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

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 6, 2015

China Keeps Mum on Violence as Xinjiang Marks 60th Anniversary, If ISIS Won't Come to Kadyrov-Kadyrov Will Come to ISIS & 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.

After the Taliban shocked the world by seizing the northern Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz, the Afghan government pulled out all the stops to retake the city. Leaving the strategic city of 300,000 in the hands of the Taliban would create major problems for Afghanistan and neighboring countries, given the fact that Kunduz is an important transport hub for the north of the country and a gateway to Central Asia. For example, the distance to Tajikistan is only about 70 kilometers (44 miles). Aware of city's importance, Taliban fighters tried to win residents over with a "charm offensive" but they quickly fell back into old patterns. As government forces were struggling to launch a successful counterattack, U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani was coming under increasing pressure. He tried to shift the blame on others and replaced the governor of Kunduz province, Mohammad Omar Safi, who had just reappeared after watching the fall of the provincial capital from abroad. But despite rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, Ghani could not hide the fact that the Afghan security forces are unable to cope with the situation and that they need help to retake the city:

More US airstrikes as special forces join fight against insurgents outside Kunduz American special operations troops joined the battle around Kunduz on Wednesday, exchanging fire with Taliban fighters near the airport where Afghan forces withdrew after ceding control of the city two days before, the U.S.-led coalition announced. U.S. aircraft carried out more airstrikes against Taliban forces threatening the Kunduz airport, where Afghan government are regrouping after fleeing the city Monday. The increased American support follow signs that Afghan forces are struggling in the face of the massive Taliban assault, which has plunged the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani into the deepest crisis of its first year in office.

U.S. Bombs Hospital to Help Afghans Retake Kunduz

After three days of intense fighting, Afghan forces, led by U.S.-trained special forces from the Crisis Response Unit (CRU) and supported by U.S. special forces, eventually managed to retake control of key areas in Kunduz on October 1. According to local officials, more than 300 insurgents, including Arab, Chechen and Pakistani jihadists, were killed during the battle. Afghanistan’s Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Murad Ali Murad, who was in charge of the operation, said that the Taliban had planned to stage a major propaganda coup by bringing their new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor to Kunduz. Security forces foiled this plan but government claims that the entire city had been cleared of insurgents were swiftly contradicted by residents who pointed out that the Taliban are still controlling several party of Kunduz. While ground forces were trying to eliminate the remaining pockets of resistance, the American military was ramping up its airstrikes across northern Afghanistan, with dire consequences:

Airstrike Hits Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan At least 19 people were killed when a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz was badly damaged early Saturday after being hit by what appears to have been an American airstrike, sparking international outrage. The United States military, in a statement, confirmed an airstrike at 2:15 a.m., saying that it had been targeting individuals “who were threatening the force” and that “there may have been collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” Accounts differed as to whether there had been fighting around the hospital that might have precipitated the strike. Two hospital employees, an aide who was wounded in the bombing and a nurse who emerged unscathed, said that there had been no active fighting nearby and no Taliban fighters in the hospital. 

Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini and other Afghan officials, on the other hand, insisted that Taliban fighters had entered the hospital and were using it as a firing position. Given that Afghan officials have a long history of distorting the truth to cover up their own crimes and the crimes of their Western partners, this should be taken with a grain of salt. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) strongly denied the claims and pointed out that "these statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present." As MSF rightly noted, "this amounts to an admission of a war crime." Notwithstanding the obvious hypocrisy, the U.S. initially tried to play the 'collateral damage' card but Gen. John F. Campbell later confirmed that MSF was right:

US commander says Afghans requested US airstrike in Kunduz The U.S. airstrike that killed 22 at a medical clinic in northern Afghanistan over the weekend was requested by Afghan forces who reported being under Taliban fire, and was not sought by U.S. forces, the top commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan said Monday. Gen. John F. Campbell made the statement at a hastily arranged Pentagon news conference. He said he was correcting an initial U.S. statement that said the airstrike had been in response to threats against U.S. forces. "We have now learned that on Oct. 3, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces," Campbell said. "An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck. This is different from the initial reports which indicated that U.S. forces were threatened and that the airstrike was called on their behalf."

Afghan officials are probably having second thoughts about the "Taliban threat" after Campbell tried to shift the blame on the Afghans, basically admitting that U.S. and Afghan forces committed a war crime. As MSF emphasized, the Americans had the GPS coordinates of the hospital and knew exactly what they were bombing. But the attack comes as no real surprise considering that the hospital has previously been targeted by Afghan security forces who were "irked" by its policy of treating the wounded from all sides of the conflict. Thanks to the latest attack, they finally got what they wanted. Doctors Without Borders announced on October 4 that it was forced to withdraw from Kunduz after U.S. jets destroyed its facility amid a growing humanitarian crisis in the city. Security forces have now regained control of most of the strategic provincial capital but there is no end in sight to the fighting in northern Afghanistan:

Taliban overruns another 2 districts in Afghan north As fighting in the city of Kunduz continues, the Taliban seized two more districts in the Afghan north.`The district of Wardoj, which has switched hands in the past, and Baharak were overrun during Taliban assaults over the past two days, the jihadist group and Afghan officials reported. Dawlat Mohammad Khawar, the district governor for Wardoj, “confirmed that the Afghan security forces have retreated from Wardoj following hours of gun battle with the Taliban militants,” Khaama Press reported. Additionally, the Taliban overran the Baharak district in Badakhsan. “On Friday Mujahideen stormed the district and after intense fighting with the enemy and soon seized control of the district as well as overrunning a number of the checkpoints based near the district headquarters for the security arrangements,” the Taliban stated on Voice of Jihad. 

China Keeps Mum on Violence as Xinjiang Marks 60th Anniversary

Badakhshan was relatively stable as long as troops of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were stationed there but after they handed over control to the Afghan security forces, the province turned into one of the most contested areas in Afghanistan. Neighboring Tajikistan and China are keeping a close eye on the situation. Beijing's efforts to stop the violence by facilitating peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban suffered a major setback at the end of July when Afghan intelligence spilled the beans on Mullah Omar's death. It remains to be seen whether or not new supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansoor will stick to previous understandings that Omar reached with Beijing regarding Xinjiang. The Chinese authorities would prefer not having to worry about Uyghur jihadists on Afghan territory given that Uyghur jihadists on Chinese territory are already causing enough problems:

China slams a lid on news of violence from its western frontier Earlier this month, a knife-wielding gang attacked security guards at a coal mine in Xinjiang, a volatile region in the northwest of China. By the time the attack was repelled, at least 40 people had been killed or injured, according to a report by Radio Free Asia, which quoted a local state security chief about the incident four days after it occurred. Chinese state media still hasn’t reported on the Sept. 18 coal mine attack, more than two weeks later. It’s only the latest example of what appears to be a Chinese government news blackout on growing violence in Xinjiang, an oil-rich region crucial to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plan for a Silk Road economic development belt stretching across Asia. Other unpublicized incidents include a police shooting of eight suspects in June; the police killing of two men in May after they reportedly attacked a patrol; and a Han Chinese town official knifed to death, also in May.

Whereas Chinese media tries to keep a lid on bad news from Xinjiang, U.S. propaganda outlet Radio Free Asia (RFA) continues to rub salt into the wound. Thanks to the help of the local authorities, RFA won't run out of useful material anytime soon. In addition to frequent terrorist attacks, there are plenty of absurd anti-terror measures to talk about. One of the more reasonable ideas is to teach Chinese soldiers Uyhgur folk dances and songs in an effort to improve relations between the military and the local population. As Chinese officials emphasize time and again, the military plays a vital role in safeguarding the stability of the autonomous region. At the end of September, Beijing released a 20,000-word white paper on ethnic equality, unity and development in Xinjiang, lauding the "tremendous achievements" in the region and highlighting the fight against terrorism and religious extremism. The white paper was issued on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Xinjiang's founding on October 1, 1955:

China stresses stability, security on Xinjiang's founding anniversary Top political advisor Yu Zhengsheng on Thursday said that long-term stability and security is the top priority in Xinjiang, stressing counterterrorism as the focus of the current work. Yu, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, made the remarks at a grand rally in Urumqi, the regional capital, marking the 60th anniversary of the autonomous region's founding. "The three forces (separatism, terrorism and extremism) are the biggest threats for Xinjiang and the common enemies for people of all ethnic groups. We must clench our fists tight and take the initiative to crack down on violence and terror activities strictly and lawfully and fight the three forces," Yu said.

Yu Zhengsheng and other central government officials toured Xinjiang ahead of the anniversary festivities to pose for a few photo ops and to check how the fight against the 'three evils' is going. During their tour, Yu made the case for expanding an aid program for Xinjiang in order to help the region fight terrorism. According to the Xinjiang white paper, Beijing has poured more than 1 trillion yuan (HK$1.2 trillion) into the autonomous region between 2010 and 2014. Yu's statements indicate that this is only the beginning, as the Chinese government spares neither trouble nor expense to ensure Xinjiang's long-term stability and security. If recent media reports are to be believed, these efforts could also include Chinese military involvement in Syria. Chinese naval expert Zhang Junshe dismissed the reports as rumors but the growing presence of Uyghurs in Syria has certainly not gone unnoticed in Beijing:

Uighur jihadist group in Syria advertises ‘little jihadists’ The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), an al Qaeda-affiliated Uighur jihadist group that is operating in Syria, recently released a video that includes photos of children with weapons and jihadist garb accompanied by an Uighur-language nasheed [A cappella Islamic music]. The children were described as “little jihadists” on the TIP’s official Twitter feed. This is not the first time that the TIP has shown children in training. In July, the group first publicized a training camp in Idlib, which appears to be in the same area. Several of those photos depict the children learning how to operate AK-47’s, sub-machine guns, and other handguns. In both cases, many of the children appear to be Uighur, but it is possible that some are native Syrians. The group’s former military leader was a native Syrian and the group has featured other Syrians in its ranks before.

If ISIS Won't Come to Kadyrov, Kadyrov Will Come to ISIS

Considering Turkey's meddling in "East Turkestan" and Syria, it is hardly surprising that the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is being linked to Turkish intelligence. Much to the dismay of Turkish officials, Uyghurs in and around Jisr al-Shughur are now at risk of being killed by Russian airstrikes. As Ankara is seeing its hopes dashed, Turkish Islamist "charities," such as IMKANDER and Özgür-Der, took a break from supporting NATO-backed jihadists in Syria and elsewhere to protest against Russia's intervention. These protests won't stop Russia's campaign in Syria but they could encourage Moscow to make another attempt at putting IMKANDER on the Al-Qaida Sanctions List. However, Russian officials have no illusions about the West's "War on Terror." Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who keeps eliminating IMKANDER's beloved terrorist leaders, just emphasized again that "the main target of the West is Assad and not the 'Iblis State' terrorist organization." Therefore, Kadyrov asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for permission to take matters into his own hands:

Kadyrov asks Putin to allow Chechen infantry to fight in Syria The head of the Chechen Republic has asked the Russian president to send Chechen units to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria, adding that his fighters have sworn to fight terrorists till the end. “This is not idle talk, I am asking for permission to go there and participate in special operations,” Ramzan Kadyrov said in the Friday interview with the RSN radio. “Being a Muslim, a Chechen and a Russian patriot I want to say that in 1999 when our republic was overrun with these devils we swore on the Koran that we would fight them wherever they are,” the Chechen leader said. “But we need the Commander-in-Chief’s decision to do this,” he emphasized. According to the Russian Constitution, the president is also the commander-in-chief of the military forces.

Ramzan Kadyrov's expertise in fighting terrorism is well-known. That is why another former warlord, Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, visited Chechnya the other day to get some advice from him and ask for Russian support in the fight against ISIS. The Chechen leader was immediately hooked and assured Dostum that Russia won't let Afghanistan down. Some people in Moscow want to get rid of Chechnya's "enfant terrible" and probably wouldn't mind sending him to Afghanistan or Syria but President Putin counts on Kadyrov to maintain order and stability in Chechnya, by all available means. This includes public naming and shaming of ISIS supporters. Although there have been a few isolated cases of attempted ISIS recruitment in Chechnya, the group has not been able to get a foothold in the Chechen republic. Local security forces are doing their best to nip the threat in the bud, forcing the Islamic State to focus on neighboring Dagestan:

IS's North Caucasus Affiliate Calls For Recruits To Join It In Daghestan The Islamic State extremist group's North Caucasus affiliate, Wilayat al-Qawqaz (Caucasus Province) has issued a call for would-be militants in Russia to join it and fight against Russian forces rather than joining IS in Syria. In a video message released last week by Furat Media, IS's official Russian-language media wing, the leader of IS's Caucasus Province in Daghestan, Abu Mukhammad Kadarsky (Rustam Asilderov), said this was the wish of IS's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Despite the propaganda, IS's Caucasus Province is weak and unlikely to attract large numbers of recruits to swell its ranks in the forests of Daghestan, particularly as winter draws near.

The Islamic State's Caucasus Province got off to a bad start. Its first official attack in Russia, allegedly targeting Russian army barracks in Dagestan, was just made-up and now the group is struggling to find new recruits. Wilayat Qawqaz owes its existence to the defection of several Caucasus Emirate (IK) commanders. This has crippled the once powerful terrorist organization and seems to have caused some bad blood between the groups. IK's affiliate in Syria was really upset when the Russian "kuffars" didn't target ISIS positions during their recent bombing campaign. It is not exactly a secret that Moscow's primary objective is to support the Syrian government against all terrorists, regardless of whether they belong to ISIS or "moderate" groups "vetted" and armed by the United States. And another important objective is to prevent Russian jihadists fighting in Syria from returning to Russia:

Russian Jailed For Fighting Alongside Islamic Militants In Syria A Russian man from the city of Tyumen has been sentenced to two years in jail for fighting with Islamic militants in Syria. The regional branch of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) says Vitaly Makarov, a convert to Islam, was found guilty by a court of taking part in military operations in Syria in 2013-2014 with an illegal armed group loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group. FSB First Deputy Director Sergei Smirnov said earlier this month that some 2,400 Russians are fighting alongside IS militants and other extremist Muslim groups in Syria and Iraq.

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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

BFP Roundtable Video- Who is Putin & Why has he let his nation become encircled by NATO

Sibel Edmonds, Pearse Redmond & Tom Secker on the recent “revelation” from Putin regarding Operation Gladio B

In this second episode of the new BFP Roundtable series Pearse Redmond, Sibel Edmonds and Tom Secker discuss the recent “revelation” from Putin regarding Gladio B operations in Chechnya. They start with the basic facts that Putin has laid out: intercepts obtained by the FSB show that US officials in Azerbaijan were supporting and backing Chechen rebels during the early 2000’s. The panel each breaks down the interesting timing of these revelations, which come as a series of shake-ups in and around Russia have threatened Putin’s grasp on power. Is this a threat from Putin to the West or a bone to throw to the hardcore nationalists within the Russian Federation? Later they move on to the question of who Putin is as a leader and how he has managed to let his nation become completely encircled by NATO. The group then moves on to how the geopolitical chessboard has been reoriented away from ideological battles into one based on identity and media control. They finish off by looking at how Russia Today fits into this new geopolitical landscape.

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The New Great Game Round-Up: January 26, 2015

Kadyrov's Nemesis Vanishes as ISIS Looks for Russian Spies, China Cracks Down on Illegal Border Crossings by Uyghurs & 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.

Western media coverage after the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the "unrivalled parade of political hypocrisy," known as the Paris unity march, revealed once again Western double standards on freedom of speech and the fight against terrorism. Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, who has extensive experience in dealing with Western-backed terrorists, was one of the first people to point this out. As usual, Kadyrov took to Instagram to blast Europe over double standards on terrorism, asking why the world leaders "have never led marches of protest against the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, and Iraqis" and why they remained silent "when in December last year terrorists captured the House of Press and a school in Grozny, killing and injuring over 50 people." The Charlie Hebdo cartoons did not go down well in Chechnya either and the publication of more cartoon images of Prophet Muhammad in the wake of the attack prompted Kadyrov to organize a massive rally in Grozny against the insulting cartoons. About one million people from Chechnya and the surrounding North Caucasus republics attended the "Love to Prophet Mohammed" demo and Kadyrov used the opportunity to send another message to the West:

Chechen leader says Russia’s Muslims will not be used for destabilization goals Islam is a religion of peace and Muslims in Russia will never allow others to use them for destabilizing the situation in the country, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said at a rally in Grozny on Monday. “We declare to the whole world that the Muslims will by no means allow using themselves for rocking the situation in the country. We have always been reliable defenders of Russia! And we are able today to offer rebuff to the enemies of our Motherland!” Kadyrov said. The Chechen leader told the crowd that Islam is a religion of peace and it teaches people how to live in peace and consent with other peoples of the country of various beliefs.

Kadyrov's Nemesis Vanishes as ISIS Looks for Russian Spies

Kadyrov's message was probably meant for Brookings president Strobe Talbott and his ilk in Washington, who are dreaming of a third Chechen war. A few weeks ago, the Chechen leader had already warned the West that thousands of Chechen "volunteers" are ready to prevent any attempts to destabilize Russia. Although Chechnya saw an increase in the number of victims in the last quarter of 2014 due to two high-profile attacks, the republic is by and large stable and there is no reason to assume that this could change anytime soon, unless the U.S. and its allies try to implement the Syria playbook in the North Caucasus. Some "experts" cannot wait for the Islamic State (ISIS) to expand its activities to Russia but Kadyrov stressed that ISIS is not a threat to Russia because the Russians have "a massive intelligence network in the ranks of these terrorists." Interestingly enough, a few days after Kadyrov had made this statement, the terrorists demonstrated that they are looking for Russian spies:

Kazakh Child Soldier Executes ‘Russian Spies’ in Islamic State Video In a video released Tuesday by the Islamic State, two men described as Russian agents testify that they had attempted to spy on the militants, infiltrate their computer networks, and assassinate the group’s leaders. Then a long-haired young boy calmly shoots the men in the back of the head with a handgun. The first alleged Russian agent is identified as Jambulat Mamayev. He says that he is from Kazakhstan and that he was sent to gather information on the Islamic State and get close to a high-ranking member within the group. The second man, Sergey Ashimov, tells his captors that he previously worked for the Russian FSB, the successor to the KGB, and was sent to kill an Islamic State leader, whose name is muted in the video. The child who carries out the execution appears to be the same child featured in a November 2014 Islamic State propaganda video. In that video, which also showcased the group’s new adult recruits from Kazakhstan, the boy identifies himself as “Abdullah” and speaks predominantly in the Kazakh language.

As previously discussed, the ISIS propaganda video showing the indoctrination and training of Kazakh children caused a great stir in Kazakhstan and the same is true of the latest video, which also attracted a lot of attention in Russia for obvious reasons. Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) declined to comment but experts cast doubt on the authenticity of the video, arguing that it may have been staged. Furthermore, one of the "Russian agents" turned out be a street cleaner turned perfume salesman from Kazakhstan and the second man appears to be a Kazakhstan-born Russian convert to Islam who traveled to Syria in 2010. Kazakhstan’s security service vehemently denied that the two men are Kazakh citizens but did not rule out that they could have roots in the Central Asian country. Be that as it may, regardless of the authenticity of the video and the identity of the two men, the latest ISIS propaganda video shows that ISIS is very concerned about Russian spies in its ranks, which might explain why Kadyrov's nemesis Tarkhan Batirashvili has been keeping a low profile in recent months:

Where Has Umar Al-Shishani Gone? Although there was a flurry of media attention in October and November focusing on Umar al-Shishani, Islamic State's military commander in Syria, he has been conspicuously absent from the scene in recent weeks and months.

Media interest in Umar al-Shishani reached its peak in mid-November, when the head of Russia’s Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, caused a storm by claiming on his Instagram account that Umar Shishani -- whom he referred to as “the enemy of Islam” -- had been killed. Although Kadyrov later deleted that Instagram post, Russian and Western news outlets speculated that perhaps the Chechen leader did have information about Umar’s death.

Despite the assurances of Chechen militants fighting with Islamic State that Umar is alive and kicking in Syria, the ginger-bearded Georgian Kist has not been seen alive (or, for that matter, dead) for some months now. Umar has not appeared in any videos, for example. And while the Islamic State group has released two photographs of Umar since October, neither can be independently verified or even dated.​

If Batirashvili is still alive, he would be well advised to keep his whereabouts a secret given the fact that he is at the top of Kadyrov's hit list. Life in Syria is already dangerous enough without having to worry about Russian spies. Several of Batirashvili's fellow Georgian jihadists have been killed in recent months while fighting for ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria. Last week, this issue hit again the headlines when former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili lashed out against the Georgian government, alleging that "several hundred Georgian citizens have been sent to Syria." After Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and other Georgian officials had attacked Saakashvili for calling on Georgian soldiers to resign from the army and come to Ukraine in order to fight for the Kiev regime, the former President responded by pointing out that the Georgian government "does not say a word about the fact that Georgians, with the help of a variety of tricks, are being dragged to fight in Syria." Saakashvili was harshly criticized for his statement but shortly thereafter Tbilisi decided to take action and make long overdue legislative changes, which were first floated last year:

Bill Criminalizes Involvement with ‘Illegal Armed Groups’ Abroad A package of legislative amendments has been submitted to the Parliament this week criminalizing participation in and broad range of other activities related to illegal armed groups abroad, as well as “traveling abroad for the purpose of terrorism.” According to the bill, “joining and/or participation in an illegal formation operating on the territory of a foreign country or receiving training from such formation; recruiting or training a person with the purpose of joining, participating or otherwise promoting the activities of such illegal formation; gathering of persons and/or dissemination or use of materials and/or symbols related to membership and/or participation in illegal formation” will be punishable with imprisonment from 5 to 10 years.

Taliban Losing Fighters to ISIS in Afghanistan

Former Georgian servicemen who "are taking active part in special-task detachments of the Ukrainian army" can breathe a sigh of relief because they won't be punished. The amendments are only aimed at discouraging Georgian ISIS fighters from returning to Georgia. Like most other governments, the Georgian government is fine with its citizens joining ISIS as long as the "Islamic State" doesn't expand to Georgia. Speaking of which, the "Islamic State" appears to be gaining a foothold in another country but not in the Caucasus. General John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, stated recently that ISIS is trying to recruit fighters in Afghanistan and General Mahmood Khan, a senior commander of the Afghan National Army, confirmed that former Taliban leader Mullah Raouf Khadim is the driving force behind the recruitment for ISIS in Helmand province. And as some media outlets were quick to point out, Mullah Raouf is not an ordinary Taliban leader:

Ex-Gitmo detainee leads contingent of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan

A former Guantanamo detainee, Mullah Raouf Khadim, is reportedly leading a contingent of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand. Khadim's role was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press (AP). Raouf had served as a top Taliban military leader until he and his allies lost an internal power struggle, paving the way for him to switch allegiances. "A number of tribal leaders, jihadi commanders and some ulema [religious leaders] and other people have contacted me to tell me that Mullah Raouf had contacted them and invited them to join him," the AP quoted Gen. Mahmood Khan, an Afghan military official, as saying.

As mentioned last year, insurgents in Afghanistan's Ghazni province are also sporting the ISIS flag. Some Afghans are already complaining that the government of President Ashraf Ghani is ignoring the activities and growth of ISIS in the country but the Afghan authorities prefer to downplay ISIS-related reports. Since the reports point rather to internal divisons within the Taliban than an expansion of the "Islamic State," it is probably a good idea not to fall for the ISIS fear-mongering. Besides, Ghani and his Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah are currently dealing with other problems. After it took them more than three months to agree on a cabinet, nearly half of their ministerial candidates came immediately under scrutiny for dual citizenship, alleged criminal activities, and being underage. Some have pulled out and others failed to get parliamentary confirmation. So Afghanistan is still without a real government. A few days ago, Ghani took a break from the chaos in Kabul and made a two-day official visit to neighboring Turkmenistan:

Ghani Looks to Strengthen Trade Ties With Turkmenistan Following President Ashraf Ghani's recent trip to Turkmenistan, leaders in Kabul and Ashgabat have now agreed to major projects involving trading natural gas, building a railway network and border terminals for their respective energy markets. Ghani has said the value of trade between the two countries will double in the next year. "At the moment, Afghanistan has turned into a bridge, our trade and transit can create many opportunities; energy and electricity and natural gas will be sent to Afghanistan and to other countries through Afghanistan," President Ghani said on Thursday. "The extension of our relationship is not only a victory for us but also for the countries in the region." The projects specific to Afghanistan and Turkmenistan that Ghani hammered out with leaders in Ashgabat this week join mega projects like the TAPI pipeline and electricity transit development as part of a larger effort to promote cooperation and integrated networks of trade in the South Asia and Central Asia region.

The construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline (TAPI) was expected to start this year but the Pakistani newspaper Dawn recently renewed doubts about the implementation of the project, arguing that the pipeline is unlikely to be built anytime soon for a number of reasons with the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the problems along the Turkmen-Afghan border not even being on the list. After some Afghan villagers had already threatened to take action against Turkmenistan's "invasion" by attacking Turkmen border guards, Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has now sent humanitarian aid to Afghans living on the border, possibly to calm the situation. An Afghan security official stressed this week that there is no threat to Central Asia's borders but recent incidents suggest otherwise. If it turns out that there are indeed no camps of terrorists gathering in northern Afghanistan, the U.S. will have a hard time explaining why it is giving the Uzbek regime more than 300 armored vehicles:

Exclusive: US Gives Uzbekistan Military Equipment Boost The United States is giving Uzbekistan hundreds of military vehicles, says a top U.S. diplomat in an exclusive interview with VOA Uzbek. It is one of the largest equipment transfers by the United States to a Central Asian nation and a move likely to renew concerns over Uzbekistan's human rights record. Daniel Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia, said Uzbekistan needs the vehicles for counter-terrorism and counter-narcotic efforts. "They will all be provided to the Ministry of Defense and can only be used by the Ministry of Defense," said Rosenblum. "These are definitely defensive vehicles, they are inherently defensive. Also, we consider them to be non-lethal. They are intended to protect personnel, crews and passengers in areas that there might be explosive devices, mines, so on."

China Cracks Down on Illegal Border Crossings by Uyghurs

The transfer of the "inherently defensive" military vehicles comes at a time when Uzbekistan is gearing up for the next sham elections, which are being described as a "tragedy for 30 million people" given the fact that the country's strongman Islam Karimov is going to win yet another term as president. If the folks in the U.S. don't want to be called out on their hypocrisy by other countries in the region, they should probably refrain from the usual talk of human rights for a while. Just a few days ago, U.S. propaganda tool Human Rights Watch urged China to revise its proposed legislation on counterterrorism, which "would legitimate ongoing human rights violations." China has long complained about Western hypocrisy and double standards on terrorism, to no avail. By now, the Chinese authorities could not care less about criticism from the West. It was recently announced that the 'strike-hard' anti-terror campaign, which has led to a sharp increase in the number of arrests in Xinjiang, has been extended to the end of this year and that more troops will be deployed in the autonomous region:

PLA strengthens Xinjiang forces to foil terror attacks China is strengthening its military power in its northwestern frontier region bordering Afghanistan and Central Asia. The military reinforcement comes against a backdrop of United States troops pulling out of Afghanistan and extremists launching terrorist attacks on civilian targets. People's Liberation Army troops based in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region will vigorously enforce border controls, according to their chief.

The recent arrest of ten Turks and nine Uyghurs in Shanghai exposed not only Turkey's role in Washington's East Turkestan project but it also highlighted China's struggle against illegal border crossings. Many Uyghurs who want to leave the country are trying to do so via Southeast Asia. A few days ago, Chinese police shot dead two Uyghurs and detained another one near the border town of Pingxiang in Guanxi Province when the group tried to illegally cross into Vietnam. According to China's Global Times, the Uyghurs had resisted arrest and attacked the policemen. The state-run Global Times strongly supported the reaction of the police and emphasized that "police should get ready to shoot when dealing with knife-wielding fanatics." In an attempt to make clear that the Uyghurs were not innocent refugees, China's Public Security Ministry announced that a task force on human smuggling across China's southwestern borders had uncovered 262 cases since May and that the smuggling is "mainly organized abroad and controlled behind the scenes" by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement:

Hundreds of Chinese seeking 'jihad training' are caught on Vietnam border in one year: Beijing More than 800 people have been stopped trying to illegally cross from China into Vietnam in just one year, with the majority attempting to get to jihad training camps, Beijing revealed last night. Police said most of the cases were spurred on by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is spreading extremist religious views and provoking people to leave the country and participate in jihad, Xinhua reported. Most of those caught trying to sneak out of the country had watched underground terror videos or had even engaged in “terrorist” activities, killing people before leaving the country, Xinhua said.

The name of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is often used by Beijing as a code word for the United States, Turkey and other countries which are pulling the strings behind the East Turkestan independence movement. While China is trying to convince the West that many Uyghur emigrants "are not innocent, helpless members of an ethnic minority fleeing 'suppression' at home in pursuit of 'freedom'" but "religious extremists headed to the forefronts of Islamic jihad," the NED-funded World Uyghur Congress (WUC) keeps insisting that China's oppression of Uyghurs is the primary reason for the the growing radicalization among the Uyghur population. Beijing will hardly be swayed by this criticism. The 'strike-hard' anti-terror campaign continues and the Chinese authorities keep a very close eye on anybody who is trying to illegally leave the country:

Police crack down on people attempting to leave China to join jihadist organizations A group of about 10 people, including children and women, approach the border between China and Myanmar late at night. They attempt to sneak across a ford into Myanmar, but are captured by Chinese police who are waiting in ambush. Southwestern China has witnessed a spike in people illegally crossing the border into Vietnam and Myanmar in the past two years. Police claim that many people who have attempted to sneak out of China have participated in underground Islamic preaching or have been involved in terrorist activities, and that they have often paid tens of thousands of yuan to get to the Middle East from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The police have said that such activities are directed by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and that the organization encourages these people to carry out attacks locally if they are unable to cross the border.

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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


Porkins Policy Radio- Gladio Operations in Russia’s Backyard, Chechens & Al-Zawahiri’s 1996 Imprisonment in Russia

On this week’s episode we continue our roundtable discussion on Gladio B with Sibel Edmonds and Tom Secker. Picking up where we last left off, the three of us explore some of the reasons for Russia’s presumed intransigence in the face of mounting NATO and Gladio operations in their backyard. As a case study for this we look at Ayman Al Zawahiri’s little-discussed imprisonment by the Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in Chechnya in 1996 while traveling with four diplomatic passports and a laptop. We discuss why the FSB captured him as well as why they let him go. We also explore the recent uptick in violence in Chechnya and how this relates to an increase in NATO operations meant to destabilize Russia.

 *For MP3 download click here

*For the first episode of this roundtable click here

The New Great Game Round-Up: January 5, 2015

Putin's Chechen "Volunteers" Ready to Defend Russia, Georgia Spares No Effort to Put "Enemy" Saakashvili Behind Bars & 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.

After 13 years of death and destruction, the United States and NATO "formally" ended their war in Afghanistan last weekend with a symbolic ceremony in Kabul. U.S. President Barack Obama used the opportunity to blow his own trumpet and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has carried out its mandate "at great cost but with great success." ISAF's mandate was indeed carried out at great cost but the U.S. and its allies failed to achieve any of their claimed long term objectives and the Taliban lost no time in reminding Obama, Stoltenberg & Co. of their defeat in the longest war in American history. Contrary to what Western politicians and media have been saying in recent days, the war will go on with no significant changes on the ground. As previously discussed, about 13,000 troops and thousands of contractors will stay in Afghanistan and the troops will have a direct combat role because the Afghan security forces are not up to the task despite years of "successful" training by NATO. At the beginning of this week, ISAF spokesperson Chris Belcher stressed that the Afghan forces are prepared to take the lead in providing security but it did not take long before his words were proven wrong:

Afghans take over full security charge, mortars kill 20 civilians

Afghanistan assumed full responsibility for security from departing foreign combat troops on Thursday, a day after Afghan army mortar shells killed at least 20 civilians attending a wedding party in volatile southern Helmand province.

General Mahmoud, the deputy Commander of the Afghan 215 corps in the province, said artillery was fired from three directions at a village in Sangin district where the wedding was held on Wednesday.

"What we know so far is that our soldiers fired mortar rounds from three outposts but we do not know whether it was intentional," Mahmoud told Reuters.

Afghans, China, Russia Not Impressed with ISAF's "Great Success"

At least 27 civilians were killed and more than 50 wounded. According to the deputy governor of Helmand, Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar, Afghan troops "fired mortar rounds on a wedding ceremony after militants in the same area attacked an army checkpoint." Four soldiers accused of firing the mortar rounds have been arrested and taken to Lashkar Gah, where they will have to account for their actions before a military court. Given the fact that U.S. and NATO forces have also targeted Afghan wedding parties in recent years, the training of Afghan soldiers was perhaps "successful" after all. Neither the Afghan population nor Russia and China are impressed with ISAF's "great success." As the NATO-led forces reduce their presence in the war-torn country, the Chinese government has been trying to restart stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Reuters reported last November on Beijing's proposal for a "peace and reconciliation forum" but up until this week it was not clear whether or not the Taliban have actually responded to the proposal:

Taliban delegation hold talks with Chinese officials on Afghanistan

According to reports, a delegation of of Taliban officials have recently visited China to meet with the Chinese officials and discuss issues related to Afghanistan. Sources privy of the development have told the Afghan Islamic Press that the delegation was led by Qari Din Mohammad who is a member of the Taliban political office in Doha.

The delegation reportedly visited China late in November last year when Beijing had put forward a proposal for a “peace and reconciliation forum” in a bid to help revive peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban militants group.

Details regarding the outcome of the visit were not reported but the government in Kabul announced last month that there has been progress on the peace talks. Restarting the dialogue makes definitely more sense than escalating the conflict, as suggested by infamous warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is now serving as Afghanistan's Vice President. China wants to see a stable Afghanistan and does not mind working with the Taliban to this end. Therefore, the Chinese government is simultaneously developing relations with the new Afghan government and the Taliban. Beijing is primarily interested in tapping into Afghanistan's mineral wealth and in preventing Afghanistan from becoming a base for Uyghur insurgents. Although China and Afghanistan share only a small border, the Chinese authorities have always been concerned that violence could spill across the border into Xinjiang and the inceasing violence along Afghanistan's borders with Turkmenistan and Tajikistan indicates that this is not completely impossible. Russia and the Central Asian regimes were long ridiculed for warning of an Afghan spillover but lately these warnings have been taken more seriously:

Russian Ambassador Warns Of Afghan Problems Spilling Across Border

Russia's special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, has warned of "Islamists" in Afghanistan concentrating along the Tajik and Turkmen borders.

In an interview with Russia's Interfax news agency, Kabulov claimed there are currently 4,000 to 5,000 militants massed in areas of northern Afghanistan near the border with Tajikistan and some 2,500 near the border with Turkmenistan.

Afghan and foreign media have been reporting increasing unrest in northern Afghan provinces throughout this year including the presence of militants from Central Asia.

Kidnappings along the Tajik-Afghan border highlighted the security woes in recent weeks. Dushanbe and Kabul are currently conducting negotiations on the release of four Tajik border guards who were abducted after they entered Afghanistan to cut some trees. According to Afghan news agency Kharma Press, the Taliban want to exchange the border guards for Taliban supporters who are sitting in jail in Tajikistan. In the run-up to NATO's "withdrawal" from Afghanistan, the Tajik-Afghan border was often named as a potential trouble spot and the Collective Security Treaty Organitation (CSTO) agreed in September 2013 to support Tajikistan in strengthening the border. While some 'stans are not really threatened by the insurgents massing in northern Afghanistan, fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and other jihadists "could represent a tipping force in either Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan." Speaking at a CSTO Collective Security Council meeting at the end of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized that the Russia-led organization will have to keep a wary eye on the Tajik-Afghan border and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu assured his Tajik counterpart and the chief of Kyrgyzstan’s General Staff that Russia will help out:

Russia to help Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan when coalition force leaves Afghanistan - Russian Defense Minister

Russia will be implementing programs for upgrading and rearming the armed forces of Kyrgyzstan as the international coalition force will leave neighboring Afghanistan, Russian Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergey Shoigu said at a meeting with the chief of Kyrgyzstan’s General Staff, Major-General Asanbek Alymkozhoyev on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, Shoigu met with his Tajik counterpart, Lieutenant-General Sherali Mirzo. Against the backdrop of the international coalition’s force withdrawal from Afghanistan the Russian and Tajik armed forces should brace for any march of events, including the most negative one, Shoigu said.

“With this in mind, we believe it is essential to pay priority attention to enhancing the combat potential of the Tajik Armed Forces and the 201st Russian military base. We are determined to furnish support for Tajikistan in maintaining its security further on,” Shoigu promised, reports TASS.

Putin's Chechen "Volunteers" Ready to Defend Russia

Russia has ample reason to prepare for the worst in Central Asia. Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of Russia's Security Council and former FSB head, hit the nail on the head when he explained that the U.S. and its allies are trying to bring down Russia by slashing Russia's income from foreign trade and at the same time increasing its expenditure on resolving externally-provoked problems, just as they did during the Cold War. When Ukrainian MPs call for a second and third front against Russia in Chechnya and Central Asia, this is primarily wishful thinking but when Brookings President Strobe Talbott "predicts" the outbreak of the third Chechen war, the Kremlin should be alarmed. The U.S. deep state is clearly entertaining the idea of a second front against Russia. However, Talbott & Co. seem to have missed that Chechnya is no longer Russia's Achilles' heel, quite the contrary. Thousands of Chechen "volunteers" are ready to defend Russia's interests, stability and borders, wherever President Putin deems it necessary:

Kadyrov Says Chechens Ready to Perform Special Tasks for Putin that Other Security Agencies Can’t

Speaking to a meeting of 20,000 Chechen volunteers in Grozny yesterday, republic head Ramzan Kadyrov said that he and they are ready to perform tasks for Vladimir Putin “which can be solved only by volunteers” and not by “the regular army, air force, navy or nuclear forces.”

“Putin has helped [the Chechens] for 15 years,” Kadyrov continued. “tens of thousands [of Chechens] who have passed through special preparation ask the national leader of Russia to consider us a volunteer special detachment of the Supreme Commander that is ready to defend Russia, its stability and borders and to fulfill a military task of any complexity.”

And he added that “America and Europe have declared economic war on Russia and are trying to sow chaos, panic, and mass disorders in the country.” But, “the Russian people have united around their leader Vladimir Putin … [and] the Chechen people in this unity occupies one of the central places.”

If Washington tries to open a second front in the Caucasus or Central Asia, these Chechen volunteers will give the U.S./NATO-backed insurgents a hard time. The meeting at Grozny's Sultan Belimkhanov Stadium was certainly also meant to warn Russia's enemies that destabilizing Chechnya won't be as easy as it used to be. After clashes rocked the Chechen capital one month ago, it did not take long before life returned to normal. The Press House building and school No. 20, which were damaged during the fighting, have already been completely restored and two insurgents, who were reportedly involved in organizing the December 4 attack, have been eliminated. Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov vowed to continue his no-holds-barred campaign against the insurgency, stressing that terrorists "cannot be cured, they can only be destroyed." And the Chechen leader started the new year by promoting a new tactic for Chechnya's uncompromising war on terror:

Chechen Authorities Announce New Tactic to 'Clear' Republic of Islamic Militants

Chechen authorities have announced a new method for combatting the region's underground insurgency, a system that will essentially turn commanders in the republic's security services into bounty hunters responsible for tracking down specific militants.

"Each commander will be entrusted personally with tracking down one or another militant who is on a wanted list," said an online statement published by the regional government on Thursday.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov praised the new tactic, saying in the statement that it would "bring good results" and "fully clear Chechnya of militants."

In light of this, the Chechen wing of the North Caucasus insurgency will have a hard time staging a comeback. To make matters worse, the jihadists in Russia's North Caucasus are currently quarreling with each other because they are unable to agree on whether they will continue operating under the banner of the Caucasus Emirate (IK) or go with the flow and pledge allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). Over the past six weeks, at least three Chechen and three Dagestani commanders have switched sides from the Caucasus Emirate to ISIS, much to the dismay of IK leader Aliasaskhab Kebekov, better known as Ali Abu Mukhammad, who condemned the "treachery" in the strongest possible terms. Thanks to its new members, ISIS can now walk the talk and "liberate" Chechnya and the Caucasus. Russia's Supreme Court reacted a few days ago by designating ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra as terrorist organizations and banning them in the country. The Russian authorities take the issue very seriously but up until now, Syria is still the preferred destination of ISIS fighters:

Chechnya Sentences Georgian 'IS Recruiter' To Six Years

A court in the Chechen capital, Grozny, has sentenced a Georgian man to six years in prison for attempting to recruit two Chechen men to join the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria.

The defendant, 25-year-old Beslan Cincalashvili, allegedly resided legally in Chechnya from July through August 2014. During this time, prosecutors alleged that he met with two Chechen nationals in Grozny and attempted to persuade them to travel to Syria to join militant groups.

Investigators also said that Cincalashvili promised the men assistance with passports and in traveling to Syria via Georgia.

Georgia Spares No Effort to Put "Enemy" Saakashvili Behind Bars

Given that Georgia has been supporting both the "Chechen rebels" and the "Syrian rebels" for quite some time, it is safe to say that the Georgian authorities wouldn't have thwarted Cincalashvili's plans. Dozens of Georgian citizens, many of whom come from the Pankisi Gorge, have joined ISIS following the lead of Georgian soldier turned ISIS commander Tarkhan Batirashvili, who is now known by the nom de guerre Abu Omar al-Shishani. Batirashvili has quickly won the favor of Western media as well as the top spot on the hit list of Chechen Republic head Kadyrov. Although Georgian media frequently reportsthat yet another one of Batirashvili's associates has been killed in Syria while fighting for ISIS, the Georgian government doesn't seem to care about the terrorist activities of its citizens. But Syria is not the only country which has attracted Georgian "mercenaries" and after the recent death of a Georgian soldier in Ukraine, all hell broke loose in Tbilisi:

Controversy Erupts Over Death Of Georgian Soldier In Ukraine

The killing of a Georgian soldier in eastern Ukraine has become the source of a political dispute in Tbilisi after the Ministry of Defense issued a statement blaming the former government for the death.

The Georgian, Aleksandre Grigolashvili, died in combat in Lugansk, Ukraine, on December 19. He had joined the Georgian armed forces in 2007 and fought in Afghanistan and South Ossetia, family members said, but left service in 2008. He went to Ukraine two months ago to fight on the side of the pro-Kiev forces.

The issue of Georgians fighting in Ukraine has been a controversial one. Earlier this month former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who has emerged as one of the top supporters of the government in Kiev, said that Georgian soldiers were leaving the Georgian army to go fight in Ukraine. The assertion was strongly disputed by the current ruling Georgian Dream coalition.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili was outraged about Saakashvili's calls for Georgian soldiers to resign from the Georgian army and acquire Ukrainian citizenship to fight for the regime in Kiev. He called the former president an enemy of Georgia and accused him of seeking "to lead Georgia into armed confrontation with Russia." Saakashvili's presence in Ukraine is a thorn in Tbilisi's side and Kiev's decision to appoint former Georgian officials to government posts has strained relations between Georgia and Ukraine further. The Georgian authorities are still pulling out all the stops to put Saakashvili behind bars. His presidential passport was revoked last month and Georgia's chief prosecutor Giorgi Badashvili reiterated this week that the Prosecutor's Office "will spare no effort" to convince Interpol of issuing a Red Notice for Saakashvili. Despite all that, the wanted criminal is confident of his return:

Former Georgian President promised to return to country soon

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili gave New Year's celebration for children in a presidential library in Tbilisi. Santa Claus gave them gifts and sweets.

Mikheil Saakashvili addressed the children on Skype and wish them a Happy New Year and Merry Christmas.

Children asked the former president when he arrives to Georgia.

"Very soon", Saakashvili said.

Another darling of Washington is also planning his comeback. Former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania is eagerly awaiting the next parliamentary elections and he lost no time in denouncing his successor Mindia Janelidze when the dispute about the killing of a Georgian soldier in Ukraine erupted. Alasania even demanded that the people who are responsible for the controversial Defense Ministry statement "must stand trial." Although Janelidze has picked up where Alasania left off and the Georgian government has continued its pro-Western course, some people would like to see a more aggressive policy vis-à-vis Russia. Garibahsvili on the other hand prefers are more pragmatic approach and he has even signaled his willingness to hold talks with the Russian leadership. Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili is also willing to meet his Russian counterpart Putin but only on the condition that the talks will be held on the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity. Put another way, the prospect of talks between Margvelashvili and Putin is still poor:

Russia, South Ossetia to sign new integration treaty in February

Russia and South Ossetia are due to sign a new treaty on deepening integration in early February 2015, the president of the republic, Leonid Tibilov, told journalists on Friday.

Russia and South Ossetia are preparing several versions of the treaty, and the final document is not expected to be “an exact copy” of Moscow’s agreement with neighboring Abkhazia, but their concept is likely to be the same, a Kremlin source told TASS.

Some integration processes with South Ossetia could be much deeper than those envisaged by the treaty with Abkhazia, the source said, adding that in some directions the republic would be strengthening ties with Russia at the same rate.

# # # #
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: December 22, 2014

U.S. Deep State Dreams of Third Chechen War, China Pushes SCO Security Cover for New Silk Road & 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.

At the end of last year, the Volgograd bombings highlighted that Russia is still struggling with the foreign-backed insurgency in the North Caucasus and 2014 ends on a similar note due to this month's clashes in the Chechen capital Grozny. Although the overall security situation in the North Caucasus has improved significantly over the years, the attacks in Volgograd last year as well as the attacks in Grozny in October and December of this year serve as a stark reminder that terrorists can strike at any time, anywhere in the region. Violence in Russia's volatile south has long been associated with Chechnya but the neighboring Republic of Dagestan has become Russia's hot spot of insurgent activity in recent years. The leaders of the Dagestani insurgency just pledged loyalty to ISIS, defying the leader of the Caucasus Emirate and perhaps spelling more trouble for Russia's security services. One of the frequent special operations in Dagestan resulted last week in the killing of the leader of a terrorist group linked to the 2013 Volgograd bombings and a number of other attacks in Dagestan. While the Dagestani authorities have their work cut out, the Chechen authorities are free to support the resistance in eastern Ukraine and, unperturbed by the attacks in Grozny, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov announced this week that he wants to focus more on Ukraine:

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov wants to quit his high post to go to help militias in Donbas

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on Tuesday that he wanted to quit his high state post and leave for Ukraine’s Donbas region to help the local militias, the NTV channel reported on its website.

Commenting on initiation of criminal proceedings against him in Ukraine and Kiev’s threats to put him on the international wanted list, Kadyrov told NTV’s “Bez Kupyur” (Without Banknotes) program that they could keep wagging their tongues for as long as they liked.

“They can keep saying whatever they like. But I am going to ask the (Russian) president for permission to quit my post in order to go to Donbass to protect the interests of those citizens who are fighting there now,” Kadyrov said.

U.S. Deep State Dreams of Third Chechen War

Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated shortly thereafter that the Chechen leader had made no request to resign and it is highly unlikely that Kadyrov will quit his post anytime soon, much to the dismay of local activists and international human rights organizations. A few days ago, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on the Russian authorities to "end a campaign of intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders in Chechnya." The Committee to Prevent Torture (KPP) and its Chechen branch, the Joint Mobile Group, came recently under attack in Russia after Kadyrov had implicated KPP's head Igor Kalyapin, along with Akhmat Umarov and Western intelligence agencies, in organizing the armed attack in Grozny on December 4. This week, Kadyrov continued his campaign against the so-called human rights defenders alleging that Kalyapin is part of a new U.S. State Department project "to destroy Russia by using Chechnya." As always, Kadyrov's words have to be taken with a grain of salt but given the fact that Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and influential deep state actor, predicts the outbreak of the third Chechen war for the coming year, Kadyrov is perhaps right about the new U.S. State Department project:

In 2015, Vladimir Putin may witness his empire’s death knell

The year ahead could see the outbreak of the third Chechen war, which, in turn, could be the death knell of the Russian Federation in its current borders.

For the past five years, the situation has been more or less quiescent, though neighboring republics have been rocked by violence. The lull in Chechnya, however, ended in early December with a series of bloody incidents in the Chechen capital of Grozny.

The group behind the resurgence of unrest is advocating a “Caucasus Caliphate,” with ties to al Qaeda and, more recently, Islamic State. There is at least an indirect tie between outside support for Islamic radicalism in the Caucasus and Putin’s sponsorship of Russian secessionism in eastern Ukraine.

There is no reason whatsoever to assume that a third Chechen war could break out in the foreseeable future. Most Chechens see through NATO's manipulation of Muslims and support the local authorities in their fight against the foreign-backed insurgency. But as "The Saker" points out, it would be a mistake to dismiss Talbott's prediction altogether: "A person like Talbott is very much "plugging in" the US deep state and if he says that next year there will be an insurgency in Chechnia, we can be darn sure that the US will try to create one." Talbott was instrumental in starting the expansion of NATO during the Clinton administration and he is now again a driving force behind Washington's reckless policy vis-à-vis Russia. Considering that the U.S. deep state has been pulling the strings behind the "Chechen rebels" all along, it comes as no real surprise that the Chechen wing of the North Caucasus insurgency, which had been relatively quiet in the last few years, is now trying to stage a comeback, just as Strobe Talbott predicts more violence in Chechnya:

North Caucasus Insurgency Threatens New Attack On Grozny

The Chechen wing of the North Caucasus insurgency that claimed
responsibility for the attack on Grozny on December 4 is planning a follow-up attack on the city to mark the New Year, according to Akhmed Umarov, elder brother of the late Caucasus Emirate founder and head Doku Umarov.

Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov
identified Akhmad Umarov as having organized the December 4 attack, and vowed to seek his extradition from Turkey, where according to Kadyrov he currently lives.

In a
15-minute video clip posted late on December 13 on, the website of the Chechen wing of the North Caucasus insurgency, Akhmed Umarov warned Kadyrov in the name of the Chechen militants that they will launch a new attack on Grozny unless Kadyrov desists from his efforts to block their food supplies. (Two men were apprehended in Chechnya’s Sunzha district in September on suspicion of providing food supplies to the insurgents. Umarov quoted the fighters as admitting that they are experiencing problems in obtaining supplies, and "we are fed up with this."

As previously mentioned, the suicide bombing in Grozny on October 5 and the attack on December 4 were meant to send a message to the Russian authorities. After Strobe Talbott and Akhmat Umarov reiterated this message a few days ago, everyone should know what the United States and its allies are up to. If they will succeed in destabilizing Chechnya, is a completely different question. The chances are slim. But Chechnya is apparently not the only Russian republic, which Chechen terrorists and their handlers want to put in the crosshairs. The Russians announced this week that Khasan Zakayev, an accomplice of Shamil Basayev and suspected co-organizer of the 2002 seizure of Moscow's Dubrovka Theater, was arrested last month as he was trying to enter Russia’s Crimea from Ukraine using a fake passport. It is safe to say that Zakayev was not planning to take a vacation. Ukrainian "nationalists" have long been working hand in glove with Chechen jihadists and Russia is now investigating this link in connection with the Grozny clashes. In light of all this, the following announcement by FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov makes a lot of sense: 

Improving counter-terrorism system in Crimea priority task in 2015 — FSB chief

Russia’s Federal Security Service director Alexander Bortnikov said on Tuesday one of the priorities in 2015 would be to improve the system for combating terrorism in Crimea.

“The priority task of the NAK (National Anti-Terrorist Committee) and the Federal Operative Headquarters in 2015 will be to improve the regional segment of the nationwide counter-terrorism system in Crimea, including its preventive components,” Bortnikov said at the National Anti-Terrorist Committee session.

China Pushes SCO Security Cover for New Silk Road

Russia faces many challenges in the coming year, from ensuring stability in Crimea and the North Caucasus to coping with the economic war. But as Russia struggles, China is prepared to step in and support its close ally. In the wake of the attack in Grozny, Beijing offered Moscow to strengthen anti-terrorism cooperation in order to "safeguard each other's national peace" and during this week's gathering of prime ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced that China is ready to provide financial aid to fellow SCO countries "to help counteract an economic slowdown." Although any member of the organization can make use of this offer, it is primarily directed at Russia. As usual, the situation in Afghanistan and the fight against the 'three evils' were also high on the agenda in Astana. With China's New Silk Road making good progress, the Chinese government is now trying to establish a security cover for the economic belt:

New Silk Road needs SCO security cover, says China

China is pushing for a collective security arrangement, with Russia and Central Asian countries as partners, which would focus on countering mega-terror strikes along the New Silk Road.

On Monday, visiting Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, proposed in Astana, the capital of neghbouring Kazakhstan, that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)—a six nation grouping led by Beijing and Moscow---should become the guardian of Eurasia.

During his address to the 13th meeting of Prime Ministers of SCO in the Kazhak capital, Mr. Li called for a new center which would foresee future security challenges to Eurasia. He also called upon partners to hone mechanisms that would to curb terrorism, and target drug trafficking, along with cyber-crimes.

Li emphasized that especially Afghanistan will need outside assistance to maintain its "domestic stability." Russia has already been investing heavily in Afghanistan for the past two years and China is now doing its part to support the neighboring country as well. As the NATO-led coalition forces are reducing their presence in Afghanistan, foreign aid has dried up, forcing the Afghan government to ask donors again for a bailout. American taxpayers have spent $104 billion over the years to "rebuild" the war-torn country, with negligible success, and to make matters worse, even the money which did not disappear immediately could be wasted because the Afghan authorities cannot sustain the investment. Therefore, Chinese Premier Li was right to point out that the SCO members will have to support Afghanistan if they want stability in the region. To this end, China has been trying to restart stalled peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban. Whether or not China's efforts were the decisive factor is not entirely clear but the Afghan government is hopeful of resuming the peace talks very soon:

Afghanistan may resume peace talks with Taliban in Qatar

According to reports, the government of Afghanistan is expecting to resume peace talks with the Taliban group in Qatar in the near future.

An official in Afghan High Peace Council (AHPC) has confirmed that the talks are likely to resume with the Taliban group within the next one week.

The official further added members from the Afghan High Peace Council, Taliban group and Pakistan are expected to join the talks.

With civilian deaths in Afghanistan reaching a new high in 2014, it is about time that the peace talks resume. The United Nations shared its latest casualty reports with Taliban officials in Doha and urged the group to reduce civilian casualties, to no avail. According to Afghanistan's spy chief Rahmatullah Nabil, the rise in attacks is just a "natural consequence" of NATO's withdrawal from the country. Nabil lamented this week that Afghanistan had "fallen off a technological cliff" due to the troop pullout and that the insurgents are exploiting the situation. Recently, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan's Khamyab District in Jowzjan Province meaning that the group "is now Turkmenistan’s immediate neighbor." As previously discussed, Turkmen border guards and security forces "invaded" Afghanistan a few months ago to drive the insurgents back. They have been building fences, digging trenches and setting up new posts in the region ever since, much to the dismay of Afghan villagers in Jowzjan Province:

Afghan Villagers Threaten To Attack Turkmenistan

Villagers in Afghanistan's northern Jowzjan Province claim Turkmenistan is stealing their agricultural land and are threatening to attack Turkmen border guards.

Muhammad Sahi Yhsan, the chief of the Qarqeen District told RFE/RL on December 17, villagers came to him to complain about Turkmen border guards setting up posts that according to the villagers, are some 30 to 35 kilometers deep into Afghan territory.

Yhsan said the villagers threatened to attack Turkmen border guards unless Afghan authorities can resolve their problem.

Kidnappings along Tajik-Afghan Border Highlight Security Woes

Given that the Afghan Turkmen in Qarqeen have paramilitary forces, the Afghan authorities would be well-advised to resolve the problem before the situation escalates. Meanwhile, the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border, which was considered to be Central Asia's most threatened border, is not much better either, as highlighted by several incidents in recent weeks. In early November, Tajik border guards opened fire on a group of six Afghans who were sailing on the Amu Darya. One Afghan was killed while the others managed to return to Afghanistan. Locals claimed that the six were just fishermen but the Tajik border guards had probably mistaken them for smugglers or insurgents. Such incidents occur from time to time along the Tajik-Afghan border and guards on both sides of the border have every reason to be nervous, as another incident demonstrated two weeks later:

Taliban reportedly abducted Sher Khan Bandar checkpoint employees on border with Tajikistan, Afghan authorities say

Taliban militants, consisting mainly of the Tajik nationals, have abducted the employees of the Sher Khan Bandar customs post on the border with Tajikistan, the Afghan authorities said on Thursday.

Kunduz province police spokesperson Sayidsarvar Husaini said the majority of kidnappers were the citizens of Tajikistan.

“All the hostages are workers of the Sher Khan Bandar. They were kidnapped in nighttime while going home,” the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty cited the spokesperson as saying.

At least 16 employees of the Sher Khan Bandar Border Customs Office were reportedly kidnapped at the time. Sher Kahn Bandar is located in Kunduz Province, where the Taliban and the allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) maintain a strong presence. Four Tajik border police learned this the hard way a short while ago. When they crossed the border into Kunduz Province to cut some trees, it didn't take long before they were also kidnapped by insurgents. A rescue operation is underway but the track record of the Afghan security forces is poor to say least. The Tajik authorities have already identified the turmoil in Afghanistan as a significant security threat to Tajikistan and the kidnapping of four border police officers will certainly reinforce Dushanbe's concerns. Refugees from Afghanistan are probably going to be the ones to suffer if Tajikistan's security services get their way: 

People involved in terrorism arrive in Tajikistan under guise of refugees – law enforcement agencies

Certain terrorist organizations penetrate to Tajikistan under the guise of refugees, according to the State Committee for National Security of Tajikistan representative, Abdulmadzhid Soliyev, the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported today.

"Foreigners come to our country from Afghanistan. All of us are familiar with the situation in the country. According to the sources of Tajik law enforcement agencies, some refugees are active members of terrorist and extremist groups," he said.

"In order to ensure national security, it was suggested to settle the refugees outside the cities of strategic importance. The same rule applies to the experience of developed countries," Soliyev added.

In addition to the chaos in Afghanistan, the conflict in Syria is also bothering the Tajik regime. Several hundred Tajik citizens are reportedly fighting for ISIS and other terrorist groups in the Middle East. While the Saudi Embassy in Dushanbe and Turkish Airlines were doing their best to funnel more Tajik fighters into Syria, the Tajik authorities have long turned a blind eye to the recruitment of new cannon fodder. But lately, there have been some efforts to stop this trend. At the beginning of this month, 46 young men were arrested on suspicion of planning to join terrorist groups in Syria and Tajik leader Emomalii Rahmon warned last week that ISIS "is the plague of the new century and represents a threat for global security." The Chinese will be pleased to hear that since they count on Tajikistan in the fight against the 'three evils':

Tajikistan, China agree to conduct joint exercises for their special police units

Tajik Interior Ministry Ramazon Rahimzoda yesterday met here with Mr. Ma Wei (phonetically spelled), Deputy Chief of Department at the Ministry of Public Security of China (MPS), according to the Interior Ministry press center.

In the course of the talks, the two reportedly discussed issues related to state and prospects of further expansion of bilateral cooperation in combating terrorism, extremism, separatism and drug trafficking.

Rahimzoda and Ma expressed confidence that the planned joint exercises for Tajik and Chinese special police units will help carry out joint operations in various climatic conditions, the press center said.

# # # #

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: December 15, 2014

Uzbekistan- India Welcome "Pariah" Putin with Open Arms, Setting the “Right Priorities” in the South Caucasus & 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.

While U.S. President Barack Obama is still trying to convince the public that Russia is completely isolated, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid official visits to Uzbekistan and India, strengthening Russia's ties with the two countries. On December 10, the Russian President traveled to Tashkent, where he held talks with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov. Putin's visit was a show of support for Karimov ahead of upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Uzbekistan, which could get interesting for a change given that Karimov has not stated whether he will stand for re-election as president. Russian-Uzbek relations have been tense since the end of the Soviet Union and the Karimov regime has always been a difficult partner for Russia but the Kremlin is now looking to forge closer ties with Uzbekistan, regardless of who is running the country. The two presidents signed an important agreement, significantly reducing Uzbekistan's debt to Russia in order to pave the way for new loans from Moscow, which are intended for a particular purpose [emphasis mine]:

Russia Cozies Up to Uzbekistan With $865 Million Debt Write-Off

Russia on Wednesday wrote off $865 million of debt owed by Uzbekistan as President Vladimir Putin sought to bolster ties between the former Soviet republics during a one-day visit to the country, news agency TASS reported.

The agreement, which was signed in the presence of Putin and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov, freed Uzbekistan from almost all of its $890 million debt to Russia. Uzbekistan will have to pay just $25 million, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Wednesday.

Presidential aide Yury Ushakov said Wednesday that settling the debt issue will allow Russia to expand sales of arms and military equipment in the country, TASS reported.

Uzbekistan, India Welcome "Pariah" Putin with Open Arms

Uzbekistan hoped to profit from the drawdown of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan by getting leftover American equipment, such as Mine Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP) vehicles, but this didn't work out. Therefore, the Uzbek regime is now turning to Russia for new arms and military equipment and since much of the debt has been written off, Tashkent is free to go on a shopping spree. In exchange for freeing Uzbekistan from its debt, Karimov agreed to start consultations on a free-trade zone between the Central Asian republic and the Russia-led Eurasian Economics Union (EEU). Moreover, Uzbekistan's strongman leader praised Russia's stabilizing role in Central Asia and he asked the Russian President to help the 'stans in the fight against the "creeping expansion of militant extremism and religious radicalism" in the region. This issue was also high on the agenda during Putin's trip to India, where the "pariah" was welcomed with open arms by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who used the opportunity to express his condolences for the recent attack in Chechnya's capital Grozny [emphasis mine]:

Combating terrorism, stability in Afghanistan key areas of India-Russian ties, says PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the areas of priority for cooperation between India and Russia include combating terrorism and extremism; advancing peace and stability in Afghanistan; working together for a stable, balanced, peaceful and prosperous Asia Pacific; and cooperating for development in other countries.

"I conveyed my deepest condolences for the loss of lives in the terrorist attack in Chechnya. This also reflects our many shared challenges,"
Prime Minister Modi said in his media statement during the official visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to India.

"This is President Putin's eleventh Annual Summit and my first. This Summit reinforced my conviction in the extraordinary value and strength of this partnership. I am confident that our bilateral cooperation and international partnership will acquire new vigour and scale new heights in the years ahead," he added.

Russia's landmark military cooperation agreement with Pakistan didn't go unnoticed in India but New Delhi cuts Moscow some slack because the Russians cite the need to combat terrorism as one of the reasons for their closer ties with Pakistan. The strong strategic partnership between Russia and India is hardly affected by such minor points of contention. Washington learned this the hard way in recent months, as the Americans tried in vain to convince India of turning its back on Russia. Instead the new Modi-led government has moved closer to Moscow and Beijing. This week's 15th India-Russia Annual Summit showed that India wants to follow China's example in strengthening its strategic partnership with Russia. As previously discussed, the two allies seek to boost their trade and economic ties so that they eventually match the strong political ties. According to Russia's Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, the goal is to increase trade turnover up to $30 billion by 2025 and during Putin's visit to New Delhi, Russia and India took the first step in the right direction:

Modi, Putin discuss defence, energy

Russia will remain India’s foremost defence partner, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday while announcing that Russia had accepted India’s offer to jointly manufacture light-utility helicopters.

India and Russia announced a $10-billion oil deal for Indian company Essar with Russian oil giant ROSNEFT to import about 10 million tonnes of crude oil over the next decade. The two sides also signed seven agreements on atomic energy, military training and health while Mr Modi and President Putin oversaw the signing of 13 commercial contracts.

The highlight of the meeting — part of an annual summit between the two countries — was the unveiling of a vision statement on atomic energy cooperation, where Russian nuclear agency ROSATOM and the Department of Atomic Energy and NPCIL have agreed to build at least 12 new reactors supplied by Russia over the next 20 years.

Furthermore, the two sides agreed to "scout and explore" for hydrocarbons in the Arctic shelf and to conduct a study exploring the feasibility of a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline from Russia to India. Much to the dismay of the United States, Putin announced that they also agreed to expand payments in national currencies. The Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of Russia have already set up a joint working group to work out modalities for de-dollarizing the growing bilateral trade. Russia and India signed a number of agreements which won't go down well in Washington but one memorandum of understanding (MoU) is particularly interesting in this regard because it "aims to facilitate India’s deepening economic cooperation with Crimea." Sergey Aksyonov, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Crimea, accompanied Putin's delegation to New Delhi, which prompted the U.S. puppet regime in Kiev to lash out at India:

Ukrainian president slams India over Crimean leader visit

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at
India on Friday over a visit by the leader of Crimea, the former Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia, who accompanied President Vladimir Putin's annual summit delegation this week.

India does not back Western sanctions against Russia, and the unofficial trip by Sergey Aksyonov could spoil the mood before Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosts U.S. President Barack Obama for India's Republic Day festivities in January.

Poroshenko, addressing the Lowy Institute think tank in Sydney, said India was placing more importance on "money" than "values" by welcoming Aksyanov, and it was not standing with "civilization" against Russian aggression.

Insurgents' Families, Human Rights Activists under Attack in Chechnya

Ukrainian oligarch turned president Poroshenko knows a thing or two about money and values and he is definitely a leading authority in the field of civilization considering that his regime is still waging war against the people in eastern Ukraine, who don't share Poroshenko's enthusiasm for neo-Nazis from all over the world. A few of Poroshenko's "civilized" pals are currently being investigated by the Russians for public calls for terrorist activities in Russia in connection with the recent attack in the Chechen capital Grozny, which left 26 people dead, including all eleven insurgents. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov suggested after the clashes that the attackers might have come from outside Chechnya but this was highly doubtful from the beginning and all insurgents have meanwhile been identified as residents of the Chechen Republic. This will only reinforce Kadyrov's decision to punish not only those who support the insurgency but also anyone who fails to prevent terrorist activities, even if that means evicting families who couldn't stop their relatives from becoming terrorists:

Homes Of Alleged Militants' Families Torched In Chechnya

Residents of Russia's Chechnya region say the authorities are carrying out Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov's orders to destroy the homes of relatives of alleged militants held responsible for attacks.

Residents of the village of Yandi said that masked men arrived in more than a dozen vehicles late on December 8 and set several homes on fire.

On December 6, after 14 policemen were killed in some of the deadliest fighting in the Chechen capital in years, Kadyrov announced that relatives of militants involved in killings would be evicted from Chechnya and their homes "razed down to the basement."

Anticipating that the harsh punishment of insurgents' families would draw a lot of criticism, Kadyrov made it perfectly clear that he couldn't care less about the "opinion of some people or the so-called human rights advocacy groups who watched in silence as NATO warplanes and militants trained by the West murdered millions of Muslims in Syria and Iraq." A few days after several houses had been burned to the ground, the Chechen authorities organized a large anti-terrorism rally in Grozny, reportedly attended by 50,000 people, in an effort to demonstrate that the population supports the persecution of insurgents' relatives. Following the rally, a group of masked men set alight the local office of the Moscow-based Committee to Prevent Torture (KPP), one of the last human rights groups still active in Chechnya. The group is headed by Igor Kalyapin, who appealed to Russia's Prosecutor General over Kadyrov's statements calling for relatives of terrorists to be held responsible and was shortly thereafter implicated by the Chechen President in organizing the recent attack in Grozny:

Chechen Republic Head Implicates Human Rights Defender In Grozny Attack

Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has indirectly implicated Igor Kalyapin, head of Russia's Committee to Prevent Torture, in organizing last week's attack by insurgents in Grozny in which 14 police and security personnel were killed and 36 wounded.

an Instagram post on December 10, Kadyrov claimed that a man by the name of Kalyapin channeled from Western intelligence services to Akhmat Umarov, the brother of former Caucasus Emirate head Doku Umarov, the funds to finance the attack by insurgents on Grozny. Kadyrov demanded a probe to determine whether the Kalyapin in question and the Kalyapin "who came to the defense of bandits and their relatives" are one and the same person.

Therefore, Kalyapin was also pelted with eggs during a press conference in Moscow two days before the Chechen branch of the KPP, the Joint Mobile Group, came under attack in Grozny. During the rally in the Chechen capital on Saturday, several signs in the crowd read "Kalyapin Go Home" and asked for Kadyrov to "protect us against the Kalyapins." Some activists of the KPP/Joint Mobile Group are now considering leaving Chechnya due to threats but the NGO wants to continue its work in the republic. Whether or not Kalyapin and his group have anything to do with the attack in Grozny, remains to be seen. As mentioned last week, the trail leads to NATO member Turkey, where Akhmat Umarov is living at the moment. Turkey is the place to be for aspiring terrorists but this week's assassination of a radical Uzbek imam, who promoted jihad in Syria, shows once again that life in Turkey is also increasingly dangerous because everybody knows where to look for the jihadists and their handlers:

Uzbek dissident assassinated in Istanbul, one arrested

An Uzbek dissident who was living in Turkey for around 12 years was assassinated in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district on Dec. 11, with a Chechen-origin
Russian national being detained as the sole suspect. 

Abdullah Bukhari, 38, was working as a religious leader and was the head of the İhsan Learning Services and Solidarity Association in the Zeytinburnu district of the city. The Uzbek dissident was wounded in a gun attack at close range in front of the association building.

Bukhari had allegedly received death threats from
Russian and Uzbek intelligence agencies and reportedly donned a steel vest whenever he went outside. He was attacked at a time when he was not wearing the steel vest, while he also reportedly did not inform any students at the association that he was going to the building.

Setting the Right Priorities in the South Caucasus 

According to Turkish media, Bukhari was one of four "dissidents" on a hit list, which was drawn up by Russian and Uzbek intelligence agencies three months ago. Interestingly, the Uzbek imam was assassinated on the same day as Putin and Karimov were meeting in Tashkent but that is perhaps just a coincidence. Be that as it may, on the same day, there was also a noteworthy meeting in the eastern Turkish city of Kars. The Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey gathered in Kars to strenghten trilateral cooperation between the three neighbors. Especially energy and transportation projects, such as the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, were high on the agenda during the fourth trilateral meeting since the launch of this format in 2012. Russia's decision to drop the South Stream project and redirect the pipeline to Turkey caused a great stir in Europe and some EU countries immediately expressed their concern that this could affect the implementation of TANAP but Turkish FM Mevlüt Cavusoglu put oil on troubled waters:

TANAP natural gas project is Turkey's priority: FM

The Trans Anatolia Natural Gas Pipeline, TANAP is Turkey's priority rather than Russia's last project proposal, according to Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. 

Cavusoglu spoke on Putin's announcement of the suspension of the South Stream natural gas project and his proposal for an alternative route through Turkey to send natural gas to Greece and to European countries.

"We signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia but it doesn’t mean that TANAP stays in the background," Cavusoglu said at a meeting with Azerbaijan’s Elmar Mammadyarov and Georgia’s Tamar Beruchasvili on Wednesday.

After Turkey and Russia signed the MoU on constructing a gas pipeline across the Black Sea, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized that the deal was not binding and required more talks on the details. Ankara is admittedly interested in the project but the construction of TANAP, which is expected to start next year, takes top priority. With South Stream dead and no Iran nuclear deal in sight, Europe is left out in the cold and new gas supplies are desperately needed. The much-hyped Southern Gas Corridor is supposed to be the solution and the EU hopes to receive the first energy supplies from the Caspian region by 2019 but the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is apparently taking longer than expected. Given that the countries of south-eastern Europe face several years of uncertainty, it is easy to understand why they have still not given up on Russia's South Stream project despite vehement opposition from Brussels and Washington [emphasis mine]:

EU turns to Azerbaijan for gas

The EU is considering plans for a new pipeline to enable gas imports from Azerbaijan. The push comes in the wake of Russia's decision to cancel the South Stream pipeline project.

EU Energy Commissioner Maros Sefcovic said Tuesday that a new high-level working group would be set up to advance the integration of central and south-eastern European gas markets and pipeline networks. As part of the effort, Sefcovic discussed proposals to link Azerbaijan's gas fields by pipeline with European markets.

The move is partly in response to the uncertainty generated by Russia's surprise decision to scrap the
South Stream pipeline project that it had agreed with the EU. Several EU member states that had invested in the South Stream pipeline, or stood to benefit from it - including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Romania and Slovenia - asked Sefcovic to reach out to Russia and discuss whether it might reconsider its decision.

While Austria, Bulgaria & Co. wait in vain for Brussels to prioritize Europe's interests over Washington's, Azerbaijan stands to benefit from the demise of South Stream. As Azerbaijan is becoming more important to the U.S. and the EU, the Aliyev regime knows exactly how to exploit its position, much to the indignation of Azerbaijani dissidents, activists, journalists and their friends in the West. In recent months, Baku made headlines with an unprecedented crackdown on critics and foreign-backed NGOs, raising the question of whether Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev wants to abandon his pro-Western course. According to Western media, the recent arrest of journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who is working for CIA propaganda outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, proves that this is the case but it remains to be seen whether the close military and economic cooperation between NATO and Azerbaijan continues as before, or whether Ismayilova's arrest was really a breaking point:

Baku in the USSR? Azerbaijan could be set to abandon West and head East

Ismayilova’s arrest is seen by many in Baku as a breaking point in Aliyev’s attempts to align Azerbaijan with the West. In an interview he gave two weeks ago to a Russian news channel, he accused the West of having encouraged the emergence of the Islamic State with its “policies in the Middle East over the last decade.” 

His words echoed the Kremlin’s position that the United States and European Union are responsible for the rise of ISIS (also known as ISIL) by supporting the rebels fighting the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. 

Until very recently, Azerbaijan saw President Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a hostile force trying to undermine its pro-Western policy and supporting neighboring Armenia in the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Now, Aliyev is praising Moscow and saying that “Azerbaijan and Russia are two neighboring friendly countries which are developing together and are ready to face world challenges.”

# # # #

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: December 8, 2014

Kadyrov Targets Ukraine-Turkey in Response to Grozny Attack, Exposure of Georgian Crimes Inconvenient for NATO & 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.

At the beginning of October, a suicide bombing struck the Chechen capital Grozny, reminding the Chechen and Russian authorities that the foreign-backed insurgency in the North Caucasus, which has been largely confined to Dagestan in recent years, could also rear its ugly head again in Chechnya. Although Chechen police stopped the suicide bomber in time to prevent a far more devastating attack, the bombing sent a strong message because it happened in peaceful Grozny on October 5, when Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov was celebrating his birthday, residents of Grozny were celebrating City Day and Muslims around the world were celebrating Eid al-Adha. After the attack in October, which left five police officers dead and twelve wounded, things returned to normal in Chechnya but this week, on the eve of Vladimir Putin's annual state-of-the-nation address, Grozny was again the center of attention as heavy fighting rocked the city, calling to mind the violence in the 1990s:

 Gun Battle Breaks Out In Grozny, Chechnya, Leaving At Least 19 Dead

Security forces in the capital of Russia's North Caucasus republic of Chechnya stormed two buildings, including a school, in fierce gun battles with militants early Thursday that left at least 19 dead, authorities said. 

The National Anti-Terrorist Committee said militants traveling in three cars entered the republic's capital, Grozny, at 1 a.m., killing three traffic police at a checkpoint, and then occupied the 10-story Press House in the center of the city. The federal agency said six gunmen were killed inside the building, which was gutted in a blazing fire that also spread to a nearby market.

More gunmen were later found in a nearby school and security forces were sent to "liquidate" them, the agency said. No students or teachers were in the school when it was seized by the militants, RIA Novosti quoted vice principal Islam Dzhabrailov as saying.

Kadyrov Targets Ukraine, Turkey in Response to Grozny Attack 

According to Chechen leader Kadyrov, 14 policemen were killed and 36 were wounded during the anti-terrorist operation, which ended with the elimination of eleven insurgents, who had disguised themselves as policemen and entered the city in three taxi cabs. Similar tactics were used in an attack on the parliament building in Grozny in October 2010. With Chechnya making the headlines at an inconvenient time, Kadyrov went out of his way to organize the anti-terrorist operation in Grozny and to attend Putin's address in the Kremlin. He publicly apologized to the Russian President for the violence and promised to thoroughly investigate the attack but Putin assured the Chechen leader that he and his men had nothing to be ashamed of and that they had handled the situation very professionally. Nevertheless, Kadyrov announced new punishments for terrorism that target the families of terrorists and he vowed to go after "anyone who gives moral or material help" to the insurgents in the North Caucasus:

Kadyrov orders to open criminal case against Ukrainian nationalists

A criminal case for the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada deputies Yuri Beryoza, Andrei Levus and Igor Mosiychuk will be opened in Chechnya at the instruction of its President Ramzan Kadyrov.

“These so-called deputies spoke out for assistance to terrorist sorties,” he wrote. “We’ve known in the past, too, that Ukrainian fascists and nationalists have been rendering financial or other aid to the remainders of terrorist groupings in the Caucasus.”

“Still, those who believe in a possibility of unpunished support for terrorism in North Caucasus are profoundly mistaken,” Kadyrov said. “Anyone who gives moral or material help /to the terrorists/ will be reached even deep in the underground or will be buried in the ground.”

Stressing that most insurgents in the Chechen Republic have been eliminated, Kadyrov suggested that the attackers might have come from outside Chechnya, which led some "experts" to speculate that it may have been the Islamic State's first strike against Russia. But the terrorists, at least four of whom were ethnic Chechens, claimed to be operating under orders from Chechen Islamist leader Aslan Byutukayev and local security personnel stated that the fighters came from Shalazhi in the Urus Martan district south-west of Grozny. While the West's favorite oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky put forward the ludicrous conspiracy theory that Kadyrov himself organized the attack because of funding cuts, Chechen parliament speaker Dukuvakh Abdurakhmanov pointed out that the terrorists "could have acted on order from Western security services in the interests of the United States and NATO that want to weaken Russia both economically and politically," which is more plausible than Khodorkovsky's conspiracy theory. Kadyrov tied Akhmat Umarov, the brother of his long-time nemesis Doku Umarov, to the attack and called for his extradition [emphasis mine]:

Warlord Doku Umarov’s brother behind Grozny attack — Kadyrov

Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that Akhmat, a brother of late warlord Doku Umarov, was behind the terrorist attack in Grozny on December 4.

“There is evidence that Doku Umarov’s brother has financed, organized and so bears responsibility for the attack,” Kadyrov told reporters on Friday. “Russia’s law enforcement agencies must demand his extradition from Turkey.”

Kadyrov said Umarov’s brother had deceived eleven militants who infiltrated Grozny. They were told that their goal was to reach Grozny and to open fire as another 400 gunmen who were allegedly staying in the city would join them.

Given the fact that NATO member Turkey has long been sheltering many Chechen terrorists, it comes as no real surprise that Doku Umarov's brother is currently living in Turkey, where Kadyrov's statement didn't go unnoticed. Akhmat Umarov would be well-advised to watch his back if he doesn't want to end up like many other Chechen exiles, who were taken out by Russian secret agents in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Qatar and elsewhere. Lately, the murder of prominent Chechen leader Medet Onlu in Ankara has been hitting the headlines again. As previously discussed, Onlu's murder was also blamed on the Russians and a Turkish man confessed to the murder, claiming that "pro-Russian Chechens" had hired him. But in a surprise twist, Onlu's family and lawyer recently told the media that the influential Turkish-born Chechen, who bore the unofficial title "honorary consul of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria," was killed because "he was an obstacle on the 'jihadist highway' to Syria" and that a "systematic effort is underway to cover up the murder":

Syrian link suspected in Chechen murder in Ankara

“Onlu’s stand against the exploitation of Chechens in Syria was very important. … In the Caucasian community [in Turkey], he was a person in a leadership position who took the risk of taking a stand against this,” lawyer Erdal Dogan told Al-Monitor by telephone. “We have serious suspicions that people in public office … made way for the murder and we believe they are still impeding the capture of the suspects.”

Chechen fighters — some battle-hardened, others wannabes — figure prominently in jihadist ranks in Syria, often credited as fierce combatants and military strategists. As Al-Monitor’s Vitaly Naumkin writes: “They didn’t come to Syria from Russia … but from Georgia, Turkey and European countries that once provided them refuge as freedom fighters.”

One Turkish charity dedicated to helping Chechen refugees — the
Humanitarian Defense and Fraternity Association (Imkander) — has stood out with its explicit support for the jihad in Syria. In February, for instance, it organized a gathering in an Istanbul mosque to commemorate Seyfullah al-Shishani, a Chechen commander killed in Aleppo. "Long live our Syria jihad," the crowd chanted as Imkander Chairman Murat Ozer praised Shishani, recounting how he spent time in Turkey before the war and later escorted Imkander aid workers in Syria. Shishani “showed the world what a great service Chechen mujahedeen are doing to the Syrian jihad,” Ozer said. He then introduced Shishani’s young son to the crowd, saying the boy accompanied his father in Syria “to savor the smell of jihad.” In July, the charity posted a video appealing for donations for an infirmary in Gaziantep, at the Syrian border. An Imkander representative says in the video the building used to be their office but was converted to an infirmary after “too many wounded mujahedeen came.”

Exposure of Georgian Crimes Inconvenient for NATO

IMKANDER also commemorated Akhmat's brother Doku Umarov in March of this year after his death had been confirmed. Russia has tried to convince the other members of the United Nations Security Council to add IMKANDER to the Al-Qaida Sanctions List, to no avail. The Chechen "freedom fighters" and their supporters enjoy high-level protection. As Medet Onlu's nephew Abruk told Al-Monitor, given that many Chechen refugees lack residence permits and live in destitute conditions under a constant risk of deportation, they can be easily pressured into joining the war in Syria or any other conflict for that matter. One of the countries sheltering Chechen refugees not only for altruistic motives is Georgia. The so-called Lopota incident demonstrates this very well. Two years ago, the Georgian authorities tried to supply the insurgency in Russia's North Caucasus with more fighters but everything went wrong, when Georgian special forces engaged a group consisting of Georgian Chechens from the Pankisi Gorge and young Chechens from Europe who had been recruited by Georgian Interior Ministry officials, brought to Tbilisi, and trained over a period of several months, as they tried to enter Russia. Georgian human rights ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili, who exposed the terrorist training scheme last year, is now calling for a new investigation:

New report sheds light on border shooting in 2012

The ombudsman in Georgia on Monday published a report which criticizes the authorities for holding back information and not properly investigating
a border shooting in 2012.

Among the dead rebels, three were local Georgians from nearby Pankisi Gorge. This is one of the reasons the Saakashvili government’s claim that the rebels had come from Russia and entered into Georgia was met with disbelief. Another reason is that the only man detained after the incident, Ahmed Chatayev, said that the fighters had tried to enter Russia from Georgian territory.

The report concludes that several types of information given by official sources has not been confirmed. Ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili now asks parliament to start investigating the shooting incident all over again. 

Then president Mikheil Saakashvili tried hard to convince everyone that Georgia is completely innocent and, interestingly enough, none other than Akhmat Umarov came to his defense, telling radio station "Echo of the Caucasus" shortly after the incident that "the Georgian side is not responsible for the death of the Chechen Mujahideen" in the Lopota Gorge, which was already a dubious statement at the time but is looking even more absurd in hindsight. Since Doku Umarov's brother gave the interview from Tbilisi(!), the Georgian authorities lost no time in declaring that they have no information about the location of Akhmat Umarov. The Turkish authorities won't easily reveal his location either. While the prominent Chechen has found refuge in Turkey, Saakashvili and other former Georgian officials have been offered to continue their anti-Russian policies in Ukraine, much to the dismay of the current Georgian government:

Georgia’s Ex-Officials Tipped for Ukraine Govt Posts

President Petro Poroshenko’s political bloc has named Georgia’s ex-healthcare minister, Alexander Kvitashvili, as its nomination for the minister of healthcare in Ukraine’s new coalition government.

As talks on forming the new government were still underway, reports were emerging in recent days about possible nomination of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili and Georgia’s ex-justice minister Zurab Adeishvili for government posts in Ukraine – both are facing criminal charges in Georgia and are wanted by the Georgian authorities.  

Officials in Tbilisi warned that appointing those Georgian ex-officials in the Ukrainian government, who are facing criminal charges in Georgia, would have had negative consequences on the bilateral relations.

Saakashvili rejected the post of deputy prime minister because he did not want to give up his Georgian citizenship but ex-healthcare minister Kvitashvili did not have any such concerns and ex-justice minister Adeishvili, who helped Saakashvili to cover up the Lopota incident, as well as other Georgians will possibly join Kvitashvili in Kiev. Meanwhile, NATO is pressing Tbilisi to stop the prosecution of former officials, such as Adeishvili, which reflects badly on the U.S. puppet regime in Kiev, where these officials might find a new home. Addressing the recent dismissal of Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasnia, NATO's envoy for the Caucasus and Central Asia, James Appathurai, warned the Georgian government to avoid not only political retribution but also the "perception" of politically motivated prosecution of former officials because this will slow down Georgia's NATO integration. Appathurai visited Tbilisi this week to discuss the establishment of a joint NATO-Georgia training center in the country. As expected, Georgia's NATO integration "has easily survived Alasania's departure":

NATO Envoy, Georgian Officials Discuss Implementation of ‘Substantial Package’

NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, James Appathurai, said implementation of a substantial package, endorsed by the Alliance at the Wales summit for Georgia, “is going well.”

“There will be a lot more Georgia in NATO and lot of NATO in Georgia,” Appathurai said.

“We welcome very much the speed with which Georgia has been working to define this new joint training center,” Appathurai said, adding that NATO defense planning experts are already in Georgia, working closely with the Georgian colleagues on this issue.

Atambayev's Gulf Tour Adds to Kyrgyzstan's Dubious Decisions

While Georgia continues its Euro-Atlantic integration, another post-Soviet state is expediting its preparations to join the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Kyrgyzstan is planning to sign the EEU accession documents before a November 23 deadline so that the country can join the economic bloc as soon as possible. Russia has already promised $1.2 billion over the next two years to ease Kyrgyzstan's entry into the Customs Union and EEU. Predictably, the United States is alarmed at Kyrgyzstan's growing partnership with Russia because this "presents a challenge to U.S. efforts to support democracy in Kyrgyzstan," as U.S. ambassador Pamela Spratlen noted a few weeks ago. Some people in Bishkek and Moscow, on the other hand, are alarmed at U.S. efforts to support democracy in Kyrgyzstan in light of the developments in Ukraine. The Freedom House/Soros-sponsored Human Rights Advocacy Center recently had a first-hand experience of the growing distrust of foreign-funded NGOs in the Central Asian country but a few days after George Soros made one of his extremely rare visits to Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz authorities dropped the charges:

Kyrgyzstan: Prosecutors Drop Test Case Against Osh NGO

Prosecutors in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital, have dropped a criminal case against a local non-governmental organization accused of inciting inter-ethnic conflict. The decision is being cheered by civil society activists, who had earlier expressed concern that the case was a possible harbinger of a crackdown on the non-governmental sector.

While the decision may mark a limited victory for due process in Kyrgyzstan, a convoluted provision in the prosecutor’s November 28 resolution indicates that the rule of law was probably not the sole factor in the decision to drop the case. Instead, it hints that behind-the-scenes maneuvering among various state agencies played a significant role in the outcome. 

The provision states that the local GKNB office in Osh would be subject to a “prosecutor’s reaction,” a process that is not clearly defined, but which hints that there could be legal repercussions for the local state security office. The provision also states that those responsible for instigating the case could face disciplinary action. Some observers believe the wording of the provision indicates that elements within the executive and judicial branches feel that the state security service was overreaching, and are intent on clipping the secret police’s wings.

Whether or not Soros had a hand in Bishkek's decision to drop the charges, is anyone's guess but it is safe to say that the Kyrgyz authorities are reluctant to kick out the countless 'foreign agents'. This was not the only dubious decision by the Kyrgyz leadership lately. Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev is currently making his first official visits to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in an effort to boost Kyrgyzstan's ties with the medieval petro-monarchies. Atambayev started his regional tour in Riyadh, where he met with King Abdullah, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Saudi businessmen, whom he encouraged to invest in Kyrgyzstan. The two sides agreed to create a joint investment fund, to open direct flights from Bishkek to Riyadh and to enhance bilateral cooperation in various fields. Afterwards Atambayev traveled to Abu Dhabi to repeat the procedure:

Kyrgyzstan To Open Embassy In United Arab Emirates

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev is visiting the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and has signed a decree to establish an embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Atambaev discussed potential investment from the UAE in Kyrgyzstan's transport, logistics, and agricultural sectors during talks with UAE leaders.

Atambaev, who is currently on an official visit to the UAE, met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, on December 4.

While Atambayev is traveling to Doha to top his Gulf tour off, the Kyrgyz authorities are struggling to keep Kyrgyz families from traveling to Syria. Most of the Kyrgyz jihadists fighting in Syria come from southern Kyrgyzstan and many have brought their families along. When a new ISIS propaganda video emerged on social media showing the indoctrination and training of child soldiers from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry claimed that some of the children were actually from Kyrgyzstan, without providing any evidence. Taking its cue from the Kazakh authorities, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry immediately threatened media outlets with prosecution for disseminating the video. The Kyrgyz government is apparently more concerned about a propaganda video than about the growing influence of the Gulf petro-monarchies, which are rather known for spreading extremism than for spreading democracy. This doesn't bode well for the extremism problem in southern Kyrgyzstan:

Southern Kyrgyzstan strengthens its fight against 'jihadism'

Law enforcement agencies are co-operating with secondary schools and the clergy in southern Kyrgyzstan to hold outreach meetings with youth in an effort to protect them from extremist recruiters.

"We are now paying special attention to stopping young people from leaving for Syria," Rakhat Sulaymanov, spokesman for the State National Security Committee (GKNB), told Central Asia Online.

Authorities in Osh Oblast have identified several "hot spots" for extremist recruiting.

They include Aravan, Kara-suu, Nookat and Uzgen districts and Osh. No fewer than 180 Kyrgyz citizens are presently fighting in Syria, including not only women but also teenagers who have direct or indirect ties to prohibited movements, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry (MVD) press office stated recently.

# # # #

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: November 17, 2014

Russia Sees ISIS Terrorists Everywhere, China Sets Out to Bring Peace to Afghanistan- Xinjiang & 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.

Three months ago, Armenia and Azerbaijan were on the brink of all-out war after the worst clashes in years over the disputed Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan had left more than a dozen soldiers dead. Russian President Vladimir Putin brought both sides to the negotiating table to prevent a further escalation of the conflict and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev readily agreed to postpone the recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh, which fueled speculation that Baku had provoked the clashes for political reasons. Azerbaijan has shown a pattern of provoking such events in order to get the international community to devote more attention to the conflict. Moreover, the escalation of violence in late July/early August coincided with a crackdown on human rights activists and NGOs. After this short period of heavy fighting the situation calmed down and last month French President Francois Hollande hosted "constructive" talks between Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan. The two leaders agreed to continue the dialogue to find a negotiated peace to the Karabakh conflict but this week's downing of an Armenian helicopter doesn't bode well for the shaky peace process:

Azerbaijan shoots down Armenian helicopter

The armed forces of Azerbaijan shot down and destroyed an Armenian military helicopter in the Nagorno-Karabakh region on Wednesday, the defense ministries of both countries said.

The incident threatened to set off another cycle of violence between the two South Caucasus neighbors over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but along with some surrounding territory has been under the control of Armenian soldiers and local Armenian forces since a 1994 cease-fire.

Nagorno-Karabakh said the helicopter belonged to its armed forces and was on a training flight near the cease-fire line. All three crew members on board were killed, a high-ranking officer with the Nagorno-Karabakh forces told the AP. The officer was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release the information.

Downing of Armenian Helicopter Disrupts Shaky Peace Process

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry alleged that "two military helicopters, performing combat maneuvers over the Azerbaijani positions, attempted to open fire at the positions of the Azerbaijani armed forces." Azerbaijani troops then returned fire and and brought down one helicopter. The spokesman of Nagorno-Karabakh's armed forces pointed out that the helicopter was not engaged in a combat operation but conducting a training flight as part of the ongoing joint Armenia-Nagorno-Karabakh military drills "Unity 2014", which involve about 17,000 soldiers and a large amount of military hardware. Artsrun Hovannisyan, the spokesman of the Armenian Defense Ministry, called Azerbaijani claims the helicopter attacked Azerbaijani troops "absurd" and he emphasized that the downed helicopter carried no weapons. Hovannisyan warned that this "unprecedented provocation" leads to an escalation of the situation and Armenia vowed to respond to the provocation:

Armenian helicopter downing: 'Grave consequences' warning

Armenia has threatened "grave consequences" after Azerbaijan shot down one of its helicopter in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
"This is an unprecedented escalation and the consequences for Azerbaijan will be grave," Armenian foreign ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovannisyan said.

A further statement from Armenia's foreign ministry accused the Azeris of a "criminal provocation" and of "gravely violating agreements reached at recent summits."

Armenian leader Sargsyan showed that he means business. One day after the helicopter was shot down and Azerbaijan "declared its airspace closed over the occupied territories," Sargsyan flew there anyway on a helicopter and Nagorno-Karabakh presidential press secretary David Babayan said "the airspace over Karabakh is really closed, but only for the Azerbaijani air force." Armenia's president and other high-level officials visited units of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army and attended the "Unity 2014" military exercises. Addressing the officers of both armies, Sargsyan stressed that there will be "redemption day" for Azerbaijan and he warned the Azerbaijani authorities that war against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia will be "no flash mob." While almost everyone is wondering how and when Armenia will retaliate, Azerbaijan's Aliyev is also promising more military action:

Aliyev Hails Armenian Chopper Downing, Vows More Military Action

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev praised his army for the Nov. 12 downing of an Armenian helicopter that killed three crew members in the worst military incident between the two countries in 20 years.

Aliyev promised more armed responses to Armenian “provocations” in future during an “operational meeting” yesterday with his generals in the western Shamkir District, his office said.

The soldier who shot down the helicopter has been awarded and Baku is apparently more interested in "correcting" "wrong" media reports than in resolving the conflict. Aliyev's critics often accuse him of using high diplomatic tensions with Armenia as a cover to target and lock up political activists and the downing of the Armenian helicopter conveniently diverts attention from Baku's "crackdown on independent media and rights activists." Fortunately, Aliyev's friends in the West are not swayed by trifles, such as human rights abuses. Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, secretly flew to Azerbaijan this week to meet with his buddy Aliyev. The Queen’s second son has already met the Azeri President eleven times on official business in the past decade and his friendship with Aliyev and other controversial leaders cost him his post as the UK’s trade envoy in 2011. But "Air Miles Andy" was not the only noteworthy guest in Baku this week. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also travelled to the Azerbaijani capital a few days ago to hold talks with Aliyev and other senior officials. It was Rouhani's first visit to Azerbaijan since his election last year and the two neighboring countries agreed to boost cooperation in various areas despite their difficult relationship:

Iran, Azerbaijan ink five cooperation agreements during President Rouhani's visit

The Iranian and Azeri officials signed five cooperation agreements on Wednesday to expand ties in areas of economy, renewable energy, industry, communications, and transport, IRNA reported on Wednesday. The cooperation deals were signed at the presence of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Baku.

Prior to his trip to Baku, Rouhani stated that the Caucasus is Iran's "bridge" to Europe and Iran is also the Caucasus's bridge to the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

"This bridge and multilateral relations with the Caucasus and the Central Asia should be strengthened," he added.

Russia Sees ISIS Terrorists Everywhere

 Azerbaijan is already positioning itself as a gas mediator between Iran and Europe but first of all Tehran has to reach a nuclear deal with the West, which looks unlikely to happen before the November 24 deadline. Judging from Rouhani's words, Iran wants to follow Russia's and China's lead and strengthen its foothold in the Eurasian Balkans. China, which boasts strategic partnerships with all five 'stans, focuses primarily on economic cooperation, whereas Russia also regularly tries to convince the local regimes of closer military cooperation. In recent months, Russian officials and pundits have used the threat of Central Asian ISIS fighters, who might return from Iraq and Syria, to this end. For example, Russian commentator Alexander Sobyanin argued a few weeks ago that the Central Asian jihadists are sponsored by U.S. intelligence and that they could be used to foment instability in Central Asia, creating a pretext for U.S. military presence in the region. One Russian lawmaker has now come up with a plan to prevent the long prophesied Islamist takeover in Central Asia:

Lawmaker Proposes 'Russian Foreign Legion' To Combat IS

Should Russia have a foreign legion, like France? A Russian lawmaker thinks such a concept could
address the threat of the Islamic State (IS) group in Russia and Central Asia.

The proposal, by State Duma Deputy Roman Khudyakov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) faction, comes amid growing fears over the influence of the IS in Russia and former Soviet Central Asian republics.

The Russian lawmaker said that a Russian foreign legion could guarantee stability in Central Asia, and oppose possible aggression from Islamic State militants operating in the region.

Khudyakov is known for his creative proposals for new legislation and his latest idea was not met with much approval but it demonstrates once more that the ISIS hype has reached Russia. Last week, Russian media reported that members of the so-called "GTA gang", which had terrorized Moscow motorists in recent months with a series of murders resembling the popular video game "Grand Theft Auto," were Central Asian migrant workers linked to ISIS. According to law enforcement officials, several of the detained gang members were set to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Interestingly enough, many of the Central Asians fighting in Iraq and Syria have been recruited while working in Russia and not in their home countries. Russian officials are not only concerned about the spreading of radical Islam among Russia's Central Asian migrant workers but also about the plans of Western intelligence agencies with regard to ISIS. Especially Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has absolutely no doubt about CIA, MI6 & Co. pulling the strings behind the much-hyped terrorist group and the ongoing war of words between Kadyrov and ISIS entered another round a few days ago:

ISIS commander 'Omar the Chechen' allegedly killed

The Islamic State military commander "Omar the Chechen,” who threatened Russia with a jihadist onslaught, has been eliminated, said Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov. He posted a photo on Instagram which he says is proof.

“The enemy of Islam, Tarkhan Batirashvili, who called himself Omar Ash-Shishani ("Shishani" is Arabic for "Chechen"), has been killed," Kadyrov posted. "That will happen to everyone who will threaten Russia and the people of Chechnya. This will happen to everyone who sheds Muslims' blood."

Kadyrov's message was reported all around the world but it didn't take long before the Chechen leader deleted his post. As many people quickly pointed out, the photo posted by Kadyrov doesn't show Tarkhan Batirashvili's dead body and the same picture has been used on at least one previous occasion to "prove" the death of Kadyrov's new nemesis. Given the fact that his death was reported at least four times in recent months, Batirashvili seems to be following in the footsteps of Osama bin Laden and Kadyrov's previous nemesis Doku Umarov, who was "killed" about a dozen times before he eventually left the stage. Up until now, Western and Arab media have portrayed Batirashvili as the military genius of ISIS but his military prowess has recently been called into question. One former associate, who fought alongside Batirashvili in Syria, accused the ISIS leader of only knowing how to send mujahedin as cannon fodder but that is apparently the preferred strategy of ISIS anyway. Nevertheless, Kadyrov won't take any chances and will do his best to get rid of Batirashvili and the cannon fodder: 

Chechen Gets 2 Years in Prison for Battling Assad's Forces in Syria

A 22-year-old Chechen man has been sentenced to two years in prison for fighting in Syria's civil war, a news report said Tuesday.

Said Mazhayev, who prosecutors say went to Syria last November and fought alongside the Free Syrian Army until January, admitted his guilt in court, prosecutors told the Caucasian Knot news website.

Under Russian law, he could have faced up to 10 years in prison for taking part in an armed conflict in a foreign state. Ahead of the verdict, which was issued Monday, prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Mazhayev to three years and two months in a penal colony.

China Sets Out to Bring Peace to Afghanistan, Xinjiang

There are hardly any Syrians left among the "Syrian rebels," as foreign fighters are pouring into Syria faster than ever. According to U.S. and British counterterrorism officials, "the growing number and variety of foreign fighters streaming into Syria is unprecedented in recent history." Lately, even fighters from the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), also known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), made their way to the battlefields of northern Syria. China is very concerned about the Syria-Xinjiang connection and the capture of a Chinese national fighting with ISIS in Iraq caused a great stir. It is unclear how many Uyghur insurgents have travelled to the Middle East but the emergence of ETIM fighters in Syria will reinforce Beijing's concerns in this regard. China has long avoided getting involed in conflicts like Syria or Afghanistan but the Chinese authorities have realized by now that they will have to bite the bullet sooner or later. As the NATO-led coalition forces are reducing their presence in neighboring Afghanistan, China is now trying to achieve what the U.S. and its allies failed to do: 

EXCLUSIVE - China seeks greater role in Afghanistan with peace talk push

China has proposed setting up a forum to restart stalled peace talks between Afghanistan and Taliban insurgents, the latest sign Beijing wants more of a say in its troubled neighbour's affairs as it frets about its own Islamist militant threat.

Documents seen by Reuters show that China put forward a proposal for a "peace and reconciliation forum" that Afghan officials said would gather representatives from

Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the Taliban command.

China's proposal has not yet been formally announced because Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants more time to see whether the Taliban and Pakistan are willing to join in, according to his aides.

China's "peace and reconciliation forum" was certainly high on the agenda during Ghani's recent two-day visit to Pakistan, where he met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other top officials to ease relations between the two countries. Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to expand their bilateral trade to $5 billion but it remains to be seen if they will pull together when it comes to the peace talks. Beijing will definitely do its part to bring Islamabad to the negotiating table. Considering that the Taliban have previously endorsed China's growing role in Afghanistan, China may even have a chance of succeeding in restarting the peace process. Pakistan has only recently signaled its readiness to support China's fight against the "East Turkestan" forces and to cooperate more closely on Afghanistan: 

Pakistan says will help China fight Xinjiang militants

Pakistan will help China with its fight against extremists Beijing says are active in its unruly far western region of Xinjiang, the country's prime minister said on Saturday during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Pakistan Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif told Xi that his country would "continue to resolutely fight the East Turkestan Islamic Movement terrorist forces", China's foreign ministry said in a statement following the meeting in Beijing.

Pakistan will increase its coordination with China on
Afghanistan too, so as to "jointly maintain regional peace and stability", Sharif said.

Of course, Pakistan's cooperation comes at a price. China promised its close ally billions of dollars in investment during Nawaz Sharif's trip to Beijing. Pakistan and China signed 19 agreements and memorandums mostly centered on the energy sector to the tune of over $40 billion. Amir Zamir, spokesman for Pakistan's ministry of planning and development, stressed that "there is no loan or aid for the energy projects, but pure investment by the Chinese." China spares neither trouble nor expense to push economic cooperation and to maintain stability in the region. Predictably, Washington's Uyghur exile groups are alarmed at all these deals because "Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Shanghai Cooperation countries’ deals means more heavy-handed repression of Uighurs." China won't be swayed by such concerns and continues its crackdown on illegal religious activities in Xinjiang:

China targets 'wild imams' in mass public sentencing

China has jailed almost two dozen people including "wild imams" who preach illegally in the western region of Xinjiang where the government says Islamists are waging a violent campaign for a separate state, Chinese media reported on Tuesday.

The 22 suspects were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 16 years at a mass public sentencing in Xinjiang on Monday, the state-controlled
China News Service reported.

As well as the imams, or Muslim religious leaders, those sentenced included religious leaders who engaged in religious
activities after being sacked, as well as those who broke the law while at their posts, it said.

# # # #

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- September 15, 2013

SCO Defies Washington, Cold War Heating Up, Arms Race Reloaded & 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.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan's threat, to unleash the Chechen terrorists under his command during the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year, is taken seriously in Moscow. So Russian President Vladimir Putin was particularly enraged by accusations of "so-called widespread abuse of citizens’ rights in the North Caucasus" voiced in the Western media and by human rights organizations. Putin blasted the biased coverage and highlighted Russia's struggle against foreign-funded terrorists: [Read more...]

Video Report-Know Your Terrorists: Ayman Al-Zawahiri

An Excellent video report from James Corbett of Corbett Report:

We are told a certain tale about the story of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden's right-hand man and the inheritor of the Al Qaeda operation...but we are not told everything. Join us this week on The Corbett Report as we go in search of the real Ayman Al-Zawahiri and uncover some surprising connections.

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RUSSIA’S MOTIVES IN SYRIA: Another Side of the Story

Moscow's 30-year struggle against encroachment into its sphere of influence by militant Islam

By Joe Lauria

motivesRussia's unyielding support for Damascus throughout the 16 months of Syria's escalating crisis has earned Moscow strong condemnation from Washington and other Western governments, but the reasons for Russia's implacable position have never been fully explained by Moscow or its critics. 

Washington's latest tension with Russia over Syria came last week in a face-to-face meeting between President Obama and President Putin. The week before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Russia's assertion that it sold only defensive weapons to Damascus “patently untrue.” That was after Clinton had accused Russia of shipping attack helicopters to Syria to crush the rebellion, a charge denied by Moscow.  The New York Times then reported that Russia was only returning repaired helicopters sold to Syria decades ago.

In February, Susan Rice, the top U.S. diplomat at the U.N., used undiplomatically strong language to say the U.S. was “disgusted” by Russia's veto of a Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Syrian crackdown. The tough talk appears designed to embarrass Russia, especially after the recent upsurge in fighting and a string of grisly massacres blamed on Moscow's client.

But until now Russia's motives for defending Damascus have remained largely a subject of speculation, with the U.S. media seemingly disinterested in exploring it.

Russian officials say their position is based on an adamant opposition to regime change, particularly if it is led by Western military intervention, as in Libya. Moscow's support for the Syrian regime has not changed though it has recently inched away from President Bashar Al-Assad leading it. [Read more...]

BFP Exclusive: Revisiting My Silence on WikiLeaks

The Question(s) of Disappeared Documents & Missing Links

assangeA year or so ago I wrote a couple of pieces on the WikiLeaks case explaining my reluctance to form and communicate a conclusive opinion or reaction on this confusing intrigue. I encourage you to read my only two responses to the case here and here. Today, a new article paired with another fairly recent development in the case and a not so recent disclosure by a former WikiLeaks insider prompted another long-withheld response from me. Let me begin with the curious article from today’s news via RT:

US Government Demands Wikileaks Destroy All Files About Them- Assange

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has told a media summit that the US government has ordered Wikileaks to destroy all the material is has published on them and stop working with its sources in the government.

­“[When we released our documents] the Pentagon said we must destroy everything we published and were going to publish,” Assange said. ”And if we didn’t, we would be ‘compelled to do so,’” the summit’s website says. Assange made the allegation in the course of a speech made via Skype at the News 2011 Summit in Hong Kong.

Now let’s pair this up with two other developments in this case. I’ll start with the first one in December 2010.

Last December a former Wikileaks insider in one of its European branches contacted me with excitement and an anticipation inducing piece of information. According to this credible source the large cache of the State Department Cables contained explosive communication- discussions and reports that were directly related to my case which involved secret joint US-Turkey operations in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Balkans.

WikileaksThese cables, dated 1996 to 2002, were part of the case files I worked on during my work with the FBI. These FBI files and cases were later designated as ‘State Secrets Privilege,’ and with that came all the classification, gag orders and other retaliations in my case, spilling into congressional inquiries and active court cases. Basically everyone, every party, whether congressional offices or federal court judges, were slapped with a gag by the US government under the guise of ‘State Secrets’ only to cover up criminal black operations as part of hypocrisy-ridden US foreign policy in the target region. [Read more...]