Sunday, November 30, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #77

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.

In May of this year, China launched a one-year-long no-holds-barred anti-terror campaign in its far-western Xinjiang region after a major terrorist attack had struck Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, killing 43 people and wounding more than 90. In the last six months, the Chinese authorities have been arresting everyone and his brother to stop the violence in Xinjiang, including prominent Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life in prison on charges of advocating separatism and inciting ethnic hatred. Western governments and media did their best to highlight Tohti's imprisonment and called repeatedly for his release, to no avail. Last week, a court in Urumqi upheld the life sentence and a few days later the same court opened separatism trials for seven of Tohti's students. While Western media criticized the latest act of Chinese repression, Chinese media lauded the results of the first six months of the anti-terror campaign. According to China's Ministry of Public Security, 115 terrorist cells were quashed and more than 300 suspects detained. But only a few days after the ministry released its report, another terrorist attack reminded everyone that the violence continues:
15 killed, 14 injured in Xinjiang terrorist attack

Fifteen people, including 11 mobsters, were killed and 14 people were injured in a terrorist attack in Shache County on Friday afternoon in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, local authorities announced in a statement on Saturday.

The mobsters threw out explosive devices and attacked civilians with knives at a food street in the county around 1:30 p.m. on Friday. Police patrolling nearby killed 11 of them.
A number of explosive devices, knives and axes were found at the scene.
© Photo AFP

Chinese Soldiers To Fight Terrorism At Home & Abroad

A few months ago, a similar incident in Shache (Yarkant) County left 96 people dead, when clashes between Uyghur insurgents and police spiraled out of control. Washington's favorite Uyghur exile leader Rebiya Kadeer claimed afterwards that Chinese security forces had massacred at least 2,000 Uyghurs but eyewitness accounts and video footage support Beijing's version of events, according to which "only" 59 insurgents and 37 civilians (35 Han Chinese and two Uyghurs) were killed during the clashes. Back in May, residents of Shache County helped the police to get the situation under control but although the Chinese authorities encourage people to take action if they "know how to fight terrorists," this is not an ideal solution. With Xinjiang authorities increasingly worried that the police is not able to ensure safety in the restive region on its own, former soldiers are now supposed to help out:
Xinjiang hires ex-soldiers to protect residents

Urumqi in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region will for the first time recruit 3,000 ex-soldiers to protect residential communities, a move observers said is aimed at coping with increased violence and terrorism.

All soldiers who left the service this year, who are under the age of 30, are "against separatism and illegal religious activities" and have no criminal record can apply for the job, the capital city's Civil Affairs Bureau announced Thursday on its website.

The soldiers have to undergo an application process, which includes a political examination and health check before being hired. Once they become community workers, they will be paid at least 3,000 yuan ($500) a month and given a local hukou, or residence certificate, the recruitment ad said.
© Photo Getty Images/Kevin Frayer

There is every indication that Chinese soldiers will play a greater role in the fight against the "East Turkestan forces" and this fight won't be limited to Xinjiang or China. Beijing has drafted new legislation authorizing the army and the paramilitary police to carry out counter-terrorism missions abroad if all involved nations give their consent. Given that China has always been reluctant to deploy troops in other countries, this would be a significant shift from previous policies to a more aggressive approach in dealing with terrorism and extremism in Xinjiang's neighborhood. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have recently pledged to support China's war on terror and the new law is most likely aimed at fighting Uyghur insurgents in these two countries. Just a few days ago, Afghanistan's former intelligence chief warned China against turning a blind eye to Pakistan's support of various terrorist groups in the region:
Former Afghan Intelligence Chief warns China on Pakistan terror threat

Just as Afghanistan's new President Ashraf Ghani told SAARC leaders on Wednesday he would not allow a "proxy war" on Afghan soil, the country's former intelligence chief has warned China about the dangers of ignoring the terror threat emanating from its "all-weather" ally Pakistan.
On Wednesday, Beijing received its clearest word of warning yet that its current strategy of ignoring other groups in Pakistan - and merely focusing on the ETIM - would not shield it from the rising threat of terrorism in the region.
Amrullah Saleh, the former head of Afghanistan's National Security Directorate and a key figure in the country's security establishment over the past decade, called on China to "pay attention to the whole picture" and ask the question of why terrorists, including those from Xinjiang, had managed to find "sanctuaries across the border" in Pakistan.
Insurgents from Xinjiang find sanctuary in Afghanistan as well and as the NATO-led coalition forces are reducing their presence in the country, Taliban and foreign fighters are conquering more territories in northern Afghanistan, for example in Badakhshan Province, which borders China's Xinjiang. During last week's Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, former Afghan Foreign Minister and National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta pointed out that Afghanistan captured members of the ETIM in Badakhshan Province last year, when they tried to enter Xinjiang via the Wakhan Corridor. Kabul handed the captured ETIM members over to the Chinese government and Beijing would prefer other countries to do the same, regardless of whether the Uyghurs in question are insurgents or just refugees. In recent months, China has been pressing the Thai authorities to repatriate the Uyghur refugees, who were found at a human smuggling camp in Thailand, to no avail. Much to the dismay of Beijing, the Turkish government is now trying to convince Thailand of sending the refugees to Turkey: 
China rebukes Turkey for offer to shelter Uighur refugees 
China on Friday lashed out at Turkey for offering shelter to roughly 200 Uighurs from the western Chinese region of Xinjiang who were rescued from a human-smuggling camp in Thailand
Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency on Wednesday reported a request by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for Thailand to send the Uighurs there, a move that angered China, which views their move to Thailand as "illegal immigration".
Asked for a response on Turkey's offer, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the case was a matter for China and Thailand and "the relevant country" should stop interfering.

Current Conflicts Prompt Kazakhstan To Take Preventive Measures

China has good reason to vehemently oppose Ankara's offer to shelter the Uyghur refugees considering that Turkey is one of the strongest supporters of the East Turkestan independence movement. Turkey plays a decisive role in Washington's plans to destabilize Xinjiang and Uyghurs in Turkey have to be careful if they are offered "help" by dubious organizations such as the Istanbul-based East Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association (ETESA). Otherwise they might find themselves fighting in Syria or plotting terrorist attack in Xinjiang sooner rather than later. Vital NATO member Turkey spares neither trouble nor expense to funnel foreign fighters into Syria, including Uyghur and Central Asian jihadists. Thanks to the help of the Turkish authorities, who are not even trying to hide their support of ISIS, hundreds of Central Asian fighters have made their way to Syria, many of whom brought their families with them, as shown in the latest ISIS propaganda video:
ISIS release shocking new video of child soldiers from Kazakhstan being trained with AK47s

A new ISIS propaganda video has emerged on social media showing the indoctrination and training of dozens of child soldiers from Kazakhstan.

Entitled 'Race Towards Good', the video was produced by the terror group's main media branch, Al Hayat Media Center. The dialogue in the video interchanges between Kazakh and Arabic, with three sets of subtitles including English.

The video claims: 'Meet some of our newest brothers from the land of Kazakhstan. They responded to the crusader aggression with their hijrah and raced to prepare themselves and their children, knowing very well that their final return is to Allah.'

The 15-minute video caused a great stir in Kazakhstan and the Kazakh authorities lost no time in warning media outlets and Internet users about "possible legal consequences" for distributing the ISIS video. Only a few days before the video was released, Nurtai Abykayev, the Chairman of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan, stated that more than 300 Kazakh nationals, including 150 women, have joined ISIS. However, the ISIS video showing fresh recruits from Kazakhstan casts doubt on the low figure mentioned by Abykayev. Astana is worried about the increasing number of Kazakh citizens fighting abroad and Kazakhstan's Prosecutor General warned last month that "mercenaries" are liable to prosecution. Some of these Kazakh mercenaries are fighting in Ukraine. Kazakhstan is trying hard to stay out of the new Cold War but the country has still been badly affected by the economic war against Russia. Therefore, the Kazakh government deems it best to prepare for the worst:
Russia vs West confrontation makes Kazakhstan take preventive measures: Nazarbayev

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev has held a roundtable discussion on industrialization with international experts and Kazakhstan officials, Tengrinews reports citing the press service of Akorda.

Nazarbayev stressed that “Kazakhstan decided to take preventive measures in light of the crisis connected to the confrontation between Russia and Western countries.”

He reminded that the new State of the Nation Address made earlier this month envisioned significant government injections to ensure a continued growth of Kazakhstan's economy and creation of new jobs. This, he said, would allow strengthening the financial system of the country and giving an impetus to the development of small and medium sized businesses.
Nazarbayev's State of the Nation Address was indeed noteworthy because the Kazakh leader unveiled a new economic policy that he dubbed "The Pathway to the Future," which includes massive infrastructure investments to the tune of $3 billion annually over the course of the next three years. An ambitious program of privatization and market reform is supposed to stave off a looming economic crisis. Furthermore, Kazakhstan is working to diversify its oil exports in case that the sanctions against Russia escalate. China and Iran are possible alternative routes to the Russian direction and a route from the Port of Aktau through the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan is being considered as well. Given that the country wants to position itself as "an important transport-logistics mega-hub between Europe and Asia," Kazakhstan has also conveyed interest in joining the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which is expected to to be put into operation next year after several delays: 
Test train to run on Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway by late 2014

Georgia, located at the crossroads of Central Asia and the Middle East, is the connecting link between Western Europe, Central Asia, China and India, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said on Nov.26.

He made the remarks at Georgian-Latvian business forum with participation of Latvian President Andris Berzins.

He said that a test train is expected to run on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway by late 2014 and it is planned to complete the implementation of the project in 2015.

U.S. Mulls Weapons Exports In Response To Russia-Abkhazia Treaty

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway should have been operational by the end of 2013 but the project is being delayed time and again. Georgian Prime Minister Garibashvili is currently more concerned with another railway project in the region, which is causing him quite a headache. Following the signing of a new treaty between Russia and Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed setting up a railway transit to Sukhumi, Tbilisi and Yerevan. Armenia, which lacks a land connection to the other countries of the Eurasian Economic Union, would benefit the most from this railway but all involved parties could potentially benefit from the project. Tbilisi is sending mixed signals on Putin's proposal but it is highly unlikely that the Georgian government will give its consent anytime soon. Georgian officials are sill busy condemning the new treaty in the strongest possible terms:
Tbilisi considers Russia’s new Abkhazia treaty a form of annexation

The signing of a new treaty between Abkhazia and Russia has caused outrage in Tbilisi.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said he considers what has happened annexation.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili went as far as saying that the treaty turns the breakaway region into a part of Russia.

Georgia is making a great fuss about Russia's "annexation" of Abkhazia but essentially the agreement only "lays out in writing much of what is already in place." The most significant part of the new treaty is arguably the creation of a joint Russian-Abkhaz military force under Russian command, which is also a contentious issue in Abkhazia. Russia will double its financial assistance to console the Abkhaz for agreeing to this. Meanwhile, Georgia is looking to its Western partners for support. Predictably, the United States and its European lapdogs criticized the agreement with harsh words. The U.S. State Department said it would not recognize any "so-called treaty" between Russia and Abkhazia and the Georgian government asked the United National Security Council to discuss the legality of the treaty. Since everyone knows that this will lead to nothing, the U.S. looks set to do what it does best:
U.S., Georgia Intensifying Talks On "Weapons Procurement"

A flurry of high-level military visits between Washington and Tbilisi appears to be setting the stage for wider-scale exports of weaponry from the U.S. to Georgia.

Georgia, for several years, has been trying without luck to get the U.S. to give or sell it lethal "defensive" weaponry, in particular anti-aircraft and anti-tank systems. But with the growing conflict between Russia and the West, the U.S. has stepped up its security assistance to its partners on Russia's borders, with Georgia looking to score a variety of potential benefits from the U.S. including increased military aid, sales of transport helicopters, and official "major non-NATO ally" status. NATO, too, has agreed on an increase in cooperation including setting up a training base in Georgia. So it wouldn't be surprising if the U.S. now decided to loosen its policies on allowing weapons exports to Georgia.
Weapons exports to Georgia won't help to ease tensions in the Caucasus but that has never been the objective of most U.S. and Georgian officials anyway. Especially former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement (UNM) Party are certainly going to welcome Washington's new weapons export policies. As far as Saakashvili and the UNM are concerned, Georgia's "pro-Russian" government is pursuing a policy of appeasement vis-à-vis Russia. While the UNM is pressing the government to join Western sanctions and cut all ties with Russia, Saakashvili and the Georgian authorities continue their war of words. Recently, Saakashvili blamed the Georgian government for blocking the appointment of one his former associates as business ombudsman in Ukraine. The Ukrainian regime is considering to fill the cabinet with former Georgian officials, which prompted Russian MP Aleksey Pushkov to propose appointing Saakashvili as Ukrainian Prime Minister. Given that Saakashvili cannot return to Georgia, that is perhaps a viable option:
Saakashvili Charged With Abuse Of Office In Murder Case

Georgian prosecutors have charged former President Mikheil Saakashvili with complicity in the 2006 murder of banker Sandro Girgvliani.

Girgvliani, the head of the United Georgian Bank's Foreign Department, was found dead in January 2006 outside Tbilisi with multiple injuries after he had an argument with a group of high-ranking Interior Ministry officials in a bar.

Prosecutors said in a November 27 statement that Saakashvili was an accomplice in the falsification of evidence in the case, along with Vano Merabishvili, who was then the interior minister, and other officials.