Kyrgyz cleaning woman Mairamgyl Satieva gets her mink coat from Lt. Col. Rex Vanderwood, 376th Expeditionary Mission Support Group deputy commander
The Manas Transit Center, like everyone else in the post-Soviet world, celebrated International Women's Day. Celebrating other people's holidays can provide plenty of opportunities for cultural missteps, which can be magnified when they're done by an institution as closely watched as Manas. While an earlier event marking the day -- a basketball game pitting women from the base against a local team -- had a lot more to do with what American women do than what Kyrgyz women do (notice they didn't include the score; I expect it made the Canada-Slovakia women's hockey game in the Olympics look like a nailbiter) -- today's event definitely had more to do with local mores:
In honor of Women's Day March 8, the First 4 club at the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, raised money and purchased 500 tulips to give to the Kyrgyz women who are employed here.
Additionally, because this is the centennial anniversary of Women's Day here, the 100th female host nation employee to arrive on the Transit Center March 7 was presented with a random bonus: a mink coat.
"I didn't even know you all knew about Women's Day," said Mairamgyl Satieva, the recipient of the coat.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Eldar Mammadyarov has expressed concern about the opening of a direct land connection between Russia and Armenia via Georgia through the Larsi checkpoint. Azerbaijani’s concern is based on the fact that through this connection Moscow could supply Yerevan with military cargo designed for the 102nd Russian military base located in Gumri, Armenia. If Azerbaijan receives information that Armenia is being supplied with arms through this route Baku will immediately react and ask Tbilisi for explanations.
The Russian media reports that Baku is thinking of taking "adequate measures" against Georgia in response to the Upper Larsi checkpoint opening. Energy and investment projects and the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia may be affected by these.
For its part, Georgia says “No weapons or ordinance for Russian troops in Armenia will be allowed access” through the border checkpoint. Though, technically, that doesn't preclude allowing weapons for Armenia, that seems pretty unlikely. It seems to me more likely that this is the best pretext Azerbaijan could come up with to object to the opening of the border, whose closure was causing economic problems for Armenia. But maybe I'm missing something here?
EurasiaNet's Deirdre Tynan reports today that the U.S. appears to be funding an "anti-terror training center" in Batken, in Kyrgyzstan's far southwest. As you would expect, this occasioned the usual geopoliticizing:
Analysts say the opening of a US-funded training center in Batken would be widely interpreted as dealing a blow to Russia’s geopolitical position in Central Asia.
"Batken is a very fragile place, and I think building such a facility there is part of US strategy and directed toward securing [the Pentagon’s] place in the region," said Bishkek-based political analyst Mars Sariev. "I think the second phase of the process, after building and equipping the facility with American equipment, will be putting in American instructors to prepare our military or Special Forces."
"This will, of course, affect the Russians. Russia doesn’t much like the prospect of strengthening US-Kyrgyz relations," Sariev continued.
Andrei Grozin, director of the Central Asia Department at the CIS Institute in Moscow, said an American-funded training center, even if it was officially handed over to Kyrgyzstan, would be viewed dimly by the Kremlin. "Having both a Russian base and anti-terror training center built by Americans [in Batken] says a lot about Kyrgyzstan’s multi-vector politics," Grozin commented.
"For Russia, it’s a geopolitical statement, it’s about putting the Russian flag in the area," Grozin added, referring to the planned construction of a CSTO base in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Erica Marat calls attention to some little-noted changes in the structures of Kyrgyzstan's security services, which amount to President Kurmanbek Bakiyev consolidating centralized control over security structures to "prevent any attempt at regime change."
This, taken together with the recent Russian moves on its military bases in Kyrgyzstan, suggest that Bakiyev is less likely to rely on Russian support in the event of another regime change attempt in Bishkek, she argues:
Unlike Akayev, who fled Kyrgyzstan through the Russian air-base in Kant five years ago as a result of widespread demonstrations, Bakiyev shows no sign that he would rely on Russian support during a crisis. Rumors in Bishkek suggest that the Russian airbase in Kant will soon downsize its personnel, while Russia is reconsidering its plan to open a second base in Osh.
At the same time, the U.S. gives Kyrgyzstan more or less a carte blanche in return for hosting the Manas Transit Center:
Bakiyev’s regime shows no interest in participating in wider anti-terrorist efforts apart from hosting the US military base.
For this minor effort, the Kyrgyz government is often acknowledged as an important partner at official meetings with US representatives. Most recently, during his press conference in Astana US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, expressed thanks to the Kyrgyz government for hosting the US transit base. The increasing politicization of the domestic military structures under Bakiyev’s rule receives little attention from international actors.
So does this mean that Bakiyev might depend more on the U.S. for support in case of another Tulip Revolution? Or that they are becoming more inward-looking? Thoughts?
Impervious to all threats, except non-binding congressional resolutions
Washington (Reuters) - The aerospace and defense industry is urging House of Representatives lawmakers to reject a measure that would call a World War One-era massacre of Armenians by Turkish forces genocide, warning it could jeopardize U.S. exports to Turkey.
The chief executives of Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co, Raytheon Co, United Technologies Corp and Northrop Grumman Corp issued a rare joint letter, warning that passage of the measure by the House Foreign Affairs Committee could lead to "a rupture in U.S.-Turkey relations" and put American jobs at risk.
"Alienating a significant NATO ally and trading partner would have negative repercussions for U.S. geopolitical interests and efforts to boost both exports and employments," the CEOs warned in a February 26 letter to the committee's Democratic chairman, Representative Howard Berman.
So why is Iran bringing Kyrgyzstan, and Manas Air Base, into its allegations that the U.S. was supporting a Sunni extremist anti-Tehran group? Richard Weitz, sometime EurasiaNet contributor, writing in World Politics Review argues that it is to thwart U.S. influence in Central Asia:
A primary Iranian objective in Central Asia has been to keep governments in the region from aligning themselves with U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran or pressure the Iranian government to change its policies. Ideally, Tehran wants these governments to curtail the access that U.S. military forces have enjoyed in Central Asia since the September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States:
[T]he Iranian government is seeking to exploit the incident to advance its geopolitical goals in Central Asia. Rigi's statement implied that the Americans sought bases in Central Asia not for their stated aim of defending the region against the Taliban and al-Qaida, but rather to wage a covert war against the Iranian government. Russian television has since quoted Kyrgyz citizens criticizing the continued American access to the base. English-language Russia Today cited Kyrgyz political analyst Toktogul Kakchekeev as saying, "It's sad that the U.S. air base has now become a transit corridor for pro-American militants from Sunni insurgent groups which organize attacks in Iran." In the past, some Russian officials have pressed Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian governments to limit the U.S. military presence in their countries.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S.'s envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had a press conference today in which he briefly discussed his recent trip through the ex-Soviet 'stans and Georgia. He's trying to drum up support from those countries for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and although Holbrooke's portfolio is primarily diplomatic and civilian, it seems most of the support he discussed in the former USSR was military:
In the case of Kyrgyzstan, which doesn’t have a common border with Afghanistan – the very important Manas Transit Center, which will be – which we will renew the arrangements some in the next few weeks, and I wanted to launch that process. We’ve very grateful to the Kyrgyz’s Government for that support.
In Tashkent, of course, we talked about the Northern Distribution Network and its importance to us. Most of the supplies coming through that entry point into Afghanistan – the Northern Distribution Network – come through Uzbekistan. In Kazakhstan, we talked about improving and increasing our over-flight facilities and improving rail transit, which is an issue we’re interested in. And in Tajikistan, we talked about also northern distribution issues. And in addition, we talked about resources. Water is a huge problem, as you all know, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And Tajikistan has one of the greatest water potentials in the world, and President Rahmon described that to us in some detail. And we have, on a separate basis we have got a water resources task force now set up in the Department to examine how we can additionally help the countries of the area, and particularly Pakistan with the water issue.
And finally, after the four Central Asian Republics, we went on to Georgia. Now, Georgia – and we visited the Georgian battalion outside Tbilisi which will – will be deployed next month to Afghanistan.
For those inclined to believe the worst about Russia's military intentions, there have been two recent developments that have aroused pundit ire: the possible sale of advanced French Mistral-class ships to Russia, along with the statement of Russia's top naval official that "a ship like this would have allowed the Black Sea fleet to accomplish its mission [invading Georgia] in 40 minutes and not 26 hours," and the new Russian military doctrine and its explicit designation of NATO as a threat.
The volume on the Mistral sale is bound to increase over the next few days, as France and Russia formally began talks today to buy not just one Mistral but up to four.
But RFE/RL has a perceptive analysis that suggests that the alleged aggressiveness of the doctrine is overblown, and that those two developments, in a way, blunt each other, that the Mistral sale in fact suggests a softer attitude toward NATO than Kremlin rhetoric can suggest:
The 600-pound gorilla hiding in the verbiage of the new doctrine is the question of how to arm the military with the high-tech weapons listed in the document. The Russian defense industry suffers from outdated plants, an aging work force, and the incompatibility of a system built by Josef Stalin with the realities of a market economy.
The new doctrine suggests that Russia somehow invigorate investment into innovative technologies and keep its independence as an arms manufacturer. While debating the best way to direct the Russian economy toward technological innovation, Russia's leaders appear to be moving away from defense industry autarky. During a meeting with Western experts on Russia last September, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reportedly said Russia wanted to cooperate with Western nations in weapons manufacturing.
So, who was the "high-profile" American that Abdulmalak Rigi, the leader of the Sunni Muslim militant group Jundullah, was on his way to meet in Kyrgyzstan? None other than Richard Holbrooke, says official Iranian media.
Except, Rigi was arrested en route to Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday, when Holbrooke was long gone from Kyrgyzstan, in Berlin, already having stopped in Tbilisi.
And anyway, as plausible as it may be that the U.S. is supporting Jundullah, would it really be Holbrooke who is behind it? Unlikely.