Sunday, September 15, 2013

The New Great Game Round-Up #20

The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan's threat, to unleash the Chechen terrorists under his command during the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year, is taken seriously in Moscow. So Russian President Vladimir Putin was particularly enraged by accusations of "so-called widespread abuse of citizens’ rights in the North Caucasus" voiced in the Western media and by human rights organizations. Putin blasted the biased coverage and highlighted Russia's struggle against foreign-funded terrorists:
Russia Must Respond to ‘Baseless’ Reports on Caucasus – Putin
“We also face destructive anti-Russian activities by certain foreign countries and non-governmental and international organizations under their control that still see the North Caucasus as a foothold for their attempts to destabilize all of Russia, to damage our economy, to undermine Russia’s influence and to limit our activities on the international arena,” Putin told Russia’s Security Council.
"Certain foreign countries" translates obviously into the United States and its allies. President Putin emphasized that attempts aimed at destabilizing Russia should be crushed. While there have been some positive changes according to the Russian leader, the situation in the North Caucasus has to be further improved ahead of the Olympic Games: 
Putin Says Security Not Improving Fast Enough in North Caucasus 
President Vladimir Putin ordered intelligence agencies Monday to step up efforts to secure a volatile region near next year's Winter Olympics, saying the situation was not improving fast enough.
© Photo AFP/Sergei Karpukhin

Putin's Lonely Fight Against Chechen Terrorists

Putin also appointed a new police chief for the North Caucasus Federal District. Restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly near the Olympic venue Sochi have been imposed and the local authorities started to round up illegal migrants:
Sochi Authorities Begin Raids to Find Illegal Migrants 
Migration authorities in Sochi on Tuesday kicked off a campaign to catch migrants working in the country illegally in an effort to rid the city of all illegal migrants before next year's Winter Olympics.
While the Kremlin is amassing a huge security infrastructure in the region around Sochi to prevent any terror attacks, the international community is doing its best to sabotage Russia's fight against Chechen terrorism. In March, Moscow submitted a request to the United Nations Security Council asking to add two names and the Turkish organization Imkander to the Al-Qaida Sanctions List because of their links to the Caucasus Emirate and its mouthpiece website the Kavkaz Center.

At the beginning of this month, Britain, France and Luxembourg, which currently holds a temporary seat in the Security Council, rejected the proposal. Russia's Foreign Ministry condemned this decision in the strongest possible terms:
Russia Fumes Over Its Dismissed Additions to UN's Al-Qaida List
“Clearly, this is further evidence of a disappointing policy of double standards and manipulation in what concerns the effectiveness of applied anti-terror UN Security Council's sanctions,” the ministry said.
The statement said in its request that Russia had provided sufficient evidence linking the two individuals and the Turkish NGO to the Caucasus Emirate, a self-proclaimed Islamic state entity of the North Caucasus and a terrorist group headed by rebel leader Doku Umarov.


Cold War Heating Up

Meanwhile, Georgia, one of the primary supporters of Chechen terrorism against Russia, pushes its integration into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Moscow is very concerned about this prospect and there has been some speculation whether Washington would be willing to trade Georgia's NATO membership for a Russian favor on Syria.
Last year, the U.S. government reportedly considered this kind of deal but ultimately dismissed the idea. With Russia becoming the main obstacle for the joint NATO-Israel-GCC operation against Syria, the mindset of the Obama administration could have changed but for now the preparation of Georgia's accession to the military alliance continues:
Georgia: State Department, Pentagon Assess NATO Readiness

Bilateral cooperation issues in the defence field between the U.S. and Georgia was a main topic of discussion. The Georgian side familiarized the foreign visitors with the current defence reforms and the concrete steps taken for enhancing transparency and parliamentary control with the Defence Ministry. A special attention was dedicated to Georgia`s integration into NATO. Discussions referred to the issues of human resources management and military education too.
However, NATO's expansion is not limited to Russia's southern border. Finland and Sweden are also considering to join the U.S.-led organization. And to top it all of, Washington expedites the construction of its missile defense system in Europe:
Americans to start building missile defense system in southern Romania next month
Work on the US missile defense system at a military base in southern Romania will start in early October, Romania’s Defense Minister Mircea Dusa announced this week.

Since Moscow is not amused by these developments, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov and Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan discussed the missile defense issue during a recent meeting in Brunei. Beijing knows how it feels to be encircled by the ever-expanding military empire of the United States:
How the U.S. is encircling China with military bases

The U.S. military is encircling China with a chain of air bases and military ports. The latest link: a small airstrip on the tiny Pacific island of Saipan. The U.S. Air Force is planning to lease 33 acres of land on the island for the next 50 years to build a "divert airfield" on an old World War II airbase there. But the residents don't want it. And the Chinese are in no mood to be surrounded by Americans.
Sooner or later, Russia and China will have to address this Cold War revival. Both countries share the same objectives on a variety of issues ranging from Iran's nuclear program to the conflict in Syria, as demonstrated by the joint vetos in the UN Security Council. So it is in Moscow's and Beijing's interest to formulate a common strategy which could enable them to contain the United States: 
Russia And China Must Respond Jointly To New U.S.-Instigated Cold War  
The US’ recent policy moves should force Russia to think seriously about the its policy toward China. The US, which is known to defend its own interests in international relations, is now reluctant to talk with Russia on equal terms. So Russia and China should work more closely to coordinate their actions on the global stage to prevent international relations from returning to the era of power politics when countries’ sovereignty was violated with impunity by the US.


Arms Race Reloaded

One consequence of the increasing tensions between the last remaining superpower and its two main competitors is the Cold War-like military buildup. This establishes the respective military industrial complex as the real winner of any future conflict. China's military industrial complex is still in the early stages of development:
China’s Builds State Run Military Industrial Complex
State-backed China Shipbuilding Industry (601989.SS) plans to raise up to $1.4 billion through a private share sale to buy assets used for building warships, the first time Beijing is tapping the capital market to fund its military expansion.

The move comes as China creates its own military-industrial complex, with the private sector seen taking a key role, as the country gains a new sense of military assertiveness and deals with a growing budget to develop modern equipment including aircraft carriers and drones.
After the successful construction of the first Chinese aircraft carrier, the Lianoning, Beijing confirmed plans to build more aircraft carriers in the future. Obama's often-quoted "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific region has apparently fueled a new arms race between the United States and China:
Pacific pivot sparks US-China arms race  
Analysts have already noted evidence of a new conventional arms race between the two nations. The US and China have the world's highest defense budgets, running up to US$682 and $166 billion in 2012, respectively, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
In the meantime, Russia concentrates on the modernization of its armes forces. The shaky victory over Georgia in 2008 was a harsh reminder that the Russian forces lack technologies which are seen as standard in most Western militaries. Eventually this prompted an unprecedented arms modernization effort:
Military Official Slams Russia's 'Outdated' Technology
The Russian government has reportedly allocated 20 trillion rubles ($640 billion) for the comprehensive rearmament of the Armed Forces that will see the share of modern weaponry rise to 30 percent by 2015, and exceed 70 percent by 2020.
Last October, Moscow's answer to DARPA, the Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects in the Defense Industry, was set up to ensure Russian superiority in defense technology. The director of this new organization, Andrei Grigoryev, stated that the focus of military research and development is primarily on three areas: futuristic weaponry, future soldier gear and cyberwarfare. Russia's futuristic weaponry and vehicles are reportedly making some progress:
Russia’s New Bomber to Carry Hypersonic Weapons – Source

Russian Army to Unveil New Robotic Vehicles in 2014

Russia Developing Unmanned Next-Generation Fighter – General
As mentioned by Grigoryev, cyberwarfare is also one of the priorities. And since the Internet is becoming more and more important in modern warfare, the Russian military will finally get its own cyberwarfare branch:
Russian Military Creating Cyber Warfare Branch
A separate branch dedicated to cyber warfare is being created in the Russian Armed Forces as the Internet could become a new “theater of war” in the near future, a senior Russian military R&D official said.
While the concept of war in cyberspace may seem abstract, it is not difficult to understand how conflict in the real world fueled by NATO's expansion and the missile "defense" system of the United States would unfold. Moscow is currently strengthening its military cooperation with Belarus which is one of the last buffers between Russia and NATO. On Monday, 2.500 Russian toops set off to Belarus for large-scale joint military drills. Besides, the country will receive more fighter jets and air defense systems to protect the airspace of the Union State [emphasis mine]:  
Russia to Deliver More Air Defense Systems to Belarus in 2013

Russia will deliver a third battery of Tor-M2 air defense systems to Belarus by the end of this year, Belarusian Defense Minister Yuri Zhadobin said Wednesday.
Moscow and Minsk signed an agreement on the joint protection of the Russia-Belarus Union State's airspace and the creation of an integrated regional air defense network in February 2009.
Russia also presses ahead with the development of its powerful air defense missile system S-500 which will be able to destroy targets in space. According to Almaz-Antey, the manufacturer of the S-500 system, it could be put in service with the Russian military in 2017:
Development of S-500 Air Defense System on Schedule – Maker

The S-500, a long-range air defense missile system, is expected to become the backbone of a unified aerospace defense system being formed in Russia.

The S-500 could become a trump card in Russia’s response to the US-backed European missile shield, which Moscow believes may threaten Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
Furthermore, the 'outdated' S-300 systems will be replaced with new S-350E Vityaz mid-range air defense systems. Damascus and Tehran would be delighted to get at least some of the 'outdated' S-300s. 

© Photo RIA Novosti

SCO Defies Washington

In the last few days there has been a lot of talk about the delivery of Russian S-300 air defense systems to Iran but the Kremlin immediately denied these reports. Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani did not discuss this contentious point and focused instead on economic cooperation and the conflict in Syria during their first face-to-face talks on the sidelines of the SCO summit:
Putin, Rouhani dissatisfied with economic cooperation, agree to new impetus - Peskov

"The presidents decided to add an impetus to bilateral economic relations and intensify the contacts," Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told journalists following the meeting. The two leaders "had a long and detailed conversation on Syrian affairs," he said.
Russia and Iran are very much on the same page regarding Syria and so is China. The three powers are aware of Washington's next plans after regime change in Syria, as explained by Pepe Escobar:
"Tehran, Moscow and Beijing are more than ever united on bringing about a new multipolar international order. They share the vision that a victory for the axis of warmongers on Syria will be the prelude for a future war on Iran - and further harassment of both Russia and China."
So the war on Syria was high on the agenda in Bishkek. All SCO member states support Moscow's position and the adopted Bishkek Declaration outlines their common stance on a number of issues such as Iran's nuclear program. According to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization unilateral sanctions against Iran 'are unacceptable'. In general, external interference including military intervention not sanctioned by the UN Security Council are strongly opposed by the SCO:
Summit Shows SCO Can Oppose Any External Intervention In Other Countries’ Affairs
All SCO member-nations came out for an exclusively peaceful settlement of the Syrian conflict and supported Russia’s efforts to that end, which was reflected in the Bishkek declaration, says the Head of the Chair of School of Oriental Studies, State University “Higher School of Economics”, Alexei Maslov, and elaborates.
“This is evidence that the huge alliance, the SCO, is opposed to any interference in other countries’ affairs. That stand defies the US position and that of some of Washington’s allies.
© Photo Xinhua/Huang Jingwen

Another important topic at the 13th SCO summit was Afghanistan and the 2014 withdrawal of foreign troops. Afghan President Hamid Karzai voiced his optimism about Kabul's ability do deal with upcoming challenges in cooperation with other SCO countries:
President: Afghanistan to solve security problems supported by SCO member countries
"We understand that all the global community is concerned about the state of our country after the withdrawal of the international coalition. We will prevent violence and strengthen national security. Afghanistan will be able to solve this problem together with the SCO countries," the Afghan president said.
As stated by Karzai, maintaining stability in the region is only possible if the SCO member and observer states work together. So the security threats have become an opportunity for closer cooperation within the SCO and China has already recognized this. James Reardon-Anderson, professor of Chinese studies and Senior Associate Dean of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, explained Beijing's approach in a recent interview:  
"For Beijing, the virtue of the "Stans" -- the five Central Asian republics -- is that they have relatively strong authoritarian governments with whom the Chinese can deal [as they] hope to contain cross-border shipments of arms or the movement of the [Uyghur] population. The disintegration of authority in Afghanistan -- the continuing situation, particularly along the Afghan border and Pakistan -- make it much more difficult to control the Uyghurs in that area."
Chinese President Xi Jinping ended his Central Asia tour with a visit to Kyrgyzstan and the two neighboring countries agreed to continue the fight against the three evils and drug trafficking in close collaboration:
Tokon Mamytov: Kyrgyzstan and China will strengthen fight against terrorism and religious extremism

“Kyrgyzstan and China will strengthen fight against terrorism and religious extremism,” Kyrgyz Vice Prime Minister Tokon Mamytov informed news agency today on the results of negotiations with the Chinese delegation.

According to him, law enforcement agencies of two countries will strengthen cooperation in fight against terrorism, illegal drug trafficking, religious extremism, separatism and organized crime.