Thursday, 30 April 2009
Fact-Finders Cite 'Horrible Violence' Against Protesters Fact-Finders Cite 'Horrible Violence' Against Protesters
During a visit to Berlin on Wednesday, his first after taking office, US Attorney General Eric Holder called on Europe to aid the United States in closing the Guantanamo prison camp for suspected terrorists. In a speech, he said it was time for "sacrifices" and "unpopular choices."
In the wake of Wednesday's Taliban attack on German forces, commentators are losing patience with Berlin's unwillingness to commit more soldiers to Afghanistan. The Taliban's advance in Pakistan also has them worried.
The new US president's first 100 days in office were expensive, glamorous and often contradictory. Barack Obama has done many things right against a host of intractable problems, but he's made at least two blatant mistakes.
*Georgian opposition rejects European proposals for dialogue with government
*Armenia and Iran forge deeper trade ties and press ahead on strategic rail project
*Belarus seeks closer European ties
*Ankara and Yerevan agree roadmap to normalize bilateral relations
**New in the Jamestown blog on Russia and Eurasia (http://www.jamestown.org/blog): Russian Ministry of Defense Announces Drastic Personnel Cuts
European Envoys Trying in Vain to Reason With Opposition in Tbilisi
The situation in Georgia also requires EU involvement on a higher level and with a more credible message than has hitherto been the case. Just, the radical extra-parliamentary opposition in Tbilisi -40 kilometers from the Russian armored force spearheads- is now poised to switch from "peaceful" tactics to calculated low-level violence, which (judging from Georgia's experience) could escalate beyond control (EDM, April 28). Laying siege to government institutions and plunging the capital city into chaos since April 9 could not reasonably be defended as peaceful tactics, but the bar has been set lower for the opposition and higher for the Georgian government to pass this test.
"For the sake of democracy, the government is tolerating many phenomena that Western European governments would not have tolerated," Parliamentary Chairman Davit Bakradze has told the assembled European ambassadors. "[Let] the population watch the developments with their own eyes and without restrictions and draw conclusions for themselves" (Rustavi-2 TV, April 25).
Western ambassadors stationed in Tbilisi have exerted every effort to bring the radical opposition into dialogue with the government. The ambassadors bent over backward to treat the radical leaders deferentially and never to criticize their excesses. But they could not persuade the radical leaders before April 9 to desist from starting the confrontation in the streets and cannot persuade them now to move to the negotiation table. This situation requires EU involvement on a higher level and with a more credible message than has hitherto been the case.
President Mikheil Saakashvili and parliamentary leaders had offered a dialogue long before the start of the current wave of demonstrations and persist with the offer, both publicly and through the Western ambassadors' mediation. Meeting with the ambassadors on April 25 Bakradze reconfirmed the agenda for dialogue: strengthening parliament's powers and its oversight functions vis-à-vis the executive branch, amending the electoral code so as to increase the opposition's parliamentary representation, steps to restore political confidence, and agreement on a program to overcome the economic crisis.
European envoys are increasingly concerned and frustrated by the opposition's strategy of confrontation. French ambassador Eric Fournier declared, "Because of the [opposition's] activists, the parliament chairman must hold meetings at a hotel, not in the parliament building. We regret that some people have decided to act against the law and violate the democratic constitution. It is inadmissible that we should gather at a hotel to meet the chairman of the parliament. This is a lamentable fact" (Rustavi-2 TV, April 25). The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly Secretary-General Terry Davis told the opposition that "any issues should be discussed in negotiations, not in the streets;" and reproached it for having refused to take up their parliamentary mandates after the 2008 elections (Rustavi-2 TV, April 28).
Opposition leaders, however, demand Saakashvili's resignation and the holding of general elections (only one year after the last elections). They denounce the "criminal Saakashvili regime," as they have done continuously since 2007, and insist that a dialogue should only pertain to the modalities of resignation and early elections (Imedi-TV, Public TV, Kavkas-Press, April 25-28).
Unaccustomed to and intolerant of European criticism, some opposition leaders bristle in response. One of them, French-born diplomat Salome Zourabichvili, felt duty-bound to apologize to the crowd at the rally over Fournier's remarks; and she retorted to "Davis or any Englishman" that their call for dialogue was like "dialogue with Hitler" (Rustavi-2 TV, April 28). Other opposition leaders, parochial and unfamiliar with European institutions, imagine as "Conservative" leader Kakha Kukava told the crowd, that Europe will pressure Saakashvili into a dialogue about resignation (Rustavi-2 TV, April 25, 27).
The authorities adhere to the policy of non confrontation, no physical contact with the opposition in the streets, and openness to dialogue toward a political agreement with opposition groups. Saakashvili called for such dialogue most recently in his April 23 speech at a factory outside Tbilisi and his April 28 remarks in the city, following a special church service convened by the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II. The Patriarch had publicly appealed to opposition leaders to attend the service; but they did not seem to be on hand, with the exception of Alliance for Georgia leader Irakli Alasania, who accepted to shake the president's hand (Imedi TV, April 28).
Alasania, with his small personal following, is attempting to stake an elusive middle ground between the radicals and the authorities. The radicals do not regard Alasania as one of their own and have treated his attempts at mediation as scornfully as they have the European envoys' efforts. Alasania attended and addressed the opposition rallies during the first phase after April 9, but seems to have dropped out from the meetings and the limelight afterward. The opposition's field has narrowed and the most radical elements now have that field all to themselves.
Yerevan and Tehran Strengthen Economic Cooperation
Armenia and Iran have agreed to deepen their already close relationship by pressing ahead with several large-scale commercial projects, mostly related to energy supplies. The two neighboring states formalized these plans during Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan's recent official visit to Tehran. Iranian leaders used the trip to reaffirm, in unusually strong terms, their commitment to enhance political and economic cooperation with Yerevan.
"The Iranian government and nation have enthusiastically welcomed the expansion of amicable ties with the Armenian nation and government," Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on April 14 as he received Sarksyan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad after their two-day negotiations (IRNA news agency, April 14).
Speaking at a joint news conference with his Armenian counterpart earlier that day, Ahmedinejad described those ties as "very deep-rooted, friendly and developing" and predicted a "very bright and promising" future for them. "Throughout their history the two nations have always trusted each other and enjoyed amicable ties," he said. "We are going to broaden our cooperation at regional and international levels," Ahmedinejad added, according to the official Iranian news agency.
The two presidents spoke to journalists after signing eight Armenian-Iranian memorandums of understanding. The most significant of those agreements fleshed out an ambitious idea to construct a railroad connecting the two countries -which will transform Armenia's transport and communications links with the outside world. The lack of such a rail link is considered a major hindrance to the development of Armenian-Iranian trade, which amounted to a modest $226.6 million in 2008. It also complicates the use of Iranian territory and accessing the Persian Gulf ports.
According to the two governments, the 470-kilometer railroad, with the bulk of it passing through Armenian territory, will cost between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion and take at least three years to build. The Armenian Transport and Communications Minister Gurgen Sargsian revealed on April 20 that Iran will allocate a $400 million loan to Armenia for the planned railroad construction. Yerevan hopes to attract the rest of the necessary funding from international lending institutions and, in particular, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The ADB provided $1.5 million last fall for the first feasibility studies on the project. A delegation of the Manila-based bank is scheduled to visit Yerevan in May for further talks. Speaking on the eve of his visit to Iran, Sarksyan said that work on the railroad will start in 2010 at the latest (www.regnumonline.com.ar, April 10).
Another agreement signed in Tehran, envisages the construction of two large hydro-electric plants on the river Aras on the Armenian-Iranian border. The Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian told journalists that they will be built by Iranian companies and that Armenia will finance its share of the $240 million project with electricity supplies to Iran (Arminfo, April 17). It remains unclear however, as to precisely when the construction will begin.
The two sides also formally agreed to start building a 300 kilometer pipeline to deliver petrol and diesel fuel from an oil refinery in northern Iran to Armenia. In December 2008 another pipeline project was inaugurated, which is designed to pump up to 2.5 billion cubic meters of Iranian natural gas to Armenia. With Russian gas already meeting Armenia's domestic energy needs, the bulk of Iranian gas is expected to be used for producing electricity, which will then be exported to Iran. Two of Armenia's three thermal power plants are currently undergoing a multimillion-dollar reconstruction -which may explain why Iranian gas deliveries have yet to start. Large-scale Armenian electricity exports also require the construction of a third and much more powerful high-voltage transmission line linking the Armenian and Iranian power grids. According to Movsisian, it will start in May and take at least two years.
The Armenian-Iranian agreements underscored just how far the Islamic Republic has gone in cooperating with its sole Christian neighbor since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite sharing a religious affinity with fellow Shia Muslim Azerbaijan and periodically signing statements by Islamic nations denouncing "Armenian aggression," Iran has essentially maintained neutrality in the conflict over Karabakh. Not only has it refused to join the Azerbaijan's and Turkey's economic embargo of Armenia, but it has actually helped the latter to mitigate the adverse affects of these sanctions. "An advanced and developed Armenia will be beneficial to the entire region," Ahmedinejad was reported to tell Sarksyan (Iranian Press TV, April 13).
This stance, seen as "pro-Armenian" by many in Azerbaijan, is at odds with the notion that religion is the main driving force behind Iranian foreign policy. "That does not mean Islam plays no role in Iran's foreign policy," said Arax Pashayan, an Islamic expert at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences. "It is just that in its relations with Armenia, Iran does not use the religious factor and is solely guided by its national interests" (Interview with EDM, April 27). Limiting the Turkish influence in the region has clearly been among those interests -a goal shared by Armenia.
In Armenia, maintaining a warm rapport with its large Muslim neighbor and one of its few commercial conduits to the outside world is a rare issue of national consensus. Armenia's leadership uses every opportunity to praise Iran's "balanced" position on the Karabakh conflict and showcase its support for closer Armenian-Iranian ties. "Armenia attaches special importance to the dynamic expansion of relations with Iran," Sarksyan was quoted by his press office as saying in Tehran on April 13. From Yerevan's perspective, that will also significantly benefit the Armenian energy sector and somewhat offset the country's exclusion from regional energy projects led by either Azerbaijan or Turkey.
Belarus and the Dilemmas of the Eastern Partnership
On May 7 the Eastern Partnership Program (EPP) will be inaugurated at the EU summit in Prague. Belarus has been invited to take part, a decision that has not only angered some EU leaders, but also poses legal and economic dilemmas for all concerned. However, it is still uncertain whether the Belarus' president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, will attend in person, particularly if he is likely to face public criticism.
Last week, Andrei Sannikou, the international coordinator of Charter 97 and the European Belarus civic movement, stated that on April 14 he had also received an invitation to the Prague summit. However, he will not take part, despite the fact that he supports Belarus' integration into the EU. His reasons were that there are currently three political prisoners languishing in Belarusian jails: Mikalay Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, and Uladzimir Asipenka. Belarusians are being forced to emigrate because of continuing political repressions; political parties and NGOs are refused the right to be registered, peaceful demonstrations are dispersed by force, and young activists are being forcibly drafted into the military (www.charter97.org, April 24).
In addition to these comments from a prominent member of the Belarusian opposition, some EU leaders would be very upset to see Lukashenka at the summit. A spokesperson for the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, stated that the Belarusian leader would not be received at Prague castle, nor would the president greet him personally. Meanwhile, the invitation to Belarus has been acclaimed in Moscow, which perceives the summit as an opportunity to gain a foothold in Europe through its neighbor (www.russiatoday.com, April 21).
Russia is equally aware that there are inherent contradictions in Belarus being a member of both the Eastern Partnership and the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc). The latter, formally established in 2000, created a single economic space between its members, with the formation of a free trade zone. In addition to Russia and Belarus, it includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Belarus is also a member of the Russia-Belarus Union, which is arguably a less important body in that its founding Constitution has never been finalized.
In a thoughtful analysis, Darya Sologub noted the potential problems that might develop. The EPP anticipates a free trade zone, but before this can take place, its members must be members of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Belarus is not a member of the WTO and has no immediate prospects of acceptance. The EPP stipulates that customs control will function based on the borders of the partnership states. Yet there is currently no official border between Russia and Belarus -indeed upon entering Belarus, visitors are obligated to fill out a customs form of the Russia-Belarus Union. The notion of a visa-free regime critical for many Belarusians -who currently still have to buy EU visas- raises the question of what would happen in the case of Russians entering Belarus, potentially crossing the border into another EPP country. Belarus in theory can take part in European energy security and defense initiatives too, but once again it already has such relationships in place with Russia (www.russiatoday.com. April 27).
One reason for Moscow's support is that its leaders may have gleaned that for Belarus to take part in any meaningful projects, it will require Russia's membership of the EPP. In this respect, Belarus would not be leaving the Russian orbit, but potentially providing a wider swathe of influence for Moscow. In the absence of its Russian partner, Belarus can still gain prestige through the EPP. In particular, a leader and cabinet excluded from European capitals for the past two years could gain new credibility, as long as the demands on Belarus are not too stringent. Lukashenka has reportedly made one private trip to Europe already, and on April 27 he made his first official visit -meeting the Pope in the Vatican. At that meeting he extended an invitation to Benedict XVI to visit Belarus in the near future (Narodnaya Volya, April 27).
As for the EU, its new policy of engagement with Belarus is logical in that isolation achieved very little. But it has also opened the door to some serious legal questions, particularly over where the jurisdiction of the EurAsEc ends and that of the EPP begins. Also, as Sologub highlighted, the financial incentives provided by the EPP may be somewhat limited: Belarus may receive $21 million as opposed to the $11 billion it has already received in loans and credits from Russia (www.russiatoday.com, April 27).
In the meantime, all sides involved in these issues are focusing on the potential benefits, such as Belarus becoming more active on the European stage. But in the longer term, the EPP will have great difficulty in establishing any meaningful integration of the country because of its close ties and commitments to Russia. In mid-April, as part of the agreement for joint air defense, for example, Russia agreed to supply Belarus with the advanced S-400 Triumph anti-aircraft and anti-missile interceptor system (Jane's Defense Weekly, April 17). In short, integration with Russia is proceeding apace alongside the efforts to bring Belarus into the EPP.
Turkey and Armenia's Rapprochement Watched Carefully by Azerbaijan
On April 22, the Foreign Ministries of Turkey, Armenia and Switzerland issued a joint announcement saying that Ankara and Yerevan had agreed to work toward improving their relations within the framework of a roadmap under Swiss auspices. United States' diplomats were also closely involved in the talks which preceded the deal. Although the decision appears as a breakthrough in resolving this long-term dispute, significant obstacles remain before the completion of the rapprochement.
The joint statement read as follows:
"The two parties have achieved tangible progress and mutual understanding in this process and they have agreed on a comprehensive framework for the normalization of their bilateral relations in a mutually satisfactory manner. In this context, a road-map has been identified" (www.mfa.gov.tr, April 22).
Subsequent statements from diplomatic sources clarified that no agreement has been signed and that the parties agreed to continue working toward fully normalizing their bilateral relations. Although the content of the ongoing talks were not disclosed officially, the deal is likely to include establishing diplomatic representations in their respective capitals, gradual re-opening of the border, Armenia's recognition of Turkey's international borders, and forming a joint committee of historians to examine the disputed events of 1915 (Sabah, April 24).
Many observers believe that if the process can be concluded successfully, it will not only end the long-standing enmity within the South Caucasus, but it also will redefine the geopolitical map of the region -helping to connect Armenia with Western interests in the region. Therefore, the decision was welcomed by the international community as a constructive step toward reconciliation. A statement from the U.S. State Department commended these efforts and called on the parties to proceed with the talks without any preconditions and within a reasonable time frame.
Initially this was anticipated against the background of the ongoing dialogue, which had accelerated over the past year. This was given a renewed impetus following Turkish President Abdullah Gul's historic visit to Yerevan in September 2008. In addition to their various bilateral talks, the foreign ministers of both countries also met within the context of multilateral initiatives, raising expectations that a deal could be achieved. Earlier press reports speculated that the two capitals had agreed on a roadmap in late March, but they were debating the proper timing to announce this decision (EDM, March 27; Hurriyet Daily News, March 30). After Obama's recent high profile trip to Turkey, Turkish-Armenian reconciliation was considered imminent.
However, following Obama's visit, Ankara stepped back from its commitment to find a solution in an effort to allay concerns in Baku. The Turkish Prime Minister and other officials declared publicly that they would avoid steps which might damage Azerbaijan's interests, and Turkey would not re-open its border with Armenia unless the latter ended its occupation of Azerbaijani territories (EDM, April 17). These developments rendered an agreement less likely.
The announcement that the parties had held secret talks and committed publicly to a roadmap represented a major breakthrough. Nonetheless, there have been conflicting accounts from each side as to whether concessions were made on preconditions to start the negotiations. The continued mystery surrounding the content of the talks may prove an obstacle to a final settlement. Nationalist forces and the opposition, both within Turkey and Armenia, remain opposed to the way in which the rapprochement is being conducted -in an absence of public scrutiny. Secret diplomacy is the key to achieving a breakthrough in such protracted disputes, and supporters of normalization on both sides insist that the governments should not bow to public pressure to abandon the process (www.ntvmsnbc.com, April 26). Nonetheless, the widening gap between the governments' rhetoric and reality risks undermining this controversial foreign policy.
The Armenian government came under intense domestic criticism, and a minor coalition partner withdrew from the government. Similar problems within Turkey have further complicated these efforts. The AKP government proceeded with the normalization without first preparing public opinion for such a radical decision. It has also failed to keep the opposition informed. Turkish opposition parties are now calling on the government to stop conducting diplomacy behind closed doors, and inform parliament of the current standing of the talks (Ortadogu, April 28).
Moreover, the Turkish government is criticized for failing to give clear answers as to how the Turkish-Armenian roadmap might impact on Azerbaijan. Apparently, Turkey proceeded with the rapprochement without ensuring Armenia's response to Azerbaijan's demands, and this stance contradicted Ankara's earlier statements that it would protect Baku's interests. For some Turkish observers, this is an indication that the government did not have a genuine desire for reconciliation with Armenia, but it agreed the roadmap only to remove the word "genocide" from Obama's April 24 message (Sabah, April 27). For others, Ankara's zigzagging shows that it is acting opportunistically, which undermines the trust of its partners (Hurriyet Daily News, April 24).
President Gul ruled out any damage to relations with Baku due to the roadmap, and maintained that it will serve the interests of both Baku and Ankara. The Turkish government is attempting to convince Azeri politicians that its efforts toward resolving its problems with Yerevan also promote Azerbaijan's interests within international forums (Zaman, April 24). Nonetheless, Azerbaijan's discomfort with these developments is well known.
After noting that he was not in a position to tell Ankara how to handle its relations with Yerevan, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, said during a visit to Brussels, that Baku reserved the right to revise its policies according to the evolving realities in the region. Referring to the conflicting news about the content of the Turkish-Armenian roadmap deal, Aliyev added "The world, the region and the Azeris want to know whether the Karabakh issue was removed from the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. This is a simple question and has a simple answer" (Cihan Haber Ajansi, April 28).
Wednesday, 29 April 2009
A Chilling Effect on U.S. Counterterrorism
April 29, 2009
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
Obama's First Hundred Days and U.S. Presidential Realities
by Tom Burghardt
Global Research, April 26, 2009
- Podcast: Robert Solow on the economic crisis
German Minister Blocking Push for Transparency German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner doesn't want to follow an EU directive requiring member states to publish how much individual farmers receive in subsidies. She claims it is a matter of privacy, but some suspect Aigner is aiming to secure votes for her party in the European Parliament. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,621469,00.html#ref=nlint
New Evidence of Torture Prison in Poland The current debate in the US on the "special interrogation methods" sanctioned by the Bush administration could soon reach Europe. It has long been clear that the CIA used the Szymany military airbase in Poland for extraordinary renditions. Now there is evidence of a secret prison nearby. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,621450,00.html#ref=nlint
Le comportement du nouveau virus grippal A (H1N1), apparu au Mexique et aux États-Unis, pose de multiples questions aux experts.
Monday, 27 April 2009
By ADAM B. ELLICK 6:33 PM ET
KARACHI, Pakistan — Two brothers in Pakistan have taken extreme measures to conceal their factory for fetish and bondage products, a dangerous business in a conservative Muslim country.
MYTH #2: HARSH INTERROGATION WORKED: The right wing has been trying to frame the debate over torture as a simple question of whether torture "worked" to prevent terrorist attacks. Several, including Bush and Cheney, have claimed that torturing 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) helped them foil a plan to blow up the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles. But "an unnamed senior FBI official would later tell the Los Angeles Times that Bush's characterization of it as a 'disrupted plot' was 'ludicrous' -- that plot was foiled in 2002. But KSM wasn't captured until March 2003," Slate's Tim Noah noted. The torture debate has also focused on Abu Zubaydah, a detainee who allegedly disclosed "the fact that KSM was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks" to the CIA only after he was tortured, according to former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen. But Ali Soufan, an FBI interrogator who worked closely with Zubaydah, said the FBI "extracted crucial intelligence -- including the identity of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the architect of 9/11 and the dirty-bomb plot of Jose Padilla -- before CIA contractors even began their aggressive tactics." Zubaydah also "had a schizophrenic personality"; his diaries were written in the voices of three distinct personalities. "How, then, did the C.I.A. conclude that Zubaydah was mentally fit enough to withstand the Agency's coercive techniques?" the New Yorker's Justin Vogt asked.
MYTH #3: NO NEED FOR ACCOUNTABILITY: Several conservatives have also protested the idea of a commission or prosecutions of Bush officials who gave legal cover for torture. Former White House press secretary Dana Perino referred to an investigation as a "political witch hunt." "[M]aybe there's an element of setting old political scores here," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said yesterday. But as journalist Mark Danner observed, "The mystique of torture will only disappear once a cold hard light has been shone on it by trustworthy people who can examine all the evidence and speak to the country with authority." Indeed, what transpired under Bush violates both U.S. statute and international treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory, and an investigation is needed to prevent future abuses of the law. As a first step to achieving accountability, Center for American Progress Action Fund President and CEO John Podesta called for the impeachment of 9th Circuit Court Judge Jay Bybee yesterday. When he was a former top Bush administration lawyer, Bybee signed off on the notorious torture tactics seen in recently-disclosed OLC memos. "Bybee has neither the legal nor moral authority to sit in judgment of others," Podesta wrote in a letter to House Judiciary Commitee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI).
*Will Turkey's AKP government abort the Nabucco project?
*...while Nabucco project in the balance on EU summit's eve
*Medvedev promotes Russia's European security initiative
*Police raids reveal links between Kurdish Hezbollah and the al-Qaeda network
**New in the Jamestown blog on Russia and Eurasia (http://www.jamestown.org/blog): Medvedev Replaces Russian Military Intelligence Chief
Turkish Government Stalls on Nabucco Project Ahead of Critical Deadlines
The EU's Prague summit would have been an ideal venue for the IGA's signing, with a fall-back option to sign it in June at a meeting of heads of states and governments in Turkey. This fall-back option has been designed as a symbolic reward to Turkey, in the event that Turkey's AKP government lifted the logjam it has forced on its Nabucco consortium partners and on the supplier country Azerbaijan.
However, in a mid-April letter to the European Commission, the content of which is broadly known around the EU headquarters, Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler has reintroduced some old issues and raised new ones.
Surprisingly, Guler's letter now proposes to place the Turkish stretch of the Nabucco pipeline under two sets of laws: European legislation and Turkish legislation. There is no clarity in the letter about the cost-based tariff regime, which had been agreed at the Budapest summit and enshrined in that communiqué. Regarding taxation, Guler's letter suggests vague language with loopholes in it, instead of adhering to the EU-standard "best-endeavor clause." Suddenly, the letter is asking the European Commission to send a new IGA draft before June 1.
According to the letter, the AKP government wants the EU to demonstrate due concern for Turkey's supply security. This oft-used euphemism denotes Ankara's claim to lift off a portion of Azerbaijani gas at a cheap price for Turkish consumption or re-export for profit, at Azerbaijan's expense.
Crucially, Guler's letter to the EU indicates no forward movement on the transit agreement for Azerbaijani gas. Azerbaijan thus far is the only supply source for Nabucco in the short term; and is also the only transit option for Turkmen gas in the medium term. The AKP government, however, pursues a delivery-at-frontier (DAF) agreement, whereby would buy certain volumes of Azerbaijani gas and use, resell, or store those volumes. Not content to function as a transit partner to Europe -as Ukraine and Georgia do- the AKP government seeks a "hub" role, unwarranted by the economic fundamentals and overplaying Turkey's political hand vis-à-vis the EU.
Thus, the AKP government's stalling on the transit agreement could abort the EU's project altogether. It also hits hard at Azerbaijan on two counts: economically, by blocking Azerbaijan's export outlet to the West; and strategically, by forcing Baku to consider reorienting its gas exports toward Russia. By the same token the AKP government undermines Georgia's key function as a non-Russian delivery route for Caspian energy exports.
Guler's letter reflects his government's tactics -or at the very least his ministry's and Botas state company's tactics- in these negotiations: reopening issues that the European partners had deemed resolved and asking at each stage for more time. Conversely, the government claims that European partners are overly preoccupied with small details, seemingly underestimating the importance of "details" in the EU's legal environment. In this latest case, Ankara is also blaming the EU for failing to present a unified position. Such failures do occur often in EU policy-making; but the EU has finally managed to present a unified position on the fundamentals of the Nabucco project during the last several months and is eager to move ahead with the project. Ankara's criticism on these points, therefore, is beginning to look like an alibi to use in the event that the IGA's signing is held up by the AKP government's own tactics (EDM, March 4, 5, 16, April 20).
Signing the IGA is crucial to strengthening confidence of supplier countries and potential investors in the project. Meanwhile, some Turkish representatives suggest off the record, that the summit envisaged to be held in June in Turkey could go ahead if the IGA is merely initialled, rather than signed. Such an expectation is unrealistic, however. No summit on Nabucco will be held in Turkey without the IGA agreement being signed.
Nabucco Project Faces Turkish Hurdles at Critical Turn
Capitalizing on the European Commission's November 2008 initiative to promote the Corridor and to create a Caspian Development Corporation, the Budapest meeting set the goal of signing the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) and at least clear the way for signing the Project Support Agreements (PSA's) during the first half of 2009. In March the EU allocated 200 million Euros to the Nabucco project as seed capital for the first time ever, with more expected after the IGA and PSA's are signed. Drawing on that seed funding, the Nabucco project company has already begun contracting work from some engineering firms in the transit countries.
Turkey's AKP government, however, continues to obstruct the project, causing it to lose momentum again as it nears the landmark signing dates. Clearly, this government does not share the EU's goal of moving forward with Nabucco by signing the IGA and clearing the way for the PSA's. Instead, the AKP government has developed a vested interest in dragging out the project, using it as leverage on the EU in the even longer-dragging EU-Turkey accession negotiations; and trying to leverage it also on extraneous issues such as the Cyprus conflict (EDM, March 4, 5, 16, April 20).
Unless the EU has a serious dialogue with the AKP government, the latter can continue stalling on Nabucco and even on other issues of interest to the EU (while using similar tactics in NATO). The EU can have that serious conversation with Ankara on the Nabucco project. The United States also supports Nabucco politically, but seems currently in a poor position to weigh in with Turkey effectively on this issue. President Barack Obama avoided raising the Nabucco issue during his recent visit to Turkey.
Instead, the U.S. became the party seeking Turkey's favors on a range of strategic and political issues during Obama's visit.
Turkey's ambitions to become an energy "hub" constitute the wrong basis for policy planning in Ankara on energy, regional policy, and on relations with the EU. The AKP government can only achieve such ambitions at the expense of supplier countries' resources and at European consumers' expense.
Meanwhile, Ankara is negotiating with Moscow about a further increase in imports of Russian gas through the Blue Stream pipeline and its proposed extension, Blue Stream Two. As part of its strategic partnership with Russia, the AKP government (mainly through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in this case) has even been trying to include Gazprom into the Nabucco project.
For any such deliveries, however, Gazprom expects to use mainly Turkmen gas (or gas swapped with Turkmenistan). Gazprom even hopes to use some Azerbaijani gas, if the AKP government continues to obstruct Azerbaijan's westward outlet. Those would be the same gas volumes that should find their way from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, bypassing Russia, via Georgia and Turkey to Europe, in accordance with the primary vision of Turkey as a corridor for Caspian gas to the EU. Instead of a European corridor, however, the AKP government would turn Turkey into a gate-keeper and toll-extractor; or even into a corridor for Gazprom-delivered gas from Central Asia in the guise of "Russian" gas.
Meanwhile, Turkey buys Azerbaijani gas far below market prices and would only readjust it slightly, nowhere near commercial value. Ankara has just reaffirmed that position in the government's retort to Azerbaijani State Oil Company's chairman Rovnag Abdullayev on this issue (ANS TV, Baku, Anatolia News Agency, April 25; Hurriyet, April 26).
Inadvertently, the EU and the United States (most recently during Obama's visit) have conveyed to the AKP government an exalted sense of its importance to the West. Apparently encouraged to feel indispensable, it is overplaying its hand with growing boldness toward the EU and within NATO. Such tactics are already boomeranging. They have recently strengthened the opposition in some major European political circles to the idea of Turkey joining the EU, or turned some former supporters and fence-sitters into opponents.
When Turkish officials stall on Nabucco, or turn it into leverage on the EU to accelerate accession negotiations, the obvious response would be to turn the tables and seek Ankara's cooperation on Nabucco and other energy issues as a prerequisite to any acceleration of accession negotiations. Turkey's behavior on Nabucco will also inevitably be considered in any future decision on the transport of Iranian gas to Europe. In that case, Turkey would have to be circumvented. By stalling and posing unacceptable conditions on Nabucco, the AKP government is losing Europe's confidence in Turkey's reliability as an energy partner to the EU.
Medvedev's Macro-European Ambitions Ring Hollow
President Dmitry Medvedev paid a state visit to Finland last week anticipating a warm welcome on "safe ground," since it was with Russia's help that Finland started building its own statehood exactly 200 years ago (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Vremya novostei, April 22). He paid due respect to the memory of Carl Mannerheim, who led then newly-independent Finland in the "Winter War" with the USSR in 1940, but showed little interest in minor matters of bilateral relations -disappointing his traditionally pragmatic hosts (www.gazeta.ru, April 22). Instead, Medvedev tried to refresh his initiative on launching an all-European political process leading to a new collective security treaty. He first announced this idea last June in Berlin and has referred to it many times since without elaborating on the content (Ezhednevny Zhurnal, April 23).
The Finns remained indifferent to Medvedev's vision despite the catchy name "Helsinki plus" and despite the undeniable fact that Russia's dissatisfaction with the existing security system makes it seriously unstable. The examples that Medvedev brought to illustrate this fact -from the conventional arms control breakdown to the August war in the Caucasus- proved primarily Russia's readiness to violate the post-Cold War norms of behavior, and there are few reasons to believe that new norms that would suit Moscow's ambitions could satisfy its neighbors. Medvedev explained that he expected long and complicated talks, but the start of this as yet hypothetical process will inevitably signify that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is compromised, while undermining NATO's role as the central security-providing institution. Russia's "principled" course against ceding any political territory to the Alliance was enriched with a new quarrel last week as the Foreign Ministry vigorously condemned NATO's "destabilizing" exercises in Georgia scheduled for May (RIA-Novosti, April 23).
Medvedev's counterparts will eventually abandon their "we-will-think-about-it" approach and tell him bluntly that a new Kellogg-Briand pact is a non-starter. Meanwhile, Medvedev tries to supplement his grand initiative with a no less ambitious proposal for replacing the Energy Charter with a new framework agreement. The inconclusive Russian-Ukrainian "gas war" has proven that the current arrangement does not work, but the draft unveiled by Medvedev in Helsinki and uploaded to the presidential website is first and foremost self-serving (Vedomosti, Kommersant, April 21). Its three main goals are to secure expanded demand for Russian gas while returning to "fair" prices, to abolish the EU plans for liberalizing the gas market, and to discipline the states responsible for providing transit -first of all Ukraine. Moscow hardly expects that such a "conceptual approach" will secure support within Europe but it might help in making the Energy Charter null and void -and that would be a perfect hit as far as Russia is concerned.
Putting more emphasis on spin in this grand energy bargain, Moscow maintains high levels of activity on all European gas fronts. Medvedev sought to get from the Finns the final approval for the delayed Nord Stream pipeline project across the Baltic Sea. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent a different signal by canceling his participation in an energy summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, sending instead Minister of Energy Sergei Shmatko, who insisted that the EU should grant priority to the Russian pipeline project South Stream across the Black Sea (Kommersant, April 22). Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin went to an international conference on energy transit in Ashgabat seeking to calm down President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who had blamed Gazprom for the explosion on a pipeline in Turkmenistan (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 21). In neither case, however, was significant progress registered, and Moscow now often finds itself in the uncomfortable position of suppliant instead of negotiating from a position of gas strength.
Berdimuhamedov apparently presumes that Gazprom is not what it used to be, while probably not reflecting much on the predicament of his own gas-centric mono-state. Gazprom is indeed so tightly integrated into Russia's structures of governance that it is affected by the general economic downturn -even if the world energy prices have stabilized. Forecasts for the Russian economy are revised almost weekly -and invariably for the worse. The GDP decline in the first quarter has been corrected from 7.2 percent to 9.5 percent, so the Ministry for Economic Development now predicts a 6 percent contraction for the year (Kommersant, April 24). These macro-figures imply a 30 to 40 percent reduction in the state budget income, and if in the current year the government aims at minimal cuts in spending, covering the deficit from the accumulated reserves, by 2010 this policy will be unsustainable. Evgeni Gontmaher, an economist from the Institute of Contemporary Development that enjoys Medvedev's patronage, argues that that the presidential address in May with the key guidelines for the 2010 budget -which must be presented by the government to the parliament by August 25- could be crucially important for Russia's recovery from the devastating recession (Vedomosti, April 22).
Large-scale sequestration and cuts for every program will mean that the government has failed to identify its priorities and set Russia on a course of stagnation at the "bottom" of the crisis (www.gazeta.ru, April 22). That might suit the interests of some parts of the ruling bureaucracy, but will leave the populist demands unaddressed and the main pressure groups, from the siloviki to Gazprom, entirely dissatisfied. The ruling "tandem" is quite possibly incapable of making hard choices, as Medvedev's vague ideas about modernization contradict Putin's commitment to preserve key elements of his power system. This system of corrupt patronage and triumphant consumerism was perhaps organic to Russia in the period of petro-prosperity (Rossiiskaya gazeta, April 21). It is, however, simply not viable in the years of scarcity and survival-of-the-fittest -so the Russians are remembering Boris Yeltsin, who died two years ago, with a new respect for a leader that steered the country across a sea of troubles.
--Pavel K. Baev
Turkish Police Target al-Qaeda Network in Turkey
The counterterrorism units of the Gaziantep, Konya, Adana, Kahramanmaras and Sanliurfa provincial police departments staged simultaneous raids on a number of addresses in their respective cities. As a result 37 suspected al-Qaeda members were detained. It was reported that one of the suspects in Gaziantep was appointed as the leader of al-Qaeda in Turkey after Mehemet Polat was killed in a shootout in Gaziantep province on January 24 2008 (Star, April 21). Another suspect in Gaziantep was found to have spent time in al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, along with six other detainees. They were allegedly forming a new organization affiliated with al-Qaeda (Today's Zaman, April 25). It was the second such police raid carried out during April. On April 9 police in Eskisehir province arrested 28 suspected al-Qaeda members, seven of whom were imprisoned (www.ntvmsnbc.com, April 11).
Despite political analysts arguing that al-Qaeda uses Turkey as a bridge to cross into the "Jihad region" (www.ntvmsnbc.com, April 24), which was especially true following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the recent wave of arrests point to the reorganization of al-Qaeda within Turkey. The Eskisehir unit of al-Qaeda was organizing "discussion groups" to recruit new members into its network (Milliyet, April 9). The group in Gaziantep was in also in a process of reorganization, while those in Kahramanmaras were forming an al-Qaeda affiliated organization (Star, April 21).
During the recent police raid one Uzbek national was also arrested. The Turkish press reported that the Uzbek was a fugitive from Uzbekistan who entered the country from Afghanistan, organizing al-Qaeda in the city of Konya (Star, April 21).
Al-Qaeda's attempts to reorganize within Turkey in order to attack Western targets has often made the headlines (NTV, January 2, 2008). However, the Turkish police have thus far successfully prevented al-Qaeda's attacks in Turkey. Police sources told Jamestown that Turkish law enforcement agencies are one of the most successful within democratic countries, when it comes to preventing terrorist attacks. The same sources suggest that the Turkish Salafi communities have 5,000 to 6,000 members, most of whom avoid adopting any violent strategy. Nonetheless, this community serves as a potential recruitment pool for al-Qaeda operatives. In fact, most police raids have concentrated on cities such as Gaziantep, Konya, or Istanbul where the Salafi communities live; suggesting the existence of a relationship between al-Qaeda members and the Salafi communities within Turkey.
In addition, Gaziantep, the largest city in the southeast, is known to be a major operation center for Kurdish Hezbollah (KH) (CNNTurk, January 24, 2008). An earlier raid carried out in 2008 on al-Qaeda networks in Gaziantep resulted in al-Qaeda members and police exchanging gunfire. At that time one police officer and two al-Qaeda members were killed. After that operation the Turkish press reported that former KH members had regrouped under the al-Qaeda movement (www.nethaber.com, January 25, 2008).
Despite KH denying claims that it cooperates with al-Qaeda, the evidence indicates that the two organizations have been actively cooperating in recent years. Aksion, a weekly news magazine, reported the details of al-Qaeda and KH relations. For instance, in 2007 police conducted operations in Bingol and Koceeli provinces, on the al-Qaeda network and detained the KH militant Muhammed Yasar and his group that was functioning on behalf of the al-Qaeda network in Turkey. In 2008, police operations in Istanbul, Ankara, and Diyarbakir revealed that high level Hezbollah leaders had cooperated with al-Qaeda and that KH even sent some of its members to Afghanistan for training (Aksiyon, April 20). The arrests in these police raids against al-Qaeda in Turkey show that a majority of its members are descendents of Kurdish militants, and have had contact with the KH.
The recent police raids suggested that a cooperative relationship exists between the KH and al-Qaeda operatives in Turkey. Following its heavy defeat in 2000 the KH abandoned its violent strategy. Intermittently, KH operatives have been arrested within the al-Qaeda network. It is unclear whether the KH urges its militants who once functioned within its armed wing, to join forces with al-Qaeda, or if this represents a purely individual choice. The Turkish police discovered during the recent raid that the KH maintains operatives, who have knowledge of weapons and explosives, which it wants to install in the al-Qaeda network (Zaman, April 21).
Despite all the indicators concerning these links the KH strongly rejects such allegations. Yet it has offered no explanation on what happened to its members serving within its armed wing. Given that the KH also functions where the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) operates which regards the KH as a major enemy, it might not be viable for to abandon violence. In fact, the KH in its press releases uses threatening language claiming that it has an ability to defeat its rivals. One reason behind the KH denials of its relationship with al-Qaeda might be rooted in its traditional support coming from Kurdish communities within Europe. Recognition of its links with al-Qaeda might damage its interests. It is however, unclear how this relationship may evolve in the future.