Monday, 30 January 2012

Natural Gas Europe - Iranian Sanctions and European Energy Security

Below is my latest article for Natural Gas Europe. Original here.

The news that BP’s Shah Deniz project in Azerbaijan will be exempted from sanctions on Iran is not all that surprising: however, it does shed light on the complexity of Europe’s gas supplies, and offers a hint of what the future could hold.

The Shah Deniz gasfield in the Caspian Sea is controlled by a consortium led by BP, which also includes a number of international firms, and, crucially, the Naftiran Intertrade Company. The huge project is key to the EU’s plan to bring Caspian gas to Europe, with over 1 trillion cubic metres of natural gas in place. The second phase, supplying 16bcm a year, is expected to come onstream by 2017.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

France, Turkey, and the Caucasus

The French Senate’s decision to ratify a bill criminalising denial of the Armenian genocide has already provoked a stinging response from Turkey. ‘Permanent sanctions’ are now on the cards, and in a capital display of petty politics, the mayor of Ankara has proposed renaming Paris Street, where the French embassy is located, to ‘Algeria Street’.

The expected freezing of ties between Paris and Ankara will have major ramifications for Turkey-EU ties and for the situation in the Middle East. It will also be another nail in the coffin of the Turkey-Armenia thaw, since neither government will now feel in the mood to compromise on the ‘historical dimension’ which was one of the protocols restoring diplomatic ties. That said, the eulogies for the rapprochement were read a long time ago so this shouldn’t be overstated.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Natural Gas Europe - Turkey puts Pressure on Iran over Gas Prices

Below is my most recent article for Natural Gas Europe: original here.

Following last month’s controversial deal with Russia on the South Stream pipeline, the Turkish government is trying to strengthen its hand with another energy supplier by threatening to take Iran to an arbitration court over a gas pricing dispute. Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said on 17th January that Turkey “shared with [the Iranians] our unease about the high gas price. They did not share the same view”.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

New interview with

Below the text of my most recent interview with Azerbaijan's Original interview here.

What can be Azerbaijan's role in global security as a new UN Security Council non-permanent member?

As well as ‘non-traditional’ threats like countering terrorism and tackling the proliferation of drugs and weapons, Azerbaijan’s geostrategic location makes it important for specific security issues. Firstly, there is the avoidance of armed conflict – in other words, preventing a new war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Secondly, acting as an increasingly important link in the transport corridor for NATO supplies to and from Afghanistan. This will become increasingly important as the war there begins to end, particularly if Russia restricts transit over its territory. This is less relevant to the Un Security Council but may still be important.

Thirdly, Azerbaijan is an extremely important state with regard to the crisis in Iran. As a neighbouring state Azerbaijan has a strong interest in avoiding both a nuclear-armed Iran and a war between Israel/the US and Iran. Baku is likely to be very active in the Security Council in assisting efforts to defuse the current crisis.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Terror plot in Baku: an Iranian connection?

Last month, I pondered whether the tension between Azerbaijan and Iran that had lasted through much of 2011 was finally ending. Ali Hasanov’s visit to Tehran, and the mutual protestations of respect and non-interference in each other’s affairs, seemed to suggest a truce in the war of words between the two.

But now this: the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry has announced it foiled a plot to assassinate foreign citizens (possibly diplomats) in Baku, supported and coordinated by the Iranian intelligence services.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Russia’s Iran war games: responding to threats, or making them?

There’s been some interesting reporting on Russia’s annual ‘Kavkaz’ war games and their connection with the situation in Iran. Unlike previous years, the exercises – scheduled for the autumn – are explicitly designed with events ‘in the Persian Gulf’ (i.e. Iran) in mind. Specifically, they revolve around the scenario that a US-Israeli attack on Iran creates ‘spillover’, that old buzzword of the armchair general, in the Caucasus.

Significantly, this year’s exercises will probably not be confined to Russian soil: they will include components in the Georgia’s breakaway, Russian-backed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and maybe in Armenia too.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Low expectations for new Karabakh summit

After a seven-month gap, the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia are set to meet again on 23-24 January to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Once again, they will do so under the auspices of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev; once again, they will almost certainly fail to make any progress.

The last meeting between the two presidents was in June, in the Russian city of Kazan. There were high hopes in advance, with the OSCE Minsk Group (co-chaired by Russia, France and the US, tasked with mediating the peace process) warning that if the two sides failed to make progress on agreeing to the ‘Basic Principles’, the peace blueprint would be scrapped and a new one produced.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Calling Erdoğan’s bluff, Kılıçdaroğlu raises the stakes

With Turkey’s political stand-off intensifying, I felt a brief follow-up to Monday’s post is needed.

That post discussed the implications of the arrest of former Chief of Staff Ilker Başbuğ as part of the increasingly vast Ergenekon coup investigation. But the criticism heaped on that arrest by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the opposition CHP, has opened a new and even more dramatic chapter in Turkey’s latest political crisis.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Ergenekon investigation gets out of control

The recent arrest of Turkey’s former chief of staff İlker Başbuğ, as part of an inquiry into alleged coup plots, prompted shockwaves in Turkish political circles. The investigation into the shadowy Ergenekon network has been rumbling on for years, claiming more and more high-profile victims in the military, the media and the academic world – but arresting the man who ran the military until 2010 is a remarkable new development. 

But that isn't the end of it: the leader of the opposition CHP Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is now under investigation for publicly slamming the government's use of the judiciary. With prosecutors calling for his parliamentary immunity to be lifted, is the Ergenekon investigation getting out of control?

Monday, 9 January 2012

New paper for Foreign Policy Centre - Comrades in arms, or a marriage of convenience? An analysis of ‘Georgian Dream’

My paper for the Foreign Policy Centre, on Georgia’s opposition alliance between Bidzina Ivanishvili and Irakli Alasania, has just been published here.

My main point is to have even a realistic chance of defeating President Saakashvili in October’s parliamentary election, the coalition has to work together and in harmony. Each of the partners bring something to the table: Alasania brings political experience and the common touch; Ivanishvili brings star power, and a vast war-chest for the unglamorous logistics of a nationwide campaign (the Republicans’ Davit Usupashvili is also in the coalition although with a much lower profile).

The biggest danger is that the coalition will crack up, as alliances in Georgia’s fractious political landscape tend to do, under the weight of its leading personalities. In particular, Ivanishvili already seems to be overshadowing his coalition partners.

If he ends up falling into the Messiah trap – “only I can save this country and I must do it alone” – he will become just one more player among Georgia’s myriad opposition parties. Unifying that opposition is going to be essential to breaking the government’s hold on power.

Natural Gas Europe - Turkey’s Bold Move Shakes up the Southern Corridor

My latest article for Natural Gas Europe is below. The original article can be found here:

The news that Turkey has given Gazprom’s South Stream pipeline permission to cross its territorial waters was, Vladimir Putin announced, a “New Year’s gift for Russia”. Just days before, Turkey had also given Azerbaijan’s SOCAR a valuable Christmas present with a deal approving the construction of the new Trans-Anatolian pipeline. These agreements close out a remarkable year for Eurasian gas politics which has seen old pipelines fall and new ones rise.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Playing politics with the Uludere airstrike

The Turkish airstrike on 28th December which killed 35 young fuel smugglers – rather than the PKK militants it was aimed at – has caused political shockwaves which show no sign of disappearing. Instead, the country’s main parties are increasingly engaged in a political mud-slinging match over the tragedy.

The governing AKP was initially caught on the back foot by the botched raid and the outpouring of public criticism it caused, particularly (and unsurprisingly) in the predominantly Kurdish southeast. The government has since sought to regain the initiative, promising compensation to those killed and ordering a full enquiry. Prime Minister Erdoğan has met the Chief of the General Staff, although he has “angrily dismissed” accusations that the raid was conducted on the basis of faulty intelligence from the National Intelligence Organisation.