Russian and Iranian leaders agreed to boost cooperation in a number of sectors during a meeting on the sidelines to of the Gas-Exporting Countries Forum that took place on November 23. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held a press conference after the meeting, during which they commented on their countries’ mutually held position on the Syrian conflict and renewed relationship, decrying other powers that did not offer the same support to them. Putin also stated that Russia was prepared to extend a $5 billion credit line to Iran, and the Kremlin stated in a press release the same day that Russia will ease a ban on the export of nuclear equipment to Iran.
The release said that Russian firms may now export equipment to Iran for the accomplishment of three specific tasks: modifying two cascades at a uranium-enrichment plant, helping Iran export enriched uranium in return for raw supplies, and modernizing Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor. Iran’s ambassador to Russia reported to press on November 23 that Russia has begun the process of supplying Iran with its S-300 missile defense system, the export of which Russia banned to Iran under international pressure in 2010. Iranian media reported that Khamenei criticized U.S. policies in Syria during his meeting with Putin, echoed by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s comment that both states are against “external attempts to dictate” solutions to the situation in Syria.
In addition to his announcement of a $5 billion credit line to Iran, Putin also presented a copy of one of the world’s first Qur’ans to Khamenei, and the two leaders signed seven memorandums of understanding and cooperation. Putin commented that the credit line was to help spur cooperation in industrial development, which would add to the $2 billion proposed credit line from Russian state corporation Vnesheconombank. This is Putin’s first visit to Iran in seven years, and comes as Russian airstrikes in Syria are coordinating with Iranian forces on the ground in an attempt to shore up a central government controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
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- KazTransGas finished work on the Beineu-Bozoi section of the Beineu-Bozoi-Shymkent (BBS) gas pipeline, Tengrinews.kz reported. The approximately 200-mile route linking Beineu to Bozoi in Kazakhstan’s west combines existing pipelines in the area, and completes the BBS, extending the Bozoi-Shymkent section finished in 2014. KazTransGas, subsidiary of state-owned oil company KazMunayGas, said in a press release that $500 million was saved during its building, bringing the final cost of construction to $3.5 billion. The Beineu-Bozoi section has the capacity to transport 10 billion cubic meters of gas a year, adding to the Bozoi-Shymkent segment’s 2.5 billion cubic meters/year capacity. In August, KazTransGas reached an agreement with a group of Chinese banks for a loan of $2.5 billion to help finish the pipeline. While the BBS will supply southern Kazakhstan with gas, it is part of a larger network planned to pipe gas from the Karachaganak, Kashagan, and Tengiz fields on the Caspian to China’s western Xinjiang province. The BBS is planned to link up with Turkmen pipelines to carry gas to China, bypassing the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan stretch of another pipeline. Both pipelines are Central Asia-Center gas pipeline system, built with Chinese funding and Russian Gazprom support. Turkmenistan announced in September that it had supplied China with 125 billion cubic meters of gas from 2009 to August 2015, highlighting its strategic importance for the regional power.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of serious consequences for Turkey over a plane shot down on its border with northwestern Syria. While Turkey claimed the jet had violated its airspace continuously, Putin stated that the plane was downed 1km inside of Syria’s border. NATO has summoned a meeting of its ambassadors, Russia and Turkey each summoned a diplomatic representative of the other, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov canceled his planned visit to Turkey on November 25. Both pilots of the plane parachuted down into territory controlled by Turkmen believed to be fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces as part of the Free Syrian Army. While a Turkmen commander reported that his men had shot both of the pilots, Turkey claimed that both were alive, and it was working to secure their release from Syria. The downing is the most serious use of force between a NATO member and Russia in the past 50 years, but political analysts across Eurasia see a major confrontation unlikely in the face of calls for cooperation between Russia and NATO to resolve the Syrian conflict and defeat the Islamic State.
- Russia plans to halt gas supplies to Ukraine due to Kiev’s failure to pay up front for gas, and is considering cutting off coal supplies as well to retaliate for the blackout in Crimea. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak claimed that Ukranian authorities were not doing enough to repair the felled pylons to resupply Crimea with electricity, noting that Ukraine is using little Russian gas anyways. RIA Novosti reported that Naftogaz Business Director Yuriy Vitrenko stated in an interview with European Pravda that Ukraine is not able to capitalize on the $300 million line of credit extended in a contract with the EU for buying gas over the winter. Pro-Ukraine activists clashed with local authorities a second time on November 23 in an attempt to prevent repairs to the two pylons.
- The World Bank (WB) published a report that yet also praised measures taken to eradicate child labor. The report highlighted Tashkent’s efforts to reduce child labor and the creation of a system to register public complaints, yet noted that most labor has been shifted to adults often forced to work by employers, and that the few outspoken critics of the system have been targeted for harassment. The report concluded that further steps must be taken to reduce the use of forced labor, for which Uzbekistan’s government responded in an official statement that it will take measures. The WB refused a comprehensive probe called for earlier in 2015 by rights groups, despite its acknowledgement that there may still be a residual amount of child labor used in the harvest. A number of global textile brands are still participating in a boycott of Uzbekistan’s cotton over allegations of child labor still being used. However, Tashkent drew over $800 million in contracts for cotton and textile sales to over 10 countries in October 2015.
- The Russian parliament passed a plan for sweeping overhaul of national security in the wake of a plane bombing in Egypt that resulted in the deaths of 224 people. Both chambers adopted a resolution calling for tougher security measures, greater penalties for citizens convicted on charges of terrorism, and expanded action to combat terrorism. Russian politicians have also raised making the death penalty, which is currently under a moratorium, legal again inside the country. Parliamentarians have asserted their support for President Putin’s measures already taken to combat the Islamic State (IS) and other groups branded terrorists, including beefed up security on public transport and in airports. Russian state ITAR-TASS news agency reported that Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad informed the government that IS-linked fighters from the post-Soviet sphere pose special threat to Russia, and that 10,000 of these fighters are inside of Syria, a substantially larger estimate than the 2,000 Russian citizens believed to be in Syria.
- Kazinform news agency reported that Kazakhstani Minister of Energy Vladimir Shkolnik stated that the oil and gas workers’ pay will be reduced by 31% in the near future, and that 40,000 oil workers may face layoffs. He cited falling global oil prices and a 52% drop in income for Kazakhstani gas and oil companies from 2014 to 2015. Shkolnik noted that compared to the third quarter of 2014, the corresponding quarter of 2015 had seen a decrease in 1141 workers in the field.