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

Jihadi Mercenaries from Central Asia, Taliban Welcome China's Involvement in Afghanistan & Turkey Considers Joining Russia's Eurasian Project

*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 recent Latin America tour of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which ended with the long anticipated creation of the BRICS Development Bank, was very successful and marked another important step on the way towards a multipolar world. During his meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the Russian leader announced that the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan plans to sign a cooperation agreement with Mercosur in early 2015. Although the accession of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan is being delayed time and time again, the Kremlin is absolutely convinced of the EEU. According to First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, the economic union will even have a common currency in the next five to ten years. For now the Russian government is focused on strengthening the ties between the arms industries of the three EEU countries:

Government plans closer ties with arms industries of Belarus, Kazakhstan

The Russian arms industry has developed a plan to replace its Ukrainian suppliers, lost during the latest crisis in this country, with companies in Belarus and Kazakhstan, an influential Russian daily reports.

Deputy PM in charge of the defense sector, Dmitry Rogozin, earlier announced the Russian government would prepare a plan on import replacement in conventional weapons and present it to the President.

On Friday the mass circulation daily Izvestia reported the plan was ready and will be presented as soon as Monday.

Turkey Considers Joining Russia's Eurasian Project

Due to NATO's takeover in Ukraine, Russia not only lost its Ukrainian suppliers but also an important buffer against the U.S.-led military alliance. That leaves the Donbas, which continues to fight against the regime in Kiev, and Belarus as the only non-hostile entities along Russia's western border. Therefore, Belarus will get its S-300 surface-to-air missile systems sooner rather than later. While NATO's coup d'état in Kiev has strained relations between Russia and the West, it has also expedited closer Eurasian integration and "de-dollarization". Even close U.S. allies are considering to drop the dollar. According to Russia's Ministry of Economic Development, vital NATO member Turkey offered Russia to switch to national currencies in mutual payments. Russia is Turkey's second-largest trade partner after the European Union and since Turkey's accession to the EU is not making any progress, Ankara is now looking for closer cooperation with Russia's Customs Union: 

Turkey May Create Free Trade Zone with Eurasian Customs Union – Development Minister

Turkey has raised the question of establishing a free trade zone with the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said after talks with Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci.

The Turkish minister put forward an initiative for closer cooperation with the Eurasian Customs Union, Ulyukayev said.

"We have discussed the possible forms of cooperation, including the formation of a free trade zone between the Customs Union and Turkey. We have agreed to create a working group and to begin a more detailed discussion of these possibilities and prospects in September," Ulyukayev said on the sidelines of the meeting of G20 trade ministers in Sydney, Australia.

The Kazakh media is already analyzing how this free trade zone would benefit Kazakhstan but it remains to be seen if this idea materializes. Washington will certainly put pressure on the Turkish government and although relations between Ankara and Moscow have improved lately in the wake of the crackdown on the CIA-backed Gülen movement, some differences persist. After all, Turkey plays a decisive role in supporting jihadi mercenaries in accordance with U.S. foreign policy, regardless of whether it concerns Russia's North Caucasus or the Middle East:

MİT truck documents prove aid to al-Qaeda and ISIL, says CHP's Tezcan

Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Bülent Tezcan shared police records on Monday concerning the search of a National Intelligence Organization (MİT) truck in Adana as part of an investigation several months ago, asserting that the records prove that the Turkish government has supported radical groups in Syria and Iraq.

He said the records leave no room for doubt that the government has sent weapons and ammunition to the terrorist organizations al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. Tezcan held a press conference on Monday on the grounds of Parliament and shared documents about arms-laden trucks, which later proved to belong to MİT, that were stopped in Adana by security forces in January of this year. He said between 25 and 30 rockets were found in each truck. He also showed that the documents that were attached to the weaponry found on the trucks were written in Cyrillic.

He claimed that the weapons were loaded onto the trucks at Ankara Esenboğa Airport, citing official testimony from a driver of one of the trucks. Tezcan said the documents clearly show that MİT transfers weapons to armed groups in the region.

As previously mentioned, these trucks were stopped and searched in an operation by the Gülen movement aimed at exposing the Erdogan-led government, which claimed that the trucks were carrying "humanitarian aid". Ankara's understanding of "humanitarian aid" is somewhat different. Turkey's MIT works hand in glove with some Turkish aid organizations to support NATO's jihadi mercenaries. Therefore, it came as no real surprise when one of these NGOs commemorated the death of Chechen terrorist leader Doku Umarov a few months ago. Umarov's death had first been reported by his nemesis Ramzan Kadyrov but given Kadyrov's track record, very few people believed him at the time. Meanwhile, the death has been confirmed and the North Caucasus insurgency has found a new poster boy. Last week, Kadyrov removed any doubt by posting a photo of Umarov's dead body. Nevertheless, terrorism continues to be a problem in Russia, especially in Dagestan:

Dagestan Police Bust Counterfeiters 'Financing Extremism'

An underground counterfeiting network suspected of having generated funds for "extremist organizations" was shut down during a massive police operation in Dagestan.

About 300 officers from the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service took part in the operation, which included 23 raids on offices, garages and apartments allegedly used to facilitate the printing of at least 1 million rubles' ($29,000) worth of counterfeit notes, according to a statement released by the Interior Ministry on Tuesday.

The statement said police also found equipment to manufacture phony $100 bills. At least 1 million rubles in fake bills had already been used throughout Russia's Southern Federal District, primarily in the North Caucasus.

Jihadi Mercenaries from Central Asia

A few days ago, police in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala carried out raids on local mosques and detained several people. After their "involvement in earlier committed crimes" had been checked, they were all released again. When it comes to the insurgency, Dagestani law enforcers take the gloves off. Police in other parts of Russia are also keeping a very close eye on suspected jihadists. Last week, a Tajik citizen was arrested in St. Petersburg for alleged membership in the Islamic Party of Turkestan aka the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). There are quite a few Tajik citizens among NATO's jihadi mercenaries. According to the Tajik authorities, 110 Tajik nationals are currently fighting in Syria but, as mentioned the last week, the actual number is probably much higher. Several families from Tajikistan's Sughd Province are suspected of joining the "Syrian rebels". Lately, one Tajik from Sughd returned disillusioned from Syria and while the search for the other residents of the province continues, local authorities are cracking down on unregistered mosques:

Sughd authorities crack down on unregistered mosques

98 “five-time” mosques have reportedly been suspended in the northern province of Sughd for failure to register.

“Some of these mosques located in the Bobojonghafourov, Jabborrasoulov and Zafarobod districts will function during the holy month of Ramadan at the request of residents of these districts but they will be suspended after Ramadan until they are registered with the Department for Religious Affairs,” the head of the Sughd Department for Religious Affairs, Suhrob Rustamov, told journalists in Khujand on July 23.

Sughd province now has 960 registered “five-time prayer mosques (mosques for daily prayers), 91 Friday prayer mosques (larger facilities built for weekly Friday prayers) and 13 central mosques, Rustamov said. 

Tajikistan boasts more mosques than schools and the medieval petro-monarchies are eager to help with the funding. This facilitates the recruitment of Tajik fighters for jihad wherever the NATO-GCC-Israel axis deems it necessary. Saudi Arabia's embassy in Dushanbe reportedly acts as the headquarters for the Tajik terrorist recruitment scheme. At the moment, these fighters are primarily sent to Syria and Iraq. Since Tajik jihadists are not the only Central Asians fighting for the Islamic State & Co., all Central Asian governments would be well advised to take a closer look at the activities of the Saudis in their respective countries:

At least 16 Kazakhs fighting together with insurgents in Iraq: report

At least 16 citizens of Kazakhstan have joined the extremist organization of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Kazakhstani TV channel
KTK reports July 21.

According to the report, the presence of the Kazakhstanis among the organization became known when the video allegedly showing the Kazakhs with weapons talking about their aims was uploaded in the web.

In the video, a man, Abu Anisa, speaks in Kazakh language of the “seriousness of their intentions” and says he fights for the creation of a new Islamic state on the border between Syria and Iraq, KTK said.

On Tuesday, a court in the Kazakh city of Zhezqazghan sentenced four men to prison terms between six and 12 years for recruiting fighters to wage jihad in Syria. Four more people had been jailed on similar charges by another Kazakh court just one day earlier. But other Central Asian states struggle a good deal more with terrorist recruitment than Kazakhstan, for example Kyrgyzstan. Despite some efforts to contain the problem, more and more Kyrgyz citizens are becoming jihadi mercenaries. With 37 percent of the Kyrgyz population living below the poverty line, it is not difficult to find young men willing to take up arms. The Kyrgyz authorities are concerned about this trend and justifiably so:

Increase in Kyrgyz militants abroad alarms authorities

The number of Kyrgyz citizens fighting in Syria continues to grow, concerned Kyrgyz authorities say.

"The impact of Salafism, especially of its radical forms, has been clearly on the rise in recent years," Ryskulbek Japarkulov, chief of the Interior Ministry (MVD)'s 10th Main Administration, told Central Asia Online. "The MVD has discovered 15 cases of terrorist groups' recruiting youth to fight as mercenaries in war zones such as Syria, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Eight of those cases have led to prosecution, and we are verifying and investigating the rest.

Taliban Welcome China's Involvement in Afghanistan

This trend will certainly raise concerns in Beijing as well. The Chinese government is trying to prevent exactly these kinds of developments by investing lots of money in Kyrgyzstan. Of course, Beijing is pursuing this strategy not only in Kyrgyzstan but across the whole region. Recently, the Chinese asked the Pakistani government to submit the details of all development projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor so that work on these projects can begin as soon as possible. China is also set to play a bigger role in neighboring Afghanistan in order to promote stability in the war-torn contry. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan welcome this decision and even the Taliban have voiced their approval [emphasis mine]:

China's interest in Afghanistan could bode well for both countries 

China’s neutral stance towards conflicts in Afghanistan means the Taliban are not bothered by its involvement in the region.

“We have no problems with China as it has never interfered in Afghanistan. The Chinese will be safe,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in reply to emails.

Mujahid adds that since China has not been militarily involved in Afghanistan and is only focused on economic and trade relations, the Taliban will not harm its projects.

The newly appointed special envoy for Afghanistan Sun Yuxi has already declared that China wants to help rebuild the country and does not seek to fill a void left by the drawdown of NATO troops. Yuxi emphasized that "preserving Afghanistan's stability is not a matter of adding troops." However, at the same time, the Chinese envoy endorsed the questionable military offensive of the Pakistani military in North Waziristan. He strongly backed Pakistan's role in "fighting terrorism" and rejected allegations that elements in the Pakistani government and security services are responsible for creating the terror problem in Afghanistan. Yuxi even stated that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) "has been effective in fighting terrorism." Understandably, the Afghan authorities have quite a different take on these matters. This week, Afghanistan's intelligence agency confirmed earlier reports about the insurgents' "escape" from North Waziristan ahead of Operation Zarb-e-Azb:

Pakistan shifted Haqqani leaders to safe places ahead of Waziristan offensive

Haseeb Sediqi, spokesman for the National Directorate of security (NDS) told reporters that the North Waziristan operation did not have any satisfactory outcome since the offensive did not harm any of the terrorist networks.

Sediqi further added that one of the most important terrorist network – Haqqani Network remained safe from the offensive as the network leaders were taken to safe locations along with several leaders from other terrorist networks.

He said NDS has received information which shows that the Haqqani Network leaders were shifted to Kurram agency, Quetta, Karachi and even Islamabad.

According to Sediqi, the Haqqani Networks leaders, members and their equipments including weapons were taken to Kurram agency two weeks before the offensive was launched.

As discussed two weeks ago, China's partners in the 'War on Terror' are of little help, quite the contrary. Beijing is apparently satisfied with Pakistan's performance and depending on the objective of the Chinese authorities, this makes perfect sense. If the Pakistani authorities really started going after the insurgents instead of supporting them, the Chinese government would have no pretext to turn the country into a full-fledged police state. Chinese citizens are now encouraged to watch out for "strange behavior" and "odd neighbors" in the country's fight against terrorrism. Furthermore, the airline anti-terror measures promoted by the U.S. after 9/11 have now reached buses in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi:

China imposes airline-like restrictions on bus passengers in Xinjiang capital

China has banned bus passengers in the capital of western Xinjiang region from carrying items ranging from cigarette lighters to yogurt, state media said on Friday, in the latest effort by authorities to prevent violent attacks.

The new rules in the capital Urumqi, similar to restrictions usually imposed by
airlines, reflect how nervous officials are about trying to contain outbreaks of violence in the region, home to the Muslim Uighur minority.

The local government in Urumqi, a city of three million, issued new rules after a transport security meeting, barring passengers from bringing on board liquids, lighters and unknown powders "to strike a severe blow on all forms of criminal activity on public buses," the state-run Legal Daily 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

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