Operation Moldova: A New NATO Anti-Russia War Project

In the forty-seventh edition of the Russian Newspapers Monitor, Professor Filip Kovacevic discusses the articles from four Russian newspapers: Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Kommersant, Izvestia, and Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He discusses the escalating political and constitutional crisis in Moldova, the site of another proxy war-in-the-making between NATO and Russia in Eastern Europe, and the statements on North Korea made by the Russian president Vladimir Putin, the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, and the South Korean president Moon Jae-in during the Far Eastern Economic Forum. In addition, he chronicles the significant increase of Russia’s food exports and explains why China has been more successful than Russia in bringing into the country thousands of Ukrainian military industry engineers and specialists and their families.

NOTE: The Russian newspaper Kommersant wrongly reported the president of Mongolia as Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj. The current president of Mongolia is Khaltmaagiin Battulga.
 

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Show Notes

Rossiyskaya Gazeta – September 11, 2017

Kommersant – September 8, 2017

Izvestia – September 11, 2017

Nezavisimaya Gazeta – September 8, 2017

NATO Incites Ukraine to War against Russia

In the forty-fifth edition of the Russian Newspapers Monitor, Professor Filip Kovacevic discusses the articles from four Russian newspapers: Izvestia, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, and Pravda. He discusses the exclusive frontpage interview by the former Afghan president Hamid Kharzai, sharply critical of the U.S. president Donald Trump, in the pro-government Izvestia. In addition, he chronicles the U.S. Secretary of Defense James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis’ visit to Ukraine and how the U.S. and NATO are planning out total political and economic isolation of Russia. Lastly, he discusses some recent Gladio C provocative operations in the Russian border regions. The NATO-Russia proxy conflicts are getting more and more dangerous to world peace. Do not miss this exclusive edition of the Russian Newspapers Monitor!

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Show Notes

Izvestia – August 25, 2017

Rossiyskaya Gazeta – August 25, 2017

Nezavisimaya Gazeta – August 29, 2017

Pravda – August 25, 2017

Newsbud Roundtable- “A Turning Point in the Middle East & the Fall of an Empire!”

Newsbud Founder-Editor Sibel Edmonds joins foremost Middle East expert and analyst Prof. William Engdahl and top Russia-Balkans expert Professor Filip Kovacevic in a one-of-a-kind roundtable discussion on a Turning Point in the Middle East and the fall of the US Empire. Our distinguished panelists discuss Turkey’s major shift away from NATO and into further alliance with Russia, Iran and the rest of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the contentious coming Kurdish referendum, the recent Turkey-Germany spat, the CIA’s Fethullah Gulen’s infiltration of the German government, and much more.

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Show Notes

Turkey’s Shift from NATO Is Redrawing the Map

Turkey Urges Iraqi Kurds to Abandon Independence Vote

U.S. Urges Kurdistan to Delay Independence Referendum

Germany’s Juncker Says Erdogan’s Turkey Taking Giant Steps Away From EU

According to Germany’s Gabriel, “Turkey will never be EU member under Erdogan”

Berlin has been Intensifying Agitation against Turkey

Kurds Drive a Wedge between US and Turkey

US-Rebels Clash in Syria Becomes Attempt to 'Prevent Turkey from Entering Afrin'

Will Russia Move Its Capital to Siberia?

In the forty-fourth edition of the Russian Newspapers Monitor, Professor Filip Kovacevic discusses the articles from four Russian newspapers: Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Izvestia, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, and Sovietskaya Rossiya. He discusses how much the new U.S. sanctions will diminish the Russian gross domestic product and how Russia could repair the damage. Professor Kovacevic also talks about the sudden spread of the Coxsackievirus in Turkey and its repercussions for the thousands of Russian tourists. In addition, he discusses the proposals for the relocation of the Russian capital city to Siberia and the consequences of the failed putsch against the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, exactly 26 years ago.

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Show Notes

Nezavisimaya Gazeta – August 21, 2017

Izvestia – August 18, 2017

Rossiyskaya Gazeta – August 21, 2017

Sovietskaya Rossiya – August 19, 2017

Putin’s Delight: U.S.-EU Economic War Over Russia

In the fortieth edition of the Russian Newspapers Monitor, Professor Filip Kovacevic discusses the articles from four Russian newspapers: Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Izvestia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, and Komsomolskaya Pravda. He discusses the unfolding of a serious economic conflict between the U.S. and the European Union over the relations with Russia, the geopolitical dynamic that may lead to the breakout of a civil war in Moldova, the way Russia plans to celebrate the Day of its National Navy, and the surprising affection of the young people in Russia for the Soviet Communist leader Josef Stalin.

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Show Notes

Rossiyskaya Gazeta – July 25, 2017

Izvestia – July 26, 2017

Nezavisimaya Gazeta – July 25, 2017

Komsomolskaya Pravda – July 21, 2017

As The Flood Waters Increase In Trump’s Swamp… Soros Eyes Asia Through ISIS

The hottest stories from Newsbud.com in this weekly round up, plus a sneak peak of whats to come.

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To apply for the available positions with Newsbud, submit your resume to apply@newsbud.com

Show Notes

Weapons & Energy: Putin-Erdogan Alliance

Space War: Feeding the Military Industrial Complex

American Horror Story: The Shameful Truth About the Government’s Secret Experiments

India Blinks! Soros in Asia; and Pattycake with Miles Kwok

Newsbud Exclusive – After Nuland, “Nuland”: A. Wess Mitchell Nominated to Direct the U.S. European & Eurasian Affairs

Qatar – Russia’s Newest Ally in the Arab World?

In the thirty-sixth edition of the Russian Newspapers Monitor, Professor Filip Kovacevic discusses the articles from three Russian newspapers: Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Izvestia, and Kommersant. He discusses the Russian response to NATO military exercises near the Russian borders, the escalation of internal political tensions in Moldova, the reasons why Qatar might be the newest Russian ally in the Arab world, and how the Russian Parliament plans to deal with the alleged U.S./NATO interference in the Russian domestic politics.

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Show Notes

Nezavisimaya Gazeta – June 2, 2017

Nezavisimaya Gazeta – June 6, 2017

Izvestia – June 2, 2017

Kommersant – June 6, 2017

After Operations Gladio A & B Exposures, NATO Launches Operation Gladio C!

In this twenty-seventh edition of the Russian Newspapers Monitor, Professor Filip Kovacevic discusses the articles from four Russian newspapers: Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Izvestia, and Pravda. He discusses the U.S-NATO ad for the Russian language speakers to participate in NATO exercises in Germany, the U.S.-German public row over military spending increases, the potential motives for the terrorist attack in St. Petersburg, the Russia-Belarus special forces and intelligence coordination against NATO Gladio C covert operations, and the Russian Communist party critique of both the Western-funded Russian opposition AND the Russian government.

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Show Notes

Rossiyskaya Gazeta – March 31, 2017

Nezavisimaya Gazeta – April 3, 2017

Izvestia – April 4, 2017

Nezavisimaya Gazeta – April 5, 2017

Pravda – April 4, 2017

Turkey Terror Spike: Operation Gladio B Targeting Turkey’s Erdogan

Sibel Edmonds exposes a covert operation aimed against the democratically elected government of Turkey in response to the directional change of the Syrian war. She examines the recent increase in terror attacks in Turkey, who is behind the attacks, and why.

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Show Notes

Power outages linked to sabotage, minister rules out further risk

Three reasons the Islamic State is focused on Turkey

Russia pleased with deepening US-Turkey rift over Syria

How Iran sees Russian-Turkish deal on Syria

US Media: Distorters of Reality & Gravediggers of Truth

BFP Exclusive: Syria- Secret US-NATO Training & Support Camp to Oust Current Syrian President

Syria Coverage Update: BBC Reporter was detained & Prevented from Covering US-NATO- Syrian Operations in Turkey!

Istanbul nightclub attack involved an intelligence organization: deputy PM

The NGGR January 18: From Kabul’s Damage Control after Wild Accusations against Russia-Tajikistan to Georgia’s Main Opposition Party Split

The Great Game Round-Up by Newsbud’s Christoph Germann brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Georgia's Main Opposition Party Splits but the Drama Ain't Over

Georgia's largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), has split amid disagreements over the role of UNM leader and former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who gave up his Georgian citizenship for a new political career in Ukraine.

Leading UNM members who regard Saakashvili as a liability announced last week that they would leave the party and start a new political movement to challenge the Georgian Dream government.

The split came after months of infighting fueled by the UNM's devastating defeat in the October 2016 parliamentary elections and the dispute over the upcoming party congress, which is scheduled for January 20.

Several UNM leaders, including former National Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria, former Parliament Speaker Davit Bakradze and former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, decided that it was time to move on.

"Saakasvhili was the party's founder, but he has become its undoing," Ugulava stated at the January 12 press briefing, just a few days after his release from prison.

"This man does not radiate leadership anymore. It pains me to say this, but he is not the Mikheil Saakashvili who united the people in 2002 [ahead of the 2003 Rose Revolution] . . ." Ugulava said, calling on the party's supporters "to look forward."

Saakahvili, who had welcomed Ugulava's release from prison a few days earlier, responded on Facebook that he "felt pity" for Ugulava, "who spoke more about me than the Oligarch who imprisoned him."

In Saakashvili's world, the United National Movement just got rid of a few "losers" and foiled another plot by Georgian Dream godfather Bidzina Ivanishvili to take over the party.

In reality, the anti-Saakashvili faction includes half of the party's leadership and most of the party's Members of Parliament. 21 out of 27 United National Movement MPs defected, causing a parliament shake-up. 38 heads of municipal and regional organizations also left the party.

According to the transcript of a supposed conversation between Saakashvili and loyal UNM MP Koba Nakaopia published on the Ukrainian Wikileaks website, Saakashvili is already planning to take revenge on "those ungrateful idiots" who abandoned him.

Among other things, Saakashvili and Nakopia allegedly talked about paying a woman named Eliso who is "working on [Giga] Bokeria and others."

"I’m going to make her fully discredit Bokeria's followers and the Chergoids [possibly Bokeria's wife Tamara Chergoleishvili]," Saakashvili told Nakopia according to the transcript.

It is not the first time that the obscure Ukrainian Wikileaks website has published such material.

In 2015, the site published a transcript alleging that Saakashvili and Bokeria discussed staging an attack on UNM-linked TV station Rustavi 2 in order to provoke mass anti-government protests.

Both Saakashvili and Bokeria dismissed the transcript as a fabrication, but this didn't stop Georgia's State Security Service from launching an investigation. Shortly thereafter, another murky Ukrainian website released authentic recordings of two phone conversations that Saakashvili held with Bokeria and Rustavi 2 director Nika Gvaramia, lending some credence to the previous Saakashvili-Bokeria transcript.

Regardless of whether or not there is any truth to the latest Ukrainian Wikileaks release, it is safe to say that the United National Movement drama is far from over.

Kabul Doing Damage Control after Wild Accusations against Russia & Tajikistan

Current and former Afghan officials have leveled serious accusations against Russia and Tajikistan in recent weeks, forcing Kabul to start off the new year with damage control.

Last month, former Kunduz Governor Muhammad Omar Safi made the bold claim that Russian military engineers based in Tajikistan were repairing tanks and heavy weapons that Taliban fighters had seized from Afghan security forces. Such cooperation between the Russian military and the Taliban has been going on for nearly two years, according to Safi.

The statement came amid increasing criticism of Moscow's ties to the Taliban. A few weeks earlier, Afghan officials alleged - without providing any evidence - that Russia was supplying weapons to Taliban fighters.

Safi's wild claims were a bit too wild for Afghanistan's Defense Ministry. MoD deputy spokesman Mohammad Radmanish cast doubt on whether it was possible to transport heavy weaponry across the Amu Darya River that separates Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

"[The Taliban] usually drives small vehicles, such as pickup trucks with heavy weapons mounted on them, but they do not have heavy vehicles, such as tanks," Radmanish noted.

Tajikistan's border guard agency quickly dismissed the allegations and the Tajik Foreign Ministry described Safi's statement as "thoughtless and unfounded," concluding that the remarks were "aimed at creating a negative image of the Republic of Tajikistan in Afghan society."

The Tajik Foreign Ministry also harshly criticized remarks made by Afghanistan's Ambassador to Russia, Abdul Qayum Kochi, that caused further tensions.

Kochi, who is an uncle of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, appeared last month in a YouTube video with Afghan-American TV host Shafie Ayar, making a number of controversial statements.

"I met with a senior Russian official and told him that drug crops were grown in Afghanistan but that you [Russians] and the Tajik mafia were behind that," Kochi claimed.

To make matters worse, the Afghan diplomat also demonstrated his lack of knowledge about Tajikistan, saying: "Tajikistan is a very small country, it has five million population and over a million of them are Russians. They have Russian culture and Russian is their official language. They don't have the right to write in Farsi alphabets. Mafias are actively operating the country."

Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry responded by summoning the Afghan Ambassador in Dushanbe and lodging a diplomatic protest. This happened at the end of December, but it became only publicly known when Afghan media obtained Tajikistan's protest note about one week later.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry distanced itself from the remarks, stressing that it was Kochi's personal opinion and did not reflect Kabul's official views. But calls to remove Kochi have been getting louder.

"Russia is very important country for Afghanistan and government should appoint a capable envoy to the country," Mohammad Naim Nazari, the executive director of Afghanistan's Civil Society & Human Rights Network (CSHRN), was quoted as saying.

Zamir Kabulov, Russia's special envoy to Afghanistan called Kochi's remarks "absolutely unacceptable and abusive," noting that he would discuss the issue with the Ambassador during an upcoming meeting.

Afghan parliamentarians told Russian media that they already sent a letter to President Ghani demanding Kochi's removal. Russians and Tajiks wouldn't shed any tears.

# # # #

Christoph Germann, Newsbud Author & Analyst,  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

Security Threats to Russia: The Analysis of the 2016 FSB Press Releases (Part 3 – Hacking & Other Challenges)

This is the third and last article in the investigative series in which I analyzed the 2016 press releases published on the official FSB website. In the previous two articles, I covered the FSB counterespionage and counter-terrorist operations during 2016.[1] These operations were the subject of more than one third of the FSB press releases. This means that they consumed a great deal of attention, time, and resources of the Russian domestic law enforcement and counterintelligence community. It is safe to conclude that espionage and terrorism are considered the primary threats to Russia’s national security.

However, there are several other types of illegal activity that were occasionally covered in the press releases and that can also be used as tools to undermine political stability and economic well-being in Russia. They involve cybercrime and cyberattacks (hacking), and arms and narcotics trafficking. In this article, I will discuss in detail the FSB press releases dealing with these types of law-breaking activities.

Cybercrime and Cyberattacks (Hacking)

The first 2016 press release concerning cybercrime activities, popularly known as hacking, was published by the FSB on June 1.[2] It reported that during the massive law-enforcement operation taking place simultaneously in 15 regions of Russia, the FSB, in cooperation with the Russian Ministry of Interior and the National Guard, arrested close to 50 people, suspected of being members of a hackers’ group. The group allegedly stole more than 1 billion 700 million rubles ($27 million) from various Russian banks. The FSB recovered some of the stolen money, in addition to seizing a large number of false bank documents, credit cards, and computers.

It is important to note that this was one of the first operations conducted with the participation of the Russian National Guard which was established in April 2016. Just two months after its formation, it is evident that the National Guard proved very efficient in fulfilling its duties. The press release, for instance, stated that the arrested individuals were brought to Moscow on the aircraft operated by the National Guard.

The number of arrested individuals and their geographical dispersion throughout Russia shows that the problem of hacking in Russia is quite acute. This can perhaps open another line of inquiry related to the unproven accusations by the U.S. intelligence community of the Russian hacking of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. In other words, even if there is a Russian “trace” behind the hacking, perhaps it is not the doing of the Russian government? Could it not be that the hackers worked for their own private benefit or out of ideological beliefs, or were hired by the anti-Putin Russian oligarchs based in the West in order to strengthen the anti-Putin climate in the U.S. political life and make economic sanctions harsher and military confrontation more likely? This would of course depend on the expectation that the Trump administration will not be able to change anything substantial in this respect, which yet remains to be seen. However, judging from the pre-election statements, Tramp’s VP Mike Pence already appears to have taken the side of the anti-Putin hawks.[3]

The FSB press release published on July 30 dealt more specifically with the issue of cyberattacks and cyber-espionage.[4] In fact, it reported that the FSB specialists were able to uncover an especially damaging virus program infiltrated into the network of more than 20 organizations on the territory of Russia. These organizations included the Russian government, military, and academic institutions and even the sectors of the Russian military-industrial complex.

The FSB did not comment as to where this malicious software could have come from. It just stated that it resembled the software found in other cyberattacks around the world. In my opinion, the description of the way that the virus infected the victims’ computers and the damage it caused resembled very much the hacks perpetrated in the U.S., both on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and on Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta. Considering the timing of the release (the end of July), just after the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia was over and the full extent of the U.S. hacks became publicly known, it definitely raises several very significant questions.

First, was this massive hacking of the Russian “critical infrastructure” a retaliation by the U.S. intelligence agencies for the DNC and Podesta hacks allegedly perpetrated by the Russian military intelligence agency (GRU)? And if so, will the hacked emails and information be made publicly available? Will be we soon be reading the embarrassing details of the Russian government and military officials’ undercover dealings?

Or, alternatively, was this perhaps done by a third party which also hacked the DNC and Podesta? Following in the footsteps of the James Bond classic “From Russia, with Love,” is there perhaps a secret (criminal) network which uses the rogue elements of different intelligence communities to amplify the confrontation between the U.S. and Russia? To get the U.S. to blame Russia and, likewise, Russia to blame the U.S. for criminal deeds actually perpetrated by this hidden network. This of course is a mere speculation. But the coincidence of the almost simultaneous cyber-attacks cannot be denied.

The third and last 2016 press release dealing with cybercrime was published by the FSB on December 2.[5] This press release warned the Russian institutions and the Russian public that unnamed foreign intelligence agencies were preparing massive cyberattacks, starting on December 5, with the goal of destabilizing the Russian financial infrastructure and creating social and political chaos. The release was fairly specific as to where the cyberthreat was supposed to come from. It claimed that the servers and command posts for this attack were located on the territory of the Netherlands and belonged to the Ukrainian hosting company “BlazingFast.” The attack was supposed be initiated via social media with the large number of provocative posts regarding the imminent collapse of the Russian financial system and was supposed to take place simultaneously all across Russia (in “several dozen” Russian cities).

Either the FSB successfully neutralized the threat or it was a false alarm, in any case, not much happened. The Russian financial system preserved its stability and in fact was strengthened as 2016 ended, because of the increase in the price of oil. However, the ties between the Dutch milieu and the aggressive Ukrainian anti-Russian cyber propaganda and hacking efforts were publicly revealed. This perhaps has something to do with the tragic fate of MH-17, the Malaysia Airline Boeing 777-200ER, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which crashed in Ukraine in July 2014 under still disputed circumstances with most passengers onboard being Dutch citizens.

Arms and Narcotics Trafficking

The first 2016 press release concerning arms trafficking was published by the FSB on February 1.[6] It reported that the FSB arrested 3 individuals suspected of arms trafficking in the city of Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtian republic in the central Russia. According to the release, the arrested individuals were in charge of a criminal organization which "regularly" supplied the neighboring regions of the central Russia and Siberia with illegal weapons. At the moment of arrest, the FSB seized an automatic grenade launcher AGS-17 and more than 100 other automatic and semi-automatic weapons. The FSB did not specify who was purchasing these weapons and whether these individuals were also arrested. There was also no mention of whether the weapons were intended for terrorist activity, though it is difficult to imagine what else they could have been needed for, especially in the case of a grenade launcher.

About two and a half months later, on April 18, the FSB published another press release concerning arms trafficking.[7] It reported that 7 individuals, arrested in the city of Bryansk in the Russian central federal district, were suspected of illegal weapons smuggling. Several automatic weapons and revolvers, a great deal of ammunition as well as about a dozen grenades were seized. The report did not link up the arrested group with any act of terrorism, either planned or already performed.

The next FSB press release concerning arms trafficking, published on June 20, was longer than most because it elaborated on the on-going FSB operations, in tandem with the Ministry of Interior, directed toward discovering and closing down the network of illegal weapons manufacturies throughout Russia.[8] According to the release, a particular problem in this respect represents the activation of deactivated and self-made weapons (in Russian language, they are known under the acronym MMG) because they are very difficult to trace after being used in a criminal or terrorist act. The release noted that these types of weapons were used in several high-level assassinations, such as the assassinations of ex-deputy prime minister and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and B. A. Kantemirov, a parliamentarian from the Kabardino-Balkarian republic. It also emphasized that their presence in Russia had substantially increased since the beginning of the violent conflict in Ukraine.

In addition, the release stated that in the period from 2014 to 2016, the FSB closed down about 100 illegal manufacturies and seized more than 3,500 different weapons. The release specifically mentioned that, in June 2016, 14 individuals were arrested in three different regions in Russia. They were all charged under Article 222 of the Russian Criminal Code, dealing with the illegal possession and/or trafficking of weapons.

According to the press release published on August 30, the FSB’s Russia-wide sweep for weapons traffickers and illegal manufacturies was also successful in the Far East.[9] The FSB arrested 7 individuals in the city of Vladivostok involved in the illegal making and trafficking of weapons. It seized close to 30 automatic weapons as well as a large quantity of grenades and ammunition. All arrested individuals were charged under Article 222 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Two months later, on October 25, there was another FSB press release concerning its activities against weapons traffickers and illegal manufacturies.[10] This time, the region of Tver in the central Russia was the focus of the FSB activities. The FSB arrested a group of individuals (not mentioned how many), suspected of running a weapons trafficking and manufacturing network. At the same time, the FSB conducted further operations throughout Russia. Altogether, it seized more than 250 automatic, semi-automatic and other weapons, a great number of grenades and various ammunition, and about 20 kilograms of explosives. It also closed down 8 illegal manufacturies. The press release did not make any indications that these weapons were intended for terrorists, though, as I pointed out above, this cannot be ruled out.

The last 2016 FSB press release dealing with arms trafficking was published on December 12.[11] It reported a large-scale FSB operation in the western and central regions of Russia focused on weapons traffickers and illegal manufacturies. 3 individuals were arrested and close to 100 different weapons were seized, including one grenade launcher. In the car belonging to one of the arrested individuals, the FSB found four 80mm grenades from the time of the World War II, which were subsequently destroyed. The release did not say what the intended purpose of these grenades was.

During the entire 2016, there was only one FSB press release dealing specifically with the trafficking of narcotics. It was published on November 17 and mentioned several FSB anti-narcotics operations.[12] One of the operations took place on the territory of the Moscow region in October 2016. 2 individuals were arrested and more than 100 kilograms of synthetic narcotics and 1,900 liters of liquid narcotics were seized. The narcotics-making lab was also discovered and shut down.

Another operation, conducted in 2014, which led to the arrest of 6 individuals and the seizure of 400 kilograms of narcotics with the market value of 400-800 million rubles [$6-12 million], resulted in the sentencing of the arrested individuals to 6 years in prison in May 2016. The release described in detail the modus operandi of these individuals. They never met in person, communicated only via the Internet using fake identities, and distributed the narcotics and money through the system of dead drops. Evidently, catching them was quite an accomplishment.

The FSB concluded the press release by noting that in the preceding two-year period, it seized more than 7,000 kilograms of various narcotics.

Conclusion

Both cybercrime and arms trafficking appear to be serious challenges to Russia’s national security. As I pointed out, foreign cyberattacks against the Russian “critical” infrastructure are on the rise. The sources of these attacks are not always specified, but they seem to be connected to the anti-Russian and anti-Putin forces in the West. They may be a part of the U.S. intelligence community’s strategy of retaliation (or offensive projection of power) against Russia. There is also a (remote) possibility that they are the work of a third party wanting to ratchet up the tensions, even to the point of military confrontation, between Russia and the U.S.

I have no doubt that we will see more of these types of attacks, with rapidly increasing severity, in the coming period. I therefore expect the FSB press releases in 2017 to cover this issue more extensively.

Judging by the number of the 2016 press releases concerning arms trafficking and illegal weapons manufacturing, this is clearly a major problem for the Russian internal political stability. The FSB, in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior and the newly-formed National Guard, appear to be regularly conducting large-scale sweeps throughout the country. They have had a great deal of success, but much more needs to be done. It is especially important to prevent the possible linkages of arms traffickers and illegal weapons manufacturies to terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State and other radical groups which have their followers and agents of influence inside Russia. On the other hand, narcotics trafficking appears to be less of a problem for the Russian security apparatus or, at least, it was so during 2016, according to the FSB press releases.

# # # #

Filip Kovacevic, Newsbud-BFP Analyst, is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles & conference presentations and hundreds of newspaper columns and media commentaries. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco. He can be contacted at fk1917@yahoo.com

NOTES

[1] http://www.newsbud.com/2016/12/28/newsbud-exclusive-security-threats-to-russia-the-analysis-of-the-2016-fsb-press-releases-part-1-counterespionage/ ; http://www.newsbud.com/2017/01/05/security-threats-to-russia-the-analysis-of-the-2016-fsb-press-releases-part-2-counter-terrorism/

[2]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437717%40fsbMessage.html

[3] http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/16/politics/mike-pence-donald-trump-russia-hacking/index.html

[4]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437870%40fsbMessage.html

[5]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10438041%40fsbMessage.html

[6]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437666%40fsbMessage.html

[7]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437706%40fsbMessage.html

[8]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437720%40fsbMessage.html

[9]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437876%40fsbMessage.html

[10]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437888%40fsbMessage.html

[11]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10438047%40fsbMessage.html

[12]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10438042%40fsbMessage.html

 

Newsbud Exclusive-The Travels of NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg: An Analysis

An exposé on the expansionist agenda of NATO which shows no intention of slowing down!

We travel to people and places important to us. If somebody looked at our travel itineraries over time, it would not be difficult to discover our priorities, our likes and dislikes, our beliefs and fears, the general pattern of how we live our lives and what we think about.

The same applies to political figures. Whom they travel to meet can reveal a lot about their current political agenda and the way they go about putting it into practice. It might even be possible to predict certain of their future moves.

Considering that, at this time, NATO activities are bringing Europe one step closer to another global conflagration (so familiar from both recent and more distant European past), it is worth examining the travels of its Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and seeing what they can tell us about current and future NATO moves.[1]

Jens Stoltenberg is a long-time Norwegian politician of centrist social-democratic orientation and was the leader of the Norwegian Labour Party.[2] His father Thorvald Stoltenberg was also a well-known figure in the same political party and, at different times, held the posts of defense minister (1979-1981) and foreign minister (1987-1989 & 1990-1993).[3] The younger Stoltenberg served two times as the prime minister: 2000-2001 and 2005-2013. It should be noted that he was in charge of Norway during the July 22, 2011 bomb attack on the government building in Oslo and the subsequent Breivik massacre.

Stoltenberg's party lost the majority in the parliamentary elections of September 2013 and, as a result, he lost the post of the prime minister. Conveniently, the chief NATO position became open a year later and he was chosen to replace the neo-liberal Iraq-war Bush ally Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the NATO summit in Wales in September 2014. It appears that Stoltenberg's nomination received the strongest support from the German chancellor Angela Merkel who was able to convince other NATO leaders to vote for him.[4]

This is interesting in light of the fact that both Merkel and Stoltenberg have been alleged to have had contacts with the Soviet KGB in their youth. All throughout the last decade there were occasional reports in the Norwegian media about the alleged "grooming" of the young Stoltenberg by the KGB agents in Oslo in the 1980s under the code name Steklov.[5] Stoltenberg denied any wrongdoing and claimed that the allegations were a part of the brutal campaign by his right-wing opponents. It is curious though that Stoltenberg toned down the aggressive anti-Russian rhetoric of his NATO predecessor Rasmussen. However, it is the actions that count and they are no different than Rasmussen's.

The 13th Secretary General

Stoltenberg's first day on the job as NATO's Secretary General was October 1, 2014. He is the 13th Secretary General since NATO's founding in 1949 and let's hope that this number is not a sign of bad luck for him, Europe, or the world.

Stoltenberg's first foreign trip took place just 5 days later and it was to Poland. This choice of the first destination is very revealing. Poland is the most populous among East-Central European NATO members and plays the key role in the new NATO doctrine of putting pressure on Russia in the North. It is also the  most important ally of the pro-NATO government in Ukraine and is actively engaged in assisting the Kiev side in the civil war. The fact that the next NATO Summit will take place in Warsaw in July 2016 was likely also the topic of discussion.

Stoltenberg's second trip exposed even more clearly the contours of a logic that has the encirclement of Russia as its main driving force. It was a two-day trip to Turkey on October 9-10, 2014. Just like Poland in the North, Turkey is the most important NATO member in the South. At the same time, due to its numerous internal problems and imperial historical tradition, Turkey is the most "troublesome" of all NATO allies. We have witnessed the exponential increase in the hostilities between Turkey and Russia within the last year, linked, primarily, to the Russian military intervention in Syria, but also to the situation in Crimea and the general Black Sea region. It is worth remembering that Russia and Turkey have fought a long series of wars in the past centuries and that this region has now once again become one of the most explosive places in the world.

This was not Stoltenberg's only visit to Turkey so far. He visited it much more recently on April 21-22, 2016 and this should be taken as an indicator of the further deterioration of the Russo-Turkish relations. At the same time, Stoltenberg visited the squadron of NATO ships based in the Aegean Sea, the official purpose of which is to monitor the refugee situation, but which at the same time keeps a very close watch on the Russian navy activity in the area.

Every time Stoltenberg visits Turkey, he also has to visit Greece in order to appear fair to both NATO members which have a lot of unresolved issues, including the division of Cyprus. Hence he visited Greece right after Turkey on both occasions, the first time on October 30, 2014, and the second time on April 22, 2016. Recently, Greece has intensified relations with Russia as  exemplified in the May 2016 visit of the Russian president Vladimir Putin. Of extreme importance in this respect was Putin's visit to the Orthodox monastic community on Mount Athos.[6] This Christian Orthodox connection may turn out to be the eventual undoing of NATO, but that is a topic that requires a separate studious treatment.

Stoltenberg also visited two ongoing NATO operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He visited Afghanistan twice, first, quite early in his tenure on November 6, 2014 (which shows the high priority of this operation), and then on March 15, 2016. He visited Kosovo only once on January 23, 2015. It is very important to note that his visit was officially announced as the visit to the KFOR troops, even though he met with the entire Kosovo Albanian leadership. This was done in order to save NATO itself from an embarrassing and open dissension among its members, considering that four NATO member states do not recognize Kosovo's independence: Spain, Slovakia, Romania, and Greece. This issue remains an Achilles heel of NATO and will no doubt be even more exploited by its opponents in the future.

Moreover, is it surprising that the country most visited by Stoltenberg so far is neither Poland nor Turkey nor the U.K. and the U.S., but Germany? In fact, Germany is the only NATO member state in which Stoltenberg met not only with the leadership, but also addressed the meetings of political parties. He gave a speech at the annual meeting of the conservative Bavarian CSU parliamentary group in Wildbad Kreuth on January 8, 2015 and the social-democrat SPD conference in Berlin on February 8, 2015. This intense focus on Germany shows to what extent the support of German political elites is crucial for the continued existence of NATO. Let's not forget that one of the most concise definitions of NATO was given by its first Secretary General Lord Ismay when he said that the purpose of NATO is "to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down."[7] Stoltenberg also took part in the Munich Security Conference, the annual gathering of the erstwhile Cold Warriors, on February 6-7, 2015.

Forums and Conferences

In addition to the Munich conference, it is interesting to see which other international conferences and forums were attended by Stoltenberg because this will give us a sense of the network of NATO-friendly international non-governmental organizations. One of these is the Snow Meeting organized every year by the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, which Stoltenberg attended on January 15-16, 2015. Another is the Brussels Forum organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and attended by Stoltenberg on March 20, 2015 and again on March 18, 2016. This not-for-profit organization has been one of the strongest advocates of the NATO expansion in Europe and sponsors the whole variety of activities connected to NATO promotion. One can say that the GMF is one of the most significant tools of NATO soft power. It is financially supported by the German government as well as many corporate sponsors. The close association between the GMF and Stoltenberg is also revealed by the fact that one of his first speeches in office was the address to the GMF in Brussels on October 28, 2015.

Tightly related to the GMF is the POLITICO magazine, considering that its Editor-in-Chief John F. Harris is on the GMF Board of Trustees.[8] And, indeed, Stoltenberg attended the launch party for the European branch of POLITICO in Brussels on April 23, 2015. No doubt that POLITICO is a new addition to the usual suspects of the U.S. public diplomacy (propaganda) warfare in Europe, such as the Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America.

While he was in the U.S. on May 25-27, 2015, Stoltenberg delivered a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) based in Washington, D.C., another think tank whose raison d'être is to promote NATO interests in Europe and beyond. Stoltenberg visited the U.S. on two more occasions, most recently, on April 4-7, 2016. He also took part in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 22-23, 2016.

Non-NATO states

The key part of the job of a NATO Secretary General is to lobby  - using the stick, the carrot, or both - the (remaining) non-NATO states in Europe, the post-Soviet region, North Africa, and the Middle East to closely tie their foreign policy to NATO goals and projects, even if they stop short of becoming actual members. Obviously, the pressure to integrate into NATO is the strongest in Europe and it is therefore not surprising that Stoltenberg visited almost all militarily neutral European states. The first on his list was Finland which he visited on March 4-5, 2015, then came Sweden on November 9-10, 2015, Serbia on November 19-20, 2015, and Switzerland on January 22-23, 2016 (on the occasion of the World Economic Forum in Davos). All these states (barring perhaps Switzerland) are currently under intense propaganda barrage by the external and internal NATO-friendly political forces to give up their traditional military neutrality and join NATO. Stoltenberg's visits were an important component of the carefully designed psychological operation to turn up the heat on the unwilling general population of these states. This is especially evident in the case of Montenegro which Stoltenberg visited twice, first, on June 10-11, 2015 and, then, again on October 14-15, 2015. His visits were used by the Montenegrin regime of Milo Djukanović to increase the popular support for NATO membership. The regime's attempts were not successful as the majority of the Montenegrin citizens still remain opposed to NATO.

Stoltenberg also visited two former Soviet states, Georgia on August 26-27, 2015, and Ukraine on September 21-22, 2015. The ruling elites of both states have become willing collaborators in NATO's Eastern expansion, which turned these states into overt and covert battlefields with Russia. Both the winners and the losers of this NATO-Russia geopolitical chess game are known. The winners are the military-industrial-intelligence complexes and the losers are the ordinary people. On all sides.

It should also be noted that Stoltenberg visited several non-NATO states in the Middle East and North Africa. He visited Jordan on December 8-10, 2014 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the NATO-sponsored organization Mediterranean Dialogue, which includes seven states: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunis.[9] He continued on to Qatar on December 10-12, 2014 to mark another anniversary: the 10th anniversary of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, a NATO-led project that brings together NATO member states and Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain.[10] Stoltenberg paid another visit to the region more recently. He visited Kuwait on February 29, 2016, Iraq on March 1, 2016, and the UAE on March 2, 2016.

Overall, in the period included in this analysis (October 2014 - June 2016), Stoltenberg made slightly less than 90 trips. His travels expose the expansionist agenda of NATO which shows no intention of slowing down. However, the intention is one thing and its becoming reality quite another.

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Filip Kovacevic is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles & conference presentations and hundreds of newspaper columns and media commentaries. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco. He can be contacted at fk1917@yahoo.com

Notes

[1] All the information about Stoltenberg's travels comes from the official NATO website

www.nato.int and concerns the time period from his becoming the Secretary General until early June 2016 when the analysis was conducted.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jens_Stoltenberg

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorvald_Stoltenberg

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29424512

[5] http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=ba6_1413068110

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/putin-visits-orthodox-monastic-community-at-mount-athos/2016/05/28/af53bf56-24d0-11e6-b944-52f7b1793dae_story.html

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/16/opinion/16iht-edwheatcroft16.html?_r=0

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Marshall_Fund

[9] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_60021.htm

[10] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_58787.htm?

 

The Alliance of Neutral States (ANS): Putin’s Anti-NATO Grand Design for the Balkans

Capitalizing on the popular dissatisfaction with the neoliberal Atlanticist political & economic status quo

For about two decades, it appeared that the end of the Cold War in Europe left the Balkan states with no long-term geostrategic option except the so-called Euro-Atlantic integrations underwritten by the ideology known as Atlanticism. This option reached the peak of its strength after NATO's military intervention in the Bosnian conflict in 1995 (which was its first out-of-area military operation since the founding in 1949) and NATO's 78-day long war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999. More covertly, NATO forces also intervened in the Macedonian-Albanian conflict in 2001.

As the result of these offensive military undertakings, Bosnia and Kosovo essentially became NATO protectorates with the civilian administrations being supervised by the EU, while the U.S. military bases and auxiliary facilities were quickly established in both. In addition,  Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania became the members of NATO in 2004 and Croatia and Albania in 2009. All remaining Balkan states, surrounded by NATO members from all sides, rapidly developed close military and intelligence linkages with NATO headquarters in Brussels. This process was greatly helped by the fact that the ruling political elites in these states, except to some extent in Serbia and the Serb Republic (a political subunit within Bosnia), openly acted as NATO's agents of influence and advocated membership, even though this contradicted the political will of the majority of the population.

These Balkan political elites have been allowed to compensate for the obvious lack of internal democratic legitimacy by the endless praise from the high-level officials in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, London, and Washington, DC. Organized crime, corruption, lawless privatizations, massive unemployment, widespread poverty and hopelessness have simply been swept under the rug. The typically loud defenders of human rights and the rule of law have looked the other way. Evidently, the Atlanticist end justified all and any "dirty" means. Geography trumped democracy.

Progressive Resistance

It is true that even during this period there were political forces which advocated alternative scenarios, mostly based on the Titoist policy of non-alignment and the "third way" in international affairs. However, their activities were constantly being subverted by the well-oiled,  imported NATO propaganda machinery in the government, in the media, and in the non-governmental sector. Their members were generally young people who were enthusiastic, honest and genuinely committed to the public good, but were plagued by the lack of funding and faced with frequent media blackout and open discrimination. Nonetheless, their programs articulated the most promising and humane geopolitical vision for the Balkans. They conceptualized the Balkans as a territorial bridge between the West and the East rather than as the place of persistent confrontation, or the "line of fire" as formulated by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015.[1] They wanted the Balkans to become a force for peace and human dignity in the world.[2] Their vision still remains the best option for the Balkan peoples.

However, even though these progressive groups still continue to be active with no less enthusiasm than before, they are being increasingly superseded in their anti-NATO efforts by the revival of the once vanquished (and left for dead) U.S. Cold War opponent. Since the beginning of conflict in Ukraine in early 2014, Putin's administration has returned to the Balkans with political force and funding not seen since the days of the tsar Nicholas II.

Enter Putin (in the footsteps of Nicholas II)

It is worth remembering that in summer 1914 Nicholas II entered what came to be known as the WWI in order to protect Serbia and the Serbian people from the Austro-Hungarian invasion. Some political circles in both Russia and Serbia understand the decades-long NATO's military activities in the very same historical key, especially with regard to the status of Kosovo. While the possibility that history will repeat itself in this respect is, thankfully, still far remote, it cannot be denied that recent developments go a long way in creating the ominous atmosphere for the eruption of localized violence in the near future.

These developments all relate to the declining popularity of the Atlanticist geopolitical narrative in the Balkans and the foremost among them is the public articulation of a new Balkan grand design by the Putin administration. Just as the fundamental component of the U.S. grand design for the Balkans is its eventual full integration into NATO, Russia has now articulated a clear and precise counter-design. Instead of joining NATO, the remaining non-NATO Balkan states (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Macedonia) are to form the alliance of neutral states (ANS).

The Lovćen Declaration

What the ANS means in practice can best understood if we examine the first formal document in which it has been articulated. This so-called Lovćen declaration was signed by the representatives of the United Russia party (founded by Putin and currently chaired by the Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev) and the Montenegrin opposition party Democratic People's Party in the historically significant Montenegrin village of Njeguši on May 6, 2016.[3]

Njeguši is the birthplace of the Montenegrin royal dynasty of Petrović-Njegoš which ruled over Montenegro for more than 200 years and developed very close political and family ties with the long-ruling Russian dynasty of Romanovs. Moreover, the declaration was signed in the house in which one of the most famous rulers of the dynasty, Petar II, known as the Montenegrin Shakespeare, was born. The name of the declaration also has an important historical connotation as it comes from the nearby mountain Lovćen on the top of which the Petar II's mausoleum is located.

One of the most powerful political figures in Montenegro, the metropolitan Amfilohije, the chief bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, was present at the signing and gave his blessing. Though in the past Amfilohije has been known to support the authoritarian and pro-NATO prime minister Milo Djukanović around the election time, he has always publicly opposed NATO membership and has given fiery speeches on its "evil nature" to the point of accusing NATO for continuing Hitler's anti-Slavic project.[4]

Even more importantly, Amfilohije's involvement with the Lovćen declaration reveals one of the fundamental components of Putin's overall geopolitical plan - the nurturing and intensification of the religious Christian Orthodox connection between the Russians and the Orthodox peoples of the Balkans. This includes not the Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians, but also the Greeks and Bulgarians whose states are in NATO and whose religious "awakening" can easily subvert NATO from the inside. The strength of this connection and its future implications have seriously been underestimated by the Atlanticist circles. There are clear indications that these circles have been taken by surprise and now, in their first reactions, seek to minimize the importance of Putin's ANS efforts.

The Atlanticist Response

For example, the journalist Gennady Sysoev, Balkan correspondent for the Russian newspaper Kommersant, who is known in Montenegro for his NATO-friendly commentaries, claims that Putin's undertaking is bound to end in failure because the partners of the United Russia in the Balkans are in the political opposition and the ANS goes against the officially proclaimed policies of the Montenegrin and other Balkan governments.[5] However, Sysoev is intentionally silent on the fact that, given the present political instability in Montenegro, Bosnia, and Macedonia, the United Russia's political partners, which, it is true, are now in the opposition, might be able to come to power at some point in the not too distant future. Indeed, they have entered the partnership with Russia's ruling political party precisely because they intend not to be the opposition any longer and expect financial and logistical help from Putin in their electoral political activities. They will hardly be disappointed. The Lovćen declaration spells out in detail all aspects of political, economic, and social relations in which the Russian support will be forthcoming.

The NATO-controlled media in Montenegro quickly seized on Sysoev's article and summarized it under the title "Putin's party relies on marginal figures."[6] The speed of translation and publication suggest the high degree of coordination. However, the title of the article is misleading because the very same method has been used by the U.S. and NATO intelligence services to control the governments of East-Central European states since the collapse of communism. Countless small parties with just a handful of parliamentary deputies were formed with the money coming from the various "black budgets" with the task of entering the governing coalition and then steering the entire government in the direction charted by their foreign founders and mentors. These parties have had minimal public legitimacy, but have made a great political impact with their "blackmail" potential. As they also don't cost very much, the CIA, the MI6, and the BND regularly create them for every new election cycle.

Now the Russians (primarily, the SVR and the GRU) are using the same rulebook for their own geopolitical interests. In addition, however, Putin's grand design for the Balkans embodied in the ANS is also likely to prove durable not only because it builds on the traditional cultural and religious ties linking Russia and the Balkans, but also because it rides on the wave of the enormous present popular dissatisfaction with the neoliberal Atlanticist political and economic status quo.

# # # #

Filip Kovacevic is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles & conference presentations and hundreds of newspaper columns and media commentaries. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco. He can be contacted at fk1917@yahoo.com

NOTES

[1] http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=5a7_1425064348 ;  See also my previous BFP article on the destabilization factors in the Balkans, http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2015/03/03/bfp-exclusive-who-is-trying-to-destabilize-the-balkans/

[2] Consider for instance the activities of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro and similar organizations across the ex-Yugoslav political space, http://mnmne.org/

[3] http://ruskarec.ru/politics/2016/05/06/u-crnoj-gori-je-potpisana-lovcenska-deklaracija-sa-jedinstvenom-rusijom_591025

[4] http://www.dan.co.me/?nivo=3&rubrika=Drustvo&datum=2015-07-21&clanak=501981

[5] http://kommersant.ru/doc/2982518

[6] http://www.vijesti.me/vijesti/putinova-stranka-se-oslanja-na-marginalce-887562

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 20, 2015

Turkmenistan to CIS: ‘Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here!,’ United National Movement Protests Georgia's Talks with Gazprom & 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.

Islamabad's recent offer to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table for renewed peace talks with the Afghan government is just one example of Pakistan's influence over the Taliban movement in general and its new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in particular. According to some Taliban sources, Pakistan is now taking a two-pronged approach in dealing with the movement. On the one hand, the Pakistani authorities are backing Mansoor and negotiations with Kabul but, on the other hand, they are also supporting the hawkish anti-Mansoor faction in order to keep the new supremo in check and continue the fight in Afghanistan. A senior Afghan intelligence official confirmed this, pointing out that Pakistan recently helped Mansoor's rival Abdul Qayyum "Zakir" launch large-scale offensives in the south of the country, which prompted Mansoor to offer Zakir to become his first deputy or Taliban shadow defense minister. Against this backdrop, it is interesting to note that the United States is now implicating Pakistani intelligence in the Taliban's takeover of Kunduz as well:

APNewsBreak: US analysts knew Afghan site was hospital American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on an Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed by a U.S. military attack because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity, The Associated Press has learned.

The special operations analysts had assembled a dossier that included maps with the hospital circled, along with indications that intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative and activity reports based on overhead surveillance, according to a former intelligence official who is familiar with some of the documents describing the site. The intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons. After the attack — which came amidst a battle to retake the northern Afghan city of Kunduz from the Taliban — some U.S. analysts assessed that the strike had been justified, the former officer says. They concluded that the Pakistani, believed to have been working for his country's Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, had been killed.

U.S. Keeps Troops in Afghanistan as Kabul Takes Desperate Measures 

The Associated Press emphasizes that it is unclear whether the responsible commanders knew about these reports or that the site was a hospital. But although the U.S. keeps changing its story every few days, it is becoming more and more evident that the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz was deliberately targeted. The American military's "unannounced and forced entry" into the hospital compound immediately after the bombing suggests that Washington is not telling the whole truth. Interestingly, there is no public evidence to suggest that a Pakistani was killed in the attack, which makes the allegations against the ISI even more curious. Meanwhile, government forces have managed to drive the Taliban out of Kunduz - the Taliban claim to have withdrawn by their own choice "to avoid further civilian casualties" - but the situation remains highly volatile. The fall of Kunduz has put Afghanistan back on the map and U.S. President Barack Obama used the opportunity to announce that thousands of American troops will stay in the country when he leaves office:

Citing 'very fragile' security in Afghanistan, Obama slows pace of U.S. troop withdrawal Reversing policy on Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday he will prolong the 14-year-old U.S. military engagement there, effectively handing off the task of pulling out troops to his successor. Calling it a "modest but meaningful" adjustment to winding down the American presence in Afghanistan, Obama said Afghan forces were not yet as strong as they needed to be given a "very fragile" security situation and the United States will maintain a force of 9,800 through most of 2016. Obama had previously aimed to withdraw all but a small U.S.-embassy based force in the capital, Kabul, before he leaves office in January 2017. Under the new plan, troops will be drawn down to 5,500 starting sometime in 2017 and will be based at four locations - Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

It comes as no real surprise that Obama won't keep his promise to end the war in Afghanistan. First of all, Obama is not known for keeping his word, and second, it has long been painfully obvious that the Afghan security forces are unable to cope with the deteriorating security situation. U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani and the American military, which had been lobbying for slowing the withdrawal, immediately welcomed Obama's decision but the announcement also engendered criticism. The Taliban reacted as expected, emphasizing that this "means they aren't sincere about a peaceful solution to the Afghan crisis." Russia's Foreign Ministry joined in the criticism as well and stressed that "this forced step is another graphical evidence of the full blunder of the 14-year Washington military campaign and its allies in Afghanistan." And nothing illustrates this better than Kabul's latest idea:

Afghan Plan to Expand Militia Raises Abuse Concerns With the Afghan security forces gravely challenged by Taliban offensives, the government is moving to rapidly expand the troubled Afghan Local Police program by thousands of members, Afghan and Western officials say. The move to expand the police militias, prompted by the disastrous loss of the northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban almost three weeks ago, is being described by officials speaking privately as an attempt to head off panic in Afghan cities threatened by the insurgents. But the expansion also amounts to an open admission that the United States’ main legacy in Afghanistan — the creation of nationalized police and army forces numbering more than 350,000 members — is failing under pressure even before any final American military withdrawal. On Thursday, President Obama called off that pullout, originally due at year’s end, leaving 9,800 American troops in the country for at least another year.

The Afghan Local Police (ALP) is part of the U.S. legacy in Afghanistan. U.S. planners created the ALP in 2010 to support the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP). General David Petraeus modeled the program after the 'Sons of Iraq' initiative. Many ALP members are former Taliban who are now on the payroll of the United States. It is not difficult to imagine what will happen when the money dries up. But the biggest problem are the serious human rights abuses at the hands of ALP units, which are nothing more than village militias with AK-47s. Contrary to what the name suggests, Afghan Local Police members don't have police powers and don't care about the law. Although ALP forces have repeatedly been accused of all kinds of heinous crimes, including torture, rape and murder, Kabul is now planning to expand the program. This shows that the Afghan authorities are becoming increasingly desperate in the face of Taliban advances across the country:

Another Afghan district falls to the Taliban Reports from the northwestern province of Faryab indicate that the Taliban has overrun yet another district in Afghanistan. Ghormach, a district that borders Turkmenistan, is now effectively under Taliban control, according to the jihadist group and the Afghan press. The fall of Ghormach took place just 10 Days after the Taliban seized the districts of Garziwan and Pashtun Kot in Faryab; the Afghan government later claimed to have liberated Garziwan. On week prior, the Taliban attempted to seize control of Maimana, the provincial capital of Faryab. The two districts are on the outskirts of Maimana, and control access from the east.

Turkmenistan to CIS: Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here!

Ghormach's seizure by the Taliban is not only noteworthy because the district borders Turkmenistan but also because warlord-turned-vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum and his family are still being celebrated for the successful government offensive in Faryab province. As previously discussed, the success in Faryab was short-lived. The insurgents picked up where they had left off as soon as Dostum returned to Kabul. Faryab has long been one of the most contested provinces in Afghanistan and it looks as if this won't change anytime soon. To make matters worse, the situation on the Tajik border isn't much better either. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about Russia's possible return to the Tajik-Afghan border. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov fueled the speculations in the run-up to last week's Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) meeting, which focused on the issue:

Russia, ex-Soviet states to jointly defend borders in crisis The leaders of ex-Soviet states, led by Russian President Vladimir Putin, responded to growing instability in Afghanistan on Friday by agreeing to create a joint task force to defend their bloc's external borders if a crisis arises. The move could mean that Russian troops, as part of collective forces, will be deployed to Afghanistan's borders as the U.S.-led coalition gradually withdraws from the country, leaving behind a power vacuum. They agreed on the creation of what is described in a summit document as a "grouping of border (forces) and other institutions from CIS member states designed to resolve crisis situations on the external borders".

Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to convince his CIS colleagues that closer military cooperation is necessary because the situation in Afghanistan is "close to critical". However, it remains to be seen how much this agreement is actually worth. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, for his part, remarked after the meeting that the CIS is pretty much useless and that the issues discussed "are detached from reality." Disagreements between CIS members have often rendered the organization useless. So Karimov might have a point. At any rate, Russian President Putin and Kazakh President Nazarbayev used the latest CIS meeting in Kazakhstan to draw attention to the alarming situation in Afghanistan and to call for closer cooperation in dealing with the problem. Whereas Tajikistan welcomed the initiative, Turkmenistan preferred to deny that there is any problem and to attack anyone who suggests otherwise:

Turkmenistan Strongly Denies ‘Incidents’ at Afghan Border Turkmenistan has registered no incidents at its border with Afghanistan, the Central Asian state's government said on Friday, denouncing as untrue a remark by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The strongly worded statement came ahead of a meeting of ex-Soviet nations to discuss the security of Afghan borders, among other issues, and followed comments by Nazarbayev who said he was aware of "incidents" that had happened at the Afghan-Turkmen border, but did not elaborate. "The Turkmen side expresses its extreme concern and incomprehension with regards to such a statement by the president of Kazakhstan about the situation on Turkmenistan's state border, which is untrue," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Turkmenistan's strongly worded statement indicates that Nazarbayev struck a nerve by bringing up the situation on the Afghan border. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry was not impressed by the harsh words coming from Ashgabat and defended Nazarbayev's remarks. After all, it is absolutely ludicrous to deny that there has been unrest on the Turkmen-Afghan border. Last year, Turkmen forces even crossed the border in order to drive the insurgents back and there have been several "incidents" ever since. According to the foreign-based website Alternative News of Turkmenistan, the Turkmen military has stationed up to 70 percent of its combat-ready military equipment along the Afghan border. The Turkmen government is obviously aware of the alarming situation in northern Afghanistan, but for some reason Ashgabat is now trying to play down the issue. Perhaps this has something to do with Turkmenistan's efforts to push the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, regardless of whether or not that makes any sense:

Hunt on for leader to lay $10 billion TAPI gas pipeline The four-nation consortium has revived the search for a leader to help lay the $10-billion TAPI gas pipeline, laying bare the lack of confidence among the countries to go ahead on their own and threatening to delay the project further. Just two months back, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India had agreed to co-own the project with TurkmenGaz, the state-owned firm of Turkmenistan, expected to make the majority investment in laying the 1800-km pipeline that would begin the construction work in December. Now again the timeline looks shaky. "The key challenge is to select a consortium leader or a partner. We are still looking for one," said BC Tripathi, chairman of GAIL, the state-run firm that represents India in the consortium. The top executives of GAILBSE 1.97 % and other state companies representing three other nations have been negotiating the terms between themselves and figuring out the nuances of the project for the last two months since the oil ministers of the four countries agreed in Ashgabat to go on their own without waiting for a firm with experience in laying and operating pipeline to lead the consortium.

United National Movement Protests Georgia's Talks with Gazprom

Although a TAPI consortium leader is nowhere to be found and the Taliban are making themselves at home on the Turkmen-Afghan border, Turkmenistan is already starting with the construction of the ambitious pipeline project in an attempt to diversify its gas exports. In order to lessen the increasing dependence on China, the Turkmen authorities are also turning to Japan and still promoting the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Russia's launch of cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea should serve as a warning to supporters of the Trans-Caspian project but Ashgabat and Baku refuse to give up on the pipe dream. Azerbaijan's efforts to strengthen its position in the energy market suffered recently an unexpected setback when close ally Georgia announced its plans to buy more gas from Russia and Iran. The words of Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze caused a great stir and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili had to travel to Baku to calm the waves:

Georgian PM Reaffirms ‘Friendly, Strategic’ Relations with Azerbaijan PM Irakli Garibashvili said on October 12 that Tbilisi’s relations with Baku will remain “friendly and strategic” and dismissed talk of “diversification, replacement of Azerbaijani gas” supplies as “utterly absurd”. 

Georgian Energy Ministry said late last week that Tbilisi was open for talks with Gazprom on possible gas supplies for private entities in Georgia in order to, as Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze and his deputy put it, “diversify” energy supplies for the country. Kaladze, who met Gazprom chief executive in Brussels in late September, reiterated on October 12 that private entities might be interested in purchasing Russian gas if the price is acceptable. After the Georgian Energy Minister spoke about possible gas supplies from Gazprom last week, PM Garibashvili made a brief and unannounced visit to Baku on October 10, where he met Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, triggering speculation in Tbilisi that the surprise visit aimed at mending ties after potential fallout caused by Tbilisi’s suggestions over Gazprom gas supplies.

Georgian opposition parties tried to exploit the situation and some people went as far as alleging that the government plans to revise the country's relations with Azerbaijan. Garibashvili vehemently denied this and assured everyone that things will stay as they are. The Georgian Prime Minister stressed that talks with Gazprom are just about a possible increase of transit of natural gas to Armenia. Neither President Giorgi Margvelashvili nor the Georgian opposition were entirely convinced by Garibashvili's words. Last Friday, Tbilisi police detained Tamar Chergoleishvili, the head of pro-Saakashvili TV channel Tabula TV, one of her producers and another activist when they were hanging up posters mocking former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and Gazprom. One day later, a few hundred protesters gathered in front of the central government building to protest against the negotiations with Russia's energy behemoth:

Tbilisi Protests Russia’s Gazprom On Saturday, at the State Chancellery, the protest ‘No to Gazprom’ rallied against Gazprom’s possible entrance into the Georgian energy market. Energy giant Russia is believed to attempt to re-enter Georgia and is said by some to be a non-trivial tool for the Russian government to manage political processes on the ground. The concerns arose after the government initiated talks with Russian energy company Gazprom. The rally involved politicians, public activists and members of the National Movement, as well as concerned citizens from all over Georgia. Tabula, a political magazine, organized the protest action against Gazprom’s possible entrance into the Georgian energy market.

Tamar Chergoleishvili is not only the head of Tabula TV but also the editor-in-chief of the Tbilisi-based Tabula magazine. Tabula is known for its pro-United National Movement (UNM) views, which is hardly surprising considering that Chergoleishvili is the wife of senior UNM leader Giga Bokeria. As mentioned last week, the opposition party is currently trying to prevent the government from taking control of another important pro-UNM media outlet. According to the latest polls, neither the Georgian Dream ruling coalition nor the UNM have benefited from the endless fighting. Although many voters are disappointed by the government, the UNM isn't gaining any support as more and more Georgians don't know which party they should vote for. But more worrying for the West are the rising pro-Russian sentiment and the declining support for joining the European Union and NATO:

NDI Poll on Foreign Policy Issues

Number of Georgian respondents who support “government’s stated goal to join the EU” has dropped by 17 percentage points over the past year to 61%, according to a public opinion survey, commissioned by the NDI and fielded by CRRC in August. Asked whether they support or not Georgia joining Russia-led Eurasian Union, 31% responded positively, same as in April 2015, and 46% negatively, up by five percentage points from four months earlier. When the respondents were offered a choice between two answers – “Georgia will benefit more from joining EU and NATO”, and “Georgia will benefit more from abandoning Euro-Atlantic integration in favor of better relations with Russia” – 45% chose the former and 30% the latter.

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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, 2015

U.S. Tries to Keep Georgia in Line, Afghanistan Turns to Russia for Help as Taliban Gain Ground & 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.

New Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor faced a lot of opposition within the movement, when he officially took over from Mullah Omar two months ago. Several leading Taliban commanders decided to go their own ways and Mullah Omar's family only reluctantly endorsed the new supremo. Despite all that, the Taliban have stepped up their game in the first few weeks of Mansoor's reign, dashing Kabul's hopes that the confirmation of Mullah Omar's death would weaken the group. It seems like an eternity ago that Kabul and the Taliban were holding peace talks to stop the fighting. At the end of July, the two sides were about to meet in Pakistan for the second round of talks when Afghan intelligence leaked Omar's death to the press, thereby unleashing a new wave of violence. After the Taliban demonstrated their power in Kunduz, Pakistan renewed its offer to restart the talks and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reminded his Afghan colleagues that they should have kept their mouth shut:

Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif says working for revival of Afghan peace talks The Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said he is trying to revive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban group which was stalled by the announcement of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death. In televised remarks to the media Nawaz said “The news of Mullah Omar should not have been broken just before the start of the second round of talks.” Sharif further added “We are now trying to resume the (peace) process and pray to God to crown our efforts with success.”

Afghanistan Turns to Russia for Help as Taliban Gain Ground

Given that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) more or less controls Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the Pakistani government should be able to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table, or at least the faction that is interested in talks with Kabul. Mansoor supported the reconciliation process and authorized the delegation for the first round of talks. That is why several top Taliban commanders turned against him. U.S. Gen. John F. Campbell, the top commander of U.S. and allies forces in Afghanistan, just told the House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee that 60 percent to 70 percent of the Taliban movement may ultimately be reconciled with Kabul but that is of course still a long way off. As for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, they will have no choice but to talk to Mansoor and his Pakistani backers if the Taliban continue to gain ground across the country:

Afghan Taliban’s Reach Is Widest Since 2001, U.N. Says The Taliban insurgency has spread through more of Afghanistan than at any point since 2001, according to data compiled by the United Nations as well as interviews with numerous local officials in areas under threat. In addition, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan over the past two weeks has evacuated four of its 13 provincial offices around the country — the most it has ever done for security reasons — according to local officials in the affected areas. The data, compiled in early September — even before the latest surge in violence in northern Afghanistan — showed that United Nations security officials had already rated the threat level in about half of the country’s administrative districts as either “high” or “extreme,” more than at any time since the American invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.

As The New York Times pointed out, the United Nations' assessment is at odds with Gen. Campbell's rosy assessment in his recent testimony to Congress. The top U.S. commander even had the nerve to play down the alarming situation in Kunduz, while at the same time, the U.S. was using the latest crisis to tell its NATO allies that they will probably have to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has already endorsed the idea. Meanwhile, the Afghan government is seeking help from other countries as well. Last week, Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum visited Grozny and Moscow to ask for Russian support in the fight against ISIS. During his meetings with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and top Russian officials, Dostum commended Russia's campaign in Syria and stressed that Kabul needs Moscow's support because "ISIS is trying to make Afghanistan into a bridgehead." This clearly resonated with his Russian hosts:

Afghanistan's Dostum Turns To Old Ally Russia For Help "The Russian side is committed to support and help Afghanistan in terms of helping its air and military forces," Dostum's spokesman, Sultan Faizy, told RFE/RL by telephone. "We're lacking air support, weapons, ammunition. We need a lot of backing and support to fight against terrorism." But Faizy said that would not mean direct military intervention by Russia, which is still mindful of the 1979-89 war that killed some 15,000 Soviet soldiers and has repeatedly said it would not send troops to Afghanistan. Faizy said that Moscow had promised to evaluate the situation in Afghanistan and "see what they can help with."

An Afghan parliamentary delegation also visited Moscow to ask for support. Russian Federation Council member Igor Morozov told TASS that the Afghans cited a lack of helicopters as the reason for the Taliban takeover of Kunduz and Morozov used the opportunity to have a dig at the Americans. Zamir Kabulov, President Putin's special envoy to Afghanistan, announced after the meetings that Moscow and Kabul are planning to sign a deal on the delivery of several Mi-35 helicopter gunships later this month. That is music to the ears of Afghan Air Force (AAF) commanders who have repeatedly complained about the useless MD 530F helicopters provided by the United States. Whether or not Russia considers extending its "anti-ISIS" bombing campaign to Afghanistan, remains unclear. Kabulov dodged the question when he was asked but he provided an explanation for the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan:

ISIS training militants from Russia in Afghanistan, 'US and UK citizens among instructors' Russian officials accused Washington of orchestrating the deterioration of security in Afghanistan and the expansion of Islamic State there. “It seems like someone’s hand is pushing freshly trained ISIL fighters to mass along Afghanistan’s northern border. They don’t fight foreign or Afghan government troops,” Kabulov said. He added that on several occasions Taliban groups that refused to join Islamic State were “set up” to be targeted by airstrikes. “The Afghan Army practically has no aircraft. Only the Americans do. These details bring some very bad thoughts and concerns. We have to take them into account and draw conclusions accordingly,” he said.

Russia Sends Helicopters to Alleviate Tajikistan's Border Woes 

Kabulov emphasized that the Afghanistan branch of ISIS numbers already 3,500 fighters despite emerging only one year ago. Russia's military intelligence chief Igor Sergun added that the Islamic State's expansion in Afghanistan is in line with Washington's long-term goal of destabilizing Central Asia and "surrounding Russia and China with a network of regimes loyal to America and hotspots of tension." As the situation in northern Afghanistan deteriorates, Russian officials seem to be stepping up their ISIS rhetoric in an effort to justify further military involvement in the region. Although the Russians are clearly exaggerating the threat posed by ISIS, the increasing activities of insurgents on the Tajik-Afghan border cannot be denied. Tajikistan's intelligence agency claims that more than 1,000 Taliban fighters have massed in close proximity the border and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon recently briefed his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the latest developments during a meeting in Sochi:

Tajikistan 'Extremely Concerned' About Situation Along Afghan Border President Emomali Rahmon has said Tajikistan was "extremely concerned" about the situation along the Tajik-Afghan border. During a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on October 6, Rahmon said the situation in Afghanistan was "getting worse by the day." "Practically, fighting is going on along more than 60 percent of the Tajik border with Afghanistan," he added.

Russian President Putin also voiced concerns about the deteriorating situation on the border but both leaders agreed that there was no need for boosting Russian military presence in Tajikistan. Apparently this didn't include helicopters. One day after the meeting between Putin and Rahmon, a Russian Defense Ministry official announced that Russia will reinforce its 201st military base in Tajikistan with Mi-24P attack and Mi-8MTV transport and combat helicopters. The helicopters will be stationed at Ayni Air Force Base, which was renovated with $70 million from India a few years ago. Both India and Russia have been trying to gain control of the base, to no avail. The Tajik Defense Ministry just clarified that Russia can use the base but it remains under Tajik control. Russia's military presence in the country is a controversial issue because Russian soldiers are not always on their best behavior:

Russian officer sacked for assaulting Tajik taxi driver A court at Russian’s military base in Tajikistan has delivered a judgment over the case of Russian officer Denis Borisenko, who was charged with assaulting a Tajik taxi driver and stealing his vehicle. Under a ruling handed down at the court at the Russian military base, Senior Lieutenant Denis Borisenko was sacked and he will pay compensation (60,000 Russian rubles (RR) to local tax driver Dilshod Khoushov. According to investigators, Borisenko was drunk when he attacked Khoushov and drove away in his car. Borisenko later hit another vehicle and was detained at the scene. 

A few weeks ago, two other Russian soldiers were convicted of killing a Tajik taxi driver and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Such crimes and similar incidents reignite the never-ending debate about Russia's military presence in the country from time to time but the Tajik government hasn't been swayed by the criticism. In fact, Dushanbe has never been easily swayed by criticism. Washington has apparently realized this and preferred to keep quiet while the Rahmon regime was cracking down on the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). Even after the IRPT had been branded a terrorist organization, the U.S. only voiced mild criticism in an emailed statement, which went largely unnoticed. Meanwhile, the Tajik authorities are coming up with evermore charges against arrested IRPT lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov and the remaining top officials of the Islamic Renaissance Party:

Tajik Prosecutors Say 23 Islamic Party Officials Arrested Tajik prosecutors say 23 top officials of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (HNIT) have been arrested, many on suspicion of leading a deadly mutiny by a serving deputy defense minister in early September. The Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office said on October 6 that criminal probes are under way against the party officials who face charges including terrorism, inciting religious and racial hatred, and attempting to seize power by force. Many also face forgery, fraud, and other economic crime charges.

U.S. Tries to Keep Georgia in Line

As Tajikistan continues its crackdown on the IRPT without much resistance from the West, Georgia is probably wondering what the secret is. After the Georgian authorities recently tried to shut down pro-opposition private TV broadcaster Rustavi 2, the United States immediately reprimanded the government and U.S. Ambassador Ian C. Kelly met with Rustavi 2 executives to assure them that the U.S. Embassy "is closely following" the case. Rustavi 2 has long been a thorn in the side of the current government due to its close ties to former President Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement (UNM). Three opposition activists were detained for assaulting a lawmaker from Georgian Dream ruling coalition during a rally in support of Rustavi 2 in front of the parliament building. The UNM has tried to exploit this by calling for a snap election but even other government critics reject the idea:

Free Democrats against holding snap election The Free Democrats has rejected a proposal by the National Movement to hold a snap election one year before the next scheduled one. The Free Democrats has now ruled out supporting a snap election. The party was a member of the Georgian Dream coalition but withdrew in November, when party leader Irakli Alasania was dismissed as defense minister. Also the foreign minister and minister of Euro integration resigned in protest and are now active members of the Free Democrats. Maia Panjikidze, the former foreign minister, said Tuesday that the Free Democrats do not support holding a special election. She said there is indeed dissatisfaction about the government, but it is a signal for them to feel responsibility. However, she said, only one year is left until the parliamentary election. 

Irakli Alasania's Free Democrats would like to remove the "pro-Russian" government of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili sooner rather than later but they won't join forces with the UNM to this end. In Georgia, the crimes of the Saakashvili regime haven't been forgotten. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is now considering to take a break from prosecuting Africans and Serbs to investigate one of these crimes: the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. Much to the dismay of Moscow, the statements coming from The Hague and Saakashvili's reaction suggest that an investigation is going to be every bit as "objective" as previous ICC "investigations." After all, the ICC would never dream of going after a would-be NATO member. Georgian Foreign Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli underlined Tbilisi's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration once again during recent meetings with EU and NATO officials in Brussels but the Georgians have no illusions:

Georgian Deputy FM: MAP Not Expected at NATO Warsaw Summit

Georgia is not likely to get NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the alliance’s summit next year in Warsaw, Deputy Foreign Minister, Davit Dondua, said. According to him the Georgian officials and diplomats’ rhetoric abroad in communication with NATO partners is different from messages they try to use for domestic consumption in Georgia. He said that although knowing that there is a little chance for MAP, Georgia is still pushing the issue intensively in its talks with NATO partners as a “bargaining” tool in order to then get at least something; but domestically, he said, the authorities do not want to prioritize MAP in order not to create false expectations, because it will then cause frustration, which will be exploited by the “Russian propaganda” in Georgia.

Georgia's quest for NATO membership has played into the hands of the "Russian propaganda" and contributed to a rise of pro-Russian sentiments in the country, as more and more people began to realize that Georgian soldiers are dying in Afghanistan for nothing at all. Equally worrying for the West are Tbilisi's latest efforts to expand economic cooperation with Russia and Iran. Georgia wants to diversify its gas imports away from Azerbaijan, which provides about 90 percent of the country's gas imports at the moment. That is why Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze met last month with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller to discuss Russian gas supplies. To make matters worse, Khaladze announced a few days ago that Georgia is not only talking about additional supplies from Russia but also "actively working in respect of Iran." This didn't go down particularly well in Washington:

Deputy FM Says Georgia Told by U.S. not to Rush into Full-Scale Cooperation with Iran Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Davit Dondua, said the U.S. has asked Tbilisi to “refrain from full-scale cooperation” with Iran until Tehran fully complies with the Vienna nuclear deal reached in July. “We have permanent contacts with our American colleagues, who are asking us to refrain from full-scale cooperation with Iran and from becoming open [for Iran] for now – until all the commitments agreed in Vienna are fulfilled and until Iran is given final green light,” Dondua said on October 9. “We are telling our American and other friends that we remain committed to the policy and sanctions pursued by [the West] in respect of Iran, but you should also take into consideration specifics of Georgia’s situation. Iran is a regional state, our important partner, including from the economic point of view, and we want some sort of space for maneuvering,” Dondua 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