Sunday, June 9, 2013

The New Great Game Round-Up #5

The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region.

Kazakhstan's appeal to suspicious players was already mentioned last week and this trend is continuing:
Kuwait embassy to open in Kazakhstan by year end
Kazakh and EU presidents plans to intensify negotiations on new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement
The Central Asian country has learned to use its strategic location as leverage and to play both ends against the middle in order to make a profit

But cooperation with the NATOGCC corporation involves certain dangers [emphasis mine]:
Kazakh terrorist reportedly killed in Pakistan
Over hundred Kazakhstan citizens are in militant camps in Afghan-Pakistan zone
The Kazakhstan National Security Commission’s chairman stressed that the young people got to the militant camps under different reasons. “We know them by names thanks to the joint work primarily with our Russian colleagues,” Abykayev said. The young people from Kazakhstan who are now in Waziristan were recruited by Caucasian militants who came to Kazakhstan, he said. 4 of the Kazakhstan citizens has recently returned from Afghan-Pakistan zone, Abykayev said.
According to Abykayev there are several militants from Kazakhstan in Syria. He believes that international cooperation of the law-enforcement authorities and special forces is important for tracking the militants’ crossing of the borders. According to him, a system of information exchange of the related mattes has been established, namely with Russia.

Abykayev mentioned necessary measures to contain the threat of Kazakh terrorists. It would be interesting to get his opinion on Kazakhstan's recent agreement with the country which serves as hub for US-NATO-Chechen terrorism in the Caucasus and is channeling Central Asian terrorists into Syria:
Kazakhstan and Turkey increase travel flexibility


Southern Gas Corridor: Russian nightmare?

Turkey is currently also engaged in business with Turkmenistan:
Turkmenistan Makes Another Quiet Purchase Of Warships
Turkmenistan is buying eight new well armed naval vessels from Turkey, marking a substantial increase in capability for the country's nascent navy.
And Ankara was not entirely selfless when it offered to facilitate the delivery of Turkmen gas to Europe, which Turkmenistan considers to be one of its top priorities:
Turkey ready to deliver Turkmen natural gas to Europe
Turkey is ready to deliver Turkmenistan's natural gas to consumers in Europe, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Thursday, supporting the Central Asian nation's plans to build alternative pipelines and ease dependence on exports to Russia.
Senior Turkish officials had said earlier Turkmenistan would be welcome to link to the $8-billion Trans-Anatolian natural gas pipeline (TANAP).
The U.S. State Department is ecstatic about the possible realization of the Southern Gas Corridor. By the end of this month the Shah Deniz consortium is expected to decide if Nabucco West or the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will deliver Caspian gas from Azerbaijan's largest gas field to Europe. The selected pipeline is supposed to be the "European leg of a grand pipeline project known as the Southern Gas Corridor":
Turkmenistan’s Energy Politics Under Spotlight in Paris
This attitude could be a boost for projects like White Stream, the long-running attempt to build a subsea pipeline across the Black Sea from Georgia to Romania. Giorgi Vashakmadze, Director of Corporate Strategy, put forward a slightly different vision of the project than heard before (with a new website to boot), which appeared to link it directly with a Trans-Caspian Pipeline.
Conceivably this could create two branches of the Southern Corridor; one from Azerbaijan across Turkey and into central or southern Europe, one from Turkmenistan across the Caspian, into Georgia and across the Black Sea into eastern Europe. This would make commercial sense, in the long term.

Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are now frequently discussing the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline. But this pipeline project faces one major obstacle and Turkmen officials are well aware of this fact [emphasis mine]:
On a Trans-Caspian Pipeline to Azerbaijan, he dodged the question of Russian opposition and said simply that Turkmenistan regularly negotiates with their Azerbaijan counterparts on the issue. From his speech it seems that things will become clearer once the East-West pipeline, taking gas from the giant Galkynysh field to the Caspian coast, is operational by 2015. And according to European Commission policy adviser Brendan Devlin, the EU is planning to present a full development concept on the pipeline to Ashgabat by the end of the year.
As a consequence of increased competition, Gazprom announced a few days ago that it will cut prices for European buyers this year, which prompted Turkey to demand the same discount. Moscow is not interested in further competition and a pipeline directly threatening Gazprom's South Stream triggered Russia's state-controlled energy group to threaten war with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. If Baku and Ashgabat continue to push this project forward, Turkmenistan will probably need its new naval vessels from Turkey:
Russian warships have drills in Dagestan
Russian warships of the Caspian Flotilla have been training defense maneuvers and deployment of artillery at the coast of Dagestan, Interfax reports.
Russia Deploys Advanced Missiles To Armenia
Russia has deployed an advanced new missile system to its base in Armenia,amid deteriorating relations with Armenia's rival, Azerbaijan. A source in Armenia's Defense Ministry confirmed to RFE/RL's Armenian service the deployment of "several" Iskander-M systems. 

Russia's three main security challenges

Last week's round-up dealt among others with Kyrgyzstan's importance in the Russian War on Drugs and President Putin emphasized this again after he welcomed 120 top anti-drug officials from around the world at the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Moscow [emphasis mine]:
Putin Boosts Russian Role in Global War on Drugs
Illicit drugs have become a top security threat to Russia and a negative influence on the already dire demographic situation. Russia's Security Council lists illegal drugs as one of the three main security challenges facing the nation, alongside terrorism and illegal immigration.
In one recent international effort, a senior Tajik drug dealer who controlled a heroin-smuggling route to Russia was detained in Dubai in December 2012 by a coalition consisting of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, Interpol, the U.S. DEA, and law enforcement agencies from Kazakhstan, Belarus and the United Arab Emirates.
Moscow is leading efforts in the fight against illegal immigration which is also considered to be one of the main security challenges:
Moscow Mayor Sobyanin opposes Central Asian migrants integration
Moscow to form database of migrants from Kyrgyzstan
Moscow police arrest nearly 1,000 illegal migrants
Makhachkala, the capital city of Russia's Republic of Dagestan, made the most interesting headlines this week when its powerful mayor Said Amirov was arrested [emphasis mine]:
Arrest of Makhachkala Mayor Seen as Sign of Changing Tide
Izvestia cited sources in the presidential administration as saying the arrest was sanctioned from the very top due to almost daily deadly explosions in the republic.
In another sign of tightening security in the region, President Vladimir Putin fired Zhaudat Akhmetkhanov from the post of interior minister of the republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, the Kremlin's official website said Monday.
Analysts have noted that Amirov's detention fits into the ongoing transformation of the Kremlin's internal policy.
"In my view, this is another sign that the Kremlin is tightening the screws across all of Russia. Physical force instead of 'soft power' is being used against the insurgents in the North Caucasus, or anybody connected with them. This is the so-called scorched earth policy, which does not need people who can build bridges between the warring sides," Shvedov said.

But there are questions if this new strategy will harm or benefit the Salafi militants:
The Kremlin's New Way of Ruling Dagestan
In other words, Amirov's arrest marks a radical shift in the model of governance for Dagestan. Moscow concluded that the lawlessness of local Dagestani elites was the main cause of instability and the growing support for the Salafi, and that the only solution would be to put the local elites under direct control not even of the Kremlin, but of Lubyanka.
If the siloviki are calling the shots in Dagestan directly from the Lubyanka, it will mark a turning point in Moscow's policy for the North Caucasus and will serve as a serious warning to neighboring Chechnya. But this approach will probably be no more successful than the previous model in which Amirov, who was once honored as Russia's best mayor, lobbied on behalf of United Russia in calling everyone to vote for Putin.
In that case, the Salafis will emerge as the biggest beneficiaries of Amirov's arrest. After all, in a republic where everything is decided by money, guns and high-stakes risks, the Salafis are the only force growing stronger every year that Moscow has been unable to control.
While the FSB joined forces with the FBI in urging to tackle terrorist threats on the internet, the Russian security service is also busy preventing attacks by U.S.-sponsored terror organizations [emphasis mine]:
FSB arrests mastermind of foiled Moscow bombing who 'fought in Afghanistan'
Russia’s FSB secret service has captured the suspected mastermind behind a foiled terror attack in Moscow. His group, which fought in Afghanistan against the ISAF forces, was uncovered and neutralized last month by police.
The cell was sent to Moscow by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, also known as the Turkistan Islamic Party, a terrorist organization that seeks to establish an Islamic state inside the Chinese border province of Xinjiang. The organization has carried out attacks against US-related targets, and others.
For more information about the struggle for Xinjiang and East Turkestan I encourage you to read a previous post discussing China's Central Asia Problem

Meanwhile the War on Terror in the North Caucasus continues:
Three militants sentenced to imprisonment in Chechnya
Libyan Jailed For Insurgency In Ingushetia
Suleiman Osman Uheida, also known as Abu Khalid, was found guilty on June 2 of organizing an Islamic armed group and of illegal possessing a weapon.
The investigators said that, in 2011, Umarov appointed Uheida the leader (Qadiy) of the Shari'a court of Imarat Kavkaz. (The Caucasus Emirate).

Georgia-NATO partnership under pressure

Due to territorial disputes, there is always potential for conflict in the Caucasus region. Lately, Moscow and Tbilisi argued about Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia and this immediately brought NATO into the arena:
S.Ossetia Border Fences ‘Unacceptable’ - NATO
Rasmussen reiterated the alliance’s support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders. He also pledged that Georgia would one day become a NATO member.
Dmitry Medvedev was recently asked about a possible NATO entry of Sweden and Finland. The Russian Prime Minister was probably also thinking about Georgia when he gave the following answer:
Russia has to react as NATO moves closer to its borders - Medvedev
“This is their own business; they are making decisions in accordance with the national sovereignty doctrine. But we have to consider the fact that for us the NATO bloc is not simply some estranged organisation, but a structure with military potential,” the head of the Russian government said adding that under certain unfavorable scenarios this potential could be used against Russia.
“All new members of the North Atlantic alliance that appear in proximity of our state eventually do change the parity of the military force. And we have to react to this,” the top official noted.
This week Georgia suffered its largest troop loss in Afghanistan and the NATO-Georgia partnership is facing some challenges:
Afghanistan Deaths and Jihad Video Test Georgia’s Patience with NATO
The June 6 appearance of a questionable YouTube video, in which supposed Taliban fighters declare jihad on Georgia, has added to that debate.
A close inspection of the video, which was posted from Georgia, has raised suspicions of a domestic job or even of Russian intelligence, but the video's timing has contributed to the unease.
The loss of more Georgian soldiers in the ISAF misson prompted anti-NATO rallies in Batumi. But this will neither affect Georgia's participation in Afghanistan nor change the government's determination to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Furthermore, Tbilisi is expanding its cooperation with Baku in the military sector:
Georgia And Azerbaijan Strengthening Military Ties?
Georgia and Azerbaijan have been publicly cooperating a lot lately, with presidential meetings and news of co-producing military jets and armored personnel carriers. That military cooperation, in particular, is projected to grow, writes Azerbaijani analyst Zaur Shiriyev.

Azerbaijan and the real axis of evil

Baku is also strengthening ties with three countries which were once properly called an "axis of evil" by the former commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards:
"America, Britain and the Zionist regime (Israel) are an axis of evil against the Islamic world and the whole of humanity" 
As previously discussed, Azerbaijan is essentially NATO's base at Russian and Iranian borders and its attractions for Washington are easily explained:
"They number four: a supply corridor for NATO's military campaign in Afghanistan; a foothold for American interests in regional stability (Iran is just next-door) and fighting terrorism; and, finally, oil and gas for Europe."
We should know by now what "fighting terrorism" in this context means [emphasis mine]:
Report: Azerbaijani citizens are among 280 mercenaries killed in Syria
According to the report, most of the killed are Libyan (59 citizens). They are followed by Saudi Arabia (44) and Tunisia (44), Jordan (32), Egypt (27), Lebanon (22) and Russia (17).
5 out of them are from Chechnya, 4 from Dagestan, 1 from Kabardino-Balkaria and 7 from other regions. Rustam Gelayev, the son of Chechen separatist field commander Ruslan Gelayev, is also among them. He was allegedly killed in the fights against the government in the grouping "Chechen Mujahideen in Syria" in August last year.
The citizens of Palestine, Kuwait, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Bahrain, Morocco, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Ireland, Kosovo, Qatar, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and the United States are also among mercenaries killed in Syria.
Predictably, the Chechen freedom fighters aligned their activities with U.S. foreign policy objectives and are fighting against the Syrian government. Besides Turkey, Azerbaijan is the country where most of these active Chechen terrorists can be found.
With so much commitment for their joint operations and its large gas resources, Baku is highly esteemed by the NATO countries and its allies. Great Britain, which is the largest investor in Azerbaijan, is looking to establish a long-term cooperation with the country in the South Caucasus. The investments within all BP projects in Azerbaijan amount to $40 billion and more leading energy companies want to follow BP:
Leading energy companies interested in examining shale oil in Azerbaijan
Speaking at the Caspian Oil and Gas 2013 conference on June 6, SOCAR's first vice-president Khoshbakht Yusifzade said that companies such as Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Total and Nobel Oil show interest in the country's shale oil.
In addition to its abundant energy resources, Azerbaijan's strategic location is of particular interest to some countries. Tel Aviv and Baku have developed a close cooperation and last year there was even speculation about Israel using Azeri air bases for an attack against Iran. Azerbaijan's Consul General in Los Angeles Aghayev and Foreign Minister Mammadyarov attended this week events in the United States organized by the American Jewish Committee, further illustrating the "special relations" between the two countries [emphasis mine]:
Azerbaijan and Israel enjoy special relations – Consul General
Azerbaijan and Israel enjoy special relations, Azerbaijan Consul General Nasimi Aghayev said at the presentation dedicated to Azerbaijan organized on June 5 by the Los Angeles representation of the American Jewish Committee (AJC-LA), one of the most influential Jewish advocacy organizations of the world.
Speaking at the event, Executive Director of AJC-LA Rabbi Mark Diamond, Chairman of its International Committee Gary Jacobs and AJC-LA liaison for Azerbaijan Ali Ibrahimzade also noted the great importance of Azerbaijan for Israel and U.S.
They highlighted the fact that Jews have lived in Azerbaijan peacefully and without any discrimination for many centuries. They also noted the strong relationship existing between Azerbaijan and AJC.
Elmar Mammadyarov: “Azerbaijan and Israel are united by close friendly relations going beyond the diplomatic relations”
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov attended the opening of the AJC Global Forum of the Jewish lobby in Washington, APA reports. Foreign Minister informed the participants about Azerbaijan’s decisive role as the provider of energy resources and the close relations between Azerbaijan and Israel.
With the reliable puppet leader Ilham Aliyev looking to start his third term as president, Baku's close cooperation with the real axis of evil will continue:
Azerbaijani Ruling Party Nominates Aliyev For Presidency
A constitutional amendment introduced in 2009 removed a two-term limit for holding the presidency.

Azerbaijan's opposition and human rights activists have accused Aliyev of nepotism, concentrating the country's wealth and resources in the hands of his family, and systematically abusing of the citizens' rights.