A model of the ship Dearsan is building for Turkmenistan. (photo: Cem Devrim Yaylali)
Turkmenistan is buying eight new well armed naval vessels from Turkey, marking a substantial increase in capability for the country's nascent navy.
The ships will be built by Dearsan, the Turkish shipyard which had already been contracted by Turkmenistan for two fast patrol boats. The eight new ships will be of the same size as the two previous ships, but better armed. Each will be equipped with four anti-ship missiles, two remote-controlled MANPADS-sized surface-to-air missile launchers, a 40 mm main gun, a six-barreled anti-submarine mortar, two remote-controlled 12.7 mm guns and two remote-controlled 25 mm guns.
This is according to Cem Devrim Yaylali, who blogs at Bosphorus Naval News. Yaylali spoke to a Dearsan representative at the recent IDEF defense expo in Istanbul, and took a photo of the model that Dearsan was presenting. And he was generous enough to pass along the information and photo to The Bug Pit.
Turkmenistan had already been reported to be acquiring five missile boats from Russia, in addition to the two Dearsan fast patrol boats.
I asked Dearsan for confirmation and more information, but didn't hear back. That is not surprising: they have been very quiet about their previous deals with Turkmenistan, no doubt at Ashgabat's request.
Georgia and Azerbaijan have been publicly cooperating a lot lately, with presidential meetings and news of co-producing military jets and armored personnel carriers. That military cooperation, in particular, is projected to grow, writes Azerbaijani analyst Zaur Shiriyev. In a two-part series in Today's Zaman, Shiriyev looks at some of the details of the increasing cooperation, in particular in the military-industrial sphere. Shiriyev traces the increased cooperation to the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia:
[S]ince 2008, new opportunities have arisen. Prior to 2008, Baku had long demanded that Tbilisi stop letting Armenia repair its battle tanks and other armored techniques at a Russian munitions factory in Tbilisi. Once Georgia cut ties with Moscow and agreed, high level ministry of defense visits from Azerbaijan to Georgia commenced and both sides reached a compromise. This stimulated the development of their defense industry cooperation.
An Iskander-M on parade in Moscow in 2010. (photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9K720_Iskander)
Russia has deployed an advanced new missile system to its base in Armenia,amid deteriorating relations with Armenia's rival, Azerbaijan. A source in Armenia's Defense Ministry confirmed to RFE/RL's Armenian service the deployment of "several" Iskander-M systems.
The Iskander-M is a relatively new Russian mobile (truck-mounted) theater ballistic missile system, comparable to the infamous Scud but with a longer range (400 km) and more accurate.
The Iskanders will be stationed at Russia's base in Gyumri, so it's not clear whether or not they would be a factor in any war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory they both claim but which Armenian forces control, Nagorno Karabakh. It's impossible not to see the deployment in the light of the recent chill in Azerbaijan-Russia relations, including the apparent cancellation of fighter aircraft deliveries. Emil Sanamyan, a keen observer of Armenia-Azerbaijan defense issues and Washington editor of the Armenian Reporter, tells The Bug Pit that "I see it as an effort to build up deterrence against the war in Nagorno Karabakh and also to increase the Russian footprint in the Caucasus, particularly in light of the closure of the Gabala radar." [Gabala, recall, was the Russian radar that Azerbaijan hosted until the two sides failed to agree on an extension of the terms.]
It's also the case that Russia is upgrading its equipment across the board, so this may just be part of a regular update with no geopolitical implications. But you can bet that in Baku they are looking closely at this.
The U.S. State Department released its annual "Country Reports on Terrorism," which purports to summarize and analyze the "terrorist" threats around the world. Here is the report's summary of Central Asia in 2012:
Despite the absence of major terrorist incidents on their territory, governments in the five Central Asian states were concerned about the possibility of a growing threat connected to changes in the international force presence in Afghanistan in 2014. While some sought to reduce their countries’ vulnerability to the perceived terrorist threat, the effectiveness of their efforts was in some cases undercut by failure to distinguish clearly between terrorism on one hand and political opposition, or non-traditional religious practices, on the other.
On the occasion of last year's report, Myles Smith wrote on EurasiaNet that "For the most part, the report simply lists what authorities describe as terrorist attacks and as anti-terrorist operations, but uses qualifying terms – 'reportedly'; 'potentially' – that make it clear State is as in the dark on the nature of the events as the rest of us." A year later, there's really nothing to add to that analysis. But it's worth noting that, if the U.S. is spending increasing amounts of money, and making counter-terror assistance an increasingly large part of U.S. activity in the area, it might behoove Washington to be a little clearer about what exactly it is that this money and diplomatic effort are being directed at.
Looking at the individual country listings is instructive. Here is Tajikistan's summary:
The Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, for much of its 800 miles as open as this. (photo: The Bug Pit)
Russia's Central Asia security bloc held a summit in Kyrgyzstan this week, and the main item on the agenda appeared to be the ostensible danger of increased tension in the region as a result of the U.S./NATO pullout from Afghanistan, which is supposed to start next year. But the outcome of the summit subtly highlighted how the alliance's members -- Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan -- have differing agendas vis-a-vis regional security.
At the summit, the organization reportedly decided to "step up control" on the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, which would be the weak link in any security cordon between Afghanistan and the ex-Soviet world. What that means is unclear, though: Russia has been pushing Tajikistan to allow it to again police that border, as it did until 2005. But Tajikistan has been fairly adamant that it doesn't want the Russians to come back. Russia's ambassador to Tajikistan told Reuters a couple of weeks ago that Moscow wants to bring back its border troops to Tajikistan, though such a deployment would "of course" have to be agreed upon by Tajikistan, as well. Tajikistan's government has been notably silent on the issue lately, so it's not clear whether they might be mulling a change of policy and allowing Russian border troops again.
Along with this, Russia is continuing its alarmist rhetoric about the dire consequences of the U.S. pullout in 2014, reports RIA Novosti:
When Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili announced earlier this month that he intended for Georgia to get a NATO Membership Action Plan by the end of next year, it seemed like he was engaging in a bit of geopolitical wishful thinking similar to that of his political rival, President Mikheil Saakashvili. NATO MAP -- which would put Georgia solidly on the road of becoming a full member -- has been Saakashvili's holy grail, but the goal has only seemed to recede over the past few years. But Caucasus analyst Michael Cecire suggests that Ivanishvili's government is in fact making the kind of reforms that will get Georgia into NATO. In a piece in The National Interest, he notes that Georgia's high level of defense spending, substantial contribution to the war in Afghanistan and successful elections last year make Georgia seem a strong candidate. But of course, the weakest element of Georgia's case for NATO membership has always been political, related to the complications of its relations with Russia. But Ivanishvili's government has made key steps toward mitigating that problem, Cecire writes.
[T]he new government has made overtures to Russia and embarked on a military-reform program in an effort to reduce the prospect of another war and bolster its case for NATO membership. Recognizing that the often bellicose tone towards Moscow struck by the previous United National Movement (UNM) government had done little to advance Tbilisi’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, the Georgian Dream government is pushing to normalize ties with Russia.
But Cecire notes that what is less often written about is how the defense ministry, now led by Irakli Alasania, has carried out important democratic reforms:
Azerbaijan doesn't have aspirations to join either NATO or the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a top government official said on a visit to Germany. "We envision our future security model within the framework of the Nonaligned Movement,” said Ali Hasanov, head of the presidential department for socio-political issues, said at a forum dedicated to “Azerbaijan’s European Path: Achievements and Potentialities.” Hasanov added: “Therefore Azerbaijan will neither be a member of NATO nor the CSTO, while cooperating with both.”
“It does not mean that Azerbaijan will not or can not change its choice. The choice can change anytime. Azerbaijan’s national interest is the decisive factor, if the national security interests require that it is necessary to join NATO, then it will be so. If national interests require reconsidering Azerbaijan’s participation in CSTO, this issue will be reconsidered. Our security, energy, economic, political and social interests arise from and are based on the needs, interests of the Azerbaijani people,” he said.
Given that Azerbaijan hasn't been doing anything to indicate that it intends to join either alliance, it's not exactly news that Hasanov said this. But it's an interesting statement in the context of Azerbaijan's recent rocky relations with Russia. President Ilham Aliyev has been palling around with his Georgian counterpart and Kremlin bugaboo Mikheil Saakashvili, and there has been talk of an "emerging alliance" between Georgia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. And that was before the great Eurovision scandal.
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov meets NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during the former's visit to Brussels in 2011. (photo: NATO)
NATO is opening a liaison office in Tashkent -- but don't read too much geopolitical significance into the move. A number of Russian-media outlets have reported the move, seeing in it yet another piece of evidence that Uzbekistan is moving away from Russia (leaving the Collective Security Treaty Organization) and toward the West (cooperating with the U.S. on military transit to and from Afghanistan, getting increasing military aid from Washington).
But a NATO official tells The Bug Pit that this is simply a regular rotation of its officials, in this case from Astana to Tashkent. And it will coordinate all the alliance's activities in Central Asia:
The NATO Liaison Officer’s mandate is to further strengthen relations, dialogue and practical co-operation with all Partner states in the region. The NATO Liaison Officer has previously been based in Astana, Kazakhstan.
As part of a regular regional rotation process and following an agreement with the government of Uzbekistan, the NATO Liaison Officer in Central Asia will soon (in June-July 2013) open a new office in Tashkent. From there he will also cover Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
The office will have the status of a diplomatic mission and be headed by a national of a NATO member state. A small number of staff will support the work of the NATO Liaison Officer. In addition to working with the governments of the respective Partner states with a view to strengthening long-term bilateral co-operation, the NATO Liaison Officer will also support the Alliance’s public diplomacy activities as well as co-ordination with other international actors in the region.
Tashkent news/analysis website UzMetronom says the NATO move isn't a big deal -- yet.
The "black box" flight recorder from the U.S. Air Force jet that crashed in Kyrgyzstan has been found, and the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan have reached an agreement on the sensitive issue of sharing access to the information contained therein.
The black box was discovered May 16, but was only reported by the Manas air base authorities this week. The press release from Manas alluded to the potentially controversial issue of who gets access to the data and discusses the compromise reached:
Officials from the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic have verified the item, taken photographic evidence, and sealed the component for delivery to a decoding facility. The Government Commission of the Kyrgyz Republic responsible to investigate this accident consented to send the component to the Air Force Safety Center in the United States for decoding to ensure both complete data extraction and the continued flight safety for the Boeing 707 fleet, which is of mutual concern to both the Kyrgyz Republic and the United States. The Government of the Kyrgyz Republic will receive a copy of the analysis for their investigation.
The United States Air Force Safety Investigation Board thanks the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic Special Commission for their continued cooperation as it proceeds with its investigations.
Recall that earlier, Kyrgyz authorities said that they may hand over the recorder to Moscow, because they don't have the technology to decode it. That obviously was going to be unacceptable to the Americans.
Kyrgyzstan MP Akram Amirjanov looks out a window of a KC-135 Stratotanker during an air refueling demonstration over Kyrgyzstan in 2012. (photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brett Clashman)
Kyrgyzstan's government has declared that it is canceling the current agreement that it has with the U.S. on the Manas air base the Americans operate in that country. But it's not clear, given that the agreement is scheduled to expire next year anyway, what import the announcement has, and it is probably of greater political than legal significance. And the U.S. State Department reiterates that it isn't giving up yet.
On its website, the Kyrgyzstan government announced that as of July 11, 2014, the agreement it has with the U.S. will be "repudiated." But that's when the agreement, reached in 2009 for a five-year period, expires.
Kyrgyzstan's president, Almazbek Atambayev, consistently says that he wants the U.S. to leave Manas in 2014. He said that again today, explaining that "the government has already made its decision and confirmed legislation about the end of the term of the agreement...All that's left is for the parliament to accept this law... I am deeply convinced a civilian airport should not have a military base."
Whether this is his final decision or a bargaining point is anyone's guess. The U.S. clearly hopes to extend its presence beyond July of 2014, and in a statement to The Bug Pit, a State Department spokesperson downplayed Bishkek's announcement. "Our understanding is this text is a draft of a possible law. Therefore, I’m not going to speculate on hypothetical next steps," the official said. "This does not change our existing agreements or timeline with the Kyrgyz Government." The U.S. "remains in close contact" with Kyrgyzstan, the official added.