Kazakhstan's defense industry will soon be manufacturing helicopters, night vision equipment, 1,000-ton warships, armored personnel carriers and drones – all with the help of foreign companies.
Kazakhstan's market for military equipment is still small, but it's growing, and foreign defense contractors want a share of the business. But the government of Kazakhstan is imposing the same condition on nearly every deal it makes with a foreign defense company: they have to set up manufacturing in Kazakhstan, hand over the technical details of the equipment, and train locals to build and repair it themselves.
At the KADEX defense expo in Astana two years ago, several of the foreign defense contractors who exhibited said they weren't enthusiastic about the requirements to cooperate with local partners.
“The Ministry of Defense is providing the same message to all companies: 'You must be here, you must be a local company. We want your technology to create new opportunities for this country.' And I think this makes sense,” one foreign exhibitor at the show said then. “But the question is going from the theory to the practice, because these guys are very far right now from being able to absorb these kinds of technologies – right now. But this is the direction.” A South Korean defense contractor who was setting up a joint venture ammunition factory in Almaty added: “There is some different thinking – we want to sell, they want us to invest.”
Scenes from Thursday's military expo/demonstration. From top: Nazarbayev arrives to view the demonstration; helicopter with Kazakhstan flag; Kazakhstan Humvee firing; military band from Tajikistan performs; Nazarbayev surveys the scene
Kazakhstan's biennial defense expo, KADEX, kicked off on Thursday in Astana with hundreds of defense companies displaying their wares, Kazakhstan's armed forces strutting their stuff, and a visit from President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
This is the second iteration of KADEX; the 2010 inaugural event was the first defense expo in Central Asia, and announced Kazakhstan's intention to be a serious player in the world arms market. This year, organizers say the event has grown, with 30 percent more participants, 250 companies from 20 countries taking part. And thanks to a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, The Bug Pit is here in Astana to cover it.
The marquee event Thursday was the demonstration of Kazakhstan's vehicles and aircraft, special forces units, and a small parade of military bands from around the world, including Germany, Poland, India, Tajikistan and the U.S. Nazarbayev and a crowd of chilled, wet VIPs were on hand to watch it.
But the real business of the show is business, with Kazakhstan showing off the fruits of its defense industry and foreign firms coming to Kazakhstan to try to make some deals here. Most of the foreign companies, unsurprisingly, were Russian or other ex-Soviet republics (though none from elsewhere in Central Asia). The turnout of non-post-Soviet companies seemed about the same as it was two years ago, with Turkish companies leading the way (they have an entire pavilion to themselves) followed by Israeli companies, and a smattering of European, U.S. and Chinese companies.
Future posts will cover some of the new developments in Central Asian defense business that are on display at the show, including how Kazakhstan has persuaded a number of Western firms to set up operations in Kazakhstan, and how the CSTO is now marketing its own military equipment, including drones. Stay tuned.
The Georgian government had laid out its expectations for the upcoming NATO summit, that it would receive "visible signs" of support from the alliance. The country's deputy secretary of the National Security Council, Batu Kutelia also said that Georgia should "be registered as part of the structure" of NATO, reports Georgian newspaper Rezonansi (via BBC Monitoring):
In his words, "the Chicago forum will not be an expansion summit but Georgia should 'be registered as part of the structure' as an aspirant country, which would confirm that Russia, a country that is not a member of the alliance, cannot veto NATO's decision to expand."
Batu Kutelia: "Aside from specific results, our main goal is to ensure that there are strong visible signs too. By 'visible signs' I mean the things that even someone without a deep knowledge of the question would understand from a distance.
"This is important for our people, the international community, the NATO member-states, and Russia which should see that the process of Georgia's accession to NATO has not slowed down.
"The most important thing that we expect from the NATO summit is that the group of aspirant countries, which includes Georgia along with three other countries, will be registered as a certain separate structure. This would be the kind of visible signal that the whole world, including the Russian Federation, would be able to see."
Iranian media have reported that Azerbaijani tanks (made in Israel, naturally) have massed on the border with Iran, which Azerbaijan has called a "provocation." This comes as tensions between the two neighbors are high due to Azerbaijan's close relationship with Israel, which seems to be contemplating an attack on Iran.
Iranian television apparently started reporting the buildup of about 30 tanks in the middle of April, and residents of Imishli, on the Azerbaijan side of the border, started contacting media in Baku to see if the reports were true. One told Vesti.az, "We hear this news every day. This information has been repeated so often that we necessarily have to believe in it."
Vesti.az contacted the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense spokesman Eldar Sabiroglu, who said it was a baseless provocation, and naturally brought Armenia into it:
"This is nonsense and stupidity. Naturally, the Armenian media immediately picked up the 'information' and raised such a howl, as if, Azerbaijan was 'going to war' not with Iran, but Armenia. They should worry that this day is not too far."
Now, the commander of the Iranian Army's Ground Forces, Brig. Gen Ahmad Reza Purdastan, has said that if there are Azerbaijani tanks on the border, they pose no threat to Iran, reports Mehr News (via BBC Monitoring):
In an interview with the agency, Purdastan noted that "I have no information about this issue. However, even if so, it is the usual thing and we do not have problems with our neighbours".
"We do not think that this move of the Republic of Azerbaijan poses threat to us," he said, adding that the movement of tanks was probably part of military drills.
So, that's settled. But as long as Israel is threatening war with Iran, we can probably expect regular attempts to drag Azerbaijan into it.
Kazakhstan is building a 2,500-kilometer system of fortifications along its borders with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, to address such threats as drug trafficking, terrorism and illegal migrants, the head of the country's border service said. And it's already underway: "Major works are currently performed in this area,” said the border service chief, Nurzhan Myrzaliev.
Myrzaliev's comments didn't make it clear exactly what the fortifications would consist of. It's also not clear why the border with Kyrgyzstan isn't being fortified, too -- it would seem like a more likely place for drug traffickers or terrorists to cross from than Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan. (UPDATE: turns out Kazakhstan is on it, and has already been fortifying that part of the southern border for two years.)
Myrzaliev also mentioned another border protection initiative, a counter-poaching operation carried out jointly by Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea. Again, that news is more noteworthy for what it leaves out: the other two Caspian littoral states, Iran and Turkmenistan, which have frosty relations on Caspian issues with Azerbaijan, in particular.
As the saying goes, good fences make good neighbors, but the Kazakhstan border fortification plan still suggests that, as the newspaper Birzhevoi Lider puts it, that Kazakhstan intends to "isolate itself" from its southern neighbors.
Cpl. Giorgi Kharaishvili, Company A, 31st Georgian Light Infantry Battalion, on patrol in Afghanistan.
Georgia lost its 16th soldier in Afghanistan this week, when Sergeant Valerian Khujadze died in a roadside bomb attack in Helmand Province. The mounting death toll has made Georgia's participation in the Afghanistan war an increasingly controversial issue in Georgia, with opposition politicians speaking out against it and soldiers trying to avoid being sent to Afghanistan.
The country's most formidable opposition figure, Bidzina Ivanishvili, does not seem to have spoken publicly about the Afghanistan mission, though he has endorsed NATO membership. Several of his political allies in his Georgian Dream movement, though, have been publicly critical of Georgia's role in Afghanistan, in a series of statements which Vladimir Socor has enumerated:
Georgian Dream’s defense and security working group chief, Irakli Sesiashvili, stated in print: “[President] Saakashvili organized a joint special operation with the Americans in Afghanistan. The [combat deaths] could have occurred because of the badly planned special operation, or due to Saakashvili’s public-relations needs.” Sesiashvili also stated on prime-time national television: “This special operation was carried out for [President] Saakashvili’s public relations needs, to honor his visit to Afghanistan." Sesiashvili is also a member of Georgian Dream’s top political team. The head of Georgian Dream’s working group on regional policies, Mamuka Areshidze, stated: “Georgian troops are now being used as cannon fodder. Armenian troops face lesser risks than do our soldiers. Our soldiers get much less pay than NATO troops".
Georgia's NATO aspirations didn't exactly get a ringing endorsement from a State Department official at a Congressional hearing Thursday previewing next month's alliance summit in Chicago. U.S. officials have been hinting that Georgia would get some sort of reward at the summit for their recent constructive steps, like compromising with the Kremlin on Russia's bid for the World Trade Organization. As the U.S.'s next ambassador to Tbilbisi, Richard Norland, said at his confirmation hearing last month:
"Serious efforts” were being undertaken by the U.S. administration to use upcoming NATO summit in Chicago “to signal acknowledgment for Georgia’s progress in these areas and to work with the Allies to develop a consensus on the next steps forward.”
That reward won't be a NATO Membership Action Plan, the holy grail for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and a virtual guarantee of future membership. But Washington still wants to signal to Georgia that they are valued -- they are, after all, the highest per-capita troop contributor to the coalition in Afghanistan -- while continuing to press them on political reforms. Norland said that the conduct of upcoming elections would be a "litmus test" for Georgia's NATO aspirations: parliamentary elections will be held this year and presidential elections next year, and Saakashvili appears determined to throw up as many obstacles as he can to his main opponent.
With NATO members meeting soon to discuss the future of the alliance's nuclear weapons, and next-door neighbor Iran threatening to get nuclear weapons itself, it's a volatile time for Turkey and nukes. Currently, Turkey hosts some U.S. nuclear bombs, along with four Western European countries. NATO has been undergoing a review of how U.S. nukes should be deployed in Europe, which was supposed to be finished by next month's summit in Chicago. But according to a recent paper from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the alliance "is unlikely to resolve the question of what to do about its forward deployed nuclear weapons before the summit."
The most likely eventual outcome, however, would seem to be that some of the European hosts of U.S. nukes (Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands) would decide to give them up, while Italy and Turkey would keep them. Turkey has been interested in maintaining that concrete measure of NATO's dedication to its defense, but some other analysts are wondering if other developments are causing Turkey to rethink its nuclear strategy.
Sinan Ülgen, also writing for Carnegie, notes that many policymakers (generally with an interest in ginning up the Iranian threat) have claimed that if Iran got nuclear weapons, that Turkey and other countries in the region would follow suit:
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is on a visit to Dushanbe, where he said that Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon has "confirmed" his interest in extending the lease on the base for Russia's 201st Motorized Rifle Division. From the AP:
Lavrov told reporters that no date for the deal’s signing has been set yet, but added that Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon had given the necessary instructions will be issued to “speed up the negotiation process.”
But there's just one snag: the price.
Tajikistan’s ambassador to Russia hinted this week that his government would seek $300 million annually in cash or equivalent in military assistance for the bases. Moscow is expected to seek a much lower fee.
Lavrov also emphasized in his speech that the base's presence wasn't just in Russia's interest, but operates under the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and is ready to counter "external" threats to Tajikistan as well.
Anyway, it's hard to argue that you're close to a deal when the two sides apparently remain far apart on the financial terms. Also telling is that Rahmon himself didn't seem to make any comments. In other words, we're still basically at the same place we were eight months ago, when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said they had reached a deal. Of course, what we see in public is just a tiny tip of the iceberg of the negotiations that are going on, so perhaps there has been some real progress. But if they are still far apart on price, then that suggests there's a long way to go.
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov Meets NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Will he be shaking hands with Obama next?
U.S. President Barack Obama should meet with his Uzbekistan counterpart, Islam Karimov, at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago, says the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce. The AUCC has written two letters, one to Obama and the other to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arguing that an Obama-Karimov meeting would improve opportunities for American businesses in Uzbekistan:
[T]he Republic of Uzbekistan is important to U.S. interests in ensuring stability and security in the region, and under the Partnership for Peace Program, NATO and Uzbekistan are developing practical cooperation in a number of areas through Uzbekistan's Individual Partnership Program and the Planning and Review Process.
The Republic of Uzbekistan's political stability as well as its determination and commitment to ensure peace in the region are important features for business success. For AUCC member companies, the positive political dialogue between the United States of America and the Republic of Uzbekistan pursued by your office reinforces the U.S. business community's ability to increase investments and exports to the Uzbek market.
The AUCC would welcome your support for the request that you meet Uzbek President Islam A. Karimov during the NATO Summit in Chicago, IL. The U.S. business community believes that such a meeting with further enhance our bilateral relations, reiterate the U.S. commercial interest in this resource-rich country and strengthen our companies' business stance in the region.
The Bug Pit obtained copies of the letters, you can read the entire letter to Obama here. (The letter to Clinton is almost identical.)
The person who sent me the letter wasn't sure if Karimov was already planning to attend the NATO summit, but if he does, that will certainly be a bit of a spectacle.