Sunday, April 27, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #48

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 tensions are mounting in eastern Ukraine after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had instructed Washington's puppet regime in Kiev to ignore the Geneva agreement and escalate the situation, the European Union sent two of its most notorious warmongers to another front in the new Cold War against Russia. The Foreign Ministers of Germany and France, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Laurent Fabius, visited Georgia and affirmed plans to speed up the signing of the now infamous EU Association Agreement with Russia's southern neighbor:
France, Germany show EU support for Georgia as Ukraine crisis mounts

France and Germany assured Georgia on Thursday that a deal bringing it closer to the European Union would be sealed within weeks, moving to tighten ties with the ex-Soviet republic as tension mounts between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

"I am sure that by the end of June the agreement will have been signed and that it is an important milestone in the history of Georgian and European relations," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Tbilisi.
© Photo AP/Shakh Aivazov

Russia's "Fifth Column" Causes Trouble In Georgia

Georgia and Moldova were supposed to sign the EU pact by the end of this year but in the light of the Ukraine crisis, Brussels wants to seal the deal as soon as possible. When Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which has been quite rightly described as a "dangerous NATO military agreement disguised as a customs and economic agreement", Washington and Brussels had to stage a bloody coup in order to get their will. They would prefer less problems in Georgia. Fortunately, the Georgian government is more obedient and does not tolerate any Russian influence in the country:
Domestic Frictions as Georgians Await EU Deal

Amid the recriminations, there are concerns that Russia-Ukraine tensions are affecting Georgia in a different and potentially more alarming manner. A number of pro-Moscow demonstrations have taken place in recent weeks. Participants spoke out against Georgia’s plans to join NATO one day, and denied that Russia was occupying Georgian territory in the shape of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The pro-Russia rallies are organised by the Eurasian Institute in Tbilisi and a group called The Earth is Our Home. Many political analysts in Tbilisi are concerned about where the movement has come from and where it is going.

Defence Minister Irakli Alasania told IWPR that the organisations were funded by “those who wish Georgia ill”, but declined to be more specific.

“The defence ministry and our armed forces are very concerned about the absolutely amoral statements made by these civil society representatives who justify the position of Russia, our principal enemy,” he said. “No one will allow a fifth column to appear in Georgia.”

Last month, the Eurasian Institute had already organized the screening of a film about NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia triggering clashes between supporters and opponents of the U.S.-led military alliance in Tbilisi. So the Georgian authorities will most certainly subject the organisation to critical scrutiny after the latest demonstrations. But Defense Minister Alasania's fight against "any fifth column" is obviously only limited to pro-Russian activities and does not affect Washington's "democracy promotion": 
U.S-Georgia Democracy Working Group Meets in Tbilisi
A bilateral U.S.-Georgia working group on democracy and governance under the strategic partnership charter between the two countries met on April 25 in Tbilisi to discuss Georgia’s democratic reforms.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas O. Melia; USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander and Department of Justice's Regional Director for Eurasia Catherine Newcombe were among the U.S. delegation. During the visit the delegation held series of meetings in Tbilisi with the Georgian leadership, civil society and opposition representatives.
When it comes to subversive activities in other countries, only few can compete with Washington. The Russian authorities have first-hand knowledge of this. After all, Russia is hosting hundreds of nongovernmental organizations funded by the United States and other hostile countries. This week, NGOs in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan showed their true colors by nominating Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev for the Nobel Peace Prize. If CIA's RFE/RL had not reported the story, nobody would have noticed it. But since Dzhemilev has stated publicly that Crimean Tatars will not recognize "Russia's annexation" of the Crimean peninsula, he is at the moment the darling of Western media, which made a fuss about a travel ban allegedly imposed on the former head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis. This was of course just propaganda based on a fake document. During the last few days, both the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have voiced their concerns about the information war and Ukraine-style color revolutions. As Vestnik Kavkaza's editor-in-chief Alexei Vlasov recently explained, the Ukraine crisis does not bode well for the ruling elite in Central Asia:
Eurasian security in new reality
“Eurasian supporters of Russia, our partners in the CSTO, the Customs Union feel pressure by the West, primarily the USA, in various directions and by internal forces, representatives of the non-governmental sector oriented at Western grants. The last are main agents of influence, who promote a special view on the situation in Crimea and Ukraine, which contradicts official positions of Astana, Bishkek, Dushanbe.”

Ukraine Crisis Affects Central Asia, Pipelineistan

A few days ago, CSTO chief Nikolai Bordyuzha accused NATO of blackmailing all CSTO member states and announced the suspension of contacts between the two military alliances. Due to Washington's opposition, there had not been any NATO-CSTO cooperation anyway. According to Bordyuzha, the CSTO will now strengthen its ties with the SCO and cooperate more closely with China and Iran in the fight against drug trafficking. Meanwhile, two CSTO member states along with Iran and Turkmenistan convinced U.S. proxy Azerbaijan to agree on prohibiting the military presence of any other country on the Caspian Sea:
Caspian sea closed for US military
A convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea will keep the sea free from any military facilities except of either Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran or Azerbaijan, according to nur.kz citing Kazakhstan's KTK Channel.

The accord was reached between foreign ministers of the five Caspian states at talks held in Moscow.

Washington will not be happy to hear that the littoral states of the Caspian Sea eventually came up with an unanimous decision on something. But the Ukraine crisis set a lot of things in motion. Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry is currently trying to verify media reports about the presence of Kazakh citizens among the pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine and the Kazakh government wants to prevent any separatist activities at home:
As Ukraine Splinters, Kazakhstan Mulls Criminalizing Calls for Separatism

As leaders across the former Soviet Union watch another predominantly Russian-speaking region of Ukraine demand independence this week, Astana is mulling legislation that would jail anyone who calls for separatism in Kazakhstan.

Under a proposed amendment to the criminal code, Kazakhstanis could get 10 years in prison for making "illegal and unconstitutional calls for changes to the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” Arman Ayaganov of Kazakhstan's Prosecutor General's office told journalists April 8, Tengrinews reports.
Furthermore, Kazakhstan is worried about the third packet of sanctions against Russia and is already looking for alternative routes to export its oil in case the U.S. and the EU overplay their hand. In light of the ongoing problems at Kazakhstan's largest oil field, the Kazakh authorities are very careful when it comes to their black gold. At the beginning of this year, President Nazarbayev had prematurely boasted that there will some "serious" output from Kashagan in 2014 but after weeks of review, the operators of the giant oil field have now confirmed earlier reports about the unavoidable necessity to replace damaged pipelines:
Kazakhstan’s largest oilfield will be shut down for at least two years

In another crisis at a giant but star-crossed oilfield, Kazakhstan’s Kashagan will be shut for at least two years while specialty pipelines are made to resist the unforeseen impact of toxic gas, according to a source close to the project.

In recent weeks, word has dribbled out that Kashagan—one of the largest supergiant oil finds of the last half-century—may lie dormant through the summer (paywall) and perhaps longer. But this is the first concrete report that the gravity of the problem means that Kashagan will produce no oil through at least 2016 and possibly 2017.

The costly new lines—probably with a nickel alloy—will replace two 55-mile pipelines, one for oil, one for gas. Already, $50 billion has been spent, and the rework means a delay in billions of dollars in cashflow expected by Kazakhstan itself and major oil companies including ExxonMobil, Shell, Eni, and France’s Total. Kashagan contains an estimated 13 billion barrels of recoverable oil reserves.
While Astana is desperately trying to compensate for Kashagan's missing output by boosting oil production at other oil fields, some Indian officials and executives are probably enjoying the drama. Kazakhstan's decision to reject the bid of India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) for a stake in the Kashagan project in favor of a Chinese competitor did not go down well in India. But things have changed in the past year. The Kazakh government, concerned about the growing Chinese influence, is now inviting Indian firms to participate in upcoming projects and joint ventures in order to lessen Kazakhstan's dependence on China. Given India's high demand for energy, Indian firms can hardly refuse this offer. Moreover, ONGC has already confirmed its interest in a major pipeline project, which has been on the drawing boards for nearly a decade and might be implemented due to the new Cold War: 
Russia is changing its energy export policy vector as strong demand for hydrocarbons in both in China and in India continues to grow. The recent unease in both the U.S. and Europe over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s March 17 annexation of Crimea has only added to Moscow’s efforts to diversify its markets beyond Europe.

Now Russia and India are planning to construct a $30 billion oil pipeline through China’s restive Xinjiang province. If successful, the pipeline will be the most expensive in the world.

The pipeline also has political support in China. China’s Center for Strategic Studies in Energy Director Xia Yishan recently said, “The project is beneficial for both India and China, as it would allow China to become an oil transit in addition to its ‘status’ of recipient of the Russian oil.”

Xinjiang's War on Terror Targets Beards

This ambitious project will strengthen India's intention to become a member of the China-led SCO, which is currently working to improve the legal framework regarding adoption of new members to the organization. Xinjiang plays an increasingly important role in Pipelineistan and Beijing wants to turn the autonomous region into China's onshore energy base. Therefore Xinjiang's stability is of the utmost importance to the Chinese authorities, as Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun stressed once again this week. However, sometimes China's War on Terror produces strange effects:
Spot Beard, Get Paid: China Offers Money for Informants in Xinjiang

Authorities in northwest China are offering rewards for anyone who informs on their neighbors for having too much facial hair.

Officials in Shaya county, Xinjiang, have listed beards among the “potential hazards to society” residents should look out for and report to the government as part of a new campaign.

According to the state-run Global Times, the campaign is offering rewards ranging from 50 yuan to up to 50,000 yuan for “a wide range of intelligence from those wearing beards to spreading information to topple the authorities.” Rewards will also be on offer for tipoffs on news of foreigners traveling through the county, as well as people conducting “illegal religious activities.”
© Photo Reuters/William Hong

Faced with Washington's plan to establish East Turkestan on Chinese territory, the Chinese authorities are primarily concerned with separatist and illegal religious activities in the autonomous region. According to CIA's Radio Free Asia, a recent police raid on a local mosque resulted in the dismissal of the mosque's imam and two people were detained for listening to "illegal religious audio materials". Furthermore, Xinjiang's law enforcers take the frequent campaigns against guns and explosives very seriously:
Xinjiang police seize 400 imitation guns, 230,000 bullets

Police authorities in Urumqi, capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, have seized more than 400 imitation guns and 230,000 bullets.

Tang Liang, a spokesman with the Sayibak district bureau of public security in Urumqi, on Tuesday revealed the seizure was made in a bust after a campaign against guns and explosives was launched on April 10.

Police seized 46 replica guns and 230,000 bullets from a store at a wholesale market for toys and then seized more than 350 guns from the store's warehouse.
In response to the terrorist attack in Kunming, security measures have been tightened once more. For example, mainland cities including Shanghai increased the number of armed police officers on patrol in the wake of the massacre. Terrorist attacks offer the perfect pretext for the Chinese government to turn the country into a full-fledged police state with support from the majority of the population. A survey of Mainland China civilians shows that most people know that Xinjiang's terror problem is fueled from abroad, which is most likely one of the main reasons for the strong support of China's War on Terror [emphasis mine]: 
How Chinese Think About Terrorism
The results of our data show that 66 percent of respondents do not agree with the statement that “Poverty is the source of Xinjiang terrorist violent attack.” More than 85 percent think foreign separatist forces and religious extremist forces are the main sources of Xinjiang terrorism. In addition, 96 percent of respondents think the government should step up its fight against terrorism, and 69 percent think that the current ethnic policies need to be modified.