Russia has threatened to cut off NATO supply routes to Afghanistan if the alliance doesn't compromise on its missile defense plans, Moscow's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, has said. From the Wall Street Journal:
If NATO doesn't give a serious response, "we have to address matters in relations in other areas," Russian news services reported Dmitri Rogozin, ambassador to NATO, as saying. He added that Russia's cooperation on Afghanistan may be an area for review, the news services reported.
This is just the latest in several headaches that the U.S. has had to deal with over the last couple of weeks regarding its supply lines to Afghanistan. First, there was an explosion in Uzbekistan on a line used by the U.S. and NATO, then Pakistan cut off its supply lines in response to a NATO attack that killed 28 Pakistani soldiers. And the flamboyantly nationalist Rogozin rarely misses a chance to kick the U.S. when it's down. (He also gloated, via twitter, that a somewhat threatening statement by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on missile defense last week forced U.S. officers at NATO to go into work on Thanksgiving.)
An expert quoted by the Journal suggests that this new Russian threat isn't too serious:
Ivan Safranchuk, deputy director of the Moscow-based Institute of Contemporary International Studies, said Russia is unlikely to cut off the flow of NATO supplies to Afghanistan as an immediate response to missile-defense decisions. But Russia does want its objections to the missile shield to be taken more seriously, he said.
As a result of a NATO attack that killed as many as 28 Pakistani soldiers today, the Pakistani government has closed off NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. From Reuters:
Hours after the raid, NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar, officials said.
The border crossing at Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.
A meeting of the cabinet's defence committee convened by Gilani "decided to close with immediate effect NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines," according to a statement issued by Gilani's office.
It's not clear how long Pakistan will cut off NATO supplies, but they did it for ten days after another NATO attack killed three Pakistani soldiers last year.
According to the latest data from Reuters, NATO supplies into Afghanistan are roughly divided into thirds: a third goes overland via Pakistan, a third by air and a third overland via the Northern Distribution Network through Central Asia, primarily Uzbekistan. The U.S. had already been trying to increase their share of cargo shipped via the northern route, worried about the reliability of Pakistan. And now with the Pakistan route cut off indefinitely, that will put immediately more pressure on the northern route and Uzbekistan.
That seems unlikely, but it's a possibility that some Russian analysts have been discussing lately, as discussions between Turkmenistan and its would-be European partners over the pipeline have advanced.
For example, in an article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta and translated in Itar-Tass:
The building of TCP will mean de-facto the recognition of the division of the Caspian Sea into sectors. This is absolutely unacceptable for Russia, and it will have to take action, similar to the operation for the compelling of Georgia to peace. “This time it will have to compel Ashkhabad and Baku to observe international law, probably, with the help of air strikes, if they do not understand any other language. Remembering what NATO did in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, Russia has no barriers, moral or legal ones, for the use of force in the Caspian Sea,” [Mikheil] Alexandrov [of the Institute of CIS Countries] believes.
And News.Az interviewed Konstantin Simonov, director general of the Russian National Energy Security Fund:
Many people call me a hawk, but I do not deny that this is a matter of prestige of the state – whether Russia is ready to tolerate such an outright move of disrespect. If Russia’s allows to treat itself in a way Tajikistan did a couple of days ago trying the crew of the Russian aircraft, the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline will become possible.
But what we see today is that Turkmenistan, despite the support from Washington and Brussels, is not ready to risk yet. I am very doubtful that Russia will tolerate it. Moreover, the reaction can be very hard up to some sort of military conflict in the Caspian Sea.
Is Turkmenistan ready for this? I have great doubts in this regard.
Ancient Persia was a heavily trafficked corridor on the Silk Road, the transcontinental trade route between China and the West that flourished centuries ago. But in Washington’s imagining of a 21st century version of the Silk Road, Iran seems set to be bypassed.
Azerbaijan seems to be looking seriously at rejuvenating its air force with Chinese-Pakistani fighter jets, the state news agency APA reports. They cite a source from the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, one of the builders of the aircraft, at the big Dubai air show:
Members of the Azerbaijani delegation watched the JF-17's demonstration flights at the airshow, the PAC officials said.
They said that several rounds of discussions had been held with the Azerbaijani side, but that talks had yet to reach the purchase and sale stage. They said that the initial size of the order had been determined, however. PAC is meeting orders from Pakistan’s Air Forces at present and would be able to meet an Azerbaijani order in the next few years.
This is not news, exactly; Azerbaijan has been talking about this for at least four years. To quote from a news story then:
In the spring of 2007, at the international military exhibition IDEAS in Dubai, the Azerbaijani side became interested in the multi-functional JF-17 fighter developed and produced jointly by China and Pakistan, as well as small-bore weapons and tanks made in Pakistan...
In 2009, APA was reporting it as more or less a done deal.
The government, sources said, has now decided to go back to Tajikistan and open a military hospital. The original proposal to revive its presence in Tajikistan was taken a year back, but the defence ministry sat on it. With prodding from the security establishment, sources said efforts are now underway to open a field hospital before winter sets in. At a high level meeting a few days ago, the government decided to speed up the plan, a senior source said.
Sources said an Army team has already completed reconnaissance in Tajikistan and has identified a location outside Dushanbe, the capital city. Army has also identified personnel from its medical corps to set up a 20-bed field hospital. "They are ready to leave on a short notice," the source said.
"The proposal (to open hospital) was first mooted when the Army chief (Gen V K Singh) visited Tajikistan last year. But the entire proposal has been pending with the MoD for a year now," a senior source in the security establishment told TOI. The hospital would cater to both civilians and Tajik military, he said. The Tajik Army has for long been engaged in fighting a bloody insurgency. "So, our hospital would be of great assistance to the Tajik Army," the source said.
It's not clear why, exactly, India decided to accelerate the establishment of this hospital, but the news comes as India's army chief is visiting Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (and not Tajikistan) amid what seems to be a push to increase their presence in Central Asia.
But more intriguingly, almost as an afterthought, the report adds this:
An explosion on a railroad on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border was a "terrorist act," according to local media, via RIA Novosti (in Russian). The explosion apparently happened on the line between Termez, at the southern tip of Uzbekistan, and Kurgan-Tyube in Tajikistan, between the Galaba and Amuzang stations. I can't find either of those stations on any map, but the stretch of that route that's inside Uzbekistan is pretty short, and hugs the Amu Darya river, the border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The explosion took place the night of November 17, there were no injuries and local authorities are investigating.
There is very little information about this so far, but there hasn't been a terror attack in Uzbekistan for several years. And the fact that it's so near to Termez, the hub of the U.S.'s Northern Distribution Network that carries military cargo through Central Asia to Afghanistan, has to have people worrying in Tashkent and the Pentagon. This line isn't the main line of NDN train traffic, which goes a more northerly route from Termez to Karshi, which would be an argument that it may not be NDN-related. Nonetheless, the location of the (alleged) attack is suggestive. Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov's number one fear is the rise of Islamist extremism in his country, and so if this does turn out to be NDN-related -- meaning that cooperation with the U.S. has brought terrorism back to Uzbekistan -- expect discussions between the U.S. and Uzbekistan over the NDN to get a lot more difficult.
Still, it's too early to jump to many conclusions. We'll see what more information emerges.
The Russian Okno satellite-tracking station in Tajikistan
Tajikistan could threaten a crucial satellite-tracking station if Russia continues its hostility toward Tajik migrant workers, an adviser to President Emomali Rahmon says. His comments were made before Tajikistan announced that it would release the pilots whose imprisonment sparked the recent brouhaha. But Dushanbe and Moscow are still wrangling over the price of rent for the Russian 201st military base in Tajikistan, and in a piece on Asia Plus, the adviser, Suhrob Sharipov, suggests that the Okno station could become a bargaining chip in the increasingly contentious negotiations between the superpower and its tiny, isolated client state. Translation via BBC Monitoring:
"Well, let us say Russia introduces a visa regime with Tajikistan. What will change in migration processes? There will be nothing serious... If Russia loses its base and the Okno space monitoring complex in Tajikistan then Tajikistan will turn into an absolutely alien country for Russia. It is hard to imagine what consequences it will have for Russia," Suhrob Sharipov said...
"Tajikistan is the only serious outpost of Russia's geopolitical interests in the region. Russia's interests in Tajikistan are the space monitoring station Okno, the 201st military base, geopolitical interests of the Russian Federation in Central Asia, influence on Afghanistan and so forth. There is no doubt that the current crisis in relations with Russia is shortcomings of Russian diplomacy and the Russian embassy in Tajikistan. I hope that Russia's hysteria is above all because of the election campaign and elections. Of course, Russia is a big country and still have levers to exert pressure on Tajikistan," he said.
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev on a 2009 state visit to India.
The chief of India's army is visiting Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the latest stops in what seems like a growing push by New Delhi to build military relations in Central Asia. IndianDefence.com reports:
Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh, “This proposed visit to Khazakhastan would be recorded as the first for the past 16 years by an Indian Army Chief after General Shankur Roy Chaudhury visited Kazakhstan. As for Uzebekistan, this would be the first time an Army General will be visiting,” he informed.
“The objective of these visits is to develop India’s relationship with the CAR countries,” they went further saying.
The visit will last three days in each country (Singh arrived in Uzbekistan yesterday), which seems substantial. Recall that, after getting pushed aside by Russia in its attempt to set up an air base in Tajikistan, India has regrouped and set up new military arrangements with Tajikiistan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. But obviously Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the heavyweights in the region, and I'll be curious to see where this is all heading.
There aren't many issues on The Bug Pit's radar that have much political resonance in Washington (or elsewhere), but the Russia-Georgia war is by far the most significant. As someone who had already been following the region for a while before the 2008 war, it was dispiriting to see how, over the few days that that war lasted, how polarizing the issue became. Before the war, there wasn't a conservative or liberal way to see Georgia -- pretty much everyone in the small cohort of people who paid attention to the Caucasus, no matter what their political views, understood that Russia was aggressive, Georgia was reckless, and that could end badly there. But over the short duration of the war, people who had never previously paid attention to the region tried quickly to figure out what was going on, and the easiest way to do that is to make it a partisan issue. So conservatives said Russia started the war, liberals said Georgia started it, and then a couple of weeks after the shooting stopped, everyone more or less stopped thinking about it, and their opinions calcified at that. So when you write about the Georgia war, you expect a little more attention -- people in Washington's ears perk up, and they read to see whether you confirm their bias about what happened, or if you're a warmongering neocon/feckless stooge of the Kremlin.