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 in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.
The dispute between the United States and Russia about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden serves as perfect pretext for Washington to expedite NATO's Cold War Revival. U.S. Senator John McCain, famous for his warmongering and staunch support of terrorists from Libya to Syria, is leading the way:
US Senator John McCain disapproves whistleblower Edward Snowden’s newly-acquired asylum, and demands that Washington re-examine its relations with Moscow and `strip away the illusions that many Americans have had about Russia.`
`We should push for the completion of all phases of our missile defense programs in Europe, and move expeditiously on another round of NATO expansion, including the Republic of Georgia,` the statement published on the Senator`s official website says.
It's only a matter of time before the country at Russia's southern border joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania explained in a recent interview Tbilisi's strategy for the accession to NATO and how to deal with the Kremlin during this progress:
“No one has any illusion that anything will change in the coming decade. So we have to wait them out, we have to outsmart them. We have to be patient,” he said. “Preparing ourselves means that we're going to wait for the historic opportunity for this window to open up, as it did for the Baltics, then we'll jump in.” He added, however, that he believed that Georgia would make some sort of concrete progress toward the alliance next year, though he said it was unclear what form that may take.
In the meantime, Georgia focuses is on enhancing its military capabilities with the help of four key partners [emphasis mine]:
Asked about key foreign partnerships as Georgia works to strengthen its military, Alasania highlighted four countries in particular: Turkey, Azerbaijan, Estonia and Israel. “It's time to have a trilateral relationship on defense industry level with Azerbaijan and Turkey,” he said. In particular, Georgia is trying to learn from Azerbaijan's recent efforts to develop an indigenous defense industry.
Military Secrets For Sale
As former CIA officer Philip Giraldi reminds us, Turkey and Israel are the best choice if you want to get access to American weapons and military secrets:
"In Sibel Edmonds’s day, the Turks and Israelis were under investigation by the FBI because U.S.-made weapons incorporating restricted technologies were appearing in a number of countries not authorized to receive them, many of which were located in Central and South Asia as well as in Latin America. The weapons have also wound up in the hands of criminal cartels and narcotics traffickers, mingling arms sales with large-scale fraud, extortion, and drugs."
And this was apparently only the tip of the iceberg:
"The scale of Israeli legal and clandestine arms sales now appears to far exceed anything that might have been imagined at the time when Sibel Edmonds was translating documents. Israel’s state controller, to its credit, has reported that there are major deficiencies in the supervision of the country’s arms-exporting companies, suggesting further that there have been abuses as a result."
The Georgian government learned the hard way that certain business partners cannot be trusted and is no longer interested in Israeli drones:
President Saakashvili said on July 5 that surveillance drones, which his government bought from Israel before the war with Russia, were compromised as sensitive data became available to “adversary”.
After WikiLeaks started releasing emails snatched by hackers from a U.S.-based global security analysis company Stratfor in early 2012, an allegation emerged that surveillance drones, which Georgia bought from Israel were compromised after Israel and Russia made a swap – Israel gave Russia the 'data link' code for those specific unmanned aerial vehicle; in return, Russia gave Israel the codes for Iran's Tor-M1 missile systems.
In response to this unpleasant experience, Georgia decided to build its own unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones are becoming increasingly popular with governments all over the world and a domestic UAV program is an option to consider since relying on Israel, the world's largest drones exporter, proves to be dangerous.
Russia is obviously not willing to take these risks and pushes its development of drones and combat robots as well:
Think drones and robotic soldiers are limited to the United States? Of course they aren't. Now Russia, apparently concerned over the speed with which the US has automated its armed forces, is making a push to catch up in the combat robot race. The Russian Ministry of Defense approved funding for the development of combat robots through 2025.
Shoigu deputy said that up to 30 percent of the US's combat vehicles will be remote operated by 2020, which apparently is meant to imply that Russia really needs to catch up.
New technologies dominate warfare to a great extent. Especially the cyberspace is now a vital part of the battlefield and Moscow addresses the issue with a new cyber security doctrine while at the same time continuing the reform of Russia's armed forces:
According to the minister, the center will consolidate command over the country’s armed forces, especially the nuclear triad and rapid reaction forces. It will also allow real-time monitoring of day-to-day activities of military units around the country.
Jihad From Syria To Russia
According to a recent poll by the state-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 35 percent of Russians think that the influx of other ethnicities is the most likely threat to national security. So there is no major opposition to the crackdown on migrants:
The foreigners, who came from Turkey and Central Asian countries, were detained in northern Moscow and taken to police precincts “to be identified and checked for involvement in earlier crimes.” The raid is the latest in a campaign that officials say aims to “decriminalize” the city, and that has mainly targeted migrant workers.
Terrorist attacks are seen as "very likely" danger by 28 percent of the Russian population. But this number might increase if the focus shifts from the proxy war in Syria to Russia's North Caucasus and more jihadi fighters decide to support the between 150 and 200 militants, who are currently active in Dagestan:
In a short video address dated July 30, a group of Syrian fighters has appealed to Muslims in the North Caucasus to wage jihad in Russia rather than travel to Syria to participate in the fighting there. Specifically, they refer to the recent appeal by self-styled Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov to prevent the holding of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February 2014.
However, the terror problem is not limited to the North Caucasus:
A court-martial on Russia’s far east Sakhalin Island sentenced a reserve army captain to 1 ½ years in jail for setting up a cell of the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, investigators said on Friday.
Hizb ut-Tahrir serves as conveyor belt for terrorists and poses a significant threat to Central Asia because it thrives on the critical socioeconomic conditions which persist in many countries in the region. Concerned by the security in Russia's backyard, President Putin offered Tajik President Rahmon his support at an official meeting between the two heads of state this week:
"Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin's order is unambiguous: to take into consideration all risks and help the Tajik armed forces to do their best in order to withstand these risks," Shoyqu told journalists referring to the results of negotiations between the presidents of Russian Federation and Tajikistan.
Furthermore, Russia considers to allocate $150 - 200 million for the modernization of the Tajik army until 2025. In return, Rahmon promised that Tajikistan will agree to extend the presence of Russia's military base on its territory:
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon said his country's parliament will ratify in the fall an agreement that extends Russia's military presence in Tajikistan until 2042.
CENTCOM's Central Asia Trip
Before his trip to Moscow, President Rahmon received the commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), General Lloyd Austin, who had just met with President Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan. Talks between CENTCOM commander Austin and the Central Asian leaders focused on Afghanistan and would have been a good opportunity to discuss recent reports about Washington's objectives in the region:
United States plans to split Afghanistan, establishing there the state for Taliban and divide the rest of the region, Media quote Gulam Jalal, the President of Afghan's Diasporas in Russia who voiced this idea at the recent round table “Russia-American dialogue: prognosis and threats”. Destabilization of situation in Kyrgyzstan is in Washington's plans, he stated.
According to Sergey Masaulov, the head of the Center for perspective research, the United States want to keep its presence in Afghanistan even after the withdrawal of its core contingent. The only possible threat that we need to talk about is Afghanistan’s division. Sergey Masaulov supposes three new countries may appear on Afghan territory: on the north – Islamic state Horasan, Pushtun on the south and Hazara Khanate in the center. Though there is no guarantee of this to happen. As for Kyrgyzstan, it really - if there is a threat to the United States to completely lose its presence in Kyrgyzstan, the first they will betake the threat of destabilization, and then, if it does not help, to put it into practice, says Masaulov. He is sure that the split of Afghanistan will become the real disaster.
Plans for the creation of new states in Central Asia have been on the drawing board for quite some time and the withdrawal of ISAF troops from Afghanistan is often seen as starting point for the implementation of these projects. With this in mind, certain news items make a lot more sense:
John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), voiced his concerns over the military’s reluctance over the issue in Monday’s quarterly report. He said the US Army would not bar 43 individuals and companies from receiving contracts "despite detailed supporting information demonstrating that these individuals and entities are providing material support to the insurgency in Afghanistan."
And the United States Agency for International Development, known for its suspicious activities, is involved once again:
In the latest report Sopko also lashed out at the misallocation of funds revealed during the audit.
He criticized the US Agency for International Development (USAID) over its "Stability in Key Areas Program", which is aimed at strengthening local governments in Afghanistan.
"It's troubling that after 16 months, this program has not issued its first community grant," Sopko said adding that under the program almost $50 million, or roughly a quarter of its budget, have been spent on conferences, overhead and workshops.
Afghanistan Descends Into Chaos
Who could have predicted that USAID fails to strengthen local governments in Afghanistan?! Be that as it may, the security situation in the country continues to deteriorate and the violence claims more and more victims each day [emphasis mine]:
The United Nations reported on Wednesday that the number of deaths and injuries among civilians had risen by 23 percent during the first six months of the year, compared with the same period 12 months earlier.
Meanwhile, the security situation in the country is continung to deteriorate. Instead of the stabilization it had hoped for, ISAF's Kabul headquarters now receives almost daily reports of dead and wounded soldiers. The casualty numbers declined in 2012 but have risen sharply since the beginning of this year.
"The security situation in some of the known problematic regions in the north has worsened appreciably since the beginning of the spring offensive," reads a July 11 internal diplomatic cable from the German consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif. Last Monday it emerged that the Taliban has killed 2,748 police officers just in the past four months.
This chaos might spill over to neighboring countries sooner than expected:
Afghanistan authorities are beefing up security in Hairaton, the border town with Uzbekistan, citing recent attempts by militants to lay mines on a road leading to the bridge to Uzbekistan.
Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here