With Baku flogging British Petroleum for the drowsy pace of its oil production, Iran has come along offering Azerbaijan to pick up the slack.
In case that dilly-dallying British corporation fails to put its act together, I want you to know that I am always there for you, Tehran told Baku on October 17. “Iran is ready to help Azerbaijan compensate the energy deficit if BP stops production of crude in the countries of . . . Central Asia,” the Iranian foreign ministry said, Azerbaijan's APA reported. “We have repeatedly demonstrated that we help our neighbors in . . times of trouble.”
But don't think altruism here. A recent report from the International Energy Agency noted that sanctions have badly damaged Iran's oil industry, a critical source of income. So, time to take a stab at drumming up new business, perhaps?
Azerbaijan's Parliamentary Speaker Ogtai Asadov said on October 16 that BP has received the final warning to deliver on its oil production commitments. Last week, President Ilham Aliyev lashed out at the company for failing to pump out the volumes it had promised for several years on end.
But Tehran may be getting ahead of itself. Thrusting itself between BP and an oilfield is no easy task and Baku may not be particularly eager to sooth its anger in an Iranian embrace. BP is making moves to allay Azerbaijani officials, and the business stakes in the Caspian energy game are too high for a large Western corporation to pack up and leave.
Kakha Kaladze, charged with keeping Georgia's lights on
Retired soccer stars have taken up all kinds of unlikely jobs, but AC Milan onetime defender Kakha Kaladze takes the prize for the most unpredictable career change. The former captain of Georgia's national soccer team, and a little bit of a national sex symbol, Kaladze has been nominated to become the Georgian minister of energy and natural resources.
After last week’s squabble with British Petroleum, Azerbaijan has requested the oil giant, its largest foreign investor, to quit procrastinating and make more holes in the Caspian Sea shelf to fill up the country's glass of oil.
Baku’s earlier tantrum over an insufficient supply of its favorite energy drink sparked questions about the future of BP’s leading role in Azerbaijani oil production. The country’s Energy Minister Natiq Aliyev now has suggested a way forward, saying that the oil is there, in the Caspian's immense Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli hydrocarbon bathtub, with an estimated recoverable petroleum reserve of 6 billion barrels. British Petroleum just needs to get its act together and drill more wells.
Azerbaijan's oil production levels are expected to peak soon -- both Baku and BP predict by 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration's country report -- and President Ilham Aliyev's irritation with BP for failing to meet its promised output levels shows he knows it. “The unexpected drop can only be a result of gross mistakes by BP,” he asserted on October 11 in an unusual public slap in the face for the energy company.
He added that Azerbaijan and BP have had a good working relationship for many years, and that Baku saw the energy titan through some tough times. But enough is enough. For several years, BP has kept making annual output promises and kept failing to deliver on them; the latest alleged miscalculation cost state coffers $8.1 billion, Aliyev complained.
The wiry, white-haired Dumbadze is known for letting it rip, let the consequences be what they may.
He once exploded on television that a rival was not fit to serve Georgia because he was not ethnically Georgian. He also fiercely resisted the construction of a new mosque in his Batumi constituency, and acquired a reputation for robust Turkophobia. (He later apologized for the remarks in question.)
"If you only knew how many stupid things I’ve done in my life . . .If you think I am smart, you're wrong,” he told a gaggle of voters during the campaign.. “We see that,” one man responded with a cautious smile.
“For 20 years, I went around begging people to vote for me,” Dumbadze continued. “But . . .there was nothing, not a single vote for me. Even my mother wouldn't vote for me . . ."
“Once, just once, let me near the government,” he implored.
We checked everywhere -- at the ministry, at the nightclubs, under the bed. The man just vanished into thin air.
Since Georgia's ruling United National Movement lost the October 1 parliamentary elections, speculations have been raging about key officials supposedly burning work documents and hightailing it out of the country. Most of these reports have proven apocryphal, except that 40-year-old Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili, indeed, seems to have gone missing.
With billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition preparing to take over most government offices from the United National Movement, Georgian ministers are now busy clearing their desks, and putting away piles of papers, framed quotes of libertarian thinkers, photos of wives and cats.
In a surprisingly cooperative move, the outgoing ministers also are reportedly giving office tours to the incoming ministers to fill them in on ongoing projects, introduce them to the staff and perhaps share a few hints about nearby lunch spots.
Some of the Georgian Dream’s ministerial candidates praised their soon-to-be predecessors for being forthcoming and willing to put partisan struggles aside to make sure the country's governmental institutions continue functioning smoothly during the transition.
But, then, there is the justice minister and his alleged game of hide-and-seek with his proposed successor.
There was no raising of eyebrows, no narrowing of the eyes and no "So-we-meet-again" kind of exchange between the two at the hilltop presidential palace. Rather, it was an icy greeting followed by a silent line dance of handshakes between their single-filed attendants (all male in dark suits). Then, both sides walked into the glass-domed presidential palace to make some more history.
But don't expect Georgia's first, uncertain steps toward bipartisanship to lead to a warm sense of togetherness. The post-meeting press statements -- with Saakashvili granting the kick-off to Ivanishvili -- indicate that the coming political era will be defined by the Ivanishvili-led parliamentary majority trying to consolidate power and by the Saakashvili-led minority trying to score a comeback.
“We will treat our opponents not the way they deserve, but the way our country deserves,” said Ivanishvili, standing next to the man who has stripped him of his Georgian citizenship, called him a Kremlin lackey and, according to critics, whacked him with multi-million-lari fines (via state auditors) for alleged campaign-finance violations.
Four days after the October 1 vote that tossed Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement into the legislative minority, Georgia is knuckling down to the legal nitty-gritty of bipartisanship. But can it stay the course?
After a run of acerbic Georgian-Dream rallies against regional election results, negotiators from either side of Georgia’s political aisle sat down for talks today about the constitutional steps to be taken to bring in a new cabinet.
Encouragingly, the participants emerged after the meeting with neither black eyes nor missing teeth, and claimed that constructiveness and common-sense had prevailed.
United National Movement (UNM) representatives even promised to fill the Georgian Dream in on all the ongoing diplomatic, economic and defense projects to make sure the new government hits the ground running.
Looks like the Dreamers like that attitude. “We spoke of everything necessary to ensure stability and to keep the processes in line with the law," said Irakli Alasania, key member of the new parliamentary majority Georgian Dream who is challenging his reported loss to the UNM candidate in the western district of Zugdidi. "The new prime minister will prepare to take over power peacefully and make sure this process is not painful.”
The widely held assumption is that that prime minister will be the Georgian Dream's leader, tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili.
On election day , most of the accusations of meddling with the electoral process were leveled against President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement, but as the vote tabulation nears the end, tycoon Bidzina Ivanshvili’s Georgian Dream coalition increasingly has become the target of criticism.
Amidst reports of intimidation of regional election officials, Ivanishvili called today on his supporters to refrain from rallying, but a major demonstration is taking place in the key western city of Zugdidi. Former UN envoy Irakli Alasania, a leader of the Georgian Dream and a parliamentary candidate in Zugdidi, has challenged the preliminary vote-count results that placed him some 21-percentage points behind UNM candidate Roland Akhalaia, father of the controversial ex-Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia.
Although Alasania gained a seat in parliament by also being on the party list (Georgia's election code allows such double-dipping), he told supporters that they should protest the vote for "moral" reasons. Interior Ministry troops reportedly are forming defense lines around the election commission in question.
But maybe it makes sense to them. If Qurbanly was not high on something, then why would he be bashing the government and be involved in the Nida youth opposition movement? Was he not the guy handing out flyers with President Ilham Aliyev’s silhouette captioned “I Will Go in 2013 if You Join Nida”?
But that’s not the full list of the blogger’s heinous offenses, the thinking, no doubt, goes. He had the gall to criticize the government for making the poetry of President Aliyev’s elder daughter, Leyla, about her grandfather (the late President Heydar Aliyev ) a compulsory read in Azerbaijani schools.
Again, must be the drugs, Azerbaijani cops might say . . .
Granted, the police think they know what they're dealing with when it comes to bloggers. Back in 2009, there were those two foreign-educated intellectuals (who just happened to have criticized Aliyev's government online) picking a drunken fight with several men in a restaurant.
Then, this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Baku was followed by an after-party of arrests of some troubled youth, who, again, had just happened to criticize the government online.
President Mikheil Saakashvili remains at the helm until October 2013, meaning that he and the leader of the victorious Georgian Dream coalition, Bidzina Ivanishvili (who does not have a seat in parliament), are stuck with each other for another year.
The two men's differences are many, but one thing unites them -- a taste for the kind of post-modern, glass buildings that might come to mind after watching too many reruns of Star Trek. Yet even while united, they are divided at heart.
Ivanishvili was never excited about the president's project to move the parliament out of Tbilisi, and into a rotund, glass-fish-tank-style building in Kutaisi, Georgia's second-largest city. This battle, though, goes to Saakashvili. With parliament's October 22 opening just a few weeks away, there's not much the Georgian Dream can do about it now.
Ivanishvili also was never a fan of the glass Bridge of Peace -- a centerpiece of Saakashvili’s personal Grands Travaux campaign -- which connects the banks of Tbilisi's Mtkvari River.
But at a time when compromise is widely seen as the way forward for Georgia, following-up on calls to pull down the bridge -- or even giving it a few whacks with a sledgehammer -- may not send the best signal right now.