In a post I wrote a few days ago on the Northern Distribution Network and the Uzbekistan government, I implied that President Islam Karimov had an interest in maintaining whatever corrupt business the Pentagon might be (directly or indirectly) carrying on in Uzbekistan. But this may not be right. As easy as it is to take cheap shots at a guy like Karimov, he is perhaps unique among Central Asian leaders in not being motivated by personal wealth. As I wrote earlier this year for an analysis in Jane's (not online), based on interviews with lots of political types in Tashkent:
Many observers, even strong opponents of Karimov, agree that the president is not himself corrupt, and unlike many Central Asian leaders uses his authoritarian power not for personal enrichment but because he truly believes that Uzbekistan is insecure. Karimov is sheltered, has few trusted confidants and his subordinates are afraid to give him bad news, many believe, and so the president has been unaware of the vast extent of high-level corruption in the country.
Some analysts suggested that the closure earlier this year of Zeromax – the vast holding company associated with his daughter, Gulnara Karimova, was in fact intended to take his daughter down a notch because her actions with it were embarrassing him.
That adds a wrinkle to another point I should have mentioned in that post. Noting that one of the recent WikiLeaks cables referred to Karimova as “the single most hated person in the country,” a piece on the New Yorker website suggests that the Pentagon throwing its lot in with Karimova – as it may be doing via the NDN business – would then obviously reflect badly on the U.S.:
Well, the Mistral deal between France and Russia that everyone was so exercised about – especially Georgia – has gone through, and barely anyone noticed. As far as I can tell, none of the big English-language Georgian news sites have any notice of it. And this despite the fact that the news is not just a formality – the French agreed to include the various equipment that would make the ship dangerous, not just a shell of a ship. But as the blog Evolutsia.Net wrote, the response was “crickets chirping”:
The glaring incompatibility of the Mistral deal with Paris’ frequent lecturing on human rights and such has been qualified in the past with assurances that the warships would be sold ‘bare,’ or without the advanced equipment and electronics that really help make the Mistral the capable platform that its considered to be.
Russia seemed content with this for awhile, but last March it changed its requirements mid-course and demanded that the Mistrals be delivered with all the goodies intact. France, to its credit, held firm as long as it could. Unfortunately, ‘as long as it could’ lasted only until now.
Reported Defense News:
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Dec. 9 on a visit to Moscow that France was ready to transfer military technology if it won a tender to supply Russia with Mistral warships.
“There is no question about the technology transfer, no problem regarding technology transfers,” Fillon said at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Le Monde has obtained WikiLeaks cables that reveal how the French construction company Bouygues has expanded its business in Turkmenistan, and Bouygues has responded in a statement by claiming that the allegations in the cables are "defamatory," EurasiaNet.org reported. Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, a former French diplomat, in a book published this year, described how Bouygues built about 50 buildings for the Turkmen government between 1994 and 2010, worth about two billion euros.
In a cable alleged to have been cleared from the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat by an unknown diplomat whose name has been redacted by WikiLeaks (normally the dispatches published by WikiLeaks reveal the name of the official who classified the cable), titled "Turkmenistan Corruption: What Happens in Ashgabat, Stays in Ashgabat," we learn the thesis that "President Berdimuhamedov is engaging in more construction contracts in order to amass more personal wealth, of which Avaza (Ref. A) is a part."
There's no question that Avaza, the Caspian resort town near the city of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), is President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's pet project (the differences in the spelling of the president's name are due to different transliteration systems).
Last month, we asked if USAID's new health outreach program in Uzbekistan might wind up endangering any Uzbeks who agreed to work with it. That's because Maxim Popov, a psychologist and HIV/AIDS campaigner in Tashkent who worked with international agencies, wound up sentenced to 7 years in jail on charges of "corrupting minors" for distributing booklets about safe sex. He was also charged with embezzlement of foreign donor funds, a charge the foreign agencies themselves didn't make,which seems to have been trumped up by the authorities. We noted that USAID (the U.S. government's Agency for International Development) and various other agencies that had given grants and publications to distribute to Popov seemed to disappear when it came time to defend him.
Unfortunately, today international organizations don't give protective help to their grant recipients. It is hard to do AIDS/HIV advocacy work in Uzbekistan, but this isn't a problem for just health NGOs.
All public organizations and NGOs are experiencing difficulties, because without some approval from a [government] commission they can't get a grant. Most of the international organizations' accreditations are ending and they are not getting new ones.
Man of the hour: Newly elected Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev at a Bishkek rally in March.
Three of Kyrgyzstan’s quarreling parties have finally succeeded – after two months and one failed attempt – to form a government. The partnership may seem an unlikely one, but it unifies the country’s fractious north and south and all hopes are on this group to shepherd the country safely into a new year without political instability and violence.
Parliament convened on December 17 to approve the coalition proposed by Respublika leader Omurbek Babanov. Provisional President Roza Otunbayeva chose Babanov to lead the process on December 4, after the first attempt by her Social Democratic Party’s (SDPK) Almazbek Atambayev, fell through.
A new season of WikiLeaks disclosures offers a rare glimpse into the world of Caspian Sea energy politics, usually shrouded in a thick veil of corporate and government PR.
Apart from details on a hushed-up blowout in the Caspian Sea, the reports, shared through The Guardian, describe how the Russians, Turks, Georgians, Europeans and the ubiquitous British Petroleum vie to take a slice of Azerbaijan’s hydrocarbon cake.
Azerbaijan’s multi-vector energy export policy was summarized reportedly by an American diplomat as “some gas for Georgia, some gas for Turkey, some for Azerbaijan and some for Greece.”
The alleged US embassy cable was sent in 2006, when neighboring Georgia was struggling to build energy security, faced with cuts in gas supplies from Russia. Turkey did not seem particularly disposed to allow Georgia to siphon off extra volumes of Azerbaijani gas meant for Turkey. In the face of Turkey’s intransigence, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev even considered cutting gas supplies Turkey to help its freezing neighbor and to accommodate both domestic and European needs.
But BP, the biggest private player on Azerbaijan’s energy scene, was allegedly not willing to share the transit gas with Georgia -- and, even, Azerbaijan -- without getting something in return. BP had its eye on the “deep gas” in the giant Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli field in the Caspian Sea and requested extending its agreement with Baku in exchange for letting Azerbaijan keep more of its own gas.
Aliyev described BP’s position as “mild” form of “blackmail” and allegedly instructed the corporation not to get ahead of itself.
The story ends here, but there could well be more oil and money drama to come.
Karen Karapetian, the 47-year-old chief executive of ArmRosGazprom, a company partly owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom, breezed through the vote. Karapetian, a new face in politics, received the votes of 50 members from the 65-seat council, with one vote against. The remaining seats in the pro-government assembly are held by the opposition Armenian National Congress, which is boycotting the council.
Turkey is going to produce its first entirely indigenous fighter jet, to be fielded by 2023, the country's defense minister Vecdi Gönül announced this week. From Hurriyet Daily News:
Gönül told reporters after a meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee that the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, Turkey's procurement agency, would start talks with Turkish Aerospace Industries, the country's main aerospace company, for a "conceptual design" of a fighter aircraft and a jet trainer to be built after the year 2020.
"This … effectively is a decision for the making of Turkey's first fighter aircraft," he said...
Minister Gönül said Turkey's newly designed fighter aircraft "would be a next-generation type, would replace the [U.S.-made] F-4Es and would function well with the F-16 and the F-35." He therefore confirmed that the new aircraft mostly would be meant for air-to-air fighting.
Unfortunately, Gönül did not explain why Turkey would do such a thing. It's already planning to buy about 100 F-35s, the next-generation U.S.-built fighter, and had been discussing with Eurofighter to buy some Typhoon jets, but not any more. Why would it make sense to build their own instead?
His rhetoric at the announcement of the fighter plan did suggest some national-pride motivation:
The minister said Turkey may cooperate with South Korea, but implied that this is a small possibility. "We can manufacture the new fighter aircraft with them, we don't rule this out. But the decision we have taken now calls for the production of a totally national and original aircraft," he said.
A trial of 25 Muslim believers accused of membership in a banned religious group in Uzbekistan has ended after nearly three months with severe sentences for the members, the independent Uzbek news service ferghana.ru reports, citing the Uzbek opposition website Yangi Dunyo.
Unlike other cases of this nature in recent years, which have been closed to press and human rights groups, this trial in the Andijan regional court was open, relatives were admitted, and a well-known Andijan human rights activist, Saidjahon Zaynabitdinov was able to monitor it. Each defendant had a lawyer, some had even hired attorneys from Tashkent, and unlike other trials, the attorneys were more adversarial, and able to get the trial postponed several times when witnesses failed to appear. Even some local journalists were allowed to cover the proceedings.
Nine of the men were held in pre-trial detention, and 16 were released before trial, reports Zaynabitdinov. The proceedings began in early September and concluded in November. None of the defendants pleaded guilty, and all of them appeared relaxed, and vigorously defended themselves -- a factor that prompted observers to conclude that they had not been mistreated in detention.
While these circumstances seemed to indicate unsual conditions by contrast with most hasty, closed trials of religious and political activists in Uzbekistan, the outcome was just as grim: 19 of the members were sentenced to prison terms of 3-9 years and six from 2-6 years.
All the defendants are members of what is described as an orthodox Islam organization called Shokhidiylar, which recognizes the Prophet Mohammed but does not acknowledge Hadith, the collection of narrations about Mohammed's words and deeds, and based their spiritual practice only on the Koran.