Thursday, December 27, 2007

RIP: Benazir Bhutto

It is unfortunate that the 2007 holidays will be remembered for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Memory Eternal.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Progress at Bushehr

December 17, 2007: Russia has made its first shipment of nuclear fuel to the Iranian nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr.

Iran contends its plant is strictly for civilian purposes, but the project concerns the United States and contend that the plant could be used to build nuclear weapons.

The American position was weakened earlier this month with the release of a new U.S. intelligence report that concluded Iran had halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 and had not resumed it through at least the middle of this year.

Even though Russia has opposed the imposition of further sanctions on Iran, it also repeatedly has urged Tehran to cooperate with efforts to resolve concerns over the nuclear program.

Last week, officials at Atomstroyexport, the Russian contractor for Bushehr, raised the prospect of creating a Russian-Iranian joint venture that would provide greater security at the facility.
This could be an indication that Russia wants to ensure that enriched uranium at the plant is not stolen or diverted. Depleted fuel rods also could be reprocessed into plutonium.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Kasparov: Checkmate?

Garry Kasparov, Putin critic and former world chess champion will not run in Russia's March 2008 presidential elections.

Kasparov was jailed for five days after a rally in Moscow last month.

After the Russian Parliamentary elections held in December 2007, President Vladimir Putin said that he supported Dimitri Medvedev to become Russia's next president.

Medvedev reciprocated, asking that Putin be his prime minister.

As Prime Minister, Putin would retain substantial power without violating or changing the constitution, which prohibits presidents from serving more than two consecutive terms.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Prime Minister Putin?

Dmitrii Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin’s designated successor, called for Putin to become prime minister after the March 2 election.

The Russian Constitution prohibits Putin for running for a third consecutive term, but Putin clearly wants to retain a powerful role once he steps down.

Medvedev's proposal provides such a role, especially if the constitution were amended to increase the prime minister's powers.

This is well within the realm of possibility as the pro-Putin faction in the newly elected Duma has enough votes to amend the Constitution.

Medvedev's support for Putin's policies and his proposal that he become prime minister caused some to ask whether he would be a genuinely independent president or essentially a figurehead, doing Putin's bidding.

Both Medvedev and Putin worked under St. Petersburg's Mayor Anatolii Sobchak in the early 1990s. After Putin became prime minister in 1999, he summoned Medvedev to Moscow to become deputy chief of staff of the Cabinet. He was appointed to head the board of state natural gas giant Gazprom in 2002 and became full presidential chief of staff in 2003.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Russian Position on NATO

Russia will not increase its military presence along its western border as long as NATO refrains from a military buildup.

Russia said that in mid-December of 2007 it will stop its obligations under a key European treaty limiting the deployment of tanks, aircraft and other heavy weapons.

Officials said they did so not as a threat, but to persuade NATO nations to ratify a 1999 update of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe treaty that is more acceptable to Moscow.

Russia says the 1990 treaty has become hopelessly out of date as Europe's geopolitical boundaries have shifted following the collapse of communism. They claim that since several former Warsaw Pact members have joined NATO, deployments in western Russia have been restricted.

Moscow has repeatedly expressed concern over NATO's eastward expansion and deployments close to Russia, particularly U.S. plans for missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russian Parliamentary Election: Final Results

Here are the final results of the Russian election (name of party, percentage of vote, number of seats):

United Russia 64.1 315

Communist Party of the Russian Federation 11.6 57
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia 8.2 40
Fair Russia 7.8 38

Agrarian Party of Russia 2.3 0
Russian Democratic Party "Yabloko" 1.6 0
Civilian Power 1.1 0
Union of Right Forces 1.0 0

Patriots of Russia 0.9 0
Russian Social Justice Party 0.2 0
Democratic Party of Russia 0.1 0
Invalid ballot papers 0.1 –
Total 100 450

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Russian Parliamentary Election: Preliminary Results

December 2, 2007: An exit poll showed that President Vladimir Putin's United Russia (Единая Россия: Edinaya Rossiya) party was winning with 61 percent of the vote in today's parliamentary election.

Russia's liberal, pro-Western parties are not expected to obtain the seven percent minimum required for representation in the Duma.

It is likely that pro-Kremlin parties would have enough seats in parliament to change the constitution.

The West's main election monitoring body, the ODIHR, did not monitor the election, claiming visas had not been issued in time, a claim refuted by Russian officials.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Russian Parliamentary Election: December 2nd, 2007

Legislative elections will be held in the Russian Federation on December 2, 2007. All of the 450 seats in the State Duma (Gosudarstvennaya Duma), the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia will be chosen.

On October 1, 2007, Putin announced he would run in first place on the United Russia (Единая Россия: Edinaya Rossiya) list and that he might consider becoming Prime Minister after the elections.

United Russia is the
largest and most popular party in Russia.

Other pro-Kremlin parties einclude the new Fair Russia party led by Sergei Mironov and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, which have also been favorable towards President Putin's policies.

The largest opposition party is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The liberal democratic opposition is to be represented by the free-market Union of Right Forces, the more socially minded Yabloko, and Civilian Power representing right liberal ideology.

Chechnya will hold a constitutional referendum on the same date.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Iran: Accusers, Supporters, and Leaders

U.S. officials have accused Iran of many things: Developing nuclear weapons. Sponsoring terrorism. Killing Americans in Iraq. Planning Israel's destruction.

Does the U.S. have evidence?

In the buildup to the Iraq war, the Bush administration made allegations against Saddam Hussein. Polls showed that Americans believed these allegations, which were later shown to be wrong.

The United States and Iran have been enemies since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, a time of mullahs returning from exile, demonstrating students, and American hostages.

For almost two decades, Iran pursued a secret nuclear program.

Iran claims its program is for civilian power generation only. The U.S. says it is for a bomb.

Many other countries agree that Iran's actions to date, such as its enrichment of uranium and its continued secrecy suggest it has seeks to develop nuclear weapons. Other nations, including Russia and China, urge Iran to be more open, and call for compromises on all sides.

A new national intelligence estimate, originally due last spring, was delayed by the need to evaluate new information, the U.S. national intelligence director, Mike McConnell, said recently. But most analysts say that new information is mostly just Iran's political developments and recent U.N. findings on enrichment, already public.

Very little is known about Iran would do with a bomb, if it had one.

Most countries develop nuclear weapons as a way to gain regional power and influence, as was the case with India and Pakistan.

The real power in Iran is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's top religious and political authority whose views remain shrouded in mystery. He has backed Ahmadinejad and is deeply conservative.

There are numerous signs Iranians dislike their current government. Iran's young, well‑educated population objects to many aspects of the current authoritarian regime. The country has an inefficient economy, exacerbated by Ahmadinejad's blunders.

Khamenei lacks the stern, spellbinding charisma that bound the first revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, so strongly to his people.

Kasparov Arrested and Sentenced

On November 24, 2007, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov was arrested and sentenced to five days in prison after he helped lead a protest against President Vladimir Putin.

Kasparov is one of President Vladimir Putin's harshest critics. He was charged with organizing a demonstration without permission, chanting anti-government slogans, and resisting arrest, court documents said.

There is growing concern in the West over the state of democracy in Russia. Western critics claim that Putin is restricting freedom. Putin accuses the West of meddling in Russian politics.

Kasparov and dozens of other demonstrators were detained after the rally which drew several thousand people.

Kasparov's coalition includes radicals, democrats and Soviet-era dissidents. It has attracted significant media coverage but generated little public support.

Robert Kocharyan

Robert Sedraki Kocharyan is the second president of the third republic of Armenia.

Kocharyan was born in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh on August 31, 1954.

Kocharyan was drawn to politics after joining a movement to cede Nagorno‑Karabakh from the Azerbaijan SSR to the Armenian SSR. His influential political style helped him rise through the ranks of Soviet politics and by 1989, he emerged as a deputy of Armenia's Supreme Soviet.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict escalated into a full scale war. In August 1992, Kocharyan became Chairman of the State Defense Committee of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). On May 12, a ceasefire was proclaimed. Kocharyan was elected NKR's first President on December 24 by the decision of the NKR Supreme Soviet.

On March 20, 1997, Kocharyan left his post as President of the NKR when he was appointed Prime Minister of Armenia. In February 1998, Armenian President Levon Ter Petrossian was forced to step down due to his support of concessions to Azerbaijan in the resolution of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. These concessions were not popular with Armenians, who viewed them as detrimental their security.

After Ter Petrossian's resignation, Kocharyan was elected Armenia's second President on March 30, 1998.

As President, Kocharyan continued to work for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Nagorno‑Karabakh with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Russia and China -v- US and EU Over Iranian Nuclear Program

On November 23, 2007 Iran stated Western nations’ efforts to impose seeking harsher U.N. sanctions against it could halt its steps to clarify nuclear activity to U.N. inspectors.

Earlier in the week, U.N. nuclear watchdog stated that believed that Iran was making good progress towards resolving key objectives by the end of the year, only to be told not enough had been done to secure the trust of the West.

The Western accusation against Iran it is secretly trying to build atomic bombs.
Iran's clarifications on centrifuge research were consistent with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) intelligence.

Iran also continued to defy demands by the United Nations Security Council to suspend enrichment work.

The so-called "EU-3 Powers" of Britain, France and Germany told IAEA governors that further delays were not acceptable.

They and the United States said Iran had failed to show full disclosure and suspend enrichment gain a reprieve from further sanctions.
Russia and China did not join the Western camp in supporting further Security Council action. Russia, moreover, has referred to Iran’s cooperation so far as having been constructive.

The two key issues involve traces of highly enriched -- or bomb-grade -- uranium that inspectors found at research sites, and intelligence on links between uranium processing, explosives tests, and an apparent design for a missile warhead.

Putin: Demands Of and Threats Against

Marina Litvinenko, widow of Alexander Litvinenko, is seeking a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that the Russian state was complicit in poisoning the former security agent with radioactive polonium.

Louise Christian, Litvinenko’s lawyer claimed she had obtained expert evidence that the polonium had come from Russia's Avangard plant, a state facility surrounded by tight security.

The former KGB security officer became a Kremlin critic in exile, and was poisoned by polonium slipped to him in a cup of tea. He spent three weeks dying in agony in London.

Britain wants to prosecute another ex-KGB man, Andrei Lugovoi, for the murder. Russia strongly denies state involvement in the killing and refuses to hand over Lugovoi because its constitution bars it from extraditing its own nationals.

Exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovskii, a friend of Litvinenko and Kremlin opponent whom Russia has tried unsuccessfully to extradite from Britain has stated that he believes British authorities know the source of the polonium.

Berezovskii said Putin had violated the constitution and therefore his ouster was legitimate and forecasts a possible uprising like Ukraine's Orange Revolution between elections in December and March.

He said such an uprising could come after parliamentary elections on December 2 and before presidential polls three months later.

Democratic movements staged the Orange Revolution in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine in 2004, a popular uprising that brought pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Berezovskii, who faces a number of charges in Russia, was a key Kremlin insider in the 1990s, but left Russia after coming into conflict with Putin and was granted political asylum in Britain in 2003.

Ukrainian Government Resigns

On November 23, 2007 Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych presented his government's resignation at the first session of a new parliament on Friday, in the aftermath of the September elections.

Yanukovych's declaration, as required by the Ukrainian constitution, came after the swearing in of all 450 new parliamentary deputies. Earlier, Yanukovych expressed hope that his Party of Regions would be included in a new governing coalition.

Analysts say an "orange" coalition of President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine-Self Defence party and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc will most likely be the result.

Ukraine held elections at the end of September in an effort to resolve months of dispute between the pro-Western Yushchenko, and the more pro-Russian Yanukovych.
Yushchenko has called for the Party of Regions to be included in the new government.

OSCE: No Monitors for Russian Election

Vladimir Churov, head of the Russian Central Election Commission is not disappointed with the the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE ODIHR) not to send observers to the upcoming Russian Parliamentary elections.

Churov said that the appropriate invitations had been made in time, and that the decision was most likely political in nature.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

US "Thanksgiving Proposal" to Russia: Missiles, Treaties, and Troops

On the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, the United States submitted a proposal to Russia for cooperation on missile defense in eastern Europe against a supposed threat from Iran.

The U.S. also submitted a proposal to Russia that would hopefully prevent Russia’s withdrawal from a key European arms control treaty.

Officials on both sides have declined to release copies of the documents. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to discuss them early next week in advance of Middle Eastern peace talks.

The documents describe U.S. plans to develop a radar system in the Czech Republic and to deploy missile interceptors in Poland, and also address Russia’s plans to suspend participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE).

The U.S. claims that the missile defense system would counter the threat of Iranian missiles that could be aimed at Europe or U.S. territory. Russia, on the other hand, contends the U.S.-proposed system also could be used against Russian missiles, which would make it a threat to its nuclear deterrence.

A key component of the missile system proposal is a delay in the activation of the U.S. missile interceptors until it can be shown that Iranian ballistic missiles pose a threat to Europe.

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the sharing of a Russian-leased early warning radar in Azerbaijan with the United States.
The proposal for delaying the activation of the interceptors has apparently been favorably received by Russian negotiators who also insist that the offer include a binding treaty that would detail specific terms for activation. The United States would likely object to such a demand.

The CFE imposes limits on the deployment of tanks, aircraft and heavy conventional weapons across Europe. Negotiators agreed to revise the treaty in 1999, but the United States and other NATO members have not ratified it.
The U.S. position is that Russia must fulfill obligations to withdraw forces from Georgia and from Moldova's separatist Trans-Dniester region before the CFE issue can be addressed. Russia insists that there should be no such link.

Putin Decries Western Meddling in Russian Elections

Russian President Vladimir Putin attacked opponents and has accused the West of meddling in Russian politics.

Putin's attack on his opponents came as he seeks to secure a high turnout and strong support for the United Russia (Ednaya Rossiya) party.

Many see this as a way for Putin to retain power after the March 2008 presidential election.
Putin’s statements appeared to refer to opposition rallies planned for the coming weekend in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

He did not name specific nations or political parties, but offered a general criticism of his liberal, pro-business and Communist opponents, calling to mind the economic and political uncertainty that plagued Russia before and after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union as well the revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia that led to the installation of pro-Western regimes.

A clear victory for the United Russia party would give Putin a popular mandate and a loyal parliament to limit his succesor's influence and possibly lay the groundwork for his return to the presidency in 2012 or sooner.

This week’s stadium rally was a mixture of a soccer game and a Soviet-style rally.

Many of Putin’s supporters have demanded constitutional changes that would permit him to stay on as president. He has promised to step down as the constitution currently required, but has also indicated he will seek to retain influence and has not eliminated the possibility of presidential bid in 2012.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Iran + Russia + Venezuela = Dissent at OPEC Summit

On November 18, 2007, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have expressed interest in converting their cash reserves into a currency other than the rapidly depreciating U.S. dollar.

The meeting was held in the Saudi capital Riyadh, with heads of states and delegates from 13 of the world's biggest oil-producing nations, was the third full OPEC summit since the organization was created in 1960.

Ahmadinejad's comments at the rare OPEC summit meeting also highlighted the growing challenge that Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, faces from Iran and its ally Venezuela within OPEC.

Oil is priced in U.S. dollars on the world market, and the currency's depreciation is a significant source of concern to oil produces as it has played a role in the increase in crude prices and the decrease in the value of their dollar reserves.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah had tried make the environmental impact of the oil industry on the environment the topic of the summit, but faced continual interference from both Iran and Venezuela.

Iran and Venezuela proposed trading oil in a basket of currencies to replace the historic link to the dollar, but they had not been able to generate support from enough fellow OPEC members. Many OPEC members, such as Saudi Arabia, are U.S. allies.

Both Iran and Venezuela are currently at odds with the U.S., and their proposal may have political, as well as economic motivations. Iran is in a dispute with Washington over its nuclear program, and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is an open critic of U.S. President George Bush. U.S. sanctions on Iran have made it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the country to do business in dollars.

A day earlier, Saudi Arabia opposed a move by Iran on Friday to have OPEC include concerns over the falling dollar included in the summit's closing statement after the weekend meeting. Saudi Arabia's foreign minister even warned that even talking publicly about the currency's decline could further hurt its value.
But by Sunday, it appeared that Saudi Arabia had compromised.

Though the final declaration delivered Sunday did not specifically mention concern over the weak dollar, the organization directed its finance ministers to study the issue.
Iran went a step further and said OPEC will form a committee to study the dollar's impact on oil prices and investigate the ramifications of a currency basket.

Algeria's Oil Minister, Chakib Khelil, said he would urge Russia, the second-biggest oil supplier, to join OPEC when he became president of the organization.

Russia attends OPEC meetings as an observer nation.

Khelil will become OPEC president on January 1, 2008.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Над Бабьим Яром памятников нет

Babii Yar is a ravine in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. In the course of two days, September 29—30, 1941, German Nazis, aided by their collaborators murdered 33,771 Jewish civilians. The Babii Yar massacre is considered to be the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust.

Dmitrii Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor (Op. 113, subtitled Babii Yar) first performed in Moscow on December 18, 1962 by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra and the basses of the Republican State and Gnessin Institute Choirs, under Kirill Kondrashin. The soloist was Vitali Gromadsky.

The work sets poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko that concerned the World War II Babii Yar massacre and other topics.

The first poem, Babii Yar, criticises Soviet anti-Semitism.

The second, "Humour", describes humor as a mischievous rascal who constantly eludes censorship.

The third, "In the Store", glorifies the women of the Soviet Union, always tired from standing in long lines at the store, often in bitter cold.

The fourth, "Fears", recalls the pervasive atmosphere of dread during the Stalin era.

The fifth final poem, "A Career", is a celebration of Galileo's refusal to recant his discoveries about the nature of the heavens, even when faced with the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition.

The symphony was completed during a thaw in Soviet censorship, but even so Nikita Khrushchev criticised it before the premiere, and threatened to stop its performance. The premiere went ahead, but afterwards Yevtushenko was forced to change his poem, replacing a stanza declaring in part "I am every old man shot dead here, I am every child shot dead here" with a stanza mourning the ethnic Russians and Ukrainians that died alongside the Jews at Babii Yar. Thereafter the work was infrequently performed until more recently.

Shostakovich originally intended the first movement to stand by itself, but ideas kept coming to him and he had to expand the work into its current symphonic form.

Latvian Language and Citizenship

Latvia’s current citizenship law was enacted in 1998 after pressure from and debate with both Russia and the European Union. Latvian citizens are defined as those persons who had Latvian citizenship prior to June 17, 1940, and their descendants.

Those who settled in Latvia during the Soviet period can obtain Latvian citizenship via naturalization.
Naturalization criteria include a conversational knowledge of Latvian, an oath of loyalty, renunciation of former citizenship, a 5-year residency requirement, and a knowledge of the Latvian constitution.

Latvia allows those who were forced to leave Latvia for political reasons and who adopted another citizenship while away from Latvia to hold dual citizenship. The deadline for filing a claim for citizenship under these circumstances was July 1, 1995.

Latvian is the sole state language in Latvia, and it is inextricably tied to Latvia’s strong oral tradition, which includes over a million folksongs.

Several factions have requested official status for Russian (the mother tongue for 37,5 % of inhabitants, according to 2000 census).
Since 1999, Latvia’s education law forbids public universities from using languages other than Latvian for instruction (there are made exclusions for linguistics, some international projects and nonprofit groups).

The law originally included a provision mandating Latvian as the sole language of instruction in high schools. After protests in 2003 and 2004, this law was changed so that Latvian is only required for 60% of instruction.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Waiting in Warsaw

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has claimed that it will not be able to monitor the Russian Parliamentary elections in December 2007 because Russia did not grant visas in time.

Vladimir Churov, Russia's top election official, denied that the visas been refused and said they were waiting in Warsaw at the headquarters of the election monitoring office, the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

All 56 OSCE member countries, including Russia, have agreed to invite observers to monitor their elections. The organization then decides whether to send observers based on scheduling and need.

In a meeting before the OSCE's announcement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed the need for discussions on Russian-backed proposals that would place new restrictions on election observer missions.

OSCE observers described Russia's last parliamentary elections in 2003 as a step backward for democracy, saying the state had used the media and other levers to favor the main Kremlin-backed party.

In another sign of its defiance of the West, Russia’s upper house of parliament has voted to suspend participation in a key European arms control treaty.

President Putin had called for Russia's temporary withdrawal from the treaty amid mounting anger in the Kremlin over U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin’s counterproposal called for placing the system in Azerbaijan.

Under the moratorium, Russia will halt inspections and verifications of its military sites by NATO countries and will no longer be obligated to limit the number of conventional weapons deployed west of the Urals.

Russia ratified the updated treaty in 2004, but the U.S. and other NATO members have refused to follow suit, saying Moscow first must fulfill obligations to withdraw forces from Georgia and from Moldova's separatist region of Trans-Dniester.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Politics in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan declared its independence from the former Soviet Union on August 30, 1991.

Ayaz Mutalibov, former First Secretary of the Azerbaijani Communist Party became the country's first President.

After a massacre of Azerbaijanis at Khojali in Nagorno‑Karabakh in March 1992, Mutalibov resigned and the country experienced a period of political instability.
Mutalibov returned to power in May 1992, but less than a week later his efforts to suspend scheduled presidential elections and ban all political activity prompted the opposition Popular Front Party (PFP) to organize a resistance movement and take power.

Among its reforms, the PFP dissolved the predominantly Communist Supreme Soviet and transferred its functions to the 50-member upper house of the legislature, the National Council.
Elections in June 1992 resulted in the election of PFP leader Abulfaz Elcibay as the country's second president.

The PFP-dominated government, however, proved unable to resolved the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh or managing the struggling Azerbaijani economy.
As a result, many PFP officials came to be perceived as corrupt and incompetent.

Growing discontent culminated in June 1993 in an armed insurrection in Ganja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city; rebels marched on the capital, Baku. President Elcibey fled to his native province of Nakhchivan, and died there in 2000.
The National Council conferred presidential powers upon its new Speaker, Heydar Aliyev, former First Secretary of the Azerbaijani Communist Party (1969-81) and later a member of the U.S.S.R. Politburo, the KGB, and USSR Deputy Prime Minister.

Azerbaijan's first Parliament was elected in 1995. The present 125-member unicameral Parliament was elected in November 2000. A majority of parliamentarians are from the President's "New Azerbaijan Party."

Aliyev was elected to a 5-year term as President in October with only token opposition. Aliyev won re-election to another 5-year term in 1998, in an election marred by serious irregularities. Azerbaijan has a strong presidential system in which the legislative and judicial branches have only limited independence. The Speaker of Parliament stood next in line to the President, but the constitution was changed at the end of 2002: now the premier is next in line.

In August, 2003, Ilham Aliyev, Heydar's son, was appointed as premier, though Artur Rasizade, who had been prime minister since 1996, continued to fulfill the duties of that office so that Aliyev could concentrate on his presidential election bid. In the October 2003 presidential elections, Aliyev was announced winner sworn in as president at the end of the month, and Rasizade became premier again.

Fission at the UN?

Iran has answered questions about its past nuclear activities posed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but the IAEA does not believe that Iran is being completely truthful.

The IAEA’s report warns that knowledge about Iran's current nuclear program is decreasing because Iran is currently providing less information than it had previously.

The report is expected to play a crucial role in determining whether the United Nations Security Council will impose more sanctions on Iran.

International powers may, once again, find themselves at an impasse.

The United States is likely to argue that the report validates concerns that Iran is covertly developing a nuclear weapon.

Russia, China and others will almost certainly contend that as long as Iran continues to respond to questions, tougher sanctions are premature.

The Bush administration agreed with other world powers in late September 2007 to hold off on new sanctions while IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei sought Iran's cooperation in clearing up the history of its nuclear program.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

United Russia's One Name: Putin

On November 13, 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that victory for his United Russia party in upcoming parliamentary elections would give him a moral mandate to lead Russia.

Putin said he intends to convert his current popularity into post-presidential clout after the December 2 legislative poll. This is a clear indication that he intends to remain in politics.

United Russia already holds two-thirds of seats in the State Duma and is forecast to score a crushing victory on December 2. The Communist Party is expected to come a distant second, while liberal parties once popular in the 1990s will probably win no seats at all.

Putin, who assumed power in 2000, is barred by the Russian Constitution from seeking a third consecutive term in March 2 presidential elections.

In what analysts say is probably a Kremlin-coordinated campaign, regional politicians and interest groups have multiplied their appeals begging Putin to stay in office.

Putin said United Russia, created almost overnight in July 2001 as a pro-Kremlin vehicle, was the best party available.

Under the Russian rules of proportional representation, each of the 11 parties contesting the December 2 election presents a list of candidates. The number of deputies from this list that gets seats in parliament depends on the party's share of the total vote.

Parties usually present a list with the leader and two more well-known names, followed by a list of candidates from specific regions. United Russia's federal list has only one name: Putin.

Since the rest of the vote would be divided up into smaller parties -- many of them failing to cross the minimum seven-percent barrier -- such a result would translate into an overwhelming majority of seats in the 450-member State Duma.

The lavishly funded United Russia is the only one of the 11 parties refusing to take part in television debates as part of the election run-up.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Black Sea Oil Spill: Ukraine's Yanukovich Intervenes for Environmentalists

On November 11, 2007, the Volgoneft-132, a small Russian tanker, broke up and spilled between 1,300 and 2,000 tons of oil.

The result is that Russia's Black Sea coast could face an ecological catastrophe.
Three seamen were drowned.

A search was under way for five others missing, though hopes of finding them alive were dwindling.

The spilled fuel oil coated birds in a thick black sludge along a vast expanse of coastline in the northern mouth of the Black Sea, near Russia's border with Ukraine.

Sunday’s storm sank the tanker and at least four freighters while crippling other vessels in the narrow Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and Azov Sea.

On Monday, rescuers found the bodies of three of the sailors missing since the storm. Helicopters and rescue vessels continued to search for the five seaman still missing, but with a new storm on its way later in the week, officials said hopes of finding them alive were dwindling.

Environmentalists, backed by Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, said the incident raised questions about safety standards for shipping in the region. This incident has the potential to exacerbate Russian-Ukrainian relations, which often become difficult as winter approaches.

Russian officials said the captains of several vessels had put to sea despite storm warnings. The tanker that was the source of the spill was built in the 1970s, and was not designed for heavy seas.
At Novorossiisk, Russia's No. 2 port for exports of oil and oil products, officials had ordered tankers not to dock because a new storm was on its way later in the week.

Yuliya Tymoshenko

Yuliya Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko is a Ukrainian politician, former Prime Minister of Ukraine, and the leader of the All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc.

Before becoming Ukraine's first female Prime Minister, Tymoshenko was one of the key leaders of the Orange Revolution.

Prior to her political career, Yuliya Tymoshenko was a successful but controversial businesswoman in the gas industry, which made her wealthy.

Tymoshenko is the daughter of Ludmila Nikolaevna Telegina and Vladimir Abramovich Grigyan She was born on November 27, 1960, in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine (then the Ukrainian SSR). In 1979, she married Oleksandr Tymoshenko, son of a mid-level Soviet communist party bureaucrat, and began rising through a number of positions under the Komsomol, the official Soviet Communist youth organization. She graduated from the Dnipropetrovsk State University with a degree in economics in 1984, and went on to gain a candidate’s degree (the equivalent of a Ph.D.) in economics. Since then, she has written about 50 papers.

From 1995 to 1997, Tymoshenko was the president of the United Energy Systems of Ukraine, a privately owned middleman company that became the main importer of Russian natural gas to Ukraine in 1996. During that time she was nicknamed "gas princess" in light of accusations that she has been reselling enormous quantities of stolen gas and avoiding taxation of those deals.

Tymoshenko moved into politics in 1996, and was elected to the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) from the Kirovohrad Oblast, winning a record 92.3% of the vote in her constituency. She was re-elected in 1998 and 2002. In 1998, she became the Chair of the Budget Committee of Verkhovna Rada.

From 1999 to 2001, Tymoshenko was the Deputy Prime Minister for fuel and energy sector in the cabinet of Viktor Yushchenko. She was fired by President Leonid Kuchma in January 2001 after developing a conflict with the oligarchs in the industry.

In February 2001, Tymoshenko was arrested on charges of forging customs documents and smuggling of gas between 1995 and 1997 (while president of United Energy Systems of Ukraine) but was released several weeks later. Her political supporters organized several protest rallies near the Lukyanivska Prison where she was held in custody. According to Tymoshenko, the charges were fabricated by Kuchma's regime, under the influence of oligarchs threatened by her efforts to root out corruption and institute market-based reforms. In spite of being cleared of the charges, Moscow maintained an arrest warrant for Tymoshenko should she enter Russia until her dismissal as Prime Minister over 4 years later.

Several months into her government, numerous inner conflicts inside the post‐Revolution coalition began to damage Tymoshenko's administration. On September 8, 2005, after the resignation of several senior officials including the Head of the Security and Defence Council Petro Poroshenko and Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko, Yuliya Tymoshenko's government was dismissed by President Viktor Yushchenko during a live TV address to the nation.

Tymoshenko wrote an article called "Containing Russia" in the May-June 2007 edition of the journal Foreign Affairs. In the article she sharply criticized alleged authoritarian developments under Vladimir Putin and opposed the alleged new Russian expansionism.

Following balloting in the 2007 parliamentary elections held on September 30, 2007, Orange Revolution parties said they had won enough votes to form a governing coalition. As of October 3, 2007, an almost final tally gave the alliance of Tymoshenko and President Yushchenko a slim lead over a rival party of Prime Minister Yanukovych. Although Yanukovych, whose party won the single biggest share of the vote, also claimed victory, one of his coalition allies, the Socialist Party of Ukraine, failed to gain enough votes to retain seats in Parliament.

Nonetheless, it is expected that the Tymoshenko Bloc and the Our Ukraine–People's Self-Defense Bloc, which is associated with President Yushchenko, will form a governing coalition. Both parties are affiliated with the Orange Revolution. On October 15, 2007, Our Ukraine–People's Self-Defense Bloc and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc agreed to form a majority coalition in the new parliament.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Suitcase Nukes?

Many government experts and intelligence officials say the threat of a miniature nuclear weapon, often referred to as a “suitcase nuke” gets much more attention than it deserves.

Counterproliferation authorities do not completely rule out the possibility that these portable devices once existed. But they are not convinced the threat is still there.

The idea of portable nuclear devices is not new.

During the 1960s, American intelligence agencies received reports from defectors that Soviet military intelligence officers were carrying portable nuclear devices in suitcases.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. made the first ones, known as the Special Atomic Demolition Munition. It was a "backpack nuke" that could be used to blow up dams, tunnels or bridges. While one person could lug it on his back, it had to be placed by a two-man team.

Some believe that the Soviets constructed similar devices.

General Aleksandr Lebed, who was also the Russian national security chief, said the separatist government in Chechnya had portable nuclear devices, which led him to create a commission to research the capabilities of the Chechen arsenal.

Even more details emerged in the summer of 1998, when former Russian military intelligence officer Stanislav Lunev — a defector now in the U.S. witness protection program — claimed that Russian agents were hiding suitcase nukes around the U.S. for use in a possible future conflict.

In a 2004 interview with the Russian Federal News Service, Colonel-General Viktor Yesin, the former head of the Russian strategic rocket troops, said he believed that Lebed may have been misled by mock-ups of special mines used during training.

Yesin believed that a true suitcase nuke would be too expensive for most countries to produce and would not last more than several months because the nuclear core would decompose quickly.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush asked Russian President Vladamir Putin whether he could account for all of Russia's nuclear material. Choosing his words carefully, Tenet said, Putin replied that he could only account for everything under his watch, leaving a void before 2000.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Ukrainian Party of Regions

The Ukrainian Party of Regions political party was created in March 2001.

It originally supported president Leonid Kuchma and joined the pro-government United Ukraine alliance during the parliamentary elections on 30 March 2002. The party's current leader is Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Its power base, both electoral and financial is located primarily in the east and south-east of Ukraine. In the Eastern Ukrainian Donetsk Oblast the party claims to have over 700,000 members.

The party shifted its political ideology to the left and became much more populist in nature before the Ukrainian presidential election, 2004 and, as a result, Yanukovych won over a large part of the Communist party's electorate in eastern Ukraine. The party announced support for making Russian a second official language in Ukraine, a pro-Russian foreign policy, and increased social spending. It also advocates the regionalist ideology, and many members support making Ukraine a federation.

The Party of Regions moved to opposition after its candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, lost the 2004 presidential election. The party leader first claimed an electoral victory but strong allegations of electoral fraud triggered a series of events commonly known as the Orange Revolution. In the re-run of the presidential election ordered by the country's Supreme Court, Viktor Yanukovych lost the election to Viktor Yushchenko.

In the parliamentary elections of 26 March 2006, the party gained 32,12% of votes and 186 (out of 450) seats in the Verkhovna Rada, forming the largest parliamentary group.

In mid-2007, the Ukrainian Republican Party and Labour Ukraine merged into the Party of Regions.

No Tranquility in Georgia

On November 8, 2007, troops occupied the center of the Georgian capital Tbilisi on to enforce a state of emergency imposed after a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Hundreds of Interior Ministry officers in khaki uniforms and armed with hard rubber truncheons patrolled Rustaveli Avenue, the site of the main protests by demonstrators calling for pro-US President Mikhail Saakashvili to resign.

Riot police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, and Saakashvili announced a 15 day nationwide state of emergency, in which news broadcasts on independent stations were halted and all demonstrations banned.

The American-educated Saakashvili, who is trying to shake off centuries of Russian influence and align the former Soviet republic with the West, has accused Moscow of instigating the protests and expelled three Russian diplomats.

Tensions with Russia have risen as Saakashvili has sought to establish central government control over two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that have run their own affairs with Russian support since wars in the early 1990s.

In a nearly 30-minute televised address, Saakashvili said he regretted the use of force, but argued that it was necessary to prevent the country from sliding into chaos.

The state of emergency must be approved by parliament within two days.

Many of Saakashvili's opponents support his aims, including closer ties with the United States and Europe.

But there has been increasing disillusionment among critics who say he has not moved fast enough to spread growing wealth. Opponents accuse him of sidestepping the rule of law, creating a system marked by violations of property rights, a muzzled media and political arrests.

Russia, which views most countries of the former Soviet Union as its sphere of influence, has deepened ties with the separatist regions and imposed a trade and transportation blockade on Georgia.

On May 10, 2005, while U.S. President George W. Bush was giving a speech in Tbilisi's Freedom Square, Vladimir Arutinian threw a live hand grenade at Saakashvili and Bush.

It landed in the crowd about 65 feet from the podium after hitting a girl, but it did not detonate. Arutinian was arrested in July of that year, but before his capture he killed one law enforcement agent. He was subsequently convicted of the attempted assassinations of Saakashvili and Bush, and given a life sentence.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Oil: Compulsion and Defiance

It is widely recognized that China and India have the potential to develop into economic superpowers in the 21st century. A key component of their growth is oil, which both nations are compelled to import.

This compulsion is not without its geopolitical costs, especially with oil prices at record highs. Iran and Venezuela, for example, can continue to enjoy more protection from outside political pressure as their oil revenues increase and non-oil producing nations find it necessary to come to terms with them.

In Russia, the lower house of Parliament voted unanimously in early November to suspend the country's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. This is yet another of Putin’s shows of defiance to the west. The higher demand for oil will lead to increased reliance by consuming countries like the U.S. and European allies on imports of oil and gas from the Middle East and Russia.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Iraqi Oil, Russian Ambitions and Influence

The Iraqi government has canceled a controversial development contract with the Russian company Lukoil for a vast oil field in Iraq's southern desert, freeing it up for potential international investment in the future.

Iraq’s decision was apparently made based on advice received from American advisors.

Russian authorities have retaliated by threatening to revoke a 2004 deal with creditor nations to forgive $13 billion in Iraqi debt.

The field at issue is West Qurna; its estimated reserves are 11 billion barrels, the equivalent of the worldwide proven oil reserves of Exxon Mobil. Hussain al-Shahristani, the Iraqi oil minister, said in an interview that the field would be opened to new bidders, perhaps as early as next year.

The contract, which had been signed and later canceled by Saddam Hussein’s government, had been in legal limbo since the American invasion. But the Kremlin remained hopeful it could be salvaged until this September, when al-Shahristani traveled to Moscow to inform officials there that the decision to cancel it was final, he said.

The Russian government, newly emboldened in international affairs by its expanding oil wealth, is still backing Lukoil's claim and protesting what it considers selective enforcement of contracts in Iraq.

West Qurna has the potential to produce 1 million barrels of oil a day after four to five years of development, according to both Iraqi oil officials and Lukoil.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Estonia's Electronic Election

On March 4, 2007 Estonia held an election to choose the members of the Riigikogu.

It was the world's first national elections where some of the ballots could be cast in the form of remote electronic voting via the Internet.

A total of 30,275 citizens (3.4% of the voting population) used Internet voting.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Another Move In The Iranian "Nuclear Game"

On November 1, 2007 the United States claimed that both Russia and China had been blocking tough U.N. sanctions against Iran.

China may not have sided with Russia, but it has certainly decided to participate in the Iranian "nuclear game" whose outcome will influence the remainder of the 21st century.

Nicholas Burns, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, said China and Russia had been stalling a new United Nations Security Council resolution since late March.

The five permanent powers on the Security Council (United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain) plus Germany will meet in London on Friday to weigh the scope for more sanctions.

Russia has argued that further sanctions could push Iran into a corner.

China urged a diplomatic solution to the issue, recognizing it had become difficult.

Iran has defied three Council resolutions, two with modest sanctions attached, since last year demanding it stop enriching uranium. Iran says it wants nuclear-generated electricity, but Western powers suspect a disguised bid to build atom bombs.

Tension over Iran's nuclear activities has helped catapult oil prices to record highs of over $90 a barrels in recent days.
Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested new bilateral U.S. sanctions would mainly hurt European Union countries doing business with Iran, which has vast oil and gas reserves.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day of Remembrance

On October 30, 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid his respects to millions of people killed under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and called for the country to unite to prevent a repeat of its tragic past.

Putin marked Russia's annual day of remembrance for the victims of Stalin's purges with a visit to Butovo, a military training ground near Moscow where tens of thousands of people were executed by firing squads.

The victims included priests and royalists but also huge numbers of people who were simply caught up in an indiscriminate spiral of killing.

This year Russia marks the 70th anniversary of the bloodiest period of the purges.
Putin attended a memorial service with Patriarch Alexiy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, after passing a field of mass graves.

It is estimated that between 20 million and 40 million died during Stalin's rule, tearing families apart and creating a climate of fear that haunted the Soviet Union.

Dozens of mainly older Russians laid flowers at a stone memorial outside the headquarters of the former KGB (now known as the Federal Security Service) to remember Stalin's victims.
Stalin, who succeeded Vladimir Lenin, started a series of purges in the 1930s that became known as the Great Terror.

The NKVD security service, the predecessor to the KGB, killed hundreds of thousands of people on trumped up charges.
Butovo was just one of hundreds of killing grounds. More than 20,000 people are known to have been executed there between August 1937 and October 1938 alone, though local priests say the figure could be as high as 60,000.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dancing With Missiles

In a joint declaration dated October 28, 2007, Russia and the United States urged all nations to destroy medium range missiles with nuclear capability.

The statement was released to coincide with the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on October 25.

Russia has been pressing the U.S to rewrite what is commonly referred to as the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), by including countries other than ex-Soviet nations and the United States.

The treaty, signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in December 1987, was a milestone in arms control which lead to the destruction of a total of 2,692 missiles.

The joint statement called for the destruction of ground launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km.

Earlier in the month, Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Russia would find it difficult to stay in the INF unless it was expanded to include other countries' armaments.

His comments were backed up by a warning from Russia's rocket forces commander on Friday that the Kremlin could resume production of missiles if others do not observe the treaty.

Countries such as India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan have commenced the construction of intermediate range missiles. Even though some, if not all, of these nations have nuclear capability, one of them is subject to the constraints of the INF treaty.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Petroleum World

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is America Using Iran In A Dangerous Game With Russia?

On October 25, 2007, the Bush administration announced sweeping new sanctions against Iran. These are the harshest since the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979 as part of the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini. America claims that Tehran supports terrorism in the Middle East, exports missiles and is engaging in a nuclear build up.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, joined at a State Department news conference by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, said the moves against Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, an element of its defense ministry and three of its largest banks are designed to punish Tehran for weapons proliferation and alleged support of terrorist organizations in Iraq and the Middle East.

The sanctions will cut off more than 20 Iranian entities, including individuals and companies owned or controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), from the American financial system and will likely have ripple effects throughout the international banking community.

State-owned banks Bank Melli, Bank Mellat and Bank Saderat were named supporters of global terrorist groups for their activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East.

Iran's Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics were designated proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile technology.

The IRGC is the largest component of Iran's military and has influence in business and other spheres. The defense ministry entity is the parent organization for Iran's aerospace and ballistic missile operations.

The Revolutionary Guards organization, formed to safeguard Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, has pushed well beyond its military roots, and now owns car factories and construction firms and operates newspaper groups and oil fields.

Current and former members now hold a growing role across the country's government and economy, sometimes openly and other times in shadows.

The guards have gained a particularly big role in the country's oil and gas industry in recent years, as the national oil company has signed several contracts with a guards-operated construction company. Some have been announced publicly, including a $2 billion deal in 2006 to develop part of the important Pars gas field.

Now numbering about 125,000 members, they report directly to the supreme leader and officially handle internal security. The small Quds Force wing is thought to operate overseas, having helped to create the militant Hezbollah group in 1982 in Lebanon and to arm Bosnian Muslims during the Balkan wars.

The administration accuses the Quds Force of sending fighters and deadly roadside bombs, mortars and rockets to kill American troops in Iraq in recent years — allegations that Iran denies.

These sanctions come in the wake of a strong show of support of Iran by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia and the US are at odds over a system to defend against Iranian missile attacks. The US wants the system based in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia wants it in Azerbaijan, and does not appear to be as convinced as the US as to why it is needed. Putin has also encouraged oil producing nations such as Iran to bolster their militaries against possible US aggression.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Putin Denies Iranian Missile Threat

On October 23, 2007, President Bush announced a missile defense system in based in Europe, but supervised by the United States, is urgently needed to counter an emerging threat of attack by Iran.

Bush's latest warning about Iran's nuclear ambitions came as part of a broad defense of his security policies at the National Defense University and not long after Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a news conference in the Czech Republic that the administration might delay activating the proposed missile defense sites until it is able to quantify the risk posed by Iranian missiles.

Bush's warning about Iran was contradicted by Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov during a visit to Tokyo. Lavrov supposedly told Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura that North Korea poses a threat, but that Iran does not.

Bush spoke somewhat positively of President Vladimir Putin's offer of facilities for this purpose in Azerbaijan and southern Russia. The idea would be to replace the U.S. plans for missiles based in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic.

The proposal has already been presented to the Russians, who strongly oppose having U.S. missile defense bases in Europe but have expressed interest in the proposal Gates mentioned Tuesday, which Gates said has yet to be worked out in detail. At a news conference after meeting Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Gates said in Prague that the United States would proceed with current plans to build the sites in Europe but possibly wait before putting them in working order. The United States wants to build a missile interceptor base in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic, but details have yet to be negotiated.

It is not known what role, if any, Alexandria, VA-based Rannoch would play in the deployment of this system. Some question Rannoch’s overall competence in this area, as the majority of their senior management team have backgrounds in commercial software systems purchased from other companies. Rannoch’s management team has been very active in the Czech Republic, and this activity may be connected to the deployment of this system.

A good deal of the disagreement between Washington and Moscow over missile defense in Europe has centered on the question of when Iran's missile program would reach the stage where it could threaten all of Europe and the United States. The Russians say that is a far-distant prospect; the Americans say it is coming soon.

Gates described a related proposal to the Russians that might mean permitting a Russian presence at U.S. missile defense bases, including at the Polish and Czech sites. He said this was presented to the Russians in the interest of making as transparent as possible to Moscow how the missile defense sites operate.

The Pentagon wants to install 10 interceptor rockets in Poland which, when linked to a proposed tracking radar in the Czech Republic and to other elements of the existing U.S. missile defense system based in the United States, could defend all of Europe against a long-range missile fired from the Middle East.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Kyrgyzstan Update

Kyrgyzstan’s President Kurmanbek Bakiyev dissolved parliament on October 22, 2007, moving to strengthen his control after voters overwhelmingly approved constitutional changes that his critics called a grab for power.

Bakiyev’s move was part of his latest battle with lawmakers, a dispute that has persisted in the Central Asian country of 5 million since a popular uprising ousted its longtime leader in 2005.

The confrontation has hindered efforts to reduce poverty and social problems in the strategically important country, which hosts a U.S. air base as well as a growing Russian military base.

Parliament passed two sets of constitutional changes last year curtailing the president's powers. But lawmakers reversed them a month later after Bakiyev threatened to dissolve the legislature, returning to the president the authority to form the Cabinet. There were no immediate signs, however, that Bakiyev's moves would bring opposition protesters into the streets, as during previous disputes.

The last major anti-government protest in the capital, Bishkek, took place in April, and it was forcibly dispersed.
The president's office called on law enforcement agencies Monday to ensure public calm. But in his address, Bakiyev said that no emergency measures would be put in place. Kyrgyzstan has been troubled by political tension since Askar Akayev was ousted from the presidency by opposition protesters in 2005 and fled to Russia.

It was claims of fraud in the election of the current parliament that sparked the protests that brought Bakiyev to power.
Since then, the former opposition forces that were instrumental in Akayev's removal have battled each other for influence. Former parliament Speaker Marat Sultanov said that, under the newly approved constitution, elections should be held around mid-December.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kyrgyzstan's "Tulip Revolution"

The Tulip Revolution refers to the overthrow of President Askar Akayev and his government in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan after the parliamentary elections of February 27 and of March 13, 2005.

The revolution sought the end of rule by Akayev and by his family and associates, who in popular opinion had become increasingly corrupt and authoritarian. Following the revolution, Akayev fled the country.

In the early stages of the revolution, the media variously referred to the unrest as the "Pink," "Lemon", "Silk", "Daffodil", or "Sandpaper" Revolution. But it was "Tulip Revolution," a term that Akayev himself used in a speech warning that no such Color Revolution should happen in Kyrgyzstan, which stuck in the end.

Such terms evoked similarities with the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, whose names are a tribute to the Czech/Slovak Velvet Revolution.

Kyrgyzstan held a presidential election on 10 July 2005. It saw a landslide victory for acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who had been serving as the head of an interim government after the collapse of the Akayev regime.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Russia Will Defend Its Oil

Russian President Vladimir Putin, responding to questions on a TV broadcast on October 18, 2007, continued his recent criticism of the United States.

Putin suggested that the U.S. military campaign in Iraq may have been attempt to seize its oil reserves. He said that resource rich countries such as Russia needed to have strong militaries to defend themselves against those who might try to steal their resources.

He also called for the U.S. to announce an exact date for the departure of troops from Iraq.

With respect to his own future, he said that Russia will have a different president next year. This would appear to lay to rest any notions that he would seek both a third term and constitutional crisis, but it was not clear what role he would play in Russia’s new government.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Warnings from the Caspian Summit

On October 16, 2007, Russian president Vladimir Putin met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and implicitly warned the U.S. not to use a former Soviet republic to stage an attack on Iran.

At a summit of the five nations that border the inland Caspian Sea (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan), Putin said none of the nations' territory should be used by any outside countries for use of military force against any nation in the region. It was am obvious reference to long-standing rumors that the U.S. has planned to use Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic, as a staging ground for any possible military action against Iran.

Putin, whose trip to Tehran is the first by a Kremlin leader since World War II, also warned that energy pipeline projects crossing the Caspian could only be implemented if all five nations that border the Caspian support them. The legal status of the Caspian — believed to contain the world's third-largest energy reserves — has been uncertain since the 1991 Soviet collapse, leading to tension and conflicting claims to seabed oil deposits. Iran, which shared the Caspian's resources with the Soviet Union, insists that each coastal nation receive an equal portion of the seabed. Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan want the division based on the length of each nation's shoreline, giving Iran a smaller share.

Putin's visit took place despite warnings of a possible assassination plot and amid hopes that personal diplomacy could help offer a solution to an international standoff on Iran's nuclear program. Putin's trip was thrown into doubt when the Kremlin said Sunday that he had been informed by Russian intelligence services that suicide attackers might try to kill him in Tehran, but he ignored the warning.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini dismissed reports about the purported assassination plot as disinformation spread by adversaries hoping to damage the good relations between Russia and Iran.

Putin has warned the U.S. and other nations against trying to coerce Iran into reining in its nuclear program and insists peaceful dialogue is the only way to deal with Iranian defiance of a U.N. Security Council demand that it suspend uranium enrichment.

Iran's rejection of the council's demand and its previous clandestine atomic work has fed suspicions in the U.S. and other countries that Tehran is working to enrich uranium to a purity usable in nuclear weapons. Iran insists it is only wants less enriched uranium to fuel nuclear reactors that would generate electricity. Putin's visit to Tehran is being closely watched for any possible shifts in Russia's carefully hedged stance in the nuclear standoff.

Even though Russia has shielded Tehran from a U.S. push for a third round of U.N. sanctions, Iran has voiced annoyance about Moscow's delays in building a nuclear power plant in the southern port of Bushehr under a $1 billion contract.

Moscow also has ignored Iranian demands to ship fuel for the plant, saying it would be delivered only six months before the Bushehr plant goes on line. The launch date has been delayed indefinitely amid the payment dispute. Any sign by Putin that Russia could quickly complete the power plant would embolden Iran and further cloud Russia's relations with the West.