceremonial and official “appreciations” for culture meant to display new levels of solidarity, economically or otherwise.
It has been speculated that India’s main interest in Central Asia stems from rich energy reserves. India has recently invested in the Chabahar port of Iran, which is the first sign in many years that the planned North-South trade corridor is a priority of the Modi administration. Bulk commodities like oil, natural gas, and coal are planned to be traded along it. Additionally, India’s planned accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will provide the Indian government with a forum to discuss possible joint projects with China or Russia or any of the ‘stans in between.
Modi’s first stop, however, was in Uzbekistan where the main area that was discussed was the threat of the proliferation of terrorism and the succession strategy of the Uzbek regime. Later during the BRICS conference, Modi met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to discuss the long delayed TAPI pipeline and will this weekend visit with the Turkmen government to re-engage and attempt to begin construction.
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- Yesterday, Pakistan announced it has hosted the first official discussions between Afghan and Taliban officials since the transfer of power to the Ghani administration. There have been several informal contacts between the two parties in Qatar and Norway, but these were the first officially acknowledged overtures, which in of itself is an indicator of progress. Previously, meetings in China between Taliban and Afghan officials had been held, but apparently they stalled. Immediately after the meeting, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs reached out to thank all parties involved, another positive sign.
- The “new” new deadline of July 7 for Iranian nuclear negotiations has come and gone, and tensions are enormously high. Reports have come in about Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif having a shouting match with US Secretary of State John Kerry over Iran’s role in destabilizing the Middle East. Apparently the disputes run highest with EU Foreign Secretary Federica Mogherini, who threatened to end the talks immediately – to which Zarif responded “never threaten an Iranian,” and Russian FM Lavrov added “Nor a Russian.” The issue at stake now is not the relief schedule or inspections, but the lifting of the arms embargo against Iran.
- Turkmenistan has accused Russian state gas company Gazprom of failing to pay for its deliveries to the Russian market since the beginning of the year. The Turkmen Oil and Gas Ministry released a statement yesterday, equivocating on blame, saying that “continued global economic crises and economic sanctions imposed by Western countries against Russia” are the cause of the missed payments. Gazprom has upped the portion of its natural gas imports from Turkmenistan to 10-11 billion cubic meters. They have not yet commented on the Turkmen accusations.
- The BRICS Summit has opened in Ufa, Russia today with the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa in a display of economic solidarity against the increased polarization between the West and Russia. Leaders are set to discuss the debt crisis in Greece, the separatist conflict in Ukraine, and the issues posed by the Islamic State in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized that none of Russia’s BRIC’s partners had voiced any opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
- Kazakhstan is planning on introducing visa-free travel for any Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Countries (OECD) from the start of 2017. Some 34 countries are party to the OECD agreement, including the US, Britain, France, Germany, Canda, Austria, Switzerland, Japan, and Australia. The move is likely to encourage foreign business travel and expedite the process.
- President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has opened the Borzhakty-Ersai railway which will be used as a key transportation route to the port of Kuryk on the Caspian Sea. The line is expected to increase freight volume to sea ports by some 10% year on year. The railway system links up with the Ozen-Bolashak linking Kazakh railway networks with those of Iran via Turkmenistan.