The U.S. government, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil joined forces to kill a Venezuelan oil deal in Haiti.
The frightening state of the developing world's nuclear energy programs.
China told U.S. officials it wasn't selling nuclear reactors to Pakistan, then did it anyway.
The British government worried that Russian gas behemoth Gazprom was being run by spies.
Julian Assange says WikiLeaks "played a significant role" in the Arab Spring, but that "there are no official allegations in the public domain" of anyone being hurt by the site's document dumps.
President Barack Obama nominates a replacement for the WikiLeaks-deposed U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. government to officially release WikiLeaked cables about the war on terror.
Al Jazeera's WikiLeaks-inspired document-sharing site isn't much safer than the Wall Street Journal's.
The Swedish Bar Association chastises Assange's lawyer.
Of course you want to know what Jesse Ventura thinks about WikiLeaks.
THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images
The Libyan frogman who couldn't swim.
The FBI pursues a team of alleged Qatari would-be 9/11 conspirators in the United States.
The rift between Washington and Beijing is deeper than either government would like you to think.
The United States' secret space arms race with China.
A Croatian man tries to get back at his ex-girlfriend by telling U.S. embassy officials that she's hanging out with Osama bin Laden.
Making an oil and gas deal in Russia is really complicated.
Newly appointed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman is close to Mubarak and foreign intelligence agencies, but not Mubarak's son. And a lot of people seem to think Mubarak's new deputy prime minister is a bureaucratic dinosaur.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accuses Syria and Iran of arming Iraqi militants.
Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh wants his money.
U.S. diplomats doubt reforms are on the way in Jordan.
Did WikiLeaks hack into New York Times reporters' email accounts?
WikiLeaks' release process has become so complicated that even the papers involved don't know what's a scoop anymore.
Amnesty International wants Britain to pressure the U.S. government over the treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning.
THE BIG PICTURE
George W. Bush administration Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith thinks Assange will be prosecuted in the United States.
New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller and Guardian Editor in Chief Alan Rusbridger talk WikiLeaks.
Forty-two percent of Americans have no idea what WikiLeaks is.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Well, this (from NPR) ought to be good:
A former Swiss banker said Monday that he has handed over to WikiLeaks two discs containing what he claims is information on 2,000 offshore bank account holders.
Rudolf Elmer, an ex-employee of Swiss-based bank Julius Baer, said the documents reveal case after case of tax evasion and involve 40 politicians as well as entertainers and multinationals from the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere. He refused to name the account holders, but said the data span a period of at least 19 years and involve three banks.
Elmer was charged last week in Geneva with coercion and violating banking secrecy laws. Appearing with WikiLeaks' Julian Assange at London's Frontline Club yesterday, he told reporters, "I do think as a banker I have the right to stand up if something is wrong."
BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
Late Friday, the U.S. Justice Department issued a court order for the Twitter account records of Birgitta Jonsdottir (above), a member of Iceland's Parliament and early friend of WikiLeaks. At first blush, this would seem to suggest that the Feds' efforts to build a case against Assange, who was in court in London yesterday and faces an extradition hearing next month, aren't going that well -- it's hard to envision an organization as tech-savvy as WikiLeaks conveying any sensitive information via Twitter direct messages -- and it drew protest from E.U. politicians yesterday. In any case, Twitter refused to comply -- or, in the words of Wired's Ryan Singel, "Twitter beta-tested a spine."
Twitter isn't talking about why it made the decision, and in the absence of a statement the speculation on tech blogs over the past few days seems to have mostly settled on the theory that the refusal was the work of Twitter general counsel Alexander Macgillivray, an early graduate of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and former Google lawyer known for championing privacy in the slippery legal environs of the Internet.
Christopher Soghoian, a graduate student and consultant who has done exhaustive research on the subject of Internet companies' data disclosures to government, explains that this is an extremely unusual response for a tech firm -- they usually fold in a hurry when the government comes knocking -- and why it matters:
Twitter has gone out of its way to fight for its users' privacy. The company went to court, and was successful in asking the judge to unseal the order (something it is not required to do), and then promptly notified its users, so that they could seek to quash the order. Twitter could have quite easily complied with the order, and would have had zero legal liability for doing so. In fact, many other Internet companies routinely hand over their users' data in response to government requests, and never take steps to either have the orders unsealed, or give their users notice and thus an opportunity to fight the order.
It's also notable in light of Twitter's past friendliness with the State Department, which famously prevailed upon the company to keep its servers up and running during Iran's Green Revolution protests (a collaboration which Evgeny Morozov argues in the current issue of FP has proven problematic).
HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images
New Zealand has, less than shockingly, not been a major presence in the WikiLeaks saga so far. So congratulations are order for the U.S. embassy in Wellington, which made a strong showing in the Guardian yesterday with a tale of international espionage that somehow involves Mossad, Hamas, cerebral palsy, and mutton.
In 2004, New Zealand imposed diplomatic sanctions on Israel after two Mossad agents were found to have stolen the identity of a quadriplegic New Zealander in order to obtain a passport for a third Israeli spy.* "It is a sorry indictment of Israel that it has again taken such actions against a country with which it has friendly relations," New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said at the time. Visas were restricted, embassies were closed, and Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who was planning to visit the country, was disinvited. Then Hamas got involved. The organization put out a press release applauding New Zealand's actions, saying it "highly appreciated the daring position" Clark had taken against the "Zionist security apparatuses."
Clark's government made a show of rejecting Hamas's overtures, but American embassy officials in Wellington were apparently unconvinced. A July 19, 2004 cable about the incident, signed by political and economic counselor Timothy Zuniga-Brown, floats the theory that New Zealand may have had ulterior motives in making a big deal about the Mossad affair:
Its overly strong reaction to Israel over this issue suggests the [government of New Zealand] sees this flap as an opportunity to bolster its credibility with the Arab community, and by doing so, perhaps, help NZ lamb and other products gain greater access to a larger and more lucrative market.
Would the Kiwis really fan the flames of an international incident to ingratiate their way into Arab stomachs? It's certainly true that the economy of New Zealand -- which famously has 9 sheep for every human -- is unusually lamb-dependent: The country's lamb-heavy international meat sales accounted for $5.19 billion last year, or 13 percent of all exports. And while Europe and the United States are still the world's biggest lamb importers, the Middle East is the most promising growth market -- neighboring Australia's lamb exports to the region grew 25 percent from 1990 to 2008. In any case, the New Zealand media have been strangely silent on the allegations so far.
SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov generated yuks during the 1990s, given eccentricities such as his variable taste in hair color, his creative renaming of months, days, cities, and ports, and a megalomaniacal festooning of his photo and bust everywhere. But Niyazov also had less-amusing habits, such as truncating high-school education so that Turkmen students couldn't qualify for foreign universities -- not to mention his taste for big bribes. All of it made many people celebrate when he died of heart disease in 2006.
But as we learn in the latest WikiLeaks cables, not much has materially changed since President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov succeeded him. For starters, Berdymukhamedov is a dead ringer for Niyazov, as anyone visiting the country can see: The new president has taken down his predecessor's portraits and frequently replaced them with his own.
A Dec. 17, 2009 cable signed by Sylvia Reed Curran,the charge d'affaires in the U.S. embassy in Ashgabat, relates a chat with an unidentified source with apparent proximity to Berdymukhamedov. Turkmenistan's leader, Curran's source tells her, is "vain, fastidious, vindictive, a micro-manager, and a bit of an Akhal Teke nationalist." (Akhal Teke is a Turkmen tribal zone near Ashkabad. It is also a prized horse breed.) Later in the cable, Curran adds that the president is also "suspicious, guarded, strict,very conservative, a practiced liar, ‘a good actor,' and (again) vindictive." (Of course Berdymukhamedov himself might not agree with any of that, seeing as how he views himself as "an author, surgeon, pilot, sportsman [and] statesman,"Curran said.)
Last week, you'll recall, WikiLeaks brought us the story of a meeting a year ago between Jerry Lanier, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, and Tim O'Hanlon, an executive of Britain's Tullow Oil, which was trying to buy a stake in a pair of big Ugandan oil fields at the time. Lanier's cable paraphrases O'Hanlon as saying that two other companies had somehow swooped in and grabbed the deal out of Tullow's hands. The suggestion was that a Ugandan minister had been paid off.
Not so, say almost all of those mentioned in the Lanier cable. Last Friday, O'Hanlon wrote a letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, saying that Lanier got the story all wrong. He had heard the talk circulating of such backroom dealing, O'Hanlon wrote, but he never believed it. "I have no evidence implicating the honorable ministers in corruption and have no reason to believe that the rumors sweeping Kampala at the time were actually true," O'Hanlon wrote.
Amama Mbabazi (above), Uganda's security minister and the official named in Lanier's cable -- in which Lanier told his superiors that the United States might consider revoking Mbabazi's U.S. visa -- said he was equally perplexed by what the cable had to say about his relationship with Italy's Eni and Britain's Heritage Oil. He said:
These allegations are absolutely untrue. I have never received even an offer let alone payment from Heritage or ENI of that kind or for anything. However at that time there was report in The Times of London which did not name anyone but talked about corruption over the deal. What surprised me is that the embassy believes that the allegations are true and concluded that the deal showed signs of high level corruption in Uganda's oil sector. This is incredible. I am surprised they would make a statement like that without cross checking with me about my alleged involvement.
Eni also said that Lanier was far off the mark, and that it intended legal action against WikiLeaks. "ENI denies the serious allegations which are completely without foundation and has instructed its lawyers to initiate legal proceedings to compensate for any damage caused to the company's reputation," a spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
U.S. Defense Department via Wikimedia Commons
There is no graduate-level course in princeling etiquette that I know of, but the latest WikiLeaks cables suggest that diplomatic schools should perhaps offer one. Consider Azerbaijan's first lady, Mehriban Aliyeva (above), and her family, who according to a cable written in January control a bank, insurance, construction, media, telecommunications, real-estate and cosmetics companies, in addition to Baku's only Bentley dealership.
The cable, sent January 27 by Charge Donald Lu, is an impressive profile of Aliyeva. One section relates a story regarding her "substantial cosmetic surgery." During a 2008 visit to Baku by Lynne Cheney, the wife of then-Vice President Dick Cheney, the youthful-looking Aliyeva and her two daughters mingled with White House, U.S. embassy and security staff while they awaited the arrival of the Cheney vehicle. "Which one of those is the mother?" a puzzled U.S. Secret Service agent asked of his colleagues, referring to the three Aliyeva women. No one could figure it out on sight, before one finally decided, "Well, logically the mother would probably stand in the middle." On the other hand, Lu found a downside to the facelift: "On television, in photos, and in person, she appears unable to show a full range of facial expression."
Of course, the bluebloods include not only the Aliyev family, but extend to old pals of late President Heydar Aliyev, the father of current president Ilham Aliyev. Such people are the equivalent of dukes. Topping the list is Kamaladdin Heydarov, the minister of emergency situations, whose father, Fattah, was a close associate of the late president, according to a followup cable that Lu sent to Washington on February 25. Heydarov, Lu writes, is Azerbaijan's second most-powerful titan next to Aliyeva.
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Italy's oil company Eni has long enjoyed a privileged position in oil and gas deals in both Russia and Kazakhstan. The company enabled Russia's dismantlement of Yukos, and has been Gazprom's top-tier partner in tightening its grip on gas supplies to Turkey and Europe. Allegations in one WikiLeaked cable that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and some pals have profited personally from this intimate relationship are not entirely surprising -- nor is it particularly shocking to read allegations of similar Eni activity in Uganda.
The details come in an unusually descriptive new cable released by WikiLeaks. The cable describes a Dec. 14, 2009 meeting between U.S. Ambassador Jerry Lanier and Tim O'Hanlon, vice president for Africa for Britain's Tullow Oil. We have written previously about scrappy Tullow, a serious player around Africa's Lake Albert region, which is believed to potentially contain more than 1 billion barrels of oil.
Here is the backdrop: Tullow was wishing to exercise a right of first refusal to buy the second half of two Ugandan oilfields in which it already held a 50 percent interest. But Eni somehow stepped in and, right around the time of the Lanier-O'Hanlon meeting, announced that it, and not Tullow, would secure the $1.35 billion purchase. O'Hanlon asserted that he knew just how Eni had managed it -- the Italians had created a London shell company through which they were funneling money to Uganda's security minister, Amama Mbabazi.
This bit of news really irritated Lanier, who suggested that he was sick and tired of hearing of "corruption scandals" involving Mbabazi. From the cable:
Depending on the outcome of this major deal, we believe it could be time to consider tougher action - to include visa revocation - for senior officials like Mbabazi who are consistently linked to corruption scandals impacting the international activity of U.S. businesses, U.S. foreign assistance goals, and the stability of democratic institutions.
Lanier said in the cable that he planned to confer with the local British High Commission, plus the Irish ambassador, and talk about writing a joint letter to President Yoweri Museveni expressing their dismay "about these very troubling signs of high-level corruption in Uganda's oil sector, and advocating for the open and transparent sale of oil assets and management of future oil revenues."
We do not know if those meetings took place or if the letter was written. However, the deal was overturned just seven weeks later and given to Tullow under the same terms as Eni.
DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images
One of the latest WikiLeaks scoops is that Royal Dutch/Shell managed to infiltrate employees into every important Nigerian ministry, and obtain regular inside intelligence on government doings, as my colleague Beth Dickinson wrote late last night. My question is, if Shell is so capable and has Nigeria so well wired, why does it continue to be the main target of attack by local militants?
This is a company that three weeks ago yet again declared force majeure to protect itself against lawsuits for non-delivery of some 125,000 barrels a day of oil because of militant attacks on its pipeline network in the country. It could take until next month to repair the Escravos-Warri pipeline, the company says.
All in all, Shell produced 629,000 barrels of oil a day last year, which sounds like a lot until you consider that its facilities are capable of producing more than 1 million barrels a day. Much of that difference is accounted for by massive attacks on its installations. In 2008, Shell also had a bad year, with militants attacking and shutting down its flagship 200,000-barrel-a day Bonga oil platform. Two years before that, Shell threatened to pull out of the Niger Delta entirely after a spate of attacks on its installations resulted in numerous deaths and kidnappings.
This is not meant to be snarky. But is the Nigerian government all that important in this case? Given the stakes, one does wonder if Shell is putting as much effort into infiltrating the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the group responsible for much of the mayhem. A five-year-old story by Michael Peel, the Financial Times' former Nigeria correspondent, reported that militants and others were stealing somewhere between 275,000 barrels a day and 685,000 barrels a day of oil from Shell and other pipelines, at the time worth between $1.5 billion and $4 billion a year. They were spending much of that money on weapons -- which in their business counts as reinvestment into future attacks.
DAVE CLARK/AFP/Getty Images
The latest WikiLeaks document dump is decidedly Africa-centric, and among other things includes a sizeable stack of cables from the U.S. embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe. One of them, an account a diamond-smuggling operation involving several top government officials, would have a decent shot at be optioned in Hollywood.
First, the background: Zimbabwe's economy has more or less vanished over the past decade, but the Mugabe regime does have one thing going for it: diamonds. In 2006, a huge diamond field called Marange was discovered in eastern Zimbabwe, prompting a mad dash for the riches. A British company called African Consolidated Resources, taking over a claim that had belonged to diamond giant DeBeers, opened large-scale mining operations, only to be forcibly evicted by Mugabe's government, which took over the diamond field in 2007. The national mining company attempted to run things there for a little while, but eventually excavation was ceded to a small army of independent hand-panning prospectors, giving rise to a lawless, Wild West environment; the Zimbabwean military was reported to have gunned down illegal miners from helicopters in its efforts to gain control over the chaos.
The Marange diamond operation has been a stone in the shoe of the international community ever since. The Kimberley Process, the international gem-trade-governing body that certifies exporters in an effort to control the trade in blood diamonds, has accused the Zimbabwean government of committing various human rights abuses at the Marange mines, and eventually stopped certifying the diamonds mined there. Mugabe, in turn, has blasted the Kimberly Process as illegitimate, and continued to export diamonds without the group's stamp of approval (he has found plenty of buyers in China and India). The whole affair has led to some soul-searching about the means the international community has chosen to regulate the diamond industry; an International Crisis Group report in November suggested it was time to "rethink" the Kimberley process, since the Zimbabwean trade had demonstrated so many gaping holes in it.
It was in this context that Andrew Cranswick, CEO of the recently ousted African Consolidated Resources, met with U.S. embassy officials in November 2008 to spill the dirt, so to speak, on who was cashing in on the diamond field -- including many officials of the government that was nominally trying to bring the situation to heel. (At the time, Zimbabwean diamonds were still Kimberley-certified -- but the Marange exports were being sold on the black market.) Cranswick is of course hardly a disinterested party here, so caveat emptor; "it is clear," the cable -- signed by U.S. Ambassador James McGee -- notes, "that Cranswick is a businessman trying to find any pressure point he can through which to leverage his own claim. At the same time, he sheds light on an industry that is enriching many of the same old corrupt Zimbabwean elite -- and causing violence and deaths that so far have received little attention."
Indeed, the account of how the Zimbabwean diamond trade worked is pretty interesting reading. First there are the principals: Eleven Zimbabweans including Mugabe's wife, prime minister, and minister of mines and mining development, plus the local governor. (The cable notes that the embassy's own inquiry yielded a similar list of names.) Then there's the pipeline: Once they were sold to "a mix of Belgians, Israelis, Lebanese (the largest contingent), Russians, and South Africans," the low-grade diamonds were smuggled into Dubai and traded in an economic free-trade zone there, while gem-quality stones found their way to Belgium, Israel, or South Africa.
Back on the diamond field, meanwhile, things were slipping ever deeper into chaos, as prospectors from half a dozen other African countries flocked to Marange for a cut of the action, and efforts to control them "led to hundreds and possibly thousands of homicides." This was known at the time, but still, the details here are engrossing:
In response to aggressive police action, diggers began arming themselves with handguns and in some cases automatic weapons. They also formed loose gangs in an attempt to protect themselves as well as "claimed" areas. Cranswick said that some members of the police and army have deserted in order to join the digging, and they typically brought their firearms with them. Some former police even still wear their uniforms as they search for diamonds.
John Moore/Getty Images
If you want to make some enemies in Nigeria, just say you're from Shell -- especially after Wednesday's WikiLeaks release. Cables from 2009 and 2010 indicate that the oil company -- the firm with the longest history and the most tarnished reputation in Nigeria -- has infiltrated government ministries, speaks of its Nigerian colleagues as amateurs, and seems to have U.S. diplomatic help in pushing its agenda through the national assembly.
Shell has been operating in Nigeria since 1936, and over the decades, it has been the most prominent international oil company operating in the resource-rich Niger Delta. Its mishaps are almost as old, but things took a particular turn for the worse in the early 1990s, when Shell was allegedly complicit in the government assasination of local environmental activists who were protesting the oil pollution in their communities. Shell was kicked out of those communities and only recently let back in.
Yet in a series of cables discussing Nigeria's Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), an effort at sector-wide reform that has been held up in the assembly since 2008, it becomes clear just how much influence Shell still wields.
Shell -- and, according to the cables, all international oil companies operating in Nigeria -- are adamantly opposed to the legislation, as it stands to "reduce the corporation's [Shell's] overall value in Nigeria." As such, Shell told the U.S. ambassador that the company and its peers would be reaching out to diplomats from the United States, Britain, and Denmark to "convey points on the bill to GON [government of Nigeria] policymakers," a Feb. 10, 2009 cable recounts. In a meeting in October 2009, the U.S. ambassador asks "what the Embassy could do to help" with the congressional committee working on the bill. The ambassador also reminds Shell Managing Director Ann Pickard "that the U.S., U.K., Dutch and French Embassies had already made a joint call on [Nigerian national oil company] NNPC General Managing Director Dr. Mohammed Barkindo" regarding the bill. (Nigeria is was the fourth-largest OPEC oil supplier to the United States in September, the most recent month for which data is available.)
But more disquieting is the influence Shell wields within the Nigerian government. Pickard recounts direct meetings with former Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua as well as other top oil officials. This isn't unexpected. But in a meeting between the U.S. ambassador, Pickard points out that Shell is able to keep tabs on the Nigerian government's dealings with other oil partners China and Russia in part because "Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries."
Of course, there are damning revelations about the government of Nigeria's role in the slippery oil business as well. Shell alleges in the February 10 meeting that illegal oil sales go all the way to the top of the govenment: "Oil buyers would pay NNPC GMD Yar'Adua, Chief Economic Advisor Yakubu and the First Lady Turai Yar'Adua large bribes to lift oil."
Still, the revelations about Shell will likely overshadow those pertaining to the Nigerian government -- at least in Nigeria, where corruption in the government is a well-recognized fact. There, the cables will hammer one more nail into Shell's coffin as far as public opinion is concerned. It doesn't help that the company refers to its local colleagues in incredibly demeaning terms. A cable recounting a Feb. 23, 2010, conversation with the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnny Carson, recalls: "Amateur technocrats run the oil and gas sector according to Shell’s Peter Robinson. They believe that they can control the industry via spreadsheets and pushing through the PIB."
For a population that has lived for decades with oil -- to little benefit -- Shell's political obituary writes itself.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
Apart from the BP oil spill last spring, no global energy story has eclipsed the perennial Ukraine-Russia natural gas spat in terms of global attention, drama, nasty accusations, and pure impact -- the relegation of a dozen European countries into the dark and cold. But there has also been mystery, as in, Why does this keep happening? Russia's Vladimir Putin told us it was all a very simple matter of unpaid gas bills, but experts pointed to the role of personal gain and a little-known intermediary company called Rosukrenergo. This company, putatively controlled by a Ukrainian oligarch named Dmitry Firtash, had somehow positioned itself smack in the middle of the natural gas deal, and appeared to be earning some $4 billion a year for the privilege. But what was Rosurkenergo, and who was Dmitry Firtash to get such a deal? Politicians linked them to an alleged organized crime boss, and suspicious experts and journalists resorted to phrases like "shady" and "secretive" to describe this apparent sweetheart deal.
So it was that William Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, was surprised when, uninvited, Firtash elected to walk into the mission on Dec. 8, 2008, and explained himself, according to a cable filed two days later by Taylor and released by WikiLeaks. Provided this incredible opportunity, Taylor came right out with the main question on everyone's mind: What was his relationship with Semyon Mogilevich, an alleged Russian mob boss wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and now under arrest in Russia?
As the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal report, the answer to the question provides fascinating firsthand insight into the way business is really done in Ukraine and the region as a whole. In a nutshell, Mogilevich had indeed given his blessing to Firtash's foray into Ukrainian business, but that did not mean they were business partners, Firtash said. Instead, he went on, he was simply observing "the law of the streets." From the cable:
Firtash answered that many Westerners do not understand what Ukraine was like after the break up of the Soviet Union, adding that when a government cannot rule effectively, the country is ruled by ‘the laws of the streets.' He noted that it was impossible to approach a government official for any reason without also meeting with an organized crime member at the same time. Firtash acknowledged that he needed, and received, permission from Mogilevich when he established various businesses, but he denied any close relationship to him.
Firtash's bottom line was that he did not deny having links to those associated with organized crime. Instead, he argued that he was forced into dealing with organized crime members including Mogilevich or he would never have been able to build a business. If he needed a permit from the government, for example, he would invariably need permission from the appropriate ‘businessman' who worked with the government official who issued that particular permit. He also claimed that although he knows several businessmen who are linked to organized crime, including members of the Solntsevo Brotherhood, he was not implicated in their alleged illegal dealings. He maintained that the era of the ‘law of the street' had passed and businesses could now be run legitimately in Ukraine.
Firtash was just warming up. He stayed in Taylor's office for two and a half hours. Much of the time, he was pouring scorn on Yulia Timoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister. But he also seemed intent on polishing up his own image.
Among the most literary of the diplomatic cables released this week by WikiLeaks come from the U.S. embassy in Kazakhstan. Of those, most interesting for me is the unusual, realtime window into the emotion, the ambition and the palpable anger embedded in the struggle for control of the country's oil and the power that goes with it in this nascent petrostate. Front and center on stage are among the biggest oilfields in the world -- Tengiz, Kashagan, and Karachaganak -- in addition to Chevron and Shell, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and his powerful son-in-law, the princely Timur Kulibayev.
The takeaway: Not much has changed since Richard II.
One main pawn in the dramas is Maksat Idenov, a super-competent administrator who was put in charge of the Kazakh oil company KazMunaiGas, or KMG, but who is exposed in a pair of cables to be slow to grasp political reality: Nazarbayev obviously had flattered Idenov by telling him that his job was to administer the state's crown jewels -- its oilfields. And Idenov -- willfully ignoring the history of Nazarbayev conveying just such nonsense to one foolish minister after another over the last couple of decades in order to keep the trains running on time, while in fact his trusted son-in-law, Kulibayev, actually ran things -- had chosen to believe him.
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