For the second year in a row, Azerbaijan has cancelled military exercises with the U.S. without explanation. There has been little official comment; the news agency APA quotes Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Eldar Sabiroglu as saying he doesn't know why it was cancelled:
Sabiroglu refused to comment, since he had no detailed information about the adjournment of the exercise.
To the question “Can this have any influence on Azerbaijan-US military cooperation?” spokesman said: “I do not believe it may happen. US-Azerbaijan military cooperation will continue,” he said.
APA also asked the U.S. embassy spokesman, who said he had no information on it:
Touching on the postponement of the US-Azerbaijan joint exercises, Terry Davidson said the exercises had been postponed by Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry.
“You’d better ask them,” he said.
Last year, the reason for the cancellation was reportedly the U.S. support for the Armenia-Turkey protocols. But the protocols are more or less dead now, so there is presumably another reason. One alternative explanation for last year's cancellation was Russian pressure (the default explanation when something mysterious happens in this part of the world). But that theory was given some credence by a WikiLeaks-released cable that discussed controversy over the 2009 version of the exercise (the only year in which the Regional Response exercise has actually taken place):
The Georgian parliament has annulled a deal allowing Russia to transit military cargo to its base in Armenia via Georgia. This is just formalizing the de facto situation -- transit via Georgia to the Russian base in Gyumri was already halted, de facto, after the war in 2008 over South Ossetia. From Civil.ge:
Georgian Parliament unanimously endorsed on April 19 government’s proposal to annul a five-year agreement with Russia setting out procedures for transit of Russian military personnel and cargo to Armenia via Georgia.
The agreement on transit of military personnel and cargo, giving Russia access to its 102nd military base in Gyumri, Armenia through land and air via Georgia, was signed in March, 2006 in parallel with a separate agreement based on which Russia pulled out its military bases from Batumi and Akhalkalaki. The both of the agreements were ratified by the Georgian Parliament on April 13, 2006.
Equipment that Armenia is buying from/being given by Russia is still allowed to transit Georgia, as was highlighted by a 2010 diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks and published by Russkiy Reporter magazine, the transit had been of concern to Georgia for fear that some of the equipment being sent to Armenia is more than Armenia might need and could be instead destined for Russian forces in Armenia with the potential of being used against Georgia:
So, the prospect of an emerging Israeli-Abkhaz defense alliance didn't last long. Israel's ambassador to Georgia has said that, contrary to reports last week in Abkhazian media, Israel is not going to sell weapons to the de facto authorities in Sukhumi:
“We do not recognize them as independent states and we are not going to sell them any kind of arms. It is possible that some private businessmen visited Abkhazia, but they cannot speak under the name of the [Israeli] Government. I reiterate, we are not going to sell arms to them,” information agency Interpressnews quoted Ambassador [Itzhak] Gerberg as saying.
The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Gerberg over the allegations, and is apparently satisfied with what it heard:
Georgian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Israeli ambassador in Tbilisi and had “a detailed discussion” over visit to breakaway Abkhazia by executives from the Israeli security consulting firm, Global CST, Nino Kalandadze, the Georgian deputy foreign minister, said on Monday.
“Both privately and in his public statement the Ambassador unequivocally confirmed, that Israel has no intention whatsoever to have any military cooperation with de facto [Abkhaz authorities],” Kalandadze said.
It's worth remembering here that Israel did sell $400 million worth of drone aircraft to Russia. The degree to which Abkhazia's defense and security services are under Moscow's control is a big question, and one wonders what the Russian role in this aborted deal might have been.
A playground in the 8th Russian District of Gyumri, Armenia, home to many Russian soldiers and their families.
Armenia's parliament has ratified an agreement with Russia to extend Moscow's access to its military base in Gyumri until 2044. The vote, while controversial among some opposition members, passed easily, with only one vote against.
The crux of the debate is whether it cedes too much power to Russia in exchange for protection against Turkey or, to a lesser extent, Azerbaijan. Russia played an ambiguous role in Armenia's war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh, and there are big questions about what role Russia would play if war broke out again. But the base at Gyumri is right on Armenia's border with Turkey, and acts as a reassurance for Armenians, who recall how Russia helped protect at least some Armenians from the World War I genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. When I was in Gyumri a few years ago I talked to people about the Russian base, and they were generally supportive. One told me: “No matter how strong our army is there are ten Turks for every Armenian. If the Turks come then the Russians are here right away, we don’t have to wait.” A cynic might argue that this attitude is just the fruit of Russian propaganda promoted by Armenian politicians who profit from deals with Russia, but I don't know.
The one parliamentarian to vote against ratification, Tigran Torosian, argued that it gave too much control to Moscow:
Torosian said Armenia will gain "absolutely nothing" from the deal and has only "greatly narrowed its room for maneuver on issues vital for the country.
"Unfortunately, from now on, many people in the West and the international community in general will think that Armenia has finally opted for a Russian orientation," Torosian told RFE/RL.
If you could choose one word to describe Kyrgyzstan, would it be "friendly"? If so, then you and Donald Rumsfeld are on the same page.
Rumsfeld, you may recall, has released many previously classified documents from his tenure as secretary of defense to coincide with the launch of his book. But he didn't post all of the documents that were released to him. And of all publications Gawker, the gossip blog, filed a FOIA request to see all of the documents, including the ones, as they put it, that "Rumsfeld Doesn't Want You to See." You can see them all in a dauntingly unorganized 1,362-page pdf here. But before I get through that, one memo from Rumsfeld's desk that Gawker highlighted is worth looking at.
It's from April 30, 2002, and titled "COUNTRIES FOR U.S./DOD TO EMPHASIZE -- AND WHY," and offers an extremely brief (two pages) tour d'horizon of how the Pentagon saw countries around the world, including Central Asia.
Central Asia – (Evolving, looking for counterweight to Russia and PRC; enormous energy potential, secular muslims v. religious extremism)
Kazakhstan – Big; oil-rich; leading [sic] our way, see the U.S. as counterbalance to PRC and Russia.
Azerbaijan – Friendly, potential as war on [sic] forward operating base
Kyrgyzstan – Friendly
Uzbekistan – concerned about Russia, has chosen the U.S.
Afghanistan – A potential liability; U.S. has a stake in it not failing.
Turkey has said it would be willing to host an office for the Taliban, in the hopes that would help advance a peace process ending the war in Afghanistan. From the AP:
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that he talked last month about hosting a Taliban office with Burhanuddin Rabbani, a visiting former president of Afghanistan who leads a peace council set up by the Afghan government to work toward a political solution.
“We discussed in detail their request to (establish) such an office and said that we are ready to do everything possible for this process,” Davutoglu said Monday on a trip to Hungary. “If there is such a demand, Turkey will help with full capacity.”
Officials from Afghanistan had previously talked about such a possibility, but Turkey has been publicly silent on the issue until now. Having such an office in a non-neighboring country would obviously make it much easier to come to a political settlement of the war in Afghanistan (and presumably would reduce the chances of dealing with fake Taliban leaders).
In a report (pdf) last month (flagged by the AP), the Century Foundation said some Taliban members were interested:
Hazing of young military conscripts continues to be a big problem in the Caucasus and Central Asia, according to the U.S. State Department, though reporting of the problem appears to vary widely from country to country.
The State Department's annual human rights report addresses a whole host of human rights issues, one of them being hazing/abuse in the military. According to the report, Armenia had 176 military personnel convicted of hazing in 2010, in Kazakhstan 162 service members were charged with hazing, while in Kyrgyzstan only one such case was reported. Exact numbers weren't provided for other countries, which suggests in part that officials in Armenia and Kazakhstan might be relatively upfront and transparent about their hazing issues than the other countries (Kyrgyzstan's number was provided by an NGO).
Though in some cases, the State Department did not report on military hazing when information did appear easily available. EurasiaNet, for example, has reported on hazing in Azerbaijan's military, including official statistics on hazing. There has also been reporting on hazing in the militaries in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. But the State Department barely mentions the issue of hazing in those countries, and doesn't even bring up the subject in its section on Georgia.
Anyway, some of the key excepts from the report below.
Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit is suing the government of Georgia, alleging Tbilisi hasn't paid for some weapons purchases, according to press release from the company:
Elbit Systems Ltd. (the "Company") announced today, that it has filed a lawsuit in the High Court of Justice of the United Kingdom against the Government of Georgia (the "Government"), in an amount of approximately $100 million.
The lawsuit was filed as a result of the Government's failure to pay amounts due to the Company in connection with deliverable items under several contracts signed in 2007.
I asked Elbit officials some follow-up questions but they said they couldn't say anything more than the above. But the only deal in 2007 between Elbit and Georgia was for Hermes 450 aerial drones. Georgia apparently bought about 40 of the drones, and while the contract price was never released, those UAVs generally go for about $2 million each, which would suggest that $100 million is the entire value of the contract.
This would seem another blow to the rapidly deteriorating Georgia-Israel commercial relationship, with this lawsuit coming just a week after a Georgian court convicted an Israeli businessman of bribery in a controversial (but unrelated) case. And Israel has allegedly put Georgia under a de facto arms embargo, as a result of Russian pressure.
I've asked some Georgian government representatives for comment, will update if/when I hear back.
A couple of weeks ago, Kyrgyzstan's president, Roza Otunbayeva, announced that the country was planning to construct two counterterror training centers in the southern part of the country, and that one would be built by Russia and the other by the U.S. Her announcement raised a lot of questions, which I posed to Alisher Khamidov, a EurasiaNet contributor and expert on southern Kyrgyzstan. He said that fears of Islamist militants from Tajikistan as well as the military of Uzbekistan are motivating Kyrgyzstan to develop the centers, and that Otunbayeva puts a higher priority on the U.S. center than on the Russian one. From our email Q&A:
Q: There hasn't been much evidence of a threat of terrorist infiltration from Tajikistan -- in fact, the "terror" threat in Tajikistan seems to be largely driven by local strongmen with local grievances. Do you think Otunbayeva genuinely believes there is a terror threat, or is this a pretext for some other motive?
A: Based on my conversations with her, Otunbayeva and some top ranking Kyrgyz government officials genuinely believe there is a terror threat emanating from Tajikistan. Perhaps it's because the Kyrgyz National Security Service has its own sources in Tajikistan.
Q: Is there a geopolitical component to inviting both Russian and U.S training centers? Do you think she considers them equally important, both in terms of practical training and in geopolitical/symbolic terms? Or is one more important practically, and the other for symbolic/geopolitical ends?
It was just a couple of weeks ago when international mediators called on Azerbaijanis and Armenians to pull back their snipers from the front lines of Nagorno Karabakh. To no one's surprise, neither side agreed.
And now, Azerbaijan has announced a new addition to its sniper corps. The unimprovably named Azerbaijan Voluntary Military Patriotism Technical Sport Society has started teaching sniper classes to the country's youth. From News.az:
[T]he courses purposed to prepare marksmen – snipers for the army and power structures. Drawing attention to Azerbaijani war conditions, the general added that snipers to be prepared in the courses would be completely ready for battle with the enemy: 'Snipers will study here masking, use of other weapons, topography. Along with studies on hand-to-hand fighting, snipers will also study law. Azerbaijani snipers differ from Armenians, because they never fire at peaceful people'.
AFP picked up the story, and emphasized a somewhat sensational angle -- the potential of young female snipers:
Azerbaijan on Tuesday launched sniper lessons for young people, including girls, amid its bitter unresolved conflict with neighbouring Armenia in which marksmen are often used on the front line.
Teens as young as 16 are taking part in the sniper courses for civilians, which have an upper age limit of 30, and participants will also learn about fighting techniques, weapons, map-reading skills and legal issues.