The defense bill that President Obama signed into law on December 31 contained a provision by which the U.S. could again start providing military aid to Uzbekistan, if the Secretary of State certifies that there is a national security reason for doing so. It also requires the State Department to provide an assessment of the progress that Uzbekistan has made in human rights.
Today, the State Department for the first time used that waiver, State Department officials tell The Bug Pit. And they sent along the language of the human rights assessment, which will likely warm the hearts of human rights groups: despite several recent statements by U.S. diplomats suggesting that Uzbekistan's human rights situation might be improving, there is no such implication in this document. (Of course, this is also probably why the State Department volunteered to send the document along.) The entire assessment is below, and it summarizes the woeful state of political, religious and media freedom; prison conditions; torture; child and forced labor; and the lack of an independent investigation into the notorious Andijan "events."
I wasn't told what aid specifically the State Department was seeking to provide via this waiver, but presumably it is the $100,000 in border guard training that has been already discussed. Anyway, the takeaway here appears to be that the U.S. can provide military aid to Uzbekistan without saying silly things about human rights there.
President Almazbek Atambayev meets his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, in Ankara.
Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev has made his first foreign trip since becoming president, to Turkey. And while trade and aid seemed to top the agenda, the two sides also agreed to increase military cooperation, reports 24.kg:
Turkey will assist Kyrgyzstan in strengthening of Defense Ministry, Security Council and Frontier Service. It was announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Ruslan Kazakbaev during the official visit of President Almazbek Atambayev to Turkey.
According him on bilateral negotiations the issues of security, fighting against international terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal migration, strengthening of Defense Ministry, Frontier Service and law machinery,” said Ruslan Kazakbaev.
As the minister noted the issue of quota increasing for students, officers and young diplomats wishing to study in Turkey was also discussed. “Turkish part is going to support our request,” added the Minister.
And Central Asia Online reports, citing a Kyrgyzstan defense ministry statement, that Turkey will help build a military school in Osh and build up the country's defense industry:
“One of the high-priority issues for Kyrgyzstan is construction of an Armed Forces Military Institute in Osh,” said Kyrgyz Defence Minister Taalaybek Omuraliyev. “Its creation would permit us to train highly skilled officers for the Armed Forces and other Kyrgyz military forces.”
“Another important direction that we’d like to develop is the opening of joint defence industry factories,” he said. “We could foresee the conduct of joint tactical counter-terrorism exercises in Kyrgyzstan and Turkey.”
A pseudonymed analyst writing in Asia Times suggests that the visit was an effort by Atambayev to add more vectors to his country's foreign policy:
Russia will be holding a series of military exercises in the North Caucasus, Armenia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia this fall, reportedly in preparation for a possible U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran. The exercises, called Kavkaz-2012, will be held in September and won't be tactical/operational but strategic (i.e. won't involve large numbers of troops). The exercises will, however, include officers from the breakaway Georgian territories. The focus on surveillance, air defense and logistics suggests that Russia is tailoring the exercise to prepare for a U.S.-Israel-Iran war, says Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta:
As suggested by the head of the Center for Military Forecasting, Colonel Anatoly Tsyganok, "Preparations for the Kavkaz-2012 exercises seems to have begun already largely due to the increasing military tensions in the Persian Gulf." "In a possible war against Iran may be drawn some former Soviet countries of South Caucasus. How, then, to ensure the viability of Russian troops stationed abroad, for example, in Armenia? Apparently, the General Staff will plan some proactive measures, including learning to organize in critical logistic supply of troops," said the expert.
President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan has said that the departure of U.S. and coalition troops from Afghanistan will bring "an increased threat of the expansion of terrorist and extremist activities, increased tension and confrontation" and "the creation of a permanent source of instability here." He made the comments in a televised address to the country's armed forces on the occasion of their 20th anniversary. Trend.az has reprinted a summary of Karimov's speech, but BBC Monitoring has the whole thing. This was the most intriuging part:
The Central Asian region, due to its geopolitical and geo-strategic importance and vast mineral resources in recent years become an object of close attention and the intersection of strategic interests of major states, is characterized by ongoing tension and confrontation in Afghanistan, where the war is under way already for more than 30 years.
The announced upcoming withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force in 2014 could lead to an increased threat of the expansion of terrorist and extremist activities, increased tension and confrontation in this vast region as well as to the creation of a permanent source of instability here.
This will require reforms to the Uzbekistan's armed forces, Karimov continued:
[T]he drastically changed conditions and the nature of modern military operations, which differ with their suddenness, quickness and rapidity, using small mobile units, should always be borne in mind.
An analysis of military operations in modern military conflicts and local wars shows the use of radically new combat systems of special task forces; the wider use of non-contact forms and methods of warfare with the use of advanced information technologies and modern high-precision weapons.
The newly appointed head of intelligence in the Chinese People's Liberation Army, Major General Chen Youyi, is an expert on Russian, eastern European and Central Asian affairs. Some analysts have speculated that his appointment is the result of the PLA's concern about threats from its west, both from the province of Xinjiang but also from Central Asia, says the South China Morning Post:
Terence Yeung, an expert in eastern Europe and Central Asia at Hong Kong Baptist University, said Chen's familiarity with security and anti-terrorism issues in Central Asia, next to restive Xinjiang, could be one reason for his promotion.
A retired PLA major general, who refused to be named, said yesterday that despite Chen's specialisation in Russian, eastern European and Central Asian affairs, he could also handle relations with Western countries with ease. "Xiong Guangkai - a former chief of military intelligence - worked as a military diplomat in Germany for years, despite the fact that he studied English," he said, adding that promoting well-educated officers to leading posts in the PLA had become a trend.
Anyway, as head of military intelligence, he doubtless already is well-informed about the ethnic composition of the PLA. But for the rest of us, Xinhua has an illuminating report from Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, home of China's Uighur population:
With a high nose bridge and deep blue eyes, 21-year-old Hesenjan looks like the typical Caucasian. And he is, but he wears the uniform of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China.
Georgia has released its new "National Security Concept" document, updating it from the 2005 version which said there was “little possibility of open military aggression against Georgia." Now, unsurprisingly, Russia dominates the document (pdf): of the twelve "Threats, Risks and Challenges to the National Security of Georgia" it identifies, ten are tied to Russia and its role in the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Equally unsurprisingly, the U.S. tops the list in the document's section on "Strengthening foreign relationships." But the rest of the list is interesting to peruse. Ukraine is the second country mentioned, ranking as a "strategic partner." Turkey is next, as "Georgia’s leading partner in the region," with cooperation in trade, energy and military spheres. It then cites the importance of relations with "Central and Southeast European and Scandinavian states," as well as Moldova and Belarus, but for whatever reason doesn't mention Western Europe at all (though of course the EU and NATO as organizations are prominently featured). There is a whole paragraph on Latin America and the Caribbean, but no mention of France, Germany, the UK? No doubt the Western European reluctance to admit Georgia into NATO is the major factor there.
A new U.S. law mandating a "normalization" of defense relations with Georgia won't change anything between Washington and Tbilisi, says a U.S. diplomat. Philip Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, gave a press conference for foreign press on Monday and a Russian reporter asked him about the new law:
[O]n Georgia, I don’t think it changes our approach so far. We have a security relationship with Georgia that has significantly been focused on education and training, and on Georgia’s hugely important commitment to Afghanistan. Georgia, on a per capita basis, is one of the most, either first or second, biggest contributors to Afghanistan. They have, even in recent days, taken casualties. And it underscores the risks that they are taking on our common behalf, protecting common security, and we will continue to work with Georgia on that basis.
Where specific weapons sales are concerned, we treat it like we do with other countries. They’re taken a case-by-case basis, taking a lot of factors into account. But we’ll continue that security relationship with Georgia in all of those ways.
This puts a little meat on the skeleton of President Obama's signing statement, in which he declared his intention to ignore the law. Civil.ge, reporting on Gordon's comments, notes that they are in line with what the Obama administration has been saying all along:
The presidential campaign in the U.S. has begun in earnest, with Republicans in New Hampshire going to the polls tomorrow to choose who they want to challenge Barack Obama in November. If, as expected, Mitt Romney wins there (as he did in Iowa last week) it will come pretty close to guaranteeing that he is the Republicans' candidate. So, what do we know about what a President Romney might do in The Bug Pit's world?
Not much. The biggest clue is his rhetoric on Russia which, not surprisingly, is hostile. From his campaign's foreign policy white paper (pdf):
Upon taking office, Mitt Romney will reset the reset. He will implement a strategy that will seek to discourage aggressive or expansionist behavior on the part of Russia and encourage democratic political and economic reform.
The two greatest impacts that the reset has has on the Caucasus and Central Asia are 1. allowing cooperation with Russia over the Northern Distribution Network to transport military materiel to Afghanistan and 2. holding Georgia at somewhat arm's length (at least compared to the enthusiastic embrace of Obama's predecessor, President Bush).
Romney suggests he'd be much less conciliatory on missile defense than Obama has been, which could put the NDN into jeopardy (Russia has frequently suggested that those two issues are linked). Would Romney risk it? One could plausibly argue that a missile shield encircling Russia would be more useful to the U.S. in the long run than a supply route to a doomed theater of war which the U.S. is supposed to start withdrawing from in 2014, anyway. But his military advisers would no doubt push him to not do anything to threaten the NDN.
Competing aid packages offered by the U.S. and Russia to either maintain or close the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan in 2009 were aimed at "buying" the re-election of former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, U.S. diplomatic cables show. The embassy acknowledged that helping build up a "war chest" for a "corrupt and authoritarian government" could result in "political blow-back," but didn't appear to think that should necessarily outweigh the advantages of such a plan.
The Pentagon's role in fostering corruption in the Bakiyev government, via murky contracts to supply the air base with fuel, have been investigated. But the cables show that the State Department also was willing to funnel money to Bakiyev in ways that embassy officials themselves recognized would affect the election -- and then criticized the election afterwards for its "misuse of government resources" to aid Bakiyev's reelection campaign.
In February 2009, Russia offered Kyrgyzstan a $2.15 billion aid package, and Bakiyev immediately reciprocated by announcing the closure of the U.S. base. A few days after that announcement, on February 5, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek wrote a cable arguing that Bakiyev needed the money for upcoming presidential elections. While a large portion of the Russian aid would go towards building a dam and so would be "irrelevant to Bakiyev's short-term need for campaign cash," the rest would make up a "slush fund" for him: