Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev meets NATO Secretary General in Brussels. (photo: NATO)
Just days after finishing up his duties as a host of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev headed to Brussels to meet with the heads of the SCO's would-be geopolitical rivals, the European Union and NATO.
From the EU, Atambayev got money -- 30 million Euros in economic aid and another 13.5 million for projects to help build the rule of law -- and some guarded praise for its decision "to pursue political and economic reforms and to consolidate a democratic multiparty system."
And from NATO, Kyrgyzstan was offered an expansion in security cooperation activities, particularly in combatting drug trafficking. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after their meeting:
Now, also beyond our ISAF operation, I think there is the potential for cooperation and partnership. One thing is our counter-narcotics projects. Within the NATO-Russia Council we have trained and educated counter-narcotics officers from across the region, including Kyrgyzstan, and I do believe that also beyond our ISAF mission there is a need to continue those counter-narcotics efforts.
Today I have also mentioned disaster response, logistics and defence reform as possible areas for enhanced cooperation.
This fall Kyrgyzstan will put up for auction its only defense industry of note, the Dastan torpedo factory, and has signaled that it intends to favor Russian investors. The Russian newspaper Kommersant interviewed Kyrgyzstan's foreign minister, Erlan Abdyldaev, and asked about the plant.
Negotiations on the sale of the Dastan plant have been going on for a long time. A commission on the preparation of documents for an investment competition has already been formed. Dastan will be put up for auction in the fall. The Kyrgyz side is interested in selling this factory to Russia.
Russia has long been interested in the plant, but Kyrgyzstan's government had only had a 48 percent stake, whereas Russia wanted a controlling interest. But the Kyrgyzstan government was able to acquire shares previously owned by exiled first son Maxim Bakiyev, bumping its share of the plant to 98 percent, according to a Kommersant report this summer (via the Moscow Times).
The factory is reportedly valued at 30 million and the surrounding territory at $180 million, and apparently has no current business. There was an interesting possibility a couple of years ago of India doing business with Dastan, but that seems to have come to naught. Maybe with a new owner that possibility could arise again?
The Obama administration's nominee to become the new top diplomat dealing with Central Asia had her confirmation hearing in the Senate last week. And if it was anything to go by, Central Asia continues to fade further and further into the periphery of U.S. policymaking.
The nominee, Nisha Desai Biswal, would succeed Robert Blake as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. Biswal is currently the assistant administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development, and during the hearing, she faced no tough questions and there is no indication she won't be confirmed.
In her prepared statement, the most detailed remarks were devoted to the U.S.'s New Silk Road Initiative:
We are clear-eyed about the challenges of promoting greater regional cooperation, but we also see the potential and opportunities. It’s telling that since former Secretary Clinton first articulated the “New Silk Road” vision in 2011, the region has adopted its own vision of greater connectivity and integration. The Administration welcomes partnership with other key players in the greater region, like China, to achieve this important goal that, in the end, will bolster peace, stability, and prosperity for all the peoples of South and Central Asia.
The potential for radical Islamist militants to appear in Central Asia after the U.S./NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan is perhaps the biggest fear in the region. But real information about militants' intentions vis-a-vis Central Asia is scarce, allowing speculation, and often fear-mongering, to fill the vacuum. So a new project by the website Registan to investigate the strategy of the biggest such group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, is very much overdue. As the site's managing editor, Noah Tucker, put it in the first post on the topic:
It seems sometimes that in all the chatter about the supposedly imminent threat of an IMU invasion of Central Asia the only people not talking about it are the IMU themselves. In contrast, earlier this year the movement splintered for at least the second time to create a special unit in cooperation with the Tehrik-e Taliban’s (TTP) Adnan Rashid to focus on prison-break operations inside Pakistan. In the latest interview Hikmatiy claims, “our jihad is part of the completion of the Hind G’azasi [the (Holy) Conquest of Greater India] that our Prophet foretold and that was longed for by his honored companions [sahoba].” The reference to this particular obscure hadith, popular mostly with the Pakistani jihadi groups, is a sign of just how deeply the IMU has been pulled into the Af/Pak political labyrinth....
Presidents of SCO member states meet in Bishkek. (photo: Kremlin)
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization held its annual summit in Bishkek on Friday, and even by the standards of this opaque organization, the results are unclear. Heads of state of the six SCO members – Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan – attended, as did those of observer states Afghanistan, Iran, and Mongolia, and delegations from India and Pakistan. (It's not clear who Turkey -- which formally became a "dialogue partner" with some fanfare earlier at last year's summit -- sent to Bishkek, suggesting it was a low-level official and that the organization is not a big priority for Ankara.) Much of the discussion seemed to be about issues outside of the SCO's mandate (as far as that has been defined so far) -- obviously Syria was a large topic, as was Iran's nuclear program. RFE/RL did the thankless job of liveblogging the event, recommended for those wanting to catch up on the small bits of news that the summit offered up.
The SCO, being ostensibly a security organization, and one whose members are all pretty close to Afghanistan, would seem to have a lot of work to do as next year's U.S./NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan looms. And while the issue was of course discussed, it remains entirely unclear what the SCO could actually do in Afghanistan. Inaction has been a flaw of the organization since its inception, wrote Alexey Malashenko in a piece for the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Armenia is seeking to become an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as Yerevan seems to be establishing its own unique brand of multivector diplomacy.
Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan made the announcement on a visit to China, and Chinese PM Li Keqiang said he would bring the issue up with other SCO members.
The SCO is a China-dominated political-military bloc that also includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The SCO has been expanding west, though, recently: Turkey became a "dialogue partner" earlier this year, a status Belarus also holds.
Sargsyan offered no explanation of what Armenia might be looking for with the SCO, so it's up to us to speculate. Armenia, of course, raised eyebrows when it came out that it had gotten multiple-launch rocket systems from China, and Armenia could be casting around for new partners, Emil Sanamyan, editor of the newspaper Armenian Reporter, told The Bug Pit. "My sense of this is an extension of the outreach to China that is made relevant by the recent diplomatic setbacks with both Europe and Russia. The recent leak re fresh weapons purchase from China seems to also be part of that," Sanamyan said. "With the EU association document killed by Russian pressure, there will be some new entity to fill the airwaves with." (Sanamyan also noted that Armenia is an observer in the Arab League, another organization whose connection to Armenia looks somewhat tenuous.)
A defector from Azerbaijan's security services says that his government has secretly been funneling arms and ammunition to Kurdish rebels in Turkey, renewing attention to long-rumored ties between Azerbaijan and the biggest enemy of its closest friend.
The allegations were made by Ibragim Musayev, a former National Security Ministry official now living in Russia, in an interview with the website Caucasian Knot -- which, with a bit of hyperbole, calls Musayev "the Azerbaijani Snowden," referring to the American security official who has also taken up residence in Russia. (Unlike the American Snowden, however, Russia appears to be getting ready to extradite Musayev back to his home country.)
In the interview, Musayev claims that a colleague discovered evidence that the Azerbaijani armed force were shipping arms to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) -- a group that Azerbaijan officially recognizes as a terrorist organization. Shortly thereafter, the colleague was arrested and then died under mysterious circumstances while in jail; Musayev says he was killed. Musayev also describes seducing Zeynalov's wife -- on orders from his superiors -- so that it could be filmed to shame her into silence.
A group of environmental activists have demanded the closure of all Russian facilities in Kazakhstan. While the focus of the group's ire appears to be the Baikonur cosmodrome, Russia's main space launch facility, it also includes an additional seven military facilities.
The announcement was made at a conference in Astana today under the title "Russian military polygons in Kazakhstan: effect on human health and perspectives." And the comments about the effort by the president of the Ecological Fund of Kazakhstan, Musagali Duambekov, focused on the danger of the rocket fuel heptyl used in the Russian Proton rockets launched from Baikonur. Baikonur has been the focus of an increasing amount of controversy lately, with Kazakhstan's government suggesting that it wasn't happy with the terms of the agreement with Russia, and a failed launch this summer which reportedly spilled the toxic fuel over Kazakhstan villages.
The activists didn't specify the Russian facilities they wanted closed, or why, but Kazakhstan also hosts Russia's Sary Shagan missile testing range and the Balkhash early-warning radar site. Tengrinews reports that Russia pays about $27.5 million annually for the bases, and also provides a number of spots in its military academies for Kazakhstani cadets.
A year ago last week, Georgian troops carried out a military operation against what it called "armed subversives" infiltrating the country from Russia. The operation, in the Pankisi Gorge where Georgia's small Chechen minority lives, reportedly killed 11 people. And President Mikheil Saakashvili, then in the heat of a parliamentary election campaign with Bidzina Ivanishvili, called the alleged incursion a "provocation" by Russia aimed at influencing the vote.
But a year on, evidence has emerged to cast serious doubt on the government's original claims, and there are credible suggestions that the operation was in fact the botched result of an attempt by Saakashvili's government to train Chechen rebels to destabilize Russia. The crux of the issue seems to be, as the headline in a recent piece by Open Democracy put it, "Is Georgia a terrorist state?"
Questions about the official version of events arose soon after the events. But the really damning counterallegations came in an April report by Georgian human rights ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili, who concluded that:
[T]he Chechens had been recruited in Europe by Georgian Interior Ministry officials, brought to Tbilisi, and trained over a period of several months in the use of weaponry with the intention of enabling them to cross the border from Georgia into Chechnya to join the ranks of the Islamic insurgency.
The impending attack by the U.S. on Syria has dominated the world's attention for the last week or so. And the powers surrounding the Caucasus and Central Asia -- notably Russia, Turkey, and Iran -- have been among the most active in discussing Syria, with Russia and Iran backing the government of Bashar al-Assad and Turkey one of the strongest supporters of the rebels. In spite of, or perhaps as a result, of that, the countries in between have taken a cautious approach to the possibility of U.S. military involvement in Syria.
Befitting its strong attachment to the U.S., Georgia's foreign ministry made a statement that appeared to endorse the American position that Assad's government should be punished for the use of chemical weapons:
“Georgia welcomes and supports readiness of the international community to play more active role in resolving humanitarian crisis in Syria and to hold the regime that committed this crime accountable for violating the fundamental international humanitarian norm."
Georgia's position is largely a factor of its ties to Turkey and the U.S., Michael Cecire, a Washington-based analyst of Georgia and the Caucasus, told The Bug Pit:
The Georgian government is happy to defer to their partners in the West and in nearby Turkey to take the lead on the issue. When it comes to Syria, Tbilisi's primary geopolitical concerns would be to ensure that the consequences from an intervention did not lead to destabilization in the South Caucasus. The Assad regime's closeness to Hezbollah and Iran, which both operate in the Caucasus to varying extents, makes this at least a possibility -- particularly in light of Hezbollah's alleged role in an early 2012 disarmed bombing attempt in Tbilisi.