In discussions of Eurasian security, "2014" has become a byword for a turning point in the region. WIth the planned pullout of U.S. and NATO combat troops from Afghanistan, Central Asia (and to a lesser extent the Caucasus) is entering an uncertain future. Predicting the future is obviously a futile endeavor, but for the sake of discussion, here's what The Bug Pit expects to be covering over the next 12 months:
1. Nagorno Karabakh. This is a no-brainer. There were some positive signs toward the end of 2013, with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan meeting for the first time in two years. Nevertheless, the cross-border skirmishes continued, and the large forces that have made things between the two countries so tense -- like Azerbaijan's rapid military buildup and each country's dehumanization of the people on the other side of the border -- have not abated. So the renewal of conflict seems only a matter of time.
2. The Pamirs. After Tajikistan's central government suffered a humiliating defeat in its attempt to bring the region under its control in the July 2012 military operation in Khorog, it has been the conventional wisdom that the government will eventually try again. Now the presidential elections have passed, and tensions have risen again.
3. The Ferghana Valley. This is probably the most underreported security story in the region, but there has been a steady stream of tense incidents in this remote area between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. David Trilling did a good roundup of the year's activity on the Kyrgzstan-Tajikistan border, and Kyrgyzstan brought in the new year by accusing Tajikistan of massing armored vehicles on the border (Dushanbe denied the report).
1. The expansion of the CSTO. The Collective Security Treaty Organization is the military component of Russia's renewed efforts to expand its influence into its former Soviet republics. It's still not clear what the CSTO actually DOES, but at least on paper it continues to expand, getting closer to fielding rapid-reaction forces and a joint air force. And it could have an impact on any of the above conflict scenarios as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia are CSTO members, and Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are not.
2. Russian pressure on Georgia. Georgia enjoyed a bit of a respite from Russian pressure after the election victories of Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition and the sidelining of Russian bugaboo Mikheil Saakashvili. But as Georgia's new leadership has made clear that it intends to continue its process of accession to NATO, the Kremlin has again ratcheted up its rhetoric and constructed provocative "border" fences on the de-facto South Ossetia boundary. Meanwhile, Georgia just announced plans to rearm with primarily Western military equipment. This seems unlikely to result again in conflict, but there will be a lot of interesting dynamics between Russia, Georgia, and Western countries as Georgia continues to determine its geopolitical place in the world.
3. Azerbaijan's isolation. This seems to be the underreported geopolitical development in the region. Its problems with Armenia are well known, but over 2013 its relations deteriorated with a number of other countries, as well. There have been a number of sources of tension with Iran, from border skirmishes to "terror" plots to Caspian Sea militarization. The U.S. has been increasingly critical of Azerbaijani government repression. Russia engaged in a brief flirtation with Baku but then it became clear that was only to make Armenia jealous; then Russia explicitly said it would fight Azerbaijan in a conflict over Karabakh. And even "big brother" Turkey has been making apparently serious overtures toward Armenia, raising questions about how long Ankara intends to continue effectively subcontracting out its Armenia policy to Baku.
In addition to all of the above, there is obviously the pullout from Afghanistan, and the resulting impact on security in Central Asia and U.S. policy toward the region. Will there be "spillover" of insecurity from Afghanistan to Central Asia? Will the U.S. give Central Asian countries its leftover military equipment from Afghanistan? Will the U.S. departure from the U.S. air base at Manas change its relationship with Kyrgyzstan? My guess is that the security situation won't change much, and that while the question of the U.S. is an interesting one (especially for Americans) it is relatively insignificant to how things actually develop in the region.
It's also worth noting that I sketched out this post on a long bus trip without internet, and then when I looked at my year-end post from a year ago, there were a lot of similarities. Karabakh and the Pamirs were the top potential flashpoints a year ago, too, and Georgia's geopolitical balancing act, potential Central Asian succession crises and the CSTO were all mentioned. While neither Karabakh nor the Pamirs blew up, they do seem closer today to conflict than they were 12 months ago. And Georgia and the CSTO did prove to be interesting stories in 2013; they will probably be even more so in 2014.
Disagree with any of those assessments, or think something is missing? Reply on twitter. In any event, 2014 promises to be an eventful year. Thanks for continuing to read!