Staff Sgt. Beth Lake, US Third Army Public Affairs
US and Kazakh soldiers at the 2009 Steppe Eagle Exercise
The annual military exercises between Kazakhstan, the US and UK began this week near Almaty, and this year the roster of participating nations has grown a bit, with Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania and Tajikistan participating as well. From the Kazakhstan government release:
For three weeks, personnel representing six armies will practice interaction, combat compatibility, cooperation and interoperability during international peacekeeping operations....
The exercises will culminate in what is called the “active phase,” during which peacekeepers will conduct a live peacekeeping operation in compliance with all international regulations.
This exercise is aimed at developing Kazakhstan's nascent peacekeeping units, but there will likely be a bit of a cloud over the proceedings this year since Kazakhstan decided to back out of a deployment to Afghanistan. Since that's the sort of thing the US and UK have been training Kazakhstan's military for, presumably there is some grumbling in the Pentagon and Whitehall about what exactly is the point of this any more.
Nevertheless, Kazakhstan continues to have high hopes for the units, KazBat and KazBrig. Mukan Dyuissekeyev, the deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Kazakhstan's armed forces, says next year KazBat will be ready:
It’s no secret that the Caucasus and Central Asia are inhospitable places for free speech and independent journalism. But a recent survey by IREX, an international organization that promotes civil society, found even countries that experienced so-called “color” revolutions have been unable to produce lasting, positive changes in their respective media environments.
That's the provocative question that Anton Lavrov asks in the most recent issue of Moscow Defense Brief, and the answer is basically, don't do half-measures.
The events in Libya, which NATO has had to get involved in since early 2011, are reminiscent of another recent conflict, the Five Day War between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. Leaving aside the complex legal issues, it seems that Russia and the NATO allies have had to face similar tasks during these two conflicts. But their approaches have been very different – as have the results.
The most obvious parallels can be drawn between the events in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and the city of Misrata in Libya. Both of these rebel-controlled cities were besieged by “government” forces which used artillery, MRL [multiple-launch rocket] systems, heavy armor and aviation. Misrata is linked to the outside world by a single vulnerable port road, Tskhinvali by a tunnel and a narrow mountain road. Shelling and fighting in the streets led to many casualties among civilians, forcing thousands to flee and triggering a humanitarian crisis. In Libya, as in Georgia, there was also a separate theater of combat action, which did not attract much attention. In Libya it was a large rebel-held area from Ajdabiya to Tobruk, with a much greater concentration of rebel forces than in Misrata. In Georgia, that area was Abkhazia.
The separatists in Abkhazia and Ossetia had received military support from extremely powerful outside forces, just as the Libyan rebels have. But the rapid success achieved by Russian troops in Georgia contrasts sharply with the protracted and floundering NATO operation in Libya.
Tajikistan has gone on a but of a small-arms buying spree, and Ukraine has been selling lots of weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Those are some of the early returns from the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, to which countries are supposed to report all the weapons imports and exports they have engaged in over the previous year. The 2010 register has been published. Most of the big transfers -- of aircraft or ships, for example -- tend to make the news before this comes out, but lesser deals, like small arms, don't.
Tajikistan hasn't bought much over the last decade, but in 2010 it bought a number of small arms from Serbia and Bulgaria. According to the register, Tajikistan's purchases from Bulgaria:
Recently Azerbaijan again began a serious push to get the US provide it with "defense weapons," in particular, air defense and anti-tank systems.
“Azeri lobbyists and their allies in the US capital received a new assignment from Baku – target getting American weapons for Azerbaijan”, the source said.
“Several years ago, this issue almost defined the US-Azeri relationship, but back then, Baku stepped down after understanding that they couldn’t afford American weaponry on their own”, one of Azerbaijan’s former lobbyists told TURAN’s correspondent, adding, now, Azeri supporters in Washington are arguing that the oil-reach country doesn’t need the US to give them the weapons as aid, they can buy the weaponry.
The article goes on to point out that there is little reason to believe the U.S. would accede to this. Perhaps most of all, it would be against the law, in particular the "Section 907" rules that forbid Azerbaijan from buying weapons from the U.S. And there are several powerful pro-Armenian members of Congress who would make it very difficult to get around that.
Some Wikileaked cables from 2009 reported that Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, personally brought up the idea of getting the U.S. to allow weapons sales. But if the lobbyists in the U.S. are now working on this, that would suggest that this is serious.
I asked Adil Baigurov of the U.S. Azeris Network, an Azeri-American advocacy group, what he thought of the report. He said he didn't know if Azerbaijan really was pushing to get U.S. weapons, but that if it were, that would be a good idea:
Satellite photos of air defense systems in Nagorno Karabakh.
Militaries in the former USSR are among the most secretive in the world, but our new information age is creating some opportunities to peek behind the curtain a bit. One of my favorite examples is the open-source military analysis by the folks at IMINT & Analysis, who pore over Google Earth satellite imagery of air defense systems and try to come to some conclusions. In the most recent issue of their newsletter (subscription only, but free, viewable as a Google Doc here) they look at Azerbaijan's systems, and the news isn't good for Armenia. After looking at the various systems Azerbaijan has, they conclude:
This well organised overlapping [air defense] system will deny Armenia any chance of sorties within Azerbaijan’s territory along the Nagorno Karabagh border. Its air force will cover the gaps for the protection for the rest of the nation if Armenia takes desperate measures to inflict extra losses. For the time being Armenia’s limited air arm provides no real threat for any strikes within Azeri territory, the only threat being the R-17 [Scud missiles].
The Scud missiles could be used in an attack on Baku's oil infrastructure, the analysis continues:
Since U.S.-Pakistan relations took a nosedive following the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, Islamabad has appeared to try to woo China as its new superpower ally; Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, called China "Pakistan's best friend" on a visit to Beijing shortly after the bin Laden raid. But the courtship is hitting a rocky patch: Chinese officials say that attacks in the far western city of Kashgar over the weekend were planned in Pakistan, in Uyghur terror training camps there. From the New York Times:
While the Chinese routinely blame foreign meddlers for Xinjiang’s troubles, however, Monday’s statement was unusual in that it singled out Pakistan as the location of support for the assailants. China has a close military and economic relationship with Pakistan and has refrained from publicly criticizing the Islamabad government’s failure to control terrorist groups within its borders.
The Monday statement seemed more significant because it was released as the chief of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s spy agency, was said to be concluding a visit to Beijing at which Uighur separatists were likely to be discussed. Some Pakistani news reports placed the Pakistani official, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, in Xinjiang on Sunday, en route back to Pakistan.
Members of the Mongolian state honor guard stand at attention while being addressed by the Mongolian President Ts. Eldegdorj during the opening ceremony of Exercise Khaan Quest 2011 at Five Hills Training Area, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, July 31.
Mongolia has kicked off its annual international peacekeeping exercise, Khaan Quest, with about 900 soldiers from 11 countries taking part. In addition to Mongolians, the exercises will include the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, India, Germany, Indonesia, Cambodia and Singapore. The exercises began Sunday, will last until August 12 and focus on peacekeeping operations.
The exercise is organized since 2003 by U.S. Pacific Command and is one of the more visible elements of Mongolia's "third neighbor" policy, by which Mongolia tries to strengthen relations with countries beyond its two immediate neighbors, Russia and China, which Ulaanbaatar fears will hold too much leverage over their small country. (For example, a recent trade dispute with Russia has resulted in fuel shortages in Mongolia, and some Mongolians see it as retaliation for shutting Russia out of a big mining deal.)
But Russia probably isn't feeling too left out of the exercises: Mongolia's defense minister, Luvsanvandan Bold, has said that the country plans to buy four or five new MiG-29 fighter jets as well as a ground training flight simulator from Russia. This will be Mongolia's first fielding of MiG-29s; the country's air force now flies a small number of MiG-21s. This follows the pattern that the U.S. has established in other post-Soviet countries, most notably Kazakhstan: understanding that the military ties with Russia are too great to supplant entirely, the U.S. will instead focus on training and equipping small, niche forces to take part in U.N. peacekeeping and U.S.-led military operations like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Earlier this week, the Washington Times reported that Georgian officials had identified the culprit behind a bomb blast near the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi as Russian. The report was treated with a lot of skepticism, including from this blog, because it relied only on Georgian sources which, to put it mildly, tend to blame Russia first and ask questions later.
But now the Times has taken another crack at the story and reports that a U.S. intelligence report on the event corroborates the Georgian one:
The highly classified report about the Sept. 22 incident was described to The Washington Times by two U.S. officials who have read it. They said the report supports the findings of the Georgian Interior Ministry, which traced the bombing to a Russian military intelligence officer....
“It is written without hedges, and it confirms the Georgian account,” said one U.S. official familiar with the U.S. intelligence report.
This official added that it specifically says the Russian military intelligence, or GRU, coordinated the bombings.
And the State Department has been pressing the Russian Foreign Ministry about the attack:
“Those events — the embassy bombing and other alleged bombings — have been raised with the Russians at a high level and they have been raised with the Georgians at a high level,” one administration official said. “It’s not necessarily pointing a finger, but part of a dialogue expressing our deep concerns.”
NATO is warning Turkey against buying Russian or Chinese air defense systems, saying that if Ankara does so NATO will no longer share its information about incoming missiles, according to a report in the newspaper Hürriyet Daily News. Turkey, you may recall, has been shopping for a new air defense system, and is considering options from Russia, China, the U.S. and a European consortium. That list of potential partners has made the purchase a sort of bellwether for those concerned about Ankara's geopolitical orientation. But NATO, apparently, is making it known that it doesn't approve of the non-Western sellers:
One Western expert countered that “if, say, the Chinese win the competition, their systems will be in interaction, directly or indirectly, with NATO’s intelligence systems, and this may lead to the leak of critical NATO information to the Chinese, albeit inadvertently. So this is dangerous.”
“NATO won’t let that happen,” another Western official told the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday. “If the Chinese or the Russians win the Turkish contest, their systems will have to work separately. They won’t be linked to NATO information systems.”
This was the first time NATO has strongly urged Turkey against choosing the non-Western systems.
It has never seemed likely that Turkey would buy the Russian or Chinese systems, and it's been suggested that Turkey is just keeping them in the competition so as to draw concessions from either the Western companies or Western allies. So is NATO's warning a way of saying, "There's no way you're buying the Russian or Chinese system, so don't try to use that as bargaining leverage"?