For the past few years, representatives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization have generally shied away from talk that the group is a competitor for the West, trying to play down its original inception as a "NATO of the East." But it sounds like the youth are talking a little more loosely and ambitiously. At an "SCO Youth Forum" in Barnaul, Russia, the organization's representatives spoke bluntly about challenging the West, taking control of the Internet and -- perhaps most audaciously -- taking on Eurovision.
The modest proposal on the internet came from Denis Tyurin, the director of the SCO's "Business Club":
"In the Russian and international expert community there are plenty of questions about the current structure of the management of the internet. For the most part, a situation persists in which the 'switch' of global information networks is located in the US. Regardless of the efforts of the international community to give that system of management more balance, the Americans don't intend to give up the levers of control," Tyurin said.
The members of the SCO can exert influence on these processes. "Many of the countries in the SCO have compatible approaches to this problem," Tyurin noted. "The SCO, acting as an example for other international organizations, could become a prototype of a global system of management of the internet."
A Cobra 4x4 armored vehicle, of the type that will be built in Kazakhstan.
Turkish defense manufacturer Otokar has announced it will start producing its Cobra armored vehicles in Kazakhstan. The deal seems to follow precisely the model that Kazakhstan has been imposing on its foreign military contractor vendors: Kazakhstan will buy their stuff if they set up a local joint venture, manufacture in Kazakhstan, and arrange for Kazakhstan's engineers to eventually be able to produce the product themselves. From Hurriyet:
Under the deal, Otokar will launch a joint venture with NK Kazakhstan Engineering to produce Otokar’s 4x4 Cobra armored vehicles. The number of vehicles and the size of the contract have not yet been announced...
The agreement is a follow-up deal on an earlier contract Otokar won last May to sell scores of vehicles to the Kazakh army....
NK Kazakhstan Engineering has been tasked with building the production facility for the Cobra vehicles, while Otokar will transfer production know-how and deliver all parts and components for production, officials said.
The deal was signed October 12 during a visit by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Turkey, and represents the first Turkish armored vehicle to be produced outside that country. The company says that it has already sold 25,000 Cobras to 30 countries around the world, among them Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Uzbekistan may have suspended its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization this summer, but the CSTO wants the final word: the organization's collective security council is holding a meeting in Moscow on December 19, where the presidents of member states "will make the final decision and we will state our position on that step" by Uzbekistan. That's according to CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Borduyzha, on a visit to Belarus, adding that he hoped Uzbekistan's suspension was temporary.
And Russia's representative to the CSTO, Igor Lyakin-Frolov, said "the door was open" to Tashkent: "We are moving toward a suspension of Uzbekistan's membership, bu we would hope that the door would not be closed for the return to the organization in the case of a change in the political situation in that country," he said.
And he added that Uzbekistan's move "wasn't unexpected," and had to do with Uzbekistan's concern about where the organization was heading:
"The fundamental reason for Uzbekistan's suspension of its membership in the CSTO is principally different views toward the development of the organization. Uzbekistan's leadership put the fundamental accent on rendering support in the case of aggression against one or several CSTO members," the diplomat said.
But lately, a course was discussed and supported by the majority of governments, including Russia, on turning the organization into a multi-profiled structure not only acting against external aggression, but also repelling contemporary threats and challenges -- terrorism, drug trafficking, illegal migration, and cyberterrorism, said Lyakin-Frolov.
US officials are happy with a program that helps steer Pentagon contracts to local businesses in Central Asia. But Central Asian governments are grousing that they aren’t making enough of a profit off of the Afghan war.
Turkey's protracted shopping for a long-range air defense system has been a sort of geopolitical bellwether for the country: in addition to considering systems from NATO allies U.S. and Italy, Ankara has been looking at Russian and Chinese options. If it goes for the latter, NATO has reportedly promised to cut Turkey out of its air defense monitoring system. But now it looks like Turkey may be abandoning the purchase altogether, reports Defense News:
Turkey's highest defense body might decide to indefinitely postpone the country's $4 billion air defense program, effectively killing it, sources and observers said.
In addition to analysts' criticism that the long-range air and missile defense system is too expensive, other recent developments have raised questions about the project.
This month, for example, MBDA of Italy, one arm of bidder Eurosam, arranged a tour for several Turkish journalists to observe firing tests at two Italian land and naval installations. Turkish defense authorities at the last minute declined to permit reporters to visit the Italian sites, and MBDA had to cancel the tour.
This led to speculation that the program was going to be canceled or indefinitely postponed.
(Not really germane to the main point, but it's remarkable that the Turkish government could forbid reporters from visiting Italy to see an Italian company exhibition.)
The problem is that Turkey may not need such a system:
Before the "New Silk Road" was ever official U.S. policy, there was talk among Washington wonks and U.S. policymakers of transforming the military Northern Distribution Network -- the system of supply routes the Pentagon uses to get its equipment to Afghanistan -- into a civilian, commercial trade network. But when the U.S. State Department rolled out its New Silk Road Initiative last year, there was never any connection made between that idea and the NDN.
That looks like it's changing, however. In a speech last week, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake, made that connection explicit:
[W]e should not overlook the economic potential of the NDN. The existing infrastructure and transit routes used to transport military cargo can and should be used by the private sector to continue trade across the region, where there is ample opportunity for growth. The economic potential of a more open and integrated region – full of untapped human and natural resources – is virtually unlimited.
And at an event last week at the Open Society Foundations Washington office, Blake's deputy Lynne Tracy made the same point, calling the NDN a "proof of principle" for the New Silk Road.
Kyrgyzstan's president Almazbek Atambayev has repeatedly said he wants to create a "civilian transport hub" at the country's main airport in Manas after the U.S. moves its air base out (at an as-yet-undetermined time). And it looks like the U.S. government is trying to help Kyrgyzstan in that effort: the U.S. Trade and Development Agency is seeking bids for a business plan for just such a proposal. From the call for proposals:
As the Manas Transit Center and the U.S. military reduce operations at Manas International Airport, Manas International Airport Company is now considering how best to use the existing assets that will become available for civilian operation. Kyrgyzstan’s President Atambayev has expressed an interest in trying to make the Manas International Airport into a hub airport.
Recent statistics would support greater civilian passenger and cargo operations; from 2007 to 2011, civilian passenger traffic increased nearly 175% to nearly 1.6 million passengers per year. General operations increased by 118%, however, total civilian cargo volume (in tons) dropped about 16% to nearly 21,500 tons (which is consistent with the worldwide air cargo decline resulting from the recession). Manas International Airport is expected to share in the general air cargo volume growth in Asia, which is projected at more than 6% annually through 2029.
The contractor will assess "assess the regulatory and market conditions, as well as the developmental impacts associated with the Project, including infrastructure improvement projects needed to support the business plan" and "work directly with the Ministry of Transport and Communication of the Kyrgyz Republic and Manas International Airport company."
The arrest of former Kyrgyzstani first son Maxim Bakiyev in the U.K. earlier this month, and Washington's request to extradite him for financial crimes in the U.S., has prompted speculation that Bakiyev might be a bargaining chip in future negotiations between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan over the Manas air base.
Kyrgyzstan wants to try Bakiyev for crimes he committed in that country while his father Kurmanbek was president. The U.S. wants Kyrgyzstan to keep allowing it the use of Manas. So, the thinking is, the two sides can make a deal: the U.S. would extradite Bakiyev to Kyrgyzstan in exchange for an extension of Manas's lease.
The U.S. also could use information that Bakiyev gives them to in effect blackmail the current Kyrgyzstan government, Washington Times:
Mars Sariyev, an independent political analyst in Bishkek, said Maksim Bakiyev’s arrest could have been prompted by the Kyrgyz government’s refusal to renew the lease, a position that President Almazbek Atambayev reiterated during a recent visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia also operates a military facility in Kyrgyzstan — Kant Air Base.
Georgia's new defense minister nominee Irakli Alasania has said that he wants to decrease the size of the country's military, making it leaner and quicker:
“We need a very small but highly mobile army that will be able to stand up to new threats” such as terrorism and extremism, said Alasania, leader of the Our Georgia-Free Democrats party, in an interview with RIA Novosti.
This is standard 21st century defense ministry rhetoric around the world, and it's especially something that U.S. defense advisers work on with partner post-Soviet militaries, which inherited a legacy of poorly trained but large armed forces, focused primarily on territorial defense.
But Georgia is an interesting case, since it does have a territorial dispute with Russia and the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Jane's Sentinel (full entry subscription only) notes that Georgia had been on the path to a smaller, leaner armed forces, but that that was derailed by the 2008 war with Russia:
The Georgian Armed Forces (GAF) are currently in the midst of wide-reaching reforms. The Strategic Defence Review (SDR) of 2007 set out a restructuring programme for the period to 2015 that ultimately sought to develop relatively small, numerous and more deployable brigades within a joint forces command structure that would ultimately do away with separate combat naval and air forces.
Ceremony of the launch of rocket-artillery ship "Kazakhstan" in Aktau
Kazakhstan has formally launched its first warship in the Caspian Sea, the rocket-artillery ship "Kazakhstan", with a ceremony in Aktau, the country's main naval base, on October 18.
Kazakhstan's defense minister, Adilbek Dzhaksybekov, said at the ceremony that the Caspian is "becoming a strategic zone of global significance.":
"The government is taking measures to create here a self-sufficient group of armed forces, equipped with up-to-date weapons and technology, capable of defending the military security of the Caspian region in all spheres -- in the water, land and air."
Dzhaksybekov reiterated that Kazakhstan is building two more ships of the same type as "Kazakhstan," which underwent three months of testing in the Caspian this summer before formally entering service, reported CaspioNet (which has a video of the opening ceremony).