A few weeks ago there was some back and forth between Armenians and Azerbaijanis about whether Russia would come to Armenia's defense in the case of a war over Nagorno Karabakh. Well, now a top Russian general has weighed in, and he sounds pretty certain that Russia would get involved. General Andrei Tretyak, the Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the Defense Ministry, discussed the Russian military's future plans with some analysts, and this is from Dmitry Gorenburg's account:
In a discussion on the situation in Karabakh, General Tretyak agreed with a participant’s assessment that the possibility of conflict in that region is high, but argued that it is gradually decreasing as a result of Russian efforts to reduce tension in the region. He disagreed with the suggestion that Russia’s relationship with Armenia is eroding and made clear that Russia will carry out its promises to that country. No one should see Russia’s refusal to intervene in Kyrgyzstan last summer as a precedent for Karabakh, as that was a very different situation.
Hmm, that can't make too many folks in Baku feel too confident. Tretyak also weighed in on Central Asia, and suggested that the Collective Security Treaty Organization could help fill the security vacuum that will be created by the U.S. leaving Afghanistan. And he seems to acknowledge that the CSTO kind of dropped the ball on Kyrgyzstan last year, when it did nothing to stop the pogroms that took place there in what many saw as the first big test of the collective security group:
He also felt that what he saw as the inevitable US withdrawal from the region will have a negative effect on stability.
Georgia appears to be planning to add at least 625 additional soldiers to the 925 it already has in Afghanistan, according to a statement from the White House. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili yesterday in Rome, and according to the official White House account of the meeting, "The Vice President expressed his appreciation to President Saakashvili for Georgia's significant new contribution of forces to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which will make Georgia the largest non-NATO contributor to ISAF."
Civil.ge does the math, and finds that the top current non-NATO contributor is Australia, with 1,550 troops. So that presumably means that Georgia is planning to top that:
It means that Georgia, which currently has 925 soldiers in Afghanistan, most of them stationed in Helmand province, has to send additional more than 625 servicemen to exceed Australian troop number and to become the largest non-NATO contributor to the ISAF mission.
There's really not much to be said about Saakashvili's devotion to the West and its security organizations that hasn't already been said. But in a terrific analysis of the U.S.-Russia reset in The Nation, Stephen Cohen provides some useful context. In particular, he notes the blatant hypocrisy in Biden and Saakashvili's respective description of the "sphere of influence" in Georgia:
Georgia may have made procuring American weapons one of its top military priorities, but it's also taking matters into its own hands. During last week's military parade the country unveiled a new, homegrown armored personnel carrier, called Didgori after a famous 12th-century Georgian military victory over the Seljuk Turks.
According to the report below from Rustavi 2 (with English subtitles) the APC features night vision, remote controlled weapons and improved armor over its Russian/Soviet predecessors. It is apparently made at Georgia's Plant 31, which used to make Su-25 fighter jets but which is now dedicated to ground vehicles. They are lightly armed but fast, and are intended for reconnaissance and special operations. The Georgian armed forces now have 30, and there is the possibility they'll be made for export, as well. And it already has its own Wikipedia page.
"The biggest advantage is that it is Georgian, made in Georgia, and we are proud of it and of the name it has," said one of the soldiers interviewed, Alexander Gorgodze.
There is rarely good news about Tajikistan's military, but if it is possible to actually lower one's opinion of the country's armed forces, the newest International Crisis Group report will do it. The report (pdf), Tajikistan: The Changing Insurgent Threats, is grim reading, painting a picture of a government in Dushanbe that is alternately hapless and venal in its attempts to stamp out the insurgency that has been threatening the country. One figure that sticks out: the country's elite counterterror forces has dwindled to a mere 32 soldiers, and Western governments are so mistrustful of the government in Dushanbe that they're reluctant to help.
Rampant corruption means that the military is understaffed and undertrained:
On paper Tajikistan has 7,300 soldiers and 7,500 paramilitaries, including 1,200 National Guard. Corruption in the military is, however, a major business, an observer remarked, and only a small fraction could probably be fielded at any one moment. A conscript who wants to stay at home rather than serve with his unit has to pay his commander about $100 a month, according to the relative of a soldier who was doing this. A medical discharge would cost $3,500, $500 of which is paid to the doctor who draws up the necessary papers. Those who stay in uniform often lack serious training. There are frequent claims that livefire exercises in many units are a fiction. Relatives of a soldier serving in a security unit said he is often told to sign a form saying he expended a certain number of bullets, then returns to barracks without using his weapon. Officers allegedly pocket the unused bullets for resale.
Armenia's announcement this month that it was tripling its troop commitment to Afghanistan raised some eyebrows. It has no NATO aspirations, and has largely thrown in its strategic lot with Russia, as evidenced by the agreement it recently signed allowing a large, decades-long Russian military presence in the country.
But the newest trend in Eurasian geopolitics is multi-vectored foreign policy (i.e., trying to balance relations between various big powers rather than becoming dependent on a single one), pioneered by Kazakhstan but now increasingly deliberately employed across the region. And that means that even faithfully pro-Moscow states like Armenia have to hedge their bets a little. Thus, Armenia's contribution of two extra platoons (81 soldiers) to help guard the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif, bringing its troop contribution to a total of about 130. As Deputy Defense Minister David Tonoyan told Mediamax:
First of all, this step is based on Armenia's interests in accordance with the multi-layer and initiative foreign policy of our country, and demonstrates our particular place in the world order after the "cold war".
And he played down suggestions that cooperating with NATO in Afghanistan was somehow incompatible with Armenia's membership in the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, emphasizing the CSTO's cooperation with ISAF in Afghanistan:
When Washington's "it" think tank, the Center for a New American Security, published a report (pdf) today called "Beyond Afghanistan: A Regional Security Strategy for South and Central Asia," I dug in, expecting some serious discussion of the Northern Distribution Network, the instability in Tajikistan, the possibility of a "New Silk Road" and so on. But instead, the ex-Soviet states were almost entirely ignored in this "regional strategy." The report focuses on Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, calling Afghanistan's other neighbors "influential but ultimately less vital actors." The short section on Central Asia was written, probably tellingly, by an intern.
As far as it goes, that's probably a correct assessment. Afghanistan is obviously central to the U.S.'s interests in the region now, Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan is clearly a huge issue, and Pakistan's relationship with India is the key to untangling that. By comparison, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, to say nothing of the other Central Asian states, are secondary players (though many boosters, for example Fred Starr, argue otherwise). On twitter, one of the report's authors, Andrew Exum, defended the de-emphasis of Central Asia: "The key question is how much of a *priority* should CA be for policy-makers given other, competing priorities." And it's hard to argue with that.
Remember when everyone from this blog to the Taliban was making a big deal of the news that Kazakhstan was sending some troops to Afghanistan? Well, that may have been a bit premature. It turns out that the Kazakh contingent will number... four:
"Under the agreement signed by Kazakhstan and NATO, the republic is going to send four servicemen to work at the ISAF headquarters in Afghanistan ... which means that we are not sending a contingent of the military forces, but we are joining in the international effort to help the Afghan government and parliament to ensure security and restore the peaceful life in this country," he [Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Askar Abdrakhmanov] said.
Those four, my colleague Joanna Lillis reports, include "two military analysts, one epidemiologist and one logistics expert." That's six less servicemembers than Luxembourg has deployed, and the same number as Iceland, which doesn't even have a military.
The Taliban, in their statement, bragged that "the dispatch of a few hundred troops will not change the fate of the invaders who are already on their way to defeat. Nor they will turn the defeat into victory." And if a few hundred troops wouldn't turn the tide, four desk jockeys certainly won't.
Would the Collective Security Treaty Organization come to Armenia's aid in the event of a war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh? It's a question that has been the matter of speculation for some time. And last week Armenia's defense minister said yes, the CSTO would support Armenia. Via AFP:
“Given Armenia’s membership in the CSTO, we can count on an appropriate response and the support of our allies in the organization, who have specific responsibilities to each other and the ability to react adequately to potential aggression,” Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian told a security conference in Yerevan.
Of course, what "an appropriate response" entails could be very much up to interpretation. And much depends on whether the war would involve only Karabakh -- which is de jure part of Azerbaijan -- or Armenia. If the former, the CSTO would be less likely to get involved, since it wouldn't involve an attack on a member nation. In a piece called "Kazakhstan dashes Armenia's collective security hopes," News.az quotes a couple of Kazakh security experts saying making that point:
“If a military conflict began in Nagorno-Karabakh, this would not be an attack by Azerbaijan on Armenia”, [Murat] Laumulin [senior fellow at the Kazakh president's Strategic Research Institute] said. "This issue is Azerbaijan’s internal affair, because Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan’s administrative territory....”
The director for analysis and consulting at Kazakhstan’s Institute of Political Solutions, Rustam Burnashev, shares Laumulin's view.
He said that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict was an internal Azerbaijani affair: “What's most important is how much Armenia itself would raise this issue and how much Azerbaijan would bring it before the international community."
Kazakhstan's decision to send troops to Afghanistan has elicited a quick rebuke from the Taliban, which warns that the deployment "will leave a long-term negative impact on relations between Afghanistan and Kazakhstan and the region."
The statement accuses Kazakhstan of kowtowing to Washington:
[I]t seems from the abrupt and impetuous decision of Kazakhstan that rulers of that country have shown impetuosity and hastiness in taking the decision. They have focused on protection of American interests instead of taking into account the aspirations of their people and the regional interests.
And it calls Kazakhstan ungrateful for the Afghan jihadis' role in ensuring its independence:
Kazakhstan obtained its liberation and got an identity after the collapse of the former Soviet Union at the hands of the Afghan people. In a way, they ( must) remain obliged to the blessing of the Afghan Jihad and struggle. Still, if they have opted to take part in the war of the illegitimate occupation of Afghanistan, it will be their historical perfidy and an act of impetuosity politically.