After subjecting the country to months of candy deprivation, Nestlé reportedly is making a crunchy comeback in oil-rich, chocolate-poor Azerbaijan.
British Petroleum is pumping chocolaty crude out of Azerbaijan and, according to local media, Nestlé will soon restart pumping chocolate into the country.
The world’s largest food company suspended all food supplies to the Caspian Sea country during (atrociously enough) this year's confectionery-intense New Year festivities.
The Swiss manufacturer at the time cited unspecified “supply problems.” Local sources were quick to link Nestlé’s démarche with the company’s alleged problems with Azerbaijani customs officials, who are routinely accused of skimming a little off the top of any product crossing the border.
“If Armenia wants its soldiers to stop dying, it should withdraw from Azerbaijani territories,” Amidst a recent, deadly pickup in ceasefire violations, ending the two countries' 24-year conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh territory is as simple as that for Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.
The bloodshed, coinciding with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's June 4-6 visit to the South Caucasus, has set off a fresh flurry of expressions of concern from world leaders.
“The cycle of violence must stop,” said Ireland’s Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore at a joint news conference in Baku with his Azerbaijani counterpart. Gilmore, chairperson-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which oversees negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, called on both sides to remove snipers from the line of contact and set up a mechanism for investigating the conflict zone incidents.
Mammadyarov said that frontline snipers will have no targets if Yerevan pulls back its forces. He also expressed Baku’s conditional support for incident-investigation mechanism. “But this will work only if Armenian forces withdraw from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” he said. “If the mechanism is put to work now, it would mean consolidating the status quo, which is unacceptable.”
Political money is the most precarious kind of money in the Caucasus these days. Whether they spend or earn, opposition figures are finding that state auditors and security services have suddenly developed an active interest in keeping them au courant with campaign-finance regulations
Shortly after speculation picked up that Armenia’s second-largest party, Prosperous Armenia, a former government coalition member, may go into opposition against the ruling Republican Party of Armenia ahead of next February's presidential elections, a money-laundering investigation was launched against senior Prosperous Armenia member Vartan Oskanian, who served as foreign minister from 1998 to 2008.
“Money, laundering, Oskanian… are words that just don’t go together,” fumed Oskanian, who described the probe as political retaliation.
Government officials, in turn, instructed the angry ex-cabinet-minister not to jump to conclusions. Do not immediately allege “a political subtext,” Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian was quoted by RFE/RL as saying. “We are only clearing up some circumstances.”
And the circumstances are that a Yerevan think-tank founded by Oskanian, Civilitas, allegedly received a $2-million donation from two US companies, Polymer Materials and Huntsman International. Armenia’s National Security Service claimed that Oskanian failed to disclose the donation to the tax authorities and that there are suspicions of legalizing a large amount of money obtained by criminal means.
The billionaire trackers at Forbes Magazine may need to subtract some $91.03 million from Bidzina Ivanishvili’s estimated $6.4 billion fortune, after a court in Tbilisi whacked the anti-government crusading tycoon with two hefty fines.
On June 11, Ivanishvili, busy preparing for a battle royale with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government in October's parliamentary election, was found guilty of bribing voters. The TV antennas and bus rides state auditors claim the group distributed for free to voters will cost Ivanishvili 126.22 million lari (roughly $77.30 million) and 22.42 million lari (roughly $13.73 million), respectively, unless his lawyers succeed in their plans to appeal the verdict.
The Tbilisi City Court ruled that Ivanishvili underwrote the distribution of satellite dishes to thousands of Georgian households via Global TV, a cable network that is majority-owned by his brother, Alexander. Global TV is the only Georgian cable network that carries a television channel recently launched by Ivanishvili.
The court also found that two of the tycoon's companies provided cheap transportation to members of the Georgian Dream. Both cases, unearthed by the State Audit Service, charged with enforcement of campaign-finance regulations, amount to illegal donations, the court ruled.
In case you were worrying, rest assured that Caucasus celebrity Matthew Bryza, the never-confirmed former US ambassador to Azerbaijan, has, according to Azerbaijani media, "found a new job." Or, as one news outlet from Azerbaijani enemy Armenia, put it: "The Azerbaijanis found a job for Bryza.”
Bryza, a household name for everyone in (or with an interest in) the Caucasus, left Baku in 2011 after the US Senate, with active prodding from Armenian Diaspora lobbyists, failed to uphold his appointment as US ambassador to Azerbaijan.
In opposing Bryza's appointment to Baku, Diaspora lobbyists took strong issue with what they claimed was his bias in Azerbaijan's favor -- a charge he hotly denied. Bryza, as a deputy advisor to the president and secretary of state on Caspian-Basin energy policy and, later, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, played a key role in pushing forward an Azerbaijan-Europe energy corridor that bypasses Russia.
To many anti-Bryza-ites, the Turcas Petrol board post will only appear confirmation that the career diplomat truly was one of Baku's best buddies.
Moscow is never happy to see a US secretary of state lounging about in what it considers to be its backyard; in other words, Georgia. Routine expressions of support for Georgia’s territorial integrity, democratic and NATO aspirations are one thing. But don't get talkin' about those "provocative" identification papers for residents of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The documents are meant to provide an international travel option to residents of the two regions -- their independence from Georgia still largely unrecognized -- without specifying their citizenship status. They also, though, are intended to encourage separatist Abkhaz and South Ossetians to come back to Tbilisi's still-waiting embrace.
Granted, the Abkhaz and South Ossetians are not exactly lining up for the Georgian-made documents and a hefty dose of skepticism persists about the prospects for reconciliation-through-IDs. But, still, securing Hillary Rodham Clinton’s public support for the documents was one tangible bonus for Tbilisi from her June 4-5 visit to Georgia.
Nonetheless, despite the IDs' less-than-certain chances for success, Moscow’s thin-skinned reactions suggested that the documents' existence do at least exert a certain psychological influence on the Kremlin.
Moscow, the chief lobbyist for international acceptance of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence, had been quite happy for years to provide both regions with Russian passports for international travel -- even while, before 2008, still recognizing them as part of Georgia.
Hillary Rodham Clinton may have gotten lots of love and wine in Georgia, but if we were to pick one man in the Caucasus truly overjoyed to see Madam Secretary, that would be the Azerbaijani youth activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev.
Hajiyev, an organizer of an attempted rally perceived as opposing the heavy-handed Azerbaijani government, was recently freed from prison in what many believe was a PR move to please Baku's high-profile visitor. Perhaps his release gave Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov the chance to say that Azerbaijan is busy strengthening human rights. It ain’t gonna happen overnight, he added.
In Baku, Clinton sat down for a chat with Hajiyev and expressed hope that he will be allowed to do his work without interference and that, generally, Azerbaijanis will be allowed to speak their minds. She urged the Azerbaijani government to release its critics from prisons and also to keep working on providing more oil and gas to the West.
But Clinton’s Caucasus run did not ended up well for everyone in Azerbaijan and neighboring Armenia. The exchange of gunfire between the two countries that marked the kickoff of the secretary of state's tour reportedly resumed on the eve of Clinton's arrival in Baku . Some commentators believe that the shooting was intended to whip up US interest in pushing more aggressively for a resolution to the two countries' decades-long conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh. Both sides, as per usual, blame the other for this latest ceasefire violation.
Georgia’s hopes to join NATO, reclaim Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and
other running foreign policy matters were the key moments of US
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s June 4-5 drop-in on Georgia,
but her visit had implications for domestic political struggles as
With Georgia's parliamentary elections set for October, all of the
country’s main political players hope for some public display of
Washington’s support. Before Clinton swung by, opposition tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili had hoped to steal her away a bit from the warm embrace of her host (and his arch-rival) Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for an intimate tête-à-tête. But it was not to be.
Clinton chose to get the lowdown on Georgian politics from a less up-close-and-personal sit-down with NGOs and a group meeting with opposition leaders. Ivanishvili was represented at the meeting by allies in his Georgian Dream coalition and the chairperson of the group, Manana Kobakhidze.
He had earlier indicated that he does not want to share his Clinton time with leaders of political minority groups who are not part of the Georgian Dream and whom he describes as a "fake opposition."
Three Armenian soldiers were killed by gunfire from neighboring Azerbaijani just as US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton was about to go country-hopping in the South Caucasus.
Clinton arrived in Yerevan today and, after a stop in Georgia, is due in Baku on June 6.
To hear the Azerbaijani news service APA tell it, the “preventive measures,” which wounded three Armenian soldiers as well, were directed at stopping the Armenian military from infiltrating Azerbaijan from Armenia's northern Tavush region.
But, as is the standard case in Caucasus countries hosting Clinton, you need to tune into the news on the other side of the conflict line for the second side of the story.
Armenian news reported that the Armenians died in a shootout as they tried to halt an infiltration from Azerbaijan. “Thanks to [the] courage[ous] actions of the soldiers… [the] enemy was drawn back,” ArmenPress cited Armenia’s Ministry of Defense as saying.
The not-so-frozen Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region is most definitely going to be discussed with Madam Secretary in both places.
Civil rights as well. An area where there's a lot to chat about with both sides; Georgia, too.