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."
Russia and Tajikistan will continue negotiating over the extension of the Russian 201st Division's presence in Tajikistan next year, a top Russian military official has said. That contradicts recent reports that the two countries had come to an agreement on the presence of the division's base on the outskirts of Dushanbe, and that the agreement would be formally signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Dushanbe on October 5. From the AP:
Russia’s ground forces commander Vladimir Chirkin said in an interview on Ekho Mosky radio station that outstanding issues on the terms of the deal will continue to be discussed with Tajikistan until the end of March...
Chirkin said the Russian troops would work in a coalition with local forces, something that Tajikistan is believed to have pushed for during negotiations.
Tajikistan has said it would like $300 million annually in cash or equivalent in military assistance for the bases.
“We will undoubtedly provide military and technical assistance so that this coalition is fully supplied,” Chirkin said. “How large (that assistance) is to be will be calculated by the specialists.”
When Foreign Policy magazine reported this spring that Israel was in talks with Azerbaijan over the use of the latter's airfields in order to carry out an attack on Iran, the bombshell report was vociferously denied by officials in Baku and derided by regional analysts. Azerbaijan would seem to not have any interest in such cooperation, and the Foreign Policy report was correctly described as "Washington-centric."
But now Reuters has come out with the same story, but their sources are Azerbaijani and Russian:
[T]wo Azeri former military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Azerbaijan and Israel have been looking at how Azeri bases and intelligence could serve in a possible strike on Iran.
"Where planes would fly from - from here, from there, to where? - that's what's being planned now," a security consultant with contacts at Azeri defense headquarters in Baku said. "The Israelis ... would like to gain access to bases in Azerbaijan."
Rasim Musabayov, an independent Azeri lawmaker and a member of parliament's foreign affairs committee, said that, while he had no definitive information, he understood that Azerbaijan would probably feature in any Israeli plans against Iran, at least as a contingency for refueling its attack force:
"Israel has a problem in that if it is going to bomb Iran, its nuclear sites, it lacks refueling," Musabayov told Reuters.
"I think their plan includes some use of Azerbaijan access.
Russia and Azerbaijan have come to a short-term agreement on the Gabala radar station that Russia operates in Azerbaijan, a "source close to the negotiations" told RIA Novosti.
The new agreement will extend the current lease, currently scheduled to run out in December, for another two to three years under the current terms. Azerbaijan has been playing hardball with Russia, reportedly asking for the rent to be raised from the current $7 million a year to $300 million. Russia, meanwhile, wanted to extend the lease to 2025.
Azerbaijan really holds all the cards in this scenario: it has no use for the radar and mistrusts Russia, which backs Armenia in the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. But Russia, of course, is the more powerful country and still has various means of throwing its weight around in Baku should it want to. This new arrangement seems to suggest that Russia is planning to leave Gabala after this brief extension expires. But Russia needs the Gabala radar a bit longer, while tension around Iran is high (Gabala covers the airspace over Iran) and newer radars are still under construction. Russian analyst Alexander Karavaev tells RIA Novosti:
"Judging from this announcement, Russia can still refuse to prolong the rent after this period, in two-three years. Most likely, [the radar] will remain while there is a high degree of tension around Iran, and while a new generation of radar stations are being deployed to the south," said Karavaev, referring to new, more capable radars that Russia is in the process of setting up in the North Caucasus.
Photographer Mari Bastashevski has started an ambitious new investigative project, "State Business," which she calls "an art project about the conflict arms trade." And her first subject is a series of arms shipments which appeared to be headed for Nagorno-Karabakh:
In the spring of 2010 the arms tracking community had picked up on a number of suspicious flights headed for Armenia, 39 in total. The flights continued at even intervals well into February 2011. All of them were Ilyushin IL-76s. The planes left Podgorica [Montenegro] airport for Armenia’s ‘Erebuni’ military airport. It was estimated that the arms were intended for the troubled Nagorno-Karabakh region, which saw a wave of border incidents and heightened tensions at the time.
The flights didn’t simply tip-toe past the guards in the middle of the night. Because… well- not Hollywood. There was obviously a ton of paperwork to get these off the ground. Although airports and aviation authorities keep copies of flight documentation for a period of time, in Montenegro (not exceptionally) such documentation is rather well hidden under the umbrella of “National Security,” which is evoked each time secrecy is convenient.
Over the past few years, military aid has taken up an increasingly large portion of total U.S. aid to Central Asia, from around 5 percent throughout the 1990s to more than 30 percent since 2007. But that aid hasn't been closely examined, a situation I attempt to rectify in a new report (pdf), "U.S. Military Aid to Central Asia: Who Beneﬁts?" The report focuses on aid to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Among the findings:
-- U.S. training and equipping aid focuses on special forces, including OMON and Alfas, and on occasions when those forces may have acted in ways contrary to stated U.S. interests, U.S. officials have tended to not take an active role in investigating those incidents and continue to support those units.
-- The pattern of aid shows a clear pattern in which the aid increases when Afghanistan is a high priority in Washington, right after the September 11, 2001 attacks and in 2007-8, when U.S. focus again began to turn from Iraq to Afghanistan. That (among other evidence) suggests the aid is intended less as assistance for Central Asian security forces, than as a form of payment for those countries' cooperation in the war in Afghanistan.
-- U.S. claims that the aid is intended to foster the promotion of human rights by Central Asian security forces has been undercut by the decision to resume military aid to Uzbekistan. “It makes the people mad that we do anything with them. They say, ‘Really? Here [in Kyrgyzstan] you talk about human rights, they’re [in Uzbekistan] not so good at it,’” said a U.S. military official currently working on security cooperation with Central Asia. “The desire
to work with people outweighs the desire to do the right thing sometimes.”
Georgia says a Russian military buildup on the de facto border between South Ossetia and Georgia proper is intended to destabilize the country ahead of October 1 parliamentary elections. Georgia accusing Russia of nefarious deeds is nothing new, of course, including in connection with its elections. But over the last few days those accusations have become more specific and pointed.
For one, there are the Kavkaz-2012 military exercises, which Saakashvili said were timed in order to interfere with Georgia's elections:
“I know well what is happening in respect of Georgia in the condition when there is Russian money, Russian methods, Russian compromising materials and Russian army, deployed near our borders holding very dangerous military exercises, under conditions when the occupant of our territories has vowed to accomplish in next few weeks and months what it failed to do in 2008 and to use elections for this purpose,” Saakashvili said.
(For what it's worth, when Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, testified before a Congressional committee last week, he was asked if he thought the Kavkaz-2012 exercises were intended by Russia to influence Georgia's elections, and he said he didn't.)
Russia's transit hub at Ulyanovsk is ready to go and is only awaiting NATO, said President Vladimir Putin's special representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov. The facility, which would help NATO move equipment in and out of Afghanistan, has been under discussion since the beginning of this year, and was finally approved by the Kremlin in June. Now it's ready for use, Kabulov said, according to Interfax:
"The Ulyanovsk transit-transshipment point is in principle already ready to handle cargo and transfers," Kabulov said... "We gave the NATO people permission, and now it depends on whether they want to use it."
Kabulov added that the transit through Russia would be more expensive for NATO than through Pakistan, but it would be more reliable: "Everything gets there [via Russia], but there [through Pakistan] it doesn't, as experience shows."
It remains unclear what role Ulyanovsk would play in U.S./NATO plans for Afghanistan transit. Its main virtue is that it is multimodal, meaning that goods can easily be transferred from airplane to truck or train (or vice versa). But the U.S. and NATO already have a backup to Pakistan -- the Northern Distribution Network, set up to ship everything by land via Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. So is Ulyanovsk a backup plan in case things go south on the Central Asian portion of the NDN?