Kazakhstan, ranked first in the world in terms of uranium reserves, is now undertaking a transition to nuclear power. Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom and Kazakhstan´s Energy Ministry are on the move to sign an intergovernmental agreement on constructing nuclear plant in Kazakhstan. Drop in oil prices, energy and environmental reasoning are believed to be pushing Kazakhstan to the long-sought goal whose largest hydropower plants are currently functioning with coal consumption. Moscow and Astana signed a memorandum on cooperation on nuclear plant construction in Kurchatov back in May 2014. The Russian company Rosatom International Network who claims to have the most advanced and secure technologies recently opened its office in Astana to cover the preliminary preparations. But the project is expected to take 100 years according to specialists, with 6-7 years of preparatory works for documentation, construction and seismology, 60 years of guaranteed operation and the rest for life extension and decommissioning.
Kazakhstan’s plans over the construction were already announced in 1998, but the Kazakh people perceived the idea with skepticism particularly after the negative effect of the testing activities further aided with seismogenic character of the selected area. On the other hand, the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine added fuel to the fire. But in 2006, Kazakhstan renewed attempts for the construction by adopting the resolution and undertaking new feasibility studies. Considering that Kazakhstan has been the leading global producer of uranium since 2009 and increased its production output almost sixfold, nuclear energy is becoming particularly attractive.
On the other hand, as Iranian sources recently reported Astana and Tehran also plan to cooperate in nuclear field. During his visit in Tehran, Kazakhstan´s deputy Foreign Minister Rapil Zhoshybayev spoke about potential nuclear cooperation with Iran to construct two nuclear power plants. Iran is also invited to the upcoming “Astana Expo: Future Energy” to be held in Astana in 2017. Astana was chosen to host the Expo-2017 (with focus on future energy) by the International Exhibitions Bureau back in 2012 and more than 45 country representatives are expected to attend. At the same time, Kazakhstan is considered as a potential receiver of Iranian nuclear fuel stockpile. Kazakhstan seems like a good candidate as it enjoys close ties with Washington and the UN nuclear watchdog and already hosted two rounds of Iranian nuclear negotiations in 2013. Delivering nuclear material to Kazakhstan eases control of the stockpile as Astana’s nuclear program is also under IAEA oversight controlling that the material is not converted back to Iran.
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- After less than two years in office, Latvian Prime Minister, Laimdota Straujuma resigned over coalition infighting. Straujuma explained her move with political intrigues in her center-right coalition and said that the country needed new ideas and energy. The recent debates in the coalition of Straujuma´s Unity Party, the Nationalist Alliance and the Union of Greens and Farmers hit up over 2016 budget and financing the national airline, Air Baltic. The PM said she was tired of intensive communication campaign against her. Her resignation comes into effect immediately, but Straujuma will remain as a caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed by the parliament. Straujuma, the first female premier of Latvia took the office after Valdis Dombrovskis stepped down following the supermarket killings in 2014. Potential candidates for the position include the interior minister and the Unity party chief.
- Russia has been reinforcing its military base Erebuni in Armenia located close to the capital Yerevan by deploying attack and transport helicopters. Seven helicopters of MI-24 and MI-8 have been sent to the base and one more batch will be delivered by the end of the year. Russia said it has placed helicopters in Armenia in order to prevent any conflict with Azerbaijan, but that the move can also be seen as a warning to Ankara. Russia has another military base in Gyumri, Armenia located close to Armenian-Turkish border.
- Russia announced about the first time missile strike in Syria fired from a submarine in Mediterranean. As Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Putin in a televised meeting, the missiles fired from Rostov-on-Don in the Mediterranean targeting the positions in the territory of Raqqa and damaged weapon stores and a factory for preparing mines and oil infrastructure. Shoigu also said that Russia had warned Israel and the U.S. about the submarine strikes. He added that Russian bombers are accompanied by fighter jets who have flown more than 300 sortiers over Syria and helped Syrian special forces recover the black box from the Russian warplane. Previously Russia fired missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea before moving to the Mediterranean. President Putin said the Caliber cruise missiles could be equipped with nuclear warheads that will hopefully not be needed against terrorism as he stated.
- The U.S. Vice President Joe Biden warned Ukraine about its unsuccessful fight against corruption during his visit to Kiev. In his speech at the Ukrainian parliament, Biden appealed to Ukraine for boosting the fight in order to maintain international support. Previously he assured Ukraine of additional U.S. aid of $190 million to help with structural reforms. Biden urged Ukraine to carry out painful but critical reforms for government transparency, saying that “corruption eats Ukraine like cancer.” Biden’s speech is a reflection of the West´s impatience with Ukraine’s lack of progress in reforms. Since the new government took office in 2014, the President Petro Poroshenko has been criticized for avoiding confrontations with oligarchs who remained as powerful brokers and hold power particularly over eastern regions bordering the separatist-controlled territories.
- The Mongolian parliament voted in favor of the new criminal code abolishing the death penalty for all crimes beginning in September 2016. Mongolia then would join the group of 102 countries to have completely abandoned capital punishment. On the other hand, there are still 37 countries in the world which retain the death penalty in both law and practice, including the U.S., Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. In Europe, only Belarus remains as a country with capital punishment. The death penalty remained a classified state secret in Mongolia and the last execution there was in 2008. The recent move is in accordance with 2012 international treaty committing the country to abolishing death penalty. Amnesty International considers Mongolia´s decision as a great victory for human rights and expects to set an example across Asia.
- Turkey pronounced itself about considering retaliatory measures against Russia. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated that, if necessary, Ankara will introduce counter sanctions against Russia due to a cabinet decision. He also added that Turkey is ready for discussions with Russia but said that Turkey will never accept being dictated to. The sanctions that Moscow introduced after Turkey downed its fighter jet include a ban on the import of some Turkish foods and Turkish holiday packages. The sanctions will cost about $9 billion to Ankara according to the Turkish deputy prime minister.