Russia's allies need to get ready for peacekeeping missions because there are so many "hot spots" around the world, the head of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization said Saturday. But he added that he didn't see a need for the other CSTO members to get involved militarily in Syria -- yet.
"The situation is getting worse in every direction," said Nikolay Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the CSTO. "And in many existing 'hot spots' in the world it's today already clear that peacekeeping forces are needed. So working out practical military tasks of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces of the CSTO in military exercises is preparation for possible operations. I don't think they will be in the near future but in any case the CSTO needs to be ready to use its peacekeeping forces." Bordyuzha was speaking in Armenia at the conclusion of exercises of the organization's joint peacekeeping force.
Russian and CSTO officials have consistently said that the alliance will only deploy forces outside the CSTO area with a mandate from the UN Security Council. And it's difficult to fathom a circumstance when such a mandate might be granted, including in the current Syria crisis.
But Bordyuzha curiously seemed to want to leave the door open for the possibility that the other CSTO states -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan -- might somehow get involved in Syria.
After months of speculation, the Electricity Networks of Armenia, the power company whose price-hike touched off massive anti-government protests this summer, reportedly has a new owner — the Tashir Group. The Moscow-based holding company entity is owned by one of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Armenia-born Samvel Karapetian.
The move could have significant benefits for Yerevan. Prior to the sale, the government had pledged it would cover the cost of price increases for many consumers. But now, Karapetian has indicated that he will use his “personal resources” to help the government provide electricity subsidies, media reported.*
In a noteworthy backtrack, education authorities in Kazakhstan have ordered a revision of school textbooks to ensure that they do not show Crimea as a part of Russia.
Mektep, the publishing house that creates history and geography textbooks used in schools in Kazakhstan, sparked a diplomatic row in September when it appeared to endorse the annexation of the peninsula by Russia.
But the Education Ministry said in a painfully worded press release on September 30 that Mektep had erred in how it assembled its facts.
“It was noted that the authors did not apply the entire range of factuality in objectively composing the given material,” the statement said, according to an Interfax report. “The publisher and authors did not fully reflect the position of Kazakhstan or that of the international community in its treatment of the Crimea issue.”
It remains to be seen how the Mektep textbooks will now endeavor to characterize the status of Crimea.
When it issued its protest over the books on September 25, Ukraine’s embassy to Kazakhstan was clear.
The suggestion that Crimea should be part of Russia “contradicts the position of the international community and the leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which has more than once stated its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” the embassy said in its statement.
The reported route of Russian military flights to Syria. (photo: twitter, @cencio4)
New flight-tracking data suggests that Russia is sending military equipment to Syria over the Caspian Sea, taking a lengthy detour to bypass the entire Caucasus isthmus. The circuitous route suggests that Moscow has failed to gain overflight permission from either Georgia or Azerbaijan in its new top foreign policy priority, the intervention in Syria.
The new data was reported by the blog The Aviationist citing the open-source flight-tracking website FlightRadar24. It suggests that Russia sent six Su-34 bomber aircraft to Syria via a route southward to the North Caucasus, veering to the east just north of Grozny and crossing into the airspace over the Caspian Sea north of Makhachkala. It then crosses the Caspian taking a route roughly parallel to the coastline of Azerbaijan, about 50 miles away. It then enters Iranian airspace roughly 50 miles south of the Azerbaijani border, the continues through Iraq before reaching Syria.
The United States had been trying to get countries in between Russia and Syria to block their airspace to Russian military flights, and succeeded in the case of Bulgaria, while Greece confirmed that they had gotten a similar request. If the U.S. has made any such requests to the Caucasus countries it hasn't been announced. Turkey, a firm opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- whom the Russian intervention seeks to prop up -- doesn't allow the flights of its own accord.
Kazakhstan’s diplomatic balancing act over the conflict in Ukraine has been upset by a fresh row about the status of the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine’s embassy in Astana on September 25 addressed a note of protest to Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry over school textbooks that show Crimea — which most of the international community, including Kazakhstan, recognizes as part of Ukraine — as belonging to Russia.
The information in the textbooks “contradicts the position of the international community and the leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which has more than once stated its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” the embassy said in its statement.
Only a handful of countries, including North Korea, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela, have recognized Crimea as part of Russia. Other members of the international community — even usually staunch Moscow allies, like Belarus — insist the territory should be handed back to Ukraine.
Kiev has asked Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry and Education and Science Ministry to work toward “the immediate recall of these textbooks from secondary schools,” the embassy statement said. No response was immediately forthcoming.
The Ukrainian embassy’s contacts with Mektep, the publishing house that put out the offending textbooks, “testified that, unfortunately, a certain part of Kazakhstani society is deeply infected by Russian propaganda,” the statement said.
It urged action to boost Kazakhstan’s information security by restricting broadcasting of Russian television channels, which are beamed into homes all across Kazakhstan and play a large public opinion-forming role.
An influential Russian media figure best known for his calls to burn and bury the heart of gay people killed in accidents has visited Kyrgyzstan with calls for the two countries to sync their approach to spreading information.
Dmitry Kiselyov, head of the Rossiya Segodnya state media holding, has in his position as a prominent television personality cast himself as a bulwark for conservative values against the would-be pernicious influence of the degenerate West.
That and other subjects were on the agenda at a September 22 discussion in Bishkek with the uninspired title: “Informational cooperation between Russia and Kyrgyzstan in the framework of Eurasian integration.”
Reprising a favorite theme, Kiselyov explained how a Eurasian media system might distinguish itself from the West.
“The difference between journalism in the post-Soviet space and the West is that we produce, we don’t reproduce,” he said, nebulously and without elaboration.
Kiselyov dismissed the propagandist label that accompanies his name in most Western news reports.
“I am a journalist, I cover [events] and draw conclusions,” he said.
All Kiselyov’s major talking points at the discussion were Kremlin favorites: the single-sex marriages and double standards of the West, the sins of the Ukrainian government and Russia’s brave struggle for a multipolar world.
The talk was also a promotional push for the five-member Eurasian Economic Union, which Kyrgyzstan joined last month.
After highlighting the perils awaiting nations — such as Ukraine — that “follow the paths of others”, Kiselyov, sanctioned by the West following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine, debated Kyrgyzstan’s own “choice”:
Russian President Vladimir Putin watches the final stage of the Center-2015 military exercise in Orenburg. (photo: Mod Russia)
Nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers have wrapped up the country's biggest military exercise of the year, practicing to "contain" a conflict in Central Asia.
The scenario of the exercise, said Colonel-General Vladimir Rudnitskiy, the commander of Russia's Central Military District, was the "containment of an international armed conflict in the Central Asian strategic direction."
But for an exercise supposedly oriented toward Central Asia, it included very little participation by Russia's Central Asian allies. The Russian Ministry of Defense, in its account of the exercise, repeatedly referred to the participants as "the armed forces of the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization," but the vast majority of the 95,000 soldiers who took part were Russian; the only other participant was Kazakhstan, which sent a handful of units. (The CSTO is a Russia-led military alliance also including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.)
The exercise was called Center-2015, and the Center name has been in the past used for joint CSTO exercises; it's not clear why no other Central Asian states were involved this time.
In one evocative touch, Russian President Vladimir Putin watched the final stage of the exercise from Orenburg. Orenburg is best known as the garrison town from which the Russian empire conquered Central Asia in the 19th century.
As the Shanghai Cooperation Organization wraps up anti-terror exercises in Kyrgyzstan, a senior Russian official has said the group should play a role in fighting ISIS.
The SCO held command-staff exercises in Kyrgyzstan from September 15-17, attended by officials from the anti-terror organizations of member states China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. (In most cases that meant the post-KGB structures like Russia's Federal Security Service and Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security.) "The purpose of these exercises is organizing and carrying out search operations to avoid terrorist attacks in SCO territory,” Kyrgyzstan's SCNS reported.
On Friday, senior SCO officials reviewed the results of the exercise in Tashkent (home to the SCO's Regional Anti-Terror Structure headquarters), and Sergei Smirnov, the deputy head of Russia's Federal Security Service, highlighted the role the organization could play in fighting ISIS.
"Representatives of all the relevant organs of the SCO member states understand the danger to the international community represented by the activities of this state and the damage which it could cause to us," Smirnov said.
A tweet from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on September 2,
The Russian government has published a draft of its agreement with Belarus on establishment of a new air base, to be Russia's first in that country, and some in Belarus are complaining that it sells out their national interest.
The Russian air base is slated to open some time in 2016 near the eastern city of Babruisk. Negotiations over the terms of the base agreement have been going on for the last couple of years, and on September 7 the Russian government published a draft agreement that it said had been "preliminarily worked out" with Belarus.
But when some defense experts in Belarus combed through the 25-page agreement, many of the provisions didn't sit well. Belarus will get no money, and Russia is not limited with respect to the types of weaponry and equipment it can deploy there. Belarusian law enforcement are prohibited from entering the base without permission of the Russian commander.
"Even not taking into account the unfavorable political consequences of the deployment of a Russian air base, this proposed agreement is discriminatory towards Belarus and sets up a neocolonial character of relations between the two countries," the Belarus Security Blog wrote in an analysis.
Interestingly, this agreement is only valid for 15 years. While many of the Belarusian critics said that was an excessively long term, it's actually substantially shorter than recent Russian base agreements with Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, which all will last into the 2040s.
President Alexander Lukashenko may have a hard time accepting the terms of the Russian agreement, said Arseniy Svitskiy, the director of the Minsk Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Research.
Georgian defense officials say they would not welcome a potential request from Russia to use Georgian airspace for military and humanitarian overflights to Syria. “If such a request is made, the position of the Georgian Ministry of Defense . . . will be negative,” the ministry emailed EurasiaNet.org on September 14.
Last week, EurasiaNet.org examined the possibility that US pressure to block Russian flights to Syria via Bulgaria and Greece could prompt Moscow to consider the Caucasus as a possible alternative route for these air shipments. Russia regularly airlifts military supplies to Armenia, where it has an army base, and the two countries, longtime strategic allies, plan to share an air defense system.
Air navigation authorities in both Armenia and neighboring Georgia underlined that Russian military planes currently do not use their countries' airspace for transit to Syria and that, in Georgia’s case, such transit would require the foreign ministry’s consent.
The Georgian foreign ministry only responded to questions on the topic after EurasiaNet.org’s report was published on September 11. “Russia has not been in touch with requests to use Georgian airspace for Syria-bound flights, neither now, nor at any stage of the conflict” in Syria, the ministry stated in a September 14 email.
The ministry noted that Georgia is engaged in a “general dialogue and coordination on security issues with the US, Georgia’s strategic partner,” but said that there has not been any discussion with Washington about Russian flights to Syria.
The US embassy in Tbilisi commented that it has "encouraged our allies and partners to ask tough questions" about Russia's deployment to Syria, but declined to go into details.