Dispute with Deep Implications

31 december 2005

I’m not certain that the decision-makers in the Kremlin have fully taken into account all of the consequences of their handling of the gas dispute with Ukraine.

In 2006, Russia takes over the chairmanship of the G8, and President Putin has already announced that energy security will be one of the key issues at the June summit in St Petersburg.

This is part of presenting Russia as a reliable supplier of energy to Europe, the US and Japan inte the decades ahead, and of attracting foreign investment into these state-controlled sectors of the Russian economy.

But if Gazprom really cuts supplies to Ukraine tomorrow, they will also cut part of the credibility of these efforts. There will not be a chancellery in the West that would not think twice before making their country overly and only dependent on energy supplies from Russia in the years ahead.

Many analysts already fear that the dispute provides a foretaste of how Russia will use its massive oil and gas reserves as a foreign policy tool in future disputes with the West.

Energy co-operation has replaced military might as the mainstay of Russia’s international credibility,” Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank in Moscow, said. “It is using its importance as an energy partner to pursue its geopolitical and foreign policy agenda.

Gas politics has suddenly become the new geopolitics.

The conflict with the Ukraine has deep implications for the future of Europe.

The Kremlin certainly knows that it has strong cards in its immediate dispute with Kiev. But the stronger it plays these cards, the more it weakens its more long-term cards versus the entire West.

Kiev Ukraine News Blog

First On Podcasting

30 december 2005

There has to be a first with everything in life, and now it seems as if it is Nicolas Sarkozy in France who is the first senior politician to enter the podcasting world.

Well, if we should be correct it isn’t really he who has done it, but there mere fact that he is interviewed by a blogger who then is podcasting the entire thing seems to have created a stir at the least in France.

But there is no doubt that he will not be the last.

The new technologies are busy transforming the media landscape, and accordingly they will affect the political landscape as well.

Sweden was long seen as in the forefront of most of these developments, but I’m far less certain that this is still the case. There is a distinct lack of interest in what the new technologies can offer on the political scene at the moment.

We’ll see when it changes.

I’ll certainly take note when we have the first more senior politician in the Nordic world entering the world of podcasting as well.

Loic Le Meur Blog

Critical Debate in Turkey

30 december 2005

It’s encouraging to note that the debate is intensifying in Turkey itself over Article 301 in its penal code and the use that reactionary elements in Turkish society are now making of it.

To change the law is unlikely to be an easy process, but it is obvious that provisions like these have no place in a modern European democracy.

Once upon a time I guess the paragraphs was written in the belief that it would protect and strengthen Turkey.

But that was in old times. In our times, it should be obvious to each and everyone that it is exposing, weakening and damaging the country.

And that is not good either for Turkey or for Europe.

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Turkish press attacks insult law

Coming Crisis with Turkey

29 december 2005

One of the safest predictions for the coming year is that we are heading towards a crisis in the accession negotiations between Turkey and the European Union.

For this there are a number of reasons.

One is the shift in the European Union itself, where more Turkey-sceptical forces will be more in control of the process during the period ahead. It’s difficult to see the Austrian presidency make much to help move the process forward, and the German presidency in the beginning of 2007 will not be too helpful either.

There will, accordingly, hardly be the helpling hand needed to smooth out the different difficulties ahead, thus increasing the risk that they develop into crisis.

But then there are the issues of substance.

One concerns the wave of legal proceedings using the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish penal code that has been launched by conservative and anti-European forces in Turkey recently, the most prominent of which is the one against author Orhan Pamuk.

These are deliberate efforts to throw sand in the machinery, and there is no doubt that it is making Turkey great damage at the moment.

Not everyone understands that these are actions by rather extreme groups, with the government of Turkey as appalled as most others. But in any system with a separation of powers, the judiciary operates independently.

The possibility that is there – and that Foreign Minister Gul has now alluded to – is of course to change the relevant paragraphs in the law.

That would be a wise steps by the democrats of Turkey. It wouldn’t hurt if this leads to a review of whether there are similar pieces of old legalislation still existing among the present members of the European Union. That is by no means excluded.

The more serious and direct crisis ahead relates to the unresolved issue of Cyprus. Here, the efforts to reach a solution under the auspicies of the UN were sabotaged by the present Greek Cypriot leadership, and they have since continued their essentialloy obstructionist course.

One consequence of this is that the plans of the EU to help also the people in northern Cyprus, and open it up somewhat to the outside world, have been completely blocked. This has been the policy of both the European Commission and successive Presidencies, but has been vetoed by the Greek Cypriots.

It’s hardly surprusing that this in Turkey has been seen in less than positive light. In fact, they see it as the European Union has broken a promise.

And this in its turn has lead to rather strong opposition to Turkey allowing Greek Cypriot ships to enter its harbours. Under the existing customs union protocol, there is no doubt that they have a duty to allow them, but now there is a risk of the blockage of the Cypriot question leading to a blockage of this issue and this leading to a crisis in the overall relationship.

Well, risk is too vague a word. Certainty is more appropriate.

And that will come as the Union has to address also the difficult enlargement issues in the Western Balkans.

The post-Ottoman area will make itself known on the European political agenda in the year ahead.

Turkish FM criticises legal action against European lawmaker

Galileo and China

29 december 2005

The launch of the Galileo test satellite was evidently a big news item across the world.

One reason – which I did not mention in my blog entry on the subject – is the fact that a network of global collaboration now surrounds the project.

China is one of the nation that has deceided to join Galileo, and it was then hardly surprising that the launch is big in much of the Chinese media as well, as illustrated by this link to China Daily.

Galileo transforms the world – well, eventually, since it is by 2008 at the very earliest that we will see the real thing starting to work up in space.

Galileo shows peaceful technology pursuit

Small Step for Europe

28 december 2005

I was happy to note that yesterday the first test satellite for Europe´s coming space navigation system Galileo was placed in orbit from the Russian launch site at Baikonur in Kazakstan.

It’s a small first step in the deployment of a system that will have major importance in the decades ahead.

There is of course already the US GPS system in operation. Funded and operated primarily by the US Navy, it was optimized from the beginning for military applications, although it has now also been opened up for civilian use.

The Galileo system is different in that it represents a later generation and is optimized for a large number of different primarily civilian applications. It will be Europe’s own global navigation satellite system, providing a highly accurate, guaranteed global positioning service under civilian control.

To add to the global advantage, it will be inter-operable both with the GPS system and with Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System (Glonass). Galileo will deliver real-time positioning accuracy down to the metric range with unrivaled integrity.

An enormous number of applications are planned for Galileo, including positioning and derived value-added services for transport by road, rail, air and sea, fisheries and agriculture, oil prospecting, civil protection activities, building, public works and telecommunications.

Some years ago, I headed a so called wise men’s group reporting to the European Space Agency on the future direction of Europe´s space activities.

Then, the idea of Galileo was still in its infancy and by no means uncontroversial. But our group was strong in our recommendation to go ahead with the project, and thus made our contribution to what we are now seeing starting to shape up.

In the meantime, most of the opposition to the project has been overcome. For a fairly long period, the US Departement of Defense was very keen on trying to kill the entire thing since they saw it as a threat to their dominance of these issues, and were not certain that they could either control or neutralize the system in a conflict situation or in a conflict zone. It was – in the political sense – a rather brutal battle that was played out.

But that issue has been sorted out to mutual satisfaction, and the DoD has now accepted the new realities. Everything in the world isn’t warfighting – and this system is primarily for the civilian sector.

The launch yesterday was a small step for Europe – but potentially a most important one.

ESA Portal – First Galileo satellite on orbit to demonstrate key technologies

A Poorer Kremlin – and Russia

27 december 2005

Andrei Illarionov has been Economic Advisor to President Putin during his entire period, and has been a sign that there has after all been room for some internal policy debates also in the Kremlin.

Andrei has been and remains an outspoken man. He fought – wrongly, in my opinion – against the present scheme for transforming, modernizing and privatizing the entire electric power system of Russia. He was equally adamant in his opposition to Russia signing the Kyoto protocol – in his opinion the country simply wasn’t ready for it.

But these were points on what in the great scheme of things were more more marginal issues. It was when he publicly started to take issue with the arrest of Khodorkovsky, the dismantling of Yukos and the trends towards de-democratization that he got into hotter water.

Now, it is obvious that he has reached the end of his career in the Kremlin. In Moscow today, he has announced that he has stepped down since he can no longer freely express his views on the policies that he increasingly disagrees with. In reality it is obvious that he has been dismissed.

But his voice on the future of Russia is an important one and should be heard. He is deeply concerned with the need to make his Russia truly a part of the modern world – and sharply critical of the now dominant trend of economic policy thinking in the Kremlin.

Earlier this year he wrote that ”it dreams of imposing state control over money flows in the fuel sector, nationalizing it,putting under control its infrastructure, keeping up infrastructure monopolies, and managing energy resource flows inside and outside the country.

This is not the Russia he wants – since such a Russia will fail to modernize sufficiently, and risks being dragged down by the magnitude of the challengess it faces in the decades ahead.

Neither is it the Russia that is in the interest of the rest of Europe. We want a modern, open and successful Russia – not a stumbling, closing and failing one.

The Kremlin will be a poorer place without the honest voice of Andrei Illiaronov.

I hope voice will be more heard in the open and public debate on the future of Russia.