Matthew Heimbach is a burly, bearded 25-year-old propagator of hate. In late June, members of a fringe group he leads, the self-proclaimed Traditionalist Worker Party, played a pivotal role in starting a brawl in Sacramento, California.
Proponents of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline say the much-discussed, long-delayed project will be completed by the end of the decade. But some regional experts are contending that TAPI’s time may have already passed.
The pipeline, which would convey Turkmen natural gas via Afghanistan to Pakistani and Indian markets via a 1,800km-long route, has been beset by myriad issues for the better part of two decades. But the plan seemed to move off the back burner last December, when, out of the blue, officials in Turkmenistan announced that construction had gotten underway.
The problem, according to Luca Anceschi, a lecturer in Central Asian Studies with the University of Glasgow who has extensively studied TAPI, is that Ashgabat provided no tangible evidence, such as video of backhoes doing some digging, to support the claim that work had started. And since Turkmenistan is home to one of the most ruthless dictatorships on the planet, where words and images are twisted to meet the needs of the country’s leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, it is hard to take officials at their word.
“We only know what the Turkmen government wants us to know,” said Anceschi, speaking at a forum hosted by Columbia University’s Harriman Institute on April 11. “There is not a picture, there is not a TV frame, of the works being done. It’s like the Middle Ages.”
Since Russian troops occupied Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia have found themselves in competition to see which country has the world’s worst-performing currency. Russia’s ruble took an early lead in late 2014, but the Kazakh tenge and Azerbaijani manat have done their best to keep pace in the race to the bottom.
Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin seems prepared to throw budgetary caution to the wind as he strives to establish Russia as “the uncontested regional hegemon” in Eurasia, according to American intelligence analysts.
France’s National Front, a far-right party headed by Marine Le Pen, reportedly has applied for a €27 million ($30 million) loan from Russia, the British newspaper, The Times, is reporting.
The loan would be used to help finance National Front campaigns in presidential and parliamentary elections next year, according to the Times article published February 19.
The application comes after allegations the National Front reportedly obtained a €9 million ($11 million) loan in 2014 from a bank linked to the Kremlin, the Times reported.
Le Pen, who will be running for French president in 2017, has been one of Europe’s most prominent defenders of Moscow’s moves in Ukraine. She has attributed Crimea’s annexation by Russia to “major errors” committed by the European Union, and described Ukraine’s Euromaidan protest movement as a “putsch.” She has also endorsed the Kremlin’s territorial claim to the peninsula, saying “Crimea is Russia, as everyone knows. One should not see it otherwise.”
Only a handful of states, and a handful of Western politicians, have recognized Crimea as part of Russia.
In January, reports surfaced that US intelligence officials were looking into Russian efforts to curry influence among politicians and non-governmental activists in Europe. “Right across the EU we are seeing alarming evidence of Russian efforts to unpick the fabric of European unity on a whole range of vital strategic issues,” a senior British government official was quoted as saying by the British newspaper the Telegraph on January 16.
Some Russian writers and independent journalists assert that incumbent Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin is doing an excellent imitation of long-dead Soviet party boss Leonid Brezhnev, who presided over the country’s steady decline during a period known as the Stagnation Era.
The key to massaging your own Wikipedia profile is not getting caught. But Kazakhstan’s efforts to turn the freely editable online encyclopedia into free advertising are yet again in the spotlight.
On March 20, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales hosted an Ask Me Anything conversation (AMA) on Reddit, a social-networking platform. Before long the audience was questioning Wales’s and Wikipedia’s roles in helping to improve Kazakhstan’s image. Back in 2011, Wales awarded a once-and-future Kazakh government employee, Rauan Kenzhekhanuly, the inaugural “Wikipedian of the Year” for his work with WikiBilim, a Kazakh-language platform criticized both for receiving state funds and for publishing multiple articles toeing the authoritarian government’s line. At the time, Wales told EurasiaNet.org, “As far as I know, the WikiBilim organization is not politicized.”
But during the AMA, Wales backpedaled on his decision to name Kenzhekhanuly the first Wikipedian of the Year.
Wales was on the receiving end of a fresh round of criticism last year when Kenzhekhanuly was named deputy governor of Kazakhstan’s Kyzylorda region. During the AMA, a commenter asked Wales if he would have bestowed the award had he known Kenzhekhanuly would go on to serve as deputy governor. “If I had known in 2011 that someone would get a job that I disapprove of in 2014, would I refuse to give them an award in 2011?” Wales responded. “Yes, I would have refused to give that award.”
It’s tough to find good economic news coming out of Central Asia these days. But for those yearning for some, a recent report issued by the German financial giant Commerzbank seems to want to turn back the clock to the dreamy days of booming growth and soaring commodity prices.
The bank’s recently released 36-page report, titled Insights: Central Asia and Mongolia, touts numerous investment opportunities in the region.
“We view the trend for the Central Asian region and Mongolia as positive, owing to the diverse opportunities, and will be pleased if our work helps to make a positive mark and send out a positive signal to politics and business,” the report states.
Axel Bommersheim, one of the bank’s regional heads, goes so far as to predict in a press statement that “future economic growth in the region will be considerably higher than the global average.”
Production schedules make it understandable why the report may be a few steps behind in tracking the decline of Central Asian economies. Still, the report seems to gloss over multiple factors that aren’t exactly new, and which are stalling Central Asian economies – including sagging oil prices and the cratering Russian economy. Ultimately, the report comes across as more wishful thinking than forecasting. The projections in the Commerzbank report aren’t in line with forecasts made by the World Bank or EBRD.
Hurting the report’s credibility is a statement that Mongolians achieved their independence in “1991.” The joke may have been that Mongolia was little more than the 16th Soviet republic, but in actuality the country gained independence in the early 20th century.