Media Highlights of the Week- July 5, 2021
Energy and Economy
Mud Volcano Erupts off the Coast of Azerbaijan
A large fire erupted from the Caspian Sea this week due to a mud volcano activity. These naturally formed phenomena occur when natural gas mixes with mud, occasionally causing them to erupt as was seen from Baku. SOCAR is investigating the event, but to date there are no reports of damage to hydrocarbon extraction facilities.
Kazakhstan, Belarus Discuss Oil Deal Despite Sanctions
The Prime Ministers of both Kazakhstan and Belarus met in Nur-Sultan to discuss oil sales from Central Asia as sanctions imposed following the grounding of a Ryanair flight restrict supply to the Eastern European country. While the deal has not been finalized, any bilateral agreement could be prevented by Russia as the oil would have to flow through its territory. It is unclear whether the United States or the EU will retaliate against Kazakhstan if the deal is realized.
Tajikistan’s Credit Rating Improved to ‘Stable’
Moody’s rated Tajikistan “B3” and forecasted a stable investment environment for the first time since 2018. Moody’s credited Tajikistan with improving its position on external payments over the past year and an increase in its foreign currency reserves. The credit rating agency predicted that Tajikistan’s liquidity and ability to manage external risk will be consistent.
European Investment Bank to Finance South Caucasus Highways
The European Investment Bank announced that it will finance improvements to Georgia’s East-West highway in order to improve the connectivity of the region. The primary focus of the project will be on the sections of the highway that connect to both the Armenian and Azerbaijani borders.
Security and Politics
Tajikistan Mobilizes Border Troops While Uzbekistan Braces for Afghan Refugee Crisis
Tajikistan is mobilizing 20,000 troops to its southern border in anticipation for a Taliban resurgence in the country as the United States completes its full troop withdrawal from the country. Currently, about 70 percent of the Tajik-Afghan border is run by the Taliban. Uzbekistan is also bracing for an influx of immigration and refugee applications from Afghanistan as many have preemptively decided to leave the country before the U.S. troop withdrawal deadline on September 11, 2021.
Taliban Seizes Town on the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan Border
The Taliban seized the town of Aqina in Faryab province on the border with Turkmenistan. The dry port itself connecting the two countries remains under Afghanistan’s government’s control, but the surrounding area is controlled by the Taliban. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan Railway runs through Aqina and currently traffic has been halted due to the instability.
Ruling Georgian Party Initiates Electoral Amendments
The Georgian Dream party and a number of opposition parties agreed to initiate constitutional amendments to be approved by October, in line with the EU-mediated compromise between conflicting political parties in April. The amendments will lower the parliamentary election threshold from 4 to 2 percent, reduce the number of members required to form parliamentary factions, and elect the next Prosecutor General by a qualified majority.
Tajikistan Mandates COVID-19 Vaccine for All Eligible Adults
Tajikistan is mandating all citizens over the age of 18 to register for a COVID-19 vaccination appointment. Dushanbe announced the decision amidst a spike in fresh COVID-19 cases, attributed to the spread of a new variant. The Ministry of Health said that about three percent of the country’s population had already been inoculated.
Kazakhstan Resumes International Air Travel with More Countries
Kazakhstan launched new air travel routes linking the country with Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. In addition, Kazakhstan resumed normal air travel service with countries shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Poland.
Armenia and Azerbaijan Exchange Mine Maps for Detained Soldiers
On July 3, Armenia handed Azerbaijan maps for 92,000 mines in the Fuzuli and Zangilan districts in exchange for the return of 12 detained Armenian soldiers during a Russian-mediated exchange. A Western-brokered exchange occurred on June 12, when Baku exchanged 15 Armenian soldiers for mine maps of the Aghdam region.
Uzbek and Tajik Foreign Ministers Visit Washington
Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov and Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin visited Washington to discuss further U.S.-Central Asian cooperation regarding Afghan security. They discussed an accord which would allow the United States to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations from their territory.
Georgian Pride March Cancelled over Violence
The Tbilisi Pride group canceled the July 5th “March of Dignity” event in Tbilisi after violent protesters, supported by right-wing groups, stormed its office and attacked journalists on the streets. The latest reports claim that 53 media representatives were injured. Eleven people have been detained for violent attacks. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili condemned the violence calling it “categorically unacceptable.”
Sources: 24. KG, Agenda.ge, Astana Times, Armenpress, Asia-Plus, Caspian News, Civil.ge, Eurasianet, Fergana News, Kun.uz, RFE/RL