Could 2018 become the new 1980? It might, if recent initiatives aiming to use a major sporting event to punish Russia for geopolitical misbehavior can gain traction.
Back in 1979, it was the Kremlin’s military occupation of Afghanistan that prompted a US-led boycott of the Moscow Summer Olympic Games the following year. The trigger today is Russia’s land grab in Crimea, an act of territorial aggression that has evoked memories of Nazi Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland back in 1938.
Russia, as readers may remember, is scheduled to host the 2018 World Cup football tournament, the world’s most watched sporting event. A couple of football fans in the United States and Europe, outraged by Russia’s incursion, have launched web-based petitions calling on FIFA, football’s governing body, to relocate the 2018 World Cup.
“International sporting bodies have an obligation to speak up when there’s injustice, and there’s a tournament being held in the country that’s perpetuating the injustice,” said Zach Lewis, a New York City resident who launched a petition drive hosted by the global activism website, Change.org.
As the reality of the Vladimir Putin’s Crimean land grab sinks in, the most alarming aspect of it all is not the ease with which Russian troops seized the peninsula, but the way the Kremlin mobilized Russian public opinion behind its agenda.
Now that Latvia has joined the euro zone, legislators in Riga can return to the delicate issue of residency permits for foreign nationals. Lenient rules have allowed thousands of über-rich Russians, Chinese and Central Asians to use Latvia as a backdoor to Europe. Critics want to tighten legal loopholes, while defenders warn that too much tinkering could have economic consequences.
A long-running conflict between Latvian banker Valeri Belokon and the government of Kyrgyzstan seems to be heading toward its denouement.
In an interview with EurasiaNet.org, Belokon said an arbitration hearing was scheduled for late December in Paris to resolve his dispute with Kyrgyz authorities. The legal tussle stems from the Kyrgyz government’s takeover of Manas Bank following the 2010 ouster of former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. “There should be a decision not too long after that,” Belokon said, referring to the hearing.
Belokon was the owner of Kyrgyzstan-based Manas Bank at the time of the 2010 Kyrgyz upheaval. Kyrgyz authorities who took over from Bakiyev subsequently took control of the bank and opened a criminal case against Belokon, alleging that he assisted the former president’s son, Maxim Bakiyev, in laundering money and improperly shipping assets out of the country. Belokon countered by seeking damages via international arbitration for what he contends was the improper seizure of his bank.
The Latvian banker vigorously denies the criminal allegations against him. He acknowledges that he had business relations with Maxim Bakiyev, but insists their dealings were confined to the operations of Latvia-based Maval Aktivi AS, a holding company in which the duo were partners. “I was open with everything we did,” Belokon said. He stressed that he and the younger Bakiyev did not have any offshore dealings.
This past weekend, I had the chance to host a discussion aimed at forecasting Central Asia’s geopolitical prospects in the coming years. It won’t come as a surprise to many that the consensus prognosis was generally glum with occasional periods of unrestrained pessimism.
The discussion was part of the Riga Conference 2013, an annual event in the Latvian capital that attracts political movers and shakers from OSCE member states. Given the pending withdrawal of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Central Asia garnered lots of attention at this year’s Riga conference.
Joining me in the discussion were Damon Wilson, the executive vice president of the Atlantic Council in Washington, and Jos Boonstra, a senior researcher at FRIDE and the head of the EUCAM program.
You can watch the 30-minute discussion here.
Editor's note: Justin Burke is the executive editor of Eurasianet.
Last Monday I was on Boylston Street, having just completed my first Boston Marathon, when the bombs detonated. As is so often the case in the digital age, I may have been just a couple of hundred yards from the epicenter, but in the immediate aftermath, people watching on television and following via social media knew far more than I about the unfolding horror.
The home opener on a recent Saturday for FC Kairat, Kazakhstan’s most storied football club, featured lots of pre-game pomp, the sort of festivities that tend to swaddle major sporting events around the globe.
Music by nature strikes a personal chord in each listener. Being a child of the 1960s myself, I must confess to liking the psychedelic rock genre, songs like the Rolling Stones’ 2000 Light Years from Home and Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun. So imagine my delight when I was turned on to an instant neo-psychedelic classic on YouTube, performed by none other than Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Turkmenistan’s despot-in-chief.
Turkmenistan’s propaganda mills have already let the world know that Berdymukhamedov is not just a statesman, he’s also an author, surgeon, skilled equestrian, hockey fan, speed racer and public bus rider. Why did it take so long, then, for Berdymukhamedov to reveal his talent as a guitarist? I feel slightly cheated to have been denied the pleasure of his musical genius for these past few years.
Annoyingly, the YouTube video, which was posted in late 2011, does not provide the name of the song Berdymukhamedov sings, so I’m having trouble finding it on iTunes. The YouTube liner notes only state that the song is of Berdymukhamedov’s “own” composition.
We at EurasiaNet.org are shocked, shocked that Turkmenistan finds itself embroiled in an international corruption scandal.
On August 2, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) announced that Turkmen referee Ishanguly Meretnyyazov had been banished from the London Olympic Games after he presided over a bout in which Azerbaijani boxer Magomed Abdulhamidov was knocked down six - yes, that’s not a typo - six times in one round, yet somehow managed to walk away with a decision on points.
Thankfully, justice was done, and the outcome of the bout was overturned on appeal, giving Japanese bantamweight Satoshi Shimizu the victory over Abdulhamidov. According to international amateur boxing rules, three knock-downs in one round should prompt the referee to stop the fight.
The one-sidedness of the refereeing in the bout is raising questions in boxing circles of whether money was involved. The British Broadcasting Corp. in late 2011aired a report about a suspicious payment made by Azerbaijani officials. The payment could be construed as an apparent bribe attempt designed to promote the interests of Azerbaijani boxers at the Olympics.
Funnily enough, the same day it announced that Meretnyyazov had been sent home, the AIBA also said it had expelled an Azerbaijani technical official, Aghajan Abiyev. The association did not elaborate on the move.
That a Turkmen ref might be on the take would be in keeping with Turkmenistan’s reputation as one of the most corrupt places on earth.