Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev hosts his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for tea at his house. (photo: president.az)
The presidents of Russia, Iran, and Azerbaijan met in Baku this week, for the first time in this trilateral format, part of a week of heavy diplomatic activity that highlighted the shifting international relations around the South Caucasus.
The Baku meeting took place on Monday, and was taken on the initiative of Azerbaijan. The top agenda item was a railroad project that could connect Russia and Eastern Europe to the Persian Gulf.
That project would bring not only economic benefits to the three countries, but could be a geostrategic boon for Azerbaijan, as well, said Zaur Shiriyev, a Baku-based political analyst. He noted that this project would compete with another Russia-initiated North-South railroad project, that would go from Russia through Abkhazia, Georgia, and Armenia.
"This transport corridor bypasses Armenia, thereby eliminating the possibility of reopening the Russian-Georgian railway though Abkhazia, or any kind of discussion that was used a threat [against] Baku," Shiriyev said in an email interview with The Bug Pit. He noted that that Armenia project also could have competed with another Azerbaijani rail priority, the currently under-construction Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway that will connect Azerbaijan to Turkey and Europe.
The White House wanted the United States military to monitor the 2010 massacres in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, with a drone, and the military's failure to do so had negative ramifications for future U.S. military operations in Sudan, Libya, and Syria, a new book reports.
"Within the White House," the Osh violence "triggered fears of a possible ethnic cleansing campaign to come, or even genocide," writes Rosa Brooks in her new book, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon. At the time, Brooks was working as Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and she recounted getting a phone call from an acquaintance at the National Security Council. "With little preamble, he told me that Central Command needed to move a surveillance platform to a position from which it could monitor fast-breaking events in Kyrgyzstan," she writes.
The Pentagon blanched -- not because it didn't care about Kyrgyzstan, Brooks writes, but because the request didn't come through the proper chain of command, and a medium-level staffer couldn't approve something as weighty as deploying a military aircraft to a new country.
"My White House colleague was incredulous when I raised some of these concerns. 'We're talking about, like, one drone. You're telling me you can't call one colonel at CentCom and make this happen? Why the hell not? You guys' -- by which he meant the Pentagon writ large -- 'are always stonewalling us on everything. I'm calling you from the White House. The president wants to prevent genocide in Kyrgyzstan. Whatever happened to civilian control of the military?"
At the International Army Games competitions in Kazakhstan, soldiers from 12 countries competed in sniper and artillery competitions; military VIPs viewed an opening ceremony with Kazakh pageantry, and the visiting soldiers toured Almaty. (photos: MoD Kazakhstan)
Kazakhstan is hosting two events of the International Army Games, a Russia-created military Olympics, the first time the competition has been held outside of Russia.
The sniper and artillery competitions of the Army Games are being held at the Gvardeiskiy training facility near Almaty, with 278 soldiers from Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia, Belarus, Zimbabwe, India, Iran, Mongolia, Greece, and Armenia taking part. "We are glad to be the first to widen the geography of the Army Games," said Defense Minister Imangali Tasmagambetov, the opening ceremony.
Competing at home apparently inspired the Kazakh teams; they won the sniper competition and as of Monday they were leading the artillery event.
This is the second year of the Army Games, a sort of Russian military soft power event with origins in a Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia's post-Soviet security cooperation alliance) but which has taken on a more global scope. While Russia has tried to get NATO countries to take part, that effort has largely failed and the list of competitors is largely a Russia-friendly one.
The chiefs of staff of the armed forces of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Tajikistan watch military exercises in Urumqi. (photo: Inter Services Public Relations)
Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Tajikistan have set up a "Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism" to jointly combat terrorism, further advancing security cooperation between the unlikely group of countries.
The chiefs of general staffs of the four armed forces met in Urumqi, China, on Wednsday and announced the formation of the mechanism, which will coordinate efforts on "study and judgment of counter terrorism situation, confirmation of clues, intelligence sharing, anti-terrorist capability building, joint anti-terrorist training and personnel training," according to a joint statement by the four sides.
Recall that when this idea was first publicly broached in March, Russian analysts reacted with some alarm, calling it a "Central Asian NATO" representing an unprecedentedly bold move by China into Central Asian security while excluding Russia. (Some Russian media then blamed this blog for fomenting discord between China and Russia by reporting on those analysts' comments.) Thus far there seems to be no further comment from the Russian government or press on this development.
The four representatives also observed a Chinese military exercise at Korla. "Exercise encompased a very effective neutralization of a terrorists' base in a remote mountainous region employing all the modern aerial and ground equipment and gadgets. [Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan] appreciated [the People's Liberation Army] troops for their skills and enhanced abilities to counter all categories of terrorism," according to a Pakistani military press release.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Kazakhstan counterpart Imangali Tasmagambetov meet in Astana. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Russia has given Kazakhstan several air defense systems, and the two sides reportedly negotiated more Kazakh purchases of Russian aircraft during a visit by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu this week to Astana.
The delivery of the S-300PS air defense systems has been discussed for years. When Russia announced at the end of last year that the deal was finally complete, the Kazakh side declined to comment publicly, and anonymous MoD officials complained that the systems in fact needed lots of repair and were not ready for service.
This time, though, Kazakhstan's MoD announced that they had received the S-300s -- and that Russia had even thrown in 170 rockets to be used with them.
It's unclear what threats from the air Kazakhstan faces. But Russia has been pursuing a joint air defense system within the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and has been carrying out analogous negotiations with CSTO members Armenia and Belarus. (Kazakhstan also has claimed that Uzbekistan drones have violated its airspace.)
In addition, Shoigu discussed two possible aircraft deals with Kazakhstan, reported the Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing a source "familiar with the deals." They would include four Yak-130s, which can be used both as training aircraft and light attack jets; an undisclosed number of Yak-152 training aircraft; and two Il-76MD-90A military transport aircraft. The negotiations on the transport aircraft are "relatively advanced," Kommersant reported.
Georgia appointed a new defense minister who immediately became the subject of controversy when the outgoing minister criticized the selection.
The new minister, Levon Izoria, was announced on Monday, and spoke to the press on Tuesday. From a policy perspective, he signaled little new, vowing to continue Georgia's "active participation in NATO Resolute Support – we will pursue it with our strategic partner, the United States,” he said, referring to the western military mission in Afghanistan. Izoria also emphasized the importance of the new security cooperation agreement with the U.S. which will focus on building up Georgia's ability to defend itself, reported Civil.ge.
But the woman whom Izoria is replacing, Tinatin Khidasheli, took a public shot at his appointment. Izoria comes from Georgia's internal security services; he had been serving as deputy head of the State Security Service, and before that deputy interior minister. That background is inappropriate for a defense minister, Khidasheli said shortly after the appointment was announced.
“It is a wrong message to our partners abroad, as well as internally, when at first Irakli Alasania, a political figure, was replaced by a security official [Mindia Janelidze] as defense minister and then Khidasheli was replaced again by a security [official]… It indicates on a very negative trend,” Khidasheli said. Her husband and speaker of the parliament Davit Usupashvili echoed the comments.
President Ilham Aliyev at the opening of the Araz munitions plant in Shirvan in 2010. (photo: Ministry of Defense Industry of Azerbaijan(
Azerbaijan's government has responded with uncharacteristic solicitousness to an explosion at a state munitions factory that killed two workers and injured 24 more, underscoring the importance the state places on its defense capacity.
The explosion occurred at the Araz munitions plant in the city of Shirvan, southwest of Baku, on July 26. Azerbaijani authorities said it was caused by a stockpile of old ammunition that had been slated for disposal.
The government's response was swift and active: the Minister of Defense Industry Yavar Jamalov visited the injured at the hospital and went to the funerals of those killed. The ministry's press service is releasing regular updates on the health of the injured. An investigative commission was formed and the state prosecutor's office opened a criminal case. This level of responsiveness is unusual for a government that tends to rule in a distant, imperious manner and to punish the messengers who call attention to bad news in the country.
Two whisteblowers have gone public with allegations that Georgia's Ministry of Defense is loaded with unqualified officials who were appointed only because they were political allies of the minister, and that ministry officials are using their posts to promote the minister's political party.
While this sort of behavior is common in post-Soviet government structures, including in Georgia, it is relatively rare for allegations like this to be made publicly. And the claims could damage Georgia's reputation as a reform-oriented state aiming to join Western structures like NATO.
The two MoD employees made the allegations at a press conference in Tbilisi this week. Senior officials have been appointed illegally, not through open and transparent "Western-style" competition, but through a system of nepotism and party patronage, said Beka Kiria, a senior specialist at the ministry's Defense Policy and Planning Department. The minister, Tina Khidasheli (who has just stepped down for unrelated reasons) is a member of the Republican Party.
In addition, the Strategic Communications section of the ministry has devoted all of its resources to promoting party leadership rather than the activities of the ministry, said Mariam Takaishvili, head of the ministry's section on Communication with NATO and International Organisations. Both officials said they had been reprimanded for complaining about these issues internally.
The Ministry of Defense has not publicly responded to the allegations.
Bulgaria has joined the long list of Russia's neighbors who have accused it of violating its airspace.
Russian military aircraft have violated Bulgaria's -- and therefore NATO's -- air space four times in the past week and more than ten times over the last ten months, Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev said in a TV interview on Sunday. "Our fighter jets are ready to intercept them," Nenchev said, calling the actions a "provocation toward Bulgaria and its air force."
Bulgaria and Russia don't share a land border but both lie on the Black Sea, which has become more and more tense since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. The question of Black Sea airspace, in particular, has become a heated issue in the last few weeks, as NATO is discussing strengthening its air presence in the region, and Russia has responded by moving its top-of-the-line air defense systems to Crimea.
In response, Russia criticized Nenchev for making the allegations on TV and not through diplomatic channels, and denied that any violations had taken place.
"We could not conceal our surprise when we heard Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev saying in his speech on Nova TV that last month had seen the growing number of violations by Russian military planes, which had their ADS-B transponders off, of the Bulgarian zone of responsibility of NATO airspace," said Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov.
Georgian soldiers take part in U.S. Marine Corps training program in Georgia. (photo: U.S. Marine Corps)
The United States will devote more military aid towards arming and equipping the Georgian armed forces, direct more training towards building combat skills, and help Georgia build a local training center oriented towards helping it defend itself rather than only deploying to Afghanistan.
The broad contours of the policy shift were laid out in a new agreement between the two countries announced during a visit to Tbilisi by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this month. On Monday, a U.S. embassy official in Tbilisi provided more details to The Bug Pit.
“Much like in the U.S. Army, where we've focused on deployment requirements for several years, there's been a certain level of atrophy in the core warfighting capabilities, so much of our security assistance over the next few years will address those areas: territorial defense capabilities and readiness," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.