Georgia's domestically produced Lazika armored vehicle
During last year's election campaign, leader of the Georgian Dream coalition Bidzina Ivanishvili expressed skepticism about President Mikheil Saakashvili's drive to create an indigenous defense industry. Ivanishvili wasn't the only one -- as EurasiaNet's Molly Corso reported last year, "Many analysts say the development of Tbilisi’s defense industries won’t do much to make Georgia more secure in a potential conflict against a military power like Russia. They see it mostly as an exercise in national pride." That impression was bolstered by the splashy PR efforts exerted to roll out domestically produced armored personnel carriers and drones (the latter of which turned out to not be especially homegrown, borrowing very heavily from an Estonian production).
During a speech on Tuesday, Saakashvili alluded to plans of the new government to scotch defense production, Civil.ge reported:
“It will be a huge mistake if Georgia says no to production of military hardware,” President Saakashvili said, adding that now it was no time for pre-election rhetoric and saying that armored and infantry fighting vehicles produced by [state-owned defense manufacturer] Delta were “bluff” – a reference to remarks of PM Bidzina Ivanishvili who during his pre-election campaign voiced skepticism over Delta’s potential.
But now that the campaign is over and Ivanishvili is prime minister, his government appears to be interested in keeping Georgia's defense industry on the path that the previous government forged. In response to Saakashvili's comments, Ivanishvili's defense ministry appointees say that there is no need to fret:
Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Turkey have agreed to create a "joint armed forces of Turkic-language countries," the four countries decided at a "constitutive conference of the Association of Eurasian Law Enforcement Organs with Military Status" on January 23 in Baku.
Few details were offered about what exactly this new force would entail. Given that the officials at the conference were from law enforcement agencies (Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry, Turkey's Gendarmerie, Kyrgyzstan's "internal police"), the phrase "joint armed forces" seems a bit grandiose, but that's what they're calling it. What will be the function of this unit? Will Kyrgyz police operate in Turkey, or vice versa? And is Mongolian really a Turkic language?
The one concrete thing that seems to have been decided is that the symbol of the new unit will be a horse. Still, it's an intriguing development: most of the energy around Turkic unity in the 1990s has dissipated, and now talk of inter-Turkic unity is relegated mostly to the cultural sphere. So a Turkic armed unit of any sort would break some ground. And if the Tatars join, then we'll really have some news...
UPDATE: Both Turkey and Kyrgyzstan are denying that this actually happened. The dreams of the pan-Turkicists dashed again...
Transparency International, the corruption-monitoring organization, has issued two new reports looking in particular at corruption in the military world, and it will come as no surprise to learn that The Bug Pit's coverage area fares poorly.
One report (pdf) examines corruption in government defense institutions (e.g., defense ministries and armed forces). The second (also pdf) looks at corruption in the defense industry. In both reports, countries and companies are placed in six categories, A to F, where A represents a "very low" potential for corruption and F means a "critical" risk of corruption.
Not every country in the region is surveyed, but among those which are, China, Georgia, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey all fall in the D ("high risk") category, while Afghanistan, Iran, and Uzbekistan are in the E ("very high risk") list. On the list of companies, Turkey's Aselsan and Russia's Gorky Automobile Plant are in the E group, while everything else, including all other Russian, Chinese, and Turkish companies surveyed, are in the F group. In a region where you have to celebrate small victories, it is perhaps worth noting that in the F group of countries, not a single Eurasian country joins the rogue's gallery that includes Eritrea, Syria, and Yemen.
The list of countries surveyed is somewhat disappointing: both Armenia and Azerbaijan have gone on some pretty aggressive weapons buying sprees in recent years (much more so than Uzbekistan, for example), so it would have been worth looking at those. Though, of course, there is nothing to suggest that their results would be any better than those of their neighbors.
Russia and Tajikistan have come to an agreement on one of the sticking points in their deal to extend the lease of Russia's largest military base in Central Asia, reports Tajikistan's minister of energy and industry Gul Sherali. As part of that deal, Russia agreed to duty-free fuel shipments to Tajikistan, but wanted a guarantee that the discounted fuel wouldn't be reexported. Tajikistan had objected, but now has agreed to Moscow's terms:
Tajikistan's Minister of Energy and Industries Gul Sherali told journalists that the two countries expect to sign an agreement on duty free oil product imports during Russian First Vice-Premier Igor Shuvalov's planned visit to Dushanbe in February, according to Asia Plus.
When the deal is signed, Russia will export 1m tonnes of oil products to Tajikistan. This is around three times the 370,000 tonnes of Tajikistan - which has experienced severe fuel shortages - imported in 2012....
[A] provision banning the re-export of oil products from Russia to third countries has been a sticking point in negotiations.
Moscow insists on the clause because of the high level of fuel smuggling in south Central Asia and the risk of fuel delivered to Tajikistan being sold on to third countries such as Afghanistan. Dushanbe had previously objected to the clause, with Tajik officials saying they would be unable to guarantee that gasoline from Russia will not be re-exported.
In addition, the agreement will take effect immediately after signing, which Tajikistan wanted, rather than 60 days after, which Russia wanted.
There was no word on the other main stumbling block, how to implement the new, looser regulations on labor migrants from Tajikistan to Russia.
Azerbaijan is using international aviation law to justify its threats to shoot down aircraft using the allegedly soon-to-open airport in Nagorno Karabakh, the territory that Azerbaijan lost to Armenians two decades ago. But are they interpreting the law correctly? I asked an aviation lawyer with experience in the Caucasus, whose response, essentially, was "not really." The entire response is at the bottom of this post; it's very lengthy but worthwhile if you're interested in how the law might apply here. (The lawyer asked not to be identified.)
In short, the Chicago Convention is the act that regulates international aviation; both Armenia and Azerbaijan are signatories, and it is what Azerbaijan has used in public justifications of the policy to shoot down aircraft in its airspace. After the Soviet Union shot down a Korean Airlines passenger jet in 1983, the convention was amended to more precisely deal with civilian aircraft violating another country's airspace. As the lawyer explains, in this case Azerbaijan would have to make a positive identification that this is a military flight before shooting it down:
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake meets Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev January 16 in Bishkek.
The U.S.'s top diplomat dealing with Central Asia, Robert Blake, visited Kyrgyzstan last week and if we are to believe Press.kg, all over Bishkek, "even in schools and kindergartens, for three days they are saying 'Blake is coming! Blake is coming!'" Journalistic hyperbole aside, this was a highly anticipated visit, as it seems that negotiations over the U.S.'s Manas air base are starting in earnest. Before Blake left, he told Voice of America's Russian service that he would be discussing extending the lease for the base, which is now scheduled to expire in 2014. "Manas has a huge significance for the U.S. from the point of view of logistics," he said.
In Bishkek, Blake met with President Almazbek Atambayev and other officials, and while of course the details of the discussions were not divulged, Blake did make an interesting statement to the press after his meetings. He was asked if the U.S. might use the newly established French transit center in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, and he didn't say no. After it's determined what sort of U.S. troop presence there will be in Afghanistan after 2014, the U.S. will assess what sort of facilities it needs in Central Asia, he said:
Once those important decisions [on troop presence in Afghanistan] are made, then we’ll be in a better position to plan for ourselves what kind of facilities we might need either in Afghanistan or in the wider region. Again, I don’t want to speculate on the future of what those might be.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets his Tajikistani counterpart, Hamrokhon Zarifi, in Dushanbe on January 17.
The presidents of Tajikistan and Russia signed an agreement in October to extend the presence of the Russian military base in Tajikistan for another 30 years. But Tajikistan is dragging its feet on the ratification of the deal, waiting first for Russia to carry out its part of the deal, to supply duty-free petroleum products and to loosen restrictions on labor migrants, according to a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant. The Kremlin wanted all of these issues to be dealt with all at the same time, and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov just finished a visit to Dushanbe, where he attempted to iron out these issues. From Kommersant:
On the question of liberalizing the migration regime the two sides agreed that citizens of Tajikistan would be able to stay on Russian territory for 15 days without registration and to receive permission to work for a period of three years. However, as a source in the Russian delegation explained to Kommersant, before softening the regime, Moscow would like Tajikistan to somehow regulate the stream of its labor migrants, for example sending them through a special organization. The authorities in Tajikistan, though, insist that the preferential regime take effect immediately...
On the question of duty-free deliveries of Russian gas and oil products to Tajikistan, the conflict is over reexport. Moscow is against Tajikistan reexporting Russian fuel to third countries. Dushanbe is not ready to give that kind of guarantee.
According to Kommersant's source, Russia is willing to deal: "We're ready to accomodate Tajikistan even on the two disputed questions -- but only if this brings this process [on the base] to an end."
When it comes to democratization, the Caucasus and Central Asia are headed in different directions. Countries and territories in the Caucasus received better grades on political and civil rights over the past year, while Central Asia reinforced its reputation as one of the more repressive places in the world, according to an annual survey compiled by the watchdog group Freedom House.
After last week's post about Azerbaijan threatening to shoot down flights to the soon-to-open airport in Nagorno-Karabakh, a number of Azerbaijanis wrote in to argue that Azerbaijan would be fully in its rights to do so. One of them, Adil Baguirov, co-founder and member of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Azeris Network, agreed to a short email interview. It's printed, in its entirety, below.
The Bug Pit: Do you believe Azerbaijan would have a legal right to shoot down civilian aircraft going to the Karabakh airport?
Adil Baguirov: By definition, as well as from the standpoint of law and even logic, there can be no civil aircraft that would be determined, in a non-emergency situation, to land at an airport in the Armenia-occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Any and all aircraft that willingly tries to fly into, and land in, the Armenia-occupied territories of Azerbaijan, such as into the Khojaly airport (a.k.a. Stepanakert airport, or Khankendi airport) is not a civilian aircraft, but a military aircraft that can be carrying military cargo and personnel, and thus can be legally shot down. That entire airspace over the occupied territories has been a publicly declared Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) since 1992.
Uzbekistan's president Islam Karimov delivered his annual Army Day message on January 11, and along with the predictable encomia to the country's armed forces, Karimov made a few interesting statements vis-a-vis how he sees Uzbekistan's geopolitics. (Speech translated from Russian by BBC Monitoring)
As he has frequently, Karimov says that the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan will pose a threat to Uzbekistan:
In the current difficult circumstances, the international community is particularly concerned about the danger of the spread of nuclear technology and weapons of mass destruction as well as about growing confrontation, political and religious radicalism and extremism, and the ongoing conflicts in the immediate vicinity of our borders; in the first place, tension is growing in connection with the forthcoming withdrawal of ISAF from Afghanistan before and after 2014.
But this is an interesting addition:
The situation is seriously being exacerbated by rivalry of external forces in the region. Serious challenges and threats are emerging due to the intensification of activities by armed gangs and subversive and terrorist groups in border areas, as well as because of social and economic problems, political and interethnic conflicts that could lead to destabilization of the military-political situation.
It's not clear what he means here by "rivalry of external forces," but my best guess is that it has to do with Russia's plans to give a huge military aid package to Kyrgyzstan, and a somewhat more modest one to Tajikistan, with the intention of countering what it sees as U.S. influence in Uzbekistan.