Monday, February 23, 2015

The New Great Game Round-Up #88

The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

The "Euromaidan Revolution" was a resounding success. In fact, it was so successful that the "heroes of the Euromaidan Revolution" and their compatriots are now fleeing the country in record numbers. Fortunately, this won't affect the regime in Kiev, which prefers to appoint foreigners to important positions. Ukraine is primarily relying on Georgian experience to "conquer the whole of Russia," as former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili put it. But Saakashvili's presence and the ever-increasing number of Saakashvili-era officials in Kiev have drawn heavy criticism from Georgia since the former President and several of his associates face criminal charges at home. Predictably, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ignored all warnings from Tbilisi and decided to appoint Saakashvili as his non-staff advisor and as head of Ukraine's Advisory International Council of Reforms, where he can use his "knowledge, experience and unique know-how" to develop proposals and recommendations for implementing reforms in Ukraine. Tbilisi's reaction was not long in coming:
Tbilisi Summons Ukrainian Ambassador over Saakashvili

Georgian Foreign Ministry has “invited” Ukrainian ambassador in Tbilisi, Vasyl Tsybenko, “to talk on many issues” including about appointing Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is wanted by the Georgian authorities, as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s adviser, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Davit Kereselidze, said on February 16.

He said that although this appointment was “surprising” to Tbilisi, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson also stressed that “nothing will obstruct” strategic partnership between Georgia and Ukraine.

“Let’s not cause a stir out of it,” Kereselidze said at a news conference responding a question about summoning of the Ukrainian ambassador. “Ukraine is our strategic partner, which is an important country with which we have and will have friendly relations.”

Monday, February 16, 2015

The New Great Game Round-Up #87

The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

The never-ending story of the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India gas pipeline (TAPI) continued this week with a meeting of the TAPI steering committee in Islamabad. Depending on which media outlet you want to believe, the project is either about to be implemented or still the pipe dream that it has always been. After Pakistan's Dawn newspaper had argued only a few weeks ago that the pipeline is unlikely to be built anytime soon, The Daily Times claimed recently that a deal is imminent and that French supermajor Total is prepared to lead the project. Pakistan insists on choosing Total as consortium leader but the company has been reluctant to get involved unless it can secure a stake in the respective Turkmen gas field. Due to its oil price-related problems, Total is currently even less inclined to take unnecessary risks. Therefore, India is now trying to convince Turkmenistan of changing its stance:
TAPI pipeline: India asks Turkmenistan to ease rules
With construction of the USD 10 billion TAPI pipeline stuck for want of a credible operator, India today pressed Turkmenistan to relax its domestic law to help get an international firm for building the project.

French giant Total SA had initially envisaged interest in leading a consortium of national oil companies of the four nations in the TAPI project. However, it backed off after Turkmenistan refused to accept its condition of a stake in the gas field that will feed the pipeline.

Since the four state-owned firms, including GAIL of India, neither have the financial muscle nor the experience of cross-country line, an international company that will build and also operate the line in hostile territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan, is needed.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The New Great Game Round-Up #86

The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

At the end of last month, U.S. President Barack Obama made history with his three-day visit to India. Obama became the first American leader to be honored as chief guest at India's annual Republic Day parade and the first U.S. President to visit India twice in his tenure. His trip has been hailed as a milestone in Indo-American relations because it allegedly demonstrates that India is tilting toward the U.S. in its foreign policy, ending its policy of non-alignment. It is indeed possible that India will end its non-alignment policy in the foreseeable future but it is doubtful that this entails closer Indo-American ties. Obama did his best to destroy his popularity with the people in India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not a big fan of Washington anyway. As previously discussed, Modi's election paved the way for a rapprochement between India and China, culminating in Beijing's endorsement of India's accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). To make matters worse for the U.S., the Modi government has refused to reconsider India's policy toward Moscow and strengthened the strategic partnership with Russia. This week's trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of India, Russia and China revealed the synergy between the three countries:
India and Russia back China's call for 'new world order'

Russia and India added their voices on Monday to China's call for a new world order and endorsed Beijing's plans to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war.

In a joint communique, the three nations vowed to "build a more just, fair and stable international political and economic order" and a "multi-polar" world.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said all states should be involved in creating "a modern security architecture" in the Asia-Pacific; his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi , said the region should not be caught up in a zero-sum game.
© Photo EPA

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Porkins Great Game: Episode #5 - East Turkestan Exposed

On this edition of Porkins Great Game, Pearse Redmond and I take a closer look at Turkey's role in U.S.-NATO's East Turkestan project, as recently exposed by the arrest of several Turks and Uyghurs in Shanghai. We discuss Azerbaijan's crackdown on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and consider the question of whether Baku's war of words with Washington really signifies Azerbaijan's geopolitical shift away from the West. Subsequently, Pearse and I talk about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenia's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union and the latest test for Armenia-Russia relations. After providing a few updates on recent developments on the Tajik-Afghan border and Pipelineistan, we close out with a look at the 'Gladio B' connection of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

The New Great Game Round-Up #85

The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Over the years, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has proved himself to be an excellent Twitter warrior. Aliyev regularly uses his favorite medium to blow his own trumpet and blast arch-enemy Armenia. So he started the new year by calling Armenia "a powerless and poor country," which "is not even worthy of being a servant." The conflict between the two neighboring countries over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has escalated in recent months. Although international mediators have repeatedly called on both sides to work towards a peaceful solution, the clashes intensified again in January. On Thursday, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said it had shot down an Armenian drone near Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia dismissed the statement as "absurd." Despite all that, Aliyev is touting Azerbaijan as "an island of stability." Most people will also have a hard time agreeing with Aliyev's claims that "the fight against corruption and bribery is proving very successful" and that "no-one is prosecuted or arrested for a critical opinion in Azerbaijan." Baku's unprecedented crackdown on journalists, human rights activists and NGOs has drawn a lot of criticism from the West. Even "civil society" expert George Soros is deeply concerned:
George Soros urges President Aliyev to loosen his stranglehold over civil society

The Open Society Foundations are deeply concerned about the intensifying campaign against civil society in Azerbaijan, including the detention of several prominent human rights activists.

In April, the authorities targeted Open Society’s foundation in Baku, the Open Society Institute–Assistance Foundation. They froze the foundation’s local bank account and seized its computers, as well as questioned former employees. The Open Society Foundations dismiss any allegations of wrongdoing.

George Soros, founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations, met with President Ilham Aliyev in Davos, Switzerland, and urged the president to loosen his stranglehold over civil society and to end his harassment of legally registered charitable organizations.