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May 2006 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW MAY '06

THE BULLYING OF SMALL NATIONS

There was a time when the free world rallied to the cause of a smaller or weaker nation being bullied by a larger one. "Poor Little Belgium" was a rallying cry of the First World War. The Czechoslovak republic was the focus of world attention and concern in the 1930's as the Nazi giant issued its outrageous ultimatums. In 1939 Britain and France finally went to war with Nazi Germany when they refused to withdraw after invading a militarily weak Poland. Our report this month on MOLDOVA, that south-east European Ruritanian lookalike and the poorest state in Europe, tells an appalling story of the bullying by RUSSIA of this, the smallest of the fifteen former Soviet republics - and in the worst of causes. 

There is a small frontier segment of MOLDOVA which at the time of the collapse of the USSR broke away from the Moldovan state, calling itself Transnistria. It is not just an unrecognized state (by anybody) so much as an outlaw entity, which for fifteen years has flagrantly been trading in illegal arms, people trafficking and drugs smuggling (a fuller story is available in our special report "STATELESS STATES").  Against all reason, except for the greed of top Russian political and military bosses, it is being sustained by all the might of the Russian state. Because the Moldovan president has courageously tried to reunite his fragmented small country, the giant has turned on him and now seeks to squeeze him out of power, as our report makes clear. At the time of the Ukrainian gas price-hike that had also happened to MOLDOVA, which like them is a former Soviet state. On this issue of their own sovereignty they had dared to oppose Moscow's iron will. Now as with GEORGIA, another similar stand-out against Moscow's control, wine and spirits their principal export and main economic mainstay, has suddenly been banned from Russia its traditional market, on trumped-up grounds of quality control. The pressure has sharply moved on to Moldovan guest-workers in RUSSIA, whose remittances are another main plank of their home country's economy, causing them to speak out against their president. This their spokesmen are dutifully doing, talking in soviet-speak as a 'Congress,' in terms of impeachment, for the benefit of the Moldovan media. 

Submit or suffer, is the simple message to President Voronin! What is truly remarkable is that after the Ukrainian gas cut-off when supplies to Western Europe suddenly dropped, the west vigorously reacted with demands that energy dependency on RUSSIA should be balanced and minimized if Moscow was going to use trade for political leverage. Russian spokesmen hastened to reassure the big western states that they do not and will not use trade as a means of political leverage - yet look at MOLDOVA and GEORGIA and how else can it be described? Why is RUSSIA's government so flagrantly prejudicing RUSSIA's long term commercial interests in the global 'big picture,' for what appears so obviously to be personal gain by a few well placed military and civilian officials?
How will the big nations of Europe and North America now respond to this squalid blackmail of Europe's poorest country?

IRANIAN PREDICTABILITY 
Screws tighten, rhetoric pours, threats proliferate but on the whole, the Iranian nuclear crisis is playing out surprisingly predictably. By that, we mean that the story we have reported for so many months ago has not changed. Iran says it intends to enrich its nuclear fuel no matter what, as it claims it is entitled to do as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It claims that its intentions are purely for the peaceful generation of energy in its country. But the hysterical and frequent threats of their president to destroy Israel, means that not even those friendly or otherwise prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to IRAN, can believe that their motivation is peaceful. 

Once one has learned to discount White House pronouncements as primarily aimed at the US electorate, and Iranian posing as playing to their domestic audience, so it does begin to seem in the fullness of time, to hinge upon what Israel, actually in the front line might decide to do.

It remains an unknown as to whether Israel will perform strike surgery anytime soon, that probably but not certainly is unlikely, but it should not be forgotten that whilst IRAN might become a nuclear weapons power in five to ten years, Israel is one already. It can hardly be expected to wait indefinitely if it sees itself on the receiving end of Tehran's eventual bomb. It doesn't help either that the new Hamas controlled Palestinian authority, with its vows to destroy Israel, is partly sponsored by Tehran, which is a relationship too close for comfort for the Israelis to accept for ever. 

Of course no one would believe after any bombing that Israel would have been acting purely on their own behalf, because of the history. So Washington would have to restrain them, for so long as it has not taken the fateful decision that this is what it actually wanted. Various recent foreign ministers, headed by Madeleine Albright have gone public in collectively appealing to Washington to engage in direct talks on this nuclear issue with Tehran - which to that part of the world outside the beltway, seems like a good idea. 

As we have endlessly repeated, RUSSIA and China are not going to quietly acquiesce in whatever UN sanctions the US will be promoting, indeed many EU nations might not go along with George.W.Bush in this matter. As to invasion, or bombing IRAN, the nay-sayers would at least claim that they were completely right about the ill-judged IRAQ adventure. Now there is also a distinct distaste for military adventurism in the US. The monolithic media support that backed up the White House for the IRAQ invasion, can no longer be counted on over IRAN. Our May report on IRAN enlarges on all of this. 

THE OTHER NUCLEAR PARIAH
Information out of NORTH KOREA is hard to come by and even harder to accurately interpret. We maintain that our monthly Background and Updates are as good as, if not a cut above what else is available in the public domain, or even elsewhere. Last month saw the revealing of the budget (or more accurately the proclaiming of it, because uniquely in the world, this is a budget without numbers)! But there is a lot of information to be trawled over from what has been uncovered, including who are currently the people who matter and more. We offer a full analysis of how we are reading what there is available to be read. 

An interesting footnote to the international negotiations with Pyongyang - more accurately, non-negotiations - is that just as many concerned nations would like to see the US and IRAN in bi-lateral nuclear discussions; so in east Asia, Japan, South Korea and China have been similarly promoting direct, bi-lateral US - NORTH KOREA talks on the nuclear issues. But a 'chance opportunity' at a recent international gathering, engineered by these neighbours for that purpose, was spurned by Washington's man, inevitably on instructions. 

TALEBAN BITES BACK
As our PAKISTAN report explains, the revolt in their frontier provinces of Waziristan is gaining in strength and the foe stirring up the tribes there is none other than the Taleban. This militant religious group is normally associated with the AFGHANISTAN civil war, in which the US-led coalition pitched in after 9/11 against them, on the side of the northern alliance. The Taleban was in fact, originally a Pakistani construct, ideologically and militarily trained and funded by the ISI in PAKISTAN during the Soviet occupation of AFGHANISTAN, way back when Osama bin Laden was a good guy. After the expulsion of the Soviets, the Taleban fought a civil war and took over the Afghan government. They allowed al Qaeda's motley 'arab legion,' who had consistently fought alongside them, to continue to be based and train its future terrorists there. Came 9/11 and the Taleban were displaced and then heavily pursued for their al Qaeda friendship and connections. Like al Qaeda, their leaders are mostly still at large.

As we frequently report in our AFGHANISTAN monthly updates, the Taleban still appear there making hit and run raids for the most part, but have found it more secure to seek to operate from across or close to the Pakistani frontier. So now they are back where they began, but this time albeit from the country's outer fringes, directly challenging the Pakistan government, which is of course co-operating with the US. 

POST-ELECTION BLUES
As the dust settles after the elections of UKRAINE and BELARUS, we look further into the aftermath of both. UKRAINE, the largest country in Europe and with 47 million citizens, of course of the two, is much more important to the world. We give full coverage to informed analysis of what has happened. Given the electoral results no party can rule here without a coalition, and we speculate on what is likely to happen next. It seems generally conceded that democracy per se, with a remarkable 70% voter turnout was the winner, if not triumphantly so, but this probably was the freest and fairest election ever held in any part of the FSU, always excepting the Baltic states. The dashing Yushchenko did not emerge the winner - indeed his party came third, but is still substantial, whilst his former Orange partner Yulia Timoshenko's party, did better than his. Together they had been expected to form a westwards-looking coalition, but at this moment, be warned, the story changes daily. It is not looking anything like a done deal! Pro-Russian Victor Yanukovich has the largest single party, but his vote was hardly the 'comeback' claimed. At 32.14% it was well down on the 44% he had received as the defeated presidential candidate last year - the anti-Orange forces then this time around totalled 36% altogether. The combined votes for all the parties that supported the Orange Revolution then, amounted in this election to 46% of the vote. As we publish this, the country is short of its next government, and it is altogether possible that Yushchenko and Yanukovich's parties might yet cobble up an administration. What happens to 'Orange' in such circumstances, it is too soon to say. 

Another very Ukrainian incident of apparently big-time corruption on which we report, follows the naming of the hitherto mysterious 50% shareholders in Swiss-registered RosUkrEnergo, the murky supply middleman of Gazprom's product to the Ukrainian state energy company, Naftogaz. This story will run……

DOORS OPEN AND DOORS CLOSE
One item for connoisseurs of the 'Greater Russian Space' program (referring not to outer space but the FSU), of RUSSIA's foreign ministry. Russian Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin, formerly known as Mr Gazprom and as a result (no-one knows the extent of his present and nominee shareholdings), perhaps RUSSIA's richest citizen, came to call on President Yushchenko. He reopened the project of a Single Economic Space to include UKRAINE and RUSSIA of course, also BELARUS, and more significantly the emerging Central Asian powerhouse of KAZAKSTAN. These primarily Slav states (Kazakstan is a special case), form the vital core of what Moscow would dearly love to lead as a resuscitated non-ideological Soviet Union. The EU should take note that if it continues to prevaricate in its approach to eventual UKRAINIAN membership, then somebody else really wants them, about which both the EU and UKRAINE might have ample opportunity to repent at leisure. 

WIN-WIN FOR GAZPROM
As for the Russian satellite BELARUS and their phoney election, except ….hang on…now the election is past, BELARUS are having their arm twisted by… RUSSIA! They want to take over the oil pipeline that transits BELARUS on its way to western markets. If BELARUS is not willing to sell this strategic pipeline, then Gazprom will cheerfully triple the price of their supply to BELARUS to come up to world levels. Gazprom call it a win-win situation for them. BELARUS owes its 'relative' financial success to the cheap energy it has always received from RUSSIA

Gazprom, the worlds biggest gas company is rapidly becoming RUSSIA's battering ram for entering western energy markets. We report their overtures to a leading Gas company in the UK, whose government have reacted as did that of the US, when discovering that an Arab concern was about to take over some US ports. RUSSIA is indeed looking west and to the UK in particular, where there is leading expertise in Public Private Partnerships (PPP) a method of rapid transformation in redeveloping a nation's infrastructure. We give the details of the wide range of projects selected by the Kremlin, where bids will follow within the next 12 months. 

A NEW BEST FRIEND IN CENTRAL ASIA
KAZAKSTAN is waging a cosying-up campaign to the west, following the shoo-in election of the former communist General Secretary of the Kazak SSR, Nursultan Nazarbayev who for 14 years now has been the president of this post-soviet state. Unlike his neighbour Karimov in UZBEKISTAN, he has not earned himself a reputation as a monster but has presided over one of the worlds largest countries, initially poor but blessed with virtually every mineral known to man, yet cursed by remoteness and therefore high cost of getting goods to market. But oil has been the big news and the reserves of Kazakstan have caused the world to take note as supply starts to reach distant markets, and each year the nation's economic growth has multiplied. 

Although their reputation is not evil like that of UZBEKISTAN, nevertheless the election was judged by the neutral experts of OSCE, as clearly 'fixed'. More sinisterly, two high profile professional murders of senior political opponents and the imprisoning of others took place, almost as soon as the election results were declared. So now, about-to-be-rich Kazakstan also seeks international respectability. Large adverts have appeared in western newspapers featuring the following claims, all evidence of their seeking to be regarded as a pivotal ally of the USA:- "steady progress in political and economic reform, the only central Asian country with troops in IRAQ; voluntarily ridding itself of the world's fourth largest stockpile of nuclear weapons; has 130 ethnic groups and 40 religions living in harmony; is set to be one of the worlds top ten oil producers; has received $15 billion in direct US investment." No mention is made there of involvement in the 'Single Open Space' programme referred to above in relation to UKRAINE, sponsored by the Russian Foreign Service, or the cosying-up to Putin that we talk of in this month's KAZAKSTAN report.

The pitch is that KAZAKSTAN should be regarded as 'our new best friend' in central Asia. For one thing it is going the route that there is now a ruling family (his), controlling most of the wealth, just like our Saudi 'best friend' in the Arabian Peninsula. Since energy security and stability rank so high in Washington's scheme of things, there is every chance it seems, that this lovability campaign will succeed. But he is simultaneously making a similar pitch to Moscow. Moreover his other giant neighbour, the energy-hungry China is receiving an official visit from him in the autumn. Well, it's nice to be liked. He will probably wind up not just the richest, but the most popular autocrat on the planet. 

PROBLEMS OF MORTALITY
UZBEKISTAN, his neighbour to the south does share one attribute with him. The ruler, Islam Karimov also has a family and like Nazarbayev, although president-for-life, whatever the constitution says, has not yet figured how to live for ever, nor even how to retire. Both men, like Saparmurat Niyazov in TURKMENISTAN, were at the time of the dissolution of the USSR holding down the job of First Secretary of the Communist Party of each of their individual SSRs, which in each case left them always ultimately liable to the favour and disposition of the Kremlin in Moscow. 
Winding up the Soviet Union by Yeltsin made them truly independent, but before that, the scheming, the dirty tricks, the fear of reprisals, just to first get to the top of the career slippery pole in their own republic, must have taken its toll over the years on their life energy. Fifteen years later, all of them are now as absolutist as any Tsar, having fended off challenges from other ambitious former apparatchiks in their patch, not to mention proponents of democracy, to retain their unchallenged power. They would probably like to take life a bit easier and maybe spend some of their accrued wealth in western fleshpots. But they dare not. Retirement is not normally an option for a dictator. Whoever replaced them as president would certainly only feel safe if they were assured that 'the man' was permanently gone! So, these former career communists now follow the dynastic route. As happened in NORTH KOREA and AZERBAIJAN, so will it be in KAZAKSTAN and UZBEKISTAN. Both leaders are without sons but have clever enough, and mature enough daughters, both already marvelously rich who are being groomed to succeed, and on whose progress we will continue to report.

THE US AND THE EU
It must be a source of annoyance to the US government that they do not control the EU. But the State Department undeterred, does not hesitate to point the EU in what they believe to be the right direction. They certainly worked hard on behalf of TURKEY's application, (a policy with which we happen to concur, given that they can qualify). Often State is correct and the EU doesn't even need the prompt. Thus, as we report in MACEDONIA this month, US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, said that the EU must assure countries of the Balkan regions that they will all become members, Kososvo included. Easier to say that in Washington (where he did say it), than in Europe, because of course it begs a number of questions. But there is one important factor that may to Foggy Bottom sometimes seem no more than a technical fuss, which is that Europe has a set of entry rules called the Copenhagen criteria. These make it clear that they don't want any new members in their club that do not observe this set of rules. In this context, the key phrases are that candidate countries must have 'stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities'.
Ho, hum! They've not been much good at this in the Balkans. Has it all now changed? Kosovo, for example. Now it's about 100,000 Serbs amongst perhaps 1.5 million ethnic Albanian Kosovars. Does Kosovo have to 'respect and protect' for any length of time BEFORE they are admitted (assuming of course that they do not remain, as now, a province of SERBIA) - and what happens if they are admitted and then fail to 'protect'… etc? TURKEY, an EU candidate has that problem right now. They have a resurgence of Kurdish nationalism which they want to cool down, but also restrain the more hardline police and military, usually in the 'outback' who believe in meeting violence with violence. We report how the Ankara government is trying to deal with this situation. 

MORE BALKANISATION
SERBIA and MONTENEGRO have a critical referendum coming up in May, on which we report, to decide whether they will continue to co-habit the federal space or go their own ways. It is particularly serious for SERBIA, which would become land-locked without its Montenegrin access to the sea. What was once the single state of the federation of Yugoslavia, is already five sovereign states. If MONTENEGRO decides to go that route that will make six. KOSOVO might be the seventh if negotiations finish that way, and we have always thought that if this happens, that to the north of SERBIA, the primarily ethnic Hungarian province of Vojvodina might entertain similar ambitions. There will be wistful memories of Tito in some of the world's chancelleries, if that were to happen.

THE BALTIC ONE-WHEELED BICYCLES
Readers of our May reports of ESTONIA, LITHUANIA and LATVIA may observe as we do, that these three distinct and delightful countries, all of which have been through so much hell in their 20th Century histories, are each from a tiny political and economic base making a success of their EU and NATO roles, (not that the latter is making over-taxing demands on them). They are maintaining their forward momentum, wobbling a bit from time to time to be sure, but getting on like the regular democratic, free-market economy nations their friends always wished for them to be. Political and other scandals, coalition building and dismantling, elections past and elections to come - just like the 'regular countries,' all openly reported in a free media that probably continues to astonish the older members of their populations. They certainly have put to shame, in terms of democracy, the other twelve former all-union republics of the Soviet Union, which in fairness they only 'joined' at the point of Red army bayonets. Economically, the only former Soviet nations anywhere else that so far have prospered, owe it to minerals, specifically oil and gas. The three 'Baltics' had no such start and have had to use all the considerable human talent at their disposal to achieve what they have so far done. 

DISASTERSTAN
When we first commenced reporting BANGLADESH monthly earlier this year, we used this caption. This month's report reminds us that fifteen years ago -the anniversary is just coming up - the tropical cyclone 'Marian' hit this sad nation and took a toll of nearly 140,000 lives. This is a disaster even in Bangladeshi terms, but comparing it with the still unabated national shock of hurricane 'Katrina,' which claimed 1,600 lives across several of the US's southern states, including 1,056 in New Orleans, it might be agreed that there might be some grounds for our so characterising the South Asian nation. The weather is only one of numerous life chances on which this country has drawn the short straw, as our monthly reports identify. Just imagine for example what current oil prices are doing for the (really) poor in such a country as this. 

Publisher - Clive Lindley

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