France has formally ended its military presence in Tajikistan after 13 years of operations supporting French troops in Afghanistan.
At a ceremony October 28, the French flag was lowered at the Dushanbe airport, where since 2001 the French military had operated since 2001. The small base (actually a part of the Dushanbe's civilian international airport) hosted around 200 French troops at a time, working on supply and logistics for their compatriots in Afghanistan. From 2005 to 2007 it also hosted French fighter jets used for operations in Afghanistan. Over its lifespan it facilitated the transit of about 89,000 soldiers and carried out 11,000 airlift missions, according to the French Ministry of Defense.
The withdrawl is of course connected with the completion of the international combat mission in Afghanistan, which formally ends at the end of this year. As of October 6, France only had 90 soldiers remaining in Afghanistan, down from 4,000 in 2009.
The large majority of French troops actually left last year, and what was left was just a small skeleton crew working on resurfacing the runways, which was part of the deal by which the Tajikistan government agreed to allow the French presence.
Airbus has a contract to sell military helicopters to Uzbekistan but it is in peril because of a dispute over export regulations between the two main partners, France and Germany.
The deal for the helicopter had not been previously reported, and the information emerged during a conference in Berlin. It seems that Germany has many more reservations about selling weaponry to countries with bad human rights practices than does France. From Bloomberg:
Delivery of 14 Airbus military helicopters to Uzbekistan is being held up after Germany blocked a permit to sell a slip ring needed in the flyer’s optical system, Airbus Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders told executives and reporters in Berlin yesterday. Blocking the sale of a “sub-sub component” is “grotesque,” said Enders, adding that he’s considering shifting helicopter development to France from Germany.
A GM-400 air defense radar, recently purchased by Kazakhstan. (photo: ThalesRaytheonSystems)
During its big defense expo last month, Kazakhstan announced that it is buying air defense radars from French-American company ThalesRaytheonSystems.
Air defense radars aren't the sexiest piece of military hardware, but this was an interesting move given Kazakhstan's large dependence on Russia for air defense. Russia and Kazakhstan are in the process of setting up a joint air defense system under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization; in May, Kazakhstan's senate ratified the deal. And as part of this arrangement, Russia gave Kazakhstan several S-300 air defense systems in January. Other CSTO partners Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are in various stages of joining the system as well. “Such cooperation greatly enhances the defense potential of Russia and its partners, and contributes to strengthening peace and stability in Eurasia,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said last year.
Fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who has been on the run from police in Kazakhstan and Britain, has been captured in the south of France, according to a report in the Financial Times.
Ablyazov was arrested on July 31 by French special forces near the billionaires’ playground of Cannes, the FT quoted an unnamed family lawyer as saying. It did not specify on what charges Ablyazov had been detained: Kazakhstan has been pursuing him for alleged financial crimes that Ablyazov denies, and he also has a case to answer in Britain, where he escaped a jail sentence for contempt of court last year by going underground.
Ablyazov formerly chaired Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, which he also owned through an undeclared holding until it was forcibly nationalized in 2009. Ablyazov fled to London, where he was sued by his former bank for allegedly defrauding it of some $6 billion.
After years of legal wrangling, Ablyazov – who accuses Astana of pursuing him for political reasons and has asylum in the United Kingdom – fled to an unknown destination when the London High Court ordered him jailed for “deliberate and brazen” deception (concealing assets he had been ordered to disclose in the fraud case). Ablyazov was later debarred from fighting the case and the courts ordered his assets sold to compensate BTA Bank.
French military logisticians at the Dushanbe airport. (photo: http://www.defense.gouv.fr/)
The small French air detachment in Dushanbe is leaving Tajikistan, as France carries out its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Operational Transport Group started pulling out on April 15, and will complete its withdrawal from the airport by July. A small engineering unit working on the resurfacing of the airport's runway will remain until next year, according to a statement from the French Ministry of Defense.
The small base has operated since 2002. (And small means small: 50 meters by 250 meters, as EurasiaNet's David Trilling noted in a 2009 photo essay on the detachment.) It has hosted between 170 and 230 French soldiers who work on supply and logistics for their compatriots in Afghanistan, and occasionally French multirole fighter jets used for operations in Afghanistan.
The French departure from Tajikistan is, not surprisingly, the result of the French disengagement from Afghanistan, said Florent de Saint Victor, a French military blogger, in an email interview with The Bug Pit. "The closure is linked to the end of the last step for the French troops withdrawal from Afghanistan (there are still some French troops - less than 800 troops - for logistics and training mission with the Afghan National Army)," de Saint Victor said.
France’s Foreign Minister should have used a trip to Uzbekistan this weekend to demand an artist be allowed the right to travel abroad, an international group of artists urged last week.
In January, Vyacheslav Akhunov was barred from leaving Uzbekistan. He has been invited to perform at the prestigious Venice Biennale this June.
In an open letter last week to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who visited Uzbekistan on March 2 to talk trade and development with President Islam Karimov, artists from the United States, Russia and other countries called on France’s top diplomat to "urge the government of Uzbekistan to honor the rights and freedoms of artist Akhunov, who represents the modern independent art of Uzbekistan abroad."
There is no indication Fabius responded to the request or discussed Akhunov’s situation with Karimov during his visit.
Akhunov has taken part in approximately 200 international exhibitions. But in January "authorities banned him from going abroad, explaining that his creative tours are 'inadvisable.' This response points to a political motive in the decision," the artists said in their letter, which was posted on February 27.
After sashaying to a folk dance with a dictator in Russia's North Caucasus, French cinema legend Gérard Depardieu may next appear in Azerbaijan for a film . . . and, perhaps, more dancing.
The larger-than-life French actor, who often goes on junkets to ex-Soviet spots these days, plans a “big movie” about sports in the young republic of Azerbaijan, said French film producer Arnau Frille, Russian and Azerbaijani media report.
Storyline details are not known, but, no doubt, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, head of Azerbaijan's 2015 European Olympics preparation committee, and President Ilham Aliyev, head of its Olympics committee, could make a few suggestions.
Nazarbayev during his November, 2012 visit to Paris, during which he signed a military transit agreement.
Kazakhstan has agreed to allow France to ship its military equipment from Afghanistan via a new transit hub at Shymkent, in southern Kazakhstan. President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed the agreement on Wednesday, and the plan is to fly the (non-lethal) equipment from Kabul to Shymkent, where it will be loaded on to trains and shipped via Russia to the Baltic Sea. As part of the deal, France has agreed to renovate some of the facilities in Shymkent. From Tengrinewws.kz:
France will fund construction of the needed infrastructure for the temporary bond storage and the area of enhanced customs control for the transshipment operations in Shymkent airport. France will also allocate funds for procurement or rent of loading equipment and vehicles for the railroad spur, construction of additional roads with hard surfacing of around 400 meters, protection of freights in the temporary storage and en route on Kazakhstan’s railroad.
Earlier Kazakhstan Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Aleksey Volkov, who presented the draft law in the Parliament, said that the agreement on transit will help turn Shymkent into a beneficial international transport hub.
A couple of points to consider: Kazakhstan has been pushing the U.S. to use Aktau, on the Caspian Sea, in a similar fashion. So this deal raises the question, why hasn't Kazakhstan been pushing the U.S. to use Shymkent, or did Kazakhstan want France to use Aktau and the French wanted Shymkent instead?
France is finding it difficult these days to get its troops to and from the fight in Afghanistan. In an interview with L'Orient-Le Jour, the French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet says that withdrawing troops from Afghanistan via Uzbekistan and the rest of the Northern Distribution Network is "too costly." From RFE/RL, which cited the interview:
Longuet said the route was "not optimal" for withdrawing NATO forces but conceded the better option -- via Pakistan -- was currently more complicated due to "spoiled relations" between NATO countries, particularly the U.S., and the Pakistani government.
That chill in ties followed a November 26 NATO air strike that hit Pakistani troops on Pakistan's side of the Afghan border, killing 26 soldiers.
The interview doesn't give any indication of how France intends to deal with that dilemma. France, of course, just announced that it is withdrawing from Afghanistan a year earlier than planned, after four of its troops were killed by a rogue Afghanistan government soldier. That, too, could be pinned on the Americans; the killer allegedly attacked the French because he was angry about a video showing U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban members.
France's sale of sophisticated warships to Russia has inspired reams of commentary speculating on what threat this might pose to NATO members or other Western allies, in particular Georgia. (Most recently, Vlad Socor wrote last week in the Eurasia Daily Monitor that the sale was motivated by "mercantilism... bypassing NATO and trumping basic notions of allied strategy and solidarity.")
Now, a U.S. Navy officer has published his master's thesis (pdf) on the purchase, which Dmitry Gorenburg says "may be the definitive work on the subject." The officer, Lieutenant Commander Patrick Thomas Baker, argues that Russia wants the ship not for any particular combat capability, but as the linchpin of a larger naval modernization strategy:
[T]he Mistral sale is driven by Russia‘s need to acquire modern command and control and shipbuilding technologies, rather than increase its amphibious assault capabilities per se.
Russia's naval chief, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy -- who is notorious for arguing that with the Mistral, Russia would have been able to defeat Georgia "in 40 minutes, not 26 hours" -- was interested in the ship since before the Georgia war, which Baker says "suggests that a desire to acquire a new system preceded identifying a required capability and developing a system to fulfill that capability.":