Sunday, 19 February 2012

Ivanishvili 's underwhelming new team

Georgian billionaire-turned-politician Bidzina Ivanishvili has unveiled the core team for his planned Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia party, which will contest this year's elections. It's a pretty underwhelming list.

The eighteen-member "Initiative group" includes a footballer, an actress, a physics and statistics teacher, a 1992 Olympics wrestling champion, some academicians, his own spokesman, and the brother of deceased former PM Zurab Zhvania. Inexplicably, there are also four lawyers in the group - whether this reflects Ivanishvili's stated commitment to the rule of law, or his (understandable) fears about the government's use of legal pressures against him is debatable.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

New Cyprus Drilling Round Raises Tensions with Turkey

My latest post on Natural Gas Europe, about Cyprus's new drilling round and the risks of a Turkish retaliation. Original here:

A new oil and gas licencing round organised by the Republic of Cyprus is raising tensions with northern Cyprus and its Turkish backers. Although further drilling in the eastern Mediterranean will contribute to energy security in southern Europe, it may come at a high political cost.

The new round was announced by the Cypriot government on 13 February, with 12 offshore blocks available. The blocks being offered are located off the southern coast, where US explorer Noble Energy discovered a 5-8tcf field in December near the Israeli border. There are high hopes among explorers that the new blocks available will be equally productive.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Natural Gas Europe - Turkey Set to Join Black Sea LNG Project?

Below is my latest article for Natural Gas Europe, on Black Sea LNG projects. Original here:

Azerbaijan has temporarily halted a deal to sell liquefied natural gas to Ukraine, apparently owing to sudden interest by Turkey. Although the suspension is likely to be resolved, it reveals some interesting points for Black Sea energy security.

The two countries were due to sign a deal on liquefied gas transport across the Black Sea at the World Economic Forum in Davos, after a preliminary agreement was made in September.

The initial quantity was set at 5bcm per year, but by the end of the year Ukraine had decided to triple this to 15bcm: a dedicated LNG terminal, costing $1 billion, was due to be constructed in Ukraine by the Spanish firm Socoin to process the shipments. The LNG shipments, intended to start by 2014, would have helped Kiev to escape its politically and commercially punishing dependence on Russian gas. The project seemed to be ready to launch, and was discussed by Presidents Ilham Aliev and Viktor Yanukoych as late as 26th January.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Predicting the President's Popularity in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan holds its presidential ‘elections’ on Sunday, which will pit Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov, president, Hero of Turkmenistan and Protector of the nation, against a field of political colossi including factory directors and a deputy mayor for agriculture. 

An excellent post on neweurasia gives a visual indication of the one-sided nature of the contest: all eight candidates are squeezed into a billboard filled with dense text, but the president – unlike his opponents - also has the luxury of appearing on huge posters everywhere across the country.

The contest is so one-sided that it is barely news, but some of the absurdities of the process are worth commenting on. Firstly, as the AP notes, none of the other state-approved candidates have explicitly asked for people’s votes. They have instead praised the president and his ‘epoch of new revival’, or else focused on marginal issues like “introduction of early maturing cotton varieties” and “taking Turkmenistan’s equestrian sport to the international level”.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

AKP claims new conspiracy against Turkey

Turkey’s mania for conspiracy theories has reached a rather impressive new level. Bülent Gedikli, deputy chairman of the ruling AKP, has now claimed that there is a “Neocon-Ergenekon brotherhood” against the government which - like some international league of supervillains - also includes Angela Merkel, Kurdish terrorists, opposition leaders, the Israeli President, American writers, and the interest-rate lobby.

The breadth of his claims for this 21st-century SPECTRE, and his likening it to a football team, makes me wonder if the whole thing is rather tongue-in-cheek. For one thing, who would put the professorial CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu up front?

Friday, 3 February 2012

Umarov jumps on the protest bandwagon

Is Dokku Umarov, the fiery leader of the North Caucasus insurgency, trying to revitalise the movement by jumping on the global protest bandwagon? According to a statement published by jihadist media outlet Kavkaz Center, Umarov has ordered the militants “to avoid attacks on civilian targets due to a process of civil protest that began in Russia, and the fact that people no longer accept Putin's policy.”

The civil demonstrations, Umarov argues, means that Russians no longer support the government’s heavy-handed strategy in the North Caucasus, and are thus exempt from reprisals. With an eye to the presidential elections in March, however, he says that the Russian population has a choice, to either support the existing regime and its “policy of murder and terror”, or choose a new one which will take a different approach.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

What the Crisis in Syria Holds for Turkish-Russian Relations

A piece I wrote on the crisis in Syria and Turkish-Russian relations has just been published by the always excellent Washington Review of Turkish and Eurasian Affairs. The article was written in late December so things have changed a bit since then, but the fundamental premises remain more or less intact, I think. The paper can be found here: introduction below.

The truism that the Middle East is going through a time of upheaval is, for once, true. The Arab Spring, the US withdrawal from Iraq, the stand-off between Iran and the West, and the rise of Turkey, have redrawn the geopolitical map, and its new lines are not yet clear.

The new Middle East will not just affect the regional states themselves; it will also have implications for relations between states in a much wider area. One particular case is the relationship between Turkey and Russia: the turmoil in the Middle East underlines their shared views on some issues, but it has also led to substantial divergences between Ankara and Moscow. The Syrian crisis may fracture this relationship further.

Both Russia and Turkey share a core fundamental goal in the Middle East: stability. Both have reasons to fear radical Islamist movements arising in chaotic or ungoverned zones; both also have reason to fear regional conflicts and flows of weapons and refugees. Russia is of course further away, but as a Eurasian power it has strong concerns over instability in a neighbouring and strategic region.