Following a series of protests stemming from the execution of a well-known Shiite cleric and critic of the Saudi Arabian government, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Sudan have cut diplomatic relations with Tehran and ordered its diplomats to leave their countries. The latest row between the preeminent Sunni and Shiite Muslim authorities is likely to portend poorly for any resolution to the protracted proxy wars playing out in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia became enraged when a group of Iranian protestors set fire to its embassy in Tehran following the execution of Nimr al-Nimr, a well-known cleric who had been detained on questionable charges of treason and sedition. While the protests were carried out without casualties, they appear to have irreparably exacerbated historically poor and acerbic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
In light of the break in relations, Russia has offered to hold negotiations between the two sides in Moscow. Russia has traditionally aligned itself with Iran and has become one of its leading trade partners in recent years, although it has also maintained comparatively amicable ties with Saudi Arabia. It remains to be seen whether or not the two sides will accede to calls for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. Russia, for its part, has labeled the cut in relations “unconstructive” due to the deleterious effect it could have on conflicts of mutual importance.
Follow us on Twitter: @SteppeDispatch
- Kyrgyzstan is reportedly looking to China and “other partners” to assist in financing to large hydroelectric projects in the country. According to sources close to the Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev, the projects have sat idle for too long and will look elsewhere for foreign partners. The projects are estimated to be worth around $3.2 billion.
- Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius announced that, contrary to recent reports, the country has not postponed or cancelled plans to construct a new nuclear power plant in the country. The Lithuanian prime minister went on to add that the new plant, called Visaginas, will be discussed later this year by energy ministers from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, and that final economic calculations and other technical specifications will by then be ready for assessment.
- Power outages in Crimea are expected to continue for several months due to continued contract disputes between Ukraine and Russia. The Ukrainian government has insisted that any power supply contract contain the stipulation that Crimea is Ukrainian territory, which the Kremlin rejects. Power outages began earlier this year after Ukrainian nationalist groups began to interfere with power lines connecting Ukraine to Crimea.
- The National Bank of Kyrgyzstan has sold around $900,000 to help in maintaining the som’s current weak exchange rate. The late December decision to bolster the som is the fourteenth such intervention since early 2015, with sales of currency adding up to around $1.8 million. Reactions to the interventions are mixed, with the more bearish of them indicating that the interventions will do little more than slow a continued decline in the value of the som vis-à-vis the US dollar.
- A new report published by The Guardian details the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. The report estimates that Taliban fighters now control around 30 percent of Afghanistan – more than it has since 2001 – and that extremist groups like al-Qaida and Daesh have gained a foothold in the country. The Guardian places much of the blame at the feet of newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official and a much-heralded technocrat, due to his inability to overcome fierce infighting, corruption and deeply-seated rivalries between Afghan bureaucrats and government officials.