A U.S. Congressional committee held a hearing on the "emerging threat of resource wars" in Central Asia, but failed to demonstrate that that threat was emerging, or even a threat at all.
The hearing was held by the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats and chaired by Representative Dana Rohrabacher who is bringing his idiosyncraticbeliefstoward the region to the committee's work since being appointed to chair it earlier this year.
Rohrabacher opened the hearing with a dark warning, that "increasing global demand for supplies of energy and minerals is sparking intense economic competition that could lead to a counterproductive conflict. ... A zero-sum world where no one can obtain the means to progress without taking them from someone else is inherently a world of conflict. When new sources of supplies are opened, as is the case with Central Asia, there is still fear that there is not enough to go around and thus conflict emerges." But other than the general observation that China and India were both growing a lot and both needed resources, how conflict may emerge from that situation was not explained.
Today is the one-year anniversary of the controversial military operation in Khorog, Tajikistan, and human rights groups took the occasion to present to the government a report they have prepared on the events. The report has yet to be publicly released, but a report in Asia Plus summarizes the findings. Most of them have to do with the difficulty of determining exactly what happened:
The right to establish the truth. Although a year has passed since the Khorog events, there is now access to reliable information about: goals and objectives of the government military operation conducted in Khorog; the number of military personnel participating in the operation; number of casualties that occurred during and after the special operation; and investigation into the operation and post-operation deaths.
Access to information. Mobile and fixed-line communications as well as Internet were cut off in Khorog during the operation. Besides, several websites were blocked after fighting in Khorog.
Use of force and weapons. International standards provide for the requirements of proportionality and necessity of use of force and weapons and planning any operations in order to minimize possible casualties. According to some sources, 22 civilians and 23 military personnel were killed during the operation. Lack of information about the exact number of casualties among civilians and military personnel evokes serious concern.
Investigation. Although a year has passed since the Khorog events, there is still no information about the number of criminal proceedings instituted regarding the operation and post operation deaths and wounds.
A delegation of high-ranking Georgian officials visited Washington last week, and at the top of their agenda was the defeat of a provision in the U.S. military budget criticizing the new government's human rights record and threatening relations to the country.
The delegation was led by Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze and also included the finance minister, chair of the parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, the chief prosecutor and several other members of parliament. The fact that the chief prosecutor -- whose brief doesn't really cover foreign relations -- was part of the delegation speaks to the fact that the Georgian government is worried about the perception that is being created by the large number of prosecutions of officials from the former government that the new government of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has carried out since taking power last year. The amendment to the defense budget, passed last month by the House of Representatives, criticized the arrests for being "in part motivated by political considerations" and said that ""political, economic and security" ties between the U.S. and Georgia could be harmed as a result.
Members of the delegation said that their efforts to convince U.S. officials of their good intentions was successful. From Civil.ge:
The Georgian government officials are now lobbying for this amendment to be removed from the U.S. Defense Authorization Act before the final version of this voluminous bill is agreed by a House and Senate conference by the end of this year. Last month the Georgian government officials and some GD MPs suggested that this amendment was a result of lobbying efforts from President Saakashvili’s UNM party.
Azerbaijan has investigated reports of sales of French/German anti-tank missiles to Armenia, and has concluded that they were provided by Greece and Cyprus. Azerbaijan news agency APA reports, citing unnamed military officials:
The investigations carried out by Azerbaijan have revealed that Armenia has purchased anti-tank missiles and a lot of machine-guns and grenade throwers from Greece and Cyprus in the past two years. According to the obtained reports, Armenia has purchased more than 20 MILAN missiles from Greece. The missiles have been reportedly sold from the arsenal of Greek armed forces.
For its part, the Greek embassy in Baku has denied the claim.
Shortly thereafter, APA reported that Azerbaijan itself had bought anti-tank missiles from Ukraine last year. Ukraine, in theory, is subject to the same sanctions as France and Germany are: the sanctions are imposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Ukraine is a member, too. But the sanctions obviously are enforced only by certain OSCE members.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Armenia has yet to comment on the issue.
Kazakhstan's air force is trying to learn from other countries about how to best operate in urban environments, raising the question: when does it anticipate carrying out air operations in a city?
The Ministry of Defense held a conference so that Kazakhstan's military pilots could "analyze use of aviation in military conflicts by foreign countries and work out suggestions on training of pilots for military actions in urban areas."
And "special attention" was paid to drones:
Their use allows to perform stable and constant real time monitoring of urban areas without any risk for the personnel.
Kazakhstan military experts are studying technical capacities and characteristics of the drones produced by the leading countries as they are planning to purchase them for the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan.
It's not clear whether Kazakhstan envisages air surveillance or air attack, but in any case, under what scenario does Kazakhstan imagine using its air force in a city? Kazakhstan is a very long way from having either the will or the capacity to deploy even a modest force outside its borders, much less carry out a complex operation like urban combat with air support. That then leaves ... cities inside Kazakhstan?
Russian President Vladimir Putin inspects the Russia-Abkhazia de facto border during a May 2012 visit to Sochi. (photo: kremlin.ru)
The upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are an event of enormous symbolic importance for the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin. So any sort of attack on the games -- like the one that Chechen Islamist leade Doku Umarov recenrly called for -- would come as a huge blow to Russia.
So in that regard, it's interesting that Putin has reached out to Georgia to propose some sort of cooperation on security for the Olympics, which will be held just five miles from the border of the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia. Putin was recently asked about Georgian help regarding Olympic security:
“Of course, we are absolutely ready for such help,” Putin said, when asked whether a Georgian security contribution would be accepted.
“We want to repair our relationships. We have a very warm attitude to Georgia. We are very close peoples."
He did not specify whether such help could include Georgian police on the ground.
And Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili responded positively, saying that “The Georgian side will provide maximum assistance; we should ensure that no incident takes place during the Olympics."
What might the form of this competition take? It's not yet clear. Caucasus analyst Tom de Waal is skeptical that cooperation will amount to much. But Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said that the specifics would be worked out with Moscow soon.
Kyrgyzstan news media have reported that the U.S. has agreed to close the Manas air base it operates there, and U.S. officials have declined to deny the reports, making it seem more likely than ever that this is in fact the end of the line for the beleaguered base.
Last week, a U.S. State Department team headed by Ambassador Eric John, Senior Advisor for Security Negotiations and Agreements in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, visited Bishkek. The U.S. embassy statement about his visit only mentioned Manas in passing: "Kyrgyzstan’s support of international efforts in Afghanistan through its hosting of the Transit Center at Manas International Airport is one facet of this overall cooperation."
Today, news agency KyrTag reported that the Kyrgyzstan side informed the U.S. that their last day would be 11 July, 2014:
"We discussed this in the recent meeting with the working group from the U.S. The discussion was conducted in the framework of the well known position of Kyrgyzstan on this question," said [Erines Otorbayev, deputy minister of foreign affairs].
Otorbayev added that the American side must start removing military objects and personal equipment by 11 July, because after that day there should not be any U.S. military presence at the Manas airport."
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov meets NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during the former's visit to Brussels in 2011. (photo: NATO)
A recent piece in Uzbekistan's state-sanctioned media has advocated joining NATO and taking over the territory of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and most of the rest of Eurasia. The piece, published on 12news.uz, was taken down shortly after being published, but was preserved on inoSMI.ru.
The piece, at nearly 9,000 words, offers a number of controversial (to put it kindly) claims: that Tajiks are merely Persian-speaking Uzbeks, that Uzbekistan is the successor state to the Mongol Golden Horde, that the agreement between Russia and Kyrgyzstan to develop hydropower plants is invalid because it misspells "Kyrgyzstan," among many others. Its main thesis, however, is that the "threats of a natural-technical character" -- namely proposed hydropower plants in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan -- are the gravest security threats facing Uzbekistan, comparable to a nuclear bomb. And the solution is that Uzbekistan should join NATO.
The piece is a bit out there, but Uzbek analysts point out that it must have been officially sanctioned. “This site [12news.uz] is not just semi-official, it’s official,” dissident political analyst Tashpulat Yuldashev told uznews.net. "It's curated by Dilshod Nurullaev, former Security Commission chairman and advisor to the President," he said. "There is total censorship in Uzbekistan, and such a politically charged article would not have been allowed to be published without permission from the very top." That assertion was backed up by another Uzbek analyst to The Bug Pit.
Azerbaijan is complaining about reports that Armenia has required French/German anti-tank missiles in apparent violation of European sanctions against the two countries. The controversy began when an Armenian website published photos of an Armenian Ministroy of Defense exposition last year. On display, apparently, was a MILAN anti-tank missile, jointly produced by France and Germany.
And Azerbaijan has objected, reports APA: "The embassies of [France and Germany] in Azerbaijan were demanded to clarify how these countries that imposed an embargo on the sale of weapons to the conflicting parties could deliver these systems to Armenia."
Both the French and German ambassadors have responded publicly, saying they didn't do it. The French ambassador:
“I have no precise information about this sale which is very highly improbable, because the export of military equipment would be in contradiction with these sanctions. The French side is now investigating the information and the source it came from.”
"Germany is in compliance with OSCE embargoes on arms sales to Armenia and Azerbaijan. Exports of military equipment would be contrary to the sanctions. The federal government doesn’t have additional information," the embassy said.
Meanwhile, the Armenian Ministry of Defense is staying quiet on the matter.
Russia is going to start sending $1 billion in weapons to Kyrgyzstan this year, said Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. That appears to be an acceleration of earlier plans; just the day before Shoigu had said that the shipments would start next year.
Igor Korotchenko, the editor of a Kremlin-affiliated defense magazine, said that the shipments would likely include: "tanks, armored vehicles and personnel carriers, as well as rocket launchers, artillery, small arms, and surveillance and communication systems."
Possibly relatedly, Kyrgyzstan's government announced that it would sell its shares in the Soviet-legacy Dastan torpedo factory and that "Kyrgyzstan's government said Russian investors would be given priority in purchasing the shares in the factory ... at an auction in the fall."
Some good context for these moves can be found in a useful new paper (pdf) published by two of the best scholars dealing with Central Asian geopolitical issues, Alex Cooley and Marlene Laruelle. The paper, titled "The Changing Logic of Russian Strategy in Central Asia: From Privileged Sphere to Divide and Rule?" details how the Kremlin has recently moved towards prioritizing its ties with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as client states: