Sunday, July 20, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #60

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.

Europe's dependence on Russian gas has been a thorn in Washington's side for quite some time. In recent weeks, the United States and its lackeys in Brussels tried hard to sabotage Gazprom's South Stream pipeline, to no avail. Austria, Italy, Serbia and a few other European countries are not willing to give up on the project. Washington and Brussels will certainly exploit the MH17 tragedy to put more pressure on these "traitors". The U.S. collaborators in Europe have demonstrated repeatedly that they will do everything in their power to reduce Russia's influence in the European energy sector, if necessary at the expense of EU energy security. Gas from the Caspian Sea region is seen as the solution and UK Energy Minister Michael Fallon vowed during his recent visit to Azerbaijan that the West will counteract Russia's attempts to "interfere" with the Southern Gas Corridor. It is not exactly clear which interference Fallon is alluding to but his other statements suggest that he is full of it:
Implementation of Trans-Caspian gas pipeline to increase stability in region
The implementation of Trans-Caspian gas pipeline will increase stability in the region, UK Energy Minister Michael Fallon told journalists in Baku.

Commenting on the opinion that Russia's position on the said project is fairly rigid, Fallon noted that the Russia was sanctioned for actions against Ukraine. 
"We will continue to use them in order to make it clear: any escalation of tensions in the southeast of the country will lead to new sanctions. We work on these issues with partners in Europe. The existing tension makes more relevant the issue of reducing Europe's dependence on Russian gas," Fallon said.

Tony Blair To Reduce Europe's Dependence On Russian Gas

Fallon seems to confuse stability with war. Threatening Russia with more sanctions in order to implement the Trans-Caspian project is a great idea but only if you are trying to provoke a war with Russia. Gazprom has already made clear that this is a real possibility if the project goes forward. Without the Trans-Caspian pipeline the Southern Gas Corridor is only a minor threat to Gazprom. Given that the U.S. and the EU have high hopes for this initiative of the European Commission, there will be increasing efforts to build the Trans-Caspian pipeline along with other Southern Corridor projects. Western companies recently set up an advisory panel to guide the development of the Southern Gas Corridor and the hired personal indicates that they are dead serious about it:
Tony Blair to advise on Azerbaijan gas project

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, has been hired to advise a BP-led consortium on the export of natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe, in a sign of the efforts now being made by western companies to reduce reliance on Russian supplies.

Mr Blair will join former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and the chairman of Goldman Sachs International, Peter Sutherland – a former chairman of BP – on an advisory panel being set up by BP and its partners, a person close to the Azeri project said.

BP said the Southern Corridor Advisory Panel will “advise on political, environmental, reputational and societal challenges that may be faced by the Shah Deniz 2, TANAP and TAP projects during their early years”.

War criminal Tony Blair surfaced a few days ago, when he initiated the so-called "ceasefire", which was proposed by Israel and Egypt during the ongoing massacre in Gaza. Hamas rejected the ceasefire because the terms amounted virtually to a surrender by Hamas. One European diplomat described it rightly as a trap. The purpose of Blair's ceasefire was not to stop the killing of Palestinians but to get rid of Hamas in order to pave the way for the "development" of the Gaza gas fields. Blair has been championing this cause for several years. The former UK Prime Minister will now also play a growing role in the development of the gas fields in the Caspian region. Considering that Blair already advised the Kazakh government on a "reform program" from 2011 until last year, he should not have problems in dealing with the region's authoritarian regimes, unlike some fellow warmongers:
Baku comments on Carl Bildt’s statements regarding Azerbaijan

Deputy Head of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration, Head of the Foreign Relations Department, Novruz Mammadov commented on the opinions expressed by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt regarding Azerbaijan at the Atlantic Council meeting in Washington, APA reports.

“Unfortunately, there are many such politicians in the international community. They think that everybody should accept and obey what they say. However they don’t understand yet that their irresponsible and narrow-minded thoughts have led the world to such a situation. Today, the ongoing negative processes, conflicts, political instability and tensions in different countries are the result of their thoughts and activities. They are unable to understand the essence of processes in the world. They just memorize some expressions and words, like parrots, and think that they fulfill their duties by using them as a means of pressure”, he said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said at the Atlantic Council’s meeting in Washington that he has serious doubts about the sincerity of Azerbaijan’s participation in the Eastern Partnership program as an authoritarian regime is dominating in the country.
Carl Bildt's criticism comes amid increasing tensions between Baku and Washington. Although Azerbaijan-NATO cooperation continues unabated, the rift is visible. This week, CIA's Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) released a fairly comprehensive report about the shady business dealings of the Aliyev family emphasizing that the Azerbaijani authorities "are capable of monitoring phone calls and website visits on a massive scale." Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani media turned the spotlight on the suspicious activities of USAID in the country and announced that cooperation with the Peace Corps has been terminated:
Azerbaijan is using “operational pause" against Peace Corps

On June 20th, Azerbaijan Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a diplomatic note to the Peace Corps, kindly informing them of the government’s intention to cancel the Memorandum of Understanding (MEU) between a US-run volunteer program and the Ministry of Economic Development, TURAN’s Washington DC correspondent was informed by sources that closely follow the issue.

The move comes just months after the Azeri government terminated Peace Corps' two other major programs focusing on youth development and English education sector in the country,
Peace Corps’ programs in Azerbaijan have seen more than 500 volunteers rotate through since 2003. Since later last year, however, the Azeri government started refusing to accept a large number of volunteers without any official explanation.Some Baku authorities reportedly said it was a “logical step as the country is not poor and does not require such help.”

Halliburton's Fracking Deal In Xinjiang

As previously discussed, the Aliyev regime might be tempted to establish closer ties with Beijing in the light of the latest quarrel with Washington. China prefers not to meddle in other countries' affairs, in contrast to the United States. At the beginning of this month, Baku offered the Chinese government to expand cooperation "in all fields" and a few days ago, there was some talk about closer cooperation in the security sphere. Azerbaijan would blend in well with China's other questionable partners in the War on Terror. This week, China and the U.S. held high-level talks on anti-terror cooperation. Knowing that China's terror problem can be traced back to Washington, the Chinese officials urged the Americans to "abandon double standards in addressing terrorism" and "support China's efforts to strike the East Turkestan terrorists." This will hardly prompt Washington to drop the East Turkestan project but, given Halliburton's latest deal in Xinjiang, at least China's extraction of oil and shale gas will not be impeded by the 'East Turkestan forces':  
Halliburton's new China JV targets Xinjiang tight oil, gas 
A newly formed oil service joint venture between a private Chinese firm and U.S. oil service giant Halliburton Co plans to focus on tapping tight oil and gas reserves in China's remote western region of Xinjiang.

China is stepping up development of more difficult-to-extract resources including tight oil and shale gas, leading more local firms to seek alliances with global oilfield service companies with high-end drilling technology and experience.

The latest venture between Halliburton and China's SPT Energy, known as Xinjiang HTDT, joins similar tie-ups between U.S.-listed Weatherford and China's Sinopec Group and U.S. fracking giant FTS International with Sinopec.

The Chinese authorities are probably hoping that the Halliburton deal will contribute to the stability of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. After all, this is their primary concern. Lately, a $3.2 billion fund was set up to boost the textile industry in Xinjiang in an effort to enhance stability by tackling the unemployment problem. However, unemployment is not the only thing fuelling ethnic tension. China's actions in the War on Terror often have counterproductive effects. The new posters, showing the stereotypical image of Uyghur insurgents with the purpose of warning citizens against helping bearded terrorists, are the latest example. CIA's Radio Free Asia (RFA) is always doing its best to highlight the ethnic tensions in Xinjiang and according to the anti-Chinese propaganda outlet, last week another deadly incident took place:
Six Han Chinese Farmers Stabbed to Death in Xinjiang

Six ethnic majority Han Chinese farmers have been stabbed to death in the latest outbreak of violence in China's western Xinjiang region, police and local officials said.

Police shot dead an ethnic minority Uyghur man and captured three other Uyghur suspects following the incident last Wednesday in Uchturpan (in Chinese, Wushi) county in Aksu prefecture in mid-western Xinjiang, the officials said.

A copy of a warrant of arrest was published online naming six suspects in the stabbing incident, which occurred in Uchturpan's No. 7 village in Imamlirim township on July 9. Their names all sounded Uyghur. 
These were probably just "freedom-loving Uyghurs demanding dignity in China", as Alim Seytoff, President of the NED-funded Uyghur American Association (UAA), put it in his recent propaganda piece in The Huffington Post. Seytoff's arguments fail to convince the authorities in Xinjiang, where the fight against Seytoff's "freedom-loving Uyghurs" has reached worrying levels. Even matches are now being banned and destroyed to ensure that they are not used by "terrorist groups or individual extremists to carry out criminal activities." Furthermore, the military is supposed to play a bigger role in everyday life. The vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission Xu Qiliang urged the troops stationed in Xinjiang "to help local people in practical things" in order to stabilize the region. At the end of the day, it is all about the stability of the region. Therefore, China is also keeping a close eye on the situation in neighboring Afghanistan and the latest move suggests that Beijing is prepared to step up its activities in the war-torn country: 
China appoints special envoy for Afghanistan

China's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that it had appointed a special envoy for Afghanistan, underscoring Beijing's concerns that the withdrawal of NATO troops will leave a hotbed of militancy on its doorstep.

Sun Yuxi, a former ambassador to both Afghanistan and India, has been named to the new position and will have "close communication" with Afghanistan and other relevant parties, the ministry said in a statement.


One of China's chief worries is that Uighur militants who want a separate state in western China's Xinjiang region will step up their fight by exploiting the security vacuum left after the bulk of NATO forces withdraw by the end of the year.

Turkish Airlines Transports Tajik Jihadists To Syria & Iraq

China is already very involved in safeguarding the stability of the Central Asian republics. Chinese investments in Kyrgyzstan's infrastructure were recently discussed (here and here) and Tajikistan will get some assistance as well. Chinese companies are reportedly looking to construct a large cement plant in Gorno-Badakhshan and to invest about $200 million in Tajikistan's cotton industry, which would create thousands of jobs according to the Tajik authorities. Jobs are badly needed considering that the dire socioeconomic conditions are driving many young Tajiks to pursue a career as jihadi mercenary: 
"The airliner transported 91 Takfiri Tajiks from Dushanbe to Istanbul at 21:10 on July 2 onboard flight 254," a source, who asked to remain unnamed for fear of his life, told FNA, and added, "The militants were later transferred to Iraq to join their ISIL co-fighters."

According to the source, the Saudi embassy in Dushanbe acts as the headquarter for recruiting, organizing and leading the terrorists in Tajikistan to send them to Syria and Iraq.

"Abu Tariq, the first secretary of the Saudi embassy, is in charge of payments and costs of the militants' transportation fees," he added.

The source also mentioned that "Turkish Air has transferred about 1,000 Takfiri Tajik fighters to Iraq so far".
© Photo Aydınlık

The Iranians have previously pointed out that Turkish Airlines transported Albanian terrorists from Tirana to Istanbul after they had been recruited by one of the infamous Turkish "aid organizations" for jihad in Syria. More recently, Turkish Airlines made the headlines, when tapes, leaked by the Gülen movement, incriminated the airline in arms shipments to Nigeria. The involvement of the Saudi embassy in the Tajik terrorist recruitment scheme should come as no real surprise either. Besides the U.S. and Turkey, Saudi Arabia is the driving force behind the current offensive of the Islamic State (IS) and the Saudis have been meddling in Tajikistan for quite some time. The Tajik regime turns a blind eye to these activities as long as the insurgents fight abroad. However, Tajik terrorists who return home from Syria are usually taken off the streets since the Tajik authorities are not planning to turn the country into an international jihadi paradise:
Citizen of Iraq detained in Tajikistan while trying to cross Tajik-Afghan border

A citizen of Iraq, 47, was detained by officers of the Tajikistan's Interior Ministry while trying to illegally cross the Tajik-Afghan border, the press service of the Ministry reported.

The man was detained in the framework of search operations conducted on July 13 in Farkhor district near the border with Afghanistan.
Tajik Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda boasted this week about the number of detained terrorists in the last few months. According to Rahimzoda, 49 members of terrorist or extremist groups were arrested in the first half of this year, including five members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and 12 members of the IMU splinter group Jamaat Ansarullah. This is of course only the tip of the iceberg, as the search for several families from Tajikistan's Sughd Province demonstrates:
87 Sughd Oblast residents sought in extremism inquiry

Eighty-seven Sughd Oblast residents, including 24 women and 34 children, are wanted on suspicion of going abroad to join various extremist and terrorist groups, media reported July 17, quoting oblast police chief Sharif Nazarov at a July 16 news conference.

The extremist movements include Jamaat Ansarullah, Jundullah and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Avesta.tj reported. Destinations of the 87 fugitives include Syria, Nazarov said.