Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly canceled his visit to Pakistan last week, but ties between the two countries nevertheless appear to be growing as a result of the Kremlin's fear of instability in Afghanistan.
Putin was supposed to be in Pakistan last week for the Dushanbe Four summit, a grouping that includes Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. But he canceled at the last minute; foreign minister Sergey Lavrov went instead and Pakistan's chief of army staff, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, visited Moscow at the same time. And despite Putin's cancellation, analysts in Russia, Pakistan and India all seem to agree that Russian-Pakistani relations are nevertheless destined to get stronger.
Part of this seems to be a very slow post-Cold War geopolitical realignment, and part is motivated by specific worries about Afghanistan. Russia and India have strong relations, especially military-to-military ties, a vestige of the Cold War when India was a Soviet ally and its enemy, Pakistan, was supported by the U.S. But India is now seeking to diversify its relations, including strengthening ties (including in defense) with the U.S. That has led some in Moscow to want to send India a message, said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies and an analyst well connected to the Russian Ministry of Defense, in an interview with Kommersant:
“India remains Moscow’s most important partner in the area of [military-technical cooperation], both in terms of volume and potential. Yet Delhi’s attempts to diversify its supplies of new weapons – increasingly from Western countries – are making Russia flinch. Moscow has explained to Delhi, in no uncertain terms, that it can also diversify its military-technical ties by means of a rapprochement with Pakistan."
Tajikistan's recent military base deal with Russia raised some eyebrows, especially since an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin crowed that they got the 30-year extension "almost for free." There was a lot of skeptical reaction in Tajikistan's blogosphere, as Global Voices reported. One sample:
Joking in front of media before any deals had been announced, Putin addressed Tajikistan's president (as quoted in Radio Ozodi): "I always knew that you were a wise person. You invited us on your birthday, enticed us, one could say, because you can't refuse anything on someone's birthday. Now we will have to sign anything you ask us to."
Reacting to Putin's joke, blogger Shukufa described this statement as an example of “oriental diplomacy”. She wrote: "What Rahmon should learn from Putin is diplomacy. It is spectacular how Putin today enticed Rahmon to sign the base deal on Russia's terms, while enabling [the Tajik leader] to save face and even claim that the terms had been dictated by Tajikistan."
But Tajikistan's opposition politicians aren't particularly opposed to the deal. The country's most significant opposition figure, Muhiddin Kabiri of the Islamic Renaissance Party said the deal was the lesser evil that could be expected. He said in principle he's against the presence of foreign military bases in Tajikistan...
"But I see the signing of the agreement on the prolongation of the Russian base as less harmful than the presence of bases of other governments in our country, as Russia already has more than 100 years of military presence in Tajikistan."
The opening ceremony of the CSTO peacekeeping exercise, Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012, in Kazakhstan.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization has begun what it calls its first-ever peacekeeping exercise, in Kazakhstan. According to the CSTO, the exercise will work on standard peacekeeping tasks like separating the parties to a conflict and ensuring compliance to a cease fire. But the scenario of the exercise seems a bit more active than that: "According to the scenario, a crisis situation arises connected with the activity of international extremists and terrorist organizations and conflict between ethnic groups living in the country." And a Kazakhstani military spokesperson is a bit more detailed: "People portraying terrorists will attack a military base checkpoint and retreat to a village, after which the troops will respond to free the village."
In any event, about 950 troops are taking part, the majority (535) from Kazakhstan, 160 from Russia, 50 from Kyrgyzstan and small contingents from Armenia, Belarus, and Tajikistan. This exercise, called "Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012," follows closely on the heels of another CSTO exercise in Armenia. But this one was (ostensibly) about peacekeeping, and observers from the United Nations, with whom the CSTO has agreed to cooperate on peacekeeping, were present.
Deputy General Secretary of the CSTO Valeriy Semerikov said at the opening ceremony that "the opening of the exercise is the beginning of the arrangement of national peacekeeping contingents into a single structure -- comprising the collective peacekeeping force of the CSTO."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, visiting Dushanbe, has finalized an agreement with his Tajikistan counterpart Emomali Rahmon to extend the lease of Russia's military base there for another 30 years. That's a bit of a compromise on Russia's part: they had been seeking 49 years. But Tajikistan compromised too: instead of getting rent for the base, which Rahmon had sought, Russia will offer an aid package and allow more labor migrants from Tajikistan into Russia, Reuters reports.
A high-ranking source in Tajikistan's government, who requested anonymity, said a package of deals had been prepared for signing by Putin and Rakhmon. These would include better terms for Tajik migrant workers in Russia, he said....
The Tajik government source said deals prepared for signing on Friday also included construction of a hydroelectric power station and the removal of import duties on Russian light oil products used in Tajikistan.
There will be some payment, though: a "symbolic sum."
"This base is needed by us, and is needed by Tajikistan," Putin's foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, said.
Ushakov said Russia would pay a symbolic sum to extend its lease, which had been due to expire after a decade on Jan. 1, 2014.
Regnum.ru reports that the deal also includes some Russian aid to modernize Tajikistan's armed forces.
The news of the agreement contradicts the statement of a top-ranking Russian general, who said less than a week ago that the two sides would continue negotiating for another six months.
Armenia has ratified a protocol that would allow Russia a veto over any foreign military installations in its country, but not without some grumbling. An agreement reached last year by the Collective Security Treaty Organization allows any CSTO member to have a say in whether another member can host a foreign military base. This week, Armenia's parliament ratified that agreement, but with some lawmakers complaining that it infringed on the country's sovereignty, and the parliament's second-largest bloc abstaining from the vote, reports ArmeniaNow:
On October 4, the Parliament ratified the Protocol on the Location of Military Installations in Collective Security Treaty Organization (OSCE) Member Countries that was signed still in December 2011 and under which Armenia is not entitled to host military forces or other infrastructure of other states without the permission of the CSTO...
Opposition Heritage faction MP Alexander Arzumanyan, who represents the Free Democrats party and served as Armenia’s minister of foreign affairs in the 1990s, said during the debate in the National Assembly that the Protocol limits Armenia’s sovereign rights and humiliates the nation’s dignity. In the end, only five lawmakers in the 131-member body, including Arzumanyan, voted against the ratification. The second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, Prosperous Armenia [which holds 37 seats], opted out of the vote.
The future foreign policy of Georgia's government under its new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is the subject of much speculation, especially in Washington, Moscow and Brussels. While Ivanishvili repeatedly vowed to continue Georgia's road to Euro-Atlantic integration and continue the Georgian military's deployment in Afghanistan, President Mikheil Saakashvili tried to paint Ivanishvili as a puppet of Moscow.
Ivanishvili's first post-victory press conference -- the one where he demanded Saakashvili's resignation -- didn't seem to go so well. But partners in Washington and Brussels had to be happy with what they heard. Ivanishvili promised that his first trip abroad would be to the U.S., and reiterated his strong support for NATO membership. His full comments on foreign policy don't seem to have been reported anywhere (in English) except for on the twitter feed of Georgian journalist Avto Koridze. They're worth reading (cleaned up a bit from twitterese).
"I think Russia's position of irritation about Georgia's integration in NATO was deepened by Saakashvili. I know that Georgia's integration in NATO is not very pleasant for Russia, but I don't think it is a strategic issue for Russia. I think it is possible with correct diplomacy to convince Russia that Georgia's integration in NATO is not a threat.... The Baltic countries are an example of NATO integration and good relations with Russia. We will not change our strategy of NATO integration for anything."
Russia and Tajikistan will continue negotiating over the extension of the Russian 201st Division's presence in Tajikistan next year, a top Russian military official has said. That contradicts recent reports that the two countries had come to an agreement on the presence of the division's base on the outskirts of Dushanbe, and that the agreement would be formally signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Dushanbe on October 5. From the AP:
Russia’s ground forces commander Vladimir Chirkin said in an interview on Ekho Mosky radio station that outstanding issues on the terms of the deal will continue to be discussed with Tajikistan until the end of March...
Chirkin said the Russian troops would work in a coalition with local forces, something that Tajikistan is believed to have pushed for during negotiations.
Tajikistan has said it would like $300 million annually in cash or equivalent in military assistance for the bases.
“We will undoubtedly provide military and technical assistance so that this coalition is fully supplied,” Chirkin said. “How large (that assistance) is to be will be calculated by the specialists.”
When Foreign Policy magazine reported this spring that Israel was in talks with Azerbaijan over the use of the latter's airfields in order to carry out an attack on Iran, the bombshell report was vociferously denied by officials in Baku and derided by regional analysts. Azerbaijan would seem to not have any interest in such cooperation, and the Foreign Policy report was correctly described as "Washington-centric."
But now Reuters has come out with the same story, but their sources are Azerbaijani and Russian:
[T]wo Azeri former military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Azerbaijan and Israel have been looking at how Azeri bases and intelligence could serve in a possible strike on Iran.
"Where planes would fly from - from here, from there, to where? - that's what's being planned now," a security consultant with contacts at Azeri defense headquarters in Baku said. "The Israelis ... would like to gain access to bases in Azerbaijan."
Rasim Musabayov, an independent Azeri lawmaker and a member of parliament's foreign affairs committee, said that, while he had no definitive information, he understood that Azerbaijan would probably feature in any Israeli plans against Iran, at least as a contingency for refueling its attack force:
"Israel has a problem in that if it is going to bomb Iran, its nuclear sites, it lacks refueling," Musabayov told Reuters.
"I think their plan includes some use of Azerbaijan access.
Russia and Azerbaijan have come to a short-term agreement on the Gabala radar station that Russia operates in Azerbaijan, a "source close to the negotiations" told RIA Novosti.
The new agreement will extend the current lease, currently scheduled to run out in December, for another two to three years under the current terms. Azerbaijan has been playing hardball with Russia, reportedly asking for the rent to be raised from the current $7 million a year to $300 million. Russia, meanwhile, wanted to extend the lease to 2025.
Azerbaijan really holds all the cards in this scenario: it has no use for the radar and mistrusts Russia, which backs Armenia in the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. But Russia, of course, is the more powerful country and still has various means of throwing its weight around in Baku should it want to. This new arrangement seems to suggest that Russia is planning to leave Gabala after this brief extension expires. But Russia needs the Gabala radar a bit longer, while tension around Iran is high (Gabala covers the airspace over Iran) and newer radars are still under construction. Russian analyst Alexander Karavaev tells RIA Novosti:
"Judging from this announcement, Russia can still refuse to prolong the rent after this period, in two-three years. Most likely, [the radar] will remain while there is a high degree of tension around Iran, and while a new generation of radar stations are being deployed to the south," said Karavaev, referring to new, more capable radars that Russia is in the process of setting up in the North Caucasus.
Photographer Mari Bastashevski has started an ambitious new investigative project, "State Business," which she calls "an art project about the conflict arms trade." And her first subject is a series of arms shipments which appeared to be headed for Nagorno-Karabakh:
In the spring of 2010 the arms tracking community had picked up on a number of suspicious flights headed for Armenia, 39 in total. The flights continued at even intervals well into February 2011. All of them were Ilyushin IL-76s. The planes left Podgorica [Montenegro] airport for Armenia’s ‘Erebuni’ military airport. It was estimated that the arms were intended for the troubled Nagorno-Karabakh region, which saw a wave of border incidents and heightened tensions at the time.
The flights didn’t simply tip-toe past the guards in the middle of the night. Because… well- not Hollywood. There was obviously a ton of paperwork to get these off the ground. Although airports and aviation authorities keep copies of flight documentation for a period of time, in Montenegro (not exceptionally) such documentation is rather well hidden under the umbrella of “National Security,” which is evoked each time secrecy is convenient.