US Special Forces have trained units in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan that have served as “praetorian guards” for those respective countries' presidents, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
The military spending bill passed this week by Congress includes a provision calling on the U.S. to "normalize" military relations with Georgia, including the sale of weapons. The timing of the bill (which still has to be signed by President Obama) is provocative, coming as U.S.-Russia relations have been going through a rough spell and the Kremlin accused Georgia of harboring anti-Russian terrorists on its soil. Meanwhile, things seem to have been going Georgia's way; in addition to this news, the U.S. and NATO have noted "significant progress" in Georgia's NATO accession process, and NATO officially designated Georgia as an "aspirant" country for the first time.
The bill (pdf) includes a section 1242 (full text below) on Georgia, which calls on the Secretaries of Defense and State to develop a plan within 90 days "for the normalization of United States defense cooperation with the Republic of Georgia, including the sale of defensive arms." It also calls on NATO and NATO candidate countries "to restore and enhance their sales of defensive articles and services to the Republic of Georgia as part of a broader NATO effort to deepen its defense relationship and cooperation with the Republic of Georgia."
Russia's Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev claimed that Georgia is harboring anti-Russia terrorists, in an interview with the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty on Wednesday:
“The multi-ethnic peoples of Russia and Georgia are inextricably tied to each other. Saakashvili is carrying out a policy that is far from the interests of the Georgian people. More and more Georgian soldiers are being sent to take part in combat operations abroad [in ISAF operation in Afghanistan]. Training of individuals for carrying out terrorist acts in Russia is conducted on the territory of Georgia”, Patrushev said.
To some observers, the timing of that statement is suspicious, coming just days after the huge protests that have made the Russian government look vulnerable for the first time since Vladimir Putin took power in 2000. The Georgian government-run PIK-TV suggested that Patrushev's comments were meant to distract people from internal issues and rally around the central government. Their video report is in Russian, but helpfully subtitled in English. They interview Giorgi Baramidze, minister for Euro-Atlantic integration:
“Unfortunately it is not the first stupid and groundless statement that the Russian government has made. It is likely to have been caused by the intensified tension in its internal politics.”
And Alexey Malashenko, of the Carnegie Moscow Center:
Azerbaijan and Russia are wrapping up three days of negotiations in Baku on the new terms of the Gabala radar station that the Russian military operates in Azerbaijan. The talks were led by Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev and Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, and they don't seem to have come yet to any agreement on the use of the radar, whose current lease expires in December 2012.
Azerbaijan is asking for a higher rent -- increasing from $7 million a year to $100 million, according to an Azerbaijani member of the parliamentary defense committee, as well as more local employment and more mitigation of the station's environmental effects. Russia, in turn, is reportedly proposing to build a new station (the current one was built in 1985) that would have a much smaller footprint, and to keep the current rent (which according to most sources is actually $10 million a year). From Nezavisimaya Gazeta (in Russian):
Meanwhile, on the eve of the start of the Baku round of negotiations, an unexpected statement was made by Vladimir Savchenko, general director of the Academician Mintz Radio Engineering Institute, who reported that Russia plans to complete construction of the latest radar, "Voronezh-VP" in Gabala (Azerbaijan) in 2019 . This station will replace the previous generation Daryal radars.
"The Voronezh-VP is a high-technology station that can be prefabricated. With regard to timing, the plan is to complete it by 2017-2019, but it all depends on the goodwill of our esteemed neighbors. The final agreement will be secured on a political level," Savchenko said....
The gate to the Ayni air base outside Dushanbe: what's going on inside?
India is quietly using the Ayni air base in Tajikistan, hosting a contingent of helicopters and fighter jets in cooperation with Russia, an Indian journalist reports. Saurav Jha, writing in World Politics Review (subscription required, but free trial available), while the Tajikistan government has denied that it would allow anyone but Russia to use the base, the truth is otherwise:
However, an Indian official directly involved in renovating the airfield told World Politics Review that an Indian air force contingent, including Indian Mi-17 helicopters and leased Russian fighter jets, is currently deployed to the base under joint Indo-Tajik control. The Russian equipment will be maintained by Russian contractors, creating “a sort of joint control over these assets.” His comments echo recent reports of negotiations between the three parties for joint use of the base.
Jha also theorizes on why everyone is keeping this quiet: to avoid offending China and Pakistan.
An Iranian political official threatened to attack Turkey's NATO missile defense system if the U.S. or Israel attack Iran, repeating a similar threat from a general a month ago. From the Fars News Agency:
Vice-Chairman of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Hossein Ebrahimi informed that Iran is making plans towards finding ways to neutralize the NATO missile defense system to be installed in Turkey, and warned that in the case of any attack on Iran, it will definitely hit that system....
Last month, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh underlined Iran's crushing response to any enemy aggression, and warned that Tehran will target the NATO missile shield in Turkey in case it comes under attack.
"We have prepared ourselves, if any threat is staged against Iran, we will target NATO's missile shield in Turkey and will then attack other targets," General Hajizadeh said addressing a congregation of 10,000 Basij (volunteer forces) members in the Western town of Khorramabad in late November.
The threat got a lot of attention in the Turkish press, but most of it dismissive. Today's Zaman reported that the Iranian Foreign Ministry says that those threats aren't official policy:
However, Turkish officials contacted by Today's Zaman Monday clarified that the Iranian foreign ministry has assured Turkey they do not back such threats and the threats do not reflect ministerial policy. The officials also repeated Ankara's position that Turkey should only acknowledge statements from Iranian officials actually in charge, including the Iranian president and the foreign ministry.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at a November 2011 meeting of the NATO-Georgia Council in Tbilisi.
For the first time, NATO officially named Georgia as an "aspirant" country, a category that had previously been limited to three Balkan nations: Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro. In its communique after the foreign ministers' meeting last week in Brussels, NATO said:
We applaud the significant operational support provided to NATO by our aspirant partners the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Georgia.
We reaffirm our Open Door policy and our strong commitment to the Euro-Atlantic integration of our aspirant partners, in accordance with previous decisions taken at the Bucharest, Strasbourg-Kehl and Lisbon Summits. Democratic values, regional cooperation, and good neighbourly relations are important for lasting peace and stability. We welcome progress aspirant countries have made and we encourage them to continue to implement the necessary decisions and reforms to advance their Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Georgia, naturally, praised the move. From Civil.ge:
Giorgi Baramidze, the Georgian state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration issues, welcomed the wording of the communiqué, saying it was “the first time when Georgia was named in an official NATO document in a status of NATO membership candidate country.”
And Russia, just as naturally, condemned it. From a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on the the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia website:
When firebrand Russian politician and ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin last week appeared to threaten to cut off NATO and U.S. military transit to Afghanistan, it was seen as another sign of the recently deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow, and got a lot of attention. But now, apparently, Rogozin is saying he was misquoted.
NATO's foreign ministers are meeting now in Brussels, and a State Department official, speaking on background, says Rogozin has told them he never said he would cut off the Northern Distribution Network:
On the NDN, it’s actually – there was no confirmation. Even Rogozin, who was the one who was quoted, has said – he told us today, but he said all along his was misquoted and they are not linking the NDN to our disagreement on missile defense.
Indeed, if you look at the original story from Interfax (in Russian) Rogozin doesn't exactly spell the threat out, and it seems that Interfax could have put the words in his mouth.
But Rogozin apparently didn't talk to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen who, in a press conference at the meeting, said Russian talk of the NDN was "an empty threat":
I think, honestly speaking, that it’s an empty threat because it is clearly in Russia’s self-interest to contribute to a success in Afghanistan. Russia knows from bitter experience that instability in Afghanistan have negative repercussions in Russia as well.
Kazakhstan's foreign minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov met his U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton at Tuesday's OSCE meeting in Vilnius, and the two discussed the U.S.-Kazakhstan strategic relationship, in particular Astana's contribution to the U.S.'s efforts to boost regional transportation links.From an Interfax report via BBC Monitoring (which I can't find online):
The Kazakh Foreign Ministry's press service said that, during the meeting, Clinton expressed "profound" gratitude to Kazakhstan for its efforts to assist the international coalition in Afghanistan, noting a key role of the country in promoting regional integration and as a link in interaction between North-South, East-West.
As was emphasized by the secretary of state, the USA welcomes such specific efforts of Kazakhstan as ... a proposal to establish a transport and logistics centre in the Aktau Sea port," the Foreign Ministry press release says.
At a conference today in Washington on the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Eric McGlinchey, a political science professor and Central Asia expert at George Mason University had an interesting theory about that statement. He noted that Kyrgyzstan, with its new pro-Russia president Almazbek Atambayev, has threatened to shut down the air base the U.S. operates at the Manas airport, and that Kazakhstan is showing more signs of cooperating with the U.S. "We're already beginning to see the writing on the wall: Kyrgyzstan says 'goodbye' to the United States, and Kazakhstan says 'Hello, come on in,'" McGlinchey said.
An effort by a U.S. senator to make a renewed push for Georgian membership in NATO has been foiled. From The Daily Caller:
Last week, while most senators were focused on the important national issues of war funding and Americans’ constitutional liberties, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) seemed more concerned with the fate of a foreign country. Behind the scenes, Rubio moved to have a unanimous consent vote that would have hastened Georgia’s entry into NATO. The unanimous consent vote never happened because Senator Rand Paul single-handedly prevented it.
This is not a triviality. Make no mistake: Bringing Georgia into NATO could lead to a new military conflict for the United States, which is why any move that would facilitate Georgia’s entry into the alliance should be publicly debated. Rubio’s attempt to push this through by unanimous consent — that is to say, without any formal debate or vote — is highly suspect and calls into question the senator’s better judgment.
The American Spectator has a bit more detail:
"It called for the President to lead a diplomatic effort to get approval of Georgia's Membership Action Plan during the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago," a Rubio spokesman explained in an email.
Rubio and Paul are both new senators, elected in 2010, and embody the two poles of the Tea Party's foreign policy: Rubio for a muscular American exceptionalism, and Paul for a small-government isolationism. (Jack Hunter, who wrote the Daily Caller piece, is the official blogger of the presidential campaign of Rand Paul's father, Ron Paul.)