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Showing posts from January 3, 2014

Russian Oligarchs Part 3: The Party's Over


Editor's Note: Part 1 of this series examines the oligarchs' rise to power, Part 2 discusses their confrontation with Putin, and Part 3 looks at Putin's successful efforts to co-opt or defeat the oligarchs.

The year 2004 marked a turning point for Russian oligarchs, who started tapping external markets for capital to expand their empires. Then-President Vladimir Putin dampened their political ambitions by toppling some and drawing others into the Kremlin orbit. He did nothing to discourage the inflow of foreign credit, which was unprecedented. Then came the global financial crisis of 2008, which helped create the perfect storm for the oligarchs. The game and the players would never be the same.


By the summer of 2008, events were brewing that would soon drastically reduce the amount of outside money flowing into Russian coffers. The government, for one, was growing increasingly interested in raking back assets from Russia's banking sector. At the same tim…

Russian Oligarchs Part 2: The Evolution of a New Business Elite


Editor's Note: Part 1 of this series examines the oligarchs' rise to power, Part 2 discusses their confrontation with Putin, and Part 3 looks at Putin's successful efforts to co-opt or defeat the oligarchs.

In the bedlam following the Soviet Union's collapse, Russian laws were contradictory and unevenly enforced. The oligarchs thrived in this environment, gobbling up corporate holdings and creating empires of disparate parts. Then the ruble crashed in 1998, and a new wave of more business-minded oligarchs reconsolidated their holdings and created real empires. One of these oligarchs, the owner of oil giant Yukos, also had political ambitions, and he was the first to go when Vladimir Putin set out to remake the Russian business elite.


The Russian oligarchs emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union in 1991, taking advantage of organizational, economic and political chaos to form multibillion-dollar corporate empires. They did not create their empires i…

Russian Oligarchs Part 1: Putin's Endgame Against His Rivals


Editor's Note:  The most prominent member of that class was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has been in prison for nearly a decade following a standoff with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The president announced Dec. 19 that he will soon pardon Khodorkovsky, showing that the oligarch class is no longer a threat to Putin's power. First published in 2009, Part 1 of this series examines the oligarchs' rise to power, Part 2 discusses their confrontation with Putin, and Part 3 looks at Putin's successful efforts to co-opt or defeat the oligarchs.

The fall of the Soviet Union left chaos in its wake, and emerging from the turmoil were three principal factions -- the siloviki, "The Family" and the oligarchs -- all scrambling for the spoils. When Vladimir Putin became president in 1999, the St. Petersburg native consolidated the siloviki and Family inside the Kremlin and set his sights on the oligarchs, a new elite class of post-Soviet business rulers. Ten years o…

Uzbekistan: A Volatile Equilibrium Between the Clans

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has kept the country unified under his rule for more than two decades, even though Uzbekistan is deeply split -- along geographic and ethnic lines -- into clans. These divisions define the political, economic, security and social powers within the country today. Regardless of who eventually succeeds Karimov as president, without him as a grand arbiter between the clans, the volatility among these various groups could erupt into a crisis; in Uzbekistan people more readily identify with their clan than their nationality.

Seven clans now rule in Uzbekistan, divided along 13 provincial lines. Six of the provinces are aligned with (or subjugated under) the other seven. Of those seven clans, three hold the most power: the same Samarkand, Tashkent and Fergana clans from the imperial and Soviet eras. The four smaller clans -- the Jizzakh, Kashkadarya, Khorezm and Karakalpak -- tend to change alliances and are not generally engaged in elite intrafighting, instead …

U.S. Naval Update Map: Dec. 31, 2013

The Naval Update Map shows the approximate current locations of U.S. Carrier Strike Groups and Amphibious Ready Groups, based on available open-source information. No classified or operationally sensitive information is included in this weekly update. CSGs and ARGs are the keys to U.S. dominance of the world's oceans. A CSG is centered on an aircraft carrier, which projects U.S. naval and air power and supports a Carrier Air Wing, or CVW. The CSG includes significant offensive strike capability. An ARG is centered on three amphibious warfare ships, with a Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked. An MEU is built around a heavily reinforced and mobile battalion of Marines.
Carrier Strike Groups
The USS Harry S. Truman CSG with CVW 3 embarked is underway in the U.S. 5th Fleet AOR supporting maritime security operations and conducting theater security cooperation efforts.
Amphibious Ready Groups/Marine Expeditionary Units
The USS Boxer ARG with the 13th MEU embarked is underway in the U.S.…

China's Efforts to Meet its Growing Natural Gas Demand

A Chinese worker checks the valve of a gas pipe at a natural gas plant in Suining, in southwest China's Sichuan province. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)


China's demand for natural gas is expected to increase dramatically over the next decade -- perhaps rivaling Russia as second only to the United States. China's differences from places like South Korea and Japan, such as its domestic production potential and access to pipelines from the former Soviet Union, will limit Chinese demand for liquefied natural gas, but that demand will grow nonetheless. Thus, China and other Asian countries will continue working together to find ways to drive down liquefied natural gas prices in Asia. In the longer term, the natural gas distribution and consumption infrastructure built up over the next decade could be used to metabolize the country's massive shale gas deposits once China masters the technology to extract them, thus massively shifting Beijing's energy security away from f…

In Lebanon, Hezbollah's Challenge Grows

Flames rise from burning cars at the site of an explosion in Beirut's southern suburb of Haret al-Harayk on Jan. 2. -/AFP/Getty Images


A Jan. 2 explosion in Beirut's southern suburbs -- the fifth attack targeting Hezbollah's interests since July -- reveals a growing jihadist capability and intent to draw Hezbollah resources away from the Syrian battlefield and back toward Lebanon. As retaliatory sectarian attacks between Sunni jihadists and Shiite militants loyal to Hezbollah escalate over the next year, Saudi Arabia will try to use the Lebanese theater of the Syrian civil war to undermine Iran's regional negotiating position and rebalance Lebanese politics in favor of Hezbollah's local Sunni competitors.


A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device reportedly carrying about 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of explosives detonated in the Haret al-Harayk area of the Dahiyeh neighborhood in Beirut's southern suburbs around 4 p.m. local time Jan. 2. Four pe…