Tony Blair Snags an Azerbaijani Gas-Gig
Ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair has come under fire for agreeing to help out an Azerbaijani gas pipeline designed to diversify energy resources in Europe.
There are controversies at both ends of the roughly 3,800-kilometer-long pipeline project, which involves three sections; first, stretching from Azerbaijan to Turkey; the second, from Turkey to Greece; and the final leg, from Greece to Italy. Tony Blair is advising this final segment, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).
In southern Italy, where TAP, is expected to make its landing, worries persist that the project will interfere with olive-growing and the mating of seals, as well as cause damage to the area’s rich cultural heritage, The Guardian has reported.
At the Azerbaijani start of the line, critics charge that Blair's helping hand for TAP will only further enable Baku to crackdown on civil rights without fear of the international consequences.
Never a pinup for democratic reform, Azerbaijan has seen its human rights situation go from bad to worse of late with the authorities arresting critics right and left, and non-government flows of information feeling the pinch.
On August 2, Rasul Jafarov became the latest respected human-rights advocate to get sentenced to pre-trial detention; this time, on charges of allegedly evading taxes, running an illegal business and abuse of office. Just days before, another well-known activist, Leyla Yunus, was arrested and charged with high treason and fraud. Major international human rights organizations describe all these scoop-ups of government-critics as politically motivated.
Against this backdrop enters Tony Blair.
Now retired from politics, Blair has been sighted before on paid junkets in energy-rich ex-Soviet countries with dubious democratic credentials. Before getting hired for TAP, Blair was advising Kazakhstan’s strongman president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. In 2012, he appeared in a 67-minute-long promo -video for Nazarbayev as well.
Blair also has had previous praise for Azerbaijan. For Azerbaijan’s potential for formaldehyde, to be precise. His thoughts came during a paid speaking engagement at a methanol-producing Azerbaijani factory in 2009. Not surprisingly, they shied away from a direct condemnation of the country’s dismal human rights record.
At the time, Blair was urged to donate his Azerbaijani proceeds to a charity. The TAP-cash could well spark similar calls.
The ex-prime-minister has maintained that he hasn't sold out on any concern for human rights.
Yet, for now, democracy-activists complain, Blair's new job only emphasizes that human rights violations are bringing up the rear of the energy-thirsty West’s list of priorities for ties with Azerbaijan.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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