A U.S. soldier at the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border, the bottleneck of the Northern Distribution Network
841st Transportation Battalion
We've heard a lot lately about how U.S. military cooperation with Kyrgyzstan, namely the air base at Manas made the Americans sweep complaints about democracy and human rights under the rug. So, is the same thing happening in Uzbekistan, the hub of the Northern Distribution Network shipping U.S. military equipment into Afghanistan? IWPR checks and says, yes:
Umida Niazova, head of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, believes Washington is ignoring human rights, “It is clear that the new [Obama] administration is ready to cooperate with Karimov’s regime despite the deteriorating human rights record…. There is no indication that the Americans are aligning their cooperation agenda with the domestic situation, the situation with human rights and civil freedoms.
“Obsessed with a successful operation in Afghanistan, the Americans are strengthening dictatorships in neighbouring countries.”
It is not just advocacy groups that are saying this.
“We can definitely say that there is an improvement in the [US-Uzbek] relationship, and it runs the risk of repeating past mistakes,” said Sean Roberts, a Central Asian expert who is assistant professor of international development at George Washington University. “I am worried the US is not paying attention to domestic politics [in Uzbekistan]. And that might be interpreted to mean they are supporting violent dictatorship to profit their strategy for the Afghanistan war.”
Scott Radnitz, a Central Asia expert at the University of Washington, added, “It has been decided that the benefits of the NDN outweigh the costs of cooperating with a repressive regime. Right now, Uzbekistan is an ally of convenience due solely to its geographic position, sharing a border with Afghanistan.”
The IWPR reporters interviewed the U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan; not surprisingly, he disagrees:
Bellicose rhetoric from Baku towards Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh is nothing new, but the volume seems to have been rising a bit lately, with Azerbaijan claiming that it could attack anywhere in Armenia, and the Armenians responding in kind:
President Serzh Sarkisian said earlier this year that an Azerbaijani assault on Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh would trigger "serious counterattacks." Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian similarly stated in January that Armenian forces have significantly beefed up fortifications around Karabakh in recent years and are prepared for renewed fighting.
Hakobian said the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's army has received new military hardware and ammunition this year. "[We] have had quite a serious success in acquiring air-defense systems," he said.
So what to make of this? Anna Matveeva, writing in the Guardian, has a sensible analysis:
Encouragingly, Azerbaijan's leadership is risk-averse and not prone to impulsive moves to suit a nationalist agenda. It does not need a war to boost its popularity, because it is already popular. Rationally speaking, the war is unlikely. But military games and sabre-rattling have a tendency to get out of hand. Armenia's internal political problems can give rise to a "now or never" attitude: since the adversary appears weak, the time for a decisive push has arrived.
However, the organization appears to be stepping back from earlier plans to build a dedicated CSTO base in Kyrgyzstan, in Osh. Interfax Kazakhstan, via BBC Monitoring:
The Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO] has no plans yet to develop its infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan, the organization's Secretary-General Nikolay Bordyuzha told a news conference in Moscow on Friday [14 May].
"There are several Russian military facilities in Kyrgyzstan, including Kant base, which was established to support missions as part of the CSTO. It is active today. There is a reinforced group of personnel there that guards its active infrastructure," Bordyuzha said.
He also said that there was no Collective Rapid-Reaction Forces training centre of any kind in Kyrgyzstan. "There was hypothetical work on the issue of setting it up, but it was not set up," Bordyuzha said.
"There are no further actions planned for the CSTO to develop its infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan. A lot will depend on the turn of events there," Bordyuzha summed up.
KULOB, Tajikistan – At the request of the Tajikistan government, Third Army in support of U.S. efforts donated a C-17 load of tents to provide shelter to some of the more than 2,000 people who were affected by the flooding in Kulob, May 7.
"It is our privilege to help our partner and friend, the people of Tajikistan, in their hour of need," said Col. Michael J. Keller, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, Civil Military Operations Center commander. "Our engineering and medical teams will continue to assess the situation to determine where further assistance is required."
Well that's selfless of them, to help out the victims of flooding. And naturally such a humanitarian gesture was done in the low-key, understated way that the U.S. is well known for. Oh, wait...
Young soldiers in the Tajikistan army look out the back of a truck as a pallet full of tents, covered with an American flag, passes by. Third Army Soldiers delivered over $250,000 worth of tents to Kulob, Tajikistan, while answering the nation's call for help due to recent floods. (Photo by Dominic Hauser, Civil Military Operations Center)
Have you noticed that the speculation over the fate of Manas Transit Center has slowed down quite a bit? Stars and Stripes -- a newspaper targeted at the U.S. military -- noticed, too:
One of the first moves of Kyrgyz interim leader Roza Otunbayeva after coming to power last month was to promise renewal of the lease for the key U.S. air base near Bishkek, the country’s capital.
Days later, her foreign minister criticized Americans for worrying only about the base — officially called the Transit Center at Manas — at the expense of supporting democratic values.
Now, leaders of the new government are hesitant to say anything publicly about the base.
“We have said enough,” said interim government spokesman Edil Baisalov. “We don’t have any views on the base.”
The story goes on to note that there is a lot of public disapproval of the base, and of the interim government as well, and so the government may not be willing to stick its neck out to preserve the base.
Last week, I wrote about the U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan's clumsy defensiveness regarding charges that she ignored the former opposition for the sake of maintaining the U.S. air base there. Apparently she had a reason to feel defensive: Steve LeVine reports that the ambassador is on her way out:
In Washington, I am told that prior to these latest events there already had been a senior-level Administration decision to pull Ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller several months prior to the end of her scheduled rotation out in Fall 2011. Gfoeller will return to Washington after a few months, I am told, after an interval from the April 7 ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
The apparent decision comes against the backdrop of bitter complaints by members of Kyrgyzstan's provisional government -- most prominently those of leader Roza Otunbayeva -- that Gfoeller met with them only infrequently while they were in the opposition to Bakiyev. ... In fact, Gfoeller appears to have raised not only Otunbayeva's bile, but also that of Bakiyev, who railed against the Embassy meeting with the opposition at all.
CSTO head Nikolay Bordyuzha was asked during a visit to Kazakhstan today whether there might soon be a U.S. base in that country, and unsurprisingly he said that wasn't necessary. More surprisingly, he praised the presence of Manas in Kyrgyzstan. Via Gazeta.kz:
Answering the question of possibility of creation in the territory of Kazakhstan of the military base similar to the air base Manas in Kyrgyzstan, N. Bordyuzha said that it is inexpedient. The base Manas accomplishes specific important tasks. It serves the groups in Afghanistan that work to maintain stability in Afghanistan, struggle against Talibs. It is an important goal. I do not think we need another base," he noted.
Add this to the list of counterintuitive statements Bordyuzha has made about the situation in Kyrgyzstan. Today in Kazakhstan, he also said that the CSTO's peacekeeping forces "will start their joint combat training in the near future," and didn't mention anything about any CSTO bases, in Kyrgyzstan or elsewhere. Might this be part of the secret plan for Russia to become more pro-Western? Or is it, as Stephen Blank wrote yesterday in EurasiaNet, a means of "snookering" the international community?
Ribbon-cutting at the opening of KAZBRIG Training Center by Ambassador Richard Hoagland and General Adilbek Aldabergenov
Discussions of the military aspect of Kazakhstan's "multi-vector diplomacy" usually conclude that, whatever happens with oil and gas and other trade, the country's armed forces are likely to remain oriented toward Russia. That's because language limitations mean Kazakh officers who train abroad are most likely to do so in Russia, and of course because the military's legacy equipment and doctrine is Russian.
That's why an interview that Kazakhstan's defense minister gave to Kazakhstanskaya Pravda this week is kind of curious (not online; via BBC Monitoring). The language that he uses to describe the direction the military is going in will be unmistakeable to anyone who follows the Pentagon:
The main principle that we are using in building our armed forces is a brigade-based army. ... a compact, mobile and effective armed force which would be able to carry out the whole spectrum of tasks connected with the state's military security ... improve the communication system and electronic forms of military management.
Whole-spectrum, brigade-centric, network-centric... sounds straight out of an Art Cebrowski briefing from the early 2000s.
But, the Kazakhs could also just be learning to talk the talk: The U.S. has also just opened a language-training center in Almaty, apparently to get Kazakhstan's peacekeeping soldiers to speak better English to be able to better serve abroad. Said the U.S. ambassador at the center's opening at the end of last month:
Many observers have fretted about France's proposed sale of Mistral ships to Russia, pointing in particular to a statement by Russia's naval chief that with the Mistral, Russia's victory over Georgia could have been accomplished in 40 minutes rather than 26 hours.
But Dmitry Gorenburg, at Russian Military Reform, points out that Russia's military superiority over Georgia was never an issue. What is an issue (for those worried about Russia's actions rather than Georgia's) is the level of Russia's willingness to alienate the West by attacking countries like Georgia. And when you think in those terms, the Mistral sale would likely make conflict between Russia and the West less, rather than more, likely:
Some analysts fear that Russia could use equipment purchased from NATO, such as the Mistral ships, to attack its neighbors. The 2008 Georgia war showed that even without NATO equipment the Russian military is plenty strong enough to defeat a small and weak army of the kind that just about all of its immediate neighbors possess. Western arms sales are not necessary for Russia to be able to successfully undertake hostile action against a country like Georgia. But again, if NATO arms sales to Russia become ubiquitous, Russia may well become more hesitant to undertake actions that could potentially result in the cut-off of such arms sales. In other words, Western leverage over Russian actions will actually increase.
The geopolitical situation around the Ayni air base in Tajkistan has always been murky. And according to this story reporting the completion of renovations to the base, that has not changed. Russia may be using the base, or it might not be, and may have moved all of its air assets from Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan, and India doesn't seem to be using the Ayni base, even though it paid for the renovation, but Tajikistan is hosting its air force there, even though Jane's deadpans that, that force is "not even an air force in the generally accepted sense." Got it? According to Ferghana.ru:
Russian military forces are not based in the Ayni aerodrome, close to Dushanbe. This was announced by Ramil Nadirov, the Joint Staff Chief of the Republic of Tajikistan armed forces and the first deputy Defense Minister of the Republic. According to him "after finishing the modernization of the aerodrome Tajikistan signed the state acceptance certificate and now the aerodrome hosts the national air force"....
Ferghana.Ru sources in the Tajik Defense Ministry also confirm the existence of agreement between Russia and Tajikistan about joint use of Ayni aerodrome. However, we were not able to get official confirmation.
Meanwhile, Pavel Konev, the press-secretary of 201th RF military base in Tajikistan informed that entire aviation component of the base was relocated to Kant base in Kyrgyzstan long ago. "I have no information about the presence of Russian air force in Ayni aerodrome. The battle-planes, formerly located in the airport of Dushanbe, were moved to Kyrgyzstan" he said.