RIA Novosti reported that the United States government has refused to guarantee Ukraine’s liabilities on debt to Russia. The report stated that the US has officially refused to guarantee the $3 billion in debt that Russia was considering restructuring to relieve Ukraine from paying it back by the December 20 deadline. The Russian Ministry of Finance issued a statement saying that if the debt were not paid back by the deadline, a legal suit would be filed against Ukraine.
Russian Minister of Finance Siluanov reported on November 16 that an “interesting” deal was extended to Ukraine at the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, but did not specify any other details. The Ukrainian government reached a deal in October with all bondholders excepting Russia to restructure its debt to ease financial burden, as its economy recovers from the blow taken after the 2014 Maidan protests and ensuing conflict with separatists in the east. Russia insisted on full repayment of the bonds by the original December 20 deadline, but Siluanov’s deal proposed a restructuring of the debt so that Ukraine would pay $1 billion each year for the next three, contingent upon guarantees from the West in case Ukraine were to default. Media reported that the deal offered to Ukraine left Russia better off than Ukraine’s private bondholders. A partner at the law firm advising Ukraine’s ad hoc creditor committee commented to Reuters that if Ukraine were to consider accepting the deal, it would have to consult its other bondholders.
A Russian Ministry of Finance (MoF) official stated on November 20 that Russia will not offer the deal officially until the International Monetary Fund (IMF) confirms Western guarantees of Ukraine’s debt. As of yet, there have been no media reports of IMF response to the statement, only Russian confirmation of US refusal to guarantee the debt. Observers reported that the deal showed Russia was keen on softening relations with the West, yet still demanded special treatment in the case of Ukraine’s debt. Russia Today reported that Russia has not yet received an official answer from Ukraine about the deal. A MoF official stated that there has been no official proposal sent to Ukraine, as Russia expects Ukraine as the debtor to officially approach Russia first.
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- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan asserted that Russia has not suspended energy projects with Turkey over the military jet downed by Ankara. Contradicting Russian media reports, he claimed that the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project was halted because Turkish demands were not met. Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak reported last week that the project was shelved due to Turkey’s political situation, where cabinet ministers are now being appointed. Erdogan said that Ankara is seeking to buy gas from Qatar and Azerbaijan in case of a drop in Russian supplies. Russia has begun to enforce the embargo on chartered flights to Turkey as well as sanctions against Turkish fruits, vegetables, and other lucrative exports. Erdogan has charged Russia with proving accusations of Turkish officials buying oil from the Islamic State, an illegal cross-border enterprise that US sources have said, if confirmed, is of insignificant scale to greatly boost the Turkish economy.
- A fire on an Azeri oil platform in the Caspian Sea killed one worker and 30 others are still missing, reported Azerbaijan’s state energy company SOCAR. The platform in the Guneshli purportedly caught fire during high winds, after which 32 workers were safely evacuated and a rescue mission was under way for 30 others missing, according to a statement form SOCAR. Reuters reported that the fire began after a storm damaged a natural gas pipeline, leading a partial collapse of the platform. Azeri President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree to create a special commission to investigate the collapse. Observers noted that as approximately 60% of state oil production runs through the platform, state output will take a temporary dip. BP operates most of the other rigs in the Guneshli field, and is in talks with SOCAR to extend its contract as operator of the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli fields past the current 2024 expiration date.
- RFE/RL reported that Human Rights Watch (HRW) Office Director Mihra Rittman has been barred from entering Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz migration officers and a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited violation of migration law as the reason Rittman was refused entry in Bishkek, but did not provide further details. HRW has purportedly been active recently regarding proposed legislation that would impose similar restrictions upon non-governmental organizations receiving foreign funding as code passed in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security reported in a separate incident that a member of the Hizb ut-Tahrir group was detained on charges of aiding terrorists. Kyrgyzstan’s dual pressure on NGOs and members of Islamists organizations mirrors that of Tajikistan, which passed a controversial NGO law last month and has begun trial of 23 members of its only Islamist party.
- Kazakhstan’s state telecom company Kazakhtelecom announced in an online statement that a new Internet surveillance law will come into effect starting January 1. A national security certificate will become required to on every device used to access the Internet inside the country. While Kazakhtelecom stated that the legislation is aimed at bolstering national security by preventing attacks based from foreign servers, critics of the law say that it will allow the government to monitor content of every Internet user in Kazakhstan. Media reports termed the “Internet backdoor” a cheaper model of China’s Internet-policing firewall. They noted that companies including Google and Microsoft blacklisted a similar certificate utilized by Iranian hackers in 2011, making much of the Internet inaccessible to devices using the certificates.
- Armenians voted in a disputed referendum to weaken presidential powers. State sources reported that approximately 63% of voters elected to curb presidential powers to make the position a ceremonial one, yet to lengthen the presidential term from five to seven years. Opposition politicians criticized the referendum, citing irregularities at the polls, and stating that the referendum was simply a cover to keep current President Serzh Sarkisian in power after his second term ends in 2018.