Russian officials say that they're going ahead with plans to sell anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, an action that could have a trickle-down effect of lifting the de facto arms embargo Israel now maintains against Georgia. Israel imposed the ban after Russia reportedly asked them to. Israel hadn't sold much to Georgia before the 2008 war with Russia, but the use of Israeli unmanned drone aircraft was one of the few tactical bright spots for Georgia in that conflict.
According to Georgian analyst Giorgi Melitauri, speaking in 2008, Russia threatened to sell arms to Israel's foes like Syria and Iran if Israel didn't comply with the request:
"The request probably focused on the UAVs. They would have hinted that, in the event of Israel's failure to comply with the request, Russia would supply weapons to the Arab countries, Lebanon, Iran and Pakistan. It should therefore come as no surprise that Israel made this move. Preventing Russia from supplying heavy weapons to the Arab countries is more important to Israel than its own export of light weapons to Georgia. It is common knowledge that the Interior Ministry's police units are armed with Israeli-made pistols. Russia certainly does not care whether the pistols that the police officers carry are produced in Israel or Argentina."
Subsequent Wikileaks-released U.S. diplomatic cables confirmed that theory.
The U.S. can maintain its global primacy if it (among other things) plays Russia off China, India, Iran and Turkey off Russia and Turkey off Iran. That's the analysis of globe-spinner extraordinaire Robert Kaplan, along with his brother Stephen (apparently recently retired as a top CIA official).
The essay, America Primed, is in the new edition of The National Interest and doesn't deal too explicitly with the Caucasus or Central Asia. But it's all about how the U.S. (assisted by the "Anglosphere," other English-speaking countries like Canada, the U.K. and Australia) can maintain dominance on the Eurasian continent. And that requires American leadership to make sure that no other country -- in particular China, Russia or Iran -- gets too powerful. What does that entail, specifically?
For one, playing India off Russia (and "punishing" Pakistan):
Out of national pride, and because of its own tense relationships with China and Pakistan, India needs to remain officially nonaligned. But that will not stop New Delhi from accepting more help from the United States, especially as India now wants to wean itself off Russian arms and replace them with better quality American equipment. Washington should require no quid pro quo from India to make it even more powerful in the region; this is about more than public pronouncements and diplomatic atmospherics, this is about quietly delivering arms, transferring technology and supplying intelligence data to one nation to punish another for taking billions of American dollars without providing the crucial help we require in return.
Also, encouraging Turkey, even with an apparently growing Islamist orientation, to counterbalance Iran:
Latin America may seem an unlikely diplomatic priority for Abkhazia, thousands of miles away from the tiny, breakaway territory on the Black Sea. But Abkhazia's de facto foreign minister, Maxim Gvindjia, on his fifth trip to the region, says Latin America is a key to the territory’s efforts to build diplomatic and trade ties around the world.
Azerbaijan has been trying assiduously to get additional U.S. military aid, and U.S. diplomats have considered the idea of providing weapons in exchange for cooperation on the Turkey-Armenia peace process, according to some recently released U.S. diplomatic cables.
The Russian magazine Russian Reporter has published three cables dealing with Azerbaijan, all from 2009, in an article they call "The Azerbaijanian Machiavelli." (To see the cables in English, scroll down to the bottom.)
In one cable, the U.S.'s then-ambassador to Baku Anne Derse describes how Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev asked for various concessions, including weapons sales, that would assuage Baku's concerns over the Ankara-Yerevan talks:
Aliyev asked Ambassador Derse to explore whether any of the following are possible (reftel a): -- Progress on walking back Section 907, -- Defensive military sales, particularly air defense, and -- High-level actions to show commitment to solving NK. Either delivering on one of these items or showing a willingness to have serious dialogue on these requests could be enough to "buy" Azerbaijani silence on Turkey-Armenia.
Some relatively simple possibilities for rejuvenating our bilateral ties in the near term include:
-- A statement from the Administration that supports previous Administrations' positions that 907 unsuitably restricts the President's authority to carry out the foreign relations of the United States, and that the Administration opposes any new conditionality on the President's waiver authority.
Every year the U.S. Director of National Intelligence has to give a "threat assessment" to Congress, outlining what the U.S. intelligence community thinks Washington ought to be worried about around the world. This is generally pretty boilerplate stuff, and the five-paragraph section of this year's report (pdf) on "The Caucasus and Central Asia" is no different. It highlights the Russian presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the increasing tension in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the instability of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan -- all of which is obvious without spending $80 billion a year.
But one bit of this year's report stood out as somewhat curious. There is only one country in the region whose internal political situation is discussed:
Georgia's new Constitution strengthens the office of the Prime Minister after the 2013 presidential election. President Saakashvili has not indicated his future plans but the option is available for him under the new Constitution to serve as Prime Minister.
Is this a bad thing -- the emergence of a Putin-style autocracy in Georgia? Or a good thing -- the continued presence of a dependable U.S. ally? The report doesn't say.
U.S. arms sales to Georgia would perpetuate a "Berlin Wall" mentality between Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, focusing on balance of power questions rather than working on a solution to the conflict, says a new report by the Washington think tank Center for American Progress. The report, “A More Proactive U.S. Approach to the Georgia Conflicts," is not strictly about arms sales. In fact, it notes in the introduction that rhetoric about arms sales in Washington is a distraction from the real objectives of making practical improvements in the situation on the ground and in the relationships between the four main actors:
Discussions in Washington on the conflicts unfortunately often do not even address these objectives. Reading the debate, one would think there was a stark choice between “selling out the Georgians” and “arming” them. Analysts and commentators are arguing about the merits of “taking a stand” and “showing support” for Georgia, and how to pressure Russia into changing its ways. These are positions that the Georgian government desires and actively inserts into the U.S. domestic foreign policy debate. But they won’t change the situation on the ground.
That is definitely true. But arms sales are what this blog is about, so we're going to continue. (For smart takes on other aspects of the report, I recommend in particular blog posts by Michael Cecire and Daniel Larison.)
Russian officers from the Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan have made their first ever visit to their U.S. counterparts at the Manas air base, an event the Manas wing commander says the U.S. side has been trying to arrange for nine years:
Why did the Russians finally give in and accept the U.S. hospitality? The commander suggests it's a part of the "reset" with Russia, and that there is a possibility, this summer or fall, of formal "military-to-military engagements" with U.S., Russian and possibly Kyrgyz troops.
Uzbekistan President Islom Karimov is escorted by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld through an honor cordon and into the Pentagon on March 13, 2002.
The U.S. initially sought to use Uzbekistan territory to conduct air strikes and land operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan, but Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov, balked. That's according to the documents that former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has declassified and posted on the internet. In a memo (pdf) written by Rumsfeld on October 5, 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, he reported that:
The GOU [Government of Uzbekistan] had opened its airspace for U.S. military aircraft for whatever purpose. It had agreed to [REDACTED]. It had opened one base for U.S. military aircraft and personnel to carry out search and rescue operations. What Uzbekistan had not agreed to was any use of Uzbekistan's territory by U.S. troops to conduct "land operations." For this reason, the request the United States had made to mount [REDACTED] could not be accommodated. Furthermore, no airstrikes could be carried out by U.S. forces from Uzbekistan's territory. At this point, Karimov said twice quite emphatically that the latter questions were "not ripe" now for agreement.
Well, those are a couple of tantalizing redactions, aren't they?
Rumsfeld also says that Karimov was eager to help the U.S. militarily, because he was concerned about the influence of both Russia and of radical Islamist movements in Uzbekistan. But he wasn't eager for it to be public:
Karimov said that it would be impossible for U.S. military operations in Uzbekistan to be kept confidential. However, he asked that we attempt to hold our discussions in confidence.
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.