Azerbaijan is using international aviation law to justify its threats to shoot down aircraft using the allegedly soon-to-open airport in Nagorno Karabakh, the territory that Azerbaijan lost to Armenians two decades ago. But are they interpreting the law correctly? I asked an aviation lawyer with experience in the Caucasus, whose response, essentially, was "not really." The entire response is at the bottom of this post; it's very lengthy but worthwhile if you're interested in how the law might apply here. (The lawyer asked not to be identified.)
In short, the Chicago Convention is the act that regulates international aviation; both Armenia and Azerbaijan are signatories, and it is what Azerbaijan has used in public justifications of the policy to shoot down aircraft in its airspace. After the Soviet Union shot down a Korean Airlines passenger jet in 1983, the convention was amended to more precisely deal with civilian aircraft violating another country's airspace. As the lawyer explains, in this case Azerbaijan would have to make a positive identification that this is a military flight before shooting it down:
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake meets Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev January 16 in Bishkek.
The U.S.'s top diplomat dealing with Central Asia, Robert Blake, visited Kyrgyzstan last week and if we are to believe Press.kg, all over Bishkek, "even in schools and kindergartens, for three days they are saying 'Blake is coming! Blake is coming!'" Journalistic hyperbole aside, this was a highly anticipated visit, as it seems that negotiations over the U.S.'s Manas air base are starting in earnest. Before Blake left, he told Voice of America's Russian service that he would be discussing extending the lease for the base, which is now scheduled to expire in 2014. "Manas has a huge significance for the U.S. from the point of view of logistics," he said.
In Bishkek, Blake met with President Almazbek Atambayev and other officials, and while of course the details of the discussions were not divulged, Blake did make an interesting statement to the press after his meetings. He was asked if the U.S. might use the newly established French transit center in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, and he didn't say no. After it's determined what sort of U.S. troop presence there will be in Afghanistan after 2014, the U.S. will assess what sort of facilities it needs in Central Asia, he said:
Once those important decisions [on troop presence in Afghanistan] are made, then we’ll be in a better position to plan for ourselves what kind of facilities we might need either in Afghanistan or in the wider region. Again, I don’t want to speculate on the future of what those might be.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets his Tajikistani counterpart, Hamrokhon Zarifi, in Dushanbe on January 17.
The presidents of Tajikistan and Russia signed an agreement in October to extend the presence of the Russian military base in Tajikistan for another 30 years. But Tajikistan is dragging its feet on the ratification of the deal, waiting first for Russia to carry out its part of the deal, to supply duty-free petroleum products and to loosen restrictions on labor migrants, according to a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant. The Kremlin wanted all of these issues to be dealt with all at the same time, and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov just finished a visit to Dushanbe, where he attempted to iron out these issues. From Kommersant:
On the question of liberalizing the migration regime the two sides agreed that citizens of Tajikistan would be able to stay on Russian territory for 15 days without registration and to receive permission to work for a period of three years. However, as a source in the Russian delegation explained to Kommersant, before softening the regime, Moscow would like Tajikistan to somehow regulate the stream of its labor migrants, for example sending them through a special organization. The authorities in Tajikistan, though, insist that the preferential regime take effect immediately...
On the question of duty-free deliveries of Russian gas and oil products to Tajikistan, the conflict is over reexport. Moscow is against Tajikistan reexporting Russian fuel to third countries. Dushanbe is not ready to give that kind of guarantee.
According to Kommersant's source, Russia is willing to deal: "We're ready to accomodate Tajikistan even on the two disputed questions -- but only if this brings this process [on the base] to an end."
When it comes to democratization, the Caucasus and Central Asia are headed in different directions. Countries and territories in the Caucasus received better grades on political and civil rights over the past year, while Central Asia reinforced its reputation as one of the more repressive places in the world, according to an annual survey compiled by the watchdog group Freedom House.
After last week's post about Azerbaijan threatening to shoot down flights to the soon-to-open airport in Nagorno-Karabakh, a number of Azerbaijanis wrote in to argue that Azerbaijan would be fully in its rights to do so. One of them, Adil Baguirov, co-founder and member of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Azeris Network, agreed to a short email interview. It's printed, in its entirety, below.
The Bug Pit: Do you believe Azerbaijan would have a legal right to shoot down civilian aircraft going to the Karabakh airport?
Adil Baguirov: By definition, as well as from the standpoint of law and even logic, there can be no civil aircraft that would be determined, in a non-emergency situation, to land at an airport in the Armenia-occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Any and all aircraft that willingly tries to fly into, and land in, the Armenia-occupied territories of Azerbaijan, such as into the Khojaly airport (a.k.a. Stepanakert airport, or Khankendi airport) is not a civilian aircraft, but a military aircraft that can be carrying military cargo and personnel, and thus can be legally shot down. That entire airspace over the occupied territories has been a publicly declared Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) since 1992.
Uzbekistan's president Islam Karimov delivered his annual Army Day message on January 11, and along with the predictable encomia to the country's armed forces, Karimov made a few interesting statements vis-a-vis how he sees Uzbekistan's geopolitics. (Speech translated from Russian by BBC Monitoring)
As he has frequently, Karimov says that the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan will pose a threat to Uzbekistan:
In the current difficult circumstances, the international community is particularly concerned about the danger of the spread of nuclear technology and weapons of mass destruction as well as about growing confrontation, political and religious radicalism and extremism, and the ongoing conflicts in the immediate vicinity of our borders; in the first place, tension is growing in connection with the forthcoming withdrawal of ISAF from Afghanistan before and after 2014.
But this is an interesting addition:
The situation is seriously being exacerbated by rivalry of external forces in the region. Serious challenges and threats are emerging due to the intensification of activities by armed gangs and subversive and terrorist groups in border areas, as well as because of social and economic problems, political and interethnic conflicts that could lead to destabilization of the military-political situation.
It's not clear what he means here by "rivalry of external forces," but my best guess is that it has to do with Russia's plans to give a huge military aid package to Kyrgyzstan, and a somewhat more modest one to Tajikistan, with the intention of countering what it sees as U.S. influence in Uzbekistan.
Polish BRDM-2s, a Kazakhstani version of which could be yours for $14,000.
A curious classified ad appeared recently in the Kazakhstan car website Koleso ("Wheels"): "GAZ-66, KamAZA3-4310, ZIL-131, Ural-4320, Ural-375, more than 200 vehicles, fully renovated. Most with zero mileage."
An enterprising reporter from Kazakh news service KazTAG, noting that those are all military trucks and transports of various kinds, called the number in the listing, and found that there were even unspecified types of armored reconnaissance and patrol vehicles (BRDM in Russian) for sale: "We're selling renovated military equipment," the seller told the reporter. "We also have BRDMs for sale. On average, a GAZ-66 military truck will cost 12-14 thousand dollars. The price for an BRDM will depend on configuration, but no more than 14 thousand dollars."
A military expert told the agency that "a BRDM can be useful not just to hunters, but also to extremists, for use in hard-to-reach regions and clashes with security structures. The armor on the machine is weak, but it can handle any small arms used in our special forces units. By virtue of its speed and maneuverability it's not easy to hit with a grenade launcher. Likewise, a BRDM travels well off-road, which is important for criminals in setting up arms caches in hard-to-reach places, as with the extremists in Aktobe."
Nazarbayev during his November, 2012 visit to Paris, during which he signed a military transit agreement.
Kazakhstan has agreed to allow France to ship its military equipment from Afghanistan via a new transit hub at Shymkent, in southern Kazakhstan. President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed the agreement on Wednesday, and the plan is to fly the (non-lethal) equipment from Kabul to Shymkent, where it will be loaded on to trains and shipped via Russia to the Baltic Sea. As part of the deal, France has agreed to renovate some of the facilities in Shymkent. From Tengrinewws.kz:
France will fund construction of the needed infrastructure for the temporary bond storage and the area of enhanced customs control for the transshipment operations in Shymkent airport. France will also allocate funds for procurement or rent of loading equipment and vehicles for the railroad spur, construction of additional roads with hard surfacing of around 400 meters, protection of freights in the temporary storage and en route on Kazakhstan’s railroad.
Earlier Kazakhstan Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Aleksey Volkov, who presented the draft law in the Parliament, said that the agreement on transit will help turn Shymkent into a beneficial international transport hub.
A couple of points to consider: Kazakhstan has been pushing the U.S. to use Aktau, on the Caspian Sea, in a similar fashion. So this deal raises the question, why hasn't Kazakhstan been pushing the U.S. to use Shymkent, or did Kazakhstan want France to use Aktau and the French wanted Shymkent instead?
Iran has rejected claims that a new, potentially huge oil deposit in the Caspian Sea is in Azerbaijan's waters, while Baku remains conspicuously silent on the issue. BBC Monitoring reports, via the Iranian Students' News Agency:
The oil minister [of Iran] has rejected a claim by the Azerbaijani government to the ownership of the Sardar Jangal oil field [in the Caspian Sea].
As ISNA reported, asked about his opinion on the recent statement by the Azerbaijani government on the Sardar Jangal oil field and reasons behind such a claim, Rostam Qasemi said: This is a claim; we are drilling the Sardar Jangal oil field.
He added: Sardar Jangal is a completely separate oil field and is within Iran's territory. It belongs to our country.
To review: last year, Iran claimed that it had found a massive new oil reserve in the Caspian. But Iran's description of where the deposit was appears to place it in waters that Azerbaijan claims.
Also recently, Iran has said it is building a refinery on the Caspian to process crude from the field. (Though Tehran's projections of the size of the field appear to have decreased, from 10 billion barrels to 2 billion, of which 500 million are recoverable.)
When Azerbaijan threatened in 2011 to shoot down flights to the newly built airport in Nagorno Karabakh, swift international condemnation forced them to back down. Now, with the long-delayed airport apparently close to opening, Baku has reiterated those threats. Reports News.az:
Azerbaijan’s Missile Defense Forces are keeping under control the entire airspace, including the occupied regions, a senior official of the Military Air Forces and Missile Defense Forces told APA exclusively on condition of anonymity.
He said the airspace is kept under control through the radar systems. Azerbaijani Army has been placed on alert in order to prevent any attempt of the opposite side.
“We record even the drones launched by Armenians in Karabakh airspace. Armenians’ attempts to operate unpermitted flights in this territory will be prevented. We are keeping under control all the processes and ready to prevent them. It is possible through various methods, the opposite side knows it very well,” he said.
The Armenian authorities who control the disputed territory of Karabakh hope that the establishment of flights in and out of the self-proclaimed republic will help mitigate their isolation; it's now only possible to reach the territory by a long drive through the mountains from Armenia.