Deep in this story about the alleged polygamy of deposed Kyrgyzstan president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, is an intriguing detail:
Bakiev was doing his best to prove the image of family man. He gladly talked about two sons – Marat (the former deputy head of National Security Service) and Maxim (the manager of financial sector of national economy) – wife Tatiana whom he met during studies in Kuibishev (Samara). Allegedly, the elder son was involved in special anti-terrorist operation in Batken while the younger one was the financial guru.
You mean the same anti-terrorist center that the U.S. was funding? I asked Kyrgyzstan analyst Erica Marat, and she said yes, he was involved in the development of that center, though she wasn't aware of anything published linking him to the center. This would seem to take on a bit of a sinister cast given the ongoing investigations into alleged Pentagon corruption involving the Bakiyev family and fuel contracts at Manas Air Base. Was the Batken center wrapped up in this?
Marat says that the Batken center was genuinely desired by the previous Kyrgyzstan government, especially defense minister Baktybek Kalyev, as a bulwark against Uzbekistan aggression in southern Kyrgyzstan. And she notes that the cost of the center -- $5.5 million -- isn't so high. Still, I would hope that the congressional investigators looking into the fuel contracts take a look into the Batken center that, as well.
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Jim Dowell helps a Kyrgyz soldier unload flour from a Transit Center at Manas truck in TokMok, Kyrgyzstan, April 29, 2010. Airmen honored five fallen Kyrgyz men who, among many, were slain during the recent unrest in Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. Airmen donated dry and household goods to assist their surviving family members.
4/30/2010 - Transit Center at Manas Airmen honored five fallen Kyrgyz men in a ceremony in TokMok, Kyrgyzstan, April 29, 2010.
Five brave men, among many, were slain during the recent unrest in Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. Airmen donated dry and household goods to assist their surviving family members.
"We bring small tokens of friendship for the families who are going through so much difficulty right now," said Transit Center director Col. Blaine Holt. ...
"Whether you read the local newspaper or the international press, there are many political discussions about the Transit Center," Colonel Holt said. "But the reason I'm here today is just to tell you that we are in the community and we want to continue to help."
So what is up with several of Abkhazia's top military brass retiring all at once? According to the official news agency Apsnypress, via BBC Monitoring:
According to the rules of military service, deputy Abkhaz defence ministers, Col Gen Anatoliy Zaytsev, Maj Gen Zakan Nanba, Maj Gen [and deputy defence minister] Garri Kupalba, Maj Gen Slava Ankvab, and Maj Gen Aleksandr Melnik, have been transferred to the reserve due to their age. In addition, colonels Dmitriy Sokolov (due to health condition), Aleksandr Antipov, Anatoliy Gorbunov, Zaur Adleiba, Ruslan Chokua, and Nodar Kakubava were also transferred to the reserve.
On Monday, 26 April, the supreme commander of the armed forces of Abkhazia, president Sergey Bagapsh, personally visited the main defence body of the country and thanked servicemen transferred to the reserve "for flawless service in the Abkhaz army".
The Russian Federation has enough reasons for this step. Firstly, Abkhazian militants are entering into armed conflict with Russian soldiers more and more frequently. And Against the backdrop of growing dissatisfaction in Abkhazia with lawlessness of Russians, with cases of lawlessness of the occupation troops, redistribution of spheres of influence and different kinds of criminal business, such incidents have all chances to spontaneously develop into large-scale confrontation. And this would be the collapse of the entire political model that the Kremlin has been constructing around Abkhazia. And secondly, the armed forces of Russia have already taken over functions of the Abkhazian "army". So why spend resources on poorly controlled groups that have their own interests that differ from those of Russia!?
A senior adviser to the president of Abkhazia, Nadir Bitiev, is visiting Washington this week. Bitiev is the highest-ranking Abkhazian official ever to visit D.C., but he is doing it in an unofficial capacity (and traveling on his New Zealand passport, to ease visa troubles). He sat down with me for a conversation at the National Press Club; following are some of the excerpts of his take on Abkhazia's military and security situation, in particular the Russian military presence on Abkhazian territory.
The 2008 war between Russia and Georgia resulted in Russian recognition of Abkhazian independence, and agreements with Moscow that have resulted in 1,200 Russian troops each at a naval border patrol base in Ochamchire and at a land forces base in Gudauta, leading many (especially Western) observers to conclude that Abkhazia was merely a Russian colony. But Bitiev emphasized the Russians' role in preserving Abkhazian independence.
Bitiev was in town to promote Abkhazia at a Russia investment forum and to him, the Russian military presence in Abkhazia is key to the territory's economic success: “We need them to stay there. The reason we have 2.5 million tourists a year is that the Russian troops are there... We need something to patrol our borders, in addition to our troops, in case of a conflict to make it bigger.”
I asked if he saw the Russian military presence as permanent, or just a step on the way to military self-sufficiency.
“That's what investment does – the more successful we are, the quicker we'll restore ourself to full capacity, and there will be no need for...” He trailed off; at several points he seemed to stop himself before he even implicitly criticized Russia. “And if Georgia recognizes us, of course, there will be no need at all,” he added.
Of all of the accusations that have recently been flying in Baku about the U.S.'s alleged pro-Armenian bias, this is perhaps the silliest:
According to MP Eldar Ibrahimov, the United States is planning to use Armenia for offensive against Iran.
“The United States intends to dislocate its military bases in Armenia”, Public TV channel reports that the due statement was made by chairman of the committee on agrarian policy of Milli Medjlis Eldar Ibrahimov at a meeting with representatives of the Iranian parliament on April 27.
Ibrahimov went on to say that the U.S. approached Azerbaijan for help in launching an attack on Iran, but was rebuffed, and thus turned to Armenia.
It's worth noting that, while his allegations have been widely reported in Azerbaijan, the English-language Iranian media -- which are usually not shy at all about speculating about American aggression against Iran -- seem not to have mentioned this in their reports about the meetings.
The move toward trying to open up to the public the arrangements by which the U.S. government bought fuel at the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan appears to be gaining momentum. There was a terrific investigative piece in The Nation last week, which anyone interested in this issue should read in full. It involves a former U.S. defense attache in Bishkek, a whole host of extralegal (to put it gently) contracts and even Bob Dole (somewhat indirectly). This is the gist:
Officials in Kyrgyzstan's provisional government say it straight out: Mina Corp., the affiliate of Red Star, was paying funds to Maksim Bakiyev, the president's son. The new government's chief of staff Baisalov says that in order to keep the air base secure and supplied with fuel, the United States essentially "bribed the Kyrgyz ruling family. First it was Akayev and then it was Bakiyev. On one hand, the White House and the US State Department, they announce these noble goals, democracy, good government, and on the other hand, the military comes in and overrides everyone else." The Defense Logistics Agency, which oversees the Defense Energy Support Center, wouldn't comment specifically on that, even to deny it. "We can't speak to that," said DLA spokesman Dennis Gauci. "You'll have to speak to Mina Corp."
But the devil is in the details, and that piece is full of good ones.
Still, that piece raises many more questions than answers. And it seems there are two primary lines of questioning that we'll look at going ahead.
If a Russian-backed revolution forces the president of a former Soviet state to flee, one of the last places you'd expect him to go is Belarus. But Minsk appears to be a surprisingly congenial place for Russia-bashing. Kyrgyzstan's deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev late last week openly suggested -- without providing much evidence -- that Russia pushed him out because of his refusal to kick the U.S. out of its air base there:
Asked about speculation that Moscow may have played a role in the uprising, Bakiyev said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had been unhappy at his decision in 2009 to extend the lease on the U.S. base.
"They told me: 'Why are you holding on to this Manas base, this worries us, this does not suit us'," Bakiyev told reporters in Russian at a news conference.
"Russia's leadership was irritated, annoyed by the presence of the base and this factor also played a certain role."
And then on Sunday, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko chimed in:
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday berated Russia for not paying for its military bases in his country and warned that he could snub the summit of a Moscow-dominated security pact next month over Kyrgyzstan....
"If someone has forgotten, Russia has two military bases on Belarussian land," Lukashenko said. "And Russia pays us zero rubles, zero kopeks and zero dollars for these bases....
Lukashenko also threatened to skip an informal summit of the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, set for May 8 in Moscow, unless Kyrgyzstan's "coup d'etat" is included in the agenda....
There's been a lot of recent insta-analysis about how Uzbekistan's president Islam Karimov may be seeking closer ties Russia as a result of the revolution in Kyrgyzstan in Uzbekistan, along with the nonstop speculation about what would happen to the U.S.'s Manas Air Base. But almost none of this analysis has discussed the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan, where both the U.S. and Russia were in the process of seeking new military installations: Russia, a CSTO rapid reaction force base in Osh, the U.S. an anti-terror training center in Batken.
Of these proposals, Uzbekistan was definitely more concerned about the Russian base. IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia has some useful analysis about how that has factored in to the Uzbek reaction to the "Roza revolution":
NBCentralAsia: How well-founded are Uzbek authorities’ fears about a possible deployment of more Russian forces in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan?
Tolipov: They are as well-founded as the need for this deployment is unfounded. Militarising the region is clearly inappropriate, and there’s clearly a geopolitical context to decisions like these. The first indications of what was termed Russia’s second military base in Kyrgyzstan, to be located in the south, came after agreement was reached to maintain the United States military airbase at Manas airport, albeit under a new name. [In 2009, the Kyrgyz authorities announced that the US base was to close, but a deal was later reached for it to remain, renamed a “transit hub”, apparently to save face.]
An Azerbaijani newspaper has a new take on the cancellation of the U.S.-Azerbaijan military exercises. Most media accounts -- and Azerbaijani analysts -- interpreted the move as Baku's signal to Washington that it was unhappy with the U.S.'s involvement in the Armenia-Turkey reconciliation process. But the Baki Xabar newspaper (via BBC Monitoring) suggests that it is not a cancellation, but merely a postponement, and that it may have had to do with Russian pressure on Azerbaijan:
The daily quoted Milaz news agency's report that talks with the USA on conducting the "Regional Response 2010" exercises are still under way. "Defence Minister Safar Abiyev and US Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Michele Flournoy discussed the matter on 17 April and agreed to continue bilateral cooperation". Milaz quoted an anonymous source in the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence as saying that the exercises are likely to be held in June or July 2010.
Meanwhile, the Doktrina journalistic centre for military research says that the root of the problem lies in Russia's opposition to signing the second stage of the working plan between Azerbaijan and the USA, Baki Xabar reported. "There is serious pressure from Russia to prevent Azerbaijan from signing the document and this leads to certain problems for Azerbaijan's military cooperation with the USA," Casur Sumarinli, director of the Doktrina centre, said. He added that the second stage of the working plan envisages setting up radar stations along Azerbaijan's border with Russia and Iran. "I believe that the Azerbaijan-USA military exercises envisaged for 2010 will go ahead, but signing the second stage of the working plan remains questionable," Sumarinli told the newspaper.
Azerbaijan has canceled upcoming joint military exercises with the U.S., in apparent protest of the U.S. role in negotiating better relations between Armenia and Turkey. Reuters:
Azerbaijan did not specify who cancelled the exercises planned for May, or why, but the U.S. embassy said it suggested "that the question be posed to the government of Azerbaijan".
An Azeri Defence Ministry spokesman told Reuters: "The exercises are cancelled, but the reason is not known."
APA has a roundup of Azerbaijani political analysts who speculate on the reason, though, and they all agree that it is all about an alleged pro-Armenian bias in Washington.
Last year's exercise took place under NATO auspices with several other countries taking part. In addition to the U.S. Bulgaria, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine were there. The exercise covered:
...the plans of checkpoint control, road security, preparation of confined documents, supply and materials, coordination, seizure and search of buildings, battle involving rules, preparation of regular and detailed reports.
One wonders: if Baku is cutting off these ties with the U.S. because it's brokering the deal, are they going to do something commensurate with Turkey, which is actually taking part?
Meanwhile, the CSTO anti-terror exercise in Tajikistan is proceeding:
An anti-terror drill for the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s (CSTO) Central Asian group, dubbed Rubezh-2010 (Frontier-2001), has opened in northern Tajikistan today.