The United States intelligence community has released its annual "worldwide threat assessment," which for the first time highlights Central Asia's "unclear political succession plans" and Georgia's prosecutions of former government officials. The 27-page report (pdf) contains three paragraphs on the Caucasus and Central Asia, as it has for the last several years. Last year's report was notable for not even mentioning the possibility of "spillover" of instability from Afghanistan, the favorite bugaboo of regional leaders, Russia, and many parts of the U.S. government. This year's report does mention the possibility, but says that still represents a smaller threat than those generated within Central Asia itself. It also somewhat downplays the threat of interstate conflict compared to last year, the recent flareup of violence on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border notwithstanding.
Central Asia continues to host US supply lines that support operations in Afghanistan, and its leaders remain concerned about regional instability after the Coalition drawdown in 2014. Central Asian militants fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan will likely continue to pose a threat, but sources of potential internal instability in Central Asia will probably remain more acute than external threats. Unclear political succession plans, endemic corruption, weak economies, ethnic tensions, and political repression are long-term sources of instability in Central Asia. Relations among the Central Asian states remain tense due to personal rivalries and disputes over water, borders, and energy. However, Central Asian leaders’ focus on internal control reduces the risk of interstate conflict in the region.
The Georgia section is focused on internal issues, and for the first time mentions the wave of prosecutions of former officials, which partisans of the old government call politically motivated (and which briefly imperiled U.S.-Georgia military cooperation). The wording is curious, noting that while the prosecutions are "popular inside Georgia" but that they "have generated concerns of political retribution abroad." Abroad where? The U.S.?
Georgia’s new political leaders have inherited pressing domestic and foreign policy problems amid high public expectations for progress. The economy, which has slowed since the Georgian Dream Coalition was elected in October 2012, will be an area of greatest immediate concern. The new government will also continue to balance a series of high-profile legal cases against former government officials for past abuses. The cases, while popular inside Georgia, have generated concerns of political retribution abroad and risk polarizing Georgian politics. Tensions with Russia have eased over the past year, decreasing the risk of renewed conflict. Progress nonetheless remains unlikely on the core disputes between Tbilisi and Moscow.
The language on Armenia and Azerbaijan is similar to last year's, with a bit more detail added emphasizing how both sides have a reason to avoid conflict:
The standoff between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories will remain a potential flashpoint. Neither side will see advantages in deliberately renewing hostilities, but prospects for peaceful resolution are also dim. Azerbaijan is willing to bide its time and wait for stronger economic growth to enable increased military spending to give it a decisive advantage. Armenia has a strong interest in maintaining the status quo because ethnic Armenians already control the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh and much of the surrounding territory. Nevertheless, the close proximity of opposing military forces and recurring ceasefire violations along the Line of Contact (LOC) continue to pose a risk of miscalculation.
Another interesting change regards Russian foreign and defense policy. While last year's report mentioned Russia's increasing military assertiveness in the post-Soviet space, and its mistrust of U.S. intentions in Afghanistan, this year's has no such statement. Instead, it notes that Russia's military activities abroad are being focused further afield, and are aimed more at prestige than real utility:
The military in the past year has taken an increasingly prominent role in out-of-area operations, most notably in the eastern Mediterranean but also in Latin America, the Arctic, and other regions, a trend that will probably continue. Moscow is negotiating a series of agreements that would give it access to military infrastructure across the globe. These bases are generally intended to support “show the flag” and “presence” operations that do not reflect wartime missions or a significant power projection capability.