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August 2006 Country Archive



KAZAKSTAN, TURKEY, AZERBAIJAN and GEORGIA, as we report in each, are all from their different perspectives celebrating the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. RUSSIA, IRAN and China are not. The USA above all is delighted that the project they wet-nursed for so long has come to fruition - more, that not only the Caspian hydrocarbons of AZERBAIJAN, where it all started, will be reaching western markets via Ceyhan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, but that in all probability far larger quantities of oil will be coming west from major fields in KAZAKSTAN, which had not even been discovered when the pipeline was first planned. TURKEY of course will earn big transit fees and has also found the solution to its abiding fears of a major oil spill or collision, which could shut down the narrow crowded Bosphorus strait at Istanbul, the only shipping link between the Black and Mediterranean seas.

Bringing the supply through GEORGIA has made that small nation deeply happy, not only because of the new and large revenues to come from transit fees, but also having been since independence, subjected to relentless bullying by RUSSIA, they now have the assurance that as a vital part of this western supply chain that they will not in the future be abandoned by the west. All of the partner nations in the project are delighted that RUSSIA cannot in a fit of political pique turn off the supply taps, as it does not traverse their territory. For the same reason RUSSIA is miffed that they have been successfully bypassed and will now concentrate on persuading KAZAKSTAN to route their oil through RUSSIA and not the BTC. That nation now has such a lot that it will probably do both. IRAN is angry because they wanted the Caspian oil and gas routed through their country - a logical but politically impossible thing to do. China is frustrated as it is in flat-out competition with the west for the hydrocarbons of the Caspian basin and Central Asia, and with them going west and not east, have clearly lost out on this round. 

The world is once more stunned at the ferocity of the struggles in the Holy Land with Israel sparring with Hamas in Gaza whilst having invaded Lebanon to engage with the Iranian-backed Shiite Hezbollah, who largely controlled the south of that benighted country. Both conflicts were provoked by raids that the guerillas made on Israeli positions and the response was entirely predictable when a militarily powerful nation is attacked by lightly-armed non-state players. Moreover who in the case of Hezbollah have the capacity to bombard Israel with rocket weapons (which they have done every day in enormous quantities since this most recent outbreak of violence). That has meant that the militarily weak Lebanon is once again enmeshed as a battlefield in other people's wars and its civilians sickeningly provide most of the casualties 

The Hamas struggle is seemingly within sight at least, of resolution, but Hezbollah involves not only the hapless Lebanese government, but also to different degrees the governments of SYRIA and IRAN. The general world call for a ceasefire has been blocked with US sponsored weasel-worded resolutions, designed to give Israeli ground forces time to try to eliminate the Hezbollah fighters. They have been preparing for this very battle - barricades and underground communications networks and street fighting where it is mostly down to infantry, and where both sides having comparable weaponry at this level, inevitably take heavy punishment. But Israeli regulars and reservists who want to live, are being pitched against trained Moslem fighters with a massive grievance and who are resigned to death, which means the Israelis using artillery and airstrike weapons that do not discriminate, and cause so much civilian suffering. 

Even when the fighting ends, is the problem going to be anywhere nearer a solution? Hezbollah will have taken a pounding as a military force and may not be able to keep the grip on Lebanese life that they have exercised for years, to the chagrin of other less powerful elements of the population. In other words, the Lebanese government and its army might be able to reassert itself. 

Our SYRIA piece this month sets out to describe what Hezbollah really is and to explain its status within Lebanon; and its relationship with SYRIA; and separately with IRAN. There is talk of the IDF 'destroying' Hezbollah but it is a political party and a big one in Lebanon. Pressure on it is like squeezing a balloon. Certainly the Israeli war aim is to 'degrade' its military capacity, which would clearly be an important thing to do, but remembering the Viet-Cong tunnels and bunkers and network of defences, even in South Vietnam, the target of cleaning them out in two or three weeks seems overly optimistic when the US in Vietnam failed over many years to achieve this. 

But when a ceasefire does come, Hezbollah will obviously seek to recruit and rearm, and to restore its grip. Only a more powerful political and military force can prevent that. The question of an international buffer force standing between the powerful and possibly willful Israeli army on the one side, and a group of fanatical killers with a shadowy command structure, looks as though it is going to be short of volunteer nations prepared to send their young men into these complex killing fields.

The recent unexplained killing of UN military personnel will play a part in that. In these days of precision targeting, the incident of the Israeli artillery-caused deaths of the four UN observers, as the circumstances emerge, looks very much like murder, (just as did the US 'smart' missile attacks on the Arab Press Centre during the Iraqi invasion), not necessarily ordered by politicians, but perhaps by upper military echelons for their own perceived reasons. 
Probably nothing short of Israeli courts-martial of their personnel involved, will satisfy the governments whose peacekeeping soldiers have been killed in this way -and satisfied they must be to send any more of their forces into such a trigger-happy environment.

The irony is that the US and other western nations so recently insisted that SYRIA withdraw from Lebanon, under the terms of a UN resolution that also said that Hezbollah must be disarmed - a task which then as probably now, only the Syrian army was competent to undertake. Another irony, more perhaps of a tragedy, is that the US would not allow SYRIA to be represented at the recent Rome conference on peacemaking, which achieved nothing, except buying time for the Israelis to try to achieve their military goals. 

A number of observers are already pointing out that SYRIA holds the key here. Unlike the Shiite Hezbollah, whose only practical military aims are to defy and cause hurt to Israel, and to IRAN who are the Shiite sponsors and armourers to what is the ongoing Iranian holy war against Israel, SYRIA, a secular government, by contrast has a credible and even a negotiable agenda. 

If that could addressed objectively, SYRIA could conceivably be detached from its Iranian commitment which - bottom line - is only there because undoubtedly at Israel's behest - a relict of the Sharon-Cheney accords - the US has made of them an outcast. They have been firmly shut out after they were initially useful to the first president Bush in the Gulf war and earlier in sending an occupying force into Lebanon at the request and agreement of those nations including the US, who sought to end the seventeen years long civil war, which the Lebanese army was just unable to do. Of course the Lebanese wanted their powerful neighbour out after that job was done, as they were too imperialistic by far, but the UN resolution that required them to leave - which they fulfilled under intense pressure - also required Hezbollah to be disarmed. That the Lebanese government and army as is evident, are just not up to doing, and without Syria to restrain them, continued fighting has been predictable. 

It may be remembered that just days before Hezbollah raided across the Israeli frontier, the IAF flew humiliating fighter-bomber missions over SYRIA, including buzzing the summer residence of President Al Assad in Northern Syria, and also over the capital Damascus. What was that bit of arrogance all about - for what purpose? In cold-war days it would have been correctly described as a provocation, and well, SYRIA seems to have duly been provoked into at the least, no longer restraining Hezbollah!

As we have reported in (now archived) earlier analyses, al Assad has constantly been rebuffed in attempts to join negotiations on the wider middle-east and a Palestine settlement, without which there cannot be peace. One senses a keen wish to re-enter the comity of nations. Syria would like to recover the Golan heights and is this the main reason that the US, as ever following Israel's political lead in the middle-east, refuses even to talk to them? 

No friendships or alliances have been available to SYRIA except the even greater pariah of IRAN and so the (slightly amended) saying: 'my enemy's enemy is likely to become my friend'. SYRIA is without doubt, an unpleasant, undemocratic regime but it is not significantly different in that way from several other states in the region, and has the important distinction of being a secular state. 

It has recently been possible for the US and the west to 'forgive and forget' the many years of outrages and depredations from the rulers of LIBYA, in order to secure their oil concessions and that in return for normality, that LIBYA drop their WMD programmes. Surely the fractured lives and well being of the citizens of Lebanon, and their small struggling democratic nation to which the US at any rate, if not Israel, is supposed to be committed, might equally be weighed in the balance? Here is a situation where SYRIA could probably effectively neutralize future crossborder terrorism, at least by Hezbollah, in return for normal diplomatic dealings, including border negotiations? Can there ever be a settlement of the Palestine problem without a settlement with SYRIA? Compare diplomacy with the alternatives. 

In GREECE this month, on the occasion of the 32nd anniversary of the restoration of democracy after the fascist regime of 'the colonels,'our report includes a summary of three outstandingly good speeches by President Papoulias, and the leaders of the two main 'parties of government'. Effectively, and as we all should, they are celebrating the consolidation of democracy that has ensued which looks to be safe in their hands. GREECE has been well placed as a member of Nato and the EU to become the regional leader of the newly emergent Balkan states, blinking in the unaccustomed bright lights of democracy and market economics. Greek businessmen have invested in all of their Balkan neighbours, but perhaps the greatest ornament to their forward looking policy has been the rapprochement with TURKEY which looks set to grow and grow, as we describe. 

The death of the Shah of IRAN took place, 26 years ago. A recently published memorial from his sister pointed out that after a quarter-century of Islamic rule, per capita income there now is less than it was in 1978 - then $2400, now $1990. It's a fair bet they don't teach that in Iranian schools or madrassahs! No doubt the Ayatollahs would be unmoved by such worldly calculations, but whatever the people have been praying for five times a day, it surely cannot be to remain poor and to become poorer. As an advertisement for the rule of priests, sharia law, the reduction of women to chattel status, with no let up in corruption or gains in human rights, (and as she also points out, it is a regime that "routinely places the country and the people in harms way"), it can hardly be an encouraging example for those who want to make ALL Moslem states into theocracies. 

She describes President Ahmadinejad as a fanatic whom she maintains, "may not be excused for intellectual vacuity or moral depravity… Ahmadinejad represents a leadership awash in both." Interesting then that our report this month tells that Supreme Leader Khameini will no longer allow him to singlehandedly 'run the show,' and we describe the measures he has taken to that end. We review the current geopolitical situation from IRAN's perspective, involving Japan, China, and RUSSIA. Also further information on IRAN's hydrocarbons, (imports as well as exports) in our report.

Frightful news about the terrorist railway killings in Mumbai, with more than 200 killed and over 800 injured. As of now, much speculation yet no certainty about the killers, but the Indian government took a decidedly mature position as regards neighbouring PAKISTAN, (whose President Musharraf in deploring the terrorism, appealed to India not to play 'the blame game' without any evidence). The Indian Defence Minister who spoke for the government, said that INDIA would continue to maintain co-operative and friendly relations (albeit until guilt is established, inevitably strained), with its Islamic neighbour. This reaction is precisely what the terrorists did not want, as their warped minds look for a violent response against all Moslems, initially in Mumbai itself, and then to ratchet this up into revenge against all of the rest of humanity - and particularly to reverse the more civilised current relations between INDIA and PAKISTAN. 

INDIA has cause to celebrate that the US has passed landmark legislation approving the civil nuclear agreement - and by a big majority. It is now a done deal! The collapse of the WTO negotiations however, means that there are still open wounds in the relationship, as indeed with many other 'have not' nations who have witnessed the rich countries, in deference to the electoral clout of their own farm lobbies, break their pledge to progressively abolish world poverty. In PAKISTAN, President Musharraf has been 'getting stick' from both the UN and the USA about the Taleban using Pakistan, specifically the city of Quetta as a base from which to make incursions into AFGHANISTAN and even more important to withdraw to, when on the run. The second half of July subsequently has seen some arrests in Quetta of mid-rank Taleban leaders with the threat that they may even be extradited. Musharraf has his hands full. He is facing elections with a formidable alliance of two former prime- ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif combining against him. We review the possibilities of these elections being 'free and fair,' and conclude that it's a 'don't-hold-your-breath' situation. 

We give a full account of the Russian hosted G8 at St Petersburg from which Vladimir Putin scored nearly maximum points and about which he should be feeling well pleased. On so many fronts he acquitted himself well - in his exchanges with George W Bush for example, he never lacked the telling phrase. Not only Putin. Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, one of the stronger contenders to be the next president, had a hard-hitting article published in Izvestia to coincide with Bush's arrival in St Petersburg. The days were gone, he declared, when RUSSIA could be pushed around, and that the Kremlin was fed-up with the West's double standards on democracy whereby "an hysterical atmosphere was being artificially created and a political environment that was favourable for launching a process of overthrowing legally constituted governments, was being formed." His interesting statement, which we report, continues in a way that makes it transparent that RUSSIA is feeling its energy super-power muscle, and is not prepared to be hectored by hypocritical attitudes tailored to the particular listener. 

He was right on the button where his nation's new great economic strength, energy, is concerned. It has been obvious to all that the US has two sets of standards, witness Condi Rice's named 'Outposts of Tyranny' (which although including IRAN which does not supply the USA anyway), managed to name five other countries that are deplorable to be sure, but are already declared enemies (Cuba, NORTH KOREA), or are geopolitically irrelevant, do not host US bases and have no hydrocarbons, as Zimbabwe, Myanmar and BELARUS. Such exemplars of state repression and indeed tyranny as oil producers Sudan, LIBYA, AZERBAIJAN, UZBEKISTAN, SAUDI ARABIA; are not listed. See how LIBYA has been enfolded in Washington's arms whilst still having in their jails for more than five years already, the long suffering Bulgarian nurses, first tortured and then sentenced to death for allegedly deliberately infecting Libyan children with the AIDS virus! Also, whilst LIBYA is reneging on the final payment to the relatives of the Lockerbie bomb outrage. Oil makes its demands and succeeds, seemingly democracy has no equivalent counterweight to offer.

Energy is and will remain the absolute number one in US foreign policy, as with most countries and here is RUSSIA, already a major player, likely to become even more important with the middle-east in ferment. A very discernible change of course for RUSSIA's view of its place in the world, has emerged from this G8 conference. We quote Mikhail Gorbachev during an interview on the summit. He remembered a conversation with Bill Clinton where he said:- " treat RUSSIA with respect …our people do not like being patted on the back…we will certainly rise, as we have done so many times before. We keep all that in our Russian memory."

Being one of the more sophisticated polities amongst the developing nations that looked for western promises to be upheld, our SOUTH AFRICA report represents the attitudes, disappointments etc; of the have-not nations, who have negotiated for nearly five years of halting progress only to see deadlock and a suspension of the talks in July. 

It could be said with some justice that there is absolutely nothing wrong with UKRAINE except its politicians. We report how the coalition of the three original Orange parties, finally cobbled together after nearly four months, fell apart over the election of the speaker and the disappointed socialist party, the smallest (but numerically vital) member of the coalition, decamped and went over to the opposition. It is getting to the point when one is scraping the barrel to find what good things did emerge as a result of the upheavals of the Orange events. Freedom of speech, certainly. Also, the very freedoms exemplified by the need to even have a parliamentary majority, something that never troubled the communists, as we describe. Business claims that it is freer, but that would include freer to demand a payback for those businessmen who aided and funded the whole Orange project, a substantial problem now for those who exercise power. After 74 years of communism and what followed under Kuchma, corruption was so bred in the bone that as in so many former totalitarian states, it is culturally ingrained that power-holders need to 'collect' during their perhaps short time at the top. We report the current situation but it is quite obvious that any conceivable coalition that emerges must not be assumed to be permanent - that degree of political stability has not yet reached this large and important nation.

Were it not for his army of a million men, his probable nuclear weapon, his possible chemical and biological weapons, his ballistic missiles, his near perfect $100 bill forgeries, his international narcotics export activities and a near-starving population Kim jong-Il, aka the 'Dear Leader' of NORTH KOREA, would be a figure of fun, but in the circumstances……. 
He has appeared piqued that IRAN has been getting so much more of the Axis-of-Evil type publicity, which was our theory as to what lay behind his heavily signaled ballistic missile tests in July. But there are other plausible reasons, not least as we report that probably - and chillingly- there was an Iranian delegation (NORTH KOREA's best customer), present at the tests! The tests were condemned even by its main ally China, and past supporter RUSSIA, let alone S. Korea, all of which paled beside the bellicose reactions of Japan. 
Lest you totally relax, our comprehensive updated report on NORTH KOREA may be exactly what you need for the beach this summer -all human life is there - or not.

Readers of this months reports on the CZECH REPUBLIC, POLAND, SLOVAKIA and HUNGARY will discern that all four are to a degree, suffering some form of malaise, political, economic, or both. They were formerly three communist states (before Czechoslovakia broke up), known as those of Visegrad, after an historic meeting by their leaders at the Danube bend of that name. That was a time when this collective description represented the best and brightest hope for former communist polities successfully adapting into democracy and market economies, and integrating into Europe and the EU. 

Over the fifteen years since the Red army withdrew, they all seemed to make great strides in coming to grips with the many residual problems which such a fundamental reconstruction involved. They all were welcomed in Nato. Each of them became a member of the European Union. They collectively and individually have attracted massive sums of Foreign Direct Investment, a multiple of what has gone for example to RUSSIA, and the many and mighty global investors are now beginning perhaps to become a little concerned. 

One of the main problems paradoxically is democracy. It is extraordinarily difficult in these countries for any single party to gain power without cobbling up a coalition of smaller parties, often with worrisome off-centre agendas, who demand a price for their support. Also, as the communist control by their giant neighbour RUSSIA, becomes a more distant memory, some governments rediscover some ugly facets of domestic nationalism, and racism, both of which seem to have re-emerged. But the problems in the four Visegrad republics are not identical as can be seen. They have indubitably however come to prominence at the same time.

In the PHILIPPINES, President Gloria Macapagal-Arryo delivered her long awaited State of the Nation address "S O N A", (whilst outside the building a typhoon raged), eagerly awaited by everyone with an interest in this strange and eccentric polity. The Philippines seldom fails to disappoint and whilst her performance was judged to be aimed at expanding her power base, the fact is that this is mostly drawn from the army and local government units, she has been displaying some of the attributes of a 'come-back kid' since gone was the humility and defensiveness of her SONA of last year. 

We welcome this the 44th newnation on which we offer our reports, particularly because it achieved its independence by democratic means - the will of the people - seperating from a federation with SERBIA, certainly to their regret. But what a contrast to the way that CROATIA and BOSNIA, in particular, had to suffer to achieve theirs. So this is the latest but not necessarily the last Balkan state, to emerge from the rapidly emptying shell of Yugoslavia, and to achieve independent statehood. It leaves SERBIA bereft and still facing the outcome of the long drawn out Kosovo negotiations, as we fully describe this month, with not a particle of agreement to show between the polar positions the two parties have taken up. The need to find an equitable solution here truly requires the wisdom of a Solomon to justly resolve, but sadly the western world has only GeorgeW. Bush. 

The ramifications don't stop at whatever principles emerge from the Kososvo decision. Waiting and watching are the politicians of the IRAQI Kurds; Rpublka Srbska, currently a component of BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA; also the Russian supported criminal enclave of Transnistria, on the territory of MOLDOVA, and two other Russian sponsored breakaway enclaves in GEORGIA: Abkhazia and South Ossetia. 
Our August reports on MOLDOVA and GEORGIA show that the Russian Foreign Ministry is seemingly making its play to incorporate those parts of their territory into federal RUSSIA, even to the extent it is reported of endorsing a farcical referendum in Transnistria. Such is the degree of corruption there, and the lack of choices in the referendum, no one other than themselves and perhaps RUSSIA, will recognize the inevitable outcome. 

Publisher - Clive Lindley

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