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APRIL 2006 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW APRIL '06

IRAQ: In our February Overview we reported the courtmartial of a senior US Army NCO who had pushed a tied-up Iraqi general upside down into a sleeping bag, and then sat on his chest until the general died. The original murder charge against the NCO had been reduced to manslaughter and we understood that this would carry a sentence of up to two years imprisonment. In fact since that time, the military court has sentenced him not to prison, but to forfeit $6,000 of his pay and he is not allowed to go off the army base for two whole months, (except to his place of worship). Oh… and a reprimand! The late General Mowhoush’s family back in IRAQ, were no doubt surprised and impressed that this conquering army, demonstrating the ‘American way,’ had brought one of their own soldiers into court for what started out as a capital crime. It is not known whether they consider that justice has now been done - and seen to be done.

THE COLOUR OF DISAPPOINTMENT
The parliamentary results in UKRAINE were expected, indeed the results in percentage terms have hardly changed since the opinion poll figures with which we predicted the outcome, as far back as mid-January. The Orange presidential elections of last year had been the most exciting development for democracy of the three 'colour revolutions,' since it was 'people power' that overthrew the bogus first election, thus enabling Viktor Yushchenko to be fairly elected. But in order to get a functioning government with a parliamentary majority, he had to compromise by promising that the powers of the president would be considerably curtailed, in favour of the parliament - effectively the prime minister. Yushchenko who had won great sympathy in the west as well as amongst his own people, has been a disappointment. Suspicions hang over him about the well publicized but bizarre alleged poisoning, for which no one has been arrested, and apparently no investigations are ongoing. Also the way in which the New Years Day gas-pipeline crisis was resolved, with an almost instant solution involving a Swiss company with Gazprom as one partner, and a mysterious Austrian nominee company, apparently representing the Ukrainian interest, the shareholders of which are a matter for speculation. The bottom line is whether the breath of fresh air we all expected is just more of the smoke-filled back room, stale old air. 

Two plus points however are that the two pro-western parties have more votes combined at 35% than the largest single party of Viktor Yanukovich, the Moscow-leaning defeated presidential candidate of last year. The second important point is that as President Yushchenko has already stated, these were the fairest elections that UKRAINE has ever known. That speaks well for the democratic process. It was in massive contrast to BELARUS's entirely controlled 'event,' where nothing was allowed to rival the massive publicity generated solely for Lukashenka. For months there have been wide ranging political debates in all the UKRAINIAN media, prior to election day. 

BELARUS was entirely predictable in it's fraudulent re-election of Alexandr Lukashenka to a third term as president - against the constitution to be sure, but he had earlier got around that by holding an equally fraudulent referendum. We report the comments of OSCE that monitored the elections with 400 observers. The man clearly understands brute force, this small state, subsidised by RUSSIA, maintains a well paid KGB of 150,000 for internal repression, apart from military and police. But he is so unsubtle as to hold an election which he claims gave him no less than 82% of the vote, a banana republic kind of number over his nearest challenger who was at 6%. His neighbour, Vladimir Putin, no doubt delighted to see that the run of colour revolutions in FSU republics taking them further from his hegemony had ended, congratulated him and in a reference to the dormant RUSSIA-BELARUS Union said that, "we will be able to truly move forward on the path of building our union… " for which he has shown little enthusiasm until this time. He added the curious and wildly inappropriate, "…and guarantee the onward democratic development of both nations." Since Belarus and Russia are in a class of their own as the least democratic nations in all of Europe, this takes hypocrisy to new low levels.

The runaway former president of KYRGYZSTAN, Askar Akayev in his Moscow refuge has articulated the view that there will be no more colour revolutions, (characterised by their lack of bloodshed). We tend to agree, in that the dictators that remain have, orchestrated by Moscow, learned the lessons that brought down three post-communist governments in favour of perhaps more independently minded politicians, amenable to western concepts of democracy. Whatever else, they have learned that they certainly cannot afford to have fair, impartial, elections conducted by an independent election authority. NGO's were seen to be a bridgehead of western ideas, in particular seeking to stimulate a free flow of information where none had previously existed, also a source of funds. Another lesson learned and disseminated by Moscow is that after the results are announced and inevitably criticized by the recognized independent observers, such as OSCE, to then put a gloss on the fraud by engaging western PR firms to criticize OSCE and seek to deflect the righteous indignation. Also those same PR specialists will for a large fee, arrange for parties of hack western politicians to visit at election time and pronounce it clean and well done. KAZAKSTAN has recently shown the way, whilst BELARUS is less sophisticated. 

Our KYRGYSTAN piece this issue has a lengthy and very informative interview with a key presidential adviser, Director of the Kyrgyz Presidential International Institute of Strategic Studies, by splendid title. It has a genuine ring of candour about it, and it explains much of what is needed to be known about the problems of a KYRGYZ president. There he is under the eyes of the geopolitical world, trying perhaps to kick-start a nascent democracy and gain friends in the west, yet with bargains to make and balances to keep with the vested interests of clan politicians, together with oversight from giant and intrusive neighbours, like RUSSIA and China.

POVERTY AND RUSSIA 
Our RUSSIA report takes a look at how the dwindling Russian population is benefiting (or not), from the massive inflows of wealth from the export of oil and gas that RUSSIA now attracts. We are reminded that President Putin after re-election to this second term, answered a western journalist's question - what do you really seek to achieve as a result of your two terms of office? "To take my people out of poverty", was the uplifting response. With two more years to serve in office, we look at his RUSSIA in those terms. Also, we review the energy situation of which RUSSIA is now a key world player for both oil and gas. Finally the Chechnya story has a new and for Chechens, a sadly sinister twist. 

HUNGARY & PUTIN
From time to time Vladimir Putin is recorded as commenting on the former Soviet Union, usually, it seems with a note of nostalgia. It is therefore relevant to repeat as we do in this months update on HUNGARY, that the Russian president on a formal visit there has acknowledged Moscow's moral responsibility for the brutal Soviet repression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. "Of course, modern Russia is not the Soviet Union," he said, " but we can still feel some sort of moral responsibility for these events." He continued that "our task is not to forget the past and to think about the future." Seems reasonable and we review the improved relationship between HUNGARY and RUSSIA after this visit.

DEATH OF MILOSEVIC
All of the Balkan countries are affected in one way or another because of the death of Milosevic, the brutal former ruler of SERBIA and before that president of Yugoslavia, the federation whose break-up he presided over. As the last communist General Secretary of the then Yugoslavia, his answer to the end of communism was to translate himself into a Serb nationalist and thus retain the top job. His notorious 'Field of Blackbirds' speech made in the ethnically Albanian province of Kosovo, was a clarion call to Serb nationalism, recalling as it did a massive and historical defeat on the native Balkan forces by the Ottoman Sultan. He aimed his bile at today's Albanians and Balkan Moslems, but of course he omitted to mention that in that battle of long ago, the armies of the Albanian princes had stood shoulder to shoulder with the Serbs and Hungarians, and gone down with them. 

Whilst the rump of a federal Yugoslavia remained, he used its resources, particularly the military ones to promote Serbian interests. The presidency of Yugoslavia moved in rotation between nominees of its six constituent republics. He illegally blocked the turn of the Croatian nominee Stipe Mesic (now president of Croatia), and thus destroyed the validity of the federation, in order to retain power for himself. The Slovenians, physically separated from SERBIA by CROATIA declared their independence and after few small scale fights, the Federal army troops were withdrawn from SLOVENIA in anticipation of the far bigger conflict to come with CROATIA. That bloody affair checked the Serbs, and Milosevic went for the more vulnerable BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA. He used Federal army weaponry - armour and artillery, seconded officers and troops, to support the ethnic Bosnian-Serb minority. Then started the war by sending a team of snipers to the roof of the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo, to fire down (like shooting fish in a barrel), into a peaceful anti-war civilian demonstration parading in the streets below. Milosevic's reign was characterized by his links with organised crime, a plague from which SERBIA has not yet fully recovered. The cynicism of this European head of state facilitating massive fraud on the people of SERBIA, was illustrated by the fact that some four hundred Serbian companies were registered in Cyprus, which at that time was notoriously lax about money laundering, as so many Russian companies had discovered when relocating themselves 

Our reports on SERBIA; BOSNIA -HERZEGOVINA; CROATIA; MACEDONIA; SLOVENIA and the non-Yugoslav ALBANIA, all carry stories of this event relevant to them. 

TURKEY AS MEDIATOR
TURKEY is shaping up as a responsible regional power, not just in terms of its conciliatory approach to the Kurds of IRAQ and apparent willingness to be an honest broker between the Sunni and Shia there. As 'refuseniks' to abet the 2003 American invasion of IRAQ and because of that, they can now be seen to have a particular stature. TURKEY is a constitutionally secular state within which Premier Erdogan leads a moderate Islamic party, so there are additional credentials there. IRAQ in it's present unstable state is a dangerous neighbour to have, and TURKEY is right to bring its good offices to bear, as we report. It is widely forgotten that for centuries past until just about within living memory, the lands that are now IRAQ were provinces of TURKEY as a colonial power, and ruled from Istanbul. 

The Turkish mediation role is available also in respect of GEORGIA, our report explains. As we also describe in each case, ARMENIA and AZERBAIJAN are eyeing each other with what seems to be a potential further conflict in mind over the enclave of Nagorno- Karabakh. It is believed that ARMENIA would call on RUSSIA in such an event, and it can be safely assumed that TURKEY would not allow AZERBAIJAN, in such circumstances to be bullied by Moscow. RUSSIA is no longer the military power that it was. Chechnya absorbs a fair amount of its military capability and apart from that, it has a massively reduced military budget compared with Soviet times. The military has hardly been tested for very many years, so it might well be that RUSSIA and TURKEY, who will be loathe to allow their clients to drag them into a shooting war, just might have to 'bang the heads together' of the quarrelsome south Caucasus powers, to get a solution. 

PAKISTAN: NO SHORTAGE OF PROBLEMS
Musharraf's strength is the weakness of his enemies as our report seeks to illustrate. He has enemies and troubles enough, it can be said. There are two insurgencies in the tribal lands of Baluchistan and Waziristan, not posing a real threat to him but difficult to deal with as the army is thinly spread in these vast mountain wildernesses, on the borders of AFGHANISTAN and has adopted a heavy-handed approach, which is now part of the problem. Nearer to home there is the continuing problem of the ISI which is the quasi- independent military-intelligence arm, with an additional CIA-like function. Observers have never been sure that this or previous presidents have had total control over this agency. Since PAKISTAN is a nuclear power, that creates major concerns for the west. The infamous Dr AQ Khan caught, then immediately pardoned for selling nuclear weapons technology to the likes of LIBYA, still leaves a story which has never been fully told. ISI have to be suspects for aiding the scientist, although the army claim to have had authority over his laboratory, but to have known nothing about his illicit activities. That as a reassurance of control does absolutely nothing to disperse fears of how secure PAKISTAN's believed 50 to100 nuclear weapons, actually are. 

Even more alarming is the recent revelation that two other senior Pakistani nuclear scientists, are in western terms, security risks. One of them had been involved with a charity that worked with the Taleban; at least one of them had had contact with Osama bin Laden. Others had been delivering lectures in Islamabad Universities on Islamist ideas and radical philosophies, not normally associated with nuclear science. It is not a topic which is discussed in that country. But of course the worlds intelligence services must know and not least their governments, who will have all sorts of reasons for not shouting it from the rooftops. 

RADICAL SOLUTION PROPOSED FOR KASHMIR
INDIA's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has offered a treaty of "peace, security, and friendship" to PAKISTAN. He rehearsed the outstanding problems with Jammu and Kashmir, but one has the feeling that change may be in the Himalayan air. The Chief Minister of Kashmir contributing further to this initiative, suggested self-governance for the entire Kashmir. Whether or not these ideas go anywhere, it can be seen that the players are not shying away from radical solutions. 

The new concordat with the USA is still the big issue in Indian politics and it is significant to note that President Bush's recent visit, with the agreement emerging to provide INDIA with nuclear fuel in perpetuity, has been followed by a visit from Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard. Although he has said that Australia will stick to its current policy of not selling to non-NPT countries like INDIA, nevertheless he also said that they will reassess whether INDIA's safeguards agreement would meet his country's safety and non-proliferation standards. 

SEPPUKU FOR JAPANESE OIL?
We update the IRAN story which is somewhat poised at this time with numerous factors affecting the next steps, both for the Iranians and the Western powers. It is unsurprising that the investment climate in IRAN is suffering - international investment has dried up 
and internal investors are filling no gaps. The Iranian oil industry badly needs direct foreign investment to meet it's potential which it is clearly failing to do. There has been much speculation, not least in these pages, as to why sanctions on the export of Iranian oil are unlikely for several reasons, including that it would be Japan, a western ally, who would be most hurt. In that context it is remarkable that Japan's Nippon Oil has itself announced that it will be reducing its purchases of oil by 15% this year - a sure sign that IRAN is seen as an unreliable trading partner. Condaleezza Rice has accused IRAN of being a "central banker to terrorism" and the Iranians understanding that kind of language are moving their foreign exchange reserves out of Europe, to less 'freezable' destinations.
The internal position is fascinating with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameini deploying two former presidents, Rafsanjani and Khatami, in various ways to demonstrate that it is he who is ultimately in charge, not just President Ahmadinejad. 

OIL IN AFGHANISTAN
Surprise, surprise, a survey has indicated better than expected reserves of oil and gas in this country. The US Geological Survey reports potential reserves of oil at 1.5 billion barrels of oil (18 times previous estimates), and three times more than earlier estimated natural gas at 15.6 trillion cubic feet - more details in our report. 

NORTH KOREA
Six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue remained in abeyance during March. A bilateral meeting in New York discussed US charges of DPRK financial crimes - the latest excuse used by Pyongyang to stall the six-party process - but failed to resolve the deadlock. A day later North Korea apparently test-fired a missile, while a surprising court verdict in Australia highlighted DPRK links - possibly official - to international drug trafficking. Plus, an insider describes the US approach.

Publisher - Clive Lindley
 
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