The New Great Game Round-Up: February 23, 2015

Uyghur Terrorists Making Headlines in Turkey- China-Indonesia, Victoria Nuland and USAID Go on South Caucasus Tour & 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.

The "Euromaidan Revolution" was a resounding success. In fact, it was so successful that the "heroes of the Euromaidan Revolution" and their compatriots are now fleeing the country in record numbers. Fortunately, this won't affect the regime in Kiev, which prefers to appoint foreigners to important positions. Ukraine is primarily relying on Georgian experience to "conquer the whole of Russia," as former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili put it. But Saakashvili's presence and the ever-increasing number of Saakashvili-era officials in Kiev have drawn heavy criticism from Georgia since the former President and several of his associates face criminal charges at home. Predictably, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ignored all warnings from Tbilisi and decided to appoint Saakashvili as his non-staff advisor and as head of Ukraine's Advisory International Council of Reforms, where he can use his "knowledge, experience and unique know-how" to develop proposals and recommendations for implementing reforms in Ukraine. Tbilisi's reaction was not long in coming:

Tbilisi Summons Ukrainian Ambassador over Saakashvili Georgian Foreign Ministry has “invited” Ukrainian ambassador in Tbilisi, Vasyl Tsybenko, “to talk on many issues” including about appointing Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is wanted by the Georgian authorities, as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s adviser, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Davit Kereselidze, said on February 16. He said that although this appointment was “surprising” to Tbilisi, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson also stressed that “nothing will obstruct” strategic partnership between Georgia and Ukraine. “Let’s not cause a stir out of it,” Kereselidze said at a news conference responding a question about summoning of the Ukrainian ambassador. “Ukraine is our strategic partner, which is an important country with which we have and will have friendly relations.”

Kiev's Preference for Georgians Strains Georgian-Ukrainian Relations

Although the Georgian government continues to insist that everything is fine, it is safe to say that Kiev's preference for Georgians has strained relations between Kiev and Tbilisi. The Georgian authorities won't go as far as prosecuting former Georgian servicemen who fight for the Ukrainian regime in the Donbass but they have made it clear that Saakashvili & Co. should be arrested and extradited. Unperturbed by the criticism, Ukraine's Ambassador to Georgia, Vasyl Tsybenko, defended Saakashvili's appointment, saying that "Ukraine is an independent state" and that the guys in Kiev can "make the decisions they think are necessary." Calling Ukraine, or rather what's left of Ukraine, an independent state is of course ridiculous and it is a debatable point whether it is really necessary to fill even more key posts with Saakashvili-era officials. Tsybenko was summoned to explain not only Saakashvili's appointment but also what other former Georgian officials, such as ex-Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili, are doing in Kiev. Both Saakasvhili and Adeishvili are wanted in Georgia:

Georgian Prosecutor’s Office: ‘Ukraine Refuses to Extradite Saakashvili’ Georgian Chief Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement on February 17 that despite its request, Ukraine has “not cooperated” with Georgia and refuses to extradite ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili and ex-justice minister Zurab Adeishvili. On February 13 Saakashvili, wanted by the Georgian authorities, was appointed by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko as his adviser and head of International Advisory Council on Reforms. The Georgian Foreign Ministry summoned Ukrainian ambassador in Tbilisi over Saakashvili’s appointment. Although ex-justice minister of Georgia Zurab Adeishvili, who is also wanted by Tbilisi, has no official post in the Ukrainian government, he is informally advising Ukrainian authorities, according to former Georgian officials now working in Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials stressed that issue is still being discussed and that they have not made a final decision on whether to extradite Saakashvili and Adeishvili but the Georgian Chief Prosecutor's Office lost no time in sending another extradition request to Kiev in an effort to demonstrate its determination. Although many Georgians would like to see their former President behind bars, it is highly unlikely that Saakashvili or any other former Georgian official will be extradited. Kiev and Washington count on their "expertise" in the fight against evil Russia. Who better to coordinate the issue of arms supplies to Kiev than Saakashvili? A few days ago, Saakashvili boasted that he convinced U.S. President Barack Obama in 2012 to supply Georgia with powerful defensive weapons. To Saakashvili's horror, the weapons were never delivered because the "pro-Russian" government of Bidzina Ivanishvili had other ideas. He also blamed Ivanishvili, who left politics in late 2013, for the current decline of Georgia and vowed to return to power to save the country from "catastrophe." This may prove to be difficult. Even Washington's other favorite in Georgia doesn't want anything to do with him:

Free Democrats: No deal with Saakashvili party After exchanging barrels of criticism, Georgia’s two main pro-western political parties deny likelihood of future political alliance. At least one of them, Free Democrats of the former defense minister Irakli Alasania, is obviously firm in its loath toward alliance with Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement. In an unlikely sharp remark, former diplomat Alasania called Saakashvili ‘Baron Münchausen’, referring to the fictional German nobleman, a pathological liar.

In contrast to Saakashvili and Alasania, the current Georgian government is not hellbent on starting a war with Russia. But that doesn't mean that Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration is at risk. Georgian-U.S. military cooperation continues and NATO's joint training center in Georgia is expected to open its doors by the end of this year. Although Georgian and NATO officials have repeatedly said that the training center is not aimed at Russia, the Kremlin is alarmed and justifiably so. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently discussed "the non-stop process to drag Georgia into NATO" with his South Ossetian counterpart David Sanakoyev. South Ossetia called NATO's plans to set up training center in Georgia "provocative" and Foreign Minister Sanakoyev stressed that South Ossetia is still worried about the possibility of a Georgian attack. That's one of the reasons why South Ossetia signed this week a new border agreement with Russia, much to the dismay of Georgia:

Georgia Condemns Deal Between Russia, South Ossetia as Step Toward Annexation Georgia has condemned the signing of a border agreement between its breakaway region of South Ossetia and Russia, accusing Moscow of moving closer to annexing a territory it supported in a five-day conflict in 2008. Moscow went further by signing a "strategic partnership" agreement with Abkhazia last November, seven months after annexing Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and throwing its weight behind separatists battling in eastern Ukraine. Russia says it wants to sign a similar document to integrate its security forces and military with South Ossetia's, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed a preliminary agreement with his counterpart in the separatist region on Wednesday.

Victoria Nuland & USAID Go on South Caucasus Tour 

Russia's Foreign Ministry had the ludicrous idea that the border agreement would dispel "Georgia's insinuations about alleged preparations for annexation and accession." As expected, it had the opposite effect. While Georgian officials were freaking out, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland offered moral support, stressing that the U.S. will continue to support Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. During her visit to Georgia, Nuland also commented on the spat between Tbilisi and Kiev over Saakashvili. She reminded the Georgian authorities that Georgia and Ukraine should support each other in this "very imporant moment," as both countries "seek to pursue the path of Euro-Atlantic integration." Georgia was the second stop on Nuland's Caucasus tour. At the beginning of this week, the infamous U.S. diplomat visited Azerbaijan and she was not alone:

US Assistant Secretary: Last 10 days were quite busy period for US-Azerbaijan relations

"At all the meetings, we conveyed the same message that the US welcomes the cooperation it has build with Azerbaijan over a period of more than 20 years. We want  to see an independent and democratic Azerbaijan, and to continue the relations built between the two countries 20 years ago. I’ve been traveling to Baku since 1993. The two countries cooperate in the three areas – security, economy-energy and democracy. We have jointly fought against terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan and Kosovo,” the US official underlined.   The assistant secretary said she arrived in Azerbaijan together with regional representatives of the US Department of Defense and European Command.   “Discussions are underway on joint exercises, training and strengthening of peacekeeping forces,” Nuland noted. 

There has been a lot of talk about Azerbaijan's shift away from the West but the continuing military cooperation tells a different story. Nuland also emphasized that energy ties between the U.S. and Azerbaijan "are in an excellent condition," which leaves the "democracy" issue as the point of contention. Color revolution expert Nuland met with President Ilham Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov as well as members of Azerbaijan's civil society, who are having a rough time. The deteriorating human rights situation was high on the agenda during Nuland's meeting with Aliyev and she stressed the importance of a dialogue between the country's authorities and civil society, making the rather curious remark that a "color revolution is not necessary, when government and civil society are talking with each other." Against this backdrop, it is also interesting to note that Victoria Nuland is not the only color revolution expert currently touring the South Caucasus:

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Susan Fritz Travels to the Caucasus U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Acting Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Susan Fritz will travel to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia from February 20 - March 5. Acting Assistant Administrator Fritz's visit will include meetings with government officials, civil society, international partners, and USAID staff in these countries. This will be Acting Assistant Administrator Fritz's first visit to the Caucasus in her new capacity. During her trip to this important region, she plans to reaffirm the United States' commitment to working with our partners to promote stable, democratic, resilient societies and support energy security and economic growth throughout the region.

Victoria Nuland ended her South Caucasus tour with a visit in Armenia, where she explained to members of Armenian civil society how to make molotov cocktails and cookies. Joking apart, the Assistant Secretary of State lauded Armenia's viable civil society and pointed out that the dialogue between government and civil society is of key importance. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych learned this the hard way. Since Nuland is known for her indiscretion, it came as no real surprise that she managed to upset the authorities in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh even before she got to the country. During a press conference in Baku, Nuland advised Armenia to make a "humanitarian gesture" by releasing the Azerbaijani prisoners Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev, who were detained in Nagorno-Karabakh last year after the murder of an Armenian teenager. If the Aliyev regime had talked directly to the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, the appeal would have had a better chance of success:

Deputy: Nuland should advise Azerbaijan to petition to Karabakh Victoria Nuland should have instead given advice to the Azerbaijan government to petition to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) authorities about the future of the Azerbaijani saboteurs, NKR National Assembly member Gagik Petrosyan told Armenian News-NEWS.am. In his words, Nuland should have expressed her view when Azerbaijan was carrying out acts of sabotage and killing a sleeping man. To note, Armenian lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan was killed in his sleep by Azerbaijani officer Ramil Safarov, and with an axe, during a NATO Partnership for Peace program in Budapest on February 19, 2004. “It would have been better if the US Department of State had focused on the fact that the Azerbaijani saboteurs are killing children. Had they been prisoners of war, perhaps I would have agreed with Nuland; but they are saboteurs,” Petrosyan stressed.

Uyghur Terrorists Making Headlines in Turkey, China & Indonesia

As Victoria Nuland and USAID visit the South Caucasus, the Russian authorities have every reason to be alarmed. Thousands of Russians took to the streets on the recent anniversary of the Maidan coup to make it clear that they don't want any cookies from Nuland. Both Russia and China have identified color revolutions as a serious threat and agreed to work together "to withstand this new security challenge." China is already working on a Russian-style 'foreign agent' law, which aims to regulate the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations in the country. Moreover, Russia and China are still fighting against the destabilization of the North Caucasus and Xinjiang, respectively. Therefore, the increasing number of Russian and Chinese nationals joining the "Syrian rebels" gives Moscow and Beijing a headache. Only a few days ago, Turkish military forces detained a group of would-be terrorists from Xinjiang:

Seven Chinese nationals detained attempting to enter Syria through Turkey The Turkish Armed Forces General Staff Headquarters announced on Saturday that seven citizens of the People’s Republic of China had been apprehended by military forces in the southern province of Hatay. The Chinese nationals were apprehended within the 2nd Border Regiment, Pulluyazı Border Outpost Command area of jurisdiction by border guards as they were trying to illegally enter Syria. The General Staff Headquarters identified them as hailing from the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region in northeastern China. The Chinese nationals were handed over to the authorities.

Perhaps, this was a gesture of good will by the Turkish authorities after China had drawn attention to the fact that Turkey plays a decisive role in destabilizing Xinjiang. The exposure of Turkey's role prompted Turkish National Police Chief Mehmet Celalettin Lekesiz to travel to Beijing and assure the Chinese government that Ankara will be more cooperative in the fight against terrorism in the future. But it remains to be seen if the Turkish authorities will really walk the talk. In recent weeks, Beijing has been very outspoken about the real players behind the terrorist threat. On occasion of the recent White House conference on countering violent extremism, China's official Xinhua news agency published an editorial accusing the U.S. of playing "the role of a terrorist breeder." This attack came on the heels of new reports about violence in Xinjiang. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported this week that a suicide bomber killed up to eight people on February 13 and a few days later another attack left 17 people dead:

Clashes kill 17 in China’s restive west Seventeen people have reportedly been hacked, stabbed or shot to death in the latest episode of deadly violence to hit China's far west. Police were searching homes in a town called Yaqaeriq when a group of around 10 people turned on them, giving chase with knives and axes. In the ensuing violence four officials were killed. Police shot dead nine suspects and four passers-by who were apparently caught in the crossfire.

As is often the case, the Chinese authorities are trying to keep a lid on the latest outbreak of violence. If RFA's reporting is to be believed, the situation in Xinjiang is still very volatile and chaotic despite excessive police presence. During the incident in Yaqaeriq, a group of men managed to snatch firearms away from the police "who did not know how to use the guns" and one policeman told RFA that two of the assailants had escaped with a firearm. While China continues to struggle with the insurgency in Xinjiang, other countries in the region are also looking for Uyghur militants. Uyghur terrorist suspects with Turkish passports are currently again making headlines in Indonesia after the recent arrest of Uyghurs who are believed to be part of the group that carried out the massacre in Kunming. China has called on its neighbors and other countries in the region to repatriate all Uyghurs as soon as they catch them and the Afghan government thought this might be a good opportunity to exert pressure on Pakistan:

Afghans arrested Chinese Uighurs to aid Taliban talks bid: officials Afghanistan arrested and handed over several Muslim Uighur militants from China's west in an effort to persuade China to use its influence with Pakistan to help start negotiations with the Taliban, Afghan security officials said on Friday. "We offered our hand in cooperation with China and in return we asked them to pressure Pakistan to stop supporting the Taliban or at least bring them to the negotiating table," said one of the security officials, who attended a meeting with Chinese officials to arrange transfer of the prisoners. The Uighurs, who the Afghan officials said had trained in militant camps across the border in Pakistan, were handed over to Chinese officials last month.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: February 16, 2015

TAPI Saga Continues as U.S. Escalates Shadow War in Afghanistan, Indonesia Catches Kunming Attack Suspects Carrying Turkish Passports & 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.

The never-ending story of the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India gas pipeline (TAPI) continued this week with a meeting of the TAPI steering committee in Islamabad. Depending on which media outlet you want to believe, the project is either about to be implemented or still the pipe dream that it has always been. After Pakistan's Dawn newspaper had argued only a few weeks ago that the pipeline is unlikely to be built anytime soon, The Daily Times claimed recently that a deal is imminent and that French supermajor Total is prepared to lead the project. Pakistan insists on choosing Total as consortium leader but the company has been reluctant to get involved unless it can secure a stake in the respective Turkmen gas field. Due to its oil price-related problems, Total is currently even less inclined to take unnecessary risks. Therefore, India is now trying to convince Turkmenistan of changing its stance:

TAPI pipeline: India asks Turkmenistan to ease rules

With construction of the USD 10 billion TAPI pipeline stuck for want of a credible operator, India today pressed Turkmenistan to relax its domestic law to help get an international firm for building the project. French giant Total SA had initially envisaged interest in leading a consortium of national oil companies of the four nations in the TAPI project. However, it backed off after Turkmenistan refused to accept its condition of a stake in the gas field that will feed the pipeline. Since the four state-owned firms, including GAIL of India, neither have the financial muscle nor the experience of cross-country line, an international company that will build and also operate the line in hostile territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan, is needed.

TAPI Saga Continues as U.S. Escalates Shadow War in Afghanistan

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated that the TAPI member countries have unanimously agreed to pick Total as consortium leader, adding that the French oil and gas company and the Turkmen government are yet to agree on some details. The involved parties want to fix the start date of the project when the steering committee meets again in Kabul in two months and by then it should be clear if Total is really on board. Even if everything goes according to plan, the first flow of gas is expected no earlier than 2020. Nobody knows how the security situation in Afghanistan is going to develop in the meantime. So the Kabul government might have to share the transit fees it is desperately longing for with the Taliban, the Islamic State (ISIS) or other groups, which end up in control of the territory. With the turf war between the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan intensifying, the Afghan and Central Asian authorities lose no opportunity to hype the ISIS threat and the U.S. military can do what it does best:

US kills Islamic State's deputy emir for 'Khorasan province' in airstrike: report Afghanistan's intelligence service has confirmed that the US killed the Islamic State's deputy emir for 'Khorasan province' in an airstrike in southern Afghanistan earlier today. Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, who was appointed the deputy governor of Khorasan province in January, was previously a senior leader in the Taliban and was a former detainee at Gunatanamo Bay. The National Directorate of Security issued a statement that confirmed Khadim's death, according to Khaama Press. Khadim was traveling in a vehicle in the northern district of Kajaki in Helmand province with his brother and four "Pakistanis" when it was targeted in a US airstrike, Ariana News reported. Since his split with the Taliban, Khadim has reportedly clashed with the group in northern Helmand. An unconfirmed report from Afghanistan indicated that he and dozens of his fighters were detained by the Taliban, but his capture was not confirmed.

The Afghan news report about Khadim's arrest by the Taliban was mentioned in a previous round-up but the "reliable source" was apparently not as reliable as Pajhwok Afghan News claimed. Although ISIS will now have to get on without its foremost recruiter in the country, it is safe to say that the much-hyped terrorist group will continue to make headlines in Afghanistan. Many people have an interest in hyping the threat, even if the insurgents are just changing their flags. Pentagon officials are starting to like the idea of ISIS in Afghanistan. What better way to justify the continuous military presence than a new boogeyman? A former high-ranking Pakistani diplomat told Sputnik lately that the U.S. harbors terrorists in Afghanistan to keep the region destabilized and maintain a military presence there. Notwithstanding that this is pretty hypocritical considering Pakistan's actions, he has a point:

White House weighs adjusting Afghan exit plan to slow withdrawal of troops The Obama administration is considering slowing its planned withdrawal from Afghanistan for the second time, according to U.S. officials, a sign of the significant security challenges that remain despite an end to the U.S. and NATO combat mission there. Under the still-evolving plans, Army Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, could be given greater latitude to determine the pace of the drawdown in 2015 as foreign forces scramble to ensure Afghan troops are capable of battling Taliban insurgents on their own, the officials said. The options under discussion would not alter what is perhaps the most important date in President Obama’s plan: ending the U.S. military mission entirely by the time he steps down in early 2017.

General John F. Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week that he supports a slowing of the troop drawdown and he is in good company. New U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter clarified before his appointment that he would consider changing the current withdrawal plans if security conditions worsen. Although Campbell lauded the efforts of the Afghan security forces during the recent hearing, it is hardly a secret that they are not up to the task despite years of extensive training by U.S. and NATO troops. All the talk about the end of the war in Afghanistan should be taken with a grain of salt. Actually, the U.S. has been escalating the war in recent months but only few people have noticed it because, as a former Afghan security official put it, "it's all in the shadows now." While the U.S. is relying on its tried and tested night raids, China is still hoping to end the violence with diplomacy. The Chinese government has again offered to mediate in stalled peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban as Beijing prepares to invest more money in Afghanistan:

Expanding its role in Afghanistan, China to help build dam, roads China has promised to help build a hydroelectric power plant in a violent Afghan border region, as well as road and rail links to Pakistan, in the latest sign it is taking a more active role in Afghanistan. The assistance will include an unspecified amount of financing, an Afghan foreign ministry spokesman, Sirajul Haq Siraj, said on Tuesday, a day after senior Afghan, Chinese and Pakistani diplomats met in Kabul. "China agreed to support relevant initiatives for projects including the Kunar hydropower plant and strengthening road and rail connections between Afghanistan and Pakistan," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

Indonesia Catches Kunming Attack Suspects Carrying Turkish Passports

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated China's offer to mediate in peace negotiations during his recent two-day visit to Pakistan, where he met with several top Pakistani leaders, including President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Economic cooperation between the two countries and the situation in Afghanistan were high on the agenda. Wang noted that "ending Afghanistan’s turmoil was a common aspiration for both countries" and both sides agreed to coordinate their efforts in this regard. China has been trying to bring all sides to the negotiation table and Taliban representatives visited Beijing last year to discuss the issue but the group clarified a few weeks ago that they had rejected China's offer because they are not interested in peace talks. Although Beijing maintains good relations with the Taliban, the Chinese authorities are increasingly worried about the situation in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban are in control of large parts of Afghanistan's Badakhshan province, which borders China's Xinjiang, and this could become a problem:

As the U.S. mission winds down, Afghan insurgency grows more complex As the United States reshapes its military footprint in Afghanistan, the Taliban is transforming into a patchwork of forces with often conflicting ideals and motivations, looking less like the ultra-religious movement it started out as in the mid-1990s. The fragmentation may suggest the movement is weakening, but it is forcing Afghanistan’s government to confront an insurgency that is becoming increasingly diverse, scattered — and more lethal. What is unfolding here in Badakhshan province offers a glimpse into these complexities — and the future of a conflict in which the U.S. combat mission is formally over. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, this was the only province it was never able to control. Now, the insurgency is making inroads here and in other parts of the north, outside its strongholds in the south and east. The Taliban in Badakhshan has gained strength precisely because it is different from the core insurgency. Its fighters are using their ethnic and tribal ties to gain recruits and popular support, while their knowledge of the landscape helps them outmaneuver Afghan security forces and control lucrative sources of funding.

The Taliban in Badakhshan province are reportedly not as radical as their counterparts in other areas of Afghanistan but they are still not the ideal neighbors when you are trying to prevent the radicalization of Xinjiang's Muslim population. China's increasing efforts to broker a peace deal in Afghanistan are primarily driven by concerns about the support Uyghur insurgents are getting from Afghanistan. For this reason, Beijing wants the Pakistani authorities to ensure that there is no infiltration from Afghanistan through Pakistan into Xinjiang. China is trying to contain the insurgency in its far west by cutting off outside support, as highlighted by the recent crackdown on illegal border crossings by Uyghurs. The arrest of several Turks and Uyghurs in Shanghai in November of last year exposed Turkey's role in the smuggling operations and shed light on the players behind the East Turkestan independence movement. A few days ago, Indonesia announced another revealing arrest:

Kunming terrorist attack suspects nabbed in Indonesia The Chinese and Indonesian governments exchanged information on nine terrorist suspects, believed to be from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, who fled to Indonesia after plotting an attack in China last year, Indonesian media reported. The Indonesian police arrested four of the nine. Three fled into the jungle and two others escaped to Malaysia. The captured suspects are likely to be extradited to China as the two countries signed an extradition treaty in 2009, Jakata Post reported. The suspects fled to Poso, Indonesia, by a land route through Myanmar, southern Thailand and Malaysia. From Malaysia, they entered Indonesia with Turkish passports, posing as asylum seekers, Saut said.

As previously discussed, many Uyghurs are trying to leave China via Southeast Asia and the Chinese authorities have made it clear that not all of them are innocent refugees and that Southeast Asia has become a transit point for Uyghur would-be terrorists. The nine suspects in Indonesia are believed to be part of the group that carried out the massacre at Kunming's railway station in March of last year. Chinese officials stated at the time that the Kunming attackers had tried to leave China and "become jihadis overseas" but failed to do so and decided to launch an attack at home. The captured suspects in Indonesia gave inconsistent statements. At first, they admitted having come from Xinjiang but retracted their statements later and said that they had come from a town in Turkey. World Uyghur Congress deputy head Seyit Tümtürk, the go-to guy for Uyghurs in Turkey, can perhaps clear up where they came from. Meanwhile, China's fight against the 'East Turkestan forces' continues and the Chinese authorities are trying to ensure the stability of Xinjiang by all available means:

China to boost financial help for troubled Xinjiang Four of China's top financial regulators vowed on Thursday to step up policy support for the poorer southern portion of the troubled western region of Xinjiang to boost economic development and ensure stability there. Authorities have employed a carrot and stick approach to bring Xinjiang under control, massively ramping up security but also pumping in money, in a recognition of the economic roots of the unrest, especially in the poorer southern portion. In a joint statement, the regulators, including the central bank, said they would deepen indirect fund-raising, expand direct financing, encourage financial innovation and step up infrastructure projects.

Armenia Has Second Thoughts about Eurasian Economic Union

Xinjiang's economic development is making good progress despite the outside interference. Although the autonomous region is currently facing a slowdown in foreign trade due to falling commodity prices, Xinjiang's trade with Russia has skyrocketed in the last year - another sign of the increasing economic cooperation between the two close allies. A $242 billion high-speed rail link from Beijing to Moscow is going to solidify the relationship in the future and Russia's Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov announced recently that China is now even showing interest in establishing a free trade zone with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) after overcoming a lot of skepticism. The EEU got off to a very bad start, not least because of the economic war against Russia. Although it did not take long before Belarus and Kazakhstan questioned their decision to join the trade bloc, they have no plans to leave the EEU. The same is true of Armenia but that didn't stop Yerevan from resuming talks with Brussels about an European Union Association Agreement:

Armenia: Yerevan Mending Fences with EU With the Russian economy hitting the skids, it looks like Armenia wants to hedge its economic bets. Although Yerevan became a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union in January, a senior Armenian government official told EurasiaNet.org that the country is working to complete an updated version of an EU Association Agreement that Armenian officials put on hold back in 2013. Balancing trade and other commitments inherent in EEU membership along with those involved with an EU association agreement appear, at least on paper, to be problematic. But that isn’t deterring Yerevan. A need for money seems to be the main motivation. With Russia, Armenia’s main economic partner, suffering the effects of both low oil prices and Western sanctions, Armenia saw its remittances from guest workers abroad fall by 39 percent in 2014, and exports sag by 18 percent, according to the National Statistical Service. And so far, the expected economic benefits of joining the EEU have not materialized. Simplified export-import procedures are not in effect yet, while import duties have been raised on over 7,000 products.

Brussels has been undeterred by Armenia's decision to ditch the EU and join the EEU. Traian Hristea, EU Ambassador to Armenia, emphasized a few days ago that the EU will not leave Armenia and continue to support reforms in the country. With relations between Armenia and Russia strained due to the killing of an Armenian family by a Russian serviceman, the EU lost no time in offering Armenia an association agreement without its free-trade component. The recent visit by Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan to Moscow could also play into Brussels' hands. Abrahamyan tried to secure a big loan or investments and to get a lower gas tariff from Russia in exchange for a partial shift from dollars to rubles in gas settlements, to no avail. So far, the Kremlin has been silent on the new Armenia-EU talks about an association agreement but this was perhaps a broad hint. To make matters worse, the trial of Russian soldier Valery Permyakov is still whipping up feelings as well:

Protesters demand handover or Russian soldier to Armenian law enforcers A group of protesters held an action in front of Prosecutor's Office on Thursday demanding guarantees that the accused would be handed over to Armenian law enforcement agencies (photo). The participants demanded justice, transparent investigation and handover of Valery Permyakov, they handed over a letter to Prosecutor General Gevorg Kostanyan.

As reported earlier, six members of the Avetisyan family—including a two-year-old girl—were shot dead, and a six-month-old baby was wounded in their house in Gyumri on January 12; and the baby boy died in hospital on January 19.

Armenia has formally asked Russia to hand over Permyakov but Moscow insists on prosecuting the soldier on the Russian miliary base in Gyumri, where he has been held since his arrest. The killing of the Armenian family has raised questions about the Russian military presence in Armenia but the Armenian authorities are caught between a rock and a hard place because they cannot do without Russian support in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan. Russia's 102nd Military Base in Gyumri is one of the few things deterring Azerbaijan from launching an all-out war against Armenia. The commander of Russia's troops in Armenia has made it clear that Russia will fulfill its obligations within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) if Armenia is attacked. In this light, it is very interesting that both Armenia and Azerbaijan are now looking to join the same organization:

Azerbaijan, Armenia To Become SCO Observers? Azerbaijan and Armenia are both seeking to strengthen their ties with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, applying to be formal observers of the organization, the SCO's chief has said. The China-led economic and security bloc is in expansion mode: in the upcoming summit in Ufa this summer India and Pakistan are expected to become full members. And according to SCO Secretary General Dimitriy Mezentsev, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, and Syria are applying to become observers.

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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

                                                       

The New Great Game Round-Up: February 2, 2015

China Tries to Lure Turkmenistan with Surface-To-Air Missiles, Russia Vows to Support Tajikistan as ISIS-Taliban Rivalry Escalates & 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.

Over the years, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has proved himself to be an excellent Twitter warrior. Aliyev regularly uses his favorite medium to blow his own trumpet and blast arch-enemy Armenia. So he started the new year by calling Armenia "a powerless and poor country," which "is not even worthy of being a servant." The conflict between the two neighboring countries over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has escalated in recent months. Although international mediators have repeatedly called on both sides to work towards a peaceful solution, the clashes intensified again in January. On Thursday, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said it had shot down an Armenian drone near Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia dismissed the statement as "absurd." Despite all that, Aliyev is touting Azerbaijan as "an island of stability." Most people will also have a hard time agreeing with Aliyev's claims that "the fight against corruption and bribery is proving very successful" and that "no-one is prosecuted or arrested for a critical opinion in Azerbaijan." Baku's unprecedented crackdown on journalists, human rights activists and NGOs has drawn a lot of criticism from the West. Even "civil society" expert George Soros is deeply concerned:

George Soros urges President Aliyev to loosen his stranglehold over civil society The Open Society Foundations are deeply concerned about the intensifying campaign against civil society in Azerbaijan, including the detention of several prominent human rights activists. In April, the authorities targeted Open Society’s foundation in Baku, the Open Society Institute–Assistance Foundation. They froze the foundation’s local bank account and seized its computers, as well as questioned former employees. The Open Society Foundations dismiss any allegations of wrongdoing. George Soros, founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations, met with President Ilham Aliyev in Davos, Switzerland, and urged the president to loosen his stranglehold over civil society and to end his harassment of legally registered charitable organizations.

Atlantic Council Working on Transatlantic Strategy for Europe's East

Aliyev knows full well that he is not in a position to defy Soros and the U.S. deep state, which Soros represents. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Azerbaijan will abandon its pro-Western course, as many people have suggested in recent months. Baku's friends in the U.S. are already trying to pour oil on troubled waters. This week, The Washington Times launched a marketing campaign for the Aliyev regime. The highlight was an article by former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives Dan Burton, in which he explained why "America and the rest of the free world need more friends like Azerbaijan." Burton is currently the chairman of the Azerbaijan America Alliance. He can look back on a long career as lobbyist for Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan and FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds included Burton in her State Secrets Privilege Gallery with good reason. Speaking of 'Gladio B,' former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza, whose name might sound familiar to readers of The Lone Gladio, likewise urged the U.S. to pay more attention to Azerbaijan. It is well known that Aliyev's fiefdom in the South Caucasus is very important to the U.S. and NATO. The Atlantic Council's new strategy for Eastern Europe will definitely take this into account:

“Toward a Transatlantic Strategy for Europe’s East” conference held in Washington

The Atlantic Council in partnership with the government of Latvia has hosted a conference titled “Toward a Transatlantic Strategy for Europe’s East” in Washington. Head of the Azerbaijani Parliamentary delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Samad Seyidov attended the conference. Mr. Seyidov jointly with Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia and Georgia, the Deputy FM of Ukraine and a Polish official participated in the “Toward a Europe Whole and Free" program.

Azerbaijan's neighbor Georgia plays an equally important role in Washington's plans to create a Europe "whole and free," which means the consolidation of a unified Europe controlled by Brussels on behalf of the United States. Georgian Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili attended the Atlantic Council conference during her four-day visit to Washington, where she met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and other U.S. officials. Moreover, Beruchashvili found the time to talk to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) about Russia's imminent "annexation" of South Ossetia. The Georgian Foreign Minister was referring to South Ossetia's new integration treaty with Russia, which is expected to be signed later this month. Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia's has already signed a similar treaty. Russian officials have assured that neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia will be incorporated into the Russian Federation but the draft of the South Ossetia treaty tells another story:

South Ossetia is the Next Crimea Unlike the treaty of the same name that Russia signed with Abkhazia at the end of 2014, which underwent several re-writes, the draft of the South Ossetia treaty involves the transfer of huge amounts of sovereign responsibilities away from the de facto authorities in the capital Tskhinvali to the Russian Federation. These transfers are so comprehensive as to effectively signal the end of South Ossetia as an independent entity. If this treaty is signed into law, South Ossetia will lose control of its military, police, border control, judiciary and education system. In short, all of the attributes of a sovereign polity, recognized or not. The immediate impact of this will be softened due to de facto Russian control, official or via infiltration, of many South Ossetian institutions, but writing such control into law is groundbreaking.

South Ossetia has been calling for much deeper integration for quite some time, which is not difficult to understand considering Georgia's actions. While Beruchashvili was meeting with U.S. officials in Washington and helping the Atlantic Council with its "transatlantic strategy towards Europe's East," her colleagues at home were also busy furthering Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration. At the beginning of this week, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili welcomed Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius, who visited the South Caucasus to discuss Georgia's integration with the EU and NATO. And shortly thereafter, they hosted NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, who flew to Tbilisi to scout out prospective sites for NATO's planned military training center in the country. Vershbow hailed Georgia's "remarkable democratic and defense reforms" and stressed that the U.S.-led military alliance is "committed to have the training center up and running later this year":

NATO To Start Military Exercises In Georgia This Year NATO's planned military training center in Georgia will start operations this year, a senior alliance official said on a visit to Tbilisi. "Starting this year, we aim to hold periodic military exercises here in your country, with NATO Allies as well as with other interested NATO partners," said NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow at a January 30 speech in Tbilisi.

The exercises will be held at a "Joint Training and Evaluation Centre," the establishment of which NATO and Georgia announced last September. A location for the center still hasn't been determined, but one of the items on Vershbow's agenda in Georgia was to scout out locations; Civil.ge reported that one of the candidates sites he visited was the Vaziani training range near Tbilisi.

Russia Vows to Support Tajikistan as ISIS-Taliban Rivalry Escalates

In light of NATO's activities in Georgia, Russia's "annexation" of South Ossetia makes perfect sense. Meanwhile, Russia is also trying to convince Tajikistan of closer integration. Moscow would like Tajikistan to become the third Central Asian member state of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) after Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which is expected to join the bloc in May. To this end, the Kremlin wants to exploit Tajikistan's dependence on remittances from labor migrants in Russia. Remittances from Tajik workers abroad make up about 50 percent of the nation's GDP. Given that Russia's new regulations disadvantage migrant workers from outside the EEU, the Tajik authorities will have a hard time rejecting EEU membership. Furthermore, Russia eyes closer military cooperation with Tajikistan. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov stressed this again during this week's visit to the Central Asian country, as he tried to assuage concerns about slow deliveries of promised military aid:

By providing assistance to the Tajik army Russia strengthens its own security, says Russian official “Antonov noted that Russia and Tajikistan have no choice but to expand cooperation because they face common challenges and threats,” Faridoun Mahmadaliyev, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, told Asia-Plus in an interview. “We realize that Tajikistan is our advanced post in the fight against terrorism and other challenges and threats,” Antonov said. He further added that the Russian defense ministry would continue providing assistance to the Tajik armed forces.

Antonov stated that Moscow wants to strengthen the Tajik army as "an outpost of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Central Asia" and the strengthening of the Tajik-Afghan border was reportedly also high on the agenda during his meeting with Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon. Russian and Central Asian officials have recently sounded the alarm due to the growing number of insurgents in northern Afghanistan. Kidnappings along the Tajik-Afghan border highlighted that the threat has to be taken seriously. The four Tajik border guards, who were supposed to be handed over to Tajikistan last week, are still being held hostage in Afghanistan and two more border guards were lately wounded in shootouts along the frontier. Many of the insurgents in northern Afghanistan are believed to be Central Asian fighters belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) or splinter groups, such as Jamaat Ansarullah. Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's special representative for Afghanistan, raised a few eyebrows when he claimed that the jihadists are from the Islamic State (ISIS) but recent reports suggest that some insurgents have indeed joined ISIS and this has brought a new private militia into the arena:

“Marg” Group formed against Taliban and ISIS in northern Afghanistan A new group calling themselves “Marg” or “Death” announced its existence in northern Afghanistan. Dozens of members of “Marg” group yesterday went to the provincial council of northern Balkh province and announce their readiness to fight Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Taliban in Afghanistan. Marg Group claims that more than 5,000 people have announced their allegiance with them to fight ISIS and Taliban.

Balkh province borders Turkmenistan in the north-west, Uzbekistan in the north and Tajikistan in the north-east. The Central Asian regimes will be relieved to hear that a homegrown militia is now giving the Afghan security forces a hand. But perhaps the problem will solve itself. ISIS and the Taliban are not exactly on the same page. ISIS is trying to woo fighters away from the Taliban and wannabe Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has called Taliban leader Mullah Omar "a fool and illiterate warlord." As mentioned last week, former Taliban commander and Guantanamo detainee Mullah Raouf Khadim was leading ISIS's recruitment efforts in Afghanistan but the Taliban lost no time in getting rid of the competition. It remains to be seen if this signifies the end of ISIS in Afghanistan. All indications are that the much-hyped terrorist group won't give up that easily. ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani recently announced the group's leaders for "Khorasan," which covers Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Tajikistan. Hundreds of Taliban fighters have reportedly joined the new branch of ISIS in Pakistan and the insurgents, who escaped Pakistan's Operation Zarb-e-Azb, are potential recruits as well:

Militants Driven From Pakistan Flock to Afghan Towns Arab and Central Asian Islamist militants have moved into Afghanistan after a military offensive by Islamabad largely eliminated havens in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Afghan officials and local residents say, posing a potential new threat to the country’s already tenuous security. At least 400 families affiliated with militant groups—including members of al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan—crossed into Afghanistan in December and now live in the homes of locals in lawless parts of the country, Afghan officials say. Afghan officials say these fighters aren’t engaging in combat, but their arrival comes as a robust Taliban insurgency confronts the government in Kabul. Islamic State, which occupies swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, has also sought a foothold here.

China Tries to Lure Turkmenistan with Surface-To-Air Missiles

ISIS's expansion into the region has apparently only just begun. The director of a Bishkek-based think tank told reporters last week that ISIS has allocated around $70 million to destabilize the situation in Central Asia and that the group's main target is the Fergana Valley, which spreads across eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. These alarmist predictions should be taken with a grain of salt. The insurgents in northern Afghanistan give the neighboring countries cause for concern but they have not even crossed the border into Central Asia. Furthermore, Uzbekistan is perfectly capable of dealing with the threat. The Uzbek regime will put the 300 armored vehicles from the U.S. to a good use, regardless of whether that means fighting ISIS or crushing dissent at home. Only Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have a good reason to worry about ISIS, the IMU or whatever else the insurgents in northern Afghanistan like to call themselves:

Islamic State fighters appear on Turkmen-Afghan border The presence of Islamic State (IS) fighters has been reported in the Almar district of Afghanistan’s Faryab province along the border with Turkmenistan, Radio Azatlyk (the Turkmen service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) reported on January 22 with reference to Afghan parliament member Gulmuhammed Rasuli. 

According to Rasuli, on January 21 in Kabul, heads of Afghanistan’s special services discussed the situation in the north of the country, and confirmed the fact of IS fighters’ movement from southern Afghan provinces to the north. Rasuli was quoted as saying that black flags of the Islamic State seen in Almar villages inhabited by Pushtuns testify to the presence of IS fighters close to the Turkmen border.

As previously discussed, the presence of insurgents along the Turkmen-Afghan border prompted the Turkmen regime last year to "invade" Afghanistan and push the fighters back. The situation has been very tense ever since. Most of the insurgents, who are causing trouble on the border, were members of the Taliban or the IMU but according to Rasuli, several Taliban groups in the region have now joined ISIS. In contrast to Tajikistan, Turkmenistan cannot count on support from Russia or the CSTO because the country refuses to join the Russia-led military alliance or the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for that matter. Turkmenistan attaches great importance to its neutrality. This has advantages but also some disadvantages. As the security situation deteriorates, the Turkmen authorities might be tempted to turn to Russia or China for assistance. Beijing is already trying to lure Ashgabat with HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles but this begs the question why Turkmenistan would need surface-to-air missile systems:

Central Asian countries trade with China natural gas for weapons China plans to sell HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles to its Central Asian neighbors of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to reduce the price it has to pay the two countries for natural gas, reports Kanwa Defense Review, a Chinese-language military magazine based in Canada, on Jan. 25. Since natural gas produced in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is vital to China's development, the country is willing to sell advanced weapon systems such as the FD-2000, an export version of the HQ-9 missile, to its western neighbors as a way to get better deals. Yet there is a catch. If China successfully convinces both nations to purchase FD-2000s, they will then have to purchase Chinese radars, early warning aircrafts and even fighter jets to coordinate with the air defense system.

From China's point of view, the deal makes a lot of sense but the Turkmen regime would be well advised to think twice about increasing its dependence on China even more given the fact that Turkmenistan is already heavily dependent on its strategic partner. If Iran goes ahead with its plan to boost domestic gas production and stops importing Turkmen gas, Turkmenistan's gas exports will depend entirely on China's demand. China received 25.86 Bcm of Turkmen gas in 2014, a 5.3 precent increase from 2013, but still less than the 30 Bcm/year agreed between Turkmengaz and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) in 2007. It is doubtful that the two companies can adhere to their agreement to boost China's imports from Turkmenistan to 40 Bcm/year by 2015. With China about to import more Russian gas, Turkmenistan is under pressure to diversify its gas exports. As expected, the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline remains a pipe dream. Turkey and Azerbaijan think that they have found the solution but Russia will beg to differ:

Turkey and Azerbaijan want Turkmenistan to join Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline - Turkish FM Both Turkey and Azerbaijan want Turkmenistan to be included in the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline, an indispensable project for Turkey that will be completed within three years, Turkish foreign minister said Thursday. Addressing a press conference after the trilateral meeting of foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in Ashgabat, Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu said, "TANAP is an indispensable project for us. We plan to finish this project in three years," reports Anadolu News Agency.

Cavusoglu said the secure transmission of the Azeri and Turkmen natural gas through Turkey to Europe was also discussed.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: January 26, 2015

Kadyrov's Nemesis Vanishes as ISIS Looks for Russian Spies, China Cracks Down on Illegal Border Crossings by Uyghurs & 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.

Western media coverage after the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the "unrivalled parade of political hypocrisy," known as the Paris unity march, revealed once again Western double standards on freedom of speech and the fight against terrorism. Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, who has extensive experience in dealing with Western-backed terrorists, was one of the first people to point this out. As usual, Kadyrov took to Instagram to blast Europe over double standards on terrorism, asking why the world leaders "have never led marches of protest against the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, and Iraqis" and why they remained silent "when in December last year terrorists captured the House of Press and a school in Grozny, killing and injuring over 50 people." The Charlie Hebdo cartoons did not go down well in Chechnya either and the publication of more cartoon images of Prophet Muhammad in the wake of the attack prompted Kadyrov to organize a massive rally in Grozny against the insulting cartoons. About one million people from Chechnya and the surrounding North Caucasus republics attended the "Love to Prophet Mohammed" demo and Kadyrov used the opportunity to send another message to the West:

Chechen leader says Russia’s Muslims will not be used for destabilization goals Islam is a religion of peace and Muslims in Russia will never allow others to use them for destabilizing the situation in the country, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said at a rally in Grozny on Monday. “We declare to the whole world that the Muslims will by no means allow using themselves for rocking the situation in the country. We have always been reliable defenders of Russia! And we are able today to offer rebuff to the enemies of our Motherland!” Kadyrov said. The Chechen leader told the crowd that Islam is a religion of peace and it teaches people how to live in peace and consent with other peoples of the country of various beliefs.

Kadyrov's Nemesis Vanishes as ISIS Looks for Russian Spies

Kadyrov's message was probably meant for Brookings president Strobe Talbott and his ilk in Washington, who are dreaming of a third Chechen war. A few weeks ago, the Chechen leader had already warned the West that thousands of Chechen "volunteers" are ready to prevent any attempts to destabilize Russia. Although Chechnya saw an increase in the number of victims in the last quarter of 2014 due to two high-profile attacks, the republic is by and large stable and there is no reason to assume that this could change anytime soon, unless the U.S. and its allies try to implement the Syria playbook in the North Caucasus. Some "experts" cannot wait for the Islamic State (ISIS) to expand its activities to Russia but Kadyrov stressed that ISIS is not a threat to Russia because the Russians have "a massive intelligence network in the ranks of these terrorists." Interestingly enough, a few days after Kadyrov had made this statement, the terrorists demonstrated that they are looking for Russian spies:

Kazakh Child Soldier Executes ‘Russian Spies’ in Islamic State Video In a video released Tuesday by the Islamic State, two men described as Russian agents testify that they had attempted to spy on the militants, infiltrate their computer networks, and assassinate the group’s leaders. Then a long-haired young boy calmly shoots the men in the back of the head with a handgun. The first alleged Russian agent is identified as Jambulat Mamayev. He says that he is from Kazakhstan and that he was sent to gather information on the Islamic State and get close to a high-ranking member within the group. The second man, Sergey Ashimov, tells his captors that he previously worked for the Russian FSB, the successor to the KGB, and was sent to kill an Islamic State leader, whose name is muted in the video. The child who carries out the execution appears to be the same child featured in a November 2014 Islamic State propaganda video. In that video, which also showcased the group’s new adult recruits from Kazakhstan, the boy identifies himself as “Abdullah” and speaks predominantly in the Kazakh language.

As previously discussed, the ISIS propaganda video showing the indoctrination and training of Kazakh children caused a great stir in Kazakhstan and the same is true of the latest video, which also attracted a lot of attention in Russia for obvious reasons. Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) declined to comment but experts cast doubt on the authenticity of the video, arguing that it may have been staged. Furthermore, one of the "Russian agents" turned out be a street cleaner turned perfume salesman from Kazakhstan and the second man appears to be a Kazakhstan-born Russian convert to Islam who traveled to Syria in 2010. Kazakhstan’s security service vehemently denied that the two men are Kazakh citizens but did not rule out that they could have roots in the Central Asian country. Be that as it may, regardless of the authenticity of the video and the identity of the two men, the latest ISIS propaganda video shows that ISIS is very concerned about Russian spies in its ranks, which might explain why Kadyrov's nemesis Tarkhan Batirashvili has been keeping a low profile in recent months:

Where Has Umar Al-Shishani Gone? Although there was a flurry of media attention in October and November focusing on Umar al-Shishani, Islamic State's military commander in Syria, he has been conspicuously absent from the scene in recent weeks and months.

Media interest in Umar al-Shishani reached its peak in mid-November, when the head of Russia’s Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, caused a storm by claiming on his Instagram account that Umar Shishani -- whom he referred to as “the enemy of Islam” -- had been killed. Although Kadyrov later deleted that Instagram post, Russian and Western news outlets speculated that perhaps the Chechen leader did have information about Umar’s death.

Despite the assurances of Chechen militants fighting with Islamic State that Umar is alive and kicking in Syria, the ginger-bearded Georgian Kist has not been seen alive (or, for that matter, dead) for some months now. Umar has not appeared in any videos, for example. And while the Islamic State group has released two photographs of Umar since October, neither can be independently verified or even dated.​

If Batirashvili is still alive, he would be well advised to keep his whereabouts a secret given the fact that he is at the top of Kadyrov's hit list. Life in Syria is already dangerous enough without having to worry about Russian spies. Several of Batirashvili's fellow Georgian jihadists have been killed in recent months while fighting for ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria. Last week, this issue hit again the headlines when former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili lashed out against the Georgian government, alleging that "several hundred Georgian citizens have been sent to Syria." After Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and other Georgian officials had attacked Saakashvili for calling on Georgian soldiers to resign from the army and come to Ukraine in order to fight for the Kiev regime, the former President responded by pointing out that the Georgian government "does not say a word about the fact that Georgians, with the help of a variety of tricks, are being dragged to fight in Syria." Saakashvili was harshly criticized for his statement but shortly thereafter Tbilisi decided to take action and make long overdue legislative changes, which were first floated last year:

Bill Criminalizes Involvement with ‘Illegal Armed Groups’ Abroad A package of legislative amendments has been submitted to the Parliament this week criminalizing participation in and broad range of other activities related to illegal armed groups abroad, as well as “traveling abroad for the purpose of terrorism.” According to the bill, “joining and/or participation in an illegal formation operating on the territory of a foreign country or receiving training from such formation; recruiting or training a person with the purpose of joining, participating or otherwise promoting the activities of such illegal formation; gathering of persons and/or dissemination or use of materials and/or symbols related to membership and/or participation in illegal formation” will be punishable with imprisonment from 5 to 10 years.

Taliban Losing Fighters to ISIS in Afghanistan

Former Georgian servicemen who "are taking active part in special-task detachments of the Ukrainian army" can breathe a sigh of relief because they won't be punished. The amendments are only aimed at discouraging Georgian ISIS fighters from returning to Georgia. Like most other governments, the Georgian government is fine with its citizens joining ISIS as long as the "Islamic State" doesn't expand to Georgia. Speaking of which, the "Islamic State" appears to be gaining a foothold in another country but not in the Caucasus. General John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, stated recently that ISIS is trying to recruit fighters in Afghanistan and General Mahmood Khan, a senior commander of the Afghan National Army, confirmed that former Taliban leader Mullah Raouf Khadim is the driving force behind the recruitment for ISIS in Helmand province. And as some media outlets were quick to point out, Mullah Raouf is not an ordinary Taliban leader:

Ex-Gitmo detainee leads contingent of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan

A former Guantanamo detainee, Mullah Raouf Khadim, is reportedly leading a contingent of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand. Khadim's role was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press (AP). Raouf had served as a top Taliban military leader until he and his allies lost an internal power struggle, paving the way for him to switch allegiances. "A number of tribal leaders, jihadi commanders and some ulema [religious leaders] and other people have contacted me to tell me that Mullah Raouf had contacted them and invited them to join him," the AP quoted Gen. Mahmood Khan, an Afghan military official, as saying.

As mentioned last year, insurgents in Afghanistan's Ghazni province are also sporting the ISIS flag. Some Afghans are already complaining that the government of President Ashraf Ghani is ignoring the activities and growth of ISIS in the country but the Afghan authorities prefer to downplay ISIS-related reports. Since the reports point rather to internal divisons within the Taliban than an expansion of the "Islamic State," it is probably a good idea not to fall for the ISIS fear-mongering. Besides, Ghani and his Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah are currently dealing with other problems. After it took them more than three months to agree on a cabinet, nearly half of their ministerial candidates came immediately under scrutiny for dual citizenship, alleged criminal activities, and being underage. Some have pulled out and others failed to get parliamentary confirmation. So Afghanistan is still without a real government. A few days ago, Ghani took a break from the chaos in Kabul and made a two-day official visit to neighboring Turkmenistan:

Ghani Looks to Strengthen Trade Ties With Turkmenistan Following President Ashraf Ghani's recent trip to Turkmenistan, leaders in Kabul and Ashgabat have now agreed to major projects involving trading natural gas, building a railway network and border terminals for their respective energy markets. Ghani has said the value of trade between the two countries will double in the next year. "At the moment, Afghanistan has turned into a bridge, our trade and transit can create many opportunities; energy and electricity and natural gas will be sent to Afghanistan and to other countries through Afghanistan," President Ghani said on Thursday. "The extension of our relationship is not only a victory for us but also for the countries in the region." The projects specific to Afghanistan and Turkmenistan that Ghani hammered out with leaders in Ashgabat this week join mega projects like the TAPI pipeline and electricity transit development as part of a larger effort to promote cooperation and integrated networks of trade in the South Asia and Central Asia region.

The construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline (TAPI) was expected to start this year but the Pakistani newspaper Dawn recently renewed doubts about the implementation of the project, arguing that the pipeline is unlikely to be built anytime soon for a number of reasons with the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the problems along the Turkmen-Afghan border not even being on the list. After some Afghan villagers had already threatened to take action against Turkmenistan's "invasion" by attacking Turkmen border guards, Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has now sent humanitarian aid to Afghans living on the border, possibly to calm the situation. An Afghan security official stressed this week that there is no threat to Central Asia's borders but recent incidents suggest otherwise. If it turns out that there are indeed no camps of terrorists gathering in northern Afghanistan, the U.S. will have a hard time explaining why it is giving the Uzbek regime more than 300 armored vehicles:

Exclusive: US Gives Uzbekistan Military Equipment Boost The United States is giving Uzbekistan hundreds of military vehicles, says a top U.S. diplomat in an exclusive interview with VOA Uzbek. It is one of the largest equipment transfers by the United States to a Central Asian nation and a move likely to renew concerns over Uzbekistan's human rights record. Daniel Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia, said Uzbekistan needs the vehicles for counter-terrorism and counter-narcotic efforts. "They will all be provided to the Ministry of Defense and can only be used by the Ministry of Defense," said Rosenblum. "These are definitely defensive vehicles, they are inherently defensive. Also, we consider them to be non-lethal. They are intended to protect personnel, crews and passengers in areas that there might be explosive devices, mines, so on."

China Cracks Down on Illegal Border Crossings by Uyghurs

The transfer of the "inherently defensive" military vehicles comes at a time when Uzbekistan is gearing up for the next sham elections, which are being described as a "tragedy for 30 million people" given the fact that the country's strongman Islam Karimov is going to win yet another term as president. If the folks in the U.S. don't want to be called out on their hypocrisy by other countries in the region, they should probably refrain from the usual talk of human rights for a while. Just a few days ago, U.S. propaganda tool Human Rights Watch urged China to revise its proposed legislation on counterterrorism, which "would legitimate ongoing human rights violations." China has long complained about Western hypocrisy and double standards on terrorism, to no avail. By now, the Chinese authorities could not care less about criticism from the West. It was recently announced that the 'strike-hard' anti-terror campaign, which has led to a sharp increase in the number of arrests in Xinjiang, has been extended to the end of this year and that more troops will be deployed in the autonomous region:

PLA strengthens Xinjiang forces to foil terror attacks China is strengthening its military power in its northwestern frontier region bordering Afghanistan and Central Asia. The military reinforcement comes against a backdrop of United States troops pulling out of Afghanistan and extremists launching terrorist attacks on civilian targets. People's Liberation Army troops based in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region will vigorously enforce border controls, according to their chief.

The recent arrest of ten Turks and nine Uyghurs in Shanghai exposed not only Turkey's role in Washington's East Turkestan project but it also highlighted China's struggle against illegal border crossings. Many Uyghurs who want to leave the country are trying to do so via Southeast Asia. A few days ago, Chinese police shot dead two Uyghurs and detained another one near the border town of Pingxiang in Guanxi Province when the group tried to illegally cross into Vietnam. According to China's Global Times, the Uyghurs had resisted arrest and attacked the policemen. The state-run Global Times strongly supported the reaction of the police and emphasized that "police should get ready to shoot when dealing with knife-wielding fanatics." In an attempt to make clear that the Uyghurs were not innocent refugees, China's Public Security Ministry announced that a task force on human smuggling across China's southwestern borders had uncovered 262 cases since May and that the smuggling is "mainly organized abroad and controlled behind the scenes" by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement:

Hundreds of Chinese seeking 'jihad training' are caught on Vietnam border in one year: Beijing More than 800 people have been stopped trying to illegally cross from China into Vietnam in just one year, with the majority attempting to get to jihad training camps, Beijing revealed last night. Police said most of the cases were spurred on by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is spreading extremist religious views and provoking people to leave the country and participate in jihad, Xinhua reported. Most of those caught trying to sneak out of the country had watched underground terror videos or had even engaged in “terrorist” activities, killing people before leaving the country, Xinhua said.

The name of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is often used by Beijing as a code word for the United States, Turkey and other countries which are pulling the strings behind the East Turkestan independence movement. While China is trying to convince the West that many Uyghur emigrants "are not innocent, helpless members of an ethnic minority fleeing 'suppression' at home in pursuit of 'freedom'" but "religious extremists headed to the forefronts of Islamic jihad," the NED-funded World Uyghur Congress (WUC) keeps insisting that China's oppression of Uyghurs is the primary reason for the the growing radicalization among the Uyghur population. Beijing will hardly be swayed by this criticism. The 'strike-hard' anti-terror campaign continues and the Chinese authorities keep a very close eye on anybody who is trying to illegally leave the country:

Police crack down on people attempting to leave China to join jihadist organizations A group of about 10 people, including children and women, approach the border between China and Myanmar late at night. They attempt to sneak across a ford into Myanmar, but are captured by Chinese police who are waiting in ambush. Southwestern China has witnessed a spike in people illegally crossing the border into Vietnam and Myanmar in the past two years. Police claim that many people who have attempted to sneak out of China have participated in underground Islamic preaching or have been involved in terrorist activities, and that they have often paid tens of thousands of yuan to get to the Middle East from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The police have said that such activities are directed by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and that the organization encourages these people to carry out attacks locally if they are unable to cross the border.

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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

                                            

The New Great Game Round-Up: November 24, 2014

Soros' Visit a Bad Omen as Kyrgyzstan Prepares to Join EEU, TAPI Countries Push Pipeline Despite Afghan Violence & 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.

So-called color revolutions have long been used by the United States to replace governments all over the world with more pliable alternatives if the respective leaders have outlived their usefulness or antagonized Washington, the most recent example being the Euromaidan in Ukraine. After Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, the U.S. and its allies launched Orange Revolution 2.0 to ensure Kiev's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration and to nip Ukraine's accession to the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in the bud. On November 21, Ukrainians gathered in Kiev to mark the first anniversary of the start of the fateful anti-government protests, which have plunged the country into war, leading to a new confrontation between Russia and the West. In light of the developments in Ukraine, many governments are increasingly alarmed at color revolutions. Especially Russian officials have been repeatedly warning against this "new form of warfare" in recent months. A few days ago, President Putin urged Russian security chief to do everything necessary to prevent a color revolution in Russia and the issue was also high on the agenda during this week's talks between Russian and Chinese defense ministers:

Russia, China should jointly counter "color revolutions" — Russian Defense Ministry

Russia and China should jointly stand against “color revolutions” which both countries are facing, a deputy Russian defence minister said after talks between Russian and Chinese defence chiefs on Tuesday.

“We focused on those events which have recently taken place in Hong Kong, and both ministers acknowledged that no country is immune from ‘color revolutions,’” Anatoly Antonov said.

“It only seems that these “color revolutions” and these experiments by Western spin doctors, including those from the United States, are being implemented somewhere far from China or the Russian Federation,” Antonov said. “All this is in fact near us, and we believe that Russia and China should work together to withstand this new security challenge to our countries.”

Soros' Visit a Bad Omen as Kyrgyzstan Prepares to Join EEU

Before he travelled to Islamabad to sign a landmark military agreement with Pakistan, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu met with his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan and other top officials in Beijing to discuss military cooperation between Russia and China. Chang called for joint efforts to "promote bilateral military-to-military ties to a higher level" and both sides agreed to respond to Washington's attempts to strengthen its military and political clout in the Asia-Pacific region by forming a regional collective security system. Moscow's concerns with regard to color revolutions probably found a sympathetic ear in Beijing considering that the Chinese government is worried about the Hong Kong protests. Beijing has been portraying Occupy Central as an evil Western plot but although the usual suspects have a hand in the "Umbrella Revolution," the protests are not merely another color revolution. Nevertheless, both Beijing and Moscow have every reason to be on their guard, as the example of Ukraine shows. Some people are concerned that China's neighbor Kyrgyzstan will be the next target and the visit of color revolution expert George Soros didn't help to allay fears of a Kyrgyz Maidan: 

Myktybek uluu Bekbolot: Kyrgyzstan will not survive after another coup

"We are against arrival of the billionaire George Soros to our country," the representative of NGO Strong Kyrgyzstan Muratbek uluu Bekbolot defined the aim of the protest, passing near the building of the US Embassy in the Kyrgyz Republic, to 24.kg news agency.

According to him, after his first visit to our country there was a coup in 2005. "Now Soros again appeared, and we suspect that he is planning another revolution in our country. We are for peace Kyrgyzstan and don't want war. Our country will not survive after another coup," he added.

A few dozen protesters carrying signs with slogans such as "U.S. hands off of sovereign Kyrgyzstan" gathered near the U.S. Embassy Bishkek to demand that George Soros must immediately leave the country and stop interfering in Kyrgyzstan's internal politics. Neither Soros nor the Kyrgyz authorities were swayed by the small rally and the founder of the infamous Open Society Foundations completed his first trip to Kyrgyzstan after almost ten years without incident. After meeting with a representative of the Aga Khan Foundation and the current president of the American University of Central Asia (AUCA), Soros visited AUCA to talk to students and check if his money is well-invested. AUCA is being funded by Soros' Open Society Foundations and the U.S. government. The multi-billionaire also met with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev to discuss the activities of the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan, which begs the question of whether or not Atambayev told Soros that one of the projects financed by his foundation will be charged with "inciting interethnic hatred":

Kyrgyzstan's Spooks Hounding Rights Groups with "Absurd" Charges

The State Committee on National Security (GKNB) charged two staff of the Human Rights Advocacy Center, an anti-torture campaigner in Osh, on November 20 with “inciting interethnic hatred,” a source with intimate knowledge of the case told EurasiaNet.org. One was told that the former director of Freedom House’s Kyrgyzstan office would also be charged.

The GKNB had outlined its case in a September
criminal complaint, stating that an opinion survey distributed by the Advocacy Center posed a threat to national security and could reignite interethnic conflict in the country’s volatile south. The Advocacy Center project was funded by Freedom House, which receives some of its funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

The source with intimate knowledge of the case believes Kyrgyzstan will try to shut down foreign-funded NGOs altogether and kick out USAID, as Russia did in 2012. “This is the beginning of the end. This has been building for awhile,” the source said. The Advocacy Center and Freedom House are just scapegoats, the source added. “Russia wants these groups to leave. They’re going to push. It may take a year or more, but they [Russia] are aiming to get them cleared out.

The Human Rights Advocacy Center receives funding from Freedom House as well as from the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan. As previously discussed, the above-mentioned survey caused a great stir in Osh and in light of the Euromaidan protests and subsequent coup d'état in Kiev, the Kyrgyz authorities take no chances when it comes to the activities of foreign-funded "non-governmental" organizations. According to Kyrgyzstan's National Institute for Strategic Studies, 16,000 NGOs are now officially registered in the Central Asian country and although only a few hundred are active, it is difficult to stay on top of things. Therefore, legislators in Bishkek have been pushing for a Russian-style foreign agents law in recent months. As Kyrgyzstan is preparing to join the EEU and moving closer to Russia, some people in Bishkek and Moscow are concerned that Washington will try to impede this process but the Kyrgyz government stands by its decision to cast its lot with Russia:

Kyrgyzstan Has "No Alternative" to Closer Russia Ties - Prime Minister

The slowdown of Russia’s economy is inflicting pain across Central Asia. But impoverished Kyrgyzstan has no choice but to stay close to Moscow, Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev tells EurasiaNet.org.

In recent weeks, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has passed reams of legislation on membership in both the customs union and the EEU, which will come into being on January 1.

“We’ve gotten some criticism from the United States,” Otorbaev says of EEU membership talks. “I would like to hear the arguments of those who would like us to close the border. [...] With whom are we going to trade? I don’t know. The United States is not here. Europe neither. China is very aggressively importing things. If someone would advise us, I would be more than happy to hear them.

Georgia's "Pro-Russian" Government Continues NATO Integration

George Soros and the U.S. government will have to do a lot of persuading to woo Kyrgyzstan away from Russia. But although U.S. NGOs have lately been running into trouble in Kyrgyzstan and Russia, the use of NGOs is still very popular around the world. Archil Chkoidze, the leader of the Georgian NGO coalition "Eurasian Choice," recently suggested that Russian NGOs should beef up their presence in Georgia to counter U.S. influence in the country. Chkoidze stressed that many U.S. organizations are already working in Georgia to this end and nobody can deny that they have been very successful so far. Before visiting Kyrgyzstan, George Soros spent two days in Georgia to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Open Society Georgia Foundation. Soros also met with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who has been doing his best to assure the West of Georgia's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration after the dismissal of Defense Minister Irakli Alasania. This week, Garibashvili travelled to Brussels to attend the first meeting of the EU-Georgia Association Council and to meet with NATO's new Secretary General:

Georgian PM, NATO Chief Discuss Implementation of ‘Substantive Package’

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met Georgia’s PM Irakli Garibashvili in Brussels on November 17 and discussed implementation of the “substantive package” of cooperation, which NATO
offered to Georgia at its summit in Wales in September.

Among those elements of the package are assisting defense capacity building in Georgia through, as Stoltenberg put it, “embedded trainers” and setting up of a joint training center in Georgia.


“We are pleased that Georgia will also host NATO-Georgia Training Center. The Center will help the Georgian forces to maintain their ability to work with NATO and it will prepare Georgia and other partners for future contributions to NATO Response Force,” the NATO Secretary General said.

Stoltenberg emphasized that he has "no reason to doubt" Georgia's commitment to NATO integration and he stated that concrete decisions on the training center will be made at the ministerial meeting of NATO countries in February 2015. With that said, it is quite difficult to argue that Georgia is about to abandon its pro-Western course or that the Georgian government is loyal to Russia but that is exactly what some people in Georgia are alleging. A few days ago, dismissed Defense Minister Alasania, who called the corruption investigation into the military "an attack on Georgia's Euro-Atlantic choice," gave a 'final warning' to the Prosecutor’s Office and threatened to get the international community involved if his lawyers don't get the files of the case. Shortly afterwards, Alasania travelled to the United States to meet with representatives of the State Department. Another darling of Washington is also blasting the government in Tbilisi. According to former president Mikheil Saakashvili and his party, the current government is pursuing a "policy of appeasement vis-à-vis Russia":  

At ‘No to Annexation’ Protest Rally UNM Slams ‘Collaborationist’ Govt

Thousands of protesters were gathered in Tbilisi center on November 15 at a rally organized by the opposition UNM party against what it calls is Georgian government’s “inaction” amid threat of “annexation” of Georgia’s breakaway regions by Russia.

In his address via video link from Kiev, ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who is chairman of UNM party, told protesters, gathered on the Rustaveli Avenue outside the Parliament, that it is now time “for the entire nation to stand united and to tell, before it is not too late, to [ex-PM Bidzina] Ivanishvili that the Georgian nation does not share his dream.”

Saakashvili and his United National Movement are the most vocal critics of Russia's "attempt to annex" Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which is quite ironic considering that they have contributed significantly to the current situation by starting the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Former Georgian President Nino Burjanadze heavily criticized Saakasvhili and the current government for their "NATO rhetoric" and she stressed that Georgia's territorial integrity is more important than joining any international organization. Burjanadze blamed Tbilisi’s endless talk of a NATO training center in Georgia for Russia's decision to offer Abkhazia a new treaty and she urged the Georgian authorities to talk to the Russians, Abkhazians and Ossetians about this issue instead of "going to Brussels like kids and complaining before [NATO and EU] officials." Unfortunately, it is already too late for this. Russia and South Ossetia are working on a new integration treaty and Abkhazia is about to sign a revised version of the treaty proposed by Moscow a few weeks ago:

Russia, Abkhazia to Sign Agreement on Strategic Cooperation, Integration

Abkhazia's President Raul Hajimba will visit Russia Monday to meet with President Vladimir Putin and sign a deal on strategic cooperation and integration, Kremlin's press service announced Sunday.

"President of
Abkhazia Raul Hajimba will visit Russia on November 24 at the invitation of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin… It is planned to sign an agreement on integration and strategic partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia," the press service stated.

TAPI Countries Push Pipeline Despite Afghan Violence

Georgia's quest for NATO membership comes with heavy cost. Russia's southern neighbor is not only paying with its territorial integrity but also with the lives of Georgian soldiers for its dream of joining NATO. Georgia has made its mark as the top non-NATO troop contributor in Afghanistan and 750 Georgian troops will stay in the war-torn country after the so-called withdrawal. The security situation in Afghanistan is dire, as demonstrated by the recent suicide bombing at a volleyball match, and given that the casualties suffered by Afghan security forces in the fight against the Taliban have reached an "unsustainable" level, it came as no real surprise, when U.S. President Barack Obama secretly signed an order that expands the United States’ direct combat role in Afghanistan throughout 2015:

In a Shift, Obama Extends U.S. Role in Afghan Combat

President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the
Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”

Despite all that, some countries think that it is a good idea to push major regional and international infrastructure projects, which depend on the situation in Afghanistan. Representatives from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey discussed recently in Ashgabat the construction of a transport and transit corridor connecting the five countries. Furthermore, the Turkmen capital hosted the latest round of talks in the never-ending saga of the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI). Last week, the state gas companies of the four involved countries established a company that will build, own and operate the planned pipeline and a few days later the TAPI steering committee agreed to start the construction of the project as early as next year:

TAPI countries agree to start pipeline project by 2015

Taking another step towards realising the ambitious TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) natural gas pipeline project, petroleum ministers of the four countries
met in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan Thursday and agreed that steps will be taken to start the project by 2015.

"It was decided that the next meeting of the steering committee will be held in February 2015 in Islamabad," the petroleum ministry said in a statement here on the 19th round of TAPI steering committee meeting attended by Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

There has been a lot of talk about the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline in the last two decades but the security situation in Afghanistan has always prevented the implementation of the project and it is still "practically impossible" to build the pipeline. Especially the Turkmen authorities should be aware of the deteriorating security situation in neighboring Afghanistan given the fact that they were already forced to send troops across the border to drive back insurgents in the area. But since Turkmenistan is desperately looking for new gas customers to check its dependency on China, inconvenient facts are apparently being overlooked. The Turkmen authorities have been trying hard to diversify the country's gas exports after the Iranians announced that they no longer needed gas from Turkmenistan because they were planning to boost Iran's domestic gas production. Fortunately for Turkmenistan, this requires more time and money than the Iranians previously thought meaning that Turkmenistan will be able to keep its second-best gas customer for now:

Turkmenistan and Iran Reignite Gas Affair

Iran, it seems, was calling Turkmenistan’s bluff earlier this summer when Tehran said it no longer needs gas from its northern neighbor. Now a top official says Tehran will keep buying.

That is good news for Turkmenistan, which is so dependent on its main gas customer, China, that it is starting to look like a client state.

The Iran-Turkmenistan gas trade has been
dispute-prone over the years. Iranian energy officials have complained on a number of occasions that Turkmenistan does not always deliver on the contractual terms it signs. So the deal may mean more on paper than in practice. But for the moment, it buys both a little time.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: November 17, 2014

Russia Sees ISIS Terrorists Everywhere, China Sets Out to Bring Peace to Afghanistan- Xinjiang & 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.

Three months ago, Armenia and Azerbaijan were on the brink of all-out war after the worst clashes in years over the disputed Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan had left more than a dozen soldiers dead. Russian President Vladimir Putin brought both sides to the negotiating table to prevent a further escalation of the conflict and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev readily agreed to postpone the recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh, which fueled speculation that Baku had provoked the clashes for political reasons. Azerbaijan has shown a pattern of provoking such events in order to get the international community to devote more attention to the conflict. Moreover, the escalation of violence in late July/early August coincided with a crackdown on human rights activists and NGOs. After this short period of heavy fighting the situation calmed down and last month French President Francois Hollande hosted "constructive" talks between Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan. The two leaders agreed to continue the dialogue to find a negotiated peace to the Karabakh conflict but this week's downing of an Armenian helicopter doesn't bode well for the shaky peace process:

Azerbaijan shoots down Armenian helicopter

The armed forces of Azerbaijan shot down and destroyed an Armenian military helicopter in the Nagorno-Karabakh region on Wednesday, the defense ministries of both countries said.

The incident threatened to set off another cycle of violence between the two South Caucasus neighbors over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but along with some surrounding territory has been under the control of Armenian soldiers and local Armenian forces since a 1994 cease-fire.

Nagorno-Karabakh said the helicopter belonged to its armed forces and was on a training flight near the cease-fire line. All three crew members on board were killed, a high-ranking officer with the Nagorno-Karabakh forces told the AP. The officer was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release the information.

Downing of Armenian Helicopter Disrupts Shaky Peace Process

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry alleged that "two military helicopters, performing combat maneuvers over the Azerbaijani positions, attempted to open fire at the positions of the Azerbaijani armed forces." Azerbaijani troops then returned fire and and brought down one helicopter. The spokesman of Nagorno-Karabakh's armed forces pointed out that the helicopter was not engaged in a combat operation but conducting a training flight as part of the ongoing joint Armenia-Nagorno-Karabakh military drills "Unity 2014", which involve about 17,000 soldiers and a large amount of military hardware. Artsrun Hovannisyan, the spokesman of the Armenian Defense Ministry, called Azerbaijani claims the helicopter attacked Azerbaijani troops "absurd" and he emphasized that the downed helicopter carried no weapons. Hovannisyan warned that this "unprecedented provocation" leads to an escalation of the situation and Armenia vowed to respond to the provocation:

Armenian helicopter downing: 'Grave consequences' warning

Armenia has threatened "grave consequences" after Azerbaijan shot down one of its helicopter in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
"This is an unprecedented escalation and the consequences for Azerbaijan will be grave," Armenian foreign ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovannisyan said.

A further statement from Armenia's foreign ministry accused the Azeris of a "criminal provocation" and of "gravely violating agreements reached at recent summits."

Armenian leader Sargsyan showed that he means business. One day after the helicopter was shot down and Azerbaijan "declared its airspace closed over the occupied territories," Sargsyan flew there anyway on a helicopter and Nagorno-Karabakh presidential press secretary David Babayan said "the airspace over Karabakh is really closed, but only for the Azerbaijani air force." Armenia's president and other high-level officials visited units of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army and attended the "Unity 2014" military exercises. Addressing the officers of both armies, Sargsyan stressed that there will be "redemption day" for Azerbaijan and he warned the Azerbaijani authorities that war against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia will be "no flash mob." While almost everyone is wondering how and when Armenia will retaliate, Azerbaijan's Aliyev is also promising more military action:

Aliyev Hails Armenian Chopper Downing, Vows More Military Action

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev praised his army for the Nov. 12 downing of an Armenian helicopter that killed three crew members in the worst military incident between the two countries in 20 years.

Aliyev promised more armed responses to Armenian “provocations” in future during an “operational meeting” yesterday with his generals in the western Shamkir District, his office said.

The soldier who shot down the helicopter has been awarded and Baku is apparently more interested in "correcting" "wrong" media reports than in resolving the conflict. Aliyev's critics often accuse him of using high diplomatic tensions with Armenia as a cover to target and lock up political activists and the downing of the Armenian helicopter conveniently diverts attention from Baku's "crackdown on independent media and rights activists." Fortunately, Aliyev's friends in the West are not swayed by trifles, such as human rights abuses. Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, secretly flew to Azerbaijan this week to meet with his buddy Aliyev. The Queen’s second son has already met the Azeri President eleven times on official business in the past decade and his friendship with Aliyev and other controversial leaders cost him his post as the UK’s trade envoy in 2011. But "Air Miles Andy" was not the only noteworthy guest in Baku this week. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also travelled to the Azerbaijani capital a few days ago to hold talks with Aliyev and other senior officials. It was Rouhani's first visit to Azerbaijan since his election last year and the two neighboring countries agreed to boost cooperation in various areas despite their difficult relationship:

Iran, Azerbaijan ink five cooperation agreements during President Rouhani's visit

The Iranian and Azeri officials signed five cooperation agreements on Wednesday to expand ties in areas of economy, renewable energy, industry, communications, and transport, IRNA reported on Wednesday. The cooperation deals were signed at the presence of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Baku.

Prior to his trip to Baku, Rouhani stated that the Caucasus is Iran's "bridge" to Europe and Iran is also the Caucasus's bridge to the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

"This bridge and multilateral relations with the Caucasus and the Central Asia should be strengthened," he added.

Russia Sees ISIS Terrorists Everywhere

 Azerbaijan is already positioning itself as a gas mediator between Iran and Europe but first of all Tehran has to reach a nuclear deal with the West, which looks unlikely to happen before the November 24 deadline. Judging from Rouhani's words, Iran wants to follow Russia's and China's lead and strengthen its foothold in the Eurasian Balkans. China, which boasts strategic partnerships with all five 'stans, focuses primarily on economic cooperation, whereas Russia also regularly tries to convince the local regimes of closer military cooperation. In recent months, Russian officials and pundits have used the threat of Central Asian ISIS fighters, who might return from Iraq and Syria, to this end. For example, Russian commentator Alexander Sobyanin argued a few weeks ago that the Central Asian jihadists are sponsored by U.S. intelligence and that they could be used to foment instability in Central Asia, creating a pretext for U.S. military presence in the region. One Russian lawmaker has now come up with a plan to prevent the long prophesied Islamist takeover in Central Asia:

Lawmaker Proposes 'Russian Foreign Legion' To Combat IS

Should Russia have a foreign legion, like France? A Russian lawmaker thinks such a concept could
address the threat of the Islamic State (IS) group in Russia and Central Asia.

The proposal, by State Duma Deputy Roman Khudyakov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) faction, comes amid growing fears over the influence of the IS in Russia and former Soviet Central Asian republics.

The Russian lawmaker said that a Russian foreign legion could guarantee stability in Central Asia, and oppose possible aggression from Islamic State militants operating in the region.

Khudyakov is known for his creative proposals for new legislation and his latest idea was not met with much approval but it demonstrates once more that the ISIS hype has reached Russia. Last week, Russian media reported that members of the so-called "GTA gang", which had terrorized Moscow motorists in recent months with a series of murders resembling the popular video game "Grand Theft Auto," were Central Asian migrant workers linked to ISIS. According to law enforcement officials, several of the detained gang members were set to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Interestingly enough, many of the Central Asians fighting in Iraq and Syria have been recruited while working in Russia and not in their home countries. Russian officials are not only concerned about the spreading of radical Islam among Russia's Central Asian migrant workers but also about the plans of Western intelligence agencies with regard to ISIS. Especially Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has absolutely no doubt about CIA, MI6 & Co. pulling the strings behind the much-hyped terrorist group and the ongoing war of words between Kadyrov and ISIS entered another round a few days ago:

ISIS commander 'Omar the Chechen' allegedly killed

The Islamic State military commander "Omar the Chechen,” who threatened Russia with a jihadist onslaught, has been eliminated, said Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov. He posted a photo on Instagram which he says is proof.

“The enemy of Islam, Tarkhan Batirashvili, who called himself Omar Ash-Shishani ("Shishani" is Arabic for "Chechen"), has been killed," Kadyrov posted. "That will happen to everyone who will threaten Russia and the people of Chechnya. This will happen to everyone who sheds Muslims' blood."

Kadyrov's message was reported all around the world but it didn't take long before the Chechen leader deleted his post. As many people quickly pointed out, the photo posted by Kadyrov doesn't show Tarkhan Batirashvili's dead body and the same picture has been used on at least one previous occasion to "prove" the death of Kadyrov's new nemesis. Given the fact that his death was reported at least four times in recent months, Batirashvili seems to be following in the footsteps of Osama bin Laden and Kadyrov's previous nemesis Doku Umarov, who was "killed" about a dozen times before he eventually left the stage. Up until now, Western and Arab media have portrayed Batirashvili as the military genius of ISIS but his military prowess has recently been called into question. One former associate, who fought alongside Batirashvili in Syria, accused the ISIS leader of only knowing how to send mujahedin as cannon fodder but that is apparently the preferred strategy of ISIS anyway. Nevertheless, Kadyrov won't take any chances and will do his best to get rid of Batirashvili and the cannon fodder: 

Chechen Gets 2 Years in Prison for Battling Assad's Forces in Syria

A 22-year-old Chechen man has been sentenced to two years in prison for fighting in Syria's civil war, a news report said Tuesday.

Said Mazhayev, who prosecutors say went to Syria last November and fought alongside the Free Syrian Army until January, admitted his guilt in court, prosecutors told the Caucasian Knot news website.

Under Russian law, he could have faced up to 10 years in prison for taking part in an armed conflict in a foreign state. Ahead of the verdict, which was issued Monday, prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Mazhayev to three years and two months in a penal colony.

China Sets Out to Bring Peace to Afghanistan, Xinjiang

There are hardly any Syrians left among the "Syrian rebels," as foreign fighters are pouring into Syria faster than ever. According to U.S. and British counterterrorism officials, "the growing number and variety of foreign fighters streaming into Syria is unprecedented in recent history." Lately, even fighters from the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), also known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), made their way to the battlefields of northern Syria. China is very concerned about the Syria-Xinjiang connection and the capture of a Chinese national fighting with ISIS in Iraq caused a great stir. It is unclear how many Uyghur insurgents have travelled to the Middle East but the emergence of ETIM fighters in Syria will reinforce Beijing's concerns in this regard. China has long avoided getting involed in conflicts like Syria or Afghanistan but the Chinese authorities have realized by now that they will have to bite the bullet sooner or later. As the NATO-led coalition forces are reducing their presence in neighboring Afghanistan, China is now trying to achieve what the U.S. and its allies failed to do: 

EXCLUSIVE - China seeks greater role in Afghanistan with peace talk push

China has proposed setting up a forum to restart stalled peace talks between Afghanistan and Taliban insurgents, the latest sign Beijing wants more of a say in its troubled neighbour's affairs as it frets about its own Islamist militant threat.

Documents seen by Reuters show that China put forward a proposal for a "peace and reconciliation forum" that Afghan officials said would gather representatives from

Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the Taliban command.

China's proposal has not yet been formally announced because Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants more time to see whether the Taliban and Pakistan are willing to join in, according to his aides.

China's "peace and reconciliation forum" was certainly high on the agenda during Ghani's recent two-day visit to Pakistan, where he met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other top officials to ease relations between the two countries. Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to expand their bilateral trade to $5 billion but it remains to be seen if they will pull together when it comes to the peace talks. Beijing will definitely do its part to bring Islamabad to the negotiating table. Considering that the Taliban have previously endorsed China's growing role in Afghanistan, China may even have a chance of succeeding in restarting the peace process. Pakistan has only recently signaled its readiness to support China's fight against the "East Turkestan" forces and to cooperate more closely on Afghanistan: 

Pakistan says will help China fight Xinjiang militants

Pakistan will help China with its fight against extremists Beijing says are active in its unruly far western region of Xinjiang, the country's prime minister said on Saturday during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Pakistan Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif told Xi that his country would "continue to resolutely fight the East Turkestan Islamic Movement terrorist forces", China's foreign ministry said in a statement following the meeting in Beijing.

Pakistan will increase its coordination with China on
Afghanistan too, so as to "jointly maintain regional peace and stability", Sharif said.

Of course, Pakistan's cooperation comes at a price. China promised its close ally billions of dollars in investment during Nawaz Sharif's trip to Beijing. Pakistan and China signed 19 agreements and memorandums mostly centered on the energy sector to the tune of over $40 billion. Amir Zamir, spokesman for Pakistan's ministry of planning and development, stressed that "there is no loan or aid for the energy projects, but pure investment by the Chinese." China spares neither trouble nor expense to push economic cooperation and to maintain stability in the region. Predictably, Washington's Uyghur exile groups are alarmed at all these deals because "Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Shanghai Cooperation countries’ deals means more heavy-handed repression of Uighurs." China won't be swayed by such concerns and continues its crackdown on illegal religious activities in Xinjiang:

China targets 'wild imams' in mass public sentencing

China has jailed almost two dozen people including "wild imams" who preach illegally in the western region of Xinjiang where the government says Islamists are waging a violent campaign for a separate state, Chinese media reported on Tuesday.

The 22 suspects were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 16 years at a mass public sentencing in Xinjiang on Monday, the state-controlled
China News Service reported.

As well as the imams, or Muslim religious leaders, those sentenced included religious leaders who engaged in religious
activities after being sacked, as well as those who broke the law while at their posts, it said.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: November 3, 2014

Russia's "Conspiracy Theorists" Accuse West of Sponsoring Terrorism, Georgia's Efforts to Win Back Abkhazia & South Ossetia Fail & 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.

After performing a pilgrimage to Mecca and holding talks with King Abdullah and other high-level Saudi officials on his first foreign trip since taking office in September, Afghanistan's newly selected president Ashraf Ghani travelled to China for an important four-day visit aimed at strengthening ties between the two neighboring countries. As the NATO-led forces are reducing their presence in Afghanistan, Kabul is looking east for foreign investment while Beijing is trying to ensure stability in the region. On the first day of his visit, Ghani met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who called for "a new era of cooperation in China-Afghanistan relations." The two leaders agreed on a new long-term partnership and given that Beijing is alarmed at the prospect of a failed state or a civil war right on China's doorstep, Ghani didn't have a hard time in securing some desperately needed investments:

China Pledges $327 Million in Aid to Afghanistan

China has pledged two billion yuan ($327 million) in aid to Afghanistan, which is seeking new sources of foreign help amid a drawdown of U.S. troops and increasing worries about regional instability.

The offer of aid through 2017 came after China’s President
Xi Jinping and newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met in Beijing on Tuesday, according to a joint declaration published Wednesday by China’s foreign ministry. Beijing and Kabul also agreed to step up intelligence sharing to fight drug trafficking and address other cross-border issues

China, Afghanistan Herald Start of New Era of Cooperation

It is important to note that the grants of $327 million, which will be paid out over a period of three years, are more than all the economic assistance from China since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Moreover, the Chinese authorities pledged to encourage new investment in Afghanistan by Chinese enterprises and to provide professional training and scholarships for 3,500 Afghans over the next five years. During Ghani's visit, China hosted for the first time the annual conference of the so-called "Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process," further demonstrating Beijing's interest in playing a bigger role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Knowing that economic assistance alone won't suffice, the Chinese government has also offered to help Afghanistan build its antiterrorism capabilities. As mentioned last week, the Afghan authorities have already evinced interest in working with the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in this regard and Ashraf Ghani told the Chinese exactly what they wanted to hear:

China says Afghan president vows to help China fight extremists

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani has pledged to help
China fight Islamist extremists, a senior Chinese official said on Tuesday, after Ghani met President Xi Jinping in Beijing on his first visit abroad since his September inauguration.

China, which is connected to Afghanistan by the narrow, almost impassable Wakhan Corridor, says militants seeking to set up a separate state called East Turkistan in its western Xinjiang region are holed up along the ungoverned Afghan-Pakistani border.

"In the area of security, President Ghani expressed the readiness and staunch support from the Afghan side in China's fight against East Turkistan Islamic Movement terrorist forces," Kong Xuanyou, Director General of the Foreign Ministry's Asian Affairs Department, told journalists after Ghani and Xi met.

China's willingness to help its neighbor can be traced back to concerns that unrest in Afghanistan could spill over the border into Xinjiang, where the local authorities are already stuggling to contain the increasing violence. Considering that Afghan security forces are currently engaged in heavy fighting with Taliban in Badakhshan Province, which borders Xinjiang, these concerns are not completely unfounded. Afghan leader Ghani used the Istanbul Process meeting in Beijing to reiterate his call for the Taliban to join a national peace dialogue but the group has made it clear that it does not "want to waste time talking to an administration [in Kabul] with no authority," which is just serving American interests. The Chinese government knows of course full well that the Americans are still pulling the strings behind the new Afghan government and that the remaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan will continue tracking China, Russia and Iran from this geo-strategic location. This begs the question of whether Beijing plans to join forces with Tehran in order to kick the Americans out:

Could Iran and China Cut the US Out of Afghanistan?

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met in Beijing on Friday,
Xinhua reports. On one level, the meeting was simply the latest example of growing China-Iran ties. The timing of the meeting, however, suggests a more specific aim for bilateral relations – greater cooperation between Beijing and Tehran to achieve their joint goals in Afghanistan.

While China has been relatively accepting of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as a means of achieving this end goal, Iran wants the U.S. gone as soon as possible. Unlike other major regional powers, Tehran opposed the recently-signed Bilateral Security Agreement that will allow a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan post-2014. Currently, Beijing is willing to accept the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan as a necessary evil. However, if Iran and China can cooperate to achieve their goals vis-à-vis Afghanistan while reducing or eliminating the need for U.S. involvement, it would suit both countries’ goals.

Lately, China and Iran have been growing closer together. Last week, Iran’s naval chief, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, visited Beijing for talks with the PLA Navy commander and Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan, who used the opportunity to stress that China wants to have closer military ties with Iran. Depending on whether Tehran manages to reach a nuclear deal with the West by November 24, Iran will also join the SCO in the near future. For the moment, only Pakistan and India are set to become full members at the next SCO summit. As previously discussed, China counts on the soon-to-be SCO members in dealing with the mess in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan's track record in supporting various terrorist groups in the region puts a questions mark over China's plans and both Afghanistan and India never grow tired of pointing this out. Afghan and Indian officials present at the recent Istanbul Process meeting are positive that Beijing finally got the message:

Delhi, Kabul warn China: Pak maybe your ally but it exports terror

Asked by India Today if China was prepared to take steps to address Afghan and Indian concerns on terrorism emanating from Pakistan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, "I am happy to tell you that among the confidence building measures we agreed today, the first is on counterterrorism".

"We believe that the international community should not accept any forms of terrorism," he said. "During the conference we have had an extensive exchange of views on the topic."

An Indian official present at Friday's meet said that it was striking that the terror issue took centre stage. "At one point this was as sensitive for China as [raising] the South China Sea" considering Beijing's "all-weather" ties with Pakistan, the official said.

Russia's "Conspiracy Theorists" Accuse West of Sponsoring Terrorism

The chaos in Afghanistan and the increasing violence in Xinjiang might have led to a change of thinking in Beijing but it remains to be seen if the Chinese authorities actually walk the talk. Up until now, China has always refused to publicly criticize close ally Pakistan for its support of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, knowing that Pakistan's alliance with radical Islam is closely linked to the Kashmir conflict. But to some extent, Pakistan's use of jihadist gangs is also accounted for by Islamabad's willingness to participate in Washington's terror operations in the region, the best known being Operation Cyclone. Chinese President Xi Jinping should perhaps take a cue from his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who didn't mince his words, when he addressed this issue last week at the annual meeting of the influential Valdai Club:

Putin Accuses West Of Sponsoring "Terrorist Invasions" Of Russia, Central Asia

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of sponsoring terrorism in Russia and Central Asia.

The entire speech is fascinating, and certainly will be studied as much as the
Munich speech or his post-Crimean annexation speech by those trying to figure out Russia's foreign policy. But one section of this speech is of particular interest to Bug Pit readers:

They [the U.S.] once sponsored Islamic extremist movements to fight the Soviet Union. Those groups got their battle experience in Afghanistan and later gave birth to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The West if not supported, at least closed its eyes, and, I would say, gave information, political and financial support to international terrorists’ invasion of Russia (we have not forgotten this) and the Central Asian region’s countries. Only after horrific terrorist attacks were committed on US soil itself did the United States wake up to the common threat of terrorism. Let me remind you that we were the first country to support the American people back then, the first to react as friends and partners to the terrible tragedy of September 11.

This is not exactly news but Western media is still desperately trying to convince the public that all the reports about U.S./NATO operations using jihadist mercenaries in Russia's North Caucasus and Central Asia are just "conspiracy theories." Therefore, the editorial board of the Washington Postlost no time in portraying the Russian President as a lying conspiracy theorist. And if one were to believe Western media, the same is true of Putin's most important ally in the North Caucasus, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who recently urged ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi "to take off his mask" and admit that he is a CIA agent. Kadyrov announced last week that his men are searching for al-Baghdadi but that they cannot find him because he is working for the CIA. The comments were the latest in a war of words between Kadyrov and ISIS, which has prompted influential ISIS leader Omar al-Shishani aka Tarkhan Batirashvili to put a $5 million bounty on Kadyrov's head. Interestingly enough, Batirashvili's curious background raises the question of whether he is working for an intelligence agency as well and as more details emerge, it becomes clear that Batirashvili is not your average jihadist:

The Secret Life of an ISIS Warlord

Like so many of the world’s most brutal dictators, military leaders, tyrants, and jihadists, it appears Tarkhan was trained by the very best: the United States government. According to his father and former colleagues, Tarkhan worked for an elite “Spetsnaz” Georgian military-intelligence unit—at least until he caught tuberculosis, lost his job in the intelligence unit, was then framed by that same intelligence unit, and went to jail in 2010 for weapons possession.

Tarkhan’s father claims that his son worked, specifically, for the ministry of interior’s KUD or “Kudi,” basically the domestic-intelligence and special-operations service in Georgia, officially called the Constitutional Security Department. The agency was notoriously brutal. When asked if it was true that his son Tarkhan was trained by the United States, Temur says, “Of course they did. They trained all of the Georgian army back then… My boy was just 19 when he went to the army… This KUDI, where he was working, it was an intelligence and reconnaissance unit.”

Batirashvili has been described as the "tactical mastermind behind Islamic State’s swift military gains on the ground in Iraq’s Anbar province" and he is credited with many battlefield successes but according to the above-mentioned article in TheDaily Beast, Tarkhan Batirashvili "may well be a figurehead for his older brother" Tamaz who is supposed to be "the real mastermind behind the Chechen operatives running ISIS offensives in Syria and Iraq." At any rate, the two brothers have long-standing ties with Georgian intelligence and the article even mentions that "Georgia’s Anti-Terrorism Center, or ATC, allegedly ran some jihadists out of Pankisi to fight against Moscow’s troops in Grozny." Georgia's role in these kind of operations has been exposed time and time again and Russia's mob-up operations abroad frequently shed some light on the other actors involed. Chechen exiles should watch their backs, regardless of whether they found shelter in France or in Turkey:

Turkish suspect confesses to Chechen leader’s murder

The Turkish man who is suspected of killing a Chechen leader in Turkey last year has been detained and confessed to the murder, claiming that “pro-Russian Chechens” had made him shoot the victim.

The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria’s honorary consul in Ankara, Medet Ünlü, 53, was killed by armed assailants at the honorary consulate in
Ankara on May 22, 2013.

“They promised me a life in
Ukraine that I can’t even imagine,” he reportedly told police, referring to pro-Russian Chechens in Turkey who commissioned him to target Ünlü, because Ünlü was sending Turkish donations to opposition members in Chechnya.

Georgia's Efforts to Win Back Abkhazia & South Ossetia Fail

Most people living in Chechnya have long seen through NATO's manipulation of Muslims. A recent survey by the pro-Western, Caucasus-based news outlet Caucasian Knotfound that most Chechens oppose the idea of fighting in Syria because they believe that ISIS and other so-called "Syrian rebels" are just fighting for Western interests. In the light of these survey findings, destabilizing Chechnya won't be easy, even if neighboring Georgia decides to host a training camp for "Syrian rebels." Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania recently threatened to adopt a "very aggressive" foreign policy in response to Russia's "attempt to annex occupied Abkhazia." And while Russia and Abkhazia are still working on the proposed treaty, Georgia made a last-ditch effort to win back its two breakaway regions:

Georgian PM offers autonomy to Abkhazians, Ossetians

The Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili offered autonomy and the European perspective to the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples.

“I am sure that only with us, with Georgia, which has the European perspectives, our Abkhazian brothers will be able to preserve their language and culture,” Garibashvili said.

“I’d like to call on them to thoroughly realize the situation, to think about their children, the future generations, and how they imagine life without Georgia and their development.”

Predictably, Garibashvili's offer of broad autonomy and of sharing the prospective benefits of Georgia’s integration with the European Union was immediately rejected by the Abkhaz government, which responded by saying that this proposal proves once again the "ignorance of reality in the region" and Garibashvili's "inability to perceive this reality." South Ossetia also dismissed the offer as being out of touch and to make matters worse for Georgia, the South Ossetians have been inspired by the proposed treaty between Russia and Abkhazia:

South Ossetia to Russia: Go Ahead, Crimea Me!

While Russia is on a land-grabbing binge, South Ossetia hopes Moscow will not forget about its aspirations, too. The region’s separatist leadership is drawing up an agreement meant to insert the disputed territory into the Russian Federation.

The agreement is influenced by a recent integration plan that Moscow offered to South Ossetia’s separatist twin, Abkhazia, but reportedly goes far beyond it. Both regions maintain de-facto independence from Georgia and almost existentially rely on backing from Russia. Abkhazia, however, insists on some ground rules in its relationship with Moscow, such as keeping space for sovereignty.

Given that the South Ossetians are even more keen on joining Russia than the people in Abkhazia, Georgia is now in real trouble. Georgian officials are infuriated by Russia's "attempt to annex" not just one but both breakaway regions and the government has been urged to come up with an "anti-annexation" strategy. This issue will most certainly be high on the agenda when a Georgian delegation led by PM Garibashvilis arrives in Brussels later this month to attend the first Georgia-EU Association Council session. Garibashvili will also use this opportunity to talk with the new Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, about the "substantive package," which Georgia has been promised by the U.S.-led military alliance. Stoltenberg was not exaggerating when he called Georgia a "very strong partner." Russia's southern neighbor is forging ever closer ties with NATO, as demonstrated by Defense Minister Alasania's recent trips to France and Germany:

Georgian, German Defense Ministers Meet in Berlin

Georgian Defense Minister, Irakli Alasania, met his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen in Berlin on October 30.

Bilateral cooperation, Georgia’s contribution to the Afghan mission, as well as situation in the Caucasus region and relations with Russia were discussed during the meeting, according to the German Ministry of Defense.

“Georgian-German military cooperation is being intensified,” Alasania said, adding that Georgia’s contribution to the Afghan mission, as well as Germany’s assistance in the field of military education and implementation of the NATO-Georgia cooperation package offered by the Alliance at the Wales summit.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 27, 2014

SCO Eyes Bigger Role in Afghanistan But NATO Clings to Poppy Fields, Al-Qaeda Targets Xinjiang as China Struggles to Contain Violence& 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.

Every day, the new star in the world of takfiri terrorist groups, the Islamic State aka ISIL aka ISIS aka Da'ish, is dominating the headlines. Western media is eager to highlight every atrocity committed by ISIS while similar crimes committed by the "moderate Syrian rebels" have been swept under the rug for years and are still being ignored. The "Syrian rebels" used chemical weapons?! No, that is completely inconceivable. ISIS used chemical weapons?! Yes, that goes without saying. Although the Kurds exposed the new darling of Western media as "the most overhyped military force on the planet" during the siege of Kobane, there is no end in sight to the ISIS hype, much to the dismay of the previous number one boogeyman al-Qaeda. The organization of U.S./NATO puppet Ayman al-Zawahiri is desperately trying to get some attention. Last month, Zawahiri released one of his dubious videos announcing the establishment of a new branch on the Indian subcontinent and lately the group threatened China, stressing that Xinjiang needs to be "recovered [into] the shade of the Islamic Caliphate":

Al-Qaeda Declares War on China, Too

Al-Qaeda central appears to have joined the Islamic State in calling for jihad against China over its alleged occupation of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

This week, al-Sahab media organization, al-Qaeda’s propaganda arm, released the first issue of its new English-language magazine Resurgence. The magazine has a strong focus on the Asia-Pacific in general, with feature articles on both India and Bangladesh, as well as others on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

However, the first issue also contains an article entitled “10 Facts About East Turkistan,” which refers to the name given to Xinjiang by those who favor independence from China. The ten facts seek to cast Xinjiang as a longtime independent state that has only recently been brutally colonized by Han Chinese, who are determined to obliterate its Islamic heritage

Al-Qaeda Targets Xinjiang as China Struggles to Contain Violence

ISIS had already called on its followers to "liberate East Turkestan" a few weeks earlier. Al-Qaeda is apparently afraid of losing out to its competitor in this new emerging market but, as Zachary Keck points out in the above-mentioned article, "attempting to use an English-language publication to motivate would-be jihadists in places like Xinjiang displays a remarkable degree of desperation." Predictably, the first Uyghurs who noticed the article are not living in Xinjiang but in the United States and Europe, where they advocate for East Turkestan's independence on behalf of Washington. Alim Seytoff, president of the NED-funded Uyghur American Association and director of the NED-funded Uyghur Human Rights Project, lost no time in distancing himself and his fellow Uyghur exile activists from any kind of terrorist activity. Seytoff lamented that the recruitment efforts of ISIS, al-Qaeda & Co. "have unfairly painted Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang as prone to terrorist behavior." That might be true but the regular attacks by Uyghur insurgents certainly played a role in this as well:

At Least 22 People Are Reported Killed in Attack at a Market in Western China

An attack on a farmers market in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang has reportedly left at least 22 people dead and dozens injured, Radio Free Asia, the news service financed by the American government, has reported.

Radio Free Asia said on Saturday that the rampage, which took place Oct. 12 in Kashgar Prefecture, was carried out by four men armed with knives and explosives who attacked police officers and merchants before being shot dead by the police. Most of the victims were ethnic Han Chinese and the assailants were ethnic Uighur, the news service said, citing local police officials.

As of Sunday, news of the attack had not appeared in the Chinese news media, which frequently delays reporting about unrest in the region for reasons not entirely clear. The authorities make it difficult for foreign journalists to travel to the string of towns and cities in southern Xinjiang where much of the recent bloodshed has occurred.

The attack appears to follow a recent pattern in which takfiri terrorists target Han Chinese civilians as well as Uyghur police office and government officials. In May, a similar attack on a market in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi left 43 people dead and more than 90 wounded. This spoiled the celebration of the game-changing Russia-China gas deal and prompted the Chinese government to start a one-year-long no-holds-barred anti-terror campaign. According to the Financial Times, the latest incident in Kashgar Prefecture brings to at least 244 the number of people who have been killed in attacks in Xinjiang since the start of China's anti-terror campaign. The Chinese authorities are now looking to create a vast community surveillance network in the autonomous region in order to contain the increasing violence:

China launches massive rural 'surveillance' project to watch over Uighurs

The last two weeks alone have seen reports of an attack on a farmers' market near Kashgar that claimed at least 22 lives and of two Uighurs being shot dead following a "stabbing rampage" in which three civil servants and three police officers, including a pregnant woman, died.

Such clashes, which have been driven partly by the lack of rights and economic opportunities for Uighurs and partly by a growing vein of Islamic extremism, have driven the Communist party to send 200,000 officials out to improve relations in the field.

The teams have been told to interview each household in their village and compile detailed reports on their employment status as well as on their observance of Islam, noting down, for example, whether the women wear veils and the men have beards.

China's war on beards and veils has reached worrying levels and the success of this approach is doubtful to say the least. The same applies to the ever-increasing number of death sentences for Uyghur insurgents. Last week, another 12 people were sentenced to death for the attacks in Xinjiang's southern Yarkant county in July in which almost 100 people died. Furthermore, 15 others were given suspended death sentences, nine got life in jail and another 20 sentences ranging from four to 20 years. Courts in Xinjiang are taking a hard line but the brainwashing is more effective than the deterrence effect:

China broadcaster says Xinjiang attack mastermind sought Islamic state

China Central Television (CCTV) showed several Uighur defendants dressed in orange prison uniforms confessing and expressing regret for their crimes.

They said they had been brainwashed into "holy war" by a man named NulamaitiSawuti, who the government said incited the violence in July and was killed then.

"He talked about jihad, about establishing an Islamic state," one Uighur defendant, identified as AilimuRouze, told CCTV, referring to Sawuti.

"We often thought about carrying out holy war," another defendant, AiliTuersun, said.

SCO Eyes Bigger Role in Afghanistan But NATO Clings to Poppy Fields

As the Chinese authorities struggle to defeat the insurgency in Xinjiang, more and more people argue that "Beijing's iron fist to fight terrorism should be extended beyond its borders" in order to secure the stability of China's far west. Beijing has been promoting the fight against the "three evils" of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism in talks with other countries in the region for quite some time but serious efforts to walk the talk were made only recently. The increasing violence in Xinjiang and NATO's so-called "withdrawal" from Afghanistan have prompted China to boost anti-terror cooperation with the Central Asian states, to expand the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and to strengthen the military capability of the SCO. Much to the delight of China, Afghanistan has already evinced interest in working with the SCO to ensure the stability of the region:

Shanghai Cooperation Organization Says Afghanistan Requests Help in Fighting Terrorism

Kabul has asked Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states to help Afghan special services in combating terrorism, the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (SCO RATS) said Thursday.

The SCO RATS director Zhang Xinfeng and Afghan Ambassador to Uzbekistan Mohammad SadiqDaudzai discussed the security situation in Afghanistan on October 17.

Afghanistan's newly selected president Ashraf Ghani will travel to China next week, where he will meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and potential investors in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. The trip to China was expected to beGhani's first foreign trip since taking office last month but he deemed it best to visit Saudi Arabia first. Afghanistan's new head of state met among others with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz to review "prospects for cooperation between the two brotherly countries." Ghani's masters in Washington are very happy with his performance so far. A glance at his First Vice President, infamous warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, demonstrates that NATO's efforts to turn the country into a narco-criminal state have been highly successful. American taxpayers have spent more than $104 billion to rebuild Afghanistan and, in particluar, the money for "counter-narcotics efforts" was well-invested:

Afghan opium poppy cultivation hits all-time high

Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has hit an all-time high despite years of counter-narcotics efforts that have cost the US $7.6bn (£4.7bn), according to a US government watchdog.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Afghan farmers grew an “unprecedented” 209,000 hectares (523,000 acres) of opium poppy in 2013, surpassing the previous high of 193,000 hectares in 2007, said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

The poppy "eradication" was a resounding success and the same is true of NATO's fight against the Taliban. One of the stated goals of the NATO mission was to defeat the Taliban and some spoilsports lose no opportunity to point this out but Western media and politicians have long moved on. As British forces and U.S. Marines formally end their combat operations and UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon warns that there was "no guarantee" that Afghanistan would be safe and stable, the Taliban are regaining territory. Lately, they took control of one district in the province of Wardak, just south of Kabul, and of two districts in the northern province of Kunduz. Many foreign fighters have joined the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, especially in the provinces of Kunduz and Badakhshan, which are bordering Tajikistan, and in the provinces of Badghis and Faryab, which are bordering Turkmenistan:

Taliban near Turkmenistan said to include many foreign fighters

About 1,500-2,000 Taliban are fighting in Faryab Province, Afghanistan, including 100-150 foreign fighters, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)'s Turkmen service reported October 10, quoting Bashir Ahmet Tayanch, an Afghan MP from Faryab Province.

The foreign fighters seldom take part in battle, usually teaching the local Taliban how to build bombs and commit terrorist acts, Tayanch said.

They include many men from Pakistan, Uzbekistan and the Northern Caucasus, he said, adding that Almak District alone has six Uzbek militants and their families, according to official data.

Tajikistan Moves to Strengthen Border, Attract Investment

A few weeks ago, Turkmenistan even sent some troops into Afghanistan to drive back Taliban forces that had settled on the border between the two countries. The Turkmen authorities are now doing their best to lock down the border to keep the insurgents out. If the Afghan officials in Kunduz are to be believed, neighboring Tajikistan should also keep an eye on its border. One official described the situation as "alarming" as he called on the government in Kabul to take action against the 600 fighters who are menacing his district. Dushanbe is aware of the threat and Tajik leader Emomalii Rahmon announced last week that the government will allocate more money to strengthen the country's borders:

ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan to make Tajikistan strengthen border security

The withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force from Afghanistan will make Tajikistan provide additional budget means for strengthening security on its borders and protecting foreign investments, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon said on Wednesday.

“If the anti-terrorist coalition withdraws troops from Afghanistan, Tajikistan has to increase expenses for strengthening its borders because there will be no investments, entrepreneurship development and the economy without guarantees,” Rakhmon said.

The situation in Afghanistan and the necessity of reinforcing the Tajik-Afghan border were also high on the agenda during Nikolai Patrushev's recent trip to Tajikistan. Patrushev met with Rahmon to discuss these issues as well as further military cooperation between Russia and Tajikistan before he visited Russia's military base in the country. After heading the FSB for almost a decade, Patrushev has been Secretary of the Security Council of Russia since 2008. Last week, he gave a very interesting interview to RossiyskayaGazeta in which he explained how the United States brought down the Soviet Union and the similarities to the current campaign against Russia. The economic war against Russia has caused a stir in Central Asia. While Kazakhstan is freaking out about the oil price, Tajikistan is already looking to China for much-needed investment:

Tajikistan looks to China as Russian remittances dry up

Tajikistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, is counting on an influx of Chinese investment to cushion its economy from the reverberations of sanctions-hit Russia.

China is to invest at least $6bn in Tajikistan over the next three years, JamoliddinNuraliev, the country’s deputy finance minister, says in an interview with the Financial Times.

The planned investment, equivalent to two-thirds of Tajikistan’s 2013 gross domestic product and more than 40 times annual foreign direct investment, is the latest sign of China’s economic expansion into former-Soviet central Asia, as it seeks to secure natural resources and ensure stability in a region Chinese expats call Beijing’s “wild west”.

Not everyone in Tajikistan is sold on China's investment in the country. Many Tajiks are concerned that Tajikistan could become too dependent on China. The Financial Times cited one businessman in Dushanbe as asking: "Will there be anything left after the Chinese have finished?" But until Tajikistan's efforts to attract investment from other parts of the world pay off, the Tajik government cannot afford to be choosy:

Tajikistan touts itself as new investment frontier

If you are bored of Botswana, tired of Tunisia and Mongolia is just not edgy enough any more then perhaps Tajikistan could be your next true frontier market destination.

The Tajik government certainly hopes so. It has just organised its first ever investment conference – and with some 600 people in attendance, it would seem there is certainly some curiosity about what Tajikistan has to offer.

With 8m people and GDP of just $8.5bn last year (making it one of the world’s 30 poorest countries by GDP per capita), Tajikistan is not an obvious destination for foreign investment. Add endemic corruption, unreliable electricity supplies, ever-changing tax and customs regulations, an economy under pressure from the slowdown in Russia and competition from politically-backed Chinese investors and it is clear that investing in Tajikistan is only for the hardiest souls.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 21, 2014

Kyrgyzstan Targets U.S. NGOs amid Fears of Kyrgyz Maidan, Georgia Freaking Out over Russia's "Attempt to Annex" Abkhazia & 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.

Much to the dismay of the United States, Russia "has been steadily strengthening its foothold" in Kyrgyzstan in recent years. This became apparent in June of this year, when American troops vacated the important U.S. air base at Manas International Airport after the Kyrgyz government had yielded to Russian pressure and agreed to kick the Americans out. Since 2001, the U.S. had used Manas not only to support U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, but also to engage in all kinds of nefarious activities. After years of unsuccessful attempts to convince Bishkek of closing the base, the Russians finally got their way a few months ago, marking "Kyrgyzstan’s new era as a Russian client state" according to Alexander Cooley, Deputy Director for Social Sciences Programming at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, which is famous for its anti-Russian bias. Cooley's statement shows that the closure of Manas was a heavy blow for the United States. Moscow lost no time in capitalizing on the departure of U.S. forces and is now apparently planning to expand Kant Air Base in Kyrgyzstan as well as its base in Armenia [emphasis mine]:

Russia Strengthens Air Defenses With Bases in Belarus and Central Asia

As Moscow moves to bolster its military presence in ex-Soviet allied states, the head of the Russian air force announced that Russia will establish an airbase for fighter jets in eastern Belarus in 2016, state media outlets reported Wednesday.

Colonel General Viktor Bondarev also said Moscow planned to expand its airbases in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.

The three nations are members of a loose Russia-dominated security alliance known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which has accelerated efforts to create a unified air defense network as the Ukraine crisis reenergizes the West's military powerhouse, NATO.

Kyrgyzstan Targets U.S. NGOs amid Fears of Kyrgyz Maidan

Russia has been talking about its air base in Belarus since last year but location and date of the opening keep changing. Work at Kant Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, on the other hand, is already making some progress. The expanding military presence is just one example of Russia's growing influence in Kyrgyzstan. Inspired by Russian legislation, Kyrgyz lawmakers are now pushing bills, which target 'homosexual propaganda' and NGOs. The Kremlin couldn't be more proud. Washington was less impressed with the Russian-style bills and the U.S. Embassy Bishkek used the opportunity "to interfere in the internal affairs of Kyrgyzstan." At least that's how it has been perceived in the Kyrgyz parliament. Lately, the Kyrgyz authorities have been increasingly suspicious of the activities of American NGOs in the country. One Kyrgyz MP was particularly concerned about the recent TechCamp event in Bishkek:

Kyrgyz MP concerned about meetings held with youth by NGO holding similar meetings in Ukraine prior to unrest

MP Irina Karamushkina said at today's plenary session of the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan the NGO “TechCamp” is holding meetings with youth in Bishkek, which held similar meetings prior to the Maidan events in Ukraine.

“This NGO has been holding meetings with our youth for 2 weeks already. Do our special services have information about what kind of meetings this NGO is holding? This NGO held similar meetings with youth prior to the events on Maidan in Ukraine. Aren't we wasting time, while someone is shaping views of your youth?” the lawmaker interrogated.

Karamushkina's concerns with regard to the TechCamps initiative, which is led by the U.S. State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy, might seem absurd at first glance but given that former Ukrainian MP Oleg Tsarov demanded on 20 November 2013 a criminal investigation into the activities of TechCamp in Ukraine because he believed it was part of "preparations for inciting a civil war," it is probably a good idea to keep a close eye on the TechCamp events. One day after Tsarov had accused the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine of training "information war experts and potential revolutionaries to organize protests and overthrow the regime," the Euromaidan protests erupted. Although he was later proven right, Tsarov had no reason to celebrate. While running for president, he was brutally beaten by an angry mob and eventually forced to flee the country because Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky put a $1 million bounty on his head. Kyrgyz politicians want to avoid a similar fate. Therefore, American "non-governmental" organizations, such as Freedom House, are now under high scrutiny:

Activities of Freedom House in Osh suspended

In the city of Osh, activities of Freedom House international organization suspended. Media Resource Center public organization confirmed the information to 24.kg news agency.

According to local journalists, Freedom House office in Osh is closed temporarily and its representative is called to Bishkek.

Azattyk notes that "previously conducted by the organization survey among ethnic Uzbeks in Osh was frustrated." According to experts and representatives of Uzbek diaspora, monitoring issues of the organization were incorrect and Freedom House staff could not explain the purpose of the survey. The organization believes that the survey was correct.

Freedom House refused to comment on the closure of its office in Osh. Only a few weeks ago, the U.S.-based NGO dismissed Kyrgyz media reports accusing the organization of plotting to overthrow the government as absurd. How dare anybody questions the ulterior motives of infamous CIA/State Department front organizations. Speaking of which, USAID and the Gülen movement are also heavily active in Kyrgyzstan. While other countries in the region are shutting down schools of the CIA-backed Gülen movement, Kyrgyzstan is still opening new Gülen schools. Considering the above, it is hardly surprising that the country continues to struggle with Islamic extremism. Especially the rise of female Islamists in Kyrgyzstan attracted attention recently. Kyrgyzstan's security service highlighted the other day that a significant number of the Kyrgyz who have gone to Syria are women. ISIS and other jihadist groups are reportedly recruiting female students from Kyrgyzstan to work as nurses in Syria:

Kyrgyz Medical Student Joins Islamic Militants In Syria  

Kyrgyz authorities say a 19-year-old medical school student from Kyrgyzstan's southern Osh region is "fighting" on the side of Islamic State militants in Syria.

Osh regional police said on October 6 that the young woman, whose name was not disclosed, had traveled to Syria via Turkey in July.

Osh regional police chief Suiun Omurzakov says jihadist groups are recruiting female students from Osh's medical school to work as nurses in Syria, promising them high salaries and arranging their trips to Syria through Turkey.

Tajikistan Struggles with Syria Blowback, Boosts Ties With Azerbaijan

Neighboring Tajikistan is facing similar problems. For the most part, the Tajik authorities are turning a blind eye to the recruitment of Tajik citizens for the various terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq in order not to upset their friends in Riyadh, Ankara and Washington. This has led to an increasing number of Tajiks being killed in the Middle East. According to the country's Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda, 50 Tajik jihadists fighting for the "Syrian rebels" have bite the dust so far. Dushanbe couldn't care less about these jihadi mercenaries as long as they are fighting and dying in the Middle East but if they manage to return to their home country, the Tajik authorities are forced to take action:

Tajik Islamists Held For Plotting Attacks

Police in Tajikistan have reportedly arrested 20 alleged Islamist militants for plotting to blow up two road tunnels.

An unidentified Interior Ministry spokesman told AFP news agency on October 18 that the group wanted to blow up the tunnels linking the center to the north of the countries.

He said all those arrested had returned to Tajikistan after fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.

Some people in Tajikistan have probably realized by now that it makes sense to take a few jihadists off the streets before they leave for Syria. In recent weeks, law enforcers in Tajikistan's Sughd Region detained ten local residents who were trying to leave the country and join the "Syrian rebels." Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon could have asked his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev how to deal with this problem given the fact that Azerbaijan contributes a significant number of jihadi mercenaries as well. Aliyev visited Dushanbe this week to meet with Rahmon and other top officials. The talks were fruitful and the two post-Soviet states agreed to expand cooperation in various fields:

Azerbaijan, Tajikistan discuss expansion of ties (UPDATE)

President Aliyev, who arrived in Tajikistan on an official visit on October 15, was officially welcomed by the Tajik president at the Palace of Nations in Dushanbe on October 16. After the official welcoming ceremony, the two presidents held a one-on-one meeting.

During the official talks held in an expanded format the sides reviewed the two countries' achievements in the fields of economy and trade, and stressed the importance to further strengthen the activities of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation.

The two leaders also noted the importance to develop direct relations between the business circles of the two countries, expressed readiness to strengthen and expand the interaction in the security and defense fields, as well as cooperation in combating against terrorism, extremism and other threats of the modern world.

Combating terrorism is not necessarily Azerbaijan's strong suit. Instead the Aliyev regime is known for its relentless crackdown on NGOs, political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and so on. After the Azerbaijani authorities had already pressured the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to close its office in Baku, the U.S. NGO IREX also halted its work in the country at the end of last month "following pressure from the Azerbaijani government," including "a police raid on its offices." Fed up with Baku's efforts to prevent the U.S. from meddling in Azerbaijan's affairs, U.S. officials reportedly warned the Aliyev regime that "recent harassment of international and Azerbaijani nongovernmental organizations is unacceptable." The criticism from Washington won't convince Baku to give U.S. NGOs a carte blanche to operate in Azerbaijan but it might have prompted Aliyev's decision to pardon a few prisoners, including three members of the U.S.-backed NIDA civic movement:

Azerbaijan frees four opposition activists in amnesty

Four jailed opposition activists in Azerbaijan have been pardoned and released as part of a wider amnesty announced by President Ilham Aliyev, state media said on Friday.

Three, all members of a youth movement called NIDA, were convicted of hooliganism, possessing drugs and explosives, and intent to cause public disorder. The fourth, Hasan Huseinly, was head of a non-governmental organisation, "Intellectual Citizen".

The opposition activists were among a group of 80 pardoned prisoners, including citizens of Turkey, Pakistan and Iran, but there were no details of the crimes these people had been sentenced for.

Georgia Freaking Out Over Russia's "Attempt to Annex" Abkhazia

Although Washington and Baku quarrel regularly over NGOs and the like, Azerbaijan is still an absolutely reliable puppet state of the United States, as demonstrated by Baku's unease about the declaration adopted at the recent Caspian Summit, which bans any future possible deployment of NATO forces in the Caspian Sea. Russia is now trying to convince Azerbaijan of closer naval cooperation in order to solidify its control over the Caspian Sea and to keep the Americans out. At the same time, the Kremlin is also trying to do the job properly in the South Caucasus. Russia offered Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia a new treaty that "proposes a merger of military forces, coordination of police and an alignment with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union." Abkhazia's new President Raul Khajimba, who lately made headlines with his announcement to close down all crossing points but one into Georgian-controlled territory, is keen on signing the agreement:

Khajimba: New Treaty with Moscow to ‘Modernize’ Abkhaz Army 

New comprehensive cooperation treaty with Russia will enhance military alliance with Moscow and help to modernize Abkhaz army, Abkhaz leader, Raul Khajimba, said at an event marking 22nd anniversary of the breakaway region’s armed forces on October 11. 

“We need to strengthen and enhance our military alliance with Russia. That is also an aim of new agreement, which we plan to sign before the end of this year. It will allow us to carry out a large-scale modernization of our army, bring to higher level its material-technical support and preparedness, and will significantly increase salaries and social protection of servicemen,” Khajimba said.

Not everyone in Abkhazia is as enthusiastic about the offer as Khajimba but given that Abkhazia is already heavily dependent on Russia, it is an exaggeration to talk about a "loss of sovereignty." Predictably, many Georgian officials freaked out when they heard of the proposed treaty and Tedo Japaridze, former Ambassador to the U.S. and former Foreign Minister, urged the government to call off this week's Abashidze-Karasin meeting. However, Zurab Abashidze, Georgia's special envoy to Russia, who represents Tbilisi in the talks with Moscow, ignored this advice. After his meeting with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, Abashidze told the media that he and his Russian interlocutor "have radically different views" on the planned treaty and that it is now up to the government to decide whether Georgia continues with this format of direct dialogue with Russia or not. The following statement of Georgia's parliament offers little hope in this regard:

Parliament Condemns Russia’s ‘Attempt to Annex’ Abkhazia

The Parliament adopted on October 17 with 80 votes a statement, which “condemns” Russia’s “attempt to annex occupied Abkhazia” through its new treaty on “alliance and integration” with Sokhumi.

If signed, the Russian-proposed treaty “will give rise to a new wave of violation of international legal norms, create an additional threat to regional stability, significantly damage the process of normalization of Russian-Georgian relations,” reads the statement.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili complained that Georgia had taken "constructive and pragmatic steps towards normalizing relations with Russia" and that Russia responds by "annexing" Abkhazia. As usual, Garibashvili and Co. are doing their best to criticize Russia without wasting any words on NATO's military build-up in Georgia. Moscow has warned Tbilisi repeatedly that the establishment of NATO-linked infrastructure in Georgia could threaten stability in the South Caucasus, to no avail. Now the gloves are coming off and the situation in the Caucasus is heating up:

Tbilisi Says to Counter Russia’s Abkhaz Moves with ‘Pro-Active’ Foreign Policy

The Georgian authorities will take measures aimed at “consolidating” and heightening international focus on Russia’s “attempt to annex” Abkhazia thought its
proposed new treaty on alliance and integration with Sokhumi, senior officials said after a meeting of the Georgian State Security and Crisis Management Council on Saturday.

Defense Minister, Irakli Alasania, said after the meeting that “very aggressive – meaning active” foreign policy steps will be undertaken.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 13, 2014

ISIS Vows to Attack Russia,Russian Warnings Fall on Deaf Ears in Georgia & Russia Prepares for Trouble in Tajik

*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 nearly four years of negotiations, the European Union and Kazakhstan finally agreed on a new enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) during this week's visit to Brussels by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The agreement, which is expected to be signed next year, "aims to boost cooperation in around 30 policy areas including trade and foreign and security policy." Given that the PCA is a far weaker deal than the infamous European Union Association Agreement and that the Kazakh negotiators had been "very careful that the agreement respects their country's commitments to the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union," the Kremlin won't get worked up over the agreement. With the PCA negotiations concluded, Nazarbayev travelled to Minsk to attend summits of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Economic Community and, most importantly, the Eurasian Economic Union, which welcomed a new member:

Armenia Joins Eurasian Union

After months of delay, Armenia formally joined the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan on Friday, drawing praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

President Serzh Sarkisian signed a corresponding accession treaty with Putin and Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus at a summit of the Russian-led bloc held in Minsk.

Speaking at the gathering, both Putin and Sarkisian expressed hope that the treaty will be ratified by the parliaments of the EEU’s three member states by the end of this year. The Armenian president said his country should be able to “start working from January 1” as a full-fledged member of an alliance which critics fear will restore Russian hegemony over much of the former Soviet Union.

Russia Expands Eurasian Union, Prepares for Trouble in Tajikistan

Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambaev expressed hope that his country would also join the organization by year's end. The Kyrgyz government had approved a roadmap for joining the EEU just before the summit. Neighboring Tajikistan is still considering the offer and doesn't rule joining the economic bloc as well. Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon said during the talks in the Belarusian capital that Dushanbe is currently analyzing the EEU legal documents. While Kyrgyzstan has decided to cast its lot with Russia, the Tajik authorities are not yet fully convinced of this idea. Lately, some people in Tajikistan have cast doubt on Russia's intentions or abilities to fulfill its obligations with regard to the promised economic and military aid but Moscow is doing its best to assure Dushanbe that Russia will follow up its words with deeds:

Russia Promises Tajikistan "Armageddon," Polite People

Russia will build a new military training facility in southern Tajikistan to help the two countries carry out drills together, a Russian military official has said.

Few details were given about the new facility other than the name, which certainly makes a statement: "Armageddon."

"Russian soldiers will help their Tajikistani colleagues in setting up a new polygon, Armageddon, in the Khatlon province for joint training of military units of the two countries," said a spokesman for Russia's Central Military District, Yaroslav Roshchupkin.

With reference to the immensely popular 'polite people' who protected Crimea after the coup d'état in Kiev, Roshchupkin added that the Tajik language classes that Russian soldiers are going to take "are intended to form and strengthen the image of 'polite people' among soldiers of the Central Military District." A few weeks ago, two Russian soldiers were accused of murdering a Tajik taxi driver and the Russian military is now trying to prevent any further incidents, which could upset the host country. Roshchupkin made this announcement during the recent drills of the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan:

Russian Military Holds 'Antiterror' Drills In Tajikistan

Russian forces based in Tajikistan are holding military drills near the Central Asian nation's capital, Dushanbe.

A spokesman for Russia's Central Military District, Yaroslav Roshchupkin, says the maneuvers started on the Lyaur training ground on October 6.

He said more than 1,000 servicemen and 300 pieces of military hardware from Russia's 201st military base, which is located in Tajikistan, are practicing to ward off possible attacks by "international terrorists."

Tajikistan shares a long border with Afghanistan and Russia has pledged to support the Central Asian state in dealing with a possible spillover of violence from Afghanistan. Other countries in the region have also offered to provide Tajikistan with military aid to bolster the border with Afghanistan. Tajikistan has already received aid from Belarus as well as from Armenia and Tajik leader Rahmon used the meetings in Minsk to thank the two countries for their assistance. The increasing violence in northern Afghanistan doesn't bode well for Tajikistan and it is of little help that the Tajik regime is more or less turning a blind eye to the recruitment of Tajik fighters for the war in Syria. But instead of addressing these issue and going after real extremists, the Tajik authorities are busy stifling any sign of dissent and going after "extremist" opposition groups:

Tajik Opposition Group Banned As Extremist

Tajikistan's Supreme Court has banned the opposition organization Group 24.

The October 9 decision followed growing government pressure on the opposition group after it used the Internet to call for street protests in the capital, Dushanbe, on October 10.

Supreme Court judge Salomat Hakimova ruled that Group 24, which is led by fugitive Tajik businessman Umarali Quvatov, is "extremist" and therefore is banned in Tajikistan.

ISIS Welcomes IMU, Vows to Attack Russia

While the Tajik authorities were going after the "extremists" from Group 24, the arguably more dangerous extremists from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) made an interesting announcement, which could affect Tajikistan as well. According to an Uzbek law enforcement official, IMU head Usman Ghazi confirmed that the group has joined ISIS. In recent months, the IMU had been fighting alongside the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). For example, the Jinnah International Airport attack in June and the Quetta airbase attacks in August were the result of joint TTP-IMU operations. Last week, some media reports alleged that the Pakistani Taliban had also pledged support to ISIS but the group lost no time in denying these reports and reaffirmed that they have declared allegiance only to Mullah Omar. Up until now, the IMU has not issued any denial and the Uzbek authorities claim to have "operational video and audio information about IMU's support and participation in joint military actions on the side of IS units." Uzbek security officials and analysts named, among others, the current financial hardship of the IMU as a key motive for the decision to join forces with ISIS:

Helplessness forces IMU to call itself an ISIL 'partner'

A recent expression of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) support for the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) betrays the IMU's weakness, analysts are saying.

The IMU lost support in Afghanistan as its brutality leads to civilian suffering, the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB) says. Now the IMU reportedly is eyeing northern Afghanistan, where most of that country's ethnic Uzbek minority lives.

"IMU militants were forced to [announce their 'alliance' with ISIL] because donations had dried up," Tashkent political analyst Linara Yuldasheva said. "They're essentially leaderless, and they're looking for someone to cling to. But this alliance can't guarantee them any more power."

Although Pakistan's Operation Zarb-e-Azb is not anything like as successful as the Pakistani military claims, the military offensive has at least forced IMU fighters and other insurgents in the Pakistani tribal areas to temporarily leave their hideouts and seek shelter in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Northern Afghanistan has long been a safe haven for the IMU, regardless of whether troops of the NATO-led security mission were stationed there or not. Both the IMU and the Taliban are now trying to exploit the ISAF drawdown and conquer even more territory. ISIS is also looking to expand its activities in Afghanistan but the group seems to have a hard time deciding on its next target. If ISIS leader Tarkhan Batirashvili aka Omar al-Shishani gets his will, the next target won't be Central Asia or China but rather Russia:

How Islamic State Grooms Chechen Fighters Against Putin

When the Islamic State commander known as “Omar the Chechen” called to tell his father they’d routed the Iraqi army and taken the city of Mosul, he added a stark message:
Russia would be next.

“He said ‘don’t worry dad, I’ll come home and show the Russians,’” Temur Batirashvili said from his home in
Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, on the border with the Russian region of Chechnya. “I have many thousands following me now and I’ll get more. We’ll have our revenge against Russia.”

Al-Shishani is the tactical mastermind behind Islamic State’s swift military gains on the ground in Iraq’s Anbar province, west of
Baghdad, including an encirclement in which his forces killed as many as 500 Iraqi troops and captured 180 more near Fallujah, according to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

Given that Gartenstein-Ross is praising the "brilliant tactical maneuvers" of the "exceptional field commander" Batirashvili, it is probably a good idea to take a closer look at the suspicious background of the Georgian ISIS commander. As mentioned two weeks ago, several jihadists from the Pankisi Gorge have left the Caucasus to follow Batirashvili's lead and dozens of Georgian citizens are now fighting for ISIS. Fighters from the Caucasus are the backbone of the mercenary army. Therefore, the Russian authorities won't be casual about Batirashvili's threat. The recent terrorist attack in Chechnya served as a stark reminder that the foreign-backed North Caucasus insurgency continues to pose a threat to Russia. One day after the suicide bombing in Chechnya, Russian security forces prevented a similar attack in the neighboring republic of Dagestan, which has become the hotbed of terrorism in Russia:

170 kg of explosives destroyed in Russia's Dagestan

Russian security forces have prevented a series of potentially “resonant” terrorist attacks, destroying almost 170 kg of explosives in the southern Republic of Dagestan. Two policemen and a militant were killed in the operation.

The militant was preliminarily identified as Alidibir Asudinov, a bomb expert and an “active member” of the so-called Kizilyurt gang, who was on the federal wanted list for terrorist crimes.

According to the Anti-Terror Committee, the gang “planned a series of resonant terrorist attacks” in the Republic of Dagestan.

Russian Warnings Fall on Deaf Ears in Georgia

Alidibir Asudinov reportedly recently returned from Syria, where had studied explosives, further highlighting the Syria-North Caucasus connection. When Foreign Policybroke the story of Georgia's offer to host a training camp for "moderate Syrian rebels," Russia was understandably alarmed. The subsequent denials from Tbilisi have failed to reassure the Kremlin and NATO's other activities in Georgia cause additional tensions between the two neighboring countries. NATO compensated the Georgian government with a 'substantive package' for the disappointment of having been denied a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the summit in Wales. Among other things, this package includes a military training center for NATO members and partners in Georgia. Moscow tried this week once again to make its position on this issue clear to Tbilisi:

NATO Presence in Georgia Could Threaten Stability in Caucasus: Russia

The placement of military infrastructure in Georgia in the interests of
NATO would pose a threat to stability in the Caucasus region, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

"The Russian side has expressed concern over rumors circulated by Georgian media about plans to place elements of NATO-linked infrastructure in Georgia," the Russian ministry said in a statement.

"Such actions would threaten the existing stability in South Caucasus," the statement reads.”

The warning fell on deaf ears in Georgia. Alexi Petriashvili, Georgia's State Minister on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, countered that the closure of Russian bases in Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and Moldova (Transnistria) and the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine would be a better way of ensuring stability and security in the region. Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania took the same line emphasizing that Georgia will proceed with its integration into the U.S.-led military alliance:

NATO infrastructure in Georgia surely to be created - Ministry of Defence

NATO infrastructure in Georgia will surely be created, Georgian Defence Minister Irakli Alasania said, commenting on the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia.

“I would like to state that the infrastructure of NATO in Georgia will be created,” the minister said. “It is an agreement reached at the summit. NATO-Georgia package is aimed at creation of an alliance infrastructure in our country, conduction of joint military exercises. This will increase both the constraint of the aggression, which comes from Russia, and our defence.”

Just recently, Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas visited Georgia to discuss with Alasania and other top Georgian officials the idea of joint military exercises. The two post-Soviet states agreed to conduct joint drills within the framework of the NATO cooperation program in the future and after his meeting with Olekas, Alasania announced that Georgia looks set to increase its defense budget next year. But although Georgia is doing its best to expedite the military build-up in accordance with Washington's plans, the Georgian leadership seems to have a hard time understanding why Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia doesn't show any interest in Tbilisi’s "reconciliation efforts":

Breakaway Abkhazia Wants to Break Away Further 

In a move that many Georgians believe bodes ill for their remaining links with breakaway Abkhazia, the region’s new de-facto leader, Raul Khajimba, has stated he wants to eliminate all crossing points but one into Georgian-controlled territory.

“The national border with Georgia on the Enguri River will be reinforced,”
RIA Novosti quoted Khajimba as saying in reference to what most of the rest of the world sees as an administrative boundary line between Abkhazia and the Tbilisi-controlled region of Samegrelo.

“There should be only one checkpoint for reasons of national security,” Khajimba told an assembly of his party, the Forum of People’s Unity of Abkhazia.”

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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

Processing Distortion with Peter B. Collins: America’s Empire of Chaos

Peter B. Collins Presents Pepe Escobar

Taking a well-deserved break from his travels at his home in Sao Paolo, Pepe Escobar returns to cover many hotspots. We open with his assessment of the upset in Brazil’s presidential election, where rival candidates are forming an alliance, and jump from there to the forced marriage in Kabul of Ghani and Abdullah, where Escobar has deep knowledge. Then we get his views of the new perpetual war on Islamic State, informed by his recent visits to Abu Dhabi and Tehran, plus an update on the Iranian nuclear talks. We zoom out to get his worldview as described in his brilliant recent essay and the developing Russian-Chinese alliance he calls “the new silk roads.”

*Pepe Escobar is the Brazilian journalist who writes for Asia Times and TomDispatch. His new book, Empire of Chaos, will be published in November by Nimble Books.

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The New Great Game Round-Up: October 6, 2014

Terrorist Attack in Chechen Capital Spells Trouble for Russia, Azerbaijan's Real & Not-So-Real Crackdowns and 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.

At the beginning of this week, the presidents of the five Caspian littoral states gathered in the Russian city of Astrakhan to attend the fourth Caspian Summit. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the question of how the Caspian shelf should be divided has been dispute and although Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan made some progress at the recent summit, they remain divided on this key issue. While Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbajev were talking about a "breakthrough", Turkmenistan's leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow reminded everyone of the disagreements when he reiterated that "Turkmenistan believes that the construction of pipelines under the Caspian Sea is the sovereign right of the states through whose section of the seafloor they pass." Berdimuhamedow was of course referring to the construction of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline, which is vehemently opposed by Russia and Iran. Moscow and Tehran will have a hard time convincing Berdimuhamedow and Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev to give up on this pipe dream but they accomplished another important objective in Astrakhan:

Russia and Iran Lock NATO Out of Caspian Sea

Iran and Russia have built unanimous consensus among the Caspian states, which also feature Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, over the inadmissibility of a foreign military presence in the Caspian Sea, ruling out any future possible deployment of NATO forces in the basin.

A political declaration signed by the presidents of the five Caspian states at the IV Caspian Summit held in Astrakhan, Russia, on September 29, “sets out a fundamental principle for guaranteeing stability and security, namely, that only the Caspian littoral states have the right to have their armed forces present on the Caspian,” according to a
statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the wake of the summit.

Azerbaijan's Real & Not-So-Real Crackdowns 

Especially Azerbaijan, close U.S. ally and NATO proxy, had long resisted any notion of formally banning external forces from the Caspian. After Baku had finally given in to pressure from Moscow and Tehran, the United States and Azerbaijan lost no time in pushing back against the Caspian Five joint statement. The Aliyev regime downplayed the statement and the U.S. State Department said it doesn't intend to change anything about its military cooperation with Baku. So it remains to be seen how much this declaration is actually worth. The U.S. and Azerbaijan maintain very close ties. Last week, Azerbaijan Airlines successfully inaugurated its first direct flight to the United States marking "the culmination of several years of close cooperation" between the two countries. As previously discussed, Baku relies on the Gülen movement to remind American lawmakers of Azerbaijan's importance and Hizmet's promotional work for the Aliyev regime has not been affected by Azerbaijan's "crackdown" on the CIA-backed movement:

Azerbaijan: Wary of Breaking Ties with Gülen in US?

Azerbaijan’s recent
crackdown on institutions and individuals allegedly linked to the influential Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen may not have halted promotional work by Gülen-associated organizations in the United States for the Azerbaijani government.

But why the Gülen movement would continue to promote Azerbaijani causes in the US despite the takeover of Gülen-associated educational operations in Azerbaijan remains unclear.


As yet, small and mid-size Turkish businesses in Azerbaijan identified by researchers as run by Gülen sympathizers do not appear to have been similarly targeted.

This demonstrates once again that there was no real crackdown on the Gülen movement in Azerbaijan. SOCAR, the state-owned oil and natural gas corporation of Azerbaijan, which works hand in hand with Hizmet, is reportedly already trying to reopen the Gülen schools in the country after they had been placed under SOCAR's control and eventually closed down a few months ago due to pressure from Turkish President Erdogan. Aliyev doesn't want to disgruntle either his close ally Erdogan or Gülen's puppeteers in Langley but, currently, he is probably more concerned about what his friends in Langley and Washington think of him. The crackdown on the U.S.-backed Azerbaijani opposition has not gone unnoticed in the United States, some people are even calling for sanctions on Baku. Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama criticized Azerbaijan's crackdown on NGOs and while Obama was trying to pronounce the name "Azerbaijan", the Azerbaijani authorities were trying to divert attention from the fact that they have made more politically motivated arrests this year than ever before by arresting a few actual criminals:

Azerbaijan Arrests Alleged ISIS and Other Islamic Fighters

The arrest of 26 Azerbaijanis for allegedly joining armed Islamic groups in Syria and the wider region may help Azerbaijan place its strategic importance to the United States above criticism of its growing autocratic reputation.

The September-23 detentions mark this Caspian-Sea country’s largest operation against alleged Islamic extremist fighters since reports began to circulate over the past year about
a steady flow of recruits from Azerbaijan for the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Azerbaijan’s Ministry of National Security said that the detainees have joined several paramilitary groups in Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. Some were alleged members of Azeri Jamaaty, a jihad group in Syria made up of Azerbaijani nationals.

The arrests were reported on the same day that
US President Barack Obama mentioned Azerbaijan among the countries notorious for crackdowns on civil society.

Given that there is no shortage of Azerbaijani veterans of the Syrian conflict, the Azerbaijani authorities could probably conduct more operations like this if they wanted to but Baku is doing its best to support NATO's war against Syria and prefers to go after dissidents. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recently called on the Aliyev regime to release the jailed civil society activists and, much to the dismay of Baku, honored one of them, Anar Mammadli, with the Vaclav Havel prize for civil society activism. Ali Hasanov, a key aide to Aliyev, immediately condemned this "outside pressure on an independent state." The mounting criticism is not having the intended effect and seems to encourage the Azerbaijani authorities to come up with new police state measures and to ignore the critics: 

Azerbaijan Questions its Future with "Failed and Unfortunate" Euronest Parliamentary Assembly 

Azerbaijan has branded the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly a "failed and unfortunate initiative" and has challenged its fellow member states to explain why it should remain a member.  

The Chairman of the Azerbaijani Delegation to the Euronest PA, Elkhan Suleymanov, has written to his colleagues as a "last resort" telling them that the body, constituted in 2011, is now "bogged down by indecision, platitudes and double standards."

Azerbaijan was last week angered by a European Parliament motion calling for the release of activist Leyla Yunus, who is presently embroiled in a criminal case involving the alleged embezzlement of tens of thousands of euros from a string of NGOs with which she was involved with in Azerbaijan.

Bad News for Georgia's Ex-President Saakashvili

Neighboring Georgia is facing criticism from Europe as well. Georgia's efforts to hold former president Mikheil Saakashvili accountable for some of his crimes are not met with approval in most European capitals, where a few equally corrupt and criminal individuals hold a protecting hand over their friend Saakashvili. Therefore, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe criticized not only Azerbaijan's crackdown on civil society activists but also Georgia's "political prosecution" of members of the previous government. During his time in office, Saakashvili has gone to great pains to please his friends in the West, first and foremost his "friends" in Washington, and he is now reaping the benefits of his work. At least that was Saakashvili's plan but his friends in Washington have apparently other plans:

Saakashvili denied to get business visa in the U.S.

The U.S. has denied a business visa to Georgia's ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgian Alia newspaper reported on September 30, citing Saakashvili's United National Movement party.

"The veracity of the information will soon be cleared. Supporters of the ex-president's party are disappointed. The U.S. political elite is disillusioned with Saakashvili, he has, in fact, no support at the White House anymore," the paper wrote.

Saakahsvili lives in his uncle's house in one of the skyscrapers in Brooklyn's Willaimsburg district. Saakashvili has recently hosted the ex-head of CIA David Petraeus at his house, and plans to meet with the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Perhaps, Saakashvili should consider a move to France to support the comeback of his friend Nicolas Sarkozy. Returning to Georgia is not an option. Although there are still some Saakashvili supporters who are willing to take a hit for their former president, Saakashvili's return to his home country would most likely end in jail. The criminal charges against him keep piling up with no end in sight. Georgian officials are now wondering how Saakashvili managed to amass a fortune of between $200 and $300 million and, even worse, the exhumation of Saakashvili's prime minister is going ahead:

Georgia Orders Zhvania Exhumed

A prosecutor in the former Soviet republic of Georgia has ordered the body of the late prime minister Zurab Zhvania to be exhumed, nearly a decade after his death in murky circumstances.

Zhvania was a top leader of the Rose Revolution protests that paved the way for Mikhail Saakashvili to become president in 2004. Zhvania died a year later. An autopsy determined that he died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty space heater in the Tbilisi apartment where his body was found, but suspicions of foul play have persisted.

Predictably, the Associated Press failed to mention the noteworthy video with the title "Saakashvili killed Mr. zurab zhvania", which was leaked in March of this year. The video shows photos from Zhvania's autopsy and highlights suspicious marks on the dead bodies of both Zhvania and Raul Usupov, a young regional official who was found dead in the same Tbilisi apartment along with Zhvania. Therefore, the exhumation of Zhvania could spell more trouble for Saakashvili. The Georgian authorities are always good for a surprise. Usually it is an unpleasant surprise for the opposite side. The Russians can tell you a thing or two about it. Only recently, Foreign Policy's report about Georgia's offer to host a training camp for "Syrian rebels" and other "anti-IS fighters from multiple countries" caused a stir in Russia: 

Moscow Opposes Idea of Training Camp for Syrian Opposition Fighters in Georgia

The creation of a training camp for
Syrian opposition fighters in Georgia will damage security in South Caucasus, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

“Moscow noted recent media reports about plans to create a US training camp for Syrian opposition fighters in Georgia,” the ministry said in a statement. “Such a decision, if made by Tbilisi, will do serious damage to stability and security in South Caucasus.”

Terrorist Attack in Chechen Capital Spells Trouble for Russia

Russia's Foreign Ministry took note of Tbilisi's subsequent denial of the training camp offer but reminded the Georgian authorities that Russia will follow this issue very closely. Battle-tested Chechen jihadists are the driving force behind the battlefield successes of the ISIS mercenary army, which is wreaking havoc in the Middle East, and Moscow fears that a similar force could be unleashed in the North Caucasus. As Veronika Krasheninnikova, the head of the Center for International Studies and Journalism at Russia Today, pointed out, there has been an "exceptional level of military and political activity in the South Caucasus" in recent months with Georgia's offer to host a training for "Syrian rebels" being the icing on the cake. According to Krasheninnikova, this indicates "that a second anti-Russian front is being created in the South Caucasus." Something is brewing in the Caucasus and those who were not convinced of the threat until fairly recently changed their mind most certainly after the attack in Chechnya:

At least 5 police killed in suicide blast outside concert hall in Chechnya, Russia

At least five police officers have been killed and another three sustained injuries in Russia’s Republic of Chechnya as they attempted to detain a suspected suicide bomber. The young man detonated improvised explosive when police attempted to search him.

The incident happened ahead of a concert dedicated to City Day in Grozny, which is home to over 280,000 people, most of them Chechens. According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, police forces noticed a suspicious man outside a concert hall. 

"Police officers who were manning metal detectors at the entrance of the concert hall noticed a suspicious young man. When the police officers decided to check the individual, the man blew himself up," a local police officer told RIA Novosti news agency.

Although the man did not succeed in perpetrating a devastating attack inside the concert hall, this incident sends a very strong message to the Russian authorities. For one thing, the attack occured during Eid al-Adha and for another, it struck the capital of the relatively calm and stable Chechen Republic. In contrast to neighboring Dagestan and other republics in Russia's North Caucasus, which are still struggling to contain the violence, Chechnya had not seen any terrorist attacks in over a year and Grozny has become the symbol of Russia's victory over the foreign-backed insurgency. In a recent Voice of America article, Mike Eckel described the situation in Russia's North Caucasus as follows: "After two wars waged by Russia since 1994, the North Caucasus has become relatively stable, free of all-out war and major terrorist attacks." The suicide blast in Grozny indicates that this is going to change and the attack is not the only worrying sign in this regard:

Fears of Radicalization Among Muslim Youth Rising in Russia

There is an increasing risk of
radicalization among Muslim youth in Russia, Russian News Paper Kommersant reported on Wednesday.

A large group of Muslim youth attacked a police bus on September 26, as the police arrested a man, who drove into an officer, after being told to move his car, parked in a no-parking zone, Kommersant reported. As a result of the riots, 30 people have been arrested, World Bulletin reported.

“30 people were detained to prevent a breach of the peace and because they resisted police officers. A court imposed on them an administrative penalty and fine”, said Andrei Galiakberov, Chief of the Moscow Police Department, as quoted by World Bulletin.

The North Caucasus is of course not the only region in Russia, which is vulnerable to Islamic extremism. Crimea's Tatar population is currently experiencing first-hand how serious the Russian authorities take this threat. Lately, a Crimean Tatar news channel was cautioned for broadcasting extremist content and two Crimean Tatars were kidnapped under mysterious circumstances by unknown men in military uniforms. Members of the Crimean Tatar community have pressured the local authorities to launch an investigation into the abduction but it would not be surprising if the Russian security services had something to do with it. The Russian authorities take no chances when it comes to the radicalization of the Tatar population, regardless of whether it concerns Crimea or other parts of Russia, and they spare no-one, not even the "grandmother of Tatar nationalism":  

Nationalist Sentenced for Urging Tatars to Oppose Moscow's Crimea Annexation

A court in Russia's republic of Tatarstan has handed down a one-year suspended sentence to a radical nationalist who had called for fellow Tatars in Crimea to oppose the Russian annexation of the peninsula, claiming violent persecution of Muslims in Russia.

Fauziya Bairamova, 63, nicknamed the "Grandmother of Tatar nationalism" by Russian media for her decades-long radical stance, was also banned from changing her residence without informing the authorities, according to a city court verdict Thursday, which she posted on her Facebook page.
   

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: September 29, 2014

Training camp for "moderate Syrian rebels" in Georgia? , Central Asia Boosts Ties with Saudi Arabia- Qatar & 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.

Since the start of China's year-long anti-terror campaign in May of this year, every week new measures are being introduced to contain the terror threat. Of course, the focus is on China's far-west province of Xinjiang, which has seen the most violence. Earlier this month, Chinese prosecutors, especially those in Xinjiang, were asked to fast-track cases involving terrorists, religious extremists and manufacturers of firearms and explosives. Considering that the rewards for people who tip off local authorities about "suspicious activity related to terrorism and religious extremism" are being increased every other day, this anti-terror measure will most likely land a few innocent citizens in jail. But the Chinese authorities are determined to curb the violence in Xinjiang at all costs and they do not want to take chances given the growing influence of extremists among the Muslim population:

China says 'rescues' more children from Xinjiang religious schools

A sweep on illegal religious activity in the capital of China's unruly far western region of Xinjiang has resulted in 190 children being "rescued", along with the detention of dozens of people, a state newspaper said on Monday.

Last month the government said it had "rescued" 82 children in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi from religious schools known as madrassas, and that campaign appears to be continuing.

Children in Xinjiang are prohibited by the government from attending madrassas, prompting many parents who wish to provide a religious education to use underground schools.

Increasing Violence in Xinjiang Seals Fate of Uyghur Scholar

Rian Thum, professor at Loyola University New Orleans and researcher of Uyghur historiography recently summarized the growing religiosity in the region as follows: "There’s a lot more veil wearing than there used to be; a lot more face covering than there used to be; a lot more beards than there used to be." Much to the dismay of Beijing, this development coincides with the sidelining of moderate forces, as demonstrated by the murder of the imam of China's largest mosque in late July. A few days ago, 17 officials and police officers were punished for being accountable for this murder as well as for the huge riots in Xinjiang's Yarkant County two days earlier, which had resulted in the killing of almost 100 people. Officials and police officers in Xinjiang are now probably wondering who is going to held accountable for the latest attack last Sunday:

China State Media Say 50 Killed in Far West Attack

Chinese state media reported Thursday that 50 people, including 40 assailants, were killed in a series of explosions over the weekend in the far western region of Xinjiang, in what officials called a severe terror attack.

Regional authorities had earlier said that the explosions Sunday in Luntai county killed at least two people and injured many others.

The news portal Tianshan Net said bombs exploded at two police stations, a produce market and a store. It said the attack killed two police officers, two police assistants and six bystanders, and that 54 others were injured. It said police took swift action and 40 assailants were either shot dead or died in explosions.

Although the incident occurred already last Sunday, the true scale of the attack only became known on Thursday, when Chinese state media reported that not just two but 50 people had been killed. The Chinese authorities try to keep a lid on terrorist attacks until the government-approved version of events is released to the public. This provides Western media and Washington's Uyghur exile groups with ample opportunity to challenge Beijing's narrative. Rebiya Kadeer & Co. use every opportunity to complain about Chinese oppression and they do not have a hard time finding something to criticize given the fact that China's fight against the "three evils" is marked by dubious decisions: 

China jails prominent Uighur academic Ilham Tohti for life

A court in China has found a prominent Uighur scholar guilty of separatism and jailed him for life, his lawyer says.

Ilham Tohti had spoken out on China's policies towards the Muslim Uighur minority in the restive Xinjiang region, but had denied being a separatist.

Correspondents say China is taking a tougher line amid rising Xinjiang-linked violence.

While some people are pointing out why this harsh sentence was a bad idea, World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer is already talking about "a declaration of war against Uyghurs" and Western media is making sure that the next terrorist attack in Xinjiang will be blamed on Tohti's imprisonment. As usual, the NED-funded Uyghur exile groups are being quoted as often as possible and, interestingly enough, the WUC is being described as the self-professed Uyghur government in exile in a few articles, despite the fact that this applies rather to the East Turkestan Government in Exile, which was established in Washington D.C. ten years ago. Predictably, the U.S. government lost no time in condemning Tohti's life sentence and called for his immediate release. But the Chinese government is not in the mood for the usual games and blasted the "foreign interference in China's judicial sovereignty." China maintains that Tohti encouraged fellow Uyghurs to use violence and the Chinese authorities are currently cracking down on everyone and everything related to the violence in Xinjiang. Even the ISIS-Xinjiang connection is now being taken seriously [emphasis mine]: 

Chinese militants get Islamic State 'terrorist training' - media

Chinese militants from the western region of Xinjiang have fled from the country to get "terrorist training" from Islamic State fighters for attacks at home, state media reported on Monday.

The report was the first time state-run media had linked militants from Xinjiang, home to ethnic minority Uighur Muslims, to militants of the Islamic State (IS), a radical Sunni Muslim group which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq.

"They not only want to get training in terrorist techniques, but also to expand their connections in international terrorist organizations through actual combat to gain support for escalation of terrorist activities in China," the Global Times cited an unidentified Chinese "anti-terrorism worker" as saying.

Central Asia Fears ISIS, Boosts Ties with Saudi Arabia & Qatar

At the beginning of this month, the first Chinese ISIS fighter was captured in Iraq and a few days later four Uyghurs were arrested in Indonesia on suspicion of being ISIS members. It is unclear how many Uyghurs have joined Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi & Co. but even if they survive their trip to the Middle East, they will have a hard time "liberating East Turkestan." Nevertheless, China is concerned about the growing popularity of ISIS in the region. As previously discussed, the pledge of the former leader of the Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, to support al-Baghdadi's Caliphate does not bode well for China and some insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan are also eager to join forces with ISIS:

Islamic State expanding activities in Ghazni province

Local officials in southeastern Ghanzi province of Afghanistan have warned that militants linked with Islamic State are expanding their activities in parts of this province.

Deputy provincial governor, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi has said that the Taliban militants linked with the Islamic State have raised the flags of the group in various districts.

He said the militants are campaigning in favour of the Islamic State and have closed numerous routes to Ghazni province since they are busy with planning their activities.

A few days ago, Taliban fighters seized control of a strategic district in Ghazni province, which is an important gateway to Kabul from the south-east. Meanwhile, the situation in northern Afghanistan is equally alarming. Turkmenistan was even forced to send troops across the border to drive back Taliban forces that had settled on the border between the two countries. The comeback of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the rise of ISIS have caused a serious problem in the jihadist universe but this does not affect the ISIS fearmongering, which has now reached Central Asia: 

Islamic State will come to Central Asia

The catastrophic wave of violence at the hands of the Islamic State will repeat itself in Afghanistan and then move on to Central Asia, forecasts the president of the Russian Institute for the Middle East Studies.

Speaking recently about the emergence of the new wave of extremism in the Middle East, Erlan Karin, a Middle East expert from Kazakhstan, reported on the creation of an Uzbek unit of militants called Imam Bukhari Jamaat.

Additionally, according to his findings there are about 250 Kazakh citizens, 100 Kyrgyz, 190 Tajiks, 500 Uzbeks, and about 360 Turkmens fighting alongside ISIS extremists.

The Central Asian states are happy to promote ISIS as a serious threat but they would not dream of cutting their ties to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the terrorist group's biggest bankrollers. This week, Tajikistan's top Muslim cleric issued a fatwa against the participation of Tajiks in conflicts in Syria and Iraq (he also issued a fatwa against government critics) never mind that the Saudis have reportedly been recruiting Tajiks for ISIS with impunity for quite some time. Only a few days earlier, Tajikistan and Qatar had agreed to step up their cooperation. The House of Thani will also give neighboring Kyrgyzstan a hand, for example in the field of education. And while a famous Kazakh political analyst is warning that ISIS poses a serious threat to Kazakhstan, the Kazakh government is boosting cooperation with the House of Saud:

Kazakhstan ready for further cooperation with Saudi Arabia

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has met with Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al ash-Sheikh, the chairman of the Majlis ash-Shura (Consultative Assembly) of Saudi Arabia.

“Kazakhstan is ready to develop the cooperation with Saudi Arabia in various spheres, including in the trade and economic field,” the president said.

The president said that a number of buildings were constructed in Astana with the assistance of Saudi Arabia, which is a proof of the friendly relations between the two countries.

Training camp for "moderate Syrian rebels" in Georgia?

According to Western media, Saudi Arabia and those other paragons of democracy in the Gulf are now leading the fight against the same terrorists they have been arming and financing for years on behalf of the United States and NATO. Saudi Arabia has agreed to host a training camp for 5000 "moderate Syrian rebels" in an effort by the U.S. and its allies to build another mercenary army, which is supposed to fight the ISIS mercenary army but will ultimately be used to topple the Syrian government. And Saudi Arabia is apparently not the only country, which is willing to host a training for "moderate Syrian rebels":

Exclusive: Georgia Offers to Host Training Camp for Syrian Rebels

In a potential boost for the Obama administration, the former Soviet republic of Georgia has offered to host a training facility for the Syrian rebels as a part of the U.S.-led war against Islamic State militants in both Syria and Iraq, according to an American administration official.

"[The training center] was something we offered, but is still under consideration," Georgian Ambassador Archil Gegeshidze told Foreign Policy, confirming the U.S. official's remarks.

The potential scale of the Georgia-based training program remains unclear, but Gegeshidze noted that it could host anti-IS fighters from multiple countries, not just Syria. "It's a counterterrorism training center for any nationality," he said.

Foreign Policy reports that Georgian officials made the offer to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in closed-door meetings during his recent visit to Georgia in the wake of the NATO summit. The Foreign Policy article caused a stir in Tbilisi. Georgia's Defense Ministry immediately released a statement, which did neither deny or confirm anything, but Georgia's State Securtiy Council later said that the report was "not true." The quote of Georgia's ambassador to the U.S. was allegedly "inaccurate." Foreign Policydenies this and stands by its story. Tbilisi's statements have to be taken with a grain of salt, as Joshua Kucera pointed out: "Given Georgia's obvious skittishness about news of this getting out, if such a base does in fact get set up, we probably won't be hearing much more about it." After all, it makes perfect sense to set up a training camp for "moderate Syrian rebels" in Georgia given the fact that some Georgian jihadists have already joined the "Syrian rebels":

Sixth Georgian from Pankisi Gorge dies in Syrian war

An 18 year old Georgian has died in the Syrian civil war. He is the sixth fighter to die in the war who is a native of Pankisi Gorge.

Pankisi Gorge in the northeast of Georgia was used as a jihadist base during both Chechen wars, and this was where the United States went in for the first time with military aid to Georgia in 2002, to counter the threat of islamic extremism.

Kakheti Information Center reported that Besik Kushtanashvili is the sixth Pankisi native to die while fighting in the Syrian war.

Relatives of Kushtanashvili said he left for Turkey together with his siblings this summer, soon after graduating from school, ostensibly to work there. Going to Turkey to work is common among Pankisi residents. His family had no suspicion that anything was wrong before they received information that their boy had died.

The United States has been quite successful in "countering" Islamic extremism in the Pankisi Gorge. As recently discussed, Georgia is still being used to recruit and train jihadi mercenaries for NATO's terror operations in the region. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that one of the most influential ISIS leaders, Tarkhan Batirashvili, is also from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. Batirashvili's dubious background raises the question as to whether he is really a jihadist or an intelligence operative. Given Batirashvili's growing popularity, it is probably worth the trouble to take a closer look at Georgia's most famous terrorist: 

U.S. Puts Georgian National on Terrorism Sanctions List

The U.S. placed on September 24 a Syria-based Georgian national among 21 individuals in “specially designated global terrorists” list, freezing their assets and prohibiting Americans from having any commercial transactions with them.

Tarkhan Batirashvili, 28, who is known as Omar al-Shishani and is native of Birkiani village in Georgia’s Pankisi gorge, is one of the senior Islamic State military commanders.

There are reports that Batirashvili is not the only Georgian national fighting in Syria. According to a local news agency in Kakheti region, where Pankisi gorge is located, there are about 50 individuals from Pankisi gorge fighting in Syria. News agency, Information Center of Kakheti (
ICK), reported on September 25 about death of an 18-year-old native of Omalo village of Pankisi gorge while fighting in Syria; ICK said that the report was confirmed by relatives of the young man.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: September 22, 2014

Washington's Futile Efforts to Destabilize Russia, Azerbaijan & Turkey Push Southern Gas Corridor

*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.

On September 20, 1994, Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev and nine foreign oil companies signed the "Contract of the Century" for the exploration and exploitation of three offshore oil fields in the Caspian Sea. This is hailed as the "beginning of independent Azerbaijan's policy of energy diversification" by the United States and other Western powers. A few days ago, Azerbaijan's embassy in the U.S., state-owned oil and natural gas corporation SOCAR, supermajor BP and the United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC), which boasts advisors such as James Baker III, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the "Contract of the Century" in Washington. The key role of Azerbaijan in the Southern Gas Corridor was one of the major topics during the celebrations and the Aliyev regime is doing its best to satisfy the expectations:

Turkey, Azerbaijan break ground for Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline

Turkey's energy minister has declared a gas pipeline a "peace corridor" linking the Caucasus with the Balkans.

"We open the project as a peace corridor that is the result of 15 years hard work by Turkey and Azerbaijan. Through the South Caucasus pipeline and its backbone, the Trans-Anatolia pipeline, we connect the Caucasus with the Balkans. I wish every country could understand the true value of these projects and contribute with us," Taner Yıldız said while speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony of the South Caucasus pipeline in
Baku on Sept. 20.

Azerbaijan & Turkey Push Southern Gas Corridor

The Trans-Anatolian gas Pipeline (TANAP) is expected to cost $12 billion and the construction is planned to be completed by 2018. Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil and French supermajor Total recognized at the right moment that the soaring costs are going to be a problem and pulled out of the TANAP project at the end of last year. According to SOCAR president Rovnag Abdullayev, the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor projects will require investments of around $45 billion. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan and Turkey are determined to follow through with these projects. Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev and Turkey's new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have vowed to extend the cooperation in the energy sector "to new levels." Davutoglu also stressed that the two countries plan "to realize many joint projects in the defense industry." Up to this point, Azerbaijan has purchased lots of weapons from Russia but NATO's proxy in the South Caucasus is now embarking on a different strategy:

Azerbaijan Pursues Drones, New Security Options

Heightened tensions with longtime foe Armenia over
breakaway Nagorno Karabakh and mediator Russia’s Ukrainian adventure appear to be pushing Caspian-Sea energy power Azerbaijan ever more strongly toward a military strategy of self-reliance.

The strategy comes via two approaches: first, a build-up in Azerbaijani-made military equipment, including drones co-produced with Israel; and, second, a new defense troika with longtime strategic partners Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and neighboring Georgia, a NATO-member-hopeful.

Defense Minister Jamalov claims that Azerbaijan expects by the end of 2015 to be able to meet almost all of its own needs for ammunition and tank and artillery shells, formerly mostly supplied by Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Azerbaijan maintains close military ties with members and allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In the last few days, more than 30.000 Azerbaijani and Turkish troops have been conducting large-scale military exercises in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Germany held a workshop on the theme "The armed forces in a democratic society" in Baku. Azerbaijani journalist and human rights activist Ilgar Nasibov, who was just charged with assault for being heavily beaten, can tell you a thing or two about Azerbajian's "democratic society." The Aliyev regime tolerates no criticism in this regard and tries hard to deflect scrutiny of the deteriorating human rights situation. Baku spares neither trouble nor expense to shape public opinion in the West and The New York Times demonstrated recently how this works:

Azerbaijan's Opinion-Shaping Campaign Reaches 'The New York Times'

Earlier this month, "The New York Times" published documents demonstrating Azerbaijan's efforts to expand its relationship with think tanks in the United States to bolster U.S. public opinion of the country and make it clear that Baku "is an important security partner." 

"It is a campaign that produced real results," the
September 6 report stated. 

Three days later, the very same newspaper published an op-ed about Azerbaijani-Armenian tensions without disclosing the author's ties to the government in Baku.

As long as Baku does Washington's bidding with regard to Pipelineistan and NATO, Western media will refrain from subjecting the Aliyev regime to critical scrutiny and turn a blind eye to actions, which would be heavily criticized in other countries. In recent weeks, the Azerbaijani authorities pressured the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to close its office in Baku and froze NDI's bank accounts in the country along with the accounts of Transparency International, Oxfam and the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX). At the beginnnig of this month, Azerbaijani security officials raided the Baku office of IREX and the latest move is the upgrade of Azerbaijan's foreign agent law:

Azerbaijan hardens rules of foreign NGOs activity

Azerbaijan hardens rules relating to the activities of representative offices and branches of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by foreign countries. A number of changes are proposed to be made to the Law "On State Registration and State Register of Legal Entities" due to it, Milli Majlis (parliament) told Trend.

Washington's Futile Efforts to Destabilize Russia

Azerbaijani MP Gudrat Hasanguliyev explained that the Azerbaijani society "accepts amendments to the legislation and the arrest of some foreign-funded NGOs leaders as quite normal." If this statement had been made in Russia, it would have attracted more attention in the West. When the Russian authorities take action against foreign-funded NGOs, Western governments and media lose no opportunity to moan that Russia is becoming a dictatorship. Due to the conflict in Ukraine, the fifth column in Russia is now under increasing pressure. For example, the human rights organization "Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg", which was put on the foreign agent list after making controversial claims about the presence of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, is desperate to get the foreign agent label removed:

Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg NGO fights against foreign agent status

Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg NGO protest against labeling the organization as a 'foreign agent' and want the Ministry of Justice to remove it from the blacklist, Kommersant newspaper reported on Monday.

Ella Polyakova, the head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Soldiers' Mothers group, argued that the NGO did not fall under the law because it did not receive any foreign funds and was not engaged in political activity. She vowed to contest the ministry’s decision in court.

While Ella Polyakova & Co. emphasize that the organization is currently(!) not being funded from abroad, they fail to mention that the various Russian Soldiers' Mothers Committees have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the U.S. government via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) over the years. The United States and its allies have been doing their best to undermine the position of Russian President Putin and to destabilize the Russian Federation but all the trouble was for nothing. Putin's approval ratings are at an all-time high and Russia is more united than it was before NATO tried to play off the Chechens against their Russian brothers in order to gain a foothold in the North Caucasus. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov managed to turn Chechnya into a stable and relatively secure republic, loyal to the Kremlin, and he is now reaping the benefits of his work:

Russia to Start Drafting Chechen Men Into Army, Kadyrov Says

Five years after a brutal war between Russian forces and Chechen separatists officially ended, the first 500 Chechen men will be drafted to serve in the Russian army, its leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said.

"I was lucky enough to meet with [Russian] Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu," Kadyrov said late Thursday in a post on Instagram. "Of particular note, the minister — at our request — made the decision to this year draft 500 young [Chechen] men for regular military service."

"This is the first time in many years that this has been done. In the future, the number of draftees will increase," he added.

 With the situation in Chechnya under control, the Russian authorities are free to focus on threats emanating from Central Asia. Central Asian migrants frequently attract negative attention in Russia due to criminal activites. Two weeks ago, members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) were arrested in Moscow on suspicion of making fake driving licenses and passports. A few days ago, a court in Khabarovsk in Russia's Far East sent three Tajik members of the Islamic Party of Turkestan to prison and another group of Tajiks was caught smuggling Afghan heroin to Russia:

Russian Police Arrest Alleged Smugglers Of Afghan Heroin

Russian police say they have seized more than 1,000 kilograms of Afghan-produced heroin and arrested more than 30 suspected drug traffickers in an operation targeting a criminal group with ties in Tajikistan.

Interfax quotes officials from the Russian Federal Drug Control Service as saying on September 18 that the core of the smuggling group was comprised of veterans from Tajikistan’s civil war in the 1990s, including former government troops and opposition fighters.


Russian police say the heroin was hidden in railroad cargo and in automobiles.


They said funds from drug sales were deposited with illegal financial centers in Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Tajikistan, and Cyprus.

Turkmenistan "Invades" NATO's Narco-Criminal State Afghanistan

Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, who has earned himself a place on the U.S. sanctions list for constantly criticizing NATO's "opium eradication" in Afghanistan, warned during a recent anti-drug meeting of the Caspian region that the drug production in Afghanistan is already at a "historic high" and that the situation is likely to deteriorate even more after the NATO withdrawal. What Ivanov meant to say is that the Russians want a bigger share of the booming opium business. Unfortunately, the United States and its allies are not going to abandon their narco-criminal state without resistance after they have spent billions of dollars to "rebuild" the country:

US Reconstruction of Afghanistan Most Expensive in US History

Washington's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said the U.S. has provided more than $104 billion to rebuild Afghanistan -- more money than the United States has spent on reconstruction for any one country in history.

Sopko said the United States so far has failed to effectively deal with corruption in Afghanistan. He added the gap that is "astonishing" given that Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and the US is spending billions of dollars there.

He was equally critical of Washington's failed $7.- billion effort to fight the opium industry. Without an effective counter-narcotics strategy and Afghan political will, Sopko warned, the country could become a narco-criminal state.

As highlighted last week, the security situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating lately while the two presidential candidates were unable to agree on a winner of the heavily rigged "election." Especially Afghanistan's northern neighbors have to worry about the security of their borders. Turkmenistan was apparently fed up with the increasing fighting along the Afghan-Turkmen border and decided to send troops into Afghanistan:

Turkmenistan Armed Forces Reportedly Cross Afghanistan Border

Turkmenistan's armed forces have entered the territory of Afghanistan in an apparent effort to drive back Taliban forces that had settled on the border between the two countries, Afghan residents have told the Turkmen service of RFE/RL.

The
report is in Turkmen but has been translated into Russian by Alternative Turkmenistan News. It quotes residents of the Qaisar region of Afghanistan's Faryab province saying that Turkmenistan soldiers crossed the border about three months ago and have dug trenches and built fences.

This would seem to be the latest escalation in an increasingly tense situation on the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan border. Earlier, there had been reports of Turkmenistan border guards making incursions in Afghanistan, and the Turkmenistan armed forces carrying out exercises close to the border. But now they seem to be going even farther.

Interestingly enough, neither the Afghan authorities nor the NATO-led international forces have said anything about this "invasion" by Turkmenistan. Washington decides on a case-by-case basis if state sovereignty applies. Ukraine? Of course! Syria? Of course not! Afghanistan? It is only an invasion when the Russians do it! Currently, NATO is only interested in getting the security agreement that the U.S. and its allies need to keep troops in the country into next year. This is going to be one of the first tasks of Afghanistan's new president Ashraf Ghani:

Afghanistan's presidential rivals sign power-sharing deal

Afghanistan's rival presidential candidates signed a deal on Sunday to share power after months of turmoil over a disputed election that destabilized the nation at a crucial time as most foreign troops prepare to leave.

Ashraf Ghani, a former
finance minister who will be named president, embraced rival Abdullah Abdullah after they signed the power-sharing agreement at a ceremony watched by outgoing president Hamid Karzai, and broadcast live from his palace.

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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

The New Great Game Round-Up: September 15, 2014

China- Russia Keep a Very Close Eye on the Islamic State, SCO Counts on India-Pakistan in Dealing with Afghan Chaos & 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.

When the heads of state and the heads of government of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization gathered in Wales last week for the 2014 NATO summit, Western media made a big fuss about the underwhelming meeting hailing it as "one of the most important summits in NATO's history" but when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held a historic summit in Tajikistan one week later, it did not even make the news in the West. Although the heads of state of the SCO are not exactly on the same page when it comes to Ukraine, they found common ground and they also agreed on a number of other issues. In a swipe at Washington, the SCO leaders condemned any unilateral buildup of missile defense systems and, most importantly, they finally approved the documents for the admission of new members:

SCO approves new procedure for joining organization

The leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization have approved a new procedure for joining the organization, RIA Novosti reported. 

Memorandum on the obligations of a State wishing to join the SCO was signed after the meeting of the Council of the Heads of the Member States of the SCO in Dushanbe Sept. 12. 

New admission rules will allow including India and Pakistan into the SCO at the next summit in 2015. India and Pakistan have already applied for full membership in the organization.

SCO Counts On India, Pakistan in Dealing with Afghan Chaos

India and Pakistan lost no time in filing formal applications for full membership and Iran is eager to follow suit but the Iranians will have to wait until the sanctions are lifted. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev expressed his hope that Tehran will be able to reach a nuclear deal with the West by November 24 so that Iran's SCO status can be upgraded as soon as possible. At the moment, the priority of the Chinese-led organization is to grant India and Pakistan full membership. This would enable the SCO to deal more effectively with the mess in Afghanistan and Beijing also expects progress in its fight against the 'three evil forces' of this step. India is not adverse to strengthening anti-terrorism cooperation in the region but it remains to be seen what Pakistan has in mind in this regard. Be that as it may, Chinese President Xi Jinping made it perfectly clear that the SCO will focus on safeguarding regional security and stability:

Chinese president proposes anti-extremism treaty, urges joint efforts to combat internet terrorism

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday called for joint efforts to fight extremism and internet terrorism among the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

He suggested the SCO members launch consultation on an anti-extremism convention and initiate studies on a mechanism for actions against internet terrorism.

"(We) should take it as our own responsibility to safeguard regional security and stability, enhance our ability to maintain stability, continue to boost cooperation on law enforcement and security, and improve the existing cooperation mechanisms," said Xi.

The stability of the region is of the utmost importance to the Chinese government, as the country "is spreading its wings to the west" toward Central Asia. Therefore, China is boosting its military aid to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the two 'stans with the weakest military. Kyrgyzstan and especially Tajikistan have been singled out as the states, which are particularly threatened by a spillover of violence from Afghanistan. However, lately the 'Afghan spillover' has primarily caused trouble along the Afghan-Turkmen border. When Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the SCO summit that "the terrorism safe havens are located outside Afghanistan", his Turkmen counterpart was probably dumbfounded given that Taliban fighters are now regularly attacking Turkmen border posts and wreaking havoc in Afghan provinces bordering Turkmenistan:

Turkmen-Afghans confront Taliban on their own

Ethnic Turkmens in Afghanistan continue to battle Taliban units that have made an unwelcome appearance near the Afghan-Turkmen border.

"In the Afghan provinces bordering Turkmenistan, where about 2m people live, we're seeing a considerable Taliban buildup," Turkmen the MP told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)'s Turkmen service. "They seriously complicate the security situation and make life worse for the locals."

Foreign fighters – including some affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and others from Pakistan and the Caucasus – are a large part of the Taliban force in the north, Faryab Governor Muhammadullah Batash said.

While the presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah are still quarrelling over the outcome of the fraudulent Afghan election, the country descends into chaos. Taliban and IMU fighters are not only threatening Afghan provinces bordering Turkmenistan but also other parts of northern Afghanistan, for example Kunduz province. Interestingly enough, the senior IMU leader who is now leading the fight in Kunduz was freed time and again by the Afghan government at the direction of President Hamid Karzai after being detained several times. Tajik leader Emomalii Rahmon would probably like to ask Karzai a few questions regarding this since the Taliban offensive in Kunduz does not bode well for neighboring Tajikistan, which is also alarmed at the situation in Afghanistan's Badakhshan province:

Six soldiers killed in bomb blast in northeastern Afghanistan

At least six government troopers have been killed and a few more injured in a bomb blast in Afghanistan's northeastern province of Badakhshan.

Local police said on Monday that the soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb went off near their convoy.

China, Russia Keep A Very Close Eye on the Islamic State

Besides the fighting in northern Afghanistan, Tajikistan is keeping a very close eye on the activities of the Islamic State (IS). When wannabe-Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appointed a Tajik jihadist as "emir" of IS stronghold Raqqa a few weeks ago, the Tajik government immediately denounced the appointment. If the Tajik authorities were serious about stemming the flow of Tajik fighters to the Middle East, they would shut down the Saudi embassy in Dushanbe, which is reportedly the "headquarter for recruiting, organizing and leading the terrorists in Tajikistan to send them to Syria and Iraq", but this is obviously not going to happen. According to some estimates, more than 200 Tajiks are among the countless foreign IS fighters. Even some jihadists from China have apparently joined the terrorist group:

'Capture' of Chinese national fighting with ISIS gives China jitters

"URGENT," read the Iraqi News headline of its September 3 posting. "First Chinese ISIS fighter captured in Iraq says Ministry of Defense."

The Iraqi Army has captured an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighter from China, the Baghdad-datelined report said. Two pictures accompanied the report: one showed the captured militant in fatigue pants and a bloodied shirt, lying on the ground; another showed him escorted by an Iraqi soldier, his face seemingly swollen.

If true, he would be the first Chinese national to have been caught fighting with ISIS militants.

Although it remains unclear if the captured Chinese national is actually Uyghur, this will certainly reinforce Beijing's concerns about the IS-Xinjiang connection. Wu Sike, China's special envoy for the Middle East, had already warned a few weeks ago that some extremists from Xinjiang have gone to the Middle East for training and that some may have joined the Islamic State. This issue was also raised during the recent SCO summit in Dushanbe. Zhang Xinfeng, the head of the SCO's Regional Anti-Terrorism Agency, emphasized that "China and its Central Asian neighbors face increased terrorism threats as their citizens return home after fighting in Iraq and Syria." Xinfeng could have mentioned Russia as well considering the message sent by IS fighters to Russian President Putin:

‘This message is to you, Vladimir Putin’: ISIS threatens ‘to liberate Chechnya and Caucasus’

Islamic State jihadists in Syria have made a video threatening to bring the Russian republic of Chechnya into their self-proclaimed caliphate, after capturing Russian-made planes in Syria. The viral video drew an angry response from the Chechen leader.

“Those bastards have nothing to do with Islam. They are enemies of Muslims everywhere,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Kadyrov also intimated that IS “took orders from their handlers in Western security services.”

As usual, Kadyrov hit the nail on the head. A few days before the IS jihadists made this ridiculous video, Iran's Fars News Agency, referring to an "informed source close to Kremlin officials", reported that Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) had warned the Kremlin that the United States might use IS forces to open a new front against Russia in the North Caucasus or in Central Asia. Iranian officials are positive that the media-hyped terrorist group is taking orders from Washington and there is some evidence to support this assertion. According to Russian experts, the Islamic State has already branches in Russia. It remains to be seen if the threat is real or if this is just part of the IS fear-mongering, which has reached worrying levels. So far, the Russian authorities did not have any problems in dealing with veterans of the Syrian conflict:

Dagestani native gets 4 years of jail for fighting in Syria

The Khasavyurt City Court has sentenced Shamil Nurmagomedov, a native of Dagestan, to 4 years of jail for joining Syrian militants, according to spokesman of the Dagestani Supreme Court Zarema Mamayeva, ITAR-TASS reports.

Nurmagomedov was detained in Khasavyurt in December 2013. In July 2013, he entered Syria, was trained and took part in fights with the governmental forces in July-November.

Georgia to Host NATO Training Center

One high-profile leader of the Islamic State is certainly in favor of "liberating Chechnya and the Caucasus." In contrast to most IS leaders, Georgian jihadist Tarkhan Batirashvili aka Abu Omar al-Shishani was not groomed at U.S. military prison Camp Bucca in Iraq but in the Caucasus, where he fought a few times against those evil Russkies. Given Georgia's key role in Washington's plans, the curious career of Batirashvili is not so surprising after all. FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds emphasized last year the significance of Georgia as NATO-CIA training center for Arab and North African military elites and NATO's proxy in the South Caucasus is set to play an even bigger role in this regard in the future:

NATO Chief Lays Out Package to 'Bring Georgia Closer' to Alliance

Package that NATO plans for Tbilisi at the summit in Wales this week will include establishing “a defense capacity building mission” and training center in Georgia, more Georgian participation in NATO exercises and “occasionally” NATO military exercises in Georgia and expanding NATO liaison office in Tbilisi, according to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

“Without going into too many details, I can mention some of the headlines,” Rasmussen said.

“Fourth, we are also considering the establishment of a military training center in Georgia again with the particular view to engaging NATO partners – that [training center] might also be of regional dimension.”

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili was satisfied with the 'substantive package', which is meant to console the Georgian leadership for the disappointment of having been denied a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP). U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Georgia immediately after the NATO summit to demonstrate support for Georgia, strengthen military ties between the two countries and, most importantly, to sell a few American military helicopters. If it were not for Georgia's chase of former president Mikheil Saakashvili, relations between Tbilisi and Washington could hardly be any better:

Georgia: The Saakashvili Chase Continues at Sea

The Georgian government may not be aware of it, but
its attempts to catch the ex-president increasingly resemble Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Though Saakashvili and his entourage ardently deny it, Georgian officials claim that border guards at the Greek vacation island of Samos on September 1 briefly detained a yacht carrying the ex-president and “other Georgian citizens.”

Georgian prosecutors asserted that they had alerted the Greek police about the menace approaching their shores, but the Greek authorities released Saakashvili for lack of an international arrest warrant. Georgian Ambassador to Greece Davit Bakradze claimed that the boat arrived from Turkey, and was detained for four hours. Also on board allegedly was Saakashvili's friend, the former governor of Georgia's seaside region of Achara, Levan Varshalomidze. 


Georgia’s
general prosecutor’s office said it has yet to convince Interpol to place the former Georgian president on the organization's international search list.

Predictably, the U.S. State Department voiced its concerns over "the risks that politicized prosecutions would pose for Georgia’s democracy." But Washington's criticism fell on deaf ears in Tbilisi. Saakashvili tried to distract attention away from the piling criminal charges by calling on the Georgian government to support Kiev in its struggle against Russia. Given that Georgia is now preparing to send "humanitarian aid" including military helmets and bulletproof vests to Ukraine, Saakashvhili will have to come up with a new strategy and some Georgian officials are convinced that the former president is about to attempt a coup:

Georgia's Waiting for a Coup...Again

This time, 29-year-old Georgian Interior Minister Aleksandre Chikaidze claims he has it on good authority that ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and his legislative minority, the United National Movement (UNM), are plotting to destabilize the country, provoke the police, manipulate sensitive topics such as the bad economy or the Russian threat, and then seize power as Georgia descends into “chaos and anarchy.”

In
a September 10 interview with a local tabloid, Chikaidze asserted that Saakashvili has recruited 500 agent-provacatuers — and some non-profit groups, as well — to bring the plan to life.

But this isn’t just the one-off of a minister known for his verbal gaffes. Now,
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has gotten into the act, too, claiming that the threat is for real and the government won’t stand for it. The police have even launched an investigation.

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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