Saudi Energy Minister: Asian Consensus on Oil Production Levels Present

Saudi Arabia's energy minister al-Falih addresses a news conference after an OPEC meeting in Vienna

Dubai- Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khaled al-Falih said there is a present consensus within Central Asian countries on managing oil markets and production levels.

While touring Central Asian countries, Falih tweeted that there is an agreement with the region on the need to commit to oil production cuts.

For his part, Iran’s oil minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh said on Saturday that his country received positive indicatives from OPEC countries and others to extend the production cut, which Tehran will be also supporting.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is scheduled to meet in May to discuss oil supply policy.

Oil prices fell last week, despite closing at a higher rate on Friday, all of which was based on growing hopes that OPEC may agree to extend the production cut long enough to further reduce the glut.

Zangeneh told reporters that Iran has received positive signals from OPEC states along with non-OPEC producers agreeing that the production cut has been extended till the second half of 2017.

The Iranian energy minister blamed the Tehran’s low foreign investment on the United States, citing unilateral sanction imposed for impeding contracts with international oil companies.

“They (the United States) cannot stop us,” he said.

“No one can stop our activities concerned with developing the oil and gas sectors, but … they sure can decelerate our efforts,” he commented.

When it signed the landmark deal in 2015, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for lifting most of the international economic sanctions it suffered.

But many foreign investors still face obstacles when reviewing prospects of investment in Iran, such as US-imposed sanctions.

Islamists of Central Asia: Latest Trend of Violent Extremism

Russia

Beirut – Russian authorities recently revealed that the suspected suicide bomber who attacked the metro in St. Petersburg was a Kyrgyz citizen born in Russia. This attack followed another that had targeted Reina nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. That attack was executed by a Uighur from China who came to Turkey from Kyrgyzstan.

These two attacks shed light on the complicated dynamic of recruiting extremists in Kyrgyzstan and other central Asian countries and Russia’s efforts to alleviate terrorist threats by facilitating the travel of local extremists to Syria.

Earlier this month, a Kyrgyz citizen, who was born in Russia, blew himself up in St. Petersburg’s metro station, killing 13 people. A few days later, Russian police dismantled a bomb found in an apartment in the same city.

The St. Petersburg attack was a reminder that terror threats are still a cause for concern for the Russian leadership and community, Russia expert Max Sokov told Asharq Al-Awsat. This was the first time terrorism hit the northern capital of Russia even though two dangerous attacks were thwarted in November of last year and February earlier this year.

According to a report published by The Diplomat Magazine, over 350 Kyrgyz citizens, including around 80 women, went to Syria. Another report prepared by Radio Liberty Europe said the vast majority of Kyrgyz citizens, who left to fight with ISIS in Syria, are from the southern parts of the country.

Over 2,000-4,000 people from Central Asia, including Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tajiks, Turkmen and Uighurs, have joined ISIS’s ranks. According to Sokov, the longest land border in the world is that separating Russia and Kazakhstan. Infiltrations across that border have increased, which has allowed different groups coming from “deep inside” Central Asia, such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, to move with relative freedom.

ISIS members hailing from central Asian countries have remarkably increased, especially in the past two years. Yet, it seems that ISIS does not consider Central Asia an important center for recruitment, like Europe and Tunisia.

For Central Asia’s residents, joining radical groups can be triggered by many factors, such as the failure of public institutions, level of education, poverty and wealth, the growing use of social media and the lack of opportunities for youth.

The Diplomat divided ISIS’s militants into different categories. The first includes citizens opposing their countries’ regime and politicians. They are not necessarily poor, but they dream of political and social changes in their countries. Driven by depression and disappointment, they decided to fight in Syria to feel that they are part of an important cause and to feel that they are heroes in an ideal battle for change. Some of them believe that they are fighting for freedom against an oppressive regime, while others think that the secular political regime has failed in providing them with a dignified life and that only an Islamic state can improve their future.

The second category is composed of people who have been oppressed or are escaping oppression. “Authorities in countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are oppressive and do not allow the existence of an opposition. Some of this category’s members, particularly those who ran away from oppression, consider regions controlled by ISIS as a safe haven,” continued The Diplomat.

The third category includes those who are looking for a better life. They are often lured by false promises that include money and new job opportunities. ISIS has promised many of them high salaries that may reach $5,000 and $10,000, which are a fortune in this region. But, eventually, they discover that these promises are false.

Sokov said evidence in the St. Petersburg attack points to the involvement of al-Nusra Front and members from Central Asia. It turned out that the suspect came from the Osh region in Kyrgyzstan where people from the Uzbek ethnicity live. Sokov noted that Central Asian and Caucasus citizens who have joined terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq are a concern to Moscow and the Central Asian authorities.

The Diplomat mentioned that terrorist groups tend to recruit central Asian members living in Russia. Those migrants often work in low-paying jobs or suffer from unemployment, which isolates them.

Amid these circumstances, some fall under the influence of Chechens, who recruit extremists at mosques, and end up traveling to Syria through Moscow, Grozny or Turkey.

The fourth category of ISIS militants is composed of people who come from religious backgrounds or are very interested in Islam, said The Diplomat. Religious knowledge in Central Asian countries is generally low, which makes members practicing Islam an easy target for recruiters, who convince them that ISIS will unify all Muslims and save them.

The last category includes girls and young women, who believe false promises of love and marriage. They are often lured through social media.

According to an article published by Reuters in 2016, Russian authorities worked on easing the threat of extremists by providing direct or indirect help for would-be militants wanting to head to Syria. Moscow sought to eliminate the threat of local terrorist attacks and therefore, intelligence and police officials overlooked or even facilitated the departure of militants to Syria. According to Reuters, this plan persisted up until at least the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and it was even heightened out of fear that the extremists would carry out attacks at the sports event.

Central Asia: Motherland of Turkic Peoples

Ankara- The Turkic peoples are Euro-Asian peoples that reside in north, central, and west of Eurasia. They speak the Turkic language, belong to Turkic families, and have different cultural and historic characteristics. The “Turkic” term has been used to describe the group of lingual ethnicities to which belong these peoples including Tatar, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Turkmen, and Turkish in the Republic of Turkey, along with many others that disappeared.

Central Asia is considered the original motherland of Turkic peoples. It is generally agreed that the first Turkic people lived in a region extending from Central Asia to Siberia, with the majority of them living in China historically. After the emergence of ancient migrants, Turkic languages have spread to other regions like Anatolia, Anadolu (currently the Republic of Turkey), and even the central and southern Russia.

Peoples with Turkic lingual and cultural background have spread in the region from Siberia in Eastern Russia to Central Asia and Eastern Europe. The biggest assemblage of these peoples has been concentrated in Central Asia, which includes Republics of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kirghizstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Turkey. Turkic peoples also live in other provinces like Crimea in Ukraine and Turkistan in China, Northern Iraq, Iran, Israel, Russia, Afghanistan, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and many others. Some Turkic minorities also live in Lithuania, Eastern Poland, and Southeastern Finland in addition to many migrants in Germany, the United States, and Australia.

Turkic peoples are composed of six main tribes: Oghuz, Kipchak, Karluks, Guash Yakut, and Siberians. Oghuz is known as western Turkic tribe while the others are considered from eastern Turkic. The journalist Mahmoud Kabalan from the Yenisafak Newspaper (close to the Turkish Government), said that his country needs to prove existence in its region first so it can play an influencing role. The journalist said that Turkey still lacks for civilization and that intellect in the country didn’t reach the phase of strong-founded civilization. He continues saying that the Turkish scene has been full of intellects who adopt weird understandings and talk about cultures like they were talking about religion, or even replace culture with religion.

Kabalan noted that the western civilization and its colonialism confused minds and messed with Anthropology tools. The writer stated that the old Ottoman territories today comprise 41 states, with 35 of them located in rural regions. Therefore, he considered that understanding the surrounding problems requires the return to the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkic Peoples Face Accusations of Terrorism

Turkic

Ankara – The recent terrorist attacks which witnessed the involvement of members from Central Asia, known as the Turkic World, have raised many questions on the expansion of terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al-Qaeda in these regions and the impact of this expansion on the Middle East.

Terrorists who attacked Istanbul Atatürk Airport on June 28 and Reina Nightclub in Istanbul within the first hours of 2017 were ISIS members from Central Asia and Caucasus. Experts in combating terrorism see that the frequent terrorist attacks in Turkey show that the organization has launched a war against the country after Ankara’s battles in Syria and its participation in the Euphrates Shield operation, which was launched on August 24.

Apparently, ISIS has actually started to recruit its cells by targeting Central Asians and people originally from the Caucasus but living in Turkey and speaking the Turkish language. The number of these members cannot be determined, but the majority of them have been used in suicide bombings.

The proliferation of terrorist organizations, mainly ISIS, has been a major concern among Central Asian governments, because of the real threat they pose to stability and security. These governments have also found difficulties in coping with these threats as a result of the huge economic and security crises they already suffer from.

The Guardian Newspaper revealed that around 4,000 migrants from Central Asia traveled to Syria to join fighting groups after they were secretly recruited by Chechen terrorists.

While the United States announced it concerns from ISIS’ proliferation in Islamic countries which were part of the Soviet Union, Russia also feared extremists breaching through its southern borders, which compelled major countries to toughen their security measures.

In an unprecedented step, the U.S. has sent hundreds of armors, troop carriers, and huge amounts of weapons to the Republic of Uzbekistan while Russia provided Tajikistan- the only non-Turkic republic in the Soviet Central Asia- with developed arms (worth USD1.3 billion), to help it combat armed groups. From its part, China also showed concerns from the expansion of ISIS in the region known as East Turkestan.

Caucasian Militants

It is worth noting that militants from four Islamic Republics in Caucasus- Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Kabardino – have pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video shared on the internet in both Arabic and Russian languages.

Officials from Russia have said that thousands of Russians, mostly from Caucasus, have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS in its battles. An official noted that those members amount to around 2,000, and they have returned through Turkey as tourists who lost their papers.

On another hand, Tajikistan issued an international warrant to arrest the leader of its “private forces” Gulmorad Halimov’s for joining ISIS and accused him of treason. Halimov, who was trained in the United States, appeared in a video threatening U.S. and Russia.

Experts see that the western media’s neglect for Central Asia distracts the world from links between ISIS and Turkic peoples in the old Soviet areas – this neglect has encouraged ISIS on benefiting from recruiting members from these origins to launch attacks in Turkey.

Lack of Reforms

Experts see that banning Islamic parties and organizations, like Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has aimed at establishing a Caliphate in Central Asia forced many youths to join radical groups that work secretly. Experts add that the Central Asian Governments’ failure in achieving political and economic reforms to alleviate pressures on Islamic Parties led to the outbreak of small groups inspired by many thoughts from ISIS. These groups are assigned to implement terrorist attacks abroad like the attacks on Istanbul.

Fiona Hill, senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution advised the U.S. Congress on the importance of rational and deep analysis for the religious extremist speech – she considered that long-term commitment, cautious evaluation, and coordination of urgent plans are the only solutions to face challenges in Central Asia. She finally said that as long as the region’s regime neglects the suffering and struggles of these people, more members will join ISIS to commit terrorist attacks abroad.

Turkish Support

A Turkish academic notes that the Turkish support for people escaping oppression from Central Asian regimes has played a major role in the increasing attacks. Some also saw that the flow of refugees from/to Syria has been a reason behind the tension between Moscow and Ankara before the recent agreements they reached, which also played a major role behind these attacks.