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.)
Late in 2007 Uzbekistan customs officials intercepted a rail car carrying some radioactive material, most likely either cesium or uranium, en route from Kyrgyzstan to Iran. That bit of tantalizing information comes courtesy of WikiLeaks, which has released several U.S. State Department cables about the incident. Unfortunately, the cables don't shed light on the most important questions: who was sending it, who was receiving it, and what were they going to do with it
The seizure was made on November 28, 2007, according to the initial report:
1.(S/NF) Post wishes to alert the Department and Washington agencies per reftel that it has received a report indicating a potential incident of illicit trafficking in nuclear and/or radiological materials. This report came to post's attention via xxxxxxxxxxxx (please protect) reporting informally, unofficially to Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) rep....
¶2. (S/NF) Details of the incident follow:
A) (S/NF) Current location of material: The rail car in question has been quarantined in the vicinity of xxxxxxxxxxxx on the Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan border by the Ministry of Emergency Situations.
B) (S/NF) Transport status of material: (e.g. stationary or in transit, who is responsible for it, how secure is it, what does the host government plan to do with it) The Ministry of Emergency Situations has quarantined the rail car and the Institute of Nuclear Physics was making preparations as of December 3 to open the rail car for further investigation....
E) (S/NF) Intended destination of material: (port or border crossing and country) Iran was the point of destination....
Over the past couple of years Russia has announced a major overhaul of the vessels in its Black Sea Fleet, and secured long-term basing rights to keep the fleet in Sevastopol, on Ukraine's Crimean coast.
But one question has remained throughout this process: what's the point? The Black Sea is no longer a front line between the Soviets and NATO, and the security issues in the sea are very modest. The fleet was used, of course, in the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, but its role was hardly decisive.
Dmitry Gorenburg -- whose writings on Russian naval affairs are a must-read -- flags an analysis piece (in Russian) by a Russian writer, Mikhail Lukanin, who interprets all the recent Russian naval modernization plans to divine a Russian grand strategy.
Globally, the moves indicate a shift away from considering the U.S. as the enemy, and a greater orientation towards Asia. Gorenburg writes:
Based on its shipbuilding plans, Russia no longer considers the US an opponent. Instead of ships aimed at destroying US attack submarines and aircraft carriers, Russia plans to build smaller multipurpose ships such as frigates and corvettes.
When Azerbaijan passed a law last year that would, for the first time, allow foreign military bases on its soil, the leading candidates seemed to be Russia, Turkey and the U.S. And even those seemed unlikely, given little obvious reason any of them would want a base in Azerbaijan.
But now, perhaps, a dark horse may be interested in setting up camp in Azerbaijan: Canada. Since 2001, Canada has maintained a forward logistics operation in Dubai, called Camp Mirage, for its forces in Afghanistan. But the Canadians were forced out of Camp Mirage late last year after refusing to submit to demands by the UAE government to give additional landing rights for UAE airlines in Canada. Canadian officials complained that "Canada was essentially being used as a pawn in heavy-handed blackmail."
But one military analyst says that Canada should instead consider Baku as "the most suitable regional location for us to establish our next logistic staging area." His argument is largely a process of elimination, noting the precarious positions of Germany and the U.S. in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, respectively. By contrast:
So, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov has finished his trip to Brussels, where the New York Times reported that he got the "red-carpet treatment." So what was discussed? We may never know what actually happened behind closed doors, but there are some interesting discrepancies between the official statements of the two sides, Tashkent and Brussels (in particular, NATO).
The NATO statement focuses on Uzbekistan's help in Afghanistan by being a key hub on the Northern Distribution Network:
“The transit through Uzbekistan in support of our ISAF operation is valuable,” the Secretary General stated. “We are grateful for the support of Uzbekistan and of all our other Central Asian Partners to our mission in Afghanistan.”
The second focus is on democratization:
Along with all the other NATO Partners, Uzbekistan has signed up to the principles that underpin Partnership for Peace with NATO. Within this framework, the Secretary General also discussed with President Karimov how NATO can assist Uzbekistan with important democratic reforms.
Rasmussen highlighted that “Uzbekistan has been a NATO Partner for 17 years” and that he “spoke with President Karimov about our common commitment to democratic principles and NATO's ongoing efforts to assist partners towards democratic reforms through various Partnership tools.”
Last month, Turkey announced that it was going to build an indigenous fighter jet by 2023, which raised the question: what's the point, given that it's already building fighter jets with the U.S., including the current F-16 and the next-generation F-35? Today's Zaman provides a possible answer: it's reconsidering its aerospace cooperation with the U.S. altogether:
Turkey is seriously reconsidering the myriad agreements it has signed with the US, as well as its participation in an international consortium for the procurement of new generation fighter jets, due to rising costs and persisting problems originating from the American side.
Turkey is now seeking new ways to sidestep difficulties in the procurement of F-16 fighter planes, which it has been jointly producing with the US since 1987, due to the delayed delivery by the US authorities of some of the plane’s parts and accessories. There have been serious doubts as to whether Turkey’s plan to purchase 100 F-35 fighter planes would ever materialize, as the country is thinking about withdrawing from the consortium following the hike in costs that resulted from other countries leaving from the consortium.
According to the story, the U.S. has reneged on several agreements with Turkey regarding F-16 production, and that Washington appears to be growing wary of Turkey's loyalty, for reasons including the joint China-Turkey air exercises last year.
A Russian Tochka-U unit on display at a military parade
Russia is deploying its Tochka-U/SS-21/Scarab B short-range tactical missile in South Ossetia, reports Interfax quoting unnamed Russian military sources. The Tochka has a range of up to 120 km and around 15 of them were used against Georgia in the 2008 war. The Russian source said:
“[T]he Georgian special services have been informed about the presence of the rockets in South Ossetia, which are capable to effectively repel any aggression from Tbilisi.”
Naturally, the Georgians, in a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have responded that in fact the Russians are the aggressors:
The deployment of the Tactical Operational Missile Complex "Tochka - U" and the artillery battalion equipped with Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems poses a direct and overt threat to the peaceful population and territory of Georgia. By taking such actions Russia follows through with its aggressive policy directed towards the destruction of the Georgian statehood and elimination of the peaceful population of Georgia, as well as towards causing large-scale instability in the Caucasus and throughout the Black Sea Region.
The deployment of the offensive rocket systems in the occupied region points clearly to the Russian Federation's plans to launch open military aggression against Georgia.