Troops from Central Asia, Armenia, and Belarus are conducting military exercises with Russia near the borders of Estonia and Latvia.
The exercises are being held under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led political-military bloc. It's the CSTO's annual exercise, but this year's location -- in the Pskov region, about 40 kilometers from the Estonian border, and only a little farther to Latvia -- is an intriguing one considering the ongoing tension between Russia and the Eastern European NATO members.
During the drills, the CSTO's rapid reaction forces "will conduct a joint operation to localize an armed conflict with the aim of restoring territorial integrity and defending constitutional order in a simulated CSTO member state, working out tasks for destroying irregular armed formations," the organization said in a statement.
The CSTO also seemed to try to play down the potentially provocative scenario. "The exercise plan is based on a simulated military-political situation, which is not connected to reality but was developed only for working out training issues related to deploying operational contingents of the rapid reaction force to the Eastern European region of collective security," the statement continued.
"We're conducting exercises in the Eastern European region. One of the main goals of the exercises is to get our forces, within literally hours, to arrive in any given region of collective security," added Valeriy Semerikov, the CSTO's deputy secretary general, speaking to reporters.
An Su-25 aircraft under repair at Tbilaviastroy. Might the company soon be producing new, completely non-Russian versions of the plane? (photo: Delta)
Georgia is developing a version of the Su-25 ground attack aircraft that replaces all the Russian-origin parts with European or Israeli substitutes.
The effort is being undertaken by the state defense company Tbilaviastroy, which under Soviet times was the center of Su-25 production and now carries out repair and renovations of the aircraft.
Hostile relations between Tbilisi and Moscow obviously hamstrung Georgia's work on the Su-25, which relied heavily on Russian-produced parts and subsystems. And the situation got especially bad after the 2008 war between the two countries: "the plant had simply no other way out after approximately 2008, when Moscow imposed a total ban on exports of any products to Georgia of a military or dual use," said Irakli Aladashvili, a reporter for Georgian newspaper Kviris Palitra.
Georgia had tried various routes out of this situation, such as proposing joint production with Azerbaijan and cooperating with Israel. But now, Aladashvili reports, citing company director Nodar Beridze, Tbilaviastroy is going all the way and creating a version of the Su-25 without any Russian parts whatsoever. The new aircraft would be called the Ge-31, or "Bora."
The Bora's fuselage and wings would be manufactured in Georgia, while engines, electronic systems, and so on will be procured in France, Italy, and the UK, according to Beridze. The Su-25 is still a popular aircraft around the world, so it could potentially have a large export market.
Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering's three vehicles slated for production: the Arlan, Nomad, and Barys (from top to bottom) (photo:Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering)
Kazakhstan will start assembling armored vehicles as part of a joint venture with a South African company soon, with a factory scheduled to be constructed in Astana by the end of this year, local media have reported. The vehicles, slated both for local use and for export, are the latest products in Kazakhstan's burgeoning defense industry.
The construction facility, in Astana's Zhana Kala free trade zone, will be completed by the end of this year, according to a report on Kazakhstan's Radio Totchka, citing a Ministry of Defense official. It's not yet known when the first vehicles will be produced, but at the start they will be 30 percent locally sourced, and by 2018 that figure will rise to 50 percent, the report adds.
"The facility will crank out up to 360 vehicles a year beginning in late 2015. Kazakhstan said the plant should meet the bulk of its military-vehicle needs. Plans are for a sizable percentage of the output to be exported," the Astana Times reported earlier this summer.
A Russian Voronezh-DM early-warning radar station in Kaliningrad; Russian military media is reporting that a similar radar could be in the works for Azerbaijan. (photo: MoD Russia)
Russia is planning to set up a radar installation in Azerbaijan in 2017, a television station operated by the Russian Ministry of Defense has reported. It would be Russia's first military installation in Azerbaijan after Baku refused to renew the lease for a previous radar system, at Gabala, in 2012.
The report, on TV Zvezda, details Russia's air defense posture and future plans. Among the future plans are to deploy a Voronezh-DM early-warning radar in Azerbaijan: "Erection of Voronezh stations is continuing, and not only in Russia. There are plans to start construction in Azerbaijan in 2017, in place of the out-of-service "Daryal" radar in Gabala. The new station will be under exclusively Russian control," the report says.
The planned system in Azerbaijan would supplement the existing Voronezh system in Armavir, in Russia's North Caucasus. That radar covers Russia's air borders from "southern Europe to Northern Africa," and the Azerbaijani radar would "cover those regions which the Armavir station can't reach," Zvezda reports.
Azerbaijani government officials have not yet commented on the report. The one Azerbaijani media outlet to have picked it up, haqqin.az, headlined it "Russia is Going to Build a New Military Base in Azerbaijan," somewhat of an exaggeration but one that's suggestive of the political impact this could have.
An S-300PS air defense complex delivered from Russia to Kazakhstan by train. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Russia has donated five air defense complexes to Kazakhstan, a (small) part of a planned joint air defense system shared between Russia and its allies.
Kazakhstan's Ministry of Defense this week announced the delivery of five complexes of the S-300PS air defense system, which arrived by train from Russia to Almaty. The donation was announced first in 2009, then again last January, when Moscow said they would be delivered by the end of 2014.
More significantly, the donation was supposed to be of five divisions of the system, and a division consists of 12 complexes -- so Russia still has 55 more to deliver. The Kazakhstan MoD made no mention of any future deliveries, or the previous announcement, so it's not sure where things stand.
When the donation was announced last year, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoliy Antonov said that with the move "we are strengthening not only Kazakhstan, but the air defense of the CSTO," referring to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led defense bloc that also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. (Armenia has the same system as Kazakhstan was just given, as does Belarus.)
The joint CSTO air defense system has been slow to get off the ground, though several military officials said at the end of last year that while they acknowledged that up to that point it was mainly just talk, now they were getting serious.
Ukrainian air force chief Major General Sergei Drozdov meets Georgia Chief of General Staff Vakhtang Kapanadze in Tbilisi. (photo: Georgia MoD)
Ukraine's new air force chief is on a visit to Tbilisi to learn from his Georgian counterparts' experience fighting with Russia, and to discuss future military cooperation between the two countries.
"The Georgian side will share [with] us [their] experience of 2008," said Major General Sergei Drozdov, appointed last month to head Ukraine's air force, in a statement issued by Georgia's Ministry of Defense. Georgia fought a five-day war with Russia in 2008 over the breakaway territory of South Ossetia. "Unfortunately, we have similar circumstances in the Ukraine. But with joint forces and cooperation we will overcome all obstacles and achieve success." The statement noted that air defense would be one of the priorities.
Not just operational cooperation, but military business ties appeared to be on the agenda. “One of the main goals of the visit of the Ukrainian delegation is to familiarize with the Georgia’s military-industrial complex and potential in order to plan joint projects for the future. This will give us possibility to improve Georgian and Ukrainian Armed Forces and their defence capabilities”, said Major General Vakhtang Kapanadze, Georgia's chief of General Staff, after meeting Drozdov.
Ukraine has supplied Georgia with the bulk of its air defense systems: according to the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the only air defense purchases Georgia made from 2000-2014 were from Ukraine, which included Sa-8 ("Osa") and Sa-11 ("Buk") systems.
Screenshots of RFE/RL video of the Russian military trial of Valeriy Permyakov, August 12, on charges of desertion and taking weapons from the base.
A Russian soldier accused of murdering seven members of an Armenian family faced his first trial this week, a Russian military tribunal which tried him on charges of desertion and taking weapons from the base where he was stationed.
It took the tribunal only a day to convict the soldier, Valeriy Permyakov, on those charges and convict him to ten years in a high-security penal colony. Permyakov still faces murder charges which, under a political compromise between Yerevan and Moscow, will be prosecuted by an Armenian court later.
Permyakov did not testify in the August 12 trial, held at Russia's 102nd military base in Armenia's second city, Gyumri. However, his pretrial testimony was read out in court, giving for the first time his account of the events of January 12.
In his pre-trial testimony, Permyakov admitted his guilt and said his intention on leaving the base was only to break into a house, steal money and valuables and go back home to Russia because he was homesick. However, in the course of the robbery, he got scared and opened fire, he said. The murders, and Russia's response to them, have been a serious point of friction between Armenia and Russia in a period of slowly deteriorating ties between the two allies.
According to Armenian media, Permyakov will remain in prison at the base in Gyumri for the time being. Officials have not yet announced when his trial in Armenian courts may begin, and what will happen with this ten-year sentence in the very likely case he's convicted in that trial remains unclear.
Azerbaijan's ships compete in the inaugural Caspian Cup naval skills competition. (photo: MoD Russia)
The first-ever "Caspian Cup" naval skills competition has ended with Russia, unsurprisingly, the winner. But it was Azerbaijan's performance that garnered the most headlines, for all the wrong reasons.
In the final tally, Russia won with 65 points, Kazakhstan came in second with 48, and Azerbaijan brought up the rear with 33 points. The other two Caspian naval states, Iran and Turkmenistan, chose not to compete.
Reporting on the event was spotty, and it's not entirely clear what happened. But from what can be gleaned from the reporting out there, at the first stage of the contest Azerbaijan's entry, Patrol Cutter G-122, had some kind of problem. "Not everything worked out for the Azerbaijani team, their equipment and weapons let them down," said Dmitry Gorbatenko, the chief judge of the competition, on August 6. "They will change the ship and on August 7 Azerbaijan will be able to perform and show off their mastery in this contest."
The same day, though, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry responded, saying that "Russian websites" were spreading information "that does not fully reflect the reality of the situation."
"The press service of the Ministry of Defense officially reports that minor problems were quickly solved on the scene by our sailors," the ministry said in a statement. "At the current time the warships taking part in the competition are successfully continuing to compete in the crew skills and equipment capabilities [competitions]. Contrary to the published information, our soldiers have successfully carried out all tasks which have been assigned up to now, have destroyed all sea and air targets, achieving an excellent result."
The Didgori armored personnel carrier, produced by Georgia's state-run defense manufacturer Delta. (photo: Delta)
Georgia's defense minister has publicly criticized the country's state-owned arms manufacturer, saying it needs closer oversight and calling into question the purpose of its highest-profile product, a domestically produced armored personnel carrier.
The strong statement suggests a change in state policy toward the company, known as the Delta State Military Scientific-Technical Center. The development of a domestic defense industry was a big priority of the former government of Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement Party. And while the Georgian Dream coalition, which ultimately supplanted the UNM, at first campaigned against Delta as a vanity project and a waste of government resources. But GD ended up changing tack when it took power and continued to promote the center, which is now developing a variety of weaponry, mainly armored vehicles.
But now it appears that the Georgian Dream government may again be rethinking Delta. "It's obvious that something isn't right here. We started discussions with the prime minister on this issue, and we're going to resolve it quickly," Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli said in an interview with Georgian television station Rustavi 2 (and available in Russian translation here). "There are unacceptable delays going on at Delta, production is not being delivered on time, and it has several unclear relationships with various private companies. In my opinion the center, as a government-funded company, needs to be oriented toward profit. So its 100 percent financing by the state budget is incomprehensible."
Two Russian soldiers accused of killing a taxi driver in Tajikistan have gone on trial at a military court inside the base where the men were deployed.
The taxi driver, Rahimjon Teshaboev, was killed in August and ihs body was discovered near a lake with his throat slashed. Two Russian soldiers, Fyodor Basimov and Ildar Sakhapov, were arrested and charged with the crime. Shortly thereafter the two Russians were transferred to Moscow for psychological tests, which Teshaboev's relatives feared was a pretext for letting the men escape justice in Tajikistan.
The case then dropped out of the news until this week, when it emerged that the two men were on trial in Tajikistan, albeit at a military court at Russia's 201st military base, where they had been serving.
The trial is starting at a time of particular controversy in Tajikistan over the legal status of the Russian base and its soldiers, after a street brawl last month involving some drunk Russian soldiers in their underwear caused a local scandal. As is often the case with foreign military bases around the world, the story became a touchstone for discussion about Tajikistan's sovereignty vis-a-vis its massive ally.
It's also an interesting comparison to a far larger controversy in Armenia over a Russian soldier's murder of seven members of a local family. That case got a lot more public attention than the murder in Tajikistan in large part because of the circumstances: the Armenian family was killed randomly and one of the victims was a baby, while in Tajikistan the victim knew the alleged killers, who reportedly owed him money.