The start of this week has seen Russian and Iranian officials comment on cooperation in the defense, communications and energy sectors. RIA Novosti quoted the head of Russia’s largest defense company claiming that there are plans for Iran to withdraw its $4 billion lawsuit against Russia concerning non-delivery of weaponry in 2010. The Iranian Communications and Information Technology ministry stated that during a meeting in Tehran, Russian Minister of Communications and Mass Media Nikolai Nikoforov promised that Russian search engine company Yandex would reopen its office in Tehran. Last week, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei laid out instructions in a letter to President Hassan Rouhani for the transfer of enriched uranium to Russia in compliance with the nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, the US and Germany) in July.
Per July’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran must reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium, which it has agreed to do by selling to Russia. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrooz Kamalvandi highlighted the “mutual trust” between Russia and Iran in a press briefing on October 25. A Yandex official told Trend that there were currently no plans in the works to open an office in Tehran, but the company was open to cooperation in new regions. A report from Russia Today framed the offer as a deal concluded between Russian and Iranian communications ministers, bent on providing alternatives to Western search engines whose services do not take sovereign countries’ laws and cultural traditions into account. In the defense sector, Russia banned the $800 million sale of sophisticated S-300 air defense missile system to Iran under international pressure in 2010, yet lifted the ban in April 2015 amid criticism from Western countries and Israel. Western media reported in August 2015 that Russia and Iran planned to sign another agreement to deliver the missiles to Tehran, but Russian news agency Sputnik reported that Russia is currently modernizing its system before sale to Iran.
Russia and Iran’s alleged plans for collaboration come against the backdrop of military cooperation in Syria, as Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps fighters and Russian airstrikes have been deployed to support President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in an attempt to regain control of the country. While these points highlight close relations between Russia and Iran since the Soviet Union’s fall, Russia has recently held talks on the conflict in Syria with high-ranking Saudi, Jordanian and Egyptian officials, authorities from Sunni-majority states that have historically opposed Iranian influence in the Middle East and continue to criticize Iran in the diplomatic sphere.
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- The New York Times reported that US officials are concerned over increased Russian military presence along undersea cables, channels for most international Internet communication. Quoting naval and intelligence officials, the report claimed there has been no observed interference, citing concern that Russian submarines might be searching for vulnerable locations to tamper with cables. The cables, routed along the North Sea from Northeast Asia to the US, are said to carry 95% of global Internet communications and $10 trillion in business activity daily. The US closely monitored the activities of Russian spy ship Yantar off the coast of Cuba last month. Russian naval activity was revived in the Caspian Sea this month, as the Russian Caspian Sea Fleet launched a bombardment of 26 targets purportedly affiliated with IS (Islamic State) in Syria.
- An anonymous ex-Taliban governor told the US publication The Daily Beast that Tajikistan had supplied the Taliban with arms in exchange for the release of four Tajik border guards taken hostage in December 2014, after they had allegedly wandered across the border to chop wood. According to the ex-governor, the exchange took place between a warlord’s son and a Tajik scrap metal dealer, who provided the weapons to a Taliban envoy who then carried them back into Afghanistan. The Daily Beast report framed the exchange as a sign that Russia, which enjoys political and economic influence in Tajikistan, is engaging with the Taliban to fight both the Islamic State and Western-led military alliances in the Middle East. However, Eurasianet claimed that the case is more localized and likely did not involve Russia, which spearheaded negotiations between Central Asian leaders that concluded in a joint initiative to secure regional borders, including that between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
- Russia appears to be cracking down on persons suspected of affiliation with the Islamic State (IS) since the commencement of its airstrikes in Syria on September 30, RFERL reported. Over ten Central Asians were taken into custody in mass arrests last week, following an October 12 Federal Security Bureau (FSB) raid that resulted in the arrest of twelve suspects, three of whom will remain in custody until December. Russian news agency Kommersant reported that the October 20 arrests were preventative measures aimed at stopping potential IS recruiters, but Radio RFERL pointed out that 14 of those arrested were purportedly affiliated with pan-Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Hizb ut-Tahrir is not officially tied to IS, and its followers promote the formation of an Islamic state based on peaceful, democratic methods, a markedly different ideology than that of IS. The report claimed that connecting other Islamist groups to IS provides a convenient way to target movements long seen as posing a threat to Russian power in the region.
- Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedow pardoned approximately 1020 prisoners to commemorate Turkmenistan’s independence day, October 27. Berdimukhammedow allegedly signed the order at a joint session of his cabinet and the State Security Council. The amnesty is purportedly part of a state tradition, and mirrors the May 2015 Constitution Day pardoning of 1200 prisoners, and 1000 who “repented for their deeds” were pardoned on the same day in 2012. A Diplomat report claims the tradition highlights the “arbitrary nature of justice” in the country, echoed by an Open Society Foundation statement on the high rate of incarceration in the country. According to the report, Turkmenistan houses 543 prisoners for every 100,000 citizens, over three times the global average of 160 to 100,000.
- CA-News reported Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Abdyrahman Mamataliyev’s claim that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are close to signing a border deal hoped to prevent disputes between local communities. Per Mamataliyev’s words, the two countries will each give the other 12 hectares of land near the Kyrgyz village of Kok-Tash and Tajik village of Somonien, which allegedly stand side by side, difficult to distinguish. One report cites the countries’ unwillingness to deviate from Soviet-era border delimitations as a cause of post-independence conflicts along borders that were relatively open during the Soviet period. A Tajik delegation is expected to come to Bishkek to sign Kyrgyzstan’s proposal on November 5. Mamataliyev purportedly stated that the deal reflected locals’ wishes.
- Ukrainian officials reported that a Ukrainian solder was killed by rebel forces near the Donetsk airport in a violation of a ceasefire that has largely held since mid-October. It is the first combat-related death since two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and one wounded in a clash in a suburb north of Donetsk on October 14. A spokesman for rebel groups claimed that Ukrainian forces stormed rebel-held Donetsk airport on October 26, which the Ukrainian military denied. All three alleged clashes violate the latest in a series of ceasefire agreements which was signed on September 1 between the Ukrainian government and separatist groups.
- Japan will assist Kazakhstan in building its first nuclear power plant as part of a deal for Japan to provide $700 million in aid, Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe stated. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev reported that the $700 million would provide the foundation for ten new collaborative projects in addition to the 50 already supported by Japanese companies inside Kazakhstan. Abe’s meeting in Astana was the last in his tour through Central Asia that included the conclusion of agreements totaling $8 billion in aid towards projects in Uzbekistan, $18 billion in collaborative projects in Turkmenistan, and over $1 billion in Kyrgyzstan.