When Georgia and Russia came to blows in 2008, fears ran rife that the conflict could escalate into a general Russia-West fight. Looks like it got very close; especially when you have an angry French president trying to shake -- literally -- Russia into complying with the ceasefire agreement.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was not given a chance to follow through on the promise he reportedly made to French President Nicolas Sarkozy to hang Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili by certain body parts. It appears, however, that Sarkozy did grab Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by his lapels.
An alleged cable from the US embassy in Moscow, disclosed by WikiLeaks, reported that an emotional Sarkozy came, ready for a fight, to a September 8, 2008 meeting with the phlegmatic Lavrov about the cease-fire terms. “Sarkozy arrived with a ‘take it or leave it attitude, very American in style and very confrontational,’” the unidentified American diplomat writes in the document. “Sarkozy at one point grabbed FM [Sergei] Lavrov by the lapels and called him a liar in very strong terms.”
The cable does not specify Lavrov’s reaction. It only says that “the Russians responded icily.”
Inhale deeply, again. Three days after we breathed a collective sigh of relief that Kyrgyzstan’s squabbling politicians had somehow, after six weeks of backroom dealing, agreed to form a governing coalition, that “coalition” did not gather enough votes – from its own members – to assume power.
During a late, secret vote on December 2, the designated speaker, Omurbek Tekebayev, only received 58 votes, AKIpress reports. Sixty-one of the parliament’s 120 are required. The coalition-that-shall-not-be – comprising Tekebayev’s own Ata-Meken, the Social Democratic Party, and Respublika – holds 67 seats, highlighting dissension in the ranks.
The parliament has gone into crisis mode and Social Democrat leader Almazbek Atambayev, the would-be prime minister, says he intends to ask provisional President Roza Otunbayeva to pass the mandate for forming a coalition onto another party.
If the past is prelude to the future, a 2009 cable from former US Ambassador to Georgia John Tefft, released by WikiLeaks on December 2, reveals some of the reasoning that may have influenced President Mikheil Saakashvili’s surprise November 23 offer to sign a non-use-of-force agreement with Russia.
In a June 18, 2009 dispatch on military cooperation with Georgia, Tefft reportedly wrote Washington that "[i]n the months after" the August 2008 war with Russia, "senior Georgian officials expressed their willingness to pursue a non-use of force agreement if Russia made certain concessions." Noting that the concept had not yet been “explored” with Tbilisi, Tefft supposedly reasoned that "if Georgia were to call Russia's bluff and offer to sign such an agreement with Russia itself … the burden would shift to Russia to demonstrate the sincerity of its commitment to stability" in the South Caucasus.
"It is unlikely that Russia, which still maintains the fiction that it is not a party to the  conflict, would accept Georgia's offer, but it would be left on the defensive," the cable continues. "Meanwhile Georgia could pursue its defensive development with a ready answer to any Russian claims of belligerence or provocation."
Whether or not Russia privately has indicated any willingness to make concessions to Georgia following Saakashvili's non-use-of-force offer remains unknown. Publicly, however, the Kremlin has cold-shouldered the proposal, suggesting that Tbilisi ought to sign any such agreement with separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Such an idea is a non-starter as far as Tbilisi is concerned.
A Wikileaks cable that seems to be making quite a splash is one from the Moscow embassy, about the 2006 wedding in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala of the son of a local bigwig named Gadzhi Makhachev. Taking place at a summer home on the shores of the Caspian, the event featured jet skiing, numerous musical performances and, needless to say, lots of eating and drinking. From the cable, which is worth reading in its entirety:
11. (C) Though Gadzhi's house was not the venue for the main wedding reception, he ensured that all his guests were constantly plied with food and drink. The cooks seemed to keep whole sheep and whole cows boiling in a cauldron somewhere day and night, dumping disjointed fragments of the carcass on the tables whenever someone entered the room. Gadzhi's two chefs kept a wide variety of unusual dishes in circulation (in addition to the omnipresent boiled meat and fatty bouillon). The alcohol consumption before, during and after this Muslim wedding was stupendous. Amidst an alcohol shortage, Gadzhi had flown in from the Urals thousands of bottles of Beluga Export vodka ("Best consumed with caviar"). There was also entertainment, beginning even that day, with the big-name performers appearing both at the wedding hall and at Gadzhi's summer house. Gadzhi's main act, a Syrian-born singer named Avraam Russo, could not make it because he was shot a few days before the wedding, but there
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was a "gypsy" troupe from St. Petersburg, a couple of Azeri pop stars, and from Moscow, Benya the Accordion King with his family of singers. A host of local bands, singing in Avar and Dargin, rounded out the entertainment, which was constant and extremely amplified.
The the post-Wikileaks era was supposed to be that was all about greater transparency and governments being consistent in what they say, Turkey and Azerbaijan are having none of it. Despite some of the leaked Wikileaks cables containing material that depicts Azeri President Ilham Aliyev harshly criticizing the Turks, calling their foreign policy "naive" and their initiatives a "failure," the two countries are keeping up the public appearance that it's business as usual between them. From a report Today's Zaman:
President Abdullah Gül had his first bilateral talks on Wednesday in Astana with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, who was reported to have voiced remarks critical of the current Turkish government in US diplomatic cables released recently by WikiLeaks, a whistleblower website.
Following the release of a large number of sensitive US diplomatic cables by the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website, Gül met with Aliyev on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Kazakhstan's capital of Astana, where both discussed the currently stalled Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Speaking to a group of Turkish journalists on the sidelines of the summit in Astana, Gül said Aliyev denied the report during their meeting. Gül said Aliyev expressed his dismay over the cables presenting him as being critical of Erdoğan. “He denied the veracity of the documents and expressed his sadness,” Gül said....
...."I told him not to be sad. Even if you hadn't said they weren't true, we did not believe them anyway,” Gül noted.
Two cables published by Wikileaks reveal how the U.S. may be shopping around for regional businesses that could possibly assist in providing supplies to troops in Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) -- and a surprising Chinese offer to consider helping the NDN and cooperate with the U.S. to develop Turkmenistan's considerable gas deposits.
On the Wikileaks site under "Ashgabat", another new cable was published yesterday describing a source, referred to only as "Poloff," evidently a U.S. official, who reported his visit to two Turkmen factories. From this we learn what has hitherto apparently been a state secret: "Licorice root grows wild on the banks of the Amu Darya River." A press to extract the plant's juice built in 1906 by a U.S. company is still in operation but has been modernized by the Chinese.
Another plant that makes machine parts still has Soviet-era machinery and is evidently little in use currently, but may make a promising investment for a foreigner, says the cable writer. Most importantly, the Turkmen factory director proposes to build trailers for offices and housing in neighboring Afghanistan. "We'll make whatever you need," is the sub-title of that section of the cable.
The licorice cable or "A Tale of Two Factories" as it is formally titled shows that the U.S. is actively trying to figure out how to help Turkmenistan's industry, with its aging Soviet infrastructure, upgrade to compete on the world market. This likely dovetails with U.S. plans for the NDN. U.S. officials have held a number of meetings in Tashkent with Central Asian business people, usually close to their governments, touting the profits to be made from the NDN -- and the Turkmen factory director knew exactly the pitch to make.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Uzbekistan today as part of her short Central Asian tour, and her actions there will be watched probably more closely than anywhere else on her trip. The U.S. is walking a tightrope in Uzbekistan, relying on the country heavily for its role as a transport hub for military cargo to Afghanistan but wary of embracing a government with one of the worst human rights records on the planet.
Human Rights Watch, in a statement calling on Clinton to make human rights a prominent part of the agenda in Tashkent, suggests that government officials are personally profiting from traffic on the Northern Distribution Network, and that the NDN is causing the U.S. to send a mixed message in Uzbekistan:
Although the US maintains a congressionally-mandated visa ban against Uzbek officials linked to serious human rights abuses, it uses routes through Uzbekistan as part of the Northern Distribution Network to supply forces in Afghanistan. US military contracts with Uzbeks as part of this supply chain are potentially as lucrative for persons close to the Uzbek government as direct US aid would be. Despite the State Department's re-designation of Uzbekistan in January 2009 as a "Country of Particular Concern" for systematic violations of religious freedom, the US government retains a waiver on the sanctions outlined in the designation, raising serious concerns that the US is sending a mixed message on the importance of human rights improvements in Uzbekistan.
Any visitor to Turkmenbashi – Turkmenistan’s derelict port on the Caspian Sea – knows President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov likes his yacht. A poster-size photomontage of him standing before it “sporting a navy blue sailing cap, a French-style white-and-blue striped shirt and binoculars hanging around his neck,” as the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat purportedly put it, hangs proudly in the lobby of the town’s poshest hotel.
Excerpts from the cable, not yet available on WikiLeaks, but reprinted by The Guardian (with some names redacted):
XXXXXXXXXXXX said in a meeting XXXXXXXXXXXX that this yacht worth 60 million euros was a gift of Russian firm Itera. He added that the president had originally wanted a larger yacht similar to one owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, but that yacht would not fit through the canals leading to the Caspian Sea and thus Berdimuhamedov had to settle for this one.
The company [Itera] undoubtedly really wants a gas exploration contract, especially onshore, and the gift of the yacht is a nice enticement to move the process along. As local businessman XXXXXXXXXXXX said, "The gift of a yacht might be for an onshore gas deal, a chicken farm, or works already in progress. Nothing is free in this country."
President Nursultan Nazarbayev greets President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov at opening of OSCE summit in Astana, December 1.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov got his way -- he made it to Astana this week for the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but human rights activists from Turkmenistan were forced to stay home, blocked by the OSCE chair-in-office, which is Kazakhstan this year.
In October and November, when OSCE ultimately allowed Turkmen activists to attend its human rights review conferences in Warsaw and Vienna despite Ashgabat's objections, the Turkmen leader had threatened to boycott the OSCE summit in Astana this week.
Earlier, when the human rights activists tried to register for the conferences, at first they were denied entry by the OSCE secretariat following Ashgabat's protest. As in past years, the Turkmen delegation doesn't even show up to these meetings due to criticism by delegations of the human rights situation in Turkmenistan.
Then Western diplomats led by the U.S. and European Union invoked a point of order, and eventually several activists, including Annandurdy Hajiev and Farid Tuhbatullin were allowed to participate -- angering the Turkmen government. Kazakh diplomats were then dispatched to Ashgabat for talks with the Turkmen Foreign Ministry and eventually some kind of agreement must have been raised.
Bitter divisions between member states are hampering agreement on the wording of a declaration due to be signed within a few hours as a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) enters its second and last day in the Kazakh capital.
Host President Nursultan Nazarbayev opened this morning’s proceedings urging delegates not to miss a historic opportunity to reshape the future of the OSCE and to “overcome disagreements and reach consensus.”
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who is chairing the first session on December 2, said negotiators were still working on the wording of the document. At this late stage, that implies that there are some serious hurdles to overcome before the Astana declaration can be signed – if it is.
Summit proceedings opened December 2 at 10:00 Astana time and are due to close at 12:30, so frantic delegates will have to pull out all the stops behind the scenes to come up with a wording that suits everyone.
Astana has always acknowledged that Russia is its chief foreign policy ally, but it also enjoys warm relations with the United States that were hailed by Hillary Clinton on December 1. Now’s the time for Kazakhstan to put into play its “multi-vector” foreign policy, which is based on forging good relations with all major world players, and demonstrate its vaunted bridge-building role within the OSCE.