While he was the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder advocated constantly for the construction of Nord Stream, an undersea natural gas pipeline that will travel from Russia, along the floor of the Baltic Sea, and end in Germany. It seemed like a great deal for Germany, to get a direct line to Russia’s vast energy wealth, even if Russia was fond of using gas price hikes to force unwanted policies out of consumer countries.
Of course, less than a month after retiring as Chancellor, Schroeder was hired onto the Board of Directors of the Gazprom subsidiary in charge of building the pipeline. He negotiated the deal, then retired and took a corporate position with the firm building it. It stank to high heaven, ethically: when American government officials played with conflicts of interest that large, they get sent to prison. And while Schroeder’s move has been roundly criticized as obviously unethical, he hasn’t suffered any consequences for it.
Now, enter Matt Bryza. He’s long been a figure in Caspian circles, going back at least a decade to President Bush’s National Security Council then as Condoleeza Rice’s pointman on the Caucasus. However, like many in the Bush administration, Bryza was close to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili — and rumors are rampant that he helped nudge the tiny country into war with Russia by hinting the U.S. would support them. In fact, Moscow has been so open about those rumors that they have made it very plain that Bryza would get a cool reception by Russian diplomats. (Bryza has always denied the assertion.)
Still, he was a decent enough choice to be the ambassador to Azerbaijan — even if his appointment was opposed by Armenians angry over his stance on Nagorno-Karabakh and his wife’s Turkish heritage. President Obama was never able to get him confirmed by the Senate, so he eventually appointed Bryza as an interim. His appointment ran out in January.
Yet now, according to Joshua Hersh, Bryza has found new work:
Matthew Bryza, who until last December was President Barack Obama’s appointed ambassador to Azerbaijan, took the job on the board of Turcas Petrol company, which is partly controlled by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic, according to reports in regional newspapers.
So Bryza served as ambassador, then retired to run an oil company partly controlled by the country he served in. Much like Schroeder’s move to Gazprom after retiring, it reeks of a conflict of interest. Hersh mostly quotes Azeri opposition activists who are angry at the move, but it goes deeper than that: Bryza is not the only ambassador to leave his post for lucrative business dealings in the country where he’s served.
Even so, Bryza’s move doesn’t look good. It doesn’t break any laws, but it sure as hell seems fishy.