The release a few days ago of the group of 49 Turks being held hostage in the Iraqi city of Mosul by the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or the Islamic State (IS), as it now calls itself) signals the end of one crisis for Ankara but by no means the end of Turkey's troubled entanglement with ISIS or the danger that the rise of group poses for Turkish interests and security.
Certainly, despite the good feelings created by the release, major questions remain about just how Ankara was able to get ISIS to give up a group that provided it with enough leverage to keep Turkey out of the military efforts against the extremist organization. Turkish officials have insisted that no ransom was paid, but reports in the Turkish press suggest that the hostages' release may have been part of a simultaneous release of ISIS members being held by another rebel group in Syria.
But with the hostages now free and American-led airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria now taking place, the even bigger question facing Ankara is whether it will now join the fight against the group or maintain its increasingly awkward noncommittal position? Writing in Foreign Policy, Lehigh University professor and Turkey expert Henri Barkey suggests that the end of the hostage crisis does not necessarily provide Ankara with a free hand to confront ISIS. From his piece:
U.S. troops board an aircraft headed to Afghanistan at the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in Romania, which this year replaced the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. (photo: U.S. Army Europe)
Kyrgyzstan's truck drivers say they are suffering because the U.S. military has shifted traffic to Uzbekistan in the wake of the closure of the Manas air base, which operated in Kyrgyzstan until earlier this year. But the U.S. military denies that any decrease in traffic is connected to the base closure.
The director of Kyrgyzstan's Truck Drivers' Association, Temirbek Shabdanaliyev, told website KNews that as a result of the Manas closure, 2,000 truckers are now out of a job:
"After the departure of the Manas Transit Center our truck drivers were left without work. Shipments through our territory to and from Afghanistan immediately stopped, for some reason traffic now goes through Uzbekistan. Before, every week our drivers carried out 300-400 trips to Afghanistan and back, now they sit idle."
"Now these 2,000 drivers are left without work, unemployment increased. Very many drivers are parked without work, and tension and dissatisfaction among the drivers is growing."
Taxpayer-expensed Botox and hair-removal procedures are among the Georgian government’s latest charges of alleged misappropriation against ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose property in Georgia was seized by police late last week.
And not only his. His wife and mother’s Tbilisi apartments and his grandmother’s 17-year-old Honda Accord were among the items seized on September 19 as apparent compensation for some $5-million worth of state funds prosecutors claim the ex-president misused for things like facials, spas and fancy clothes.
The case has not yet gone to trial, but prosecutors claim that the refusal of Saakashvili, now based in Brooklyn, to face a court in Georgia justified the seizure of his wider family’s property. “[T]here was a reasonable suspicion… that he would transfer or otherwise conceal his and his associates’ property to obstruct compensating for the damage to the state,” the General Prosecutor’s Office said in a September-19 statement.
But some are raising eyebrows at that reasoning. Saakashvili’s Dutch-born wife, Sandra Roelofs, said on Friday that she had purchased her Tbilisi apartment long before her husband became president in 2004, from funds derived from the sale of another flat which her father had given her as a wedding gift.
As previously reported on this blog, with Moscow blocking imports of food from several European and western countries in response to sanction placed on Russia, Turkish food makers are seeing an opportunity for boosting their exports.
Despite objects from some European neighbors that Turkey is "exploiting" the situation at the expense of solidarity in the face of Russia's destabilizing actions in Ukraine, the efforts by Turkish exporters appear to be continuing. Reports Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency:
Turkey plans to increase food supplies to Russia to $3.0 billion in 2015 from $1.2 billion in 2013 if customs duties are lowered, Zechariah Mete, chairman of the country’s grocery products exporters association, said Tuesday. “We do not ask for special privileges or preferences. We request that (customs) duties (for the country) are set equal to that of the EU. There is no reason to put Turkey in another tax category,” Mete said. Turkey has a potential to raise annual food exports to Russia to $3 billion-$4 billion in 2015-2016, he said.
Turkey is ready to export poultry, fish, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, confectionery, cereals, legumes and oil-plants.
Turkey also plans to double its sweets supplies to Russia to $80 million in 2015 from around $37 million in 2013 on the background of rising interest from Russian companies to counteragents from countries which did not support sanctions against Moscow, Hidayet Kadiroglu, head of the association’s confectionery direction, said. Turkey may raise its confectionary supplies to Russia to $2 billion in the long run.
Spanish troops exercise with their Patriot missile defense systems. (photo: Spanish Ministry of Defense)
The Netherlands is pulling out its air defense troops from Turkey but Spain will take its place, ensuring that the NATO deployment of Patriot systems will remain on the Turkey-Syria border.
Last month, the Netherlands announced that it would end its deployment in Turkey in January 2015. The Dutch were part of a NATO deployment, also including the United States and Germany, which has operated the Patriot missile defense systems since December 2012. There had been media reports that the entire NATO mission was in peril because the Patriot units of the contributing members were becoming overextended.
But on September 17, Spain announced that it will step in and deploy about 130 soldiers and two Patriot batteries, averting that threat. An unnamed senior Turkish diplomat said the decision "denoted critical help from an ally at a most critical time," wrote Defense News. “Our southern [Syrian] and southeastern [Iraqi] borders are under serious threat, and the deployment will help us better counter any attack from across these borders,” the diplomat said.
The move represents a bit of a departure from Spain, which Reuters notes "has not been an major participant in these types of international initiatives in recent years."
From the EBRD report: “The chart shows that Belarus, Armenia and Tajikistan (the latter predominantly through remittance flows) have the highest overall economic exposure to Russia. Such exposures are also significant for the Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova and Ukraine.”
As Russia’s economy goes, Central Asia’s follows. So it is no surprise that the current downward drift in Russia will hurt the region, potentially for years to come. Remittance-dependent countries like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan should be especially worried, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a multilateral lender, says in a new report.
In its September regional assessment, the EBRD forecasts growth in Russia will come to a “standstill” in the coming months. Already pronounced, Russia’s economic slump is being exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions. The EBRD said Central Asia, and formerly communist countries more broadly, can expect “significant spill-over effects.”
New sanctions by the EU and U.S., which will dampen growth in Russia, “will negatively affect growth in the Central Asian countries.”
As in 2009, during the financial crisis, migrants and their dependents back home will be the first to feel the pain. Remittances from Russia to Central Asia fell in the first quarter of 2014 compared with the previous year, “for the first time since 2009, primarily due to the slowdown in Russia,” the EBRD said. “Particularly vulnerable are [the] Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, where even a small drop in remittances from Russia is substantive, as remittances make up 29 percent and 49 percent of GDP respectively.”
A fall in remittances “may significantly dampen consumer demand in lower-income countries in the region.”
Scotland’s dabbling in secessionism has been closely watched in the ex-Soviet Union, the Shangri-La of separatism. From Transnistria to Karabakh to Crimea, all eyes have been on the UK recently, in hopes that the Scottish example would change hearts and minds about claims to independence.
In South Ossetia, approaching, on September 20, the 24th anniversary of declaring itself independent from Georgia, many were inspired by the “peaceful and civilized” conduct of the Brits. Abkhazia produced a video, in which a group of people unfurl a giant Scottish flag to the sound of Mel Gibson bellowing “Freedom!” in Braveheart.
Yet with Scotland’s September-18 vote to stay with the United Kingdom these public expressions of separatist-solidarity with Scotland have suddenly fallen silent. Only Nagorno Karabakh, which itself has seen a referendum proposed as part of the solution to its differences with Baku, issued a statement, observing that “regardless of the result,” the Scottish referendum had shown that letting people decide their own fate is “the norm in a democratic society.”
The little pistachio may be best known as the main ingredient in baklava, but it's worth remembering that it's only the emerald green inside of the nut that gets used up to make the flaky pastry. The outside shell ends up serving as an unwanted floor- and sidewalk-covering in cities, towns and villages across the Middle East.
But it appears that scientists in Turkey, the world's third-largest producer of pistachios (and home of Gaziantep, what is arguably the city producing the finest baklava in the world), have finally figured out what to do with all those unwanted shells: make electricity. Reports Turkey's Anatolian news agency:
Scientists in Turkey have been working to produce biogas from pistachios on an experimental level for more than three years in a collaboration between the government, a small business development organization and the Middle East Technical University.
One ton of pistachios can produce 1.1 million cubic meters of biogas, which in turn can generate 14 kilowatt-hours -- enough to meet the needs of a typical Turkish house for a year, said Goksel Demirer, a professor in the Department of Environmental Engineering at Middle East Technical University in Ankara.
Turkey produces 112,000 tons of pistachios a year, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, making it the third-largest producer in the world after Iran and the U.S.
Gaziantep is the center of pistachio cultivation in Turkey, producing 100,000 tons a year. The city, formerly known as Antep, even lends its name to the Turkish term for pistachio -- Antep fistigi, or "Antep nut."
Turkmenistan's armed forces have entered the territory of Afghanistan in an apparent effort to drive back Taliban forces that had settled on the border between the two countries, Afghan residents have told the Turkmen service of RFE/RL.
The report is in Turkmen but has been translated into Russian by Alternative Turkmenistan News. It quotes residents of the Qaisar region of Afghanistan's Faryab province saying that Turkmenistan soldiers crossed the border about three months ago and have dug trenches and built fences.
This would seem to be the latest escalation in an increasingly tense situation on the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan border. Earlier, there had been reports of Turkmenistan border guards making incursions in Afghanistan, and the Turkmenistan armed forces carrying out exercises close to the border. But now they seem to be going even farther.
"The Turkmenistanis came here, dug trenches, set up wire fences," one resident told RFE/RL. "No one asked them what they were doing here. The trenches they dug are four meters wide and five meters deep. Besides that, in the same place they are paving a road."
And the Turkmenistan soldiers have apparently blocked access to the area where the villagers had previously grazed their animals. "Now we can't use our pastures like before. We don't have anywhere to graze our livestock, the animals are starving. Turkmenistan has taken what really belongs to us."
Another resident echoed that complaint: "We had grazed our sheep on this land, we had grazed all our livestock there. Let them open a road for us and let us graze our livestock there again."
Russia's embargo on foodstuffs coming from several western and European countries may mean no brie on the shelves in upscale Moscow supermarkets, but it also means less cheese sold (and, thus, less income) for French cheesemakers.
In fact, it appears that the Kremlin's moves against western foods -- which came in response to sanctions imposed on Russia because of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Moscow's role in stoking it -- is starting to take a bite out of the European economy, forcing the European Union to respond. Reports the EUobserver website:
The EU is preparing to unveil new aid for EU fruit producers hit by the Russia food ban.
Agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos promised extra assistance in the coming days for suppliers of citrus fruit, apples, and pears at a hearing with MEPs in Strasbourg on Monday (15 September).
The European Commission has since August earmarked €158 million for aid to fruit and vegetable growers who have had to take products off the market, as well as €30 million for dairy suppliers who are putting stock into cold storage.
The money is to come from a “margin” - money allocated by EU countries but unlikely to be needed - in the EU’s 2015 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget....
....Ciolos also noted the compensation for citrus, apples, and pears will be paid out using new rules, to enter into life next week, which tie the money more directly to volumes affected by the Russia ban.
The change comes after Polish producers filed massive claims - worth €145 million - in the €125 million envelope.