Russia in Review
Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for January 4-15, 2016
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda.
- "We presume that the IAEA should play the central role in coordinating the international community's efforts in the physical nuclear security area, as it possesses the necessary expert potential," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement in reply to a question from the media regarding an upcoming Nuclear Security Summit. "We believe it is unacceptable to set a precedent by interfering in the planning work of international organizations having considerable expert potential and following democratic procedures," Zakharova said of the March 2016 summit. “At the moment the political agenda of these summits is exhausted,” she said. (Interfax, Sputnik, 01.13.16).
- Georgia’s security agency said Monday it has arrested three men suspected of peddling radioactive cesium, the latest in a series of operations against nuclear smugglers in the ex-Soviet nation. The agency said Monday that the men were arrested in the capital, Tbilisi, while trying to sell an unspecified amount of cesium-137 for $100,000. (AP, 01.11.16).
- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko may visit the United States in March, although no final decision has yet been made on the matter In particular, the Ukrainian leader is expected to take part in a nuclear security summit. US Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Frank A. Rose will visit Kiev on January 18-20 to participate in a ceremony marking the update of the bilateral Nuclear Risk Reduction Center communications link at the Ministry of Defense and to discuss issues of space activities’ security. (Tass, 01.08.16, Interfax, 01.12.16).
- In a Dec. 23 letter that hasn't been publicly reported, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz asked White House budget director Shaun Donovan to reconsider the fiscal 2017 budget proposal due to Congress by Feb. 2. Mr. Moniz went on to note that “a majority of NNSA's facilities and systems are well beyond end-of-life." Also, “infrastructure problems such as falling ceilings are increasing in frequency and severity," as more than 50% of facilities are at least 40 years old and nearly 30% date to World War II, Mr. Moniz wrote. “There has been a steady decline in the performance of the nuclear weapons computer codes needed to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear stockpile," Mr. Moniz wrote, but the current budget seeks less than a third of what's needed, despite an executive order on “strategic computing" issued six months ago. He added that uranium-enrichment programs and satellite systems are short some $715 million. (Wall Street Journal, 01.12.16).
- Twenty nations with significant atomic stockpiles or nuclear power plants have no government regulations requiring minimal protection of those facilities against cyberattacks, according to a study by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Russia, the United States, Belarus, Canada, France and the United Kingdom were among the top 13 nations who received the maximum score for cybersecurity in the NTI report. The United States, India, Russia, and the United Kingdom are the most improved nuclear-armed states and twelve of the 24 countries with materials—including nuclear-armed France, Russia, and the United States—decreased their quantities of weapons usable nuclear materials over the most recent four-year period measured by the NTI Index. However, the report also found that 24 nations still have more than 2.2 pounds of weapons-usable nuclear material, “much of its still too vulnerable to theft.” (New York Times, Sputnik, NTI, 01.14.16).
- In 1998, in Operation Auburn Endeavor, the U.S. government helped fly 4.3 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and low-enriched uranium (LEU) from vulnerable facilities in Georgia to the United Kingdom. At the time, those in the U.S. government involved in the project thought that was all the HEU there was in Georgia. So it was a surprise last week when the IAEA announced the removal of another 1.83 kilograms of HEU from Georgia – apparently now really the last of the HEU there. (Nuclear Security Matters, 01.12.16).
Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:
- Iran will recall its suit against Russia for the non-delivery of S-300 air defense systems in light of sanctions about to be lifted against Tehran and has already made a prepayment for their consequent deliveries, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. (Sputnik, 01.11.16).
Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:
- Russia is ready to work within the Russia-NATO Council format, but this readiness ought to be mutual, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said. Putin pointed toward NATO's eastward expansion for the cooling in Russia's relations with the West. “NATO and the U.S. wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone,” he said. (Interfax, 01.12.16, Moscow Times, 01.11.16).
- Russian president Vladimir Putin told German newspaper Bild: “We have heard a thousand times the mantra from our American and European politicians, who say: “Each country has the right to choose its own security arrangements.” Yes, we know that. This is true. But it is also true that other countries have the right to make decisions to expand their own organization or not, act as they consider appropriate in terms of global security. And leading NATO members could have said: “We are happy that you want to join us, but we are not going to expand our organization, we see the future of Europe in a different way.” (Kremlin.ru, 01.11.16).
- Russian Foreign Ministry official Maria Zakharova has called the information reported by the Western media stating that NATO is called a "threat" to Russia's national security in Russia's updated national security strategy "unscrupulous speculation." "As to the wording that defines NATO as a 'threat,' the document doesn't have them […] It is enough to read the text of the document attentively to become convinced that the said allegations are ungrounded," Zakharova said. (Interfax, 01.14.16).
- The commander of United States Air Force operations in Europe and Africa expressed ''very serious'' concern Monday over what he described as big buildups of complex Russian missile defenses that increasingly threaten NATO military access to air space in parts of Europe, including one-third of the skies in Poland. According to Gen. Frank Gorenc, Russian forces have deployed a layered integrated air and missile defense system in the Kaliningrad exclave of Russia. The weapons—which Gorenc didn’t specifically identify—are “layered in a way that makes access to that area difficult.” Gorenc is likely referring to Russia’s Voronezh-DM phased array VHF-band early warning radar, S-400 battalion, S-300s missiles and the other air defense systems. (New York Times, National Interest, 11.12.16).
- Russian president Vladimir Putin told German newspaper Bild: “In 2009, current President of the United States Barack Obama said that if Iran’s nuclear threat no longer existed there would be no incentive for establishing the ABM system; this incentive would disappear. However, the agreement with Iran has been signed. And now the lifting of sanctions is being considered, everything is under the IAEA control; first shipments of uranium are already being transported to the Russian territory for processing, but the ABM system is being further developed.” (Kremlin.ru, 01.11.16).
- Frank Rose, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control said the U.S.-built anti-ballistic missile radar in Romania should be active this spring. Asked about Mr. Rose’s comments, a Russian official noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin has continued to raise objections to the missile defense system. (Wall Street Journal, 01.13.16).
Nuclear arms control:
- Frank Rose, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, warned Moscow against putting nuclear weapons in Crimea, saying such a move would be “inappropriate and illegal.” While Mr. Rose praised Moscow’s cooperation with the New START treaty he repeated Washington’s allegations that Russia has violated the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty with its missile tests. (Wall Street Journal, 01.13.16).
- "We are faced with common threats, and we still want all countries, both in Europe and the whole world, to join their efforts to combat these threats, and we are still striving for this," Russian president Vladimir Putin said in a wide-ranging interview with Germany's Bild newspaper. "I refer not only to terrorism, but also to crime, trafficking in persons, environmental protection, and many other common challenges," he said. For us it was an obvious fact that the international terrorism was also used as a means of fighting against Russia, while everyone either turned a blind eye on that or provided support to terrorists,” he said. (Reuters, 01.11.16, Kremlin.ru, 01.11.16).
- Washington and Moscow should share data on the Daesh, also known as ISIL/The Islamic State, targets in Syria as it is in interests of both countries, U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson said. (Sputnik, 01.11.16).
- One of three Russian nationals detained in Turkey for suspected links with the Islamic State (IS) extremist group has been wanted in Russia for alleged terrorism. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on January 14 that Aidar Suleimanov from Russia's mainly Muslim Tatarstan region had been added to the international wanted list in August over suspicion of involvement in IS activities. Suleimanov was, however, subsequently released from a deportation center in Turkey (RFE/RL, 01.14.16, Interfax, 01.15.16).
- No significant developments.
Energy exports from CIS:
- The continued slump in oil prices could force Russia to close some of its oil production, the country’s deputy finance minister Maxim Oreshkin said on Wednesday. In 2014, the average price of Russia's key export, Urals crude oil, stood at $97.6 per barrel, while last year it price fell by 47.5 percent to $51.23.( (Financial Times/Tass, 01.13.16, Moscow Times, 01.11.16).
- Europe is set to be the key destination for liquefied natural gas supplies from the U.S. after prices fell in Asia, the world’s biggest consumer of the fuel, according to Wood Mackenzie Ltd. The problem for U.S. LNG in Europe is that it is still more expensive than Russian gas. At the moment, Russian gas is at $6 per MMBTU while regasified LNG from the United States is at $7.5 per MMBTU. (Bloomberg, 01.15.16, Foreign Affairs, 01.08.16).
Bilateral economic ties:
- No significant developments.
Other bilateral issues:
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has disagreed with U.S. President Barack Obama who said that Russia is a regional power." If someone speaks of Russia as a regional power, they should clarify what region they refer to, he said. "Look at the map and ask: "What is it, is it part of Europe? Or is it part of the eastern region, bordering on Japan and the United States, if we mean Alaska and China? Or is it part of Asia? Or perhaps the southern region?" Or look at the north. Essentially, in the north we border on Canada across the Arctic Ocean. Or in the south? Where is it? What region are we speaking about?" Putin said. (Interfax, 01.12.16).
- “Even as their economy contracts, Russia is pouring resources to prop up Ukraine and Syria – states they see slipping away from their orbit,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address.” The White House subsequently clarified President Obama’s puzzling reference to Ukraine. A senior U.S. administration official told RFE/RL on January 13 that Obama was referring in part to Moscow’s support for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. (RFE/RL, 01.13.16, Whitehouse.gov, 01.12.16).
- U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone on January 13, discussing the crises in Ukraine and Syria, the White House said. Obama told Putin that a key next step in resolving the Ukrainian crisis was for all sides to agree on the modalities of local elections in the Donbas region of Ukraine, the White House said in a statement. According to the Kremlin, Putin and Obama also called for an easing of tensions between and Iran and Saudi Arabia. (RFE/RL, 01.13.16).
- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Zurich on January 19 to discuss the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. (RFE/RL, 01.15.16).
- Almost 100 relatives of those who died in the Russian A321 airliner crash over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula last October have filed a class action suit against the U.S. company that owned the plane and leased it to the Kogalymavia carrier company. The lawsuit was filed in a New York court. (Moscow Times, 01.11.16).
- By far, the United States is the country with the largest portion of the world's migrants: 47 million, or one-fifth of the total, which includes 20 million refugees Germany and Russia shared the No. 2 spot with about 12 million each, a United Nations study has found. (RFE/RL, 01.13.16).
- U.S. President Bill Clinton thought newly installed Russian President Vladimir Putin was “smart and thoughtful.” “I think we can do a lot of good with him,” Clinton said. But in a separate call, he told Blair that Putin might “get squishy on democracy.” Clinton also seemed to think U.S.-Russian relations would progress more smoothly if Vice President and Democratic Party candidate Al Gore defeated Bush in the upcoming presidential election. (RFE/RL, 01.08.16).
II. Russia news.
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said the government would propose a 10% cut to spending from a budget. The cuts, to be proposed by January 15, will not affect areas such as pensions and salaries for civil servants and soldiers. If the budget is not cut by 10 percent, Siluanov said, "then the same thing will happen as happened in 1998 and 1999, when the population pays for what we did not do" through a loss of savings via inflation, (Financial Times, 01.12.16, Wall Street Journal, 01.13.16, Washington Post, 01.15.16).
- Russian officials had hoped for an end to recession this year, but a near 20 percent decrease in the price of oil in early January has forced a reassessment. The new outlook, obtained by the Vedomosti business newspaper, assumed an average oil price of $40 per barrel over 2016, down from the $50 per barrel built into the current budget plan, but higher than the current price of around $30. (Moscow Times, 01.15.16).
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has told the government to closely monitor changes in the economic situation and be ready for any turn. "We should be ready for any scenario," he said at a meeting with Cabinet members. “We need to prepare for the worst scenario," Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in a speech at an economic conference in Moscow Wednesday. During his speech at the Gaidar Economic Forum Medvedev called the previous year the most difficult in Russia's recent economic history. (Wall Street Journal, 01.13.16, RBTH, 01.13.16, Interfax, 01.13.16).
- Russian stocks fell the most in the week since 2012 and the ruble extended losses as the plunging price of oil dampened investor demand for the world’s biggest energy exporter’s assets. Russia’s currency declined 1.9 percent to 77.53 per dollar on Friday in Moscow, heading for a record low close. The Micex Index lost 7.7 percent during the week as Brent crude traded under $30 per barrel on signals Iran is moving closer to boosting exports. (Bloomberg, 01.15.16).
- More than half of Russians — 52 percent — believe that the “hardest times” for the country are yet to come, a poll by state-run pollster VTsIOM revealed. According to Russian analysts, in the near future from 30 percent to 50 percent of the population of the Russian Federation may join the army of the poor. (Moscow Times, 01.12.16, Kommersant/RBTH, 01.13.16).
- Gazprom Friday said it swung to a net loss of 2 billion rubles ($26 million) in the three months to end-September from net profit of 106 billion rubles in the same period last year. Analysts surveyed by Interfax news agency had expected a net loss of 17.5 billion rubles. (Wall Street Journal, 01.15.16).
- The sales of new passenger cars and light commercial vehicles in Russia dropped by 35.7 percent last year. (Moscow Times, 01.14.16).
- Russian has announced $78.5 million of infrastructure development for the Chukotka region for Russia’s first-ever floating nuclear power plant, according to the nuclear.ru Russian news portal. (Bellona, 01.14.16).
- Prominent political analyst and journalist Vladimir Pribylovsky has been found dead in his apartment in Moscow at the age of 59, his colleague. (Moscow Times, 01.13.16).
- Kirill Shamalov, 33, who according to the Reuters news agency is the husband of Vladimir Putin's daughter Katerina Tikhonova, swelled his fortune to $1.2 billion. (Moscow Times, 01.13.16).
Defense and Aerospace:
- Russia says it will form three new military divisions on its western flank this year, and deploy five strategic nuclear missile regiments on combat duty. "Our main effort should go into strengthening the potential of our strategic nuclear forces and of fulfilling the space-defense program," Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. (RFE/RL, 01.12.16).
- Russian media outlets are running stories saying that the Russian Strategic Missile Force is going to keep itself busy in 2016, carrying out a total of 16 intercontinental ballistic missile tests. Last year, Russia conducted eight, and doubling a nuclear missile test program is kind of a big deal. Of the planned 16 tests, 14 will be for new systems, while the remaining two launches are meant to test extending the life of existing missiles. (Vice, 01.14.16).
- Moscow will be able to build aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships domestically as soon as 2019. We’ll be ready to begin construction of helicopter carriers as well as aircraft carriers,” Alexey Rakhmanov, president of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation said. (National Interest, 01.15.16).
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- A prosecutor has asked a court in southern Russia to sentence a man charged with high treason to 13 years in jail. Lawyer Oleg Yeliseyev said on January 13 that his client, Pyotr Parpulov is innocent and must be released. Parpulov, a former employee of the international airport in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, was arrested in March 2014. His relatives have said that Parpulov was accused of passing classified information to foreign agents during a trip abroad in 2010. (RFE/RL, 01.13.16).
- The Moscow police have established the identity of the man suspected of setting off a grenade near a bus stop on Pokrovka Street in the center of Moscow. The suspect was born in the North Caucasus, a representative of the Moscow city police department has told Interfax. (Interfax, 01.12.16).
- A senior Russian prison official has been accused of stealing the pavement from a 30-mile stretch of public highway in the Komi Republic. (Wall Street Journal, 01.14.16).
- A legal case against Russian billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov has been dropped, his company said Thursday in an online statement. The money laundering charges over conglomerate Sistema's acquisition of shares in the Bashneft oil company have been dropped over a lack of evidence, the company said. (Moscow Times, 01.14.16).
Foreign affairs and trade:
- "First, the Syrian population has to be able to vote, and then we will see if Assad would have to leave his country if he loses the election," Putin said. “It was surely more difficult to grant [U.S. national security contractor Edward] Snowden asylum in Russia than it would be in the case of Assad," Putin told the German tabloid Bild. (RFE/RL, 01.12.16).
- Aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces over nearly four months of the operation in Syria have made 5,662 sorties, the Russian military have also launched 97 cruise missiles on terrorist targets, head of the Chief Operations Directorate of the Russian General Staff Sergei Rudskoy said on Friday. More than 200 populated localities have been liberated from ISIS during the Russian Aerospace Forces' operation in Syria, he said. (Tass, Interfax, 01.15.16).
- For the first time Syrian Air Force’s MiG-29 provided cover for Russian Su-25 attack planes as the latter carried out strikes in Syria, Lenta.ru reported on January 14, citing a Russian Defense Ministry official. (Belfer Center, 01.14.16).
- The missile cruiser Moskva, which was protecting the air base Hmeimim in Syria, has returned to Sevastopol from the Mediterranean. (Interfax, 01.09.16).
- Russia's defense ministry has said the new objective of its forces in Syria is humanitarian operations. A Syrian Ilyushin Il-76 jumbo jet has already delivered the first batch of humanitarian aid to the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, , head of the Chief Operations Directorate of the Russian General Staff Sergei Rudskoy said. (Sky, Russia Today, 01.15.16).
- A suspected Russian air strike has struck a school in northern Syria, killing at least 12 children. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on January 11 that the air strike on the town of Ain Jara, in rebel-controlled Aleppo Province, also killed three teachers and wounded 20 others. Moscow has denied its strikes have killed civilians. (RFE/RL, 01.11.16).
- Alleged recipients of Russian air support primarily consist of groups supported by the U.S. such TOW anti-tank missile recipient Jaysh Asoud al-Sharqiya, an anti-Assad opposition faction that has previously accused Russia of targeting their headquarters in the Damascus countryside. Russia claimed to conduct strikes “in the interest of” Jordanian-backed opposition group Jaysh Ahrar al-Asha’er in Dera’a Province, areas where the group is currently clashing with ISIS. Local reporting, however, did not verify Russian strikes in the area. (ISW, 01.12.16).
- Russian airstrikes against Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups in the past month have enabled an advance by Kurdish forces in the western enclave of Afrin. Meanwhile, Russia's deployment of the S-400 antiaircraft system in Syria after the downing of its jet has kept Turkish planes out of Syrian airspace. (Wall Street Journal, 01.14.16).
- Lebanese Hezbollah field commanders with troops fighting in Syria tell The Daily Beast they are receiving heavy weapons directly from Russia with no strings attached. Commander Bakr said that the Russians rely on Hezbollah for intelligence and target selection. (Daily Beast, 01.11.16).
- Russia’s military is operating in Syria without a time limit under an accord between the two governments, which also agreed to a one-year notice period for either side to terminate the pact, according to the text of the deal published Thursday. Russian personnel have diplomatic immunity under the deal. (Bloomberg, 01.14.16).
- The commander of United States Air Force operations in Europe and Africa said he had been watching Russia's military expansion in Syria with keen interest because the Russians want Western powers to see the destructive power of its latest weaponry. ''They're using cruise missiles, they're using bombers,'' he said. ''It's clear that they're desiring to show what ability they have to affect not just regional events but worldwide events.''(New York Times, 11.12.16).
- Special Representative of the Russian President for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, has met with Syrian Ambassador to Moscow, Riad Haddad, to discuss prospects for negotiations between the Syrian authorities and the opposition. (Interfax, 01.14.16).
- Other countries:
- When asked if Russia has made any mistakes in relations with the West in the past 25 years, Russian president Vladimir Putin said: “Yes, it has. We have failed to assert our national interests, while we should have done that from the outset. Then the whole world could have been more balanced.”(Kremlin.ru, 01.11.16).
- Imports into Russia from beyond the former Soviet Union dropped by 36.4 percent and totaled $161.5 billion last year, the Federal Customs Service said. (Moscow Times, 01.14.16).
- The volume of Chinese exports to Russia fell by 34.4 percent last year to $32.9 billion, the TASS news agency reported Wednesday, citing China’s customs department. (Moscow Times, 01.13.16).
- The volume of trade between Russia and Japan has diminished by almost 30 percent in the first ten months of 2015. (Moscow Times, 01.14.16).
- Russian-German trade turnover used to reach $83–85 billion, and in the first months of 2015 it fell by half, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Kremlin.ru, 01.11.16).
- Russia will ship small arms to Afghanistan next month, top Russian diplomat, Zamir Kabulov announced Wednesday. The shipment of small arms will take place in February, but Russia does not have further plans to ship other weapons, said President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for Afghanistan. (Washington Post, 01.13.16).
- Russia has replaced Israel as the country that “poses the biggest threat to Turkey,” according to an opinion poll conducted by a Turkish University. (Moscow Times, 01.14.16).
- "The constitutional reform and political processes are to be implemented first, followed by confidence building on the basis of those reforms and the completion of all processes, including the border closure,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said. He pointed to the need for changes in the Ukrainian constitution to be permanent. Putin described as absurd the situation where the West introduces sanctions against Russia to prompt it into implementing the Minsk agreements whereas their implementation depends full on Ukraine. (Interfax, 01.11.16).
- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to regain sovereignty over the country's separatist east in 2016. (RFE/RL, 01.14.16).
- OSCE envoy Martin Sajdik said that that the participants in the meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group agreed to try again to fully halt fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists and discussed new efforts to exchange war prisoners. Taking part in the Minsk talks was Boris Gryzlov, a former speaker of the Russian parliament who has been named a Russian envoy. (RFE/RL, 01.13.16).
- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he would argue for a "yes" vote in an upcoming referendum on a treaty on closer ties between the European Union and Ukraine. Rutte's remarks came a day after European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned that a rejection of the treaty by Dutch voters on April 6 could lead to a "continental crisis". (Reuters, 01.10.16).
- A discussion paper supported by nine EU member states and seen by RFE/RL declares that the government and parliament in Kyiv "urgently need to respond to public demands and reinforce their efforts to adopt and implement effective reforms, in particular in the area of anticorruption." (RFE/RL, 01.15.16).
- Relatives of those killed in the MH17 air disaster are demanding the release of what they say is key evidence that could shed light on the tragedy over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. (RFE/RL, 01.13.16).
- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Ukraine is prepared to restore electricity to Crimea after more than a month of severe outages, but only if the peninsula annexed by Russia rejoins Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.15.16).
- Russia has decided not to renew a contract on electricity supplies to Ukraine after refusing to buy Ukrainian electricity for Crimea. (Kommersant, 01.13.16).
- Ukraine says it will for the first time ship goods to Kazakhstan along a route bypassing Russia, due to the Kremlin’s trade embargo on Kyiv. (RFE/RL, 01.13.16).
- Russia will file a court claim against Ukraine, which has defaulted on $3 billion in Eurobonds, before the end of January. (Interfax, 01.13.16).
- Ukraine’s Finance Ministry says a deal has been agreed with Russia’s Sberbank to work out a restructuring deal for commercial loans guaranteed by the Ukrainian government. (RFE/RL, 01.13.16).
- The lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, the Mazhilis, has asked President Nursultan Nazarbaev for its early dissolution. The proposal was initiated by a group of lawmakers a day after Kazakhstan's national currency, the tenge, reached a new low against the dollar. (RFE/RL, 01.13.16).
- The chief executive of Kazakhstan's National Investment Corp., which was set up to help manage the country's $64 billion oil fund, has been fired after saying he was concerned the fund could run out of money within six or seven years as slumping oil prices cut revenue and the government spends its savings. (Wall Street Journal, 01.13.16).
- Banks in Turkmenistan have stopped selling hard currencies, sparking a jump in black-market rates amid fears of a fresh devaluation. (RFE/RL, 01.12.16).
- Scores of people were detained in Azerbaijan on January 13 amid countrywide protests over worsening economic conditions in the oil-rich Caucasus state. Protesters rallied in the districts of Fizuli, Aqsu, Aqcabardi, Siyazan, and Lankaran to voice their anger over price hikes on staples such as flour and bread. Some 1,000 protesters had gathered on January 15 in the center of the city of Quba, the district capital, before troops intervened. (RFE/RL, 01.13.16. 01.15.16).
- Azerbaijan limited currency exchange operations on Thursday, the country's central bank said, following a rapid currency devaluation that has sparked protests around the small oil-producing country. The Azerbaijani manat lost has around half of its value since late December. (Wall Street Journal, 01.14.16).
- Lawmakers in Tajikistan have voted to ban Arabic-sounding “foreign” names as well as marriages between first cousins. (RFE/RL, 01.13.16).
- The president of Moldova has proposed a candidate to serve as prime minister. President Nicolae Timofti late on January 14 nominated Ion Paduraru, secretary general of the presidential administration. Timofti took the action a day after rejecting Vlad Plahotniuc, a controversial candidate put forward by the pro-European governing coalition. (RFE/RL, 01.14.16).
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