Members of the Mongolian state honor guard stand at attention while being addressed by the Mongolian President Ts. Eldegdorj during the opening ceremony of Exercise Khaan Quest 2011 at Five Hills Training Area, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, July 31.
Mongolia has kicked off its annual international peacekeeping exercise, Khaan Quest, with about 900 soldiers from 11 countries taking part. In addition to Mongolians, the exercises will include the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, India, Germany, Indonesia, Cambodia and Singapore. The exercises began Sunday, will last until August 12 and focus on peacekeeping operations.
The exercise is organized since 2003 by U.S. Pacific Command and is one of the more visible elements of Mongolia's "third neighbor" policy, by which Mongolia tries to strengthen relations with countries beyond its two immediate neighbors, Russia and China, which Ulaanbaatar fears will hold too much leverage over their small country. (For example, a recent trade dispute with Russia has resulted in fuel shortages in Mongolia, and some Mongolians see it as retaliation for shutting Russia out of a big mining deal.)
But Russia probably isn't feeling too left out of the exercises: Mongolia's defense minister, Luvsanvandan Bold, has said that the country plans to buy four or five new MiG-29 fighter jets as well as a ground training flight simulator from Russia. This will be Mongolia's first fielding of MiG-29s; the country's air force now flies a small number of MiG-21s. This follows the pattern that the U.S. has established in other post-Soviet countries, most notably Kazakhstan: understanding that the military ties with Russia are too great to supplant entirely, the U.S. will instead focus on training and equipping small, niche forces to take part in U.N. peacekeeping and U.S.-led military operations like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Earlier this week, the Washington Times reported that Georgian officials had identified the culprit behind a bomb blast near the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi as Russian. The report was treated with a lot of skepticism, including from this blog, because it relied only on Georgian sources which, to put it mildly, tend to blame Russia first and ask questions later.
But now the Times has taken another crack at the story and reports that a U.S. intelligence report on the event corroborates the Georgian one:
The highly classified report about the Sept. 22 incident was described to The Washington Times by two U.S. officials who have read it. They said the report supports the findings of the Georgian Interior Ministry, which traced the bombing to a Russian military intelligence officer....
“It is written without hedges, and it confirms the Georgian account,” said one U.S. official familiar with the U.S. intelligence report.
This official added that it specifically says the Russian military intelligence, or GRU, coordinated the bombings.
And the State Department has been pressing the Russian Foreign Ministry about the attack:
“Those events — the embassy bombing and other alleged bombings — have been raised with the Russians at a high level and they have been raised with the Georgians at a high level,” one administration official said. “It’s not necessarily pointing a finger, but part of a dialogue expressing our deep concerns.”
NATO is warning Turkey against buying Russian or Chinese air defense systems, saying that if Ankara does so NATO will no longer share its information about incoming missiles, according to a report in the newspaper Hürriyet Daily News. Turkey, you may recall, has been shopping for a new air defense system, and is considering options from Russia, China, the U.S. and a European consortium. That list of potential partners has made the purchase a sort of bellwether for those concerned about Ankara's geopolitical orientation. But NATO, apparently, is making it known that it doesn't approve of the non-Western sellers:
One Western expert countered that “if, say, the Chinese win the competition, their systems will be in interaction, directly or indirectly, with NATO’s intelligence systems, and this may lead to the leak of critical NATO information to the Chinese, albeit inadvertently. So this is dangerous.”
“NATO won’t let that happen,” another Western official told the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday. “If the Chinese or the Russians win the Turkish contest, their systems will have to work separately. They won’t be linked to NATO information systems.”
This was the first time NATO has strongly urged Turkey against choosing the non-Western systems.
It has never seemed likely that Turkey would buy the Russian or Chinese systems, and it's been suggested that Turkey is just keeping them in the competition so as to draw concessions from either the Western companies or Western allies. So is NATO's warning a way of saying, "There's no way you're buying the Russian or Chinese system, so don't try to use that as bargaining leverage"?
After news emerged last week that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had included Kazakhstan on a list of countries "that have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members," the Kazakhstan government has publicly objected and the U.S. embassy in Astana has stepped back from the claim.
A spokesman for the Kazakhstan foreign ministry said the U.S. list "contradicts the existing spirit of strategic partnership" between the two countries":
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov said in Astana on July 21 that "we are puzzled and deeply concerned about the decision of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to add Kazakhstan to the list of the countries that have demonstrated the trend for the development and creation of terrorist organizations or the protection of such organizations or their representatives on their territory."
He said "the situation fundamentally contradicts the existing spirit of strategic partnership between Kazakhstan and the United States, and therefore we expect our U.S. partners to take immediate action to correct it."
And the U.S. embassy in Astana issued a statement Friday explaining that "[t]he U.S. Government does not consider that Kazakhstan in any way supports terrorism."
So does that mean the DHS is revising its policy? I asked them, and spokesman Ross Feinstein responded with this statement:
Russia's defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, is visiting Baku today and met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, as well as Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev, to discuss the future of the Gabala radar station in the country. Russia has operated the station, part of its missile attack warning system, since 1985. The current lease expires at the end of 2012, and Azerbaijan has indicated it wants a certain number of conditions from Russia, including a raise in the rent Moscow pays, plus more mitigation of environmental damage caused by the station and more employment for Azerbaijanis at the station.
Serdyukov arrived in Baku promising unspecified "modernization" of the station:
"We have developed our proposals on the Gabala RS," Serdyukov said. Moreover, we have expanded them and offered to upgrade the Gabala RS. We have certain plans to modernize it."
A working group will be soon established and dispatched to Baku for a two-week visit to consider all technical issues, he added.
After those two weeks, starting August 15, Serdyukov said minister-level negotiations over the new lease can start. If nothing else, this suggests that the idea -- discussed just a few months ago -- that the U.S. and Russia might jointly use the station is pretty much dead.
OK, you will guess. It's Russia. The Washington Times reports:
A bomb blast near the U.S. Embassy in Tblisi, Georgia, in September was traced to a plot run by a Russian military intelligence officer, according to an investigation by the Georgian Interior Ministry.
Shota Utiashvili, the most senior official in charge of intelligence analysis for the ministry, said in an interview with The Washington Times that the recent spate of bombings and attempted bombings - including what he said was a blast targeting the U.S. Embassy - was the work of Russian GRU officer Maj. Yevgeny Borisov.
But the Georgian Interior Ministry had already named Maj. Borisov as a suspect in December. And they claimed that the EU had evidence supporting that allegation, which the EU then distanced itself from. (That evidence, based on a phone call from Russian forces in Abkhazia to the EU Monitoring Mission, is also presented as the smoking gun in the Washington Times story.)
Those allegations gained little traction, however, so here the story is again. It recalls, ironically, the Russian media's periodic and unsubstantiated reports that the U.S. is rearming Georgia.
An Indian version of the Molniya-class corvette, which Russia has sold to a mystery post-Soviet customer
Russia has announced it's selling three new warships to an unnamed "former Soviet republic," but is keeping mum about the precise identity of the buyer. The ships are Molniya missile corvettes, built by United Shipbuiding Corporation and the state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, and it seems like the most likely buyer would be Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan's military purchases are very opaque, so it's hard to tell with any specificity what their plans are. But Ashgabat has expressed interest in buying this class of ship in the past, and in May a Russian defense contractor said that Turkmenistan was acquiring two Molniya-class ships and "planning to build two more." (Turkmenistan also was planning to buy a simulator made by the contractor, Kronshtadt.)
Kazakhstan also has been planning to buy three corvettes, but I asked a defense source there about the report and he said it was "very unlikely" that the ships were for Kazakhstan and that Kazakhstan was focused on building its own naval vessels. Kazakhstan also isn't as shy about publicizing its defense purchases. Same with Azerbaijan, which also has expressed interest in building up its navy. Azerbaijan in the past has also sought to hide its identity when buying weapons from abroad, as it did when it contracted with Israel's Elbit to upgrade its tanks. But that may have been a special case, perhaps because it's shy about publicizing cozy relations with Israel. In general Azerbaijan is not at all shy about touting its latest military purchases.
NATO is currently undertaking a review of its nuclear posture, including the status of the tactical nuclear weapons that the U.S. maintains in five NATO countries, including Turkey. Some NATO members -- mainly the Baltics and ex-Warsaw Pact states -- want the U.S. to keep the nuclear weapons in Europe, while others (like Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway) are pushing for a dramatic move, including possibly completely removing the nukes from Europe. Turkey falls somewhere in between those countries, but more on the side of maintaining the nuclear weapons, writes Steven Pifer, an arms control expert at the Brookings Institution, in a new paper "NATO, Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control."
Turkey has hosted U.S. nuclear weapons since 1961, and currently at the Incirlik air base the U.S. has an unknown, but small, number of tactical B-61 nuclear bombs and fighter-bomber jets that can drop them. (The total number of U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe is thought to be about 200, down from a Cold War number of 7,000.)
The question of U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey is one that Ankara has been quiet about, and on which the government hasn't taken a public position. That's not too surprising: according to a 2006 survey, 77 percent of people in Turkey were "very or somewhat concerned about the presence of nuclear arms on their territory," the highest percentage in any of the five countries in which NATO hosts nuclear weapons. (The others are Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.) One would expect, too, differences of opinion between the country's current government (which has been reaching out to improve relations with Middle Eastern neighbors) and the military elite (with a strong Western orientation). And probably neither side sees anything to gain in bringing the issue out into the open.
Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are included in a U.S. immigration service's special watch list of countries whose people should come in for extra scrutiny to make sure they're not terrorists. The list (pdf), of "specially designated countries (SDCs) that have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members" is a fairly crude one, the logic of which seems to be, "if a country has a lot of Muslims, it's a terrorist threat." But even by that standard, the list is curious. It doesn't include other post-Soviet Muslim republics like Kyrgyzstan or Azerbaijan, for example, or countries like China or Russia which have significant numbers of Muslims (which have been known to engage in violent anti-state activities). The U.S. Azeris Network, a pro-Azerbaijan lobbying group, called attention to the list and complained, in the spirit of pan-Turkic solidarity:
It is absolutely incomprehensible how countries such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan could have made it to the DHS ICE SDC list. There are simply no known cases of these countries or their nationals or residents, to “promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members”. Neither current, nor past lists of Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the U.S. State Department, has ever included any terrorist organizations from Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan.
This being an Azeri group, they ask why Armenia is not included on the list, citing "a long string of terrorists and terrorist organizations promoted, produced and protected by and in Armenia." (They don't name those alleged terror groups.)
As negotiations between Dushanbe and Moscow continue over how much Russia should be paying for its use of military facilities in Tajikistan, the price apparently keeps rising. The Tajikistan government is demanding $300 million a year for the use of the Ayni air base outside Dushanbe, according to a report in RIA Novosti. In January, Russian media were reporting that the asking price was a mere $125 million per year. Tajikistan's foreign minister Hamrokhon Zarifi told a press conference Monday that ""Russia is our important strategic partner..." but "our land cannot be free; it has its price, and no one can use it without paying." (He didn't, however, mention a specific ruble figure.)
Zarifi also said that Russian border guards would not be returning to Tajikistan, as Moscow has requested, and downplayed the U.S. role in the new training center at Qaratogh, reported Asia Plus:
Commenting on rumors about deployment of the United States military base in Tajikistan, Zarifi noted that Tajikistan has never conducted negotiation with the United Sates on that issue and “such a dialogue is not expected in the foreseeable future.”
“As far as the construction of the live-fire training building at the National Training Center at Qaratogh is concerned, the construction of the center is carried out under financial support of the United States, the center itself is property of Tajikistan,” the minister said.