Another War of Jenkins' Ear

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James Inhofe Exploits Massacre, Doubles Down on Gbagbo Support

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Joining a position that is only supported by Jean-Marie Le Pen and a handful of extreme socialists, James Inhofe is politically exploiting a massacre and doubling down in support of Gbagbo today. Via Gateway Pundit (who, it must be said, spends exactly no time at all verifying any of these claims):

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFR), today pointed to news reports of mass killings by Ouattara forces as more evidence that the United States must change its position on Cote d’Ivoire.

“It is now clear, based on U.N. reports coming from Cote d’Ivoire, that mass killings have occurred at the hands of Alassane Ouattara,” Inhofe said. “This calls into question his legitimacy to lead that country. Ouattara is on a rampage, killing innocent civilians, and he must be stopped before this becomes another Rawanda.

“The United States must call for an immediate ceasefire to prevent Ouattara and his rebel army from committing a mass slaughter of the Ivorians, especially the many youth with sticks and baseball bats, who are protecting Gbagbo at the presidential palace.

“Based on the evidence I have seen, and having spoken with various dignitaries in Africa, I brought the issue of fraudulent elections in Cote d’Ivoire to the attention of Secretary of State Clinton on a couple of occasions spanning the past few months. I have called for the United States to support new elections there, but thus far, these efforts have received very little response or attention. Based on the news that Ouattara has murdered 1,000 people in Duekoue, I hope the U.S. will reconsider its position.

“Senator John Kerry’s plate is full now, but I have called this to his attention, and I know he’s sensitive to the situation. I will be asking him to convene a hearing into the flawed election as well as the atrocities being committed by Ouattara.”

Despite Jim Hoft saying that Inhofe is “following the situation closely” there is no widespread belief that the vote was fraudulent (there were irregularities in some locations, but hell that didn’t stop America in 2000 did it?) Everyone on the political spectrum (except the absolute fringe and Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters) thinks Ouattara won the election. Moreover, there have been months and months to convince anyone otherwise.

Secondly, Inhofe ignore the atrocities allegedly committed by Gbagbo in this massacre. If you followed my liveblogs this weekend on this site, you know one theory is that the massacre was a revenge killing for the massacres done in the area by pro-Gbagbo mercenaries. That absolves no one at all. But it completely destroys Inhofe’s theory that the scary Muslim Ouattara needs to go. I want a full investigation with no impunity. Doubtless everyone seems to agree that Ouattara’s force, the FRCI had a big part of this. But it may not be the whole story and even if it is is (which is certainly possible) then we should punish those responsible and only those responsible. Because…

Third, there are many, many tragedies being instigated by Abidjan now and over the past year or so. Everyone agrees Gbagbo is more responsible for casualties except the one at Duekoue. That includes the activities of this weekend, where Gagbo had kids/young adults (the Young Patriots) called out to surround his palace as human shields. Or when he armed them and sent them into Abidjan to loot and kill anyone they came across. Or when he had his thugs shoot any car en route to the French controlled airport.

This is not an easy situation. This is not a choice of America picking a side and getting it over with. This is about a long, long civil war festering over and both sides being responsible for massacres and humanitarian disasters. Ouattara won the election, that makes him the legitimate leader. Let’s make him take office in a responsible way, not try to take sides and just lpro-long the conflict because we’re scared of a Muslim.

Everything I said in this post was documented from a reliable source in my coverage over the weekend. See the links above.

As always, the best way to contact me is via twitter @existentialfish or leave a comment here. Email is spotty.


Afternoon / Early Evening (4/2) Cote D’Ivoire Running Thread (Complete)

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Refugee Camp, courtesy the Department for International Development

Picture from here, used under a creative commons license. It depicts a refugee camp in Liberia.

This is the new thread, from about 2:00 EDT to it becomes too full.

2:20 EDT: Gbagbo forces retook the strategic bridge surrounding his palace:

The fierce standoff between fighters loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president of Cote d’Ivoire, and Alassane Ouattara, the country”s internationally recognised leader, intensified on Saturday.  Gbagbo’s force retook the bridge leading to his presidential palace on Saturday, after the opposition had appeared poised to topple the controversial leader.

[. . .]

Pro-Ouattara forces had marched easily into the country’s largest city, where they encircled the presidential palace and Gbagbo’s home on Thursday and Friday. They intend to battle Gbagbo’s forces in their stronghold, Kouakou Leon Alla, a spokesperson for the defence minister and the prime minister, said.

[. . .]

In the Cocody neighbourhood where the presidential mansion is located, families slept in bathrooms and on the floor as successive blasts punctuated an all-night assault, continuing into Saturday morning. Machine-gun fire could be heard at either end of the waterside highway leading to the palace.  In the Rivera neighbourhood armed members of the “young patriots,” the youth wing of Gbagbo’s camp, patrolled areas and organised checkpoints.

“At the cost of our blood, we are going to die so that the republic survives, for our children, because this is an unjust war,” an armed young patriot, calling himself General La Poudriere or Minefield, said.  Military officials loyal to Ivory Coast’s entrenched leader on Saturday called on their forces to resist rebels who are trying to depose him after he has refused to cede power.

It seems that a siege is inevitable given that Ouattara controls so much land and the airport (with UN assistance there).

2:20 EDT: A Red Cross Spokesman confirmed to the BBC that they’ve identified 800 dead in Duekoue:

We came on spot on Thursday, our teams were there and the sight that presented itself was obviously shocking and horrific. Up to now, at the beginning it was impossible to say how many people were actually killed there. But with the figures we have up to now, with different sources and also our own people, several hundred people. So we have a confirmation of about up to at least 800 people having been killed.

2:30 EDT: Here’s a Cote D’Ivoire map where you can see where Abidjan is (on the coast towards the east) and where Duekoue is (western part of the country.

(Taken from this website under a Creative Commons License.)

2:35 EDT: There are some calls for the UN or State Department to use force under the Right to Protect that’s been cited in Libya. One, I don’t think there are enough UN forces in the country right now (1,400 French troops is the highest I’ve seen) Two, it would require close, urban combat with a lot casualties. No one is willing to do that in Libya or anywhere else short of Afghanistan or Iraq.

There may be something the UN or State Department could do, but they’re not willing to send the cavalry in on the ground. The African Union hasn’t even been willing to go that far.

The UN, State Department, France, and the AU have called for Gbagbo to leave. He’s rather incite nationalism and fight until his supporters desert him or are dead. That’s the biggest problem and it’s not something outside forces have many ways left to effect in the short term.

2:45 EDT: More perspective from this New York Times report by Adam Nossiter:

Throughout most of the crisis, civilian deaths have largely come at the hands of Mr. Gbagbo’s forces, eliciting threats of criminal charges from international prosecutors. Human rights groups have also accused forces loyal to Mr. Ouattara of some extrajudicial killings, but neither side has been implicated in a massacre even close to this scale. The total death toll previously estimated by the United Nations was about 500, over four months of tensions and sporadic violence.

Many of Mr. Ouattara’s fighters are former rebels from a 2002 uprising that divided the country in half, and they have come under his banner only recently. The rebels have a history of human rights abuses and had largely stayed on the sidelines of the political crisis.

Duékoué is one of the strategic towns in the country’s cocoa-growing region they seized last week. A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross “saw a very large number of bodies” there, said a spokeswoman, Dorothea Krimitsas.

“They were shocked by the scale of it,” she said. “We don’t have exact information as to who is behind this. There were at least 800.”

The conflict between Mr. Ouattara and Mr. Gbagbo has unleashed longstanding ethnic rivalries, particularly in the lawless western regions of the country. The Red Cross said the large number of dead it saw in the town on Thursday and Friday were apparently victims of “intercommunal violence.” But it did not assign responsibility for the killings.

The rebels also dismiss control of the radio station:

“What is preoccupying us is the liberation of the people of Abidjan,” said Capt. Léon Alla. “Not the R.T.I., which is nothing but propaganda,” he said, referring to Radio Télévision Ivorienne.

Patience and discipline from Ouattara’s forces/allies would be useful now, but it remains to be seen if they’re capable of that.

2:50 EDT: Ghana would seriously consider a request for Asylum if Gbagbo made one:

. . . Foreign Affairs Minister, Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni told Citi News that although no such request has been made, government will consider granting Laurent Gbagbo amnesty if he requests for it.

“I can tell you on authority that there has not been anything of that sort. There has been nothing like President Gbagbo has written to President Mills to request for political asylum”.

“Of course as we know President Mills and his sense of compassion and he being a unifier, I have no doubt that if President Gbagbo finds it fit to make such a request President Mills will consider it very well.”

3:15 EDT: Video of (what I presume to be) the communique from Gbagbo’s government on state TV is posted here. I don’t speak French so I can’t translate. Anyone available? (Also, linked on that page, footage of Gbagbo drinking tea. Apparently he wants to upstage Nero.)

Here is the Al Jazeera report:

3:30 EDT: AFP is reporting 4 UN workers were “seriously injured” by Gbagbo’s forces. It’s not clear which skirmish this is regarding, but I’ve seen reports of a couple such times when the UN has had to return fire. They might all be from one single event, or a number of them, I don’t know.

Update: the BBC says the four were on a humanitarian mission in Abidjan, so this seems like a separate incident.

Additionally, British Foreign Minister William Hague commented on ths situation. (translated):

William Hague said on Saturday he was “extremely worried” about violence in Côte d’Ivoire and urged “all parties to exercise restraint” , while the fighting raged in the capital Abidjan and NGOs reported numerous abuses. “All the abuses of human rights that could occur in the city and elsewhere in Ivory Coast have been investigated and those responsible must be prosecuted,” said Hague.

3:45 EDT: The BBC reports that communities in the west of the country are arming themselves, so this has the potential to spiral out of control all over again, even if Gbagbo gave up right now.

3:50 EDT: The Guardian reports from a Liberian refugee camp:

At the Toe Town transit camp, the shock and fear is palpable. Terrified and traumatised, more people flood into the camp by the day. There are constant reports of savage attacks on villages by rebels armed with guns and machetes. Their orders, according to the refugees, are “to kill everyone and anyone”. There are even reports of cannibalism by rebel forces.

Rosalie Ziminin, also from Toulépleu, grabbed every member of her family that she could when the pro-Ouattara rebels came. Fifteen of them made it to the transit camp, but two of her children – aged two and five – were lost in the chaos as they escaped the attack. She still has no idea where they are. Ziminin, like many Ivorians, has not forgotten the devastation from Ivory Coast’s last civil war in 2002. She lost everything during the fighting which claimed the lives of both her mother and father. “I’ve only just rebuilt my life,” she said yesterday. “I’ve lost everything again and I don’t want to go back.”

More than 100,000 Ivorians have sought refuge in Liberia as the rebels have moved south towards Abidjan. Most are being housed and fed by Liberian families. In some of the smaller, more remote villages the number of fleeing Ivorians outnumbers Liberians by 20 to 1.


3:55 EDT: Latest reports seem to indicate that those four UN workers seriously injured were from another separate incident. I can’t tell for certain.

4:15 EDT: Elizabeth Dickinson’s post from this week was sent to me again on Twitter, and it’s worth re-reading because it lays out clearly the limits of western action possible in Cote D’Ivoire. (And Russia will veto a lot of things that France and the U.S. are willing to do.)

4:20 EDT: HIV drugs in Abidjan may be running out.

Relief groups have also warned that fighting could mean a disruption in the supply of anti-retroviral treatment for people living with HIV. Ivory Coast has an estimated 480,000 people living with HIV and is one of the countries worst affected by the AIDS epidemic in West Africa.

“We are very worried that although some HIV treatment is available, supplies will run out in the next two to three weeks if the current import embargo on goods is not lifted,” said Sosthene Dougrou, executive director of Alliance Cote d’Ivoire, a national charity which provides support to people living with HIV.

“Our office has had to close because of the fighting; we are unable to access money from the banks as they too have been shut and we can’t get the programme funds so money is running out,” Dougorou said in a statement.

4:30 EDT: Save the Children, who Glenn Beck thinks is part of a liberal conspiracy (or is it the caliphate conspiracy?), tweets: “Children fleeing Cote d’Ivoire scared, vulnerable and often alone, say#savethechildren staff working in refugee camps on Liberian border.”

BBC’s live coverage is done for the day. We’re going to keep going, though there doesn’t seem to be any imminent developments about to happen.

4:45 EDT: Some testimony from the Duekoue region about what happened. The Google translation from the original French seems dodgy, so I won’t quote it, but it sounds harrowing and with troops completely out of control.

5:30 EDT: Gbagbo’s strategy is becoming clear: use trained soldiers for his last line of defense and use civilians, such as the Young Patriots, offensively; the problem with this (among many, many problems) is that it’s going to lead to massive slaughter and looting since those civilians are prone to violence.

Laurent Gbagbo has now implemented a dual strategy of defense. Soldiers loyal to him were known to congregate in different military bases in Abidjan while the civilians were, themselves, were invited to take action to protect several strategic points in the Ivorian economic capital.

This afternoon, we could well see groups of young patriots converge on the presidential palace in the Plateau and the residence of the outgoing head of state in Cocody. Leaders in this war for control of power is inevitably the people who suffer the most. Abidjan many trapped in their homes including start running out of food.

Until and unless resources run out, I’m not sure what can be done. Clearly, that’s not going to happen overnight.

5:40 EDT: Good sign, if my translation of this is accurate, Ouattara’s government is pledging to try anyone for atrocities committed (while still denying they were forces loyal to him). I’m skeptical because that’s what the west wants to hear, but on the other hand, it is what we want to hear. That’s not nothing. The proof will be in the pudding of course.

You can read a poorly translated version here.

5:45 EDT: A pro-Gbagbo site (so beware, since it’s likely rank propaganda) says that Gbagbo forces took the hotel that Ouattara had been staying at with UNOCI. There had previously been reports that the hotel had been evacuated (the only reason I’m even including this update).

7:00 EDT: The curfew is extended until Sunday, per Ouattara’s government

This is how bad the refugee situation is in Guiglo:

Bishop Gneba said more than 30,000 refugees had flooded the town of about 50,000 since January. Many are being sheltered at the Salesian priests’ Mission of St. Theresa of the Baby Jesus. They are among more than 1 million people displaced by the violence since January.

“There’s a traumatic humanitarian situation there,” Bishop Gneba said. “They need everything: food, medicine, water, sanitation. People have lost everything, houses, clothes, they do not even have a mat to sleep on.”

UN Col. Rais said there are nearly 400 peacekeepers based at Guiglo who were doing what they could to help with water and food.

The town almost doubles in size and 400 peacekeepers are there to help. Note that current estimates have it at a million refugees total, so this is just 3% of the story.

That wraps up this particular liveblog. A new one will go up shortly for late night and overnight. Thanks for reading and getting the word out. A reminder to donate to Oxfam too.


You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me

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“You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.”

This is to raise a serious question: what is the policy of the United States towards Burma?

A special envoy to Burma is about to be nominated by the Obama administration, and is widely praised across the political spectrum, from Bush’s nominee for the position to a director from Human Rights Watch. That just leaves the policy:

But Malinowski also said that the substance of the administration’s Burma policy is more important than the identity of the person implementing it. He feels Burma has fallen through the cracks in terms of the administration’s focus and attention.

[. . .]

The administration’s idea was to feel out Burmese leaders in order to make incremental progress leading up to the November 2010 elections. But those elections were marred by the sort of vote rigging, intimidation, and outright violence that the Burmese junta is known for. The elections were condemned by the international community, including the United States.

The failure of the junta to make any real effort to answer the United States’ call for cooperation and dialogue poses a problem for the Obama administration’s policy of engagement. “I would say the administration has been realistic about the nature of the so-called ‘election,'” said Green. “They recognize that the junta is actually consolidating power in many areas, privatizing state assets to fill their own pockets, and marginalizing the handful of ‘Third Wave’ candidates that were supposed to be independent voices in the parliament.”

An administration official told The Cable that the U.S. government is clear eyed on the junta’s behavior but will continue to try to find ways to move forward the policy.

“The U.S. government acknowledged that this was a fundamentally flawed election based on a corrupt constitution, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t ready to reengage in dialogue,” the official said. “But we will be very clear what our expectations are and we will be extremely tough on both non-proliferation and human rights.”

Are there any further levers for the US to pull? Obviously, military action is out of the question. The Security Council hasn’t done much on Myanmar/Burma, but I can’t imagine China is eager to let any such discussion go too far. Indeed, in 2007 Russia and China both vetoed a resolution, and China is seen as being generous in even allowing Security Council meetings on the matter they consider an internal issue only.

Events in 2010 posed major challenges regarding Burma and the region:

The election has been criticised by the Secretary-General as “insufficiently inclusive, participatory, and transparent”. The UN Special Rapporteur on  the situation of human rights in Myanmar,  Tomás Ojea Quintana, has dubbed the election as “deeply flawed”, as certain opposition parties were excluded from the process.

Council members have expressed differing views on the validity of the election. US President Barack Obama criticised the election in Myanmar, saying it had been neither free nor fair, and the UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, deemed the election as “the return to power of a brutal regime”. China’s ministry of foreign affairs characterised the election as “peaceful and successful” and a positive step in the transition to an elected government. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations welcomed the election “as a significant step forward “in the implementation of the seven-point Roadmap for Democracy”.

Following the election, on 8 November, violent clashes broke out between ethnic Karen rebels and Myanmar troops, reportedly causing some 15,000 people to flee into northern Thailand. On 12 November the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that most had returned to Myanmar.

On 13 November, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released, after spending most of the last two decades under house arrest. The Secretary-General urged Myanmar to release the remaining 2,200 or so political prisoners.

On 22 October, cyclone Giri struck Myanmar, claiming the lives of at least 45 people and causing the destruction of at least 20,380 homes and thousands of acres of crops and fish breeding ponds. Currently, 100,000 people remain homeless as relief efforts by government authorities, UN agencies and NGOs are under way.

I cite all this because it’s unclear that there is even a potential solution. There’s no leverage to pull left (sanctions are due to be renewed by the US and EU and most feel that will be done, from what I can gather), unless there are some unilateral sanctions possible I am not aware of (this indicates that is possible, but it does not seem like much). Beyond that, I don’t see what can possibly be done: the hope seems to be that a special envoy can simply talk the Burmese into reforms. As unlikely as that is, I don’t see any other way forward that wouldn’t make things immediately worse.

Blood for Corporate Russian Oil in Cote D’Ivoire? UPDATE: GOP Ties

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As the crisis escalates seemingly daily in Cote D’Ivoire, I’ve been wondering why Russia and China abstained on a Security Council measure regarding Libya but have been slow to allow anything in Cote D’Ivoire. The answer, upon doing some research, appears to be oil. Conventionally, one thinks that Libya has oil and countries like Cote D’Ivoire do not. See, for instance, the comments here.

But there are many oil wells off the coast of west Africa, much like the Gulf of Mexico. The oil production in the country has dramatically risen (PDF link) the past decade by a factor of three and more wells are scheduled to be drilled. And even though MMS regulations in the Gulf of Mexico have been notoriously lax, regulations in west Africa are even weaker, if not nonexistent:

LUKoil produces almost 2 million barrels of oil per day, but faces a declining level of output from its Russian oilfields. For this reason it has been more active than other Russian oil producers in pursuing oil prospects outside Russia — in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and west Africa. The Gulf of Guinea. In the mid-Atlantic, is as rich in potential oil reserves as the Gulf of Mexico, the Russian oil company says — but with a significantly looser regulatory supervision and lower drilling and environmental safety costs.

Russia and China both have oil interest in the country, and the Russian firm (see directly above) LUKoil has an especially close relationship with the illegitimate President Laurent Gbagbo, which has made Russia unwilling to endorse any real action in the country. LUKoil has made big investments in the country and is scheduled to drill wells in Cote D’Ivoire waters with the state oil company Petroci in 2012, as part of a comprehensive LUKoil expansion. LUKoil highlights the Cote D’Ivoire projects on its website. Gbagbo still controls oil interests in the country through Petroci.

Petroci is one of the main assets Gbagbo has. EU sanctions have targeted the company:

The Gbagbo administration is being increasingly isolated. One after the other all its ambassadors in the EU and in the US were declared personae non gratae and replaced by pro-Ouattara diplomats. Since January 14, the EU sanctions apply to [. . .] the directors of the National Petroleum Operations Company of Cote d’Ivoire Petroci, Kassoum Fadika and Laurent Ottro Zirignon, [. . .] who are accused to have contributed to the “funding of Mr Gbagbo’s illegitimate administration”.

Last December, Fadika provided a significant help to Gbagbo by transferring CFA francs 20 billion (some € 30m) from Petroci’s accounts to Cote d’Ivoire’s National Treasury, which helped Gbagbo to pay the salaries of civil servants. EU sanctions also target 11 parastatals including the oil company Petroci. . . .

In other words, all transactions by European companies are banned, including loans or the payment of services either directly or through proxies. It means for instance that shipowners who come and load cocoa or other commodities in the Ivorian harbours are no longer allowed to pay the port authorities for these services. As far as Petroci is concerned, one of the immediate consequences may be the postponement of a project to build a 60,000 tons refinery with an American partner.

The Gbagbo administration is being increasingly isolated. One after the other all its ambassadors in the EU and in the US were declared personae non gratae and replaced by pro-Ouattara diplomats. Since January 14, the EU sanctions apply to high-ranking figures of the financial sector including Marcel Gossio, the director general of the Port Autonome d’Abidjan, the directors of the National Petroleum Operations Company of Cote d’Ivoire Petroci, Kassoum Fadika and Laurent Ottro Zirignon, the chairman of the Société ivoirienne de raffinage (SIR) who are accused to have contributed to the “funding of Mr Gbagbo’s illegitimate administration”.

There are American companies doing business in Cote D’Ivoire (Yam’s Petroleum is based in Wyoming and Total E&P appears to be based in France and the U.S., Vanco is out of Texas, and there are likely more.) But both France and the United States are willing to take action in the country. though that could be a result of that the legitimate President Ouattara is closer to France, as some have accused. Some say the French want control of the country to protect Total:

One of the most significant events in West Africa last year was the purchase of the Swiss oil trading company Addax by the Chinese firm Sinopec. Addax was a frequent deliverer of oil to the Ivory Coast and was a major player in the West African oil mafia. The loss of a key player to the Chinese was seen as a real threat. Since then the French oil companies have been buying up oil assets in the region using obscure shell companies. The Western oil companies seem to be using the Ivory Coast as the first battle against the Chinese moving into the oil and gas business in the region.

The Gulf of Guinea is rapidly becoming a major international oil play. Abidjan has a good refinery and will soon have another. Looking through the list of vessels delivering crude to the SIR refinery in Abidjan more than half were Addax vessels. Now they are Addax/Sinopec vessels. This has frightened the oil companies, especially Total. They do not have the money to compete with the Chinese and now Russian companies like Lukoil are entering the Gulf of Guinea market in a big way as well. The only way the French can compete is to try and maintain control of the strings of power in the Ivory Coast to find ways to delay or deter the Chinese and Russian invasion in what they thought of a their patch. The US and European countries share this ambition. Perhaps that is their reason for their blind and self-destructive policy in the country.

But on the other hand LUKoil is a key part of Gbagbo’s agenda. The relationship is such that Gbagbo scrubbed his website of evidence of meetings with the firm, but the evidence is still there on Google’s cache. Indeed, one of the main differences between Ouattara and Gbagbo is that Gbagbo rejected French (Cote D’Ivoire was a French colony) investment for nationalism and Russian investment:

Although Gbagbo’s supporters make much of his nationalist and anti-French stance, the regime signed a multimillion-dollar deepwater oil contract with Total two months before the elections. France still contributes 60% of foreign investment – including contracts for ports, oil production and telecommunications. Gbagbo’s failure to bring in alternative investors from the Middle East and Asia has weakened his negotiating position. However Russia’s Lukoil has been a lifeline to Camp Gbagbo. Along with Angola and Israel, the country has been its bedrock in terms of financial support.

That still leaves one question: Why is Russia catering to LUKoil so much? Aside from being the biggest Russian non-state oil and gas producer, LUKoil threatened to leave Russia and drill more overseas, particularly in west Africa over a dispute related to Russian tax rates:

An announcement last week by LUKoil’s number-2 executive and shareholder, Leonid Fedun . . . that the Russian oil producer expects to find more crude oil in Africa than in Russia was intended to set off alarms bells at the Ministry of Finance in Moscow. That is where Fedun is negotiating for tax concessions for his company’s newly developed oilfields in the Russian sector of the Caspian Sea and in western Siberia. Company sources admit there was nothing new about the African projects in what Fedun had to say. Whether the Finance Ministry intends to offer tax benefits to temper LUKoil’s African enthusiasm remains to be seen. And for the time being, West African spending represents a small fraction – maybe less than a tenth – of LUKoil’s global exploration budget.

. . .

LUKoil spokesman did not respond to a request for a breakdown of LUKoil’s recent and planned expenditures at prospects off the coasts of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.  . . .

In the Cote d’Ivoire project three “promising geological targets” have been mapped, according to the annual report, and prepared for drilling.

. . .

So what was Fedun’s reason for the promoting the notion that LUKoil has found more oil in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire than in western Siberia? In mid-July, the Moscow industry press reported that LUKoil had applied to the Finance Ministry for a tax holiday to cover its brand-new Korchagin oilfield in the Caspian, and for other fields being developed to production nearby. The company application was for zero export duty on the oil it plans to lift and ship from Korchagin. This would be worth at least $400 million, if granted.

And that’s the rub. LUKoil is competing against Rosneft and other Russian crude oil exporters for relief of the export duty on new fields. The others who have already benefited from zero export duty since January are producing at new fields in eastern Siberia; they are shipping eastwards to the Asian market, through a pipe and rail link to China; and through the new Pacific Ocean tanker terminal at Kozmino Bay.

LUKoil wants the benefit to apply with equality over the entire oil geography of Russia. The Finance Ministry wants to eliminate or reduce the tax benefit to the oil companies so as to cover rising budget outlays demanded by the approaching national election campaigns. LUKoil’s response is Fedun’s – make our new Russian wells more profitable, or else we’ll drill elsewhere.

This was serious enough that Putin himself was involved in the negotiations, promising partial relief. It dragged on into this year as Russia needed some of the revenue to close a budget gap. And it still has not been resolved, with the founder of LUKoil himself now talking up African locations instead of Russia.

So essentially, Russia probably wants to protect the company it gets tax revenue from (imagine that, tax revenue from an oil company), in order to prevent it from leaving altogether – very much a quid pro quo: You stay here with slightly lower profits, and we’ll protect you overseas.

Western diplomats have also connected numerous times LUKoil to Russia’s objections and also stated that Russian objections to previous resolutions were not substantive objections. One diplomat even said Russian’s objections were “90 percent about oil, ten percent about sovereignty.” When Ban Ki Moon raised concerns that Belarus may have delivered attack helicopters, Russia lept to its defense, calling it an errant report; a Brazilian diplomat in charge of the matter said later there was likely no such delivery.

For it’s part, China has previously stated that it will allow the African Union to lead:

China has said that it will respect the sovereignty of the Ivoirian government but will back efforts of the African Union to mediate. The African Union, for its part, quickly dispatched former South African president Thabo Mbeki to Abidjan to try to break the standoff. Mbeki left two days later, unsuccessful, urging that “every effort should be made to ensure that the transition to democracy succeeds.” Subsequently, the African Union went further, issuing a statement that calls for “respect for the outcome of the presidential election as proclaimed by the Independent Electoral Commission.” West African leaders, joined by Mbeki, have convened an emergency meeting of the regional grouping ECOWAS to determine a way forward. ECOWAS too has endorsed the findings of the electoral commission and called for Gbagbo to resign.

Chinese oil interests in the country seem to be more dependent on stability (PDF link) rather than a connection with Gbagbo; they are partnered with an American company (Vanco, which also partners with LUKoil) and an Indian company).

Just yesterday, France introduced a new draft resolution to the Security Council that the United States has announced its support for (State Department briefing yesterday). But it’s hard to see Russia agreeing to a resolution that allows for “all necessary means” to disarm Gbagbo’s forces, even if they are protecting civilians.

Additionally, the UN Human Rights Council announced yesterday that it is sending a commission to the country. This resolution was adopted without a vote and is essentially a fact-finding mission.

Is there a local solution? Probably not:

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and the UN have taken a strong stand, unambiguously telling Gbagbo to go. Unheeded, ECOWAS and the AU then threatened using “legitimate force” – a revolutionary proposition for usually cautious organisations. So far, their actions have not matched their bold declarations.

Nigeria is not enthusiastic about intervention. It would have to pay for most of the operation and provide the logistics too. The country will hold its own elections in April. President Goodluck Jonathan is preoccupied at home with militias from the Niger Delta to the far north. Those realities might explain the mission of former president Olusegun Obasanjo to talk to Gbagbo in mid-January: few ex-leaders in the region are as blunt and forceful.

Côte d’Ivoire’s neighbours watch on closely. Ghana’s President John Atta Mills has ruled out sending troops, saying the matter should be settled through negotiations. Other states are wobbling. An intervention against an incumbent president would set an uncomfortable precedent in a year when some 18 African countries are holding elections.

Gbagbo’s camp says it is ready. One supporter showed Anansi a stash of arms in a darkened room, saying: “Eighty per cent of young Ivorians are unemployed. For us, a gun is a passport to making money.” Yet the truckloads of newly armed Gbagbo supporters patrolling Abidjan point to distrust: the cheerleaders cost money, and show a lack of confidence in the national army. “If you have to arm youths and recruit foreign mercenaries, you doubt either the capacity or loyalty of your own army of 18,000 men,” a general pointed out.

ECOWAS could still revise its position if sanctions against Gbagbo start to work. Civil servants and then, more dangerously, the army and assorted mercenaries could be left without salaries. Gbagbo’s grip on the army relies on the generals, not the ranks, many of whom voted for Ouattara. As the pressure mounts, junior officers could cut a deal with Ouattara and mount a putsch.

It’s hard to see how this doesn’t get worse before it gets better.

UPDATE: Upon recollection, I wondered if I pursued the Vanco story enough. Vanco is a partner with LUKoil and Petroci, in Cote D’Ivoirein Africa and, recently, in the Black Sea. And Vanco is based out of Texas.

Vanco, Petroci, and LUKoil have extensive plans in 2011 and 2012 to drill off the Ivory Coast – and there are indications as mentioned above that  the Russians feel this project may be at stake with the Gbagbo and Ouattara dispute.

Not surprisingly, leadership of Vanco energy have donated extensively to prominent Republicans. Founder Gene Van Dyke has donated to Republican Senators John Cornyn, Rand Paul, Roy Blunt, Kelly Ayotte, and James Inhofe. He’s donated to House members Ted Poe, Bill Flores, Michael McCaul, Pete Olson, and John Culberson. He also donated a substantial amount to the Republican National Committee.

Poe and McCaul are on the House Foreign Relations Committee. Neither are on the Subcommittee dealing with Africa and Human Rights.

James Inhofe is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and is also on the Subcommittee on African Affairs.

I can find no evidence of any of these supporting Gbagbo over Ouattara in the current dispute. But the question should be posed to them.

FURTHER UPDATE: It took another week, but news broke that Inhofe, does, in fact, support Gbagbo, as predicted here. See Salon’s Justin Elliot here. This was tragically predicted.

Your Daily Reminder That Hamas Can’t Govern

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While there is worry about the revolutions in the Middle East turning too Islamist, at the end of the day, governments are only successful if they govern. And there’s still no evidence that Hamas can do that:

Whatever the reason for Hamas’s obvious lack of restraint in recent weeks, it is not helping the party’s reputation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Its popularity among Palestinians continues to decline: A mid-March opinion poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research had Hamas support at a mere 33 percent of people in Gaza and 21 percent in the West Bank. Fatah, on the other hand, enjoys 42 percent support in Gaza and 39 percent in the West Bank. Hamas’s brutal crackdown on national unity rallies in Gaza on March 15, including the killing of at least one female protester, further discredited the organization. Perhaps Hamas hopes that another confrontation with Israel would bolster its foundering domestic credentials.

This probably has something to do with the increasing attacks on Israeli citizens. Of course, there’s no evidence Fatah is particularly skilled at governing either. At some point, there has to be some sort of economic development plan for Palestinians in the Wst Bank and Gaza. But it’s not clear there’s anywhere near the willpower necessary to do that in Israel or the United States, sadly.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 24, 2011 at 3:14 pm

UN Human Rights Council to Investigate Iran: What it Means

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The U.N. Human Rights Council agreed on Thursday to a U.S.-backed proposal to establish a U.N. human rights investigator for Iran, the first in a decade.

The 47-member Geneva forum approved the resolution by 22 votes in favour, 7 against and 14 abstentions, its president, Thai Ambassador Sihasak Phuangketkeow, announced.

The resolution, the text of which is here, essentially will just allow a credible report on human rights abuses in Iran. It will not be enforced actively by the UN – effectively it is a ‘name and shame’ operation.

I. Internal Effects

In her recent book, Mobilizing for Human Rights, Beth Simmons framed the chances of political mobilization as a function of how much citizens value a right versus the chance they have of achieving their goal. In fact, for Simmons, human rights treaties are primarily about the relations between a state and its society, not between states (as in traditional reciprocal treaties – we won’t charge your companies tariffs if you won’t charge ours, etc. ).

Simmons argues that even if regimes choose not to enforce human rights treaties, the consequences of signing them locally can be profound as citizens are exposed to different concepts of rights; this is even more true in an even more connected world, given the omnipresence of social media. And while Simmons was referring to treaties, a special investigator (or Rapporteur) may have that same sort of effect – which is why the Iranian regime feared and fought this resolution.

What does this mean for Iran? Potentially a direct shot in the arm of the reform movement. But it’s worth noting these things only go so far as people take them. The United States tortured under George W. Bush and hasn’t prosecuted anyone for it because there’s no political will to do so. Sometimes exposure to rights treaties takes time to manifest (if it ever does at all). It’s entirely possible greater exposure of abuses in Iran won’t enlarge the size or resolve of the movement because the population of Iran already values these rights as much as they could possibly ever. But I doubt that – these rights are too basic and too many people are being repressed.

Indeed, (in an extraordinary statement) the Iranian delegation to the HRC itself did not all take itself seriously:

“The human rights team at the HRC session is an entirely political team and is not very familiar with human rights topics,” said a member of the Iranian delegation on condition of anonymity. “All efforts are focused on attacking the U.S. If they had asked the experts accompanying the delegation, they could have drafted better statements. But they don’t trust anyone other than themselves.”

We should be loathe of making grandiose predictions because of one lone Rapporteur, but today is certainly a better day than yesterday for the reform movement in Iran.

II. External Effects

There are uses for that though. One is that it cements Iran’s status as a semi-pariah state. (This is an ad-hoc category, so don’t look too much into that term. I would consider North Korea a full fledged pariah state in the analogy.) One such good sign is who voted for this resolution: Brazil did, after years of supporting extensively oppressive regimes, including being one of the first countries to recognize the fraudulent elections of Ahmadinejad. It’s unclear if this is in any way a result of Obama’s recent visit, but it is surely a welcome change in approach.

This also may be an instance where the Saudi-Iranian escalation in relations happened at an opportune moment – one group Iran looked to for support was the Organization of Islamic Countries, but with basically no allies left in the Islamic world (hard to see Arab countries, Turkey, or Indonesia riding to Iran’s defense right now) and countries being scared of seen supporting that repression, it’s not surprising the cavalry never came.

According to attending diplomats, the Iranian delegation’s lobby efforts have not been limited to Geneva. A diplomat who asked for anonymity said that Iranian authorities have dispatched several delegations to other countries prior to the session in order to ascertain their vote. One of the reasons Iran is seeing less cooperation this year despite its lobbying efforts is the Middle East developments from Libya to Bahrain. Some countries are afraid that as the human rights situation deteriorates and change appears inevitable in those countries, association with Iran may give any state siding with it a bad image.

As it turns out, Iran ignoring the supposedly toothless UN Human Rights High Commissioner may have antagonized countries.This underscores why the procedures can be helpful in the long run, even if incredibly frustrating on an ongoing basis:

Another point that has further caused Iran’s isolation is Iran’s lack of cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms. Out of more than 80 communications to Iran by the different UN special procedures, only 8 have been answered. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also spoken up about Iran’s lack of attention to the different requests raised by different human rights resolutions. Since 2005, Iran has prevented the presence of UN special rapporteurs in Iran and the 14 March report of the UN Secretary General indicates that dozens of people have been executed secretly by the Iranian government. According to a diplomat from an African nation, the Iranian government has portrayed such an image of itself that supporting Iran appears as a liability for other countries.

Lastly, it’s yet to be seen what this will do, but this is an example of what happens when you have an administration that takes international diplomacy seriously instead of just whining that the council isn’t doing this on its own. Diplomacy takes work.

“The new human rights body started on a very weak footing without the U.S. leadership,” Dokhi Fassihian, the Director of Washington-based Democracy Coalition Project that oversees the implementation of multilateral human rights strategies through the United Nations, told IPS. But Obama administration’s initiative against Iran indicated that things would change, he added.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 24, 2011 at 11:06 am

On Yemen

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On Friday, this happened in Yemen:

Immediately after the noon Friday Prayer, snipers from nearby buildings opened fire on the demonstrators. According to volunteers who staff a makeshift clinic inside a nearby mosque, the more than 200 people wounded had been hurt by gunfire and rocks. The deaths from Friday’s attack more than doubled the number of demonstrators killed nationwide in the last month.

Gregory Johnsen on the western role in Yemen after somewhere near 50 (at least check) have been killed:

The US, the UK, and the EU are not the bad guys here, but their combined policy and public posturing could have been much wiser and much more proactive.  As it was, the US has consistently been behind the curve in Yemen, making reactive statements that lead many to believe it will never part with Salih because of his support on AQAP.  But make no mistake the responsibility for yesterday’s deaths falls on the shoulders of the Yemeni government.

Following yesterday’s attack President Obama strongly condemned the violence, but stopped short of calling for President Salih to step down.  I hope that privately the US is pressuring him to leave, but most sources suggest that this is not the case.  The US is too concerned about what will happen with AQAP if Salih leaves.

(I think this is a mistake and the longer Salih stays and the more the US is seen to be supporting him, the worse the AQAP problem will eventually be.  My opinion, however, has been dismissed.)

Others in Yemen have made much more sense.  Shaykh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, a person who is on the “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” list, called for Salih to transfer his power to Vice President Hadi. (Ar.)

Johnsen on where this seems to be heading:

Oil production is also down as foreign companies are evacuating their staffs and tribes are preventing repairs on pipelines, foreign currency is at dangerously low levels and what seems to be happening is that Salih and his immediate family are showing their teeth, and demonstrating that they are not going to go without a fight.

The lesson from watching Tunisia and Egypt fall and then Bahrain and Libya remain, is that the tougher you are the longer you stay.  And Salih wants to stay.

Most Yemeni officials I know are bracing themselves for a massacre.

Final Note:  An officer from the 1st Armored Division, Muhammad al-Shamiri, was killed yesterday in the square in Sanaa, reportedly by a sniper.  His death comes after the 1st Armored Division, which is headed by Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar refused to attack the protesters. (Ar.)  I’m not sure what to make of all this maneuvering and much of it is still rumors and unattributed quotes – but it seems as though there is consensus building on removing Salih his sons and his nephews and leaving most others in place.

I have no relevant particular insight into Yemen, nor the United States that Johnsen does not have. But I would add that the electoral incentives may help explain the decision making here: there is much more risk of being hurt by being perceived as soft on terror if the successor is not as useful against Al Qaeda as Salih than there is harm from the ties America currently has to Yemen. I don’t know how to fix that – I don’t think Obama is very good at shucking public opinion concerns, but on the other hand I don’t see anyone down the line being more willing.

On the lighter side, I’m sure Glenn Beck will take notice that socialists and Islamists in Yemen are both on the opposition. Defending the massacre would be a new low, even for him.


Written by John Whitehouse

March 19, 2011 at 12:39 pm