Friday, October 10, 2008

Briefly: More on aid to Armenia, Georgia; Russian air force, navy head to the Americas; Azeris in rating "war" with Armenia

First published in September 20, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan and Lusine Sarkisyan

Members mobilize congressional support for additional U.S. aid to Armenia

Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and George Radanovich (R.-Calif.) have called on colleagues to co-sign a letter they will send to President Bush arguing for additional U.S. aid to Armenia to offset the damages its economy has suffered as a result of interruptions in cross-Georgia trade since last month.

The September 12 letter, made public by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), expressed general support for the Georgia aid package proposed by the Bush administration, but called for earmarking a “proportional share” of the aid to Georgia’s Armenian-populated Javakheti province.

On September 3 the administration announced a massive $1 billion aid package to Georgia. $430 million of that amount was authorized by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a 24 to 9 vote on September 17 although a number of representatives have called into question the administration’s largesse.

The authorization is nonbinding until congressional appropriators formally approve the bill.

While State Department officials have acknowledged that the Georgia crisis has hurt Armenia’s economy and praised Armenia for helping thousands of foreigners, including
a significant number of U.S. citizens, to evacuate from Georgia, Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried, when asked by Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.) on September 9, revealed that the aid package had no provisions for Armenia.

Rep. Sherman brought the issue up again during the Foreign Affairs Committee session on September 17. The Committee chair, Rep. Howard Berman (D.-Calif.) said that it was his “intention, when we consider the authorization of assistance next year, to examine the wider impact of this conflict [in Georgia] and provide appropriate funding for Armenia and other affected countries.”

Meanwhile, on September 15, European Union officials said they were weighing a proposal to give Georgia $700 million in aid over three years, including $140 million before the end of 2008, with a “donors’ conference” planned next month.

Russia sends aircraft, naval vessels to the Americas

Tu-160 in flight; Russia sent two such strategic bombers to Venezuela in mid-September 2008.

In a dramatic shift of military posture reminiscent of theheight of the Cold War, last week two Russian strategic bombers flew for 13hours over the Arctic and the Atlantic to land in Venezuela. A Russian navalgroup led by nuclear-powered cruiser Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great) is set to arrive in the Caribbean later this fall for military exerciseswith Venezuela. And on September 15, a large Russian delegation arrived in Cubato determine its humanitarian needs following the recent hurricanes.

Russia's steps come after its leaders expressed irritationwith the arrival of three U.S. naval vessels in the Black Sea, ostensibly todeliver humanitarian aid to Georgia following its recent war with Russia over South Ossetia, and as the United States is considering resumption of militaryassistance to Georgia.

In a September 12 briefing, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Sean McCormack mocked Russia's ability to projectpower into the Americas, saying that the U.S. "would be happy to make sure the[Russian planes and vessels] get back [to Russia] in case they break down alongthe way."

There is no "questionabout who the predominant military power is in [the Western] hemisphere," theState Department spokesperson asserted, adding that the United States waswatching Russian moves closely.

In a possibly related development, last week Venezuela andits South American ally Bolivia expelled U.S. ambassadors alleging U.S. backingfor an anti-government insurgency in Bolivia.

Mr. McCormack also confirmed that on September 11, Secretaryof State Condoleezza Rice called her counterpart SergeiLavrov for the first high-level U.S.-Russia conversation sinceAugust 15, a long break reflecting a chill in relations. The conversationreportedly included several topics in addition to Georgia - Iran, North Korea,and a U.S. civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India.

On September 8, the Bush administration withdrew a similaragreement it signed with Russia from congressional consideration, citing "thecurrent environment" in bilateral relations.

Seeking to overtake Armenia in rating, Azerbaijan improves business regulation

It has become somewhat more difficult to do business in Armenia, according to the World Bank study released on September 8, which ranks countries based on their business regulations. Armenia was ranked 44th of 181 countries in this year’s report; it was 39th of 178 ranked last year.

As in years past the Doing Business 2009 report was led by Singapore, New Zealand, the United States, and Hong Kong. In Armenia’s neighborhood, Georgia improved from 18th to 15th position last year and Azerbaijan moved up the most – rising from 96th to 33rd position this year.

Making similarly rapid improvement were Albania, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus, which along with Azerbaijan, were branded by the World Bank as “the world’s top reformers.” Azerbaijan’s economics minister

Heydar Babayev told that the progress “reflected implementation of political will of Azerbaijan’s president.” He compared his country’s improvement in the ranking to “winning a gold medal at the Olympics.”

The Armenian Reporter has learned from a source in the bank, that the World Bank staff was approached by Azerbaijani officials several months ago with a mandate from the Azerbaijani president to do everything necessary to overtake Armenia in the ranking.

Armed with a “to do list” from the bank, the Azerbaijani government then quickly amended business legislation with little to no public oversight.

Baku officials have long alleged that the “worldwide Armenian lobby” is behind international criticism of Azerbaijan’s human rights violations and corruption, including its typically poor rankings in various international ratings. Mr. Babayev suggested that this year’s Doing Business study was “objective” since the World Bank was “less prone to lobbying influences.”

The Doing Business ranking forms part of the basis for the annual Heritage Foundation – Wall Street Journal economic freedom rankings, and is also counted toward eligibility for U.S. Millennium Challenge aid. Connect: http://

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