Headlines from the Caspian: November 29, 2023
Author: Caspian Policy Center
Nov 29, 2023
Energy and Economy
Kazakhstan Oil Production Declines as Russia’s Port Halts Transport Again
Storms near Russia’s Port of Novorossiysk have reportedly caused a decline in Kazakhstan’s oil exports. Reports are indicating that Kazakh oil production has declined by 16% as its main export route, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) pipeline, cannot fully function. The CPC transports nearly 80% of Kazakhstan’s oil exports, and although the Novorossiysk port has the equipment to handle harsh weather conditions, the operator has halted loading at the offshore marine terminal in Novaya Ozereyevka. On November 26, as a result of this suspension, Kazakh outputs fell to 1.6 million barrels per day.
Source: Upstream Online
Kazakhstan Announces Digital Currency
On November 21, the Deputy Chair of the Kazakh National Bank, Berik Sholpankulov, announced the bank had begun issuing a digital currency referred to as the Digital Tenge (DT). The DT will be centrally issued by the National Bank and will be available for use even when devices being used in a transaction are offline, something crucial for Kazakhstan’s rural regions. The currency will also be much easier to track than a traditional currency, something proponents argue will increase transparency in government spending. According to bank officials, they hope to broaden the use of the DT for cross-border transactions by 2025.
Caspian States Agree on a Plan to Digitalize the Middle Corridor
On November 24, during the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan adopted the Baku Declaration. The declaration set a roadmap for digitalizing multimodal data and document exchange along the Middle Corridor and creating the SPECA Multi-Partner Trust Fund. Azerbaijan announced it will contribute $3.5 million to the fund.
Kazakhstan Discusses Kuryk Port Expansion with Abu Dhabi Ports
On November 27, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev met with Mohamed Juma Al Shamisi, Managing Director and CEO of Abu Dhabi (AD) Ports Group to discuss the expansion of the Aktau and Kuryk ports on the Caspian Sea. Tokayev shared his plans to increase the capacity of the North-South route connecting Eurasia with the Gulf, Africa, and India by 70% by 2027. This comes after the joint venture between AD Ports Group and KazMorTransFlot (KMTF) announced the acquisition of two new vessels to transport Kazakhstan’s oil across the Caspian.
Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan Sign Economic Cooperation Agreement
On November 28, during the 7th meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Economic and Humanitarian Cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan’s Economy Minister, Mikail Jabbarov, and Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan, Batyr Atdayev, discussed their state’s shared interests. At the end of the meeting, a protocol was signed on expanding cooperation in the fields of trade, economy, energy, transport, and agriculture.
Security and Politics
Secretary Blinken Calls the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia
On November 27, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called both the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, and the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. In his call with Pashinyan, Blinken “discussed U.S. support for efforts to reach a durable and dignified peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.” In his call with Aliyev, “The Secretary welcomed President Aliyev’s commitment to conclude a durable and dignified peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia.” Furthermore, Blinken and Aliyev discussed opportunities for increased engagement through peace endeavors.
Source: U.S. Department of State
SPECA Meets in Baku for the First Time Since 1998
On November 24, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan met in Baku for the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA). This summit, hosted and organized by Azerbaijan, reflected on the economic progress of the region for the past 25 years and emphasized the role of the program for the next 25 years. Along with discussing the digitalization of the Middle Corridor, participants of SPECA discussed environmental sustainability, water security, gender equality, women’s empowerment, and the creation of the SPECA Multi-Partner Trust Fund under UN management.
Armenia and Azerbaijan Signal Interest in Direct Negotiations
Following a series of cancellations of negotiations mediated by third parties, on November 21, Baku called for “direct negotiations” at an agreed-upon location, suggesting the state border between Azerbaijan and Armenia as the location. In response, Armenia stated that it was “ready to reengage” in negotiations, but only if Azerbaijan’s leadership publicly endorsed basic principles that had been agreed to in earlier talks, including “mutual recognition and respect for each other’s territorial integrity without ambiguities; completion of border delimitation based on the  Alma-Ata Declaration; and the unblocking of the region’s trade, transportation, and communications.”
France is Looking to Conclude Fighter Jet Sales to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan
On November 26, the French media company La Tribune reported that French President Emmanuel Macron had encouraged Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to purchase the French Dassault Rafale combat aircraft as a replacement for their Russian-made jets. It was also reported that Uzbekistan is interested in purchasing up to 24 Rafales, while Kazakhstan has yet to show as much interest in the aircraft.
Source: Defense and Security Monitor
Turkmenistan and the Netherlands Discuss Cooperation
On November 27, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, B. Myatiev, met with the Ambassador of the Netherlands, Nico Schermers, to discuss Turkmen-Dutch cooperation and aspects of future engagement. Both sides considered expanding trade, agriculture, education, and water management cooperation.
Defense Ministers of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Türkiye Hold Trilateral Meetings in Baku
On November 27, the Ministers of Defense of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Türkiye held bilateral and trilateral meetings in Baku. During the meetings, the sides discussed regional and global security issues, underlining the importance of regional cooperation. The Georgian Minister of Defense thanked the Turkish side for its support for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and underlined Georgia’s readiness to contribute to dialogue and confidence-building between Armenia and Azerbaijan within the framework of the Peaceful Neighborhood Initiative.
The Leaders of Kazakhstan and Togo Met to Discuss Bilateral Relations
On November 28, the President of Togo, Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé, paid an official visit to Kazakhstan to meet with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Both leaders expressed the need to strengthen cooperation amid international tensions. The potential strategic partnership between the two countries is promising, especially in trade, mining, agriculture, transport, and digitalization. This meeting between the two leaders was historic because such cross-continental bilateral meetings rarely occur. This meeting marks a positive trend in the cooperation between Central Asia and Africa.
Source: Astana Times
Georgia Approves De-Oligarchization Plan
On November 27, the Georgian government announced an action plan to decrease oligarchs' inappropriate influence on Georgian political and social life. De-oligarchization has been a frequent request of the European Union regarding Georgia’s accession to the body. When describing the action plan, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili framed it within the context of efforts at joining the EU, stating that “It is our common wish that all these reforms envisaged in these nine steps will be implemented as soon as possible,” referring the nine steps the European Commission recently outlined when recommending Georgia for candidate-country status.
Sources: AkiPress, Astana Times, Azernews, Azer Tag, Civil.ge, Defense and Security Monitor, Eurasianet, RFE/RL, UNECE, Upstream Online, U.S. Department of State