Monthly political analysis on nations in
economic or political transition



‘Russia and the FSU’ is making more sense as a caption now that the Russian leadership is settled, not without the beginnings of a democratic pushback, in the cities at least. It now becomes clear that Vladimir Putin who during his earlier presidency made some brilliant moves to make Russia pre-eminent in oil and gas supply, can now move on to another agenda.
We predict that his considerable energies will now be devoted to Russia winning back its near - abroad, the scatter of former soviet republics that are out there, on the whole doing badly, unless like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan they are big-time oil/gas producers. In Europe the 3 Balts are out of it, having returned to being regular European states. The two other FSU European states Belarus and Ukraine, both large enough to matter, have no friends, failing economies and thuggish, control - freak governments.

It is interesting to recall that Ukraine within a year or so of the breakup of the USSR had a free referendum which came down negatively on the prospect of surrendering its new found independence, to return to rule by the Kremlin. The people remembered the Soviet ten year imperial-military adventure in invading Afghanistan, with a lot of Ukrainian boys - Red Army conscripts, that never came home, or came in a box! They could see no merit in their young fighting Russia’s imperial wars.

The Kiev politicians however, who having got independence, not through their efforts, led that side in the referendum, for the cynical reasons that independent Ukrainian politicos could now make decisions locally, not wait for their masters in Moscow, and thus get rich, without having to send the bulk of their ill-gotten spoils to Moscow, which had always been the case in the Soviet Union.

Now Ukraine is further than ever from joining up with the EU, those venal politicians with their economy going through the floor, might well be biddable to a suitably structured approach by Putin. Likewise Belarus! Putin despised the dictator there Lukashenko, who kept crudely changing the constitution to keep himself in power, rather than achieve that end by some nimble moves in top positions, a la russe. However that was then - this is now.

The Western nations failed to "win the peace" in either of these FSU states. If a small part of the energy and cost of say, the Iraq war, had been devoted to reeling them in for democracy, things might have been different.  Now the indicators are that both Ukraine and Belarus will de facto return to the Kremlin’s control. Leaving aside the new rich petro-states, Russia's interest is to continue to capture and hold a leading strategic/economic role in supply pipelines, in which it already has a strong position. Other FSU states like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan - although shrimps among nations, have a different sort of importance. With Islamic fighters to spare, once Afghanistan is wrapped up, the new frontier for Islamists will move deeper into central asia. Uzbekistan is not nearly as blessed with oil and gas as say Kazakhstan, but it has a bigger population, army, etc. But size won’t stop Islam Karimov agonising about his nation being the next Afghanistan - but without a USA to fight his war for him.

Enter President Putin, whose biggest international worry this is, as well. Already Russia has promoted the mutual defence treaties and mechanisms which surely must be adopted, by a perhaps reluctant Uzbek leadership, but who have no better ideas. After Afghanistan, the US is not likely to involve its military again in fighting a shadow guerrilla foe in the mountains of central asia, and that brings up the question of Turkmenistan. This remote largely desert oil state, tucked away by the Caspian, shares a long border with Afghanistan. It is not entirely in Moscow’s pocket, and is a big-getting-bigger, supplier of oil and gas. China has a big investment there; India has just signed up for a major pipeline development involving Afghanistan and Pakistan; the EU have unsuccessfully so far been knocking on their door; but if Turkmenistan inherits some attention from  Afghanistan’s Islamic warriors, they will need serious fight-back support from someone.

Russia of course has got its own sensible reasons for keeping militant Islamists from linking up with their own Islamic secessionists in the Caucasus and South Russia where the menace is daily very obvious. Given all of these factors we see it as highly likely that Vladimir Putin will, over one or two presidential stints, achieve the objective, probably without using overt aggression, of rebuilding the Russian empire to something approaching its former importance.
Reports on Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan

The Arab Spring has passed through a summer, winter and another spring and it’s not over yet, so better perhaps to refer to the ‘Awakening,’ but it is a democratic phenomenon, because the mostly young people who have driven it, really were seeking something resembling what they see of the western world on TV and the movies. But in not a single ‘Awakening’ state has that been the outcome.

EGYPT the largest Arab nation, has moved the furthest, apart from Tunisia, in that they have elected a parliament to write a constitution, but since the majority of Egyptians are not educated young people but peasants, they have got a representative government massively Islamic, uncaring of educational qualifications, since they are not Koranic studies. Now they will also have a president by mid-June. So the Islamists who control parliament and perhaps see life as a matter of devotion, knowledge of their scriptures and 7th century standards of cultural behaviour, will now be confronted with the challenge. Having to solve the economic issues and many others, that moved many young people into Tahrir square - how to get any job that is worthy of their qualifications?

In ALGERIA which we cover for the first time, their elections in May passed off reasonably well but uniquely amongst the ‘Awakening states’, to the general amazement of all, including candidates themselves, the Islamists did very badly and are still wondering why. Could it be that the nation had a terrible civil war when the Algerian military refused to give up power after the Islamists had won a general election? The islamists of various groupings carried out then a reign of terror to demonstrate that the military couldn’t run the country, or safeguard the population. They made their point but must be loathed for the suffering they together with the army, caused - estimated at 150,000 to 200,000 deaths. Now a clearly secular government is elected with a big majority.

In LIBYA, where Nato intervention was key to the overthrow of the Qadaffi clan, the outcome remains what it was,  with scores of armed militias accepting no laws but their own, each running a district, or an industry, or a business - such as the airport; or the docks; each group led by a strongman. The ruling council set up during the civil war, hoping for stability in a bid to get the authority of citizen’s votes to deal with this anarchic situation, is planning a summer election. One ‘strongman’ has resigned his position of running Tripoli, in order to stand for the top job. He generates a mixed reaction since earlier in life, he was an Arab mujahaddin fighting the Russian invasion in Afghanistan, but he appears to be pragmatic rather than dogmatic, and might still come through as a peacetime leader. The question will then be how constitutional would his reign be, or would the country just have swapped one authoritarian ruler for another?

In SYRIA the struggle, now clearly a civil war, sponsored essentially by the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, all of which are from the Sunni branch of Islam - none of which are remotely democratic, pitched in against the longstanding Alawite (a ‘shia’ sect) government. The rebels are a disparate series of groups with four separate leaderships that have so far found it impossible to agree on their objectives. Some are modern democrats motivated by the best of intentions; others probably a sizeable majority, are Islamists, Moslem Brothers, with a long history of seeking to overthrow the ‘heretics’ in power, and of losing out badly. No question the Islamists in this country are sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, whose objectives have no bearing on democracy, but everything to do with stability and the Sunni Ulema.

Curiously, the US and UK powers lack balance as they portray Syria’s Assad family rule as the solitary villain here, whereas Russia’s position seems much more balanced and rational, but then the Iranian relationship is the weight around Assad’s neck, as far as the western powers are concerned. It is acknowledged that al Qaida is present in country and engaged as spoilers in the conflict, but the UN military mission in country, has not yet pronounced their allocation of blame for various outrages, which will be the nearest the world gets to the truth.

SAUDI ARABIA with its own large Shi’ite minority is toying with the idea of forming a political union with neighbouring Bahrain, where the Shia are a majority, but the ruling family like the Saudis, are Sunni. Of course none of this would be happening, were it not for the Iranian menace. IRAN itself, is undergoing very significant internal changes where the fireball president Ahmadinejad is now very much reduced in stature as a result of the Chief Ayatollah Khamenei asserting himself, and as a result, will now be showing the world whether it is the ayatollah or the elected president, that is at the controls in the confrontation about all matters nuclear.
Reports on Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran

AFGHANISTAN and PAKISTAN reports interact, and really need to be read side-by side. One rare ‘positive’ in their direct relationship, is actually reported in this issue of INDIA, and it relates to the signing of a deal which has been discussed since the nineties, which is to bring Turkmenistan gas piped across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. That will mean that certain warlords en route, will gain a tidy new income for ‘ensuring’ the pipeline is not blown-up on their patch. Much of the Afghan and Pakistan issues relate to the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops, the ‘how,’ and ‘when’ of it, and how to wind down the confrontation - a truly ticklish problem. Relationships at the political level between both Kabul and Islamabad with Washington are particularly fraught, but diplomacy will find a way….
Reports: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India

Turkey and Iraq have been sniping at each other, Turkey is definitely a player where Iraq is concerned. Apart from the Kurds, a major problem for Turkey over the years, they are near enough neighbours for Erdogan to be a significant presence. IRAQ ploughs on with its surprisingly strong prime minister Maliki, whose all- conquering domestic run has now been somewhat cramped, as reported this month. TURKEY’s Erdogan however is still flying high on the back of his nation’s excellent economic performance, large population, strategic position and real independence.
Reports: Iraq and Turkey

In SE Europe this issue we look at BOSNIA and GREECE. This will be our first report on Greece since they joined the EU, which we took to be good enough evidence of being a democratic nation. But in their dire economic situation, that is no longer guaranteed, given the upsurge of extreme elements in their polity.
BOSNIA may still be a disaster waiting to happen - again , or despite everything, it might become a regular ‘hum-drum’ Balkan state (if that is not an oxymoron). But there is no question that we shall continue to monitor progress or more commonly, the lack of it.
Reports: Bosnia and Greece

NORTH KOREA is again a very full - and we would say entertaining account, of what’s going on in the world’s most secretive state - the hermit nation, who amongst other ‘distinctions’ have now got perhaps the world’s youngest head of state. In itself that doesn’t necessarily enhance the gaiety of nations, but it is encouraging to know that this third generation of Kim superstardom has been advising his deputies on (literally this) improving the funfair in PyongYang. TAIWAN’s president Ma although triumphant at the polls, is enduring a significant wave of unpopularity We examine his declared program and the economy of this small but dynamic island nation.

The Philippines is rejoicing in the fight back against corruption by the impeachment of the Chief Justice. Progress towards real democracy is now being made.

MYANMAR - our 2nd report, having cautiously opened to the world, is now attracting something of a race by other nations to get a share of their substantial raw materials. No surprise perhaps when they got there to find that China has been installed for years. INDIA has been late getting to the table let alone the feast, but Premier Manmohan Singh will shortly make the first visit at his level for 25 years. India after amazing the world, is going through a period of self-doubt, due to the effects of the world economic situation on their economy, as we describe.
Reports on North Korea, India, Myanmar, The Philippines, Taiwan



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