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Kazakhstan and US strengthen security and nonproliferation cooperation

  • Written by TCA

ALMATY (TCA) — The U.S. Mission to Kazakhstan together with the Border Guard Service Academy (BGSA) of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan on August 17 celebrated the opening of a new ‘Practical Interdiction Training Territory’. The hands-on training facility is located at the BGSA in Almaty and was supported by the U.S. State Department’s Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program. Deputy Chief of Mission Theodore Lyng delivered opening remarks at the ceremony along with the Deputy Director of the BGSA, Colonel Daulet Zhumabekov. Participants included the U.S. Diplomatic Mission representatives and personnel of the BGSA.

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Tajikistan: OSCE contributes to capacity building of journalists reporting on disasters

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — The OSCE Programme Office in Dushanbe donated technical equipment to the press centre of Tajikistan’s Committee of Emergency Situations and Civil Defence at a handover ceremony on 17 August in Dushanbe. The equipment will be used for broadcasting from locations where disasters occur, thus contributing to capacity building of journalists reporting on disasters, increasing the quality of coverage and preventing the spreading of inaccurate information.

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Turkmenistan: border and migration officers trained to identify foreign terrorist fighters

  • Written by TCA

ASHGABAT (TCA) — On 14-16 August, the OSCE Mobile Training Team delivered an interactive course on identifying foreign terrorist fighters for officers of Turkmenistan’s border and migration services in Ashgabat. The deployment of the Training Team was organized by the Border Security and Management Unit of the OSCE Transnational Threats Department, with the support of the OSCE Centre in Ashgabat and in close cooperation with the host country.

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New rail service launched from Kazakhstan to Turkey via Trans-Caspian route

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ASTANA (TCA) — The first container train with a batch of non-ferrous metals was sent from Kazakhstan’s rail station Novoustkamenogorsk to the Turkish port of Derince. The train of 88-mi 20-foot containers will follow along the Trans-Caspian Transport Route (TITR) through the port of Kuryk and the water area of the Caspian Sea. The cargo will be delivered to Istanbul within 15 days, the press service of Kazakhstan’s KTZ Express company said on August 16.

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Anti-Russia sanctions torpedo Kazakhstan’s currency

  • Written by Almaz Kumenov

ASTANA (TCA) — The interdependency of Russia’s and Kazakhstan’s economies has caused the Kazakh tenge’s drop following the recent fall of the Russian ruble. We are republishing this article on the issue, written by Almaz Kumenov, originally published by Eurasianet:

The woes of the Russian ruble have infected Kazakhstan, causing a tumble in the value of the tenge too. Authorities have sought to reassure the public, but to little avail.

The tenge has dropped more than one-tenth in value against the dollar since the start of the summer. The rate of devaluation sped up in recent days.

This has been accompanied by a surge in local demand for the greenback. According to the Rating.kz monitoring agency, the volume of dollars purchased at exchange bureaus in June was 2.4 times greater than in the previous month.

On August 13, the National Bank announced that the fall of the tenge had been caused by geopolitical factors — namely, the latest round of US sanctions against a range of countries, including Russia, China and Turkey. The regulator said that if the need arises, it will intervene to restore some stability to the currency.

This latest round of Russia sanctions approved earlier this month, which takes effect on August 22, takes aim at some key sectors, notably banking. The immediate effect was cause the ruble to fall to levels unseen for several years. Such is the level of interdependency between Russia and Kazakhstan’s economies that the tenge immediately followed suit.

Astana is trying to make reassuring noises.

National Economy Minister Timur Suleimenov said on August 16 that the United States had promised, as it readied the latest anti-Russian sanctions, that it would consider Kazakhstan’s economic interests.

The tenge has had a bad decade. It has endured a string of sharp cataclysmic devaluations — in 2009, 2014 and 2015 — and every such event has led to knock-on rises in prices for retail goods.

Kyrgyzstan: President visits new oil and garlic processing facility in Uzgen

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — On August 15, Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbai Jeenbekov toured the new edible oil and garlic processing facility in Uzgen as part of his visit to Osh and Jalal-Abad oblasts in the south of the country. The new facility, a joint investment of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and ElDan Atalyk, will employ 73 full-time workers and purchase large quantities of local crops. ElDan Atalyk already has plans this year to buy 4,200 tons of safflower, soybean and rapeseed from thousands of local farmers, the US Embassy in Bishkek reported.

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Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan agree to swap land near border

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are working on a possible land swap near the border between the two Central Asian states, some parts of which have not been formally delineated since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported.

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Afghanistan: Taliban withdraws security guarantee for Red Crescent staff

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KABUL (TCA) — The Taliban says it has withdrawn from a security agreement with the International Committee of the Red Crescent (ICRC) that guarantees safety for the international organization's workers across Afghanistan, RFE/RL reports.

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Kazakhstan’s economic growth at 4% in 7 months of 2018

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — Kazakhstan’s GDP growth in January-July 2018 reached 4%. It was said at the meeting of the Government on August 14 which reviewed the results of the country’s economic development for the first 7 months of 2018, the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan reported.

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Tajikistan lets activists' families reunite, but human rights crisis continues — HRW

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — Human Rights Watch (HRW) has welcomed recent decisions by Tajikistan authorities to allow two children of exiled dissidents to leave the country and reunite with their families who live abroad, RFE/RL reported.

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ADB to provide over $300 million to Tajikistan in 2019–2021

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — Asian Development Bank (ADB) Vice-President Mr. Wencai Zhang on August 13 met with the Prime Minister of Tajikistan Mr. Kohir Rasulzoda, First Deputy Prime Minister and ADB Governor Mr. Davlatali Said, Economic Development and Trade Minister and ADB Alternate Governor Mr. Nematullo Khikmatullozoda and other senior government officials in Dushanbe. Mr. Zhang reiterated ADB’s support to Tajikistan’s development agenda, as the country strives to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth.

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Tajikistan: rights groups urge int’l community to press authorities to free journalist

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — Diplomats and representatives of international organizations should press Tajikistan authorities to unconditionally set aside the conviction against a respected Tajik journalist convicted on politically motivated charges, twelve human rights organizations said in a collective statement on August 13.

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New hopes for shorter Caspian-Black Sea canal spark growing opposition

  • Written by Paul Goble

BISHKEK (TCA) — The idea of building a new canal between the Caspian and the Black Sea may see implementation as the project enjoys support of Kazakhstan, China, and Russia (despite internal opposition in areas where the planned canal would pass). We are republishing this article on the issue, written by Paul Goble, originally published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor:

The hopes of China and some Central Asian countries for the construction of a new canal between the Caspian and the Black Sea have sparked serious ethnic and environmental opposition even before the first spade of ground is turned. The project has its roots in the megaprojects of the Stalinist Soviet era—the types of massive “public works” that have experienced a comeback under current President Vladimir Putin. The existing waterways in this region lack the capacity to be economically significant. However, any canal large enough to compete with alternative routes would not only be massively expensive—costing at least $10 billion—but would also have a deleterious impact on the environment. Therefore, inhabitants of areas through which this canal would pass, in particular the newly active Kalmyk nation and its political leadership, express increasing opposition to this initiative. Many Russian environmental activists feel the same way. But some in the Kremlin may not: giant projects like this one open the way for massive diversions of public funds into the hands of its oligarch allies.

The proposed so-called “Eurasia” shipping channel would expand and connect a series of rivers and waterways across the northern territories of the North Caucasus. The eastern end of the route would open to the Caspian along the Kuma River, at the border between Dagestan and Kalmykia; the western end would open into the Taganrog (Tahanrih) Bay, in the Sea of Azov, which itself connects to the Black Sea via the Kerch Strait. As a straighter and more direct riverine transit corridor than the pre-existing Caspian–Black Sea link—the more northerly, 17-lock Volga-Don Canal—the 700-kilometer-long Eurasia canal would shave approximately 1,000 kilometers off the Volga-Don route and consist of only 6 locks. Additionally, the Eurasia canal could handle larger cargo vessels (10,000 tons, with a draft of up to 10 meters) compared to the Volga-Don Canal (5,000 tons, 5 meter draft), promising annual shipping capacities of as much 45 million tons (Zonakz.net, July 12, 2018; The Brussels Times, June 1, 2018; see EDM, October 1, 2010).

The leading advocates of this project today are Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the Chinese government. Nazarbayev says that such a canal would radically expand Kazakhstan’s foreign trade with Europe, especially bulk cargoes like coal. For his country, he suggests, such a canal could make all the difference between becoming an economic star or fading into a backwater with few prospects beyond its immediate region. Other Central Asian countries are interested as well but less focused on this project than Kazakhstan (Total.kz, July 21).

The Chinese government is also supportive; yet, for Beijing, such a canal is not essential but rather an additional insurance policy should problems in the Indian Ocean restrict its ability to send most of its goods to European markets by sea. As analysts in Kazakhstan and Russia note, China does not want to rely on any single route and, therefore, promotes a band of links between itself and the West. A large new canal connecting Central Asia and Europe via the Caspian and Black Sea could be an essential part of that broader strategy (Zonakz.net, July 12; Casp-geo.ru, August 3).

The Russian government is at present less supportive. On the one hand, at least some in Moscow do not want to give Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries yet another way to reach Europe without passing through European (northwestern) Russia, especially if the central Russian government would likely have to bear much of the cost for any canal. Indeed, financing issues had blocked earlier plans for such a project in the 1930s. And on the other hand, far more Russian officials today are worried about the environmental consequences as well as the political consequences that they might face if they ignored them. The reason for that is not difficult to discern: In the early 1980s, Moscow’s push for Siberian river diversion broadly undermined Russian support for the Soviet government and ultimately forced the authorities to drop that large, expensive and environmentally disastrous project.

Analysts from both Russia and Kazakhstan have been playing to those fears. They point out that while a new canal would expand trade opportunities, it would be extremely expensive and would inflict environmental devastation on the Russian North Caucasus, a region already suffering from water shortages. To make a larger canal function, ever more water would have to be diverted from other purposes, including providing water for human needs. Some of these analysts are describing the canal plan as “idiotic” or using even more damning terms (Zonakz.net, July 12).

They are joined in their opposition by ethnic groups living along the route, including most prominently the Kalmyks, through whose territory the new canal would pass. In Kalmykia, not only the expert community but also the government have come out against the plan, arguing that it could destroy the economic and social welfare foundations of the population. Their objections have become so loud that they have even attracted the attention of the national Russian media (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 1).

This new opposition and Russian memories of the Siberian river diversion case would seem to be enough to kill this project. But there is a compelling reason not to write it off just yet: the Putin government’s proclivity for engaging in giant projects like the recently completed bridge to Crimea or the just-begun bridge to Sakhalin Island. Illustratively, the Kremlin is engaged in these megaprojects even as budgetary stringencies force it to cut back on more banal but important services like hospitals, schools and pensions. Putin clearly hopes he will achieve a boost in support from Russians as a result of such enterprises, which play to the notion that the Russian nation can overcome even the most difficult geographic tasks. Moreover, he knows—as anti-corruption activists have documented, from the Sochi Olympiad (see EDM, February 10, 2014) to the World Cup (RFE/RL, June 15, 2018) to the Kerch Bridge (Crimerussia.com, July 26, 2016)—such projects give ample opportunity to divert funds to his friends and, thus, maintain their support.

Taken together, all this means Moscow will likely begin the project, possibly with major allocations of funds that can be handed out to the oligarchs. But the government may ultimately back off if environmental and local opposition grows too strong.

China reportedly interested in joining TAPI gas pipeline project

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — China has expressed an interest in joining the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, by building a link from Pakistan to China, Russia’s Sputnik news agency reported citing the Pakistani media.

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Kazakhstan holds presentation of multimodal transport hub at Kuryk port

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — A presentation of the multimodal transport hub — the ferry complex of the Kuryk port on Kazakhstan’s Caspian coast — was held in Mangystau region on August 11 with the participation of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Heads of state bodies, transport and logistics companies of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Iran, China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan took part in the event, the press service of Kazakhstan’s national railway company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy reported.

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Kazakhstan and China explore cooperation in textile industry

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — Heads of more than 30 largest Chinese companies — members of the Union of Textile Industry of the People's Republic of China — visited Astana for the first time to study investment opportunities of Kazakhstan. The meeting with the Kazakh side, held last week, was organized with the support of Kazakh Invest National Company, the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan reported.

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Three tourists, two crew members killed in helicopter accident in Tajikistan

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — Five people have died in a helicopter accident in eastern Tajikistan, including three Russian mountaineers and two Tajik members of the helicopter crew, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported.

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The Taliban takes on Islamic State: insurgents vie for control of northern Afghanistan

  • Written by Waliullah Rahmani

KABUL (TCA) — The Taliban and the Islamic State are engaged in heavy fighting for control of Afghanistan, and this rivalry meets security interests of Russia and its Central Asian allies. We are republishing this article on the issue, written by Waliullah Rahmani, originally published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor:

Fierce fighting between the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), the Afghan chapter of IS, have seen hundreds of militants killed in Jowzjan and Faryab provinces, two provinces in northern Afghanistan considered to be IS-K strongholds. About 300 militants were killed in two weeks of clashes between IS-K and the Taliban, which began on July 25 in the Darzab district of Jowzjan. It was the Taliban’s third major offensive against their rivals, and saw about 200 IS-K fighters hand themselves over to government forces rather than face the Taliban. Video footage from August 1, released by the government, showed IS-K fighters demanding protection in return for their surrender (Khabarnama, August 2).

The Taliban reportedly attacked IS-K forces, inflicting heavy losses on the group. Senior commanders on both sides were killed in the fighting. A spokesperson for the Jowzjan governor told local outlets that Haji Qumandan, the deputy leader of IS-K in northern Afghanistan, had been killed. The governor also reported the deaths of many senior Taliban members, including Haji Shakir, the district chief for Sangcharak district of Sar-e Pol (Khabarnama, July 25). An earlier report on July 18 claimed that two IS-K fighters targeted a Taliban gathering in Sayyad district of Sar-e Pol, killing 15 Taliban militants and wounding five others (Khabarnama, July 18).

Sar-e Pol, Jowzjan and Faryab are not the only provinces where the Taliban and IS-K have engaged in heavy clashes. The fighting appears to be a growing trend that has hit record levels of violence in the last three years following emergence of IS-K in Afghanistan. While a truce of sorts appears to be in place between the two groups in Afghanistan’s southwestern and southern provinces, in the north it appears to be the Taliban’s intention to eliminate IS-K forces entirely (Khabarnama, July 2018).

Darzab: IS-K’s Northern Stronghold

IS-K has come to dominate Darzab district in the southwest of Jowzjan province in northern Afghanistan—to the west lies Sar-e Pol province, while Faryab province is to the east. As of 2012, the district had a population of 52,800 people (IFPS, August, 2012). IS-K’s presence in northern Afghanistan began to emerge in 2015, when Qari Hekmat, a former Taliban commander in the north, shifted allegiance to IS-K and started recruiting local insurgents and building alliances (AAN, March 4). The group’s fighters are dominant in Darzab, having sidelined the Taliban and other armed actors there. The district faces many reports of IS-K carrying out killings, attacking international aid workers, beating teenagers, preventing female education and exploiting mineral resources (Tolonews, December 9, 2017; Tolonews, July, 5, 2017; khabarnama, February 8, 2017; 1tvnews, April 17).

It is unclear why IS-K has focused its energies on Darzab, Qush Tepa and the rest of Jowzjan province. Bashir Ahmad Tahyanj, a member of parliament from Faryab province, however, told The Jamestown Foundation that Darzab’s strategic geography, coupled with the local population’s highly conservative views, have paved the way for IS-K’s emergence.

IS-K first began to seriously establish its presence in Darzab district in early 2017. In June that year, two groups of Taliban fighters who had switched allegiance to IS-K staged a series of attacks on government outposts in Darzab. In those battles, IS-K fighters killed at least 10 government fighters and many civilians (AVA, April 10, 2017).

Since then, three major battles have taken place between Taliban and IS-K fighters. The first major attack took place in the second half of October 2017. The Taliban had mobilized hundreds of fighters from several provinces to oust Qari Hekmat and his forces from Darzab (AAN, November 11, 2017). The second military offensive of Taliban insurgents against IS-K fighters took place within four months, but again failed to recapture the territorial control of Darzab district. Qari Hekmat and his forces survived the attack, which lasted for around 10 days starting from January 19, 2018, and involved hundreds of Taliban fighters. In early April, Qari Hekmat was reportedly killed in a U.S.-Afghan joint raid in the north, but even without their leader IS-K survived a third Taliban attack on the district.

Composition of IS-K in Darzab

The presence of foreign fighters among IS-K in Darzab and other northern provinces is an additional concern. In August 2017, the Jowzjan police chief confirmed the presence of foreign fighters including Chechens and Uzbeks—like the prominent Aziz Yuldashev, son of Tahir Yuldashev—along with Pakistani and even Uyghur fighters on the battlefields of Darzab, fighting against Afghan government forces (Khabarnama, August 25, 2017).

Abdul Ahad Elbek, the Faryab deputy provincial council chief, had reported that Russian and Tajikistani citizens were present alongside other IS-K fighters in the battlefields of Jowzjan and Faryab. It would be weeks before Afghan senior security officials confirmed the presence of these foreign fighters in Jowzjan. (Khabarnama, August 10, 2017).

Soon after the claims of foreign fighters’ involvement in Darzab district by local officials in northern Afghanistan, another report emerged in December 2017 stating that Algerian and French fighters had joined IS-K in Darzab. The report bolstered fears of a growing presence of foreign fighters among IS-K militants in that area (Tolonews, December 10, 2017).

IS-K’s ranks in northern Afghanistan¬—particularly in Darzab, Qush Tepa and other Jowzjan and Faryab districts—are an unusual combination of foreign and Afghan fighters. This has attracted the attention of the Afghan government and international forces, which have been concerned about northern Afghanistan becoming a destination for IS fighters fleeing the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. Moreover, the trend has also concerned Russians and citizens of Central Asia who are part of the broader picture of the IS-K formation in northern Afghanistan.

Roots of Resentment

The Taliban made clear its unwillingness to tolerate IS-K from the day the group first emerged in 2015. In early October that year, Taliban officials announced the formation of an elite force—one that insurgents claimed was better trained and equipped than regular Taliban fighters—and deployed it to provinces where IS-K had emerged (BBC Persian, December 23, 2015).

The Taliban then began a broad offensive against IS-K affiliated groups. In late November, insurgents brutally killed IS-K members in Zabol province (Pazhwok, November 9, 2015). Ahead of Zabol in June 2015, they crushed IS-K fighters in western Farah province. Later, the Afghan national army would say IS-K had been stamped out from the province entirely (al-Arabia, June 1, 2015). Since then, there have been no reports of IS-K activities in Farah and other western provinces bordering Iran. Some believe the Taliban had been subcontracted by Iran to ensure the provinces remains free of the group.

Fighting between the Taliban and IS-K continued into the following years in other areas of Afghanistan. In 2016, Nangarhar emerged as a major IS-K stronghold and became the focus of the Taliban. Fighting between the two insurgent groups resulted in a large number of casualties, although interestingly the Taliban found it was unable to eliminate the IS-K Nangahar strongholds. Instead, in many areas, IS-K emerged as a dominant player, controlling wider areas of land and winning territory from the Taliban (BBC Persian, January 6, 2016). Clashes between the Taliban and IS-K continued, even as the Afghan government and U.S.-led international forces targeted IS-K with the “mother of all bombs” and killed IS-K leaders (BBC Persian, May 7, 2017).

In contrast to the Taliban’s success against IS-K in south and western Afghanistan, the group has failed to suppress IS-K fighters and eliminate their strongholds in eastern and northern parts of the country.

The Role of Russia

Concurrent with IS-K emergence in Afghanistan, Russia has continuously developed its relations with the Taliban. In April 2016, a senior Russian official confirmed his country’s relations with the group but denied any cooperation with them (Azadi Radio, April 11, 2016). Russia’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, told the press that his country’s concern about IS-K is the main reason for Moscow’s contacts with the Taliban (BBC Persian, December 26, 2016). In fact, Russia’s concerns go further. Moscow is continuously engaged in discussions with regional players, including Pakistan and China, to address regional security and the risk of IS-K infiltration into the Central Asian region (8am, April 1, 2016).

Afghan experts believe Russia first started talks with the Taliban in 2006, urging the group to fight the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and counter drugs trafficking to Central Asia (VOA Dari, November 13, 2016). No official sources confirm Moscow’s relations with the Taliban as early as 2006, although Russians in more recent years have been vocal about their country’s channels of communication with the Taliban. This has led to assumptions that the Taliban’s aggressive stance against IS-K in northern Afghanistan, particularly in the Darzab district of Jowjzan, might be due to Moscow’s involvement. If true, utilizing the Taliban as a proxy against IS-K in Afghanistan seems to be a double-edged sword for the Russians who are putting at risk their relations with Kabul. Moreover, such a tactical stance only strengthens the Taliban, which still brutally kills Afghan and international forces and is responsible for thousands of civilian casualties every year.

Russia has been uncompromising in its stance toward Islamic State, and Moscow is doubtless concerned about the emergence of IS-K in Afghanistan. The heavy Russian military presence in Tajikistan and its involvement with the Taliban clearly illustrates that Moscow sees IS-K as a strategic threat both to Russia and Moscow’s wider “security belt” throughout Central Asia.

UN panel says millions of Uyghurs living in 'massive internment camp' in China’s Xinjiang

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — A United Nations human rights panel says that an estimated one million ethnic Uyghurs in China are being held in "counterextremism centers," with millions more forced into reeducation camps, turning China's far-western Xinjiang-Uyghur region into "something that resembles a massive internment camp", RFE/RL reported.

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Taliban delegation visits Uzbekistan, meets with foreign ministry officials

  • Written by TCA

TASHKENT (TCA) — A delegation of the Taliban led by the head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar visited Uzbekistan from August 6-10 for talks with senior officials from Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry, Taliban and Uzbek officials said.

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Switzerland helps improve access to clean drinking water in rural Kyrgyzstan

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — An official launch of improved drinking water supply service took place in Bagysh municipality of Jalal-Abad province in southern Kyrgyzstan on August 9. A new 3245-meter water pipeline was installed, a 500 m3 reservoir was reconstructed at water intake facilities, a 180-meter-deep well was drilled, and a new deep-well pump with electronic control was installed. Water pipelines have been installed in 848 households and now more than 5,800 inhabitants of Oktyabrskoye and Kedey-Aryk villages of the Bagysh municipality have access to clean drinking water 24 hours a day, the Embassy of Switzerland in the Kyrgyz Republic reported.

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Five littoral states sign convention on legal status of Caspian Sea

  • Written by TCA

AKTAU, Kazakhstan (TCA) — At their summit in the Kazakh port city of Aktau on August 12, the presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan signed the Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, after more than two decades of discussions.

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