Caspian Brief: August 21, 2017
U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis to visit Jordan, Turkey, Ukraine
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will travel to Jordan, Turkey and Ukraine later this month, the Pentagon said on Friday.
Mattis will begin his trip in Jordan where he will meet with King Abdullah. Jordan is a member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The visit will be Mattis’ first to Jordan as defense secretary.
Mattis will also travel to NATO-ally Turkey where he will meet top Turkish officials including President Tayyip Erdogan.
“Secretary Mattis will emphasize the steadfast commitment of the United States to Turkey as a NATO ally and strategic partner, seek to collaborate on efforts to advance regional stability, and look for ways to help Turkey address its legitimate security concerns – including the fight against the PKK,” the Pentagon said in the statement.
US Embassy in Russia suspends issuing nonimmigrant visas
MOSCOW — In a step that could affect hundreds of thousands of Russian tourists, the U.S. Embassy in Russia said Monday it would suspend issuing nonimmigrant visas for eight days from Wednesday in response to the Russian decision to cap embassy staff.
The embassy made the decision after the Russian Foreign Ministry ordered a cap on the number of U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia, it said in a statement, adding that it would resume issuing visas in Moscow on Sept. 1, but maintain the suspension at consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok indefinitely.
Nearly a quarter of a million Russian tourists visited the U.S. last year, according to Russian tourism officials.
Earlier this month, Russia ordered the U.S. to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755, or by two-thirds, heightening tensions between Washington and Moscow after the U.S. Congress approved sanctions against Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and for its aggression in Ukraine and Syria.
President Putin said that Moscow felt forced to reciprocate to the new package of sanctions against what he dismissed as “unfounded accusations,” but that it would hold off on further steps against the U.S.
The vast majority of the more than 1,000 employees at the various US diplomatic missions in Russia, including the embassy in Moscow and the three consulates are local employees.
The U.S. embassy said on Monday that Russia’s decision to cut its staff “calls into question Russia’s seriousness about pursuing better relations.” It insisted however that it will able to maintain adequate staffing “to carry out essential elements of our mission.”
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference the decision to cut visa operations aims to make Russians feel discontent with their own government.
Lithuania receives first batch of US LNG
The first batch of liquefied natural gas (LNG) has been delivered to Klaipeda port of Lithuania from the US on Aug.21, said the message from Lithuania’s Energy Ministry.
Lithuania’s Minister of Energy Zygimantas Vaiciunas said that the US gas will improve the competiveness on the regional energy market.
“Such events are worthy of a separate record on energy history pages. As the most important strategic partner of Lithuania, the US today is becoming a reliable LNG supplier for the whole region. This strengthens not only partnership, energy independence, but also intensifies competition between gas suppliers, which guarantees even better gas prices to consumers in Lithuania and the entire region,” added the minister.
In June, Lithuanian Lietuvos duju tiekimas company signed an agreement with Cheniere Marketing International, a part of the US Cheniere Energy company, on supplying 140,000 cubic meters of LNG.
On June 7, the US delivered to the first batch of LNG to Poland.
The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects US LNG exports to increase in coming years.
“US liquefaction capacity continues to expand as five new projects currently under construction come online in the next three years, increasing total US liquefaction capacity from 1.4 billion cubic feet per day at the end of 2016 to 9.5 billion cubic feet per day by the end of 2019,” said the report from EIA.
Azerbaijan sends helicopter to help Georgia extinguish wildfire
Azerbaijan has sent a helicopter to help Georgian firefighters handle a massive wildfire that broke out yesterday afternoon near the village of Daba in the Borjomi Municipality in central Georgia.
This was reported by Azerbaijani news agency APA this evening.
“Under the order of President Ilham Aliyev, the Ministry of Emergency Situations has sent a helicopter today to help extinguish forest fires in the Borjomi-Khiraguli Reserve in Georgia”, APA reported.
Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Mgebrishvili has been on the ground since morning. He posted on Facebook earlier this afternoon that “the fire has been localised and now work is underway to liquidate it”.
Firefighters are still trying to handle a massive wildfire that broke out yesterday afternoon near the village of Daba in the Borjomi Municipality in central Georgia.
The fire is blazing on the same area that was burnt during the Russia-Georgia war in August of 2008.
Head of the National Forest Agency Tornike Gvazava said that about 2 – 2.5 hectares of forestland has been burnt. He stressed that the affected area mainly includes the territory that was burnt in 2008 and is now covered by bushes while fresh forest has not been touched by the fire so far.
The fire started in a difficult relief section of the forest, which meant it was hard for firefighters to approach the location.
Currently, 200 firefighters are participating in the fire extinguishing efforts. Last night, a road was paved from the village of Kvibisi deep into the forest so firefighting units can now easily reach the area.
Since 7 am this morning, a helicopter has also been part of the operation, trying to extinguish the fire from the air.
Later this morning, Interior Minister Giorgi Mgebrishvili arrived in Borjomi to inspect the process in first hand.
Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan ink military cooperation plan
Uzbek and Kazakh defense ministries signed a military cooperation plan, a source in the Uzbek government told Trend on August 21.
The document was signed on August 20 by Uzbek Defense Minister Kabul Berdiev and his Kazakh counterpart Saken Zhasuzakov, who arrived in Tashkent on an official visit, the source said.
The defense ministers discussed promising areas of cooperation as well as strengthening of defense cooperation in the context of prompt response to security risks and threats in the region.
The signed military cooperation plan stipulates holding events within joint operational and combat training of troops, as well as military education.