The U.S.'s Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan could be a target for "enemies," there's no way to be sure that corruption has been rooted out from the lucrative fuel contracts for the base, and Russia is Kyrgyzstan's strongest military partner. That's according to Roza Otunbayeva, the former president of Kyrgyzstan who made her first visit as ex-president to Washington this week. She was in town to receive an award from the Eurasia Foundation, and also took a bit of time to sit down with The Bug Pit to discuss some of the big issues in Kyrgyzstan and the region. Below is our interview, edited for clarity.
The Bug Pit: It's been argued that the focus on Afghanistan has distorted the U.S.'s policy toward Central Asia and made it “oversecuritized.” Do you agree?
Otunbayeva: No, it's not fair.... The United States responds to all our needs immediately. When we had the tragedy in 2010, we had two [military] bases, Russian and American. None of them were involved in our internal affairs, but the U.S. responded to our tragedy immediately, with the OTI program. Of course, I can't deny that that Manas is a tool for the U.S. But I don't think Kazakhstan or Tajikistan either will tell you that now only Afghanistan is the highlight of our relations, no.
BP: Manas has strengthened your relations with the U.S. and brought the government a lot of revenue, but it's also led to a lot of corruption, including at very high levels. Overall, is Manas a good thing for Kyrgyzstan?
Uzbekistan will come crawling back into the arms of Russia as soon as the security situation in Afghanistan worsens, says the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Nikolay Bordyuzha. Bordyuzha, speaking at a Moscow event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the organization, emphasized that for the CSTO, Uzbekistan's departure from the Russia-dominated security bloc was no big deal, and even had some positives, he insisted: "For several months we have agreed on many projects and decisions, acceptance of which Uzbekistan was blocking." But its departure from the CSTO will be a big deal for Uzbekistan, he says: "As soon as things get difficult, the situation will change. I don't think this will take long."
It seems that the CSTO doth protest too much. At the organization's security council meeting next month in Moscow, members will "make the final decision" regarding Uzbekistan's membership (apparently without Uzbekistan's input). The frequency with which CSTO officials talk about Uzbekistan reminds one of a guy whose girlfriend dumps him, who then proceeds to constantly talk about how much better off he is without her -- adding that she will probably come back to him anyway when she understands the mistake she's made.
Uzbekistan's government and media have been pretty silent on this issue, but this most recent statement was apparently enough to elicit a response from Fakhriddin Nizamov, writing on Polit.uz.
Apparently, Mr. Bordyuzha rubs his hands with pleasure that the situation in Central Asia will worsen after the announced withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan and events will develop according to a scenario of those whose interests he represents...
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, in Brussels in March.
Armenia has lately been boosting cooperation with both NATO and Russia, prompting questions about how far it can play both sides of the geopolitical conflict.
This fall, Armenia has hosted top NATO officials and the U.S. secretary of the navy, and in September Armenian units trained by the U.S. and NATO countries for deployment in international missions, like that in Afghanistan, conducted an exercise, reported RFE/RL:
[S]ome 600 soldiers of the volunteer unit simulated their participation in a multinational peacekeeping operation in an exercise watched by U.S. military instructors. The exercise also involved what the Armenian Defense Ministry described as a successful “self-appraisal with NATO standards” by the brigade’s Staff Company.
But this fall, Armenia also hosted exercises of the Russia-run Collective Security Treaty Organization and has signed an agreement with Russia on joint arms production, a provision of which requires Armenia to "rely exclusively on Russian-made and supplied weapons," writes analyst Richard Giragosian in a piece at Oxford Analytica:
For the first time, Armenia is being excluded from procuring Western arms, limiting its options and potential partners and, at least in theory, hindering its pursuit of interoperability with NATO standards.
Russia is preparing an aid package of over a billion dollars to Kyrgyzstan's military, and of $200 million to that of Tajikistan, Russian newspaper Kommersant has reported, saying that the Kremlin is trying to counteract the U.S.'s growing clout in Uzbekistan.
According to the report, the aid package was agreed on in August, during Russian Deputy Premier Igor Shuvalov's visit to Bishkek in August and President Vladimir Putin's in September. The specific contents of the aid package will be worked out by March of next year, with deliveries beginning next summer, sources in Russia's general staff told Kommersant.
In addition, Tajikistan is reportedly getting $200 million in air defense system upgrades and current hardware repair. Tajikistan also will be getting a $200 million discount on fuel deliveries from Russia, apparently thanks to its recent agreement to extend the lease of Russia's military base. So if the report turns out to be true, it wouldn't exactly be the "symbolic sum" that Kremlin officials initially claimed they would be paying for the base extension. But $400 million, spread out over the 30-year term of the base extension, still isn't quite the windfall Dushanbe was hoping for.
An unnamed Russian government source told Kommersant the aid package was intended both for security and geopolitical gain (translation via Johnson's Russia List):
Uzbekistan may have suspended its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization this summer, but the CSTO wants the final word: the organization's collective security council is holding a meeting in Moscow on December 19, where the presidents of member states "will make the final decision and we will state our position on that step" by Uzbekistan. That's according to CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Borduyzha, on a visit to Belarus, adding that he hoped Uzbekistan's suspension was temporary.
And Russia's representative to the CSTO, Igor Lyakin-Frolov, said "the door was open" to Tashkent: "We are moving toward a suspension of Uzbekistan's membership, bu we would hope that the door would not be closed for the return to the organization in the case of a change in the political situation in that country," he said.
And he added that Uzbekistan's move "wasn't unexpected," and had to do with Uzbekistan's concern about where the organization was heading:
"The fundamental reason for Uzbekistan's suspension of its membership in the CSTO is principally different views toward the development of the organization. Uzbekistan's leadership put the fundamental accent on rendering support in the case of aggression against one or several CSTO members," the diplomat said.
But lately, a course was discussed and supported by the majority of governments, including Russia, on turning the organization into a multi-profiled structure not only acting against external aggression, but also repelling contemporary threats and challenges -- terrorism, drug trafficking, illegal migration, and cyberterrorism, said Lyakin-Frolov.
The opening ceremony of the CSTO peacekeeping exercise, Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012, in Kazakhstan.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization has begun what it calls its first-ever peacekeeping exercise, in Kazakhstan. According to the CSTO, the exercise will work on standard peacekeeping tasks like separating the parties to a conflict and ensuring compliance to a cease fire. But the scenario of the exercise seems a bit more active than that: "According to the scenario, a crisis situation arises connected with the activity of international extremists and terrorist organizations and conflict between ethnic groups living in the country." And a Kazakhstani military spokesperson is a bit more detailed: "People portraying terrorists will attack a military base checkpoint and retreat to a village, after which the troops will respond to free the village."
In any event, about 950 troops are taking part, the majority (535) from Kazakhstan, 160 from Russia, 50 from Kyrgyzstan and small contingents from Armenia, Belarus, and Tajikistan. This exercise, called "Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012," follows closely on the heels of another CSTO exercise in Armenia. But this one was (ostensibly) about peacekeeping, and observers from the United Nations, with whom the CSTO has agreed to cooperate on peacekeeping, were present.
Deputy General Secretary of the CSTO Valeriy Semerikov said at the opening ceremony that "the opening of the exercise is the beginning of the arrangement of national peacekeeping contingents into a single structure -- comprising the collective peacekeeping force of the CSTO."
Armenia has ratified a protocol that would allow Russia a veto over any foreign military installations in its country, but not without some grumbling. An agreement reached last year by the Collective Security Treaty Organization allows any CSTO member to have a say in whether another member can host a foreign military base. This week, Armenia's parliament ratified that agreement, but with some lawmakers complaining that it infringed on the country's sovereignty, and the parliament's second-largest bloc abstaining from the vote, reports ArmeniaNow:
On October 4, the Parliament ratified the Protocol on the Location of Military Installations in Collective Security Treaty Organization (OSCE) Member Countries that was signed still in December 2011 and under which Armenia is not entitled to host military forces or other infrastructure of other states without the permission of the CSTO...
Opposition Heritage faction MP Alexander Arzumanyan, who represents the Free Democrats party and served as Armenia’s minister of foreign affairs in the 1990s, said during the debate in the National Assembly that the Protocol limits Armenia’s sovereign rights and humiliates the nation’s dignity. In the end, only five lawmakers in the 131-member body, including Arzumanyan, voted against the ratification. The second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, Prosperous Armenia [which holds 37 seats], opted out of the vote.
A Kazakhstan soldier takes part in the CSTO exercises in Armenia
The Collective Security Treaty Organization has wrapped up its annual military exercises, held this year in Armenia, with the group's general secretary saying the group needs to create its own military forces, including air forces, in Central Asia. But at a time of heightened tensions in the Caucasus, the drills took a relatively low profile.
Not much has been said about the scenario of the exercises, called "Interaction-2012," the first of the CSTO to be held in the Caucasus. The scale of these exercises was much smaller than last year's -- about 2,000 troops, compared to 24,000 last year spread out over several countries, half in Central Asia and the other half in Belarus. (The CSTO is led by Russia and also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.)
It was an interesting time for the exercises to be held in Armenia, just after tensions spiked as a result of the extradition and pardon of Ramil Safarov, the Azerbaijani soldier who killed an Armenian colleague at a NATO event in Hungary. There has been a lot of speculation about whether the CSTO would come to the aid of Armenia in the event of a war over Nagorno Karabakh. Armenia actually postponed the start of the exercises a week, from September 8 to September 15. No explanation for the delay was given, other than that it was due to "technical reasons," but it's no small matter to reschedule, at the last minute, a multi-country military exercise. The announcement of the delay was August 30 -- and the next day, Safarov was released. Was there a connection?
An August 28 meeting of the heads of CSTO member militaries in Moscow
The Collective Security Treaty Organization has vowed to "seriously strengthen" its military capacity, the group's general secretary said Tuesday, after a Moscow meeting of chiefs of general staffs of CSTO member militaries. According to a report in RIA Novosti, CSTO General Secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha:
noted that in December of this year a meeting of the Collective Security Council will be held. "The main agenda item which will be proposed in December is first of all to consider military questions. This will be a discussion of the development of the military component of the CSTO," the secretary said.
"And today's discussion led to many decisions, which will likewise be presented to the presidents for approval. I think, if today's decisions are approved, this organization will take a very big step forward with respect to the strengthening of the force component of this international structure," Bordyuzha said.
The general secretary did not specify precisely what decisions were made.
The CSTO is led by Russia and also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan -- though no longer Uzbekistan. The military chiefs of Russia and Kazakhstan spoke approvingly of the unspecified decisions made at this meeting, but it looks like we'll have to wait until December to find out what they amount to. Until then, the CSTO is scheduled to carry out military exercises in Armenia in September, and in Kazakhstan in October.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization is taking on emergency management as one of its priorities, the group's secretary general, Nikolay Bordyuzha, announced during a CSTO meeting in Minsk last week:
Cooperation in prevention and mitigation of emergencies should become a priority in the CSTO, Nikolai Bordyuzha, CSTO Secretary General told media in Minsk following the fifth meeting of the CSTO Coordination Council on Emergencies.
“The issues regarding emergency response and mitigation should make a priority in the CSTO. In December we will submit the relevant proposals to the Presidents,” Nikolai Bordyuzha said.
Also at the Minsk meeting, it was announced that the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, under the auspices of the CSTO, would set up a "regional humanitarian center" in Armenia. The center would open next year.
The CSTO has lately been taking on -- at least rhetorically -- a whole bunch of new priorities, including cybersecurity, quashing color revolutions, creating a unified foreign policy, even drone manufacture. It's not clear what has actually been concretely achieved with any of these, so who knows how seriously we should take this newest "priority."
The CSTO will hold its annual military exercises in September in Armenia, and attention will likely be focused less on emergency management than for hints on how the CSTO might act in case of a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.