Ceremony of the launch of rocket-artillery ship "Kazakhstan" in Aktau
Kazakhstan has formally launched its first warship in the Caspian Sea, the rocket-artillery ship "Kazakhstan", with a ceremony in Aktau, the country's main naval base, on October 18.
Kazakhstan's defense minister, Adilbek Dzhaksybekov, said at the ceremony that the Caspian is "becoming a strategic zone of global significance.":
"The government is taking measures to create here a self-sufficient group of armed forces, equipped with up-to-date weapons and technology, capable of defending the military security of the Caspian region in all spheres -- in the water, land and air."
Dzhaksybekov reiterated that Kazakhstan is building two more ships of the same type as "Kazakhstan," which underwent three months of testing in the Caspian this summer before formally entering service, reported CaspioNet (which has a video of the opening ceremony).
Roast beef has not been on the Armenian soldier’s menu for some time. Reportedly, until last month, the man responsible for military food supplies had been deviously serving frozen buffalo meat, imported from India, instead. Now from his prison cell, Albert Oganjanian, director of a local meat company, is threatening to tell the whole truth about this alleged swindle, possibly implicating some big guns.
Granted, you want to get for dinner what you ordered, but what’s the big fuss over buffalo meat?
Turkmenistan’s contacts with Russia have picked up in recent months, heightening speculation that Ashgabat is positioning itself to renew gas supplies to its erstwhile top customer.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, spoke by phone this week, ostensibly to discuss regional issues and cultural exchanges. (Neither the Russian nor Turkmen news agencies provided details, as usual, though Turkmenistan.ru boasted that the Russians initiated the call.)
Earlier in the week, Svetlana Medvedeva, wife of Russia’s prime minister and former placeholder president, Dmitry Medvedev, received a prestigious memento during her trip to Ashgabat. Berdymukhamedov awarded her the Ruhubelent Order, one of the Turkmenistan’s highest state honors, for her work on improving ties between the two countries. Medvedeva is not known for previously showing any interest in the gas-rich desert nation.
Berdymukhamedov and Putin also spoke by phone the previous week. And they spoke in July when Putin called to congratulate Berdymukhamedov on his birthday. At the time, Putin and Medvedev also sent congratulatory letters. Perhaps Medvedev’s specific reference to the grand time the two shared in Rio de Janeiro – at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June – helped land his wife the Turkmen trophy.
Georgia passed the litmus test of holding successful parliamentary elections, and so NATO will seek to take "steps forward" in the alliance's relationship with the country, said James Appathurai, NATO’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, on a visit to Tbilisi Thursday. Appathurai met with incoming Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, as well as Giga Bokeria, secretary of the National Security Council and Grigol Vashadze, acting Foreign Minister in the outgoing government. Reports Civil.ge:
He said that ongoing democratic transfer of power following the elections “is the sign and a demonstration of Georgia becoming a normal country.” He also said that this change was also made possible because of reforms ongoing in Georgia over the years.
“The Secretary General communicated this both to President Saakashvili and Mr. Ivanishvili that elections were and are a litmus test and a very important part of this test has been passed,” Appathurai said while speaking at a news conference after meeting with Vashadze...
“The Allies have not yet discussed how they wish to characterize either the elections or what will come next… The Allies did say that these elections were an important test; it’s a test, that in my view and I know in Secretary General’s view, is being passed; they will wish to recognize that and then we will see how they characterize whatever steps forward we might envision in the relationship,” he said.
But Appathurai said that it's not yet clear what specific steps NATO might take with respect to Georgia. After his meeting with Appathurai, Ivanishvili called on the alliance to take specific, practical steps:
Music by nature strikes a personal chord in each listener. Being a child of the 1960s myself, I must confess to liking the psychedelic rock genre, songs like the Rolling Stones’ 2000 Light Years from Home and Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun. So imagine my delight when I was turned on to an instant neo-psychedelic classic on YouTube, performed by none other than Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Turkmenistan’s despot-in-chief.
Turkmenistan’s propaganda mills have already let the world know that Berdymukhamedov is not just a statesman, he’s also an author, surgeon, skilled equestrian, hockey fan, speed racer and public bus rider. Why did it take so long, then, for Berdymukhamedov to reveal his talent as a guitarist? I feel slightly cheated to have been denied the pleasure of his musical genius for these past few years.
Annoyingly, the YouTube video, which was posted in late 2011, does not provide the name of the song Berdymukhamedov sings, so I’m having trouble finding it on iTunes. The YouTube liner notes only state that the song is of Berdymukhamedov’s “own” composition.
Ever since Kazakhstan threw in its lot with Russia and Belarus to start their new Customs Union in 2010, smugglers on the Kyrgyzstan border have had to devise creative ways to keep their businesses operational. As Kazakh authorities build mile after mile of concertina-wire fence above ground, these traffickers have gone underground – literally – to evade the authorities and the new customs duties.
Tengrinews reported on October 18 that Kyrgyz authorities have unearthed an improvised pipeline pumping ethyl alcohol (ethanol) from Kazakhstan.
The 12-meter-long rubber hose, found only one kilometer from a border checkpoint, is believed to have delivered more than 100 tons of ethanol since 2008 from Kazakhstan's Zhambyl Region to Kyrgyzstan's Chui Province. Ethanol has a number of industrial uses and can serve as a base for bootleg liquor. It was only discovered when a trucker, nabbed by Kyrgyz border guards with the illicit cargo, spilt the beans.
This isn’t the first unofficial channel for costly liquids to turn up this month.
On October 2, Bishkek’s Knews.kg reported that an illegal fuel pipeline had been discovered in the same vicinity. This one was being used to transport petroleum products, again into Kyrgyzstan (where petrol is more expensive), from Kazakhstan. Authorities discovered a tanker with 10 tons of diesel that had been illegally pumped under the border. It is not known how long this smuggling operation had been in action.
There are many things the Central Asia countries can’t agree on – but water often tops the list. Now Turkmenistan, which generally allies with inflexible Uzbekistan on water issues, is risking Tashkent’s wrath as it seeks to attract foreign investment to expand and modernize its thirsty cotton industry.
Reuters reports that Textile Industry Minister Saparmyrat Batyrov told an investment conference on October 17 that Ashgabat is seeking more than $1 billion to develop new textile plants by 2016.
Cotton already plays an important role in Turkmenistan’s economy. The country ranks as the world's ninth-largest producer of cotton according to a recent US government estimate.
Turkmenistan's prized “white gold” is used to produce jeans and other cotton products that are exported internationally. The Ashgabat-based Turkmenbashi Textile Complex claims Wal-Mart, Calvin Klein and JC Penney among its clients.
Two issues which blight the cotton industry in Central Asia remain obstacles to these ambitious plans, however -- the abuse of child labor and the region’s scarce water supplies.
Armenian Scud-B missiles, on display at a 2011 military parade in Yerevan.
Armenia is capable of attacking Azerbaijan's oil facilities in case of a war, and that it just finished military exercises practicing that scenario. a top Armenian general has said, speaking to a press conference at the conclusion of the exercises:
“We simulated strikes against both army units and military facilities of the probable enemy and … economic facilities that influence, in one way or another, the military capacity of its armed forces,” said Major-General Artak Davtian, head of the operational department at the Armenian army’s General Staff.
“There would be no strikes on the civilian population, we are not planning or playing out such a war scenario,” he told journalists. “We do not plan any strikes on cities. Our targets are military and economic facilities that are essential to a particular state.”
“In particular, I can stress that we modeled several strikes on oil and gas infrastructures, energy carriers that would affect the economy,” Davtian added in a clear reference to oil-rich Azerbaijan.
The exercises took place from October 1-13. According to Radio Azatutyun:
The two-week “strategic” exercises, which drew to a close at the weekend, took place in undisclosed locations in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in a mostly “command-and-staff” format. According to the Armenian military, they involved over 40,000 troops and thousands of pieces of military hardware. The participating personnel included a record-high number of army reservists.
Azerbaijan, naturally, responded quickly. Spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, Colonel Eldar Sabiroglu:
With Baku flogging British Petroleum for the drowsy pace of its oil production, Iran has come along offering Azerbaijan to pick up the slack.
In case that dilly-dallying British corporation fails to put its act together, I want you to know that I am always there for you, Tehran told Baku on October 17. “Iran is ready to help Azerbaijan compensate the energy deficit if BP stops production of crude in the countries of . . . Central Asia,” the Iranian foreign ministry said, Azerbaijan's APA reported. “We have repeatedly demonstrated that we help our neighbors in . . times of trouble.”
But don't think altruism here. A recent report from the International Energy Agency noted that sanctions have badly damaged Iran's oil industry, a critical source of income. So, time to take a stab at drumming up new business, perhaps?
Azerbaijan's Parliamentary Speaker Ogtai Asadov said on October 16 that BP has received the final warning to deliver on its oil production commitments. Last week, President Ilham Aliyev lashed out at the company for failing to pump out the volumes it had promised for several years on end.
But Tehran may be getting ahead of itself. Thrusting itself between BP and an oilfield is no easy task and Baku may not be particularly eager to sooth its anger in an Iranian embrace. BP is making moves to allay Azerbaijani officials, and the business stakes in the Caspian energy game are too high for a large Western corporation to pack up and leave.
Internet users in Uzbekistan have long circumnavigated draconian restrictions with the help of proxy servers – online pit stops that allow users to access blocked pages by concealing their IP addresses. But Tashkent has caught on.
Uznews reports that Uztelecom, the state telecommunications service, has started targeting proxy servers, too. Uztelecom, which controls access to all international phone and Internet connections, has begun denying access to websites with “proxy” in their URL addresses by blocking requests that use that word.
With one eye on the social media-led events in the Arab world, Tashkent has become increasingly wary of the Internet’s potential threats and has set its cyber police to work overtime. The cyber cops are, in turn, monitored by a secretive body -- the Expert Commission on Information and Mass Communications. This body was identified in Freedom House's Freedom of the Net 2012 report, in which the UzNet was described, unsurprisingly, as "not free."
The closing of the proxy route leaves Internet users depending on more technically advanced options to beat the blockers (or, for now, proxy servers that don't use the word "proxy" in their name). One option is Tor, free software that allows anonymous browsing. But Tor's site is also blocked in Uzbekistan.