Russia's embargo on foodstuffs coming from several western and European countries may mean no brie on the shelves in upscale Moscow supermarkets, but it also means less cheese sold (and, thus, less income) for French cheesemakers.
In fact, it appears that the Kremlin's moves against western foods -- which came in response to sanctions imposed on Russia because of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Moscow's role in stoking it -- is starting to take a bite out of the European economy, forcing the European Union to respond. Reports the EUobserver website:
The EU is preparing to unveil new aid for EU fruit producers hit by the Russia food ban.
Agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos promised extra assistance in the coming days for suppliers of citrus fruit, apples, and pears at a hearing with MEPs in Strasbourg on Monday (15 September).
The European Commission has since August earmarked €158 million for aid to fruit and vegetable growers who have had to take products off the market, as well as €30 million for dairy suppliers who are putting stock into cold storage.
The money is to come from a “margin” - money allocated by EU countries but unlikely to be needed - in the EU’s 2015 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget....
....Ciolos also noted the compensation for citrus, apples, and pears will be paid out using new rules, to enter into life next week, which tie the money more directly to volumes affected by the Russia ban.
The change comes after Polish producers filed massive claims - worth €145 million - in the €125 million envelope.
Screen shot of video of the opening ceremony of the Rapid Trident 2014 U.S.-led military exercises in western Ukraine.
Georgia and Azerbaijan are among the participants at U.S.-organized military exercises now underway in western Ukraine, while Armenia -- which was originally scheduled to take part -- is absent.
The exercises, Rapid Trident, have been held every year since 1995 and this year involve about 1,300 soldiers and are being held in Yavoriv, in Lviv province. Obviously this year's exercises are being held under very different circumstances than previous iterations have been. And naturally they are being seen by the Kremlin as yet another way in which the U.S. and its European partners are carrying out an anti-Russian agenda using Ukraine as a proxy.
For Bug Pit readers, the most interesting element of Rapid Trident 2014 is the participation of the South Caucasus states. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia have all taken part in previous versions of the exercise. Unsurprisingly, given its firm pro-West, anti-Russia stance, Georgia has taken part again, sending a platoon to Ukraine for the drills.
Also unsurprisingly, Armenia is not taking part. As a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led post-Soviet military bloc, it would be awkward if Armenian troops were training alongside NATO forces. (Interestingly, though, as late as March Armenia was still being listed as among the scheduled participants in Rapid Trident 2014; apparently they changed their minds between then and now.)
It’s not often that a Kyrgyz film wins praise abroad, as an epic biopic has in recent weeks. Proud Internet users in Kyrgyzstan are seeking to ensure that the recent burst of international acclaim endures with an online campaign to rank the new film highly at the online movie database IMDB.com.
“Kurmanjan Datka” is reportedly the most expensive Kyrgyz movie ever, and the first feature-length film commissioned by Kyrgyzstan’s perennially impoverished government. The Montreal Gazette called the film a “haunting poetic piece” that “transports you to another world.”
Two weeks after opening in cinemas in Bishkek and Osh, the historical epic – about a queen who united Kyrgyz tribes in the face of Russian aggression in the 19th century before succumbing to Moscow – has garnered more than 1,200 10-star ratings (out of 10 stars) at IMDB. Local social media users believe most of the votes come from Kyrgyzstanis who hope their ratings will help the movie attract prominent American distribution companies, and positive publicity for their remote country.
Journalist and blogger Ulugbek Akishev used Facebook to push his idea to organize a voting campaign on the day the film premiered in Bishkek, August 31. He believes a high IMDB rating would draw the interest of big distribution companies, help “Kurmanjan Datka” go global, and recoup the $1.5 million the government spent on production.
In an initiative new to Muslim Azerbaijan, its parliament has broached the topic of legalizing civil partnerships. A group of lawmakers believe that recognizing such partnerships as legal unions is needed to protect the often neglected rights of the growing number of children born out of wedlock. Also, the change will help ensure the “genetic health” of the nation, parliamentarians say.
As part of that “genetic health” campaign, Azerbaijan also plans to introduce mandatory premarital health checks. A set of amendments to what is known as the Family Code is meant to toughen requirements that couples inform each other of their medical conditions before their wedding-day.
“Making these amendments to the Family Code does not conflict with human rights, as we are talking about a healthier national genetic pool and healthier children,” Parliamentary Commission on Social Policies Chairperson Hadi Rajabli told the Interfax-Azerbaijan agency.
The Code’s Article 13.3 states that concealing from a spouse a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases provides grounds for the annulment of a marriage. Rajabli proposes expanding the list of medical conditions that must be reported before a wedding.
He said that the idea of premarital checkups had been dismissed before on concerns that couples, especially in rural parts of the country, could simply buy a health certificate from a doctor — an understandable concern in what is often rated among the world’s most corrupt countries. Henceforth, though, physicians will face charges if they sell fake certificates, Rajabli said.
By now, it's a well-established fact that foreign fighters looking to join extremist groups -- most worryingly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or simply the Islamic State (IS), as it now calls itself -- fighting the Assad regime in Syria have been using Turkey as a gateway to that country.
But more recently concerns have been rising about ISIS's activity inside Turkish cities, particularly with regards to the recruitment of vulnerable Turkish young men in poor neighborhoods. In a deeply reported piece in Newsweek, reporters Alexander Christie-Miller and Alev Scott take a look at ISIS's activity in Istanbul, telling the story of Deniz Sahin, a 28-year-old woman whose estranged husband recently went off to join the extremist group in Syria, taking their two children along. From the Newsweek piece:
Stories shared with Newsweek in recent days by Deniz and others show the group has sunk its tendrils deep into Turkey, a country that may now be in its firing line after being named as part of a Nato alliance to combat the jihadist group. Many fear Isis has the capacity to wreak havoc in a nation that attracts 35 million tourists a year and whose porous border adjoins Isis-controlled territory.
South African Marauder armored vehicles at a military parade in Baku. (photo: gulustan, Wikimedia Commons)
The government of South Africa is facing criticism for allowing arms exports to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.
South Africa's National Conventional Arms Control Committee has recently released reports detailing the country's weapons exports over the past three years. MP David Maynier, the country's shadow defense minister, has in the past criticized the government for arming Iran, Libya, Zimbabwe and North Korea; now he has set his sights on post-Soviet countries.
In the case of Turkmenistan, South Africa allowed the export of 50 sniper rifles earlier this year. Maynier said that such a sale would seem to violate South Africa's law requiring companies to "avoid transfers of conventional arms to governments that systematically violate or suppress human rights and fundamental freedoms." On similar grounds, he objected to two airborne observation stations being sold to Russia.
And in 2012, South African companies sold sniper rifles and ammunition to Azerbaijan, and submachine guns to Armenia. That would seem to violate South African laws requiring companies to "avoid transfers of conventional arms that are likely to contribute to the escalation of regional military conflicts, endanger peace by introducing destabilizing military capabilities into a region or otherwise contribute to regional instability."
What parent would not want to make their child’s first day of school memorable? But few may rival parents in Azerbaijan, where many first-graders arrived on September 15 in cars resplendent with flowers and bows, and cortèges of kith and kin in tow.
Short of tin-cans tied to the rear bumper, many a car was adorned with full-on wedding-style decorations, to hear the cops tell it. The showy processions — purportedly a growing whim in this oil-and-gas-rich Caspian-Sea republic — careened down the streets of the capital, Baku, giving quite a headache to traffic police. “Sometimes a first-grader is conveyed by up to 15 to 20 cars,” complained Baku traffic police spokesperson Vagif Asadov to Trend news agency.
Asadov claimed that these cars end up parked everywhere, turning the traffic situation in this city of over 2 million from bad to worse. “This has practically paralyzed traffic on the streets,” fretted Asadov. “Should a policeman stand at every meter [of roadway] ? Why can’t these people understand that they are causing an inconvenience to themselves and to others, and that this is not normal and looks ridiculous?“ he went on to ask.
But the inconveniences to others may not be the upmost thing on the minds of these parents. As in neighboring Georgia or Armenia, where students often come bearing flowers for their teachers, they want to make sure their children’s education starts with due pomp and circumstance.
Asadov is having none of it. “Parents must understand that their kids are going not into the army, but to school, and actually will be back home in a few hours," he advised.
Three years after Kyrgyzstan slapped Vladimir Putin’s name on a mountain, some intrepid local businessmen are aiming to cash in on the name of Russia’s strongman president—recently found to be the most popular politician among Kyrgyzstanis.
Since early this month a black billboard promising a “Putin Pub” coming “soon” has loomed over the intersection of two central thoroughfares in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Cast in white, the Russian leader’s visage emerges out of the darkness in a style reminiscent of Marlon Brando on “The Godfather” film posters.
The backers of the “pub/sports bar/karaoke” joint are shrouded in mystery. That is not uncommon in Bishkek, where locals spend hours debating which parliamentarian owns what. But Artem Kolosov, who has been promoting the bar actively on social media, confirmed to EurasiaNet.org that the billboard is no hoax.
Thailand-based Kolosov, who describes himself as the pub’s “PR Director and Art Director” wrote to EurasiaNet.org in English: “I am sorry I cannot say where and when it will open. In mid-September opening [sic]. That's all I can say.”
As with Bishkek’s popular Obama Bar, with which Putin will soon compete, few in Bishkek seem concerned about naming rights. There is already the Guinness Pub, Kyrgyz Fried Chicken, Burger Kiиg and a number of other rip-offs.
But one commenter writing on the website of Kyrgyz news service AKIpress thought differently, musing: “Maybe Putin is opening the bar himself? Now that [Western] sanctions have hit Russia, his profits have fallen. So, he has decided to open a pub in a friendly country to create a new stream of income.”
Dushanbe and Beijing have launched construction of a key gas pipeline that will turn Tajikistan into a transit country for Central Asian gas supplies to neighboring China, the world’s largest energy consumer.
The pipeline will lock Tajikistan into an energy partnership with its powerful neighbor from which the former Soviet Union’s poorest country will reap millions of dollars every year in transit fees.
The project has “immense political, economic, and historical significance,” Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon said at the groundbreaking ceremony on September 13. His visiting Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, described the pipeline as a “symbol of China-Tajikistan friendship.”
The link will supplement the existing Central Asia pipeline running from Turkmenistan to China via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The new section bypassing Kazakhstan and passing through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, known as Line D, will increase the pipeline’s overall annual capacity by 30 billion cubic meters, to around 85 billion. Like the other lines, it will also pass through Uzbekistan.
Tajikistan will host the longest section of the new 1,000-kilometer spur, with 400 kilometers passing through its territory. China will pick up the $3.2 billion price tag for that leg.
Beijing is already ramping up gas supplies through the existing Central Asia pipelines. A third line known as Line C started pumping from Turkmenistan in May, almost doubling the pipeline’s overall annual capacity to 55 billion cubic meters.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev visits the country's first defense expo, ADEX. (photo: president.az)
Azerbaijan has held the country's first international defense exposition, showing off the wares of its military-industrial complex and attracting foreign companies hoping to profit off Baku's rapidly growing military budget.
The expo, ADEX, was held in Baku this week and featured 200 companies from 34 countries. The profile was somewhat similar to the region's other defense expo, Kazakhstan's KADEX, with foreign exhibitors dominated by Russia, Turkey, Israel, and Belarus, along with a smattering of European, American, and Asian companies.
Azerbaijan, like Kazakhstan, is putting a lot of effort into building a local defense industry by attracting bigger, more experienced foreign partners to set up joint ventures with Azerbaijani companies. It's doing so to reduce its dependence on foreign weaponry, said Deputy Defense Minister Yahya Musaev said at the show. “It is no secret that this [foreign purchasing] leads to a one-sided dependence. Therefore, we conduct scientific research, train specialists to create the technology for national defense industry."
There seem to have been a lot of shipbuilders and navy-related companies at ADEX; Dutch shipbuilder Damen was the "platinum sponsor" of the show and Chinese and Turkish shipbuilders also exhibited, suggesting they think there is naval business to be had in Azerbaijan.