Sunday, October 27, 2013

The New Great Game Round-Up #26

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.

While China is building a New Silk Road and wrapping up deal after deal in Central Asia, India has so far failed to secure much-needed energy supplies from the region. Instability in Afghanistan and problematic relations with neighboring Pakistan complicate India's efforts even more since the country lacks direct access to Central Asia. New Delhi still dreams of the implementation of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline but this project has for now been suspended. In order to strengthen relations with the Central Asian states and to increase the current trade volume of merely $700 million a new, more pro-active approach is desperately needed, as Dr. Arvind Guptar, Director General of India's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, recently argued. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed this issue during his visit to Russia this week and made the case for closer cooperation between the two countries in Central Asia:
India looks forward for closer cooperation with Russia in Central Asia - India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Events in central and southern part of Central Asia are important for security of both Russia and India. Currently India is strengthening its historical ties with Central Asian states and looks forward for closer cooperation with Russia in the region, he said.

The minister said that cooperation between Russia and India can play an important role in promoting peace, stability and economic development in Afghanistan. It may also be effective in dealing with common challenges such as extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking, he added. 

China Counters Obama's Asia 'Pivot'

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian PM Singh also discussed the possibility of direct overland supplies of Russian oil to India and agreed to set up a Joint Study Group in this regard. The two sides signed weapons deals worth almost $3 billion and vowed to increase bilateral trade, currently about $11 billion, to $20 billion by 2015.
Putin was particularly pleased when Manmohan Singh told him of India's interest in signing a free trade agreement with the Russia-led Customs Union. The Russian President could not wait to tell his colleagues at the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council the good news after Kazakh leader Nazarbayev had just reported that Turkey considers to join the trade bloc:
India interested in signing agreement on free trade zone with Customs Union

The Russian leader noted the words of Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev that Turkey asked to join the Customs Union. “I would like to inform you, dear colleagues, that another major economy, one of the largest economies in the world shows the same interest. This is India,” Putin said.
According to the Indian Ministry of Commerce, Kazakhstan is not entirely convinced by India's proposal and blocks the free trade agreement for now: 
Kazakhstan obstructs free trade between Russia and India – Indian Ministry of Commerce

Kazakhstan was blamed of blocking the free trade agreement between Russia and India by the Indian officials, Tengrinews reports.

According to the Senior Official of the Ministry of Commerce of India, Kazakhstan is trying to assess its relationships with other members of the Customs Union and apparently seeing uncertainty about agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation with India. He hopes that Russia will persuade Kazakhstan to sign an agreement with India, since, as he believes, any economic treaty with Russia must necessarily include Belarus and Kazakhstan.
President Putin will certainly do his best to change Nazarbayev's mind, since the Customs Union already lost Ukraine to the European Union and infighting is stalling the development of Putin's Eurasian Union project. New Dehli can count on Moscow's support not only with regard to economic issues. Russian leader Putin and Indian PM Singh reiterated the need to reform the United Nations Security Council and the released statement emphasized Russia's "strong support of India’s bid for a permanent seat in the reformed UN Security Council". 
After his succesful visit to Moscow, the Indian Prime Minister headed to China for high-level talks. Singh's meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang resulted in a new border pact aimed at easing tensions in the disputed areas. Although relations between New Delhi and Beijing are gradually improving, there is still a long way to go and India will keep a close eye on its tense borders:
49 New Mini drones to keep an eye on China and Pakistan borders

Stepping up surveillance along the tense border of China and Pakistan, the Indian Army is equipping its troops with hand-held drones. It has floated a request for proposal for acquiring 49 mini unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) last month, which the army feels will be a “game changer,” like they have been for the allied forces in AfPak.
Manmohan Singh was not the only Prime Minister who visited China this week. On Tuesday, the country welcomed the Prime Ministers of three neighboring countries: India, Mongolia and Russia. Beijing emphasized that relationships with neighboring countries have to be strengthened to counter the American 'pivot' toward Asia. With Obama not even able to visit Asia, Beijing's strong diplomatic efforts are really making a mockery of the non-existent 'pivot'. 
Mongolian Prime Minister Altankhuyag and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged to promote their strategic partnership:
China, Mongolia sign document on long-term partnership
The two countries agreed to cooperate on the economy, security, social and cultural matters and on trade, acknowledging the need to mind each other's core interests and major concerns.
The focus will be on infrastructure investments and overall plans for connectivity including rail, road, natural gas and power transmission projects. China wants to import more coal from Mongolia by rail to lower the transportation costs and Li added that a free trade area in the border region will also be discussed. 
Even more noteworthy was of course the visit of Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev. Trade between Russia and China stands currently at $85,5 billion and the two countries seek to reach $100 billion in the near future. Medvedev and Li Keqiang were confident that this would be achieved by 2015 and talked already about boosting the trade to $200 billion and more. At least the first step was done by signing a major oil deal and several other trade agreements:
Russia and China strengthen trade ties with $85 billion oil deal

The world’s fastest-growing energy market China and world’s biggest oil producer Russia have strengthened their business ties on Tuesday after signing 21 trade agreements, including a new 100 million ton oil supply deal with China’s Sinopec.

Under the new energy deal, Rosneft, the world’s largest-listed oil producer, will supply China with up to 100 million tons of crude oil over 10 years. The agreement is testimony the neighbors have "reached a higher and a brand new level of cooperation,” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said during an online chat with Chinese citizens, Xinhua reported.
© Photo RIA Novosti/Katerina Shtukina

Pakistan Bans IMU, ETIM

Increasing cooperation and stronger ties between the BRICS members Russia, India and China are certainly cause for concern in Washington. A 'de-Americanized' world is on the horizon and China is the driving force behind this process. Huang Xing, research fellow of China's Academy of Military Science, explained in a Global Times op-ed that Beijing sees Islamabad as a crucial ally in this regard:
Sino-Pak ties a testing ground for new global order
"The world is undergoing an unprecedented upheaval which has seen a sliding US and the West compared with a surging China and other developing countries. Some have assumed that a historical reversal of traditional strength will happen in just 10 or 15 years.

Given such changing environment, China-Pakistan relationship in the next 10 years should bolster South-South cooperation and strive for a new globalization system taking such cooperation as the mainstay."
Pakistan and China share a number of interests, stability in the region being one of the most significant. Economic projects of major importance to Islamabad like the Iran-Pakistan pipeline and Kashgar-Gwadar trade corridor depend on stability. Since the situation in Afghanistan could affect the whole region, Pakistan is now starting to foster relations with the Central Asian states: 
Pakistan’s renewed focus on Central Asia

In recent weeks, key civil and military officials from Pakistan have been seen reaching out to Central Asian Republics (CARs) – exchanges that hold a great deal of significance for regional security and stability, particularly in the wake of anticipated draw-down of NATO troops from Afghanistan, after a devastating war of over 12 years.
New Dehli's increasing interest in Central Asia has not gone unnoticed in Islamabad and so these efforts are also a way to adjust policies to Indian activities.

© Photo Ministry of Defense Kazakhstan

Pakistan's handling of the terrorism issue is fundamental in determinating how other countries in the region will be able to deal with this problem. In addition to the Central Asian states, China is also threatened, as officially announced by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Islamabad recently promised Beijing its assistance in fighting terrorist groups and has now banned three organizations which are seeking to destabilize Xinjiang [emphasis mine]:
Three groups active in Xinjiang banned
The government of Pakistan has accepted a Chinese demand to proscribe three extremist organisations which are said to be active in the north-western region of Xinjiang.
According to, the three organisations — East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Islamic Jihad Union — have been put on the list of proscribed militant organisations after reports that their members were planning terrorist activities in the region and inciting people against the Chinese government.
It is hardly surprising to see the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the IMU on this list since their role was already discussed last week:
"The IMU, the rising star of militant Islamist groups, is another tool for the United States and its allies to further their geopolitical objectives and will join the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in destabilizing China's Xinjiang."
Meanwhile, the "liberation of East Turkestan" is not making any progress. Radio Free Asia had run several reports in recent weeks about indiscriminate killings of Uyghurs by Chinese police. Now CIA's propaganda organ had to admit that the killed Uyghurs might not have been so innocent after all [emphasis mine]:
Uyghurs Killed in Police Raids Part of ‘Separatist Bomb Plot’
Nearly a dozen Uyghurs shot dead by police in recent weeks in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have been suspected of plotting a massive bombing campaign as part of a separatist movement, according to a source with knowledge of the case.

Police are still on the trail of five others involved in the campaign intended to set off 100 bombs on China’s National Day on Oct. 1 aimed at turning it into a “day of mourning,” the source told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.


Witting & Unwitting Suicide Bombers In Russia

While Pakistan complied with China's request to ban anti-Chinese terrorist groups, Russian President Putin is not quite satisfied with Russian-Pakistani cooperation on terrorism:
Putin Calls for Closer Cooperation With Pakistan on Fighting Drugs,Terrorism

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised plans for new joint economic projects between Russia and Pakistan on Tuesday, but called for closer cooperation between the two nations in fighting terrorism and the illegal drug trade.
Russia's terrorism problem was again highlighted this week when a female suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in a passenger bus in the important industrial city formerly known as Stalingrad:
Terrorist blast kills at least 6, injures over 30 in Volgograd, central Russia
Six people were killed and 37 injured - some of them critically - after a female suicide bomber set off a bomb on a bus in Volgograd, central Russia. Local authorities have been put on high terror alert for the next 15 days. 
© Photo RIA Novosti/Vitaly Belousov

The suicide bomber was later identified as Naida Asiyalova, a 30-year-old native of the Republic of Dagestan. According to a source in the Russian Investigative Committee, the terror attack was planned for Moscow and Asiyalova wanted to meet with her partner, terrorist Dmitry Sokolov, and two other militants who are responsible for a twin terrorist bombing in Dagestan. This incident is only the latest in a series of attacks carried out by female suicide bombers in Russia:
Russia’s Female Suicide Bombers: Well-Organized and Hard to Stop 
The apparent attack serves as another reminder of the grim effectiveness of female suicide bombers, who have taken part in 20 attacks claiming at least 780 lives across Russia since June 2000, or an average of 60 lives a year.
However, last week two terrorists in Kabardino-Balkaria reminded us that not every terrorist who blows himself up is a witting suicide bomber: 
Southern Russian mosque blast: Terrorists blown up while preparing major attack
The two people, killed in a blast in the yard of a rural mosque in Russia’s North Caucasus region, were terrorists preparing for an attack on a funeral procession, the police said.
The anti-terror body claims there are grounds to believe that the terrorists blew themselves up by accident as they were preparing for a major terrorist attack.
But even this rather less successful attack is just another proof of Russia's persistent terrorism problem. So the Kremlin continues to tighten measures in dealing with the threat. Russian legislators unanimously passed the law, submitted on Putin's initiative, which forces relatives of terrorists to pay compensation for the inflicted damage.
Since terrorist activities are not uncommon in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, the local government decided to keep a close eye on people who preach non-traditional Islam:
Heads of Tatarstan's regions ordered to put in place system to register religious extremism

The Tatarstan government commission on the prevention of violations of the legislation has toughened the liability of the heads of municipal districts of Tatarstan for timely reports of manifestations of extremism, including by migrants.
Tatarstan's Deputy Prime Minister Yury Kamaltynov said one of the channels of radical extremism in Tatarstan is migration from Central Asia.
Prime Minister Medvedev praised the role of Russian Muslims in fighting extremism and President Putin stressed that the religion of Islam is not the problem [emphasis mine]:
Putin: Radical Islamist groups used to stir up ‘foreign-managed conflicts’

“Some political forces are using Islam, or, to be more precise, its radical movements that have never been popular among Russian Muslims, to weaken our state and to create regions with foreign-managed conflicts on Russian territory,” Putin said at the celebration of the 225th anniversary of the Central Spiritual Administration of Russian Muslims – the body responsible for cooperation between Muslims and state officials.
Furthermore, Russia's head of state urged federal and regional officials to sep up a special system to keep track on inter-ethnic relations and prevent possible conflict: 
When the Russian President announced the need to set up the monitoring system he said that the work must be done in cooperation with experts, civil society and also with cultural centers of Russia’s many peoples and ethnic groups. Putin explained that a special academic center dealing with the problem of ethnic tension had already been created on his initiative and that it is covering southern part of the Russian Federation and regions along the Volga River.
Although Putin stopped short of naming the United States, Saudi Arabia and the other players involved in creating Russia's terrorism problem, NATO/GCC's strategy of using jihadi mercenaries provokes more and more anger in Moscow. Nikolay Bordyuzha, Secretary General of the CSTO, also criticized this strategy and warned that members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) could be the next target:
Hundreds of terrorists from Europe, CIS fight in Syria

"We are concerned that the people may return to our countries and will participate in destabilization of the situation," Bordyuzha noted. "I know that militants who fought in the Syrian Republic have been detained in some of our countries," he said.

He believes a new technology that was tested in Libya and Chechnya to destabilize the situation is used in full in Syria at present.