Azerbaijan is seriously preparing for war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh, the country's defence minister told international peace mediators in Baku on Friday.
"Azerbaijan is seriously preparing to liberate its territories," Safar Abiyev said in comments published by the ministry's press service.
It's hard to know how seriously to take these sorts of statements; the phrase "bellicose rhetoric from Baku" is by now a firmly entrenched cliche of Caucasus journalism. Still, that statement sounds, to my ears, more blunt than normal.
One of the most interesting parts of the recent International Crisis Group report (pdf), was its speculation about what would happen in a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh. It concluded that, while Azerbaijan has an obvious advantage in military spending, a variety of other factors could give Armenia an edge:
Former President Ter-Petrossian, was careful not to present the 1990s war as a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in order to emphasise the battlefield role of Nagorno-Karabakh forces and to downplay the Armenian army’s involvement. The present Armenian leadership makes no such pretence. A premeditated resumption of hostilities by Armenian forces is not likely, but cannot be ruled out, as Yerevan commentators and some military officials, notably in Nagorno-Karabakh, warn of a “preventive war” if the entity comes under imminent threat.
NATO's General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen was ready to propose new cooperation between NATO and the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) -- until the U.S. intervened to thwart Rasmussen's initiative. That's the suggestion of a U.S. State Department cable, released by WikiLeaks via the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.
The cable, from September 10, 2009, is apparently the result of an inside source at Rasmussen's office who was feeding the U.S. intelligence. The source said that at an upcoming speech in Brussels, Rasmussen was to propose formal engagement with the CSTO. The U.S., however, argued that doing so would legitimize "a waning organization" that "has proven ineffective in most areas of activity." And it would strengthen Russia's hold over Central Asia, the State Department argued:
NATO Secretary General Rasmussen may be planning to take improved NATO-Russia relations to a new level by proposing that NATO engage with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The SecGen recently indicated that he has an "open mind" to such a course of action, has been in contact with the head of the CSTO, and plans to make a speech on NATO-Russia relations that would go beyond most Allies comfort zones....
Former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld describes the US government's handling of the events in Andijan, Uzbekistan, in 2005, as “one of the most unfortunate, if unnoticed, foreign policy mistakes of our administration” because it supposedly drove Uzbekistan into the arms of Russia.
The story of the U.S.'s ill-fated airbase at Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan, is well known. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. quickly got permission from Uzbekistan to set up operations at the base, known as K2, for its attack on Afghanistan. K2 was a key operations hub until 2005, when the U.S. State Department objected to how the Uzbekistan government fired on protesters in the eastern Uzbekistan city of Andijan, killing several hundreds. Shortly thereafter, Uzbekistan kicked the U.S. out of K2.
What has long been rumored, though, is that the U.S. was using some other bases, as well. And now we appear to have official confirmation of that, for the first time, from an unlikely source: Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. secretary of defense during that period. Rumsfeld, in an unusual move to coincide with the release of his new memoirs, Known and Unknown, has posted many relevant documents -- mostly formerly classified government memos -- on his website. (The Danger Room blog calls it "Rumsfeld WikiLeaking Himself," which I will shorten to RummyLeaks for future reference.) It makes for fascinating reading: go to the search page and type in "Uzbekistan," for example, and 32 documents pop up.
One of the more intriguing ones is an itemized accounting (pdf) of what the U.S. was paying Uzbekistan for the use of K2. Rumsfeld released the document to support his argument with Senator John McCain and others over paying Uzbekistan for K2 even after the U.S. was evicted (about which more soon in an upcoming EurasiaNet piece). But in it, there appears to be confirmation that the U.S. also used bases at Shakhrisabz, Jizzak and Kokaidy.
Russia and Tajikistan continue to negotiate over the use of the Ayni military airport near Dushanbe. And the key issue under debate now is whether the base would be a solely Russian facility, or a joint Tajikistan-Russia operation. That's according to Tajikistan political analyst Alexander Sodiqov, writing on Jamestown's Eurasia Daily Monitor:
Speaking to journalists on January 27, Tajikistan’s Foreign Minister, Khamrokhon Zarifi, announced that Dushanbe and Moscow will continue talks on Russia’s possible use of the recently renovated Ayni airfield, 15 miles (25 kilometers) west of the Tajik capital. According to Zarifi, the two countries have different views on “certain issues” related to the use of the facility...
The differences apparently stem from Moscow’s intention to secure exclusive use of the airbase, while Dushanbe insists on joint use. For Russia, sole use of the facility is a matter of “national prestige” and security of the long-term military deployment .... Dushanbe, however, views the airfield as a training ground for its decrepit air force and cannot agree on anything other than joint use.
Sodiqov suggests that the access issue trumps the question of how much money Russia would pay for the use of the base. Tajikistan's air force isn't too powerful ("decrepit" is probably the right word) but it still seems to be getting more action than those of its Central Asian counterparts as it conducts strikes against rebels in the Rasht Valley and near the Afghanistan border. So it's understandable that they wouldn't want to completely abandon a key facility.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has offered to send more troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 950 or so soldiers that are already there. Reports Civil.ge:
"We've offered to send more troops and for the months to come some more troops will follow from Georgia and we are willing to consider increase of our assistance in order to help the Afghan people achieve a sustainable peace and to prevent terrorists from again using that country as a base," he said.
In case the subtext -- that Georgia is doing this to curry favor with the West -- wasn't clear enough, Saakashvili spelled it out:
"For Georgia, a country of just 4.7 millions souls, whose territory is still partly occupied, such an effort underscores our determination to be a provider—and not just a consumer—of international security," he said.
He did not apparently give any other details, like how many and what kind of soldiers, and when they might go. Saakashvili was speaking at the Munich Security Conference, and Messenger.ge notices another interesting statement in his speech: “I came here to deliver one simple message: ignoring the ongoing military build-ups fuelled by well-known foreign hands can lead to future disasters." He did not, apparently, mention his sustained efforts to create a military build-up in his own country, fueled by the best known foreign hand of all, the U.S.
Messenger also quotes a Georgian military analyst who is not impressed with the proposal:
Russia has been warning Tajikistan that the U.S. wants to overthrow President Emomali Rakhmon for the sake of eliminating Russian influence in the country and creating "a string of anti-Russia military bases from Baghram to Manas." That's according to a U.S. State Department cable just released by WikiLeaks. It recounts a conversation with then-U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan Richard Hoagland and Tajikistan's ambassador to Washington, Homrahon Zaripov, who was back home in Dushanbe at the time.
(In the cable Hoagland asks that Zaripov's identity be "strictly protected throughout," and noted that he only spoke candidly when a Foreign Ministry notetaker was not present. This seems to be a case where WikiLeaks has dropped the ball in its promise to protect sources. And assuming that the interested intelligence agencies are reading the raw WikiLeaks files and not The Bug Pit, I guess there is no further harm I can do by identifying Zaripov here.)
The cable is from 2005, and is part of a series that Hoagland wrote on U.S.-Tajikistan relations. (A couple have already come out, including one where Rakhmon complained about excessive Russian military influence in the country.) But this goes further in describing a U.S.-sympathizing insider's view of what Russia sees in Tajikistan:
Given the pushback that Turkey has been giving to NATO missile defense plans, some Republican U.S. senators have come up with an alternate location for a missile defense site: Georgia. If you recall, Turkey is the proposed site of a missile defense system for NATO, but Turkey was trying to impose some conditions on that participation, in particular not naming any country in particular as the target of the shield, and sharing information with Israel. It's the latter condition that the senators especially object to in a letter (pdf) to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as reported by ForeignPolicy.com's The Cable blog. Georgia, they said, would give NATO no such static:
We believe that the Republic of Georgia's geographic location would make it an ideal site for a missile defense radar aimed at Iran, and would offer clear advantages for the protection of the United States from a long range missile as compared to Turkey, or other potential locations in southeastern Europe. What's more, the Republic of Georgia should be a significant partner for future defense cooperation with the U.S., whether as a future member of NATO or in another capacity; it is already one of our nation's most loyal allies in the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
(Note that implicitly, the senators also don't like Turkey's delicacy in refusing to explicitly name the target of the shield -- it's against Iran.)