Sunday, January 12, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #36

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.

In response to the 2013 Volgograd bombings, the Russian authorities tried to show that they are in control of the security situation in the North Caucasus ahead of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Anti-terror operations have been stepped up and until the new suicide bomb detectors are available, law enforcement officers will do their best to nip the threat of "black widows" in the bud. But despite all these efforts, every other day a new incident occurs reminding the public of the violence in Sochi's neighborhood:

Five bodies found in Russia region near Olympics host Sochi

Russia on Thursday launched a counter-terrorism operation after six bodies riddled with bullets were found in a region bordering that of Winter Olympic host city of Sochi, just weeks before the start of the Games.

Two districts in the southern Stavropol region were placed on high alert after the bodies were discovered in or close to parked cars, at least one of them apparently booby-trapped, in the rural area on Wednesday, the regional authorities said.

The Stavropol region borders the Krasnodar region where the Black Sea resort of Sochi is located.
© Photo ITAR-TASS/Dmitry Rogulin


Sochi On Security Lockdown

According to Russian tabloid website LifeNews, which has close links to Russia’s security services, three individuals from the adjacent republic of Kabardino-Balkaria are suspected to be responsible for the murders. While the precise circumstances of the killings still baffle the local police, they made some progress in solving another recent crime in the Stavropol region. Just two days before the suicide bombings in Volgograd, a car bombing hit the city of Pyatigorsk in Stavropol's south:
Police Arrest Suspects in North Caucasus Car Bombing

Russian police have detained six people suspected of involvement in a recent deadly car bombing in Russia’s restive North Caucasus, investigators said Friday.

Three people were killed when a car exploded in front of a traffic police building in the southern city of Pyatigorsk on December 27. The power of the blast was equivalent to 50 kilograms of TNT.

The six men, including one Azerbaijani citizen, reportedly admitted that they carried out the bombing and that they were planning another attack on a larger scale. Because terrorist activities in Stavropol Krai have been increasing, 130 extremist websites are now blocked in the region. Furthermore, Russian security services plan to follow the example of their Western counterparts by boosting surveillance through blogs and social networks in order to find "negatively minded citizens".
As previously discussed, all communications at the Winter Olympics in Sochi will be monitored as well. But all-pervasive surveillance is not the only the thing the Kremlin learned from Washington. So-called free speech or First Amendment zones become increasingly popular and after President Putin lifted a ban on protests in Sochi, the perfect location for the protests has been found:

Russia Names Small Town Outside Sochi as Olympic Protest Zone

A town 12 kilometers from Russia’s Olympic venues in Sochi will host a so-called “protest zone” during the Winter Games, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said Friday.

Khosta, on the road between Sochi and the Olympic Park, is around 12 kilometers from the nearest Games arenas. It is not clear whether a similar zone will be set up near the Mountain Cluster of snow sports venues.
Sochi's security is obviously more important to the Russian authorities than a few protesters. Moreover, in light of the free speech zones, the hypocrites in Washington and Brussels have one thing less to complain about. In the meantime, Russian forces in Sochi went on combat alert and tightened restrictions on access to the Black Sea resort. Since Russia wants to host the "safest and most secure Games ever", security was given paramount importance in the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics:
Sochi puts security top of its Olympic agenda

An unprecedented level of security has been implemented around the Russian city of Sochi, the site of the Olympic Games. Tens of thousands of police officers have been tasked to protect tourists, athletes and locals against possible threats.

Up to the start of the Games, around 23 thousand personnel will carry out security measures, while around 40 thousand people will ensure safety during the Games.

Ships and submarines will protect the city from the sea, while helicopters and drones will take over the air defense of the area. Quad bikes will be used for security and safety operations in the mountains.
© Photo AFP

In addition to this, all vehicles not registered in Sochi or with special Olympics passes will be banned. Although the security measures might seem excessive, Moscow takes the threats against the Games very seriously and other governments acknowledge the danger. The U.S. State Department just issued a travel alert for Sochi due to "potential terrorist threats". While the statement pointed to Doku Umarov's Caucasus Emirate regarding the terror threat, the State Department predictably failed to mention the puppet masters of the Caucasus Emirate in Washington and Riyadh.

Chechen Terrorists: Sochi Or Syria?

After all, Bandar Bush, the CIA's man in Riyadh, had threatened Vladimir Putin to cause problems during the Olympic Games. Interestingly enough, in the wake of the Volgograd bombings, the White House lost no time in offering the Russian government its assistance:
White House willing to help Russia with Olympics security

The White House said Monday that it would welcome “closer cooperation” with Moscow to secure the 2014 Olympic Games in the wake of two suicide bombings in Russia.
“The U.S. government has offered our full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games, and we would welcome the opportunity for closer cooperation for the safety of the athletes, spectators, and other participants,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
With warmongers like Dov Zakheim, infamous member of "The Vulcans" and PNAC signatory, calling for closer cooperation between the United States and Russia, the Kremlin apparently could not refuse the offer and agreed to put the fox in charge of the henhouse. Dozens of FBI agents will help to protect the upcoming Winter Olympics. Given the FBI's track record in enabling large-scale terrorist attacks instead of preventing them, this is probably not the best decision.
But Washington is not the only unlikely player offering Moscow its support in dealing with the "Chechen rebels". As discussed last week, Turkey also plays a central role in creating and fueling the Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus. However, lately Ankara signalled its willingness to "help prevent" the radicalization of Muslims in Russia on one condition [emphasis mine]:
Turkey could help Russia prevent radicalization of its Muslims, analysts agree
Speaking to Sunday's Zaman, Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of Ankara's International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), believes that cooperation between Turkey and Russia is possible to prevent radicalization of Muslim societies; yet, Russia's stance on Turkey's decades-old Kurdish issue will have a significant effect on determining the framework of this possible cooperation.

“Experience-sharing is possible; yet ... unless Russia considers the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) a terrorist group, Turkey may not favor full support,” Erol warned.
Turkey has repeatedly urged Russia to list the PKK as a terrorist group, but to no avail. Maybe Russia's policy towards the Kurds will change if the Kremlin needs Ankara's assistance to stop the influx of fighters from Syria who head back home to the North Caucasus [emphasis mine]:
Sochi Olympics And Terrorism In Russia – Analysis 
Last month, officials from the Russian Federal Security Bureau (FSB) expressed that according to estimates at least 500 militants left the Northern Caucasus to fight in Syria. According to Igor Korotchenko, one of Russia’s prominent security experts, this number is much larger in reality. He also claims that some of those militants are currently back in Russia in order to sabotage the Sochi Olympics. It is thought that these people are involved in many recent attacks, which, including the events in Volgograd, are increasing in number and concentrated in the North Caucasus.
Korotchenko's comments should not be easily dismissed as fear-mongering because there is evidence to support his claims. This week, Chechen prosecutors launched the first probe against a Russian citizen fighting on the side of the foreign-backed terrorists in Syria. The Chechen man, Shakhid Temirbulatov, has been charged in absentia but, considering recent developments in Syria, Temirbulatov and fellow Chechen militants might be back in Russia anytime soon:
Syria: Army of the Mujahideen Challenges ISIS Gains

There are many reasons behind ISIS’ sudden retreat. In addition to the dispersion of its militants, and the Army of the Mujahideen successfully taking advantage of the popular mood, another fundamental factor has made a great impact, namely, the absence of Chechen jihadists from the battle. Indeed, the Chechen fighters are known to be a formidable strike force.

Several Chechens have split from ISIS. Saifullah al-Shishani defected with 400 of his men three months ago, followed by Sheikh Salah al-Shishani with 800 of his men. Things culminated two weeks ago with Sheikh Omar al-Shishani leaving with a large group of his fighters to Deir al-Zour, a move that sources told Al-Akhbar was meant to distance himself from ISIS’ conduct in Aleppo and its countryside.

While some Chechen terrorists head to Deir al-Zour tempted by the oil wells, others could decide to leave the war-torn country and relocate their jihad to the North Caucasus. Russia's security services will certainly monitor the situation closely. In case the Russians prefer to know the next target of the Wahhabi/Salafi mercenaries ahead of time, it is probably useful to ask someone like Islamist militant leader Omar Bakri Mohammed, one of the top terrorists protected by NATO. Omar Bakri has been working for British intelligence since at least the mid-1990s and he currently resides in Lebanon, where he boasts publicly about his activities [emphasis mine]:
British Islamist Leader 'Vetted Recruits for Syria Jihad'

In an interview with Lebanon's LBCI news network, translated by MEMRI, Bakri explained how he appointed regional "commissioners" in each of the countries where the group operates to coordinate local activities.
"We have sent young men to Kashmir, to Bosnia, to Chechnya, to East Turkestan, to Somalia and even to Palestine," boasted the Lebanese cleric, continuing to claim that four British recruits had taken part in suicide bombings in the past few weeks in Syria alone.
So despite sending jihadi fighters among others to Russia and China, London's favorite terrorist recruiter is still in business and continues to fuel the Islamist insurgency in Syria. 

Kyrgyzstan Busts Terrorist Recruiters

Speaking of terrorist recruitment for Syria, "East Turkestan's" neighbor Kyrgyzstan has been struggling with this problem for quite some time. However, this week the Kyrgyz authorities made some progress:
Interior Ministry unveils network in southern Kyrgyzstan recruiting hirelings for Syria hostilities

The Interior Ministry of Kyrgyzstan today announced about disclosure of the underground network recruiting mercenaries for Syria hostilities on the territory of Batken region.

The police unveiled a group in the town of Kyzyl-Kiya, prepared for deployment to Syria to participate in hostilities.

The recruiter appeared to be a 20-year-old native of Kyzyl-Kiya, who stayed in Russia for a long time. The identity of all those planning to depart to Syria was established. Those were 5 young men aged 19-20 years, ready to cover travel costs to Syria from their own money.

Furthermore, security forces in Osh detained one member of the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), who was also involved in recruiting Kyrgyz citizens to join the "Syrian rebels". The IJU is allegedly a splinter group of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is a tool of U.S./NATO intelligence and features regularly in the round-ups. Most of the arrests took place in southern Kyrgyzstan, where the central government faces several challenges, but the anti-terror sweep did extend across the whole country:
National Security Committee detains foreign members of international terrorist organizations in northern Kyrgyzstan

The State National Security Committee detained militants of the international terrorist organizations in counter-terrorism operations in Bishkek and Chui region.

Two nationals of the neighboring state were detained in the operation. They illegally arrived in Kyrgyzstan after military training in Syria.
The two arrested terrorists are Kazakh nationals. Given the fact that the presence of Kazakh jihadists in Syria has been extensively documented, this is hardly surprising. Unfortunately, not only battle-hardened Kazakh terrorists show great interest in northern Kyrgyzstan. Saudi Arabia, prime sponsor of terror in Syria and beyond, plans to open an Islamic center in Bishkek and to build a logistical center "for meat, meat products and sheep" in Chui Province in close proximity to the airport. Kyrgyzstan's government still believes in the supposed benevolence of the House of Saud: 
Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Minister looks forward to productive cooperation in commercial and economic spheres with Saudi Arabia

Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Minister Erlan Abdyldaev looks forward to productive cooperation with Saudi Arabia not only in politics, but also in commercial and economic spheres. He said this at the meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Khaled Bin Saun Bin Khaled Al Saud on January 8 in Bishkek.
Maybe Bishkek will regret this decision eventually but at the moment the government is distracted by other issues anyway. Since many of the areas along along the borders in Central Asia remain in dispute, conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors Tajikistan and Uzbekistan arise frequently. In recent weeks, Kyrgyz and Tajik officials have met several times to discuss how to ease the tensions. Shortly after the two sides agreed to organize a joint patrol on the disputed border segments, Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards clashed again proving that it will be difficult to solve the problem:
Kyrgyz, Tajik Guards Injured In Border Clash

Officials say five Kyrgyz border guards, one Kyrgyz policeman, and two Tajik border guards have been hospitalized with injuries after tensions escalated into exchanges of gunfire along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.

Reports indicate an argument broke out between the Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards when the Tajik guards demanded Kyrgyz construction workers halt work on a road in a disputed area of the two countries' border.