With Azerbaijan's confirmation of its purchase of a new air defense system from Russia, the S-300, by displaying it at its Armed Forces Day parade in Baku a few weeks ago, it "instantly becomes the most capable SAM [surface-to-air missile] system in the region," writes air defense analyst Sean O'Connor in the latest edition of the IMINT & Analysis newsletter.
The most intriguing part of the sale is that Azerbaijan's foe, Armenia, is a strong military ally of Russia; Russia stations troops at a big base in Gyumri, Armenia, and supplies heavily discounted weapons to the Armenian forces (and by extension, the Armenians who control the breakaway Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno Karabakh). All that, no doubt, was part of the reason that Russia denied that the sale had taken place, only to be proven wrong in a flashy parade in central Baku:
Regardless of Russia’s motivations for keeping the sale out of the public eye, Rosoboronexport’s public denial of the contract represents an interesting occurrence. On one hand, Rosoboronexport’s implications may have been completely accurate if a complete contract did not exist at the time of announcement. Finalization of the contract and subsequent non-announcement to temper Armenian concerns represents a logical course of action in that regard. On the other hand, however, the following statement represents a factual description of the Azeri Favorit situation: the press reported a sale, Rosoboronexport denied a sale, and Rosoboronexport then delivered Favorit components to Azerbaijan.
This incident will serve to cast doubt upon any future denials of Russian military sales to foreign states, leaving observers to ask the question: “what is really going on?”
A top Indian Air Force official visited Tajikistan last week and announced that "India is ready to build and equip a modern hospital for Tajik military officers," Asia Plus reports. When we used to discuss India's military and Tajikistan it was about the prospect of India setting up an airbase at Ayni. But Russia appears to have put the kibosh on those plans, and Tajikistan officials said that Ayni was not a topic of discussion during the Indian delegation's visit:
Tajik Foreign Ministry said current visit of India’s top military officials to Tajikistan is not connected to possible transfer of Tajikistan’s Ayni military airdrome to India.
Davlat Nazriev, Head of the Tajik Foreign Ministry’s Information Department, said this issue will not be discussed during India’s top air force officials visit to Tajikistan.
Setting up a military hospital, though, seems to be in line with the Indian military's new soft power strategy in Central Asia. A few weeks ago, India's defense minister announced that the country would be establishing a high-altitude military research center in Kyrgyzstan, as well as to begin training Kyrgyzstan's soldiers for United Nations peacekeeping missions. That seems to be a smart tack for India: they'll build relationships with the region's militaries without provoking Russia into reacting against them. It's not as splashy as an airbase, but in the long run it will probably be more productive for them.
South Ossetia's president has invited the legendary warriors of the Russian steppe, the Cossacks, to settle in the breakaway Georgian republic. According to PIK TV, Eduard Kokoity told a youth forum last week that he wants to rent out land to the Cossacks for 99 years:
According to Kokoity, the project foresees renting out land plots to the Cossacks in order to have settlements in empty districts and develop agriculture and defense structures. Moreover, he hopes to attract “additional investment and begin to restore the republic’s economy,” Kokoity said.
And naturally, the Cossacks would be expected to help protect South Ossetia from Georgia, added Elbrus Sattsaev, political analyst at South Ossetia State University:
"The Cossacks can quickly adapt to the current South Ossetian conditions. They have extensive experience of managing. They can become an example for people who have put his arms, who are passive. And besides, the Cossacks could exercise protection: South Ossetia needs protection because Georgia does not sign an agreement on nonuse of force"
(Incidentally, Sattsaev adds that the issue shouldn't be discussed until after South Ossetia's presidential elections in November, implicitly criticizing Kokoity's statement, a fairly rare case of open political dissent there.)
In other Cossack news, Time reports on a youth camp for Cossacks in Crimea, which included participants from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I suspect, though, that Georgia won't be too concerned about the Cossacks' military power, if this priceless photo of their armored personnel carrier is anything to go by.
Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev has declared that the U.S. will have to leave its air base at Manas in 2014. In some comments to Russian journalists, reported by 24.kg, he said the government will fulfill the current agreement it has with the U.S., but then no more:
“You know, the former leadership of [the Kyrgyz Republic] with their biased attitude towards the undertaken international obligations has already spoiled outside image of Kyrgyzstan. In order to break that image somehow, we just have to execute an already concluded agreement. The contract for the Transit Center will expire in 2014. Our position is the following: we will notify in six months the U.S. side of the termination of the contract in full compliance with assumed obligations and from 2014 there will be the first major civilian international transport junction. Any capital can participate in the formation of his transport junction even though the Russian although the western.”
(That last comment appears to reference his previously stated plan to turn Manas into an international cargo transit facility.)
Needless to say, this shouldn't be taken as the final word. 2014 is three years away, who knows if Atambayev will still be in the government, and the U.S. hasn't had a chance to negotiate. Still it's an interesting statement by Atambayev, one of the leading candidates in Kyrgyzstan's October presidential elections. He seems to be trying to position himself as the pro-Russia candidate, so this is a natural political position for him to stake out.
A top Iranian military official has taken aim at neighboring Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, saying the government in Baku may become a victim of a "people's awakening." That has prompted angry replies from Baku and a disavowal from Iran's foreign ministry. The controversy began with remarks made by Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, quoted by the Fars News Agency:
"I hope Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev would pay heed to the issues which strengthen pillars of his government, otherwise he will face a dark future since people's awakening cannot be suppressed," Firouzabadi said.
"People's awakening cannot be suppressed. Some neighboring and Muslim states with which we enjoy friendly relations continue to ignore friendship criteria and give freedom to Zionist regime (of Israel) to meddle in their country's affairs. They also give command to bar Islamic rules," Firouzabadi added.
Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have always been wary, as Iran mistrusts Baku's secular leadership and suspects them of having claims over the roughly 25 percent of Iranians who are ethnically Azeri. Tensions have increased recently with the shooting death of an Azerbaijani border guard, apparently by an Iranian counterpart. And, as the Fars piece reported:
Azerbaijani officials have been preventing Muslim schoolgirls wearing headscarves from attending schools.
Hundreds of people staged demonstrations in Azerbaijan and called on the government to overturn the decree. They also chanted slogans against the anti-Islamic law.
The peaceful demonstrations were stopped by police and security forces that resorted to force and detained a number of people.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (often called by boosters a "NATO of the East") held an "informal summit" (which meant, apparently, that the presidents didn't wear ties) in Astana on Friday and there were a couple of noteworthy emphases: the group is taking an active stance against "cyber threats" and it is finalizing development of a rapid-reaction force that could intervene in member countries.
Neither of those initiatives are exactly new, and there is also little information about them, but Kremlinologically speaking we should probably pay attention to the fact that they were the things that were emphasized should make us take them a little more seriously than we had before.
Last year, CSTO General Secretary Nikolay Bordyuzha spoke about an "information security" program that sounded pretty frankly Orwellian, and then wasn't much heard of. Now, though, he has brought up the topic again, reports RT:
“No military contingents or groups of gunmen are needed to destabilize the situation in this or that state when information technologies are at their disposal,” [Bordyuzha] said.
This is what’s happening, Bordyuzha warned, while explaining why the work on information counteraction is one of the top priorities of the CSTO. He recalled that the bloc has been conducting security operations in cyber space for a long time.
The chief of Nagorno Karabakh's armed forces says the Armenian-controlled territory has substantially boosted its capacity over the last six months, reports RFE/RL:
Lieutenant-General Movses Hakobian estimated that the "military potential" of his troops grew by 20 percent in the first half of 2011.
"During this period, the qualitative and quantitative state of our weapons and military hardware changed quite a lot," Hakobian told a news conference in Stepanakert on August 12. "Quite serious reforms were carried out with the restructuring of two army brigades."
I'm not sure how one quantifies "military potential," but Hakobian said the military is getting new artillery, air defense and anti-tank weaponry, and this year will be getting two divisions-worth of new tanks. All of this is coming from Armenia, presumably originally from Russia, though it hasn't been declared where it should be in the UN Register.
In any case, though, this is still small potatoes compared to the Armenians' foe, Azerbaijan, which nearly doubled its defense spending this year.
Today marks the three-year anniversary of the end of the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, and this week we've seen all sorts of retrospectives looking back at what it means (a particularly good one is Julia Ioffe's in The New Yorker). One casualty of the war that has been little discussed, however, is the U.S.'s credibility in the former Soviet Union. An exception is a good piece in the most recent issue of the academic journal Central Asian Survey (subscription required), The war in Georgia and the Western response, by British scholar Mike Bowker.
[A]t a time of growing tension between Georgia and Russia, the Bush administration gave unequivocal backing to President Saakashvili. Instead of cooling passions in Tbilisi, Washington stoked them. As Saakashvili prepared for war, the US trained Georgian troops, provided military equipment, conducted military exercises on Georgian territory and lobbied hard for Georgia to become a member of NATO. Although Washington always emphasized its opposition to the use of force, Bush did not retract his support when his will was apparently defied. On the contrary, Washington continued to support Saakashvili after the assault on Tskhinvali. Indeed, Dick Cheney declared a few days after the war had started that ‘Russian aggression must not go unanswered’...
Staff Sgt. Beth Lake, US Third Army Public Affairs
US and Kazakh soldiers at the 2009 Steppe Eagle Exercise
The annual military exercises between Kazakhstan, the US and UK began this week near Almaty, and this year the roster of participating nations has grown a bit, with Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania and Tajikistan participating as well. From the Kazakhstan government release:
For three weeks, personnel representing six armies will practice interaction, combat compatibility, cooperation and interoperability during international peacekeeping operations....
The exercises will culminate in what is called the “active phase,” during which peacekeepers will conduct a live peacekeeping operation in compliance with all international regulations.
This exercise is aimed at developing Kazakhstan's nascent peacekeeping units, but there will likely be a bit of a cloud over the proceedings this year since Kazakhstan decided to back out of a deployment to Afghanistan. Since that's the sort of thing the US and UK have been training Kazakhstan's military for, presumably there is some grumbling in the Pentagon and Whitehall about what exactly is the point of this any more.
Nevertheless, Kazakhstan continues to have high hopes for the units, KazBat and KazBrig. Mukan Dyuissekeyev, the deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Kazakhstan's armed forces, says next year KazBat will be ready:
It’s no secret that the Caucasus and Central Asia are inhospitable places for free speech and independent journalism. But a recent survey by IREX, an international organization that promotes civil society, found even countries that experienced so-called “color” revolutions have been unable to produce lasting, positive changes in their respective media environments.