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January 2007 Country Archive


Sometimes an event potentially of world significance takes place with hardly a mention by the world media, otherwise engaged in following the doings of 'celebs,' political and otherwise. It may be that we are reading too much into the announcements that followed a November summit of the leaders of several key strategic Turkic-speaking nations in Antalya, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. It is perhaps the geopolitical potential that excites, when the countries represented there by their presidents, were TURKEY, KAZAKSTAN, AZERBAIJAN, KYRGYZSTAN; (and by a representative of the subsequently deceased President Niyazov of TURKMENISTAN). UZBEKISTAN declined to attend since it was miffed by TURKEY's criticism of its appalling lack of human rights, which saved the Turkic states from the embarrassment of their presence.

For seventy years KAZAKSTAN was a large but fairly inconsequential part of the Soviet Union. What has brought an independent KAZAKSTAN onto the world stage, is its Aladdin's cave of mineral wealth, with particular emphasis on oil and gas. AZERBAIJAN is similarly a major producer of these energy fuels, TURKMENISTAN in turn, has one of the world's largest reserves of natural gas. A glance at the world map shows where they lie in relation to the markets of China, Europe & the West, and South Asia. RUSSIA has consciously become known as an energy superpower - a part of which role is to determinedly seek to control supplies from neighbouring and FSU republics, by means of cartels, or sweetheart deals to buy and redistribute. Early success has been due to the fact that RUSSIA includes so much of the Eurasian landmass, and that existing pipelines historically went through Russia, whatever the ultimate destination of the oil or gas might be. 

Looking at the geo-strategic locations (in energy terms) of these Turkic nations one can see how, if they were to so resolve, they can send supplies to the existing markets of China and Japan via KAZAKSTAN; the markets of Europe and North America (via TURKEY); and the future markets of INDIA and PAKISTAN from TURKMENISTAN, at no point crossing Russian controlled territory. Thus they escape the otherwise ever-present political risk, of some future Russian hand turning off their pipeline valves. 

The key player here is KAZAKSTAN, as we report in that nation. It was their President Nazarbayev who proposed within the context of a notional Turkic commonwealth, a Turkic parliamentary assembly, thus giving an infrastructure to the generalisations. This was well received by Aliyev of AZERBAIJAN and KYRGYSTAN's Bakiyev who clearly were attracted by Nazarbayev's talk of, " leveraging the collective influence of 200 million Turks"! 
Unlike Saudi Arabia, a rather hermetic energy super-power, which has never sought to become even a regional leader, one can appreciate the skills of Nazarbayev, who whilst doing exactly that, retains good-to-excellent relations with RUSSIA, the USA, and China and via this non-threatening commonwealth concept, his Turkic neighbours. Flushed by our predictive success (see OGEC below), we make it our new year forecast that if Nazarbayev makes relatively 'old bones,' with his political skills and its economic clout, his nation will be seen to become regionally pre-eminent. Astana looks set to become the 'de facto' capital of a newly coherent Central Asia. 

RUSSIA is quite content to be back in the global big league as an energy super-power, which has not only transformed their economy, but guarantees them a seat at any top table, at any time. The World Gas Exporters Cartel being reported, then accentuated by a NATO alarm, denied, and reappearing again as a ploy by RUSSIA's massive gas supply industry, was first identified by us ten years ago (in our former existence as 'RUSSIA EXPRESS'). For obvious reasons we dubbed it OGEC. We now further explore the status of this very significant concept for world energy supply, inevitably the number one foreign policy issue for many countries. 

Few of 'our' countries can be entering 2007 quite as chipper as INDIA as the January report explains. For such an ancient country to suddenly have become a fast rising star in the world, must come as something of a shock - pleasant enough, but as Indian politicians and observers of the scene know just what problems they have to surmount, they are bound to have their fingers crossed that they can keep ahead of the game. It does look as though the Pakistanis might be sincere in seeking a just solution to Kashmir, even that India itself might accept an equitable decision, but they are both up against the reality that there are Islamic hardliners who do not seek any solution that means peace, but rather see Kashmir as a card to be played, to stir up fundamentalism on both sides of the border. INDIA itself has one of the largest Moslem populations of any nation and it seems that the horrors of the Mumbai train bombings of last year were more likely the work of Indian rather than Pakistani terrorists, both of whom of course are busting for a holy war on the sub-continent. 

PAKISTAN is far from having such an upbeat situation as INDIA, but as we reported in our December edition, they finished 2006 with some surprisingly good economic stats and other positive indicators. What is plaguing Islamabad is the AFGHANISTAN situation to their north. Not only those two Islamic countries, but their western friends and advisors are themselves divided on how to address the problems of the Taleban. A senior Pakistani general quoted in our current report, says that the Taleban have won and that they are the real representatives of the people. The Taleban have without question, found a new lease of life after being kicked out of AFGHANISTAN by the western powers and the Northern Alliance. NATO went into Afghanistan in good faith, understanding that reconstruction would be the primary task, but that they would have to be prepared to fight. Many US think-tanks, including presidential advisors, are leaning towards negotiating with the Taleban, so the Allied mission is becoming somewhat obscured. Karzai already has indicated that he doesn't intend to remain president beyond the next election, which means another hole in an already unpredictable scenario. 

The spectre facing Washington is to appear to have failed, because the purpose, post 9/11, of invading AFGHANISTAN was to remove the Taleban, the de facto protectors of al Qaeda. It just wouldn't look good that these professed Islamic extremists, to whom democracy is meaningless, should be back in some way sharing in government during Bush's presidency. The ultimate point after removing the Taleban was of course to go after al Qaeda's leadership. Since O-B-L and other top leaders are still at large five years on, that is a self-evident failure. 'Face' was once held to be the particular province of Japanese and Asian politicians, but now it must also be attributed to US policy and the Bush White House.

The death of Sapurmurat Niyasov, for 21 years absolute master of this Central Asian state, is an unbeatable opportunity for some former minion, (he never allowed an identifiable 'crown prince' to emerge), to become one of the world's richest people - and one of the pivotal players in the worlds energy scene. Niyasov was a tyrant and despite his stunning sense of showmanship in promoting his image, was by no means unintelligent. He obtained the leadership as the Turkmen communist party's First Secretary, no easy slippery pole to climb and of course subject entirely to Moscow. But the dissolution of the USSR with Moscow's grip broken, gave him the opportunity to blossom! 

Probably the most colourful of all national leaders, the reasons for his cult-of-personality excesses (our current report, as our archives, are full of them), were explained by him privately as necessary in a territory with neither any sense nor history of nationhood. TURKMENISTAN has been described, unkindly but accurately as if not actually the end of the world - then only a short bus-ride away. It is a vast horseshoe-shaped desert bordering the Southern Caspian with the centre sand, and the verdant rim supporting such life as exists, primarily the ancient territory of five large clans who had been forced to accede to the will of St Petersburg and Moscow, ever since the Russians conquered it in the 19thC.

Niyazov explained that he had learned about the strength of a personality cult from the example of Stalin. His intention, successful in his lifetime it must be conceded, was to so imprint himself on the image of Turkmenistan, that the clans would not challenge his authority in the post-communist reality. But now, will they reassert themselves? This country is next to AFGHANISTAN and tribal structures are not dissimilar, so could offer a future of similar chaos and anarchy, unless a 'strong man' is capable of seeing-off his rivals and consolidating power. 

Of course none of this would matter were it not that this distant country is of pivotal interest as a natural gas supplier to all four Eurasian powers, Russia, China, India and the EU. As a result, many an intelligence service functionary will have missed this year's family Christmas, as resources are marshalled to seek to get 'their man' into the top slot, or at least to stay in the 'game'.

There does seem to be a fissure in the formerly implacable concrete surface of US policy towards SYRIA. The ISG report was a visible sign of that but in this issue, we consider recent events and potential for change. We have consistently supported the idea of engagement with SYRIA (as we have with IRAN), and events during the Bush years have largely strengthened that idea. After all, the six-year period of refusal to talk without preconditions, has been a dismal failure. It has witnessed NORTH KOREA acquiring the bomb; IRAN refusing to give any ground to rein in their nuclear ambitions; SYRIA still bulking large in Lebanese affairs, and in part sustaining Hezbollah against Israel. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty is now in shreds and US meddling in the middle-east, driven by the myopic IRAQ invasion, has left them hung out to dry in strategic terms. 

In RUSSIA we explain why Putin's reputation whatever else, will hinge on this southern Russian city and what happened there on September 22nd 1999. The allegation is that acting in his political interest, whether or not with his direct knowledge, agents of Russia's state security were intercepted by vigilant local police, planting a massive bomb in an apartment block in that city. The police even received immediate good publicity which echoed around the world for their efficient counter-terrorist work (before it was known that it was an FSB team), but after a period of silence Moscow lamely explained it as an FSB training exercise. The radio-active poisoned, former FSB Lt.Colonel Litvinenko, had gone public in a book, that the series of apartment block bombings in RUSSIA (which stopped after this incident), was indeed the work of the FSB. In that same month, before Ryazan, the bombings had already killed 300 Russian citizens in their homes, which was blamed on the Chechens (who despite the many horrific outrages they had been keen to claim responsibility for, denied these apartment bombings as being their work). 

We tell more, including the profound political effect of the bombings, but observe that if this was a cover-up now unravelling, Putin's reputation in history, whatever his other achievements, would be indelibly stained by this allegation, unless disproved. That 300 of his fellow Russian citizens should be brutally, almost casually sacrificed to get him into office, would demonstrate a depth of evil that would surpass even some of the worst outrages of the long years of communism.

Newly minted UN Security Council member South Africa, is entering a critical political year in 2007. Held to be an example of what African democracies could become, they find themselves with the political establishment clearly divided in terms of the next leader of the ANC, who by a short remove becomes the next president of South Africa. The problem is Vice-President Jacob Zuma - as good an example as one will find of African 'Big Man' politics, who had an excellent chance of succeeding President Thabo Mbeki, whose term expires in three years time. He is still amazingly, a part of the succession race, despite the fact that he is enmeshed in a bribery scandal, which were it not the fact that he is vice-president would have already put him behind bars with other associates, and like them, for a lengthy term. There is a head of steam in the political establishment, curiously led by the communists of the SACP and the presumed socialists of the South African Trades Union (whom were this not Africa, might be expected to be in the vanguard of taking down a fat-cat minister scoring large bribes from foreign defence contactors). The problem is that some of their senior political functionaries have been banking on big advances in their personal careers in a Zuma government, a populist politician in whom their organisations have invested heavily. For his part, he seems to believe that he is 'untouchable'. This is the critical question waiting to be resolved and which will determine whether or not SOUTH AFRICA has a genuine separation of powers between its executive and its justice system, and therefore is or is not a democracy. 

Just as democracy is undergoing and has yet to 'pass' this critical test in the shiny new African democracy of SOUTH AFRICA, which some would have predicted as an oxymoron, we consider other newly emergent democracies on 'our turf'. 

We have already in 2006 (4th December report Philippines) taken pleasure as 'democracy watchers,' when we reported in the PHILIPPINES that the Supreme Court had withstood - rejected as unconstitutional - a government measure with far reaching implications for future elections. The PHILIPPINES is at best a flimsy democracy with numerous troubling elements in their public life - few would dispute that assessment. These judges who were political appointees, voted by a slim majority in accord with their impartial higher duties as arbiters of the constitution, to the massive displeasure of the administration, and at the risk of their future re-appointment. 

Now we greet what is almost a 'footnote' from TAIWAN, reported in our current issue. The president's wife has been indicted on a count of fraud! The allegations have been a long running story, but whatever the lady has or has not been up to, this young democracy has gone some way to prove its credentials. It would be unthinkable in let us say, any of the other South-East Asian countries that short of mass-murder, a president's wife could be indicted - or even presented with a parking ticket! 

With talks prorogued but with a promise of resumption, we submit that our current report on NORTH KOREA gives a well informed prospective and retrospective assessment of a complex situation, for anyone seeking to follow these negotiations. 

The two other Bush nominees for 'the Axis of Evil,' IRAQ and IRAN, are of course also reported here. Bob Woodward's 'Bush at War' books, tell us that this 'Axis' description replaced the earlier 'Rogue States' (which had been commonly in use except another American author wrote with that title, describing the US's depredations and offences against international law). But yet another classification is probably still needed. Condaleezza Rice nominated six nations as 'Outposts of Tyranny,' which they certainly were, but she only named nations which didn't service the US in some way, or add to the global energy pool. None of these will do to describe AFGHANISTAN. To call the worlds largest heroin-producer an ally, would be gauche. As of now, it looks like a failed state and whilst that condition could have been remedied after the 2001 military campaign was completed, the Afghan project, and the necessary resources for its success were deflected in favour of the misconceived IRAQ invasion. That desperate state too, which can no longer be a part of 'the Axis of evil,' in terms of "hating freedom," or "threatening American cities" (the necessary Bush pre-qualifications), needs a definition too, which none of the foregoing can provide. 'Sink States' may be too harsh, or if already 'sunk,' not harsh enough? 'Cusp states' - on the edge of collapse? We prefer what is relevant to the purpose of our mission, which speaks of emerging nations. So, in the context of politics, or economics, or both - we choose the 'reverse' classification of - 'submerging nations' which seems appropriate enough for IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN.

For several past issues we have been describing the agonies of SERBIA, as they seek to cope with the severance of MONTENEGRO; the shut-down of prospective pre-entry discussions for the EU; their dog-house status for not having surrendered leading Bosnian / Serb war-criminals Karadicz and Mladic; the likely UN decision of independence for the province of Kosovo; and the rise and rise of the Serbian ultra-nationalist party whose leader is hunger-striking at the Hague. On January 21st comes the Serbian parliamentary elections, a critical point from which, as we describe, other events in this context will flow.

This month's CZECH Republic shows that over 60% of United States FDI in that country is accounted for by R&D projects in innovation industries, involving, "highly skilled infrastructure technology and software engineering talent." At the time of independence from the communist bloc, there was an outpouring of the talented young, finding well-paid work in the USA and western Europe. With their homeland's steady growth and entry to the EU, the following generation have not needed to be so quick to look overseas for rewarding intellectual employment. Simultaneously, SLOVAKIA, the severed other-half of the former CZECHOSLOVAKIA, has also prospered, but in the capital-heavy, metal-bashing industries associated with car manufacturing. Does this begin to sound like Detroit and Silicon Valley? It will be interesting and instructive to follow their longer-term respective fortunes over future years, given this investment distinction. 

The most determinedly independent of the longer term all-union republics of the former Soviet Union, the fortunes of GEORGIA have ebbed and flowed since 1991 when the USSR dissolved. It appears to now be on something of an upswing since its importance as a transit nation to the west for Azerbiajani and Kazak oil and gas, became clear. This guarantees that the west will not drop its support for GEORGIA under frequent Russian pressure. The latest bad news was that Russia, its traditional market, had banned basically all food and wine imports from GEORGIA. Then there has been the doubling of the gas price by Russia's Gazprom, which move looks to have been outflanked by neighbouring AZERBAIJAN's willingness to supply at a manageable price. 

BELARUS on the other hand, assumed by the world to be the leading Russian satellite, with all that this implies, indeed they are co-members of a theoretical 'Union' of the countries, has (after a long period of notice it is true), been faced by a price-hike from $47, up to $200 per thousand cu.m. of natural gas. This is not the way to keep a satellite loyal, but there are more compelling reasons. Alexandr Lukashenka, BELARUS's president appears to irritate the hell out of Putin, which we have long reported. The relationship has been very expensive for RUSSIA buying up his soviet-era grade, low quality manufactures, many of which are otherwise un-exportable. But more important than that, RUSSIA in its declared role as an energy super-power, is exerting old fashioned leverage on its client. RUSSIA single-mindedly wants control of BELARUS'S gas-pipeline operator Beltranshaz, that conveys so much Russian gas to the fat markets of Western Europe. The price-hike is the crude alternative. Lukashenka, with no one to turn to, at the recent CIS meeting in his capital, very publicly talked to Ukrainian journalists about the benefits of forming a union-state with UKRAINE. If, as is quite unlikely, there is any follow-up to this bizarre proposal, we will be sure to report it. 

Both former communist states were inducted as full members of the European Union as of January 1st 2007, although it was a 'done deal' several months ago. Before the EU Commission shut down on accepting new members for an unspecified period - these two were 'in'.
We report on both, as we have done in the lead-up to this point and it is fair to say that there are amongst existing members considerable reservations about both of them. True, BULGARIA and ROMANIA have effectively orchestrated their legislative 'aquis' to that of the Union. They have with no wide margin (the difference perhaps between theory and practice), come up to scratch on the Copenhagen criteria of democracy and the Rule of Law. The problem however, as they have been clearly notified, is that public corruption is at an unacceptable level and that organised crime is barely under restraint. Consequently they are under pressure to maintain a drive against these forms of criminality. EU Aid will to a large extent be dependent on how they are able to reduce the currently unacceptable levels of state-employee corruption, and organised crime. 

We have to hope that another example of premature acceptance will eventually come good, But whilst the US State Department gave the green light to BIG OIL to get back into LIBYA, following that nation's agreement to cancel their nuclear weapons programme, it was also hoped that LIBYA could at least, by following the norms of international law and civilised behaviour, avoid new rounds of condemnation and renewed call for their exclusion. But LIBYA still hasn't got it! The case of the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor, is again retold here by us, now that they have been newly sentenced to death, without critical medical evidence in their defence being allowed to be heard, against these absurd charges of deliberately infecting Libyan children with AIDS. 

Publisher - Clive Lindley

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