Ivanishvili and Rasmussen meet in Brussels, Nov. 14
Georgia's new prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili visited Brussels and NATO headquarters this week, amid worries that recent arrests of top military officials represent political reprisals against the allies of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Prior to Ivanishvili's visit, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had already voiced his displeasure over the arrests, saying he was "extremely concerned." At a joint press conference after his meeting with Ivanishvili, Rasmussen was a little milder, suggesting he was mostly concerned about Georgia's image:
I am concerned if these trials are perceived to be politically motivated that would be damaging for the image of the country and the government. Even if it's not true. That's my concern. This is the reason why it is of utmost importance to stress that such trials must take place in accordance with the basic principles of rule of law, ensure full transparency, ensure due process. That's what I have made clear.
The Prime Minister has assured me that will be the case. And based on that, I also have to say, and really stress, we're not going to interfere with ongoing trials. We have confidence that they will be conducted without political interference and live up to the fundamental principles of rule of law.
Democracy expert Jay Ulfelder, in a worthwhile blog post, applies some political science to what he calls the "Mexican standoff" between Ivanishvili, Saakashvili and the Georgian security forces, also noting that perception here is at least as important as reality:
With a whiff of the Soviet, a Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense press release reports that the country's armed forces are looking at ways of using "ideology and propaganda" to improve the "patriotism and discipline" of service members -- and they're doing it with the help of the Nur Otan party that dominates politics in Kazakhstan.
A recent two-day meeting in Astana, participants "considered activities of the military authorities to improve the ideological work and strengthening military discipline and military-patriotic education." Said Nurlan Dzhulamanov, deputy chairman of the joint chiefs of staff: "Educational and ideological work conducted by military authorities ... is integral to maintaining high combat readiness and cohesion of units."
The list of participants in the meeting was headed by the "Nur Otan" party that holds complete control over Kazakhstan's politics, but a scan through the MoD's press release archives shows that this isn't the first time the party has been involved in the affairs of the armed forces. Over the past year or so the party helped organize a sort of military camp for children and held a meeting for female servicemembers. And the minister of defense and one top deputy are former high-level Nur Otan party officers.
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
UN map of all requests for international assistance in the Caucasus/Central Asia, 2007-12
The crises for which the governments of Central Asia and the Caucasus have recently requested international relief assistance have been concentrated along a relatively narrow band, an intriguing United Nations map shows.
The map, above, more or less speaks for itself: the crises from 2007-12, both natural (floods, earthquakes and brutal winters) and manmade (revolutions and pogroms) all occurred almost entirely in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, along with the adjacent areas of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The only exception was the 2008 war in Georgia.
What to make of this concentration? Obviously some of it is just coincidence: in the past, other parts of the region have seen massive earthquakes (Armenia, Turkmenistan) or war-related humanitarian crises (all over the Caucasus).
But it's also true that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are definitely the lowest-capacity states in the region, so if they have a crisis they are perhaps more likely to request international help. Still, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan did request help during this period.
Or, could the causality go the other way, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan's weaknesses stem in part from their propensity to natural disaster? That is certainly beyond the scope of The Bug Pit's geographical analysis capabilities. But the map is food for thought, and a striking reminder that when it seems like those two countries have had all the bad luck lately, it's not just our imaginations.
A U.S. Army colonel has argued that the Ferghana Valley is at risk of becoming a stronghold of terrorists like the FATA region of Pakistan and advocates a strong U.S. security cooperation presence there. In a paper called "Fergana as FATA? A Post-2014 Strategy for Central Asia," Colonel Ted Donnelly of the U.S. Army War College argues that U.S. military policy in Central Asia is currently too focused on maintaining access to Afghanistan:
The Central Asian States (CAS) region has played a critical supporting role in OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) since 2001. However, current U.S. military strategy addresses the region only in the context of its operational importance relative to OEF. Failure to view the CAS region through a broader, long-term strategic lens jeopardizes success in post-withdrawal Afghanistan, is detrimental to regional security and stability, and increases the likelihood that the U.S. will be drawn back on less than desirable terms.
Donnelly argues that extremist groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are poised to take advantage of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and establish themselves in the Ferghana Valley, the conservative, densely populated region shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan:
[T]he most likely post-2014 outcome is that the Fergana Valley will increasingly resemble the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region of Pakistan. Like the FATA, the future Fergana Valley will consist of significant ungoverned space which would serve as a safe haven, breeding ground, and staging area for VEOs [violent extremist organizations] and militants. The IMU and other VEOs would use this safe haven, as well as reconstituted rear areas in Afghanistan, to increase Islamist insurgent pressure on secular Central Asian governments.
Russia is preparing an aid package of over a billion dollars to Kyrgyzstan's military, and of $200 million to that of Tajikistan, Russian newspaper Kommersant has reported, saying that the Kremlin is trying to counteract the U.S.'s growing clout in Uzbekistan.
According to the report, the aid package was agreed on in August, during Russian Deputy Premier Igor Shuvalov's visit to Bishkek in August and President Vladimir Putin's in September. The specific contents of the aid package will be worked out by March of next year, with deliveries beginning next summer, sources in Russia's general staff told Kommersant.
In addition, Tajikistan is reportedly getting $200 million in air defense system upgrades and current hardware repair. Tajikistan also will be getting a $200 million discount on fuel deliveries from Russia, apparently thanks to its recent agreement to extend the lease of Russia's military base. So if the report turns out to be true, it wouldn't exactly be the "symbolic sum" that Kremlin officials initially claimed they would be paying for the base extension. But $400 million, spread out over the 30-year term of the base extension, still isn't quite the windfall Dushanbe was hoping for.
An unnamed Russian government source told Kommersant the aid package was intended both for security and geopolitical gain (translation via Johnson's Russia List):
Ships from Russia's Caspian Flotilla may make a visit to Iran next year, and the two navies may cooperate in the future, the head of the flotilla said. Admiral Sergey Alekminsky, commander of the flotilla, gave a 40-minute interview to Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy over the weekend, discussing the state of the fleet and answering listeners' questions about it.
Most reports on interview highlighted the mention of a potential port call in Iran. From RIA Novosti:
"I hope that next year, by decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it will be possible to organize a visit of our ships to Iran... There is a wish to see [the Iranian navy], because they are also developing," the commander said.
In his words, mutual relations between the Russian and Iranian flotillas "unfortunately doesn't exist yet, but there is a possibility."
(Side note: none of the print reports on the interview used the word "unfortunately," even though that's probably the most interesting word in the passage. So I added it in that translation. But I'm not making it up: Check for yourself -- around 11:40.)
Admiral Alekminsky also gave an update on the development of the navy, and mentioned the possibility of drones and "mini-submarines."
Presidents Ilham Aliyev and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meet in October.
It's been sporadically little to gain by such an adventure. But Iran's leadership may believe otherwise, reports Michael Moran at Global Post:
According to intelligence officials, Iran’s security services have concluded that Azerbaijan, its Muslim neighbor to the north, has been enlisted by Israel in a campaign of cyber attacks, assassinations and detailed military planning aimed at destabilizing and ultimately destroying Tehran’s nuclear research program.
That Iranian perspective, described by a range of current and former US intelligence officials who asked that their names remain confidential, has led to a crackdown on Iran’s sizeable ethnic Azeri minority and the launch of an Iranian counter espionage offensive to destabilize the government of President Ilham Aliev...
“What I can say is that Iran believes the link is much more substantial — to the point where they fear Israeli aircraft or special ops guys could be based on Azeri territory,” the official said. “In many ways, what Iran perceives is as important as anything else.”
Three women in Uzbekistan have been sentenced to long prison terms for spying on behalf of neighboring Tajikistan, Uzbek state television reported, in a special program called "Betrayers of the Motherland."
The three women all lived in the Surxondaryo region of southern Uzbekistan, bordering Tajikistan. One of them married a police officer from Tajikistan in 1998, a wedding that was planned by Tajiikistan's State Committee on National Security for the purpose of making her into a spy, the program said.
The three women allegedly worked in cooperation, passing on information about:
"[T]he military unit in Surxondaryo Region, including equipment and weapons being kept there; the prosecutor's office, the police department and customs complex of Sariosiyo District. She also provided information on employees and servicemen working in these facilities, their combat readiness and number plates of their cars."
The BBC Monitoring report on the TV program notes:
The programme dubbed "Betrayers of the Motherland" featured interviews with the women all whom said that Tajik security bodies forced them into spying. TV, however, dismissed these claims by saying that the three took money for the information they provided. "If they were forced into spying in Tajikistan, why did not they appeal to relevant state bodies after returning to Uzbekistan?" the programme asked.
At the conclusion of the broadcast, TV strongly condemned the women for"betraying" homeland, relatives and compatriots.
For the past few years, representatives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization have generally shied away from talk that the group is a competitor for the West, trying to play down its original inception as a "NATO of the East." But it sounds like the youth are talking a little more loosely and ambitiously. At an "SCO Youth Forum" in Barnaul, Russia, the organization's representatives spoke bluntly about challenging the West, taking control of the Internet and -- perhaps most audaciously -- taking on Eurovision.
The modest proposal on the internet came from Denis Tyurin, the director of the SCO's "Business Club":
"In the Russian and international expert community there are plenty of questions about the current structure of the management of the internet. For the most part, a situation persists in which the 'switch' of global information networks is located in the US. Regardless of the efforts of the international community to give that system of management more balance, the Americans don't intend to give up the levers of control," Tyurin said.
The members of the SCO can exert influence on these processes. "Many of the countries in the SCO have compatible approaches to this problem," Tyurin noted. "The SCO, acting as an example for other international organizations, could become a prototype of a global system of management of the internet."
A Cobra 4x4 armored vehicle, of the type that will be built in Kazakhstan.
Turkish defense manufacturer Otokar has announced it will start producing its Cobra armored vehicles in Kazakhstan. The deal seems to follow precisely the model that Kazakhstan has been imposing on its foreign military contractor vendors: Kazakhstan will buy their stuff if they set up a local joint venture, manufacture in Kazakhstan, and arrange for Kazakhstan's engineers to eventually be able to produce the product themselves. From Hurriyet:
Under the deal, Otokar will launch a joint venture with NK Kazakhstan Engineering to produce Otokar’s 4x4 Cobra armored vehicles. The number of vehicles and the size of the contract have not yet been announced...
The agreement is a follow-up deal on an earlier contract Otokar won last May to sell scores of vehicles to the Kazakh army....
NK Kazakhstan Engineering has been tasked with building the production facility for the Cobra vehicles, while Otokar will transfer production know-how and deliver all parts and components for production, officials said.
The deal was signed October 12 during a visit by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Turkey, and represents the first Turkish armored vehicle to be produced outside that country. The company says that it has already sold 25,000 Cobras to 30 countries around the world, among them Georgia and Azerbaijan.