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

                                            

The New Great Game Round-Up: January 19, 2015

Turkey's Role in Washington's East Turkestan Project Exposed, Aliyev Turns to Erdogan for Support Amid War of Words with U.S. & 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.

Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, was rocked by several terrorist attacks last year. One of these attacks, the double suicide car bombing in May, which left 43 people dead and more than 90 injured, prompted the Chinese government to launch a one-year-long no-holds-barred anti-terror campaign. Especially Xinjiang's Uyghur population is suffering from the anti-terror campaign and Western media outlets lose no opportunity to draw attention to the plight of the Uyghurs. In recent weeks, much of the reporting has focused on Urumqi's burqa ban. Last month, the capital of Xinjiang banned the wearing of Islamic veils in public and legislators approved the regulation a few days ago but it is not clear when it will take effect. Faced with mounting criticism, Beijing is using all available means to prevent the usual suspects from continuing with their propaganda campaign against China. The Chinese authorities are fed up with the "biased reporting," which highlights government repression of Uyghurs and tries to blame all violence in Xinjiang on "China's hostile policy":

Police in China shoot dead six in restive Xinjiang A group of "mobsters" on Monday tried to set off an explosive device in a business district in China's troubled western region of Xinjiang, prompting police to shoot six of them dead, the local government said. 

Police in Shule county, south of the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, had acted on a tip-off about "a suspicious person carrying an explosive device", the Xinjiang government said on its official news website.

China's allegations were an "excuse to cover up the excessive use of force", said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for exile group the World Uyghur Congress.

"China's hostile policy will only provoke more turbulence there," he said in emailed comments.

Turkey's Role in Washington's East Turkestan Project Exposed

Dilxat Raxit, Sweden-based spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), surely knows what he is talking about. Otherwise the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) wouldn't pay him and his exile group that much money. Understandably enough, China is upset about the fact that individuals working for the NED-funded WUC or its sister organization, the Washington-based Uyghur American Association (UAA), are being quoted as impartial experts by Western media after every major incident in Xinjiang. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, China's state-run Global Times called on the West to refrain from promoting Rebiya Kadeer & Co. and to abandon double standards on terrorism. However, all indications are that this appeal will fall on deaf ears. A few days ago, the Global Times broke an interesting story, which highlights that the United States and its allies are still working on their East Turkestan project:

Turks, Uyghurs held in smuggling, terrorism scheme Chinese authorities have made arrests in a stowaway case involving 10 Turkish suspects and nine Uyghur suspects from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, authorities told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Ten Turkish suspects were arrested for organizing illegal border crossings. Other Uyghur suspects, including a wanted Uyghur terrorist, are being held for organizing, leading and participating in terrorist organizations, authorities said. 

Police in Shanghai's Public Security Bureau captured the suspects in November when nine Uyghurs attempted to sneak out of China with altered Turkish passports with the help of two other Chinese suspects.

Police found terrorism-related videos on the phones of the Uyghur suspects and some of them confessed that they had planned to go to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. Nine of the Turkish suspects had come to China to hand over their passports to traffickers who were trying to smuggle out the Uyghurs. They were reportedly paid $2,000 each by a Uyghur living in Turkey and a Turkish suspect to get visas with fake invitation letters at the Chinese Embassy in Turkey and participate in the smuggling scheme. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei did not elaborate on the case but stated that the report was "extremely accurate." As is often the case when it comes to U.S.-NATO terror operations, the trail leads to Turkey. Although Turkey's support of terrorists has been exposed time and time again in recent months, the Turkish government tried to convince the public that illegal border crossings are the real issue and that there is no terror connection whatsoever. The Chinese authorities know of course full well that NATO member Turkey is a main conduit for the 'Gladio B' operations and has long played a decisive role in destabilizing Xinjiang. Therefore, Beijing hates to see more Uyghur refugees settling in Turkey under the auspices of the WUC [emphasis mine]:

Turkey offers shelter to 500 Uighur refugees who fled Chinese crackdown Five-hundred Uighurs who have been seeking refuge in Turkey since fleeing Chinese persecution are finally breathing easy after reaching the country that has been eager to receive them. Dozens of people were spotted at a human smuggling camp in southern Thailand in March who were deemed to be illegal immigrants by Thai officials. The group of people identified as Uighurs from China's restive northwestern province of Xinjiang, had fake Turkish passports and sought to escape the shadow of fear in China. "[Some of] those who fled atrocity were caught in Thailand and 367 Uighurs are being kept there. Some of those who could make it to Turkey without being caught have been brought to Kayseri [in Turkey]. The number may increase," said Seyit Tümtürk, the deputy head of the World Uyghur Congress.

Tümtürk, who is also the chairman of the Kayseri-based East Turkistan Culture and Solidarity Association, stressed that the refugees are being taken care of and that all their needs are being met by officials. He then followed the example of his boss Rebiya Kadeer by reiterating old WUC propaganda about China's so-called Ramdan ban and claiming that "on the first day of Ramadan, in the town of Yarkent, two villages were burnt down and 3,000 Muslims were killed." As regular readers of the New Great Game Round-Up will know, the WUC propaganda about the "Ramadan ban" and the "massacre" in Yarkant was debunked several months ago. Uyghur refugees should be wary of Tümtürk, his associates and the Turkish authorities. The Turkey-Xinjiang connection was already exposed in the summer of 2013 when Chinese police arrested Uyghur student turned terrorist Memeti Aili, who had been offered "help" by the Istanbul-based East Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association while studying in Turkey. Before he knew what has happening, Aili was fighting in Syria and plotting terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. Moreover, as discussed during the latest Porkins Great Game episode, Turkey is exploiting Chechen refugees as well. Prominent Chechen leader Medet Ünlü learned the hard way that it is very dangerous to take a stand against the exploitation. At the beginning of this week, members of several human rights groups protested in front of the Ankara courthouse to draw attention to the Turkish authorities' reluctance to investigate Ünlü's assassination:

NGOs condemn authorities’ negligence in investigating murder of Chechen consul Öztürk Türkdoğan, the chairman of Turkey's Human Rights Association (İHD), said that Ünlü became a victim of a political assassination for his position on the issue of Chechens being used to fight in the conflict in Syria. Türkdoğan stated that he wished this murder will be solved alongside many other unsolved murders. “Ünlü's stance regarding the Syrian conflict was important. The assassinations of opinion leaders and widely-esteemed people are entirely political,” the head of the İHD said. Stating that the savagery of jihadist organizations is being condemned internationally, Türkdoğan said: “The issue of youngsters joining these organizations is a real problem. Ünlü had an upright stance regarding his opposition towards sending Chechens to fight in the Syrian war. I think they wanted to give the Chechens a message through here [Ünlü].”

Aliyev Turns to Erdogan for Support Amid War of Words with U.S.

The Chechens got the message and joined the war of the NATO-GCC-Israel axis against Syria in large numbers. NATO member Turkey has played a major role in fueling the conflict but close U.S. and NATO allies, such as Azerbaijan, have done their part as well. Given the fact that Azerbajian is also a conduit for the 'Gladio B' operations, Baku's support for the "Syrian rebels" comes as no real surprise. Azerbaijan has already provided lots of cannon fodder for the war and the increasing number of Azerbaijani citizens traveling to the "Islamic State" indicates that the Wahhabi influence in the country is growing. However, some Azerbaijani jihadists seem to have missed the point that they are not weclome at home after they have done their job in Syria. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev takes no chances when it comes to preserving his rule. Depending on how Aliyev's relationship with his "friends" in the U.S. develops, it makes sense to take the "moderate rebels" off the streets before they launch "peaceful protests" in Azerbaijan. His closest ally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, can tell him a thing or two about Washington's dirty tricks. As the war of words between Azerbaijan and the U.S. escalates, Aliyev turns to Erdogan for support:

Ankara, Baku to show off strong bilateral ties with grand gestures in 2015 The year 2015 will provide more than one occasion for Turkey and neighboring Azerbaijan to show off the strength of their bilateral cooperation, not only in the global political arena but also in the global economic field. While listing some key joint economic projects during a press conference in Ankara with Azerbaijan’s visiting President Ilham Aliyev on Jan. 15, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recalled that Turkey will host a G-20 summit later this year. “As host of the G-20, we have used our mandate to favor Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan will take part in the G-20 this year as our guest,” Erdoğan said. “From preliminary preparations to G-20 negotiations, Azerbaijan will be with us,” he added.

Aliyev thanked his Turkish counterpart for the invitation, stressing that the "brotherly ties" between Turkey and Azerbaijan are stronger than ever. The two leaders vowed to boost cooperation in trade, investment, energy, defense and transportation projects in an effort to increase the current trade volume of $5 billion to $15 billion by 2023. In particular, the construction of the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) was named as a top priority in this regard, which is interesting in the light of Russia's recent announcement that it will shift all its gas transit from Ukraine to Turkey in the coming years. Turkish President Erdogan stated a few weeks ago that the much-publicized pipeline deal between Russia and Turkey was not binding and required more talks on the details. So it remains to be seen whether or not Gazprom will be able walk the talk. Despite all the speculation about Turkey's and Azerbaijan's geopolitical shifts, both countries are still doing Washington's bidding when it comes to energy and foreign policy. For example, Azerbaijan-NATO cooperation has not been affected at all by the ongoing war of words between Baku and Washington:

More than 1,000 Azerbaijani servicemen to participate in 116 NATO events Under the individual partnership program between Azerbaijan and NATO, more than 1,000 servicemen of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces will participate in 116 events this year.

109 of these events will be held in foreign countries, 7 - in Azerbaijan. Under the individual partnership program between Azerbaijan and NATO, in 2014 more than 1,200 representatives of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces participated in 100 events within the Partnership for Peace programme.

While Brookings bemoans the end of the close political relationship between the U.S. and the Aliyev regime, Azerbaijan continues its close cooperation with the U.S.-led military alliance as if nothing had happened. Last year, a new Training and Education Center was created at the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry in order to boost cooperation with NATO and there are no signs whatsoever that Baku considers leaving this path. As previously discussed, the alarmist reports in Western media should be taken with a grain of salt. Azerbaijan's close military ties with Turkey contribute to the NATO integration and Aliyev mentioned during his recent visit that both countries have "great plans for deepening the cooperation in the defense sphere" in 2015. Erdogan reiterated his support for Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and he invited Aliyev to an event marking the 93rd anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli on April 24, when Armenia will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. This adds to other provocations in recent days, which bode ill for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict:

Aliyev Takes to Twitter Again to Attack Armenia Azerbaijan’s dictatorial President of 12 years, Ilham Aliyev, took to Twitter again on Monday to attack Armenia and boast about his accomplishments in a lengthy series of successive tweets. Aliyev spared few words and paid no heed to diplomacy or tact in his inimical tweets, one of which said, “Armenia is a powerless and poor country.” The Azeri President’s tweets come at a time when tensions are very high at the border between Artsakh and Azerbaijan, with intensified exchanges of fire and sporadic skirmishes having taken place in the past two weeks.

Killing of Armenian Family Tests Armenia-Russia Ties

It is not the first time that Aliyev's tweets have caused a stir. Last summer, Aliyev delivered a bellicose speech on the front line after the worst clashes in years over Nagorno-Karabakh had left more than a dozen soldiers dead. The summary of his speech on Twitter was interpreted as a declaration of war but the Azerbaijani leader met shortly thereafter with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan and agreed to resolve the conflict peacefully. If the guys from Stratfor are to be believed, Azerbaijan will now attempt to challenge the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh, while Russia is "more focused on domestic and economic issues and thus less likely to intervene in skirmishes" over the disputed region. The conflict can escalate at any time, as highlighted by the downing of an Armenian helicopter last November. There are so many military incidents that it is sometimes difficult to keep track:

Armenia Claims To Have Retaliated Against Azerbaijan For Helicopter Shootdown Armenia has already retaliated against Azerbaijan for the downing of a military helicopter last month, Armenia's defense minister has said, without saying what the retaliation amounted to. Armenia immediately promised to retaliate, but it wasn't clear how. And on December 23, Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said it has already happened: "A disproportionate response to the Azerbaijani side has been given, part of the information about the operation was given to the public. However, it wasn't appropriate to release all of the information." The most significant military incident since the shootdown that was partially reported was a heavy exchange of fire, including relatively rare mortar attacks, in early December. The de facto Nagorno Karabakh government claimed that five to seven Azerbaijani soldiers were killed, though that wasn't independently confirmed. Still, even that would seem to not meet the standard of retaliation that Armenia had been promising.

The downing of the Armenian helicopter marked not only a dangerous period in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but it also put Armenia's loyalty to Russia to the test. Yerevan has often criticized that Russia is supplying both sides of the conflict with weapons, lamenting that these Russian weapons could be used against Armenia. When Karabakh Defense Minister Movses Hakobian alleged that Moscow had supplied Azerbaijan with the Strela air-defense system that was used to shoot down the Armenian helicopter, Yerevan's worst fears seemed to be coming true and Russia was forced to answer some difficult questions. Ultimately, both sides settled the differences and Armenia decided to cast its lot with Russia by joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). But only a few days after the EEU came into force, another terrible incident caused tensions between the two close allies:

Protesters demand Russian soldier’s trial in Armenia, clash with police About a dozen people were injured after police dispersed a rally outside the Russian consulate in Gyumri, Armenia. The crowd demanded that a Russian serviceman accused of killing a family of six be transferred under Armenian jurisdiction. The clashes erupted in Armenia’s second largest city on Thursday after the funeral of the six members of the Avetisyan family, who were killed earlier this week. The protesters – who came “in thousands” according to local media – marched from the Shirak province prosecutor’s office to the Russian consulate service, and then began hurling stones and bottles at police. Demonstrators demanded that Russian solider Valery Permyakov – the key suspect in the murder – stay in Armenia for trial and not be transferred to Russia. The serviceman is accused of gunning the family down with an AK-74, in what is believed to have been a crime of passion. Permyakov, who has admitted to the murders, shot six people – including a two-year-old girl. A six-month-old boy was also stabbed, but survived.

Russia's Defense Ministry acknowledged that Permyakov went AWOL with his weapons before the horrific killings. He was detained one day later by Russian authorities while trying to cross the border into neighboring Turkey. Permyakov's return to the military base in Gyumri has prompted fears among the local population that he would not be held responsible for his crimes but both the Russian and the Armenian authorities have emphasized that the Russian soldier will be prosecuted. At the moment the only question is whether he will be prosecuted under Russian or Armenian jurisdiction. Armenia's Prosecutor General Gevork Kostanian tried to calm the protesters by promising that the country's authorities are doing everything for Permyakov to be brought to justice in Armenia. Yerevan and Moscow are now carrying out a joint investigation and Russian President Putin has also become involved to make sure that Russia's good relations with Armenia will survive this latest test as well:

Putin Vows Justice In Armenian Family Massacre Signaling concerns over unprecedented anti-Russian protests in Gyumri, President Vladimir Putin reportedly assured his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian on Sunday that Moscow will help to punish those responsible for the killing of six members of a local Armenian family. According to official Russian and Armenian sources, Putin telephoned Sarkisian to “once again express condolences to the relatives of the victims and the entire Armenian people” in connection with the slaughter allegedly perpetrated by a Russian soldier. “The president of Russia expressed confidence that all necessary investigative actions will be taken within shortest time frames and that all the guilty will receive punishment envisaged by the law,” read a statement released by the Kremlin.

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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: January 12, 2015

Washington's Regime Change Tools Struggle in the South Caucasus, Tajikistan Scrutinizes Gülen Schools-Prepares for Afghan Spillover & More!

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

Since the end of 2013, Turkey has been engulfed in a relentless power struggle between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who left his post as Turkish Prime Minister last year just to become the country's 12th President, and the influential CIA-backed movement of self-described "imam, preacher, and civil society activist" Fethullah Gülen, who has been living in the United States ever since he was forced to flee Turkey in 1999. The conflict between the former allies has now reached a point where President Erdogan is preparing to add the Gülen movement to Turkey's "Red Book," meaning that the organization will be classified as a threat to Turkey's national security. Although the power struggle has largely been taking place in Turkey, other countries, such as Azerbaijan, have been affected as well and Erdogan is not the only one who is currently trying to contain the activities of the shadowy movement. The regimes in Central Asia are increasingly suspicious of Gülen's schools and with good reason. After Russia and Uzbekistan had already closed down the schools more than a decade ago, Turkmenistan followed suit in recent years and Gülen's schools in Tajikistan are now also under high scrutiny, as Erdogan's mouthpiece Daily Sabah triumphantly announced this week:

Tajikistan to discontinue Gülen schools, citing ‘shadowy mission’ Saidov Nuriddin Saidovich, Tajikistan's minister of education and science, announced that they will not extend the agreement they had made with the Gülen Movement over permission to operate schools in the country, since they consider the mission of the schools belonging to the group as "shadowy." 

According to the local press, an official from the ministry, Rohimjon Saidov, also said there will be an end to the agreement between the Gülen Movement and the Tajik government over the schools they run in the region. Saidov added that the deal made with the education institutions in question expires in 2015 and that the country will no longer extend it.

There are currently 10 schools in Tajikistan run by the movement. The first school affiliated with the group was opened in the country in 1992. For the last decade, the purposes of the schools have become a hot debate in the Turkish government. There have been numerous demands for their closure by Ankara.

Tajikistan Scrutinizes Gülen Schools, Prepares for Afghan Spillover

Interestingly, according to Tajik media, Saidov didn't mention the word "shadowy." Instead he said that the Tajik government is going to review the licenses of the Gülen schools because their mission is "unclear." Daily Sabah is known to overstate the case when it comes to the Gülen movement but given that Gülen's schools play a decisive part in the Islamization of Central Asia and the Caucasus region and that they have been used for various covert operations by the CIA, the Tajik authorities should consider referring to the schools' mission as "shadowy." Dushanbe has long lamented that young Tajiks, who are studying illegally at Islamic religious schools abroad, "can be easily radicalized and recruited into extremist or militant groups," while doing little to stop the indoctrination and terrorist recruitment at home. However, recent actions indicate that this could change in the near future:

Suspected Islamist Leader, Subordinates Detained In Tajikistan

The suspected leader of a cell of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and 10 alleged subordinates have been detained in Tajikistan. The Tajik Interior Ministry said in a televised statement late on January 7 that Ikrom Halilov, a former imam of a local mosque, and the others had been apprehended in Shahrinav district, 50 kilometers west of the capital, Dushanbe. According to the ministry, the group is suspected of planning to attack a police station in order to seize guns.

In recent months, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has been making headlines in northern Afghanistan, where Central Asian fighters belonging to the IMU or splinter groups, such as Jamaat Ansarullah, and allied Taliban forces have been massing close to the borders with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. At the end of last year, Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's special representative for Afghanistan, gave a long interview to Interfax warning of the threat to Central Asia and Russia but oddly enough, he said that the jihadists in northern Afghanistan are from the Islamic State (ISIS). Kabulov described in great detail how many fighters are concentrated on the Tajikistan and Turkmenistan beachheads and he stressed that "our allies in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan know about this, they confirm that they have the same information, and they are taking measures." Why Kabulov referred to the insurgents as ISIS fighters is not clear. A few Tajik ISIS jihadists have lately proclaimed their intention to "fight infidels" in Tajikistan but they haven't gotten permission yet:

IS Militants Asked Baghdadi For Permission To Fight 'Infidels' In Tajikistan Militants from the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq have published a video saying that they have asked permission from the group's senior leadership to wage jihad in Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik service has reported. Abu Umariyon says that he and his fellow Tajik militants asked Baghadi and Islamic State leaders for permission to go back to Tajikistan and fight with the extremist group Jamaat Ansarullah. 

However, Baghdadi did not give his permission. "The emirs [militant leaders] who passed on their message to Baghdadi told them that right now they have to wait," the Tajik militant explains.

This video caused a stir in Tajikistan and the Islamic Center of Tajikistan slammed the jihadists, asking how it is possible "to wage jihad in a state whose population is 99 percent Muslim." But even without the return of Tajik ISIS fighters, the Tajik authorities have every reason to be concerned about the situation in northern Afghanistan. Kidnappings on the Tajik-Afghan border highlighted only recently how serious the threat is. This week, Tajik officials made public the identities of four Tajik border guards, who were abducted last month, and rejected earlier reports saying that the Taliban had made demands for their release. Due to the deteriorating security situation, Tajikistan's special services have reportedly taken "a number of measures to strengthen the most vulnerable stretches" of the Tajik-Afghan border and they are now keeping a very close eye on the activities of the insurgents in northern Afghanistan. On top of that, Tajikistan is also setting up a new military base close to the border:

Eyeing Taliban, Tajikistan Sets Up New Military Base On Afghan Border Tajikistan's armed forces are setting up a new base near the Afghanistan border in response to the apparent massing of fighters on the Afghan side of the border. The base, to be called "Khomiyon," will be in the Kulyab region. "Tanks, armored vehicles and other weaponry" will be deployed to the base, which "units of all security structures of the country will be able to use for conducting maneuvers," reported RFE/RL, citing a source in Tajikistan's Ministry of Defense. While there is no "immediate threat" from the Taliban fighters apparently massing near the Tajikistan border, Dushanbe still chose to take "preventative measures," the official said. An unnamed source in Tajikistan's State Committee on National Security (GKNB) told the Russian news agency TASS that "groups not controlled by Kabul" have massed on the Afghanistan side of the border.

Taliban Reject Government Posts As Ghani Urges U.S. to Stay Forever

On the same day, an unnamed official from Uzbekistan's National Security Service used similar language to warn of the "increased concentration of armed formations not controlled by the government of Afghanistan." Uzbekistan is also taking some measures to address the problem but the Uzbek authorities stop short of building new military bases because they are better prepared to deal with the threat than neighboring Tajikistan or Turkmenistan. After the Taliban became Turkmenistan's immediate neighbor about one month ago by taking over Khamyab District in Afghanistan's Jowzjan Province, the Afghan government is now trying to calm Ashgabat's nerves. Jowzjan's police chief General Fakir Mokhammed Dzhauzdzhani announced last week that Afghanistan's armed forces are preparing large-scale operations in Jowzjan and Faryab Province, where insurgents have repeatedly caused trouble in recent months. Although the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has ended the Afghanistan war in name only, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani lost no time in mourning after the coalition troops:

Afghan president says U.S. might want to 're-examine' pullout deadline Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that the United States might want to "re-examine" the timetable for removing the remaining U.S.-led coalition troops in the country by the end of 2016. "Deadlines concentrate the mind. But deadlines should not be dogmas," Ghani told the CBS program "60 Minutes" when asked about the issue. Asked if he had told that to U.S. President Barack Obama, Ghani said: "President Obama knows me. We don't need to - to tell each other."

Given that Ghani is very much Washington's guy, his words come as no real surprise and this interview will probably earn him even more tributes in the American press. But while U.S. officials and media lose no opportunity to praise Afghanistan's new leader, the Afghan people are less impressed with Ghani's performance so far. According to the latest poll by Afghan news channel TOLOnews and the ART research institute, Ghani has lost popularity among the Afghan people by almost 50 percent since taking office in late September of last year. One of the reasons is most likely Ghani's failure to form a cabinet with the chief executive of his unity government, Abdullah Abdullah. Although the two men reached a power-sharing deal in September, there has been a deadlock over senior cabinet positions. Ghani had also hoped to draw three Taliban leaders into his government but the group rejected the offer:

Taliban 'reject offer of Afghan government posts' The Taliban have been offered posts in the new Afghan government but have turned them down, the BBC understands. The offer came from new President Ashraf Ghani in a bid to end the insurgency that threatens the recovery of the country. The three men whom President Ghani had hoped to draw into his government were Mullah Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, who has lived relatively openly in Kabul for some years, Wakil Muttawakil, the former Taliban foreign minister, and Ghairat Baheer, a close relative of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose forces are allied to the Taliban.

If Ghani fails to reach some kind of deal with the Taliban, the situation in Afghanistan is only going to get worse and the Afghan President will have a hard time staying in power. In this light, Ghani's appeal to the United States "to re-examine" the pullout deadline makes perfect sense. However, as previously discussed, Ghani's concerns about NATO's so-called withdrawal are completely unfounded. The U.S. military responded to the "60 minutes" interview by saying that the U.S. "plan remains in effect and there have been no changes to the drawdown timeline" but even if the U.S. goes forward with its plan to draw down to a "normal" U.S. embassy presence in Kabul at the end of 2016, that means keeping thousands of contractors in the war-torn country. However, at the moment it doesn't look as if the U.S. is really serious about its drawdown plan:

Lejeune Marines prepare for deployment to Afghanistan Just months after marking the end of the Corps' combat operations in Afghanistan, officials revealed that Marines are headed back into the war-torn country, but details of the deployment remain scarce. The disclosure came in a Marine Corps news release outlining preparations being made by 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The company tested its Supporting Arms Liaison Team Alpha's readiness for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan by tackling various "real-life" scenarios between Dec. 8 and 11, according to the release. Outside of the news release, Marine Corps officials declined to discuss 2nd ANGLICO's upcoming deployment. Citing operational security, a spokesman for II Marine Expeditionary Force declined to specify when — and for how long — the unit will be deployed, where within Afghanistan it will operate and whether other Marine units will accompany it.

Washington's Regime Change Tools Struggle in the South Caucasus

In addition to the American troops, Operation Resolute Support, the follow-on mission to ISAF, will also rely on a number of troops from other NATO countries and close NATO allies, such as Georgia and Azerbaijan. A group of Azerbaijani soldiers just left for Afghanistan to support the NATO-led mission despite the current tensions between the regime of Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev and the West. In recent months, Azerbaijan has repeatedly made headlines with crackdowns on NGOs, human rights activists and journalists, most of whom are supported by the United States and the EU. After the Azerbaijani authorities had already arrested Khadija Ismailova, a leading investigative journalist working for the Azerbaijani service of CIA mouthpiece Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), at the beginning of last month, relations between Baku and Washington went from bad to worse when the Aliyev regime cracked down on RFE/RL's Baku bureau a few weeks later:

U.S. 'Alarmed' As Azerbaijan Targets RFE/RL's Baku Office The U.S. State Department says its concerns about the human rights situation in Azerbaijan are deepening after authorities there raided and closed RFE/RL's Baku bureau and interrogated its employees and contractors. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told a December 29 news briefing in Washington: “These actions, along with the denial of access to legal counsel during these interrogations, is further cause for concern." The offices of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, known as Radio Azadliq, were raided on December 26 by investigators from the state prosecutor's office who confiscated documents, files, and equipment before sealing off the premises.

Predictably, the ongoing war of words between the U.S. and Azerbaijan escalated after the crackdown on RFE/RL. Former RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin condemned Aliyev's campaign against "one of the few independent news outlets left in Azerbaijan" in the strongest possible terms and he warned the Obama administration that Washington's vision of a Europe "whole and free" is at risk. "Europe whole and free" is a code often used but rarely explained because it basically means the consolidation of a unified Europe controlled by Brussels on behalf of the United States. Azerbaijan supports Washington's vision but when push comes to shove, the Aliyev regime is more interested in its own survival than in a "Europe whole and free." Although tensions are running high at the moment, it remains to be seen whether or not Azerbaijan will really "snub the West," as some suggest:

Azerbaijan Snubs the West These events have been reported abroad largely as marking a further constriction in Azerbaijan’s already tiny space for alternative points of view. And they are that. But they also suggest a dramatic change in the geopolitics of the volatile Caspian Sea region: the Azerbaijani government’s growing hostility toward Washington.

The attack on RFE/RL followed months of extreme anti-Western rhetoric. Top Azerbaijani government officials have accused the United States ambassador to Baku of “gross interference” and former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden of being an American spy. In early December, the president's chief of staff, Ramiz Mehdiyev, published a 13,000-word article claiming that the C.I.A. was contriving regime changes in the post-Soviet space (the so-called color revolutions). It also called Azerbaijan’s human rights activists a “fifth column” of the United States.

It is worth pointing out that the Israeli press has also been sounding the alarm regarding Azerbaijan's supposed foreign policy change but Israel's Ambassador to Azerbaijan Rafael Harpaz addressed these reports a few days ago, allaying any fears and stressing that nothing had changed in Azerbaijani-Israeli relations. Therefore, the alarmist reports in Western media warning of Baku's geopolitical shift away from the West should be taken with a grain of salt. The U.S. won't accept losing Azerbaijan considering that neighboring Armenia has now officially become a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), cementing its ties with Moscow. After all attempts to impede Armenia's accession to Russia-led trade bloc have failed, Washington is apparently no longer interested in "advancing democratic values, practices and institutions" in Armenia and decided to shut down the local office of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) citing "financial problems," which is obviously a lame excuse:

NDI suspends its activities in Armenia The Armenian office of US' National Democratic Institute (NDI), operating in Armenia since 1995, suspends its operations due to financial problems, Gegam Sargsyan, the head of the office, said on January 7. The NDI has ceased to receive funding from its main sponsor – the USAID (United States Agency for International Development), therefore, starting March 2015 the office will freeze its activities "for an indefinite time, until funds become available," said Sargsyan. "The USAID stopped funding NDI a year ago; then, we received funds from the American National Endowment for Democracy," said Gegam Sargsyan, adding that today the USAID prefers supporting local organizations rather than international ones; while "the NDI is not their current priority."

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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: 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 Checheninfo.com, 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: June 1, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birth of the Eurasian Economic Union

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

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

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

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

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

Abkhazia's Rebel Opposition Sets Sights on Customs Union

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

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

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

Abkhazia's parliament votes for early presidential elections

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

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

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

Russia's Terror Problems in Crimea, Dagestan & Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Villagers of Sogratl in Dagestan start forming self-defence units

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

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

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

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

Moscow Police Arrest Suspected Head of Uzbek Islamist Terrorist Group

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

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

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

The Furious Start of China's Anti-Terror Campaign

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

China Sentences 55 In Xinjiang Mass Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xinjiang to offer $80 subsidy to tourists

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

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

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

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: May 18, 2014

Xinjiang- Terrorist Videos & Online Separatism,   Moscow's Reshuffle in the North 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.

With the Chinese authorities struggling to get on top of the terror problem, new reports have emerged indicating that the recent terror campaign did not start on the last day of President Xi Jinping's four-day trip to Xinjiang with the attack at Urumqi's railway station but on the first day of Xi's visit with the killing of three senior Han Chinese officials in the autonomous region. According to CIA's Radio Free Asia (RFA), three senior county level officials were brutally murdered and their bodies dumped in the Kokkolyar Lake in Kashgar prefecture, where they had been on a fishing expedition. Police kept the incident under wraps and Chinese media did not report it until last Friday, when the state-backed Global Times confirmed the "tragic murder of three cadres by terrorists". But all efforts to keep the increasing violence in Xinjiang out of the headlines during the visit of President Xi were eventually futile due to the attack in Urumqi, which was reportedly carried out by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) also known as the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP):

Islamist group claims China station bombing: SITE

An Islamist militant group called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) claimed responsibility for an attack at a train station in China's western city of Urumqi in late April that killed one and injured 79 people, the SITE Monitoring service said.

SITE, which tracks Islamist militant statements, said TIP had released a 10-minute video in the Uighur language showing the
construction of a briefcase bomb it said was used in the station attack.

"A fighter is shown placing the explosive material and shrapnel of bolts inside a box, then inserting the detonation
device in a briefcase with the explosive, and leaving the trigger exposed in an outside pocket," SITE said of the video.

Xinjiang: Terrorist Videos & Online Separatism 

While RFA did its best to downplay the latest video by the anti-Chinese terrorist group, Chinese media noted that the terrorists are now calling themselves TIP rather than ETIM and interpreted this as further confirmation of the organization's transnational activities. However, it is highly doubtful whether the ETIM is a cohesive group at all and the Chinese government has done a lot to undermine its own credibility in this regard by trying to link all attacks perpetrated by Uyghurs to the ETIM. Fortunately, this time it was not necessary to find any ETIM flags at the crime scene. Perhaps one of the captured suspects will shed more light on the ETIM and its role in the Urumqi attack. Police arrested seven people including two brothers, a cousin and wife of one of the assailants. Furthermore, over 200 people have been detained for spreading the wrong videos on the internet:

232 held for spread of terrorism in Xinjiang

Police in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have arrested over 200 people in connection with the dissemination of violent or terrorist videos. 

This comes weeks after the regional government announced a ban on spreading these videos online, or by using a portable storage device. 

Since the end of March, Xinjiang authorities found 2,229 webpage links, cracked 226 cases and arrested 232 people who have circulated videos promoting terrorism through the Internet and on portable devices. Among those arrested, 71 are in criminal detention, 107 are under administrative detention, while 34 people connected to 17 cases have been prosecuted, the Legal Daily reported.

China's fight against separatism on the internet is not limited to the East Turkestan independence movement. A few days ago, Dong Yunhu, the head of Tibet's propaganda department, vowed to "seal and stifle" the internet in order to "cut off Tibetan separatist propaganda from infiltrating and destroying all manner of communication". The Chinese authorities are clearly stepping up their efforts to stamp out ethnic unrest in the country. Among other things, this translates into armed anti-terror units patrolling the streets of Beijing and Xinjiang's policemen learning to shoot first and then ask questions:

China sends arms trainers to Xinjiang

A team of arms trainers has been sent to China's northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to help local police better handle terrorist situations, the ministry of public security said on Tuesday.

The team, consisting of 30 trainers from across the country, is part of a three-month program launched in April to train grassroots policemen in using arms, the ministry said.

It said training will focus on the legitimate use of weapons, tactical collaboration, emergency response as well as safety protection, and will highlight proper handling of cold arms.

In the wake of the latest attacks, Beijing called on the international community to support its anti-terror efforts. Especially the support of neighboring Pakistan is crucial for China's war on terror, given that the ETIM supposedly found shelter in North Waziristan. When it comes to terrorist organizations based in the Pakistani tribal areas, regardless of whether it concerns the ETIM or "al-Qaeda", Pakistan's intelligence agencies know exactly where these guys are located. Therefore, the Chinese government is now turning to Islamabad:

China seeks stepping up of anti-terrorism cooperation with Pak

Battling militancy in Xinjiang, President Xi Jinping today said China wants to step up security cooperation with Pakistan to combat terrorism.

Xi said China is willing to enhance security cooperation with Pakistan and work with Islamabad to combat the three evil forces of separatism, extremism and terrorism.

Last October, Pakistan's government did Beijing a favor by banning the ETIM as well as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). But this was more a symbolic action than a substantial change of policy and unless Beijing convinces the Pakistani intelligence agencies of abandoning their jihadi assets, Pakistan will continue to be a safe haven for anti-Chinese terrorists. 

NATO Up to No Good in Uzbekistan

With Pakistan's support doubtful, the Chinese authorities are making sure that they can count on their Central Asian partners in the fight against the "three evil forces". China is now boasting "strategic partnerships" with all five Central Asian republics and wants to step up security cooperation with the 'stans. However, the importance of Central Asia is not lost on the United States. In the light of the Ukraine crisis, Washington is showing great interest in the region as well. The U.S. maintains ties with the armed forces of several Central Asian countries and is apparently looking to expand its military cooperation with Uzbekistan under the auspices of the North Atlantic(!) Treaty Organization: 

NATO to Open Office in Uzbekistan’s Tashkent

A representative office of NATO will be opened in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on Friday, a NATO official told RIA Novosti Wednesday.

"The opening ceremony will be attended by James Appathurai, NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia,” the representative of the office said.

The office will cooperate in defense planning and analysis, military education and training, scientific and environmental issues and support NATO operations, the representative said.

Uzbekistan is not exactly anywhere near the Atlantic but that does not seem to disturb anyone except for Moscow. When push comes to shove, the abysmal human rights record of the Uzbek regime does not matter either. So nobody raised an eyebrow when NATO announced the opening of an office in Uzbekistan just after Washington's favorite "human rights advocacy group", Human Rights Watch, had called on the U.S. and EU to press the Uzbek authorities to allow an independent, international inquiry into the Andijan massacre. Speaking of which, a conference held by Uzbek exile organizations in Istanbul in commemoration of the massacre made the headlines this week:

Uzbeks are being called to join mujahideens in Syria

Calls have been made for Uzbeks to join mujahideens in Syria at the Uzbek Unity and NDU conference in Turkey held to commemorate the Andijan Massacre on May 11. 

Ozodlik (Freedom) Radio and the Uzbek BBC service reported that a number of organizations joined forces in organizing this conference, among them Unity of Uzbeks, Unity of Turkestan, and the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan (NDU) headed by the prominent political opposition leader Mukhammad Salikh.

The press service of the NDU has published a video on YouTube of at least one presentation from the conference. In this presentation an unidentified person made calls for a jihad against infidels and insisted on the necessity of helping mujahideens in Syria.

Although the Uzbek exile groups were quick to distance themselves from the allegedly uninvited speaker who called for jihad, they did not dismiss his ideas and at least one Uzbek native, whom Unity of Turkestan "had helped", was already killed in Syria. Many Uzbeks living in Kyrgyzstan have joined the "Syrian rebels" and Turkey, which has a visa-free regime with Kyrgyzstan, plays a vital role in channelling these fighters into Syria. One Uzbek terrorist is reportedly commanding a group within the Al-Nusra Front, which consists of "scores of fighters from Uzbekistan and neighboring countries in Central Asia". The longer the conflict drags on, the more the NATO-GCC-Israel axis is relying on jihadi mercenaries from Central Asia and the Caucasus for its war against the Syrian government:

Central Asian jihadist group joins ISIS

A jihadist group made up of Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Russians from the Caucasus that operates in Syria has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham.

The group, known as Sabiri's Jamaat, swore allegiance to the ISIS in March,
according to From Chechnya to Syria, a website that tracks fighters from the Caucasus and Central Asia who are waging jihad in Syria.

The exact size of the group is not known, but likely has scores of fighters. In a video (below) released by the group back in January, at least 70 fighters are pictured. The speaker in the video says that the group is made up "Uzbekis, Tajiks, Chechens, and Dagestanis."

Moscow's Reshuffle in the North Caucasus

The close cooperation between Central Asian terrorists and their counterparts from Russia's North Caucasus is hardly surprising. According to Kyrgyz cleric Sagynbek Mamatov, many Central Asian jihadists are trained by battle-tested fighters in the Russian Republic of Dagestan. The Dagestani insurgency continues to give the Russian authorities headaches. Last week, a FSB officer was killed in Dagestan's capital Makhachkala and this week more law enforcers fell victim to an ambush in Gunib:

Three Police Officers Killed, Seven Wounded In Daghestan

Three police officers were killed and seven others injured in a shootout in Russia's volatile North Caucasus Republic of Daghestan. 

Daghestan's Interior Ministry says that unknown armed individuals opened fire, possibly with machine guns, at a police patrol in Daghestan's central district of Gunib on May 15.

Despite the relatively peaceful situation in Chechnya, Russia's terror problem in the North Caucasus is far from resolved and it is by no means limited to Dagestan. In order to address the underlying socioeconomic problems of the conflict, the Kremlin recently decided to establish a new ministry, which will deal with the development of the North Caucasus region:

Russia introduces separate ministry for North Caucasus affairs

Vladimir Putin has replaced the presidential envoy in the North Caucasus district and ordered a dedicated ministry for North Caucasus affairs be set up, headed by the former governor of the Krasnoyarsk Region.

The head of Russia’s Presidential Administration, Sergey Ivanov, told reporters that the main tasks of the new ministry would be improving the employment situation in the region, attracting investments and control over the spending of federal budgetary funds.

President Putin's new envoy in the North Caucasian Federal District is Sergey Melikov, the chief commander of the Interior Ministry’s forces in the region. Melikov's appointment indicates that the use of force is an integral part of Moscow's plans for the North Caucasus. With this reshuffle done, the Kremlin can now prepare for future unrest in another part of Russia. As previously mentioned, NATO's jihadi mercenaries might relocate their activities to the Crimean Peninsula and considering the latest videos from Syria, the plot thickens:

Muhajireen Army commander calls for Muslims to wage jihad in the Ukraine

The deputy leader of an al Qaeda-allied jihadist group that is led by commanders from the Caucasus and other former Soviet republics has called for Ukrainian Muslims to wage jihad against the Russia government.

Abdul Karim Krymsky, the deputy emir of Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (the Army of the Emigrants and Helpers, or Muhajireen Army), said that Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian Muslims should "start on the path of jihad." Krymsky made the statement in a video in which he appeared with Salahuddin Shishani (the Chechen), the emir of the Muhajireen Army.

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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- November 10, 2013

Sochi Hosts 'Gulag Olympics', China Frustrated With Terrorism, Drugs-Immigration & Terrorism Threaten Russia & More

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

After the Aliyev regime had already made a mockery of democracy in the Azerbaijani presidential election a few weeks ago, it was now the turn of Tajikistan's President Emomalii Rahmon to get the election in his country over and done with. Rakhmon did not have a hard time staying in power since the Tajik people as well as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were not impressed with his "opponents" in the presidential poll: [Read more...]

The New Great Game Round Up- November 3, 2013

ETIM Attacks Tiananmen Square, Inspired By Al-Qaeda's "Inspire", Kazakh Terrorists Practice in Syria & 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.

Last Monday, China's famous Tiananmen Square became quite unexpectedly the scene of another tragic event. Three individuals drove an SUV with a Xinjiang license plate through a crowd of people. The horror ended when the car crashed and burst into flames. Two innocent bystanders were killed along with the three occupants of the vehicle and 40 people were injured. Chinese police later identified the SUV driver as Usmen Hasan and his two passengers as his mother Kuwanhan Reyim and his wife Gulkiz Gini.

Doubts about the nature of this incident were quickly dispelled when police searched the SUV and rounded up several suspects in connection with the attack: [Read more...]

The New Great Game Round Up- July 14, 2013

Moscow Flooded With Afghan Heroin, Azerbaijan Eyes Xinjiang, Dead Terrorists & Journalists in Dagestan, Kazakh FM Meets Brzezinski & 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.

When the head of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, recently vowed to eliminate insurgency leader Doku Umarov before the Sochi Olympics, he was apparently dead serious about it:

Rebel Warlord’s Bodyguard Killed in Chechnya [Read more...]

The New Great Game Round Up-May 26, 2013

Chechen-Kyrgyz-Tajik Fighters in Syria, Imam Gulen’s Madrasas in South Caucasus, Azerbaijan-NATO's base at Russian-Iranian border & More!

The Great Game Round Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. The proxy war in Syria is still in full swing and affects not only the Middle East but also Central Asia and the Caucasus. There are even a few Central Asian fighters among the 'Syrian rebels':

Three Tajik citizens killed since start of hostilities in Syria – special services of Tajikistan

The threat of joining terrorist and extremist groups by young Tajik citizens has become the reason of the decision to bring students studying at religious education institutions abroad back to the home country. Otherwise, the circumstances would be irreversible, Melikov believes. [Read more...]

The New Great Game Round Up-May 19, 2013

A Setback for Doku Umarov's Caucasus Emirate, the Saudi interest in Kyrgyzstan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan=the Rising Star of Militant Islamist Groups & More!

Doku Umarov's Caucasus Emirate suffered a setback this week [emphasis mine]:  

Terrorist ‘military emir’ killed in Russia’s North Caucasus

A key militant leader, described as the right-hand man of the Chechen warlord Doku Umarov, was killed by special operations soldiers in a shootout in the North Caucasus, the Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee said. [Read more...]

The New Great Game Round Up-May 19, 2013

The Banning of Wahhabism, Radical Islamism in Central Asia & Caucasus, the CIA- Boston Terror Connections & More

The Great Game Round Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. This week we start with a story which was widely covered in the mainstream media:

US 'spy' Ryan Fogle expelled after CIA refused to stop recruiting, say Russians

He was caught while allegedly attempting to convince an FSB agent focused on fighting terrorism in the troubled north Caucasus to work for the CIA.

Russia highlighted that this is not an isolated case: [Read more...]

The EyeOpener- Who is Graham Fuller

BFP VideoIn the days of hysteria immediately following the Boston bombing, an unlikely media darling emerged. Ruslan Tsarni, the alleged bombers’ uncle, known to the press as “Uncle Ruslan,” gained notoriety for the ferocity with which he denounced his own nephews and their alleged Islamic radicalism. It isn’t hard to see why the press focused so closely on “Uncle Ruslan.” He said precisely what the so-called “authorities” wanted to hear about the suspects in precisely the way they wanted to hear it. However, far more interesting than the sudden popularity of “Uncle Ruslan” is his background and ties to other organizations.

Lately, a real narrative has begun to emerge from the background noise of the Boston bombing story that paints a very different picture from what we have been told. We have the uncle of the bombing suspects emerging as a media darling for his denunciation of the brothers, who just so happens to have worked with USAID and was living and working at the home of a top CIA official, Graham Fuller, who has actually advocated “guiding the evolution of Islam” to destabilize Russia and China in Central Asia. Now we have several of the pieces of the puzzle that Edmonds’ predicted in the past few weeks falling into place: that the bombers were likely being run by the CIA; that the event would bring focus on radical terrorism who have hitherto been painted as “freedom fighting allies” of the US; and that the case may be used as leverage to make new inroads on the Syria standoff between Washington and Moscow.

And several of the pieces of this puzzle revolve around Graham E. Fuller, former National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asia, a proponent of political Islam, an inspiration for the Iran-Contra affair, a character reference for CIA darling Fethullah Gulen, a former RAND analyst, and the father-in-law of the Boston bombers’ uncle.

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Podcast Show #108: Dissecting Boston Terror Attack, Syria, Russia and Much More

The Boiling Frogs Show Presents Pepe Escobar

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In this episode of the Boiling Frogs Post Show Peter B. Collins hosts a lively round-table discussion with Pepe Escobar and Sibel Edmonds. Please join us in this riveting episode of twists and turns, theories and predictions on the Boston terror attack, Spain, CIA, Syria, Russia, and Central Asia-Caucasus terrorists made in the USA.

Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil, is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He is an investigative journalist with three decades of experience in covering politics and conflicts around the globe. He’s been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering stories and cases from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was in Afghanistan and interviewed the military leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Masoud, a couple of weeks before his assassination. Mr. Escobar has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of three must-read books: Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War, Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge, and Obama Does Globalistan.

Listen to the Preview Clip Here

Here is our guest Pepe Escobar unplugged!
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