Armenia's announcement this month that it was tripling its troop commitment to Afghanistan raised some eyebrows. It has no NATO aspirations, and has largely thrown in its strategic lot with Russia, as evidenced by the agreement it recently signed allowing a large, decades-long Russian military presence in the country.
But the newest trend in Eurasian geopolitics is multi-vectored foreign policy (i.e., trying to balance relations between various big powers rather than becoming dependent on a single one), pioneered by Kazakhstan but now increasingly deliberately employed across the region. And that means that even faithfully pro-Moscow states like Armenia have to hedge their bets a little. Thus, Armenia's contribution of two extra platoons (81 soldiers) to help guard the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif, bringing its troop contribution to a total of about 130. As Deputy Defense Minister David Tonoyan told Mediamax:
First of all, this step is based on Armenia's interests in accordance with the multi-layer and initiative foreign policy of our country, and demonstrates our particular place in the world order after the "cold war".
And he played down suggestions that cooperating with NATO in Afghanistan was somehow incompatible with Armenia's membership in the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, emphasizing the CSTO's cooperation with ISAF in Afghanistan:
When Washington's "it" think tank, the Center for a New American Security, published a report (pdf) today called "Beyond Afghanistan: A Regional Security Strategy for South and Central Asia," I dug in, expecting some serious discussion of the Northern Distribution Network, the instability in Tajikistan, the possibility of a "New Silk Road" and so on. But instead, the ex-Soviet states were almost entirely ignored in this "regional strategy." The report focuses on Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, calling Afghanistan's other neighbors "influential but ultimately less vital actors." The short section on Central Asia was written, probably tellingly, by an intern.
As far as it goes, that's probably a correct assessment. Afghanistan is obviously central to the U.S.'s interests in the region now, Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan is clearly a huge issue, and Pakistan's relationship with India is the key to untangling that. By comparison, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, to say nothing of the other Central Asian states, are secondary players (though many boosters, for example Fred Starr, argue otherwise). On twitter, one of the report's authors, Andrew Exum, defended the de-emphasis of Central Asia: "The key question is how much of a *priority* should CA be for policy-makers given other, competing priorities." And it's hard to argue with that.
Remember when everyone from this blog to the Taliban was making a big deal of the news that Kazakhstan was sending some troops to Afghanistan? Well, that may have been a bit premature. It turns out that the Kazakh contingent will number... four:
"Under the agreement signed by Kazakhstan and NATO, the republic is going to send four servicemen to work at the ISAF headquarters in Afghanistan ... which means that we are not sending a contingent of the military forces, but we are joining in the international effort to help the Afghan government and parliament to ensure security and restore the peaceful life in this country," he [Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Askar Abdrakhmanov] said.
Those four, my colleague Joanna Lillis reports, include "two military analysts, one epidemiologist and one logistics expert." That's six less servicemembers than Luxembourg has deployed, and the same number as Iceland, which doesn't even have a military.
The Taliban, in their statement, bragged that "the dispatch of a few hundred troops will not change the fate of the invaders who are already on their way to defeat. Nor they will turn the defeat into victory." And if a few hundred troops wouldn't turn the tide, four desk jockeys certainly won't.
Would the Collective Security Treaty Organization come to Armenia's aid in the event of a war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh? It's a question that has been the matter of speculation for some time. And last week Armenia's defense minister said yes, the CSTO would support Armenia. Via AFP:
“Given Armenia’s membership in the CSTO, we can count on an appropriate response and the support of our allies in the organization, who have specific responsibilities to each other and the ability to react adequately to potential aggression,” Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian told a security conference in Yerevan.
Of course, what "an appropriate response" entails could be very much up to interpretation. And much depends on whether the war would involve only Karabakh -- which is de jure part of Azerbaijan -- or Armenia. If the former, the CSTO would be less likely to get involved, since it wouldn't involve an attack on a member nation. In a piece called "Kazakhstan dashes Armenia's collective security hopes," News.az quotes a couple of Kazakh security experts saying making that point:
“If a military conflict began in Nagorno-Karabakh, this would not be an attack by Azerbaijan on Armenia”, [Murat] Laumulin [senior fellow at the Kazakh president's Strategic Research Institute] said. "This issue is Azerbaijan’s internal affair, because Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan’s administrative territory....”
The director for analysis and consulting at Kazakhstan’s Institute of Political Solutions, Rustam Burnashev, shares Laumulin's view.
He said that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict was an internal Azerbaijani affair: “What's most important is how much Armenia itself would raise this issue and how much Azerbaijan would bring it before the international community."
Kazakhstan's decision to send troops to Afghanistan has elicited a quick rebuke from the Taliban, which warns that the deployment "will leave a long-term negative impact on relations between Afghanistan and Kazakhstan and the region."
The statement accuses Kazakhstan of kowtowing to Washington:
[I]t seems from the abrupt and impetuous decision of Kazakhstan that rulers of that country have shown impetuosity and hastiness in taking the decision. They have focused on protection of American interests instead of taking into account the aspirations of their people and the regional interests.
And it calls Kazakhstan ungrateful for the Afghan jihadis' role in ensuring its independence:
Kazakhstan obtained its liberation and got an identity after the collapse of the former Soviet Union at the hands of the Afghan people. In a way, they ( must) remain obliged to the blessing of the Afghan Jihad and struggle. Still, if they have opted to take part in the war of the illegitimate occupation of Afghanistan, it will be their historical perfidy and an act of impetuosity politically.
When Kyrgyzstan announced that NATO would be refurbishing border posts and arms depots in the Central Asian country, many observers (including this blog) took it as a sign of President Roza Otunbayeva's decision to move the country decisively toward the west and away from Russia. But in an interview with state radio on May 16, transcribed and translated by BBC Monitoring, she took great pains to disabuse listeners of that notion. She highlights NATO's cooperation with Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to portray Kyrgyzstan's cooperation as nothing special. I'll quote at length because the vehemence of her statement seems telling. The questioner asked a very bland question about the possibility of a NATO liaison office opening in Bishkek:
Kazakhstan apparently has decided to send a contingent of troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, several news agencies have reported. From Reuters:
An unspecified number of Kazakh soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan on six-month missions with the International Security Assistance Force, in line with a bill passed by the lower house of parliament. The document did not say when the first Kazakh contingent would be going.
The government of Kazakhstan appears to not be trying to make a big splash with the news. The parliament's press service mentions the news only at the bottom of a very long account of yesterday's doings in the lower house of parliament (in Russian):
And today, the Chamber heard the report of the Vice-Minister of Defense Aset Kurmangaliyeva with Majlis member Ualikhan Kalizhanova, and voted to adopt the draft of the law "On Ratification of the Agreement in the form of an exchange of notes between Kazakhstan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to participate in the activities of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan." The bill was approved.
It would be worthwhile to know whether the soldiers being sent are those of the U.S.-backed KAZBRIG peacekeeping brigade. KAZBRIG has gotten off to a slower start than intended, so this would be a sign that at least some small part of the brigade is ready for overseas deployment.
Russian and Azerbaijani officials are meeting soon to discuss terms of Russia's use of the Gabala radar station after the current contract expires next year. And Azerbaijan is signaling that it intends to up its demands from Moscow. News.az quotes an unnamed military source:
“Azerbaijan wants to prepare the new contract. Baku has got a number of proposals concerning it,” said the source and added that the proposals include increase of the lease payment, extra assistance of Russia for eliminating the ecological impacts of the radar, increase of the number of Azerbaijanis in the staff of the radar station, joint use of the radar, non-passage of information to the third state without the consent of Baku etc.
News.az also interviews a military analyst and former top air defense officer, Vladimir Timoshenko, who says that if Russia doesn't want it any longer (a possibility, since it has set up a newer radar in Armavir, in the North Caucasus), it will probably be dismantled:
[I]t is profitable to earn a lot of money for lease of the facility.... So we are interested in extending the contract. If, however, Russia says that the station is no longer needed, the radar will be dismantled for scrap, because we do not need it.
Timoshenko also raises the possibility (but then dismisses it) that even if Russia didn't need it, it might continue to lease it just so that the U.S. doesn't have the chance to use it:
A U.S.. naval ship, the USS Mahan, visited Istanbul last week for a short port visit. These sorts of things happen all the time and aren't usually noteworthy. But the blog Bosphorus Naval News paid close attention to this visit, and noted that the visit may have been driven by commercial, rather than merely friendly, motivations. The destroyer's visit happened to take place during a big defense exposition, IDEF, and the U.S. ambassador's comments at the expo used the ship as a showpiece for U.S. defense industry:
I join Commander Mondlak and his crew in inviting you to tour the proud USS Mahan. This fine example of American high technology and advanced engineering, and is itself the result of partnerships between numerous American companies, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, McDonnell Douglas, General Electric, Alliant, Gould, and Sikorsky, many of whom are represented at IDEF.
In particular, the Mahan has a sort of radar that is under consideration for the next generation of Turkish ships. And U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin had just signed a deal with Turkish manufacturer Havelsan involving production of those radars.
The signed contract of course raises the question whether the next generation of Turkish warships will have SPY radars and components of AEGIS systems on board.
The blog, in a separate post, takes issue with that deal given that Turkey also manufactures naval radars: