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September 2008 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW SEPTEMBER '08

"BOYS BEHAVING BADLY"

Whatever happened to common sense? Both Russia and the US are behaving quite irrationally, stupidly even, as several of this months Country Updates will show. Both are probably behaving badly also, but everyone can make up their own minds about that!

Such is the need to dramatise on a day-by-day basis, the popular media tend to report in bite-sized chunks leaving unclear impressions hanging in the air. Accusations are routinely lobbed backwards and forwards by national press spokesmen and political leaders, and the public is left wondering where truth might reside.

And of course, one big story can drive others out of public attention. We would mention NORTH KOREA in this context

Leaving aside the continuing story of the US presidential race, GEORGIA - RUSSIA - USA, has dominated world news since the ill-judged Georgian invasion of its disputed territory of South Ossetia. 

With all that background noise, how many non-specialists have noticed that in August, the one foreign policy ‘success’ of the Bush presidency, that of Korean peninsula de-nuclearisation, has ground to a halt?

As our NORTH KOREA report demonstrates, the evidence currently is that the US is guilty of bad faith. Read the verbatim complaint from the N.Korean Foreign Ministry and our commentary, and make up your own mind on the merits. As our previous reports made clear, the US made a deal that if NORTH KOREA dismantled their nuclear installations and delivered up certain textual evidence, then the US would remove them from the list of terrorist sponsoring nations, which in turn would enable N. Korea to join certain international organisations that are currently barred to them. 

It is our reading that the North Koreans had in fact ‘delivered,’ and then after that, the US unilaterally added a new condition, and manifestly have not kept their bargain. The entirely predictable bottom line is that de-nuclearisation in the peninsula has now stopped in its tracks and relations are at a low ebb.

It is tempting to speculate that in the dog-days of the Bush administration, the Cheney / John Bolton nexus are using whatever means that may come to hand, to block a deal that they never wanted, a sensible deal that the State Department pushed for, and which the Cheney people could not then prevent in the face of popular approval. 

The central news story of the South Ossetia situation is an example of both RUSSIA and GEORGIA behaving badly, and quite possibly as the full story emerges, the USA also. All the indications are that Saakashvili of Georgia was snared into believing that he could actually prevail in South Ossetia by a full assault. It may well be that his US military advisors were of the gung-ho variety, (although State advised him to avoid the trap), but it is truly astonishing that he thought that he could prevail militarily, or that the US cavalry would come riding to the rescue. The Russian evidence of a ‘captured’ US passport may indeed amount to evidence of US Special Forces involvement - someone has some explaining to do. But nobody denies that US Special Forces are in Georgia - there has been quite openly a substantial US military training mission there, on which we have often reported over two years or more. The question is, as Putin infers from the captured document, did they take part in the ill-judged assault on South Ossetia? 

It is regrettably evident that the US military and /or the CIA, endorsed by their government, believes as a part of its confrontational doctrine, that the insertion of special forces is appropriate to stiffen local elements against a major adversary. IRAN is a good example of this, where in isolated regions US military input may be available for covert operations - and remember Nicaragua and the Contras! 

During the Bush- Cheney administration, a big problem in all such matters is that White House denials have lost all credibility in the wider world, because of their past flexible approach to truth and lies. Extraordinary that in 2008 we can give no more credibility to White House statements than we can to those of the Kremlin!

It is always as well to remember that RUSSIA has produced many of the world’s greatest chess players and that awareness should mean that their foreign policy and actions should always be examined at levels beyond the superficial. Just as the North Korean reaction described above was entirely predictable, so too, any objective observer would find it incredible that the Russian military having been offered the provocative ‘gift’ of a Georgian military incursion, would not react with a massive counter- attack, the plans for which have clearly long been drawn up. (Saakashvili claims that the whole Russian Air force was deployed). 

RUSSIA in Georgia with a ‘CIS’ peacekeeping force even has a UN mandate to keep the peace on the South Ossetian frontier (though that was like sending arsonists to put out a fire), so could claim legitimacy for their expulsion of Georgian forces. That UN mandate should be abrogated since RUSSIA is manifestly a party to the dispute and the violence. Abkhazia and South Ossetia were no more than glove puppets. 

The basic fact is (that no one seems to contest), on the night of August 8th GEORGIA launched a military attack that killed possibly hundreds of civilians and mandated Russian peacekeepers. In addition, the Russians say, it led to an exodus of 30,000 refugees. The next incontrovertible fact is that the Russians massively responded and counter-attacked, deep into GEORGIA. That alone given the mandate, cannot fairly be held to be bad behaviour, except that they took the opportunity of inflicting as much damage on Georgian military installations as they could all across the country, and have been very reluctant to withdraw, as the cease-fire agreement required.

What they have absolutely no legitimacy for is their attempt to now unilaterally extend the UN sanctioned ‘demilitarised zone,’ several kms further into Georgia. That brings them even closer to menace the Baku-Tibilsi-Ceyhan pipeline that spoils their monopoly of transiting Caspian oil and gas and which so greatly annoys them. But even if they never proceed against it, the very fact that they are there and in a position to destroy the pipeline even by short range tactical missiles, creates a whole new degree of risk perception in plans to by-pass RUSSIA by building pipelines through GEORGIA - currently the only geopolitically possible route for Caspian oil and gas to do this.

Nor is there any legitimacy in the astonishingly brazen announcement reported on CNN, that the Russian navy would intercept and search shipping approaching certain Georgian ports. Now that not only is behaving badly, but it is seriously insane!

The US is currently sending supplies to
GEORGIA in naval vessels! That has all the makings of a Cuba-type US-RUSSIA confrontation. With neither testosterone-fuelled leadership likely to be prepared to back down, such a confrontation could explode in the face of international peace! 

Another major success for RUSSIA stemming from this, is that it is now likely that France and Germany that so far have blocked GEORGIA’s membership of NATO, are going to believe that Saakashvili’s attack on South Ossetia exactly demonstrated the reason that they thought GEORGIA unready for membership.

(It must be remembered that the NATO treaty requires all members to come to the support of any other member under attack, as RUSSIA’s response to GEORGIA’s would doubtless have been interpreted in Tibilisi and Washington DC). 

How quickly it all could escalate, just as in 1914, due to an interlocking chain of treaty commitments, WW1 escalated from a street murder in Sarajevo, a city few had even heard of. 

Unlikely now that the Europeans in NATO will suddenly change their minds about exposing themselves to Saakashvili’s potential for enlarging his domestic conflict, whatever the US decides is militarily appropriate for itself.

And where does common sense come into this? Here is a reality check:

In the matter of the independence of South Ossetians and Abkhazians, as our GEORGIA report makes clear, the majority greatly welcome the turn of events. They do not want to be a part of GEORGIA, they do want to be a part of RUSSIA, which de facto they have been, since Georgia’s release from the USSR. 

As to recognition of the ‘independent’ states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, this independence is a total fiction. They will be no more independent of Moscow than any of the 89 republics and territories of the Russian Federation, which will now become 91. 

Far fewer nations will recognise even this faux independence, than have recognised Kosovo. Significantly, even RUSSIA’s friends in the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation have demurred from this, (would China seek to create a precedent for a Tibet yearning to be free, or a restless Xinjiang)? 

De facto, little will have changed! The de jure argument may well continue but the matter of these two Russian enclaves has now been determined, just as that of Kosovo. 

Apart from the desperately unfortunate civilians caught up in the fighting and those displaced by the’ new’ Russian decision to extend the zone they will patrol, and of course the military casualties on both sides, the losers are the hopes for future Caspian oil and gas pipelines for Europe, not depending on a Russian hand on the tap, now the vulnerability of Georgian pipelines has been demonstrated.
 

The parallel with Kosovo and subsequent events was prophesied by Putin, who warned of the implications at the time, as we reported then. But there is one critical difference. When Kosovo’s independence was discussed, there were massive international dealings. Much agonizing, UN conferences and attempted deal- making between the parties. None of that applies regarding these two Georgian enclaves, merely a resolution of both houses of the Russian parliament – and the deed was done! The point of course, as this illustrates, is that they were all the time merely puppet administrations of Moscow (which they will remain) and no one in the international community believes otherwise. 

Consider and compare Kosovo. Just as South Ossetia and Abkhazia are not ethnically Georgian, Kosovo is not ethnically or culturally a part of the Serbian nation ,which unrelated political settlements long ago placed inside Serbia. With the help of the UN, heavily influenced by the recent history of Serbian behaviour towards the Kosovars, Kosovo has recently had a UDI recognised by the western powers. 

Is it not the case that if Serbia were then to have launched a ‘Saakashvili – type’ attack on Kosovo, western opinion would have been outraged and would have demanded firm action by their governments? Essentially, despite the storm of protest from the US and others, this cannot be a black and white issue simply because of the reality of the ill-judged Georgian assault of August 8th.

RUSSIA had both directly and through its puppets, been winding up GEORGIA with a numerous and growing level of provocations and Saakashvili took the bait, despite it appears, being specifically warned not to fall for it, by his State Department advisors.

But what RUSSIA, the resentful former imperial power has achieved over its upstart former colony, is considerable. Of all the European imperialists, RUSSIA finds it the hardest to give up or give over to genuine independence. That which was Soviet, it continues to regard as Russian territory. They will be glad that they have had the opportunity, given to them on a plate, of slapping down the upstart GEORGIA. How this will eventually play in Georgian domestic policies remains to be seen. Similarly at the time of the US presidential elections, Putin naturally saw, or said he did, the hand of the US in this as motivated in favour of the Republican candidate, who has hitherto been publicly bullish in support of Saakashvili. 

It should be a general cause for concern and apprehension that over this last weekend of August, the US Vice-president is paying a visit to GEORGIA! What mischief he will get up to we cannot yet know, but Dick Cheney could hardly be described as anybody’s peacemaker. 

UKRAINE NEXT 
Ukraine, another candidate for NATO membership, will soon come under a renewed spotlight. Our UKRAINE report this month brings out the complications both for the west and for RUSSIA in a sensible resolution of their uneasy relationship. Moscow sees UKRAINE as properly Russian, as do about a third of the Ukrainian population, many of whom are Russian, particularly in the eastern marches and the Crimea. Moscow would dearly like to have back control of what was once indeed Russia’s heartland. Within Putin’s project of the new Greater Russia, forty million slavs to add to their dwindling population would be a prize indeed! 

Whilst we do not see that UKRAINE will join NATO even if invited, unless the Georgian story serves to change many peoples’ minds, neither do we think that there will be a big shift in the attitudes of the people towards rejoining RUSSIA. When they had a referendum on that question under an earlier president, they voted against, largely because in the aftermath of the Soviet- Afghan war, many young Ukrainian conscript soldiers never returned. The people rightly saw this as Ukraine providing their young men as cannon fodder for Moscow’s imperial adventures. The Ukrainian political leaders, apart from those that would expect to become Moscow’s satraps as their reward, are also against a reunification, some undoubtedly for love of country. But probably more because they like the power and the decisions being concentrated in Kiev, whilst in their Soviet experience all important decisions were taken in Moscow, which meant that the best opportunities for corrupt self-enrichment were at the level of decision making in Moscow also. Kiev politicians back then did not rate, now they can get rich. 

AZERBAIJAN'S NEW SUITOR
AZERBAIJAN is Georgia’s neighbour and partner in the Baku-Tibilisi-Ceyhan pipeline which so infuriates Russia, as without it they would have a complete monopoly of west-bound oil and gas from the Caspian oil province. Nevertheless, instead of a military confrontation, there is all the difference in the world in Moscow’s approach to Baku, as our report this month illustrates. Since RUSSIA’s giant oil, gas and pipeline distribution companies, albeit joint-stock and ostensibly capitalist organisations, are actually controlled by the state. This gives Moscow a head start in competitive decision making. For example, if western companies need a pipeline, they quite normally have to go to financial investors for the finance, all of whom weigh political risks as well as the commercial ones, which inevitably can be a long drawn-out process, (consider the new risk perceptions effect on potential pipeline investors as a result of the fighting in GEORGIA). Moscow, however, with its state resources can quickly decide on whether or not to build a pipeline and commit to it, and this is an advantage which strengthens their position in just such circumstances as the opening offers they are currently making to AZERBAIJAN

PHILIPPINES: ABOUT GOOD GOVERNANCE
This maybe the one example in this issue of ‘girls behaving badly’, specifically President Gloria, if we may so describe Mrs Arroyo. We tell the story in this month’s report of how membership of the ‘Presidential Commission on Good Governance,’ (also known as the misnomer of the century) can make you seriously rich. 
We also tell a grim story of the prospects for continuing terrorism in Mindanao, both of the Islamic kind, and also that of Christians on Moslems. 

TAIWAN COOLS IT
After the heady first weeks of Taiwan’s new KMT government largely grabbing headlines because of their over-eager approaches to Beijing, in line with their declared policy, things appear to have calmed down. We review domestic reactions to this enthusiastic cross-straits policy, where it has been forcefully pointed out to President Ma that such deals require concessions from both sides, and there has been no news of what Beijing would be giving in return.

IRAN: "IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID!"
Echoes of the 1990’s Clinton election slogan may indicate the eventual downfall of the firebrand president Ahmadinajad, rather than his inflammatory remarks about destroying Israel, which earned him his leading place in the world notoriety stakes. He is the president of a ‘sort of’’ democracy (once the religious hurdles are surmounted). He has to be re-elected in a country which is economically, and in most other issues, conservative. He has been under sustained attack, as we report, from a rival for office, the former president, Rafsanjani, accusing him of turning the economy into a fully state-dominated one. Interesting then that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who usually keeps out of such secular issues, pitched in, in this instance he publicly asked Ahmadinajad to make an effort to control inflation. More about the Iranian economy and other current matters in this issue of IRAN.

IRAQ: AL MALIKI IMPRESSES
It seems to be a reflection of the proverb that “the times will find the man,” that Prime Minister al Maliki is making a good fist of the seemingly impossible job of running IRAQ. He was never on anybody’s leadership list, (the neocons, Vice president Cheney), all of whom had their nominees for IRAQ’s top job, but he ‘emerged’ as the man whom Iraqi politicians could see provided executive leadership in arriving at some kind of consensus, in their tortuous dealings with each other. He demonstrates, importantly for his support ‘in country’, that he has not ‘sold out to the ‘Yankee invaders,’ whilst making reasonable and pragmatic policies where ever he is able. In short he behaves like the PM of an independent country, making deals in IRAQ’s interests. A weary US is probably pleased to settle for an Iraqi leader who seems strong enough to ‘hold it together,’ if they can’t have a puppet in charge. We describe the latest government approach to getting on with the job of exploiting the massive oil reserves, since the parliament is stuck on passing an Oil Law. Nevertheless as can be seen, a certain ingenuity is on display. 

PAKISTAN APPROACHING THE ABYSS?
We look forward to the time when we can report positively on this large and important country, but unfortunately it is not in this issue. The situation remains bleak on all fronts. The economy is in a mess, as we describe. Internal politics have taken a turn for the worse, if that can be imagined. Internal security has deteriorated, so that some cities like Peshawar are almost in a state of siege – and as for the NW Frontier Province…! 
The fear must be, as it is in INDIA, that PAKISTAN might become a ‘failed state’ with Islamists ready, willing, and able to fill the void of authority.
External relations have deteriorated with both the USA and INDIA, the latter because the Kashmir issue is being whipped up again, with dark suspicions now being voiced even by the CIA, about the ISI’s involvement with anti–India terrorists. So, in this issue we continue to tell it how it is! 

INDIA FEARS PAKISTANI COLLAPSE
Although there are mixed feelings on which we report, about the exit of former president Musharraf from neighboring PAKISTAN, the overwhelming fear is of a continuing collapse of Pakistani institutions and a descent into the category of failed state. That they fear (and so should we all), would give the opportunity to the islamists ready and waiting to fill positions of power, given half a chance, turning Pakistan into a Sunni version of theocratic IRAN – yet unlike IRAN, a nuclear armed state! 
There are few countries which feel the need to lament their growth rate dropping to just under 8% (7.9%) but INDIA is one of them. Largely because of the Central Finance ministry aggressively fighting inflation, on which we report, and the general world turndown. But the expectation is that growth will continue to climb as it has done consistently in recent years.

AFGHANISTAN: THE WOODEN SPOON AWARD FOR CORRUPTION
Transparency International have now included AFGHANISTAN in their survey of the worlds ‘least corrupt’ nations. Out of 180 listed, Afghanistan comes 172nd. No reader of our monthly reports should be surprised by this lowly status, since it all starts at the top. Another world organization, the World Bank, has rated AFGHANISTAN at 172nd out of 175 countries in terms of the ease of doing business, which explains to some extent the poor performance in acquiring foreign investment. 
The economy is not showing much sign of improvement except that, like many other apparently ‘no-hoper’ countries, China is becoming their new best friend. We report how this is happening. Meanwhile President Karzai is busily preparing for his re-election bid for next year, as we describe.

BANGLADESH TO SAVE THE WORLD?
Fascinating that poverty-stricken Bangladesh has come up with a new process –a way of making petroleum from degradable organic waste - appropriate for the poorest countries in the world, that also, as any traveller can see, cannot successfully handle waste disposal. We describe the process and observe that BANGLADESH currently imports 3.7 million tonnes annually of petroleum products. 

A SHREWD THRUST!
We finish by quoting from Al Gore’s speech at Denver in the US Democratic party’s presidential convention:-

“…the special interests that control the Republican Party are so powerful that serving them and serving the national well-being are now irreconcilable ….Big Coal and Big Oil have a fifty year lease on the Republican party and are drilling it for everything its worth!” 

[We hope in the interests of ‘balance’ to find a ‘quotable quote’ from the coming Republican Convention for our next issue].

September Country Updates include:

RUSSIA, GEORGIA, NORTH KOREA, UKRAINE, AZERBAIJAN, TURKMENISTAN, IRAQ, IRAN, PAKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN, TAIWAN, PHILIPPINES, INDIA, BANGLADESH, SYRIA, SAUDI ARABIA, LIBYA, SOUTH AFRICA.


Clive Lindley
Publisher


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