Monday, December 22, 2014

The New Great Game Round-Up #80

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 end of last year, the Volgograd bombings highlighted that Russia is still struggling with the foreign-backed insurgency in the North Caucasus and 2014 ends on a similar note due to this month's clashes in the Chechen capital Grozny. Although the overall security situation in the North Caucasus has improved significantly over the years, the attacks in Volgograd last year as well as the attacks in Grozny in October and December of this year serve as a stark reminder that terrorists can strike at any time, anywhere in the region. Violence in Russia's volatile south has long been associated with Chechnya but the neighboring Republic of Dagestan has become Russia's hot spot of insurgent activity in recent years. The leaders of the Dagestani insurgency just pledged loyalty to ISIS, defying the leader of the Caucasus Emirate and perhaps spelling more trouble for Russia's security services. One of the frequent special operations in Dagestan resulted last week in the killing of the leader of a terrorist group linked to the 2013 Volgograd bombings and a number of other attacks in Dagestan. While the Dagestani authorities have their work cut out, the Chechen authorities are free to support the resistance in eastern Ukraine and, unperturbed by the attacks in Grozny, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov announced this week that he wants to focus more on Ukraine:
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov wants to quit his high post to go to help militias in Donbas

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on Tuesday that he wanted to quit his high state post and leave for Ukraine’s Donbas region to help the local militias, the NTV channel reported on its website.

Commenting on initiation of criminal proceedings against him in Ukraine and Kiev’s threats to put him on the international wanted list, Kadyrov told NTV’s “Bez Kupyur” (Without Banknotes) program that they could keep wagging their tongues for as long as they liked.

“They can keep saying whatever they like. But I am going to ask the (Russian) president for permission to quit my post in order to go to Donbass to protect the interests of those citizens who are fighting there now,” Kadyrov said.
© Photo RIA Novosti/Alexei Druzhinin
 

U.S. Deep State Dreams Of Third Chechen War

Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated shortly thereafter that the Chechen leader had made no request to resign and it is highly unlikely that Kadyrov will quit his post anytime soon, much to the dismay of local activists and international human rights organizations. A few days ago, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on the Russian authorities to "end a campaign of intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders in Chechnya." The Committee to Prevent Torture (KPP) and its Chechen branch, the Joint Mobile Group, came recently under attack in Russia after Kadyrov had implicated KPP's head Igor Kalyapin, along with Akhmat Umarov and Western intelligence agencies, in organizing the armed attack in Grozny on December 4. This week, Kadyrov continued his campaign against the so-called human rights defenders alleging that Kalyapin is part of a new U.S. State Department project "to destroy Russia by using Chechnya." As always, Kadyrov's words have to be taken with a grain of salt but given the fact that Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and influential deep state actor, predicts the outbreak of the third Chechen war for the coming year, Kadyrov is perhaps right about the new U.S. State Department project:
In 2015, Vladimir Putin may witness his empire’s death knell
The year ahead could see the outbreak of the third Chechen war, which, in turn, could be the death knell of the Russian Federation in its current borders.

For the past five years, the situation has been more or less quiescent, though neighboring republics have been rocked by violence. The lull in Chechnya, however, ended in early December with a series of bloody incidents in the Chechen capital of Grozny.

The group behind the resurgence of unrest is advocating a “Caucasus Caliphate,” with ties to al Qaeda and, more recently, Islamic State. There is at least an indirect tie between outside support for Islamic radicalism in the Caucasus and Putin’s sponsorship of Russian secessionism in eastern Ukraine.

There is no reason whatsoever to assume that a third Chechen war could break out in the foreseeable future. Most Chechens see through NATO's manipulation of Muslims and support the local authorities in their fight against the foreign-backed insurgency. But as "The Saker" points out, it would be a mistake to dismiss Talbott's prediction altogether: "A person like Talbott is very much "plugging in" the US deep state and if he says that next year there will be an insurgency in Chechnia, we can be darn sure that the US will try to create one." Talbott was instrumental in starting the expansion of NATO during the Clinton administration and he is now again a driving force behind Washington's reckless policy vis-à-vis Russia. Considering that the U.S. deep state has been pulling the strings behind the "Chechen rebels" all along, it comes as no real surprise that the Chechen wing of the North Caucasus insurgency, which had been relatively quiet in the last few years, is now trying to stage a comeback, just as Strobe Talbott predicts more violence in Chechnya:
North Caucasus Insurgency Threatens New Attack On Grozny

The Chechen wing of the North Caucasus insurgency that claimed responsibility for the attack on Grozny on December 4 is planning a follow-up attack on the city to mark the New Year, according to Akhmed Umarov, elder brother of the late Caucasus Emirate founder and head Doku Umarov.

Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov identified Akhmad Umarov as having organized the December 4 attack, and vowed to seek his extradition from Turkey, where according to Kadyrov he currently lives.

In a 15-minute video clip posted late on December 13 on Checheninfo.com, the website of the Chechen wing of the North Caucasus insurgency, Akhmed Umarov warned Kadyrov in the name of the Chechen militants that they will launch a new attack on Grozny unless Kadyrov desists from his efforts to block their food supplies. (Two men were apprehended in Chechnya’s Sunzha district in September on suspicion of providing food supplies to the insurgents. Umarov quoted the fighters as admitting that they are experiencing problems in obtaining supplies, and "we are fed up with this."
As previously mentioned, the suicide bombing in Grozny on October 5 and the attack on December 4 were meant to send a message to the Russian authorities. After Strobe Talbott and Akhmat Umarov reiterated this message a few days ago, everyone should know what the United States and its allies are up to. If they will succeed in destabilizing Chechnya, is a completely different question. The chances are slim. But Chechnya is apparently not the only Russian republic, which Chechen terrorists and their handlers want to put in the crosshairs. The Russians announced this week that Khasan Zakayev, an accomplice of Shamil Basayev and suspected co-organizer of the 2002 seizure of Moscow's Dubrovka Theater, was arrested last month as he was trying to enter Russia’s Crimea from Ukraine using a fake passport. It is safe to say that Zakayev was not planning to take a vacation. Ukrainian "nationalists" have long been working hand in glove with Chechen jihadists and Russia is now investigating this link in connection with the Grozny clashes. In light of all this, the following announcement by FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov makes a lot of sense: 
Improving counter-terrorism system in Crimea priority task in 2015 — FSB chief

Russia’s Federal Security Service director Alexander Bortnikov said on Tuesday one of the priorities in 2015 would be to improve the system for combating terrorism in Crimea.

“The priority task of the NAK (National Anti-Terrorist Committee) and the Federal Operative Headquarters in 2015 will be to improve the regional segment of the nationwide counter-terrorism system in Crimea, including its preventive components,” Bortnikov said at the National Anti-Terrorist Committee session.

China Pushes SCO Security Cover For New Silk Road

Russia faces many challenges in the coming year, from ensuring stability in Crimea and the North Caucasus to coping with the economic war. But as Russia struggles, China is prepared to step in and support its close ally. In the wake of the attack in Grozny, Beijing offered Moscow to strengthen anti-terrorism cooperation in order to "safeguard each other's national peace" and during this week's gathering of prime ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced that China is ready to provide financial aid to fellow SCO countries "to help counteract an economic slowdown." Although any member of the organization can make use of this offer, it is primarily directed at Russia. As usual, the situation in Afghanistan and the fight against the 'three evils' were also high on the agenda in Astana. With China's New Silk Road making good progress, the Chinese government is now trying to establish a security cover for the economic belt:
New Silk Road needs SCO security cover, says China
China is pushing for a collective security arrangement, with Russia and Central Asian countries as partners, which would focus on countering mega-terror strikes along the New Silk Road.

On Monday, visiting Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, proposed in Astana, the capital of neghbouring Kazakhstan, that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)—a six nation grouping led by Beijing and Moscow---should become the guardian of Eurasia.
During his address to the 13th meeting of Prime Ministers of SCO in the Kazhak capital, Mr. Li called for a new center which would foresee future security challenges to Eurasia. He also called upon partners to hone mechanisms that would to curb terrorism, and target drug trafficking, along with cyber-crimes.
© Photo Xinhua

Li emphasized that especially Afghanistan will need outside assistance to maintain its "domestic stability." Russia has already been investing heavily in Afghanistan for the past two years and China is now doing its part to support the neighboring country as well. As the NATO-led coalition forces are reducing their presence in Afghanistan, foreign aid has dried up, forcing the Afghan government to ask donors again for a bailout. American taxpayers have spent $104 billion over the years to "rebuild" the war-torn country, with negligible success, and to make matters worse, even the money which did not disappear immediately could be wasted because the Afghan authorities cannot sustain the investment. Therefore, Chinese Premier Li was right to point out that the SCO members will have to support Afghanistan if they want stability in the region. To this end, China has been trying to restart stalled peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban. Whether or not China's efforts were the decisive factor is not entirely clear but the Afghan government is hopeful of resuming the peace talks very soon:
Afghanistan may resume peace talks with Taliban in Qatar

According to reports, the government of Afghanistan is expecting to resume peace talks with the Taliban group in Qatar in the near future.

An official in Afghan High Peace Council (AHPC) has confirmed that the talks are likely to resume with the Taliban group within the next one week.

The official further added members from the Afghan High Peace Council, Taliban group and Pakistan are expected to join the talks.
With civilian deaths in Afghanistan reaching a new high in 2014, it is about time that the peace talks resume. The United Nations shared its latest casualty reports with Taliban officials in Doha and urged the group to reduce civilian casualties, to no avail. According to Afghanistan's spy chief Rahmatullah Nabil, the rise in attacks is just a "natural consequence" of NATO's withdrawal from the country. Nabil lamented this week that Afghanistan had "fallen off a technological cliff" due to the troop pullout and that the insurgents are exploiting the situation. Recently, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan's Khamyab District in Jowzjan Province meaning that the group "is now Turkmenistan’s immediate neighbor." As previously discussed, Turkmen border guards and security forces "invaded" Afghanistan a few months ago to drive the insurgents back. They have been building fences, digging trenches and setting up new posts in the region ever since, much to the dismay of Afghan villagers in Jowzjan Province:
Afghan Villagers Threaten To Attack Turkmenistan

Villagers in Afghanistan's northern Jowzjan Province claim Turkmenistan is stealing their agricultural land and are threatening to attack Turkmen border guards.

Muhammad Sahi Yhsan, the chief of the Qarqeen District told RFE/RL on December 17, villagers came to him to complain about Turkmen border guards setting up posts that according to the villagers, are some 30 to 35 kilometers deep into Afghan territory.

Yhsan said the villagers threatened to attack Turkmen border guards unless Afghan authorities can resolve their problem.

Kidnappings Along Tajik-Afghan Border Highlight Security Woes

Given that the Afghan Turkmen in Qarqeen have paramilitary forces, the Afghan authorities would be well-advised to resolve the problem before the situation escalates. Meanwhile, the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border, which was considered to be Central Asia's most threatened border, is not much better either, as highlighted by several incidents in recent weeks. In early November, Tajik border guards opened fire on a group of six Afghans who were sailing on the Amu Darya. One Afghan was killed while the others managed to return to Afghanistan. Locals claimed that the six were just fishermen but the Tajik border guards had probably mistaken them for smugglers or insurgents. Such incidents occur from time to time along the Tajik-Afghan border and guards on both sides of the border have every reason to be nervous, as another incident demonstrated two weeks later:
Taliban reportedly abducted Sher Khan Bandar checkpoint employees on border with Tajikistan, Afghan authorities say

Taliban militants, consisting mainly of the Tajik nationals, have abducted the employees of the Sher Khan Bandar customs post on the border with Tajikistan, the Afghan authorities said on Thursday.

Kunduz province police spokesperson Sayidsarvar Husaini said the majority of kidnappers were the citizens of Tajikistan.

“All the hostages are workers of the Sher Khan Bandar. They were kidnapped in nighttime while going home,” the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty cited the spokesperson as saying.

At least 16 employees of the Sher Khan Bandar Border Customs Office were reportedly kidnapped at the time. Sher Kahn Bandar is located in Kunduz Province, where the Taliban and the allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) maintain a strong presence. Four Tajik border police learned this the hard way a short while ago. When they crossed the border into Kunduz Province to cut some trees, it didn't take long before they were also kidnapped by insurgents. A rescue operation is underway but the track record of the Afghan security forces is poor to say least. The Tajik authorities have already identified the turmoil in Afghanistan as a significant security threat to Tajikistan and the kidnapping of four border police officers will certainly reinforce Dushanbe's concerns. Refugees from Afghanistan are probably going to be the ones to suffer if Tajikistan's security services get their way: 
People involved in terrorism arrive in Tajikistan under guise of refugees – law enforcement agencies

Certain terrorist organizations penetrate to Tajikistan under the guise of refugees, according to the State Committee for National Security of Tajikistan representative, Abdulmadzhid Soliyev, the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported today.

"Foreigners come to our country from Afghanistan. All of us are familiar with the situation in the country. According to the sources of Tajik law enforcement agencies, some refugees are active members of terrorist and extremist groups," he said.

"In order to ensure national security, it was suggested to settle the refugees outside the cities of strategic importance. The same rule applies to the experience of developed countries," Soliyev added.
In addition to the chaos in Afghanistan, the conflict in Syria is also bothering the Tajik regime. Several hundred Tajik citizens are reportedly fighting for ISIS and other terrorist groups in the Middle East. While the Saudi Embassy in Dushanbe and Turkish Airlines were doing their best to funnel more Tajik fighters into Syria, the Tajik authorities have long turned a blind eye to the recruitment of new cannon fodder. But lately, there have been some efforts to stop this trend. At the beginning of this month, 46 young men were arrested on suspicion of planning to join terrorist groups in Syria and Tajik leader Emomalii Rahmon warned last week that ISIS "is the plague of the new century and represents a threat for global security." The Chinese will be pleased to hear that since they count on Tajikistan in the fight against the 'three evils':
Tajikistan, China agree to conduct joint exercises for their special police units

Tajik Interior Ministry Ramazon Rahimzoda yesterday met here with Mr. Ma Wei (phonetically spelled), Deputy Chief of Department at the Ministry of Public Security of China (MPS), according to the Interior Ministry press center.

In the course of the talks, the two reportedly discussed issues related to state and prospects of further expansion of bilateral cooperation in combating terrorism, extremism, separatism and drug trafficking.

Rahimzoda and Ma expressed confidence that the planned joint exercises for Tajik and Chinese special police units will help carry out joint operations in various climatic conditions, the press center said.