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.
After the recent U.S. visit of Azerbaijan's Defense Minister, it was now the turn of his Georgian counterpart. DM Irakli Alasania's meeting in Washington with United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel resulted in a new agreement:
Alasania continued his trip at the Johns Hopkins University where he spoke at an event organized by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute addressing Georgia's accession to NATO:
Defense Minister, Irakli Alasania, said he expects active discussions to start later this year and early in 2014 about specifics of what should be “next step” on Georgia’s path to NATO integration in the context of NATO summit in 2014.
The Georgian Defense Minister highlighted Tbilisi's stance towards the Kremlin with respect to this issue [emphasis mine]:
“We have to demonstrate that Russia does not have any say in relationship between NATO and Georgia,” he said. “We will have exemplary [presidential] election [on October 27] that will demonstrate that we are ready for the next step for integration.”
Lobbying for Georgia's NATO Accession
Relations between Georgia and Russia remain fragile as further demonstrated by last week's statement of the Georgia Foreign Ministry. Moscow's policies regarding the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia regularly enrage Tbilisi. And according to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev this conflict is only a foretaste of what is to come if Georgia joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organization:
If Georgia’s does join NATO, it will lead to years of tensions, broader than just a conflict over the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for “you will become a member of a military alliance that is presumed an enemy in certain circumstances,” Medvedev said.
But as previously mentioned, nobody listens to Medvedev's warnings. The Georgian government just extended its contract with influential Washington-based law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs:
According to the initial six-month contract which expired this month, Patton Boggs was helping the Georgian government 'from the point of view of aspiration to join NATO, as well as in relations with the U.S. government and Congress, in relations with media outlets and those involved in shaping public opinion, in the organization of related events and meetings, as well as informing the United States about events in Georgia'.
Evidently, Patton Boggs has been quite successful in the past. Georgia is now working to expand its cooperation with close NATO partners and proxies as well. During his U.S. trip Defense Minister Alasania emphasized the close relationship with Israel and that he is looking forward to visit the country "pretty soon".
Meanwhile, Georgia's Foreign Ministry agreed to strengthen bilateral relations with NATO's proxy regime in "liberated" Libya. The Libyan delegation was received by Maia Panjikidze, Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, who also recently discussed Georgia's integration into NATO and the European Union with Swedish representatives. Russia is alarmed at the prospect of further EU expansion towards its borders:
Russia has signaled it is ready to hit back and tighten customs controls on Ukrainian exports if Kiev signs a ‘suicidal’ customs agreement with the EU. Such a trade war could cost Ukrainian producers an estimated $2.5 billion in losses.
Furthermore, there is growing concern in Moscow about the global missile "defense" system of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and related talks did not lead to any results:
Antonov said Russia is closely monitoring the progress of NATO’s global missile defense system in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region while studying how the system's readiness could affect Russia's nuclear deterrence potential.
The Rise of the SCO
While the U.S.-led military alliance conducted one of its countless drills near Russian and Chinese borders in Kazakhstan:
With 1260 military personnel taking part including ground support from USA, UK, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sweden, Italy and Lithuania, the Military Partnership Directorate HQ carried out all evaluation functions. Observers from Spain, Germany, Belorussia and Ukraine also participated.
Moscow and Beijing vowed to strengthen their strategic ties:
Under the complex and profoundly-changing international situation, China and Russia need to assure their mutual respect and trust, support each other on safeguarding national sovereignty, security and stability as well as development interest, the two officials said.
In September the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek will host the next summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which will also be attended by Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani in his first foreign trip after taking office this month. Pakistan's aim to cement ties with the Eurasian organization and attain full membership in the near future is well known:
Pakistan is desirous of attaining full membership expeditiously, but it is also cognisant of the fact that presently the permanent members of SCO want to maintain a low-key, rather than announce their intention of providing counterfoil to NATO. The membership application of Turkey, which is already an ally/member of NATO, and Iran raise questions and are subject to debate. Keeping this in view, Pakistan realises that offering full membership to one country and denying to others will create a dichotomy so it is willing to bide time till an opportune moment arrives.
An expansion of the SCO looms and if member and observer states work together, the China-led organization could become a strong force against Anglo-American dominance. Currently the creation of a joint bank is being negotiated:
The head of the department also said that the creation of the Bank of the SCO will allow to conduct a single fiscal policy, to take measures to overcome financial and economic crisis, to finance major projects.
Moreover, Russia promotes further collaboration in the energy sector in order to formulate a common and strong energy policy within the SCO:
In an attempt to give a greater economic role to the regional grouping, Russia is encouraging the strengthening of the ‘energy club’ within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
In recent years, SCO member states have sought greater energy cooperation. This follows a formulated dialogue and integrated concept for the creation of an energy club. SCO member states want to create a unified energy market for oil and gas exports, while promoting regional development through preferential energy agreements.
Although the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is not focused primarily on military cooperation in contrast to CSTO and NATO, it will have to address the threats facing Central Asia. Since China's Xinjiang is one of the major targets for destabilization, Beijing is especially interested in making this matter a priority for the SCO:
"There are many different forces in the region. They interfere or intervene in the internal affairs of states. Of course, they do not want stability in Central Asia, they want to repeat the revolution and with all sorts of pretexts to change the legal power. This is very dangerous," said Zhang Hanhuey.
Afghanistan: Militants & Drugs for the Whole Region
Closely related to the whole issue is of course the chaos in Afghanistan which is cause for great concern in China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Zhang Hanhuey, director of the Department for European and Central Asian countries, came up with an appropriate description of the situation:
Commenting on the question if there will be information vacuum in Afghanistan after 2014, Zhang Hanhuey said: "there will be no vacuum – there will be a swamp. If someone shove his foot there, it will be difficult to pull it out."
And while Afghan President Karzai is still not interested in discussing how many U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, militants in the region have no problem with setting foot in the "swamp" and will seize the opportunity:
A recent upswing in activity by Central Asian militants in northern Afghanistan may indicate that they plan to exploit a possible vacuum left by the departure of North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops next year to reinsert themselves into their own countries, regional experts say.
The director of the Central Asia Center for Drug Policy in Bishkek, Alexander Zelitchenko, warned against the already observable effects of NATO's withdrawal and potentially disastrous consequences for neighboring countries [emphasis mine]:
"While NATO troops were operating in areas they needed to cross, they did not dare move openly across the country," he said, adding that now "they've begun to step up their activity within the Central Asia countries and actively recruit jihadi supporters from the local population. That indicates that they have resumed their activities and are preparing for something."
rafficking of Afghan heroin is a major source of funding for the militant groups and Zelitchenko highlighted that with less presence of ISAF troops these groups will be capable of generating greater revenues which will provide them with more resources for their jihad. To make things worse, the local security forces are part of the problem:
Provincial security chief for western Nimroz province of Afghanistan has been arrested by counter-narcotics police forces, over drugs smuggling charges, local officials said.
Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors take the fight against drug trafficking seriously:
Tajikistan, a transit point for more than 30% of the Northern Route drug flow from Afghanistan, is stepping up measures to combat narcotics trafficking.
Tajik and Kyrgz law enforcement agencies regularly seize large quantities of drugs:
Tajikistan's law enforcement agencies seized more than 3,743 kilograms of drugs for the first six months of this year; the rate increased by 10.7% compared with the same period last year, the press service of the Drug Control Agency said.
But these seizures have hardly any impact on the illegal drug trade and the work is dangerous as counter-narcotics officers in Kyrgyzstan learned the hard way:
Without an improvement of border security the countries in the region will not be able to tackle the trafficking of Afghan drugs. In the coming days the heads of Central Asia's border agencies will meet in Kyrgyzstan to discuss regional security with focus on the situation next year after the withdrawal of foreign troops:
Representatives from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan will participate in the event. The first meeting of the heads of border agencies was held in 2011.
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