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Russian Energy Titans Battle, Ukrainian Asylum Seekers on the Rise

Plus, Tajikistan rounds up hundreds of sex workers and Armenia drives a hard bargain in Eurasian Economic Union entry talks.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Madeleine Stern 9 July 2014

1. Russian energy majors in struggle over Far Eastern pipelines


Russian oil giant Rosneft is taking on rival energy company Gazprom on two fronts over the use of major gas pipelines in Siberia and the Russian Far East, Agence France-Presse reports.

Igor Sechin


Rosneft threatened to take legal action against Gazprom on 1 July, after the Kremlin-controlled Gazprom signed a 30-year gas contract with China worth about $400 billion. Rosneft, headed by Igor Sechin, a close associate of Vladimir Putin, is seeking access to the Power of Siberia pipeline, which will link eastern Siberia with the Russian-Chinese border once it is completed, The Financial Times reports.


Although Gazprom is Russia’s principal gas distributor, it is legally obligated to allow other companies access to its energy delivery infrastructure. Rosneft alleges that Gazprom’s refusal to open the Power of Siberia pipeline violates these regulations, Bloomberg reports.


Now Rosneft has filed a lawsuit against a company half-owned by Gazprom, demanding access to the Sakhalin-2 pipeline, which would allow Rosneft to make a foray into the east Siberian natural gas market. There is currently only one natural gas refinery operating in the Sakhalin region, but Rosneft is planning to construct a second in a joint venture with ExxonMobil, RAPSI reports.


Gazprom’s business practices have come under scrutiny in the past, most recently by the EU, which has sought to toughen its enforcement of antitrust laws against the company, Radio Free Europe reports. Gazprom maintains the Power of Siberia pipeline will not have the capacity to carry gas from other providers, AFP reports.


2. Sharp rise in Ukrainian asylum requests


Asylum applications from Ukrainians in European Union countries rose dramatically as the conflict between government forces and separatists broke out this spring, although the country is still far behind Russia and some Balkan countries as the largest sources of asylum seekers in the union.


New figures from the EU’s European Asylum Support Office (EASO) show that Ukrainians filed more than 2,000 asylum applications from March through May.


The average over the past 20 years is around 100 applications a month, EASO said in a press release. That figure did not rise during the initial phase of the Ukrainian crisis up to the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych as president in February, according to EUObserver.


“The new applications are in large part (over 95 percent) from first time applicants (i.e. persons who have never applied before in the EU) and are widely distributed throughout Europe,” EASO said.


Most recent Ukrainian asylum seekers were already in the EU when they applied, EASO director Robert K. Visser told the media, EUObserver reports.


Visser said Ukrainian applicants were “traditionally” refused asylum in the EU, but “now people are taking a wait-and-see approach to see how the situation evolves.”


“The EU figure is tiny compared to the 110,000 Ukrainians said by the UN to have crossed the border into Russia,” EUObserver writes. The number of Ukrainians who have formally requested asylum or refugee status in Russia, however, remains unclear.


Asylum applications in the EU continued their rising trend of the past few years, reaching 435,760, according to EASO. Syria again was the largest single source of applicants, while among European source countries Russia, Kosovo, and other Western Balkan countries contributed large numbers.


Just over a third of applications received an initial positive evaluation, with formal refugee status being granted to 49,710 people.


3. Yerevan plays cat-and-mouse with Moscow over trade bloc entry


For Armenia, membership in the Eurasian Economic Union is starting to look like a desert mirage.


Last spring officials hoped to complete negotiations to join the Russia-dominated economic bloc by mid-April. Nothing happened.


In May, President Serzh Sargsyan set 15 June as the target date. Again, nothing. 

Serzh Sargsyan


On 1 July, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the architect of the union he hopes will one day rival the EU, said Armenia would join “very soon,” the Arka news agency reports.



Then Kazakhstani Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov was quoted as saying Armenia could sign the admission documents at the October meeting of union heads of state in Minsk, according to Arka. Kazakhstan and Belarus are the other members of the bloc.


The latest prognosis comes from Russian think tank head Vladimir Lepyokhin, who told a press conference in Yerevan that membership may not happen this year, RFE reports.


The sticking point may be Yerevan’s insistence on including the Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the bloc, argued Lepyokhin, whose YevrAzES Institute “is close to the Kremlin,” RFE writes.


Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbaev in May said Armenia could enter only on the basis of its internationally recognized borders, which exclude Karabakh, Lepyokhin said.


Moscow began upping the pressure on Yerevan to join the union last fall as a counterweight to Ukraine’s policy of closer integration with the EU. Former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych’s last-minute cancellation of the EU deal sparked protests that eventually pushed him from power. The new Ukrainian government, joined by Georgia and Moldova, signed the EU agreements last month.


4. Raids net 500 sex workers across Tajikistan


A crackdown on prostitution in Tajikistan may have the unintended effect of bringing the topic into the open in this conservative nation, Radio Free Europe writes.


About 500 sex workers have been arrested since the campaign against “immoral crimes” such as prostitution and human trafficking began in June, reports.


According to Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda, health tests revealed that 450 out of 505 detainees were infected with sexually transmitted diseases.


Prostitution itself is a misdemeanor, but pimping or running a brothel can bring a prison term of up to eight years, RFE notes.


Speaking about her experience in custody, Takhmina, a sex worker from Dushanbe who had been detained for four days, said such raids will have few effects since sex workers have no other work alternatives. “What will they do [next]? They will bring us to the police station and beat and humiliate us and we again will go back to work, because we must survive and we need money,” quotes her as saying.


Estimates of the average monthly salary in Tajikistan range from $40 to around $150. The lack of financial options for divorced and abandoned women is one the main factors pushing women into sex work, RFE writes.


TajikWomen350Economic options for women in Tajikistan have grown increasingly limited as economic conditions there have worsened. Photo by Adil Nurmakov/Flickr


The number of prostitutes registered at the state Women’s Affairs Committee climbed 25 percent in 2013, to 1,641.


The increased visibility of sex workers is at least airing the topic, RFE writes. In the past, President Emomali Rahmon condemned warned about Tajiks falling prey to prostitution rings, on the grounds that they affect the country’s moral traditions and international prestige.


5. Kazakhstan bets big on Western tourism


Kazakhstan’s move to ease visa requirements is part of a policy to massively boost tourism over the coming years, RFE reports.


Astana’s plans for the tourism sector include $10 billion of new investment over the next six years, much of it from private investors. The target is to double visitor numbers to 8 million a year by 2020, according to RFE.


Starting 15 July, citizens of 10 countries – Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States – will be able to enter the country for up to 15 days without a visa in a one-year trial run, the Astana Times reports.


These countries are among the largest current or potential investors in Kazakhstan.


“The country relies heavily on domestic tourists and visitors from former Soviet countries, primarily Russia and Central Asian states,” RFE writes. Visitors from elsewhere can be put off by the complicated visa procedure, high prices, and a reputation for dodgy service, according to RFE.


Astana’s long-term development strategy foresees a major shift away from oil and minerals toward smaller, more diversified investments.


Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Madeleine Stern is a TOL editorial intern. 
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