How High Does Conspiracy Go?

[If the evidence in the following case is allowed to unfold, the implications may reach into the halls of American government.  The murder which triggered the Orange Revolution is one act in a series of crimes which moved American interests that much closer into full dominance of the former Soviet Union and the Kremlin that much closer to the exit door.]

How High Does Conspiracy Go?

KIEV, Ukraine — It took ten years for the prosecutors to conclude that the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze was ordered by the then Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko. But the case should not end there.

Oleksiy Pukach, a former top official with the Interior Ministry, after his 2009 arrest on suspicion of murdering Georgiy Gongadze.
It took 10 years, but the nation’s prosecutors have finally concluded what many others suspected a long time ago: Ex-Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko ordered a top subordinate, former police general Oleksiy Pukach, to kill journalist Georgiy Gongadze on Sept. 16, 2000.

But the case doesn’t end there and could reignite into a major scandal – the kind that, right after Gongadze’s murder, helped turn the nation against ex-President Leonid Kuchma, whose authoritarian rule lasted from 1994 until 2005.

Along with the prosecutors’ findings, announced on Sept. 14, came fresh disclosures that the conspiracy involving Gongadze’s murder and the subsequent cover-up may have reached as high as Kuchma, who left office in scandal nearly six years ago, and his former chief of staff, Volodymyr Lytvyn, who is now the speaker of parliament.

Their involvement in Gongadze’s murder has also been long suspected. Both Kuchma and Lytvyn this week, however, repeated their longstanding denials of involvement. They also ratcheted up their own accusations, blaming the journalist’s death on an international conspiracy designed to damage Ukraine.

The fresh evidence implicating Kuchma and Lytvyn allegedly comes from Pukach, who has been jailed since his July 21, 2009, arrest in the case after several years as a fugitive. Investigators say that Pukach, who took charge of police surveillance against Gongadze, has been cooperating and has given an extensive confession.

Pukach is expected to eventually stand trial on charges that he led three police subordinates – who all have been convicted and are now serving prison sentences – in the gruesome kidnapping, strangulation and beheading of Gongadze.

Valentyna Telychenko, a lawyer representing Gongadze’s widow, Myroslava, said on Sept. 16 that Pukach’s testimony implicates both Kuchma and Lytvyn in the crime and subsequent cover-up.

Citing investigators’ transcripts, Telychenko said Pukach claims that, in a meeting with Lytvyn and Kravchenko the day after Gongadze’s murder, Kravchenko told Lytvyn: “Volodymyr Mykhailovych [Lytvyn], this is our worker who personally took care of Gongadze.” According to Pukach, Kravchenko also patted him on the shoulder and said to Lytvyn: “Tell the president that we shall fulfill any of his orders.”

While Pukach’s credibility may be questionable, the jailed police commander’s version of events is also supported by the so-called “Melnychenko tapes,” the hundreds of hours of conversations in Kuchma’s office that were secretly recorded by ex-presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko.

The tapes capture numerous alleged crimes involving Kuchma from 1999 and 2000, when Socialist Party leader Oleksander Moroz publicly released excerpts of the recordings involving Gongadze.

On those Melnychenko tapes, whose authenticity is disputed by Kuchma and others implicated on them, the ex-president, Lytvyn, Kravchenko, ex-Security Services of Ukraine head Leonid Derkach and other top-ranking officials discuss ways to silence Gongadze.

The journalist had angered the administration with his critical reporting on corruption for the online news site he founded, Ukrainska Pravda, which is now among the nation’s leading news sources.

Besides repeating their longstanding denials, Kuchma and Lytvyn this week alleged that they and the nation are victims of an international conspiracy. Kuchma implied the United States was to blame.

“It’s an international scandal designed to compromise Ukraine,” Kuchma was quoted by the Kyiv-based information agency UNIAN as saying on Sept. 15. “They didn’t give me or Ukraine any peace for five years.”

The former Ukrainian president said foreign secret services were involved in Gongadze’s disappearance. He added that agents from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency were present at [anti-presidential] demonstrations following Gongadze’s disappearance.

“This was paid for. Money makes everything possible,” Kuchma said. Then he went on to say that he is satisfied that the United States, under President Barack Obama, is no longer trying to spread democracy around the globe.

In a Kyiv Post interview, Lytvyn said on Sept. 15 that the investigators’ findings exonerate him. He also blamed Gongadze’s murder on an international conspiracy.

“The investigation confirmed that I have nothing to do with this [Gongadze] case. I believe that all these events [Gongadze case, Melnychenko tapes] were directed also from outside of Ukraine and directed also by special services. I think this was organized in order to put Ukraine in its place,” Lytvyn said.

These comments appear to show that Lytvyn either knows inner details of the investigation, or he is very confident that he will not be considered a suspect despite Pukach’s testimony alleging his involvement.

Kravchenko is, of course, unable to help sort out the dispute. The nation’s former top police official, a close and longtime confidant of Kuchma, died from two gunshot wounds to the head on March 4, 2005, in his suburban Koncha Zaspa home. The mysterious death was officially ruled a suicide, a version long disputed by Kravchenko’s relatives.

As mourners lit candles on Independence Square on Sept. 16 to mark the 10th anniversary of Gongadze’s murder, the same questions remain as strong a decade later: Who ordered the murder, and are state investigators committed to solving the crime without fear or favor, regardless of where the evidence leads?

Investigation, cover-up

The wrap-up of the pre-trial investigation on Sept. 7 only means the case will be transferred to court, where judges could order further investigation. More investigation is what advocates for Gongadze’s relatives and their representatives want.

Telychenko, who represents Gongadze’s widow, Myroslava, has started looking through the voluminous files involving Pukach’s testimony that investigators released to her this week. She believes Pukach’s version of the Sept. 17, 2000 meeting with Kravchenko and Lytvyn clearly implicates the parliament speaker and Kuchma in both the crime and the cover-up.

Hanna Herman, President Viktor Yanukovych’s aid, said that the administration wants a credible investigation to be concluded but is not sure if it is possible.

“The case should be carried out objectively, so that the Ukrainian and international community believe in the results of the investigation,” Herman said. “I don’t know if it’s possible given the wasted opportunities.”

The momentum for finding the truth has been lost, Herman said, and part of the blame lies with ex-President Viktor Yushchenko, who had declared that solving the Gongadze murder was a “matter of honor” for him during his five-year presidency that ended on Feb. 25.

“The case that Yushchenko claimed to be a matter of honor turned out to be a big dishonor for him,” Herman said. “They should have carried out this case and protected the witnesses. But Kravchenko was killed in 2005. They [the wrongdoers] had enough time to cover up the tracks and now it’s really hard to find those who really gave the order to kill Gongadze.”

However, many also point the blame at close associates of Yanukovych, starting with pro-presidential lawmaker Syvatoslav Piskun, who served as prosecutor general for many years as the case dragged on. Kravchenko’s death came shortly after Piskun publicly called him in for questioning.

Myroslava Gongadze, the widow of the slain journalist and the mother of their twin teenage daughters, is now a journalist with Voice of America in Washington, D.C. She thinks that Kravchenko is a convenient scapegoat.

“Still, he is a thread that leads us to the top state officials of that time – Kuchma and Lytvyn,” Myroslava Gongadze said. “Kravchenko didn’t have any personal reasons to kill Georgiy, so it implies that he got the order from top officials.”

Even if it is difficult to prove Kuchma’s complicity in murder, the ex-president is still responsible for appointing and promoting “a criminal” who gave orders to terrorize the people, Myroslava Gongadze said.

Lesya Gongadze, the victim’s mother, also dismissed the prosecutors’ findings.
“What they are trying to do is typical: to lay the blame on a dead man,” Lesya Gongadze said on Sept. 14. “Let God be their judge. What they are doing is covering the tracks of their inactivity.”

Convictions, arrest

Despite three presidential administrations and a changing cast of prosecutors and investigators, incremental progress has been made in the Gongadze case.

In 2008, three police officers who participated in the kidnapping and murder of Gongadze were convicted of the crime and sentenced to at least 12 years in prison. They are Mykola Protasov, Oleksandr Popovych and Valeriy Kostenko.

On July 21, 2009, authorities found Pukach – who allegedly supervised the murder – living in a rural area of Zhytomyr Oblast west of Kyiv.

Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, the former chief of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) under Yushchenko, said that criminal charges against Pukach should have come a long time ago. The official rationale for the delay is that investigators were waiting on certain test results, while the unofficial possibility is that Pukach was bargaining for leniency.

Pukach’s lawyer, Mykola Laptev, refused comment. Pukach faces a possible life prison sentence if convicted of murder charges.

Kravchenko’s complicity

Kravchenko ran the powerful Interior Ministry, where the nation’s police officers work, from 1995 until early 2001. Kuchma reputedly brought him in to stop the rampant mafia-style murders and contract killing that marred life in newly independent Ukraine.

Gangsters – and those who hired them – were fighting for control of businesses that were all of a sudden up for grabs after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

However, the Kravchenko-led police force committed their own crimes and were notoriously corrupt and politically subservient. In the environment of Kuchma’s authoritarian style of rule, all government critics – especially journalists – became potential targets of the repressive regime.

The murder of Gongadze had an eerily similar parallel to what happened with independent journalist and human rights activist Oleksiy Podolsky, who lived to tell of the incident.

A few months prior to Gongadze’s murder, Kravchenko ordered Pukach to “teach” Podolsky a lesson. His kidnapping was similar to Gongadze’s: Three police officers put him in a car and drove him outside of Kyiv.

The officers threatened him and forced him to dig his own grave. Instead of killing him, the police officers took his belongings and documents and left him in the woods. His apartment door was also set on fire.

According to the Melnychenko tapes, Kravchenko reported on the case to Kuchma; later, police officers were found guilty of threats and assault and sentenced to three years in prison.

Mykola Dzhyha, Kravchenko’s deputy at the time of the murder, a Yanukovych ally and current governor of Vinnytsia Oblast, has rejected the idea that Kravchenko had anything to do with Gongadze’s killing.

“Taking into account the man himself, his character, I can’t believe he would do such a thing,” Dzhyha told the Kyiv Post. But he doesn’t rule out that someone wanted to frighten Gongadze and simply went too far. “That could have happened,” said Dzhyha, whom Pukach also implicated in his testimony.

Kravchenko’s death isn’t the only suspicious one among officials implicated in the Gongadze murder. Eduard Fere and Yuriy Dagaev, other top officials close to Kuchma and Kravchenko, also died mysteriously. Fere went into a coma in 2003 and died six years later. Dagaev died, allegedly of a heart attack, in 2003.

Cover-up to continue?

Besides Melnychenko, the ex-Kuchma bodyguard whose tapes triggered an international scandal, Socialist Party leader Moroz has been close to the Gongadze case since the beginning when, as a member of parliament, he disclosed the recordings publicly.

Today, Moroz thinks that officials are continuing to be engaged in a cover-up of the crime in order to protect Kuchma and Lytvyn.

“For 10 years, Ukraine has been demonstrating to the world the supremacy of cover-up over the law,” Moroz said in a statement on the Socialist Party’s website.

“Maintaining this tradition, the authorities are trying to uphold their honor, though everybody clearly understands that they are simply trying to divert responsibility for the involvement in the crime from high-ranking officials, in particular the ex-president and the head of his administration.”

Then Moroz listed some of the unanswered questions.

“Why did the former minister [Kravchenko] take interest in the journalist? Why did he give (if he did give) the criminal order? What was the reason for chasing the journalist and spying on him? Who sought to lead the [investigation] in the wrong way in the first weeks by giving false evidence? Who was obstructing the unbiased forensic examination?”

“Why didn’t authorities consider the large amount of irrefutable evidence – the recordings of conversations in the office of President Leonid Kuchma, although the investigators actually confirmed all the episodes, recorded by Major Mykola Melnychenko? Why wasn’t parliament controlling the investigation, as it had to, failing to comply with the requirements of PACE (the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe), as it was supposed to do?”

Moroz said the answers to the questions can be found on the Melnychenko tapes.

Melnychenko, meanwhile, has damaged his credibility over the last decade with conflicting, evasive and unreliable comments about the Gongadze case and the recordings he allegedly made. The whereabouts of the original recordings are unknown.

On Sept. 15, Melnychenko said: “I confirm that this was a special operation,” he said referring to the recordings. “I completely confirm that this was a special operation to remove not a legally elected president, but a person who in 1999 seized power. Only later did foreign intelligence services from other countries try to influence the situation.”

After pointing the blame in previous years directly on Kuchma, Melnychenko this week suggested that Lytvyn could have driven Kuchma to the crime.

“Kuchma did not have personal motives to give the order. But Lytvyn did have personal motives. I think he can, himself, tell more about these personnel motives,” Melnychenko said.

“Kuchma regularly had all sorts of news reports written – and not written by Gongadze – put on his table … to wind him up. The ideologue of this operation, I declare, was Lytvyn,” Melnychenko added.

Source: Kyiv Post

Afghan election to test government reforms

KABUL – From wire dispatches
Afghan woman eats ice cream next to parliamentary election campaign posters in the old section of Kabul on Friday, on the eve of the country's second parliamentary election. AFP photo
Afghan woman eats ice cream next to parliamentary election campaign posters in the old section of Kabul on Friday, on the eve of the country’s second parliamentary election. AFP photo

More than a year after a flawed presidential election, Afghans go to the polls Saturday for a parliamentary contest considered a test of whether President Hamid Karzai’s government can now run a fair vote and prevent insurgents from disrupting the balloting.

The results of the races for the relatively weak legislature are unlikely to affect Karzai, who has passed much legislation by decree when parliament was in recess.

But the perception of how the vote is conducted will reverberate strongly with the international coalition supporting Afghanistan with 140,000 troops and billions of dollars, the Associated Press reported Friday.

The election will also be an indicator of the strength of the insurgency as NATO and Afghan forces work to secure polling stations in volatile areas amid Taliban threats against voters and election workers.

On the eve of the ballot a parliamentary candidate was kidnapped, an official said, and the Taliban later claimed responsibility, according to Agence France-Presse.

Hardly anyone is predicting a free and fair vote by Western standards.

“This is probably one of the worst places and the worst times to have an election anywhere in the world. We have to put it into perspective,” said Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. envoy to Afghanistan.

“We don’t expect a fair and transparent election. What we expect is an acceptable election,” said Haroun Mir, director of the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies, a Kabul-based think tank.

The hope is that Afghans and the international community will be able to proclaim it an improvement over the August 2009 presidential vote, when a U.N.-backed anti-fraud watchdog found rampant fraud in Karzai’s re-election.

“The preparations are miles better than they were last year,” said Mark Sedwill, NATO’s senior civilian representative.

Critical obstacles

But a new U.S. watchdog report warns it will take years to solve certain problems in the electoral system. It cites a lack of a reliable list of registered voters, insufficient candidate vetting and biased electoral organizations.

In some of the more volatile areas, locals claim the election is just a show so that Karzai can put a democratic label on a government that rarely answers to the people.

“The international community wants to say to the people: ‘See in Afghanistan there is an election. There are posters and campaigning.’ But the people are not so happy. They are too demoralized to go to the polling stations,” said Mohammad Qasim Zazai, a carpet seller from eastern Paktia province.

“This regime of Karzai, it is symbolic, and so the election is symbolic. Most of the campaign workers are recruiting people from their villages. Fraud is continuing. People are buying these fake voter registration cards,” Zazai said.

Heightened security concerns

Complicating efforts to ensure a free and fair election, security has worsened in some areas since the polling station lists were first published last month. Nearly 400 voting centers have been cut from the original list because Afghan forces could not guarantee security – a move that could lead to some of the same confusion about who should be voting where.

In one Taliban-heavy area of eastern Ghazni province, elders say they have been told that four of the five officially approved voting centers will not open.

“The district officials said to go to the main district center because the others won’t be open,” said Mahmoud, an elder from Shinkae village who like many Afghans goes by one name. Mahmoud is supposed to have a voting center in his village mosque, but the security forces said they couldn’t secure it.

Despite the buildup of U.S. forces ordered by President Barack Obama, Afghanistan as a whole is less secure than at the time of last year’s presidential election.

There will be about 280,000 Afghan police and soldiers protecting the more than 5,500 voting centers scheduled to open on election day, according to Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi. Police set up extra checkpoints across Afghanistan on Friday to scan for suicide bombers and insurgents.

Last year, there were about 150,000 Afghan forces protecting more than 6,000 voting centers. International forces will play a supporting role – at the ready to deal with attacks, provide medical evacuations and transport materials.

While campaign posters competed for space on building walls and electrical poles in the capital, many candidates did little campaigning in the provinces because of security concerns or the expense of hiring bodyguards for rallies or handshaking tours.

In eastern Paktia province and southern Kandahar province, candidates decided not to campaign at all because it was too dangerous, according to the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, the main Afghan observer body.

In many areas, the Taliban have threatened death to those who go to the polls – a very real danger given that the indelible ink used to keep people from voting multiple times can last for days.

In Shinkae, Mahmoud says the Taliban spread the word at mosque gatherings that anyone who votes will be killed. Mahmoud says he’s unlikely to vote.

Other Afghans, though, see the vote as a chance to elect someone who could deliver roads, schools and other projects.

More than 2,500 candidates are vying for the 249 lower house seats. Afghan laws make it difficult to form political parties, so most candidates run as independents. The winners will serve a five-year term.

Preliminary results will be released as completed, with full preliminary results expected around Oct. 1. Final results are scheduled to be made public about Oct. 31, following resolution of complaints of fraud or misconduct.


Compiled from AP and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.

Court decision on US drone use protest delayed in Vegas

Significant surprise! Court decision on US drone use protest delayed in Vegas

Las VegasNVUSA | Sep 15, 2010

Historic: Judge will study drone protest case issues for four months–

Fourteen anti-war activists perhaps made history in a Las Vegas courtroom yesterday. Their trial for misdemeanor trespassing has morphed into what could become a referendum on America’s enthusiasm for remote-controlled warfare, centering on the use of drones.

The accused, known as the “Creech 14,” last year protested drone attacks at Nevada’sCreech Air Force Base. That base is one of several operational centers for the American military’s aerial drone program in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Military crews at Creech remotely control drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) which have been responsible for killing civilians in assassination attacks.

The activists were charged with criminal trespassing because they entered the base with a letter describing their opposition to the drone program. In what is termed a “blow” to prosecutors, Judge William Jansen agreed to delay a verdict for four months, scheduling a written decision for January 27, 2011.

Prosecutors had hoped for a quick decision, but Judge Jansen allowed the defendants to call three expert witnesses. Three of the biggest names in the modern anti-war movement testified: former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, retired Col. and former Embassy Official Ann Wright, and Bill Quigley, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The judge limited the defense to questions strictly pertaining to the charge of trespass. However, defendants were able to extract several key points from the witnesses:

– Intentional killing is a war crime, as embodied in U.S. constitutional law.

– Drone strikes by U.S. and coalition forces kill a disproportionate number of civilians.

– People have the right, even the duty, to stop war crimes.

– According to the Nuremberg principles, individuals are required to disobey domestic orders that cause crimes against humanity.

Defendant Brian Terrell, in delivering the group’s closing statement, spoke of the civilian deaths that U.S. drones cause in Afghanistan by imaging a baby trapped in a house on fire: “We fourteen are ones who see the smoke and will not allow a ‘no trespass’ sign to stop us from reaching burning children.”

“This case has a lot more consequences than a trespass case… I want to make sure my decision is the correct decision,” Jansen was reported as saying in the Las Vegas Sun.

At the end of the day’s proceedings, applause filled the courtroom. Jansen dismissed the Creech 14, who are members of the Catholic anti-war movement, with the words “Go in peace!”

The Creech 14 include Fr. John Dear, SJ; Dennis DuVall; Renee Espeland; Judy Homanich; Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence; Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ; Mariah Klusmire; Brad Lyttle; Libby Pappalardo; Sr. Megan Rice, SHCJ; Brian Terrell; Eve Tetaz; Fr. Louie Vitale, OFM; and Fr. Jerry Zawada, OFM. The group action was under the auspices of the Nevada Desert Experience.

Black Sea LNG project draws on gas from Azerbaijan

Black Sea LNG project draws on gas from Azerbaijan

Vladimir Socor
by Vladimir Socor

During a meeting on September 13-14 in Baku, Presidents Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, and Traian Basescu of Romania, as well as Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, announced the launching of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. Designated as the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania Interconnector (AGRI), and linking up with Hungary, this is the first-ever LNG project in the Black Sea.

AGRI envisages five steps: 1) transporting Azerbaijani gas by an existing pipeline, eastward across Georgia to the Black Sea port of Kulevi (oil terminal owned by Azerbaijan); 2) liquefying the gas at Kulevi; 3) shipping the liquefied product by tankers to Romania’s port of Constanta;  4) re-gasifying and delivering the product into Romania’s pipeline system, partly for that country‘s consumption; and 5) delivering the remainder into Hungary‘s gas transport system, whether for use in that country, in Austria, or farther in EU territory.

Basescu took the initiative of bringing Hungary into this project, as well as Orban to the Baku meeting with the three presidents. Basescu made this move spontaneously during the September 1 gathering of Romanian diplomats from around the world in Bucharest, to honor Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Janos Martoniy – an event fraught with symbolism in Romanian-Hungarian political relations.

The heads of Azerbaijan‘s State Oil Company, Georgia‘s Oil and Gas Corporation, and Romania‘s Romgaz adopted a draft charter for the new joint venture AGRI. This shall be headquartered in Romania, with each of the three state companies holding an equal share in the joint venture. Other companies will be able to join AGRI as shareholders in the future. Basescu is keen for Turkmenistan to be included.

AGRI necessitates rehabilitation of that pipeline across Georgia and its prolongation for a short distance to Kulevi; building a liquefaction and a regasification terminal in Kulevi and Constanta, respectively; and investing in a shuttle line of small-capacity LNG tankers in the Black Sea. Meanwhile, Romania and Hungary are about to complete the short pipeline link Arad-Szeged, connecting the two countries’ gas transport systems.  Thus, AGRI can open the way for Azerbaijani gas exports into Central Europe, in a different mode than the Nabucco pipeline project.

Kulevi features an oil export terminal, installations with a throughput capacity being doubled to 20 million tons per year, a railroad for crude oil and products, a reservoir park (oil-tank farm), and two moorings for tankers of up to 120,000 dwt. Azerbaijan‘s State Oil Company owns the port and installations. Kulevi handles some oil volumes produced by Tengizchevroil at the onshore Tengiz field in Kazakhstan.

According to Azerbaijan‘s Industry and Energy Minister, Natig Aliyev, the AGRI project should start with a liquefaction capacity for 2.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas per year, rising to 8 bcm per year in the next stage and up to 20 bcm ultimately. For his part, Basescu envisages developing the Constanta LNG terminal in three successive stages, involving 10 bcm in annual regasification capacity with each stage.

Romania and Hungary intend to ask European Union authorities to tender out a feasibility study for the project. Meanwhile, “preliminary” cost estimates range widely from 1.2 billion Euro to 4.5 billion Euro. No sources of financing have been identified as of yet. The duration of construction work is estimated to last four years.

AGRI answers to certain specific interests of each of the three stakeholders, at least theoretically. For Azerbaijan, it would provide the most direct transportation route for gas to Europe, apart from the Nabucco pipeline project. Georgia, already crisis-crossed by operating and potential transit routes, welcomes any additional project for confirming the country’s reliability and buttressing Western interest in Georgia’s stability. Romania would gain an additional import option through LNG, while Basescu (a former merchant marine captain) perceives in this an unprecedented opportunity for development of his native city, Constanta.

Basescu is a long-time proponent of LNG transportation in the Black Sea with a terminal in Constanta. For nearly a decade, Romania had hoped for an LNG deal with Qatar. Eventually Bucharest realized that Turkish authorities would not allow LNG tanker traffic, on top of the oil tanker traffic, through the over congested Bosporus Strait. Thus unable to share in the global LNG expansion, Romania is adopting an LNG solution internal to the bottled-up Black Sea. Cut off from global LNG markets, and inaccessible to ocean-going LNG tankers, the Black Sea basin may become a local market for small LNG volumes originating in Azerbaijan and, potentially, Turkmenistan.

The AGRI project, if pursued seriously, can undermine Nabucco by reducing the volumes of Azerbaijani gas available to that pipeline project. Azerbaijan‘s existing output level (reported at 23.5 bcm in 2009, anticipated at 28 bcm in 2010, its internal consumption (10 to 11 bcm per year in 2009-2010), and its export commitments (some 8 bcm to Turkey and Georgia combined), do not seem to leave sufficient gas volumes to support both Nabucco‘s first stage (at 8 to 10 bcm per year) and the LNG project at the same time.

While Nabucco (main element in the EU-backed Southern Corridor) is strategic to European consumer countries and Caspian producer countries, AGRI is not of strategic significance to either group of countries. Within the current parameters of production and supply, and pending a boost in Azerbaijan‘s gas production or a trans-Caspian flow of Turkmen gas, a choice must be made between pursuing Nabucco or AGRI.

Vladimir Socor
Political analyst of East European affairs for the Jamestown Foundation.

Article was published in Eurasia Daily Monitor.

Tanking the War on Terror

Tanking the War on Terror

Tanking the War on Terror: Prestigious International Study Group Blasts Taliban/al-Qaeda Hype and “Drawn-Out Disaster” in Afghanistan and Iraq
by C. L. Cook
Citing a recent report issued by London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Canadian author and columnist, Eric S. Margolis revealswhat has been painfully obvious to everyone I know for almost a decade: The War on Terror and its “boots on the ground” components in Afghanistan and Iraq especially, is a botched and hyperbolic con job from the get-go.

Billions of dollars spent, and millions of lives needlessly wasted later the deep thinkers at the IISS discovered, with a little help from James Bond’s colleagues at MI-6 (British military intelligence), the threats posed by al-Qaeda and Afghanistan’s Taliban leadership were “exaggerated” and the American-led military “Missions” overseas are a “long-drawn-out disaster.”

Well, knock me over with a feather!

What Margolis does not explain, at least not explicitly, is why the IISS, whose membership is culled from the best and brightest military and diplomacy experts from around the world, took nine years to figure this out.

Eric S. Margolis has been writing on international affairs for at least a couple decades. He’s written books on the long history of internecine struggle in Central Asia, and covered its more recent manifestations. He’s as well connected a journalist as one could hope for, and admits he has been a member of the IISS for many years.

He describes the effects of the report as a “bombshell” for those insiders of the sometimes described  “international community” who read the meaning between the lines of these scholarly pronouncements that largely eludes the general population. And, according to Margolis, the meaning of this report is “shaking Washington and its Nato allies.”

At its heart, the report by the worthies at the IISS, and make no mistake its membership represents the same razor thin elite sitting atop the slavering masses whose labours make the current resurgent Age of Conquest possible, finds the war against Afghanistan is more of a threat to the West’s security interests than are the people it is fighting. That is, they believe; the monies and energies mustered to conduct the occupation and pacification of the natives over there is “distracting” those running the war from the financial sector implosions going on throughout the home economies.

In short, it appears to be the opening salvo in a fight for control of the dilapidated treasuries of the nations who aspired so recently to empire in Central Asia.

Margolis characterizes the report as a direct attack against the Obama administration and its prime war ally, the nascent conservative government of David Cameron in Britain, and all nations still supporting militarily expeditionary forces in Afghanistan. It criticizes the increase of troops and money spent to fight a war whose stated goals of disrupting al Qaeda elements in Afghanistan were long ago met, suggesting the “surge” of Western violence visited upon the people is fueling a broader resistance.

The IISS report also provides something none of the leaders of the coalition of willing nations fighting in Afghanistan have yet offered; the International Institute says it has a workable exit strategy.

They recommend Southern Afghanistan, the area of greatest Taliban influence, be abandoned and a greatly reduced Western force be confined to Kabul and the northern half of the country. The idea here is to align with the more pliable Tajik and Uzbek peoples of the north, concentrating aid and development projects there (and perhaps the long-elusive pipeline corridor for Caspian oil and gas reserves) and leave the Taliban to twist forgotten in a land condemned to a pre-industrial, bare subsistence existence.

The IISS report is even more damning, coming on the heels of revelations from the Chilcot Inquiry into the beginnings of British involvement in Iraq and the myriad lies told by former prime minister Tony Blair to secure that involvement.

Taken in the context of the near daily servings of cold truth coming from Chilcot and other sources, the English and Europeans are quickly approaching the end point of foreign adventurism, and the IISS report can be seen as the shot over the bow within elite circles signaling that ending is coming soon.

Putin Wants US, EU Money to Finance Neo-USSR

Vladimir Putin has “nothing against” US and European banks taking stakes in Russian ones

Putin wants US, EU investment in Russian banks

(AFP) – 1 hour ago

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on on Friday that Russia is ready to welcome foreign capital investment in the country’s banking sector.

“If solid financial institutions in the United States and Europe will invest in the capital of our key banking institutions, we have nothing against that,” Russian news agencies quoted Putin as saying.

“We are considering this option and there is nothing unusual about it.”

This week Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin said Russia would seek to raise 50 billion dollars (38.5 billion euros) from privatisations over the next five years as it wants to sell stakes in some of its top companies, including the country’s two biggest lenders Sberbank and VTB.

Russian officials have said the aim of the privatisation would be to make companies more efficient and to replenish state coffers, drained by the global economic crisis.

Russia’s banking sector was badly hit by the crisis last year. The volume of bad loans made by banks rose sharply as the country’s hydrocarbon-dependent economy suffered a 7.9-percent economic contraction last year.

Speaking to an investor forum in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Putin stressed that Russia had provided anti-crisis loans worth more than 2.0 trillion rubles (65.5 billion dollars) to support banks, without putting Russian lenders first.

“We did not divide banks into ours and foreign. Banks fully backed by foreign capital received the same support as our Russian banks,” Putin was quoted as telling international participants at the forum.

After the chaotic asset sales of the 1990s created a class of super-rich oligarchs and a ferocious public backlash, the government had until recently preferred to increase rather than reduce its stakes in firms.

Inside Corrupt-istan, a Loss of Faith in Leaders

Inside Corrupt-istan, a Loss of Faith in Leaders

Illustration by Nola Lopez, Photographs by David Bathgate/Corbis and Shah Marai, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

DISILLUSIONMENT President Hamid Karzai is a focus of anger at corruption in his government.

THE government of President Hamid Karzai may be awash in corruption, venality and graft, but if you walk the tattered halls of the ministries here, it is remarkably easy to find an honest man.

One of them is Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar, who last month took the politically risky course of trying to prosecute senior members of Mr. Karzai’s government. Two weeks ago, Mr. Faqiryar was fired from his job as deputy attorney general — on the order, it appears, of Mr. Karzai himself.

“The law in this country is only for the poor,” Mr. Faqiryar said afterward.

The ouster of Mr. Faqiryar illustrated not just the lawlessness that permeates Mr. Karzai’s government and the rest of the Afghan state. It also raised a fundamental question for the American and European leaders who have bankrolled Mr. Karzai’s government since he took office in 2001:

What if government corruption is more dangerous than the Taliban?

Since 2001, one of the unquestioned premises of American and NATO policy has been that ordinary Afghans don’t view public corruption in quite the same way that Americans and others do in the West. Diplomats, military officers and senior officials flying in from Washington often say privately that while public graft is pernicious, there is no point in trying to abolish it — and that trying to do so could destroy the very government the West has helped to build.

The Central Intelligence Agency has carried that line of argument even further, putting on its payroll some of the most disputable members of Mr. Karzai’s government. The explanation, offered by agency officials, is that Mother Theresa can’t be found in Afghanistan.

“What is acceptable to the Afghans is different than what is acceptable to you or me or our people,” a Western official here said recently, discounting fears of fraud in the coming parliamentary elections. He spoke, as many prominent Western officials here do so often, on the condition of anonymity. “They have their own expectations, and they are slightly different than the ones we try to impose on them.”

Perhaps. But the official’s premise — that the Afghans are more tolerant of corruption than people in the West — has fulfilled itself. Afghanistan is now widely recognized as one of the world’s premier gangster-states. Out of 180 countries, Transparency International ranks it, in terms of corruption, 179th, better only than Somalia.

The examples are too legion to list. Take a drive down the splendorous avenues of Palm Jumeira in the United Arab Emirates, where many Afghan leaders park their money, and you can pick out the waterfront villas where they live. Or look at the travails of Kabul Bank, whose losses threaten the Afghan financial system; officials say the bank’s directors spent lavishly on Mr. Karzai’s re-election campaign and lent tens of millions to Mr. Karzai’s cronies.

Worse, the rationalization offered by the Western official — that Afghans are happy to tolerate a certain level of bribery and theft — seems to have turned out terribly wrong. It now seems clear that public corruption is roundly despised by ordinary Afghans, and that it may constitute the single largest factor driving them into the arms of the Taliban.

You don’t have to look very hard to find an Afghan, whether in the government or out, who is repelled by the illegal doings of his leaders. Ahmed Shah Hakimi, who runs a currency exchange in Kabul, had just finished explaining some of the shadowy dealings of the business and political elite when he stopped in disgust.

“There are 50 of them,” Mr. Hakimi said. “The corrupt ones. All the Afghans know who they are.”

“Why do the Americans support them?” he asked.

Mr. Hakimi, a shrewd businessman, seemed genuinely perplexed.

“What the Americans need to do is take these Afghans and put them on a plane and fly them to America — and then crash the plane into a mountain,” Mr. Hakimi said. “Kill them all.”

You hear that a lot here — that the kleptocrats are few in number; that most Afghans know who they are; and that the country would be better off if this greedy cabal met a violent end. Why not get rid of them?

Sometimes, it seems, American and Afghan leaders exhibit a kind of willful blindness. In June, President Karzai flew to Kandahar to speak to a gathering of about 400 local tribal elders about a pending military operation. He was accompanied by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of American and NATO forces.

Mr. Karzai may have been in Afghanistan, but his appearance seemed to have been scripted by the same people who run political campaigns in the United States. The Afghan tribal elders assembled in a large room, most of them sitting on the floor, and Mr. Karzai, after much delay, strode in, gave a quick and rousing speech, and promptly left the room. Neither Mr. Karzai nor any of his aides — nor any of the Americans — seemed especially interested in what these tribal leaders had to say.

Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press

DISILLUSIONMENT News of turmoil at the Kabul Bank has put even more pressure on President Hamid Karzai.

As it happened, they had plenty to say. In interviews afterward, one after the other told stories that were both disheartening and remarkably similar. None of the men (they were all men) harbored any love for the Taliban. But they had even less love for their Afghan leaders.

Typical of the Afghans was Hajji Mahmood, a tribal leader from a village west of Kandahar. Earlier this year, Mr. Mahmood explained, he bought a plot of land from the local administration and invested several thousand dollars to build some shops on it.

Then, a few months later, government agents arrived, bulldozed Mr. Mahmood’s shops and reclaimed the land. The local agent Mr. Mahmood had paid, it turned out, had pocketed the money and failed to record the sale.

Retelling the story, Mr. Mahmood shook his head.

“Not many people support the Taliban, because they don’t really have a program,” he said. “But believe me, if they did, many people would.”

It’s not as if the Americans and their NATO partners don’t know who the corrupt Afghans are. American officers and anti-corruption teams have drawn up intricate charts outlining the criminal syndicates that entwine the Afghan business and political elites. They’ve even given the charts a name: “Malign Actor Networks.” A k a MAN.

Looking at some of these charts—with their crisscrossed lines connecting politicians, drug traffickers and insurgents — it’s easy to conclude that this country is ruled neither by the government, nor NATO, nor the Taliban, but by the MAN.

It turns out, of course, that some of the same “malign actors” the diplomats and officers are railing against are on the payroll of the C.I.A. At least until recently, American officials say, one of them was Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother. Mr. Karzai has long been suspected of facilitating the country’s booming drug trade.

Ahmed Wali Karzai denies taking any money from the C.I.A. or helping any drug traffickers. But consider, for a second, the other brother: President Karzai. When he receives that stern lecture from the American diplomat about ridding his government of corruption — and he receives a lot of them — what must President Karzai be thinking?

One possibility: That the Americans aren’t really serious.

The real difficulty, American commanders say, is that taking down the biggest Afghan politicians could open a vacuum of authority. And that could create instability that the Taliban could take advantage of.

American officers have every right to worry about stability. But the trouble with this argument is that, increasingly, there is less and less stability to keep. And, if Afghans like Mr. Mahmood and Mr. Hakimi are to be believed, it’s the corruption itself that is the instability’s root cause.

As for Mr. Faqiryar, he has become, at age 72, a national icon. A recent editorial in Kabul Weekly, a local newspaper, urged Mr. Faqiryar to carry on his fight against the gangster-state that his country has become. But the editorial struck a tone that was less angry than poignant, as if time were running short.

“We are a nation,” the editors said, “in desperate need of more heroes.”