Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov greets his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping upon the latter's arrival to Uzbekistan for the SCO summit. (photo: president.uz)
As the 15th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is set to start on Thursday in Tashkent, the group is poised to continue its growth, with two new members and five new partners. The group's purpose, however, remains unclear, with its diverse members apparently unable to agree on a consistent agenda.
The biggest headline after last year's summit was that India and Pakistan were invited to join the organization as full members, the first expansion since the group was founded. (The SCO currently consists of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.)
But on the eve of this year's summit, it's not clear what the timetable for their accession is. Their final accession should take place next year, Yuriy Ushakov, a senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said. "The process of accepting India and Pakistan into the SCO will enter the final stage and we expect that at the next summit in Kazakhstan, India and Pakistan will be finally admitted into the SCO ranks," he said.
A senior Indian diplomat suggested that the timetable may be looser and hinted that it is dependent on the desires of current member states. “We need to work out what we need to do … As far as India’s pace of accession at the SCO being a function of Russia, China and the four countries of Central Asia, I would say we see ourselves as following fairly flexible multilateralism. So we are quite happy to engage in multiple processes. We have been working with other members of SCO on several other fields,” said the diplomat, Sujata Mehta, at a press conference Wednesday.
A Bulgarian minesweeper takes part in NATO exercises in 2014. (photo: NATO)
Bulgaria's prime minister has said the country will not participate in a proposed joint NATO naval fleet in the Black Sea, slowing the momentum of a project that had thus far received broad support from NATO members and partners.
The move would “turn the Black Sea into a territory of war,” Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Thursday, adding that he “wants to see cruising yachts, and tourists, rather than warships.”
“To send warships as a fleet against the Russian ships exceeds the limit of what I can allow,” Borissov told reporters in Sofia on Thursday, as quoted by Bloomberg. “To deploy destroyers, aircraft carriers near Bourgas or Varna during the tourist season is unacceptable.”
The Romanian-led proposal to create a sort of joint NATO Black Sea naval force has the support of Turkey, the United States, NATO headquarters, as well as non-NATO members Georgia and Ukraine.
Bulgaria's refusal could have several causes. For one, presidential elections are coming up and Borissov may be concerned that rival, more pro-Russia parties could use the move against him, said Dimitar Bechev, a Bulgarian political scientist and fellow at Harvard's Center for European Studies. "Most of all, I think he's concerned about domestic repurcussions," Bechev said in an interview with The Bug Pit. He added that Bulgaria could likely eventually join whatever NATO naval force emerges in an "under the radar" fashion
Kazakhstan has announced that it intends to buy new military transport aircraft in response to the militant attack in the western city of Aktobe last week.
Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim Massimov announced the planned aircraft purchase as part of a series of measures including improving security in airports and train stations and creating an interagency working group on countering extremism and terrorism.
"The prime minister has ordered the Ministry of Defence together with the State Security Committee, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Finance to submit a proposal within a week on the acquisition of heavy-lift military transport aircraft," according to a statement on the government website. The statement didn't provide any more details.
This is a relatively unusual move for Kazakhstan, to announce a military procurement program so clearly in response to a single event, and it underscores the level of concern that Astana is clearly feeling about its ability to deal with these sorts of situations. The Aktobe attacks on June 5 (whose targets included a National Guard base) clearly caught the authorities wrongfooted, and the security services' response has been found wanting.
The U.S.'s primary interests in Central Asia are making sure the region doesn't become a terrorist sanctuary and protecting it from Russian influence, a senior State Department official has testified. The statement suggests a shift in Washington (rhetorically, at least) toward a Central Asia policy oriented toward security and away from political reforms and human rights.
U.S. official statements about Central Asia policy usually describe Washington's interests as threefold: promoting political and economic reform, developing the region's oil and gas resources, and improving security. The introduction to the testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Daniel Rosenblum at a congressional hearing last year was typical:
Since the fall of the Soviet Union nearly 25 years ago, the United States has supported the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of the states of Central Asia, while also promoting the political and economic reforms that can ensure their long-term stability and prosperity. U.S. security is directly tied to a stable Central Asia. Central Asia’s energy resources and transport corridors can help drive regional and global economic growth in the decades to come. And some of Central Asia’s most serious challenges – such as transnational crime, terrorism, violent extremism, and climate change – affect our national interests as well, and require us to work closely together with them.
Georgian soldiers take part in Exercise Noble Partner with the U.S. and UK in May 2016. (photo: U.S. Army)
Georgia has had to drop out of large-scale NATO military exercises because some of the soldiers slated to go were diagnosed with chicken pox.
This might not be a particularly newsworthy development for most countries but for Georgia, whose NATO membership aspirations are the foundation of its foreign policy, the episode has been controversial and embarrassing. Speculation arose that the chicken pox was just a cover story for Georgia's cold feet and fear of offending Russia, which government officials quickly tried to tamp down. Georgia's National Security Council has promised to take up the issue at its next meeting. And the Russian press eagerly seized on the event with headlines like "In Georgia, chicken pox turns out to be stronger than NATO."
The exercise, Anakonda 16, is taking place in Poland with 31,000 troops from 24 NATO and partner countries. NATO officials are framing the exercise as a "response to potential aggression from Russia against member states along the alliance’s eastern periphery." It will be followed by the alliance's summit in Warsaw, where the question of how to deal with Russia will be at the top of the agenda. Georgia, while not expecting to get an invitation for membership, nevertheless is hoping for "practical support" from NATO in its struggle against Russia.
Kazakhstani naval vessel "Oral" conducts exercises on the Caspian Sea in early June 2016. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Kazakhstan is teaming up with German, Turkish, and Spanish firms to boost its Caspian naval forces, the Ministry of Defense has announced.
The MoD signed a memorandum of intent with the German firm Abeking & Rasmussen for the delivery of corvettes for Kazakhstan's navy. The two sides also discussed establishing a ship-building facility in Kazakhstan. "We are ready to cooperate with the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan and support the establishment of shipbuilding. Our aim - to create in Kazakhstan a modern shipbuilding enterprise, so it can compete at the global level and contribute to quality production," said Thomas Haake, sales director of Abeking & Rasmussen, according to an MoD press release.
In addition, the MoD also signed a memorandum of understanding with Turkish shipbuilder Dearsan to provide corvettes, and with the Spanish company SEAS to jointly produce naval mines in Kazakhstan. It's not clear what the relationship between all of these deals is, in particular the apparent similarity between the German and Turkish deals; none of the companies or the MoD responded to requests for clarification.
Georgian soldiers on patrol in the Central African Republic. (photo: MoD Georgia)
Georgia is seeking to expand its small military contingent in the Central African Republic, even as it continues to wrestle with accusations that some of its soldiers sexually abused children during a previous deployment there.
The European Union has asked Georgia to provide a platoon, or about 20 soldiers, to its new military training mission in the CAR, which is intended to "work towards a modernised, effective, inclusive and democratically accountable Central African Armed Forces (FACA)" and "provide strategic advice to the CAR's Ministry of Defence and the general staff, as well as education and training to the FACA."
Repercussions from the "four-day war" with Azerbaijan in April continue to resonate in Armenia, with several senior officials arrested on corruption charges and one prominent political figure accusing the government of "deceiving" Armenians about their military capabilities.
Three security officials were arrested on Monday. “They were arrested for different criminal charges. They are suspected of various wrongdoings. In one case accepting poor quality supplied goods, in another case, according to preliminary data, procurements with exaggerated expenses,” said Sona Truzyan, a government spokesman, as reported by commonspace.eu.
This follows the firing of three other senior Ministry of Defense and armed forces officials at the end of April, also amid various corruption-related investigations. All this is in reaction to the results of fighting in early April in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, which resulted in the greatest number of casualties since a ceasefire between the two sides was signed in 1994, and during which Azerbaijan for the first time since then captured some new territory.
Further underscoring Yerevan's desire to shake things up, President Serzh Sargsyan replaced one of the fired MoD officials with a relative outsider, David Pakhchanian, as Deputy Defense Minister Chairman of the State Military Industrial Committee.
The Universal Combat Module UMD-1 that Georgian state defense manufacturer Delta has contracted to sell to the United Arab Emirates. (photo: Delta)
Georgia's growing defense industry has made its second export sale, this time to the United Arab Emirates.
Georgia's state defense firm, Delta, signed a $32 million agreement to sell "combat modules," or vehicle-mounted gun systems, to the UAE. The deal was finalized in March but it was only announced last week. The first shipment of the weapons was scheduled to be sent to the UAE by the end of May.
This is the second foreign arms sale that Georgia has made since rebooting its defense industry; the first was announced in January, of armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Is there a significance to the fact that Georgia's first two weapons sales abroad were to Gulf states? Saudi Arabia is the world's second-largest arms importer, and UAE the fourth, so it's not too surprising that they bought some Georgian arms in addition to all the other weaponry they're scooping up.
Uzbekistan soldiers deploy out of an Airbus AS 332 Super Puma in a screenshot from an armed forces promotional video.
Uzbekistan's military has shown off several European-made helicopters it apparently bought from Airbus, a deal that had been under threat because of German concerns about Uzbekistan's human rights record.
The helicopters, AS 332 Super Pumas and AS 350 Ecureils, both produced by the company Airbus Helicopters, were shown in a promotional video about the Uzbekistan armed forces posted in February but just noticed recently by the Russian military blog BMPD. (The video is below, and the helicopters are shown starting at about 2:00.)
In 2014, an Airbus executive said that a deal to sell 14 military helicopters to Uzbekistan was being held up because Germany, which produces parts for the helicopter, was refusing to allow the export due to concerns about human rights and the rule of law in Uzbekistan. Exactly what helicopters were under consideration was not made public, so it's not clear that this is the same deal, and if so, what changed between 2014 and now. "Airbus Helicopters is not at liberty to discuss about contractual commitments it may or may not have with Uzbekistan," a company spokesman told The Bug Pit in an emailed response to questions.
Both the AS 332 and AS350 are transport helicopters, and in the video, Uzbekistan soldiers are shown rappelling out of the AS350 on to a rooftop and filing out, with weapons drawn, of the AS 332, suggesting that Uzbekistan sees these as means for deploying small groups of soldiers into combat.