An Indian version of the Molniya-class corvette, which Russia has sold to a mystery post-Soviet customer
Russia has announced it's selling three new warships to an unnamed "former Soviet republic," but is keeping mum about the precise identity of the buyer. The ships are Molniya missile corvettes, built by United Shipbuiding Corporation and the state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, and it seems like the most likely buyer would be Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan's military purchases are very opaque, so it's hard to tell with any specificity what their plans are. But Ashgabat has expressed interest in buying this class of ship in the past, and in May a Russian defense contractor said that Turkmenistan was acquiring two Molniya-class ships and "planning to build two more." (Turkmenistan also was planning to buy a simulator made by the contractor, Kronshtadt.)
Kazakhstan also has been planning to buy three corvettes, but I asked a defense source there about the report and he said it was "very unlikely" that the ships were for Kazakhstan and that Kazakhstan was focused on building its own naval vessels. Kazakhstan also isn't as shy about publicizing its defense purchases. Same with Azerbaijan, which also has expressed interest in building up its navy. Azerbaijan in the past has also sought to hide its identity when buying weapons from abroad, as it did when it contracted with Israel's Elbit to upgrade its tanks. But that may have been a special case, perhaps because it's shy about publicizing cozy relations with Israel. In general Azerbaijan is not at all shy about touting its latest military purchases.
Work is going slowly, as groups of 3-5 soldiers are traversing a 30-kilometer radius from the blast site outside Abadan and finding the scattered unexploded weapons and ammunition, then informing superiors who in turn summon the sappers.
Pictures taken of the scene show severely charred buildings, melted metal and scattered belongings.
People are still continuing to identity and claim the remains of loved ones from the morgue, and are being handed death certificates where the cause of death is not indicated, says chrono-tm.org.
The government has not moved from its original claim of just 15 persons killed in the blast, although human rights activists say at least 200 and as many as 1,000 or more were killed in multiple buildings destroyed in the accident.
Chronicles of Turkmenistan, the website maintained by the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) at chrono-tm.org, came back online today after a crippling hacker attack Monday.
Normally available in Turkmen, Russian and English with multiple content rubrics and features, chrono-tm.org is currently only partially restored with some Russian-language news reports and photos but editors plan to return to full strength as soon as possible.
Farid Tuhbatullin, the site editor and head of TIHR said in a press statement via email July 19 that his site was deliberately disabled and a message sent out threatening further attacks. Formerly hidden emails of subscribers and their comments were exposed and posted. The attack was believed to have been launched by Turkmen security agents in retaliation for independent coverage of the explosion in Abadan.
Tuhbatullin has been subjected to death threats believed to emanate from Turkmen security agents in the past.
In Turkmenistan, Tuhbatullin's mother has recently been repeatedly visited and questioned by local authorities attempting to find out about her son's activities, creating a constant climate of intimidation for the elderly woman.
Tuhbatullin vowed to continue providing independent news from Turkmenistan:
If the Turkmen authorities had arguments refuting our publications, they would need neither public statements, nor covert repressions and other actions designed to suppress freedom of speech. They do not have any arguments, nor can they realize that one can fight against freedom of speech but cannot defeat it.
Tajikistan patted itself soundly on the back after rubbing out arch-Islamist insurgent Abdullo Rakhimov in April, but its security officials are not about to sit on their laurels.
According to the authorities, Rakhimov, aka Mullo Abdullo, was behind the killing of dozens of soldiers in the remote eastern Rasht Valley and was plotting to wage a campaign of terror across the country. After a successful military operation, however, Rakhimov and numerous accomplices were eliminated, putting a stop to all that.
Interior Minister Abdurakhim Kakhorov is now warning that the country's other oft-mentioned bogeyman, Mahmoud Khudoiberdiyev, could at some point make a resurgence and invade Tajikistan.
Khudoiberdiyev's story is altogether more complicated than Rakhimov's. (And piecing it together is not made any simpler by the seemingly endless ways that his names can be transliterated into English.)
Here is a useful biographical passage from Jesse Driscoll's article "Commitment Problems or Bidding Wars - Rebel Fragmentation as Peace-Building," which goes with a French-style spelling for Khudoiberdiyev:
A year ago, Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin made waves when he published a book that claimed that immigrants were making Germany a dumber society and accused them of having lower levels of education, perhaps even due to hereditary reasons. The publication of the book, "Germany Does Itself In," led to his resignation and to widespread condemnation.
Sarrazin may have moved on, but it appears that Berlin's large Turkish community has not forgotten him and his book. From Der Spiegel:
"Get lost!" and "Nazis out!" were among the epithets lobbed at controversial author Thilo Sarrazin during a recent trip to Berlin's Kreuzberg district, according to newspaper reports on Monday. The city's former finance senator had taken a trip to the area with broadcaster ZDF to film a TV special ahead of the one-year anniversary of the publication of his controversial book "Deutschland schafft sich ab" ("Germany Does Itself In").
The memory of the book's content, which sparked massive controversy in Germany for what many called its anti-immigrant sentiments, was apparently still fresh in the minds of some residents of the district, known for its high concentration of Muslim immigrants.
Accompanied by Turkish-German journalist Güner Balci, Sarrazin took a tour of the district, stopping by a Turkish market where he wrote in Die Welt he was yelled at by an "angry man in his fifties" whom he dubbed "the squaller," before a group of other "politically correct" market patrons joined in, calling him a racist until he and the camera team left.
Iran and Turkey’s competing requests for visa-free access to Azerbaijan increasingly smack of a scene from a romance novel, where a beauty in period dress faces a choice between two debonaire wooers.
Enchanted by Azerbaijan's various strategic charms, both suitors have cancelled short-term visas for Azerbaijani visitors, but Azerbaijan is taking its time to reciprocate, trying to mete out its graces sparingly and equitably to the two fellow Muslim countries.
Baku, though, is increasingly pressured by both sides to make a decision between its attraction for longtime ally and cultural soul mate Turkey and its complicated relationship with Iran.
Azerbaijan even had to offer explanations today after the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman, citing senior Azerbaijani presidential aide Ali Hasanov, reported that pressure from Iran is preventing Baku from proceeding with a visa-cancellation deal with Ankara.
The story claimed that Iran threatened to block Azerbaijan’s access to its exclave of Nakhchivan should Baku cancel its visa requirement for Turkey.
Hasanov, though, protested that “I only meant to say that canceling the visa regime with Turkey can only happen in sync with canceling the visa regime with Iran,” 1news.az reported.
“At this stage, the simultaneous cancellation of visa regimes with either country brings us to issues related to national security, immigration and other issues that we are not ready to deal with right now,” he elaborated.
Sound familiar? Quite plainly, Baku is just not ready to commit.
Kazakhstan is rife with rumors about Nursultan Nazarbayev’s health, following a report that the president is in a German hospital.
Nazarbayev's number-one foe, his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, immediately jumped into the fray, publishing news on his blog that the 71-year-old president had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Aliyev – who fell out with his former father-in-law in 2007 and jumps at any opportunity to pour vitriol on him – didn't explain why, if he's so well-informed, he only published this news after reports of Nazarbayev’s hospitalization surfaced on July 19 in the German tabloid Bild, rather than before.
A Bloomberg report on July 20 quoted Bild as reporting that Nazarbayev had undergone prostate surgery and would be heading back to Astana that day.
Back in Kazakhstan, officials and the media are tight-lipped over the state of the president’s health. Nazarbayev’s office, which said on July 11 that he was taking a short vacation, issued no public statement and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Although sometimes events of this nature are not reported in the official media, the Uzbek state media immediately covered an earthquake registering 5 points on the Richter scale in Tashkent that "woke up the majority of residents" there, the state news site gazeta.uz reported.
The quake was felt throughout the Ferghana Valley, on both sides of the Kyrgyz-Uzbekistan border, and the epicenter was reported to be in Kyrgyzstan near the Uzbek border.
Samarkand registered 3 points, and Termez reported 4 points, the Uzbek government website gazeta.uz reported. Termez is the town where a German air base is located which is the main transit point for the delivery of goods to Afghanistan to supply NATO troops.
No casualties have been reported.
The commercial news portal 12.uz, which often takes a pro-government stance, published the same information as official wire services which said that some people in Dushanbe, Bishkek, and Tashkent temporarily left their homes. But despite the emergency, 12.uz couldn't resist taking a swipe at Uzbekistan's neighbors, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with whom it has long been in dispute over energy issues, and which it said "weren't backing down from their plans to build grandiose dams in dangerous seismological zones."
If you run a successful international chain of casinos and are after new places to open a branch, you look for somewhere suitably glamorous and wealthy, right?
Well, no, not if you're Storm International.
In an apparently counter-intuitive move, the company last year opened a casino in Kyrgyzstan's desperately impoverished Batken Province, near the border with Tajikistan.
Really, who in that part of the world would have the disposable income to spare on high-stakes gambling? What kind of person in Tajikistan or southern Kyrgyzstan has money to fritter away on expensive leisure pursuits or, say, expensive SUVs and such?
Whoever these people are, the fun is seemingly all over for them, for authorities in Kyrgyzstan have apparently decided to shut down the Shangri-La Casino, Tajik news portal Asia-Plus reports.
As the site cautiously notes, "the reason for the suspension of the casino's operations is unknown, but according to some sources, operations were suspended following a ruling handed down by a chief prosecutor in Kyrgyzstan's Batken Province."
NATO is currently undertaking a review of its nuclear posture, including the status of the tactical nuclear weapons that the U.S. maintains in five NATO countries, including Turkey. Some NATO members -- mainly the Baltics and ex-Warsaw Pact states -- want the U.S. to keep the nuclear weapons in Europe, while others (like Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway) are pushing for a dramatic move, including possibly completely removing the nukes from Europe. Turkey falls somewhere in between those countries, but more on the side of maintaining the nuclear weapons, writes Steven Pifer, an arms control expert at the Brookings Institution, in a new paper "NATO, Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control."
Turkey has hosted U.S. nuclear weapons since 1961, and currently at the Incirlik air base the U.S. has an unknown, but small, number of tactical B-61 nuclear bombs and fighter-bomber jets that can drop them. (The total number of U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe is thought to be about 200, down from a Cold War number of 7,000.)
The question of U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey is one that Ankara has been quiet about, and on which the government hasn't taken a public position. That's not too surprising: according to a 2006 survey, 77 percent of people in Turkey were "very or somewhat concerned about the presence of nuclear arms on their territory," the highest percentage in any of the five countries in which NATO hosts nuclear weapons. (The others are Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.) One would expect, too, differences of opinion between the country's current government (which has been reaching out to improve relations with Middle Eastern neighbors) and the military elite (with a strong Western orientation). And probably neither side sees anything to gain in bringing the issue out into the open.