Turkey has shot down a Russian warplane that crossed into its airspace amid tension over Russia's targeting of ethnic Turkmen forces in Syria which Turkey considers its "brothers and sisters."
Since Russia's bombing campaign in Syria began about two months ago Russian jets have repeatedly crossed into Turkish airspace. Until now Turkey has been relatively sanguine about those incursions (though it did send a couple of military helicopters into Armenian airspace which observers interpreted as a message to Russia).
But by Tuesday, Ankara's patience had apparently worn out. After what Turkey claimed was a 17-second violation of its airspace, and ten warnings, Turkish F-16 jets shot down the Russian Su-24. It was apparently the first exchange of fire between a NATO member and Russia since the end of the Cold War.
Turkey's decisionmaking was likely heavily influenced by the fact that Russia had of late been targeting units of ethnic Turkmens, culturally and linguistically close to Turks, in northern Syria. “That definitely played a role in how they responded to this incursion as compared to other ones," said Aaron Stein, a fellow at the Washingon-based Atlantic Council, in a conference call with reporters.. "This isn't just another Russian bombing campaign” but one that attacks what Turkey considers to be its sphere of influence, Stein added.
The crackdown is the first application of new media-law provisions that allow courts to shut down news companies if they are found guilty of such transgressions twice in the space of one year.
Critics charge that claims of defamation long have become synonymous with government criticism in Azerbaijan, which international rights-watchdogs rank among countries with the least amount of press freedom.
Prosecutors, for now, have delivered a warning to eight-plus news outlets (Mia.az, Cumhuriyyət, Qaynarinfo, Gündəminfo, Criminal.az, Strateq.az, İstiqlal.az, JAM.az “and others” ), but warned that next time they might not spare the rod.
The press-freedom organization Reporters without Bordersearlier described the amendments, signed into law by President Ilham Aliyev on November 2, as fresh evidence of continued governmental harassment of independent media in Azerbaijan.
A court in Kyrgyzstan has doubled the prison sentence handed down to a popular imam who was earlier this year found guilty of inciting religious hatred and distributing extremist material.
Rights advocacy group Bir Duino said Osh provincial court on November 24 increased Rashot Kamalov’s punishment to 10 years in a high-security facility. A local court in the southern town of Kara-Suu, where Kamalov served as imam of As-Sarakhsi mosque, passed a five-year sentence in October.
The harsher sentence appears to have been by motivated the Osh court’s decision to restore a charge of abuse of office dropped in earlier proceedings.
Lawyers for Kamalov have said they will pursue a further appeal in the Supreme Court.
The severity of the punishment is bound to fan discontent among Kamalov’s numerous supporters in Kara-Suu. The imam’s trial, which lawyers complained was marred by numerous irregularities, was loyally attended by Kamalov’s most devoted parishioners.
The imam was arrested on February 9 following a raid on his home by armed special operations forces. Police found a disk during their search that contained a video recording of a sermon delivered by Kamalov at the As-Sarakhsi Mosque during Friday prayers on July 4, 2014.
Prosecutors have argued that Kamalov’s references to the caliphate in his sermons constituted support for the activities of radical and violent Islamists in the Middle East.
An unknown number of people from Kyrgyzstan, including from Kara-Suu, are said to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of radical Islamist groups fighting there.
Despite an absence of transparent and convincing evidence that the Islamic State group is actively establishing a presence in Kyrgyzstan, authorities have been eager to claim that the terrorist organization has made inroads.
The use of child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest is becoming rarer, but there were indications that adults are being press-ganged into service this year, the World Bank has said in a report.
While offering hope of improvement, the report published on November 20 evinced disquiet about the harassment of independent harvest monitors — a sure indication authorities remain nervous about damage incurred to the country’s cotton public image in recent years.
The findings were based on observations by the International Labor Organization (ILO), which was this year asked to broaden its remit by checking for signs of forced labor.
Claims that child labor is on the wane echoes conclusions from independent campaigners since 2012, when the government banned the practice following a punishing cotton boycott by leading western brands.
“Authorities have taken a range of measures to reduce the incidence of child labor and make it socially unacceptable,” the World Bank said.
The assessment is broadly shared.
Apparent efforts by Uzbekistan to reduce reliance on underage workers prompted the U.S. State Department to promote Uzbekistan from Tier 3 to Tier 2 on its watch list in its 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.
The burden of meeting harvest quotas has instead shifted to adults, who are often recruited against their will.
“Large numbers of citizens seem to be willing recruits and see the harvest as an opportunity. But organized recruitment of large numbers of people in such a short period of time carries certain risks linked to workers’ rights, which need further work, and certain indicators of forced labor have been observed,” the World Bank said.
Remote control airborne drones are becoming increasingly popular playthings for hobbyists around the world, but not in Uzbekistan.
Officials in Guliston, a town some 100 kilometers south of the capital, found and confiscated four small pilotless drones during what appears to have been a major multi-departmental operation.
The government’s Electromagnetic Compatibility Enforcement Service produced pictures with its November 23 statement that showed several Phantom unmanned aerial vehicles, which are made by Chinese company DJI. The brand is widely available and can be bought over the Internet for less than $500.
The Guliston haul wasn’t exactly massive, despite the many different government bodies involved. The raid included officials from the state communications inspectorate, the customs committee, the tax inspectorate, and the anti-money laundering department.
The ban on drones was introduced on January 1 in what the government says was an effort to ensure aircraft security and avoid the unsanctioned use of Uzbekistan’s airspace.
Such regulations are inexistent in most parts of the world, and in the region for that matter. Drone footage is becoming popular in production of wedding videos in places like Kyrgyzstan.
Still, use of the devices is not uncontentious.
Flying drones over national parks is illegal in the United States, for example.
Across the world, drones are also typically banned around military bases and airport.
Russia too has been looking to tighten use of the vehicles.
As the economy sputters in Kazakhstan, the government has been forced into a review of the ambitious and costly infrastructure projects it had hoped would prove a tonic for growth.
Providing a fresh and sobering update, economy minister Yerbolat Dosayev told a meeting of the Cabinet on November 18 that it is now expected the economy will grow by 1.3 percent in 2015, down from the earlier forecast of 1.5 percent.
A spike in inflation is also expected as a result of the plunging value of the national currency, the tenge, Dosayev said in remarks quoted by Tengri News. The tenge has fallen by nearly 40 percent against the dollar since the move to a free float in August.
The inflation forecast has been increased to 8-10 percent from the previous expectation of 6-8 percent, Dosayev said.
Kazakhstan’s exports fell by 42 percent in the first nine months of this year, Total.kz quoted Dosayev as saying.
With President Nursultan Nazarbayev ordering belt-tightening to combat the revenue squeeze, Prime Minister Karim Masimov has ordered a review of the vast Nurly Zhol stimulus program, which was approved last year.
All regional governors are to review projects planned under the Nurly Zhol (Bright Path) strategy, Kazinform reported on November 23. Aset Isekeshev, the minister for industry and development, is to report back to the Cabinet with revised plans by March 1.
Almost inevitably, a group of deputies in Tajikistan has proposed a draft bill to designate President Emomali Rahmon the “leader of the nation.”
Nothing is known yet about what specific additional powers the honorific might endow on Rahmon, but the proposal fits into a broader pattern of state-sponsored adulation of the president.
Asia-Plus reported that the legislation to create the title — the full name of which is “Founder of Peace and Harmony: Leader of the Nation” — is being studied at committee stage in parliament. Since 51 out of the 63 seats in parliament are held by the ruling People’s Democratic Party, there can be little doubt how that is going to pan out.
Perhaps the only surprising aspect of this proposal is that is has not come earlier. Rahmon’s portraits are a ubiquitous sight across the country and power has been increasingly consolidated in his hands with the elimination of all political opponents.
Central Asia is familiar with such personalized styles of leadership.
Under legislation approved in 2010, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev was named “Leader of the Nation,” a title that gave him and his family lifelong immunity and bestowed Nazarbayev with the right to intervene in policy-making following his retirement.
Rahmon’s elevation to the made-up leader of the nation status may in part be designed to do away with the legalities technically limiting his right to seek reelection in perpetuity.
Even supporters of the president concede that Rahmon would not be permitted to run again once his current seven-year term runs out in 2020.
Residents of Tajikistan's southern city of Kulyab are lamenting the imminent departure of the Russian military presence there, which is slated to move to the capital, Dushanbe in two months.
News of the base closure broke last week, after which it emerged that the Russian soldiers in Kulyab would be moving to other facilities within Tajikistan and that the Kulyab facility would be handed over to the government of Tajikistan.
"The redeployment was agreed with the Ministry of Defense of Tajikistan and is going according to plan. It is in the interests of increasing the military readiness and the growth of the military potential of the units," said Yaroslav Roshchupkin, a spokesman for Russia's Central Military District, reported RIA Novosti. "The military base in Kulyab will be handed over to the jurisdiction of the government organs of Tajikistan."
The overall size of the Russian military presence in Tajikistan won't change, Roshchupkin added. "Of the three Russian military objects in the region, two will remain -- the Kurgan-Tyube motor rifle regiment and the 'Okno' optical-electrionic structure of the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces."
But that didn't really answer the question of why the move was being made. It's particularly curious given the amount of attention Russia has been paying to the purported threat of radical Islamists militants spilling over from Afghanistan into Central Asia. Kulyab is only about 40 kilometers from the Afghan border, and as such would seem to be ideally placed to protect against that spillover threat.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Rosenblum gives a press conference in Ashgabat on November 18. (photo: U.S. embassy, Ashgabat)
Turkmenistan's government has told the United States that it doesn't need help in protecting its border with Afghanistan, a senior American diplomat has said.
If true, this means Turkmenistan has changed its mind. Earlier this year U.S. military officials said that Ashgabat had asked for aid to help guard its southern border, which over the past couple of years has been the site of repeated clashes between Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Afghan and Turkmen security forces.
"The Turkmens recently expressed a desire to acquire U.S. military equipment and technology to address threats to their security along their southern border with Afghanistan," said General Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. Central Command, in testimony to Congress in March. "We will do what we can to support those requests."
This week, Deputy Assistant Secretary State Daniel Rosenblum visited Ashgabat, and gave a press conference on November 18 where he was asked about U.S. cooperation with Turkmenistan vis-a-vis border security.
"We have seen reports, some in the press and elsewhere, about incidents happening on the border not just recently but going back to last year on the Afghan-Turkmen border," Rosenblum said. "There was one incident that we have heard about in which some Turkmen border guards were killed. We have discussed this with our partners here in Turkmenistan, representatives of the government as well as other international organizations. And the Turkmenistan government has said that it feels they can guarantee the Turkmen border and doesn't require any additional assistance from outside."
Screenshot of Russian MoD-produced video of launch of Kalibr rocket from the Caspian Sea against targets in Syria on November 20.
Russia has launched another salvo of missiles at Syrian targets from the Caspian Sea, the Russian Ministry of Defense has announced.
"On November 20, the Caspian Flotilla warships launched 18 cruise missiles at seven targets in the Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo provinces of Syria. All the targets were hit," said Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu in an update given Friday on Russian military operations in Syria. In addition, 29 long-range bomber aircraft from the Caspian Sea (it wasn't specified where precisely) have carried out strikes in Syria.
This was the second cruise missile attack from the Caspian, after the pioneering strike of October 7 in which Russia brought the Caspian region into the Syria conflict, at the same time demonstrating its military dominance over the sea.
The hardware was the same this time around, Kalibr rockets fired from the Dagestan missile carrier ship and the Uglich, Grad Sviyazhsk and Veliky Ustyug missile boats.
"The task of delivering Kalibr long-distance cruise missile strikes at Islamic State targets in Syria has been accomplished," said Sergey Yekimov, a deputy commander of the Caspian Fleet. "All 18 Kalibr missiles have been successfully fired. Results will be reported after objective control data are received."