Ceremony of the launch of rocket-artillery ship "Kazakhstan" in Aktau
Kazakhstan has formally launched its first warship in the Caspian Sea, the rocket-artillery ship "Kazakhstan", with a ceremony in Aktau, the country's main naval base, on October 18.
Kazakhstan's defense minister, Adilbek Dzhaksybekov, said at the ceremony that the Caspian is "becoming a strategic zone of global significance.":
"The government is taking measures to create here a self-sufficient group of armed forces, equipped with up-to-date weapons and technology, capable of defending the military security of the Caspian region in all spheres -- in the water, land and air."
Dzhaksybekov reiterated that Kazakhstan is building two more ships of the same type as "Kazakhstan," which underwent three months of testing in the Caspian this summer before formally entering service, reported CaspioNet (which has a video of the opening ceremony).
Georgia passed the litmus test of holding successful parliamentary elections, and so NATO will seek to take "steps forward" in the alliance's relationship with the country, said James Appathurai, NATO’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, on a visit to Tbilisi Thursday. Appathurai met with incoming Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, as well as Giga Bokeria, secretary of the National Security Council and Grigol Vashadze, acting Foreign Minister in the outgoing government. Reports Civil.ge:
He said that ongoing democratic transfer of power following the elections “is the sign and a demonstration of Georgia becoming a normal country.” He also said that this change was also made possible because of reforms ongoing in Georgia over the years.
“The Secretary General communicated this both to President Saakashvili and Mr. Ivanishvili that elections were and are a litmus test and a very important part of this test has been passed,” Appathurai said while speaking at a news conference after meeting with Vashadze...
“The Allies have not yet discussed how they wish to characterize either the elections or what will come next… The Allies did say that these elections were an important test; it’s a test, that in my view and I know in Secretary General’s view, is being passed; they will wish to recognize that and then we will see how they characterize whatever steps forward we might envision in the relationship,” he said.
But Appathurai said that it's not yet clear what specific steps NATO might take with respect to Georgia. After his meeting with Appathurai, Ivanishvili called on the alliance to take specific, practical steps:
Armenian Scud-B missiles, on display at a 2011 military parade in Yerevan.
Armenia is capable of attacking Azerbaijan's oil facilities in case of a war, and that it just finished military exercises practicing that scenario. a top Armenian general has said, speaking to a press conference at the conclusion of the exercises:
“We simulated strikes against both army units and military facilities of the probable enemy and … economic facilities that influence, in one way or another, the military capacity of its armed forces,” said Major-General Artak Davtian, head of the operational department at the Armenian army’s General Staff.
“There would be no strikes on the civilian population, we are not planning or playing out such a war scenario,” he told journalists. “We do not plan any strikes on cities. Our targets are military and economic facilities that are essential to a particular state.”
“In particular, I can stress that we modeled several strikes on oil and gas infrastructures, energy carriers that would affect the economy,” Davtian added in a clear reference to oil-rich Azerbaijan.
The exercises took place from October 1-13. According to Radio Azatutyun:
The two-week “strategic” exercises, which drew to a close at the weekend, took place in undisclosed locations in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in a mostly “command-and-staff” format. According to the Armenian military, they involved over 40,000 troops and thousands of pieces of military hardware. The participating personnel included a record-high number of army reservists.
Azerbaijan, naturally, responded quickly. Spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, Colonel Eldar Sabiroglu:
A controversial pick for a top military position is raising the specter of a power struggle in Georgia's defense ministry. Last week, President MIkheil Saakashvili appointed Giorgi Kalandadze, a 32-year-old brigade general, as chief of the joint staff of the armed forces. But Kalandadze appears to be a highly political figure, reports Rezonansi newspaper. He's close to Bacho Akhalaia, the former defense minister who, as interior minister, was fired last month after the prison abuse scandal broke.
This has set up a potential clash with the new defense minister nominee, Irakli Alasania, formerly an ambassador to the United Nations under Saakashvili who then joined the opposition Georgian Dream coalition, which won parliamentary elections October 1. Rezonansi writes (via BBC Monitoring):
"At a time when the president and the [ruling] National Movement say that they will not hamper the arrival of a new [political] force which won the parliamentary election and will enable it to assume power, the appointment of a Bacho Akhalaia team member as chief of the Joint Staff in such a speedy manner came as some contradiction to the above statements and raised certain questions," says Irakli Aladashvili, editor-in-chief of the Arsenali military analytical magazine, in an interview with Rezonansi.
He says he can hardly imagine Alasania's and Kalandadze's cooperation, among others because many of Kalandadze's actions in the capacity of deputy chief of the General Staff, require to be investigated. He believes that in all likelihood, Alasania will nominate his candidate to President Saakashvili and if the president refuses to approve him, this will lead to a conflict between the defence minister and the chief of the Joint Staff.
Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly canceled his visit to Pakistan last week, but ties between the two countries nevertheless appear to be growing as a result of the Kremlin's fear of instability in Afghanistan.
Putin was supposed to be in Pakistan last week for the Dushanbe Four summit, a grouping that includes Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. But he canceled at the last minute; foreign minister Sergey Lavrov went instead and Pakistan's chief of army staff, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, visited Moscow at the same time. And despite Putin's cancellation, analysts in Russia, Pakistan and India all seem to agree that Russian-Pakistani relations are nevertheless destined to get stronger.
Part of this seems to be a very slow post-Cold War geopolitical realignment, and part is motivated by specific worries about Afghanistan. Russia and India have strong relations, especially military-to-military ties, a vestige of the Cold War when India was a Soviet ally and its enemy, Pakistan, was supported by the U.S. But India is now seeking to diversify its relations, including strengthening ties (including in defense) with the U.S. That has led some in Moscow to want to send India a message, said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies and an analyst well connected to the Russian Ministry of Defense, in an interview with Kommersant:
“India remains Moscow’s most important partner in the area of [military-technical cooperation], both in terms of volume and potential. Yet Delhi’s attempts to diversify its supplies of new weapons – increasingly from Western countries – are making Russia flinch. Moscow has explained to Delhi, in no uncertain terms, that it can also diversify its military-technical ties by means of a rapprochement with Pakistan."
Tajikistan's recent military base deal with Russia raised some eyebrows, especially since an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin crowed that they got the 30-year extension "almost for free." There was a lot of skeptical reaction in Tajikistan's blogosphere, as Global Voices reported. One sample:
Joking in front of media before any deals had been announced, Putin addressed Tajikistan's president (as quoted in Radio Ozodi): "I always knew that you were a wise person. You invited us on your birthday, enticed us, one could say, because you can't refuse anything on someone's birthday. Now we will have to sign anything you ask us to."
Reacting to Putin's joke, blogger Shukufa described this statement as an example of “oriental diplomacy”. She wrote: "What Rahmon should learn from Putin is diplomacy. It is spectacular how Putin today enticed Rahmon to sign the base deal on Russia's terms, while enabling [the Tajik leader] to save face and even claim that the terms had been dictated by Tajikistan."
But Tajikistan's opposition politicians aren't particularly opposed to the deal. The country's most significant opposition figure, Muhiddin Kabiri of the Islamic Renaissance Party said the deal was the lesser evil that could be expected. He said in principle he's against the presence of foreign military bases in Tajikistan...
"But I see the signing of the agreement on the prolongation of the Russian base as less harmful than the presence of bases of other governments in our country, as Russia already has more than 100 years of military presence in Tajikistan."
The opening ceremony of the CSTO peacekeeping exercise, Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012, in Kazakhstan.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization has begun what it calls its first-ever peacekeeping exercise, in Kazakhstan. According to the CSTO, the exercise will work on standard peacekeeping tasks like separating the parties to a conflict and ensuring compliance to a cease fire. But the scenario of the exercise seems a bit more active than that: "According to the scenario, a crisis situation arises connected with the activity of international extremists and terrorist organizations and conflict between ethnic groups living in the country." And a Kazakhstani military spokesperson is a bit more detailed: "People portraying terrorists will attack a military base checkpoint and retreat to a village, after which the troops will respond to free the village."
In any event, about 950 troops are taking part, the majority (535) from Kazakhstan, 160 from Russia, 50 from Kyrgyzstan and small contingents from Armenia, Belarus, and Tajikistan. This exercise, called "Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012," follows closely on the heels of another CSTO exercise in Armenia. But this one was (ostensibly) about peacekeeping, and observers from the United Nations, with whom the CSTO has agreed to cooperate on peacekeeping, were present.
Deputy General Secretary of the CSTO Valeriy Semerikov said at the opening ceremony that "the opening of the exercise is the beginning of the arrangement of national peacekeeping contingents into a single structure -- comprising the collective peacekeeping force of the CSTO."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, visiting Dushanbe, has finalized an agreement with his Tajikistan counterpart Emomali Rahmon to extend the lease of Russia's military base there for another 30 years. That's a bit of a compromise on Russia's part: they had been seeking 49 years. But Tajikistan compromised too: instead of getting rent for the base, which Rahmon had sought, Russia will offer an aid package and allow more labor migrants from Tajikistan into Russia, Reuters reports.
A high-ranking source in Tajikistan's government, who requested anonymity, said a package of deals had been prepared for signing by Putin and Rakhmon. These would include better terms for Tajik migrant workers in Russia, he said....
The Tajik government source said deals prepared for signing on Friday also included construction of a hydroelectric power station and the removal of import duties on Russian light oil products used in Tajikistan.
There will be some payment, though: a "symbolic sum."
"This base is needed by us, and is needed by Tajikistan," Putin's foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, said.
Ushakov said Russia would pay a symbolic sum to extend its lease, which had been due to expire after a decade on Jan. 1, 2014.
Regnum.ru reports that the deal also includes some Russian aid to modernize Tajikistan's armed forces.
The news of the agreement contradicts the statement of a top-ranking Russian general, who said less than a week ago that the two sides would continue negotiating for another six months.
Armenia has ratified a protocol that would allow Russia a veto over any foreign military installations in its country, but not without some grumbling. An agreement reached last year by the Collective Security Treaty Organization allows any CSTO member to have a say in whether another member can host a foreign military base. This week, Armenia's parliament ratified that agreement, but with some lawmakers complaining that it infringed on the country's sovereignty, and the parliament's second-largest bloc abstaining from the vote, reports ArmeniaNow:
On October 4, the Parliament ratified the Protocol on the Location of Military Installations in Collective Security Treaty Organization (OSCE) Member Countries that was signed still in December 2011 and under which Armenia is not entitled to host military forces or other infrastructure of other states without the permission of the CSTO...
Opposition Heritage faction MP Alexander Arzumanyan, who represents the Free Democrats party and served as Armenia’s minister of foreign affairs in the 1990s, said during the debate in the National Assembly that the Protocol limits Armenia’s sovereign rights and humiliates the nation’s dignity. In the end, only five lawmakers in the 131-member body, including Arzumanyan, voted against the ratification. The second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, Prosperous Armenia [which holds 37 seats], opted out of the vote.
The future foreign policy of Georgia's government under its new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is the subject of much speculation, especially in Washington, Moscow and Brussels. While Ivanishvili repeatedly vowed to continue Georgia's road to Euro-Atlantic integration and continue the Georgian military's deployment in Afghanistan, President Mikheil Saakashvili tried to paint Ivanishvili as a puppet of Moscow.
Ivanishvili's first post-victory press conference -- the one where he demanded Saakashvili's resignation -- didn't seem to go so well. But partners in Washington and Brussels had to be happy with what they heard. Ivanishvili promised that his first trip abroad would be to the U.S., and reiterated his strong support for NATO membership. His full comments on foreign policy don't seem to have been reported anywhere (in English) except for on the twitter feed of Georgian journalist Avto Koridze. They're worth reading (cleaned up a bit from twitterese).
"I think Russia's position of irritation about Georgia's integration in NATO was deepened by Saakashvili. I know that Georgia's integration in NATO is not very pleasant for Russia, but I don't think it is a strategic issue for Russia. I think it is possible with correct diplomacy to convince Russia that Georgia's integration in NATO is not a threat.... The Baltic countries are an example of NATO integration and good relations with Russia. We will not change our strategy of NATO integration for anything."