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December 2006 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW DECEMBER '06

DOLOUR AT THE YEAR END

Whilst we would much prefer to finish the year on a high note, we have to take account of those troubled members of our forty four nations-in-transition, which regrettably have not yet discovered the way to the sun-lit uplands, that we all wish them to find. 

The Balkans are once more deeply troubled. Our BOSNIA report explains precisely why this patch of the western Balkans is in a state of profound and dangerous uncertainty about the future. There is a long lasting fundamental intransigence on the part of the Bosnian Serbs to integrate with the other ethnicities of Bosnia- the Moslem Bosniaks and the Bosnian Croats who have learned to work together to seek to make a "go of it". This is not a little local difficulty - it is, allied with troubles in SERBIA here described, quite capable of spilling over into once again becoming a European crisis area.

SERBIA having just having suffered their unlooked-for divorce from former partner nation MONTENEGRO - it is completely amputated from their federation - is now looking askance at the prospective loss of Kosovo. It is bad enough from the Serbian point of view to lose any more territory, let alone that to which they attach such historical significance, but the pro-western government in Belgrade is also under political siege from the ultra-nationalists - always a powerful reactionary force in that nation's staggering political destinies. Important elections take place in SERBIA on January 21st. We are of the view, given the stasis in SERBIA's progress towards European membership, that if the ultra- nationalists do well, an opportunist RUSSIA may offer itself as an enduring replacement 'friend', at a time when Serbians may feel that they don't have so many of those, thus implanting RUSSIA in the heart of the Slav Balkans. 

Fortunately, NATO seems to have recognised the danger and in a bid to pre-empt this, has made a surprise offer to SERBIA of a special partnership that could eventually lead to full membership in the NATO organisation. It is intelligent to have offered something positive and inclusive to a nation, which due to its abominable past leadership is still 'hurting' with more of the same to come, with the inevitable Kosovo decision in the New Year.

NATO'S WORLD ROLE
LATVIA has hosted a major NATO meeting after only two years of membership. It's capital Riga in the 1930's was infamous as the 'spook' capital of the world, with spies of every significant nation using it as a forward base to monitor what was going on in Soviet Russia. Since the Nazis were also there for the same reason, and obviously Soviet counter - intelligence, it became a three cornered exercise (in which the later-to-be US ambassador to Moscow George Kennan, was learning the 'trade'). 
Now LATVIA's re-emergence on the world scene was less sinister and indeed NATO took on weighty topics like the detail of the military mission in AFGHANISTAN. Also they extended 'surprise' partnership deals to SERBIA, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA and MONTENEGRO

But 'in the corridors' it becomes clear there is a growing move by the US in particular, to enlarge and empower NATO as a world political, not just military organisation, which can be used to bypass the United Nations - demonstrably not a compliant instrument of US policy. Many wondered at the alacrity which NATO warned the world and its members about the dangers of a Russian organised cartel to supply gas worldwide - the surprise because NATO, based on the Atlantic Charter, had hitherto been regarded as a purely military organisation. This is going to surface as a major issue of geopolitics. France's President Jacques Chirac already published an article in many western newspapers, the nub of which was that NATO must not be used to undercut the UN, which is the only valid forum and international authority for world politics. 

WILL NORTH KOREA 'SURRENDER' ITS NUCLEAR STATUS? 
"Why would we abandon nuclear weapons? Are you saying we conducted a nuclear test in order to abandon them?" (quote from N.Korea's senior vice foreign minister). 
A wide-ranging review of the 'post-nuclear test' situation in NORTH KOREA sees no evidence that Kim Jong-Il, having now demonstrated his new weapon will be inclined to give it up. Yet that is what the negotiators of the 'five' are pointed towards, in the original purpose of setting up these six cornered negotiations. We speculate that in these circumstances, a red-line policy of 'containment' may have to replace that of nuclear disarmament here, with all the emphasis being placed on preventing Pyongyang from trading internationally in nuclear materials. Again the whole nature of negotiations must now be under re-examination. Will a programme of interdicting shipping, squeezing them financially and generally 'punishing' NORTH KOREA, as a means of inclining them to co-operate with the outside world, be compatible with 'making nice' and sitting around a negotiating table offering incentives?

Indeed it is, we say, significant that the perverse US policy of no direct negotiations, quite remarkable for its lack of success (as in IRAN), has just been demonstrated to be a poor substitute for one-on-one. The only positive outcome of the nuclear imbroglio follows a 'secret' meeting in Beijing between Christopher Hill the US delegation leader, with his opposite number, the North Korean vice-foreign minister Kim Kyegwan, which produced the agreement by North Korea to return to six-party talks. 

WHY LIE when 'humanity' seeks to lend a helping hand? To understand how 'secrecy' is so fundamental to this totalitarian state consider their reaction to the fearful typhoon they suffered back in July. As we report, North Korea's official death toll of 549 dead and 295 missing, has been challenged by a Buddhist NGO, which sets the fatal casualties as high as 57,000. A British academic specialist in landslides having studied satellite pix of the area, believes the disaster probably killed at least 10,000.

EUROPE'S POOREST NATION
MOLDOVA has been suffering under the basilisk stare of disapproval and heavy bullying from their former imperial capital of Moscow. The latter is busy 'making over' the image of their crooked client Transnistria, a break-away Moldovan territory which has enriched numerous Russian officials and probably military figures. Our archive reports give consistent accounts of what they have been up to over fifteen years gone by, but now Moscow's line is that they are innocent of selling arms world-wide because they have taken an inventory and the numbers show that no weapons from any time throughout history are missing. Who, you may well ask, and how recently, made out this inventory and witnessed it, before a group of military engineers then checked it, is not information generally available.

The end of November CIS meeting in Belarus, produced an encouraging announcement by RUSSIA's President Putin to the effect that his nation will reverse its previous devastating ban on Moldovan food and wine imports, a ban they also applied to GEORGIA, another former Russian colony that dared to move out of the shadow of Moscow's rule. It is suggested that this change of heart has to do with RUSSIA being close to completing its bid to join the World Trade Organisation, and the necessity for them to 'square' these two small but sovereign states, that could, at world level have interdicted this key policy of the Kremlin. 

UKRAINE's ORANGE NOW TANGERINE SIZE
Timely news for gas supply prospects is the courting of AZERBAIJAN by a UKRAINE, delighted to find a possible gas supplier who doesn't seek to dominate them, and is also free from both the direct and indirect control of Moscow. It has not otherwise been a good year for UKRAINE. The Orange partners Yulia Tymoshenko, lively leader of what is now the main opposition party, fell out with President Viktor Yushchenko, who fired her from the prime-ministerial position and after much agonising appointed his (and Orange's and her main rival),Viktor Yanukovich with his pro-Russian party, to that position. 

Yushchenko was unable to elicit more than vague messages of hope for distant membership negotiations from the European Union and his NATO aspirations have not prospered either. The EU certainly did not rise to the opportunity - something they may regret in future - if as is likely, UKRAINE slides slowly back into the Russian sphere of domination. Tymoshenko sees herself as the only remaining beacon of the light of the Orange aspirations. Truly it is not easy to see what significant differences have come about in Ukraine, since those heady days except the important one that democratic institutions and the rule of law - a charade under former president Kuchma, are now at least appear to be on a firmer footing. 

TURKEY IS IN A BIND 
Turkey, had done all the right things in supporting the UN negotiated and sponsored referendum to end the partition of Cyprus, then the Greek Cypriot leadership of that island, previously (seemingly) on board, reneged late in the day and successfully encouraged the Greek Cypriot citizens to reject the UN solution. The point is that because of EU Commission timetables, Cyprus had been trusted on this and already been admitted to EU membership before the referendum took place. The EU Enlargement Commissioner involved, Olli Rehn, leaving aside the UN sponsors, complained emphatically of trickery and double-dealing, but it was a done deal. The same Olli Rehn is now pushing for the already long drawn out Turkish membership negotiations to be slowed down, as they refuse to comply with an EU requirement, the deadline for which has passed, to open 'normal' trading relations with Cyprus. The 'heavyweights' of the EU are divided on how to deal with this, which has much to do with their attitudes towards TURKEY's eventual admission to full membership. UK and Spain go one way in favour of TURKEY, France and Germany incline against.

TURKEY, bitter at the Cypriot referendum deception, finds itself a candidate for an organisation in which Greek Cyprus is now a fully-fledged member, and is under pressure to 'normalise' its relations, in what perhaps to the Turks are humiliating ways, as we describe. GREECE proper, is seeking to broker a solution, now that they are on friendly terms with their giant neighbour, but it is anything but an easy situation, complicated as it is by TURKEY's complex internal politics.

ARMENIA is historically another massive problem for TURKEY. The world has no doubt that in WWI - when Russian forces were apparently advancing on Turkey that the Turkish High Command forcibly removed whole Armenian populations, knowing that they would constitute a fifth column and partisans for their fellow Christians. The world also has no doubt that this was done with great brutality, amounting some say, to a holocaust - the systematic murder of an ethnicity. The problem comes because the Turks will not accept these definitions but until recently has had little to offer in reply, except denials. As we report in ARMENIA, the government there is apparently blocking a sensible and objective solution to which the Turks are agreeable, as presumably for want of any other explanation, the political tensions seem to suit Yerevan better. 
Why should this be a problem ninety years later, one well might ask? But it certainly is, having to do with ancient oppressions common enough in the history of the region, indeed of the world, but today snarling up both internal and external relationships when it is time to move on.

HI-TECH MURDER 
RUSSIA is much in the headlines and we analyse at length the key stories including the murder by radio-active poisoning of a former agent of their, (on his own account), FSB department dealing in 'wet jobs,' - the killing of the inconvenient, of which he seems to have himself become a victim.
He walked away from that after having already risen to the senior rank of lieutenant colonel, but it seems to be the kind of work from which there is no retirement. It was in the end, a highly sophisticated way of removing a perceived 'enemy,' bound to maximise media coverage, more so even than the hit-men pistol murders so familiar now in RUSSIA itself and in some of their former colonies. So it is really straining one's intelligence to believe that the FSB were in no way involved, perhaps in sending a clear message to any other agents contemplating moving across to the west. 

The burning question for many commentators is to what extent, if any, had Putin himself authorised this action? The victim himself had no doubt of it, with his dramatic deathbed accusation, yet many westerners are still reluctant to believe that so little may have changed from the bad old days of communism. It remains an open question, which no doubt has many more stories still to follow, but the probability is that we will never know for certain. 'SMERSH,' apart from figuring in James Bond stories, actually does mean 'death to spies,' and is a part of that shadowy culture - probably as much with western agencies dealing with perceived traitors, as well as those of Russia 

SPIRALLING DOWN IN IRAQ
In western Asia we look at IRAQ, where incredibly the news seems daily to become even more grave with ever greater depths of misery being plumbed. We report that 70% of police force personnel are in fact members of various militias and in Baghdad there seem to be 23 different Shi-ite militias (leave aside Sunni armed groups, Baathists, al Qaeda, etc), who of course all take the orders of their chieftains, before those of the government. But all the time 'volunteers' for the police were being recruited and inducted, it was being reported by western and other journalists that militia personnel were joining up wholesale, so the occupation authorities knew what was happening. We attach a note about corruption and observe that an estimated 14,000 weapons have disappeared from government armouries, doubtless to the militias and the insurgents. 

CLIFF-EDGE BELLIGERENCE
IRAN is under moral siege, if no more, as it is suspected of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon (which it denies), a suspicion exacerbated by frequent blood-curdling threats to wipe out Israel, which Iranian President Ahmadinejad has seemingly taken as his core mission. If the rest of the world does not come up with an answer to this cliff-edge belligerence, his hate-filled ranting is eventually likely to lead to an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear and military installations….with or without US permission. Meanwhile in the peaceful world's great 'gas story', which continues to unfold, IRAN is indicating that a massive increase in gas exports remains planned. In 2005 gas exports were 70 million cubic metres; 200m cu m. expected for this year and up to 250m cu m. n 2007. This increase is likely to continue over subsequent years at the rate of 50m cu m. per year. 

Blithely indifferent to US pressures to sanction IRAN, China's Sinopec group is about to sign an energy deal giving supplies over the next twenty five years worth $100 billion to the Islamic republic. So the moral siege does not extend so far as China, nor yet RUSSIA, which also said in October that they would oppose a draft resolution imposing any UN sanctions on IRAN

MURDER AND MAYHEM IN LEBANON
SYRIA inevitably is named as a leading suspect in the most recent high profile murder - this time of a prominent member of the Gemayel Christian political clan. We consider the evidence and have a view based on the 'cui bono' doctrine of 'who benefits,' that other explanations may be more credible. Lebanon's complex politics are based on shifting alliances, partly because there is no single dominant player, although as with Hezbollah right now, some grow in stature. But for time out of mind, the political clans there have opted for the bullet over the ballot. The families that run everything tend to achieve great power, great wealth, the price for which is that they sustain a high, violent mortality rate. 

SUNSET FOR AMERICA IN AFGHANISTAN? AFGHANISTAN is a deeply unhappy territory, with little agreement as to what to do next. Different US Think-Tanks have radically different views on whether or not to negotiate with the Taleban, in the full knowledge that if they were to shut down hostitilities and join the government, then President Karzai might well not survive. Relations with PAKISTAN here are dire. Our report quotes the UN special representative on the spot as saying that the militaristic approach of NATO and the US in dealing with the Afghan insurgency, means that the international community will be out of there within 3 years. 

PAKISTAN'S PERSISTENT PROGRESS
General Musharraf, precipitated into the presidency by a coup in reverse (initiated by the then prime minister), must have one of the toughest top political jobs in the world, but as we see from this months update, progress is being made across a number of fronts. We are able to report healthy economic growth figures and a generally improving financial picture. The World Bank have praised Pakistan for reducing poverty - down five percentage points between 2001-5. The archaic, (and to Pakistani modernisers, deeply embarrassing), concepts of 'justice' as it is practiced for women, are changing. The western mind may boggle, but there was a provision that rape could only be a crime if it were attested to by four male witnesses! That provision has now gone after a concerted effort from secularists. 

A problem area of a more mundane kind is shared with southern neighbour INDIA, since both are anxious to secure long term supplies of gas. Qatar, expected to build a pipeline, now will not, due they say to their reserves proving insufficient. The long outstanding proposed pipeline across AFGHANISTAN from TURKMENISTAN, isn't happening - there is now a question as to whether that latter nation, having recently signed major supply deals with RUSSIA and China, actually has sufficient reserves to justify the pipeline investment. The security problems of pipelines transiting AFGHANISTAN and Pakistan's uncontrollable tribal lands, also have not gone away. The best bet and the one that will probably happen, is the project with a supply pipeline from IRAN, which unquestionably has massive reserves and is now anxious to export, but this project inevitably faces opposition from the USA. 

KAZAKSTAN: THE MODEL OF A MANAGED STATE
Oil rich KAZAKSTAN has been impacting on the west following its elections. It has been active in PR with paid-for supplements in prestigious western newspapers, overseas speeches by its President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his ministers, and other senior folk. The messages preached have been two-fold: That this country is enormous, is going to become very rich and is a player in Asian and world affairs, being well disposed to both east and west, but in no-one's pocket (read: not a Russian satellite). This message has generally been successful and Nazarbayev is well received in all the capitals he visits - as an oil-rich nation's leader is mostly bound to be in these times. The second message is that KAZAKSTAN is a nice place to visit, so vast that it has many climates and varied terrains, a fascinating history, claiming ancestry of the Scythian race that long populated much of the face of Eurasia. It is culturally diverse whilst its numerous ancient ethnicities are not all, but mainly Moslem, yet theirs, as is common with nomadic peoples, is of a mild variety and much more a personal matter than impinging on public life. 

So far, so true. But when this moves on to talk about modern Kazakstan, with an enlightened leadership, striving to bring the nation up to a future standard of democratic institutions and acceptable political standards, it all goes severely pear- shaped. The reality (as anyone reading this month's or any previous month's 'Update' will see), is that this large country is a family business and that there is no intention of spreading the power from which major wealth accrues, to anyone other than immediate relations and those key players who are in positions to support the clan. That can and does include major league corruption and the murder of political opponents. The best that can be said, perhaps, is that by the standards of Central Asia, this president is 'less awful,' than his former Soviet colleagues in UZBEKISTAN and TURKMENISTAN, so at least on these grounds, he is acceptable and can be invited to western capitals.

FAIR ESTONIA…of thee we sing! 
What a pleasure it is to point towards our 'Update' on ESTONIA which describes a fair country that has undoubtedly become a success story in its journey from being a Soviet colony - a suitable note on which to end this Overview of our country reports for 2006.

For all of the above reports plus the rest of our forty four nations-in-transition 

Publisher - Clive Lindley

Go To December 2006 Reports now 

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