The grand opening of Svaneti’s first-ever ski season, originally scheduled for December 21, was postponed after Leitner, an Italian ropeways manufacturer, reportedly found that the chairlift’s intermediate towers were sticking up from the ground wrong-side-up.
Blaming local contractors for the glitch, the company said that an engineering solution can be found, but that it will take extra time and could limit the lift's passenger capacity, Rustavi2 reported on December 21.
The regional governor partly denied, partly played down the problem in his comments to the channel.
With many skiers in Georgia looking forward to try out the new run, hopes remain that at least the chairs will be installed right-side-up to make for a reasonably comfortable ride.
Ambassador Huseyin Bichakli (Hüseyin Avni Bıçaklı), the Turkish envoy to Ashgabat, who was revealed by WikiLeaks to have reportedly served as a source to the U.S. Embassy about concerns of uranium transfer to Iran, appears to have been recalled to Ankara. Ambassador Sevki Mutevellioglu has been appointed as the new Turkish ambassador to Turkmenistan.
But what about all those foreign diplomatic sources the American ambassadors talked to? U.S. officials have denounced WikiLeaks for possibly exposing human rights activists reporting on such topics as torture, although no such figures are known to have suffered retaliation (yet). Meanwhile, many of the "Cablegate" sources are among U.S. foreign service officers' own colleagues in the international diplomatic corps, and some of them may be in hot water now.
Has WikiLeaks claimed its first casualty in Turkmenistan?
Under the terms of a presidential decree published on the official government website December 21, Turkmenistan is shutting down the London branch of its State Agency for the Management and Use of Hydrocarbon Resources almost three years after it was first opened.
Among the agency’s main functions are reviewing investment proposals, issuing licenses for the development of hydrocarbon resources, and sealing contracts with foreign companies for the construction and use of pipelines. In crude terms, this is the gate that any energy company looking for action in Turkmenistan must walk through.
The decision to close the London office is explained as an attempt to “strengthen and enhance” the agency, although no actual explanations have been offered. Suggestions that the Turkmen government, which is busily lobbying for foreign investment, has implemented the cull as a cost-cutting measure (as suggested by UPI) seem hard to believe against the backdrop of the astounding profligacy authorities have exercised elsewhere.
Indeed, the explanation may be closer to home. One fascinating tidbit offered up by WikiLeaks concerns President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's son-in-law, Dovlet Atabayev, who has headed the soon-to-be-closed London office of the hydrocarbon agency. Citing sources in the expat business and diplomatic community, the US cable reports on the details of an alleged internal investigation against Atabayev:
Kyrgyzstan’s security officials are not the most convincing bunch. So when they go on a media blitz warning of impending terrorist attacks, we naturally start asking for evidence and bracing for some sort of blast. This time, they are worrying Osh, scene of fierce ethnic fighting that left over 400 dead in June.
Speaking on state television on December 20, Keneshbek Dushebayev -- director of Kyrgyzstan’s KGB-successor, the recently renamed State National Security Committee -- reiterated a familiar refrain: Terrorists wish “to turn the Central Asian region into a blazing torch of destabilization for the entire world.” He did not produce any evidence.
This would not seem unusual coming from a Central Asian security boss seeking international sympathy, but a week earlier Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov, who prompts panic merely by opening his mouth, suggested the city is swarming with terrorists who are ready to blow up a bridge, a government building, or a kindergarten.
Myrzakmatov has repeatedly tried to link Islamic militants to the summer’s ethnic violence. As ethnic Uzbeks tend to be more religious than their Kyrgyz neighbors, between the lines Myrzakmatov is again pushing the idea -- widely held in nationalist circles -- that Uzbeks are responsible for the violence.
Surprisingly, he also said the Islamic terrorists lurking in the hills are the same radicals responsible for the 2005 Andijan massacre in neighboring Uzbekistan, when security services murdered hundreds of their own citizens, according to human rights groups.
While human rights advocates in the U.S. have been warning about U.S. cooperation with Uzbekistan over the Northern Distribution Network since the NDN was set up last year, these discussions have been going on much longer in Germany. The German military has used a facility in Termez, on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border, since 2002, as a rear supply base for their NATO troops in northern Afghanistan. But that could be ending. Last week, Germany's foreign minister said his country would start withdrawing troops next year.
Back in 2006, Der Spiegel reported on Germany's involvement in Uzbekistan, and the tension that created between Germany's devotion to human rights and its military strategy:
[H]ow many million Euros should Germany invest in a corrupt country, knowing full well that the population hardly ever benefits from the money? And is it acceptable that the commander of the German air force squadron is even barring German journalists from entering the base -- in response to "discreet pressure from the Uzbeks," as military officials in Potsdam in charge of the Uzbekistan mission coyly explain? Is it acceptable that in banning the journalists, the German military is exempting a mission from public scrutiny that is subject to parliamentary supervision at home?
Berlin's dialogue with the regime in Tashkent is "as immoral as its dialogue once was with Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Serbian butcher Slobodan Milosevic or Iraqi criminal Saddam Hussein," says Uzbek journalist Galima Bukharbayeva, who fled to the West after barely escaping Andijan with her life.
The long-awaited report from a U.S. congressional committee on fuel contracting at the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan has been released, and the findings already well dissected (recommended in particular are the pieces by Deirdre Tynan and Steve LeVine). From the executive summary of the report:
Policy officials at the Pentagon and State Department did little to nothing to assist DLA-Energy [the Pentagon agency in charge of supplying fuel to U.S. military] in oversight of its massive fuel procurement contracts. As long as the flow of fuel met demand, the civilian and military officials at the Department of Defense showed little interest in fuel contracting. The State Department, meanwhile, viewed the fuel contracts as solely a matter for the Pentagon to manage, even when fallout from the contracts badly damaged U.S.-Kyrgyz relations. In short, DLA-Energy, the Pentagon, and State Department all turned a blind eye to the fuel contracts’ serious political, diplomatic, and geopolitical collateral consequences.
But the question I had been most curious about -- how did these shadowy companies, Mina and Red Star, get these billion-dollar no-bid contracts in the first place -- was not answered by the report. I, and I think many people, assumed that the answer had to be that there was some high-level corruption in the Pentagon. Why else would the Pentagon give such a massive contract to such a mysterious company with such shady connections?
YouTube's administrators may not be aware of this, but Armenia’s education ministry regards the video-sharing website as a partner in its official battle to keep the country’s schools violence-free.
“I am glad there is YouTube, where you can see everything,” said Armenian Minister of Education and Science Armen Ashotian, referring to recently posted videos depicting abuse in Armenian schools. The videos sparked an online outpouring of public anger and a reaction from education officials.
One amateur clip showed a female instructor on a beating rampage, at one point frantically slapping a student with both hands. Another video shows a male teacher brutalizing an adolescent student. Both teachers have been fired, local media reported.
Education and Science Minister Armen Ashotian said later that he views Youtube as a partner since the site has become an important tool in helping keep a public eye on what is going on in classrooms.
YouTube has also contributed to a crackdown on military brutality. An army officer was jailed after videos depicting army hazing were posted on the site. Both military and education officials say that a system overhaul is underway to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.
Maxim Bakiyev claimed the idea to re-name the US air base at Manas near Bishkek a “Transit Center” was his, according to a recently WikiLeaked diplomatic cable.
But a US Congressional report released December 21 reveals the bright spark behind the semantic slight of hand as none other than a Kyrgyz citizen with a vested interest in keeping the base open -- Erkin Bekbolotov of Mina Corp.
According to the report, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s February 2009 announcement that the air base would close prompted Bekbolotov to call his “social acquaintance” Maxim. Bekbolotov’s novel solution to his potential loss of business involved re-defining the base and using “pressure from Russia” to gain more rent.
The report “Mystery at Manas” explains:
In light of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia’s agreements to permit NATO’s use of their territory and airspace to transit non-military goods, Mr. Bekbolotov suggested to Mr. [Maxim] Bakiyev that instead of expelling the United States from Manas, the Bakiyev administration could require the United States to downgrade its status from a military installation to a logistical and transport hub while using the pressure from Russia to substantially increase their rental payments.
Turkmentel-2010 telecommunications expo, September 2010
MTS Turkmenistan, the Turkmen branch of the Russian mobile company MTS (Mobile TeleSystems), the largest cellular operator in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, received a notice from the Turkmen Ministry of Communications yesterday telling them that their license was suspended effective today, regnum.ru reported.
No explanation was given.
The notice said that "communications and Internet services in Turkmenistan may be suspended for a period of one month," and express payment and pin codes would also no longer be activated.
MTS suffered some outage earlier this month where Internet connection was lost, but reported that it was due to an accident at a switching station.
MTS has grown rapidly and has more than 2.4 million customers in Turkmenistan, a largely desert-covered country with a population of over 5 million, controlling 85 percent of the market. The Turkmen government company Altyn Asyr has only 310,000 customers.
Why wouldn't the government of Turkmenistan make sure that this agreement was renewed so they could keep getting their healthy 20 percent cut?
Is China giving the Taliban military aid? That's what a British military officer has told Aviation Week:
Chinese advisers are believed to be working with Afghan Taliban groups who are now in combat with NATO forces, prompting concerns that China might become the conduit for shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, improved communications and additional small arms to the fundamentalist Muslim fighters.
A British military official contends that Chinese specialists have been seen training Taliban fighters in the use of infrared-guided surface-to-air missiles.
If true, this would be pretty rich, given that the U.S.'s main hardware aid to the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in the 1980s was the same sort of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
Another source, this one from the U.S., says that Chinese contact with the Taliban is relatively benign, mainly oriented toward intelligence gathering for use in China's fight against its own restive Muslims on Afghanistan's border, the Uighurs:
Army officials told Aviation Week of an unsuccessful, multi-manpad attack against a U.S. helicopter in Iraq last year, but a senior intelligence official expressed doubt that Chinese aid to the Taliban has included weaponry. But he acknowledges that Chinese activities most certainly include intelligence gathering that could be of use in China’s own internal conflicts with its restive Muslim populations. That analysis could project U.S. hopes, whether well-founded or not, that China will not become involved in weapons trade to insurgent groups.