Instead Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, had embarked on an international tour to promote his new book, “Blue Planet in Green Shackles,” an anti-global-warming manifesto in which Klaus — who has denounced Al Gore as an “apostle of arrogance” — dismisses manmade climate change as a myth.
Klaus’s main destination was Moscow, where LUKoil, the giant Russian oil company, was paying for the book’s translation. Speaking in the Kremlin, the Czech leader, his white hair closely cropped and mustache fastidiously trimmed, condemned the EU — which he once compared to the Soviet Union — as elitist and undemocratic.
It was an extraordinary state of affairs: a tiny new EU member impeding, if not quite derailing, a historic community development. Klaus eventually signed the Lisbon Treaty, but only after his protracted opposition had frayed the EU’s already fragile unity. Critics of Europe’s rudest politician, as he’s been described, accused him of hijacking the treaty in order to steal the limelight.
Although most Czechs say their president genuinely believes in his anti-European tirades, many were dismayed. But Klaus’s trip to Moscow raised eyebrows for another reason: to many observers, he appeared to be acting in the interests of the Kremlin, and not for the first time.
In the 1990s, Klaus promoted Czech oil and gas agreements with Russia before opposing a deal to buy gas from Norway as “economically unviable.” (When Moscow cut off supplies flowing through Ukraine in 2006 and 2009, the deal helped enable the Czech Republic to avoid major energy crises.) In 1999, he joined the Kremlin’s angry condemnation of NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia over Kosovo. A decade later as president, he appeared to back Russia’s invasion of Georgia by declaring that the responsibility of Moscow’s former Soviet neighbor was “unexceptionable and fatal.”
A trained economist, Klaus has served as prime minister or president during most of the Czech Republic’s postcommunist history. The staunch free-marketeer — who keeps a photograph of Margaret Thatcher prominently displayed in his office — oversaw the transition of a centrally planned economy into one of the former Soviet bloc’s most successful markets before emerging as a leading voice of the country’s right wing. So you’d be forgiven for thinking it somewhat of a paradox that he’s come out on Moscow’s side on almost every major issue.
Klaus’s resistance to signing the Lisbon Treaty, despite being obligated to do so by Czech law, put him in step with the Kremlin yet again, this time over one of Moscow’s biggest foreign-policy goals: splitting European unity. Klaus has backed Moscow so consistently over the years that jokes in Prague about his being a Russian agent prompt chuckles tinged with more than a little nervousness.
Journalist Jaroslav Plesl, who has investigated Russian influence in the Czech Republic, believes it doesn’t matter whether the gossip contains any truth. “You don’t need to see any documents, even if they exist,” he says. “The Russians want the European Union to be as weak as possible, and for that purpose, Klaus serves their interests well.”
But there are worries that Klaus, who refused requests for an interview, is just the tip of the iceberg. A growing number of Czech politicians across the spectrum appear to have ties to Russia in one or another form, and it’s setting off alarm bells. Twenty years after the end of communism — and four decades after the Red Army crushed the Prague Spring in 1968 — a few lonely voices are warning that the Czech Republic and its neighbors are in danger of falling under Moscow’s influence once again. This time, they say, the threat isn’t from Russia’s tanks but the one business in which Russia leads the world: energy.
That was the message from a group of prominent Central and Eastern European politicians led by former President Vaclav Havel, Klaus’s predecessor and nemesis, who published an open letter to President Barack Obama last summer. The West, they wrote, should abandon its mistaken belief that the end of the Cold War and the expansion of the EU and NATO into the former Soviet bloc guaranteed their countries were “safe.”
Criticism that Washington may be abandoning allies in Central and Eastern Europe in favor of “resetting” relations with Moscow is growing ever louder. But some believe it’s distracting from the real threat in this part of the world. A handful of politicians, journalists, and former intelligence officers say rampant corruption is making Czechs vulnerable to exploitation by a resurgent Russia with ready cash to help fulfill its burning desire to reestablish its influence over former Soviet bloc countries.
Unlike Western firms, which lobby largely in their own interests, Russian state-controlled and private enterprises play an integral role in Kremlin foreign policy, and they’re “undoubtedly influencing the behavior of various Czech political parties and politicians,” Havel said in an interview. “I’ve seen several cases where the influence started quietly and slowly began projecting onto our foreign policy. I can only advise serious discretion and great caution.”
As one objective in a grand strategy, the Czech Republic sheds light on just how Moscow works. It’s no secret Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of oil and gas, especially to Central and Eastern European countries, some of which depend on Russia for around 90 percent of their supplies. But in the Czech Republic, Moscow is playing for an industry that’s been promoted as central to securing the country’s energy independence: nuclear power. A Russian company is bidding for the biggest nuclear energy deal in history, and many believe it will win.
WATCH: Russians in Karlovy Vary
Klaus’s offices are in Prague’s storied castle, a dark medieval hulk that looms over a Baroque city of spires. Despite its architectural charms, however, outside the center, much of Prague remains gritty, a city still emerging from its communist past. But some neighborhoods stand out. Near the castle hill above the curving Vltava River, a collection of villas lines the leafy streets of one of Prague’s toniest quarters. It’s here that many of the city’s wealthy Russians have settled.
To those Russians, Prague is a more affordable version of London: an urban asylum that’s safer and more civilized than teeming, lawless Moscow, and a convenient few hours’ flight away. Russian law firms, food stores and hairdressers serve not only the rich, but a growing number of their middle-class compatriots. The neighborhood is also home to the Russian Embassy, which occupies a sprawling palace and includes a Russian Orthodox church, and, according to Czech intelligence, provides a place for at least 60 Russian intelligence officers and agents, or a third of the Russian diplomatic community, from which to operate.
Last year, the government expelled two Russian diplomats suspected of spying. Many Czechs believe they’d taken part in a large-scale Russian effort to rally public opinion against the construction of a radar base that was to be part of the U.S. missile defense shield. But Czech media later reported the Russians were probably conducting industrial espionage. In a report issued in June, the Czech counterintelligence service warned that Russian espionage was “aggressive” and escalating, especially in the energy business.
That development worries Karel Randak, the soft-spoken former head of the Czech intelligence service whose close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair gives him the appearance more of a scholar than spy. But espionage is only part of the way Moscow is seeking to expand its influence here. Although Randak insists most Russian businessmen behave no differently from their Western counterparts, he says some of the biggest Russian companies operate by stealth, through a dizzying web of shell companies nominally owned and operated by Czechs but actually controlled by Moscow.
Among them, a gas-trading company named Vemex has taken 12 percent of the Czech domestic market since its establishment in 2001 to sell Russian natural gas. Although there’s nothing on Vemex’s website to indicate it, the company is Czech in name only. It’s actually controlled by Gazprom through a series of companies based in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, including Centrex Europe Energy and Gas, which has helped spearhead the Russian drive to buy energy assets across Europe.
Centrex is registered in Austria, and, according to Gazprom’s website, founded by its own Gazprombank. But the company’s real ownership is impossible to trace. According to the European Commission, Centrex is owned by Centrex Group Holding Ltd., registered in Cyprus, a company controlled by Gazprom’s German subsidiary, and RN Privatsiftung, a Vienna foundation whose stockholders are unknown.
Why go to the trouble of hiding the real owners of companies either already known or believed to be controlled by Gazprom? Vemex is just one of a large number of enterprises Gazprom has set up in countries across Central and Eastern Europe to muscle into the European energy-utilities business. By disguising the real owners, Gazprom makes its actions more palatable to Europeans wary of expanding Russian influence.
Randak, who began his intelligence career tracking Russian criminal groups in the 1990s, says the Russians first gained control over organized crime in the Czech Republic from the Italian Mafia around 1992. Beginning with “normal criminal activities,” mainly racketeering, they branched into white-collar crime in the mid-1990s. “They hired lawyers and established local companies with Czech board members,” Randak says. “Now they’re involved in ‘real business’ because they have real money.” And they’re controlled by, or work with, the Russian government. “This is the real danger coming from Russia.”
The character Victor Laszlo, the fugitive Czech resistance leader in the film “Casablanca,” may represent the most common image of the country in the West: rigid, pure, and dedicated, fighting against the victimization of a foreign oppressor. As always, the reality is more complicated. Journalist Jaroslav Plesl, who’s one of the country’s leading political commentators, blames his own countrymen for their scant concern about the danger from Moscow. “They’re willing to sell anything,” he says. “If you want to influence politics here, you need to do business with only a very few people, and you can pretty much control the country.”
“That’s something the Russians have been able to exploit,” Plesl says. “Just look at Karlovy Vary.”
Nowhere is the Russian presence more visible than in the storied spa town in the hilly west of the country that’s a popular vacation destination for Russians. Many of the town’s buildings belong to Russians, including the grand Imperial Hotel, owned by a Russian-born businessman who got his start in the region overseeing Soviet uranium mining in the 1970s and where Klaus often stays. “Russians can do whatever they want without permission,” Plesl says, “and if they do need approval for something, they’ll bribe city hall to get it.” During a low ebb in relations, Czechs joked the Kremlin once warned it would bomb Prague if the government wasn’t careful. “If you’re not careful,” the Czech prime minister replied, “we’ll bomb Karlovy Vary.”
With some 50 of its filling stations dotting the countryside, LUKoil is Russia’s most public face in the Czech Republic. Last year, the company also secured a contract to supply 20 percent of the jet fuel used at Prague’s International Airport. No other companies bid for the deal, despite a pledge by then-Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek — a bitter opponent of Klaus’s who’s raised serious concerns about the danger of Russian control over Czech strategic companies — to diversify his country’s energy supplies.
That may be because LUKoil has serious pull. According to the Czech media, the company’s CEO Vagit Alekperov — who enjoys close ties to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — twice secretly met Klaus in the Prague Castle. One of the meetings is reported to have taken place in November 2008, around the time LUKoil announced it would expand its business in the Czech Republic, prompting rumors of a backroom deal. When asked by journalists about the meetings, Klaus reacted angrily, but didn’t deny they took place.
The government’s decision to award the contract to LUKoil helped reverse a drive to free the country from dependence on Russian oil, the only source until a pipeline from Germany began delivering supplies in 1995 — against Klaus’s wishes. That channel now provides some 20 percent of the country’s oil, but according to Jaroslav Spurny — one of the country’s most prominent investigative journalists, who writes for the magazine “Respekt” — LUKoil now wants to take control of the pipeline and reverse the flow so that Russian supplies would be sent west through the Czech Republic. “That would make us fully dependent on Russian oil again,” Spurny says, “which would mean a kind of dictatorship.”
LUKoil and other Russian companies contacted for this article declined to provide interviews. But Russian Chamber of Commerce representative Sergei Mikoyan says LUKoil, like any company, is naturally seeking to expand its business for its own interests. “Why should Russia excuse itself for having enough money to buy property abroad?” he asks, adding that charges of a grand Kremlin plan to snap up European energy assets can be made only by people who “simply don’t like Russia. No matter what Russia does, they’ll always find skeletons in the closet.”
Mikoyan says the Czech government can easily rule any company operating in the country off-limits on the grounds of strategic importance, otherwise “say openly they’re for sale, but not to the Russians, which would be unfair and not part of free enterprise.”
Whatever its motives, LUKoil is cultivating ties with a number of politicians in addition to Klaus. Among them is a popular former prime minister named Milos Zeman, who recently left the Social Democratic Party to start his own left-wing Citizens’ Rights Party. While denying allegations that it is financed by LUKoil, the party admits taking money from Russian-connected lobbyists. Chief among them is Miroslav Slouf, a former communist youth leader whose Slavia Consulting company brokered the LUKoil deal to supply Prague’s airport. Slouf, who is known to be LUKoil’s main promoter in the Czech Republic, also happens to be Zeman’s right-hand man.
Zeman denies he benefits from Russian money. At his party headquarters in central Prague, the blunt, hard-drinking, old-school pol — who many believe hopes to succeed Klaus as president in 2013 — bridled in response to a question about the influence of lobbyists such as Slouf. “Let me give you a lesson in political science,” he says. “They’re engaged in a respectable job.” Besides, “we haven’t received a single penny from LUKoil.”
Members of the country’s small circle of pro-American politicians disagree, among them Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, a pipe-smoking Hapsburg prince. “There are very strong lobbying groups here, very strong,” he said in an interview shortly before he joined the cabinet in July. “A lot of Russian firms are under the influence of the state, especially in the energy sector. And Russia is increasingly turning into an authoritarian state. There’s always a danger that economic influence turns into political influence.”
Former Green Party leader Martin Bursik, who also served as environment minister, is one of the loudest critics of the central role lobbyists play in Czech politics. He says it’s opened the door for Moscow to reassert its influence by reactivating a network of communist-era officials. “The kind of transparent, legal lobbying conducted by the U.S. president or secretary of state can hardly compete,” he says.
That’s being made clear by jockeying over the nuclear energy deal some believe is so important it will influence the country’s future development.
The CEZ Republic
In the region of South Bohemia, an hour south of Prague by car, picturesque but rundown villages dot miles of flat, bucolic farmland. Until you approach the village of Temelin, where four surreal-looking cooling towers loom over the land. They’re part of a nuclear power plant soon to become the focus of the biggest business deal in Czech history. The state power conglomerate that owns the plant, CEZ (pronounced “chess”), plans to build two new reactors, and possibly more elsewhere.
Started in the 1980s, construction on the Temelin plant was interrupted by the fall of communism. Westinghouse later completed the project, but last year CEZ discharged the U.S.-based company as supplier of nuclear fuel in favor of a Russian state-controlled firm.
Temelin and a second, larger nuclear power plant currently produce a third of Czech electricity. Although coal provides the biggest share of Czech energy, about 60 percent, the government plans to shut down the oldest, most polluting plants over the next decade. Temelin’s new reactors are expected to make up the difference, about 10 percent of the country’s energy.
Critics are worried about how the expansion plans will be handled, partly because CEZ isn’t just any power company. It’s the largest utility and biggest public company in Central and Eastern Europe, with a net profit last year five times that of the four biggest Czech banks combined. CEZ finances the two largest political parties and is so central to politics and business, one observer calls the Czech Republic an “electrostate.” Others have dubbed it the “CEZ Republic.”
CEZ, which is 70 percent state-owned, also illustrates the deep murkiness of Czech politics. In May, the Green Party publicly called on the company to reveal its ownership structure, alleging the firm stands at the center of “a network of loyalties and linkages in a nontransparent environment. That network includes courts, police, prosecutors, regional governments, and political parties.” The Greens are concerned that internal CEZ corruption will affect the outcome of the Temelin tender.
A spokesman for the Temelin plant says the new reactors will be key to maintaining the country’s “energy independence.” But given that rationale, it may come as a surprise that a Russian state-controlled company, Atomstroieksport, is not only among just three bidders, but by many accounts ranks at the top of the list. Competing against Atomstroieksport are Westinghouse (the U.S. company was bought by Japan’s Toshiba in 2007) and France’s Areva. The firms will submit their offers this fall. The contract, worth between $15 billion and $30 billion, will be awarded next year, and the new reactors are expected to begin operation by 2020.
CEZ says all three bidders are well qualified, and that the main consideration should be price. Others say the deal isn’t about money. “It’s a civilization choice,” says Vaclav Bartuska, the Czech Republic’s foreign envoy for energy-security issues. “I want my country to be tied to France or the U.S.,” he explains. “I’m not lobbying for Areva or Westinghouse, just against the Russians.”
When CEZ announced the Temelin tender last year, the government said it was up to the company to decide who wins. But Bartuska succeeded in a single-handed campaign to make the choice political: now the government will have the final say. It’s been a lonely battle. Bartuska, a dissident student leader under communism, is the only high-ranking government official to warn about the threat from Russian influence, for which he was criticized by even his own government for being “too pro-Western.”
The smiling former journalist — who spoke in his airy office in a sprawling 17th-century palace that houses the Foreign Ministry — says the difference between Russian and Western companies is the code by which they function. “Russian companies export corruption,” he says.
Bartuska points to a deal last year to build a new storage facility at Temelin for spent nuclear fuel. The sole bid submitted for the $80 million contract was from a company so shady that it’s under investigation by the government. CEEI is believed to be Russian-controlled, but its ownership remains unknown. The trail stops at a Liechtenstein-based firm called U.B.I.E., where former Liechtenstein Prime Minister Markus Buechel is a director. He’s also Russia’s honorary consul to Liechtenstein.
Buechel has said even he doesn’t know who ultimately owns CEEI. According to a Prague-based business newsletter called the “Fleet Sheet,” however, he’s asked what would be wrong if the owner did turn out to be Russian. The newsletter also reported CEEI board member Vladimir Hlavinka, a CEZ executive, as dismissing concerns over CEEI. The country’s public-procurement law bars investigating bidders’ ownership, he said, because that would amount to “discrimination.”
Critics of the CEEI deal say Germany recently built an almost identical storage facility for half the price. “Fleet Sheet’s” American publisher, Erik Best, characterizes CEZ’s actions as evidence of what he calls the “privatization of state authority,” when state companies make decisions in the interests of their own executives instead of the state. Best says public projects in the Czech Republic are usually overpriced, undertaken less for the sake of improving infrastructure than the sums officials are able to skim from the contracts. He questions why Temelin’s new storage facility was commissioned.
“Was the real reason simply that they could build it, because that’s 1.5 or 2 billion crowns [$70 million or $100 million]? That means someone got 1.5 or 2 billion crowns, and of course there are the rumors [CEEI] is ultimately owned by Russians,” Best says.
Temelin’s spokesman has denied allegations of wrongdoing, saying the storage facility was necessary and long-planned. But energy envoy Bartuska agrees the questions surrounding CEEI are cause for serious concern about how CEZ will handle the upcoming reactor tender. Not least because one of CEEI’s directors is in jail for trying to kidnap another, who happens to be Klaus’s former chief of staff, in an alleged extortion attempt. Bartuska says that reminds him of incidents in countries such as Nigeria and “not how I want to see my own country.”
WATCH: The Temelin nuclear power plant — a key battleground in energy security
Bartuska believes the decision over the Temelin tender will affect much more than the nuclear industry alone. “Putin will be bidding not just for two reactors,” he says, “but for [influence over] the entire Czech Republic.” Jiri Kominek, an analyst who writes for the Jamestown Foundation, says Moscow is already putting “unprecedented” lobbying pressure on the Czech government, and expects it to be successful.
Some opinion makers, including the editorial board of the “Hospodarske noviny” business newspaper — where Plesl is a columnist — are calling for banning Atomstroieksport from even participating in the tender. But that proposal is facing an uphill battle not least because the Russian company is expected to submit the lowest offer by far.
Sergei Mikoyan of the Russian Chamber of Commerce dismisses the criticism that the state-controlled company would pose a threat to Czech national security. “On the contrary,” he says, “the state’s backing of Atomstroieksport is good because the Russian government can guarantee the project’s security.”
For its part, Atomstroieksport has played down its connection to the Russian state, publicizing its bid by promising to subcontract up to 70 percent of the construction work on Temelin to Czech companies. The main beneficiary would be a nuclear-engineering firm called Skoda JS (separate from the eponymous car company, which is owned by Volkswagen). Last year, Atomstroieksport and Skoda JS formed a consortium to enter a joint bid, something Skoda JS director Miroslav Fiala says shows it’s “not really a Russian offer, but from a consortium led by Skoda JS.”
But there’s a catch. Although Skoda JS’s Czech managers may represent its public face, the company is really Russian-owned, after its recent sale to the state-controlled industrial conglomerate OMZ. Pressed on that point, Fiala admits the Skoda JS-Atomstroieksport bid actually “represents Russian national capital.” But he adds, “we’re simply offering CEZ a competitive and safe project that will open great opportunities for Czech industry.”
“Fleet Sheet” publisher Best isn’t convinced. “Skoda JS’s sale to OMZ is a much bigger matter than anyone is willing to admit,” he says. For one thing, the Czech company’s ownership of the plant’s designs “gives the Russians access to Westinghouse’s commercial secrets.”
“They’ve just been simply better prepared than the French or the Americans,” Best says of the Russians. “They’ve been more active coming in and setting up agreements with local suppliers. In that sense, they’ve done a better job than the Americans.”
Vice President Joe Biden lobbied for Westinghouse’s bid when he visited Prague last winter. But Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra, who’s among the most pro-American members of the political establishment, criticizes Washington for doing too little. In an interview before his recent appointment to the government, he rejected concerns the Temelin bid would automatically go the Russians, but “a more energetic approach [from Westinghouse] would certainly be appreciated.”
Not A Done Deal
When Gazprom cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006 in what looked very much like punishment for Kyiv’s pro-Western policies, there was little doubt Moscow was using energy as a foreign-policy tool. European countries, whose supplies were also disrupted, vowed to diversify their supplies by looking to other sources and developing renewable energy. But Europe still depends on Russia for a quarter of its gas, and that figure is only set to grow.
Those who believe Russian companies act differently than their Western counterparts see patterns in the Kremlin’s drive to broaden control over Europe’s energy infrastructure. Moscow’s success in the past several years has been dramatic. Germany, Italy, and Hungary are among the countries to have joined projects to build two major new gas pipelines from Russia that would deepen Europe’s dependence on Moscow. Earlier this year, Austria became the seventh country to sign on to Moscow’s South Stream pipeline, which is planned to deliver supplies from Central Asia.
Some believe Washington has fallen asleep at the wheel. “The U.S. never expected the Russian offensive would be so strong,” Plesl says. But he sees signs the United States has started mapping the “damage” caused by the Russians, and “I think they’re horrified.”
The U.S. Embassy in Prague and officials in Washington turned down requests for interviews. Some say it’s ironic that a U.S. administration undertaking a historic drive to institute regulations at home isn’t doing more to criticize the breakdown of rule of law among allies like the Czech Republic. “I don’t think they care a bloody damn about us,” Schwarzenberg, now foreign minister, said last spring. “We’re just a very small country somewhere in Central Europe. Why should they care?”
Following parliamentary elections in May, Schwarzenberg’s TOP 09 party joined a new center-right coalition government that will decide the Temelin tender next year. The new government is led by the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), which has called for lessening dependence on Russia and fighting corruption, a top issue for many who support the new government. But Karel Randak, the former intelligence chief, says he’s not optimistic because the previous center-right government — also led by the ODS until it collapsed last year — oversaw a rise in corruption.
Questioned about the advantages corruption gives Moscow, Czech politicians routinely say EU membership guarantees their country independence. “I don’t think ordinary investments from Russia, the United States, Italy, China, Japan, Brazil, Germany, France, or anywhere else are a threat to our national independence,” says Jiri Paroubek, a former prime minister and Social Democrat leader who was seen as especially sympathetic to Moscow.
But critics such as former Green Party leader Bursik warn that Moscow’s activities in the Czech Republic have shown that any belief that membership in international organizations such as the EU is enough to ensure the rule of law is naive. Moreover, the actions of Klaus — who founded the ODS — like those of other Czech leaders, have contributed decisively to the EU’s failure to mount a unified defense of its collective interests. That’s essentially enabled Russia to dictate the rules of the energy game by making deals with individual countries’ energy companies. “It’s still a power game over who has influence within the Czech Republic,” Bursik says. “It’s still a battle between NATO and Russia.”
Although President Klaus has no formal say over Temelin’s future, he’s endorsed Atomstroieksport’s bid. Klaus’s critics contend that’s part and parcel of his support for Moscow’s position on virtually every foreign-policy issue. But energy envoy Bartuska doesn’t believe Klaus is actually working for the Russians. “He loves to be alone against the flow, on climate change and many other things,” he says. It’s no secret that Klaus’s recalcitrance is something Moscow has exploited.
Bartuska, who’s met Putin and Medvedev in the Kremlin, also says he knows how seductive a grand Kremlin reception can be. “When they give you the treatment, oh my! Suddenly you feel you’re someone. Klaus can’t even get a meeting in Washington. Where would you go?” Still, the real threat to Czechs, Bartuska says, doesn’t come from Moscow “but from ourselves.” The Czech Republic made a “huge leap” toward the West after 1989, he says, but “suddenly became dissatisfied, started looking around and saying, ‘So this is it?'”
Still, Bartuska says the game isn’t up yet. Although he lost the fight to exclude Atomstroieksport from the Temelin tender, last June the government appointed him to oversee the process, a sign he says “speaks for itself.”
“Now we’re on a threshold. Either we can go the way of Ukraine, a phony democracy with a few people who are rich. Or we can go back and try to be a normal boring European country in which law is law.”
“But it’s not a done deal,” he adds. “We have to decide for ourselves what kind of country we want to live in.”
A “foreign mercenary,” who reportedly took part in a deadly ambush on Tajik troops a week ago, has been killed in an ongoing special operation in eastern Tajikistan, the republic’s state TV reported.
According to the TV report, the suspected militant was in possession of an assault rifle, as well as plans of future terrorist attacks and a bomb-making manual.
The militant’s name and country of origin was not disclosed for investigation purposes. It was earlier reported that mercenaries from Pakistan and Afghanistan took part in the attack, which left some two dozens of servicemen dead.
According to official reports, 25 people were killed and 14 seriously injured on September 19 when they were ambushed in a remote Tajik valley. Three people later succumbed to their injuries, and 11 remain in hospital.
The operation against militant leaders Abdullo Rakhimov, Mirzokhudzha Akhmadov and Alovuddin Davlatov, who are blamed for the attack, began in eastern Tajikistan on Wednesday. Eight suspected militants have been killed so far.
DUSHANBE, September 26 (RIA Novosti)
A bombing in Iran Wednesday at a military parade left at least 10 people dead. Iranian officials have accused Kurdish separatists, who it says are backed by the US, for carrying out the ‘terrorist attack.’
By Tom A. Peter,
Tensions in Iran’s restive Kurdish region are likely to escalate after a bombing there Wednesday left at least 10 people dead and dozens wounded. No one has claimed responsibility yet, but officials are calling it a “terrorist attack.” At least one Iranian leader has implied that Kurdish separatists may have been involved, but no official charges have been made.
The bomb detonated in the city of Mahabad during a military parade to showcase the nation’s might. The event was part of Iran’s Sacred Defense Week, a commemoration of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, and according to Iran’s state media, the blast killed mostly women and children, including a 5-year-old child and the wives of two Iranian military commanders. The bomb was reportedly hidden in a tree near the seating area for high-ranking military officials.
The provincial governor, Vahid Jalalzadeh blamed the attack on “counter-revolutionaries,” a reference to Kurdish separatist groups such as the Iranian wing of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). In a report by Press TV he added that these groups “have always carried out such brutal acts to take revenge on the people of Mahabad….”
There has been a long-running conflict between Iranian forces and Kurdish guerrillas in the area who conduct regular attacks inside Iran and Turkey. Lately reports have emerged that in recent months Iranian authorities have arrested, tried, and executed Kurdish activists in the area, reports the BBC.
Iran: Attackers backed by US
Iranians have accused the US of backing the Iranian PKK, called the Party for the Free Life of Kurdistan (PEJAK). Following Wednesday’s attack, officials were quick to blame the US, although they did not officially implicate PEJAK.
“As the investigations indicate, the attack has foreign backing. … Unfortunately, the Americans and their allies are in the region. From the first day of their presence and their slogan to establish security in the region, we can see that the unrest has increased,” said Mr. Jalalzadeh in an article by the Los Angeles Times.
Iranians have often accused the US, Britain, and other Western countries, of meddling in their internal affairs and provoking violent episodes. Most recently, Iran accused the West of inciting the unrest that followed the disputed reelection of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, reports the Associated Press.
A key city for Kurds
The city of Mahabad where the bombing took place is central to Kurds not only in Iran, but to all those spread across Iraq, Turkey, and Syria as well. The largest ethnic group without a country, Kurds have long struggled for autonomy. With Soviet backing in 1946, the Kurd’s established the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, but Iran reclaimed the territory by 1947.
In addition to PEJAK, there are also several other militant groups in Iran who oppose the government and could have been involved in the attack.
The most active insurgent group in Iran is the Sunni Muslim Jundollah Baluch, which Iranian authorities say has ties to Al Qaeda. In July, the group claimed responsibility for a double suicide bombing that killed 28 people. The group’s leaders said the attack was revenge for the execution of its leaders, reports Reuters.
Al Qaeda plot to kidnap British athletes, fans during Delhi Games unearthed
The last days of summer 2010 in Kyrgyzstan saw two events that can confidently be called crucial. The first event occurred when the international community began massaging information. On August 23, the International Crisis Group published a report and recommendations on its official website concerning events that occurred in the southern part of the country. The 39 pages of the report examined the events that took place during June 1990, the social and political situation during 2010, the events in Jalalabad and Osh and the chronology of the June riots.
The organization’s website used that report to provide recommendations to the Kyrgyz authorities and to the international community, specifically to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities.
We will not evaluate the quality and fairness of the report. Let the politicians and pundits argue about that. Everything would have been fine had not Louisa Arbour, the past UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and current head of the International Crisis Group, voiced the basic thesis with which her organization began its activities in Kyrgyzstan on the pages of the British newspaper, The Guardian. In her article, Louisa Arbour argued that it may unfortunately no longer be possible to prevent the country from falling apart.
The second important point of her propaganda message was “to support an investigation into the June events with central roles assigned to those with suitable expertise, such as the UN high commissioner for human rights and the OSCE high commissioner on national minorities. And it should be made clear that further aid to the Kyrgyz government will be conditional on such an investigation.”
That recommendation indicates that the plans to partition the country have entered their final phase. In light of that statement, how can we forget the main point of the International Crisis Group’s January 2005 report, which said Kosovo is more dangerous than Iraq?
The media did not cover the second event, but it was also crucial: the plan is to involve Martti Ahtisaari, “the architect of Kosovo independence” and destroyer of Yugoslavia, in Rosa Otumbayeva’s government to solve the “Kyrgyz problem.”
Martti Ahtisaari is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and is best known for his success in splitting Kosovo off from Serbia. World-famous film director Emir Kusturica made a telling comment during a visit to South Ossetia after George’s aggression: “The Nobel Prize went to one of the founders of Kosovo’s independence, Martti Ahtisaari, who initiated the bombing of Serbia. I have questioned the validity of the Nobel Peace Prize ever since.”
The quality of work done by the Nobel Laureate has been simply amazing. The Ahtisaari Plan was presented to the UN in early 2007, and by February 2008 Kosovo had declared its independence. The separatists and the secession of the independent state received support in Europe. How much faster will the “Ahtisaari Plan for Kyrgyzstan” be implemented in Central Asia? The reports of the International Crisis Group played a huge role in shaping public opinion and preparing the US government for aggression against Yugoslavia.
These two landmark events once again confirm the view of many analysts: the successful partitioning of Yugoslavia into many small states would accelerate the final fragmentation of the USSR into the former Soviet republics, or more precisely into the newly independent states that emerged on their territories.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was a strategic objective—if not an idée fixe—of many of the West’s political leaders. And these political forces did not finish the job 20 years ago when the Soviet Union collapsed. In many respects, the collapse of the post-Soviet republics, those new states, was foreordained when they were established. The administrative and territorial partitioning of the Soviet republics was an integral part of Stalin’s empire building, with all of the consequences of Rome’s “divide and conquer.” It created internal territorial and national conflicts and prevented the regions from being economically independent. All of these precautions succeeded as part of the USSR’s large international empire. But the conflicts that Stalin had built into the system surfaced as soon as the imperial and international organizational principles of state control were abandoned.
Parochial nationalism has become one of the main methods used to destroy these post-Soviet fragments, and it is highly effective. It came into use during the concluding stages of perestroika. It was evident in the Moldavian Gagauzia campaign of 1990, the Sumgait events that preceded the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan and the Meskhteian Turk genocide.
After the Białowieża Accords of 1991 dissolving the USSR and the final transformation of the Soviet empire into the amorphous CIS, nationalism became the main reason the human, economic and cultural links formed during the Soviet era were destroyed. The form that nationalism took is unimportant. It might be a ban on the use of the Russian language, denial of rights to Russian speakers in the Baltic states and Ukraine or aggression against Transdniestria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Political nationalism heated up and then took on “democratic” forms again. The problem is endemic in all of the national republics of the former Soviet Union: the almost European Baltic republics that joined the EU; Ukraine, Moldavia and Belarus, which are suspended between Asia and Europe; and the republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Stalin knew what he was doing when he established the national Soviet republics within their current borders. He understood very well that fragments of the Soviet empire could not survive on their own. Their nationalism would destroy them. So 20 years later we see that the process of destroying the fragments of the Soviet Union has entered its final phase, and the main instrument of that destruction is nationalism. The color revolutions in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Georgia are the best proof of Stalin’s geopolitical genius. Democratic leaders in those countries seized power by exploiting the discontent of the people with the post-Soviet reality. Nationalism was the main political tool used by those democrats. The primary outcome of the color regimes has been the real threat that the countries where color revolutions took place would lose their integrity.
Orange President Yushchenko ultimately split society into Western and Eastern Ukraine and established a legal precedent by ceding part of Ukrainian territory to Romania.
Saakashvili’s nationalistic madness caused Georgia to lose Abkhazia and South Ossetia for good—a significant chunk of its territory. Bakiyev’s government in Kyrgyzstan exacerbated the separatist aspirations of some nationalist diasporas. The political “failure” of the color revolutions is forcing the United States and its allies to employ the methods proven in the Balkans. The situations in Kosovo and in southern Kyrgyzstan are following the same script.
The Americans achieved three main objectives in Kosovo:
- The undermining of Europe as a global competitor with the risk that Kosovo will unite with Albania and become a center around which Europe’s increasing Muslim presence can consolidate. With Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo today is already forming an “Islamic belt” that cuts off Serbia and Montenegro from Western Europe.
- The recognition of Kosovo and the partitioning of Iraq became important steps toward the ultimate destruction of the postwar system of international law.
- Kosovo is a major drug transshipment hub. Afghan heroin makes up a large part of the drug trafficking that supports the region. Heroin production increased 40 times after the United States and NATO intervened in Afghanistan in 2001.
There have been numerous reports about the use of US military transport aircraft to ship drugs—possibly through the air bases in Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Lithuania. The UN Office for Drug Control and Crime (UNODCCCP) has indirectly confirmed that reporting. According to it, the heroin distribution centers in Europe include Ramstein (Germany) and the American Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. Goods are transferred from Afghanistan to US Air Force bases without undergoing a customs inspection.
Alexander Anderson, the International Crisis Group’s Kosovo Project Director, confirmed in an interview that Kosovo is one of the largest drug trafficking corridors, and he said that organized crime there has even increased under UN administration.
Martti Ahtisaari probably has a personal interest in Kosovo’s independence. The German media got hold of an intelligence report from the German intelligence service, BND, which said UN Special Representative Martti Ahtisaari, who proposed the plan for Kosovo independence, received about 40 million euros from Albanian billionaire politician Behgjet Pacolli. No one refuted the report, and the scandal was quickly hushed up.
By partitioning Kyrgyzstan, the United States is achieving virtually the same kinds of objectives:
- Undermining a global competitor in the post-Soviet space. Dispersing those involved in the political process of integration with Russia. Establishing zones of instability and American influence supported by military bases in southern Kyrgyzstan and the Manas airport.
- The final destruction of the political remnants of the Soviet period and the establishment of preconditions for a new redivision of the world.
- Full control of drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Control over southern Kyrgyzstan and the establishment of a state there that is “independent” as far as the world is concerned, but dependent on the United States will make it possible to further boost the amount of heroin sent to Russia and the European Union.
- The problematic administrative and territorial partitioning of the Ferghan Valley that was a legacy of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which laid the foundation for permanent ethnic and territorial conflicts.
Marti Ahtisaari and the International Crisis Group should probably also achieve these objectives. All of the components for implementation of this plan are already in place:
- Efforts have begun to shape public opinion, which is concerned about the ethnic conflicts in Kyrgyzstan. If the International Crisis Group’s recommendations that it participate in an independent study by the OSCE and the UN are adopted, those conflicts will obviously be considered ethnic cleansing.
- The existence of areas densely populated by national minorities that are subject to “ethnic cleansing” and which the international community is forced to protect.
- Elections to Kyrgyzstan’s parliament scheduled for October 10, 2010, which will obviously not be recognized by one of the opposing sides—the pro-American (opposition) parties that came to power after Bakiyev, and the parties funded by Bakiyev politicians. The separation of the Kyrgyz themselves into southerners and northerners also contributes to implementation of the Ahtisaari Plan.
International Crisis Group Head Louisa Arbour accurately described the situation in her Guardian article: “In the process [of the June riots] the government lost whatever control of the south it once had. Melis Myrzakmatov, the ruthless and resolute nationalist mayor of Osh, the largest southern city, emerged from the bloodshed with his political strength and extremist credentials strengthened. Now caught between a humiliated provisional government on one hand and the renegade mayor on the other, southern Kyrgyzstan is a serious security risk in the region and beyond.” As noted by Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, leader of the Kyrgyz political party Union of the SSR, people are under the impression that the parties are preparing for the Battle of Stalingrad, not for parliamentary elections. There is a chance that this battle will be a battle for the integrity of the country.
Source: New Eastern Outlook