Sunday, April 13, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #46

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. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized in his letter to European leaders that there will be an increasing risk of siphoning off natural gas passing through Ukraine’s territory if Gazprom has to cease gas deliveries to Ukraine for lack of payment. Instead of returning to a reasonable dialogue with the Kremlin, Washington's European lackeys will use the opportunity to argue for turning to other gas suppliers. Although it will take years before the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) opens the Southern Gas Corridor, some people in Brussels are convinced that the Southern Gas Corridor is the solution and refuse to give up on the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline. Never mind that this project could trigger a military conflict with Russia. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are improving their relationship for the sake of the Trans-Caspian pipeline and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has already given his blessing. Unfortunately, the Turkmen leader has a knack for supporting the wrong pipeline projects:
Turkmen President: 2015 Start for Pipeline Work

Turkmenistan's president has demanded that construction work begin in 2015 on a pipeline that will carry natural gas from his energy-rich country to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov said all the agreements required for the project's launch should be completed this year, state media in the Central Asian nation reported Friday.
A memorandum of understanding between the four countries linked by the TAPI pipeline was signed in 2010 and a supply deal was completed in 2012.

 

Turkmenistan: Western Pipe Dreams Meet China's New Silk Road

Washington has been promoting both the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline and the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline since the 1990s. As early as October 1995, Berdimuhamedov's predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov had signed an agreement for the TAPI project with Unocal managers in New York City. While infamous war criminal Henry Kissinger, acting as an adviser to Unocal, attended the ceremony, no Afghan was present because nobody had deemed it necessary to invite any Afghans. Almost two decades later TAPI's fate still depends substantially on the situation in Afghanistan and there are no indications that the construction of a pipeline in the war-torn country will be feasible in the foreseeable future. So Turkmen gas will not reach Europe or India anytime soon and primarily flow to China. Last month, Berdimuhamedov ordered to accelerate the industrial development of Turkmenistan's gas fields in order to increase exports to China and the two countries continue to strengthen their strategic partnership with cooperation in other areas as well:
Turkmenistan, China to form trade and economic zone along Great Silk Road

A meeting of businessmen from Turkmenistan and China was held on March 24 in Beijing in order to expand and strengthen economic and trade cooperation. The event was organized by the Embassy of Turkmenistan in China, together with the China Committee for Promotion of International Trade, the People's Daily Online reported.

The main objectives of the forum is to attract potential investors and partners for joint projects, exchange of ideas and experiences in economic and trade fields.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping started his now famous Central Asia tour last September in Turkmenistan, he stressed that China attaches great importance to its partnership with the energy-rich country. During his trip Xi visited four 'stans and met all five Central Asian leaders securing one deal after another. Beijing pledged funding for energy and infrastructure projects to the tune of over $50 billion. Thanks in part to Xi's Central Asia tour, China's influence in the region is ever-increasing and the modern-day Silk Road is making good progress:
China's trade with Central Asia reaches levels of region's trade with Russia

China’s importance as a trading partner, investor, and financer of infrastructure projects in the Central Asian region is rapidly rising. After a decade of rapid growth, Chinese trade with Central Asia has grown to levels commensurated with the region’s trade with the Russian Federation, finds the paper titled “Central Asia Trade and Human Development” released by UNDP on April 8.

In terms of trade flows, there are obvious complementarities between Chinese manufactured exports and Central Asian comparative advantage in the primary products that China imports.
Moscow has no time to worry about this development and is itself looking to boost trade with China. In order show the wannabe cold warriors in Washington and Brussels that Russia does not depend on Europe for selling its gas, the Kremlin is considering to sign a major gas deal with Beijing. This deal has been discussed for years, but up until now the two sides have failed to reach an agreement because Gazprom is hoping for a price of $10-$11 per mmBtu (million British thermal units) and the Chinese would prefer to pay less. By way of comparison, China is believed to pay $9 per mmBtu to Turkmenistan. If the Russians lowered the price, the deal could be signed within weeks:
UPDATE 3-Russia says long-sought China gas supply deal is close

Russia said on Wednesday it was close to signing a deal to sell natural gas to China, a long-sought agreement which President Vladimir Putin could use to show Western sanctions over Crimea cannot isolate his country.

The deal is the Holy Grail for Russia after at least 10 years of talks and Moscow hopes it can be signed when Putin visits China next month.

As talks between state-controlled Gazprom and Chinese officials continued in China, Arkady Dvorkovich, a deputy prime minister, said the sides were close to sealing a deal that would also involve construction of a pipeline to carry 38 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year.

Russia Prepares For More Unrest Amid Victory In Chechnya

Since Russia anticipates more fallout from the Ukraine crisis, precautionary measures are being taken. Russian companies are testing if their Asian clients would agree to using euros as a settlement currency instead of the dollar. But as long as long the Obama administration sticks to harmless sanctions, there is no need to adopt such drastic measures. Meanwhile, President Putin, learning his lesson from Washington's "Brown Revolution" in Ukraine, urged the Federal Security Service (FSB) to keep a close eye on the countless NGOs in Russia:
Putin says West may use NGOs to stir unrest in Russia

President Vladimir Putin told his security chiefs on Monday to ensure Russia does not follow what he said was Ukraine's example by letting the West use local civil rights groups to foment unrest.

Accusing the West of funding radical groups in Ukraine that helped to topple President Viktor Yanukovich, he expressed concern that Russia also faced a threat from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) "serving foreign national interests".
Much to the dismay of Washington, Russia's Constitutional Court recently upheld the "foreign agents" law. So the work of GOLOS, Memorial and other regime change NGOs will not get any easier. According to President Putin, Russia's FSB did a good job in counter-intelligence by foiling the activities of 46 foreign intelligence members and 258 agents in 2013. This week, FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov also finally confirmed the death of Chechen terrorist leader Doku Umarov. Bortnikov stated that the leader of the Caucasus Emirate had been killed late last year and that this information had been withheld from the public until now "for specific operational and political reasons". Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, seized the moment to brag about the elimination of terrorism and Wahhabism in Chechnya:
Kadyrov: Chechen cities safe enough for police to be unarmed while off duty
“The warlords have been eliminated and armed gangs wiped out. The militants have no social base inside Chechnya they might rely on. In a situation like this the police should be aware that the nature of their work and of their tasks is changing. It’s time to get used to a peaceful life, to pay more attention to theory. As for practice, they have had enough of it,” Kadyrov said.

But Kadyrov pointed out that the North Caucasus insurgency has not been defeated and is now wreaking havoc in neighboring Dagestan. Moreover, the Russian authorities are concerned about jihadists gaining strength in Central Asia. Both Putin and Bortnikov alerted to the threat of Central Asian terrorists destabilizing not only their home countries but possibly also Russia. Last week, a Russian court sentenced a Tajik Hizb ut-Tahrir member, who had been arrested last year for planning an attack in Stavropol, to 17 years in prison. As Galim Fashutdino, Voice of Russia's correspondent in Tajikistan, explained in the Russian press, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia is fueled from abroad:
Islamists stepping up their activities in Central Asia

"Salafism in Central Asia is linked with a number of groups abroad. And as regards the Turkmen Salafis, they found themselves in the focus of attention of analysts only last year, when it became clear that the Turkmen Salafis are fighting in Syria and that there many of them there. There are 190 Tajik Salafis in Syria, and the number of Turkmen Salafis in the country is much higher. And they have contacts with both the Caucasus and Turkey. And as regards Tajikistan, it has established direct contacts with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while Kyrgyzstan has close contacts with Pakistan’s Karachi."

Kyrgyz Opposition Does Washington's Bidding

Since Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are not willing to sever their ties with the petro-monarchies or Pakistan, both countries will continue to struggle with this problem. A YouTube video showing five Tajiks burning their passports in Syria, where they joined the al-Qaeda mercenaries from ISIS, attracted some attention in Tajikistan this week. In the meantime, another group of Hizb ut-Tahrir members was detained in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Moscow would prefer more stability in the region and has therefore vowed to support the two 'stans with military aid. Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Antonov reaffirmed this again:
Russia to donate military equipment for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan

Russia intends to deliver gratis military equipment for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for several billion rubles in total, in next few years, Deputy Minister of Defense of Russia Anatoly Antonov said.

At the same time, he did not elaborate on what kind of military equipment will be delivered and the amount of the delivery.
There are of course some strings attached. Dushanbe had to extend the contract granting Russian military presence on Tajik territory and Bishkek had to kick the Americans out of Manas. Because the United States cannot afford losing its vital air base, which has played a central role in NATO's drug trafficking and jihadi operations, Washington is stepping up its intelligence operations in the country. Perhaps the Americans will resort to the tried and tested colour revolution in order to fight Russian influence in Kyrgyzstan. A few days ago, police broke up a rally in the Kyrgyz capital and detained some 200 opposition activists:
Police Break Up Opposition Rally In Bishkek
The Bishkek protesters called on President Almazbek Atambaev to revise plans to allow Russian companies to take over the transit center at Manas airport after NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan later this year.

The opposition held similar protest rallies in several other towns and cities across Kyrgyzstan.

They are demanding that presidential powers be limited, that deals on Kyrgyzstan's joining a Russia-led customs union be revised, that a jailed former parliament speaker be freed, and that a major gold mine be nationalized.

So the Russian and Kyrgyz governments can look forward to more trouble in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, tensions with neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan pose additional problems. Dushanbe's move to deploy a paramilitary group of about 150 men near the Kyrgyz-Tajik border did not inspire the Kyrgyz authorities with confidence. Kyrgyzstan plans to set up four new border posts on the border with Tajikistan and deploys more border guards:
Kyrgyzstan increases number of servicemen on borders with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan

Kyrgyzstan is increasing the number of border guards on the border with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, State Border Service Chairman Raimberdi Duishenviyev said at the meeting of Ata Jurt faction on April 11.

“The latest conflicts on the borders showed our special task forces are ready to give rebuff and to protect the border, but we are increasing their numbers stepping up security measures,” he explained.
The employees of the National Central Bureau of Interpol in Kyrgyzstan detained a citizen of Kazakhstan, who is internationally wanted, in Bishkek Manas airport, the press service of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kyrgyzstan reported Friday.
The man was trying to fly to Turkey on a passport with different name and photo. The detained man suspected of illegal possession, distribution and sale of Afghan drugs, trafficking via Kazakhstan to neighboring countries.
- See more at: http://en.ca-news.org/news:539338/#sthash.tBgS41TP.dpu