After initially expressing concern about Washington’s desire to “reset,” relations with Moscow, officials in Georgia are taking a more positive public stance. During the summer, for example, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili lauded the United States for treating Georgia “exactly the right way,” adding that the reset is “not just changing relations with Russia at the expense of the others.”
The U.S.'s embattled nominee to be the next ambassador to Baku, Matthew Bryza, raised some eyebrows during his confirmation hearing in July by appearing to say that a serious skirmish on the Nagorno Karabakh line of contact was Azerbaijan's fault. This is what he said in July:
"What transpired that day remains not entirely clear to us, but we do know that there were several people killed. There was an Azerbaijani move across the line of contact, Armenia responded, resulted in deaths which, yes, Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton did condemn."
But now he appears to be backing away from that statement. In responses to follow-up questions (pdf) from Barbara Boxer, a pro-Armenia senator, Bryza stepped back from blaming Azerbaijan:
While I said that the Azerbaijanis moved across the line of contact (LOC), the full details of what triggered the June 18 incident are unknown. Unfortunately, there are a number of LOC violations each year by both sides.
So was he right the first time? According to Jane's, yes. The skirmish was not planned by either government, but was a shouting match between soldiers on each side that got out of hand, resulting in an Azerbaijan non-commissioned officer opening fire (article not online):
[T]he skirmishes around Nagorno-Karabakh between 18 and 21 June may not have been as co-ordinated and planned as at first perceived. The fighting left four Armenian soldiers dead and four wounded...
The official version of the fighting provided by the Armenian military on 19 June was that an Azerbaijani unit tried to capture an Armenian forward position, but failed to do so and retreated, abandoning one of its dead. The Armenian soldiers died or were wounded defending their position.
Kyrgyzstan has proposed Russia to pay in kind with arms for a new military base intended to unite all Russian military facilities in the Central Asian state, Russian business daily Kommersant said on Tuesday.
The proposal came during a meeting between Kyrgyz Defense Minister Abibulla Kudaiberdiyev and his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov in Moscow on Monday, Kommersant said.
Kudaiberdiyev also reportedly called on Moscow to sign an agreement to unite Russia's five military facilities in Kyrgyzstan as soon as possible.
And RFE/RL has confirmed the report. The five military facilities are the Kant airbase near Bishkek, "and a torpedo development enterprise at Lake Issyk-Kul, as well as two seismic facilities in the Issyk-Kul and Jalalabad regions used for monitoring nuclear tests in the world," in RIA Novosti's words.
There is still no word on whether Russia will build a new base in Osh, but that was also reportedly supposed to be under discussion.
Several questions come to mind here:
-- What does it mean to "unite" these facilities? Obviously there are geographical constraints to having a naval facility and air base together. So is this just some sort of bureaucratic reorganization?
-- What sort of weapons would Russia be giving Kyrgyzstan?
-- And was there any similar discussion before the U.S. announced it was canceling its own plans for a military "polygon" in Osh?
NATO's disaster-preparation exercise in Armenia has begun, and the Turks taking part did not, in the end, cross the border:
More than half of the exercise participants are Armenian rescuers and firefighters employed by Yeritsian’s ministry. Ten others represent neighboring Turkey, with which Armenia has no diplomatic relations.
With the Turkish-Armenian border remaining closed, the Turks had to travel to Armenia via Georgia. Turkish officials indicated in July that Ankara might temporarily reopen the frontier for the exercise. Officials in Yerevan dismissed such possibility as public relations stunt.
On 11 September 2010 at 09:05 a.m., an earthquake of 7.2 Richter Scale (equal to the moment magnitude) occurred in the Kotayk region of the Republic of Armenia. The hypocenter was located in 10 km depth, and the epicentre was located 8 km north-east of the city of Abovyan.
A high number of casualties have been reported (first estimations amount to 12,000 dead and 17,000 wounded) and thousands of buildings have been destroyed. The cities of Charencavan and Abovyan, as well as the adjacent rural communities are amongst the most affected areas.
The water supply and drainage systems of the region are no longer functioning. Means of communication, gas and energy supply systems, as well as infrastructure and means of transport are heavily affected. Fires have spread, the hospitals of the region have been destroyed and humanitarian organisations cannot operate anymore. Thousands of citizens have lost their homes. The international airport of Yerevan was affected by the earthquake but is still usable...
Most of the speculation surrounding the newly opened Ayni military airfield in Tajikistan centers around Russia and India, as the two countries most likely to use the base. But there is another factor: France has a couple hundred military engineers based at Dushanbe's international airport, and they might be moving to Ayni. According to Interfax:
It is believed that the French Air Force engineers corps offering support to French troops in neighboring Afghanistan may move to the new airdrome. Currently 300 French servicemen are deployed at Dushanbe's international airport.
Jane's Defence Weekly (not online) says that may be premature:
“I'm sure they are interested, but there is going to be a long negotiation process,” said one Tajikistan MoD official, speaking to JDW on condition of anonymity.
And RFE/RL spoke to a Defense Ministry spokesman, who said the issue of who will use the base is still up on the air, but that there is a possibility of another country using it:
Russian media reported that Rahmon and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, reached an agreement during talks in Dushanbe on August 30, 2008, that Russia would station five Su-25 fighter jets, Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters at Ayni after renovations were completed.
Muhammadaliev said those reports are are baseless. He said that "for now we have not signed any agreements with any country about the use of Ayni. This airport is for the [Tajik] air force and the antiaircraft defense of Tajikistan."
Kazakhstan's multi-vectored foreign policy is getting a workout these days -- just over a week after the conclusion of the U.S.- and UK-backed Steppe Eagle exercises, Kazakhstan is hosting a Shanghai Cooperation Organization exercise, starting today:
The six member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will begin the Peace Mission-2010 joint anti-terror exercises on Thursday at the Matybulak training ground in Kazakhstan.
In all, 5,000 troops from SCO member states (Russia, China , Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan) will take part. Each of the member states will contribute at least one operational-tactical group.
Russia will send over 1,000 troops, some 130 armored vehicles (tanks, self-propelled artillery systems and infantry fighting vehicles), more than 100 trucks, and over 10 aircraft (including Su-24 Fencer tactical bombers, Su-25 Frogfoot close-support aircraft and Mi-8 transport helicopters).
Not that these things can exactly be quantified, and we don't know many details about what sort of troops are participating in the exercises, but China, like Russia, is sending 1,000 troops. Steppe Eagle included 50 Americans and 5 British troops. Presumably the large bulk of the Central Asian troops in the SCO exercise will be Kazakh, and so they would also greatly outnumber the 1,000 troops that took part in Steppe Eagle. Should we read something into those numbers?
Georgia has lost its first soldier in Afghanistan, Lt. Mukhran Shukvani, a 28-year-old company commander who died in a roadside bomb attack. Another soldier was badly injured in the same attack, losing both his legs.
Georgian officials emphasized quickly that the death does not call into question their mission in Afghanistan. Georgia currently has about 950 soldiers deployed to Helmand province. The ambassador to the U.S., Batu Kutelia, said:
[T]his cannot and will not lessen our resolve to achieve our mission in Afghanistan. The Government and people of Georgia chose to deploy 750 additional troops to Afghanistan's Helmand Province under the US command knowing full well the risks our troops would face there. Georgian soldiers will continue to fight alongside the US Marine Corps in this dangerous region and with no national caveats.
At least in the English-language media from Georgia, there is no suggestion that Lt. Shukvani's death may sour Georgians on their army's deployment to Afghanistan. But naturally, the Russian media is making hay with that notion. Georgia Times suggests that Saakashvili is "hiding" other casualties from the Georgian public, and RT asks if Georgian soldiers are "being sacrificed for their leader's ambitions":
“Saakashvili is trying to make himself look better in the eyes of Western countries… he tries to show he’s a democrat by taking steps which do not benefit Georgia,” said Labor Party Secretary Kakha Dzagania. “He uses Georgian boys, their lives, in order to secure himself the presidential post.”
The military airfield that Tajikistan has been renovating with Indian support has opened:
On Friday September 3, President Emomali Rahmon attended an official ceremony of opening of the renovated Ayni airfield belonging to the Ministry of Defense (MoD)....
According to presidential press service, some 70 million U.S. dollars have been spent by the Tajik and Indian sides for rehabilitation of the airfield. After renovation, the Ayni airfield that has a 3200-meter runway may accept any type of aircraft, the source said.
But no word yet on what, exactly, Ayni will be used for. Recall that it at first seemed as if India was preparing it to use as its first foreign air base, but that desire appears to have waned. In addition, most observers say that Russia doesn't want to use it but doesn't want anyone else to use it either. And Tajikistan barely has an air force. So what's the airfield going to be used for? Still a mystery. But look here for more updates.
The CSTO has faced plenty of (deserved) criticism for its failure to help Kyrgyzstan during the terrible ethnic violence there this summer. But few people have offered advice on how to reform the organization to make it more effective. Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace takes a shot at some constructive criticism. Some of his recommendations:
First of all, the CSTO needs to focus on the biggest security threat. For most of the CSTO countries today (for Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, in any case), the largest security threats come from hotbeds of instability within Central Asia and in adjacent regions. There are other problems too, in the Caucasus in particular, but they do not affect the interests of the majority of member states and can be resolved by members independently or on a bilateral basis. The CSTO’s focus needs to be, above all, on Central Asia.
Second, the CSTO needs to integrate a serious political component into its organization. Its political dimension today boils down to regular summits between the presidents of member countries and to the work of the organization’s general secretariat and its staff. This is not enough. The organization needs a modern international political component with a multinational, integrated structure that would work on analyzing and forecasting developments, as well as on short-term and strategic planning, coordinating the efforts of member states, and developing a dense network of person-to-person contacts at the operational level. This political side of the organization could have its headquarters in, say, Astana, Kazakhstan.
Turkey's new national security strategy is formally removing Greece, Iran, Iraq and Russia from its official list of "threats" -- but that's not keeping Ankara from going on an unprecedented arms buying spree, including new fighter jets, attack helicopters, tanks and submarines, reports Hurriyet:
“You don’t buy weapons to use them in wars, you buy them for deterrence. As your deterrence increases, and you need to be really strong for that, your potential enemies refrain from attacking you,” one senior procurement official said Wednesday, explaining the logic behind the continued large-scale arms-purchasing programs.
Turkey currently spends more than $4 billion a year on defense procurement, a figure that is expected to rise by at least $1 billion not long after 2015 due to the new large-scale buys.
Today's Zaman has a little more on the changed thinking on Russia:
Russia, whose energy and Caucasus policies were seen as a threat to Turkey in the past, is now to be described as a potential partner which can cooperate with Turkey on trade and which shares with Ankara a common vision for stability in the Caucasus.
No word on whether Armenia is still a threat, and no mention of establishing a base in Azerbaijan.