A new U.S. law mandating a "normalization" of defense relations with Georgia won't change anything between Washington and Tbilisi, says a U.S. diplomat. Philip Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, gave a press conference for foreign press on Monday and a Russian reporter asked him about the new law:
[O]n Georgia, I don’t think it changes our approach so far. We have a security relationship with Georgia that has significantly been focused on education and training, and on Georgia’s hugely important commitment to Afghanistan. Georgia, on a per capita basis, is one of the most, either first or second, biggest contributors to Afghanistan. They have, even in recent days, taken casualties. And it underscores the risks that they are taking on our common behalf, protecting common security, and we will continue to work with Georgia on that basis.
Where specific weapons sales are concerned, we treat it like we do with other countries. They’re taken a case-by-case basis, taking a lot of factors into account. But we’ll continue that security relationship with Georgia in all of those ways.
This puts a little meat on the skeleton of President Obama's signing statement, in which he declared his intention to ignore the law. Civil.ge, reporting on Gordon's comments, notes that they are in line with what the Obama administration has been saying all along:
The riot-hit town of Zhanaozen will be casting ballots in Kazakhstan’s January 15 parliamentary election after all: A postponement of the vote there, announced on January 6, has now been overturned by the president. But several big names have been struck from the poll.
Nursultan Nazarbayev vetoed the postponement on January 10 after “he took account of the disquiet and concern of the inhabitants of Zhanaozen at the fact that by this Constitutional Council decision their electoral rights … were restricted,” his office said.
Zhanaozen will vote under a state of emergency ordered after at least 16 protestors were shot dead by security forces on December 16.
But as Nazarbayev moved to increase the legitimacy of the election by allowing Zhanaozen to participate, two of Kazakhstan’s best-known opposition leaders – Bolat Abilov, co-leader of the OSDP Azat party, and Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, a leading party member and journalist – were thrown out of the election, accused of irregularities in financial declarations.
OSDP Azat was not the only party affected: Vladimir Bobrov of the ruling Nur Otan party was also struck off, as were three candidates from smaller parties. However, OSDP Azat is the only genuine opposition party allowed to stand, and the expulsion of two of its leading lights deals a severe blow to its hopes.
Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan, the state Russian-language newspaper, now has an English-language supplement, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH) reported. It looks to be as propagandistic as the Russian edition, with "achievements and prospects of the modernization of the Turkmen fuel and energy sector" and a priority for "diversifying gas exports."
The health section of the new insert "spotlights the successes of the state health policy." There are predictable items on Avaza, the president's pet project to create a tourist zone on the Caspian sea coast; on the restored circus; and an ancient calender which is yet another achievement of the Turkmen people.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has now installed Viktor Zaitsev as editor-in-chief of Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan, turkmenistan.ru reports. His predecessor Vladimov Gurbanov, was dismissed last month without any explanation at the time.
Now the semi-official news site turkmenistan.ru reports that Gubanov, who is also chair of the Committee on Science, Education and Culture of the Mejlis (parliament) was released from his duties at the newspaper "in connection with an increase in his work load at the Mejlis."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) says it will not send observers to Turkmenistan's presidential election in February, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.
Given that fundamental freedoms continue to be restricted, that the choice between competing political alternatives is limited, and that progress still remains to be made in bringing the legal framework in line with OSCE commitments for democratic elections, the OSCE/ODIHR NAM does not consider that the deployment of an election observation mission, even of a limited nature, would add value at this point in time.
Yet "mindful of the declared interest of the authorities of Turkmenistan to maintain a dialogue," ODIHR says it plans to send an Election Assessment Mission -- not to be confused with an observation mission. The mission will limit itself to reviewing laws and visiting some regions to gain insight into the electoral processes.
These fine points immediately got lost, intentionally or unintentionally, in the Turkmen and regional press. The Azerbaijani news service trend.az reported the story as "UN, OSCE and CIS to Observe Turkmen Elections."
Turkmen officials also made no distinction between "observation" and "assessment" and lumped together all foreign observers. The United Nations and Commonwealth of Independent States will also be sending observers, says trend.az.
A police academy graduate died in jail under mysterious circumstances, Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek Service of Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe reported, citing human rights activists.
Almardon Ruzikulov, 28, was detained on suspicion of stealing a cow. His relatives say that he died from torture while interrogators were trying to extract a confession from him. Interior Ministry officials maintain, however, that Ruzikulov hanged himself in his jail cell.
The human rights group Ezgulik (“Goodness”) reported that Ruzikulov, a resident of the village of Korakiya in the Chirakchin district of Kashkadarya region, died on November 20. He was a graduate of the Interior Ministry Academy of Uzbekistan.
According to Ezgulik, when police received a statement about the theft of the cow, they made a number of detentions and interrogations. Ruzikulov was among them, and was eventually charged with theft. His 82-year-old father continues to go the Interior Ministry, seeking information about his son’s death.
Anvar Holyorov, a district detective who investigated Ruzikulov’s case, told Radio Ozodlik that he committed suicide. He further noted that torture was prohibited and “contradicted his professional and human duty.” He added that if there were no wounds on the body, and no evidence of torture, then the accusation shouldn’t be made. He said officers found the body of Ruzikulov hanging in his cell, and that officers on duty would be accountable. “An investigator doesn’t have responsibility for this,” said Holyorov.
The presidential campaign in the U.S. has begun in earnest, with Republicans in New Hampshire going to the polls tomorrow to choose who they want to challenge Barack Obama in November. If, as expected, Mitt Romney wins there (as he did in Iowa last week) it will come pretty close to guaranteeing that he is the Republicans' candidate. So, what do we know about what a President Romney might do in The Bug Pit's world?
Not much. The biggest clue is his rhetoric on Russia which, not surprisingly, is hostile. From his campaign's foreign policy white paper (pdf):
Upon taking office, Mitt Romney will reset the reset. He will implement a strategy that will seek to discourage aggressive or expansionist behavior on the part of Russia and encourage democratic political and economic reform.
The two greatest impacts that the reset has has on the Caucasus and Central Asia are 1. allowing cooperation with Russia over the Northern Distribution Network to transport military materiel to Afghanistan and 2. holding Georgia at somewhat arm's length (at least compared to the enthusiastic embrace of Obama's predecessor, President Bush).
Romney suggests he'd be much less conciliatory on missile defense than Obama has been, which could put the NDN into jeopardy (Russia has frequently suggested that those two issues are linked). Would Romney risk it? One could plausibly argue that a missile shield encircling Russia would be more useful to the U.S. in the long run than a supply route to a doomed theater of war which the U.S. is supposed to start withdrawing from in 2014, anyway. But his military advisers would no doubt push him to not do anything to threaten the NDN.
While Facebook penetration in Uzbekistan is only a tiny 0.38% of the country's population and 2.26% of Internet users, usage grew by more than 23,480 in the last 6 months to a total number of 105,920. A particular jump is visible just in the last month. (To keep it in perspective, this figure is higher than Chad but lower than Guinea.)
The state communications agency reports that 7.9 million of Uzbekistan's 28 million people have Internet access. One in five has mobile Internet access, with 500,000 registered in the last year.
Alexander Suchkov, editor-in-chief of the Infocom web magazine based in Tashkent told IWPR, "Numerous blogs have appeared… in which young people talk about modern Uzbekistan. I know these young enthusiasts, and they obviously want to change things."
When Kazakhstan goes to the polls to elect a new parliament on January 15, voters in the restless western oil town of Zhanaozen, where at least 16 people were shot dead when police opened fire on protestors last month, will not be allowed to cast their ballots.
Astana has postponed the election in Zhanaozen, promising that its 50,000 voters can head to the polls at an unspecified later date.
The Central Electoral Commission announced the move on January 6 after consultations with the Constitutional Council, on the grounds that the vote cannot be held in the town while a state of emergency is in place. On January 4, President Nursultan Nazarbayev extended the state of emergency until the end of the month.
The exclusion of Zhanaozen’s voters from the election, even if temporary, raises the question of how legitimate the election will be. Central Electoral Commission head Kuandyk Turgankulov said casually that Zhanaozen’s exclusion would have only “minimal” impact on the nationwide election results.
Kazakhstan has never held an election deemed free and fair by international observers, and Nazarbayev and his ruling Nur Otan party regularly win with eye-popping landslides. Nazarbayev won reelection last April with 95.5 percent of the vote; Nur Otan won the last parliamentary election in 2007 with 88 percent, forming a single-party parliament after other parties failed to clear the 7 percent voter threshold.
With negotiations seemingly stalled and talk of a permanent division of their island getting louder, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders decided to at least create the impression of goodwill by hosting a dinner for United Nations officials at the island's only ethnically mixed village. From the AP's report on the dinner, which took place Thursday in the village of Pyla:
The gathering in Pyla came ahead of a crucial session with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in New York later this month.
Accompanied by their wives, Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu braved midwinter drizzle to greet villagers and exchange New Year’s wishes in the village square before sitting down for a meal at a Greek Cypriot fish tavern, followed by coffee at a Turkish Cypriot cafe.
The event was effectively a photo-op designed to underscore the leaders’ commitment to a peace deal, even though there has been scant progress in recent months.
Straddling the U.N. controlled buffer zone in the island’s southeast, Pyla remains the only village where Greek and Turkish Cypriots have continued to live together since 1974, when the island was split after Turkey invaded in response to a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Despite facing mounting domestic and international criticism, an Istanbul court today decided to keep in jail two leading journalists who are on trial for allegedly being part of a plot to topple the Turkish government. The journalists, Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik, have been in jail for almost a year on charges that many believe to be fabricated in order to silence the two muckrakers. Some background from a good piece in today's New York Times about the trial and the growing threats to press freedom in Turkey:
A year ago, the journalist Nedim Sener was investigating a murky terrorist network that prosecutors maintain was plotting to overthrow Turkey’s Muslim-inspired government. Today, Mr. Sener stands accused of being part of that plot, jailed in what human rights groups call a political purge of the governing party’s critics.
Mr. Sener, who has spent nearly 20 years exposing government corruption, is among 13 defendants who appeared in state court this week at the imposing Palace of Justice in Istanbul on a variety of charges related to abetting a terrorist organization.
The other defendants include the editors of a staunchly secular Web site critical of the government and Ahmet Sik, a journalist who has written that an Islamic movement associated with Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive cleric living in Pennsylvania, has infiltrated Turkey’s security forces....