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: August 24, 2014

NATO's Conquest of the South Caucasus Put on Hold, SOCAR Trying to Reopen Gülen Schools in Azerbaijan & China's War on Terror

*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.

Both the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) have started large military exercises with interesting scenarios in the last few days. 3000 soldiers from CSTO members Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan participated in the "Interaction 2014" drills of the CSTO's Collective Rapid Reaction Force, which took place in Kazakhstan this week and involved a scenario with some parallels to the conflict in Ukraine. The CSTO's rapid reaction forces were asked to prevent the destabilization of CSTO member state "Karania" following the coup d'état by "'brown' forces supported by the military-political leadership of several leading governments of the West" in a country bordering Karania. This scenario was most likely promoted by Moscow and Beijing's hand in the scenario of the SCO exercise is equally visible [emphasis mine]:  

SCO exercise Peace Mission 2014 to involve 7,000 troops

The Peace Mission 2014 antiterrorist exercise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will be the largest ever in the organizations’ history, a Chinese military official said on Tuesday.

“It’s the first time that so many troops and so much weaponry have been deployed in joint drills under the SCO aegis,” Wang Ning, chief director of the drilla and deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, told the China Daily newspaper. Drones, Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft, air-defense missiles, tanks and armored vehicles have joined the anti-terrorist drills in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region that will be held from August 24 to 29.

The joint exercise scenario involves a separatist organization in a certain country, supported by an international terrorist organization, plotting terrorist attacks and hatching a coup plot to divide the country, Wang said.

China's War on Terror: Drills, Drones & Anti-Terror Cities

Wang Ning emphasized that the Peace Mission 2014 anti-terrorist exercise "aims at deterring terrorist forces including the East Turkistan Islamic Movement" (ETIM). The only way to make this more obvious would have been to hold the exercise in Xinjiang. But given the fact that Inner Mongolia is one of the three regions in China, which are to be "liberated", it makes perfect sense to practice the fight against separatist and terrorist organizations there. Out of the 7000 troops participating in the drill, about 5000 are Chinese soldiers. Considering the escalating violence in Xinjiang in recent weeks and the bleak prospects for the future, the Chinese soldiers might have to apply what they have learned sooner rather than later. Since Beijing takes no chances when it comes to the destabilization of Xinjiang, the militarization of the region has reached worrying levels:

China Said to Deploy Drones After Unrest in Xinjiang
Three days after an eruption of violence in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang this summer left nearly 100 people dead, the region’s “antiterrorist command” asked the country’s biggest space and defense contractor for help. It wanted technical experts to operate drones that the authorities in Xinjiang had ordered last year in anticipation of growing unrest. The target was “terrorists,” according to the online edition of People’s Daily, a Communist Party media outlet.

On Aug. 1, the company sent a technical team to Yarkand County, in Kashgar Prefecture, where state media reported that on July 28 security forces had shot and killed 59 people described as terrorists and about three dozen others described as civilians.

There, the drones were deployed on multiple missions round-the-clock, operated by special forces in Yarkand but under the supervision of the space company team, state media reported, and provided “important intelligence in tracking down and arresting terrorists,” Legal Daily
reported, without elaborating.

The Washington D.C.-based, NED-funded Uyghur American Association (UAA) lost no time in criticizing this development and went as far as demanding "that Beijing fully disclose its deployment of drones" in Xinjiang. As usual, Western media did its best to promote the statements of the dubious "overseas Uyghur rights organization", of course without mentioning the UAA's funding. Beijing would be well advised to respond by funding a few organizations, which criticize every U.S. drone strike and demand that Washington fully disclose its deployment of drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, but the Chinese authorities are currently more focused on finding a solution to the terror problem in Xinjiang:

China plans to fight terror with ‘dozens’ of new cities

Dozens of new cities and towns will be built from scratch in China’s remote and restive far west as part of the country’s intensifying “people’s war” on terror, according to reports in the state media.

“Urbanisation serves as a fundamental solution to tackle poverty, unemployment and inequality in less-developed southern Xinjiang where religious conservatism is prevalent and terrorist attacks occur more frequently,” the state-run Global Times newspaper reported.

“Measures such as creating jobs and improving education are seen as fundamental solutions to addressing the threat of terrorism.”

Many of the new anti-terror cities and towns will reportedly be built by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC). This secretive corps plays a central role in China's War on Terror. Interestingly enough, The Economist recently advised Chinese President Xi Jinping to disband the XPCC if he wants to prevent Xinjiang from becoming "China's Chechnya." This suggestion fell apparently on deaf ears in Beijing. The Chinese authorities continue with their anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang and try to pacify the autonomous region by all available means: hiring thousands of patrollers, ordering real-name bus ticket purchases and telling local residents to use the "angry stare" as a way of intimidating terror suspects. Given that even harsh sentences do not deter attacks, the "angry stare" will hardly do the trick:

Eight terrorists executed in Xinjiang

Eight terrorists have been executed with the approval of the Supreme People's Court in Xinjiang, according to the publicity department of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on Saturday.

Their crimes involved five cases including the terrorist attack in the Tian'anmen Square in Beijing, the gun-seizing and police-assaulting case in Aksu, the illegal manufacturing of explosives and intentional killing case in Kashgar, and the establishment of terrorist organization, murder of government officials and incineration of checkpoint in Hotan.

NATO's Conquest of the South Caucasus Put On Hold

China's hard-line approach in dealing with the insurgency is being heavily criticized with some of the strongest criticism coming from Turkey. This week, leading Turkish civil society organizations pledged to take the issue of human rights violations in "East Turkestan" to international organizations and observers. The "liberation of East Turkestan" depends very much on NATO member Turkey. As FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds pointed out, terror attacks in Xinjiang were regularly orchestrated from a long distance, from Turkey to Brussels, the United Kingdom and the United States. Turkey and close U.S. ally Azerbaijan served as the main conduits for the Gladio B operations and they continue to play a key role in all kinds of NATO jihadi operations. NATO's grip on the South Caucasus is stronger than ever before - in large part thanks to the good relations between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey:

Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey Agree On Joint Military Exercises

The nascent alliance between Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey took a big step forward this week when the defense ministers of the three countries met trilaterally for the first time and promised to carry out joint military exercises.

The three ministers, meeting in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan on August 19, agreed to work on "tripartite exercises to enhance the combat capability of the armed forces of the three countries and the achievement of mutual understanding during joint military operations, including the organization of joint seminars and conferences, cooperation in military education, development of military technology, the exercises for the protection of oil and gas pipelines,"
said Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov after the meeting.

The three countries are also looking to strengthen their joint defense capability. Although Azerbaijani Defense Minister Irakli Alasania emphasized that "these actions are not directed against anyone", Armenia should take the meeting as a warning. Yerevan downplayed all concerns, noting that Georgia would not risk its good relations with Armenia by supporting anti-Armenian initiatives. It remains to been seen how Georgia's accession to NATO will affect the ties between the two neighboring countries but the Armenian authorities do not have to worry about this anytime soon: 

West Reluctant to Let Georgia Into the Club

Few eastern European countries have pushed harder to ally with the West, and Georgia hopes to advance its membership prospects in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at a NATO summit in two weeks. Yet some NATO leaders are hesitant.

The EU issued a careful statement noting that the association deal requires an independent judiciary. But privately, European diplomats are concerned that Georgia could be setting a precedent of political vengeance. Mr. Saakashvili has rejected the charges and said he will not cooperate.

"Mikheil Saakashvili has a long list of friends in Western capitals," said Balazs Jarabik, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace. "But I think there is a consensus that much will depend on the process against him and how fair it will be."

As previously discussed, Saakashvili can count on his friends in Western capitals to protect him from prosecution, no matter the charges. When Ukraine's most famous criminal, Yulia Tymoshenko, was finally put behind bars, the U.S. and the EU likewise warned the Ukrainian government that this could endanger Ukraine's European aspirations. Due to NATO's coup d'état in Kiev, both Tymoshenko and Saakashvili are now free to do their bit in the destruction of Ukraine. Saakashvili has stated repeatedly that he does not intend to cooperate with the investigation but a few days ago, Georgia's former President responded to the embezzlement charges by returning some suits, which he had purchased with taxpayers’ money while in office. The Georgian authorities were not impressed with this publicity stunt:

Georgian ex-president’s property can be seized

Tbilisi Mayor, David Narmania is not ruling out the possible seizure of Georgian ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili's property.

"The mechanisms envisaged by the procedural legislation must be adhered to," Narmania said Aug. 20 commenting on a possible seizure on Saakashvili's property.

David Darchiashvili, an MP from Saakashvili's National Movement Party, also said today that the prosecutor's office is planning to seize the former president's property.

SOCAR Trying to Reopen Gülen Schools in Azerbaijan

While the prosecution of Saakashvili is the most contentious issue in relations between Georgia and the West, neighboring Azerbaijan is primarily criticized for the "worst crackdown on human rights in the country during recent years." A few months ago, the Aliyev regime also made headlines with its supposed crackdown on the CIA-backed Gülen movement. But given the fact that the state-owned oil and natural gas corporation of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) works hand in hand with the Gülen movement, Baku's move to place the Gülen schools in the country under SOCAR's control did not really amount to a crackdown. Shortly thereafter, SOCAR announced that the schools had been closed down in an effort to please Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. However, this closure seems to have been only temporary:

Azerbaijani Oil Company Protects Gülen Gang

The Yeniçağ, a newspaper from Azerbaijan known for being against the Gülen Gang, has reported that the oil company SOCAR is now trying to reopen Gülenist schools in Azerbaijan which had recently been closed down by the government.

Agil Alesger, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, wrote about the relations between the Gülen Gang and SOCAR. The Azerbaijani oil company is accused of financing the Gülenist schools in Africa and hiring the schools’ personnel to prevent their deportation when the schools were closed.

Part of the money shared by the Gülen Gang was allegedly transferred to Bank Asya while the rest was sent to a number of American banks.

The newspaper also claimed that the gang has close relations with the CIA through Paul Henze, Graham Fuller and Henri Barkey. The illegal organization is believed to be also linked to the intelligence organizations of Germany, Israel and the UK.

Paul Henze was a CIA station chief in Turkey and Ethiopia during the 1960s and '70s before he served in the Carter administration as a deputy to National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. He became famous for spreading the conspiracy theory that Bulgarian and Soviet secret services were behind the attempted assassination of John Paul II. The CIA promoted this conspiracy theory in order to divert attention from the fact that Mehmet Ali Agca was working for Gladio operative Abdullah Catli. Henze died three years ago but Graham Fuller and Henri Barkey are of course alive and well. The above-mentioned Bank Aysa hit the headlines in Turkey quite recently due to insider trading. Needless to say that SOCAR is also involved in all kinds of shady business dealings. Last month, another SOCAR tanker was allegedly seized in Syria after a similar incident several months earlier:

ISIS claims seizure of one more SOCAR tanker in Syria

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has issued a statement on seizure of one more petrol tanker owned by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR).

ISIS militants have also released the photo of the automobile.

Spokesman for SOCAR Nizameddin Guliyev told
APA-Economics that this information is false.

Azerbaijan is very much involved in the Syrian conflict. Countless weapons and fighters have made their way from Azerbaijan to Syria. Some of the Azerbaijani terrorists have already returned home, where they were immediately arrested. The Aliyev regime encourages jihad abroad but not at home. Considering that the Azerbaijani authorities blamed the Gülenists for the increasing number of jihadists only a few months ago, SOCAR's efforts to reopen the Gülen schools might arouse some opposition. Gülen's schools are met with suspicion in more and more countries. Turkmenistan just closed down the last one after most Turkish schools had been closed in 2011:

Officials close down Turkish school in Ashgabat

The Turkish school which operated pursuant to Turkmen-Turkish agreements has been closed down in Ashgabat. Among its students were children of Turkish diplomats, entrepreneurs and builders as well as local children. It had been announced earlier that, starting from the upcoming academic year, Turkmen children would no longer be admitted into the school.

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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: June 22, 2014

Azerbaijan: Gülen Schools & NATO Seminar Cause A Stir, Russia Steps Up Fight against Washington's Fifth Column & 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.

The power struggle between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and CIA puppet Fethullah Gülen continues to dominate the headlines in Turkey. At the beginning of this week, Turkish police detained 11 suspects, including Erdogan's former chief bodyguard and an ex-police chief, in a probe into the wiretapping of the Turkish PM. Gülen's shadowy network has tried to topple Erdogan by all available means, one of which was the leaking of incriminating conversations. Up to this point, all efforts have failed and Erdogan is fighting back with a vengeance. Ever since the conflict intensified, the Turkish PM has made the case for a retrial of the military officers, who were purged in a joint AKP-Hizmet operation, fueling speculation that Erdogan intends to join forces with his old enemies against Gülen. On Wednesday, Turkey's highest court paved the way for this alliance by ordering the release of 230 military officers convicted in the Sledgehammer trial. The power struggle has spread to several countries affecting even the annual Washington conference of the infamous American-Turkish Council (ATC). As previously discussed, the main battleground besides Turkey is Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani authorities did Erdogan another favor this week:

Azerbaijan shuts down ‘Gülen-linked’ schools

Azerbaijan’s government-run energy company has announced that private schools run by affiliates of the movement led by U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen have been closed down.

From February to April, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) took over dozens of private high schools, university exam preparation centers and universities run by a Turkish education company called Çağ Ögretim, which is thought to be linked to the Gülen movement. 

SOCAR announced on June 18 that it had decided to close the schools, which were operated by the company now known as Azerbaijan International Education Center, due to “high maintenance costs and difficulties in project management.”

Azerbaijan: Gülen Schools & NATO Seminar Cause A Stir

SOCAR's cozy relationship with the Gülen movement was highlighted in a recent round-up. Given the fact that Baku's decision to place the Gülen schools under the control of SOCAR did not amount to the crackdown Turkish PM Erdogan had demanded, there have been some questions about the stance of the Azerbaijani government with regard to the Erdogan-Gülen conflict. The shutdown of Gülen's schools certainly answers these questions but Ilham Aliyev will be careful not to overplay his hand by antagonizing Gülen's puppeteers in Langley, who have enough kompromat on the Azerbaijani President. Although Aliyev is regularly criticized by Washington for his crackdown on the U.S.-backed opposition and the like, he should be fine as long as he stays in line regarding two most important issues, energy and NATO: 

NATO PA seminar kicks off in Baku with exchange between Azerbaijani, Armenian MPs on Nagorno-Karabakh

The first day of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Rose-Roth seminar in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 16 June 2014, was marked by exchanges between Azerbaijani and Armenian parliamentarians on the protracted conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. This was the first time an Armenian delegation was able to attend a NATO PA seminar in the Azerbaijani capital.

The attendance of the Armenian delegation was indeed noteworthy but it did not result in closer cooperation between Armenia and NATO or a rapprochement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, quite the contrary. Armenia's delegation defended the Armenian point of view on Nagorno-Karabakh prompting outrage among the Azeris, who voiced their indignation about several speeches, including the speech of Matthew Bryza, former U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group and U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani authorities are easily provoked when it comes to Nagorno-Karabakh and they do not support closer Armenia-NATO cooperation. Hence, it did not take long before the head of the Azerbaijani delegation, Ziyafat Asgarov, demanded the withdrawal of the Armenian delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly because "cooperation of such a terrorist state with NATO is unacceptable." According to Asgarov, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is the "number one terrorist in the region." Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been increasing in recent weeks and the NATO seminar in Baku did few to ease these tensions. The conflict could escalate at any time: 

Armenia Says Two Soldiers Killed In Fresh Border Skirmishes

Armenia's Defense Ministry says two Armenian soldiers were killed in the latest skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani military forces.

According to the ministry, one soldier was killed near the border with Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh on June 19, while another one died in a shoot-out near Armenia's border with Azerbaijan's Naxcivan Autonomous Republic.

Meanwhile, media reports in Azerbaijan say two Azerbaijani women and a girl were wounded after being shot by Armenian solders in Tovuz district near Nagorno-Karabakh.

One principle of both NATO and the European Union had once been to hold out the prospect of membership only to states which do not have conflicts with other states. Nowadays, no NATO or EU official cares about such ludicrous principles. Last week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso visited Azerbaijan to propose closer cooperation with the EU. Barroso emphasized Azerbaijan's role in reducing Europe's dependence on Russian gas and both sides agreed to accelerate the construction of the Southern Gas Corridor. Since the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will hardly challenge Gazprom, the EC President is already pushing another pipeline project involving Azerbaijan:

EU moves forward with Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline: Barroso

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso declared that EU will resume the development of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCP),
Tengrinews reports citing IA Novosti-Kazakhstan.

In an interview published by Azeri
Turan Barosso said that the EU will move forward with the project, which is a part of the Southern Gas Corridor, an ambitious plan to bring gas from the Caspian Sea and the Middle East to Europe. “The EU is interested in receiving additional volumes [of gas] that TCP could bring and its positive impact on the security of supplies to Europe, and will continue to work constructively to make this happen,” Barroso said.

Barroso called TCP a “mutually beneficial project that serves the strategic and commercial interests of all the partners”. He also pointed out that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan were strongly committed to the project. “We are still in the planning phase and we hope that the laying of the Southern Gas Corridor will contribute to accelerating the discussions for the TCP as well,” EU Commission President said.

Russia Steps Up Fight against Washington's Fifth Column

Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are indeed strongly committed to the Trans-Caspian pipeline and they have been talking about it since the 1990s but the implementation of the project is still highly unlikely due to strong opposition from Russia and Iran. Just last year, Russia's state-controlled energy giant Gazprom threatened war with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over the pipeline project. Unfortunately, the recent actions of Washington's lackeys in Brussels suggest that the EU will do its best to provoke a war with Russia. It is hard to imagine a more provocative move than sending notorious warmonger John McCain to Bulgaria in order to force the Bulgarian government to halt the construction of Gazprom's South Stream pipeline. While Barroso & Co. do not care about the consequences for Europe since they are not serving European interests, some European governments refuse to endorse this declaration of war. On the initiative of Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria are preparing to write a joint letter to Brussels in support of South Stream. One of the most vocal supporters of the project has been Gerhard Roiss, the CEO of Austria's oil and gas company OMV, who called on the EU to speed up the implementation of the pipeline instead of blocking it. Austria is not willing to give up on South Stream after the Nabucco debacle:

Russia to sign deal on South Stream laying in Austria June 24

Russia will sign a contract to lay the South Stream pipeline across Austria during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the country on June 24, Presidential Aide Yury Ushakov told reporters Friday.

Austria initially planned to cooperate with Gazprom in the South Stream, but later decided in favour of the Nabucco pipeline, pushing Gazprom to plan the South Stream route through neighboring Slovenia.

Russia and Austria resumed their talks on the issue, when the Nabucco West project lost Shah Deniz gas pumping rights to the Trans-Adriatic pipeline.

In the light of Kiev's repeated threats to disrupt the deliveries of Russian gas to Europe and the recent gas pipeline explosion in the central Ukrainian Poltava region, Brussels' fight against South Stream looks even more silly but Brussels and Washington are apparently determined to impede Gazprom's business in Europe. The Russian energy giant is reacting accordingly and will start laying the Power of Siberia gas pipeline to China as early as August. The developments in Pipelineistan are very much connected to the conflict in Ukraine and more and more Russians are beginning to realize what is at stake. Sergey Glazyev, President Putin's aide in developing the Customs Union, explained it last week in plain terms for those who were still having illusions about the current situation. Another Russian politician who does not mince his words when it comes to American interference in Ukraine and Russia is Yevgeny Fyodorov. Due to NATO's intensifying anti-Russian campaign, Fyodorov's National Liberation Movement (NLM) is gaining steam. He tends to see Washington's fifth column everywhere and is therefore spearheading efforts to curb American influence in Russia:

MP readies ban on US consulting for Russian state companies

A ruling party MP is preparing a bill banning state-owned companies from using the services of US consulting firms and their subsidiaries. The sponsor claims it would protect the Russian economy from direct foreign influence and hidden manipulation.

The idea belongs to Yevgeniy Fyodorov of the United Russia caucus who is known for his earlier suggestion to outlaw the use of US accountancy firms to financially audit state corporations.

“The Russian economy is only growing 0.5 percent a year because foreign consultants are lobbying for their own state. A few days ago we discussed the Central Bank’s report and the deputy chairman directly stated that the mass bankruptcy of Russian banks were a result of foreign consultations,” the MP said in an interview with mass circulation daily Izvestia.

A few weeks ago, Fyodorov was involved in bringing a new foreign agent law to the Russian State Duma. If the bill is passed, media outlets which receive more than 25 percent of their funding from abroad and engage in political activities, will be forced to register as foreign agents. Similar legislation for NGOs is already in place shedding light on the subversive activities of the United States, the United Kingdom and other Western countries in Russia. Last month, the Russian authorities launched a new wave of raids on NGOs and the Federal Security Service (FSB) is keeping a sharp eye on the individuals working for these NGOs. Washington's fifth column in Russia is coming under increasing pressure:

Justice Ministry Adds 5 More Russian NGOs to 'Foreign Agent' List

Russia's Justice Ministry has added five nongovernmental organizations to its list of "foreign agents" just days after President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing organizations to labeled as such without their consent.

An official statement on the ministry's website said the decision was made based on "court decisions confirming that the organizations are conducting political activities using foreign sources of funding."

Among the new additions are election monitoring organization Golos as well as the regional Golos organization, the Saratov-based Center for Social Policies and Gender Studies, the Kostroma Center for Support of Civil Initiatives and rights group Don Women.

Pakistan Cozies Up To Russia-China Axis

Due to the Ukrainian conflict and NATO's new Cold War, the Kremlin can ramp up its efforts against 'foreign agents' without having to worry about the opposition in Russia. Despite the tireless efforts of CIA's Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to keep Alexei Navalny in the headlines, the ratings of the Russian opposition have hit rock bottom. However, if the genocide in eastern Ukraine is not stopped, Russian President Putin will lose his all-time high approval ratings sooner rather than later and politicians like Fyodorov and Glazyev will get more support. Glazyev emphasized that the developments in Ukraine are part of a larger campaign by Washington aimed at consolidating U.S. hegemony over Eurasia. Russia and China, which recently formed a symbiotic, strategic alliance, lead the opposition to this campaign and efforts to isolate the Russia-China axis stand no chance:

Pakistan wants full-fledged membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Pakistan wants to be a full-fledged member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the potential of which is growing, Sartaj Aziz, an advisor to the prime minister of Pakistan on national security and foreign affairs, told ITAR-TASS on Friday.

“The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is playing an ever growing role, especially in the area of regional security,” he said. “That is why Pakistan is taking an active part in its work even in the status of observer.”

“The next SCO summit due in September in Dushanbe is expected to adopt admission rules for new members, so we will exert more efforts to further our application for full-fledged membership in this organization,” he noted.

At the beginning of this month, Russia lifted an embargo on sales of weapons and military hardware to Pakistan in order to pave the way for the delivery of a batch of Mi-35 helicopters. Since Moscow and Islamabad are eyeing closer cooperation, Russia's Foreign Ministry immerdiately assured India that arms supplies to Pakistan are "not directed against third countries" but intended to strengthen the "counterterrorist and anti-drug potential of Islamabad." Pakistan's armed forces are currently demonstrating their counterterrorist potential in the 'Zarb-e-Azb' operation, which is primarily targeting the foreign terrorists in North Waziristan, namely the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM):

Karachi airport attack mastermind killed in N Waziristan: Sources

Intelligence and military sources told that Abu Abdur Rehman Almani is considered a key commander of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), also now famous by the name of Islamic Movement of Turkestan. The IMU, an organisation of militants mostly from the central Asian Uzbek state, had claimed that its suicide bombers carried out the attack on the Karachi airport.

There are also reports of some East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) terrorists also killed in the strikes, considered a big blow to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the ETIM network in the North Waziristan Agency. However, there was no confirmation from the military on the identity of the deceased.

The statements of the Pakistani military ought to be taken with a grain of salt considering the absurd claim that 250 "terrorists" and zero civilians have been killed during the first week of military operations. Many foreign insurgents managed to escape the offensive with the help of the "good Taliban" groups such as the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group, which are not being targeted in the operation. So the success of 'Zarb-e-Azb' is highly questionable, and to make matters worse, more than 300.000 Pakistanis were forced to flee the tribal areas creating a huge refugee problem. Nevertheless, some people applaud the anti-terror operation, first and foremost the Chinese government, which is delighted to see the Pakistani military "fighting against ETIM terrorist forces." China's support comes as no real surprise given the fact that the "ETIM terrorist forces" continue to cause trouble in Xinjiang:

13 dead, 3 injured in Xinjiang police station attack

Thirteen mobsters were killed and three policemen were injured Saturday morning in an attack on a police station in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the local government said.

No civilians were hurt, according to the regional information office.

The gangsters drove a truck to ram the building of the public security bureau of Yecheng County in southern Xinjiang and set off explosives.

Police shot and killed 13 attackers at the scene. Three policemen were slightly injured.

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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