A month and a half after a Russian spacecraft exploded on takeoff in Kazakhstan, the two sides are still bickering over the cleanup.
Kazakhstan’s Tengrinews news agency reported on August 15 that Environmental Protection Minister Nurlan Kapparov had expressed his “dissatisfaction” with the Russian space agency’s efforts to clean up after a Russian Proton-M rocket carrying up to 600 tons of toxic fuel exploded at the Baikonur launch site 17 seconds after takeoff on July 2.
Russia says it needs more time to clean up the poisonous mess.
“Roskosmos’s representative has asked for [an extra] 15 days for the detoxication of the area,” Tengrinews reported, quoting a statement from the Kazakh Environmental Protection Ministry.
The statement added that the Kazakh government is doing its utmost to “identify negative consequences of rockets on the environment and health of residents of Baikonur.” Local residents have complained they are being kept in the dark about the potential environmental and health impacts of the crash.
Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported on August 15 that the Proton-M rocket carrying three Glonass satellites had contained 500 to 600 tons of heptyl, a highly toxic substance used as fuel to power Russian rockets.
Rouhani and his Kazakhstan counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev meet in Tehran for Rouhani's inauguration (photo: president.ir)
Iran's newly elected president Hassan Rouhani may or may not take his first trip abroad as president to Kyrgyzstan and the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Regardless, most analysts seem to believe that as compared to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Rouhani is less likely to seriously pursue ties with the SCO and its member states more generally.
A number of news media, including Iranian state media, reported last week that Rouhani would travel to Bishkek for the SCO summit on September 13. But then Iran's foreign ministry clarified that no such decision has been made:
"The SCO summit is of high importance in Eurasian region and Iran, as an observer, has actively participated in its meetings," [Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas] Araqchi said at his weekly press briefing, adding that "For this (year's) summit, Iran has also been invited, but no final decision for participation in the summit has been made yet."
"The final decision in this regard will be made by the president (Rouhani)," said the spokesman.
Iran isn't a member of the SCO, but an observer. (Full members are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.) Under Ahmadinejad, Iran applied for full membership to the organization and he frequently praised the organization, for example calling it the foundation of a "new world order." But Rouhani is likely to step back from that emphasis, said Iranian expert Mehdi Mahdavi Azad in an interview with Radio Ozodi:
The South Caucasus country of Georgia has taken the concept of a welfare state to a whole new level by extending government aid to a millionaire. A nationwide inspection of government aid recipients revealed that quite a few of the country’s rich were somehow included in the poverty list and were happily getting some of their tax money back through a subsistence allowance.
The Ministry of Health and Labor's Social Services Agency, responsible for verifying welfare recipients' eligibility, recently reviewed its list of beneficiaries and found that 1,402 people on the list had incomes well above the levels required for government aid. “One businessman’s annual income was over a million lari [$625,000],” agency head Noe Kinkladze told reporters.
There were others, he said, with lower annual incomes, but still close to a million lari.
The agency did not specify how these well-to-do citizens ended up on the list, nor identify them by name.
Rich and successful as these people were, looks like they could still use a little extra cash from the government; perhaps to tip drivers or cleaning ladies. Georgia pays individual welfare recipients between 70 to 150 laris ($42.31-$90.66) per month.
The “poor millionaire” and other affluent beneficiaries were revealed after the agency cross-checked its lists with data from the National Revenue Service, the Georgian equivalent of the IRS. Kinkladze said that the government in 2012 -- under the control of President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement for most of the year -- gave under 1.2 million laris ($730,000) to sustain the rich.
With family members watching, soldiers are awarded certificates and are dismissed from military service during a ceremony at the Gur Emir mausoleum in Samarkand in late July. The mausoleum, which dates from the end of the 14th Century, contains the tombs of Central Asian conqueror and ruler Tamerlane, along with those of two sons, two grandsons, and one of his teachers.
A former lawyer for one of the two students from Kazakhstan implicated in the Boston Marathon bombing has published an impassioned plea for leniency, arguing that the prospect of 25 years in prison for the two teens for exercising “world-class bad judgment under the worst of possible scenarios” would be too harsh a punishment.
Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both from Kazakhstan, allegedly took and dumped a backpack with emptied fireworks from Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s dorm room after seeing their friend named as a suspect on TV several days after the bombings. On August 13, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev entered a plea of “not guilty” on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice in Boston’s Federal District Court.
In a commentary for Slate, Harlan Protass, Tazhayakov’s former lawyer, argues that locking up two 19-year-olds till they’ve reached their 30’s or 40’s is not the best way to prevent future tampering with evidence by others. That may be a bit inside baseball if you don’t live in the United States, since it plays into broader American debates about sentencing and prison reform, as well as the power of federal prosecutors.
Russian President Vladimir Putin led a high-powered delegation to Baku this week, and security issues seemed to be high on the agenda, leading to renewed speculation about whether the traditional geopolitical allegiances in the South Caucasus may or may not be shifting.
The fact that the delegation included such a large number of heavyweights spoke to the significance of the visit. In addition to Putin, it included Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Energy Minister Alexander Novak and the heads of Russia’s biggest oil companies, Rosneft and Lukoil. Also along for the visit were some ships from Russia's Caspian Flotilla and the fleet's commander, Vice Admiral Sergey Alekminsky. Putin's remarks after his meeting with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev focused mainly on economics and business ties, but also touched on security:
During our talks we paid a great deal of attention to resolving problems in the Caspian region. We are interested in seeing this region become one in which peace and cooperation reign. There are still many unresolved issues here, relating to security, border delimitation, conserving biological diversity in the Caspian Sea and so on. We have a vested interest in resolving all these problems, naturally taking into account the interests of all littoral states.
It is symbolic that our talks coincide with a friendly visit of a detachment of the Russian Caspian Flotilla to Baku. The Dagestan missile ship and the Volgodonsk small artillery ship are among the vessels. At the end of 2013 Azerbaijani sailors plan to make a return visit to Astrakhan.
While the recent lifting of the Russian embargo on Georgian wine was a cause for celebration -- both for Russian consumers, who had to go without their favorite bottles of Saperavi for some seven years, and for Georgian winemakers, who had to make due after losing access to a large market with a less-than-discerning wine palette -- questions are being about just how much of an impact this development will have on the Georgian economy.
From a report in the Financial, a Georgian economic news website:
"We do not expect these developments to have a tangible bearing on Georgia's creditworthiness in the near term," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Ana Jelenkovic. "But they could lead to improvements in key economic and external indicators over the medium to longer term."
Almost 80 percent of young Armenians surveyed in a recent poll say they’d leave their country if they get the chance, with 36 percent saying they’d leave for good. Their desire, uncovered by the Armenian chapter of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), jives with other recent research, and further stokes long-standing survival fears within Armenia.
“It is clear that the migration process poses risks for our country… by taking away young people, who are full of energy and are in their reproductive age,” said Gagik Hayrapetian, UNFPA’s assistant representative in Armenia, speaking at an August 12 news conference dedicated to International Youth Day.
In 2012, 49,600 Armenian citizens left the country of 2.97 million people for good, according to official data, but many locals speculate that the real number could be still higher. Coupled with one of the world's lower birth rates, high numbers of young people longing to seek greener pastures abroad may not augur well for the future, many Armenians fear.
The poll questioned 1,200 Armenian citizens between the ages of 18 and 30.
Many young Armenians are pessimistic about their education or career options at home, according to the findings of a report by the Armenian UN Association. Their strong desire to study abroad creates fertile soil for an eventually permanent emigration, the report found.
While Armenia's struggling economy is often considered the main cause of migration, the report argues that many other factors come into play, too, including marriage.
Turkmenistan’s president has dismantled some of his predecessor’s personality cult – only to replace it with a new one, in the spirit of two for the price of one: Aside from filling television screens and billboards with images of himself, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is intent on immortalizing his father.
Citing Turkmen state television, AFP reported on August 13 that Berdymukhamedov had unveiled a 5-meter bronze bust of his father, Myalikguly Berdymukhamedov, to mark the patriarch’s 81st birthday. The bust is housed at a compound newly built for the Interior Ministry’s military unit No. 1001, where the elder Berdymukhamedov served and retired as a lieutenant colonel back in 1982. Under the terms of a parliamentary resolution last year, the unit now bears Berdymukhamedov Senior’s name.
“Myalikguly Berdymukhamedov enjoys a great reputation as a man who managed to bring up a highly humane son who is infinitely loyal to the Turkmen people and sincerely loves his people, showing a brilliant example of selfless service to his people. The courageous image of Myalikguly Berdymukhamedov, the father of the distinguished president, and his highest humanity serve as [an] enormous example for imitation for all of us,” the resolution says, according to the official Turkmenistan.ru.