Blogging has been very light of late. Normal service set to resume shortly.
Some noteworthy stories which I will be looking at in more detail in the days ahead:
a) Iran and Azerbaijan have continued to spar after the Eurovision contest. Iran’s navy is reportedly carrying out exercises along the maritime border with Azerbaijan; the Iranians have detained two Azeri poets and Baku has turned back a representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader “in accordance with Azerbaijan’s legislation”; Ali Hasanov has slammed Iran’s ‘false clergy’; and Azerbaijan has reportedly signed a new, $300m deal to buy some new Israeli drones.
b) In related news the Iranians have also been trumpeting their new oil discovery in the Caspian, which lies in the Sardar Jangal field discovered late last year. At the time I argued that the coordinates given would put the field in Turkmen waters but this was wrong – turns out that the field is actually in what would reasonably be considered Azerbaijan’s waters instead. I will be speaking on the subject in Astana in a couple of weeks, for those attending the Caspian Offshore conference. It could be potentially big news if Iran does push forward with drilling.
c) In Armenia, horse-trading has continued after the 6 May elections between the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, its erstwhile coalition allies, and the opposition. The Prosperous Armenia Party has refused to rejoin the governing coalition, although its leader Gagik Tsarukian (surely one of the FSU’s most sartorially striking politicians) insists that it will continue to play a constructive role in opposition.
The coalition now comprises only the RPA and the junior partner in the previous coalition, Rule of Law. There are rumours of Heritage joining the coalition although this seems doubtful. The main opposition ANC is continuing to protest although this seems like a reflex action now and will not change anything. The make-up of the government is likely to remain the same in order to preserve cohesion as the coalition begins planning for next year’s presidential poll.
d) In Turkey the PKK seems to be on the offensive after something of a recent lull. As well as an uptick in direct clashes with security forces, recent weeks have seen a number of assassinations, car bombings, and kidnappings directed against state and AKP targets. The BTE gas pipeline from Azerbaijan has also blown up, possibly due to PKK sabotage (although officials are calling it a technical error).
e) In Turkmenistan President Berdymukhammedov is continuing to rotate energy-sector officials with alarming regularity. The latest casualty is Bayramgeldi Nedirov, who served as Oil and Gas Minister for a remarkable (in Turkmen terms) four years. The deputy of Turkmengaz has been promoted to replace him. Along with other moves in the sector it suggests that the president is continuing to tighten his hand over the energy sphere.
f) Meanwhile the agreement for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline has been signed, leading analysts and officials to talk about it like it’s a genuinely realistic plan. This is despite the state of security and finances in Afghanistan (let alone Pakistan, or Pakistan-India). The problem will not necessarily be the Taliban so much as the plethora of warlords, militias, criminals, corrupt officials, and shady companies along the route. The Kabul-Kandahar stretch of Highway 1 can barely be secured with thousands of NATO troops and air assets – how is a pipeline going to get built and secured when they’ve withdrawn?
g) Hillary Clinton is on the way to the region soon for a bit of a tour. The usual subjects will be discussed (“regional security, democracy, economic development and counterterrorism”) – she will also meet civil society representatives in all three countries. Expect all three to get a bit of a nudge on democracy and human rights (pre-election for Georgia, post-election for Armenia, post-Eurovision for Azerbaijan). The key destination is Istanbul where she will discuss Syria and Iran, among other things.