A few weeks ago there was some back and forth between Armenians and Azerbaijanis about whether Russia would come to Armenia's defense in the case of a war over Nagorno Karabakh. Well, now a top Russian general has weighed in, and he sounds pretty certain that Russia would get involved. General Andrei Tretyak, the Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the Defense Ministry, discussed the Russian military's future plans with some analysts, and this is from Dmitry Gorenburg's account:
In a discussion on the situation in Karabakh, General Tretyak agreed with a participant’s assessment that the possibility of conflict in that region is high, but argued that it is gradually decreasing as a result of Russian efforts to reduce tension in the region. He disagreed with the suggestion that Russia’s relationship with Armenia is eroding and made clear that Russia will carry out its promises to that country. No one should see Russia’s refusal to intervene in Kyrgyzstan last summer as a precedent for Karabakh, as that was a very different situation.
Hmm, that can't make too many folks in Baku feel too confident. Tretyak also weighed in on Central Asia, and suggested that the Collective Security Treaty Organization could help fill the security vacuum that will be created by the U.S. leaving Afghanistan. And he seems to acknowledge that the CSTO kind of dropped the ball on Kyrgyzstan last year, when it did nothing to stop the pogroms that took place there in what many saw as the first big test of the collective security group:
He also felt that what he saw as the inevitable US withdrawal from the region will have a negative effect on stability.
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."
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:
Hold on tight, Georgia and Armenia, it's time to run scared: Now that two Azerbaijani performers have triumphed at Eurovision, the continent’s annual pop mega-extravaganza will be headed next year to your next-door neighbor, Azerbaijan, leaving a trail of glamor and camp in its wake.
Singers Nigar "Nikki" Jamal and Eldar "Ell" Gasimov, who got the Euro-pop crown for their “Running Scared” love ballad, received a hero’s welcome at home and, as a bonus, a personal audience with President Ilham Aliyev and his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva.
It is no small feat to win the world’s glitziest pop contest, in which voting often tends to reflect Europe’s political fault lines. But despite the winners' expressed desire "to bring Europe together," those fault lines are not likely to disappear when the show comes to Baku next year.
On the foreign policy front, there's neighboring Armenia, a hardcore Eurovision enthusiast and former contest finalist, that's already debating whether or not to participate in an event hosted by its archenemy, Azerbaijan.(One MP, disappointed by this year's loss, has even proposed a parliamentary debate about how Armenia's Eurovision candidates are chosen.)
Heydar Aliyev, the former president of Azerbaijan, would have turned 88 years old on May 10. So naturally, the government pulled out all the stops. Like last year, thousands of flowers from 50 countries literally covered the park between the Heydar Aliyev Palace and the statue of Heydar Aliyev as two hot air balloons were inflated in front of the giant flower mosaic of Heydar Aliyev (pictured here), ensuring that his unmistakable Kremlin-Mona-Lisa smile would soar above the city already covered by his portraits.
Vladic Ravich is a freelance photojournalist based in Turkey.
Is the demilitarization of the Caspian Sea still a viable possibility? Representatives of the five Caspian littoral states (Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran) just finished meeting in Baku, and their statements to the press afterwards suggested that all was peace and harmony on the sea. Via Contact.az:
The question of military activity is an important element of the legal status of the Caspian Sea, said [Azerbaijan's] Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov. "The work in this direction is going on. There are different approaches. There is an idea of demilitarization. There is an idea of regulating the activity of armed forces. Of course, we have not come yet to a common opinion," Khalafov said on April 27.
The Russian representative at the talks, Alexander Golovin, agreed:
[Golovin] stressed that "all the littoral states agree that the Caspian should be a sea of peace and friendship." "And accordingly, none of the littoral states is going to start up the arms race, or compete in the military sphere with each other," Golovin said. This is not the field of activity on which the littoral states must spend their efforts, he said.
So they say. But actions speak louder than words, and here are a few of the recent developments on the sea:
The news last week that Azerbaijan had unilaterally and without explanation put off planned military exercises with the U.S. led many commentators, The Bug Pit included, to conclude that the exercises weren't going to happen. But that may have been a hasty conclusion. The exercises appear to be back on the table, as U.S. Ambassador to Baku Matthew Bryza met today with the Azerbaijani Minister of Defense, Safar Abiyev. And according to the defense ministry, among the topics discussed was the date to hold the exercise.
On Friday, a defense ministry spokesman argued that there was no political reason for postponing the exercise, but didn't offer any other reason:
“We have expressed our position on this issue. There is no obscurity. May be, everything will be solved.
We don’t see any necessity to give a political color to this situation and to create a problem from it. Unfortunately, we face with such attempts”, said spokesman for the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan, Lieutenant-Colonel Eldar Sabiroghlu answering APA’s question on the postponement of US-Azerbaijan joint military exercises.
Sabiroghlu said that the Defense Ministry was not engaged in the politics, and declared its concrete position to the organization’s temporary stop of the exercises: “Basing on the bilateral military cooperation, we continue our cooperation in other directions now”.
See, there's no obscurity at all! So wait, why was the exercise postponed again?
For the second year in a row, Azerbaijan has cancelled military exercises with the U.S. without explanation. There has been little official comment; the news agency APA quotes Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Eldar Sabiroglu as saying he doesn't know why it was cancelled:
Sabiroglu refused to comment, since he had no detailed information about the adjournment of the exercise.
To the question “Can this have any influence on Azerbaijan-US military cooperation?” spokesman said: “I do not believe it may happen. US-Azerbaijan military cooperation will continue,” he said.
APA also asked the U.S. embassy spokesman, who said he had no information on it:
Touching on the postponement of the US-Azerbaijan joint exercises, Terry Davidson said the exercises had been postponed by Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry.
“You’d better ask them,” he said.
Last year, the reason for the cancellation was reportedly the U.S. support for the Armenia-Turkey protocols. But the protocols are more or less dead now, so there is presumably another reason. One alternative explanation for last year's cancellation was Russian pressure (the default explanation when something mysterious happens in this part of the world). But that theory was given some credence by a WikiLeaks-released cable that discussed controversy over the 2009 version of the exercise (the only year in which the Regional Response exercise has actually taken place):
The Georgian parliament has annulled a deal allowing Russia to transit military cargo to its base in Armenia via Georgia. This is just formalizing the de facto situation -- transit via Georgia to the Russian base in Gyumri was already halted, de facto, after the war in 2008 over South Ossetia. From Civil.ge:
Georgian Parliament unanimously endorsed on April 19 government’s proposal to annul a five-year agreement with Russia setting out procedures for transit of Russian military personnel and cargo to Armenia via Georgia.
The agreement on transit of military personnel and cargo, giving Russia access to its 102nd military base in Gyumri, Armenia through land and air via Georgia, was signed in March, 2006 in parallel with a separate agreement based on which Russia pulled out its military bases from Batumi and Akhalkalaki. The both of the agreements were ratified by the Georgian Parliament on April 13, 2006.
Equipment that Armenia is buying from/being given by Russia is still allowed to transit Georgia, as was highlighted by a 2010 diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks and published by Russkiy Reporter magazine, the transit had been of concern to Georgia for fear that some of the equipment being sent to Armenia is more than Armenia might need and could be instead destined for Russian forces in Armenia with the potential of being used against Georgia:
If you could choose one word to describe Kyrgyzstan, would it be "friendly"? If so, then you and Donald Rumsfeld are on the same page.
Rumsfeld, you may recall, has released many previously classified documents from his tenure as secretary of defense to coincide with the launch of his book. But he didn't post all of the documents that were released to him. And of all publications Gawker, the gossip blog, filed a FOIA request to see all of the documents, including the ones, as they put it, that "Rumsfeld Doesn't Want You to See." You can see them all in a dauntingly unorganized 1,362-page pdf here. But before I get through that, one memo from Rumsfeld's desk that Gawker highlighted is worth looking at.
It's from April 30, 2002, and titled "COUNTRIES FOR U.S./DOD TO EMPHASIZE -- AND WHY," and offers an extremely brief (two pages) tour d'horizon of how the Pentagon saw countries around the world, including Central Asia.
Central Asia – (Evolving, looking for counterweight to Russia and PRC; enormous energy potential, secular muslims v. religious extremism)
Kazakhstan – Big; oil-rich; leading [sic] our way, see the U.S. as counterbalance to PRC and Russia.
Azerbaijan – Friendly, potential as war on [sic] forward operating base
Kyrgyzstan – Friendly
Uzbekistan – concerned about Russia, has chosen the U.S.
Afghanistan – A potential liability; U.S. has a stake in it not failing.