Security threats on the Caspian are usually discussed in a speculative fashion, like the possibility of terrorists attacking oil or gas infrastructure. But an analysis by a Russian think tank expert points out that there are currently some security issues in the Caspian, mainly piracy of fishing vessels:
One of the main problems of security providing remains poaching. Moreover, during recent years poachers began to put up armed resistance to officers of law-enforcement agencies and even attack them. According to the boundary department of the FSB of Kalmyk and Astrakhan region, in 2007-2008 there were 7 attacks of boundary cutters in this region. Thus, poachers carry out piracy. In addition, there were attacks of civil fishers and robbing of their catch and boats.
But the analyst, Sergey Mikheev, of the Institute for the Caspian Cooperation, points out one incident this summer in which an Iranian cargo vessel was threatened, apparently by pirates:
On July 8 at 2015 LT m/v Saman reported 4 suspicious crafts with 3-4 persons in each, approaching vessel under way in 44.12N 48.32E, northern Caspian sea off Russian coast, and demanding Saman to stop with apparent intention to board vessel. Crafts chased vessel for about 40 minutes and then went away. Master reported incident to Astrakhan MRCC, alert sent to all vessels in the area. Saman – IMO 9168166, dwt 6207, built 1997 Russia, flag Iran, owner Golden Sea Tehran.
As a solution, Mikheev calls for better security cooperation between the five Caspian littoral states. There will be a Caspian summit later this month, when that issue will be on the agenda.
What role does Tajikistan's military conscription process play in the violence that has wracked the country for the last couple of months? A couple of Tajikistan experts says it is a significant one. Conditions for Tajik conscripts seem miserable, even by post-Soviet standards, and the government has reportedly had to resort to press-ganging.
In a couple of excellent analysis pieces, John Heathershaw and Sophie Roche describe how, contrary to government claims, the roots of the uprising are not transnational Islamist terror groups, but homegrown discontent with the government. And one of the significant factors in that discontent is conscription, they write:
Compulsory military service is another source of tension. This has become a torment for young men who face great hardships including food shortage, heavy beatings and disease during their two-year service. Many young men come back ‘unable to marry’ due to illness and injury. This has caused increasing resistance. To avoid service, young men are sent to Russia which, as one villager remarked, is a ‘hard school as well but at least they earn some money and come back mature’....
Remember how worked up everyone got when it emerged that Turkey and China had done joint air force exercises together? Well, now China's Ministry of National Defense is saying that the two countries are conducting ground force exercises. From Xinhua:
The Chinese People's Liberation Army and Turkey's armed forces kicked off a week-long joint military training in Turkey Monday, according to China's Ministry of National Defense.
The training, attended by ground forces from both countries, includes training of basic assault skills in hilly terrains and tactics, the ministry said in a statement.
The training is aimed at enhancing mutual understanding and trust, deepening communication and cooperation between the two armies, it reads.
That's the entire story, and thus far no one in Turkey seems to have reported it.
The South China Morning Post (subscription only) quotes a Chinese security expert suggesting that China's goal with the exercises is to practice against Uyghur terrorists, which probably won't go down well among the Turkish public, which is generally sympathetic to the Uyghur cause:
Mainland security experts said it was a counter-insurgency drill. Though the scale of the exercise is small, it will send a strong political message to Uygur separatists in the restive Xinjiang Autonomous Region . Beijing has accused some Uygur groups of conducting terrorist activities in Xinjiang.
"Both sides chose to hold the exercise in mountainous terrain. That is a strong indication, as it is where terrorists usually hide," Li Wei , an anti-terrorism expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev opens the Alov plant, one of the country's new defense manufacturers
Turkey's relationship with Azerbaijan may be strained over the former's attempts at rapprochement with Armenia, but cooperation between the two countries' defense industries seems as strong as ever. Turkey's defense minister visited Baku last week, and the two countries signed a whole raft of agreements on setting up joint ventures in Azerbaijan to produce rockets, drones, grenade launchers, camouflage material and possibly helicopters.
Azerbaijan seems to be following the same strategy as Kazakhstan -- get foreign companies to come and bring their superior military technology so that local companies can eventually produce that equipment by themselves, in an attempt to diversify the economy beyond just oil and gas. In fact, Azerbaijan started this a while ago, setting up a Ministry of Defense Industry in 2005 and setting up its first big joint venture, to produce a South African mine-protected vehicle in late 2009. So it seems likely that Kazakhstan may be following Azerbaijan's example.
Whatever the case, assuming these agreements actually come to fruition, there are now two burgeoning defense industries on either side of the Caspian.
When it was reported earlier this week that Kazakhstan was getting six more Huey helicopters from the U.S., it turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg. Astana has signed an agreement with Eurocopter (a division of European aerospace giant EADS) to produce helicopters in Kazakhstan, and Kazakhstan's ministry of defense will buy 45 of them. According to a press release from Eurocopter:
The Eurocopter/Kazakhstan Engineering joint venture calls for the assembly and customisation of EC145s in Astana, Kazakhstan. This organisation will be formally established by December of this year, allowing completion of the first in-country helicopters – to be called the KH145 – by late 2011. According to the MOU, the 45 KH145s acquired by Kazakhstan will be assembled during a six-year period, with an initial batch of six helicopters to be delivered next year.
The agreement also includes establishing maintenance and training operations to cover all of Central Asia, Russia and Belarus.
The EC-145 will also be in service with the U.S., called the UH-72 Lakota, and is intended to replace the Hueys of the type that Kazakhstan just got.
In addition, Kazakhstan also this week signed a similar agreement with Sagem, another European defense company. The announcement doesn't provide too many details, but Sagem makes several types of UAVs now, so we'll have to see what kind they'll make in Kazakhstan.
As more of the agenda emerges for NATO summit that will take place two weeks from now in Lisbon, it's highlighting how much, two decades after the end of the Cold War, NATO is still focused on its eastern flank.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was in Moscow yesterday and met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Few details of their talks have been released, but they did of course discuss the proposed NATO missile defense plan and what role Russia might play in it. Before the talks, Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, was skeptical:
"If it is simply a US system built on European soil with European money and without any guarantees that will not be targeted against Russia, that is unacceptable to us," he said. "We hope that some cards will be opened before the document is officially made public."
"We are willing to take part in such a joint system and a joint analysis... Of course, on an equal basis and aimed against joint threats," Lavrov said.
While in Moscow, Rasmussen told the BBC that Russian participation in counterdrug raids in Afghanistan would continue, despite protests by the Afghanistan government.
And the Wall Street Journal reports that coalition commanders in Afghanistan are hoping to use the NATO summit to firm up European support for, and participation in, the war in Afghanistan, in particular trying to keep countries like Italy and France from pulling out altogether:
Kazakhstan is planning to acquire an additional six "Huey" helicopters from the U.S. to augment the two it already has, Central Asia Newswire is reporting:
Kazakhstan’s military will be buying six retrofitted U.S. Huey helicopters for its Caspian Sea defense needs, giving it eight Hueys altogether for that effort, Central Asia Newswire (CAN) has learned.
The Hueys are part of Kazakhstan’s effort to build a naval and air presence in the Caspian, where the country is investing heavily in oil and gas development....
When it contracted for the work on the two Hueys in 2007, Kazakhstan took out an option with US Helicopter to retrofit six more Hueys. It apparently decided to exercise that option.
The article doesn't include any information on how Kazakhstan will pay for the helicopters; the first two were bought with U.S. military aid. There is also no word on what the Hueys (more precisely, UH-1H Iroquois) will be used for, but they are small and usually pretty lightly armed and are usually used for medical evacuation or light transport.
Kazakhstan also recently announced it will launch its first naval vessel in the Caspian in 2012 and Russia is set this month to launch the "Dagestan" frigate, which will apparently be the second-largest naval vessel in Russia's Caspian Fleet. The Caspian naval buildup is proceeding apace...
UPDATE: After this post went up, a representative for Central Asia Newswire contacted EurasiaNet, and asked that we post the following correction:
If China and Russia were to fight over Central Asia, who would win? A Russian military analyst says it would be China, in a walkover.
The analyst, Aleksandr Khramchikhin, starts by enumerating the various military forces arrayed in and around Central Asia, including those of Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan. The forces of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are modest, but Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan "have no military forces worth the name," writes Dmitry Gorenburg in his blog post on Khramchikhin's article.
Russia's Central Operational Strategic Command has a single tank brigade, while its Chinese counterpart, the Lanzhou military region, has two tank divisions (a division usually contains two to four brigades). There is a similar imbalance in the other types of units:
[T]he Chinese forces in just the Lanzhou military region, which is generally a low priority for the Chinese government and receives few modern weapons, are more powerful than all of the other forces in the region put together...
What does this mean? The scenario of China and Russia fighting over Central Asia is improbable enough that it seems more like a game of Risk, or a kid asking if a tiger fought a shark, who would win, than a matter for serious strategic planning. And Gorenburg agrees. But Risk is still a fun game, so let's continue:
The mysterious tale of Manas's fuel contracts got the Washington Post front-page investigative treatment today, and while the broad contours of the piece will be familiar to those who have been following the story, there is plenty of good new information, too.
The piece includes an interview with one of the co-owners of Mina and Red Star, 35-year-old Kyrgyz Erkin Bekbolotov, apparently the first time he's spoken to the media. He says that rumors that his company is a CIA front have been helpful:
Bewildered - and also jealous - competitors whisper that the companies are perhaps the Afghan conflict's version of Air America, a nominally private airline run covertly by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Vietnam War.
"Everyone thinks I'm CIA," said Bekbolotov, noting that "this image has been very helpful" as it curbs "harassment by Kyrgyz officials or people close to them." But Bekbolotov insists it is not true.
"I'd like this image to continue," he said, "but attention is so intense we need to dispel the myth."
The piece also suggests that the White House and Pentagon are at odds on how to go forward with the fuel deals:
The White House, alarmed by the unintended consequences of the fuel deals, is pushing for greater transparency, said a senior administration official. "There has been a giant fight with [U.S. Central Command] over this," said the official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The mystery of where exactly Mina and Red Star are located remains unsolved:
Looks like Joe Biden is in the State Department's doghouse for comments he made about the Armenian genocide and Armenia-Turkey protocols. After several days of silence, and just after EurasiaNet went to "press" with a story on the controversy, the US Embassy in Yerevan emailed a statement to reporters saying, essentially, that Biden wasn't telling the truth when he said that Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan asked the U.S. to "not force" the touchy issue of recognition of the Armenian genocide. The statement, in full:
The Vice President and President Sargsian spoke twice in April 2009. In these calls, the Vice President told President Sargsian the United States believes that the normalization of relations with Turkey and the opening of borders would provide a path to a better future for Armenia and expressed the support of the United States for his leadership. The Vice President expressed the Obama Administration’s support for a Swiss proposal for a joint Armenia-Turkish statement on progress made toward normalizing relations. President Sargsian did not raise the issue of the content of President Obama’s statement for Armenian Remembrance Day or seek a delay in consideration of House Resolution 252. Instead, the discussions between Vice President Biden and President Sargsian that were recently referenced by the Vice president were about the need to take immediate steps to improve Armenian-Turkish relations. The two leaders agreed that there should be no preconditions to normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey.
The fact that they sent this out at 2 pm on a Friday is telling: Friday afternoon is the traditional Washington time to announce something you don't want to become news.