The risk of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is increasing and international meditors need to step up efforts to make sure that conflict doesn't arise in the "coming weeks and months," says the International Crisis Group in a new report.
The report (pdf), Armenia and Azerbaijan: A Season of Risks, argues that internal tension in both Baku and Yerevan could cause a small conflict on the border -- which occur nearly constantly -- to spiral into a full-fledged war. In Azerbaijan, presidential elections will be held next month, and Armenia's recent abrupt announcement that it is joining Russia's Customs Union has thrown that country's political scene into turmoil, the report argues. This, combined with the arms both sides (but especially Azerbaijan) have been acquiring, could be a deadly mixture, the ICG argues: "Confrontation, low-intensity but volatile, between Azerbaijan and Armenia has entered a period of heightened sensitivity. The ICG "does not predict a second war is either imminent or more likely than not. It does suggest the near-term threats to stability are becoming more acute... Vigorous international engagement is needed to lessen chances of violent escalation during coming weeks and months."
Asked about the $1 billion Russian military aid package,, Omuraliyev didn't specify exactly what sort of equipment would be given, but said the priority would be in getting equipment that would work together as a system. "For example, there is a need for an air surveillance system, ground surveillance, special operations battle management systems that all make up a single complex and together complement one another," he said. "I can't now say exactly how many tanks, airplanes or helicopters we will get, but I can verify that they will be weapons systems which allow us to significantly strengthen our military capabilities. And he added that the equipment may not be straight off the production line: "We should remember that 'new' could also mean equipment produced earlier but kept in warehouses... which still fulfill current requirements."
The Chinese HQ-9 air defense system, just chosen by Turkey. (photo: Jian Kang, Wikimedia Commons)
Turkey has chosen a Chinese air defense system over Russian, American, and European competitors, apparently prioritizing business concerns over the wishes of its allies. Reports Hurriyet Daily News:
Ankara has granted a long-awaited tender for long-range missile and air defense systems to Chinese contenders, dismissing bids from major NATO allies as the United States, France and Italy.
With the decision, announced today following a meeting of the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries' executive council, which is headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ankara has approved the lowest offer despite worries about the Chinese system’s ultimate compatibility with NATO-owned early warning assets.
The Chinese offer of the HQ-9, at $3 billion, was significantly cheaper than the competing U.S. Patriot, Russian S-400, and French-Italian Eurosam Samp-T systems. And perhaps more importantly, China was willing to co-produce the HQ-9 together with Turkey, a key factor for Ankara, which places a high priority on building up its own defense industry.
When Turkey became a "dialogue partner" of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization last year, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the SCO was a viable alternative to the European Union, it made a lot of waves and renewed speculation about what this meant with respect to Turkey's geopolitical drift to the East. As a result of last week's SCO summit in Bishkek, it looks like the answer to that last question is: not much.
It turns out that Turkey wasn't even invited to participate in the summit, according to a report in Today's Zaman. The report talks to a number of Turkish foreign policy analysts who point out that Turkey's foreign policies conflict in some pretty substantial ways with those of the SCO.
To take China, the SCO's dominant member, there is the question of Xinjiang, home of the restive minority Uyghur population, with which Turkey shares many language and cultural ties. While China has made it quite clear that among the top security goals of the SCO is to clamp down on Uyghur political activities in Central Asia, Erdogan has at times sharply criticized Beijing for its treatment of the Uyghurs.
Presidents of CSTO member states (except Kazakhstan, which sent its prime minister) at the CSTO summit in Sochi. (photo: CSTO)
The Collective Security Treaty Organization held its annual summit in Sochi, Russia, on Monday and the hottest topic (other than Syria) was how to strengthen the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border. The group, in the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin, resolved to "provide additional collective assistance to Tajikistan to reinforce its national border with Afghanistan." The aid will include "constructing new buildings of frontier posts, restoring warning and signaling systems and providing border troops with means of air patrol and surveillance as well as radar," said Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon, speaking at the event.
According to the official CSTO statement, "On the basis of a request from Tajikistan the member states of the CSTO will, according to their abilities, within three months render military-technical assistance to the border forces of the State Committee for National Security of the Republic of Tajikistan." Interestingly, the aid package appears not to include Russian troops, which no doubt the Russian side was pushing for. Russia has been pushing the CSTO as its primary tool for preventing the spread of instability from Afghanistan after U.S. and NATO forces leave the country starting next year. Said Putin:
We discussed the situation in Afghanistan in light of the international coalition’s troop withdrawal planned for 2014. Unfortunately, there is reason to expect a considerable rise in Afghan drug trafficking activity and in terrorist groups’ activeness.
Extremists are already attempting to spread their activity into neighbouring countries, including the Central Asian countries that are CSTO members.
Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili meets NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Tbilisi in June, 2013. (photo: NATO)
Since the election last year of Bidzina Ivanishvili as Georgia's prime minister, the Kremlin seems to have taken a wait-and-see approach to Georgia's new government. Ivanishvili came to power with a promise to repair relations with Russia by changing the tone -- but not necessarily the substance -- of Tbilisi's foreign policy. Specifically, Ivanishvili and his government have sworn that their dedication to gaining NATO membership -- the crux of Moscow's conflict with Tbilisi -- remains unchanged. Russian officials have been relatively quiet about that for the year since Ivanishvili's election, but in an interview with Russia Direct, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin made it clear that it does not see Ivanishvili as an ally, and remains concerned about Georgia's relations with NATO.
The ongoing discussion of Georgia's accession to NATO causes legitimate concerns for us, and political changes in Tbilisi do not give any reason for the softening of our position in this issue. NATO perspective would lead to increased tension in the South Caucasus and would have serious consequences for geopolitical stability in the region.
Besides this, Georgian membership would have a negative impact on the entire range of relations between Russia and the alliance. We hope that NATO members take the most responsible approach to the issue. In relations with Tbilisi, they should focus their efforts on promoting stability and security in the region, including, of course, peaceful coexistence of Georgia with its neighbors, especially with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev meets NATO Secretary General in Brussels. (photo: NATO)
Just days after finishing up his duties as a host of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev headed to Brussels to meet with the heads of the SCO's would-be geopolitical rivals, the European Union and NATO.
From the EU, Atambayev got money -- 30 million Euros in economic aid and another 13.5 million for projects to help build the rule of law -- and some guarded praise for its decision "to pursue political and economic reforms and to consolidate a democratic multiparty system."
And from NATO, Kyrgyzstan was offered an expansion in security cooperation activities, particularly in combatting drug trafficking. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after their meeting:
Now, also beyond our ISAF operation, I think there is the potential for cooperation and partnership. One thing is our counter-narcotics projects. Within the NATO-Russia Council we have trained and educated counter-narcotics officers from across the region, including Kyrgyzstan, and I do believe that also beyond our ISAF mission there is a need to continue those counter-narcotics efforts.
Today I have also mentioned disaster response, logistics and defence reform as possible areas for enhanced cooperation.
This fall Kyrgyzstan will put up for auction its only defense industry of note, the Dastan torpedo factory, and has signaled that it intends to favor Russian investors. The Russian newspaper Kommersant interviewed Kyrgyzstan's foreign minister, Erlan Abdyldaev, and asked about the plant.
Negotiations on the sale of the Dastan plant have been going on for a long time. A commission on the preparation of documents for an investment competition has already been formed. Dastan will be put up for auction in the fall. The Kyrgyz side is interested in selling this factory to Russia.
Russia has long been interested in the plant, but Kyrgyzstan's government had only had a 48 percent stake, whereas Russia wanted a controlling interest. But the Kyrgyzstan government was able to acquire shares previously owned by exiled first son Maxim Bakiyev, bumping its share of the plant to 98 percent, according to a Kommersant report this summer (via the Moscow Times).
The factory is reportedly valued at 30 million and the surrounding territory at $180 million, and apparently has no current business. There was an interesting possibility a couple of years ago of India doing business with Dastan, but that seems to have come to naught. Maybe with a new owner that possibility could arise again?
The Obama administration's nominee to become the new top diplomat dealing with Central Asia had her confirmation hearing in the Senate last week. And if it was anything to go by, Central Asia continues to fade further and further into the periphery of U.S. policymaking.
The nominee, Nisha Desai Biswal, would succeed Robert Blake as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. Biswal is currently the assistant administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development, and during the hearing, she faced no tough questions and there is no indication she won't be confirmed.
In her prepared statement, the most detailed remarks were devoted to the U.S.'s New Silk Road Initiative:
We are clear-eyed about the challenges of promoting greater regional cooperation, but we also see the potential and opportunities. It’s telling that since former Secretary Clinton first articulated the “New Silk Road” vision in 2011, the region has adopted its own vision of greater connectivity and integration. The Administration welcomes partnership with other key players in the greater region, like China, to achieve this important goal that, in the end, will bolster peace, stability, and prosperity for all the peoples of South and Central Asia.
The potential for radical Islamist militants to appear in Central Asia after the U.S./NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan is perhaps the biggest fear in the region. But real information about militants' intentions vis-a-vis Central Asia is scarce, allowing speculation, and often fear-mongering, to fill the vacuum. So a new project by the website Registan to investigate the strategy of the biggest such group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, is very much overdue. As the site's managing editor, Noah Tucker, put it in the first post on the topic:
It seems sometimes that in all the chatter about the supposedly imminent threat of an IMU invasion of Central Asia the only people not talking about it are the IMU themselves. In contrast, earlier this year the movement splintered for at least the second time to create a special unit in cooperation with the Tehrik-e Taliban’s (TTP) Adnan Rashid to focus on prison-break operations inside Pakistan. In the latest interview Hikmatiy claims, “our jihad is part of the completion of the Hind G’azasi [the (Holy) Conquest of Greater India] that our Prophet foretold and that was longed for by his honored companions [sahoba].” The reference to this particular obscure hadith, popular mostly with the Pakistani jihadi groups, is a sign of just how deeply the IMU has been pulled into the Af/Pak political labyrinth....