By Carroll Colley
The story grabbing most of the headlines in Russia the last two weeks has a racy hook, but it's not the story the international community should be watching. Sure, the criminal trial against feminist/garage band Pussy Riot has its share of political intrigue. But that trial is more about church-state relations than the political repression of the women involved. Criminal charges against opposition leader and blogger extraordinaire Alexey Navalny, however, are far more serious, and they provide a window into the Kremlin's current strategy of zero tolerance for political opponents. If Navalny is convicted and jailed, the opposition would be weakened, but it could well provoke even larger protests and greater political uncertainty.
First, the more colorful case. The state is prosecuting Pussy Riot for the band's performance of a musical rant against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's largest cathedral, and the case exposes the dark underbelly of the Russian judicial system: incompetent prosecutors, questionable witnesses, and a highly politicized judge. Instead of pursuing administrative charges -- which many Russians favor -- the government is throwing down the gauntlet by pursuing a criminal case, though some legal scholars claim that the charges themselves are outside the scope of Russian law.
While a corrupt judicial system creates problems of its own, allegations of incompetence and corruption in Russia's court system are nothing new, and the state's position in this case is more a product of the Putin regime's wish to reward the Orthodox Church's political loyalty than to punish a little-known feminist punk band. Putin, the first Russian ruler since the era of the tsars to be a practicing Orthodox, wants to support one of the political system's most stalwart supporters which called on its members to vote for him in the March presidential election.
The three women face up to seven years in prison for "hooliganism" for performing an "anti-Putin hymn" ("Holy Mother, Drive Putin Out"). After meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron last week in London, Putin said the women have already been punished enough -- they have been held in pre-detention for five months -- and should not be judged too harshly. The use of the legal system to prosecute Pussy Riot may be clumsy-and it has backfired by turning the band into an international cause celebre -- but in the end, it's little more than a colorful footnote to a worrisome trend.
On the other hand, the renewed criminal charges of embezzlement against Navalny (he was previously investigated on similar charges but cleared) should be recognized for what they are -- increased pressure against out-of-system opposition leaders that will grow under a third Putin presidential term.
Navalny has used his blog to wage a successful anti-corruption campaign against the government for several years, making him a major irritant for the ruling elite. He is the face of the opposition movement and has demonstrated that he can send a crowd of protestors into Moscow's streets. Most recently, he exposed that the head of Russia's Investigative Committee -- the Russian equivalent of the FBI -- violated Russian law by owning property in the Czech Republic and holding a Czech residence permit. The Investigative Committee responded quickly with these most recent charges.
Interestingly, Navalny remains free, which suggests that the Kremlin is making him an offer: Stop the anti-government shenanigans or risk 10 years in prison. If his past actions are a good indicator, Navalny won't take this deal; he has been playing this cat-and-mouse game with authorities for some time and has yet to blink. Among the opposition, Navalny appears to be the most charismatic and ambitious figure, one who could possibly rally Russia's disparate opposition movement and mount a credible political career. A potential show trial -- if the standard set with Pussy Riot is to be followed -- and subsequent prison sentence would create yet another political martyr and drastically underscore the authoritarianism of Russia's political dynamic.
If Navalny's case goes to court, he can't expect the leniency that Pussy Riot may ultimately receive. He'll probably get prison time, a verdict that would enrage the opposition (the upper-middle classes in Moscow and a handful of other major cities) and probably provoke greater unrest. But the outcome would be largely supported as a sign of strength by Russia's majority, the working middle and lower classes that support the current system. It will also send yet another signal that the Kremlin's patience with the democratic opposition has reached its limit.
Carroll Colley is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Eurasia practice.
Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images
By Gemma Ferst
The lack of global leadership, what we at Eurasia Group call the G-Zero, has become a common refrain among international thinkers. But while others wring their hands, over in his Ak Orda (White Horde) palace in windswept Astana, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev is planning to do something about it.
In February, he launched G-Global: a bid to hatch a new world order through the exchange of ideas. Styled as an "electronic Bretton Woods," G-Global will disseminate a plan for global reform in May. On hand to provide intellectual firepower is the Eurasian Economic Club, which, bringing together top economists from Tajikistan to Moldova, has already produced a draft.
The road to Utopia could be long, though. Although G-Global boasts 10,000 members from 28 countries, the vast majority (more than 40,000) of the posts on its forum emanate from a single doctoral candidate at Irkutsk State Technical University, formerly the Siberian Mining Institute. None of the 543 participants who signed up in the last month has so far weighed in, suggesting that global traction may still be a ways off.
Nazarbayev, a former metallurgist who has ruled his oil-rich country since Soviet times, has long been something of a blue-sky thinker. The absence of criticism from his citizenry, combined with plenty of petrodollars, has fed an apparently genuine belief that it is his destiny to solve more than just Kazakhstan's problems. Previous schemes include a new, as yet unrealized global currency dubbed the Akmetal and an annual Congress of World Religions in Astana. (Nazarbayev commissioned British architect Norman Foster to design the $58 million Palace of Peace and Reconciliation -- a pyramid housing an opera house in its basement -- just to host the event.) He also came up with the idea of a Eurasian Union, well before Putin took it up again last year.
Nazarbayev cares greatly about how outsiders perceive him. He spends huge sums on Western public relations campaigns and has taken on Tony Blair as an adviser. Indeed, at 71, he is hoping to establish his legacy as an international statesman, peace-builder, and possible Nobel Peace Prize winner.
What G-Global really shows us, though, is what happens when authoritarian states try to innovate. Billed as a platform for free-wheeling discussion, G-Global comes with a code of conduct that is both granular and draconian. Contributors are forbidden to "maliciously non-adhere to the rules of the Russian language," for example, and are instructed to exclude any "political content" from their posts -- a practice that would seem to put the kibosh on serious attempts at revamping global governance.
This same autocratic reflex will hamper Kazakhstan's bid to become one of the world's most competitive economies by 2015. Nazarbayev refers to innovation as a "gigantic leap of the Kazakhstani snow leopard into the future" and has ordered the country's state-owned firms to modernize. But these firms -- even the start-ups -- are ruled with a centralized iron fist. And the government's response to unrest, notably the deadly violence in Zhanaozen last December, is always to tighten the leash.
With G-Global, Nazarbayev wants to "radically widen the number of participants in seeking anti-crisis solutions for the world." But he won't countenance a similar widening of Kazakhstan's own political process (letting the opposition stand in elections would be a start), which is why this particular snow leopard won't be influencing global leaders any time soon.
Gemma Ferst is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Eurasia practice.
MIKHAIL METZEL/AFP/Getty Images
By Yael Levine
On Sept. 16, the Kremlin's latest experiment in "managed democracy" ended in disaster when Russia's third-richest man, Nets owner and oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, made his dramatic exit from the Right Cause party and exposed Russia's behind-the-scenes political dealings. In an abruptly called press conference replete with zingy one-liners, Prokhorov declared that representatives of the president's administration had mounted a raid on Right Cause. Cameras flashed and journalists tweeted as Prokhorov signed and displayed a document ordering the party's executive committee dissolved and its most prominent members fired. Less than a day later, he resigned. But far from auguring change, the hubbub will likely only encourage the Kremlin to consolidate around Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party and forgo building even the façade of a multiparty system.
Right Cause was born in 2008 as the product of three liberal parties that had watched their popular support dwindle to 1 percent or less of the voting population by the end of Putin's presidency. When Prokhorov unexpectedly stepped up to head Right Cause in June, everyone assumed he was part of a Kremlin ploy to reinvigorate the party as an avenue for disaffected liberals to let off steam-harmlessly. As poster boy, Prokhorov's job was merely to provide the funds and cache the party required to mount a respectable campaign for the Duma elections this December.
So it was surprising to many when Prokhorov seemed to take being an opposition leader seriously. A Right Cause manifesto he published last month on the party's website (which has been "in reconstruction" since last week) and on his blog was harshly critical of Russia's authoritarian political system and hollow judicial one. He was likewise insistent about adding Yevgeny Roizman, a controversial anti-drug activist and former Duma deputy that the Kremlin disapproved of, to the party's ranks. And he reportedly planned to organize some sort of tent camp for Right Cause supporters -- a throwback to Ukraine's Orange Revolution and to what is probably Putin's worst nightmare. By the time the party congress came around, the Kremlin, it would seem, had had enough. During the first day of the party congress, a split emerged between the pro-Prokhorov faction (some of whom were literally locked out of the day's meetings) and the anti-Prokhorov faction (who seemed to have been sent expressly to hijack Right Cause).
The height of the drama came when Prokhorov called Vladislav Surkov (Russia's answer to Karl Rove) a puppet-master and said that he blocked real political competition. This affront to Russia's democracy "manager" likely went unnoticed by the bulk of the population, since only a sanitized version aired on television. But those who followed the events closely were among Russia's newspaper- and blog-reading elite -- precisely the constituency Right Cause was designed to placate. They watched as a Kremlin that thought it could have its cake and eat it too was chastened. And the Kremlin itself was surely paying attention as Right Cause, a party it had co-opted for public consumption, morphed into an embarrassment that needed covering up. Shaken by the fiasco, the Kremlin will be careful to limit its electioneering efforts in the run up to the Duma elections and to the presidential race in March to pumping up United Russia.
Yael Levine is a member of Eurasia Group's Eurasia practice.
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images
By Eurasia Group's Eurasia practice
It looks like a relatively calm year for Eurasia, the area encompassing the former Soviet successor states at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. For the most part, the region is politically stable and countries will continue to see slow but steady economic growth. Russia and Kazakhstan face elections in 2012, but both are governed by well entrenched soft-authoritarian regimes. Ukraine is stabilizing, but risks remain in Georgia.
The ruling Putin-Medvedev tandem in Russia continues to govern with a minimum of internal friction, and the risk of social instability that rose following the financial crisis has now receded. Russian politics in 2011 will be defined largely by two events: the State Duma elections, scheduled for December, and the run-up to the presidential election set for March 2012. Russia's regional influence is strong enough that it may be exercised more subtly than in the past. Russia's GDP is expected to grow by 3 percent to 5 percent. Policy will be molded by two competing goals: the populist impulse to increase social and military spending ahead of elections and the finance ministry's push to slash deficits and impose fiscal discipline. To shrink its budget deficit, Russia will turn to international capital markets, raise taxes, and embark on a massive privatization program. In terms of foreign policy, Moscow will work to improve relations with the West, the United States in particular, as part of a general strategy to draw more foreign investment.
In Kazakhstan, aging President Nursultan Nazarbayev remains firmly in charge and is expected to run for reelection in 2012 -- unless a referendum is passed that extends his rule until 2020. But he will eventually need to groom a successor who is acceptable to the country's various elite groups. In the meantime, political and business leaders will throw a few more elbows without destabilizing the current system. Most forecasts put Kazakh growth between 3 percent and 4 percent for 2011. The country will probably follow Russia's lead on trying to shrink its budget deficit, raising taxes on oil and gas producers, and implementing measures to cut spending.
The implementation of IMF-mandated reforms in Ukraine may hurt the popularity of Viktor Yanukovych's government, but the country's perennially turbulent politics promise to stabilize next year. Popular anger could trigger protests against the government in 2011, and this could pose a longer-term threat to stability, particularly if Yanukovych's popularity declines and the opposition is able to regroup. It also presents a risk to the implementation of measures required by Ukraine's IMF loan. Regionally, there is also still a risk of a natural gas crisis between Ukraine and Russia that could affect supplies in 2011. Recently improved ties between Moscow and Kyiv are a major factor in containing the danger.
The major exception to Eurasia's general sense of tranquility is in Georgia, where relations with Russia remain tense. It's possible that another limited military flare-up between the neighbors could occur at some point in 2011. This would have an immediate negative effect on markets and the investment climate and cast a shadow over the rest of the region.
This post was written by analysts in Eurasia Group's Eurasia practice.
DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
By Maria Kuusisto and Seema Desai
Twenty months after the Mumbai terrorist attacks put Indian-Pakistani relations on ice, last week's much-anticipated meeting of the nuclear-armed neighbors' foreign ministers ended without a breakthrough. A contentious press conference held by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna underlined the reality that it will take more than time to heal the wounds inflicted by the attacks and their aftermath.
But beyond the outcome of any one meeting, there are four main obstacles to a stronger relationship. First, there's the ongoing risk of terrorism. Pakistan's foreign minister does not reflect the militant groups based inside his country that would like to launch more attacks on India. (And when he did speak during the press conference that followed last week's meeting, it was to condemn Indian accusations of Pakistani complicity in the Mumbai attacks.) With another attack in the Indian city of Pune in February, Indian security agencies also say they've foiled several planned strikes on high-profile government and commercial targets in large cities.
The terrorist risk will remain high for the foreseeable future, and another attack linked to Pakistan-based groups would trigger public pressure on India's government to respond with military force-with aerial attacks on suspected terrorist camps and infrastructure inside Pakistan, for example. Aware of the risk that escalation could spiral beyond either side's full control, Delhi would work hard to resist these pressures. But Indian leaders won't take military threats off the table for fear of emboldening militant organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that India blames for Mumbai.
There's also a political dimension to the terrorism problem. Under Indian and American pressure, Pakistani security forces briefly detained Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Saeed. In June, a Pakistani court released him. Indian officials continue to insist that progress in Indian-Pakistani relations depends on Pakistan's willingness to bring those responsible for Mumbai to justice. Pakistani officials counter that better relations should have no precondition. And since Pakistan's foreign and security policy is managed by the country's military, not its civilian government, there is little that Pakistani negotiators can credibly promise their Indian counterparts on this issue at this time.
Second, there is Kashmir. This perennial flashpoint, which has triggered three wars between India and Pakistan, is off the negotiating table for the moment. Things had been improving in the region. Local elections last year in Indian-controlled Kashmir featured high voter turnout and little sign of violence. But in recent weeks, clashes between security forces and demonstrators have killed 15 civilians in the provincial capital of Srinagar, and Indian officials have placed the blame squarely on Lashkar-e-Taiba. A military confrontation remains unlikely for the moment, but the unrest makes clear that Kashmiri violence is not a thing of the past.
Third, there is Afghanistan. The Obama administration plans to begin a U.S. withdrawal from the country next year, leaving India and Pakistan at cross-purposes as each prepares for a post-American power vacuum. Pakistan wants an allied government in Kabul, and elements of the Pakistani military and security services are pushing for a power-sharing deal between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of an al Qaeda-linked militant network and Islamabad's traditional regional ally.
Delhi sees this Pakistani maneuvering as a direct threat to Indian national security, since it could allow the Taliban to resume support for terrorism in Kashmir and provide sanctuary for anti-Indian militants. India will look to boost its own influence in Afghanistan through anti-Taliban elements, including the Northern Alliance.
Finally, there is water. India plans to build several hydropower projects on rivers that cross the border to irrigate 80 percent of Pakistan's agricultural land and fuel 50 percent of Pakistan's hydropower capacity. Islamabad worries that India could use hydropower projects to trigger a flood or a drought -- and the economic crisis that either might provoke. This fear reached new heights in August 2008, when India withheld a considerable amount of water from the Chenab River and stored it in a local dam, worsening already serious problems for Pakistan's farming sector. Pakistan claims that India's projects violate a 1960 treaty that governs the use of water resources in the Indus River System. India says they do not.
Given the complexities of their shared history, it's little wonder that Qureshi and Krishna could agree last week on little more than the value of meeting again. That's why, if every journey begins with a single step, Indian and Pakistani diplomats should pack for a long trip.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
By Ana Jelenkovic and Willis Sparks
You may not have heard much about the growing violence in Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished and corruption-plagued former Soviet republic that's home to 5.5 million people and a delicate ethnic balance that has now completely broken down. But the deteriorating security situation and growing ethnic conflict there matters-for the people who live there, for the region, for Russia, and for the United States.
Kyrgyzstan has been in turmoil since April, when a bloody confrontation between an increasingly unpopular government and opposition activists ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who is now in exile in Belarus. A government led by interim president Roza Otunbaeva took power, but it hasn't been able to establish full control in the south of the country, home to most of Bakiyev's supporters and much of the country's Uzbek minority.
There's a long history of ethnic tension in the region -- the current unrest is reminiscent of a 1990 bloody conflict which was resolved with Soviet troops -- and the power vacuum that emerged in the region in the wake of Bakiyev's ouster in April has helped reignite ethnic resentment.
Last weekend, Kyrgyz gangs, began attacking ethnic Uzbeks in house-to-house raids. The interim government was unable to contain the violence, which quickly spiraled out of control. Reports of large-scale rape and murder have drawn the attention of neighboring governments, international institutions, Washington, and Moscow.
Why should the world be watching more closely?
First, what began as thuggery reached ethnic cleansing levels of violence. While the situation appears to have calmed down somewhat after a nasty weekend, violence is likely to continue. Under attack, huge numbers of the country's Uzbeks have fled in fear for their lives. U.N. officials have called on Kyrgyzstan's interim government to provide refugees with safe passage. It remains unclear if state officials can or will do that.
Second, the current violence is starting to look a bit like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: It won't stop until someone stops it. The new Kyrgyz government appears to believe that only Russian soldiers can accomplish that and has called on the Kremlin for help. Though interim leader Otunbaeva today says that international peacekeepers are no longer needed, it is clear that international support is necessary to ensure the safe passage of refugees and the delivery of humanitarian aid to all communities in need.
Third, Russia remains reluctant to wade into a conflict that might turn into a quagmire. But the risks generated by violence so close to Russia's borders and the fear that the country could become a safe haven for anti-Russian militants/terrorists will probably compel Moscow to move forward.
Fourth, to persuade a reluctant Russia, the Kyrgyz foreign minister has now suggested that his government might be willing to revisit a decision to extend the lease on an airbase used by U.S. forces as a vital line of supply for NATO forces in Afghanistan. Moscow holds the cards and could insist that the Americans leave. In what has become typical for the provisional government, individual leaders are sending mixed signals. Otunbaeva, for instance, insists that the lease will be extended, and Russia and the U.S. share an interest in the stability of Afghanistan.
Finally, the governments of the largest of the Central Asia republics-Uzbekistan and energy-rich Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have done well for themselves politically and economically by playing Russia, America and China off one another. If Russian troops enter Kyrgyz territory in large numbers, that delicate balance could be overthrown in Russia's favor. At the very least, the leaders of countries neighboring Kyrgyzstan will have to weigh Russia's capacity for mischief with each decision of regional importance.
Things are looking up for those in Moscow who would like to rebuild Russian influence across former Soviet territory. A brief war with Georgia in August 2008 proved that Russia could assert itself with a minimum of lasting international outcry. The most recent presidential election in Ukraine produced a more Moscow-friendly government in Kiev. Now a Central Asian government is offering the Kremlin concessions in return for an armed intervention in its territory.
Obscure though the players may be, this conflict is one to watch.
Ana Jelenkovic is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Europe and Eurasia practice. Willis Sparks is a global macro analyst.
VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images
By Ian Bremmer
As 2009 draws to a close, Turkey appears high on the list of good-news stories gone bad. Central to the country's political stability and open investment climate over the past several years has been the popularity of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his moderate religious Justice and Development Party. Known by its Turkish acronym AKP, the party first swept to power in 2002. Five years later, the AKP captured nearly 47 percent of the vote in a field that included more than a dozen parties, allowing it to govern without a coalition partner that might have obstructed reform and foreign investment.
But a sluggish economy and high unemployment have pushed the AKP's popularity below 32 percent, and the party finds itself in an increasingly bitter standoff with the country's most determined secularists -- including leading opposition politicians, the military brass, much of the media, and some of the country's most powerful businessmen. Negotiations with the European Commission over the country's bid to join the EU have all but ground to a halt.
Things took another turn for the worse last week, when Turkey's Constitutional Court voted to shutter the country's main Kurdish political party and to ban 37 of its members from politics for the next five years. The verdict has effectively scrapped the AKP's ill-fated "Democratic Opening," an attempt to boost the party's declining popularity with the country's Kurdish minority ahead of elections now scheduled for mid-2011 and to promote the kind of reforms that keep the EU process on track. If the move provokes more violence from alienated Kurds, the AKP could also face tough criticism from nationalists, who will accuse the government of being "soft on terrorism."
The AKP is also feeling pressure from conservative religious circles. The Islamist Felicity Party is picking up support among religious voters who aren't satisfied with the ruling party's commitment to their agenda and who are turned off by a series of corruption scandals involving senior AKP officials.
In other words, the AKP remains the dominant force in Turkish
politics, but its latest actions have antagonized players across the country's
political spectrum. We knew the next elections would provoke all kinds of
tensions between the AKP and its secularist critics, but it's becoming more
likely that the AKP will have to form a coalition government next year, putting
an end to the single-party rule that has provided real momentum behind economic
reform and welcomed much-needed foreign investment in Turkey's future.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
By Ian Bremmer
Most of us don't think much about Somalia, Yemen, or Tajikistan -- not with more colorful problems like Iran, North Korea, and a global recession to worry about. But growing threats to civil order in these less familiar countries could have serious implications for international politics and the global economy.
On the one hand, the term "failed state" is used way too freely these days. Pakistan's civilian government might well implode, but the country's military is the final guarantor of the country's stability. Ukraine's governing institutions have survived years of political disputes among its president, prime minister, and main opposition leader -- and they're likely to withstand a bitterly contested upcoming election. Mexico has endured swine flu, an earthquake, and an intensified drug war this year, but anyone who believes the country is at serious risk of state failure wasn't paying attention this weekend as legislative elections went off without a hitch.
But other states are at genuine risk of total meltdown -- with potentially serious international consequences.
Africa has no shortage of political and social turmoil, but Somalia, which hasn't had a functioning government in nearly two decades, is in a league of its own. Criminal networks control key ports, stoking the surge of piracy off Somali waters and in the neighboring Gulf of Aden, where more than 10 percent of global oil traffic passes. More than 60 ships, including a Saudi supertanker, have been hijacked in the last 18 months.
Onshore, well-armed Islamic militants, with local roots and al Qaeda connections, have filled a political vacuum across the south and center of the country, attracting foreign fighters to join them. A western-backed transitional government and African Union peacekeepers are virtually powerless to stop their advance.
Somalis who want the militants out lack the weapons and the friends to evict them. We can expect more lawlessness, radicalization, suicide bombings (previously unheard of in Somalia), attacks on western targets inside and outside the country, and more piracy. If the government loses control of Mogadishu's port and airport, the country will slip beneath the waves, with serious consequences for the entire region.
Across the Gulf of Aden lies Yemen, where 20 million people live atop very little land and almost no natural resources. They also live next door to Saudi Arabia, which has plenty of both. Yemen isn't yet a failed state, but in recent months, Islamic militants have pushed it much closer to the edge.
Years ago, al Qaeda made a major tactical mistake: It targeted a Saudi government that has more than enough muscle to fight back. Learning from its mistake, the group now appears to be thriving across the southern border in Yemen, which is fast becoming an ideological incubator and a logistical center of operations for Islamic militancy. This plays into a dangerous domestic dynamic. For the past four years, the Yemeni Islamist movement has split between older generation militants who oppose operations inside Yemen (which they consider a needed sanctuary) and a new generation operating via a looser, less formal network of cells in pursuit of domestic jihad. Killing Americans in Iraq remains as attractive as ever, but it's a lot easier to carry out attacks inside Yemen.
The Yemeni government can maintain security in the capital city of Sanaa, but it can't control rural and tribal areas, where an Afghanistan-style dynamic has unfolded: Local tribes are cutting separate security deals with local extremists. Any yet, the Yemeni government's real vulnerability comes from its deep dependence on energy production for revenue, creating a growing risk of militant attack on oil and gas infrastructure. Yemen's natural resource outlook was already bleak. At current levels of exploitation, flows of oil (and water) will slow to a trickle in the next 10-15 years.
Why should the world care about Yemen's stability? Because state collapse would quickly become Saudi Arabia's security problem -- and Saudi security problems matter for every country in the world that imports crude oil. Beyond cross-border terrorist activities, Saudi authorities face a surge in militancy in northern Yemen, which is pushing Yemeni migrants across the border. And if extremist groups can use Yemen as a base for maritime terrorism the way pirates use Somalia, the global shipping industry would suffer serious consequences.
The situation in Tajikistan doesn't look much better. About half its labor force works outside the country, supporting families via remittances and exposing the country to economic volatility elsewhere. In fact, remittances and foreign aid account for about half the country's GDP. More than 60 percent of the population lives in poverty. Nearly 80 percent lack reliable supplies of electricity. Health care and education infrastructure are abysmal.
President Emomali Rakhmon has centralized power by buying off some rivals and throwing others in jail. His government runs largely on political patronage, ensuring that an economic slowdown risks political, as well as economic, consequences. The country's small elite benefits from control of the hard currency produced from aluminum and cotton exports, but the global recession ensures that regular customers are spending less on these products. Tajikistan's aluminum output fell by nearly 17% in the first quarter of 2009. The government tends to ignore economic sectors and geographic areas that have few to exploit. Memories of civil war (1992-1997) have reduced the public's appetite for political protest, but things are getting bad enough that this might change.
Tajikistan matters because it serves as a transit point (and in some cases a source) of flows of drugs and weapons into several more internationally influential countries. It shares a porous 1200 km-long border with Afghanistan that cannot be secured, which could help reinforce militants fighting against US and NATO troops. Drugs and weapons already cross the border into Russia and China and flow across South Asia. State collapse in Tajikistan would destabilize the broader Fergana Valley, with impact on neighboring Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic.
Finally, there might well be spillover effects inside China's Xinjiang province, where about 45 percent of the population is Muslim and where unrest over the weekend reportedly killed at least 140 people. According to the Chinese government, Xinjiang produces 30 percent of China's oil reserves, 34 percent of its natural gas reserves, and 40 percent of its coal reserves- in a country that still draws 70 percent of its energy from coal.
Countries like Somalia, Yemen, and Tajikistan don't often make international headlines. But they have an increasingly dangerous impact on plenty of states that do.
The Call, from Ian Bremmer, uses cutting-edge political science to predict the political future -- and how it will shape the global economy.