Armenia’s Sarkisian complains about ‘Turkish blockade’, warns of war

Armenia’s President Serge Sarkisian addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. The Armenian president says his country has no other choice than nuclear energy because of ‘Turkish blockade.’ AFP photo

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian claimed Armenia is under the blockade of Turkey and Azerbaijan, during his address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, while Azerbaijani parliamentarians said they were not able to ask their questions during the session Wednesday.

Regarding a parliamentarian’s question on the threats of the Metzamar Nuclear Plant in Armenia, Sarkisian also said Armenia has no other choice than nuclear energy because of the “blockade” imposed by Turkey.

“This unlawful blockade of Armenia must come to an end. Europe cannot and should not tolerate new dividing lines,” said Sarkisian.

Sarkisian addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe where he also received questions from the European parliamentarians on Wednesday. However Turkish parliamentarians did not pose any questions to Sarkisian during the session, mainly because the Turkish delegation made a unanimous decision to not ask any questions to the Armenian President, Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

Possibility of war?

Five Azerbaijani parliamentarians submitted their names for the list of the parliamentarians to ask questions.

“We made our request to ask questions two weeks ago, however our names were put at the bottom of the list, so we were not able to ask any questions due to time limitations,” an Azerbaijani parliamentarian, Rafael Huseyinov told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday.

Armenian President said the Armenian-Turkish normalization process ended up in a “deadlock.” Sarkisian also blamed Turkey for not recognizing the 1915 events as “genocide.”

“Turkey still not only fails to recognize, but also denies the genocide conducted by the Ottomans in 1915. We are determined not to leave this issue unsolved for the next generations,” Sarkisian said.

Speaking about Azerbaijan, Sarkisian claimed there were xenophobia, racism and extreme nationalism in Azerbaijan against Armenia. Sarkisian also claimed Azerbaijan is becoming more armed and ready for a possible war with Armenia, adding that the casualties would be much greater for both Armenia and Azerbaijan if a war occurred now.

The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet next Saturday in Kazan in Russia at a meeting brokered by Russian President Dimitri Medvedev, one of the mediators of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azeri territory occupied by Yerevan.

Sarkisian also said Nagorno-Karabagh remained as a part Europe. “It would be more logical for the Council of Europe to engage with Karabagh before discussing the statue of Karabagh”, Sarkisian claimed. “Indigenous Armenian people live in Karabagh for centuries, no one may question the right of the people of Karabagh to live in their land freely and decide their destiny,” Sarkisian said.

Besides five political groups who imposed questions to Sarkisian, an Armenian parliamentarian from the Armenian opposition Heritage Party, Zaruhi Postanjyan asked a critical question to the Armenian President.

“There is a an authoritarian regime in Armenia,” said Postanjyan and asked Sarkisian when they will make the real reforms.


Ukraine Secretly Ramps Up Ties With NATO: Report

Ukraine can be an important asset for NATO with its strategic location near Russia and the Balkans.

Ukraine is ramping up cooperation with NATO, dealing a blow to Moscow’s hopes that its neighbor would align itself more closely to Russia under President Viktor Yanukovych, a report said Tuesday.

The Kommersant Ukraine daily newspaper, citing a secret document on Ukraine’s program with NATO for 2011, said Yanukovych sought closer ties with the bloc even more earnestly than his openly pro-Western predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko.

The dramatic turnabout in Kiev’s foreign policy comes despite Ukraine last year cementing in law its non-aligned status, and amid disappointment over terms and conditions of rapprochement with the Kremlin, the paper said.

The confidential document approved earlier this year includes a schedule of 64 bilateral events, the newspaper said, adding that the two sides were set to discuss such sensitive issues as Ukraine’s energy security, missile defense, and the future of Russia’s Black Sea fleet based in Crimea.

Two meetings scheduled for this month are set to address basic principles and strategy of Ukraine’s foreign policy.

Asked about the report June 21, Yanukovych said that Ukraine remains a neutral country. The Ukrainian president is visiting Strasbourg, France, the home of the European Parliament.

“Our position remains unchanged: We have been and remain a non-aligned country, just as is dictated by our law,” Yanukovych said in comments released by his office.

He added that Ukraine “has not and does not plan” to take any part in the new NATO missile defense shield for Europe, which Russia fears is aimed at its own defenses.

Yanukovych has worked hard to improve relations between Moscow and Kiev since defeating the leaders of the pro-Western Orange Revolution in presidential elections last year.

Soon afterward, he signed a landmark deal with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to keep Russia’s Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea at least until 2042, in exchange for a 30 percent discount on Russian gas exports to its neighbor.

But over the past few months, Kiev has grown disillusioned with the prospects of closer ties with Moscow, which it says has tried to strong-arm Ukraine into joining a Russian-led customs union and threatened it with sanctions, the newspaper said.

“Moscow wants us to be in its orbit and pay for that, too,” a high-ranking source in the Ukrainian government told Kommersant. “It’s not us who are pulling away from Russia. It is pushing us away.”

Earlier this month, Russia protested the arrival in the Black Sea of a U.S. Navy cruiser equipped with a ballistic missile defense system. The ship will take part in naval exercises with Ukraine, but Russia said it is a threat to its national security.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry shot back, saying the exercises did not present any “real or potential threat” for the countries of the Black Sea region.


Aselsan bags national missile system contract

An artist's conception of the Turkish Medium-Range Air Defence System (T-MALAMIDS)

Turkey’s leading military electronics company Aselsan and the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries, or SSM, have signed two major contracts for the development of indigenous low and medium altitude air defence missile systems, the company revealed in a special press release on Monday.

Request for proposal for the low level air defence system (T-LALADMIS) was first issued by SSM in September 2008, and entails the procurement of 18 self-propelled, armored air defence systems, support and training equipment, maintenance tools, spare parts and other relevant services and documents required for the efficient operation of the systems. An option also exists for 27 additional such systems in the immediate future.

Also awarded to Aselsan is a medium-range air defence system development program, dubbed T-MALADMIS, and it entails direct procurement of one medium altitude air defense missile system composed of one battalion headquarters and headquarters company and three batteries, each of which has a sufficient amount of launchers, missiles, radars, command-control and communication systems and other support equipment.

Cost of Aselsan’s T-LALADMIS program design and development is 314,920,445 EURO, while T-MALADMIS amounts to 241,392,218 EURO.

Turkey is also seeking to acquire 12 long-range air defence systems as part of SSM’s $4 billion T-LORADMIS program. USA-based Patriot PAC-3 and Russia’s S-300 are currently favorites in a tough competition against China’s HQ-9 and European Aster-30 air defence systems.

Greek politics in turmoil over austerity measures

Athens, Greece (AP photo)

Greece faced an escalating political crisis Thursday, with critics in the governing Socialist party in open revolt over harsh austerity measures despite assurances from the European Union that Athens would a receive rescue loan money needed to avoid a summer default.

The party feud was the latest crisis to heighten worldwide concern that danger of a Greek financial collapse could trigger panic elsewhere in the 17-nation eurozone – a fear that saw borrowing costs in vulnerable EU countries surge and stock markets come under pressure.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou was forced to delay a planned Cabinet reshuffle and convene an emergency party meeting Thursday after two Socialist deputies resigned and others openly questioned his leadership.

“The political system is rotting … The country is not being governed the way it should be,” said Socialist deputy Nikos Salagianis. “A reshuffle will not resolve the country’s problems.”

Papandreou is trying to push through a five-year austerity program worth 28 billion euros ($39.5 billion) that has been demanded by international creditors. The new spending cuts and taxes have spurred violent street protests as well as the party rebellion.

The PM failed Wednesday to form a grand coalition with rival conservatives to guarantee that the austerity measures would be passed, despite even offering to quit his job to clinch a deal. He later announced he would form a new Cabinet and put it to a confidence vote in parliament.

A bad day for equities

Stocks Europe-wide were down sharply for the second day running and the euro hit a three-week low below $1.41, meaning it has fallen around 4 cents in just a couple of days.

“The Greek crisis is spinning out of control,” said Kit Juckes, an analyst at Societe Generale.

Germany’s vice chancellor on Thursday insisted that Greece’s private creditors must share the pain of a new long-term bailout for the debt-laden country. Economy Minister Philipp Roessler said Thursday a new bailout package will require parliamentary approval and can only be considered with a “substantial contribution by private creditors.”

EU officials say discussions over a longer-term bailout for Greece are likely to be delayed until July as policymakers are split over how to get private creditors to share the pain – a move some experts say would be considered a default.

The European Central Bank warns that forcing losses on private creditors could pummel banks in Greece and throughout Europe, triggering a financial chain reaction of unknown – yet possibly catastrophic – proportions.

Investors could become convinced, for example, that other bailout recipients like Ireland and Portugal will be next to default, and fear of contagion could make the situation worse.

A European Central Bank official warned that the EU’s crisis bailout fund would have to double to 1.5 trillion euros ($2.1 trillion) if Greece fails to pays its debts, potentially spreading financial turmoil. Nout Wellink told the Dutch paper Het Financieele Dagblad that “if you fall through the ice you better have a very large safety net.”


Turkish researchers make nanotechnology breakthrough

HDN image

A group of Turkish researchers at an Ankara university have manufactured the longest and thinnest nanowires ever produced, by employing a novel method to shrink matter 10-million fold.

The invention, discovered at Bilkent University’s National Nanotechnology Research Center, or UNAM, is set to appear on the cover of Nature Material magazine’s July edition.

“At this moment, we may not even be able to predict what things will be produced [in the future] using this method,” said Associate Professor Mehmet Bayýndýr who led the research team.

The new method could provide advancements in many fields, including the production of more effective cells for solar panels, DVD’s with massively enhanced capacity, electronics and other novel applications that could be used in medical imaging technologies, according to the Anatolia news agency.

The research team was trying to obtain a patent for their invention, as well as preparing to apply to the Guinness Book of Records for producing the world’s longest and thinnest semiconductor nanowire.

The new technique includes a new thermal size-reduction process to produce indefinitely long nanowire and nanotube arrays with various materials, Bayýndýr said Friday.

“We are enjoying [the fact that] we are getting higher amounts of projects than scientists in developed countries, despite the global economic crisis,” he said.

The project was funded by the Scientific and Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBITAK, the Turkish Academy of Sciences, or TÜBA, and the State Planning Organization, or the DPT.


Turkey’s Islamists Win 3rd Straight Term in Govt.

Turkey’s Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide victory in nationwide parliamentary elections June 12, according to results released June 13, securing a third consecutive term in government since 2002.

Led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP garnered nearly 50 percent of the general vote, while the main opposition party, the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), got about 26 percent. The AKP and the CHP won 426 and 135 deputies, respectively, in the 550-seat parliament.

Two smaller groups, the Nationalist Movement Party and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, became the only other parties to be represented in parliament, with much smaller numbers of seats.

AKP leader Erdogan will create the next single-party government before the end of this month.

Under the AKP’s rule, Turkey over the past nine years became an economic powerhouse of the Islamic world, affected only minimally by the global financial crisis in 2008. From a buyer of defense equipment, it turned into a manufacturer of most of its defense needs itself.

But many Western observers suggest that Turkey in the meantime turned its back on NATO and other institutions of the Western world, including moves to bolster ties with Islamic countries in the Middle East and a major deterioration of relations with Israel, its former ally.


Greek Privatization Drive and Strategic Opportunities for Turkey

The Parthenon, Athens

As economic indicators point to an imminent threat of painful restructuring of the Greek public debt and conseuently significant loss of capital for major lenders in the Eurozone, pressure on Greece’s ruling party PASOK and Prime Minister George Papandreou keeps piling on. Even though the austerity measures the PASOK government has been trying to implement have caused widespread protest and resistance from just about every sphere of the Greek society, Papandreou has no choice but to push for the implementation of further measures and accelerate sales of certain Greek government and public assets.

This creates a rare opportunity for cunning countries with strategic interests in Greece, and in a larger sense in the rest of Europe. Russia and China are two of them, Turkey with its rising economic star and increasingly independent, aggressive foreign policy is another.

Chine sees Greece as an extremely efficient gateway into Europe via which the Asian superpower can ship and distribute its immense line of consumer goods, dramatically increasing its reach to the European markets in the continent’s north and west. It has already shown interest in acquiring controlling shares for the Thessaloniki (Selanik) and Pireas ports.

Russian energy giant Gazprom is aiming at DEPA Gas in order to strengthen the Bear’s grip on the European energy network at large, while RWE of Germany is gunning after Greece’s Public Power Corporation in collaboration with French and Czech investors.

Turkey seems to be in an adventageous position to make similar moves as well, for the same motivations as China and Russia plus three more: (1) Its considerably large economy and GDP growth rate in the region, (2) close geographic proximity to Greece, and (3) historical sensitivities and certain national security concerns of its own.

Timing could not have been better for Turkish firms, with or without support from the AKP government, to invest in Greece. Among the publicly owned assets lined up for privatization by Greece are LARCO, a major mining company, TrainOSE, a railway company, Hellenic Telecommunications, which already signed an agreement with Germany’s Deutsche Telekom for 10% of its shares, Athens International Airport, Thessaloniki Water Supply & Sewerage and four Airbus A340-300 passanger jets. These assets present a buying opportunity below market place.

Beyond these companies mentioned, there are two other strategic assets at the moment that pose a very special opportunity for Turkey from a national security perspective: Hellenic Aerospace and Hellenic Defense Systems.

Let’s face it. Even though Greece has never posed an existential threat for Turkey in the last 1,000 years, it has managed to be somewhat of an annoyance, forcing Turkey to set aside billions of liras to create and maintain its Aegean army. Greece’s territorial attempts in Greece, menacing politics in regards to the Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul or the Turkish minority in Western Thrace, as well as continuous violations of Turkish territorial waters and airspace in the Aegean Sea have kept Turkey on both diplomatic and military red alert.

Combined with the advancements in Turkey’s own defence industry and its exponential growth in recent years, acquisition of these two Greek national assets by Turkish firms can be both economically rewarding and strategically incisive.

If Turkey means to become a true regional power, this opportunity in Greece cannot be passed for only China, Russia and a few others to spoil. Time has come for Turkey to take bold steps.

Hasan Karaahmet

Turkey sets up $100 mln fund to help Libya rebels

Libyan Rebels

Turkey has established a $100 million fund to support Libya’s rebel Transitional National Council, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday.

“There is a real need for humanitarian access as well as for the natural needs of Libya like schools, hospitals and all those facilities,” Davutoglu said.

Davutoglu was speaking to reporters at a summit of Western and Arab countries backing Libya’s rebels and aimed at preparing for a political structure after the departure of leader Muammar Gaddafi from power.


US presses Turkey to join Libya air bombing

The Obama administration criticized five key military allies Wednesday to take on a greater share of the NATO-led air campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, illustrating the strains of a three-month intervention in Libya that has no time frame for an exit.

The pressure on Germany, Poland, Spain, Turkey and Netherlands comes as the alliance continues with intensified airstrikes on Libya’s capital.

Gates said Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands should enhance their limited participation in noncombat operations by joining in strike missions against ground targets, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal NATO deliberations. They said Gates pressed Germany and Poland, the two countries not participating at all militarily, to help in some form.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton likely will restate Gates’ argument Thursday when NATO nations and Arab governments participating in the air campaign meet in the United Arab Emirates.

Responding to the US criticism, Turkish National Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said Thursday that the Turkish prime minister, government and Turkish president would decide on a possible role for Turkey in air bombing of Libya when the issue came up on the agenda of the government.

I have not yet received Mr. Gates’s demand and his words on the issue, Gonul told reporters in southern province of Antalya on Thursday.

Our decision on Libya has two dimensions. One of them has to do with the embargo while the other involves humanitarian assistance. We are contributing to the embargo with four frigates, one submarine and six F-16 jets. We have a principled decision on not participating in the “No Fly Zone”. The decision is valid today. Once Mr. Gates’s demand reaches the Turkish government, our Prime Minister, the whole government and our President would assess the situation, Gonul also said.


Turkey warming to France as Nabucco seeks 7th partner

Nabucco Pipeline Project

Turkey is leaving the door open for the involvement of France in the multi-national Nabucco project amid plans to extend its scope to include a seventh partner.

“There could be one or more partners to the project,” Energy Minister Taner Yıldız told a group of journalists Thursday in his hometown Kayseri, one day after five transit countries undersigned project support agreements with the Nabucco International company.

Turkey’s Yıldız chaired Wednesday’s committee meeting where the Nabucco consortium and government representatives discussed plans to involve additional parties.

“We will evaluate different proposals as almost every party said we need to be more flexible,” said the minister, when asked about the possibility of the French involvement.

Turkey blocked French company Gaz de France’s participation in the European Union-backed Nabucco project for political reasons. The minister’s remarks, however, show a significant shift in the Turkish position toward France.

“I think the door is open not only to countries but also to companies,” Hungary’s National Development Minister Tamas Fellegi told the Daily News in an interview in Kayseri. He said the consortium behind the project should discuss this issue very frankly.

“I would not rule out any country just because of the basis of nationality or counter background. The Nabucco project, don’t forget, is a significant European Union project that is politically and financially supported by the EU. And France is a member of the EU,” he told the Daily News.

The idea came after some Nabucco participating states expressed intentions to involve additional parties especially from the side of gas supply countries.

“I think the participating countries should make the decision later this year,” said the Hungarian minister.

‘No financing without seeing the gas’

Nabucco cannot be finalized without source countries, said Yıldız, adding that finding supplies was as important as securing financing for the project.

The director-generals of the European Investment Bank and the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development were also present at the signing ceremony. Yıldız said the governments sustained “necessary” conditions for the financing of the project but added that was “not sufficient.”

“Financing cannot be done without seeing the source country, and indeed without seeing the natural gas,” he said.

None of the potential supply countries were present at the signing ceremony. Azerbaijan did not attend the event despite the Turkish Energy Ministry’s invitation.

Yıldız, however, downplayed concerns over Baku’s absence. “Azerbaijan was hosting an oil and gas conference, otherwise they would have come.”

‘Project support deals delayed due to Hungary’

Yıldız said the project support agreements, subjected to the Swiss law, were including close to 40 provisions from taxation, environment impact to technical details. He argued the deals were going to be signed earlier, putting the blame on Hungary for their delay.

Third parties in Europe that are not involved in Nabucco can conclude bilateral energy deals with supply countries and can transport this gas through Nabucco pipeline by leasing, said Yıldız.

“This is a commercial project. For example, Switzerland struck a gas deal with Iran and it will be able to lease the Nabucco pipeline to ship this gas back home,” he added.

The minister invited third countries to “find cheap gas and bring it home through Nabucco.” He also made it clear that Turkey was not in need of gas that would come from Nabucco, saying that Turkey would not be the party that would lose if the project did not come true.

‘Ball is not in Turkey’s court’

Yıldız responded to the statement by the U.S. envoy for Eurasian Energy, Richard Morningstar, who called on Turkey and Azerbaijan to sign a deal for the sale of natural gas.

“An agreement will be concluded between Nabucco consortium and Shah Deniz II. Turkey will not sign a deal on behalf of Nabucco,” said Yıldız. “Turkey is doing its share at the every phase of the project. It is not appropriate to throw the ball into Turkey’s court.”

Minister slams German decision to close nuclear plants

Energy Minister Taner Yıldız hit out at German plans to shut down all of the nation’s nuclear power plants within the next 11 years, saying, “It is like putting on the brakes while speeding on the highway.”

Yıldız criticized Germany for explaining differently to the public the reason for its closure of old plants.

“I see Germany’s main reason being that it will close expired plants. We also want the closure of 40-year-old plants. The closure of aging plants does not mean new ones cannot be opened,” added the minister.

The head of the Energy Market Regulatory Authority, or EPDK, said Germany took such an initiative due to political reasons. Hasan Köktaş said that Germany was meeting 23 percent of its electricity energy from nuclear plants and it was not possible for Germany to close its plants.

“Germany made such a decision in previous years and de-functioned two plants made in 1971, 1972. That was entirely because of technical reasons,” he added.