Though the Nabucco pipeline project did have a promising libretto, some energy analysts believe it may never see its name in lights. On the lookout for lower-priced production values, some pipeline stakeholders increasingly seem inclined to replace the energy opera with an operetta.
In a January 31 column for Turkey's Hürriyet Daily News, Barcin Yinanç argued that the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline Project (TANAP), to stretch from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria, is the new and "abridged" Nabucco.
“Abridged...indeed is the right term since while Nabucco was supposed to carry 31 billion cubic meters [of natural gas], the amount that will be carried to Europe [via TANAP] is limited to six billion cubic meters,” wrote Yinanç.
A political accord between Baku and Ankara about the pipeline, which will rely on existing Turkish infrastructure, seems to give it another edge over Nabucco, some say.
By comparison, Nabucco's main promoter, the EU, has been slow in securing non-Azerbaijani sources for the costly project. The effort to get gassy Turkmenistan on board has seen little palpable success, and Moscow is doing its best to obstruct the Europeans from carving a detour past Russia to reach Central Asia’s energy riches.
Kyrgyzstan’s international donor community is buzzing with scandal: The director of the World Bank’s Kyrgyzstan office, Alexander Kramer, apparently hurled a drinking glass at Kyrgyzstan’s new deputy prime minister, Djoomart Otorbayev, on February 3.
The incident occurred during a donor meeting at government headquarters, known as the White House, in Bishkek. According to one eyewitness, Kramer had just spoken for a few minutes, praising recent government initiatives and encouraging Bishkek to ensure officials are chosen for their merits. He defended the World Bank’s sometimes slow motions in the country, noting that development is “a marathon rather than a sprint,” according to EurasiaNet's source. During the next set of remarks, by the International Monetary Fund’s country director, Kramer suddenly stood up, yelled, “This is all crap!” and threw the glass, which shattered on the floor in front of Otorbayev.
He then stormed out of the room, a video of which made the evening news.
Officials in Kyrgyzstan appear to be of two minds about the country’s gambling industry.
Until a ban came into force on January 1, the sector was booming, relatively speaking. The injunction, drawn up under former Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev (now president) and his deputy prime minister, Omurbek Babanov (now prime minister), was, they said until a few weeks ago, necessary to crack down on organized crime. Now the Atambayev-Babanov tandem seems to think allowing some gambling could burnish their pro-business credentials.
Speaking before reporters on January 30, Babanov demonstrated just how muddy his government’s policy is, first by lamenting government regulations:
“The gambling sector is sick enough,” he said. “Many times the government tried to impose strict rules to regulate the sector. All this led to the parliament’s cardinal decision to ban casinos.”
Then, by lamenting the undesired consequences of those regulations, which are difficult to enforce and have prompted street protests (ostensibly supporting casino workers put out of their jobs):
“Now, much has gone into the shadows ... Of course its wrong when the people working in the casinos were left without jobs.”
Then, by promising to resurrect the sector under a new, more regulated regime:
The prime minister said that the government would submit to parliament a proposal for the development of an isolated area near the village of Tamchy [on Lake Issyk-Kul] where gaming centers and casinos would be located.
A crackdown on Kazakhstan’s political opposition, activists and media critical of Astana is continuing: Less than a week after opposition leaders were jailed for rallying in Almaty without permission, more protest participants have been taken to court while other political activists face separate, more serious charges over December’s violence in Zhanaozen.
Youth activist Zhanbolat Mamay was charged on February 3 with inciting social discord in Zhanaozen, a charge carrying a jail sentence of up to 12 years. This is the same charge faced by Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of the unregistered Alga! party who has been in detention since January 23, and activists Ayzhangul Amirova and Serik Sapargali. Outspoken theater director Bolat Atabayev is an official suspect on the same charge, though not yet indicted.
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly human rights committee chair Matteo Mecacci has described Kozlov and newspaper editor Igor Vinyavskiy, arrested in a separate case on the same day as Kozlov, as “political prisoners” and called for their release.
With the planned US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 looming ever closer, Russia is pressing to solidify strategic relationships with Central Asian states, especially with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The United States is gently pressing Kazakhstan to do more to reform its political system in the wake of parliamentary elections that failed to meet international standards and a violent crackdown on labor protests in the country's oil-rich western region.
Once again, interethnic strife in southern Kyrgyzstan is testing a new government in far-away Bishkek. This time the friction comes between ethnic Kyrgyz and minority Tajiks in remote Batken Province, whose eponymous capital has seen at least two days of street protests. The demonstrators have come out in defense of the local governor, dismissed February 1, reportedly for failing to quell the latest bout of ethnic tensions in the fragile Ferghana Valley.
The first apparent spark of the current conflict dates to a late-December brawl between Kyrgyz and Tajiks in Batken’s Andarak village. The new chief of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) and an interior ministry official criticized Governor Arzybek Burkanov for failing to respond to the fight, recommending he be removed. These officials aren’t the first to worry the next ethnic flashpoint in Kyrgyzstan will be between Kyrgyz and Tajiks in Batken Province, where the former have long charged the latter with illegally occupying land along the undefined frontier with Tajikistan.
Then, on January 26, a young Tajik man allegedly murdered a female Kyrgyz bank teller. Though the suspect was arrested, residents of his village, Aydarken, reportedly chased his extended family from their homes.
Human rights ombudsman Tursunbek Akun has warned this situation could further escalate and said what should be obvious: Only the criminal, not his relatives nor his entire ethnic group, must be punished.
Any industrial dispute in Kazakhstan is the focus of heightened attention these days, after a strike in the western energy hub of Zhanaozen spiraled into fatal violence in December.
Now a labor dispute which broke out in western Atyrau Region at a local subcontractor for American energy giant Chevron has been settled with the offer of a pay raise and without recourse to strike action, the director of the firm involved has said.
Yves Shama, general director of the Senimdi Kurylys company -- which carries out construction work for Tengizchevroil, which is 50 percent owned by Chevron and is the operator of Kazakhstan’s largest field, Tengiz -- denied earlier reports that workers at two affiliated firms had downed tools demanding a raise.
“There wasn’t any strike action,” Shama told EurasiaNet.org by telephone on February 2. He said some employees had requested a pay rise on January 25 but had returned to work after management promised to consider their demands.
On January 28 the company made an offer that was subsequently accepted by most employees. It consisted of a 25-percent across-the-board raise backdated to January 1, a “small bonus” for 2011, and a pledge to conduct inflation reviews every six months. Shama declined to specify salary scales, describing it as “quite a confidential question.”
“I think everyone’s been satisfied,” he said, though he acknowledged that 10-15 staff members had left the company over the issue. The company and its affiliates currently employ around 600 people.
A bucket dangles on a string from a top-floor window in one of Istanbul’s older neighborhoods; inside it, within grasp of any passerby, lie a couple of crumpled banknotes. After a while, a shopkeeper takes the money and replaces it with an order of groceries.