Armenia Courts West Under Russia's Watchful Eye

March 31 (Stratfor)

Armenian President Robert Kocharian is attempting to reshape Armenia's foreign policy in a bid that he hopes will both protect him from an increasingly hostile domestic administration and secure the support of the pro-independence faction in Armenia. Since the parliament shootings that killed former Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian in October, Kocharian has been the minority voice in the government. By turning toward Western powers and away from Moscow, Kocharian seems to be seeking an international buttress against the stronger, Russian-backed domestic opposition, as well as a renewed domestic following. Kocharian is likely to elicit a strong backlash from pro-Russian forces in Armenia that strive to keep the capital Yerevan friendly to Moscow.

In a March 29 speech to the Georgian parliament, Kocharian endorsed the Caucasus Stability Pact, sponsored by Turkey, and called for U.S. and European Union (EU) participation. For Armenia, Russia's main ally in the Caucasus, this statement signaled an abrupt switch in policy direction away from the traditional pro-Russian stance. For Kocharian, however, it is an attempt to gain the backing of the EU and United States.

After the prime minister's assassination last fall, the Armenian military � which had strongly supported the prime minister � turned against Kocharian, blaming him for the security problems that made the shooting possible. Kocharian, in turn, began exercising his constitutional right to replace military commanders, among them deputy defense ministers. This impulsive and self-serving use of presidential powers infuriated the parliamentary majority, which threatened to call for the president's resignation. Additionally, Kocharian and Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian, brother of the former prime minister, are battling for control of the country. Sarkisian resented that Kocharian had appointed deputy defense ministers without his consultation.

Kocharian seems inspired by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's relationship with the West. Tbilisi, always a target of Russia's grab for influence in the Caucasus, enjoys the financial, moral and intelligence support of the United States. Thus, each time Russia tries to nose into Georgia, Washington immediately responds by showering Shevardnadze with cash or high-level visits. Especially now, in the weeks preceding the Georgian presidential election, Western powers have been flocking to Georgia to show their backing for Shevardnadze in an attempt to secure his domestic support. Kocharian is trying to play to the faction, albeit small, that exists in each former Soviet state: the independents. In Armenia this faction has been marginalized to the point that Kocharian will not be able to revive it before his power is checked.

Kocharian finds himself facing strict internal opposition, which is forcing him to take extreme measures. Internally, he is reaching to the limits of his powers to preserve his post. Internationally, he is trying to please the United States and other Western powers to win the kind of favor they show to Shevardnadze. Unfortunately for Kocharian, he will likely also face the typical tactics employed by Russia and its supporters in Georgia. No matter what the motivation, if Kocharian continues to lead Armenia away from Russia, he will likely face swift retaliation from pro-Russian factions within Armenia.

Clinton shuts Cold War chapter in Pakistan

April 6 (Rediff)

He came, he humiliated, he flew away. That was US President Bill Clinton's visit to Pakistan.

It seemed the main aim of his token visit at the end of a five-day tour of India was to give ""a harsh wake-up call� to Pakistan and according to Lahore's daily The Nation, the ""private drubbing was far harsher'' and ""even more unfriendly than the public one.''

The first sign of its impact was General Pervez Musharraf's interview with London's Financial Times , wherein he conceded that he wields some influence with the battalions of ""freedom fighters'' and was ""now ready to persuade them to scale down their activities.�

Within a week of Clinton's departure, indications were that both countries were willing to resolve the 50-year-old dispute over Kashmir.

The US president extended his stopover by almost an hour and 25 minutes in Pakistan which was hailed as ""an achievement'' by many government officials. The president gave a clear-cut message to Pakistan to forget Kashmir, respect the Line of Control, curtail its nuclear programme and redirect precious resources to economic development.

Political analysts have asserted that Clinton has left a grim message for the country. He has clearly stated that there could be no normal relations between the US and Pakistan till democracy is re-established. He also categorically rejected the idea of a third-party mediation in the resolution of the Kashmir conflict.

Aziz Siddiqui, a leading political analyst, said Clinton's visit indicated a clear break from the past. Pakistan's face-off with India had been sustained during all of the cold war years by nothing more than its alliance with the US. That chapter, he said, has now officially been declared shut. The country, thus, for the first time since the early years of independence, faces the prospect of being all on its own.

As far as people of the two countries are concerned, they seem to favour a peaceful settlement of all disputes. They are irked by the travel restrictions which prevent greater interaction between the two countries.

People also believe that politicians on both sides of the border have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

As Clinton pointed out in his speech, there are more pressing problems that face the two countries - water shortages, law and order, load shedding and unemployment.

""It will be fine if we are able to resolve our disputes with India and reduce of now it would help if we began working towards normalising relations,'' Qayyum, a shop-keeper, said.

World in March


March 1

In the US state of Michigan in the junior school Buell Elementary School a six-year boy shot a six-year girl before a teacher and 22 classmates' very eyes. The victim was urgently brought to a hospital, but doctors failed to save her life. It is unknown how the gun happened to be in the boy's hands. The US President Bill Clinton announced that �there were no excuses� to such incidents.

March 2

The UK closed the case on extradition of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to the Spanish court due to his weak health. After the 16-months investigation, Pinochet was announced a free man and came back to his motherland.

March 3

The International Tribunal Court Board on former Yugoslavia (ITCBY) sentenced the Croatian general Tihomir Blashkich to 45-years imprisonment. It is assumed that he is personally responsible and is answerable for actions conducted by Bosnian Croats' divisions, which he commanded from May 1992 to January 1994 in the valley of the Lashva River in Central Bosnia. It is the most severe sentence ever made by ITCBY judges.

March 4

In New York 19 members of Italian Mafiosi families arrested on suspicion of machinations and money laundering in the amount of US$ 60 million. The investigation disclosed that Italians had been assisted by Russian criminal groups in New York.

March 5

The Russian acting President announced Russia could become a NATO full member, �if Russia's interests were considered and if it was a partner enjoying full rights.� Vladimir Putin made his announcement in the TV program �Breakfast with Frost� broadcast on Sunday by BBC.

March 6

Despite on March 5 it was announced that troops would be withdrawn from Lebanon until July 2000, Israeli military planes again stroke a blow on military groups in Lebanon. It is unknown to which organisation shot positions belonged. All planes returned to bases.

March 8

The Syrian President Hafez Asad accepted the retirement of the government, including the Prime Minister Muhammad Zuabi. On Tuesday 37 ministers left their posts in the government. This is first change in the Syrian government for the last eight years. Muhammad Mustafa Miro, who previously was the governor of the northern province Aleppo, was entitled to form a new government.

March 9

In Moscow in Sheremetyevo-1 airport the famous journalist, editor-in-chief of Sovershenno Secretno newspaper, President of the holding Sovershenno Secretno Artyom Borovik killed during an air accident. President of the JSC �Alliance� Ziya Bazhaev and officers of the company accompanying him were also on the board of a plane YaK-40. The airport security excluded possibility of a terrorist act.

March 10

In Karachi, where the trial over the Pakistani former Prime Minister Navaz Sharif is being held, his three advocates, including the senior attorney Ikbal Raad were killed. Four killers armed with the submachine gun and pistols shot Raad, his son and a clerk. After that they disappeared in a car waiting for them. One of Raad's colleagues announced the government was guilty in the incident, as the case against Sharif was fabricated.

March 11

A new ecological catastrophe happened in Romania. 20,000 of waste products from the plant processing polymetalic ores leaked to the Visheu and Tissa Rivers. According to some sources, the plant processes uranium ores, and settling-basins contain radioactive elements. Specialists estimate the damage of tens of million of dollars.

March 13

Vladimir Putin announced security forces had arrested field commander Salman Raduev and brought him to Moscow for a trial. Raduev is one of the most wanted people in Russia. �We would like to think it is just the beginning,� Putin emphasised.

March 14

At least ten shells exploded in a dwelling block in Teheran. Some tens of houses damaged. In the result of a shelling four people were wounded by fragments. The opposition organisation of Iranian Mojaheds undertook responsibility for the terrorist act. They declared they had aimed to shell at barracks of the Iranian guards.

March 15

An Israeli Cabinet of Ministers meeting approved the plan on withdrawal of Israeli army from six percent of occupied territories on the western bank. Ministers approved the map of withdrawal of the army proposed by Ehud Barak, however, they refused to give up a bordering village.

March 16

The US Scientists' Federation published photos of Pakistani military objects concerning production and launching of nuclear rockets. Considering the photos, the Pakistani nuclear arsenal threatens neighbouring India: there is a rector ready to produce plutonium and tens of mobile launching devices for middle-range missiles. Pakistan is also in danger, as �it keeps all nuclear eggs in one basket.�

March 17

Several boxes with famous �Oscar� statuettes disappeared from a warehouse of the transport company Roadway Express. Representatives of the US Cinema Academy think statuettes were stolen. Police does not comment on the loss. Nevertheless, the incident cannot prevent from holding the Oscar ceremony. Organiser announce the Academy possesses enough statuettes to award laureates.

March 18

NASA announced it was withdrawing the program on researching Mars surface. This decision was taken after unsuccessful launches of the two multi-million space vehicles. Researches of the red planet will be held up until the mankind invents how to land on Mars without accidents, Dr. Karl Pilcher, head of the NASA Planets Researching Programs said.

March 20

It was decided to increase tariffs on oil export through the Russian main oil pipelines Transneft from April 1. On average, tariffs raised by 12.3%. the decision to increase the cost of oil transportation was taken to compensate partially expenses towards construction of the pipeline missing Chechnya.

March 21

A US diplomat Thomas Carrol blamed for corruption was arrested in Chicago. He was accused of selling US visas to Gahanna citizens. Investigators withdrew over US$ 1 million and ten gold bullion. This scandal is being called the biggest one in the US diplomatic practice.

March 22

In the night in Stepanakert there was an attempt on life of President of Nagorny Karabah, Arkady Gukasyan. His car was shot from two sides at a crossroad. Gukasyan's leg was wounded, but his life is not in danger. Assailants escaped. Main suspects in organising of the terrorist act, the former Defence Minister of Nagorny Karabah, Samvell Babayan and his brother, the mayor of Stepanakert, Karen Babayan, arrested.

March 23

The leader of the Kyrgyz opposition was arrested and taken from the cardiology department of the hospital, where he had been treated. Felix Kulov states he did not get a parliamentarian seat due to dishonest voting. �I foresaw this,� he announced, when representatives of the Security Ministry took him for an interrogation.

The Russian oil company Lukoil announced it had found oil bed in the Russian shelf of the northern Caspian. Company's specialists found 9 oil and gas strata, including in 6 hydrocarbons reserves confirmed. In the Russian Caspian sector extractive oil resources are 300 million tons.

March 24

The World Bank decided to allot Russia another credit line of US$ 100 million within the second coal loan. The decision was caused by the fact that Russia had fulfilled the main condition for allotting the loan, having privatised coal enterprises mining 35% of Russian coal.

March 26

The Presidential election held in Russia. The acting President Vladimir Putin won in the first round. The FSB former head significantly outstripped his competitors: 52.55% of the population voted for him. The Russian communist leader Gennady Zyuganov was the second (29.44%), the Yabloko leader, Grigory Yavlinsky was the third, and the governor of Kemerovo oblast Aman Tuleev was the fourth.

March 27

Negotiations between the US and Syrian Presidents on Near East regulation failed. Leaving Switzerland, Syrian President Hafez Asad announced position of his country on the Near East conflict was the same. Clinton had left Geneva a day before. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that it was Syria that �refused to compromise and Americans again made certain of that.�

March 28

The CID disclosed a Serbian plot against NATO heads. The CID states the Serbs planned to kill Lord Robertson and the NATO commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark during their visit to Kosovo, on the day of the anniversary of the attack to Yugoslavia by the alliance. With the help of "land-air" missiles the Serbs were going to shake down a helicopter with NATO leaders when it was flying to Pristine. Warned of the plot, Robertson and Clark changed the flight route.

March 29

Another participants of the scandal surrounding Bank of New York, Svetlana Kudryavtseva confessed to receiving money from her boss Lucy Edwards for "protection" of some companies' accounts, through which great amounts had been pumped from Russia to the West. She also confessed she had given false evidences to FBI agents.

March 30

President of Turkey Suleiman Demirel arrived to Turkmenistan to discuss construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Presidents of the two countries decided to unite their forces to settle problems impeding the project, mainly due to disagreements between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan regarding export quotes on Azerbaijani gas.

March 31

The Indian Ministry of Defence approved the decision to purchase 300 up-to-date tanks T-90 from Russia. The decision was taken after testing in polygon and negotiations regarding the cost. Now the issue on purchase of the tanks has been submitted to the permanent Defence Committee of the Indian Parliament. Purchased tanks will be enough for a whole tank formation.

All Over the Globe is published by IPA House.
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