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

Azerbaijan: Gülen Schools & NATO Seminar Cause A Stir, Russia Steps Up Fight against Washington's Fifth Column & More!

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

The power struggle between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and CIA puppet Fethullah Gülen continues to dominate the headlines in Turkey. At the beginning of this week, Turkish police detained 11 suspects, including Erdogan's former chief bodyguard and an ex-police chief, in a probe into the wiretapping of the Turkish PM. Gülen's shadowy network has tried to topple Erdogan by all available means, one of which was the leaking of incriminating conversations. Up to this point, all efforts have failed and Erdogan is fighting back with a vengeance. Ever since the conflict intensified, the Turkish PM has made the case for a retrial of the military officers, who were purged in a joint AKP-Hizmet operation, fueling speculation that Erdogan intends to join forces with his old enemies against Gülen. On Wednesday, Turkey's highest court paved the way for this alliance by ordering the release of 230 military officers convicted in the Sledgehammer trial. The power struggle has spread to several countries affecting even the annual Washington conference of the infamous American-Turkish Council (ATC). As previously discussed, the main battleground besides Turkey is Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani authorities did Erdogan another favor this week:

Azerbaijan shuts down ‘Gülen-linked’ schools

Azerbaijan’s government-run energy company has announced that private schools run by affiliates of the movement led by U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen have been closed down.

From February to April, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) took over dozens of private high schools, university exam preparation centers and universities run by a Turkish education company called Çağ Ögretim, which is thought to be linked to the Gülen movement. 

SOCAR announced on June 18 that it had decided to close the schools, which were operated by the company now known as Azerbaijan International Education Center, due to “high maintenance costs and difficulties in project management.”

Azerbaijan: Gülen Schools & NATO Seminar Cause A Stir

SOCAR's cozy relationship with the Gülen movement was highlighted in a recent round-up. Given the fact that Baku's decision to place the Gülen schools under the control of SOCAR did not amount to the crackdown Turkish PM Erdogan had demanded, there have been some questions about the stance of the Azerbaijani government with regard to the Erdogan-Gülen conflict. The shutdown of Gülen's schools certainly answers these questions but Ilham Aliyev will be careful not to overplay his hand by antagonizing Gülen's puppeteers in Langley, who have enough kompromat on the Azerbaijani President. Although Aliyev is regularly criticized by Washington for his crackdown on the U.S.-backed opposition and the like, he should be fine as long as he stays in line regarding two most important issues, energy and NATO: 

NATO PA seminar kicks off in Baku with exchange between Azerbaijani, Armenian MPs on Nagorno-Karabakh

The first day of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Rose-Roth seminar in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 16 June 2014, was marked by exchanges between Azerbaijani and Armenian parliamentarians on the protracted conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. This was the first time an Armenian delegation was able to attend a NATO PA seminar in the Azerbaijani capital.

The attendance of the Armenian delegation was indeed noteworthy but it did not result in closer cooperation between Armenia and NATO or a rapprochement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, quite the contrary. Armenia's delegation defended the Armenian point of view on Nagorno-Karabakh prompting outrage among the Azeris, who voiced their indignation about several speeches, including the speech of Matthew Bryza, former U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group and U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani authorities are easily provoked when it comes to Nagorno-Karabakh and they do not support closer Armenia-NATO cooperation. Hence, it did not take long before the head of the Azerbaijani delegation, Ziyafat Asgarov, demanded the withdrawal of the Armenian delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly because "cooperation of such a terrorist state with NATO is unacceptable." According to Asgarov, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is the "number one terrorist in the region." Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been increasing in recent weeks and the NATO seminar in Baku did few to ease these tensions. The conflict could escalate at any time: 

Armenia Says Two Soldiers Killed In Fresh Border Skirmishes

Armenia's Defense Ministry says two Armenian soldiers were killed in the latest skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani military forces.

According to the ministry, one soldier was killed near the border with Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh on June 19, while another one died in a shoot-out near Armenia's border with Azerbaijan's Naxcivan Autonomous Republic.

Meanwhile, media reports in Azerbaijan say two Azerbaijani women and a girl were wounded after being shot by Armenian solders in Tovuz district near Nagorno-Karabakh.

One principle of both NATO and the European Union had once been to hold out the prospect of membership only to states which do not have conflicts with other states. Nowadays, no NATO or EU official cares about such ludicrous principles. Last week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso visited Azerbaijan to propose closer cooperation with the EU. Barroso emphasized Azerbaijan's role in reducing Europe's dependence on Russian gas and both sides agreed to accelerate the construction of the Southern Gas Corridor. Since the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will hardly challenge Gazprom, the EC President is already pushing another pipeline project involving Azerbaijan:

EU moves forward with Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline: Barroso

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso declared that EU will resume the development of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCP),
Tengrinews reports citing IA Novosti-Kazakhstan.

In an interview published by Azeri
Turan Barosso said that the EU will move forward with the project, which is a part of the Southern Gas Corridor, an ambitious plan to bring gas from the Caspian Sea and the Middle East to Europe. “The EU is interested in receiving additional volumes [of gas] that TCP could bring and its positive impact on the security of supplies to Europe, and will continue to work constructively to make this happen,” Barroso said.

Barroso called TCP a “mutually beneficial project that serves the strategic and commercial interests of all the partners”. He also pointed out that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan were strongly committed to the project. “We are still in the planning phase and we hope that the laying of the Southern Gas Corridor will contribute to accelerating the discussions for the TCP as well,” EU Commission President said.

Russia Steps Up Fight against Washington's Fifth Column

Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are indeed strongly committed to the Trans-Caspian pipeline and they have been talking about it since the 1990s but the implementation of the project is still highly unlikely due to strong opposition from Russia and Iran. Just last year, Russia's state-controlled energy giant Gazprom threatened war with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over the pipeline project. Unfortunately, the recent actions of Washington's lackeys in Brussels suggest that the EU will do its best to provoke a war with Russia. It is hard to imagine a more provocative move than sending notorious warmonger John McCain to Bulgaria in order to force the Bulgarian government to halt the construction of Gazprom's South Stream pipeline. While Barroso & Co. do not care about the consequences for Europe since they are not serving European interests, some European governments refuse to endorse this declaration of war. On the initiative of Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria are preparing to write a joint letter to Brussels in support of South Stream. One of the most vocal supporters of the project has been Gerhard Roiss, the CEO of Austria's oil and gas company OMV, who called on the EU to speed up the implementation of the pipeline instead of blocking it. Austria is not willing to give up on South Stream after the Nabucco debacle:

Russia to sign deal on South Stream laying in Austria June 24

Russia will sign a contract to lay the South Stream pipeline across Austria during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the country on June 24, Presidential Aide Yury Ushakov told reporters Friday.

Austria initially planned to cooperate with Gazprom in the South Stream, but later decided in favour of the Nabucco pipeline, pushing Gazprom to plan the South Stream route through neighboring Slovenia.

Russia and Austria resumed their talks on the issue, when the Nabucco West project lost Shah Deniz gas pumping rights to the Trans-Adriatic pipeline.

In the light of Kiev's repeated threats to disrupt the deliveries of Russian gas to Europe and the recent gas pipeline explosion in the central Ukrainian Poltava region, Brussels' fight against South Stream looks even more silly but Brussels and Washington are apparently determined to impede Gazprom's business in Europe. The Russian energy giant is reacting accordingly and will start laying the Power of Siberia gas pipeline to China as early as August. The developments in Pipelineistan are very much connected to the conflict in Ukraine and more and more Russians are beginning to realize what is at stake. Sergey Glazyev, President Putin's aide in developing the Customs Union, explained it last week in plain terms for those who were still having illusions about the current situation. Another Russian politician who does not mince his words when it comes to American interference in Ukraine and Russia is Yevgeny Fyodorov. Due to NATO's intensifying anti-Russian campaign, Fyodorov's National Liberation Movement (NLM) is gaining steam. He tends to see Washington's fifth column everywhere and is therefore spearheading efforts to curb American influence in Russia:

MP readies ban on US consulting for Russian state companies

A ruling party MP is preparing a bill banning state-owned companies from using the services of US consulting firms and their subsidiaries. The sponsor claims it would protect the Russian economy from direct foreign influence and hidden manipulation.

The idea belongs to Yevgeniy Fyodorov of the United Russia caucus who is known for his earlier suggestion to outlaw the use of US accountancy firms to financially audit state corporations.

“The Russian economy is only growing 0.5 percent a year because foreign consultants are lobbying for their own state. A few days ago we discussed the Central Bank’s report and the deputy chairman directly stated that the mass bankruptcy of Russian banks were a result of foreign consultations,” the MP said in an interview with mass circulation daily Izvestia.

A few weeks ago, Fyodorov was involved in bringing a new foreign agent law to the Russian State Duma. If the bill is passed, media outlets which receive more than 25 percent of their funding from abroad and engage in political activities, will be forced to register as foreign agents. Similar legislation for NGOs is already in place shedding light on the subversive activities of the United States, the United Kingdom and other Western countries in Russia. Last month, the Russian authorities launched a new wave of raids on NGOs and the Federal Security Service (FSB) is keeping a sharp eye on the individuals working for these NGOs. Washington's fifth column in Russia is coming under increasing pressure:

Justice Ministry Adds 5 More Russian NGOs to 'Foreign Agent' List

Russia's Justice Ministry has added five nongovernmental organizations to its list of "foreign agents" just days after President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing organizations to labeled as such without their consent.

An official statement on the ministry's website said the decision was made based on "court decisions confirming that the organizations are conducting political activities using foreign sources of funding."

Among the new additions are election monitoring organization Golos as well as the regional Golos organization, the Saratov-based Center for Social Policies and Gender Studies, the Kostroma Center for Support of Civil Initiatives and rights group Don Women.

Pakistan Cozies Up To Russia-China Axis

Due to the Ukrainian conflict and NATO's new Cold War, the Kremlin can ramp up its efforts against 'foreign agents' without having to worry about the opposition in Russia. Despite the tireless efforts of CIA's Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to keep Alexei Navalny in the headlines, the ratings of the Russian opposition have hit rock bottom. However, if the genocide in eastern Ukraine is not stopped, Russian President Putin will lose his all-time high approval ratings sooner rather than later and politicians like Fyodorov and Glazyev will get more support. Glazyev emphasized that the developments in Ukraine are part of a larger campaign by Washington aimed at consolidating U.S. hegemony over Eurasia. Russia and China, which recently formed a symbiotic, strategic alliance, lead the opposition to this campaign and efforts to isolate the Russia-China axis stand no chance:

Pakistan wants full-fledged membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Pakistan wants to be a full-fledged member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the potential of which is growing, Sartaj Aziz, an advisor to the prime minister of Pakistan on national security and foreign affairs, told ITAR-TASS on Friday.

“The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is playing an ever growing role, especially in the area of regional security,” he said. “That is why Pakistan is taking an active part in its work even in the status of observer.”

“The next SCO summit due in September in Dushanbe is expected to adopt admission rules for new members, so we will exert more efforts to further our application for full-fledged membership in this organization,” he noted.

At the beginning of this month, Russia lifted an embargo on sales of weapons and military hardware to Pakistan in order to pave the way for the delivery of a batch of Mi-35 helicopters. Since Moscow and Islamabad are eyeing closer cooperation, Russia's Foreign Ministry immerdiately assured India that arms supplies to Pakistan are "not directed against third countries" but intended to strengthen the "counterterrorist and anti-drug potential of Islamabad." Pakistan's armed forces are currently demonstrating their counterterrorist potential in the 'Zarb-e-Azb' operation, which is primarily targeting the foreign terrorists in North Waziristan, namely the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM):

Karachi airport attack mastermind killed in N Waziristan: Sources

Intelligence and military sources told that Abu Abdur Rehman Almani is considered a key commander of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), also now famous by the name of Islamic Movement of Turkestan. The IMU, an organisation of militants mostly from the central Asian Uzbek state, had claimed that its suicide bombers carried out the attack on the Karachi airport.

There are also reports of some East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) terrorists also killed in the strikes, considered a big blow to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the ETIM network in the North Waziristan Agency. However, there was no confirmation from the military on the identity of the deceased.

The statements of the Pakistani military ought to be taken with a grain of salt considering the absurd claim that 250 "terrorists" and zero civilians have been killed during the first week of military operations. Many foreign insurgents managed to escape the offensive with the help of the "good Taliban" groups such as the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group, which are not being targeted in the operation. So the success of 'Zarb-e-Azb' is highly questionable, and to make matters worse, more than 300.000 Pakistanis were forced to flee the tribal areas creating a huge refugee problem. Nevertheless, some people applaud the anti-terror operation, first and foremost the Chinese government, which is delighted to see the Pakistani military "fighting against ETIM terrorist forces." China's support comes as no real surprise given the fact that the "ETIM terrorist forces" continue to cause trouble in Xinjiang:

13 dead, 3 injured in Xinjiang police station attack

Thirteen mobsters were killed and three policemen were injured Saturday morning in an attack on a police station in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the local government said.

No civilians were hurt, according to the regional information office.

The gangsters drove a truck to ram the building of the public security bureau of Yecheng County in southern Xinjiang and set off explosives.

Police shot and killed 13 attackers at the scene. Three policemen were slightly injured.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

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