The New Great Game Round-Up: December 22, 2013

New Silk Road: Railways, Pipelines & Terrorism, Russia’s Response to U.S. Missile Defense Shield  & More!

*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.

As discussed two weeks ago, Russia reacts to NATO’s relentless expansion and Cold War-style military exercises by deploying more missile systems near its threatened borders. This week, the first division of Iskander-M missiles was delivered to Russia’s Southern Military District but the reported deployment of the same ballistic missile system in another part of Russia made the headlines and caused concern in several countries:

Russia missile deployment causes concern abroad

The United States, Poland and three Baltic states have all voiced concern at reported missile deployment by Russia in its exclave of Kaliningrad. Washington urged Moscow not to increase political tensions in the region. 

On Saturday, the German mass-circulation Bild newspaper reported that secret satellite imagery showed Iskander-M missiles stationed near the Polish border.

Russia’s Response to U.S. Missile Defense Shield 

When infamous German tabloid Bild, the highest-circulation newspaper in Europe, broke the story, many were skeptical towards the claims. After all, Bild and its owner the Axel Springer AG represent first and foremost Washington’s interests (both Bild‘s editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann and Axel Springer’s CEO Mathias Döpfner are members of the Atlantik-Brücke). While a statement of the Russian Defense Ministry appeared to confirm the media reports, President Vladimir Putin stressed that such a decision had not yet been made:

Putin Says No Iskanders Deployed in Kaliningrad

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia has not deployed Iskander tactical nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad, an exclave wedged between NATO members Lithuania and Poland.

“We have made no such decision,” Putin said at a marathon annual press conference.

On Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said in an ambiguously worded statement that Iskander missiles had been stationed in Russia’s Western Military District, which includes Kaliningrad as well as much of the European part of Russia.

Meanwhile, Bild insists on its report and claims not only that two missile brigades with 12 Iskander-M missile systems each have already been deployed in Kaliningrad but that the Kremlin plans to reinforce Russia’s borders with hundreds of Iskander missiles. Whatever the case may be, this is of course only a reasonable reaction to Washington’s missile “defense” system in Europe, as Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu lately emphasized: 

Russia has answer to deployment of US missile defense in Europe

Russia has what to react to the deployment of U.S. missile defence in Europe, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday.

The Defense Ministry has the right to deploy weapons in any part of Russia. “Recently a big deal has been made that we deployed Iskander tactical ballistic missiles in the wrong area. We’re deploying our missiles where we want,” the defense minister said.

In the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Putin repeatedly urged Washington to scrap the missile “defense” system. Lavrov exposed the rhetoric of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by reminding everyone that “the stated reason for the construction of the defense shield will no longer apply” if the Iran deal is a success. But Washington is not ashamed of insisting on its specious argument and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel once again tried to assure the Kremlin of NATO’s good intentions:

US to deploy ABM systems in Europe despite P5+1 deal with Iran

The US will deploy its missile defense system in Europe despite progress in Iran nuclear talks, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. The news came as Russia confirmed the deployment of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad region, bordering the EU.

Hagel assured his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoigu, that “NATO missile defense efforts pose no threat to Russia and urged that both sides continue consultations on future missile plans in Europe,” the Pentagon said.

EU Prefers Azerbaijani over Russian Gas

In Russia nobody will be fooled by such comments. Relations between Moscow and Washington remain tense. The same is true of Moscow-Brussels relations. Besides struggling over Ukraine, the European Union and Russia continue to quarrel about pipelines. Despite Serbia’s initial opposition to a renegotiation of the South Stream pipeline project, the European Union will now lead new talks with Russian energy giant Gazprom about the gas pipeline:

EU to renegotiate South Stream gas pipeline with Russia

EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger is to visit Moscow next month to renegotiate South Stream gas pipeline deals on behalf of several member states, he said Thursday. The announcement comes days after the European Commission told the countries through which the pipeline is to pass that the deals they had struck with Russia are in violation of EU law.

“We have been given a mandate by the member states to negotiate in their name with the Russian partners,” Oettinger said at a meeting of EU energy ministers in Brussels.

The countries he is to negotiate on behalf of are Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria, Greece and non-EU member Serbia, which applies EU laws in its energy sector, Oettinger said.

Coincidentally, EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger is also one of the strongest advocates of the Southern Gas Corridor, the European Commission’s initiative aimed at reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. Oettinger still dreams of building a gas pipeline, which could seriously challenge South Stream, but for now he has to put up with a smaller project. Anyhow, Europe can look forward to a new gas supply via a route that avoids Russian territory:

Final Deal Signed To Send Azerbaijani Gas To Europe

The consortium developing Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz-2 natural-gas project has signed a final investment agreement, paving the way for the first deliveries to Europe.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said deals signed on December 17 in Baku include an investment decision on the Shah Deniz-2 offshore oil and gas fields and the Trans-Anatolian (TANAP) and Trans-Adriatic (TAP) gas pipelines — projects worth at least $35 billion.

However, not everybody is equally convinced of the Shah Deniz-2 project. Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil surprisingly sold 10 percent of its 25.5 percent stake in the project (SOCAR purchased 6.7 percent and BP the remaining 2.3 percent of the Statoil stake). And while Turkey made the decision to increase its stake in the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline, Statoil and supermajor Total pulled out altogether due to concerns about the soaring costs of the project:

Total and Statoil pull out of Tanap gas pipe deal

Statoil and Total have decided not to exercise their option to acquire stakes in the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline, or
Tanap, according to people familiar with the matter. Statoil was to have taken a 12 per cent interest and Total 5 per cent.

But Tanap’s estimated construction costs have soared from $7.5bn to about $12bn, increasing the financial risks to the partners. The pipeline was to have started delivering gas to the Turkish market by 2018 and to Europe by 2019, but analysts believe that timetable could slip.

Despite their decision to withdraw from Tanap, Statoil and Total will retain their interests in TAP.

Nevertheless, there is still a lot of money to be made with Azerbaijani oil and gas. The only question is who will benefit from the abundant energy resources?! Corruption has always been a major problem in Azerbaijan and the Aliyev regime profits handsomely from the shady dealings. According to new report by the Soros-funded watchdog group Global Witness, lots of money disappears into a black hole:

Are Azerbaijani Energy Dealings Transparent and Opaque at the Same Time? 

“Privately owned companies are making millions handling oil that belongs to the Azerbaijani people, yet the identity of their owners is hidden, and it is not clear why they are involved,” the report states.

“The lack of transparency highlights gaps in the EITI, as it shows that countries can comply with its rules, while large deals are being struck with very little transparency,” the report continued. “It is important for Europe that Azerbaijan keeps the oil and gas flowing and maintains transparent and well-run energy industry. Yet this briefing shows that much of the oil business in Azerbaijan remains opaque.”

In the end, Brussels is more concerned about the steady flow of oil and gas than transparency. Moreover, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and other foreign officials have trouble criticizing the rampant corruption and human rights abuses in the former Soviet state because they are being treated very well by the Aliyev regime:

Plush hotels and caviar diplomacy: how Azerbaijan’s elite wooed MPs

It operates from an exclusive Mayfair address and throws lavish parties for politicians of all parties. Ostensibly an independent trade body, the European
Azerbaijan Society (Teas) regularly takes MPs, MEPs and government officials on trips to the former Soviet state, where they are put up in luxury hotels.

On previous trips, members of the Council of Europe visiting the capital, Baku, are among those to have been treated royally. According to one insider: “These are real vacations and there are many expensive gifts. Gifts are mostly expensive silk carpets, gold and silver items, drinks, caviar and money. In Baku, a common gift is 2kg of caviar.”

New Silk Road: Railways, Pipelines & Terrorism

With deals on the Trans-Anatolian (TANAP) and Trans Adriatic (TAP) gas pipelines sealed, Baku and Ankara look forward to eventually launching the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which is scheduled for completion by 2014 after being delayed several times. The 826-kilometer railway will be able to transport 1 million passengers and 6.5 million tons of freight at the first stage and is seen as an important project for the revival of the Silk Road:

Trans -Eurasian Corridor: Turkey and Azerbaijan lead revival of modern Silk ‘Rail’ Road

With the railway project, continuous transport between London and Beijing would be available. A train that will depart from London would pass through the Marmaray and then follow Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and through the Caspian Sea would reach Beijing, experts said.

“Chinese goods, for example, which would depart from the northwest of the country, will arrive to Europe in 12 days. On the other hand, if China would prefer to use the Suez Canal or the sea road, the duration of the voyage would take 45 days and 23,000 kilometres,” he said.

Hillary Clinton’s ‘New Silk Road’ vision fell on deaf ears in Washington but not in Beijing. China has been very successful in reviving the ancient trade route and Xi Jinping’s now famous Central Asia tour was instrumental in implementing Beijing’s plans for a New Silk Road. The Chinese President secured among others more gas supplies from Turkmenistan, requiring the construction of a new branch line for the Central Asia-China gas pipeline, which will also include Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan:

Kyrgyzstan, China sign agreement on gas pipeline from Turkmenistan

Kyrgyzstan and China have signed an agreement on construction of a gas pipeline crossing from Turkmenistan via Kyrgyzstan to China, the regional media reported on Dec.18 citing a statement by President of the Kyrgyz Republic Almazbek Atambayev.

In September 2013 it was reported that President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was in Ashgabat on a state visit, came to an agreement on the fourth direction of the trans-national Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline along the route Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan-China.

Beijing’s only problem is that the Central Asia-China gas pipeline as well as other pipelines, power lines and transport networks runs through the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Since Xinjiang plays a decisive role in the New Great Game, the autonomous region is being targeted by Washington in an ongoing destabilization campaign:

Attack on Police in Western China Kills 16, Tianshan Reports

Sixteen people were killed when rioters attacked police as they were detaining suspects in China’s restive northwest province of Xinjiang, according to a news portal controlled by the local government.

Two police and 14 rioters were killed, the article on Tianshannet.com.cn said without citing anyone. Two suspects were detained in the attack, which occurred in Shufu county of Xinjiang’s Kashgar region, according to the article.

In connection with the incident, local police detained six suspects who are believed to have formed a “violent terrorist gang” with the 14 killed rioters. In the meantime, security forces in neighboring Kyrgyzstan had to deal with a supposedly nonviolent terrorist gang. One week after Russian police cracked down on Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) in the Republic of Dagestan, resulting among others in the arrest of one Kyrgyz HT member, their Kyrgyz counterparts did the same:

Kyrgyzstan arrests 8 members of Hizb ut-Tahrir

Eight members of international Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir have been detained in southern Kyrgyzstan, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.

 ”Investigative and search operations have resulted in the exposure of an organized extremist religious group that pursued its activities in the regions of Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken and the city of Osh,” the ministry said in a statement.

Bishkek Struggles in Southern Kyrgyzstan

Predictably, all detained Hizb ut-Tahrir members conducted their activities in southern Kyrgyzstan. After all, the “conveyor belt for terrorists” is involved in recruiting young men from this region for jihad in Syria. At the beginning of this year, reports started emerging about Kyrgyz youth who left the country in order to join the “Syrian rebels”:

Kyrgyzstan: Local roots of global jihad

However, one key fact is missing from virtually all reports: while it is openly acknowledged that these youths originate from the south, nowhere is it mentioned that most of the Kyrgyz nationals who are now fighting or have previously fought in Syria belong to the country’s Uzbek minority.

Young Uzbeks are still hostile towards the Kyrgyz community because of the violent clashes in 2010, which left several hundred people dead, most of them Uzbeks. Due to social tensions and poverty, organizations like Hizb ut-Tahrir do not have a hard time recruiting new terrorists in southern Kyrgyzstan:

“I” is a member of Hizb al-Tahrir (HT), a party banned in all Central Asian republics. I meet him in a car on the side of a little-trafficked road. “Families get $10,000 when their sons go to fight jihad in Syria. Jihad doesn’t come for free. The fighter also gets money and, if he dies, the family receives compensation for his martyrdom.”

He adds that many youngsters go to fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but since 2012 Syria has also become a top spot. Many join Jabhat al-Nusra, a group linked to al-Qaeda, and are recruited by people from da’wa organizations who go door to door in poor neighborhoods in places like Aravan, Naukat, Kara-Suu and Nariman.

The interviewed HT member also stressed that Uzbek youth travel to Syria to train for a future confrontation with the Kyrgyz. Although Hizb ut-Tahrir publicly denies any participation in the recruitment, we should take this protestation of innocence with a grain of salt:

“R” instead tells me that three HT members tried to enlist him to fight in Syria in September this year. Apparently, the three men claimed to him that behind them were two rich Uzbek businessmen who were ready to shoulder all the expenses. He continues that HT affiliates visit local mosques at prayer time and during religious festivals: this way, they find out who are the most pious Muslims and those who are most in need in the community.

In addition to terrorist recruitment, social tensions and poverty, the Kyrgyz government faces another major problem in southern Kyrgyzstan:

Kyrgyzstan: Alliance from Restive South Creates Headache for Bishkek

Two parties with their roots in Kyrgyzstan’s troubled south have announced a political alliance that could create a headache for Bishkek as it struggles to stamp its authority over southern regions.

The Unity of Peoples party led by Melis Myrzakmatov, the combative former mayor of Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city, Osh, joined forces with the Progress party of Bakyt Torobayev, whose political stronghold is in the neighboring Jalal-Abad Region, on December 7, Kloop reported.

Myrzakmatov was fired as mayor of Osh just three days after he joined some 3.000 demonstrators in his city calling for the release of his ally, opposition politician Akhmatbek Keldibekov, who had been arrested on corruption charges.

Kyrgyz police clashed with supporters of Keldibekov when the demonstrators attempted to storm a government building during the rally. Bishkek increasingly struggles to assert its authority over the country’s south but domestic problems are not the only challenges for the Kyrgyz government:

Kyrgyz president fears war in the south

Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan came close to all-out open interstate conflict in June 2010, when ethnic violence broke out between Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan. Ongoing political upheaval in the Kyrgyz republic over the years also weakened state institutions, creating a power vacuum throughout the country; ethnic strife in the south only intensified the breakdown of the Kyrgyz state. 

So as Washington is about to pull its troops out of Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan face yet another year of negative politics over unsettled issues. In the meantime, reports of sporadic firefights on both sides of the fence leave less optimism for better prospects of cooperation between the two. Ultimately, in the absence of mutual coordination, stability in the Ferghana Valley is unsustainable.

In anticipation of further conflicts in the region, the Kyrgyz authorities decided to reinforce the borders of Batken Province, which is bounded on the northeast by Uzbekistan and lies partially within the Fergana Valley:

Kyrgyz strengthen southern border

Kyrgyzstan is building better border fences and better equipping border check-points in Batken Oblast in the country’s south, State Border Service said in a December 12 statement.

Additionally, money will be invested in improving living conditions for border guards and their families living in the distant regions.

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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

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Comments

  1. YES….

    New Silk Road: Railways, Pipelines & Terrorism, Russia’s Response to U.S. Missile Defense Shield & More!

    hmmm…

    just who are reading all of This…
    Dear Sibel….

    kind regards….
    jens.

  2. Come on

    We are all
    ONE World…

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