Apr 16 (AKELA-group)
Turkey says "ally" meaning �Azerbaijan� and it says �Azerbaijan� when referring to �oil.� However Azerbaijan does not take offence as there is the possibility of gaining favour with the U.S.A. and a united Europe through the "Turkish" route and of gaining a NATO membership card, an aim which the Azerbaijani administration has openly expressed.
The visit of Geidar Aliev to Ankara on April 17-18 and his meeting with Suleiman Demirel is the next step to meeting each other half-way. The two ageing leaders want to try to settle geopolitical problems, yet without the US they are limited in this aim. Although this is a bilateral meeting, the U.S.A. is a silent presence, almost like the ghost of Hamlet's father.
According to an Azerbaijani expert, the key topic of the meeting will be the problem of the Baku-Ceykhan oil pipeline. Those participating in the project are not yet sick of the �Ankara-Baku-Washington� triangle. However there may prove to be a fourth contender: on the eve of the Presidential election in Georgia, Shevardnadze, using Georgia's transit location between Azerbaijan and Turkey, took a chance to snatch a big share of the transit duty. Georgia and Azerbaijan are partners in the epic Baku-Ceykhan project, but each party pursues its own interests.
President Geidar Aliev does not enjoy popular support in Azerbaijani society, and faces a strong opposition. Fardy Asadov said in his interview to THE GLOBE, that his unpopularity is hardly surprising given that, according to the data of the Azerbaijani Statistic Committee, the income of 97.5% of the population is lower than a living wage, while the extent of corruption frightens experienced Turkish businessmen.
However, respecting the Baku-Ceykhan issue, both the authorities and the opposition demonstrate a surprising unanimity and mutual understanding, moreover in fact all the Azerbaijani elite projects are oriented towards involvement with Turkey. Thus, the faster the strategic oil pipeline starts functioning, the faster the Aliev's regime gains political and economic dividends.
Since gaining independence, Azerbaijani economy has proved itself to be primarily mono-productive, with hydrocarbons being the key to the present and the future for the country (most foreign investments are in the oil sector by Americans). Apart from oil, which is today not enough for the US giants to participate in the Baku-Ceykhan project, there is the problem of gas, which, on the contrary, is too abundant.
In 1999 the Americans paved the way for the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which was supposed �take� Turkmenistan away from Russian influence in Central Asia. Yet at the last moment, the discovery of the gas deposit at Shah-Denis in Azerbaijan, in fact, caused the project to be shelved. Initially, of 30 billion cubic metres, the Azerbaijani share was to be 5 billion, but later Baku claimed 50% of the quota. Then, at the summit of Turkic states in Baku ( at which Saparmurat Niyazov was not present), Demirel announced Turkey was ready to buy all available Azerbaijani gas. At the same time, Ankara supported the idea of supplies of Turkmen and Azerbaijani gas through the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, in a 50/50 ratio.
The oil situation remains very difficult and complicated by the various regional interests. For example, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are natural rivals, as they offer similar products to the world. At the same time Turkey, the U.S.A. and the EU are not exclusively interested in Caucasian hydrocarbons, but also in those of Central Asia, as a mean to restrict the influence of both the OPEC and Russia. Which explains why they are making attempts to cope with this inevitable regional rivalry. The �western camp� is also not quiet. Americans cannot rely upon Europeans who are ready to co-operate with Iran, and the US's own resources are not sufficient.
Azerbaijan is the US window onto the Caspian Sea, and through it � further to Central Asia, as other means of access via Russia, Iran and China remain closed. Americans have to achieve a compromise between Azerbaijani and Central Asian interests.
After the military victories of the Russian army in Chechnya, Moscow's stature has been significantly raised in the Caucasus. Russia's unfriendly treatment of Azerbaijan (due to the latter's orientation to the West, and sympathy for Chechens) has also increased. Realisation of the various projects, including the Baku-Ceykhan pipeline, the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, and the transport corridor from Europe to Asia via the Caucasus are a blow against Russian interests and her influence in the region. Moreover, the Armenian President, Robert Kocharyan, is trying to reorientate the country's policy to the West and to step aside from Russia. Under the present conditions, Moscow is being greatly tempted to destabilise the situation in the Transcaucasus and to �close� the �Azerbaijani window� to Central Asia. In this case, Caspian oil and gas will go via Russia, as the Americans would never allow the oil to flow via Iran (they will not forgive anti-American moods).
Taking all of these facts into consideration, as well as the traditional problem of Karabakh, G. Aliev's visit to Turkey will be a busy one. However, it is difficult to expect any concrete result from this meeting, as individually Azerbaijan and Turkey are too insignificant in the modern world.
Baku, April 15 (Irna-Itar-TASS-ACSNA)
President Geidar Aliyev said he was going to take a tougher stand on corruption amid the exodus of foreign airlines from Azerbaijan.
Corruption has become a widespread disease in this country, Aliyev said. Russia's Transaero, Dubai's Emirates and the Netherlands' KLM have escaped the former Soviet Caucasus republic. Also, British Airways has virtually stopped functioning in Azerbaijan and Germany's Lufthansa is going to fly away, too.
The international air companies are leaving Azerbaijan because service charges are very high and service levels very low at Baku airport. Besides, the performance of all of its departments is below international standards.
In addition, foreign airlines do not like the bribe-thirsty local Customs and border officials.
In numbers reminiscent of a Biblical plague, locusts are beginning to teem over the fields of southern Kazakstan. Reuters reports that record numbers of the flying insects are expected to swarm the region � undoubtedly damaging Kazakstan's already beleaguered agricultural sector. Weaker Kazak grain exports will not only worsen Russia's already precarious food situation, but will also create a unique political and economic opportunity for the United States in Iran.
Kazak agriculture � perennially crippled by budget shortages and general economic decline � was hardly doing well before the locusts began spawning. Kazak grain production plummeted from its Soviet era peak of 25 million tons to 14.2 million tons in 1999. Lack of funds has left much of Kazakstan's arable land fallow and unattended � a prime breeding ground for locusts.
But last year the locust swarms carpeted over 22 million acres of Kazakstan and began moving onto about 9 million acres of cultivated land. They also dipped south into Uzbekistan and north into Russia, infesting areas that had not been plagued by locusts since the 1920s. Losses amounted to 5 million tons of grain � over a quarter of Kazakstan's expected harvest, and complicated Russia's already precarious grain supply. Last year, Russia imported nearly 3 million tons of grain from Kazakstan.
Yet this year the potential for crop damage is far worse. Kazak Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev stated on April 11 that Kazakstan had enough pesticides to fight locusts this year, although there are no plans to treat the fallow fields. But last year Kazak officials only expected crop losses to be 3 to 5 percent of the total yield, when in reality they amounted to 27 percent.
Last year's locust swarms laid eggs across a swath of land about the size of Bulgaria. Kazakstan is only able to afford $18 million for pesticides for the entire year, a three-fold increase from the $4.7 million spent last year, but still less than half the amount needed. Kazakstan will likely suffer an even greater crop loss this year.
Despite this new hardship, Kazakstan will not starve. Kazakstan's domestic need for grain totals about 8 million tons; last year's production after locust losses amounted to 14.2 million tons. The remainder is exported, primarily to Iran and Russia.
With Russia already facing a food shortage, the prospect of a new Kazak locust swarm ravaging both domestically grown and potentially imported food stocks raises the specter of an even tighter food situation; Russia is already expected to be 10 million tons shy. Russia's budget will be further strained as lower local food supplies push food prices up, especially now that Russian oil is selling for only $19 a barrel on the international market. Russia will likely be forced to come to the world's largest agricultural exporter � the United States � hat in hand asking for food at reduced prices. Cheap food could prove to be an effective diplomatic card against the sometimes belligerent Russian foreign policy establishment.
But the boon to the United States doesn't end there. Reduced Kazak grain exports to Iran will open a convenient window. The United States will have the opportunity to initiate grain sales to Iran. This would extend the United States' tentative rapprochement with Iran much in the way grain sales to the Soviet Union in the 1970s fuelled more cordial relations. And the United States has rarely shied away from an opportunity to expand its agricultural exports � especially with grain prices having fallen through the floor. Kazak bugs may just provide the nudge the United States and Iran need to move closer to normal relations.
All Over the Globe is published by IPA House.
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