The New Great Game Round Up- August 18, 2013

NATO's Hasty Afghanistan Withdrawal, Shady Turkish Companies, Deportation Facilities in Russia & More!

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

Since Azerbaijan is getting dangerously close to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russian President Vladimir Putin deemed it best to visit Baku with a large delegation including Foreign Minister Lavrov, Defense Minister Shoigu and Energy Minister Novak:

In Baku, Putin Brings Gunboats Along With Diplomacy

Rasim Musabekov, a member of parliament and political analyst, told reporters that one aim of Putin's visit was to give Baku a warning not to cooperate too closely with the U.S.

According to him, Russia cannot but have a certain wariness toward Baku becoming an important logistics center, through which Afghanistan transit is conducted.For that reason, Moscow needs a strong guarantee that American armed forces will not appear here [in Baku] tomorrow.

Leaders Visit Azerbaijan

Both sides emphasized the good relations between the two neighboring countries and Azerbaijan's leader Aliyev was in particular pleased with the increasing cooperation in the defense sector: 

Russia-Azerbaijan Arms Trade Worth $4Bln – Aliyev

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Tuesday that his country’s defense industry collaboration with Russia is worth $4 billion and keeps growing.

Russia's defense industry is booming and has definitely profited from Aliyev's shopping tour but considering against whom these weapons might be used in the future, Moscow's arms exports could raise some questions among the Russian population.

Also present in Baku were the heads of Russia's biggest oil companies, Rosneft and Lukoil. Azerbaijan's state-owned oil and gas corporation SOCAR and Rosneft agreed to work together but the plans remain vague:

Putin Fails To Undermine Azerbaijan As Gas Competition

Sources on both sides said a lot of differences needed to be removed for the companies to agree on teaming up on field development or swapping energy supplies.

“Azerbaijan is asking such a high price for its assets that Rosneft is not willing to offer,” a Russian energy source said, asking not to be named. A Socar source also said a lot of work needed to be done to iron out the differences.

Even if Rosneft fails to challenge the dominance of Western oil giants in Azerbaijan's oil industry, there was at least some relief in Russia that its southern neighbor won't become a major transit route for Turkmen gas:

The threat has somewhat diminished since major producer Turkmenistan rerouted most of its gas to China away from Russia and the European markets.

Another point of contention between Moscow and Baku, Russia's expulsion from the radar station in Gabala was not mentioned during Putin's trip and the Kremlin is apparently ready to move on. So while Russia is constructing new anti-missile radars on its own territory, Gabala hosted the summit of Turkic-speaking countries.

Representatives from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkey visited Azerbaijan and discussed prospects of economic cooperation:

Turkish president: Joint projects will transform Turkic region into world economy centre

"The Turkic-speaking countries need to restore the historic Silk Road which has both political and economic significance for the world. The modern concept of the Silk Road comprises collaborative energy, transport and logistics projects that will aid the development of the entire region. All of these projects will transform the Turkic world into the centre of the world economy and development," Turkish President said.

According to him, the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is a strategically important project.

Shady Turkish Companies

Ankara is especially interested in further collaboration with Ashgabat and does not want to give up on the Trans-Caspian pipeline. Moreover, the number of projects conducted by Turkish companies in Turkmenistan continues to grow:

Turkish contractors sign deals for $5.6 billion in Turkmenistan in 2013

Turkish contractors had signed the deals worth $5.6 billion of projects in Turkmenistan from January to the end of July 2013, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan announced in a written statement, reported Hurriyet Daily News. Turkish construction firms undertook the largest number of projects in Turkmenistan during the first seven months of the year, with a total of 33 projects.

Turkmen authorities would be well advised to monitor these activities. Some Turkish companies have a bad reputation:

BFP Exclusive: US-NATO-Chechen Militia Joint Operations Base

ENKA is one of Turkey’s largest construction companies working in Russia. The claims were made against ENKA in the TV program by Sultan Kekhursayev, now living in Istanbul. He said he had been “[now dead Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar] Dudayev’s army brigadier general.”

Kekhursayev said large Turkish companies working in Russia, including ENKA, funded the seizure of Chechnya’s capital Grozny in the summer 1996, adding that they “had done much” to assist militants.

FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds corroborated the allegations [emphasis mine]:

"ENKA was in fact involved in funding Chechen terrorist groups and even more. However, the funding was channeled via ENKA; not sourced to it. ENKA was (and probably still is) one of many Turkish companies used by the US government, specifically the CIA and the State Department, catering to objectives set by American actors mentioned in this article."

The same holds true for certain Turkish NGOs. Islamic charity organizaton IHH has reportedly recruited hundreds of Muslim Albanians and sent them to Turkey for military training before joining the "Syrian rebels". NATO's proxy war in Syria is supported by Salafis and Wahhabis in various countries:

Young men raise funds for Syria jihad in Russia's Tatarstan Republic

Deportation Facilities in Russia

Muslim clerics who are opposed to radical Islamic movements are particularly threatened in the Russian Republic of Dagestan:

Imam Killed in Russia’s Volatile Dagestan – Police

Ilyasov is the third cleric attacked this year in Dagestan, according to the Kavkazky Uzel news website.

Eight more Muslim clerics, including the head of a powerful Sufi brotherhood, were killed in Dagestan in 2012, it said. Most of them were opposed to Salafism, an austere, militant sect of Islam whose opponents want to establish an independent Islamist state in Russia's Northern Caucasus and other regions with a sizable Muslim population.

Over 50 crimes against religious activists committed in Dagestan in recent years

Russia's North Caucasus makes the headlines on a daily basis with terror attacks and shootouts in Dagestan, Chechnya and Kabardino-Balkaria. President Putin ordered the Federal Border Service to be more vigilant:

Vladimir Putin draws border guards’ attention to North Caucasus

The majority of the Russian population is in favor of tougher immigration laws and voices no concerns about the continuing crackdown on illegal migrants:

Police Round Up Illegal Migrants Across Russia

Police said they have detained hundreds of illegal immigrants in weekend raids in at least eight of Russia’s 83 regions, following similar operations in the country’s two largest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Human rights organizations protest the current conditions in Moscow's migrant camp while the Federal Migration Service is already planning to create a vast network of detention facilities:

Russian Migration Service Wants 'Network' of Deportation Facilities

Russia’s Federal Migration Service says it wants to create a “network” of 83 detention facilities for foreigners awaiting deportation, just days after it set up a tent camp for hundreds of labor migrants detained in Moscow last week.

NATO's Hasty Afghanistan Withdrawal

As previously noted, Russian and Chinese troops have been conducting a joint anti-terrorist exercise at the Chebarkul training range in anticipation of future threats. "Peace Mission 2013" ended this week and the participants were pleased with the results:

Russian and Chinese servicemen ready to rebuff terrorist attack

Vladimir Putin cited regular war games as an example for the successful military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing during his meeting with former Chinese Foreign Minister and now State Councilor, Yang Jiechi. Both countries share concerns about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and its consequences for the whole region:

NATO Pullout From Afghanistan 'Too Hasty' – Russian Defense Official

ISAF “has been too hasty about making the final decision to pull out in 2014,” Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said, adding that Afghan “domestic security forces capable of countering radical elements have not yet been created.”

Antonov said Moscow is “doing very much to strengthen our contingents” in the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan ahead of the pullout.

NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan was also high on the agenda in the course of the first official Indian-Chinese talks on Central Asia [emphasis mine]:

India, China share notes on Central Asia in first ever dialogue

"They had a conversation on specific issues like regional security and counter-terrorism, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, (SCO), energy security, development partnerships, and people-to-people contacts with the countries of the region," the release said. The Chinese side briefed the Indian delegation on China's vision of its relations with Central Asia while the Indian side described details of India's "Connect Central Asia" policy, it said.

The dialogue on Central Asia was followed by the first ever talks held by the two countries on Afghanistan, especially on the situation emerging due to planned pullout of US and NATO troops from the war-torn country by next year that has sparked concerns over the likelihood of the return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The dialogue reflected the growing engagement between the foreign offices of India and China and comes after similar comprehensive dialogues on Africa, West Asia, and counter-terrorism issues, the release said.

With more and more governments worried about the fate of the war-torn country, Washington is discussing the number of foreign troops staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Retired United States Navy admiral James G. Stavridis, who served as Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), argues for 15.000 troops:

The 15,000 Troop Option

After four years as the NATO supreme commander, and therefore overall strategic commander for operations in Afghanistan, I believe the correct number is about 9,000 U.S. and 6,000 allied troops, for a total of about 15,000 allied trainers who would focus on mentoring, training, and advising the 350,000 strong Afghan National Security Forces. 

Stavridis then goes on to spread the usual lies about progress in Afghanistan and the great performance of the Afghan National Security Forces [emphasis mine]:

The 350,000 ANSF troops operating today are doing a good job this fighting season -- their first with responsibility across the entire country -- in taking the fight aggressively to the Taliban. There has been a sharp drop in U.S. and allied casualties, a natural outgrowth of the NATO force stepping back and letting the ANSF do the fighting. This augurs well for potential success if we stay committed to mentoring and training the Afghans.

But unfortunately he forgot to mention the ineptitude, drug abuse, sexual misconduct, and corruption of the ANSF and the "success" of programs like the Afghan Local Police (ALP) in facilitating rape and murder. Afghanistan's descent into chaos was highlighted in a previous round-up [emphasis mine]:

Troop Withdrawal: Aid Groups Warn of Afghan Security Vacuum

Meanwhile, the security situation in the country is continung to deteriorate. Instead of the stabilization it had hoped for, ISAF's Kabul headquarters now receives almost daily reports of dead and wounded soldiers. The casualty numbers declined in 2012 but have risen sharply since the beginning of this year.

"The security situation in some of the known problematic regions in the north has worsened appreciably since the beginning of the spring offensive," reads a July 11 internal diplomatic cable from the German consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif. Last Monday it emerged that the Taliban has killed 2,748 police officers just in the past four months.

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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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