Still from video purporting to show American Humvees during the unrest in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, in December.
American Humvees, given to Kazakhstan using U.S. military aid, appear to have been used by the security forces which violently quelled the December riots in Zhanaozen, killing at least 17 protesters. The U.S. gave the Humvees to the Ministry of Defense for use in its nascent peacekeeping brigade, and it's not clear who was using them in Zhanaozen. But their use there suggests either that the peacekeeping brigade, known as KAZBRIG, was used to put down the uprising in Zhanaozen, or that the Humvees are being used by some internal security unit rather than by Ministry of Defense forces. Neither of those options are likely to please the Americans who gave Kazakhstan the Humvees.
The involvement of the Humvees is shown in a citizen cellphone video, aired in this report from Russian television network REN-TV. At about the 1:35 mark, you can see three Humvees driving down the road, and at 1:42 a very fleeting image seems to show another one traveling in the opposite direction.
Obviously, that brief glimpse doesn't say much, but it does suggest that Humvees were on the scene at the crackdown (assuming this isn't some sort of elaborate disinformation campaign). So, what were they doing?
The U.S. began giving Humvees to Kazakhstan in 2002, and now, according to a 2010 diplomatic cable, the "Kazakhstan HMMWV fleet currently includes 114 vehicles (45 up-armored vehicles, the rest being primarily unarmored or ambulances). KAZBRIG uses the [Humvees] for training peacekeepers and is expected to deploy with them as part of a future PSO [peace support operation]."
Former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze is making some pretty inflammatory accusations against his successor, reports the website Gruziya Online:
To maintain power, Mikheil Saakashvili may involved in a war against Iran, says ex-Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.
"I do not rule out that Saakashvili to keep his seat can turn to a military campaign against Iran that would be a disaster for our country," he said, stressing that the issue could be the subject of future negotiations between Saakashvili and U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on January 30.
"An anti-Iranian campaign should not be conducted on the territory of Georgia," said Shevardnadze.
The Russian media is full of speculation about an impending attack on Iran far out of proportion with the likelihood of such a thing happening any time soon. And it's unlikely that war with Iran will actually be on the agenda when Obama and Saakashvili meet next week.
This analysis from Messenger.ge seems (except for the Iran stuff) more on target:
The defense bill that President Obama signed into law on December 31 contained a provision by which the U.S. could again start providing military aid to Uzbekistan, if the Secretary of State certifies that there is a national security reason for doing so. It also requires the State Department to provide an assessment of the progress that Uzbekistan has made in human rights.
Today, the State Department for the first time used that waiver, State Department officials tell The Bug Pit. And they sent along the language of the human rights assessment, which will likely warm the hearts of human rights groups: despite several recent statements by U.S. diplomats suggesting that Uzbekistan's human rights situation might be improving, there is no such implication in this document. (Of course, this is also probably why the State Department volunteered to send the document along.) The entire assessment is below, and it summarizes the woeful state of political, religious and media freedom; prison conditions; torture; child and forced labor; and the lack of an independent investigation into the notorious Andijan "events."
I wasn't told what aid specifically the State Department was seeking to provide via this waiver, but presumably it is the $100,000 in border guard training that has been already discussed. Anyway, the takeaway here appears to be that the U.S. can provide military aid to Uzbekistan without saying silly things about human rights there.
President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan has said that the departure of U.S. and coalition troops from Afghanistan will bring "an increased threat of the expansion of terrorist and extremist activities, increased tension and confrontation" and "the creation of a permanent source of instability here." He made the comments in a televised address to the country's armed forces on the occasion of their 20th anniversary. Trend.az has reprinted a summary of Karimov's speech, but BBC Monitoring has the whole thing. This was the most intriuging part:
The Central Asian region, due to its geopolitical and geo-strategic importance and vast mineral resources in recent years become an object of close attention and the intersection of strategic interests of major states, is characterized by ongoing tension and confrontation in Afghanistan, where the war is under way already for more than 30 years.
The announced upcoming withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force in 2014 could lead to an increased threat of the expansion of terrorist and extremist activities, increased tension and confrontation in this vast region as well as to the creation of a permanent source of instability here.
This will require reforms to the Uzbekistan's armed forces, Karimov continued:
[T]he drastically changed conditions and the nature of modern military operations, which differ with their suddenness, quickness and rapidity, using small mobile units, should always be borne in mind.
An analysis of military operations in modern military conflicts and local wars shows the use of radically new combat systems of special task forces; the wider use of non-contact forms and methods of warfare with the use of advanced information technologies and modern high-precision weapons.
A new U.S. law mandating a "normalization" of defense relations with Georgia won't change anything between Washington and Tbilisi, says a U.S. diplomat. Philip Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, gave a press conference for foreign press on Monday and a Russian reporter asked him about the new law:
[O]n Georgia, I don’t think it changes our approach so far. We have a security relationship with Georgia that has significantly been focused on education and training, and on Georgia’s hugely important commitment to Afghanistan. Georgia, on a per capita basis, is one of the most, either first or second, biggest contributors to Afghanistan. They have, even in recent days, taken casualties. And it underscores the risks that they are taking on our common behalf, protecting common security, and we will continue to work with Georgia on that basis.
Where specific weapons sales are concerned, we treat it like we do with other countries. They’re taken a case-by-case basis, taking a lot of factors into account. But we’ll continue that security relationship with Georgia in all of those ways.
This puts a little meat on the skeleton of President Obama's signing statement, in which he declared his intention to ignore the law. Civil.ge, reporting on Gordon's comments, notes that they are in line with what the Obama administration has been saying all along:
The presidential campaign in the U.S. has begun in earnest, with Republicans in New Hampshire going to the polls tomorrow to choose who they want to challenge Barack Obama in November. If, as expected, Mitt Romney wins there (as he did in Iowa last week) it will come pretty close to guaranteeing that he is the Republicans' candidate. So, what do we know about what a President Romney might do in The Bug Pit's world?
Not much. The biggest clue is his rhetoric on Russia which, not surprisingly, is hostile. From his campaign's foreign policy white paper (pdf):
Upon taking office, Mitt Romney will reset the reset. He will implement a strategy that will seek to discourage aggressive or expansionist behavior on the part of Russia and encourage democratic political and economic reform.
The two greatest impacts that the reset has has on the Caucasus and Central Asia are 1. allowing cooperation with Russia over the Northern Distribution Network to transport military materiel to Afghanistan and 2. holding Georgia at somewhat arm's length (at least compared to the enthusiastic embrace of Obama's predecessor, President Bush).
Romney suggests he'd be much less conciliatory on missile defense than Obama has been, which could put the NDN into jeopardy (Russia has frequently suggested that those two issues are linked). Would Romney risk it? One could plausibly argue that a missile shield encircling Russia would be more useful to the U.S. in the long run than a supply route to a doomed theater of war which the U.S. is supposed to start withdrawing from in 2014, anyway. But his military advisers would no doubt push him to not do anything to threaten the NDN.
Competing aid packages offered by the U.S. and Russia to either maintain or close the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan in 2009 were aimed at "buying" the re-election of former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, U.S. diplomatic cables show. The embassy acknowledged that helping build up a "war chest" for a "corrupt and authoritarian government" could result in "political blow-back," but didn't appear to think that should necessarily outweigh the advantages of such a plan.
The Pentagon's role in fostering corruption in the Bakiyev government, via murky contracts to supply the air base with fuel, have been investigated. But the cables show that the State Department also was willing to funnel money to Bakiyev in ways that embassy officials themselves recognized would affect the election -- and then criticized the election afterwards for its "misuse of government resources" to aid Bakiyev's reelection campaign.
In February 2009, Russia offered Kyrgyzstan a $2.15 billion aid package, and Bakiyev immediately reciprocated by announcing the closure of the U.S. base. A few days after that announcement, on February 5, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek wrote a cable arguing that Bakiyev needed the money for upcoming presidential elections. While a large portion of the Russian aid would go towards building a dam and so would be "irrelevant to Bakiyev's short-term need for campaign cash," the rest would make up a "slush fund" for him:
"C'mon, Barry! Just a few anti-tank missiles. Please!"
President Obama has said he will treat as non-binding a law calling on him to "normalize" defense relations with Georgia, including selling defensive weapons to Tbilisi. In a presidential signing statement* first reported by Civil.ge, Obama said that Section 1242 of the defense authorization bill, the part dealing with Georgia, would interfere with his authority to carry out foreign policy:
Sections 1231, 1240, 1241, and 1242 could be read to require the disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications and national security secrets; and sections 1235, 1242, and 1245 would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with foreign governments. Like section 1244, should any application of these provisions conflict with my constitutional authorities, I will treat the provisions as non-binding.
When the bill was passed by Congress, it was a bit of a mystery why Moscow wasn't going ballistic (metaphorically) over it and Tbilisi wasn't gloating. This may be the answer. U.S. diplomats probably were telling their interlocutors: "We don't intend to actually do this." So, it looks like Georgia, in its effort to get a hold of some new American weapons, is back to square one.
*If you're not familiar with signing statements, they're basically an extra-legal way for the president to tell Congress "Thanks for the advice, but no."
When news broke last week that the U.S. Congress had mandated that the Obama administration "normalize" military relations with Georgia, which would include the sale of defensive weapons to Tbilisi, it seemed inevitable that this would spark a furious reaction from Moscow. The Kremlin had said that this, more than anything else, was the issue that would ruin the reset. And Russia has been overreacting to all sorts of related issues lately, like a slight shift in NATO's rhetoric towards Georgia. The Kremlin tried to gin up a controversy about Georgia harboring anti-Russia "terrorists," and has made several threats about the U.S.'s European missile defense plans.
And yet, it's now a week after Congress passed the law, and the response from Moscow is... crickets. I've asked a variety of knowledgable sources in Moscow, Tbilisi and Washington for their theories on this. Here are some of their ideas:
-- Russia is too occupied with its own domestic crisis to worry about Georgia. This might have something to do with it, but if so, it would invalidate Georgians' theories that the recent "terror" plot was a ploy by the Kremlin to rally the Russian public around an external enemy. If they were looking to do that, this very real action by Congress would have been a lot more useful a foil than an apparently imagined terror plot.
The military spending bill passed this week by Congress includes a provision calling on the U.S. to "normalize" military relations with Georgia, including the sale of weapons. The timing of the bill (which still has to be signed by President Obama) is provocative, coming as U.S.-Russia relations have been going through a rough spell and the Kremlin accused Georgia of harboring anti-Russian terrorists on its soil. Meanwhile, things seem to have been going Georgia's way; in addition to this news, the U.S. and NATO have noted "significant progress" in Georgia's NATO accession process, and NATO officially designated Georgia as an "aspirant" country for the first time.
The bill (pdf) includes a section 1242 (full text below) on Georgia, which calls on the Secretaries of Defense and State to develop a plan within 90 days "for the normalization of United States defense cooperation with the Republic of Georgia, including the sale of defensive arms." It also calls on NATO and NATO candidate countries "to restore and enhance their sales of defensive articles and services to the Republic of Georgia as part of a broader NATO effort to deepen its defense relationship and cooperation with the Republic of Georgia."