Sunday, November 23, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #76

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.

So-called color revolutions have long been used by the United States to replace governments all over the world with more pliable alternatives if the respective leaders have outlived their usefulness or antagonized Washington, the most recent example being the Euromaidan in Ukraine. After Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, the U.S. and its allies launched Orange Revolution 2.0 to ensure Kiev's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration and to nip Ukraine's accession to the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in the bud. On November 21, Ukrainians gathered in Kiev to mark the first anniversary of the start of the fateful anti-government protests, which have plunged the country into war, leading to a new confrontation between Russia and the West. In light of the developments in Ukraine, many governments are increasingly alarmed at color revolutions. Especially Russian officials have been repeatedly warning against this "new form of warfare" in recent months. A few days ago, President Putin urged Russian security chief to do everything necessary to prevent a color revolution in Russia and the issue was also high on the agenda during this week's talks between Russian and Chinese defense ministers:
Russia, China should jointly counter "color revolutions" — Russian Defense Ministry

Russia and China should jointly stand against “color revolutions” which both countries are facing, a deputy Russian defence minister said after talks between Russian and Chinese defence chiefs on Tuesday.

“We focused on those events which have recently taken place in Hong Kong, and both ministers acknowledged that no country is immune from ‘color revolutions,’” Anatoly Antonov said.

“It only seems that these “color revolutions” and these experiments by Western spin doctors, including those from the United States, are being implemented somewhere far from China or the Russian Federation,” Antonov said. “All this is in fact near us, and we believe that Russia and China should work together to withstand this new security challenge to our countries.
© Photo Xinhua/Gao Jie

Soros' Visit A Bad Omen As Kyrgyzstan Prepares To Join EEU

Before he travelled to Islamabad to sign a landmark military agreement with Pakistan, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu met with his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan and other top officials in Beijing to discuss military cooperation between Russia and China. Chang called for joint efforts to "promote bilateral military-to-military ties to a higher level" and both sides agreed to respond to Washington's attempts to strengthen its military and political clout in the Asia-Pacific region by forming a regional collective security system. Moscow's concerns with regard to color revolutions probably found a sympathetic ear in Beijing considering that the Chinese government is worried about the Hong Kong protests. Beijing has been portraying Occupy Central as an evil Western plot but although the usual suspects have a hand in the "Umbrella Revolution," the protests are not merely another color revolution. Nevertheless, both Beijing and Moscow have every reason to be on their guard, as the example of Ukraine shows. Some people are concerned that China's neighbor Kyrgyzstan will be the next target and the visit of color revolution expert George Soros didn't help to allay fears of a Kyrgyz Maidan: 
Myktybek uluu Bekbolot: Kyrgyzstan will not survive after another coup

"We are against arrival of the billionaire George Soros to our country," the representative of NGO Strong Kyrgyzstan Muratbek uluu Bekbolot defined the aim of the protest, passing near the building of the US Embassy in the Kyrgyz Republic, to 24.kg news agency.

According to him, after his first visit to our country there was a coup in 2005. "Now Soros again appeared, and we suspect that he is planning another revolution in our country. We are for peace Kyrgyzstan and don't want war. Our country will not survive after another coup," he added.

A few dozen protesters carrying signs with slogans such as "U.S. hands off of sovereign Kyrgyzstan" gathered near the U.S. Embassy Bishkek to demand that George Soros must immediately leave the country and stop interfering in Kyrgyzstan's internal politics. Neither Soros nor the Kyrgyz authorities were swayed by the small rally and the founder of the infamous Open Society Foundations completed his first trip to Kyrgyzstan after almost ten years without incident. After meeting with a representative of the Aga Khan Foundation and the current president of the American University of Central Asia (AUCA), Soros visited AUCA to talk to students and check if his money is well-invested. AUCA is being funded by Soros' Open Society Foundations and the U.S. government. The multi-billionaire also met with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev to discuss the activities of the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan, which begs the question of whether or not Atambayev told Soros that one of the projects financed by his foundation will be charged with "inciting interethnic hatred":
Kyrgyzstan's Spooks Hounding Rights Groups with "Absurd" Charges

The State Committee on National Security (GKNB) charged two staff of the Human Rights Advocacy Center, an anti-torture campaigner in Osh, on November 20 with “inciting interethnic hatred,” a source with intimate knowledge of the case told EurasiaNet.org. One was told that the former director of Freedom House’s Kyrgyzstan office would also be charged.

The GKNB had outlined its case in a September criminal complaint, stating that an opinion survey distributed by the Advocacy Center posed a threat to national security and could reignite interethnic conflict in the country’s volatile south. The Advocacy Center project was funded by Freedom House, which receives some of its funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

The source with intimate knowledge of the case believes Kyrgyzstan will try to shut down foreign-funded NGOs altogether and kick out USAID, as Russia did in 2012. “This is the beginning of the end. This has been building for awhile,” the source said. The Advocacy Center and Freedom House are just scapegoats, the source added. “Russia wants these groups to leave. They’re going to push. It may take a year or more, but they [Russia] are aiming to get them cleared out.
The Human Rights Advocacy Center receives funding from Freedom House as well as from the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan. As previously discussed, the above-mentioned survey caused a great stir in Osh and in light of the Euromaidan protests and subsequent coup d'état in Kiev, the Kyrgyz authorities take no chances when it comes to the activities of foreign-funded "non-governmental" organizations. According to Kyrgyzstan's National Institute for Strategic Studies, 16,000 NGOs are now officially registered in the Central Asian country and although only a few hundred are active, it is difficult to stay on top of things. Therefore, legislators in Bishkek have been pushing for a Russian-style foreign agents law in recent months. As Kyrgyzstan is preparing to join the EEU and moving closer to Russia, some people in Bishkek and Moscow are concerned that Washington will try to impede this process but the Kyrgyz government stands by its decision to cast its lot with Russia:
Kyrgyzstan Has "No Alternative" to Closer Russia Ties - Prime Minister

The slowdown of Russia’s economy is inflicting pain across Central Asia. But impoverished Kyrgyzstan has no choice but to stay close to Moscow, Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev tells EurasiaNet.org.

In recent weeks, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has passed reams of legislation on membership in both the customs union and the EEU, which will come into being on January 1.

“We’ve gotten some criticism from the United States,” Otorbaev says of EEU membership talks. “I would like to hear the arguments of those who would like us to close the border. [...] With whom are we going to trade? I don’t know. The United States is not here. Europe neither. China is very aggressively importing things. If someone would advise us, I would be more than happy to hear them.

Georgia's "Pro-Russian" Government Continues NATO Integration

George Soros and the U.S. government will have to do a lot of persuading to woo Kyrgyzstan away from Russia. But although U.S. NGOs have lately been running into trouble in Kyrgyzstan and Russia, the use of NGOs is still very popular around the world. Archil Chkoidze, the leader of the Georgian NGO coalition "Eurasian Choice," recently suggested that Russian NGOs should beef up their presence in Georgia to counter U.S. influence in the country. Chkoidze stressed that many U.S. organizations are already working in Georgia to this end and nobody can deny that they have been very successful so far. Before visiting Kyrgyzstan, George Soros spent two days in Georgia to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Open Society Georgia Foundation. Soros also met with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who has been doing his best to assure the West of Georgia's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration after the dismissal of Defense Minister Irakli Alasania. This week, Garibashvili travelled to Brussels to attend the first meeting of the EU-Georgia Association Council and to meet with NATO's new Secretary General:
Georgian PM, NATO Chief Discuss Implementation of ‘Substantive Package’

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met Georgia’s PM Irakli Garibashvili in Brussels on November 17 and discussed implementation of the “substantive package” of cooperation, which NATO offered to Georgia at its summit in Wales in September.

Among those elements of the package are assisting defense capacity building in Georgia through, as Stoltenberg put it, “embedded trainers” and setting up of a joint training center in Georgia.


“We are pleased that Georgia will also host NATO-Georgia Training Center. The Center will help the Georgian forces to maintain their ability to work with NATO and it will prepare Georgia and other partners for future contributions to NATO Response Force,” the NATO Secretary General said.
© Photo NATO

Stoltenberg emphasized that he has "no reason to doubt" Georgia's commitment to NATO integration and he stated that concrete decisions on the training center will be made at the ministerial meeting of NATO countries in February 2015. With that said, it is quite difficult to argue that Georgia is about to abandon its pro-Western course or that the Georgian government is loyal to Russia but that is exactly what some people in Georgia are alleging. A few days ago, dismissed Defense Minister Alasania, who called the corruption investigation into the military "an attack on Georgia's Euro-Atlantic choice," gave a 'final warning' to the Prosecutor’s Office and threatened to get the international community involved if his lawyers don't get the files of the case. Shortly afterwards, Alasania travelled to the United States to meet with representatives of the State Department. Another darling of Washington is also blasting the government in Tbilisi. According to former president Mikheil Saakashvili and his party, the current government is pursuing a "policy of appeasement vis-à-vis Russia":  
At ‘No to Annexation’ Protest Rally UNM Slams ‘Collaborationist’ Govt

Thousands of protesters were gathered in Tbilisi center on November 15 at a rally organized by the opposition UNM party against what it calls is Georgian government’s “inaction” amid threat of “annexation” of Georgia’s breakaway regions by Russia.

In his address via video link from Kiev, ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who is chairman of UNM party, told protesters, gathered on the Rustaveli Avenue outside the Parliament, that it is now time “for the entire nation to stand united and to tell, before it is not too late, to [ex-PM Bidzina] Ivanishvili that the Georgian nation does not share his dream.”
Saakashvili and his United National Movement are the most vocal critics of Russia's "attempt to annex" Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which is quite ironic considering that they have contributed significantly to the current situation by starting the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Former Georgian President Nino Burjanadze heavily criticized Saakasvhili and the current government for their "NATO rhetoric" and she stressed that Georgia's territorial integrity is more important than joining any international organization. Burjanadze blamed Tbilisi’s endless talk of a NATO training center in Georgia for Russia's decision to offer Abkhazia a new treaty and she urged the Georgian authorities to talk to the Russians, Abkhazians and Ossetians about this issue instead of "going to Brussels like kids and complaining before [NATO and EU] officials." Unfortunately, it is already too late for this. Russia and South Ossetia are working on a new integration treaty and Abkhazia is about to sign a revised version of the treaty proposed by Moscow a few weeks ago:
Russia, Abkhazia to Sign Agreement on Strategic Cooperation, Integration

Abkhazia's President Raul Hajimba will visit Russia Monday to meet with President Vladimir Putin and sign a deal on strategic cooperation and integration, Kremlin's press service announced Sunday.

"President of Abkhazia Raul Hajimba will visit Russia on November 24 at the invitation of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin… It is planned to sign an agreement on integration and strategic partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia," the press service stated.

TAPI Countries Push Pipeline Despite Afghan Violence

Georgia's quest for NATO membership comes with heavy cost. Russia's southern neighbor is not only paying with its territorial integrity but also with the lives of Georgian soldiers for its dream of joining NATO. Georgia has made its mark as the top non-NATO troop contributor in Afghanistan and 750 Georgian troops will stay in the war-torn country after the so-called withdrawal. The security situation in Afghanistan is dire, as demonstrated by the recent suicide bombing at a volleyball match, and given that the casualties suffered by Afghan security forces in the fight against the Taliban have reached an "unsustainable" level, it came as no real surprise, when U.S. President Barack Obama secretly signed an order that expands the United States’ direct combat role in Afghanistan throughout 2015:
In a Shift, Obama Extends U.S. Role in Afghan Combat

President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”
Despite all that, some countries think that it is a good idea to push major regional and international infrastructure projects, which depend on the situation in Afghanistan. Representatives from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey discussed recently in Ashgabat the construction of a transport and transit corridor connecting the five countries. Furthermore, the Turkmen capital hosted the latest round of talks in the never-ending saga of the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI). Last week, the state gas companies of the four involved countries established a company that will build, own and operate the planned pipeline and a few days later the TAPI steering committee agreed to start the construction of the project as early as next year:
TAPI countries agree to start pipeline project by 2015

Taking another step towards realising the ambitious TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) natural gas pipeline project, petroleum ministers of the four countries met in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan Thursday and agreed that steps will be taken to start the project by 2015.

"It was decided that the next meeting of the steering committee will be held in February 2015 in Islamabad," the petroleum ministry said in a statement here on the 19th round of TAPI steering committee meeting attended by Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

There has been a lot of talk about the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline in the last two decades but the security situation in Afghanistan has always prevented the implementation of the project and it is still "practically impossible" to build the pipeline. Especially the Turkmen authorities should be aware of the deteriorating security situation in neighboring Afghanistan given the fact that they were already forced to send troops across the border to drive back insurgents in the area. But since Turkmenistan is desperately looking for new gas customers to check its dependency on China, inconvenient facts are apparently being overlooked. The Turkmen authorities have been trying hard to diversify the country's gas exports after the Iranians announced that they no longer needed gas from Turkmenistan because they were planning to boost Iran's domestic gas production. Fortunately for Turkmenistan, this requires more time and money than the Iranians previously thought meaning that Turkmenistan will be able to keep its second-best gas customer for now:
Turkmenistan and Iran Reignite Gas Affair

Iran, it seems, was calling Turkmenistan’s bluff earlier this summer when Tehran said it no longer needs gas from its northern neighbor. Now a top official says Tehran will keep buying.

That is good news for Turkmenistan, which is so dependent on its main gas customer, China, that it is starting to look like a client state.

The Iran-Turkmenistan gas trade has been dispute-prone over the years. Iranian energy officials have complained on a number of occasions that Turkmenistan does not always deliver on the contractual terms it signs. So the deal may mean more on paper than in practice. But for the moment, it buys both a little time.