A Chinese HQ-9 air defense system, possibly no longer headed soon to Turkey. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Amid the continuing controversy over Turkey's selection of a Chinese company to build a sensitive air defense system, Turkey's top state defense industry official has been demoted and there are reports Ankara may be considering trying to build the whole thing itself.
Recall that the controversy began in September, when after a drawn-out competition, Turkey announced that it had chosen the Chinese HQ-9 air and missile defense system. The Chinese system was competing against ones from Russia, the U.S., and Europe, so the competition appeared to have -- rightly or wrongly -- a geopolitical component. Turkey's announcement resulted in a significant amount of U.S. and NATO pressure; Turkey's Western partners are concerned about the possibility that China could gain sensitive NATO data via the system.
Over the last month or so, there have been several indications that Turkey is rethinking its choice. Unnamed sources told the newspaper Hurriyet that the U.S. and European companies that lost out are considering changing their offer to give Turkey more of the sensitive technology involved in building the system (a key Turkish criterion for the program and one which the Chinese company, by all accounts, was best at). That also, though, would increase the price (and the Chinese system was already cheaper).
As leaders across the former Soviet Union watch another predominantly Russian-speaking region of Ukraine demand independence this week, Astana is mulling legislation that would jail anyone who calls for separatism in Kazakhstan.
Under a proposed amendment to the criminal code, Kazakhstanis could get 10 years in prison for making "illegal and unconstitutional calls for changes to the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” Arman Ayaganov of Kazakhstan's Prosecutor General's office told journalists April 8, Tengrinews reports.
"The article refers to serious [offenses] and the first part provides a maximum penalty of imprisonment for up to seven years. If these same actions would be performed by a person using his official position, up to 10 years," Ayaganov added.
The amendment would cover calls for separatism or independence made in the media, including the Internet – and thus, it seems, on social media platforms like Facebook.
In February, Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky sparked outrage in Astana by suggesting Russia should reabsorb Central Asia.
As voting took place in the breakaway Crimean region's controversial referendum on March 16, Tavriya Simferopol was forced to play its home match against Dinamo Kiev in Ukraine's capital city. On April 5, Tavriya returned to its home base in Crimea for the first time since November 2013. It lost 2-0 to FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk leaving it at the bottom of Ukraine's15-team Premier League, having accumulated just nine points from 21 games played.
FC Sevastopol fared better on its return home on April 4, beating FC Vorskla Poltava 1-0. The Sevastopol-based team is in a better position than its Crimean neighbor with 22 points from 20 games played.
It might be too late for Tavriya, whose funding has dried up after the indictment of billionaire-owner Dmitry Firtash on bribery and corruption charges in the United States earlier this month, leaving the future of the club on the line.
When Turkey's parliament last summer passed a new law that curtailed when and where alcohol can be sold and also placed new limits on booze advertising, wine and beer manufacturers expressed concern about how these new restrictions might impact their bottom line.
Almost a year later, it would appear that this concern was justified. As the Hurriyet Daily News reports, the recent decision by Efes, Turkey's largest beer maker, to shut down one of its breweries, is highlighting wider difficulties facing Turkey's liquor industry. From the HDN's article:
Players in the sector, especially wine producers, are feeling the pressure of tough regulations as alcohol fights to survive in a tough environment.
Anadolu Efes, which has faced setbacks in its main markets in Turkey and Russia due to legal regulations, announced April 2 that it had decided to shut down its Lüleburgaz factory in the northwestern province of Kırklareli, four months after closing two breweries in Russia.
The beer market in Turkey shrank by 12 percent in 2013 after Turkey banned alcohol advertising and tightened restrictions on its sale. Price hikes in the market stemming from the rise in Special Consumption Tax (ÖTV) caused a further retreat in the company’s revenues. Beer makes up 90 percent of alcoholic beverage consumption in Turkey, which fell to just over 1 billion liters in 2013 from 1.12 billion liters in 2012.
Selim Ellialtı, the owner of wine producer Suvla, said the sector’s morale had long been hurt by the government’s strict regulations.
In what is definitely not intended as a late April Fool's Day joke, Georgian Interior Minister Alexander Chikhaidze has warned that Euromaidan is coming to Georgia. In a sweeping accusation published on April 7, Georgia’s policeman-in-chief claimed that former President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement, backed by Ukrainian nationalists, is plotting to overthrow the Georgian government.
Georgians well know that Saakashvili is doing some sort of post-revolution consultancy in post-Euromaidan Ukraine. But to hear Chikaidze tell it, that's not the half of it.
A delegation of Euromaidan activists have now allegedly come to Georgia to train the UNM in how to stock up car tires and pitch tents in the streets, declared Chikhaidze in an interview with the weekly Prime Time.
Using an old Soviet refrain, the 28-year-old minister vowed an adequate response to any provocations.
The UNM, its Rose Revolution days well behind it, has described the statement as “utter nonsense.”
It has accused Chikaidze, and the Georgian Dream of trying to divert attention away from the real issues.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook, reportedly en route to the Black Sea (photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Adam Austin)
As the U.S. prepares to send another warship into the Black Sea, it is facing Russian accusations that the increased American military presence there is illegal.
The U.S. is planning on sending its fourth warship to the Black Sea since February. Pentagon officials confirmed that another warship would be heading soon to the Black Sea. "This is to reassure our allies of our commitment to the region. ... It is a direct result of the current situation in Ukraine," said U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. (NBC News reported that the ship would be the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook and that it would be heading to the Black Sea in the next few days.) The new deployment comes on the heels of another ship's visit in March and two more in February.
That appears to be too much for the Kremlin. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said April 3 that the U.S. has violated the Montreux Convention, the 1938 treaty that regulates the number and kinds of ships that can enter the Black Sea.
"There exists the Montreux Convention, which gives extremely clear criteria limiting the deployment of warships not belonging to the Black Sea governments in regard to tonnage and length of stay," Lavrov said.
"We have noticed that US warships have extended their deployment beyond the set terms a couple of times lately, and at times they did not always comply with the regulations that are set within the Montreux Convention."
By now, Turks have grown accustomed to being cast in the role of bit players in the one-man show, starring Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that Turkish politics have become. This was perhaps best illustrated during the recent municipal election campaign, where the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) rallies starred Erdogan rather than the local candidate, who, almost like an afterthought, was usually brought on stage after the PM's long speech to quietly wave at the crowd while standing in his leader's shadow.
Having successfully worked through the drama of the corruption allegations against him and his inner circle to emerge victorious in Sunday's vote, Erdogan is now facing something of a Hamlet moment: namely, to run or not to run in the August election for President?
After the AKP's strong win in the 2011 parliamentary elections, it was assumed that since his party's bylaws would keep him from running for a fourth term as PM, Erdogan's next move would be into the presidential palace, albeit after pushing through a new constitution that would grant the President increased powers. But since the AKP's efforts at constitutional reform and at creating a more powerful presidency have faltered, the new thinking has been that Erdogan is likely to push the AKP to scrap its term limit bylaws, which would allow him to remain PM and for the current President, Abdullah Gul, to run for reelection in August.
While Tajiks were suffering through daily electricity blackouts this winter, their government was exporting electricity to Afghanistan, official statistics show.
Electricity exports are a hot topic in Central Asia lately. Only last week the World Bank announced it had earmarked $526.5 million in credit and grants for an ambitious project to help Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan export electricity to South Asia starting in 2018: CASA-1000. But that project is designed, World Bank officials insist, to export “surplus” electricity in the summer months only.
In a region where it’s hard to take officials at their word, could CASA-1000 be abused?
Extended, rolling blackouts are standard in mountainous Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan each winter, when reservoirs are exhausted and waiting for the spring thaw to refill. In recent weeks, the problem became acute in Tajikistan, with some areas only receiving 30 minutes of electricity per day, or even none at all, RFE/RL reported on March 27. Widespread outages started last October and normally continue until March. But this year blackouts are expected to continue a month longer than normal.
Keme, aka the "Mesopotamian Truffle," is a vaguely potato-like fungi that grows this time of year in the arid lands of southeastern Turkey and which local chefs have for centuries been using in seasonal dishes, especially kebab.
Turkish scientists have ascribed all kinds of miracle powers to the humble keme, but its strange magic can mostly be witnessed by the effect it has on kebab lovers, who eagerly await its short-lived appearance every spring. A good example is a recent dispatch from the Turkish city of Gaziantep by the EatingAsia blog's Robyn Eckhardt, who was lucky enough to score some skewers of keme at one of the city's most celebrated kebab spots. From her report:
This being spring, Şirvan is featuring seasonal keme mantari (desert "truffles", big knobby fungi that grow beneath the ground) on its kebap menu, making the most of the fungi by mincing them together with lamb and lamb fat (the basis of any good kebab is plenty of fat minced into the meat) and then skewering logs of the mince between chunks of truffle. Few Antep kebapci serve keme, and Şirvan's go fast. We score the last two skewers of the day, and feel lucky. The keme are deeply earthy but not overpowering, and the chewiness of the whole specimens is a fine complement to the tender, melting meat-and-mushroom mince.
Those who are in Istanbul and want to try keme without going to Gaziantep can head over to Ciya, on the city's Asian side, which is serving the seasonal speciality (along with several other hard to find ones) for the next few weeks.
In a valedictory Facebook message, Tigran Sarkisian said that he actually had tendered his resignation back in February -- his reasons for staying on were not specified -- and wished the best of luck to the government team. That team, led by President Serzh Sargsyan, might well need it, for their economic policies, including pension-reform, energy and public-transportation fees, have been putting an increasing number of Armenians on edge.
Under the Constitution, though, the cabinet must step down now that the prime minister has.
Few are buying that 54-year-old Sarkisian quit because he wants, as the line goes, to spend more time with his family. Most reports link Sarkisian’s departure after six years in office to the looming collapse of his controversial pet project on pension reform.