Tajikistan's defense minister has said that the country will conscript only "educated and healthy" young men into the army, which would be a remarkable turnaround for a military notorious for its violent press ganging of recruits.
The annual military recruitment season in Tajikistan is scheduled to start October 1, and Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo addressed MoD officials who are preparing for it, reported the newspaper Asia Plus. In his remarks, Mirzo saidthe number of conscripts exceeds "by many times" the needs of the armed forces, and "that allows us to conscript into the ranks only educated and healthy conscripts."
Selectivity has not been the hallmark of Tajikistan's military recruitment practices in the past. The country is notorious for press ganging recruits, violently kidnapping young men in order to fill the ranks of the underfunded military where conscripts serve two years in miserable conditions and subject to the extreme bullying endemic to the post-Soviet world.
The MoD press secretary, Faridun Makhmadaliyev, alluded to some "violations" in past conscription campaigns and said they aren't to be repeated. "It has been noted, that in previous conscription campaigns it was documented that some recruits were not correctly identified, some had unreliable medical examinations, there were corruption crimes." Recruiters, Makhmadaliyev added, were to "organize the coming fall conscription lawfully."
Russian President Vladimir Putin watches the final stage of the Center-2015 military exercise in Orenburg. (photo: Mod Russia)
Nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers have wrapped up the country's biggest military exercise of the year, practicing to "contain" a conflict in Central Asia.
The scenario of the exercise, said Colonel-General Vladimir Rudnitskiy, the commander of Russia's Central Military District, was the "containment of an international armed conflict in the Central Asian strategic direction."
But for an exercise supposedly oriented toward Central Asia, it included very little participation by Russia's Central Asian allies. The Russian Ministry of Defense, in its account of the exercise, repeatedly referred to the participants as "the armed forces of the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization," but the vast majority of the 95,000 soldiers who took part were Russian; the only other participant was Kazakhstan, which sent a handful of units. (The CSTO is a Russia-led military alliance also including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.)
The exercise was called Center-2015, and the Center name has been in the past used for joint CSTO exercises; it's not clear why no other Central Asian states were involved this time.
In one evocative touch, Russian President Vladimir Putin watched the final stage of the exercise from Orenburg. Orenburg is best known as the garrison town from which the Russian empire conquered Central Asia in the 19th century.
As the Shanghai Cooperation Organization wraps up anti-terror exercises in Kyrgyzstan, a senior Russian official has said the group should play a role in fighting ISIS.
The SCO held command-staff exercises in Kyrgyzstan from September 15-17, attended by officials from the anti-terror organizations of member states China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. (In most cases that meant the post-KGB structures like Russia's Federal Security Service and Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security.) "The purpose of these exercises is organizing and carrying out search operations to avoid terrorist attacks in SCO territory,” Kyrgyzstan's SCNS reported.
On Friday, senior SCO officials reviewed the results of the exercise in Tashkent (home to the SCO's Regional Anti-Terror Structure headquarters), and Sergei Smirnov, the deputy head of Russia's Federal Security Service, highlighted the role the organization could play in fighting ISIS.
"Representatives of all the relevant organs of the SCO member states understand the danger to the international community represented by the activities of this state and the damage which it could cause to us," Smirnov said.
A tweet from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on September 2,
The Russian government has published a draft of its agreement with Belarus on establishment of a new air base, to be Russia's first in that country, and some in Belarus are complaining that it sells out their national interest.
The Russian air base is slated to open some time in 2016 near the eastern city of Babruisk. Negotiations over the terms of the base agreement have been going on for the last couple of years, and on September 7 the Russian government published a draft agreement that it said had been "preliminarily worked out" with Belarus.
But when some defense experts in Belarus combed through the 25-page agreement, many of the provisions didn't sit well. Belarus will get no money, and Russia is not limited with respect to the types of weaponry and equipment it can deploy there. Belarusian law enforcement are prohibited from entering the base without permission of the Russian commander.
"Even not taking into account the unfavorable political consequences of the deployment of a Russian air base, this proposed agreement is discriminatory towards Belarus and sets up a neocolonial character of relations between the two countries," the Belarus Security Blog wrote in an analysis.
Interestingly, this agreement is only valid for 15 years. While many of the Belarusian critics said that was an excessively long term, it's actually substantially shorter than recent Russian base agreements with Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, which all will last into the 2040s.
President Alexander Lukashenko may have a hard time accepting the terms of the Russian agreement, said Arseniy Svitskiy, the director of the Minsk Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Research.
Tajikistan's authorities say they have killed the fugitive general who mutinied two weeks ago. In the fight, however, the commander of the most elite special forces unit in the country, the Alfas, was killed as well.
The former general, Abduhalim Nazarzoda, was killed on September 16 at 14:00 local time after a day-and-a-half-long battle in the Romit Gorge at an altitude of 3,700 meters above sea level, Tajikistan's Interior Ministry and State Committee on National Security said in a joint statement.
During the fighting, the chief of the Alfas, Colonel Rustam Khamakiyev, and three other officers of the Alfas and OMON (a special forces unit of the Interior Ministry) were killed, the statement added.
There were earlier reports (though never officially confirmed) that Nazarzoda had been killed last week; and officials vowed that they would get him by the end of the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Dushanbe, which wrapped up September 15.
Tajikistan's authorities said on Sunday that the renegade general who had attacked government security forces is still alive, contradicting reports from two days earlier that he had been killed.
The confusion and ongoing rebellion come at an awkward time for President Emomali Rahmon, as he gets ready to host Russian President Vladimir Putin and other post-Soviet leaders who are meeting in Dushanbe starting on Monday.
The conflict began September 4, when armed groups led by deputy defense minister and general Abduhalim Nazarzoda attacked police posts and military bases around Dushanbe, and then fled into the Ramit Gorge, about 50 kilometers outside the city.
A source in the security services told newspaper Asia Plus that Nazarzoda was killed on September 11. But on September 13, the secretary of the national security council Abdulrakhim Kahharov announced that Nazarzoda was still alive, though surrounded.
All this suggests that the upcoming summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization could be a bit more unpredictable than Rahmon would have liked. The confluence of the two events has clearly made the authorities uncomfortable.
Russia has given its allies half a billion dollars in discounts on weaponry, the head of Russia's post-Soviet security bloc, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, has said.
"In recent years the volume of deliveries, purchases of weaponry by our allies for the collective forces of the CSTO has significantly increased," Nikolay Bordyuzha, the CSTO General Secretary, told Russian news agency Interfax. "Over the last few years the effect has exceeded $500 million. That is, our allies have saved as a result of the agreement on subsidies for military-technical cooperation."
And, he added, "these purchases are increasing every year."
That Russia gives discounts on weaponry via the CSTO isn't news, but we don't often hear about the amount. As a point of comparison, Russia exported about $15 billion in weaponry last year.
The main recipients of the subsidized weaponry are Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Belarus, Bordyuzha said. The other two CSTO members, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, are getting direct Russian military aid packages of more than a billion dollars each.
Georgian Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli and General Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, meet in Tbilisi on September 7. (photo: MoD Georgia)
The United States is practicing how quickly it can deploy its military to Georgia in order to respond to "Russian aggression," Georgia's defense minister has said.
General Ben Hodges, the commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, visited Tbilisi and spoke September 7 at a conference, "Georgia: Europe’s New Geopolitical Landscape: Security, Economic Opportunity, Freedom and Human Dignity for the Frontline States." Hodges also met with Minister of Defense Tinatin Khidasheli and senior Georgian military officials.
"There were a lot of interesting nuances when he discussed joint Georgian-American exercises," Khidasheli said after the meeting. "In particular, one of the objectives of these exercises will be to see how quickly the US military vehicles and soldiers will arrive in Georgia in case of aggression – something that the General stated publicly.”
"For me, as Defence Minister, General Ben Hodges’ speech was very interesting. He made some interesting points, especially when talking about Russia,” she continued. "He very clearly and directly said that Russia had been busy with aggression for 20 years. I think when an American General says such phrases, it means a lot.”
However, it's not clear exactly what Hodges' words were. The press office of U.S. Army Europe, asked by The Bug Pit to clarify Hodges's remarks, provided a transcript of his answers to reporters' questions at the conference, but they contained nothing about U.S. forces responding to Russian aggression in Georgia.
According to a report on the website civil.ge, Hodges's remarks were somewhat vaguer:
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are conducting large-scale military exercises as tension along the border between the two nemeses has spiked in recent days.
Azerbaijan's defense ministry announced on September 6 that they were mobilizing 65,000 troops -- which would represent nearly the entire armed forces -- to test their readiness. The exercises also included 700 armored vehicles, 500 rockets and artillery units, 40 airplanes and 50 helicopters, and 20 naval ships, the MoD said. The exercises had not been previously announced and the MoD did not give further explanation of why they were being held.
That drill starts as Armenia is holding unprecedented exercises of its own. That exercise, called Shant 2015, is less military and more political, simulating how various branches of the government would respond in case of war.
Participants included a working group from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led political-military bloc. One of the tasks before the Armenian foreign ministry in the drill, Armenian media reported, was "what to do if one of the CSTO partners (but not Russia) does not fulfill its commitments?” Armenia's leadership has criticized its Turkic nominal allies in the CSTO, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, for supporting Azerbaijan's side in the dispute over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
The USS Donald Cook enters the Odessa, Ukraine, harbor to start the joint Sea Breeze 2015 exercises. (photo: U.S. Navy)
The United States, Ukraine, and other allies are conducting joint naval exercises in the Black Sea, which the American commander says Russia has greeted, somewhat uncharacteristically, "cordially."
This year's iteration of the annual Sea Breeze exercises was kicked off September 1 in Odessa, with U.S. naval officials and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk present.
Yatsenyuk took the opportunity to paint the exercise as an anti-Russian effort, saying that drills like this will "turn the Black Sea into a safe area and to make the Russian Federation, which illegally annexed Crimea, realize that any illegal actions will be curbed by our joint efforts." In Odessa Yatsenyuk also announced that the country's new military doctrine, for the first time, identifies "an enemy and an aggressor" -- Russia.
But a senior U.S. naval official took pains to emphasize Russia's equanimity with respect to these exercises. Russia has in the past greeted the U.S. naval presence in the Black Sea with some mildly aggressive gestures, but not this time. When the USS Donald Cook, the American ship taking part in the drills, entered the Black Sea a Russian frigate was waiting. It hailed the warship and its commander by name and “welcomed him to the Black Sea,” said Vice Admiral James Foggo, deputy commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe in a telephone press conference with American reporters. "It was cordial," he added.