That's the thesis of a smart political scientist, who argues that the air base, as a concentrated source of wealth for whoever is in power, has provided a temptation for autocrats to consolidate power and for rivals to that power to challenge them. In his new book Chaos, Violence, Dynasty: Politics and Islam in Central Asia, Eric McGlinchey analyzes the differing political paths taken by independent Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
The reason Kyrgyzstan has been more unstable has to do with the Kremlin's policies in the region in the late 1980s. But the catalyst that has led to two dramatic overthrows of the government is Manas, McGlinchey argues. Under the first post-Soviet president, Askar Akaev, Kyrgyzstan was propped up by foreign aid, the diffuse nature of which forced him to spread it around to other members of the country's fractured political elite to keep them on his side.
The Manas air base changed this dynamic, however. Although political and economic reform aid continued to flow, this aid was overshadowed both in the popular imagination and ultimately by the huge amount of wealth that was directly accruing to the Akaev family through American fueling contracts. Members of Akaev's winning coalition, perceiving they were not receiving their fair cut of the Manas wealth, began defecting and agitating for Akaev's overthrow.
And of course, as has been well documented, when Kurmanbek Bakiyev took power in 2005, he began to do the same thing as Akaev had, using the massive fuel contracts for Manas as a way to enrich his family.
As previously reported on this blog, the ancient Georgian tradition of making wine in clay jars (known as kvevri) has not only been making a comeback in its birthplace but has started to gain a strong reputation globally. So can the kvevri craze help turn things around in Georgia, especially in terms of developing both the country's wine and tourism industries? The BBC, in a recent report, tries to answer that question by taking a look at the trials and tribulations of a set of twin brothers who are trying to revive their family's kvevri-centric 200-year-old winery. The report can be found here.
Nobody seems to know where he came from, but over the last day or so, a man calling himself Tolibjon Kurbankhanov has become an online sensation in Russia.
Kurbankhanov, supposedly a Tajik migrant worker living in Moscow, is the star of a music video called “VVP” -- short for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin -- which extols the virtues of Russia’s former, and, likely, future president, as no other before it. The song suggests Prime Minister Putin was sent to Russia by God, and at just the right time.
“Let’s sit and remember together those years / When he wasn’t here, we had just fear / A nation in peril, a suffering people / And at this time, God sent him to us,” the song begins. It eventually breaks into a jubilant refrain:
VVP – he saved the country
VVP – he protects us
VVP – raised up Russia
And development just keeps on going.
One YouTube commentator called the apparent propaganda “so thick, it’s refined.” But Russian bloggers were quick to point out the song is so ridiculous, it could, in fact, be a play to discredit Putin, whose initials happen to be the Russian abbreviation for Gross Domestic Product. (The video was posted by YouTube user SergeiRaevskii, who appears to have no other YouTube activity, and went viral when opposition presidential candidate Aleksei Navalny called attention to it on his blog.)
The steady stream of comments reflects – at best – Russians’ ambivalence toward migrant workers. Some, however, suggest the singer is either a drug dealer or is somehow in Moscow illegally.
An Elbit Skylark, the model for Georgia's new drone?
Georgia is building its own drone aircraft, a leading member of parliament has told the Voice of America Georgian Service. The development of the drone has thus far been carried out in secret, but it may be unveiled at a military parade on May 26, Georgia's independence day.
The development of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is part of the explanation for why the Georgian government and Elbit, an Israeli defense manufacturer, had gone to court over what Elbit says was a breach of contract. That lawsuit was just settled about a month ago for $35 million. Givi Targamadze, the chair of the parliament's defense and security committee, told VOA that Georgia returned the drones it bought from Elbit.
"The fact is that Georgia started the production of drones. Accordingly, we do not need the apparatus of Israeli manufacture and can safely return the equipment back."
That is actually a translation of a Russian translation of the original VOA article, which is only in Georgian, so I hope nothing was lost. Anyway, that seems a strange way to do business, but we don't know the details of the contract and Elbit has declined to comment on this lawsuit, so we may never know.
There are no technical details on the drone, including what its mission (surveillance? attack?) might be, or even its name. VOA quotes an expert, George Antadze, saying that there are several variants:
I have all the information available to the Georgian side has already completed work on the unmanned aircraft, there are working prototypes of these devices, the issue is not only one type, but several different types of unmanned aircraft.
Warnings of possible bloodshed are coming from the politically discombobulated territory of South Ossetia as opposition leader Alla Jioyeva gets ready to inaugurate herself on February 10 as the region’s de-facto president and ignore plans to hold a repeat (de-facto) presidential election.
Describing Caucasians as "a hot-headed people," ex de-facto Defense Minister Anatoly Barankevich, a Jioyeva ally, warned that the inauguration “could lead to a civil war," an event "that will affect the entire Caucasus and even Russia," Kavkazsky Uzel reports.
But, so far, Jioyeva, who has the ice-cold determination to become South Ossetia's de-facto leader, in keeping with the apparent results of a 2011 run-off (de-facto) election, is not to be swayed. She says that the inauguration will take place with or without the interim de-facto government’s support. The de-facto government , for its part, wants to hold a third run-off presidential election on March 25.
The only international effort to defuse the tensions has come from Moscow, which recognizes the territory as a state independent from Georgia, but, with two competing centers of power now in South Ossetia, it's hard to argue that Russia's self-promoted skills as a crisis manager have amounted to much.
Are children better off at school or in the streets serving as props on a national holiday?
Some 10,000 schoolchildren and university students will march in Tajikistan’s capital on March 21 to celebrate the traditional Persian New Year, Novruz, Dushanbe’s Asia-Plus news agency reports.
Practice sessions will be held outside of school hours, said the head of the city’s education department. The Education Ministry says rehearsals started this week, six weeks before the festivities.
What do parents think? Judging from the dozens of comments on Asia-Plus, many aren’t convinced preparations will remain strictly after-school activities. Nor are they so keen on seeing their children turned into living propaganda machines. And a lot of parents would rather the state spend more on education, the quality of which is abysmal, and less on parties. Almost 20,000 students participated in independence festivities last September, according to the article.
It’s long been custom in the former Soviet Union to make schoolchildren perform for the good and glory of the state. Whether it’s cotton that needs picking, litter that needs gathering, or flags that need waving, schoolchildren are an army of free labor at the government’s disposal.
Georgia's prospects in NATO, after being more or less left for dead in the wake of the 2008 war with Russia, have lately appeared to be improving. NATO has recently changed its rhetoric on Georgia, for the first time calling it an "aspirant" along with several Balkan countries. And U.S. officials have said Georgia is making "significant progress" that should be recognized at the next NATO summit, in Chicago in May.
So what does this mean? Does Georgia have a shot at NATO membership after all? As a story on EurasiaNet's main page today explains, not really: President Obama, after his meeting with his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili, used the word "ultimately" to describe Georgia's entrance into NATO, which suggests he doesn't see it happening any time soon. And even if the White House were to again back Georgian NATO membership as strongly as the Bush administration did pre-August 2008, there would still be the matter of the big Western European countries who oppose Georgia's membership. So what to do?
The defense official quoted in the EurasiaNet piece had more thoughts on this (though there wasn't room in that piece). A Membership Action Plan, the holy grail for Georgia, is not a possibility. That subject won't even be discussed at the summit: remember, this will be in May of an election year. "It's about U.S. internal politics, so this summit needs to look good. We don't need a food fight like in '08, between us and the Germans, or the pro-Georgia camp vs. the camp that's not too keen on Georgia. We don't need that. So the whole Georgia issue isn't going to be raised," the official said.
It looks like China is growing jittery about Iran’s standoff with the West. Specifically, Beijing is wondering about how it might impact access to Central Asian energy.
In a recent article in the Moskovskiye Novosti weekly, Russian political analyst Arkadiy Dubnov suggests that Beijing is especially worried about the fate of $8 billion in soft loans to Turkmenistan that are designed to expand natural-gas exports to energy-hungry China.
The United States and European Union have taken steps in recent weeks to tighten sanctions against Iran in an attempt to coerce Tehran into being more open on its nuclear program. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, speaking during Friday prayers in Tehran on February 3, pledged that Iran would retaliate against what he described as Western “threats of war.” Khamenei also ratcheted up tension with Israel, asserting that Iran would “support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world.”
The West’s determination to press ahead with its embargo strategy, combined with Iran’s militant defiance, seems to raise the chances of some sort of armed clash occurring, one that could have serious ramifications for global energy supplies.
The prospect of a disruption of energy imports, of course, makes China very nervous. As it seeks to cut reliance on coal to generate power, China’s natural gas import needs are projected to triple over the next decade, according to some estimates.
With performers from all over Europe getting ready to descend on Baku in May to compete for the best pop act of the year at Eurovision, conservative, tightly managed Azerbaijan is confronting a host of its cultural and political demons.
Money is not an issue here. The hydrocarbon-rich country is splurging big bucks to dazzle viewers with a show worthy of Eurovision, an annual exercise in glitz and disco beats. But the contest will bring along demographics that are not particularly popular in Baku -- journalists, Armenians and gays.
Since the contest is known to have a strong gay fan base, some thought it is a perfect occasion to hold a gay pride march. The proposal immediately sparked an angry response. Opponents demanded that Baku keep its streets straight with a “Say No to Gay Pride in Baku” Facebook page, where the merits and demerits of homosexuality are being hotly debated.
Interestingly enough, the head of one organization that deals with LGBT issues in Azerbaijan is also not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of a gay pride march. “Neither our community, nor [the] majority of representatives of sexual minorities are ready for it,” commented Kamran Rzayev, chairperson of the Gender and Development non-profit group, told News.az.
Kyrgyzstan's opposition politicians are outraged. Late last year hundreds of tons of coal with higher than normal levels of radioactivity found their way from a mine in Kazakhstan to the electricity and heating plant in Bishkek. When the media and public demanded the coal be removed from the city, it was reportedly transferred to the boiler rooms of 14 schools, a kindergarten and an orphanage.
The opposition politicos have seized the story, bellowing that generations of children will be contaminated. They propose theories that are impossible to verify, and offer all sorts of unsubstantiated statistics on how radioactive the coal is. According to the Emergencies Situations Ministry, the coal is emitting background radiation three to five times higher than normal.
Is the coal dangerous? Possibly. But considering Kyrgyzstan’s legacy of mismanaging radioactive waste, the arguments ring a little hollow.
In former Soviet uranium mining towns dotting mountainous Kyrgyzstan, impoverished families live with the threat of radioactive contamination every day, for their whole lives, and experience more associated illnesses than people living in other areas.