The New Great Game Round-Up: June 1, 2014

Birth of the Eurasian Economic Union, Russia's Terror Problems & the Furious Start of China's Anti-Terror Campaign

*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.

While the Western elites are gathering in Copenhagen to discuss the Russia-China 'gas deal of the century' and other pressing issues at their annual Bilderberg meeting, the Anglo-Americans' worst nightmare, closer Eurasian integration, is coming true. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev welcomed his counterparts from Russia and Belarus in Astana this week to finally implement the idea of creating a regional trading bloc, which was first proposed by Nazarbayev in a speech at Moscow State University two decades earlier. Although the Western propaganda machine is busy covering up the war crimes committed by the Kiev regime and its forces in Donbas, it did not miss this opportunity to remind everyone of the fact that Ukraine will not join the new economic union due to NATO's successful coup d'état in Kiev. So for now, the Eurasian Economic Union consists of three countries: 

Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan sign ‘epoch' Eurasian Economic Union

Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed the historic Eurasian Economic Union which will come into effect in January 2015. Cutting down trade barriers and comprising over 170 million people it will be the largest common market in the ex-Soviet sphere.

"The just-signed treaty is of epoch-making, historic importance," Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

The troika of countries will cooperate in energy, industry, agriculture, and transport. 

Citizens of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan will have the right to work freely throughout the member states without having to be issued any special work permits, Putin said.

Birth of the Eurasian Economic Union

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was the only one to mention the difficult process of finalizing the EEU treaty and he highlighted the absence of Ukraine saying: "We lost some [potential members] along the way." Lukashenko has not shied away from criticizing the project but in the end he went along with it after both Minsk and Astana had won some concessions from Moscow. The presidents of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, who attended the Astana summit as well, are also trying to get the best possible deal. Armenia is set to join the EEU by June 15 at the latest and Kyrgyzstan plans to follow suit by the end of the year. Moscow wants to make sure that Yerevan and Bishkek will not have second thoughts: 

Russia To Allocate $1.2 Billion To Help Kyrgyzstan Join Customs Union

Kyrgyzstan's economy minister says Russia will allocate $1.2 billion to help Bishkek join a Moscow-led customs union. 

Temir Sariev told RFE/RL on May 30 that $1 billion would be given to Kyrgyzstan by Moscow as a long-term loan, while an additional $200 million will be classfied as a Russian grant to help implement a "road map" for Kyrgyzstan joining the customs union.

According to Western media and analysts, the Eurasian Economic Union is just a "realization of Putin’s geopolitical dream", which "won’t really register on the radar of the global economy." Some countries are apparently not sharing this assessment. India, Vietnam, New Zealand, Turkey and Israel have reportedly evinced interest in signing free trade pacts with the EEU and Russian President Putin stated that an agreement was reached in Astana to set up “expert-level groups to work out preferential trade regimes with Israel and India.” Furthermore, owing to the turbulent developments in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia in the last few days, another unlikely candidate for the EEU has emerged:

Abkhazia's Rebel Opposition Sets Sights on Customs Union

Protesters in breakaway Abkhazia on May 29 called
for joining Russia's Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus in an apparent bid to win Moscow over to their side as they push for the ouster of the Black-Sea territory's de-facto government.

“We count on Russia’s support in this matter,” declared a joint statement of the opposition groups who have defied the rule of de-facto President Alexander Ankvab,
Kavkazsky Uzel news service reported.

On Tuesday, some 1.000 opposition supporters gathered in Abkhazia's capital Sukhumi and called on the government to resign over alleged corruption, mismanagement and stagnation in the republic. Dozens of demonstrators eventually stormed the presidential headquarters forcing Abkhaz leader Ankvab to seek refuge at a Russian military base. With the parliament in the hands of the Abkhaz opposition and Ankvab refusing to resign, the Kremlin quickly sent presidential aide Vladislav Surkov to the region to mediate between the two sides. So far, the talks have yielded no results and the opposition decided to hold early presidential elections regardless of Ankvab's opinion. Despite all that, the power struggle in Abkhazia is not a major cause for concern in Moscow [emphasis mine]:

Abkhazia's parliament votes for early presidential elections

The parliament of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia has voted to hold early presidential elections in August, a deputy said on Saturday, in a move denounced by the prime minister as "revolutionary" after the opposition seized control.

"We asked him (Ankvab) to step down two days ago. Today we decided that we can simply set up new elections," opposition deputy Beslan Butba told Reuters by telephone.

Whoever leads Abkhazia, it will continue to have close ties with Moscow, on which it depends for political and economic assistance. The opposition describes the unrest as a local issue and draws no parallels with events outside the province.

Russia's Terror Problems in Crimea, Dagestan & Moscow

The Russian authorities are currently focusing on more important issues primarily related to the mess in Ukraine and the new Cold War. One of Moscow's main objectives is to prevent any destabilization of the Crimean peninsula while Chinese investors are preparing to pour lots of money into the construction of a deepwater port and required infrastructure in Crimea. This project had already been eyed by the Chinese before the coup d'état in Kiev and Crimea's subsequent accession to the Russian Federation. The House of Saud has also been interested in Crimea early on but for other reasons, namely to encourage the local Tatar population to fight against those 'Russian infidels'. Two weeks ago, this idea was taken up by Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh, who has some experience in fighting alongside jihadists against Russia. In a pre-election TV debate, Yarosh made the case for a guerilla war on the peninsula using the Crimean Tatars but apparently his call for jihad fell on deaf ears among the Tatars because the neo-Nazi leader had to send his own men to get the job done: 

Federal Security Service detains members of Right Sector plotting attacks in Crimea

Officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) have detained members of Ukraine’s Right Sector terrorist group in the Republic of Crimea, the agency reported on Friday.

“The group plotted terrorist attacks in the cities of Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol, and later on they planned to destroy several facilities, railway bridges and electricity lines,” the source said.

“As we searched the places where the participants in the terrorist community lived, we found and confiscated explosives, guns, ammunition, canisters with incendiary mixtures, construction helmets (similar helmets were used in riots in Kiev’s Maidan), respirators, gas masks, tinned paint, nationalistic attributes,” the source said.

Southern Russia is very much involved in the conflict in Ukraine. Ukrainian citizens are trying to cross the border into Russia in order to escape Kiev's so-called "anti-terror-operation" and some volunteers from the North Caucasus are heading in the opposite direction to join the Donbas self-defense forces. The presence of Chechen fighters in eastern Ukraine was immediately picked up by Western media and used for the anti-Russian propaganda campaign. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has repeatedly denied sending troops to Ukraine but he warned the regime in Kiev that this might change in the future: "If the Ukrainian authorities want so much to see 'Chechen units' in Donetsk, why go to Donetsk if there is a good highway to Kiev?" Kadyrov has plenty of time to focus on Ukraine since he has defeated the foreign-backed insurgency in Chechnya almost completely. However, this does not apply to some of the neighboring republics with Dagestan now being the terror hotspot in Russia. In a move most likely inspired by the struggle of the Ukrainian people in Donbas, a few Dagestani citizens recently decided to take matters into their own hands:

Villagers of Sogratl in Dagestan start forming self-defence units

The decision to establish self-defence units was made at a rally on May 22 by residents of the village of Sogratl, Gunib District of Dagestan. The units will reveal persons involved or helping the activities of illegal armed formations (IAF).

More than 300 participants of the rally condemned the execution of policemen in the outskirt of the village on May 15, as well as the criminals who
blew up on May 8 the monument to the soldiers of the Great Patriotic War (WW II). Villagers demanded from law enforcement bodies to investigate these two crimes as soon as possible, the RIA "Dagestan" reports.

According to the villagers, in recent years the situation in the village is strained by the members of the local Salafi unit. The residents of Sogratl who spoke at the rally noted that this problem is ignored by the population, which is "passively watching the events." Some of them called to resettle Salafis out of the village.

Some experts have questioned the decision to form self-defense units but given the increasing violence in Dagestan's Gunib district, the local police can use some assistance. Dagestani terrorists are also trying to expand their activities to other parts of Russia. This week, Russian media reported the arrest of ten ethnic Dagestanis in the Moscow region, which had already taken place on May 7. The group was supposedly planning a terrorist attack on Victory Day and had attracted attention by purchasing bomb-making materials. Police found an improvised bomb made from a five-liter container filled with projectile elements as well as a map of a town outside Moscow and a list of events scheduled there on May 9. Another notheworthy arrest in the Moscow region was made at the beginning of this week, when Russia's Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB) carried out a joint operation in the city of Noginsk:

Moscow Police Arrest Suspected Head of Uzbek Islamist Terrorist Group

The leader of an outlawed terrorist group from Uzbekistan has been detained near Moscow with a stash of weapons and a phony passport, news reports said.

The suspect, believed to be the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, had in his possession an AK-47 assault rifle, an altered traumatic pistol, a homemade silencer and large quantities of ammunition, Interfax said Wednesday, citing the Interior Ministry's press service.

The leader of the group was identified in the report as a 27-year-old citizen of Tajikistan who "was actively involved in recruiting migrants from Central Asia."

The Furious Start of China's Anti-Terror Campaign

Moscow has often been named when it comes to terrorist recruitment of Central Asian migrants. At the end of last year, an investigation by the Kyrgyz authorities revealed that six Kyrgyz citizens had been recruited by Russian-speaking jihadists after their arrival in Moscow. The Kyrgyz men were subsequently sent to Syria via Turkey to fight for the NATO-GCC-Israel axis. It comes as no real surprise that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is involved in this scheme, considering the IMU's track record in doing Washington's bidding. By the group's own admission, China will become the "number one enemy" of the IMU. This spells more trouble for China's Xinjiang, which was recently struck by a series of high-profile attacks. The Chinese authorities have decided to respond with a no-holds-barred one-year-long anti-terror campaign. In the last month, police reportedly busted 23 terror or extremist groups and detained more than 200 suspects who can look forward to humiliating trials:

China Sentences 55 In Xinjiang Mass Trial

Local officials in China's western Xinjiang region held a public rally for the mass sentencing of criminals on Tuesday, handing out judgments for 55 people and at least three death sentences for crimes such as "violent terrorism", state media said.

The public sentencing, reminiscent of China's revolutionary era rallies, attracted a crowd of 7,000 at a sports stadium in Yining city in the northern prefecture of Yili.

Since the Chinese authorities are great believers in the deterrent effect, this was probably not the last public sentencing in Xinjiang. China's elite Politburo endorsed the crackdown in the autonomous region and the anti-terror campaign started with a show of force, as armed police, helicopters and the military were deployed in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai. On Monday, police carried out several raids all over Xinjiang leading to the arrest of several suspects. The biggest success was the dismantling of a bomb-making network in Hotan:

Police hail 'major victory' after foiling plot to launch new bomb attack in Xinjiang

Anti-terror police in Xinjiang claimed to have scored a “major victory” after officers swooped on a “significant terrorist group” and raided two bomb factories, according to the local Communist Party mouthpiece, the Xinjiang Daily.

Police arrested five suspects who allegedly planned to bomb a crowded public place in the troubled region’s Hotan prefecture, the report said. Officers seized 1.8 tonnes of explosive material.

The planned attack, allegedly to be led by Abuliz Dawut, was said to have been modelled on the deadly explosions that rocked an open-air market in Urumqi last week, according to the Xinjiang Daily.

According to local police, Dawut and his group were planning to drive into a crowd before detonating their explosive devices in an attack similar to the one in Urumqi a few days earlier. In the wake of the horrific attack in Urumqi, the anti-terror strategy previously considered by Beijing, which was more focused on economic growth than military crackdown, seems almost forgotten. But Chinese President Xi Jinping reminded Communist Party leaders this week that China must strengthen education and work to alleviate poverty in Xinjiang in order to solve the terror problem. The Chinese authorities face many challenging tasks in this regard, one of which is to revive the tourism industry in the autonomous region:

Xinjiang to offer $80 subsidy to tourists

The Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region plans to offer a cash subsidy of 500 yuan ($80) to every tourist to the region, in a bid to revitalize a tourism industry that has been damaged by recent violent terror attacks.

Xinjiang’s tourism has suffered since early this year after a March 1 terrorist attack at Kunming railway station in Yunnan province and a stabbing spree and explosion at Urumqi railway station on April 30, said Inam Naiserdin, director of the Xinjiang Tourism Bureau.

"Last winter we welcomed many tourists coming to ski or skate," the director said. "But since March, inbound tourists have dropped by about 40 percent compared with the same period last year."

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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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