Georgian President MIkheil Saakashvili visits Martyrs Alley in Baku, honoring victims of the Nagorno Karabakh war.
When Georgian President MIkheil Saakashvili made an official visit to Azerbaijan last week, he took with him a bit of his unique brand of anti-Russia rhetoric, saying that Baku today faces a similar threat from Russia as has Tbilisi. From Civil.ge:
After visiting Baku, President Saakashvili said that Russia was preparing the same "scenario" for Azerbaijan, which was applied against Georgia in last year's parliamentary elections when, as he put it, "oligarchs, Russian funds, blackmailing and provocations" were used.
In particular, Saakashvili mentioned the establishment of a diaspora organization in Russia made up of rich businessmen of Azeri origin, which he said posed the same sort of threat as did Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian-born businessman who made billions in Russia and then became prime minister of Georgia on a platform of improving ties with Russia. Saakashvili also noted that Ivanishvili's government pardoned an ethnic Armenian activist, which he said was done "to please" Russia.
Azerbaijan has traditionally been very careful not to provoke Russia; while it similarly feels a threat to its sovereignty from Moscow, it has followed a somewhat more multi-vectored approach than has Georgia, maintaining good relations with Russia, alongside its ties to Turkey, Europe, the U.S, Israel. and others. And Russia, for its part, has not taken an aggressive position against Baku, seeming more interested in maintaining a regional balance of power between Armenia and Azerbaijan. So it's not surprising, as the opposition news site Contact.az notes, that officials in Baku publicly ignored Saakashvili's comments.
The government of Azerbaijan, backed by activists abroad, is engaging in a campaign to gain international recognition of the 1992 massacre of over 400 Azeri civilians by Armenian forces in the village of Khojaly during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Kazakhstan is testing some new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, aka drones) from Russia, a military official has said. Kazakhstan had tried out UAVs from France and Israel but they didn't do well in the cold weather, said General-Major Almaz Dzhumakeev, commander of Kazakhstan's 36th Air Assault Brigade:
"It's necessary to strengthen the reconnaissance units. There will be a competition, a selection, we will see which is acceptable for us and our climate, taking into account the wind and the cold. There have been UAVs which took off, flew 20 meters and crashed because it was so cold..."
According to the general-major, in 2014 after the selection of the supplier country the UAVs will enter service in the armed reconnaissance units of the armed forces of Kazakhstan. "Most likely, next year they will enter service. Where there is reconnaissance, there will be UAVs," he noted.
Kazakhstan has plans to produce its own drones, and also apparently has plans to buy some small reconnaissance drones from the Russian Irkut Corporation.It's also been looking at Chinese UAVs. It's not clear from the recent news stories, but it seems likely that the Irkuts are what Maj-Gen Dzhumakeev was talking about. From the website Russian Aviation, last October:
The Kazakh Ministry of Defense (MoD) will purchase 10 Irkut-10 unmanned reconnaissance aircraft systems (UAS) from Irkut Corporation, Lenta.ru reports.
The proposal of either the U.S. or Russia building some sort of military training facility/base in southern Kyrgyzstan has been kicking around for a long time, and while there appear to have been real proposals from both Washington and Moscow, neither of them, for reasons still unclear, have ever borne fruit. Now, with Russian government approval of a deal signed late last year to place all the Russian military facilities in Kyrgyzstan under a single agreement, Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta is reporting that a Russian base in Osh is part of the deal:
Central Asian states do not face an “imminent” threat posed by Islamic militants, but they need US assistance to help defend against potential dangers, according to top US diplomats. Such assistance, it appears, may include drone aircraft delivered to Uzbekistan, which democratization watchdogs rank as one of the most repressive states in the world.
Kazakhstan and Russia recently announced an agreement to create a joint air defense network, during a visit of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to Astana. From RIA Novosti:
Russia and Kazakhstan signed a deal on Wednesday to create a joint regional air defense system, Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
“This document will create a platform to secure the defense of Kazakhstan’s airspace and Russia’s adjacent territory,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement....
Russia has previously had such an air defense agreement only with Belarus, but has planned to sign a similar one with Armenia, although the two countries do not share a border.
If that sounds familiar, the two sides announced the same thing two years ago. From RIA Novosti in December, 2010:
Russia and Kazakhstan have agreed to create a joint regional air defense network, chief of Kazakh air defenses Lt. Gen. Alexander Sorokin said on Wednesday.
"We have agreed to create a joint regional air defense network, which is similar to that of Russia and Belarus," Sorokin said, adding that the Kazakh Air Force would be responsible for defending Russian airspace along the border with Kazakhstan.
Except that, two years ago, the story continued:
"The creation of this network envisions free-of-charge deliveries of Russian S-300 air defense systems to Kazakhstan," the general said.
Since then, however, nothing more has been heard of the S-300s. I surveyed a few Russian military experts and none had heard of the systems being delivered, "which," as one said, "makes me think they were not delivered." So what happened? Given the opacity of both sides' militaries, we shouldn't hold our breaths about finding out much.
Although Uzbekistan has been getting the most attention among coalition countries in Afghanistan looking for land routes to ship their equipment back home, Tajikistan also is encouraging western countries to do the same, and the United States and United Kingdom seem to be among the interested parties.
Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake visited Dushanbe last week and met with President Emomali Rahmon. After the meeting, Blake was asked if the U.S.'s withdrawal from Afghanistan would take place through Tajikistan. His response:
[A]s you all know, the President of the United States announced during his State of the Union speech that the United States would be halving the number of troops in Afghanistan by February of next year, but I don’t expect that that operation will take place through Tajikistan.
That appeared to be a shift in policy: the U.S. has been using the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan (KKT) route as a complement to the more heavily used Uzbekistan route to ship equipment to Afghanistan. And some media reported it as such: Asia-Plus headlined its article "Washington does not plan to use Tajikistan’s infrastructure for Afghan withdrawal," while Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote that his comments showed that "the U.S. doesn't consider Tajikistan to be a transit country."
A State Department spokesperson said Blake was only referring to troops, not to equipment, and referred The Bug Pit to the Pentagon for clarification of Tajikistan's status as a transit country. Commander Bill Speaks of the Office of the Secretary of Defense confirmed that "Yes, Tajikistan will be used as part of the NDN routes for retrograde of equipment." So that's cleared up.
The Russian military has carried out its most extensive surprise inspections of units' readiness in 20 years, and the base of the 201st Motorized Rifle Division in Tajikistan was singled out as one of the poorest performers. From a report in Vedemosti (via RIA Novosti):
The first surprise inspection in 20 years took place on February 17-20 and included the Central and Southern Military Districts, the Airborne Force and the Military-Transport Aviation Command. Airborne and Army officers were deemed sluggish in transmitting combat-alert signals. Many young officers and soldiers apparently don’t drive well, and can’t shoot much better. Several malfunctioning airplanes and helicopters remained grounded.
In the exercise, units were given a surprise order to carry out tasks like deploying themselves to another base. In the case of the 201st in Tajikistan, they apparently didn't even get the message.
A duty officer at the 201st military base (located in Tajikistan, on the outskirts of Dushanbe) missed the alarm signal, which led to the delayed departure of personnel. Commander of the base, Colonel Sergey Ryumshin explained the incident by the fact that the lines of communication, which the Russian soldiers use, belong to the local authorities, and they use outdated equipment which frequently is out of service.
Anyone who's dealt with Central Asian communications technology can certainly sympathize. But is the only way for Moscow to communicate with its base in Tajikistan through local lines? Perhaps Russia will use part of its $200 million aid package to Tajikistan for some new phone equipment.
The slow start for NATO's logistics hub in Russia may be due to cost and fears of Russian meddling, according to a senior NATO-member diplomat, speaking to The Moscow Times. While France just signed an agreement with Kazakhstan to use a facility at Shymkent to facilitate withdrawal, "no alliance member has announced that it will use [Ulyanovsk] for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan," The Times writes. "The only cargo that has been sent through Ulyanovsk so far is a number of containers for the British contingent that were sent from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan to Britain in December. That shipment has been described as a 'trial' by both NATO and Russian officials."
A NATO-country diplomat speaking to the Times reporter offered some intriguing explanations for that state of affairs.
A senior diplomat from a NATO country told the panel that the route was considered too expensive. Experts from his defense ministry have calculated that shipping a container from Afghanistan through Ulyanovsk costs 50,000 euros, while sending it via the Termez airbase in Uzbekistan costs only 30,000 euros, the diplomat told The Moscow Times, asking not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
But Yury Gorlach, a deputy director in the Foreign Ministry's European department, argued that Ulyanovsk was worth the extra cost because it was safer. "When you send valuable cargo from Afghanistan, Ulyanovsk is an option," he said.
The senior NATO member diplomat suggested that alliance countries are reluctant not just because of financial reasons. "They do not like the idea that Russian intelligence can take a close look at what they send back from Afghanistan," he said.
A special police unit from Tajikistan's Ministry of Internal Affairs during counter-terrorism training.
A program by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to provide human rights training to police in Uzbekistan has sparked controversy, with local activists arguing that such training is at best useless and would simply be window dressing.
The training, funded by the government of Germany, will train 50 police in the Kashkadarya, Andijan, Ferghana and Namangan regions. According to an OSCE press release:
Participants in the training courses will study basic principles of human rights and the international system of human rights protection. They will also discuss case studies on the role of law enforcement agencies in ensuring rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and privacy.
Well, who could object to that? It turns out, human rights activists in Uzbekistan, according to a report on UzNews.net.
Human rights activists in Tashkent are convinced that these training courses serve no useful purpose and what the OSCE and the German government are doing is simply the imitation of training.
Human rights activist Tatyana Dovlatova believes that the Uzbek police “could not care less about international law”. “All these courses of the OSCE are just idle talk,” she said....
Another human rights activist, Shuhrat Rustamov, said that training courses for the Uzbek police would turn into a mere “talking shop”.
“This event is only for appearance sake,” he said.