Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are included in a U.S. immigration service's special watch list of countries whose people should come in for extra scrutiny to make sure they're not terrorists. The list (pdf), of "specially designated countries (SDCs) that have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members" is a fairly crude one, the logic of which seems to be, "if a country has a lot of Muslims, it's a terrorist threat." But even by that standard, the list is curious. It doesn't include other post-Soviet Muslim republics like Kyrgyzstan or Azerbaijan, for example, or countries like China or Russia which have significant numbers of Muslims (which have been known to engage in violent anti-state activities). The U.S. Azeris Network, a pro-Azerbaijan lobbying group, called attention to the list and complained, in the spirit of pan-Turkic solidarity:
It is absolutely incomprehensible how countries such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan could have made it to the DHS ICE SDC list. There are simply no known cases of these countries or their nationals or residents, to “promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members”. Neither current, nor past lists of Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the U.S. State Department, has ever included any terrorist organizations from Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan.
This being an Azeri group, they ask why Armenia is not included on the list, citing "a long string of terrorists and terrorist organizations promoted, produced and protected by and in Armenia." (They don't name those alleged terror groups.)
As negotiations between Dushanbe and Moscow continue over how much Russia should be paying for its use of military facilities in Tajikistan, the price apparently keeps rising. The Tajikistan government is demanding $300 million a year for the use of the Ayni air base outside Dushanbe, according to a report in RIA Novosti. In January, Russian media were reporting that the asking price was a mere $125 million per year. Tajikistan's foreign minister Hamrokhon Zarifi told a press conference Monday that ""Russia is our important strategic partner..." but "our land cannot be free; it has its price, and no one can use it without paying." (He didn't, however, mention a specific ruble figure.)
Zarifi also said that Russian border guards would not be returning to Tajikistan, as Moscow has requested, and downplayed the U.S. role in the new training center at Qaratogh, reported Asia Plus:
Commenting on rumors about deployment of the United States military base in Tajikistan, Zarifi noted that Tajikistan has never conducted negotiation with the United Sates on that issue and “such a dialogue is not expected in the foreseeable future.”
“As far as the construction of the live-fire training building at the National Training Center at Qaratogh is concerned, the construction of the center is carried out under financial support of the United States, the center itself is property of Tajikistan,” the minister said.
Russia's defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov visited Abkhazia this week, and while he denied that Russia would increase its troop presence in the Georgian breakaway territory, he did say that Russia would build a new military hospital there, for the use of both Russian and Abkhaz troops:
Serdyukov, who met with the breakaway region’s defense minister Merab Kishmaria, said that Russia was planning to build a military hospital in Abkhazia as part of its military base number 7, stationed in the breakaway region.
Alexander Ankvab, acting president of the breakaway region, who also met with Serdyukov, said that the new military hospital would be a “high-tech complex”, the likes of which had never existed in Abkhazia before. Ankvab said that location had yet to be selected for building the hospital, which would serve both the Russian and Abkhaz servicemen.
Ankvab and Serdyukov also discussed the controversial issue of the MVO Sukhum Sanatorium, which is operated by the Russian Defense Ministry. Earlier this year Moscow announced that it was closing the sanatorium for renovations, which would involve laying off 1,000 workers. (Some reports say that there are 3,000 employees of the sanatorium, which seems remarkable for a place with a total population of around 200,000.) Some Abkhazians protested the closure of the sanatorium, making it yet another sticky issue between Sukhumi and Moscow:
“We have discussed a fairly large number of questions, including the military component and the fate of the sanatorium that the Abkhaz public is so worried about,” Ankvab told reporters.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Turkey on Friday, and some reports suggest that the Turkish government is prepared to agree to host a NATO missile defense system there. Turkey, you'll recall, wanted to impose several conditions on the system's deployment in Turkey, mainly that it not explicitly target Iran and that information from the system not be shared with Israel.
It's not clear that any of those issues have been resolved, but a couple of U.S. senators have called on the administration to consider using the South Caucasus, instead. Senior U.S. missile defense officials, the senator wrote, have said that "a forward-deployed X-Band radar in either Georgia or Armenia would have significant advantages for the missile defense of the United States," according to a letter (pdf) obtained by ForeignPolicy.com blogger Josh Rogin. (Presumably the reference to Armenia is a mistake and they mean Azerbaijan, which gives a sense of how attuned to the regional dynamics the senators are.)
If this sounds familiar, it's because the same senators said the same thing in February -- though then they were accompanied by two additional senators. It's not clear why those senators dropped out of this campaign, but it could be because the whole idea makes little sense. As Daniel Larison writes:
Kazakhstan's Afghanistan deployment may have been abandoned, but its (almost) neighbor Mongolia is increasing its troop contribution. Within the next couple of months, the country will be adding about 120 soldiers to its contingent in Badakhshan province, in Afghanistan's far northeast (bordering Tajikistan) where the German military leads operations. According to AFP (in German), the new Mongolian troops will amount to one company of infantry, snipers and medics and will patrol (but not participate in "offensive operations") in addition to its current mission of guarding the German camp.
NATO public relations has a video report on the Mongolian deployment in Afghanistan, though they use some different numbers -- AFP says there are now 74 Mongolian soldiers in Afghanistan, while this report says it's 200 (though NATO's own numbers support the AFP figure):
Be sure not to miss the display of "traditional combat skills" at the end of that video.
What does a soccer/football match-fixing scandal in Turkey have to do with the country's arms trade? Well... something, even if it's not clear yet what exactly that might be. But one of Turkey's best defense journalists, Lale Kemal, writes in her column in Today's Zaman that the Ergenekon conspiracy, in which many senior members of the military were alleged to have been plotting a coup against the "Islamist" AKP-run government, may have been getting funding both from corrupt arms sales and from the match-fixing.
Kemal writes that some soccer club members are also local representatives of foreign defense manufacturers, and have been cut out as the AKP government makes a push to import less and produce more of its defense goods.
As the current government has adopted policies to boost the development of local arms, the financial resources of some middleman in the arms business are believed to have fallen.
Early in 2009 a defense industry specialist submitted a thick, confidential file to then-Ergenekon prosecutor Zekeriya Öz. The file contained, among other things, allegations that some Ergenekon suspects might have used resources earned in arms deals to fund the activities of alleged coup plotters. At the time, this defense industry expert filed a complaint with prosecutor Öz's office against the alleged generals and colonels who, he claimed, abused fund revenues earmarked for arms purchases. Öz reportedly launched an investigation over possible links between the arms trade and financial resources that went to Ergenekon activities.
France's sale of sophisticated warships to Russia has inspired reams of commentary speculating on what threat this might pose to NATO members or other Western allies, in particular Georgia. (Most recently, Vlad Socor wrote last week in the Eurasia Daily Monitor that the sale was motivated by "mercantilism... bypassing NATO and trumping basic notions of allied strategy and solidarity.")
Now, a U.S. Navy officer has published his master's thesis (pdf) on the purchase, which Dmitry Gorenburg says "may be the definitive work on the subject." The officer, Lieutenant Commander Patrick Thomas Baker, argues that Russia wants the ship not for any particular combat capability, but as the linchpin of a larger naval modernization strategy:
[T]he Mistral sale is driven by Russia‘s need to acquire modern command and control and shipbuilding technologies, rather than increase its amphibious assault capabilities per se.
Russia's naval chief, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy -- who is notorious for arguing that with the Mistral, Russia would have been able to defeat Georgia "in 40 minutes, not 26 hours" -- was interested in the ship since before the Georgia war, which Baker says "suggests that a desire to acquire a new system preceded identifying a required capability and developing a system to fulfill that capability.":
The U.S. and Tajikistan have broken ground on the joint military training center that they announced last year, and it should open by the end of this year. U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan Ken Gross and Tajik National Guard Commander General Rajabali Rahmonali laid the cornerstone of the live-fire training building at the $3.1 million center at Qaratogh. Rahmonali said the center would be used for training special forces both from Tajikistan and also from neighboring countries, like Afghanistan. Reports RFE/RL:
Gross said "this project demonstrates the U.S. commitment to supporting Tajikistan's efforts to stem the flow of illegal narcotics and to defend the nation against terrorists." He said the facility will support the training of Tajik counternarcotics and counterterrorism units.
Asked about reports in some Tajik newspapers that the center will become a U.S. military base, Gross said "this [facility] is strictly for the Tajik military and there is no American component to that."
There will presumably be U.S. forces rotating in to do the training, because otherwise, what's the point? It's also worth recalling the recent International Crisis Group report on Tajikistan, which said that Dushanbe's requests to get training for its elite forces was "met with a cool response" by Western embassies:
Training, though undoubtedly needed, would seem impractical. It is doubtful whether a command structure like the Tajik military, premised on unquestioning loyalty to the president and tolerance, if not participation, in corrupt practices, would provide trainers with a viable longterm partner.
The Pentagon apparently has decided that it's worth the risk. We'll see.
Kazakhstan has established a small new air base in the western port city of Aktau, part of the country's push to strengthen its maritime defenses on the Caspian -- Aktau is also the base of the country's nascent navy. But it's also apparently engendering some suspicion among residents, who have been embroiled in recent oil- and gas-industry strikes and who see the presence of fighter jets as a means of domestic intimidation.
The 612th air base in Aktau will include two Su-27 fighter jets, seven Su-27 pilots and 12 helicopter gunship pilots, according to a report in Interfax-Kazakhstan (not online, via BBC Monitoring). The report doesn't say what kind of helicopters, or how many, but they're presumably Mi-24s.
The curious part of the story is how the locals reacted. Interfax cites a press release from the military:
[T]he fighter jets conducted training flights between 31 May and 22 June.
"By mere chance, the second training flight (...) coincided with the opening of a kindergarten and a district hospital in the Shetpe village. (...) The country's several publications suggested then that military fighters are aimed at intimidating the population. It was also suggested that the aircraft belonged to the head of the regional security service," the report said.
"The emergence of such rumours is related only to the fact that people in Mangistau are not accustomed to the sound of supersonic manoeuvrable aircraft," the report quoted the commander of the air base, Col Yerlan Kozgulov, as saying.
"During flights, the fighter jets produce a characteristic sound. Therefore, as it turned out, people in the region, who are not accustomed to such a roar, have began to invent various stories on this topic," he added.
India may have been thwarted in its attempt to set up an air base in Tajikistan, but now it's building military ties with Kyrgyzstan, agreeing to train UN peacekeeping troops and establishing a joint high-altitude military research center in Bishkek.
India's defense minister, AK Antony, has been visiting Bishkek the last two days and announced those two initiatives. The altitude research center will host about 20 Indian soldiers at a time, and be based in Bishkek with a field station in the mountains outside the city, reports The Economic Times:
The centre has a field station at Tuya Ashu, located at a height of 3,200 metre. Akpay Sarybaev, a leading cardiologist and expert in mountain medicine, has been nominated as the centre's director.
The proposal for joint collaboration in the area of mountain medicine and to establish the centre was mooted during talks between then Kyrghyz President A. Akaev and then Indian president A.P.J Abdul Kalam in November 2003.
"The realisation of that shared vision has finally culminated in the establishment of this centre. The joint endeavour of our scientists will provide a platform to utilise the expertise of both the institutes in a holistic manner to evaluate, as well as improve the performance and enhance the process of acclimatisation at high altitudes using psychological, biochemical and molecular research tools," Antony said at the event.