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December 2004 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW DECEMBER '04

DEMOCRACY A LA RUSSE

Boris Gryzlov, speaker of Russia's Parliament pronounced that the elections in UKRAINE were," as democratic as they come." Well, that's the way they do it in Russia certainly, but as the outrageous catalogue of ballot violations emerges in Ukraine and the nation, almost the size of Texas, teeters on the edge of breakdown, Russia's intrusive part in this smacks of the bad old days. UKRAINE has witnessed the inevitable result of an electoral process worthy of Stalin whose contribution to the theory of democracy was that it was unimportant who voted, all that mattered was who counted the votes. President Putin, whose Russian fix-it 'election experts' teams, were placed at the service of the corrupt regime in Kiev, is proving a worthy disciple of the former Soviet General Secretaries, but with an individual twist. When he says "black," we must now read "white."  He spoke reproachfully in public to BELARUS's president Lukashenka, after he had defrauded his people in a flagrantly corrupt referendum to ensure his being in a position to fiddle the next presidential elections in two years time…but he now warmly congratulates Viktor Yanukovich, the prime minister of Ukraine, for a fraudulent result that Russia intended to acheive, no matter what. People power, disgusted with such obvious full frontal cheating, as they were in SERBIA, and in GEORGIA, seems to have unhorsed these carefully laid plans, at least unless Putin's people can pull out something powerful enough to reverse the present position. The situation continues to develop but it has now been conceded by the most important Ukrainian politician, President Kuchma that the elections could be run again, but Yushenko is saying no to that, on the grounds that he has already won.

THE PUTIN DOCTRINE
The critical Russian input was all for the greater interests of the Putin doctrine, which is to 'de facto' recreate the USSR by unequivocally dominating many of the CIS states. As our reports on KAZAKSTAN, KYRGYZSTAN and TAJIKISTAN make clear, the Russian president has been hyperactive in seeking to consolidate Russia's traditional hold over them, (however China is now a competitor in this latest version of the Great Game and Kazakstan is mineral-rich enough to be unlikely to accept satellite status). But without Ukraine's forty eight million population, that plan of empire would look threadbare indeed.  Meanwhile the protesting supporters of Viktor Yushchenko filled the Kiev city centre in their multitudes.
                            
YUKOS
When Putin spoke in RUSSIA about the sanctity of private property you could have safely bet that he was about to turn the screws on the independent oil company,Yukos. The Russian tax authorities have had a field day inventing ludicrous tax bills, which the company is not allowed to contest as they are promptly rubberstamped by subservient courts. The assets of the company, still frozen, are then to be re-assigned at well below market value to state-controlled rivals of Yukos, to the cost of the shareholders who are now being ripped off in the state takeover of Yukos' assets. Future investors in Russian FDI will need to be motivated by a high degree of greed, or massive optimism, to counter this experience of the Yukos minority shareholders.

WASHINGTON WORLD VIEW
With the Bush administration firmly in place for another term, awkward facts from the foreign field are pouring out. It was Iraqi oil that was going to meet the bills for the US intervention but now the truth is out that a further $7 billion of foreign investment will be needed to even get back to the pathetic Saddam-era output.  Can anybody be surprised to hear that the oil pipelines out of Iraq are constantly under guerilla attack, two hundred and fifty so far?

Elections in IRAQ will take place in January, even though the country cannot be said to be ready. To delay them now would no longer affect President Bush, who has ample political capital to do almost as he will. But to reschedule would alienate the Shia supreme leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who reluctantly suffered the provisional government to be formed and has held his people back, even the firebrand Mokhtada al-Sadr, on the clear condition that these elections take place no later. With the US hoping to one day disengage, the Shia are a key building block in that process and must be indulged in this. The world has seen the bloody, probably inevitable battle to retake Fallujah, a mini-Warsaw for the Arab legend makers, but this appears not to have advanced the prospect of fair and democratic elections for the Sunni quarter of the nation, and so for the nation as a whole. Elections there will be, but free and fair and open?  Don't hold your breath.

AFGHANISTAN is settling back after their successful presidential election where Karzai was elected on the first count with a comfortable 55%. Given his new democratic mandate he has said that he will appoint ministers on merit rather than on keeping an ethnic balance, but he will not be able to ignore the ever surprising Rashid Dostam, the "lord of the north," the very model of a modern Afghan general. Dostam is an ethnic Uzbek who got a solid 10% from the Uzbeks and the Turkmen, and even some Tajiks in the north. The mainstream Tajik, Yunis Qanuni, favoured by the former northern alliance, chalked up only 16% as the main rival to Karzai. Also there was a solid 11% Hazari vote for their very own Mohaqqeq. It should be said that it is a fundamental problem and disgrace that so much of the aid sent to AFGHANISTAN has never reached its target, whilst some ministers and well placed administrators have become seriously rich. Will that now change?

IRAN and NORTH KOREA, the two remaining corners of the AXIS of EVIL are of course once again squarely in the spotlight. With the coming retirement of Secretary of State Colin Powell, considered a voice of moderation, it is at least plausible that the Pentagon hawks led by Dick Cheyney, may be looking for a dramatic excuse to smack down IRAN. Their irritation is evident at the three major European powers, Germany, France, and the UK, negotiating a non-violent solution, or at least a holding position. The irritation is not just for seeking a softer outcome, but for having the audacity to 'mix in', in the first place. In the Bushies world order, all such decisions are to be reserved for Washington. Little chance in Iran of a military adventure involving US ground troops, but if the European initiative could be effectively sidelined, (and since that includes loyalist Blair that would certainly now be difficult), there would otherwise be every chance of a proxy strike by Israeli airpower, as the Iranians must be all too aware.   IRAN meanwhile is approaching its Presidential election with still no clear candidate from the Right, despite the Right's success in dominating the parliamentary elections, so the future political direction of this pivotal western Asian nation, is currently impossible to predict.

NORTH KOREA, the ever present enigma wrapped in a riddle, etc; is coming to the 'moment of truth,' but yes, we have in substance said that before. There is a lively mystery which we seek to elucidate here, about the dear leader. On the nuclear front, the re-election of Bush clarifies attitudes, but what emerges as of now, is this. Whilst the US had few allies in the invasion of Iraq, there are absolutely none if the war party in Washington wants to go down the road of military hardball, or even severe economic sanctions. Co-negotiators Russia, China, South Korea are all, for perhaps different reasons, favouring the 'carrot' approach as distinct from that of the 'stick.' It seems that Japan is not in favour of raising the temperature of the negotiations either, although they are running out of patience in terms of the separate and legitimate issue about their kidnapped 'disappeared'.

TURKEY's bid to join the EU was approved by the European Commission but has a rockier ride at the supreme Council of Ministers. The answer is not yet known but there is some danger of it becoming snarled up in a separate issue arising at the same time, involving CROATIA's bid to join, which results from an inadequate response to the EU's insistence that it arrest and produce its high profile war criminal suspects at the Hague, (who also happen to be war heroes to many Croatians). Of course there is no direct connection between Turkey and Croatia - there hasn't been for three or more centuries - but it is more about bargaining-chips, with Austria in this case, playing politics. The TURKEY issue is too big and too profound in terms of the future of the EU to be easily sidetracked, and we speculate that nothing about it will be easy for the Turks, or indeed for the others.  Approval is expected, given the widely predicted dozen to fifteen years before Turkey would be admitted, but what is not yet known are the conditions that ministers may insist upon.

UZBEKISTAN is the arena that has just witnessed the extreme discomfiture of the British Government, simply because of the contrast between justifying it's high principled IRAQ position, as being about the removal of an unspeakable tyrant, and by contrast, that of withdrawing its outspoken ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray, who has frequently and publicly protested at such excessive UZBEK government outrages as executing political prisoners by boiling them to death. We relay what the serious British press had to say about it. If Washington's and London's foreign policy was really about removing tyrants, the unspeakable tyrant misnamed Islam Karimov, would surely be high up on the list.

SYRIA is taking political initiatives these days and has succeeded in being taken seriously by the Israeli president, even if prime minister Sharon finds it off-message. We set out what it is that the young president Bashir al-Assad is actually offering.

TAIWAN looks to be playing its own political games in a deeply unpragmatic mode. The island powerhouse is as ever, setting new norms for economic success but politically seems to be heading for a long walk off a short pier into the Taiwan straits.

In addition to these, we give news and analysis in December UPDATES on 23 other newnations.
                                                             

Clive Lindley - Publisher 

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