The Slow Democratization of Russia

Putin: Democracy in Making

By Jon HELLEVIG (Finland)

Putin: Democracy in MakingDemocracy in the West has been long in making and we cannot point on a single person in any of the countries whom we would credit for having brought about democracy. We can only look at a long, and troublesome, history of social competition which has resulted in a state of affairs we call democracy, through wars and killings, scandals and murders, economic progress followed by economic collapse, technological progress, and spreading of free speech and its suppression and manipulation. These and other conditions, through a bloody history of hundreds if not thousands of years, brought about the conditions for democratic competition that the West now enjoys (but less so today than a couple of decades ago).

In Russia the history has been quite different. After the years of the Communist command system which destroyed all normal traditions of social interaction, Russia had to start from scratch to build democratic traditions for itself. In fact, saying that Russia started from scratch is a gross understatement, for after the government of the inept chatterer Gorbachev the country was in ruins and Russians had to start building a free society not from zero but with a huge handicap. Gorbachev’s limited economic reforms did not serve any meaningful purpose and only created the conditions for criminal gangs and vory to take over the economy and soon the political power as well.

It was up to Yeltsin to start to get the country in order, but he came too late. Gorbachev’s perestroika had already transformed the country into a total criminal anarchy. Without more than a handful of honest and trusted people around him Yeltsin could not achieve much in those conditions of anarchy and virtual civil war. But according to the western propaganda, this period of the 1990′s is referred to as democracy, which supposedly was then destroyed by Putin. They brashly claim that Putin has “systematically dismantled” the democratic institutions of Russia, parliament, political parties, free election, media, and the courts. This is a big lie, or a naïve misunderstanding at best. Misunderstanding about what is the nature of democracy, about the recent history of Russia, and the nature of a Communist society.

Most fundamentally this criticism of Putin is based on a glorification of the Soviet Communist system. As if it would have served as a fundament for building a modern democratic society, just by way of some well-intentioned political decisions over the course of a few years. No. The work on building the democratic institutions only started with the fall of USSR. – These people think that the switch from the Communist USSR to the work on creating a democratic market economy of free Russia would be comparable to the change of ruling party in an established Western country. Say the UK, where a Tory Party comes in with its agenda after the Labor Party, or vice versa, making some decimal changes in the laws and government, which details the whole society publicly discusses with great interest. Hence, the ideas that Putin’s 12 year in power in Russia would be a long time for achieving paradise upon earth. – And who can seriously claim that the institutions that took thousands of years to emerge in the Western countries would have been ready to use in the few years of Yeltsin’s rule? The more when we know what criminal anarchy reigned during these years? Yes, Yeltsin began to develop them, and we lift our hats to his memory for this work. But it is only under Putin that they have developed to acquire the structure of real democratic institutions. The work is not finished yet, as we can see. And now, encouraged by the early success, Putin has announced further steps on consolidating the democratic competition in Russia.

The absolutely indispensable step to create the conditions for democracy was to finish with the criminal anarchy and the rule of the oligarchs. This inevitably meant a limitation of showcase democracy in favor of trusting the job of architect of democracy to the popularly elected president. This is what the Russian people did. They gave a carte blanche to Putin to bring order and create a democratic market economy. And Putin has delivered on that promise. With a renewed mandate on March 4 he will continue this work, now already from a solid base.

In the 1990′s there were no free elections. No conditions for such existed. The elections were a business for criminal gangs, oligarchs and political prostitutes, fraudulent maneuvers to have them appointed in various state organs by way of force, manipulation, money, media distortion etc. Most notoriously this was the case in regards to the regional governors, who ruled their subjects as feudal lords supported by the criminals, and being such themselves (with a few exceptions, perhaps, but I have not been told whom these exceptions could possibly be). In addition to ending the impudent rule of the oligarchs, the abolishing of the direct election of governors was the most important step towards building the conditions for ending the anarchy and bringing real democratic competition to Russia.

It is only under Putin that a free media has emerged in Russia. But according to the American propaganda organization Reporters Without Borders, the state of press freedom is dismal in Russia. They ranked Russia 142nd out of 172 countries just before Gambia, and preceded by such beacons of liberty as, for example, Zimbabwe (117), United Arab Emirates (112), Northern Cyprus (102). If Russia were in reality almost last in the list, then it would only mean that there are no problems with freedom of press in the world in general, for such is the level of freedom in Russia. Test for yourself, go any day and pick a random sample of the newspapers at sale on a Moscow newsstand. Plurality of opinion in all and most of them highly critical of Putin. The rankings themselves, courtesy of this propaganda organization, are regularly published in all the Russian press fresh as they appear, which is, to say the least, a great paradox. The blatant fraud in these rankings serves as strong evidence about all the other more sophisticated propaganda attacks against Russia.

What about the courts? There was no independent judiciary in the Soviet Union, and not even a system of law in a proper sense, just an arbitrary system of meting out punishments. All this was subject to a complete change in the new Russia of Yeltsin (but no steps were made under Gorbachev’s perestroika). But this is only when the work started on building the normative base for law and taking the first steps to form an independent judiciary. Only a little was achieved under Yeltsin’s presidency. The economic hardships meant that judges did not get a pay that could possibly sustain their living thus directing many of them towards the temptation of corruption (under Putin the salaries of judges have increased almost 6 to 10-fold). The laws were new and traditions non-existent. So the critics are totally wrong to say that Putin has supposedly destroyed the independent judiciary, for there was no such thing prior to Putin coming in power. The judiciary is still underdeveloped but great strides forward have been taken thanks to the improved economic conditions and stability provided by Putin. The judiciary does not only have to be independent of the state, which it in Putin’s Russia largely is, but also independent of criminal corruption and based on solid traditions, which can only emerge by time.

In his election campaign Putin is promising a number of liberal changes to the economic laws and laws governing the political system. Some of the changes are considered radical and the critics argue that Putin is not to be trusted because he has already been 12 years in power and could have done the changes earlier. But the changes are not radical compared to the dramatic questions that Putin had to tackle during the first decade of his rule. Those were fundamental questions of the to-be-or-not-to-be of the whole statehood of Russia; questions of war and peace; questions of life and death. And he did not only conquer the difficulties but he also put in place the conditions for fine-tuning the system, which fine-tuning are for the primitively minded opposition the only democracy there can possibly be. As if you could have put a turbo engine on a horse carriage before going through all the other stages of development of the automobile.

These same reasons explain the problem of corruption. Corruption in Russia is rampant, no doubt about that, however, it is hard to believe that Transparency International is transparent and fair in ranking Russia 143rd worst corruption plagued country out of 182 countries surveyed. I know from my own personal experience running a group of companies offering law and accounting services here in Russia that it is fully possible to conduct honest and transparent business in Russia without bribing anybody. – This comment was in regards to the ranking the western propaganda has assigned Russia, not to say that corruption wouldn’t be a big problem. It is, and perhaps the biggest problem in the country. But it is also the most difficult one. Corruption in Russia is deeply rooted in the Soviet economy where goods and services were hard to come by.

Corruption became endemic and the normal way for trying to secure what was needed as there was no real market and no currency which you could freely earn and use. It is impossible to measure the volumes of corruption in the USSR as the topic was forbidden, no surveys or studies on it could possibly have been produced. Naturally the monetary value of it must have been much less than it is in today’s Russia. This for the simple reason that as there was no private property, so big assets could not be turned around anyway. The corrupt practices were so widespread that most people engaged in it did probably not even consciously recognize doing something bad, they just did what life demanded of them to survive. Then with Gorbachev’s misconceived economic reforms these corrupt practices very taken to new heights. This is how the more brazen and criminal bent “businessmen” made their fortunes. During the years of anarchy in the 1990′s nothing was done about the problem, the virtual civil was consumed all the energy of the government. Almost no one was convicted for any kind of economic crime, and being investigated for corruption only lead to sharing the spoils with the investigators.

It is only in the last few years, two or three, that the fight has started to yield results. And today we can almost every week read about a new high profile corruption case. Why only now? ‘Why has Putin done nothing earlier?’ someone asks? Well, simply for the reason that earlier there was no state power in the country that could possibly have taken on the problem. Putin took over a country plagued by anarchy and without any central power. Most of the state apparatus where in hands of corrupt people, including the, by the western press so beloved, “freely elected governors,” the police, the prosecutors; and you could count in even a great deal of the parliamentarians. It is only now through a lot of work that escapes the lazy mind that Putin has been able to muster a response. So the reply to the ‘why not earlier’ is simply that the problems to tackle have been too enormous for such a short time. There is no doubt that during the next four years we will see a significant improvement in this regards, thanks to the continuing trust in Putin by the overwhelming majority of the people. But not much can be achieved before those who shout on Bolotnaya first start paying their taxes, demanding that their suppliers pay, and stop bribing the staff at kindergarten, schools, and hospitals.

Putin has already announced significant liberalization of the election laws, among them the proposition to further lower the threshold for registering parties with nationwide status. (We will probably never see a similar liberalization of the corresponding US laws, a country where two parties share the eternal monopoly to power. Similar business monopolies are broken up by the anti-trust laws, why don’t apply the same principle to these parties that steal the vote in the USA). Thanks to the political reforms that the Government has announced all those competing opposition leaders will soon have a chance to form their own parties by way of collecting the signature from 500 friends instead of the 40,000 needed today. I admit that this is a display of Putin’s political genius. Then each of the much touted “opposition leaders” will have the chance to form their own private pocket parties. Let them compete!

I predict that Putin will go down in history as one of the greatest leaders of all countries and all times.

Jon Hellevig, is a lawyer from Finland who has worked and lived in Russia since the beginning of 1990′s. He is the managing partner of the law firm Hellevig, Klein & Usov.


US used Kashmir quake to send killer-spies into Pakistan

US used Kashmir quake to send killer-spies into Pakistan

Uttara Choudhury

US used Kashmir quake to send killer-spies into PakistanUS Navy SEAL Team 18 members rehearse a demonstration of combat skills at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida in November 2011. Reuters


New York: The Pentagon used the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 to send operatives from the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC  into Pakistan, reveals a new book.

The JSOC has proven to be the most lethal weapon in the President’s arsenal, write D.B Grady and Marc Ambinder in their just-published eBook The Command: Deep Inside the President’s Secret Army. President Obama and the Pentagon leadership have increasingly made Navy Seals from the JSOC their military tool of choice.

According to The New York Times, the JSOC has about 54,000 active-duty personnel from four branches of the armed services. The Navy Seals are one of the most celebrated units under its umbrella. This book comes at a time when Admiral William H McRaven, who leads the JSOC, is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy.

The book credits the secretive JSOC, which functions in a grey area, with having done more to degrade the capacity of terrorists to attack the United States than any other single entity. Counter-terrorism is only one of its many missions.

Did the US use the 2005 Kashmir earthquake to send JSOC operatives into Pakistan? That’s the bold-faced charge the authors make in The Command. They say that the US intelligence community “took advantage of the chaos to spread resources of its own” into Pakistan.” Using valid US passports and posing as construction and aid workers, dozens of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives and contractors flooded in without the requisite background checks from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency.

“Al-Qaeda had reconstituted itself in the country’s tribal areas, largely because of the ISI’s benign neglect. In Afghanistan, the ISI was actively undermining the US-backed government of Hamid Karzai, training and recruiting for the Taliban, which it viewed as the more reliable partner. The political system was in chaos. The Pakistani army was focused on the threat from India and had redeployed away from the Afghanistan border region, the Durand line, making it porous once again… A JSOC intelligence team slipped in alongside the CIA,” says the book.

The book cover.

The authors have detailed the JSOC team’s goals in Pakistan. One was prosaic: team members were to develop rings of informants to gather targeting information about al-Qaeda terrorists. Other goals were extremely sensitive: JSOC needed better intelligence about how Pakistan transported its nuclear weapons and it wanted to penetrate the ISI and target Pakistani officers who were hand-in-glove with the terrorists.

“Under a secret program code-named Screen Hunter, JSOC, augmented by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and contract personnel, was authorized to shadow and identify members of the ISI suspected of being sympathetic to al-Qaeda. It is not clear whether JSOC units used lethal force against these ISI officers; one official said that the goal of the program was to track terrorists through the ISI by using disinformation and psychological warfare,” reveals the book.

The Obama administration finally curtailed the Screen Hunter programme after Pakistan slammed the covert US presence inside the country. Still, Pakistani outrage didn’t stop the JSOC from rotating teams of Navy Seals from DEVGRU Black squadron, aided by Rangers and other special operations forces, and establishing a parallel terrorist-hunting capability called ‘Vigilant Harvest’.

“They operated in the border areas of Pakistan deemed off limits to Americans, and they targeted courier networks, trainers, and facilitators. (Legally, these units would operate under the authority of the CIA any time they crossed the border.),” said the book.

“A senior Obama administration official said that by the middle of 2011, after tensions between the United States and the Pakistani government had reached an unhealthy degree of danger, all JSOC personnel except for its declared military trainers were ferreted out of the country. (They were easy to find using that same secret cell phone pinging technology.) Those who remained were called Omegas, a term denoting their temporary designation as members of the reserve force. They then joined any one of a dozen small contracting companies set up by the CIA, which turned these JSOC soldiers into civilians, for the purposes of deniability,” added the book.

According to media reports, unassuming office buildings around the Washington area and beyond have become “unlabeled spy centers that process untold volumes of information” extracted from JSOC’s hunting missions, with such a rapid analytic turnaround time that the “shooters” of the unit can quickly begin planning their next kills. In fact, Ambinder reports inThe Command that the “integration of tactical spying within JSOC is so thorough” that it’s hard to distinguish “shooters” from analysts.

The JSOC has grown since September 11 as the US military focusses on combating terrorism. As defence secretary, Donald H Rumsfeld wanted the JSOC to work unilaterally so that it could be more aggressive in hunting down terrorists. There are concerns, however, that the JSOC operates with practically no accountability. In Iraq, they reportedly ran a torture chamber at a place called Camp Nama. In 2004, Rumsfeld gave the US military the go-ahead to carry out secret offensive strikes in more than a dozen countries, and JSOC operatives carried them out in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Turkmenistan’s Ridiculous, Predictable “Election”

Turkmenistan’s Ridiculous, Predictable “Election”

Post image for Turkmenistan’s Ridiculous, Predictable “Election”


In a surprise no one could have possibly predicted, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov swept the Turkmen presidential election this weekend.

Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov won a new five-year term by capturing 97 percent of the vote, election officials said Monday, but a Western expert called the vote a democratic sham.

All of Berdymukhamedov’s seven opponents praised his leadership in their campaigns, making the authoritarian leader’s victory in Sunday’s election a mere formality. Berdymukhamedov improved on his 2007 performance, in which he secured his first term in this Central Asian nation with 89 percent of the vote.

Well that answers at least one question about the election. Last month I hadwondered what his victory margin might mean:

Inexplicably, Berdimuhamedov seems determined to proceed with the trappings of a normal election no one will acknowledge as such. At this point, the only question is what percentage of the vote he will choose to accept. Other Central Asian dictators have not shied away from impossible margins, such as Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan (95 percent) and Islom Karimov in Uzbekistan ( 88 percent). Wll Berdimuhamedov meet or beat his 89 percent from 2007? Will he go higher, to lend the appearance of inevitability to his oppressive regime? Or will he go lower, to try to create the false sense of political dynamism?

So I guess Berdimuhamedov is trying to lend the appearance of inevitability to his regime through a Nazarbayev-esque impossible victory margin. RFE/RL’s Farangis Najibullah has more to say on this:

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov spent his first months in office in 2007 reversing some of the more controversial policies of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.

He reopened rural hospitals, for example, and expanded access to the Internet (albeit with severe restrictions)… The Niyazov era, which lasted from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 until his death in 2006 – has been hailed within the country as its “Golden Age.” Likewise, Berdymukhammedov has dubbed his time in power “The Era of Turkmenistan’s Great Renaissance.”

Berdymukhammedov has also continued Niyazov’s tradition of renaming streets, schools, and organizations after his relatives.

There has been a lot of questions and speculations about why Turkmenistan went through with such an obviously sham election. the BBC’s Rayhan Demytrie offers one hypothesis:

Some believe the only point of this election is to create the impression that Turkmenistan is abiding by international norms.

That matters because with its abundant natural gas reserves, Turkmenistan is keen to diversify its export routes. BP ranks its natural gas reserves as the fourth largest in the world.

Russia and China are the biggest buyers, but the EU is also seeking a share. In doing so it has been criticised by rights groups for doing business with one of the most repressive regimes in the world.

Human Rights Watch details some of the moves the EU is making in its 2012 report. “The European Union in particular continues to press forward with a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) with Turkmenistan, frozen since 1998 over human rights concerns, without requiring any human rights reforms in exchange.”

Though some commenters tried to argue that I was wrong to draw critical parallels between how the international community — including human rights activists — treats Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, I think there really is something to draw out here. Even though HRW is critical of Turkmenistan’s human rights abuses (and they are legion), the leadership of HRW does not storm op-ed pages and Foreign Policy decrying the “blood for natural gas” relationship that seems to govern Turkmenistan’s relations with the outside world. Rather, they criticize the limited U.S. engagement with Tashkent as somehow more perfidious and morally indefensible.

I still don’t understand why the two countries are treated so very differently in the public, even though both use their geopolitical advantages to get concessions out of the West in return for Western strategic interests (energy in the case of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan in the case of Uzbekistan). But they are.

Maybe the Turkmen election offers a clue. Like most things the Turkmen government does, its weirdness is so fascinating to talk about the actual horror of people being coerced to reaffirm an abusive tyrant is almost beside the point. Islom Karimov’s “election” in 2007 had none of the crazy personality cult monumentalism that Berdimuhamedov’s did, which meant the little media attention it got was more tightly focused on regime abuses and less on “oh look he has his own tv show and books and music and outlawed dancing and stuff.”

But speech access matters a lot, too. There is a thriving, and outspoken, expatriate Uzbek activist community. The Turkmen diaspora is less vocal, and has fewer connections to western activists. Turkmenistan is also much more activist and brutal in suppressing speech and political activism. So maybe western networks, and the relative paucity of western support for the Turkmen opposition movement, matters in this as well.

Anyway, so answer Demytrie’s question above: Has Turkmenistan changed at all? The answer is, basically, a depressed “no.”

This post was written by…

 – author of 1772 posts on

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Projectand the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua is also a regular contributor to Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

Germany Looks for Bigger Piece of Central Asian Pie

[SEE:  For Kazakhstan the Silk Road Leads To Deutschland]

Germany’s Changing Role in Central Asia

Richard Rousseau

The international community, following the September 11, 2001 events and the subsequent outbreak of war in Afghanistan “rediscovered” the strategic importance of the Central Asian region. Germany was among the first countries to pay more attention to this region. However, Berlin already had decades of experience of dealing with major issues in Central Asia. Germany was the first European country to recognize Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and as early as 1992 it sent various diplomatic missions to the region. Now Germany is showing even greater interest in forging closer relations, both politically and economically, with these five Central Asian governments.

Richard Rousseau is Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Khazar University in Baku, Azerbaijan and a contributor to Global Brief, World Affairs in the 21st Century ( and the Jamestown Foundation.

Yet, the lack of improvement in the democratization process in the Central Asian countries could negatively affect these relations in the not-too-distant future (the recent deterioration in the German-Uzbek relationship is a sign of that). Such a development could seriously put at risk the successful implementation of the German (officially European Union) strategy for Central Asia.[1]

Germany’s interest in Central Asia

At first sight, the massive and willfully promoted presence of Germany in all five Central Asian states, all relatively poor countries by world standards, appears somewhat absurd. Nevertheless, substantial human and financial resources are being allocated to the region by Germany, and a recent increase in the numbers of German staff, supported by some European Union (EU) officials, testifies to the seriousness of Germany’s plans for that part of the world. Berlin has created a network in which its diplomatic missions are supported by numerous economic and development institutions, such as the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ, German Society for International Cooperation), the Bankengruppe (KfW, German Development Bank) and cultural bodies, such as the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD, German Academic Exchange Service), the Deutschen Volkshochschul-Verbandes e.V. (DVV, German Adult Education Association), the Welthungerhilfe (emergency aid), the Goethe Institute, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS, policy expertise) and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftun (FES, think tank). In Almaty, Kazakhstan, the Germans have established the Kazakh-German KGU University. It is interesting to note that German is one of the most widely spoken foreign languages in the five countries making up the Central Asian region.

Berlin’s motivation in creating a network of cultural institutions and economic programs in the region is many sided. Reinhard Krumm, in his paper “Central Asia, the struggle for power, energy and human rights[2]suggests that this has taken three chronologically distinct phases, in each of which German interests have changed (although it would perhaps be more correct to say that new interests have been added in the light of changes in external conditions). In the period immediately following the five republics’ independence, Berlin was primarily interested in protecting the approximately one million ethnic Germans who had lived in the region since their deportation to that region during the Second World War (through an edict of August 28, 1941, Joseph Stalin personally ordered the deportation in mass of ethnic Germans from the Volga region to Central Asia).

This displaced population (concentrated mainly in Kazakhstan, and to a lesser extent Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan) is the key to understanding why political relations between Germany and the five Central Asian republics have been so intense since the early nineties. At the beginning of the 2000s, however, more interest was stirred by the rich energy resources (oil and gas) yet to be found in the region. This was clearly explained in a 1998 document presented by the German Social Democratic Party and entitled “Zukunftsregion Kaspisches Meer” (“the Future of the Caspian Sea”[3]).

The September 11, 2001 attacks on America marked a critical turning point in German policy towards Central Asia, which became for Berlin an area of strategic importance in the fight against international terrorism. The German strategy, outlined in the “Central Asia Concept” of March 18, 2002, was summarized by the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in last November during his visit to Astana: “If we are to ensure the success of the political process of reconciliation in Afghanistan, then it is crucial that neighboring countries become involved, that they (…) are politically engaged but have also such strong links with the Afghan economy that it can develop favorably.”[4]

Berlin’s interests in the Central Asian region are also predominant in the economic sphere and are keeping growing. These German economic interests there in Central Asia are certainly not limited to oil and natural gas, though these continue to be a primary focus – for instance, on March 14-15 next year Berlin will host the “Turkmenistan Oil & Gas Road Show 2012.”[5] Equally important are German exports of machinery, vehicles and chemicals to the five republics, especially at a time when the global economic crisis has led to a decline in global demand for such products, which have always been the backbone of the German economy.

Political relations, but not good ones

Since the early nineties Germany has maintained good relations with the political leaders of all the republics of the region. The results are seen in the frequent visits by senior government officials, conclusions of economic agreements and a flurry of political activity by a growing number of German companies. The intensity of cooperation in the cultural sector is another indication of the intensity of these relations. To cite just one example, a “Year of Germany in Kazakhstan”[6] was celebrated in Kazakhstan, the main German partner in the region, between February 2009 and February 2010. During the Kazakhstani President’s visit to Germany in 2010 Berlin decided to reciprocate by proclaiming the “Year of Kazakhstan in Germany.” There have been numerous mutual visits made over the last few years by top government officials of both countries, including one to Astana by German federal President Horst Koelher in September 2009, during which a series of official documents were signed, including six trade agreements. In 2010 Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, twice visited Astana to sign a series of “investment memorandums.”[7] More recently, on July 20, 2011, Westerwelle met his Kazakh counterpart in Berlin. A few days earlier in Karaganda was held the 5th meeting of the “German-Kazakh Intergovernmental Working Group on Business and Trade” (RAG).

Germany’s relations with the five Central Asian republics seem therefore to continue to be strengthened over time. However, a closer analysis reveals some hidden weaknesses and inherent risks in Berlin’s relations with these young states. These were brought to the forefront by the recent friction between the German and Uzbek governments. Berlin had planned for a German delegation to visit Tashkent in November 2010 to hold bilateral meetings with the Uzbek government and parliament in order to discuss human rights in the region. The visit was, however, rejected through a statement from the Uzbek foreign ministry. Frictions between the two governments also increased in August 2011, when the Uzbek authorities in Tashkent took control of Steinert Industries, a major German-owned bakery. Not even the German Ambassador, Wolfgang Neuen, was subsequently allowed entry into the facility.[8]

Tashkent’s behavior in this matter was most likely prompted by President Karimov’s desire to impose tight control over the national economy. As early as 1993 he issued a decree establishing a national economic model which on the one hand supported the opening up of the country to international trade but at the same time maintained strict governmental control over the goods and services coming in and out of the country. The presence and expansion of large German companies in the country may have been interpreted as a threat to the Uzbek government’s control of the economy. The punitive action taken against the bakery was probably meant as a way to send a clear message to Berlin.

On the other hand, this unexpected reaction alone does not explain Tashkent’s current discontent with Germany. Karimov’s recent attitude could equally be read as a reaction to the Bundestag’s May 19 investigation into violations of human rights in Uzbekistan. On May 19, 2011, six years almost to the day after the Andijan massacre, during which about 800 people were killed after the Uzbek security forces opened fire on demonstrators in this eastern region of Uzbekistan, four members of the German Parliament (Viola von Cramon, Johannes Pflug, Dagmar Enkelmann and Volker Beck) officially called on Chancellor Angela Merkel to raise the cases of Akzam Turgunov and twelve other human rights defenders unjustly imprisoned and tortured by the government of Uzbekistan.[9] Tashkent must not have liked this initiative, and Karimov is probably now sending to the Berlin government a clear message that he will not accept any kind of German interference in Uzbekistan’s internal affairs.

Human rights

It is increasingly evident that the speed of democratization in the Central Asian states will to a large extent determine the success or failure of the German strategy towards the “stans.” The key issue here is to define the optimal strategy for ensuring the maintenance of the close ties which bind Germany to this key region, an indispensable bridge between Europe and Asia.

Until recently, Berlin has favored a very tolerant attitude towards the authoritarian regimes of the five Central Asian republics. This has set the tone for the relationship between Berlin and Tashkent. In consequence, strong pressure from the German government has persuaded the EU in November 2009 to finally (and reluctantly) lift the sanctions – including an arms embargo – imposed on Uzbekistan following the May 15, 2005 Andijan massacre.[10] Between 2005 and 2009 Berlin did not comply with EU sanctions anyway, and continued to support the Uzbek president – for example, Germany paid 67.9 million euros to Tashkent between 2005 and 2009 to cover the costs of using the Termez military base, which provides essential logistical support for the German troops deployed in Afghanistan. During the same period, in breach of the Europe-wide ban on Uzbek officials imposed by Brussels (penalties were attached to EU members hosting visits by members of the Uzbek government), Berlin allowed the Uzbek Interior Minister, Zokir Almatov, to travel to Germany for medical treatment.[11] Since 2010, Germany has granted the Uzbek government an additional 15.9 million euros a year as “financial compensation” for its use of the Termez base, even though Tashkent has demonstrated no real will to respect human rights of its citizens, as the EU demands.

Putting the moral considerations involved in these disbursements aside, one cannot pin the slightest hope for success on any strategy based on the appeasement of Tashkent’s anti-democratic policy. Berlin’s disinterest in dealing with human rights issues in Uzbekistan means a huge loss of bargaining power. Its passivity is now more likely to enhance the level of blackmail undertaken by the Uzbek government. This will only strengthen Tashkent’s conviction that there is no need to review its human rights and democratization practices.

Judging from its official policy documents, Germany does seem to understand that the issue of human rights is fundamental, not only on the humanitarian level but also in terms of protecting Germany’s own interests in the region. The democratization, pacification and stabilization of the area are at the centre of the EU’s strategy for Central Asia, which was drafted in 2007 under the German presidency of the time and coincides almost completely with Germany’s own. A reading of both German and EU official documents shows indeed a clear understanding of the importance of democratization and the protection of human rights. The EU document reads: “The aim of the European Commission’s assistance Strategy Paper for Central Asia (2007-13) is to promote the stability and security of the countries of Central Asia, to assist in their pursuit of sustainable economic development and poverty reduction and to facilitate closer regional cooperation both within Central Asia and between Central Asia and the EU.”[12] However, these official statements, if anything, do not constitute a sufficient means of improving, or at least ensuring, the protection of human rights, despite the many useful projects also being implemented by the EU and Berlin in this field. The key will be to add even more strategic and humanitarian projects to these statements, to take immediate and firm action against any violations and to refuse to accede to the socio-economic demands of Tashkent and those of other regional governments, unless progress is made.

Such a course of action would involve, for example, linking the payment of a ‘financial contribution” for the use of the Termez base to real action on various humanitarian issues. Germany should react immediately and firmly to Karimov’s recent initiatives, make sure that any sanctions deemed necessary are actually applied and ensure that demands for democratization are taken seriously in Tashkent. Such a strategy would increase the bargaining power and the credibility of Germany and the EU in throughout all of Central Asia.



[1] See European Community Regional Strategy Paper for Assistance to Central Asia for the period 2007-2013.

[2] Krumm, Reinhard , Central Asia, the struggle for power, energy and human rights, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftun, January 2007.

[3] Zukunftsregion Kaspisches Meer : deutsche Interessen und europäische Politik in den transkaukasischen und zentralasiatischen Staaten (Future Caspian Sea: German and European policy interests in the Transcaucasian and Central Asian States), SPD parliamentary group policy paper, Bonn, 1998.

[8] Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, Uzbekistan Cancels German Parliamentary Rights Committee Visit, Eurasianet, June 30, 2011.

[10] Simon Tisdall, Why does the EU Give Credibility to such Dictators as Islam Karimov? The Guardian, January 26, 2011.

[11] EU, US Should Press for Accountability, End to Rights Abuses, Human Rights Watch, May 11. 2011.

[12] European Community Regional…, op. cit.

Going Through the Motions of “Democratic Reform” with Turkmenistan Referendum

Turkmenistan has chosen Arkadaga


Eugene Minchenko

Despite the promises of liberalization, in fact, occurred more authoritarian and repressive policies …

Last Sunday, February 12, Turkmenistan held presidential elections, which were attended by almost 97 percent of voters. Approximately the same percentage of votes received, according to preliminary data, the current president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Seven other candidates competed mainly in the praise the wise policy Arkadaga (Patron). It is this magnificent title called Berdymukhamedov in Turkmenistan. I recall that his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov called Turkmenbashi (Father of the Turkmens).

Turkmenistan – is not an oasis of calm

Turkmen “thaw” was short-lived. In the first five years of his presidency, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov refused only on the most grotesque features of the former regime.Despite the promises of liberalization, in fact, occurred more authoritarian and repressive policies.

The political system of Turkmenistan is relatively stable, but an attempt to make it more open is dangerous for the regime, as it can cause inter-clan and inter-tribal conflict in which the growing social discontent will serve as a medium.

Actually, now Turkmenistan is not a haven of peace in Central Asia. During 2011 a number of oil and gas companies in connection with the nonpayment of wages were mass strikes.

However, the most massive display of discontent caused the behavior of the authorities last summer during a series of explosions at military ammunition depots near Ashgabat. As a result of an emergency, according to some estimates, killed more than 100 people. Official Ashgabat has a policy of suppressing information. Residents of the city prohibited to communicate with relatives abroad. The key words associated with the tragedy, to jam telephone conversations.

Social tension is also growing due to high unemployment among young people. By the way, it is the presence of a large number of young unemployed is one of many protest movements in Arab countries. It is necessary to take into account the fact that under conditions of high unemployment, the current visa regime with Russia does not allow Turkmenistan to export “surplus” of the economically active population.

In addition, the country is very high potential for inter-tribal conflict, even when compared with the period of Niyazov’s rule. According to some experts, the potential tribal tensions can lead the country to “Arab” or “Libyan” scenario.

Ambitious plans without reinforcement

Turkmenistan because of limited gas export routes, and the unwillingness of key buyers to pay him, “Central European” price for oil is experiencing shortages of funds, which casts doubt on the implementation of ambitious investment projects.

Despite the availability of energy resources, the Turkmen authorities are faced with shortage of finances. Because of the instability in Afghanistan under TAPI pipeline development issue. The position of Russia and Iran blocking the implementation of the Trans-Caspian pipeline under the Caspian Sea. Unable to use Iran as an export platform because of international sanctions. The Chinese give the lowest price, and “Gazprom”, forced to conclude in 2009 at a price of an unfavorable contract, chooses the minimum amount of gas (up to 10 billion cubic meters in the specified amounts to 30 billion cubic meters).

According to the Ambassador of Turkmenistan in Russia Khalnazar Agakhanov he made at a roundtable at RIA Novosti, the surplus in the country today in the volume of marketable gas 50 billion cubic meters.

In such circumstances, the government of Turkmenistan has found an easy way out, practicing refusal to pay contracts. Last year there were a number of scandals with the Turkish construction companies, which are not paid. In the conflict intervened personally, Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

At the same time, the story of Russia’s MTS was a sad result – this operator in Turkmenistan eliminated. Although the termination of MTS provoked serious discontent of people, and at the beginning of 2012, without regard remain, according to some reports, more than 1 million people, the conflict is still not resolved. Russian businesses are not protected.

Not everyone will be able to fly to Moscow

The exact number of people living in Turkmenistan, Russian is not known, but does not exceed 50-60 thousand people. For this indicator, Turkmenistan is Central Asia since the end of second place after Tajikistan, where at last count, there are not more than 30 thousand Russian-speaking population.

In 2013 Turkmenistan introduced new foreign passport, a person who, preserving the Russian passports will not. In the offices of the Turkmen Airlines ads have already appeared, that in July 2013 tickets on international flights will be sold only in the provision of new passports abroad.

In practice, such measures of the authorities indicate that holders of Russian and Turkmen old passports wishing to buy tickets to Moscow, will not be able to fly out of the country.Students who leave to study in foreign universities, can be stopped at the border, where they announced a ban on exit.

Persons with dual citizenship will be difficult to expect a new passport. When applying for a new passport they are required to sign documents renouncing Russian citizenship.

Russian diplomacy could be more tightly to protect the interests of its citizens in Turkmenistan – the foreign policy situation is favorable for this. In fact, Russia’s support is needed now more than ever Turkmenistan.

Who benefits from pressure on Ashgabat

Despite the diversification of gas supplies from Ashgabat, the choice is not so wide – in the limited capacity of the gas sales would be prudent to remove the tension in relations with Moscow and to improve relations with traditional partners – “Gazprom”, which is able to increase gas purchases this year.

Counting on China as a key buyer of raw materials, Turkmenistan enters into a new relationship. Pro-China policy carries the risk of reduced income from the sale of gas, as well as new political risks in relations with the United States.

Turkmenistan is particularly vulnerable in the event of possible destabilization in Afghanistan and the military campaign against Iran. With the emergence of the “arc of instability” in Central Asia, exacerbated conflicts between members of the new “Great Game”.

The West will expand opportunities to put pressure on Ashgabat, as well as support for the parties to the elite, or intertribal latent opposition in this country. In the future, such support could turn and open surgery.

In this way, the change of power took place in Libya – the country is very similar with Turkmenistan on the availability of resources, political and economic systems.

Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute of Political Studies – especially for RIA Novosti.

Source :: RIA Novosti

NATO’s “Mission Accomplished” In Libya Proves To Be Imperial Premature Self-Congratulation

Revolutionary Militias in Western Libya Unify

By MAGGIE MICHAEL Associated Press
TRIPOLI, Libya February 13, 2012 (AP)

Representatives of about 100 militias from western Libya said Monday they had formed a new federation to prevent infighting and allow them to press the country’s new government for further reform.

The move was a blow to the National Transitional Council, which helped lead the eight-month uprising against longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi that ended with his capture and death in October. The NTC has struggled for months to stamp its authority on the country, and has largely failed to decommission or bring under its control the hundreds of militias that fought in the war.

Ibrahim al-Madani, a commander whose brigade joined the new federation, said the fighters would not give up their arms to what they considered a corrupt government.

“We didn’t turn against Gadhafi but against a corrupt regime,” al-Madani told reporters at a news conference. “We will not lay down our weapons until we are assured that the revolution is on the right track.”

The leader of the federation, Col. Mokhtar Fernana, criticized the NTC body in charge of integrating revolutionary fighters, accusing it of taking in many men who had fought for Gadhafi. “This committee is an attempt to hijack the revolution,” Fernana said.

NTC officials did not attend the announcement ceremony.

Some commanders who have joined the new federation said that it has yet to define its relationship to the NTC’s Defense Ministry, which is supposed to have command over all armed groups. They also said they would establish a united command — a move unlikely to succeed, given the fierce independence of many of the fighters and the hundreds of miles (kilometers) between their cities.

Since the war’s end, revolutionary militias have frequently clashed over control of weapons depots.

The federation’s formation could also emphasize a historic rift between eastern and western Libya by serving as a competitor with the so-called Barqa front, a coalition of militias in the east.

Also Monday, the NTC announced the allocation of seats for the country’s first, post-revolution parliament, to be elected in June. The west, including Tripoli and the Nafusa mountains, will have 102 seats; the east, including Benghazi where the anti-Gadhafi uprising began, will have 60; the south will have 29; and central cities including Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte will have 9.

The national congress will be tasked with forming a new government and establishing a committee to write a constitution.

Libya is set to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the start of the anti-Gadhafi uprising on Feb. 17. NTC Interior Minister Fawzy Abdel-Al told reporters Sunday that the country is on high alert because of a statement by one of Gadhafi’s sons calling for a new uprising.

The son, Al-Saadi, fled to neighboring Niger near the end of the war. Niger has refused Libyan requests that he be extradited to stand trial.

In another sign of the precarious security situation since Gadhafi’s fall, 11 people were killed in tribal fighting in the desert area of Kufra Monday, said Farag Saad of the local hospital. Most of the dead were civilians, he said. Kufra area lies about 500 miles (804 kilometers) south of the early coastal city of Derna, deep in the desert.

The clashes pitted fighters from local tribes. It was unclear what sparked the clashes.

Pak SC Wants Details On Why Parolees Were Abducted, How and Where They Were Held

Adiala prisoners’ case: Seven prisoners presented before SC

SC seeks written explanation from respondents in the case asking why the prisoners were not presented before. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: Resuming the Adiala missing prisoners’ case on Monday, the Supreme Court sought written explanations from the Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence chiefs, Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Chief Secretary Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Ghulam Dastagir Khan asking why the prisoners were not presented on court’s earlier order.

Seven prisoners who were sought by the court earlier were presented before the court today.

The court told K-P chief secretary to submit a comprehensive report entailing the details of the detention within four days to the Registrar Office of the Supreme Court, while JAG, MI and ISI were told to submit their reports on March 1.

The court directed ISI, MI chiefs to submit a report about how they had held 11 persons, what sort of trial was conducted, how they kept them and dealt with them, and why their health conditions were deteriorating. The court also directed ISI and MI to mention the cause of death of the four prisoners who died in army’s custody.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry inquired about the prisoners and asked where they were before January 26. K-P chief secretary replied saying that he did not have knowledge regarding the whereabouts of the prisoners.

The chief justice criticised his statement and said, “A provincial chief secretary should be aware of everything that happens in the province.”

“You should know where the Taliban are stationed and where an operation is carried out against them. You should have knowledge about the province,” said Chief Justice Chaudhry.

Counsel of ISI and MI chiefs Raja Irshad informed the court that, complying with the court’s orders, the prisoners were moved to Islamabad to be presented before the court.

Counsel of the prisoners Advocate Tariq Asad informed the court that during the confinement which lasted for more than a year, the prisoners were not exposed to the sunlight which worsened their health.

Advocate Asad further told the court that three out of the seven prisoners are suffering from kidney failure, while the rest diagnosed with other chronic diseases.

The court asked the counsel of ISI and MI chiefs if both the agencies had the constitutional authority to detain the civilians.

The chief justice said that the condition of the prisoners was rueful and that once the report is submitted, the court will determine if the detentions were lawful or not.

Defence of Human Rights Chairperson Amina Janjua prayed to the court that orders for the release of all the missing persons should be issued.

The court also ordered that the prisoners will now remain under the provincial administration and not ISI and MI.

“There should be proper medical treatment and they shall not be shifted to internment centre in Parachinar, so long as the matter is pending before the court,” the chief justice said, according to AFP.

“A medical board shall be constituted to examine their health,” he added.

The three-member bench, headed by the chief justice, had served notices to the ISI and MI chiefs on January 25 to explain the circumstances behind the deaths of the prisoners.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governor was directed to present a report through the provincial chief secretary on the condition of the prisoners who are hospitalised in Peshawar and Parachinar.

The civilians had been facing a court martial under the Army Act on charges of attacking the General Headquarters (GHQ) and ISI’s Hamza Camp base.

They were picked up from Adiala Jail by intelligence agencies after they had been acquitted of the charges by the court.

Four of the 11 detainees – Muhammad Amir, Tahseenullah, Said Arab and Abdul Saboor – died in the custody of the ISI and MI.

ISI Produces the Seven Men It Didn’t Snatch from Adiala Jail

Pakistani detainees in court

Pakistani policemen escort  the detainees, seen draped in a shawl, after an appearance at the Supreme Court in Islamabad last night   Source: AFP

SEVEN men held by Pakistan’s intelligence services appeared in court last night, an unprecedented development following orders from the country’s highest court.

The case challenges perceptions that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence operates above the law. The ISI is accused in the West of acting as a shadow state and maintaining links to the Taliban.

The seven men were frail, weak, unable to talk and unable to walk properly when they appeared before Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, more than 1 1/2 years after being arrested, in the Supreme Court in Islamabad.

Justice Chaudhry ordered a medical examination. Intelligence agencies last month handed over the men to the custody of the provincial government in the northwest, after the Supreme Court took up the case.

“I have severe pain in my chest, my shoulders are itching. I am still shocked and unwell,” one of the detainees told reporters.

Four of the men were reportedly held in the northwestern city of Peshawar and three in the tribal region of Parachinar near the Afghan border. Four others died in custody.

“There should be proper medical treatment and they shall not be shifted to the internment centre in Parachinar so long as the matter is pending before the court,” Justice Chaudhry said.

Lawyer Tariq Asad said the court ordered the ISI to submit details at the next hearing on March 1 about his clients detention and under which law they were held.

“The report will contain details about what happened to them during their detention over one year and a half and whether any trial took place,” he said.

Abdul Qadoos, brother of two of the detainees, Abdul Basit and Abdul Majid, described how they were held in deprivation.

“My brothers and others lived in detention under very difficult circumstances. They were never given enough food and there was no water available for them to take a bath,” he said.

The pair were originally detained in 2008 over the 2007 attack on the ISI’s Hamza camp in Rawalpindi. They were acquitted in 2010 then re-arrested by the local administration for 120 days. When the court ordered their release, intelligence agents picked them up in May, he said.

Two weeks ago, Human Rights Watch said it was time for the ISI “to stop acting as a state within a state” after the failure to identify and punish the killers of journalist Saleem Shahzad last May. Shahzad said he had been threatened by intelligence agents.