Caspian Brief: May 31, 2017
Russian special forces in anti-terror drills on Tajikistan-Afghanistan border
Russian special forces are carrying out military drills in Tajikistan on the Afghan-Tajik border, searching for simulated outlawed armed groups as part of the exercises, Sputnik news agency quoted Yaroslav Roshchupkin, the spokesman of Russian Central Military District, as saying on May 30.
“Special operation units landed at the highland border military range Harbmaydon and started searching for outlawed armed groups, detecting of caravans with arms and drugs, locating training camps and provisional militant caches,” the spokesman said.
“According to Roshchupkin, after locating the militants, aviation, artillery and missile troops will move in to strike the uncovered targets.
Some 2,000 Russian troops and more than 300 equipment units are taking part in the joint drills dubbed Dushanbe-Anti-Terror-2017. The drills of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Anti-Terrorism Center, involving armed forces of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, are held for the first time and will last from late May to June.
NATO refutes Armenian ministry’s statements on mine clearance in the country
NATO will work on mine risk education for the Armenian population and mine clearance is not part of this project, a NATO official told Trend May 31.
Earlier, on May 30, Deputy Head of the Defense Policy Department of Armenia’s Ministry of Defense Mher Israelyan said that Armenia and NATO will create a Trust Fund in the next two months.
“It is expected to implement two projects within the Fund — elimination of over 130 unusable armored vehicles, for which 1.3 million euros will be invested, and humanitarian de-mining in bordering communities,” said Israelyan.
As a response to Trend’s question on the issue, the NATO official said that NATO and Armenia are working together on the basis on an Individual Partnership Action Plan which focuses on areas such as interoperability and defense reform.
“In that context, we are working on setting up a new Trust Fund which will help Armenia fulfill its Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty obligations, as well as contribute to the safety of the civilian population. The Trust Fund will be implemented on the Armenian territory and concerns the demilitarization, dismantling, and disposal of decommissioned military vehicles. It will also work on mine risk education for the local population. Mine clearance is not part of this project,” said the NATO official.
“NATO continues to encourage both Armenia and Azerbaijan to return to the negotiation table and to work towards a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” added the NATO official. “NATO fully supports the Minsk Group Process to that end.”
Trump praises US-Azerbaijani partnership
US President Donald Trump has sent a welcome letter to the participants of the 24th International Caspian Oil & Gas Exhibition and Conference and the 7th Caspian International Power and Alternative Energy Exhibition in Baku.
The US president conveyed his best wishes to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and the people of the country on the occasion of this annual exhibition and conference in Baku.
“I value the partnership the US and Azerbaijan have built together over the last quarter of the century and look forward to its continued growth,” Trump said in his letter.
“The US remains strongly committed to the Southern Gas Corridor [project] and welcomes the efforts of Azerbaijan and its international partners to complete it,” Trump noted in the letter. “I appreciate Azerbaijan’s important role in the global energy security including the development and exportation of energy resources from the Caspian region.”
“I support and encourage Azerbaijan’s efforts to diversify its economy and look forward to exploring other areas of cooperation to the benefits of both our people,” Trump added.
The US is ready to work with Azerbaijan as the country continues to undertake economic and governmental reforms, he said.
“The US is also committed to peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through the [OSCE] Minsk Group process which will help to strengthen regional security,” said the letter. “Americans hope for increased prosperity and stability in Azerbaijan, and the Southern Gas Corridor [project] and this conference are important for achieving those goals.”
Putin partly lifts restrictions against Turkey
Russian President Vladimir Putin has partly lifted sanctions against Turkey that were introduced after the downing of a Russian jet in 2015, according to the text of his decree published on the Kremlin website on 31 May.
In particular, the decree lifts the ban on Turkish organizations rendering “certain services” on Russia’s territory and restrictions on hiring Turkish citizens.
It also envisages the “partial restoration” of a visa-free regime between the two states and lifts the embargo on supplies of certain goods from Turkey. The document, however, doesn’t give any further details, noting that the list of goods will be drafted by the government.
Russia introduced sanctions against Turkey, including a ban on the import of Turkish tomatoes and visa restrictions on Turkish nationals, after the downing of a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015.
IMF Staff Completes 2017 Article IV Mission to Tajikistan
Tajikistan has implemented positive reforms in the past two years, but external shocks have affected economic confidence, reduced buffers, and increased vulnerabilities.
Generating inclusive, job-rich growth will require prudent macroeconomic policies and strong and sustained structural reforms.
The team welcomed the authorities’ intention to resume discussions on a possible IMF program, and discussed steps that would demonstrate reform progress and pave the way for resumption of program negotiations.
Iran signs agreements with Russia to develop gas fields
Iran has signed a number of basic agreements with the Russian Gazprom to develop its gas fields in the southern region of the country, Press TV reported on Wednesday.
Iran’s Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said that the country has signed an agreement with Gazprom over the development of Farzad B gas field, a project which the country has for long been negotiating with an Indian consortium.
Iran has also signed two other basic agreements with Gazprom over the development of North Pars and Kish gas fields.
The agreements could give Gazprom a strong foothold in Iran’s gas industry once finalized and implemented.
Besides, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) announced Sunday that it would hold an international tender for the development of major oil field in southwest of the country.
By Friday, the tender would be held for the much-awaited development project of Azadegan oil field in the southwestern province of Khouzestan, Ali Kardor, the managing director of the NIOC, said.
Giant vessel to be used for TurkStream construction passes through Dardanelles on way to Black Sea
The Pioneering Spirit vessel, which will carry out the construction of the TurkStream natural gas pipeline’s offshore section, arrived at the Dardanelles Strait early Tuesday, according to the ship’s Swiss owner, Allseas.
Officials from Allseas told Anadolu Agency that the vessel’s final destination would be Anapa on the northern Black Sea coast in Russia where the first pipe laying for the TurkStream project will begin. The 382-meter-long and 124-meter-wide vessel is expected to arrive in Anapa on June 2.
NATO Official Says Georgia Close and Valued Partner
NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller traveled to Georgia on May 29 to attend the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Session held in Tbilisi on May 26-29.
In the margins of the Session, Gottemoeller held meetings with President Giorgi Margvelashvili, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze and Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze.
In her speech at the Assembly, Deputy Secretary General Gottemoeller said that Montenegro’s coming membership of NATO was “a clear sign that the door to membership of NATO remains open to those who share our values, who meet the Alliance’s high standards and who wish to contribute to the collective security of allies,” adding that she was glad “to stress this point here in Tbilisi.”
Gottemoeller called Georgia one of NATO’s closest and most valued partners, and one of the largest troop contributions to NATO’s Afghanistan mission. Georgia “helps us to form a deep understanding of the security situation here in the Black Sea region,” she added.
The Deputy Secretary General also underlined that NATO supports Georgia through the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package, which has two objectives – to bolster Georgia’s self-defense capabilities and to prepare it for NATO membership.
Speaking on the right of nations to choose their security arrangements, Gottemoeller stated that “whether a country wishes to join NATO or not is entirely up to them.” “NATO takes no position on what security arrangements the country should make, it does firmly hold that countries must choose for themselves their security arrangements. That is their right and it will remain their right,” she added.