After Turkey and Armenia signed historic protocols in 2009 to normalize relations and reopen the border between the two countries, the reconciliation process between the two countries quickly stalled. As my colleague Yigal Schleiffer wrote, "not much longer after they were signed, the agreement was as good as dead, killed off by a combination of Turkish buyer's remorse, Azeri bullying and Armenian naivete." A thorough report on the history of the diplomatic reconciliation process, by David Phillips, a scholar who has long experience working in Turkish-Armenian relations, concluded that the protocols were in fact effectively dead.
But Phillips spoke Tuesday in Washington, and said he is now more optimistic about the protocols' prospects than he was when he finished that report last month. Recent trips to Ankara and Yerevan and conversations with diplomats in both places gave him new reason for hope, and he said he now wanted to "disassociate himself" from the pessimistic conclusion he gave in his report.
Kazakhstan is about to launch its first domestically produced naval vessel, the country has announced. The missile boat, called the "Kazakhstan," was produced at the Zenit shipyards in Uralsk and will be launched into the Caspian by the end of April, according to the Ministry of Defense.
The ship "is designed to destroy surface ships, boats and transports of the enemy on their own and in collaboration with naval strike forces," said an MoD release.
The Kazakhstan will thus become the most powerful ship in the eponymous country's nascent navy, and the first that is really a naval ship, as opposed to a coast guard vessel. By next year, two more ships of the same class are scheduled to be launched as well. Kazakhstan naval officials had earlier said they were planning to buy three corvettes (a somewhat larger ship), as well, from South Korea, but little has been said about that lately.
The ship will have a displacement of 240 tons, has a top speed of 30 knots and is armed with "modernised anti-aircraft missile and artillery units," according to a report from CaspioNet, where you can also see a video interview with the ship's captain.
It's much easier to hype a security threat than to prove one doesn't exist, a fact that has bedeviled China's Uyghur minority. That many Uyghurs oppose the Chinese government -- sometimes violently -- is beyond doubt, but Beijing has sought to tie the Uyghur political movement to a larger global Islamist jihad. And thanks to the U.S. government, the United Nations and various charlatan "terrorism experts," they have succeeded. That's the conclusion of Sean Roberts, a Central Asia scholar at George Washington University, in a new report (pdf), "Imaginary Terrorism?"
In November 2001, the Chinese government published a paper, “Terrorist Activities Perpetrated by ‘Eastern Turkistan’ Organizations and their Ties with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban,” which identified a group called the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as the most dangerous Uyghur threat. That was the first-ever public identification of the ETIM, and it was followed by another white paper two months later. That these documents were released just after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. was no coincidence, Roberts writes:
Given the timing of the release of these two initial official documents, many experts on China and the Uyghurs viewed them as attempts by the Chinese state to link its struggle with Uyghur political dissent to the United States’ “Global War on Terror.” Whether or not this was the intent, it appears to have been the result.
Later in 2002, both the U.S. and the United Nations placed the ETIM on their official list of terror organizations.
President Mikheil Saakashvili has unveiled Georgia's first domestically produced drone aircraft. The drone is designed for reconnaissance and surveillance, with a photo and infrared camera, and Saakashvili said that it being homegrown means that "no one will share this with others," apparently referring to an embarrassing episode with previous UAVs that Georgia bought from Israel. After selling the drones to Georgia, Israel reportedly gave Russia data link codes that allowed the Russians to hack into the Georgian drones. The Georgian government hasn't publicly confirmed those reports, but Saakashvili surely had them in mind when speaking at the drone's launch, reports Civil.ge:
“When you make procurement from abroad a seller may not give you a full technology or may share technology [bought] by you to your adversary,” Saakashvili said at a presentation of the drone. “No one will share this [pointing to the Georgian-made drone] with others; it’s ours… We no longer depend on others.”
The drone can fly for eight hours, reach an altitude of 3,000 meters and reach a top speed of 160 km/hour, Georgia says. The Georgian Ministry of Defense has video of the demonstration here (and which you can see below). I asked a UAV expert, who asked not to be named, what he thought. He was impressed, but doubted that it was as homegrown as was being portrayed:
Turkmenistan is developing its first indigenous coast guard ship, part of the country's effort to protect its Caspian shore, state media reported. There were very few details given in this account on Turkmenistan's official government website, which at the very end of a long report about President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's visit to a military unit in Ashgabat:
Chief of the State Border Guard Service M. Yslamov presented the model of the Arkadag patrol ship – the first vessel built in Turkmenistan to the President.
Arkadag, incidentally, means "Protector" and is the new honorific that has been given to Berdimukhammedov, in the same fashion that his predecessor was named Turkmenbashi, or "Leader of the Turkmen," which now happens to be also the name of the country's major Caspian port and apparent future site of its naval headquarters.
(And yes, this was actually almost two months ago, but it's been barely reported and new to The Bug Pit. This weekend, of course, Berdimukhammedov was engaged with a different sort of vehicle, winning a car race.)
This follows Turkmenistan's quiet move last year to buy two Turkish fast patrol boats, and the decision to establish a naval academy in Turkmenbashi. (He also recently got a tour of a Turkish coast guard vessel with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.)
What small opportunity these protests had of taking advantage of the new vulnerability of the Kremlin in the wake of big anti-government protests over the recent elections was probably quashed by the fact that they are led by the Communist Party, whose head, Gennady Zyuganov, was the main speaker at the Moscow rally. Zyuganov opened his remarks by mentioning that it was the 70th anniversary of the birth of ex-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, whom Zyuganov lionized as "the first in Europe to revolt against NATO." He said that this would be the first time in 1,000 years of Russian history that a foreign military base would be established in Russia, and that it would make Ulyanovsk into a center of drug trafficking in Russia.
For what it's worth, Russian officials have taken pains to emphasize that what is proposed at Ulyanovsk is not a "base," and will host no NATO personnel.
Never mind: Zyuganov said more rallies against the base/transit hub will be held April 21, the eve of Lenin's birthday.
Russia has apparently chosen a new ambassador to NATO, and it appears to augur a change of tone for Russia in Brussels. The previous Kremlin envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, was the leader of a nationalist political party who became a sort of cult hero/villain (depending on your perspective) for his very public disdain for the alliance, which he broadcast frequently on Twitter. The new ambassador, the newspaper Kommersant reports, is Alexander Grushko, now deputy foreign minister with a portfolio that includes NATO and other Euro-Atlantic issues and a background of working in arms control issues. Kommersant says Grushko would be the first career diplomat to hold the NATO post and that the appointment would be welcomed in NATO:
An unnamed NATO official said that the alliance was "pleased that it would be Grushko and nobody else," citing his experience in covering NATO and European issues at the foreign ministry."More to the point, Grushko is a professional specializing in NATO. No need to explain anything to him," said the source, according to Kommersant.
And another story in the paper quotes a Russian expert saying of Grushko, "This is definitely a diplomatic appointment, not a political one."
Grushko has been a frequent interlocutor with American officials, as can be seen from the voluminous number of Wikileaked cables that cite conversations between him and U.S. diplomats. But he still comes off as a strong NATO skeptic, and the tone in the cables suggests no particular warmth in the conversations. Take this cable, from October 2008, just after the Russia-Georgia war:
Russia is planning to increase its presence of airborne troops in Central Asia and the Caucasus, a sign that Moscow sees a greater possibility of fighting in the region. The planned deployment was announced by Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, the commander of the airborne troops, and reported by Nezavisimaya Gazeta (in a report translated into English by RIA Novosti):
Russian military bases in Central Asia and the Caucasus are to be considerably strengthened. They might be reinforced by units of the national Airborne Force to increase mobility and combat efficiency, said the force’s commander.
Airborne forces (i.e., those that parachute into action) are fairly elite units, and suggest a more active role for the Russian military than would the current Russian troops in Armenia and Tajikistan, which are mostly infantry.
Shamanov didn't provide many details of the proposed reinforcements, but said that they were required both by the necessity to "successfully accomplish the objectives set by Russia’s leaders" as well as to strengthen Russia's "international commitments" to the Collective Security Treaty Organization. (Those commitments, it should be noted, are largely self-imposed by Russia without much apparent enthusiasm from other CSTO members and are themselves an instrument of accomplishing the objectives of Russia's leaders.)
The report notes that Russian airborne troops were deployed to Kyrgyzstan during the recent unrest, to Tajikistan during CSTO exercises last year and are scheduled to be sent to Armenia for CSTO exercises later this year. "But it is unclear whether airborne units will remain there on a permanent basis," NG adds.
Amid the negotiations between Russia and Azerbaijan over the Gabala radar station, Armenia has stepped in and said they would be willing to host a Russian radar if a deal over Gabala falls through.
The current lease for the radar station expires in December, and Azerbaijan has gradually been raising the price it says it wants to charge Russia under a new agreement. The latest reports had Azerbaijan's price rising from $7 million now to a whopping $300 million. Another set of talks on the issue between the foreign ministers of the two countries took place this week, with no apparent resolution. But Armenia's prime minister, Tigran Sargsyan, said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant that Armenia would be willing to host a replacement radar, and that it could even be a better site for it than Azerbaijan:
“There may even be advantages, because Armenia is a mountainous country. Coverage can be broader,” Sargsyan said.
Meanwhile, the Russian and Azerbaijani public bargaining continued. Ali Hasanov, a top adviser to Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev, tried to emphasize that the negotiations were taking place on Azerbaijan's terms:
"Gabala radar station is our property. We decide on to whom and on what terms to lease it, taking into account the interests of the state. We take into consideration its cost, policy and its impact on relations with neighboring countries" Hasanov said.
And he downplayed the threat of an Armenian counteroffer:
"We do not have anything against that. Of course, why the Armenian outpost cannot be a radar post as well? If Russia needs to build this post in Armenia, we will not have any objections" he said.
A top U.S. military official has finished a trip around Central Asia, and while most of the official news about his visits with the region's leaders was prettyvague, there were a couple of interesting items from Kyrgyzstan.
After meeting with the U.S. official, CENTCOM commander General James Mattis, the chair of Kyrgyzstan's national security council Busurmankul Tabaldiyev suggested that Kyrgyzstan is open to keeping the Manas air base open after 2014. That would be a shift from recent public rhetoric from Bishkek, which has stressed the need to close the base as soon as the current agreement expires in 2014. From 24.kg, quoting Tabaldiyev:
Kyrgyzstan is interested in ensuring security and stability in the country and is ready to participate fully in the efforts of the international community to assist Afghanistan. The Kyrgyz side expressed its readiness to assist the U.S. government to continue after 2014, but in the interests of the country, the views of the people and the security of Kyrgyzstan.
In his meeting with Mattis, Tabaldiyev also apparently broached the topic of getting drone aircraft from the U.S., reports RFE/RL:
Tabaldiev told RFE/RL the request was for U.S. drones to be left for Kyrgyzstan during the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan due by the end of 2014.
...Mattis, leader of the U.S. delegation, reportedly replied that Washington is ready to consider the request.