The U.S.'s annual military exercise in Mongolia, Khaan Quest, is underway, and the organizers have put some photos on flickr. One of the components of the exercise is apparently a "counter IED team post-forensic analysis."
Brig. Gen. John Seward, deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific Command, uses a remote control to set off improvised explosive device as part of a demonstration held at Five Hills training area, Mongolia Aug. 18. The IED, similar to those found in Iraq and Afghanistan, was rigged to an old U.S. Embassy vehicle. The IED was detonated, and followed by a counter IED team post-forensic analysis. This was the first time the Counter IED Center of Excellence shared the demonstration with a partner nation.
A U.S. Embassy car, rigged with an improvised explosive device, explodes as part of a demonstration held at Five Hills training area, Mongolia Aug. 18.
That's what the Russian newspaper Nezavismaya Gaezta says, citing Azeri news reports alleging Azeri dissatisfaction with their relations with Russia (summary via RT):
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan and Turkey may have prepared their “symmetrical answer to Yerevan and Moscow,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said. A Turkish military base may be deployed in Azerbaijan as a result of the talks between Baku and Ankara, the paper noted.
“The topic was allegedly discussed during the recent visit of Turkey's President Abdullah Gul to Baku and his meeting with Azerbaijan’s leader Ilkham Aliev," the daily said. According to Azerbaijan’s media, the military base may be deployed in Nakhichevan autonomous republic, an exclave between Armenia and Turkey.
The relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan are so close that the question arises why Ankara has not yet deployed its military base in the friendly country, the paper asked. Baku may have expected Russia’s more effective role in settling the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, the daily explained.
Hoping that Russia could “influence its strategic ally – Yerevan – and help to promote the restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity,” Baku "did not venture on strengthening a pro-Turkey vector or another one,” the daily stressed.
However, the authorities in Baku think that “expectations were overestimated” as the situation over Nagorno-Karabakh remains unchanged, the daily said.
“Baku, in fact, has determined the limitation of its expectations after which it will probably try to change the situation in its favor by other actions,” the daily said. “This limit is President Medvedev’s visit to Baku scheduled for September.”
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Yerevan today on a three-day visit, for a "non-official" CSTO summit and, it's expected, to sign a new deal with Armenia extending Russia's military presence there. The deal would amend the lease Russia has with Armenia for use of the 102nd base in Gyumri for an additional 24 years, which would allow Russian troops to stay in Armenia until 2044. (Russia apparently is thinking long-term these days; it also this year signed an agreement with Ukraine allowing use of the naval base at Sevastopol until 2042.)
Connected with this, somehow, is the news that Russia will (maybe) be selling S-300 air defense systems to Azerbaijan. This development was reported by a Russian newspaper three weeks ago and has yet to be authoritatively confirmed or denied by any of the relevant parties. So speculation continues, and there are various theories. One common belief is that it's a sop to Azerbaijan to allay their fears over Russia's strengthening presence in Armenia.
Another school of thought is that it was to scare Armenia into accepting the base lease extension. From EurasiaNet colleague Shahin Abbasov:
Moscow may have an interest in emphasizing that interest [by Baku to buy the S-300] to Azerbaijan’s long-time foe, Armenia, one political analyst believes. The timing of the July 29 Vedomosti article about the alleged S-300 sale roughly coincided with news about an expected August 19 deal with Armenia for a 49-year lease on Russia’s Gyumri base there.
“Both issues appeared simultaneously and I do not have any doubts that they are linked,” commented Ilgar Mammadov, a co-founder of the pro-opposition Respublikaci Alternative movement.
Next month, about 1,000 People's Liberation Army soldiers will travel to Kazakhstan to participate in a Shanghai Cooperation Organization exercise, Peace Mission 2010. It will be the largest international military exercise China conducts this year.
What does China get out of it? A Chinese defense ministry spokesman said the exercise was intended "to demonstrate SCO member states' determination and capacity to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism, showcase their mutual trust and pragmatic cooperation, and the shared wish to protect regional peace and stability as well as to boost common development and prosperity."
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has just released its annual report to Congress on what the Chinese military is up to, and here's what it says are the PLA's interests in Central Asia:
China’s primary interests in Central Asia are centered on building regional influence, obtaining natural resources and energy, and countering support for China’s Uighur separatists. Beijing has reached agreements with many Central Asian governments to build the infrastructure necessary to transport resources into western China, such as a pipeline that will stretch from Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan into China. Beijing has also conducted bilateral and multilateral exercises with SCO member states to enhance China’s influence within the SCO and to build cohesive regional opposition to Uighur activities. Internal security forces in Xinjiang could be used in Central Asian contingencies, and army aviation and trans-regional mobility operations could be applied to deploy combat power rapidly to the region in a crisis.
The annual military exercises involving the U.S., UK and Kazakhstan started today:
About 50 U.S. and British troops joined more than 1,000 Kazakh service members Monday for a two-week military exercise, a sign of NATO's efforts to win clout in Russia's Central Asian backyard.
The eighth annual 'Steppe Eagle' program aims to train Kazakh troops for future deployment with NATO peacekeepers...
So far, only small numbers of Kazakhs have participated in non-combat roles in Iraq. British and U.S. servicemen said Kazakh troops were unlikely to be deployed in Afghanistan due to historical links. However, they said future deployments in places like Kosovo, Darfur and Western Sahara would be possible.
(Emphasis added.) What "historical links" would keep Kazakhstan from participating in Afghanistan?
Kazakhstan's preparation for participation in peacekeeping deployments abroad has been slowed by budget problems: according to Kazakhstan's constitution, conscripts can't be deployed abroad, only professional soldiers. And KAZBRIG, the brigade that's being developed for this purpose (and which is participating in this exercise) still contains many conscripts because Kazakhstan hasn't been able to afford professionalizing it.
A 2009 article, Kazakhstan's Defense Policy: An Assessment of the Trends looks at some of the politicization of the earlier iterations of this exercise:
The announcement by the commander of Russia's air force that Russia has transported some of its S-300 air defense systems into Abkhazia has caused quite a stir in Georgia, and around the blogosphere. But is it news? A State Department spokesman says it isn't:
There have been systems in Abkhazia for two years. We can’t confirm whether they have added to those systems or not. So I – we will look into that. But just – this is by itself is not necessarily a new development. That system has been in place for some time.
It also isn't news, apparently, to the Abkhaz defense ministry:
Abkhazia’s Defense Minister Merab Kishmaria also recognized the fact the "air defense systems had been deployed long before Zelin’s statement,” the paper [Kommersant] said. “It was necessary because of the constant threat from Georgia and the fact that Abkhazia and Georgia have not signed the peace agreement,” Kishmaria told the paper.
However, it may not have been well known by everyone in the Abkhaz government, even at high levels:
At the same time, “a civil part” of Abkhazia’s leadership may not have known the details of the military co-operation between Moscow and Sukhum, the paper assumed. At least, the head of the republic’s Foreign Ministry Maksim Gvinjia yesterday “did not hesitate to deny the fact that Russian S-300s were in the republic,” it added.
The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office has released its annual Strategic Export Controls report (PDF), in which it reports on military exports over the last year. It includes a few case studies, where it explains the decision-making process behind whether it allows or disallows a certain sale to be made, taking into account human rights, the risk to UK interests, risk that the equipment will be transferred to another country, and so on. This year they had a case study on Kazakhstan, and came to the conclusion that the sale would be OK:
In 2009, an export licence application was received for military rated radio jamming equipment. In view of the capacity of the equipment to jam satellite broadcasts, this application raised concerns regarding Kazakhstan’s human rights record, including internal repression of the media, and freedom of speech.
A detailed risk assessment of this licence application was carried out which included consultations with the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Department, on the capability of the goods, and a review of previous consultations with the British Embassy in Astana in respect of identical goods.
The technical assessment of the equipment revealed that, whilst the equipment could be used for satellite jamming, this would be technically difficult. The technical assessment also revealed the wide availability globally on the open market of a number of systems which could be used to jam satellites and which were cheaper and more effective at satellite jamming. It was therefore concluded that this equipment would not have been sourced for that purpose. In light of this assessment the application was approved because the goods were likely to be used for their stated end use and accordingly, there was no clear risk that they might be used for internal repression.
All of a sudden, sophisticated Russian air defense systems are popping up all over the Caucasus. First it was (maybe) Azerbaijan, now it's Abkhazia. Via Civil.ge:
Russia has deployed long range S-300 air defense missile system in Abkhazia to protect its airspace and Russian military bases deployed there, Colonel General Alexander Zelin, commander of the Russian air forces, said on August 11.
"We have deployed S-300 system on the territory of Abkhazia, which in coordination with the air defense systems of the land forces is tasked with air defense of the territory," Zelin was quoted by the Itar-Tass, Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies.
He said that S-300 missile system "will cover only facilities located on the territory of Abkhazia". Air defense of South Ossetia is provided with other systems, Zelin said.
The task of these air defense systems, he said, "is also to prevent violation of Abkhaz and South Ossetian airspace and to destroy any aircraft intruding into thier airspace no matter what their purpose might be."
Georgia responded quickly and, unsurprisingly, tried to involve NATO:
It is NATO, which should be first and for most concerned about Russia's decision to deploy long-range S-300 air-defense system in breakaway Abkhazia, Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration, said on August 11.
"Obviously, such action is one more violation of Sarkozy-Mediated [six-point ceasefire] agreement. If we take into consideration the specifics of this weapon, of course, it is inappropriate against Georgia in view of even theoretical threats because S-300 is a long range missile. It makes us suppose that this step has been taken to change the balance of forces in the region," he said.
Armenia's defense minister, Seyran Ohanian, says that Armenia plans to buy "long-range, precision-guided weapons," though it hasn't specified of what sort and from whom. Reports RFE/RL:
Ohanian's announcement today followed a meeting of an Armenian government commission on national security that approved two programs envisaging a modernization of the country's armed forces. One of the documents deals with army weaponry, while the other details measures to develop the domestic defense industry.
Ohanian said the programs "will qualitatively improve the level of the armed forces in the short and medium terms."
"The two programs envisage both the acquisition of state-of-the-art weapons and their partial manufacturing by the local defense industry," Ohanian said. "The main directions are the expansion of our long-range strike capacity and the introduction of extremely precise systems, which will allow us to minimize the enemy's civilian casualties during conflicts."
Ohanian said that "their application will also allow us to thwart enemy movements deep inside the entire theater of hostilities." He did not specify whether Yerevan will seek to acquire surface-to-surface missiles capable of hitting targets in historic rival Azerbaijan.
One would assume these weapons will come from Russia. During the same press conference, Ohanian downplayed the still-unconfirmed rumors that Azerbaijan would be acquiring S-300 air defense systems from Russia, saying he didn't have any information that that was true, and that anyway it was a "defensive" weapon. Perhaps his confidence comes from actually knowing that the rumors aren't true?