The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group have paid another visit to the region. Similar to the other ones in the past few years, this visit resulted in no concrete progress and showed the lack of activity in the peace process. Yet the meeting with President Aliyev revealed interesting tendencies in the peace talks. It is becoming apparent that Azerbaijan is losing its major bargaining chip - the opening of transport, communication and transportation links with Armenia. This, in turn, increases the risk of resumption of hostilities in the next few years.
During the last few weeks, talks of war in Iraq have helped move the oil price firmly to $30 per barrel. This makes Kyrgyz oil import too expensive and forces the government to look at domestic oil production more seriously. Kyrgyzneftegaz, Kyrgyzstan's oil exploitation company, recently announced that it plans to boost its oil production from 75,000 to 80,000 tons this year and to substantially increase investments into drilling exploration wells in the Jalal-abad region. Kyrgyz officials believe there are oil reserves of up to several hundred million tons -sufficient to at least ease the country's dependency on oil imports.
The mounting Russian pressure on Georgia has been widely noted, yet the role of civil-military relations in Russia in this context has been neglected. In fact, Russia's military is pursuing a hardline policy on Georgia for its own sectional interest, deliberately seeking to obstruct U.S.-Russian cooperation and risking to engulf the Caucasus in a wider war that do not serve Russia's national interests. The lack of democratic control over the armed forces in Russia and the lack of responsibility among their leadership are an ever growing problem in CIS politics.
Recent news that Chechen forces under Ruslan Gelayev have left the Pankisi Gorge and returned to Chechnya may rekindle Chechen military opposition to Russia and help uniting the splintered Chechen forces. The mere possibility that this is happening would suggest that Russia's moves against Georgia may backfire in the core area of the war in Chechnya. It removes most of the already scant legitimacy of Russia's policy toward Georgia, and may significantly threaten the military balance inside Chechnya itself. Paradoxically, this may strengthen the voice of those in Moscow wishing to negotiate a solution to the conflict.
In 2000 Indian media attacked the government's policy as being 'directionless'. This does not mean the absence of a policy or policies, but rather that they were uncoordinated, unfocused, and lacked an overall strategic concept that governed India's growing economic presence in Central Asia. That situation is no longer the case. Under pressure of the war on terrorism that has engulfed India and is the latest phase of its unresolved crises with Pakistan and due to its rising economic and strategic profile throughout Asia, India has launched new policy initiatives in Central Asia and beyond.
On August 24, Azerbaijan Republic faced the referendum on amendments and changes to Constitution. The falsified results of the second referendum in Azerbaijan's history showed that President Heydar Aliyev's regime inclines to use "Soviet" methods of management and use any chance for its reanimation. The Referendum strengthened the power of President, and diminished the role of parliament to the purely "decorative". At the same time, the changes to the Constitution could be assessed as an end of political struggle in Azerbaijan.
The Russian energy companies are getting increasing control over the strategic energy assets of Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union. The recent decision of the Georgian government to negotiate a deal with Itera International Energy LLC on the transfer of 51 percent of the Tbilisi gas distribution company Tbilgazi, and the chemical plant Azoti is another victory of Russian commercial, and without doubt, political interests in the Caucasus, and a setback to Georgia's economic independence.
Despite government efforts to appease its opponents, the political situation in Kyrgyzstan remains charged. The formation of a new movement to oust President Askar Akaev and sensitivities over the international base are fueling confrontation between authorities and the more hardline members of the Kyrgyz opposition. According to local observers, tensions are rooted in the inability of the ruling elite to share power and economic wealth with influential regional clans, in reality vast patronage networks of geographic and ethnic origin. Observers suggest that rivalry between these groups, especially between northern and southern clans, over political structures and economic resources has intensified since the deployment of U.S.-led alliance troops.
Although for the first time an Indian official has recognized the gross root realities of seriously needed Turkmenistani gas, particularly the gas supply transition to India via Pakistan, growing India Pakistan tensions added with hostile statements by India's Deputy Prime Minister question India's participation in TAGP. Conflicting statements are likely to change Pakistan's previously unconditional offer on gas supply transition to India into a conditional one, delaying India's serious gas supply needs.
Recent weeks were marked by an increasing war of words between Iranian officials and the U.S. as well as debates in Washington on the practical strategy of military action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The emphasis that Saddam should be ousted by US troops due to Iraq's program of development of weapons of mass destruction and Baghdad's support for anti-Israeli terrorist groups in the Middle East, makes Tehran nervous about the future course of Washington policies, since the same accusations have already been voiced by US officials against Tehran. All these may force Tehran to re-consider its policy in Afghanistan and to look for new means and resources in possible standoff with America.