One ongoing source of tension between the U.S. and Georgia is the U.S.'s alleged refusal to provide Georgia with defensive weapons in the wake of the war over South Ossetia, which badly diminished Georgia's military capacity. Georgia argues that they are too weak to fend off a Russian invasion, and need U.S. help to strengthen them. Now, a couple of diplomatic cables, recently released by WikiLeaks, shed some light on the internal U.S. debate on the costs and benefits of such help.
One of the cables is from Moscow, and the other from Tbilisi. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the one from Moscow argues that providing arms to Georgia will damage relations with Russia, and the one from Georgia argues that not doing so will sacrifice Georgia, a loyal ally. The two cables were sent on successive days in June 2009. Readers really interested in this debate should read the two cables in their entirety, they each provide a pretty comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of their side of the argument.
The cable from Tbilisi explains how badly Georgia's military has been damaged:
During the August 2008 conflict, Georgia lost extensive capabilities, including 30 percent of its armored vehicles, 40 percent of U.S.-produced AR-15 rifles, and at least 60 percent of its air defense capability. These have not been replaced.
Georgia's goal is not to be able to defeat Russia, but only to slow them down until the rest of the world can get involved:
Current Georgian operational thinking is that if they can defend Tbilisi from occupation for 72 hours, then international pressure will force the advance to pause.
And the U.S. should provide this aid, the cable continues, both to ensure the transparency of the procurement...:
Of all the companies involved in the Northern Distribution Network, the one that's gotten the worst publicity -- including from this blog -- has been FMN Logistics. That's because the company, although owned by a Delaware-based LLC, has been linked to Zeromax, the holding company thought to have been controlled by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the president Islam Karimov.
But FMN's CEO, Harry Eustace, Jr., says that's not true, and that FMN has only the slightest connection with Zeromax. He got in touch with me in an effort, he said, "to set the record straight" in an on-the-record interview.
FMN was not always shy about its connections with Zeromax. In early sales presentations (pdf), the company wrote -- in bold, red, underlined letters -- “FMN Logistics is the U.S. small business contracting arm of Zeromax.” The perception that Zeromax pulls the strings with FMN is so pervasive that the U.S. embassy in Tashkent, when they emailed me a list of NDN vendors, included FMN with a parenthetical note -- "former Zeromax subsidiary." And Eustace says that he used to work for Zeromax, until 2006.
What is really of national security interest to the U.S. in the Caucasus and Central Asia? One of the latest WikiLeaks cables purports to answer that question, identifying "critical infrastructure and key resources within their host country which, if destroyed, disrupted or exploited, would likely have an immediate and deleterious effect on the United States."
There are surprisingly few such facilities in Eurasia. Unsurprisingly, most of them have to do with oil. Azerbaijan's offshore Sangchal oil and natural gas terminal, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and the Novorossiysk oil export terminal (which is in Russia but ships oil from Azerbaijan) are all on the list.
In Turkey, in addition to the BTC pipeline, the Bosphorus Straits is listed, and a handful of Turkish industrial machinery makers are on the list as well, including Durma, Baykal and Ermaksan. All seem to be involved in the making of sheet metal, occasioning us to wonder why Turkish sheet metal is so vital to U.S. security. (Any ideas?: email and I'll update the post.)
Another curious inclusion: the Khromtau Ferrochromium Complex, a chromite mine located in western Kazakhstan, near the city of Aqtobe. Kazakhstan is apparently the world's third-largest producer of chromite, which is used in making stainless steel and other alloys. (Chromite mines in South Africa and India, the world's two largest chomite manufacturers, also appear in the cable, so it doesn't seem like there is anything particularly unique about Kazakh chromite.)
During U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's quick visit yesterday to Kyrgyzstan, the big news was her announcement that the U.S. would help Kyrgyzstan set up an "entity" that could provide part of the fuel supply for the Manas air base there. This, you may recall, has been a big issue with the new government in Bishkek, which wasn't happy when the Pentagon re-awarded the fuel contract to Mina Corp., which is unpopular in Kyrgyzstan because of its alleged ties to the former government of Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
The deal has been in the offing for a while, as my colleague Deirdre Tynan has reported. Clinton and Otunbayeva, in their press conference yesterday, did not give many of the details, but Deirdre reports that it will include Gazprom, as Kyrgyzstan had proposed. That will undoubtedly raise the hackles of Russophobes in Washington, but also should ensure that Russia's opposition to the base will be muted, since they'll have a financial stake in it. Clinton, at her press conference yesterday:
It's an important issue in our bilateral relationship. We are committed to transparency. The fuel contract was a result of an open bidding process, but we recognize that the government of Kyrgyzstan is conducting its own investigation into the fuel company. That is its perfect right. And that investigation is not completed. We will, of course, receive the results of any investigation that is conducted by the government.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Uzbekistan today as part of her short Central Asian tour, and her actions there will be watched probably more closely than anywhere else on her trip. The U.S. is walking a tightrope in Uzbekistan, relying on the country heavily for its role as a transport hub for military cargo to Afghanistan but wary of embracing a government with one of the worst human rights records on the planet.
Human Rights Watch, in a statement calling on Clinton to make human rights a prominent part of the agenda in Tashkent, suggests that government officials are personally profiting from traffic on the Northern Distribution Network, and that the NDN is causing the U.S. to send a mixed message in Uzbekistan:
Although the US maintains a congressionally-mandated visa ban against Uzbek officials linked to serious human rights abuses, it uses routes through Uzbekistan as part of the Northern Distribution Network to supply forces in Afghanistan. US military contracts with Uzbeks as part of this supply chain are potentially as lucrative for persons close to the Uzbek government as direct US aid would be. Despite the State Department's re-designation of Uzbekistan in January 2009 as a "Country of Particular Concern" for systematic violations of religious freedom, the US government retains a waiver on the sanctions outlined in the designation, raising serious concerns that the US is sending a mixed message on the importance of human rights improvements in Uzbekistan.
Several weeks ago, Tajikistan's foreign minister announced that the country was in negotiations with Russia, and no other country, about using the Ayni air base. That appeared to end years of speculation about the base, strategically located just over 100 miles from the border of Afghanistan. It was long assumed India would use the base, which would have been its first military base abroad. India had spent millions to renovate the former Soviet base's runway and facilities, but then appeared to get pushed out of the running by Russia for reasons that remain murky (in fact, everything is murky about Ayni). There was also speculation about the U.S., China, Iran or France using the base, but those always seemed like long shots. So did India just get played by the Russians and Tajiks?
The chief of India's army visited Tajikistan a couple of weeks ago. No news seems to have come out about the visit (again, the murkiness) but it suggests that India hasn't entirely given up on Tajikistan. An Indian analyst puts a brave face on India's change of fortunes, in Asia Times:
The closure of the base option for India at Ayni is, however, not a setback for India's interests in the region, Angira Sen Sharma, associate fellow at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told Asia Times Online. India wields considerable soft power in Central Asia. A base at Ayni would have undermined that influence, she said.
News from Iran about its new military technology should always be taken with a large grain of salt, but nevertheless, this is interesting:
A senior Iranian Navy commander announced on Sunday that the country plans to launch a new home-made destroyer in the Caspian Sea which will enjoy more advanced naval equipment compared with Iran's first home-made destroyer Jamaran....
"The destroyer will be used in one of the combat units of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Navy in the Caspian Sea and will start its naval mission and operation in the lake in the near future," the commander announced.
(via Fars News Agency)
One confusing detail: the story goes on to say that the Jamaran will be deployed in the Persian Gulf and the new (and apparently unnamed) destroyer in the Caspian. But a few months ago Iran announced it was deploying a new destroyer in the Caspian; the logical conclusion was that that destroyer was a Jamaran-class vessel. But this new story doesn't mention that previous launch in the Caspian. Nor does it mention an announcement from August about new missile boats being sent to the Caspian, as well.
But whatever the case, at least rhetorically Iran is trying to assert its sovereignty in the Caspian. And coming just a week after the conclusion of the Caspian littoral summit, where regional leaders including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad vowed to cooperate on security matters in the sea, this seems to be sending the opposite message.
Armenia got a dressing-down from the U.S. for selling arms to Iran, Azerbaijan has reservations about embarking on a U.S.-sponsored military "train and equip" program and also would oppose the U.S. fomenting unrest in Iran's ethnic Azeri regions. Those are some of the early revelations, from world of Eurasian security issues, in the first tranche of the latest Wikileaks data dump.
One State Department cable from December 2008 describes how in 2003 Armenia "facilitated Iran's purchase of rockets and machine guns," and those weapons were later found to have been used in an attack in Iraq by Shiite militants that killed one U.S. soldier and wounded six others. According to the cable (via The Guardian):
The direct role of high-level Armenian officials and the link of the weapons to an attack on U.S. forces make this case unique and highly troubling. These transfers may provide a basis for sanctions pursuant to U.S. legal authorities. We propose a series of steps that Armenia will need to take to prevent future transfers, which will be weighed in the consideration of sanctions. We hope to use the threat of sanctions as a tool to generate Armenian responsiveness so that we will not be forced to impose sanctions measures.
The cable also relays a letter from then-Deputy Defense Secretary John Negroponte to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, threatening sanctions if Armenia doesn't clean up its act:
Notwithstanding the close relationship between our countries, neither the Administration nor the U.S. Congress can overlook this case. By law, the transfer of these weapons requires us to consider whether there is a basis for the imposition of U.S. sanctions. If sanctions are imposed, penalties could include the cutoff of U.S. assistance and certain export restrictions.
While the world awaits the big document dump from Wikileaks, some of those leaks have already been pre-leaking. One of the most explosive of those has been that the U.S. secretly aided Turkey's longtime foe the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and conversely, that Turkey had aided al Qaeda in Iraq. If true, this would obviously put some serious strain on an already strained relationship.
Hurriyet has been doing some good reporting from the Turkish side of this story and finds that, of course, all parties involved are denying that report:
“Turkey has never given support to any terrorist organization. Fighting against terror is our priority and we don’t make differentiations between terrorist organizations. Turkey has launched many operations against al-Qaeda,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the Daily News.
Asked about the allegations that the U.S. helped the outlawed PKK, the same official said, “Turkey and the U.S. are carrying out an efficient cooperation in the fight against the PKK.”
And from the U.S. side:
Deborah Guido, spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Ankara, told the Daily News that the U.S. government’s policy “has never been nor will ever be in support of the PKK. Anything that implies otherwise is nonsense.”
Recalling that the United States considers the PKK a terrorist organization, Guido said: “Since 2007, our military cooperation with the Turkish government in fighting the PKK has shown results. The U.S. Treasury Department has also named top PKK figures as ‘drug kingpins’ in issuing further sanctions against the PKK.”
So what was behind Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan's decision to skip the NATO summit last weekend in Lisbon? The president's office said it was in protest of the language of the NATO joint communique, which emphasizes the principle of territorial integrity in resolving the conflicts of the South Caucasus, which would favor Azerbaijan's position in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
But that language was the same as in the communique issued after the 2008 NATO summit. So why protest now?
I asked Emil Sanamyan, editor of the Armenian Reporter newspaper, and he pointed out that in May, Sargsyan went to NATO and asked them to follow the OSCE's three principles in Nagorno Karabakh, which include people's right to self-determination as well as territorial integrity and non-use of force. (Self-determination is the principle that favors the Armenian side, since Karabakh's population is Armenian, while nominally it remains part of Azerbaijani territory.) From Sargsyan's press conference at NATO:
During the meeting I also emphasized the need and importance for a balanced approach by NATO to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh process. I expressed hope that future statements about NATO and documents of NATO on the Nagorno-Karabakh will be in keeping with the ministerial statement of the OSCE issued in December 2009, which evenly represents all three of the key underlying principles.
In light of those remarks, Samanyan suggested several possible motives behind Sargsyan's refusal to go to the summit:
If you take reasons provided at face value it is possible that Armenia from now on will take a tougher line on any perceived endorsement of Azerbaijan's claims on Nagorno Karabakh.