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.
A United Nations report has implicated Azerbaijan and a Kazakhstan airline executive in violations of arms embargos against North Korea. The Associated Press acquired the report, to the U.N. Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea.
Among the violators was Azerbaijan, for trying to buy anti-aircraft missiles from North Korea:
The panel... recommended sanctions against the Hesong Trading Corporation, a subsidiary of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp., which was involved in trying to sell 70 North Korean portable anti-aircraft missiles to Azerbaijan. British arms dealer Michael Ranger was convicted in July 2012 of attempting to sell the missiles.
The court heard that in email correspondence with his arms supplier in North Korea, Ranger boasted that he had been a guest of the Azerbaijani government and was driven round in a Lexus limousine whilst on business there to discuss the supply of Man-Portable Infrared Homing Surface to Air Missiles. It also heard how he told the US manufacturers of Berettas pistols that he had secured orders from the Azerbaijani Ministry of Emergency Situations following a meeting with ‘two people directly under the President’ in February 2010. The jury agreed that the evidence clearly demonstrated Ranger’s intention to disregard the embargos and duly delivered a conviction.
The U.N. report also named a citizen of Kazakhstan it says was involved in shipping arms to North Korea:
Participants, including Gulnara Karimova and Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping, at a conference on Chinese-Uzbekistan relations in Beijing. (photo: Center For Political Studies)
Given how prolific she is as a pop star, fashion designer, philanthropist and businesswoman, it's sometimes easy to forget that Gulnara Karimova is also a foreign policy expert. But Uzbekistan's first daughter is a diplomat, political science professor, and think tank head, as well, and it was in that capacity that she traveled to Beijing this week to speak at a conference, with an audience including the deputy Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, on China-Uzbekistan relations. She called Uzbekistan-Chinese relations "strategic" but noted that they face "threats and challenges, according to a press release from her think tank, the Center for Political Studies.
Karimova noted the fact that today there is no doubting the strategic level of Uzbek-Chinese relations. These relations represent one of the systematic components of the structure of security in Central Asia. The cooperation of the two sides in the field of energy security can serve as confirmation of that. Uzbekistan carries out transit of natural gas from Turkmenistan and China, and after the construction of the third and possibly fourth branches of the gas pipeline between Central Asia and China can become one of the major gas suppliers to China.
Karimova paid special attention to the potential threats and challenges, which Uzbekistan and China will face in the near future. Among them, the great risk of Afghanistan turning into a component of Islamist expansionism coming from North Africa and the Middle East, geopolitical processes unfolding in the Asia-Pacific region, the persistent effect of the global financial-economic problems, clashes of different value systems...
As if the wrangling between Moscow and Dushanbe over the Russian military base in Tajikistan weren't complicated enough, Russia is now planning to take control of the disputed Ayni airfield, as well, according to a report in Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
Recall that last year, the presidents of Russia and Tajikistan signed an agreement extending the lease of Russia's military base in Tajikistan. Russia recently ratified its agreement, but Dushanbe has been dragging its feet and appearing to demand new conditions. Now, though, it may be Russia throwing a wrench into the works. According to NG, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense's Department for International Military Cooperation have worked out a plan to "include" Ayni in its 201st military base. The newspaper doesn't provide any rationale for doing that, nor does it report on or even speculate on Tajikistan's thoughts on this.
When Kazakhstan became independent 22 years ago and inherited some of the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons, it decided to give them up. If you follow Kazakhstan at all, you know this because Kazakhstan's government doesn't waste a single opportunity to mention the fact.
Kazakhstan has made its status as one of the few governments to ever give up nuclear weapons the centerpiece of its efforts to position itself as a responsible member of the global community. It has started the anti-nuclear weapons testing group The Atom Project, and hosted international diplomatic negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.
Kazakhstan, of course, not only hosted Soviet nuclear weapons but was the site of Soviet nuclear weapons testing, with devastating consequences for the long-term health of Kazakhstan's people. In the narrative that Kazakhstan has constructed since then, it was the searing experience of being subject to nuclear tests that made Kazakhstan give up its nukes.
Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in a New York Times op-ed from 2012 entitled "What Iran Can Learn From Kazakhstan," wrote that:
Such was the feeling among our people that we closed the Semipalatinsk site even before we became an independent country on the breakup of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. With independence, we became the world’s fourth-largest nuclear power. One of our first acts as a sovereign nation was voluntarily to give up these weapons.
Since then, we have worked tirelessly to encourage other countries to follow our lead and build a world in which the threat of nuclear weapons belongs to history.
U.S. military officers show Kyrgyz journalists the Manas air base. (photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rachel Martinez
One thing that was notable about the early coverage of the U.S. air force refueling jet crash on Friday was how unpoliticized it was. The air base at which the KC-135 Stratotanker was based, Manas, is a very sensitive issue in Kyrgyzstan, and any developments there are closely parsed for their political and geopolitical meaning. This crash, in which three U.S. airmen were killed, would seem to be a human tragedy and possibly an aviation safety story, with no political angle. When I noted on twitter that the Kyrgyz press focused primarily on the search for victims and, somewhat surprisingly, avoided any political angles, the press secretary of the president of Kyrgyzstan, Kadyr Toktogulov, responded, "what kind of political speculation could there possibly be?"
Well, now we're starting to find out. 24.kg reported that the Americans were "obstructing the examination" of the bodies of the crew members killed in the crash:
Representatives of the Transit Center at Manas didn’t let the investigation agencies to examine the bodies of the crashed airplane casualties, the special investigation group told 24.kg news agency today.
It’s noted that, despite promises of the U.S. side not to interfere and assist in investigation of the plane crash, the transit center officers decided to take the bodies of pilots away.
The bodies of the three crew members were taken to the airbase. Local investigators have no information about further actions of the Transit Center at Manas.
Also, the investigation group noted that the filling station at the base is cordoned off; however, American officers do not let Kyrgyz investigators to the base.
French military logisticians at the Dushanbe airport. (photo: http://www.defense.gouv.fr/)
The small French air detachment in Dushanbe is leaving Tajikistan, as France carries out its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Operational Transport Group started pulling out on April 15, and will complete its withdrawal from the airport by July. A small engineering unit working on the resurfacing of the airport's runway will remain until next year, according to a statement from the French Ministry of Defense.
The small base has operated since 2002. (And small means small: 50 meters by 250 meters, as EurasiaNet's David Trilling noted in a 2009 photo essay on the detachment.) It has hosted between 170 and 230 French soldiers who work on supply and logistics for their compatriots in Afghanistan, and occasionally French multirole fighter jets used for operations in Afghanistan.
The French departure from Tajikistan is, not surprisingly, the result of the French disengagement from Afghanistan, said Florent de Saint Victor, a French military blogger, in an email interview with The Bug Pit. "The closure is linked to the end of the last step for the French troops withdrawal from Afghanistan (there are still some French troops - less than 800 troops - for logistics and training mission with the Afghan National Army)," de Saint Victor said.
KC-135s on the tarmac at the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. (photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brett Clashman)
A U.S. Air Force refueling jet has crashed in Kyrgyzstan near the Manas air base, according to Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS).
The plane exploded in mid-air, said a local official, reports Kloop.kg: "The former mayor of the Panfilov region Taalaybek Sydykov said in an interview with Kloop.kg, that... 'Residents of the region who were working in the fields say that there was an explosion in the air and the plane fell behind the mountains.'" A couple of twitterusers reported the same.
An MChS official told AFP that the plane, apparently KC-135 Stratotanker, crashed after taking off:
"According to my information, the plane broke up into three pieces. Information on the dead or wounded is being clarified. All the rescue services have gone to the scene," the ministry's press secretary Abdisharip Bekilov said.
The plane crashed near the mountain village of Chaldybar, around 200 kilometres from the capital Bishkek and close to the border with Kazakhstan, the emergency ministry spokesman said.
Information about who may have been on board is still sketchy, but CA-News reports, citing MChS sources, that there were five crew members on the flight.
Georgia is in discussions with Azerbaijan to jointly produce Su-25 close air support jets, Azerbaijani military sources have told the news agency APA:
Military sources told APA that Georgia plans to produce the modernized versions of SU-25 aircrafts at the Tbilisi Aerospace Manufacturing Company (TAM). Tbilisi has addressed Azerbaijan for financing the project and establishing joint production. The Azerbaijani military circles welcomed the proposal, but the government will make a final decision.
If the project is implemented, certain part of the aircrafts may be produced at the military plants of Azerbaijan.
There doesn't seem to be any news on this from any Georgian sources. (The last reports about Georgia-Azerbaijan defense deals, about Azerbaijan possibly buying Georgian APCs, came only from Georgian sources, for what it's worth.)
TAM was renationalized by the Georgian government in 2010 after having been privatized in 2004. And it was the original manufacturer of the Su-25 during the Soviet era.
This news, of course, comes as a number of reports suggest that Moscow may be stopping the sale of military aircraft that Azerbaijan had been trying to buy from Russia. But those deals were for Su-27, Su-30 and MiG-31s, and the Su-25 carries out a different mission than those. And it's also not made clear here whether or not Azerbaijan is the intended customer or not. So it may or may not be connected. But it does seem evidence of slowly growing ties between Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Georgia's prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has said that he intends to get a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) next year. Getting MAP -- which would be a substantial step towards eventually gaining membership in the alliance -- has been the Holy Grail for Ivanishvili's foe, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. But Saakashvili and his allies have spared no effort to tar Ivanishvili as a crypto-Russian agent who will lead Georgia away from its Western geopolitical orientation. And while Ivanishvili has repeatedly declared his intention to continue to work towards NATO integration, this is the first time that Ivanishvili has laid out such a specific goal vis-a-vis the alliance. He made his comments at an event celebrating Georgian Armed Forces Day on Tuesday, reports Civil.ge:
“Next year we should undertake a very vigorous step and get at least MAP,” PM Ivanishvili told the audience...
“We probably won’t be able to get more than that, but we have strictly set MAP as a target and next year when there is a gathering of NATO [leaders] we should undertake a powerful step in this direction,” Ivanishvili said drawing applause from the audience.
Saakashvili's United National Movement party, of course, couldn't disagree with that:
“Receiving MAP would really be a step forward and we fully share and support what the Prime Minister has stated,” UNM MP Giorgi Gabashvili said on May 1. “The country should do everything possible both in internal and foreign policy… in order to get membership action plan in 2014.”