Friday, August 14, 2009

Obama, Putin, think tanks, Azeri gas, Israelis

This was first published in the July 4, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Survey: Obama most, Putin least popular among world’s leaders


America's president is by far the world's most popular leader, according to surveys that were conducted in 20 countries and involved more than 19,000 respondents.

President Barack Obama had the confidence of more than 60 percent of respondents, followed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and German chancellor Angela Merkel with 40 percent each, the only other world leaders whose admirers outnumbered their detractors in the period between April and June of this year, when the studies were conducted.

In the countries surveyed, Mr. Obama enjoyed the least confidence in Palestine, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Russia, with Turkey's public opinion evenly divided.

Meanwhile, Russian premier Vladimir Putin and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suffered from the worst negative ratings, at 50 and 49 percent of respondents respectively.

Mr. Putin was most popular in India (65 percent), China (64), and Ukraine (57). And Mr. Ahmadinejad enjoyed the most support in Pakistan (75), Palestine (57), and Nigeria (50).

When calculating worldwide averages, figures from the leaders' own countries were excluded, but both Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama had the confidence of their own publics, at 82 and 62 percent respectively.

DC think tanks: Armenia, ex-USSR backsliding on democracy

Democratic decline in Central Europe and Eurasia was widespread in 2008, according to the Nations in Transit publication released by the Washington-based Freedom House on June 30. Freedom House researchers determined that democracy in 18 of 29 countries studied suffered setbacks.

Among the former Soviet states, Georgia and Ukraine were described as "hybrid regimes" with both democratic and authoritarian tendencies, and Armenia and Moldova as "semi-consolidated authoritarian regimes."

Kyrgyzstan and Russia joined Belarus, Azerbaijan, and other Central Asian countries in a group that Freedom House calls "consolidated authoritarian states." The report singled out "petro-state Azerbaijan," which "recorded the most significant declines" in terms of democratic development.

The researchers determined that perceived democratic gains made in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan following the so-called Rose and Tulip revolutions in 2003 and 2005 were fully reversed by 2008.

Freedom House also criticized international monitors "that issued positive statements about elections in 2008 that were clearly flawed, such as those in Azerbaijan and Armenia."

Another study, released the same day by the Washington-based Brookings Institution and the World Bank, looked at evolution of democracy, governance, and corruption in 212 countries and territories between 1998 and 2008.

According to Worldwide Governance Indicators, Armenia has been backsliding in one of the six categories studied, "voice and accountability," reflecting problematic handling of elections.

Varying degrees of progress were noted in five other areas studied, including political stability, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption.

Russia clinches Azerbaijan gas supplies

Ilham Aliyev and Dmitry Medvedev in Baku on June 29, 2009. ITAR-TASS

On June 29 Russian president Dmitry Medvedev paid a previously unscheduled three-hour visit to Azerbaijan, whose leader agreed to begin to sell natural gas to Russia, news agencies reported.

The initial supplies would be a modest 500 million cubic meters in 2010, but Russia expects the volumes to increase as more Azerbaijani natural gas becomes available for export in 2013. Azerbaijan already exports natural gas to Georgia, Turkey, and Greece.

The move was seen by analysts as a Russian success in a diplomatic tug-of-war, as Moscow seeks to maintain its dominance as Europe's main natural-gas supplier. As part of that effort, Russia has been trying to secure natural gas purchase contracts from Central Asian producers.

A reflection of Russian interest was the high price it is willing to pay Azerbaijan for the supplies - $350 for a thousand cubic meters (tcm); by contrast, Azerbaijani gas is sold to Turkey for $120 per tcm.

Earlier this year, European Union pledged funds to facilitate a gas pipeline that would bring it Central Asian gas, including some from Azerbaijan, while bypassing Russia. The so-called Nabucco pipeline also enjoys strong support from the United States, but has been hampered by a lack of commitment by Turkmenistan and transit issues with Turkey.

Also this week, the prime minister of Sweden, the EU's incoming president, indicated a postponement in funding for the Eastern Partnership program, citing economic difficulties. The program includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Israel, Azerbaijan to step up military cooperation

An Israeli company will launch production of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Azerbaijan, and the two countries will cooperate in other military areas, including satellite technology, Azerbaijani news agencies reported. The deals were reportedly finalized as Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Azerbaijan on June 28-29.

Since the opening of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline in 2006, Azerbaijan became one of the largest crude-oil suppliers to Israel. Israel has in turn emerged as a major arms supplier to Azerbaijan. Supplies have already including artillery systems, communications equipment, and UAVs.

Although Azerbaijan continues to threaten a military confrontation with Armenia, and during his visit Mr. Peres reportedly promised that Israel and the Jewish Diaspora "will do all [they] can to support Azerbaijan's territorial integrity," there was no immediate reaction from Armenia.

Mr. Peres' visit took place despite open opposition expressed by senior Iranian officials. And street protests in Baku were quickly dispersed by police. Still, according to the Islam.ru news service, officials decided not to hoist flags of the visiting leader's country around Baku, as they customarily do, apparently wary of incidents.

Coming up: Horserace diplomacy?


On July 6–8, President Barack Obama will visit Russia for talks that are likely to focus on Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea, but might also include discussion of Caucasus concerns.

On July 18, the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents may hold another meeting in Moscow, as both are expected to attend an annual horserace sponsored by the Russian president.

And on July 20–24, Vice President Joe Biden plans to travel to Ukraine and Georgia.

Armenians targeted in Ukraine incident

The knifing death of Sergei Bondarenko (pictured) was followed by anti-Armenian reprisals in a small Ukrainain town. Photo from Marganets.in.ua

A drunken argument deteriorated into a fight that left a local young man dead in the small town of Marganets in Ukraine's Dnepropetrovsk province.

Alla Arakelova, a lawyer for the Ukrainian-Armenian community, told Ukraine's TSN television that the June 29 incident was followed by acts of reprisal against ethnic Armenian families that forced them to flee Marganets for nearby towns. Special police forces along with Ukraine's police chief arrived in Marganets to calm the tensions.

According to TV reports, many of the local residents demanded that ethnic Armenians - all of whom are reportedly Ukrainian citizens - be expelled and the town mayor promised to check if anyone became a Marganets resident "illegally."

Armenians reportedly began to settle in the small mining town after the 1988 earthquake, while both Armenia and Ukraine were still part of USSR, but more arrived from Armenia in subsequent years, with the community numbering 50 families.

Since the Soviet collapse, ethnic Armenians along with other natives of Caucasus and Central Asia have emigrated in large numbers to Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus; in recent years they have increasingly been targeted in xenophobic attacks.

According to reports in Russian media, almost exactly a year earlier, on June 13, 2008, a similar drunken squabble in an Armenian-owned café in the small town of Verkhneuralsk in Russia's Chelyabinsk province resulted in massive fight that left an ethnic Russian dead and several others injured.

Gagik Mkhitarian, a Chelyabinsk representative for the Union of Armenians of Russia, was quoted at the time as saying that an initial fight was followed by vandalism against Armenian-owned businesses and several Armenian families leaving the town for fear of attacks. - E.S.

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