Sunday, December 7, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #78

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 October, a suicide bombing struck the Chechen capital Grozny, reminding the Chechen and Russian authorities that the foreign-backed insurgency in the North Caucasus, which has been largely confined to Dagestan in recent years, could also rear its ugly head again in Chechnya. Although Chechen police stopped the suicide bomber in time to prevent a far more devastating attack, the bombing sent a strong message because it happened in peaceful Grozny on October 5, when Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov was celebrating his birthday, residents of Grozny were celebrating City Day and Muslims around the world were celebrating Eid al-Adha. After the attack in October, which left five police officers dead and twelve wounded, things returned to normal in Chechnya but this week, on the eve of Vladimir Putin's annual state-of-the-nation address, Grozny was again the center of attention as heavy fighting rocked the city, calling to mind the violence in the 1990s:
Gun Battle Breaks Out In Grozny, Chechnya, Leaving At Least 19 Dead

Security forces in the capital of Russia's North Caucasus republic of Chechnya stormed two buildings, including a school, in fierce gun battles with militants early Thursday that left at least 19 dead, authorities said.
 
The National Anti-Terrorist Committee said militants traveling in three cars entered the republic's capital, Grozny, at 1 a.m., killing three traffic police at a checkpoint, and then occupied the 10-story Press House in the center of the city. The federal agency said six gunmen were killed inside the building, which was gutted in a blazing fire that also spread to a nearby market.

More gunmen were later found in a nearby school and security forces were sent to "liquidate" them, the agency said. No students or teachers were in the school when it was seized by the militants, RIA Novosti quoted vice principal Islam Dzhabrailov as saying.

Kadyrov Targets Ukraine, Turkey In Response To Grozny Attack 

According to Chechen leader Kadyrov, 14 policemen were killed and 36 were wounded during the anti-terrorist operation, which ended with the elimination of eleven insurgents, who had disguised themselves as policemen and entered the city in three taxi cabs. Similar tactics were used in an attack on the parliament building in Grozny in October 2010. With Chechnya making the headlines at an inconvenient time, Kadyrov went out of his way to organize the anti-terrorist operation in Grozny and to attend Putin's address in the Kremlin. He publicly apologized to the Russian President for the violence and promised to thoroughly investigate the attack but Putin assured the Chechen leader that he and his men had nothing to be ashamed of and that they had handled the situation very professionally. Nevertheless, Kadyrov announced new punishments for terrorism that target the families of terrorists and he vowed to go after "anyone who gives moral or material help" to the insurgents in the North Caucasus:
Kadyrov orders to open criminal case against Ukrainian nationalists

A criminal case for the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada deputies Yuri Beryoza, Andrei Levus and Igor Mosiychuk will be opened in Chechnya at the instruction of its President Ramzan Kadyrov.

“These so-called deputies spoke out for assistance to terrorist sorties,” he wrote. “We’ve known in the past, too, that Ukrainian fascists and nationalists have been rendering financial or other aid to the remainders of terrorist groupings in the Caucasus.”

“Still, those who believe in a possibility of unpunished support for terrorism in North Caucasus are profoundly mistaken,” Kadyrov said. “Anyone who gives moral or material help /to the terrorists/ will be reached even deep in the underground or will be buried in the ground.”

Stressing that most insurgents in the Chechen Republic have been eliminated, Kadyrov suggested that the attackers might have come from outside Chechnya, which led some "experts" to speculate that it may have been the Islamic State's first strike against Russia. But the terrorists, at least four of whom were ethnic Chechens, claimed to be operating under orders from Chechen Islamist leader Aslan Byutukayev and local security personnel stated that the fighters came from Shalazhi in the Urus Martan district south-west of Grozny. While the West's favorite oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky put forward the ludicrous conspiracy theory that Kadyrov himself organized the attack because of funding cuts, Chechen parliament speaker Dukuvakh Abdurakhmanov pointed out that the terrorists "could have acted on order from Western security services in the interests of the United States and NATO that want to weaken Russia both economically and politically," which is more plausible than Khodorkovsky's conspiracy theory. Kadyrov tied Akhmat Umarov, the brother of his long-time nemesis Doku Umarov, to the attack and called for his extradition [emphasis mine]:
Warlord Doku Umarov’s brother behind Grozny attack — Kadyrov

Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that Akhmat, a brother of late warlord Doku Umarov, was behind the terrorist attack in Grozny on December 4.

“There is evidence that Doku Umarov’s brother has financed, organized and so bears responsibility for the attack,” Kadyrov told reporters on Friday. “Russia’s law enforcement agencies must demand his extradition from Turkey.”

Kadyrov said Umarov’s brother had deceived eleven militants who infiltrated Grozny. They were told that their goal was to reach Grozny and to open fire as another 400 gunmen who were allegedly staying in the city would join them.
Given the fact that NATO member Turkey has long been sheltering many Chechen terrorists, it comes as no real surprise that Doku Umarov's brother is currently living in Turkey, where Kadyrov's statement didn't go unnoticed. Akhmat Umarov would be well-advised to watch his back if he doesn't want to end up like many other Chechen exiles, who were taken out by Russian secret agents in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Qatar and elsewhere. Lately, the murder of prominent Chechen leader Medet Onlu in Ankara has been hitting the headlines again. As previously discussed, Onlu's murder was also blamed on the Russians and a Turkish man confessed to the murder, claiming that "pro-Russian Chechens" had hired him. But in a surprise twist, Onlu's family and lawyer recently told the media that the influential Turkish-born Chechen, who bore the unofficial title "honorary consul of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria," was killed because "he was an obstacle on the 'jihadist highway' to Syria" and that a "systematic effort is underway to cover up the murder":
Syrian link suspected in Chechen murder in Ankara

“Onlu’s stand against the exploitation of Chechens in Syria was very important. … In the Caucasian community [in Turkey], he was a person in a leadership position who took the risk of taking a stand against this,” lawyer Erdal Dogan told Al-Monitor by telephone. “We have serious suspicions that people in public office … made way for the murder and we believe they are still impeding the capture of the suspects.”

Chechen fighters — some battle-hardened, others wannabes — figure prominently in jihadist ranks in Syria, often credited as fierce combatants and military strategists. As Al-Monitor’s Vitaly Naumkin writes: “They didn’t come to Syria from Russia … but from Georgia, Turkey and European countries that once provided them refuge as freedom fighters.”

One Turkish charity dedicated to helping Chechen refugees — the Humanitarian Defense and Fraternity Association (Imkander) — has stood out with its explicit support for the jihad in Syria. In February, for instance, it organized a gathering in an Istanbul mosque to commemorate Seyfullah al-Shishani, a Chechen commander killed in Aleppo. "Long live our Syria jihad," the crowd chanted as Imkander Chairman Murat Ozer praised Shishani, recounting how he spent time in Turkey before the war and later escorted Imkander aid workers in Syria. Shishani “showed the world what a great service Chechen mujahedeen are doing to the Syrian jihad,” Ozer said. He then introduced Shishani’s young son to the crowd, saying the boy accompanied his father in Syria “to savor the smell of jihad.” In July, the charity posted a video appealing for donations for an infirmary in Gaziantep, at the Syrian border. An Imkander representative says in the video the building used to be their office but was converted to an infirmary after “too many wounded mujahedeen came.”

Exposure Of Georgian Crimes Inconvenient For NATO

IMKANDER also commemorated Akhmat's brother Doku Umarov in March of this year after his death had been confirmed. Russia has tried to convince the other members of the United Nations Security Council to add IMKANDER to the Al-Qaida Sanctions List, to no avail. The Chechen "freedom fighters" and their supporters enjoy high-level protection. As Medet Onlu's nephew Abruk told Al-Monitor, given that many Chechen refugees lack residence permits and live in destitute conditions under a constant risk of deportation, they can be easily pressured into joining the war in Syria or any other conflict for that matter. One of the countries sheltering Chechen refugees not only for altruistic motives is Georgia. The so-called Lopota incident demonstrates this very well. Two years ago, the Georgian authorities tried to supply the insurgency in Russia's North Caucasus with more fighters but everything went wrong, when Georgian special forces engaged a group consisting of Georgian Chechens from the Pankisi Gorge and young Chechens from Europe who had been recruited by Georgian Interior Ministry officials, brought to Tbilisi, and trained over a period of several months, as they tried to enter Russia. Georgian human rights ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili, who exposed the terrorist training scheme last year, is now calling for a new investigation:
New report sheds light on border shooting in 2012

The ombudsman in Georgia on Monday published a report which criticizes the authorities for holding back information and not properly investigating a border shooting in 2012.

Among the dead rebels, three were local Georgians from nearby Pankisi Gorge. This is one of the reasons the Saakashvili government’s claim that the rebels had come from Russia and entered into Georgia was met with disbelief. Another reason is that the only man detained after the incident, Ahmed Chatayev, said that the fighters had tried to enter Russia from Georgian territory.

The report concludes that several types of information given by official sources has not been confirmed. Ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili now asks parliament to start investigating the shooting incident all over again. 

Then president Mikheil Saakashvili tried hard to convince everyone that Georgia is completely innocent and, interestingly enough, none other than Akhmat Umarov came to his defense, telling radio station "Echo of the Caucasus" shortly after the incident that "the Georgian side is not responsible for the death of the Chechen Mujahideen" in the Lopota Gorge, which was already a dubious statement at the time but is looking even more absurd in hindsight. Since Doku Umarov's brother gave the interview from Tbilisi(!), the Georgian authorities lost no time in declaring that they have no information about the location of Akhmat Umarov. The Turkish authorities won't easily reveal his location either. While the prominent Chechen has found refuge in Turkey, Saakashvili and other former Georgian officials have been offered to continue their anti-Russian policies in Ukraine, much to the dismay of the current Georgian government:

President Petro Poroshenko’s political bloc has named Georgia’s ex-healthcare minister, Alexander Kvitashvili, as its nomination for the minister of healthcare in Ukraine’s new coalition government.
As talks on forming the new government were still underway, reports were emerging in recent days about possible nomination of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili and Georgia’s ex-justice minister Zurab Adeishvili for government posts in Ukraine – both are facing criminal charges in Georgia and are wanted by the Georgian authorities.  

Officials in Tbilisi warned that appointing those Georgian ex-officials in the Ukrainian government, who are facing criminal charges in Georgia, would have had negative consequences on the bilateral relations.
Saakashvili rejected the post of deputy prime minister because he did not want to give up his Georgian citizenship but ex-healthcare minister Kvitashvili did not have any such concerns and ex-justice minister Adeishvili, who helped Saakashvili to cover up the Lopota incident, as well as other Georgians will possibly join Kvitashvili in Kiev. Meanwhile, NATO is pressing Tbilisi to stop the prosecution of former officials, such as Adeishvili, which reflects badly on the U.S. puppet regime in Kiev, where these officials might find a new home. Addressing the recent dismissal of Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasnia, NATO's envoy for the Caucasus and Central Asia, James Appathurai, warned the Georgian government to avoid not only political retribution but also the "perception" of politically motivated prosecution of former officials because this will slow down Georgia's NATO integration. Appathurai visited Tbilisi this week to discuss the establishment of a joint NATO-Georgia training center in the country. As expected, Georgia's NATO integration "has easily survived Alasania's departure":
NATO Envoy, Georgian Officials Discuss Implementation of ‘Substantial Package’

NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, James Appathurai, said implementation of a substantial package, endorsed by the Alliance at the Wales summit for Georgia, “is going well.”

“There will be a lot more Georgia in NATO and lot of NATO in Georgia,” Appathurai said.

“We welcome very much the speed with which Georgia has been working to define this new joint training center,” Appathurai said, adding that NATO defense planning experts are already in Georgia, working closely with the Georgian colleagues on this issue.

Atambayev's Gulf Tour Adds To Kyrgyzstan's Dubious Decisions

While Georgia continues its Euro-Atlantic integration, another post-Soviet state is expediting its preparations to join the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Kyrgyzstan is planning to sign the EEU accession documents before a November 23 deadline so that the country can join the economic bloc as soon as possible. Russia has already promised $1.2 billion over the next two years to ease Kyrgyzstan's entry into the Customs Union and EEU. Predictably, the United States is alarmed at Kyrgyzstan's growing partnership with Russia because this "presents a challenge to U.S. efforts to support democracy in Kyrgyzstan," as U.S. ambassador Pamela Spratlen noted a few weeks ago. Some people in Bishkek and Moscow, on the other hand, are alarmed at U.S. efforts to support democracy in Kyrgyzstan in light of the developments in Ukraine. The Freedom House/Soros-sponsored Human Rights Advocacy Center recently had a first-hand experience of the growing distrust of foreign-funded NGOs in the Central Asian country but a few days after George Soros made one of his extremely rare visits to Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz authorities dropped the charges:
Kyrgyzstan: Prosecutors Drop Test Case Against Osh NGO

Prosecutors in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital, have dropped a criminal case against a local non-governmental organization accused of inciting inter-ethnic conflict. The decision is being cheered by civil society activists, who had earlier expressed concern that the case was a possible harbinger of a crackdown on the non-governmental sector.

While the decision may mark a limited victory for due process in Kyrgyzstan, a convoluted provision in the prosecutor’s November 28 resolution indicates that the rule of law was probably not the sole factor in the decision to drop the case. Instead, it hints that behind-the-scenes maneuvering among various state agencies played a significant role in the outcome.
 
The provision states that the local GKNB office in Osh would be subject to a “prosecutor’s reaction,” a process that is not clearly defined, but which hints that there could be legal repercussions for the local state security office. The provision also states that those responsible for instigating the case could face disciplinary action. Some observers believe the wording of the provision indicates that elements within the executive and judicial branches feel that the state security service was overreaching, and are intent on clipping the secret police’s wings.
Whether or not Soros had a hand in Bishkek's decision to drop the charges, is anyone's guess but it is safe to say that the Kyrgyz authorities are reluctant to kick out the countless 'foreign agents'. This was not the only dubious decision by the Kyrgyz leadership lately. Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev is currently making his first official visits to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in an effort to boost Kyrgyzstan's ties with the medieval petro-monarchies. Atambayev started his regional tour in Riyadh, where he met with King Abdullah, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Saudi businessmen, whom he encouraged to invest in Kyrgyzstan. The two sides agreed to create a joint investment fund, to open direct flights from Bishkek to Riyadh and to enhance bilateral cooperation in various fields. Afterwards Atambayev traveled to Abu Dhabi to repeat the procedure:
Kyrgyzstan To Open Embassy In United Arab Emirates

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev is visiting the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and has signed a decree to establish an embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Atambaev discussed potential investment from the UAE in Kyrgyzstan's transport, logistics, and agricultural sectors during talks with UAE leaders.

Atambaev, who is currently on an official visit to the UAE, met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, on December 4.

While Atambayev is traveling to Doha to top his Gulf tour off, the Kyrgyz authorities are struggling to keep Kyrgyz families from traveling to Syria. Most of the Kyrgyz jihadists fighting in Syria come from southern Kyrgyzstan and many have brought their families along. When a new ISIS propaganda video emerged on social media showing the introctination and training of child soldiers from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry claimed that some of the children were actually from Kyrgyzstan, without providing any evidence. Taking its cue from the Kazakh authorities, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry immediately threatened media outlets with prosecution for disseminating the video. The Kyrgyz government is apparently more concerend about a propaganda video than about the growing influence of the Gulf petro-monarchies, which are rather known for spreading extremism than for spreading democracy. This doesn't bode well for the extremism problem in southern Kyrgyzstan:
Southern Kyrgyzstan strengthens its fight against 'jihadism'

Law enforcement agencies are co-operating with secondary schools and the clergy in southern Kyrgyzstan to hold outreach meetings with youth in an effort to protect them from extremist recruiters.

"We are now paying special attention to stopping young people from leaving for Syria," Rakhat Sulaymanov, spokesman for the State National Security Committee (GKNB), told Central Asia Online.

Authorities in Osh Oblast have identified several "hot spots" for extremist recruiting.

They include Aravan, Kara-suu, Nookat and Uzgen districts and Osh. No fewer than 180 Kyrgyz citizens are presently fighting in Syria, including not only women but also teenagers who have direct or indirect ties to prohibited movements, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry (MVD) press office stated recently.