Russia is going to start sending $1 billion in weapons to Kyrgyzstan this year, said Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. That appears to be an acceleration of earlier plans; just the day before Shoigu had said that the shipments would start next year.
Igor Korotchenko, the editor of a Kremlin-affiliated defense magazine, said that the shipments would likely include: "tanks, armored vehicles and personnel carriers, as well as rocket launchers, artillery, small arms, and surveillance and communication systems."
Possibly relatedly, Kyrgyzstan's government announced that it would sell its shares in the Soviet-legacy Dastan torpedo factory and that "Kyrgyzstan's government said Russian investors would be given priority in purchasing the shares in the factory ... at an auction in the fall."
Some good context for these moves can be found in a useful new paper (pdf) published by two of the best scholars dealing with Central Asian geopolitical issues, Alex Cooley and Marlene Laruelle. The paper, titled "The Changing Logic of Russian Strategy in Central Asia: From Privileged Sphere to Divide and Rule?" details how the Kremlin has recently moved towards prioritizing its ties with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as client states:
A ceremony honoring military dogs; Sheila, who worked at Manas, is on the right. (photo: Micah Garbarino, US Air Force)
At a U.S. Air Force ceremony last week honoring retiring military dogs, two of the dogs achieved distinction for their service at the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. From a report in Stars and Stripes:
Arras, a German shepherd born Aug. 26, 2006, was assigned to Tinker on Dec. 10, 2008, the start of his military career. Arras was deployed in support of Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan and Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. He used his keen detection ability to locate explosives and deter terrorist attacks against the bases....
Sheila, a Belgian Malinois born on Sept. 10, 2006, was assigned to Tinker on July 30, 2008, the start of her military career. Sheila deployed twice to Manas Air Force Base, Kyrgyzstan. She used her keen detection ability to locate explosives and deter terrorist acts.
Wait, attempted terrorist attacks against Manas? Why are we only hearing about this now -- and from a dog retirement ceremony of all places?! Well, it turns out that, like many proud pet owners, the Air Force may have exaggerated the accomplishments of Arras and Sheila a bit. A Manas spokesman tells The Bug Pit:
[T]he dogs succeeded in their mission to deter attacks because of their capabilities. They did not literally locate explosives, nor were there any actual terrorist attacks they foiled. Instead, their capabilities and their presence prevented people from attempting such actions.
Ah well. I often claim that my cat can play fetch, when in fact he only very occasionally brings back what I throw him. And I'm sure that had there really been a attempted terror attack, Arras and Sheila would have helped foil it (unfortunately, I don't think I can say the same for my cat). So let's wish Arras and Sheila a happy retirement.
Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps is establishing a naval presence on the Caspian Sea, suggesting that Tehran is placing a greater emphasis on security in the Caspian region. An Iranian naval official announced on Saturday that the IGRC Navy is setting up a training center on the Caspian, "tasked with training the IRGC Navy vessel crews to enable them conduct the necessary maneuvers in the Caspian Sea waters," the official said, according to the Fars News Agency.
As Fars points out, security in the Caspian has previously been entrusted to the regular navy, while the IRGC Navy has had responsibility for the Persian Gulf. But that looks to be changing: "The IRGC Navy which is now responsible for defending the country's territorial waters in the Persian Gulf is also expanding its activities in the Caspian Sea, although security of Iran's Caspian waters has been entrusted on the Army's naval force."
This announcement comes soon after Iran and Russia announced their intention to conduct joint exercises on the Caspian, and as Iran is conducting its own drills on the sea "to display Iran's power of safeguarding the country's territorial waters."
Alex Vatanka, an Iran security expert at the Middle East Institute, told The Bug Pit that the move is likely targeted toward Azerbaijan, which has a quiet dispute with Iran over the two countries' boundaries in the sea -- in particular the hydrocarbon resources in the disputed region:
Russia has promised to upgrade its military base in Armenia, while also helping to bolster Armenia's own air forces, as controversy continues to brew in Armenia over Moscow's huge weapons delivery to foe Azerbaijan. It's not clear to what extent the former is tied to the latter, but Armenian analysts say that Russia does appear to be trying to assuage public opinion among Armenians stung by Russia's apparent betrayal.
Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization Nikolay Bordyuzha was in Armenia last week, and though details were scarce, he appeared to endorse a CSTO base in that country, as well as creating a Caucasus-based CSTO air force. Reported RIA Novosti:
Modernization of Russia’s 102nd Military Base at Gyumri, in northern Armenia near its border with Turkey, and the airbase at Yerevan’s Erebuni Airport will begin this year and continue for several years, Artur Bagdasaryan, head of the National Security Council, said after a meeting with Nikolai Bordyuzha.
“Collective security forces are being formed in the South Caucasus region where Armenia is the sole CSTO member state. Joint air forces will also be set up here,” explained Baghdasarian.
“Armenia’s air force will be expanded,” he told a joint news conference with Bordyuzha. “Not only the air force but also the air-defense system in general will be modernized and re-equipped. The Russian military base [in Armenia] will also re-equipped. In terms of modernization, 2014 will be a very important year.”
A Russian vessel takes part in 2011 exercises on the Caspian Sea. (photo: mil.ru)
Russia and Iran will conduct joint naval exercises on the Caspian Sea some time this year, Russian and Iranian military officials have announced. Iran sent a small naval flotilla last week to Astrakhan, the base of Russia's Caspian fleet, and on Saturday Nikolay Yabukovsky, deputy commander of Russia's Caspian Fleet, said that "Port calls and joint exercises with the forces of the Caspian Fleet are planned for the second half of this year."
Particularly interesting was the statement of Iran's military attache to Moscow, Colonel Soleiman Adeli, who told the Fars News Agency: "Iran and Russia want the Caspian Sea littoral states to protect the security of the Sea without the foreign powers' interference and they consider the presence of the aliens as a cause of tension and strife."
So now that Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev has signed the law annulling the agreement with the U.S. to host the Manas air base, what's the future of the base? It's still not clear that the law will have any legal impact, as the date it specifies for the U.S. departure was the date that the current agreement was supposed to expire anyway. While the law seems an obvious political signal, what is the government trying to say?
In a must-read analysis for the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, Erica Marat notes that until recently, Kyrgyzstan's parliament was poised to defeat the bill calling for the annulment of the base agreement. But then a number of events changed their calculation. From the U.S. side, the Department of Justice dropped charges against former first-son Maxim Bakiyev, to the dismay of many in the new government. Meanwhile, Russia -- which has long opposed the base's existence -- agreed to fund a strategic hydropower plant and to forgive $500 million of Kyrgyzstan's debt. Thus, the 91-5 vote in parliament in favor of annulment.
Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili meets his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, during a visit to Israel (photo: office of the prime minister of Israel)
When Georgia's prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, led a delegation to Israel this week, the agenda reportedly included restarting the two countries' defense ties. In advance of Ivanishvili's visit, Georgian Defense Secretary Irakli Alasania told Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv (via BBC Monitoring) that "We are no longer at war with Russia, and we can advance our security relations with Israel.” Ma'ariv also said that Georgia was seeking to buy Israeli weapons including UAVs, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze, however, explicitly denied those reports, saying “Cooperation in the defense sphere might be touched upon, but it will in no way be related to arms procurement [from Israel] or something like that.”
During their public appearance together, Ivanishvili and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu did not mention defense cooperation. (Netanyahu did mention that the “great challenges that come from Iran” would be on the agenda; the Wall Street Journal last week published an extensive investigation into how Iranian businesses use Georgia to evade international sanctions.)
The military ties between the two countries once included Israeli training of Georgian soldiers and a small, but significant, number of arms sales. Israel sold Aerostar and Hermes-450 unmanned aerial vehicles to Georgia, as well as mobile rocket launchers.
A statement adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives threatens that U.S.-Georgia "political, economic and security" ties may be harmed by the new government's zeal to bring to justice former ruling party members. The scale of arrests made since last year's parliamentary elections and the coming to power of Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition has indeed troubled many, even those who looked forward to a reckoning of the crimes of the former government. The irony is that these ostensible opponents of that overreach --arguing that it is "motivated by political considerations" -- appear to be themselves primarily motivated by political considerations.
The statement, passed last week and spearheaded by Representative Michael Turner, a Republican from Ohio, included a veiled threat to Georgia's NATO prospects:
[T]he measures taken by the Georgian Government against former officials and political opponents, apparently in part motivated by political considerations, may have a significant negative impact on cooperation between the United States and Georgia, including efforts to build a stronger relationship in political, economic, and security matters, as well as progress on integrating Georgia into international organizations... the United States must be unambiguous when democratic backsliding occurs in a key ally after a peaceful and democratic transfer of power between political parties.
The reaction from Tbilisi was as swift as you'd expect. President Mikheil Saakashvili, remarkably, took the side of the members of Congress threatening to cut support to his country:
Turkey is "strongly leaning" toward buying a Chinese air defense system, which would damage its air defense cooperation with NATO but serve Ankara's goal of increasing the amount of locally produced military equipment it buys. A report from American defense newspaper Defense News reports that:
One senior procurement official familiar with the program said the Turkish government has concluded that the Chinese proposal was technologically satisfactory, allowed technology transfer and was much cheaper than rival proposals.
The decision to select the Chinese contender awaits final approval from Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
This deal has been the subject of speculation for many years, as the competition between American, European, Chinese, and Russian systems seemed to be a sort of geopolitical bellwether. And coming on the heels of Turkey's formally becoming a "dialogue partner" of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a big Chinese deal like this would raise a lot of questions about Turkey's geopolitical trajectory. But it appears that Turkey is focusing less on geopolitics and more on its own defense industry in leaning toward the Chinese system, as the Western companies are less likely to share their technology with Turkey and allow co-production in Turkey, a condition that appears to be non-negotiable to Ankara. Nevertheless, choosing the Chinese HQ-9 would mean more difficulty in integrating with the NATO air defense equipment Turkey already hosts:
Only four percent of cargo that the U.S. military is shipping out of Afghanistan is being sent north through Central Asia, a senior U.S. military official has said. In an interview with the American Forces Press Service, Scott Anderson, U.S. Central Command's deputy director for logistics and engineering, said the Northern Distribution Network is "not as viable" as the U.S. would like, but is still a vital option for the Pentagon. The problems seem limited to shipping cargo out: the NDN has accounted for 80 percent of cargo going into Afghanistan since Pakistan shut off its border with Afghanistan in November 2011, Anderson said.
He gave a number of reasons for the low amount of outward-bound traffic on the NDN. Part of it is just geographical:
One reason, Anderson explained, is that the vast majority of U.S. forces now are operating in eastern Afghanistan, which is closer to Pakistan than the NDN. “The majority of our cargo simply isn’t leaving the northern part of Afghanistan,” he said.
To get it across Afghanistan to the NDN involves crossing the towering Hindu Kush mountain range -- a logistical challenge that becomes monumental during the winter months.
There are political challenges, as well, which Anderson somewhat delicately addresses:
But there are other complications to making greater use of the Northern Distribution Network, particularly for many of the shipments that initially entered Afghanistan via Pakistan or by air, Anderson explained.