Sunday, June 29, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #57

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.

At the beginning of this month, the United States handed back its only Central Asian air base to the government of Kyrgyzstan, after the Kyrgyz authorities had caved in to Russian pressure and refused to extend the lease on the Transit Center at Manas. Symbolizing the rocky relationship between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan, a U.S. civilian contractor at the base, who had attempted to rape a local woman, was sentenced to four years in prison on the same day the Americans officially closed the Manas base. Romania is now hosting the Pentagon's Afghanistan air logistics hub but since the Americans do not plan to leave Afghanistan or Central Asia anytime soon, a new Central Asian air base is needed as well:
Uzbekistan may provide Khanabad Airfield to U.S. to replace Kyrgyzstan's Manas

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan Abdulaziz Kamilov and U.S. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Laurel Miller discussed the current situation in Afghanistan and its impact on the processes within the region, according to an official statement of the press service of the Uzbekistan's Ministry.

Experts believe that the U.S. is looking for a new platform to support its troops in Afghanistan upon the withdrawal from the Kyrgyzstan's Transit Center at Manas Airport.


In Uzbekistan, the U.S. is interested in Khanabad Airfield that had been already provided to them in 2001. However, after the 2005 events in Andijan, the U.S. was expelled from the country for their support of local radicals. In response, Washington imposed a series of sanctions against Tashkent. Five years later, the U.S., however, realized what they had lost and began to seek the resumption of cooperation with Tashkent. 

U.S. Military Not Leaving Central Asia

"Support of local radicals" translates into criticism of the actions of the Uzbek regime during the May 2005 unrest in Uzbekistan. Washington learned the hard way that Tashkent does not like to be lectured about human rights. After learning its lesson, the U.S. is now willing to disregard Uzbekistan's atrocious human rights record in favor of a comeback at the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base. Representatives of the State Department and other U.S. agencies have become quite frequent guests in Tashkent. Two weeks ago, Celeste Wallander, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia on the National Security Council, met with Uzbek leader Islam Karimov to discuss bilateral cooperation in various spheres as well as the situation in Afghanistan. Wallander also visited Kyrgyzstan during her Central Asia tour to make sure that Kyrgyz-U.S. security cooperation continues after the closure of Manas [emphasis mine]:
Kyrgyzstan, U.S. discuss further ways of security cooperation after closure of Transit Center at Manas

Vice Prime Minister Abdyrakhman Mamataliyev on June 18 met with with Celeste Wallander, Assistant to the U.S. President, Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia at the National Security Council, reported the government's press service.

Vice Prime Minister Mamataliyev thanked the U.S. Government for assistance and equipment provided to law enforcement agencies.

Celeste Wallander in turn said the main goal of her visit to Kyrgyzstan is to determine further ways of cooperation between two countries after closure of the Transit Center at Manas, which completed its mission in Kyrgyzstan.
Although the Americans have left Manas, they will retain some sort of military presence in the country and they have demonstrated in the past that this can be done without a formal military base. According to well-known analyst Alexander Knyazev, the U.S. and NATO are setting up a base for covert operations in the remote Batken region of Kyrgyzstan's Fergana Valley. Interestingly enough, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) used to have a very strong presence in Batken Province. The region served as a refuge and recruitment ground for the IMU and especially the two enclaves So'x and Vorukh have been hotbeds of IMU support. But given the fact that the U.S. government is supporting the renovation and construction of police stations in the Batken region and other parts of the Fergana Valley, the Kyrgyz authorities will hardly have to worry about a comeback of the IMU in the region. After all, the U.S. is known for its benevolence and Knyazev's concerns about the dozens of Western NGOs working in Batken Province are therefore completely unfounded as well. For some inexplicable reason, the deep mistrust towards NGOs, which are financed from abroad, is not limited to Russia:
Kyrgyzstan: Nationalists Again Pushing "Foreign Agents" Bill

Nationalists are renewing efforts in Kyrgyzstan to secure vague legislation to require non-profit organizations that receive money from abroad to register as foreign agents.

MP Tursunbai Bakir uulu, one of the new bill’s sponsors, told EurasiaNet.org on June 17 that he hopes parliament will consider the measure before it adjourns for its summer recess at the end of June. “NGOs need to be more transparent,” Bakir uulu said. “Society needs to know how the money sent from abroad is spent.”

Bakir uulu’s initiative marks the second attempt to pass “foreign agents” legislation targetting organizations that engage in "political activities." The first attempt stalled in parliament.
Considering that some NGOs are doing their best to thwart Kyrgyzstan's accession to the Russia-led Customs Union, there is some evidence to support the 'foreign agent' accusations. In order to counter these efforts, the Kyrgyz government has launched a large-scale campaign to convince the public of the planned accession. Bishkek is also trying hard to get the best possible deal from Moscow and Astana before the country joins the soon-to-be Eurasian Economic Union by the end of this year. This will further strengthen Russian influence in Kyrgyzstan, much to the dismay of the United States. Meanwhile, China is not standing idly by either. Since Kyrgyzstan borders China's vital Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the stability of the Central Asian state is of prime importance to the Chinese authorities. Beijing offered Bishkek to support infrastructure projects in Kyrgyzstan and a delegation of the China Development Bank (CDB), led by the head of the Xinjiang office, visited the Kyrgyz capital this week to discuss the matter with Kyrgyz officials:
Kyrgyz government reaches agreement with China Development Bank concerning support of projects in Kyrgyzstan

Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Joomart Otorbayev on June 25 met with the delegation of the China Development Bank, reported the government's press service.

“We are grateful to China Development Bank for a prompt reaction to our request of intensification of cooperation, as well as assistance provided by the Bank to its Kyrgyz partners – RSK Bank and Aiyl Bank – in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Interbanking Association,” Joomart Otorbayev added.

The sides agreed to produce a master plan for Issyk-Kul region development, considered several priority infrastructure projects included into the National Sustainable Development Strategy until 2017.

East Turkestan Project Threatens Russia-China-India Pipeline

China's interest in the stability of the region is primarily based on the need to supply the Chinese economy with an ever-increasing amount of energy via Central Asian pipelines, which run to Xinjiang. This month, the third line of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline started to transport natural gas from the Turkmen-Uzbek border through central Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan to Xinjiang and the construction of another line of the pipeline is expected to be launched at the end of this year. Xinjiang's importance in Pipelineistan will only increase in the future, as more and more countries eye pipeline projects involving China's Far West. The new Indian government was apparently inspired by the recent Russia-China 'gas deal of the century' and is now looking to get in on the act, which means more trouble for the United States and another pipeline for Xinjiang: 
Gas pipeline to China: India to talk to Russia for extension

India is set to start negotiating with Russia the extension of a $30-billion gas pipeline Moscow plans to build to China till the Indian border. If the proposed pipeline from Russia via China's Xinjiang province materialises, it will be among the world's most expensive gas pipelines.

Sources said given Narendra Modi government’s intent to bolster sourcing of oil and gas to meet the country’s rising energy demand, an Indian delegation would take up discussions on the proposed pipeline’s extension with Moscow and Beijing during the BRIC summit in July.

The proposal would also be in focus when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits India later this year.

India and Russia are also planning to construct a similar oil pipeline through Xinjiang, a project which has been on the drawing boards for years. Due to Russia's eastern energy pivot, the implementation of these major pipeline projects is more likely than ever before and Xinjiang's stability will play a decisive role in this regard. Last month's terrorist attack on a market in Urumqi, which shocked China just hours after the historic gas deal with Russia had been signed, serves as a warning that the destabilization of the autonomous region will continue. Washington vehemently opposes Russia-China-India pipelines for obvious reasons and might be tempted to expedite its East Turkestan project. The situation in Xinjiang is already very tense. Beijing responded to the Urumqi attack by launching a one-year-long no-holds-barred anti-terror campaign and the first month was quite eventful:
32 terror groups busted in Xinjiang

A total of 32 gangs were busted; over 380 suspects apprehended; and 315 people convicted in the first month of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region anti-terror campaign.

Public security departments seized 264 explosive devices, 3.15 tonnes of explosives and 357 controlled knives, Wang Qianrong, deputy head of the regional public security department, told a news briefing.

Last Monday, thirteen people were executed for organizing, leading and participating in terrorist groups; murder; arson; theft; and illegal manufacture, storage and transportation of explosives,in Aksu, Turpan and Hotan. On the same day, three people were sentenced to death by Urumqi Intermediate People's Court for an attack in Beijing's Tian'anmen Square in October 2013.
This week, Chinese authorities released graphic video footage of several terrorist attacks in China, including the Tiananmen Square attack last October and the Urumqi attack in May. The footage has been included in a 24 min documentary about online terrorist propaganda of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The documentary, which was released by the State Internet Information Office to "educate Internet users on the consequences of spreading terror and violent videos", emhpasizes that most perpetrators of attacks in China had watched videos or listened to recordings made by the ETIM. Therefore, China has launched a crackdown on online terrorist propaganda and urged the international community to support these efforts. Furthermore, the Chinese government is trying to engage the population more in its War on Terror. As previously discussed, citizens in Xinjiang who provide information about terror-related activities and other "potential hazards to society”, such as growing a beard, are being rewarded with up to 50.000 yuan. This reward system is now being extended: 
China to reward terror informants

China's Ministry of Public Security has promised substantial rewards for those who give information to the "people's war" against terrorism.

Rewards will be according the value of the information in preventing terrorist attacks or catching suspects. The actual amount will be decided by local police according to the regional financial situation.

Among the areas which have already made public their rewards, the ceiling is 500,000 yuan (80,000 U.S. dollars) in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, 200,000 yuan in Yunnan Province, and there is no ceiling in Shenzhen City.

EU Embraces Terrorist State Georgia

Some people in Russia's North Caucasus, which faces similiar problems like Xinjiang, are considering to take a different approach, punishment instead of rewards. Yunus-bek Yevkurov, the head of the Russian Republic of Ingushetia, threatened last month to punish the family members of insurgents if they fail to convince the jihadi relatives to lay down their arms. This would be done by distributing the photos of terrorist suspects across the republic so that the relatives of victims could retaliate against the suspects' families. Lately, Ingushetia saw an increase in terrorist activites and if Yevkurov decides to allow traditional blood feuds it might eventually challenge even Dagestan in terms of violence:
Warlord killed in Russia's troubled Republic of Dagestan
A warlord was killed in an attempt to escape in the city of Makhachkala, the capital of Russian North Caucasian Republic of Dagestan, the information centre of the National Anti-Terrorism Committee told ITAR-TASS.
“On Thursday morning, Makhach Taimudarov, born in 1976, a warlord of gangs rampaging in Dagestan was killed in an attempt for an armed breakthrough from the private house blocked by commandoes in a combat operation in the city of Makhachkala,” the committee’s information centre said.

“In 2005 Taimudarov was ousted from a local mosque for spreading extremist religious views,” the information centre reported. According to the Federal Security Service department, he has been abetting to bandits since 2007 and has recently got in close ties with Aliaskhab Kebekov who led all North Caucasian gangs after warlord Umarov was killed.
As regular readers of the New Great Game Round-Up will know, the North Caucasus insurgency is being enabled and fueled by several states on behalf of the United States. The role of Russia's southern neighbor Georgia in supporting NATO's jihadi mercenaries has been discussed before and is now again in the spotlight due to the ISIS offensive in Iraq. While the media prefers to ignore the real masterminds of the ISIS campaign, there has been some interest in ISIS commander Omar al-Shishani aka Tarkhan Batirashvili who leads us directly to a joint US-Georgia terrorist recruitment and training program: 
​ISIS in Iraq stinks of CIA/NATO ‘dirty war’ op

Jeffrey Silverman, Georgia Bureau Chief for the US-based Veterans Today (VT) website, told me that Batirashvili “is a product of a joint program of the US through a front NGO called Jvari, which was set up by US Intelligence and the Georgian National Security Council, dating back to the early days of the Pankisi Gorge.”

Jvari is the name as well of a famous Georgian Orthodox monastery of the 6th century. According to Silverman, David J. Smith—head of something in Tbilisi called the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, as well as the Potomac Institute in Washington where he is listed as Director of the Potomac Institute Cyber Centerr—played a role in setting up the Jvari NGO.

Silverman maintains that Jvari in Rustavi, near the capital, Tbilisi, gathered together Afghan Mujahideen war veterans, Chechens, Georgians and sundry Arab Jihadists. They were sent to the infamous Pankisi Gorge region, a kind-of no-man’s lawless area, for later deployment, including Iraq and Syria.

Georgia is doing its best to please the U.S. and NATO but even the willingness to host various terrorists on its territory has been not enough to obtain NATO's much-desired Membership Action Plan (MAP). Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen promised the Georgian government a "substantive package" ahead of the NATO summit in September to help Georgia "come closer" to the U.S.-led military alliance but due to stong opposition from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Tbilisi will have to wait for the MAP a little longer. Nevertheless, Georgia is moving closer to the West with the signing of the EU Association Agreement, much to delight of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who immediately celebrated that Washington is one step closer to realizing a "Europe whole and free", which means the consolidation of a unified Europe controlled by Brussels on behalf of the United States:
EU signs association accords with Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova

The European Union on Friday signed association accords with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as the three former Soviet republics committed themselves to a future in Europe.

"This is a great day for Europe... the European Union stands by your side today more than ever before," European Council head Herman Van Rompuy said at the ceremony with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko and prime ministers Irakli Garibashvili of Georgia and Iurie Leanca of Moldova.