Russia’s presidential tag team continues, the U.S. plans to build new military sites in Central Asia and China’s growth hastens
The expected has happened, which somehow has stirred a lot of speculation about the future of Russia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he would consider taking back the country’s presidency during the 2012 elections.
“Naturally, I am already thinking about this issue with President Medvedev but have decided not to make much fuss about it, not to let ourselves be distracted by this problem,” Putin said to French media.
It appears that the Medvedev-Putin duo are working out plans for the next round of elections and are likely not going to run against each other but manage a deal in which they can together govern Russia as they have been doing after Putin stepped down from the presidency in 2008 and picked Medvedev as his favoured successor.
And it seems that Russia is playing with both Iran and the U.S. by sending mixed messages on its sale of anti-aircraft missiles. Iran wants what is called a S-300 missile defence system from Russia. The order has long been placed, and delayed. Shortly after UN Security Council sanctions were passed against Iran, a Russian arms supplier was quoted saying the missiles would never be delivered.
Russia’s Foreign Minister, on Thursday, responsed to Iran’s complaint and publicly gave hollow assurances. So the official line is that there are no legal constraints holding Russia back from selling S-300 milles (the fourth round of sanctions against Iran really didn’t add much that is new). But, this is a far cry from saying that Russia is prepared to complete delivery. So, it seems the ball is still in play on this one, and Russia is likely using this in negotiations with the U.S. and perhaps to make sure the U.S. keeps its end of any bargain in the long term.
Just a reminder, the U.S. is still set to implement and expand covert military activity inside and around Iran. A directive signed by General Petraeus in September 2009 is still in play, deepening related plans that began under the Bush administration and continue under President Obama.
“The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive,” writes Mark Mazzetti in the New York Times.
More recently, it was revealed that the U.S. is indulging in a small building binge: it will be setting up new military facilities in all Central Asian countries. There seems to be a jostling for such facilities between both the U.S. and Russia.
China, meanwhile, is stamping its presence in the same Central Asian countries economically instead, such as by taking majority shares in a Kazakh oil venture in exchange for a US$10 billion line of credit to Kazakhstan. This sort of lavish spending and economic investment is made possible by its fast growing economy, and, maybe, we might also say that its fast growing economy is a little aided by its economic investments.
Numbers just came out: China’s exports have risen by almost 50% over the past year (no that’s not a typo). It rakes in US$1.2 trillion in export revenues in a year. The economy as a whole has grown at a rate of 11.9% in the first quarter, and all this heat is pushing up housing prices very rapidly which could be leading to a real estate bubble in China. Workers have been increasingly demanding that they get a fair share of all of these profits and have staged various actions including strikes. The most famous case, in a Honda plant, has seen wage levels for its workers rise by between 24% and 33%.
As for Turkey, it seems to expect to reap some economic rewards from the sanctions against Iran. Today’s Zaman writes:
“Strategic Thought Institute (SDE) President Professor Yasin Aktay said the sanctions bring advantages that outweigh any damage that they could present for Turkish-Iranian trade. ‘The sanctions are more concerned with weapons and [Iran’s] Revolutionary Guards; there’s not much activity between [Iran and Turkey] in these fields. Our trade with Iran is concentrated in oil, natural gas, industry and consumer products,’ Aktay said. He further commented that sanctions had above all a strong psychological effect and that this could lead to increased trade with Turkey in fields not covered by the sanctions. ‘It’s an important position to be in when you are a country that can say ‘no’ and remain on its feet; there’s no better public diplomacy than this,’ he said.”
Currently, a natural gas pipeline delivers US$1.5 to US$2 billion of energy from Iran to Turkey each year, and there is talk of more such ventures. In various statements in the early part of this year, Turkish leaders have suggested significantly multiplying trade with Iran, which is at the moment focused on transfers of energy.
(First published at Rabble.ca)
The Globe and Mail reports on the role of a Canadian ambassador as a temporary CIA station chief in Iran, some 30 years ago.
The Globe writes:
Mr. Taylor, ambassador in Iran from 1977 to 1980, became “the de facto CIA station chief” in Tehran after the U.S. embassy was seized by students on Nov. 4, 1979, and 63 Americans, including the four-member Central Intelligence Agency contingent, were taken hostage.
…The request that he provide “aggressive intelligence” for the Americans was made personally by U.S. president Jimmy Carter to Mr. Clark, likely in a telephone conversation on Nov. 30, 1979, according to Prof. Wright.
Mr. Clark gave his approval, and informed his foreign minister, Flora MacDonald, who passed the request on to Mr. Taylor. He instantly agreed.
“I saw this [the hostage-taking] as something that wasn’t right,” Mr. Taylor said. “Anything in a modest way that I could contribute … looking for some sort of solution to this, I was quite prepared to do. I felt strongly about it. And I felt we could get away with it. They weren’t going to catch us.”
In the tumultuous period of the revolution, when various power factions were only establishing their place in the schema of future governance, the Iranian students who captured the US embassy and took hostages seem to have their own shadowy connections with one or more groups vying for control.
Anti-American sentiment though was genuine among many at the time, and its roots lie in the history of the 20th century.
In 1951 a highly popular politician, Mohammad Mosaddeq, managed to increasingly challenge the shah and at last put in place a democratic government which championed national sovereignty, therefore freedom from outside interference (which at the time meant British and Soviet action). In 1953 a US-led coup overthrew Mosaddeq and put the shah back in power. The coup was orchestrated and largely funded through covert operation which saw the CIA – as lead – work with the British Secret Service in what was dubbed operation Ajax.
The impact and trauma of this on Iran and Iranians can hardly be overstated. Following half a century of struggle for democracy and sovereignty, the country’s best attempts were denied via a US orchestrated coup. Prior to this, there was hope that the US could be a close ally: many people took seriously the US claims of opposing old style European imperialism and the right of nations to decide their own futures. So, to some extent the Mosaddeq’s ousting was seen as a betrayal from what was potentially a friend to independent government.
When the Shah took back his office, he, over time, concentrated greater power in his hands and reduced the constitution and parliament to near meaningless standards. He used his secret police, the SAVAK, to maintain control and was also dependent on the military and general security apparatus in his rule of the nation. These instruments were greatly aided through funding, training, and even at times handling by the US. So, not only had people lost a government that they could generally be happy with to be replaced by a monarch who, on record, would seek US guidance on at least some matters of domestic decision-making, they had to suffer a reign of regular terror funded and supported by the American government, which saw the Shah as its best friend in the Middle East.
This was the climate under which the 1978-79 Revolution took place. It was a period of chaos, of uncertainty with very active political factions from a wide band of secular and religious groups. The Shah fled the country for a second time (the first time during Mosaddeq’s government), and it was feared that further foreign interference would interfere with domestic politics. It is unfortunate that the US uses its embassies for covert activity, and so Iranian anxiety was felt toward the embassy of that time in the case that another coup was orchestrated from the embassy in Iran.
It’s important to know this history to realize what are some of the reasons for the Iranian students’ takeover of the US building. It did not come out of a vacuum. It was a response to an earlier incident in the 1950s that was regularly reinforced by SAVAK and other security repressions under the last Shah.
Below is a short documentary that reviews key points of the Mosaddeq government’s rise and fall under operation Ajax.
The US is making concerted effort to revive plans for a 3,300 km long natural gas pipeline that stretches from the Caspian sea through Turkey to Austria. This Nabucco pipeline is still very much in its infancy, lacking adequate supply of natural gas as well as lacking transit rites through intermediary countries in order to become viable enough to start building. This pipeline could potentially provide energy from Central Asia, and the Caucasus to Europe, diversifying Europe’s supplies of natural gas.
Russia has so far successfully maintained its dominance over Europe’s energy markets. It has done this by outplaying the US under president Bush with the important energy producers of Central Asia, by sewing insecurity into existing Western energy routes through the region by strafing yet leaving undamaged the Baku-Tbilishi-Ceyhan pipeline during the short Russia-Georgia war, and by promising an alternative to Nabucco: South Stream.
South Stream is a proposed 900 km pipeline that would cross the Black Sea into Bulgaria and branch into Austria and Italy. It is still uncertain whether South Stream, Nabucco, or both might realize expectations of providing increased natural gas supply through to south eastern Europe.
US president Barack Obama last week appointed Richard Morningstar to head up Eurasian energy policy. MK Bhadrakumar writes in Asia Times that Morningstar, under president Clinton, successfully championed the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
In 1998, Morningstar was quoted as saying that, “the fundamental objective of the US policy in the Caspian is not simply to build oil and gas pipelines. Rather it is to use those pipelines, which must be commercially viable, as tools for establishing a political and economic framework that will strengthen regional cooperation and stability and encourage reform for the next several decades.”
Bhadrakumar states that Morningstar has been very busy and pragmatic in his first week in office under president Obama. He has been trying to win a supply deal from gas rich Turkmenistan in order to transit that energy across the Caspian sea and through to Europe. He has also stated that the US would consider striking a deal with Iran for natural gas. It has even been suggested that some Western technology may be made available to Iran’s energy sector if a natural gas deal was concluded.
Talk of purchasing natural gas from Iran can well be a carrot in negotiations between the US and Iran on the latter country’s nuclear program. Also, the US has been seeking some degree of increased cooperation from Iran in order to stabalize Afghanistan. It was today announced that Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan officials plan to meet monthly in order to cooperate on security and stability in the region.
Having Iran join the proposed Nabucco pipeline would have that energy rich country enter into what would become an increasingly competitive market for European consumers, eroding Russia’s dominance.
The likelihood of Iran joining the Nabucco project is slim in the short-term. Tensions are still high between the US and Iran, and this proposal is likely to serve both as an incentive to Iran and as a display of how serious the US is about making the proposed pipeline a reality, thus bolstering the confidence of currently lackluster potential investors.
(First published at Rabble.ca)
Vicken Cheterian is interviewed regarding the conflict.
Russia using Iran as a bargaining chip, Iran’s fight against Kurdish militants, and looming elections
First published at Rabble.ca:
A senior Russian official has, on Wednesday, confirmed that country’s agreement to sell air defence missiles to Iran. Russian news sources have also indicated that the transfer of this military technology has not yet taken place, and appears to be delayed for political reasons. The official reason given by a Russian defence expert was that “fulfillment of the contract will mainly depend on the current international situation and the decision of the country’s leadership.”
The S-300 missiles, if transferred to Iran, could be used to defend Iran against air strikes. Western military experts claim that these weapons could help provide some security to nuclear sites within Iran in the case of an air assault by either. It appears that Russian interest in this deal, worth hundred of millions of dollars, is mainly political and not financial. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. president Barack Obama are to meet next month, and this particular deal could be used as a “bargaining chip” and leverage in negotiations between the two leaders.
Iraqi Kurdish media, PUK, reports that the leader of Zharawa county in Iraq claims that Iranian artillery has stuck the mountains of Razqa and Maradu villages in Zahrawa on March 18. The shelling is cited to have lasted half an hour and resulted in no casualties.
For several years now, Iran has conducted such artillery shelling against mountains and villages near its border. These attacks have at times been coordinated with Turkey, especially during the height of tensions between Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government in 2007. Turkey is fighting against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), that has carried out armed attacks against the Turkish military and civilians in a campaign for independence of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish south eastern regions. Iran engaged in a similar conflict with a PKK splinter group in its territory, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK). Most of the PKK and PJAK’s leadership seems to be taking refuge in the mountains of Iraq, along with armed fighters that stage operations from these bases and training grounds. I recommend reading James Brandon’s 2007 report on PKK and PJAK bases in Iraq’s Mount Qandil for further background.
Within Iran’s parliament (majles), a key component of president Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s most recent budget was defeated by the opposition, and an updated budget passed. The political opposition feared that some aspects of president Ahmadinejad’s proposed oil policy would result in hyperinflation, rocking an already fragile economy.
Furthermore, the political disagreement has come to a head as the 12 June date for presidential elections approaches. President Ahmadinejad’s approach to the budget only heightened tensions. He brought the budget before the majles only shortly before the Iranian new year celebration and demanded quick resolution by the end of this week in order that the government’s expenditures not be frozen in the new year. Without an approved budget for the new year, Iran’s government cannot technically spend money without emergency measures. This timing seems to have been designed to blackmail the opposition to accept the bill despite disagreement, for fear of being blamed for a budget crisis months before an election. The tactic, however, did not wholly work, and the opposition came together to at least partially rewrite the bill.
An inconclusive war between Azerbaijan and Armenia threatens to rear its head yet again as the underlying issues of the conflict remain unresolved. Al Jazeera’s People & Power has an excellent report on the current situation and warns of the possibility of war being declared by Azerbaijan sometimes in the next four or five years when that country reaches its peak oil output, thus believing itself at a position of economic advantage. If war was to break out, there is risk of the conflict becoming more widespread. Russia is allies with Armenia while Turkey, a NATO member, is allies with Turkic Azerbaijan.
Part 1 of Video:
Part 2 of Video:
Jim Lobe has written the following regarding the Obama administration’s Afghan policy divisions (Inter Press Services):
…US strategy in Afghanistan, where the Pentagon and Obama appear prepared to nearly double the existing US deployment of more than 30,000 troops over the next six months, could provoke a serious source of contention.
Realists, led by the chief of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, favor co-opting those elements of the Taliban that are willing to break with al-Qaeda and its allies in the broader interest of stabilizing the country. But how will liberals like Clinton, who stressed her commitment to women’s rights during her confirmation hearings last week, react to a scheme that may effectively empower, at least at the local level, ultra-conservative militants opposed to the education of females?
Similarly, concerns about the security of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s principal supply route to Afghanistan via Pakistan will likely result in strong pressure from the Pentagon to renew once-strong ties with the extremely repressive regime of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov. This, too, will pose a major problem for liberal policy-makers in the administration.
The US has moved one step closer to diversifying its military supply routes into Afghanistan. General David Petraeus on Tuesday announced that the US had received permission to transit supplies through Russia and Central Asia. Prior to this there were rumours as well as anonymous official pronouncements that the US air base in Kyrgyztan would be closed under Russian pressure. It therefore appears that a deal has been struck between the US and Russia allowing US supplies to pass through that country and also through its zone of influence in Central Asia. I’m not yet sure which countries in Central Asia are a part of this deal, though I assume Kyrgyztan is and that Kazakhstan has at least given permission for ground or air passage from Russia south.
Also, I don’t know what portion of supplies the agreement allows to pass through Russia nor what type of military supplies. Russia had previously permitted some nonlethal supply shipments through its territory.
The agreement is not surprising; Russia is playing a delicate game in this regard. It likely wants the US to, for now, remain in Afghanistan and even commit more resources there. Russia does not expect US victory and hopes that further US commitment to Afghanistan will deliver a greater blow to US prestige, military power, and to US economy after an expected defeat. Russia will, however, want to be careful how it handles support for US basing rights in Central Asian countries. Russian apprehension is that the US will seek to keep its bases in Central Asia for a long time, and gain political influence and partnerships in these same countries. Russia will likely hope that a US defeat in Afghanistan will erode chances of this possibility since it may show the US up as incapable of effectively projecting its power into that region and Central Asian countries will then more likely accept the influence of their Russian neighbour.
Current US failure to bring security to Afghanistan has in fact destabilized neighbouring Central Asian countries, a situation that has pushed them closer to Russia in order to ensure their internal security. Russian troops commonly guard the borders of these countries. Also, Russia will likely continue its current policy of every once in a while pressuring Central Asian states to limit or threaten to remove US basing rights, just so that no one gets comfortable with the idea.
Meanwhile, Indian involvement in Afghanistan is still modest but increasing. Under the Taliban, Afghanistan fell within Pakistan’s sphere of influence. Today, there is competition between the two regional rivals in order to see who will take a lead in south and central Asia. The Indian Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, was on a visit to Kabul on Wednesday. This follows an earlier visit by Afghan President Karzai to Delhi. Xinhua reports that during Karzai’s visit, “the Indian government announced a contribution of 250,000 tons wheat to Afghanistan to overcome food shortage in winter;” and that “India has contributed 1.250 billion U.S. dollars for the reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan since 2002.”
French Defence Minister Herve Morin on Wednesday stated that his country would not send any more troops to Afghanistan.
Asked in a radio interview how France would react if Obama were to call for more contributions to the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force, Morin pointed out that his country already sent additional troops in 2007 and 2008.
…France has about 2,800 troops in Afghanistan, making it the fourth-largest contributor to foreign forces…
On Tuesday, a Harris poll for the Financial Times showed most voters in Britain, France, Germany and Italy believed their governments should resist any call for more troops by Obama.
Tensions mount between the Afghan people, the Afghan government, and international troops stationed in the country on account of civilian death resulting from US and NATO air strikes. Talk of civilian deaths has become more prominent as Afghanistan’s Presidential elections approach (likely to be held in Fall 2009), as Western attention refocuses on the region due to US President Obama’s foreign policy shift, and as mounting deaths further entrench anger and resentment among Afghans.
Two Afghan soldiers dead, three injured from suicide bomb in Herat province.