Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev opens the Alov plant, one of the country's new defense manufacturers
Turkey's relationship with Azerbaijan may be strained over the former's attempts at rapprochement with Armenia, but cooperation between the two countries' defense industries seems as strong as ever. Turkey's defense minister visited Baku last week, and the two countries signed a whole raft of agreements on setting up joint ventures in Azerbaijan to produce rockets, drones, grenade launchers, camouflage material and possibly helicopters.
Azerbaijan seems to be following the same strategy as Kazakhstan -- get foreign companies to come and bring their superior military technology so that local companies can eventually produce that equipment by themselves, in an attempt to diversify the economy beyond just oil and gas. In fact, Azerbaijan started this a while ago, setting up a Ministry of Defense Industry in 2005 and setting up its first big joint venture, to produce a South African mine-protected vehicle in late 2009. So it seems likely that Kazakhstan may be following Azerbaijan's example.
Whatever the case, assuming these agreements actually come to fruition, there are now two burgeoning defense industries on either side of the Caspian.
Kazakhstan is interested in buying some American military transport aircraft, the country's air force chief of staff says. Reports Interfax:
Kazakhstan's Ministry of Defense mulls purchasing six U.S. C-130J Hercules Tactical Transport Aircraft, said Kazakhstan’s Air Force Chief of Staff Nurlan Ormanbetov.
"For now, we are considering to buy up to six C-130J aircraft, depending on the offered price," he told reporters on Tuesday during a presentation of the aircraft at the Astana international airport.
Ormanbetov specified that the U.S. offered Kazakhstan to purchase aircrafts built in 60s –70s, with the cost per unit reaching $40-45 million after upgrading and customizing the planes for Kazakhstan’s needs.
The C-130J was first produced in 1996, and the unit cost is well over $45 million, so probably Ormanbetov is talking about an different variant of the C-130.
Anyway, the U.S. and Kazakhstan previously had been discussing a deal whereby the U.S., through its Excess Defense Articles program, would give Kazakhstan some C-130s free of charge. So it's not clear what might have changed, why the U.S. decided not to give Kazakhstan the planes.
In other weapons-buying news from the region, the Israeli company Elbit has signed a $56 million deal with Azerbaijan to upgrade the country's T-72 tanks, improving the armor and fire-control systems
Elbit had announced the deal but didn't name Azerbaijan, calling it only "a customer in Asia." But several sources subsequently identified the mysterious Asian nation as Azerbaijan.
Iran's defense minister Ahmad Vahidi has completed a visit to Azerbaijan, and apparently mooted the idea of joint naval exercises between the two countries (and possibly other coastal states Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia). Azeri Press Agency reports:
Iran may hold military exercises together with Azerbaijan and other littoral states, Defense Minister of Iran, General Ahmad Vahidi said at the press conference on the outcomes of his visit to Azerbaijan, APA reports.
Iranian Minister said such exercises aim at maintaining peace and stability in the region.
There was no immediate response from any of the other countries about whether they would be amenable to that.
Vahidi did acknowledge that Iran has been building up its military capacity in the Caspian...:
To APA’s question whether Iran’s strengthening its military forces in the Caspian Sea with the new ships will influence the balance of forces in the region, Minister said it will not violate the stability in the Caspian region.
“Iran considers the Caspian Sea the sea of peace, security and friendship. We have got good relations with the littoral states and these steps have been agreed with all,” he said.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran considers the Caspian Sea as the sea of peace and friendship and believes that the sea should remain unmilitary."
At the same time, the deputy foreign ministers of the Caspian littoral states met in Baku and worked on a draft security strategy for the sea, in advance of a November summit (also to be held in Baku).
The government believes that regulation of expressions of grief is the only way to stop the debt spiral. A draft bill prepared by the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party proposes setting limits on the scale and scope of funeral ceremonies. Multi-course meals will be either banned outright or replaced by hors d’œuvres.
Sociologist Javid Imamoglu commented to Trend news service that while the ban on multi-course dinners will help Azerbaijan's underprivileged, bill supporters should research various religious groups' funeral traditions before the draft legislation is signed into law.
Azerbaijan is pressing for an official United Nations response to a diplomatic incident at the Armenian mission in New York.
The source of Azerbaijan’s ire was the Armenian mission’s recent move to fly the flag of separatist-minded Nagorno-Karabakh.
“It has been revealed and properly documented that on September 27… the mission of the Republic of Armenia … installed two flags on its premises.., namely the national flag of the Republic of Armenia and a piece of colored stuff or rag purported to be a ‘flag’ of the ethnically constructed subordinate separatist entity, the so-called ‘Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,’” Azerbaijan’s UN envoy Agshyn Mehtyev wrote in a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The Karabakh banner flew for only a few hours, reportedly coming down due to Azerbaijani pressure. Baku, however, doesn’t seem inclined to drop the matter. Azerbaijani officials believe the Armenian action violated the UN Charter, and therefore they are seeking an official UN response.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has made his most forthright statement yet regarding the prospects for his country's participation in the Western-backed Nabucco pipeline, designed to skirt Russia in delivering Turkmen gas to foreign markets.
After a speech September 17 at a summit of heads of states of Turkic countries in Istanbul, President Berdymukhamedov took questions from reporters. In response to a query about the prospects of Turkmenistan delivering gas to Europe, the Turkmen leader was reported by both domestic and foreign news services as saying:
"Turkmenistan does not doubt the real prospect of implementing various projects to export gas in any direction, including to Europe through Nabucco,"
Yet his statements have been reported somewhat differently at home and abroad, and analysts have speculated whether the pro-Nabucco remarks were just a bargaining ploy both to get Russia to pay more for Turkmen gas and to raise Ashgabat's stature in the region. They may have also been designed as a sweetener in anticipation of the Turkmen president's meeting with Chevron's CEO Jay Pryor.
In various accounts provided by international, Azeri, and industry online news services, President Berdymukhamedov is further quoted as saying:
We are currently constructing the East-West pipeline. The pipeline will be laid along the coast of the Caspian Sea. There is also Nabucco, which is associated with the project. We are building an East-West pipeline that will reach the Caspian. Nabucco is about this.
Cows relax and chew cud outside a centuries-old "Albanian" temple in the village of Dashbulag in northern Azerbaijan. The horned bovines use the structure as a shelter when not grazing on the surrounding fields.
Vladic Ravich is a freelance photojournalist based in Turkey.
The September 15-16 Turkic summit in Istanbul -- or, as Turkish President Abdullah Gül might put it, the family reunion -- saw the launching of a supranational club meant to help integrate and increase the global clout of Turkic-language-speaking countries. The “[s]iblings, who gathered following a long separation” can now further their interests and promote development and stability through the new Cooperation Council, Gül told his counterparts from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.
In Gül's words, this secular fraternity is all about values, influence, success and, of course, giving love. “The hearts of your siblings in Turkey will beat together during our bitter and sweet days,” declared Gül as he exchanged rhapsodic courtesies with fellow Turkic leaders. “We are from now on one nation, but we are also six states,” he declared in a takeoff on the old “one nation, two states” slogan describing the relationship between Turkey and its close ally, Azerbaijan.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates meets today in Washington with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, ahead of which he gave an interview to Interfax. They dealt with several issues in the EurasiaNet region: Gates said the U.S. was "very interested" in using, jointly with Russia, the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan; that Russia is being "enormously helpful" with regard to the Northern Distribution Network; complains that some in Congress are pushing back against U.S. plans to supply Russian helicopters to Afghanistan; and says the U.S. is being "careful" with regard to security cooperation with Georgia. Some excerpts:
Q.: Can you be more specific about what extent Russia helped to work on Northern Distribution Network in Afghanistan?
A.: Well, we have negotiated contracts, and at this point, I think, we have sent something like 20,000 containers across the Northern Distribution Network, and a very high percentage of those have come across Russia. It‘s enormously helpful to us. It‘s financially beneficial to Russia because these are commercial contracts. But there‘s no question that this network has become important for us. About 50% of the sustainment supplies for us in Afghanistan now go across the Northern Distribution Network, and I think it‘s an example of cooperation. We‘re obviously interested in buying MI-17 helicopters. They‘re well-suited for Afghanistan. Afghans are familiar with them, know how to fly them, comfortable with them, and we‘d like to pursue that. We‘re getting, frankly, some pushback here in the United States by American helicopter manufacturers wondering why we‘re interested in buying Russian ones. The buy that we have in mind is pretty limited, but we‘ll have to work our way through the politics of that.
Q.: When do you think the decision about that could be taken?
The U.S.'s embattled nominee to be the next ambassador to Baku, Matthew Bryza, raised some eyebrows during his confirmation hearing in July by appearing to say that a serious skirmish on the Nagorno Karabakh line of contact was Azerbaijan's fault. This is what he said in July:
"What transpired that day remains not entirely clear to us, but we do know that there were several people killed. There was an Azerbaijani move across the line of contact, Armenia responded, resulted in deaths which, yes, Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton did condemn."
But now he appears to be backing away from that statement. In responses to follow-up questions (pdf) from Barbara Boxer, a pro-Armenia senator, Bryza stepped back from blaming Azerbaijan:
While I said that the Azerbaijanis moved across the line of contact (LOC), the full details of what triggered the June 18 incident are unknown. Unfortunately, there are a number of LOC violations each year by both sides.
So was he right the first time? According to Jane's, yes. The skirmish was not planned by either government, but was a shouting match between soldiers on each side that got out of hand, resulting in an Azerbaijan non-commissioned officer opening fire (article not online):
[T]he skirmishes around Nagorno-Karabakh between 18 and 21 June may not have been as co-ordinated and planned as at first perceived. The fighting left four Armenian soldiers dead and four wounded...
The official version of the fighting provided by the Armenian military on 19 June was that an Azerbaijani unit tried to capture an Armenian forward position, but failed to do so and retreated, abandoning one of its dead. The Armenian soldiers died or were wounded defending their position.