November 25, 2008

By the way, part of the reason for the dearth of posts is that I'm also writing:

  • At Metblogs, about Berlin
  • At Eurozine, reviewing French journals for the fortnightly review, and doing occasional translations
  • At Livejournal where, as always, most posts are friends-locked

All that remain here are the dregs; the posts too dull, too long, too confused or too obscure to go elsewhere. Appealing, eh?

In cheerier news, I've finally got round to half-reviving the comments; I'm hoping OpenID will give me at least some hope of weeding out the spam.

November 24, 2008

Germany in Central Asia

I've not written - or read - much about Central Asia recently. But since I'm now living in Berlin, I can't help thinking about German policies there. And...I haven't yet figured it out. First some background. Later,

Germany is more concerned about Central Asia than is the rest of Europe. It used it's 2007 EU presidency to drive through a European policy towards Central Asia; official websites and documents talk up the region. The government has poured several hundred million Euros into Central Asia in aid and inter-government activities, and Berlin hosts more than a few gatherings of Central Asian politicians and professionals.

Nor is Berlin's interest in Central Asia entirely unexpected. The East German legacy means some ties with the rest of the former Soviet Union, especially since Stalin deported millions of Germans to Central Asia. Besides, German foreign policy has traditionally aimed to dominate countries to the East: Kazakhstan may be further afield than usual, but this is the era of globalization.

And yet, the media and public attention to this is almost non-existent. That's only to be expected, although the genuine goverment interest might give you slightly higher hopes. And it's a pity, because German Central Asia policy is substantially different from the policy of any other country, and it would be interesting to see it batted about a bit more in the public sphere.

October 4, 2007

Iran in Afghanistan

Barnett Rubin's take on Iran's activities in Afghanistan. Iran is a long-time supporter of the Northern Alliance and the Karzai government, so has been supporting the US (& followers)' efforts. With the escalation of US/Iranian confrontation, though, some Iranian leaders might sacrifice a friendly, stable Afghanistan in favour of harming the USA. That is, they might destabilise Afghanistan just to bog down the Americans. So the Bushies' ranting about Iran in Afghanistan may not be entirely wrong.

Incidentally, like 90% of the worthwhile videos on the internet, this would function perfectly well without any pictures. I may be turning into a radio partisan. [via Registan]

November 21, 2006

Hersh for the lazy

Seymour Hersh's latest piece on Iran isn't one of his greatest hits, but there are still some fascinating nuggets...

In the past six months, Israel and the United States have also been working together in support of a Kurdish resistance group known as the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan. The group has been conducting clandestine cross-border forays into Iran

Having this run as a military rather than a CIA operation apparently reduces the need for the US administration to report on it. But most of the article isn't about covert ops so much as it's about showing how crazy the people in power are:

many in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq.....They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq--like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.

um. Iran is at least somewhat democratic - imperfect, but certainly more appealing than a US puppet imposed by force. So here's another idea for saving Iraq:

The White House believes that if American troops stay in Iraq long enough-with enough troops-the bad guys will end up killing each other, and Iraqi citizens, fed up with internal strife, will come up with a solution.

In their defence, although the optimism is misplaced, getting the army out of Iraq's cities isn't a bad start. Back to Iran, and another example of the American tendency to exaggerate Sunni-Shia differences:

A nuclear-armed Iran would not only threaten Israel. It could trigger a strategic-arms race throughout the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt-all led by Sunni governments-would be compelled to take steps to defend themselves.

And finally, yet another reason why bombing Iran is a very stupid idea:

the C.I.A.'s assessment suggested that Iran might even see some benefits in a limited military strike-especially one that did not succeed in fully destroying its nuclear program in that an attack might enhance its position in the Islamic world.

November 16, 2006

Slamming just says "let's not fight"

When Radio Free Europe report that "Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze today slammed the Commonwealth of Independent States", they're missing the point slightly. The news isn't that Georgia dislikes the CIS (we know that already), but that they aren't doing anything about it. 'Slamming' is a de-escalation, not an escalation, compared to their other options.

If Georgia wanted to cause trouble, they would be trying to leave the CIS. That's what the opposition want, and what Russia is afraid of: this summit was due to be held last month, at the height of Georgian-Russian anger, but Russia arranged a postponement to avoid a rash pullout by Georgia.

Leaving the CIS is one of the few weapons Georgia has against Russia: the organisation represents the last vestige of Moscow's control over its 'near abroad', but is being held together with chewing gum and bits of string. To the East it's being eclipsed by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and to the West by GUAM. Since these can fulfil most of the functions of an international talking shop, nobody except Russia has an interest in keeping the CIS running. If Georgia left, it could plausibly bring down the whole house of cards.

But the Georgians are being smart. If they actially leave the CIS, they lose a barganing chip and don't gain much beyond the joy of watching Russia suffer. Much better to turn up, refuse to pay membership fees, grandstand about Russia's crimes, and keep that threat on the table:

"We are here to make sure once again if we have any reasons to stay in the organization, or it has no future," Burjanadze announced.

Along with the recent replacement of the Defence Minister, this seems to be part of a very sensible pattern of de-escalation by Georgia.

November 9, 2006

How Pakistan wins in Central Asia

Pakistan is quietly setting itself up to do very well out of Central Asia, slightly underneath the radar. Despite being a significant power it itself, militarily and population-wise, Pakistan's playing the typical game of the small state. It's piggybacking on the aspirations of China, America, and even India, being bankrolled and supported by them without ever quite becoming a client state.

China and the oil

China is famously desperate for oil, and Pakistan is doing well by helping it get at what's in Central Asia. At the core of this is Gwadar, a fishing village that Pakistan is furiously turning into a port and transport hub - funded by over $400m of Chinese money. It might be a grim place to visit, but it's also the site of a fascinating convergence of superpowers.

Remember the oil pipeline through Afghanistan - the one some people claimed was behind the US invasion of Afghanistan? That was going to end up in Gwadar - and still will, if it ever goes ahead. It might end up being extended at both ends, to Azerbaijan and India, with Pakistan sitting happily in the middle taking transit fees. If that pipeline doesn't come off (building anything through Afghanistan seems pretty dubious), there's another one waiting in the wings: the Iran-Pakistan-India gas route - which would again go through Gwadar.

China has been considering building another pipeline on from Gwadar into China - and even if that doesn't happen, they'll be able to ship oil out by sea. Meanwhile the Chinese are building one railway to connect Gwadar to the Karakoram Highway, have already built a road linking it to Karachi, and are looking at linking it to Iran.

So, China gets a little more energy security, Pakistan gets road, railways, a new port, earnings from transit fees, and Chinese interest in keeping Pakistan stable.

America and the Taliban

Then there's America - an even clearer case of Pakistan selling off its foreign policy, but getting a good proce for it. In September 2001 Musharraf managed to spin Pakistan's foreign policy 180 degrees, abandon the Taliban, and let the American army use Pakistan to invade Afghanistan. And boy, were they rewarded - with money, with weapons, with a trade deal and with general support for the regime.


Pakistan can't use quite the same approach to dealing with its greatest enemy - but even here there are pragmatic elements. It's just that here Pakistan's deal-makers are competing with the populists and the nationalists, and they only come out on top some of the time.

Let's take the populists first. India-bashing always goes down well, and if there's an election coming up the politicians will say some nasty things about India. But this isn't all that important: sometimes politicians get boxed in by their rhetoric and forced to do something, sometimes talking tough affects the situation by itself - but in general, the grandstanding doesn't amount to much.

More important is the body of nationalistic, paranoid, anti-Indian opinion which dominates Pakistans army and intelligence services. These are the people who got Pakistan involved in supporting the Taliban to provide 'Strategic Depth' - that is, having friendly space for Pakistan's army to regroup in the face of an attack from India, and avoiding India and her allies encircling Pakistan. These people get nervous when they see India stationing a dozen MiG-29 fighter planes in Tajikistan

But then there's the third group, who want to cut the same kind of deal with India as they've made with China and the US. That is, let India use Pakistan as a route to Central Asia (and Iran, in this case), and on the back of that get money and an Indian interest in keeping Pakistan stable. The big avenue for this is a proposed gas pipeline running from Iran to India, through Pakistan. From that idea, it's only a short step to getting India a share of what comes off any pipeline between Turkmenistan and Pakistan. When gas is involved, even the arch-enemy can be turned into a friend.

Keeping everybody happy

It's not easy keeping three superpowers in bed together, but Pakistan is navigating through the straits pretty well. The US didn't like the look of China's involvement in Gwadar - they saw it as a listening post and a way for China to project naval power into the Arabian sea. So they leant on Pakistan to push China out of the deal. What did Pakistan do? They raised the price of Chinese involvement, demanding $1.5bn per year from Beijing. So Islamabad turns a conflict into a win: either China coughs up and they're in the money, or they back out and the US takes over Gwadar (which they'd find useful for browbeating Iran and for supplying trops in Iraq) When Pakistan chooses to defy the superpowers, it can, because every power involved has an interest in propping up the Musharraf government. Most obviously, the US is still relying on their support in the War on Terror. But nobody wants to see a nuclear power in civil war, and both China and (especially) India know that a disintegrating Pakistan is infinitely worse than a stable Pakistan.

Going it alone?

Apart from being everybody's accomplice, is Pakistan getting involved in Central Asia? Well, they've tried a little, but not enough for anybody to care much. According to RAND:

In the early 1990s, many Pakistani firms and the Bank of Pakistan moved into the region expecting rapid liberalization and acceptance of their services. After attempting to conduct business in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for several years, many firms re-sorted to looking for an exit strategy.1

Pakistan's government has made a few attempts at promoting business in Central Asia, but it's mostly trivia. In 2003-4, Pakistan's exports to Central Asia and the Caucasus amounted to just 1.2bn rupees - or slightly over US$20m!

There's no much worth mentioning militarily, either: Pakistan's army may be the 7th largest in the world, but it's pointed entirely at India. The ISI (Pakistan's intelligence service) reputedly has agents all over the region, but they don't exactly do a great deal. In the past they were accused of stirring up Islamist movements in Uzbekistan and elsewhere, but that was mostly a by-product of what was happening in Afghanistan - and has stopped since 2001 in any case. It doesn't matter much, because Pakistan is doing far better from helping superpowers than it could do by itself.

November 8, 2006

Who are the Bishkek protesters?

Rather than another blow-by-blow accoutn of what's going on in Kyrgyzstan, I thought it might be more useful to do a 'who's who' of the protesters. I've also tried to touch-up/create bios for some of them over at Wikipedia. Beware: the below is neither comprenensive nor fully checked...

  • Almaz Atambaev. Social Democratic Party Businessman, failed presidential candidate in 2000, briefly minister for Industry, trade and tourism
  • Omurbek Tekebaev. Speaker (former speaker?) of the Kyrgyz parliament, presidential candidate in 2000. Is his brother, Asylbek Tekebayev, also involved?
  • Edil Baisalov: NGO-wallah, blogger, victim of an assassination attempt earlier this year. No formal party affiliation, as far as I know.
  • Roza Otunbayeva, former Foreign Minister. Founder of the small Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party. She was banned from standing in the 2005 elections because she hadn't been resident in Kyrgyzstan for five years (she had been serving as ambassador to the US!)
  • Isa Omurkulov. Former minister of railroads.
  • Timur Sariev. Being quoted a lot, but I can't find anything about him, except that he's a member of parliament.
  • Kubatbek Baibolov - leader of the Union of Democratic Forces
  • Melis Eshimkanov. Deputy chair, social democratic party, and former presidential candidate.


You'll only find one article on it in the British broadsheets, but Kyrgyzstan has spent the past five days in the middle of massive, peaceful anti-government demonstrations. The protesters are principally calling for a change in the constitution to reduce the power of the president, but they also want to get rid of the President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Prime Minister Felix Kulov.

I love watching the role of blogs in all this. Edil Baisalov the protesters' unofficial spokesman, is posting frequent (Russian) updates on Livejournal - from a yurt outside the parliament building. Meanwhile Yulia at New Eurasia is keeping up a commentary from the opposite side, very critical of the opposition and worried that repeated coups will turn the country into a banana republic. Even Kyrgyz news agency AKIpress has turned to livejournal: they were having trouble keeping their site up, so they set up a livejournal and started posting reports up there.

If you want to follow what's going on in English: here are news updates, analysis from people outside the country here and here. Currently Eurasianet is reporting that things have started to turn violent - here's hoping for a compromise of some kind.

November 7, 2006

Memes: toxic in China

Remember the Free Hugs meme? Somebody in Australia started hugging people in the streets, it spread to Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Korea, Poland, and pretty much the rest of the world.

Then, some people in Shanghai tried it - and were promptly arrested

Shanghai Free Hugs

Before the arrest, presumably

The huggers were released after a couple of hours, but still: a big 'meh!' to the Chinese police

[cross-post from livejournal]

November 3, 2006

Georgia, still

In lieu of content about Georgia, here's some of what other people have been saying...

The News

  • Russia's anti-Georgia measures have cost Georgia 1.5% of its GDP, and 17% of its export markets, according to the Georgian Prime Minister. That's including the wine ban earlier in the year - but presumably not including the remittances sent home by Georgian workers in Russia, which would push the figure much higher.
  • The media always faithfully reports diplomatic visits like the time Georgian foreign minister Gela Bezhuashvili spent in Moscow this week, but I find it pretty hard to get excited about them. Anyway, Putin refused to meet Bezhuashvili, who in turn went on the radio and threatened to veto Russia's WTO entry.
  • Russia is threatening to double the price of gas supplies to Georgia (RFE/RL,BBC)
  • Eurasianet reports on Georgia's attempts to accommodate the deportees
  • Foreign policy carries a surprisingly lightweight article from Jon Sawyer. He argues that the US "has helped to fuel this crisis: by showering Georgia with cash and praise, by extending the promise of NATO membership, and by standing silent as Saakashvili and his government made ever rasher attacks on Russia"

The blogs

Vilhelm Konnander had an excellent post on Georgia a fortnight ago. He turns up a recent opinion poll saying that 61% of Russians consider Georgia "a bandit state".

Registan also has plenty of posts on Georgia, and DJ Drive is still at it, blogging both in English and Russian. This translation from Kommersant seemed particularly interesting:

The Kommersant Daily speculates that Andrei Illarionov, ex senior advisor and an outspoken critic of Putin's economic policies (which include arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky), might become the next economics advisor for the president of Georgia.

Illarionov, who recently has been hired by Cato Institute, a US libertarian economics think-tank, visited Tbilisi a few days ago to participate in "Freedom, Commerce & Peace: A Regional Agenda" international conference and, according to Kommersant, was invited for a dinner with president Saakashvili.

October 28, 2006

IHT makes LJ look calm

Wow. The International Herald Tribune wades into the fray over Six Apart's deal with Sup over Russian livejournal, and comes down firmly on the side of paranoia:

What's so pernicious about the deal is that it replicates the very Kremlin model that poisoned the rest of the Russian media.

The argument is that Sup is a Kremlin hack (dolboeb, "a former associate of Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin's spindoctor"), backed by an oligarch (Aleksandr Mamut), and that therefore they are obviously going to turn the abuse team into politicial censorship. Therefore, "the days of the Russian blogosphere buzzing with criticial opinions are numbered".

Well, the IHT has certainly managed to make bloggers look like a picture of reason and calmness, compared to foreign correspondents in the MSM. Much better commentary by Veronica at Global Voices, and Bradfitz' list of complaints about the deal is alternately sad and hilarious.


Off on a different tangent today - dynastic politics in Kazakhstan. Nathan Hamm and Sean Roberts are far better informed on the nitty gritty of Kazakh politics than I am. But there's one bit that's just too much fun to leave to the professionals: Dariga.

Dariga Nazarbayeva is the President's daughter. She's had a privileged life, and she's run with it. Degree in history from MGU, PhD in politics, speaks four languages, even moonlights as an opera singer (how well is open to question). Yes, it's easy to go overboard in singing her praises, and she can only do it because of daddy - but when did you last hear anything about her sisters, who have had lives just as charmed?

Anyway, the past few years Dariga has been managing her rise to power - with a lot more panache than most can muster. You're never sure quite where she's going to come from next. She started with the media, when daddy put her in charge of state media company Khabar. She's no longer officially in charge, but there's no doubt that a lot of journalists will do what she tells them to.

The reason she's no longer officially running Khabar is that it conflicted with her move into politics. In December 2003 she founded the ASAR party. Different folks have different views on how much this was her decision, and how much she was playing puppet to her father. She claims

'I was not forced to found this party....but there comes a moment when just to observe is dull because there is a a self-satisfaction in the pro-presidential camp which can turn to stagnation. The business and political elite is in crisis. 'My father tried to convince me not to do this....But when I discussed with him my vision of his party, I told him: "I will be dealing with your team." I want to take away this piece of cake from his party. The new party will involve real people, not state officials.'

But one pundit said at the time:

Big politics do not like impromptu actions, and any initiative not coordinated with political partners is punishable. Therefore, if the daughter is in the Asar party, then the father is also present there, but his presence is hidden! Asar is not a whim of the president's daughter, it is a project of the whole Family, dictated by the need for new methods of retaining power.

Either way, her party was doing really rather well. It's growing success made it likely that Dariga would eventually become Speaker of parliament - a position open to the head of the largest party, which carries with it the chance to replace the president if he dies. Then daddy decided to close down her political adventure, and arranged for her party to be merged into his own Otan party. Since then, she's seemed desperate for some other route into the centre of politics.

What's next? Her current fantasy seems to involve painting herself as a democratic reformer. She's got the media nous to fake it to the West - look at her spot-on approach to the Borat affair (making a point of getting the joke), or the article "Deja Vu" that she wrote in March which combined revelations from the inner sanctum of Kazakh politics with the kind of angry rhetoric you'd expect from Craig Murray or a Western journalist.

And she's making more substantive moves. And, as Sean Roberts reports, she is becoming a champion of trades unions, supporting a group of striking miners. Then there's her involvement in a 'commission for democratization'. But, again, nobody can tell how much this is Dariga, and how much it's her father trying to paint a rosy picture of a reforming Kazakhstan.

In the end, everything Dariga does comes down to a question mark about her relationship with her father. He clearly gets his way when he wants to - witness the way he had her political party merged into his this summer. But the rest of the time, she can more or less get away with stirring things up (the 'Deja Vu' article is a good example).

One explanation is that Nursultan Nazarbayev wants Dariga to be powerful, but only as one person within a balance of power. This strategy makes sense given the political situation. The President's power is pretty much unassailable - partly because of the constitution (Nazarbayev was re-elected for six years last december), but mostly because Nazarbayev is one of the smarter leaders in the region, and he's made the GDP rise by something like 9% a year. If he can keep it that way, his position remains secure and the bloody battles move down a rung.

Dariga, along with her husband, is one of the blocs of power. (see this analysis for a rundown of the rest). If she gets too powerful, she'll be cut down to size. If she falls, she'll be picked up. So she does what anybody would in those circumstances: she experiments.

More information: Wikipedia, Dariga's own site, Taipei Times, and some semi-official profile.

October 17, 2006

I've joined Global Voices

Since I've been reading so many Russian livejournals recently, I figured I should do something useful with it. So I've got involved in Global Voices, a blog translation project. The plan is that I'll post occasional snippets from Russian blogs, once a month or so. Here's my first post, translating a Georgian post about the treatment of Georgians in Russia.

October 16, 2006

Serbia and Georgia

If Russia decides to escalate the dispute with Georgia, one option is for it to recognize Abkhazia as an independent state. Abkhazia is pushing Russia to do just that.

What makes this a plausible scenario is Kosovo. From Russia's perspective, the situation of Abkhazia within Georgia is parallel to that of Kosovo within Serbia: regions enjoying de facto autonomy within hostile states, and pushing for formal self-determination. In Putin's words:

"If someone believes that Kosovo should be granted full independence as a state, then why should we deny it to the Abkhaz and the South Ossetians?"

The implied 'someone' is the UN, where glacial negotiations are moving towards the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. Russia is unlikely to let this through the UN without demanding a similar decision on Abkhazia. It might not even wait for Kosovo to come up at the UN - ten days ago, for instance, Mikhail Gorbachev wrote that the "logic of international development may lead Russia to a situation in which we will have no other choice but to recognize Abkhazia"

October 14, 2006

Russia has made a point of maintaining transport links to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite the blockade of Georgia. It's something that Georgian politicians have complained bitterly about. Now they're driving it home by sending a train to South Ossetia loaded with $741,000 of humanitarian aid. Behind this is Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who is even more energetic than Ken Livingstone in maintaining his own foreign policy agenda. Luzhkov calls the train "a symbol of Russian assistance to South Ossetia, which wants to live independently and not to obey those, who have subjected these people to genocide,

October 13, 2006

Russia puts on its best face for the UN

Russia has made some apparently conciliatory moves towards Georgia this week - notably a promise of early withdrawal of the Russian troops based in Tbilisi.

Is this an olive branch to Georgia? No - it's shrewd international politics. The UN has just passed a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN observer mission in Georgia. Had Security Council members agreed with the EU's (obviously correct, but politically awkward) assessment that "Russia is not a neutral participant in the peacekeeping arrangements", they could have produced a resolution limiting Russia's role in Georgia. So, Russia keeps them sweet by making a concession - but notice that it is a concession that doesn't require any immediate action. By the time it comes to remove the troops from Tbilisi, everybody except the Georgians will have forgotten what Russia promised.

Update: According to Saakashvili,Russia was aiming for - and failed to get - two items included in the resolution:

The first is unconditional denunciation of the Georgian police operation in the upper Kodori gorge that would have a serious legal force, and the second, restoration of the status quo, which existed in the gorge prior to this operation. It would have meant the withdrawal of the legitimate Abkhaz authorities from the Kodori gorge and renaming of the Kodori gorge,

More on Russian anti-Georgian events.

I tried to write a post on the high politics of the Russia-Georgia dispute, but I got sidetracked into the stuff that actually matters: the social impact of it all. There will be another post on Putin and Saakashvili throwing their toys at each other, but first, have something about the real people:

The politicians and pundits are talking up how bad things are. Saakashvili (Georgian president) calls it "a form of ethnic targeting not seen in Europe since the Balkans in the 1990s", and to Bezuashvili (Georgian foreign minister) it is 'a mild form of ethnic cleansing'. At Georgia Online, a columnist collects a list of recent anti-Georgian Russian headlines and comments "Replace 'Georgian' with 'Jew', change the date 2006 to 1933, and we fall back to Nazi Germany."

Certainly, things are bad. Newspaper Novaya Gazeta (employer of Anna Politkovskaya) has printed copies of letters Moscow police sent to local schools, demanding lists of Georgian students. The information required includes:

Relations of children of Georgian nationality with other pupils, cases of hostile relations between children, and such [hostile] relations toward them [i. e. Georgian children], facts about disobedience of Georgian children to teachers, facts of antisocial activities, and unlawful acts.

All this is "For the purpose of securing law and order and abidance of the law, the prevention of terrorist acts and aggressive feelings between children". Sean has full translations and commentary.

But, there is some good news. Many Russian bloggers are still trying to counter the anti-Georgian prejudice - the "I am Georgian" site is one of many examples. And it is striking that the anti-Georgian events in Russia haven't been mirrored by anti-Russian events in Georgia. At Radio Free Europe, Jimsher Rekhviashvili interviews ethnic Russians living in Georgia. And finds...nothing. No mirror of the anti-Georgian sentiment in Russia. One says " I continue to receive warmth and love, the lack of which I have never experienced from the Georgian people.". Another says her friends in Russia " call and ask us not to believe what we're hearing. We are by your side, they say. We love Georgia and Georgians."

October 11, 2006

Paranoid conspiracy theories: not an American monopoly

I'm not sure how much this(RUS) is tongue in cheek, but it made me laugh:

Livejournal is spying on you!
American spies have developed a special search engine. It rummages through all livejournal posts, including locked ones, and adds politically dissident authors to a special list.
All personal information which you entrust to livejournal can be subjected to a political search.
Do you oppose interference of the secret services in personal life?
Do you oppose the illegal opening of internet postings?
Be sensible...don't use Livejournal!

Seems the CIA aren't content with running Facebook,and having the NSA fund research into scraping social software sites ;)

Oh, and before anybody says it: yes, I'm sure the CIA do search through anything you put on LJ or anywhere else on the web. That is their job, isn't it?

October 10, 2006

Web hosts get in on the Russia-Georgia fight

Oh, now this is getting silly...

Russian hosting company Garanthost is closing down the accounts (RUS) of Georgian customers, and refusing to serve Georgians.

Meanwhile on the other side of the fence, Hostovik is offering discount hosting for anybody who will display an "I am Georgian" logo on their site.

[via webplanet and kbke]

just because you've got a rose, doesn't make you a revolutionary

Warning: cynicism ahead...

It seems that now Saakashvili has won his elections, he knows he can stop ratcheting up the rhetoric, and grovelingly offer (RUS) to meet Putin anywhere for talks.

Back home, the Industry will save Georgia party are making a pretty futile shot at copying the imagery of the colour revolutions. Roses in hands, they held a march in protest at alleged election fraud last week - and would doubtless have been totally ignored, except that somebody decided to take some potshots at them

Wine, water and the Rose Revolution: background to the Georgia-Russia dispute

In one of those 'far more comprehensive than you'd ever want' posts, here is a little background to the current dispute between Russia and Georgia. Things haven't been quite this heated before, but all the elements have been there for a while. There's the political grandstanding by both Putin and Saakashvili, partly animated by personal dislike but mostly a strategy to enhance their domestic popularity. Then there are the plausible underlying causes: the Russian soldiers who are in Georgia and helping separatists, and the overall story of Georgia's attempt to get out from under Russia's thumb.

A war of words

How much of this is just about looking good on TV? A pretty huge amount, I'd say. Saakashvili's persona is based on being unremittingly pro-Western - look at how he has presented defiance of Russia as his personal contribution to politics:

"...we're no longer the country we were two or three years ago. We're not afraid of anything and we won't let anything upset us"

Saakashvili loves political grandstanding against Russia. He has loudly accused Russia of arming separatists, sabotaging gas pipelines to leave Georgia without winter fuel, even involvement in kidnapping a Georgian child. In the UN, he has hinted about Russian aims of annexing Georgia.

There's a kernel of truth in a lot of this rhetoric, but Saakashvili is saying it all so publicly for his own political interests.

There's been almost as much verbal nastiness on the Russian side. Some of it is personal tension between Putin and Saakashvili. Putin has, for instance, blamed a previous crisis on "the ability of individual political figures in Georgia to respond adequately to the situation in the relations". Then there's the time a Russian Foreign Ministry official seemingly encouraged assassination of Saakashvili

I'd count Russia's ban of Georgian wine and mineral water, and their occasional refusals to issue visas to Georgians, in this category of 'political grandstanding'. They aren't insignificant (wine and water are two of Georgia's main exports, and the million or so Georgian workers in Russia need their visas), but the measures were obviously driven by politics rather than necessity.

The unwanted soldiers

Then we get onto the underlying issues - and yes, it's military and it's ethnic. It's about the Georgian separatist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, an about the unwanted Russian troops still stationed in Georgia. Some of the troops are (not exactly neutral) 'peacekeepers' in the separatist regions. Others are loitering on old Soviet bases: everybody agrees they have to go at some point, but Russia is dragging its feet and trying to keep them in Georgia for another few years.

Saakashvili certainly isn't the only Georgian to be angry about all this, but he has gone particularly far in trying to change it. There are fairly frequent military skirmishes, particularly significant ones being in South Ossetia in August 2004 (causing a row with Russia), and this summer the Kodori gorge of Abkhazia (causing - you guessed it - a row with Russia)

Georgia has also tried arresting the Russian soldiers before. I imagine this is partly to nudge Russia towards withdrawing them, partly for domestic political reasons, maybe even because they were breaking the law. I can't find any for spying until recently, though - mostly they've been about smuggling and visa irregularities. Georgian police even had a punch-up with Russian soldiers after a road accident.

High politics and international relations

But, in the end, it all comes down to wider disputes. Saakashvili wants Georgia to be all but a part of Europe, Russia wants to keep it as a client state.

Georgia has always been among the most Westward-looking of the former Soviet states. Then in 2003 came the Rose Revolution, bringing in the Kremlin-baiting, West-loving Mikheil Saakashvili, and the course was fixed. As with the separatist republics, Saakashvili has only been doing what most Georgian politicians also want - but he's been pushing it a lot harder than they would dare.

His first foreign minister was not just (in what is perhaps a diplomatic first) the former French ambassador to Georgia, she was also Georgia's first non-Russian-speaking foreign minister. Then there's the new oil pipeline running through Georgia on its way from Azerbaijan to Turkey, cutting Russia out of the supply route. Or the WTO membership (something Russia hasn't yet managed), the understandable desperation to join NATO.

All this unnerves Russia, which needs Georgia as a client state. It's not that Georgia is intrinsically all that valuable to Russia - but if this one gets away, it undermines Russia's ability to browbeat the rest of the post-Soviet states. Putin is seeing his 'near abroad' crumble as hte 'colour revolutions' remove pro-Russian elites, and as the CIS (a loose political union of the former Soviet states) is replaced by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia, and GUAM further West.

So there you have it, from spheres of influence down to looking good on TV.

[incidentally, a lot of the articles I link above have been pulled out of a useful collection by Nathan Hamm of Registan. Even if Georgia isn't his main focus, and he hasn't blogged on the latest crisis, he still has a decent eye on what's happening there. Go Nathan!]

October 7, 2006

slightly illegal

Another quick note on the persecution of Georgians in Russia.

One thing making it easy for the authorities to go after ethnic Georgians is that, like everbody else in Russia, most of them break the law in one way or another. It seems that almost everything is slightly illegal there - not illegal enough that you expect to get arrested for it, but enough that the police can go after you if they want to. So for example, they can inspect Georgian restaurants and find they all fail to meet some health requirement. Or they can audit the taxes of prominent Georgians, and find that they're bending the rules. Because that's what everybody does.

It's just another spin on the old truth that the more laws you pass, the more corruption you get.

October 6, 2006

Tbilisi-Moscow, yet again

Even the Guardian has devoted several articles to the spat between Russia and Georgia. Georgia arrests four 'Russian spies', Russia cuts off all links with Georgia. Georgian businesses in Moscow start getting raided (there's nothing Russian police enjoy more than going after anybody from the Caucasus). No word on what is happening to ethnic Russians in Georgia, who make up some 6% of the population.

All this sabre-rattling seems very good for helping Saakashvili and Putin get their parties re-elected, but not much use for anybody else. Grr!

June 24, 2006

Kyrgyzstan roundup

Another day, another country. Kyrgyzstan feels particularly fascinating today, for some reason.

Continue reading "Kyrgyzstan roundup" »

June 22, 2006

Kazakh roundup

First roundup since Tuesday, but at least I'm gradually making my way through the region. Today, the news from Kazakhstan, international, domestic, and fluffy.

Continue reading "Kazakh roundup" »

June 20, 2006

Georgia roundup

Another roundup of news over the past month or two, this time devoted to Georgia, and marginally more successful than my attempts with Azerbaijan.

Continue reading "Georgia roundup" »

June 13, 2006

China, oil, Tibet and Xinjiang

This began with me wanting to have a look at China's foreign policy, but that's far too huge a topic to take in one bite. All that you get under the cut is a bit about Xinjiang, Tibet, and oil politics. If you want the rest (or something better-informed), go watch the BBC documentary on China that's showing right now.

Continue reading "China, oil, Tibet and Xinjiang" »

May 18, 2006

Pontificating on the Russian Soul (almost)

This post almost nails something about Russia:

"The fetishization of actual freedom [pop culture]...has allowed for the restriction of formal [political] freedom"

Almost, but not quite. There has never been either actual/economic/pop-culture freedom or political freedom in Russia, during or after the USSR. The difference is what gets fetishized or dreamt about most.

In the Bad Old Days (tm) there was relative prosperity (everything is relative), no political freedom, but an idolization political freedom. Now there is relative political freedom, economic collapse, and dreams of consumer culture.

[all this brought to you by the talking-out-of-my-ass department: obviously I don't have any real knowledge here]

March 30, 2006

Central Asia Conference

Given how much I'm reading about Central Asia these days, it seems perverse not to write anything about it

UNDP has released a "Central Asia Human Development Report" (which, typically, I'm going to link to instead of reading). Both registan and New Eurasia report from the launch party. Despite a couple of references to the "new silk road" and the "new great game", it sounds like an interesting day. One academic talked about the lack of interest in Central Asia from everyone except China. China is naturally enough after Central Asia's oil, but I'm surprised nobody else is. He also commented:

Trade between Central Asian not and will not be a significant engine of development

I'm not saying he's wrong, but I'd be interested to see the basis for that reasoning. Martha Brill Olcett responded with:

Central Asia certainly needs the great markets more than the great markets need Central Asia as a transit route

Finally, one speaker talked about the emergence of:

a transnational democratic mobilization connected by technology

And it is exciting to hear about groups like this, because we can empathise, and because it justifies the time we spend behind computers rather than mobilizing on the streets or manning soup kitchens. Again, I'd like to know the figures behind this mobilization before I jump up and down squealing.

Time to read the report now, I guess.

March 29, 2006

South Korea

Next stop, South Korea. An easier one this, because there's so much going on in the country, and in many ways they're way ahead of us.

Famously, there is OhmyNews, which got the attention of the net pundits a couple of years ago and sparked the craze for 'Citizen Journalism'.

Then there's gaming - the world of Korean MMORPGs is so far ahead of ours that it's embarassing. A top player like Lee Yunyeol can earn $200,000 a year, and is on television daily. Gaming/Internet cafes called "PC Bangs" are gradually being replaced by playing at home over a broadband connection, and so the national addiction continues to grow.

South Korean pop culture is taking over East Asia, in a trend given the moniker 'Hallyu', or 'Korean Wave'. The anti-Hallyu backlash in Taiwan and Japan has made governments there consider restricting Korean-origin broadcasts on national television, and some have even demanded that Korean television broadcast programs from other countries. Currently trendy Korean exports include the film Oldboy and the singer Rain (Ji-Hoon Jung. But I wonder if the whole 'Korean Wave' is a storm in a teacup; in 2004 the revenues from foreign sales of Korean TV were only $71.5m

Global Voices doesn't cover Korea as well as I'd expected, but it does at least point to Asian pages, the diary of a foreign worker in South Korea.

Unlike with Mongolia, this has been all pop-culture and no politics. Korea is important enough that we get to hear about the bigger political stories anyway. Recently, the news has been how the Prime minister forced to resign because he was playing golf rather than dealing with a rail strike. He's been replaced by South Korea's first female Prime Minister. And we all heard about the cloning scandal, because that had sex and science and scandal, all rolled up together.

So, that's enough of Korea. On to the next country...somewhere East European this time, I think.


Let's start with one of those proverbially obscure, remote countries: Mongolia.

Did you notice the political crisis there earlier this month? No, neither did I. The BBC's narrative is: Prime Minister starts anti-corruption drive. The main party, the MPRP, pulls out of his government. There are protests in favour of the Prime Minister and his party. By the time the dust settles, we've all lost interest.

For general political commentary, Nathan at Registan has been churning out Mongolia posts, and his linklist points to some of the more interesting news coverage of Mongolia. East Asia Watch has some posts about Mongolia, and Shards of Mongolia has a lot more.

At NewEurasia, a Mongolia blog got going in the past few days, and it's going through the initial posting-splurge of any new blog. The author has the advantage of living in Mongolia, and he's coming up with some interesting things.

Mongolia's only non-government news TV station, Eagle TV, is expanding broadcasting to 16 hours a day. The man behind Eagle TV, Tom Terry, has his own blog. From that site, it looks like Eagle TV has a strong Christian slant, as Terry tries to bring to Mongolia "Faith and Freedom". In his book of the same title he argues, according to one Amazon reviewer, that "(Christian) faith and human freedom are so inextricably connected that no culture can for long have one without the other". Well, I'd rather have missionary TV than no non-government media, and at least there are rumours of a second news station starting up in competition. Multiple news stations in a country with a population under 3 million isn't bad!

On more cultural topics, he talks about attempts to reintroduce the traditional Mongolian script, and about the preservation of Buddhist artfacts.

The Mongolian Matters blog has a series of posts on th idolisation of Genghis Khan: a Japanese film, Ulan Bator's airport being renamed Chinggis Khaan. Plans are even afoot to create a 40-metre statue of Genghis Khan on horseback, with a golden whip.

Places to look for more: global voices links to the blogs, flickr collects pretty pictures. There is a Mongolian State News Agency. Most of the other Mongolian news websites just reprint stories from the international press. The UB Post seems has substantially more original content.