The New Great Game Round-Up: July 22, 2015

U.S. Finds Pretext for Staying in Afghanistan as Warlords Join Forces, Saakashvili Fans Try to Exploit Georgian Border Woes & 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.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is now fighting on multiple fronts after the neo-Nazis from Pravyi Sektor recently turned their attention from the evil Russkies to the regime in Kiev. As the west of the country descends into chaos as well, the Odessa region under the leadership of Poroshenko's buddy Mikheil Saakashvili is becoming Kiev's showcase project. Odessa is supposed to show the world that Ukraine is headed in the right direction and the former Georgian President and his minions are tasked with guiding "Ukraine's reforms path away from Russia." After bringing in several of his compatriots, Saakashvili is now looking for other "talents" to improve his team. The 25-year-old Euromaidan activist Yulia Marushevska, who became famous for her appearance in the "I Am a Ukrainian" propaganda video, was the obvious choice and Saakashvili's next appointment was even more fitting:

Russian shock therapy reformist's daughter to work for Saakashvili Chairman of Odesa Regional State Administration Mikheil Saakashvili on Friday introduced as his new deputy the Russian opposition politician, journalist, social activist Maria Gaidar, who is a daughter of Yegor Gaidar, the architect of the controversial shock therapy reforms in post-Perestroika Russia, according to local news portal Dumskaya. "All Ukrainians, all Europeans and all Russians are looking at Odesa. The successful changes in Odesa will influence the situation in the world," Gaidar said, Dumskaya wrote. According to Saakashvili, she will be in charge of social issues. Her official appointment should be enacted by President Petro Poroshenko in the near future.

Saakashvili Fans Try to Exploit Georgian Border Woes 

If Maria Gaidar wants to follow her father's example, Odessa is in for a rough ride. Former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar is one of the biggest crooks in Russian history. He played a decisive part in selling off Russia's assets to a couple of insiders and plunging more than 100 million people into poverty. That is why he is hailed as a "reformer" in the West. Ukrainian politicians and media were not enthusiastic about Saakashvili's latest appointment for a number of reasons, most importantly, Maria Gaidar failed the Ukrainian litmus test when she repeatedly refused to answer a journalist's question about who Ukraine is at war with. After realizing that she won't get very far with this kind of attitude, Gaidar reportedly corrected her mistake later during a press conference in Kiev. Saakashvili wants to ask Poroshenko to grant Maria Gaidar Ukrainian citizenship but she seems to be not entirely convinced of this idea. The fate of former Georgian und Ukrainian health mininster Alexander Kvitashvili serves as a cautionary tale of how fast the "Ukrainian dream" can be over:

KYIV BLOG: Black cash still oils Ukrainian politics The circulation of black cash in parliament and government may also be indispensable to the system's functioning, as Ukraine's former health minister Oleksandr Kvitashvili, one of the so-called Georgian reformers, confirmed after his resignation in July. According to Kvitashvili, government ministries such as the health ministry pay staff off-the-books dollar cash to boost their tiny official salaries. “I don't know where this money came from,” he told lb.ua in an interview. When he tried to break with the practice, employees fled the ministry, paralysing its work and prompting Bloc Petro Poroshenko, the party that had appointed him, to fire him six months later for “losing control of his ministry”.

Appointing Georgian reformers is apparently not enough to change the rotten system but 'Team Georgia' won't give up and Saakashvili can use the opportunity to "set himself up as Ukraine's prime minister in waiting." For some inexplicable reason, some Ukrainians would prefer Saakashvili to go home but that is obviously not possible as long as the Georgian authorities are determined to put him in jail. Nevertheless, the former Georgian President is still hoping for a comeback in his home country. To this end, Saakashvili's followers from the United National Movement (UNM) party lose no opportunity to attack the "pro-Russian" government in Tbilisi. A few months ago, Saakashvili and the UNM even tried to launch a Maidan in Georgia but failed miserably due to a lack Western support. Fortunately, they have just been provided with another opportunity to point out that the current government is not doing enough to counter "Russian aggression":

Georgia Calls for Caution as Tensions Rise with Russia As anger builds in Georgia over Russia’s latest alleged attempt to redesign the country’s borders, Tbilisi is urging Georgians not to let their emotions get in the way of attempts at rapprochement with Moscow. “Let’s not be naïve and expect that some meeting will convince Russia to change its policy toward Georgia, toward neighboring countries,” commented Zurab Abashidze, Georgia’s envoy to talks with Russia, after meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Prague on July 15. The talks between Karasin and Zurab Abashidze, centered on tensions over Russian troops on July 11 snagging a piece of Georgian-controlled territory for separatist South Ossetia, and shanghai’ing a piece of BP’s Baku-Supsa oil pipeline in the process.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili took the same line and assured his fellow countrymen that Georgia will counter Russia's "provocation" through using all the available "international levers." Predictably, this was not good enough for some people. More than 3,000 Georgians gathered in front of the State Chancellery in Tbilisi on July 18 under the slogan "Stop Russia" to protest against Russia's "creeping occupation" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and to call for an end to "collaboration and cooperation with the enemy." Moreover, a group of activists and journalists staged a small anti-Russian protest near the South Ossetian border. They replaced a border sign with a Georgian flag, which was then immediately taken down by soldiers from South Ossetia. The Georgian government tried to defuse the situation by restricting access to some villages on the boder but the damage was already done. South Ossetia has vowed to retaliate against "any new Georgian provocations" and locals on the Georgian side of the border will have to pay the price for the anti-Russian protest:

Locals unhappy about South Ossetia border protests

Locals gathered near the border with Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia on Friday to protest against the actions of a group of journalists who staged a protest a few days ago against Russia’s ‘creeping occupation.’ Russian border guards used to allow locals access to agricultural lands on the other side, but now they are not allowed to go there, they say. “We have to harvest and we are now restricted from harvesting,” Interpressnews quotes one of the locals saying. “Let those people come here now if they are brave enough, sit with us on combines and help us harvesting if they dare to take such risk.” 

U.S. Finds Pretext for Staying in Afghanistan as Warlords Join Forces

In light of the deteriorating situation on the border, some people in Georgia were speculating about Russia's motivation for redrawing a section of the border. Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli was asked whether this could be a form of retaliation for the recent signing of two major arms deals in France but she rejected the idea and vowed to continue strengthening Georgia's defense capabilities. The "pro-Russian" government in Tbilisi wants to go ahead with the country's Euro-Atlantic integration despite all warnings from the Kremlin and rising pro-Russian sentiments in Georgia. As previously discussed, more and more Georgians are wondering whether it is really worth the trouble. Western promotion of gay rights doesn't go down well in the Caucasus and NATO's refusal to grant Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP) has also left its marks. Georgians have a hard time understanding why their soldiers are still dying for NATO in Afghanistan although the U.S.-led military alliance is not willing to accept the country. About 880 Georgian soldiers are currently supporting the NATO mission in Afghanistan and it doesn't look like as if the U.S wants the leave the country anytime soon:

Islamic State could trip up U.S. plans to leave Afghanistan The emergence of militants in Afghanistan claiming allegiance to Islamic State could disrupt White House plans to remove the remaining U.S. troops in that country by the end of next year. Islamic State has provided new ammunition to Pentagon and Afghan officials seeking to persuade the White House to reverse its decision to pull out U.S. troops. Their argument, in effect, is that Islamic State could grow and the same security collapse that occurred in Iraq could happen in Afghanistan if the U.S. removes its troops as planned. Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said Sunday that President Obama’s pledge to withdraw most of the 9,800 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2016 was made before the appearance of Islamic State. He said the militant group has contributed to a worsening overall security situation in the country this year.

The rise of ISIS has definitely contributed to the worsening overall security situation in Afghanistan, but until now, Washington had always played down the issue while Russian and Central Asian officials were hyping the threat. It is even more curious that General Campbell made this statement after the U.S. reportedly dealt a heavy blow to ISIS in Afghanistan by taking out the top leadership. As the U.S. is looking for a new pretext for staying in Afghanistan, the peace process is gaining momentum. While the Afghan Taliban are holding talks with Kabul, the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) are trying to broker peace between the Afghan Taliban and ISIS. In light of all the harmony, even Taliban leader Mullah Omar couldn't remain silent any longer and purportedly issued a statement recognizing the peace talks with the Afghan government as "legitimate." Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was delighted to hear the good news because the peace talks are Kabul's last hope to save the country:

Is Faryab Province Quickly Slipping From Afghan Government Control? The situation in Afghanistan's northern Faryab Province, which borders Turkmenistan, has become critical. Militants who started attacks in the province in early July have seized more than 100 villages in little over a week. On July 15, the chief of the Faryab Provincial Council, Sayed Abdul Baki Hashami, told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, that local pro-government paramilitary groups are retreating in almost all areas of Faryab and that the provincial capital, Maymana, is in danger of falling to militants. Hashami said these local pro-government forces, which he called the "People's Resistance Front," are the province's only defense against enemy forces in Faryab. Despite government promises to launch an operation in the province to repel the militants, he said, there are no signs on the ground of that happening.

Militants in Faryab have been causing trouble for quite some time. Last year, neighboring Turkmenistan sent troops across the border in an attempt to drive back the insurgents that had settled on the border. Turkmenistan's "invasion" and subsequent land grabbing infuriated local residents but they have been on their own as the Afghan government was either unable or unwilling to get the situation in Faryab under control. The situation has now gone from bad to worse. The Tabliban are gaining ground and according to some unconfirmed reports, a number of Turkmen soldiers have recently died in clashes on the border. Kabul is coming under increasing pressure to act. A few days ago, Afghanistan's First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum traveled to Faryab to promise support. He even stated that he is ready to go to the frontline if need be. Furthermore, Dostum agreed to join forces with longtime government critic Atta Mohammad Noor to stop the Taliban advances in the north of the country:

Ata Mohd Noor, Gen. Dostum and Mohaqiq to launch joint operations in North The acting provincial governor for northern Balkh province of Afghanistan Ata Mohammad Noor said Friday that joint operations will be launched to clear northern parts of the country from the militants. Speaking during a ceremony to mark the first day of Eid al-Fitr in Mazar-e-Sharif city, Noor said the operations would be launched based on an agreement reached with First Vice President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and First Deputy CEO Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq. He also criticized the reconciliation process with the Taliban group and warned that the peace efforts would not yield a positive result if the Afghan people and political parties are not consulted.

Kyrgyzstan Claims to Have Foiled ISIS Attack on Russian Air Base

Noor is arguably one of the most powerful figures in Afghanistan. He has repeatedly criticized the government for ignoring the rising militant violence in the north and not listening to his warnings. Noor and Dostum already fought side by side against the Taliban in the United Front but more often than not the two warlords have been fighting each other. Therefore, this alliance might create more problems than it will solve. Dostum has set a deadline of one week for the Taliban to lay down arms and join the peace process before the new alliance will take up the fight. Although the peace talks are making progress, the fighting in northern Afghanistan is about to escalate. Central Asia is keeping a close eye on the situation. The 'stans have been hyping the Afghan spillover and ISIS threats for months. After Turkmenistan and Tajikistan got a taste of the Afghan spillover, Kyrgyzstan is now claiming the first ISIS attack:

Kyrgyz security police say they foiled two Islamic State attacks Six militants killed by security forces in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek on Thursday belonged to Islamic State, the security police said on Friday, adding they had captured another seven members of the same group who were planning attacks. "Yes, they were all Islamic State members," Rakhat Sulaimanov, spokesman for the GKNB security police, told Reuters. "Another seven were caught during the operation yesterday." "They had planned two terrorist attacks - one in the central square (of Bishkek) during today's prayers ending the month of Ramadan, and another one at the (Russian) airbase in Kant," he added.

Considering that the shootout in Bishkek raises more questions than answers, the claims by the Kyrgyz authorities should be taken with a grain of salt. It is not exactly clear how they arrived at the conclusion that the killed militants were ISIS members. The leader of the group was reportedly Zhanbolat Amirov, a Kazakh national who had escaped from a Kyrgyz prison last month after being convicted of illegally crossing into Kyrgyzstan. Another Kazakh who had accompanied Amirov the whole time reportedly blew himself up when police tried to apprehend him on July 2. Depending on which media outlet you want to believe, the number of Kazakh citizens in Amirov's group varies significantly. According to GKNB spokesman Sulaimanov, they had all pledged allegiance to ISIS and even gotten a large amount of money from Syria. Apparently they also received support from a former member of Kyrgyzstan's parliament:

Former Kyrgyz MP held for aiding terrorists A former member of the Kyrgyzstan parliament was arrested on Monday on suspicion of aiding terrorists who were planning attacks in the capital Bishkek, the security service said. The National Security State Committee (NSSC) said the former Ak Zhol party MP -- whose name was not disclosed -- was arrested at the Manas International Airport near Bishkek while trying to leave the country, Xinhua reported. "The detained ex-MP aided terrorists with funds and provided them with weapons," the NSSC said. The NSSC also found that the former MP had direct contact with the Islamic State.

It would be interesting to know which country the arrested suspect was heading for. The shootout in the Kyrgyz capital and subsequent arrest of a former MP indicate that fears of a surge of terrorist activity in Central Asia were not entirely baseless. Given the fact that the Russian air base in Kant has been identified as one of the targets, Russia will be tempted to use this episode to beef up its military presence in Kyrgyzstan and tighten its grip on the country. Meanwhile, the U.S. is losing ground. The exposed meeting between U.S. charge d'affairs Richard Miles and a local NGO leader has validated Bishkek's and Moscow's suspicions that color revolution expert Miles is up to no good. As relations between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan are reaching a new low, the official explanation for expanding the U.S. embassy in Bishkek is looking increasingly ludircous. The latest spat centers on the award given to a jailed Kyrgyz human rights activist whom the Kyrgyz government sees as a criminal guilty of inciting ethnic hatred and violence in the 2010 South Kyrgyzstan riots:

Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry Summons U.S. Envoy Over Askarov's Award The Foreign Ministry handed a protest note to U.S. Charge d'Affaires Richard Miles on July 17, a day after the State Department conferred the 2014 Human Rights Defender Award on Azimjon Askarov. His son, Sherzod, accepted it on his behalf. The Kyrgyz government said in a statement that the decision "contradicts the friendly relations between Kyrgyzstan and the United States and can damage the government's efforts to consolidate interethnic harmony." The government also said it intended to unilaterally denounce a 1993 Kyrgyz-U.S. cooperation agreement.

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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 23, 2015

Latest ISIS Defection Spells the End for Caucasus Emirate, Taliban Gaining Ground in Afghanistan & 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.

Every few days, Afghanistan is making headlines due to the deteriorating security situation in the country, the most recent example being the Taliban attack on the Afghan parliament on Monday. As Afghan lawmakers were trying to confirm a defense minister, a large explosion rocked the parliament building in Kabul. The attack by a suicide bomber was the signal for fellow Taliban fighters, who had taken positions in a nearby building, to open fire. After an intense firefight, security forces managed to kill all six gunmen but the latest Taliban attack, which left two civilians dead and 40 injured, raises again questions over the government's ability to maintain security. Statements by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid suggest that the purpose of the attack was to embarrass the "puppet administration" in Kabul "at a time which they were casting confidence vote for the minister of defense." It is safe to say that the Taliban achieved their goal. The Kabul government is looking increasingly shaky:

Taliban and Afghan Government Dispute Status of Kunduz After Taliban insurgents said Sunday that they were on the verge of taking their first city, Kunduz in the far north of Afghanistan, officials there expressed alarm as residents began to flee the area. But the central government in Kabul said there was no cause for concern. The Afghan government also announced Sunday that it had retaken the administrative center of Yamgan District, in northern Badakhshan Province, from the Taliban. But that only deepened the government’s credibility problem because just a week earlier officials in Kabul had claimed that they had already retaken Yamgan.

For months now, several districts in both Kunduz and Badakhshan Provinces in the north have gone back and forth between government and Taliban control, as the insurgents have intensified their fighting in parts of northern Afghanistan where they traditionally had been weak.

Taliban Gain Ground in Afghanistan, Call For Jihad Under One Flag

While the central government tried to downplay the situation in Kunduz province, local officials confirmed that Taliban and Central Asian fighters are advancing on the provincial capital after capturing Char Dara District. A few hours later, Kabul's statement looked even more absurd when it became clear that the insurgents had seized another district bordering the city of Kunduz. Afghanistan's fifth largest city is on the verge of falling to the Taliban and Mohammad Omar Safi, the governor of Kunduz, doesn't want to take any chances. Kunduz province is already facing a humanitarian crisis and if the Taliban conquer the capital, it won't get any better. The Afghan government is now under increasing pressure to act. One of the few good news coming from northern Afghanistan in recent weeks was Kabul's recapture of Badakhshan's Yamgan District but if the government forces don't manage to repeat this success in Kunduz, Tajikistan's fears of an Afghan spillover might come true:

About 1,500 militants mass in Afghan areas near the border with Tajikistan Commander of Tajik Border Troops Rajabali Rahmonali has warned of about 1,500 militants, including members of the Islamic State (IS) group, concentrating in the Dahsti Archi and Imam Sahib districts of Afghan Kunduz province along the Tajik border.  In a statement released at the 73rd meeting of the Council of Border Troops Commanders of the CIS member nations in Dushanbe, Rahmonali noted on June 18 that that there members of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Ansarullah among the militants concentrating along the Tajik border in northern Afghanistan.  “They are fighting against the Afghan government forces in the immediate vicinity of the border with Tajikistan,” Rahmonali noted. He expressed concern about a tense situation in the Afghan provinces of Takhar, Kunduz and Badakhshan, which directly border Tajikistan.

The possibility of a spillover of violence from Afghanistan was high on the agenda during the CIS meeting in Dushanbe. Sherali Khairulloyev, national security advisor to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, complained that many CIS members states had not lived up to their promise to support Tajikistan in strengthening its border defense and he called on the other border services "to actively cooperate with Tajik border troops in strengthening the CIS southern border." Khairulloyev emphasized that one of the main tasks of the Commonwealth of Independent States is to prevent the region from becoming a center of geopolitical confrontation between the major world powers, pointing out that "if the countries and secret services that have keen interest in the Islamic Caliphate project try and implement it through Afghanistan, the zone of political instability will then protrude to the CIS and China." While the U.S. doesn't seem to be worried about ISIS's expansion into Afghanistan, countries in the region and the Taliban would prefer al-Baghdadi & Co. to stay out of Afghanistan:

Taliban Warns IS Leader To Stay Out Of Afghanistan The Taliban has warned the leader of the Islamic State (IS) group against waging a parallel insurgency in Afghanistan, following several defections and reported clashes with militants loyal to IS. In a June 16 letter addressed to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Taliban insisted that "jihad (holy war) against the Americans and their allies must be conducted under one flag and one leadership." "The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) does not consider the multiplicity of jihadi ranks beneficial either for jihad or for Muslims," said the letter signed by the Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor.

Mansoor argues that the Taliban movement is the only rightful representative of jihadist activities in Afghanistan, noting that the group has been endorsed by great jihadist leaders such as Osama bin Laden. Moreover, he criticizes the Islamic State's actions in other countries and warns ISIS against dividing jihadists in other Muslim nations into two camps. Considering that al-Baghdadi doesn't respect Taliban leader Mullah Omar and doesn't care much for other terrorist groups, Mansoor's words will probably fall on deaf ears. The Taliban are now waiting for al-Baghdadi's response before they will "chalk out a strategy on how to deal with those who are using the name of the Islamic State to create disunity among the Mujahideen." This spells more trouble. Clashes between the Taliban and ISIS have been escalating in recent weeks, with the eastern province of Nangarhar turning into the epicenter of the conflict. Hundreds of families have already been displaced due to the fighting and recent developments suggest that the two groups won't settle their differences anytime soon:

Islamic State’s Khorasan province beheads former shura member who defected back to the Taliban The Islamic State’s Khorasan province is said to have brutally executed one of its former shura members, purportedly for defecting back to the Taliban last month. The execution, as well as the assassination of the Taliban’s shadow governor for Nangarhar province, likely by the Islamic State, preceded a warning by the Taliban’s deputy emir to the leader of the Islamic State to end discord between the jihadist groups in Afghanistan. The Islamic State released a video purpoting to showing the execution of Sa’ad Emarati, a senior commander as well as a member of the “Khorasan Shura,” the province’s executive council. Emarati’s head was placed on his back after it was removed.

Latest ISIS Defection Spells the End for Caucasus Emirate

Former Taliban fighters will now think twice before defecting back to the Taliban. Al-Baghdadi & Co. have shown time and again that they know how to deal with traitors and nasty rivals. The Taliban will have to be on their guard if they don't want to suffer the same fate as other prominent terrorist groups which have been sidelined by ISIS. One of the latest victims is the Caucasus Emirate (IK), formerly the most powerful terrorist organization in Russia. Ever since Russian security forces eliminated Emirate leader Doku Umarov and then a few months later his successor Aliaskhab Kebekov, the continued existence of the Imarat Kavkaz has been in question. Many Chechen and Daghestani commanders had already retracted their oath of obedience to IK leader Kebekov and defected to ISIS. This trend continued after Kebekov's killing and the latest defection may very well spell the end for the Caucasus Emirate:

ISIS opens a new front on Europe's doorstep: Chechan jihadi group with 'up to 15,000' fighters pledge allegiance to terror horde ISIS has spread its tentacles further around Europe after a major terrorist group which commands 'as many as 15,000' in the Caucuses region of southern Russia pledged its allegiance to it. The leader of the Caucuses Emirate, which has carried out over 900 terrorist attacks on Russian soil since its formation in 2007, personally declared his loyalty to ISIS commander-in-chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. 'We need to hurry up and unite so we can cut off the heads of the infidels,' Aslan Byutukayev says in a new propaganda video allegedly filmed inside the predominantly Muslim republic of Chechnya.

Although the Caucasus Emirate doesn't command 15,000 fighters and is not headed by Aslan Byutukayev, the Daily Mail was right to highlight Byutukayev's bay'ah to wannabe Caliph al-Baghdadi. Byutukayev is the leader of the Caucasus Emirate's Chechen wing and one of the most powerful insurgent commanders in the North Caucasus. As Chechen analyst Mairbek Vatchagaev noted, his defection to ISIS "buried the Caucasus Emirate once and for all." ISIS has accepted the bay'ah and lost no time in claiming a "Wilayat Qawqaz," which includes Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and "Kabika." Russian officials have been hyping the ISIS threat at home and abroad for quite some time, most recently at a meeting of the CIS Anti-Terrorism Center. Now they have finally a good reason to do so, which means that Russia's imams can look forward to more lessons on fighting ISIS recruiters:

Moscow's Muslim Leaders Get Lessons on Fighting ISIL Recruiters More than 300 imams from across Russia are taking part in an educational program to counter the influence of recruiters to militant Islamic organizations such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Russian imams are taking courses to help them counter the influence of recruiters to radical Islam, with classes covering topics such as methods to communicate with young people, aspects of Islamic history, Islamic theology and secular subjects like politics and geography.

"In the course of the program we touch on difficult topics, which cause people to be attracted to radical movements," deputy head of the Moscow Islamic Institute, Rais Izmailov, told the Izvestiya newspaper.

After the recent scandal surrounding a 19-year-old Russian student who tried to join ISIS, Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the government's Investigative Committee, downplayed the issue of ISIS recruitment in Russia, saying that there have been only few cases. Many experts share this assessment and Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolkoltsev emphasized that the law enforcement agencies are in control of the situation. In the end, the rise of ISIS in the North Caucasus comes down to a few defections from the Caucasus Emirate and doesn't pose a real threat but the Russian authorities will nevertheless use this opportunity to clamp down on terrorist recruitment and introduce harsher anti-terrorism measures. One wonders what Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov will say when he hears of ISIS's new "Wilayat Qawqaz." Kadyrov is usually quick to comment on these things but lately he has been busy trying to steer the Nemtsov murder investigation "in the right direction":

Kadyrov: One should look for Nemtsov murder trail in Ukraine and U.S. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov believes that Ukrainian special services could stand behind the murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. "In my opinion, one ought to look for the trail of this crime not in Chechnya, but in Ukraine, SBU (Ukrainian Security Service) and subsequently in the U.S.," Kadyrov told Interfax on June 18. When asked whether or not he knows the whereabouts of Ruslan Geremeyev, whom the media call a possible organizer of Nemtsov's murder, Kadyrov said: "I know Ruslan Geremeyev very well. We fought against terrorists together. I know him as a patriot of Russia, and, in my opinion, it is a mistake to accuse him of these actions."

Not Everyone Escapes Georgia's Lax Criminal Prosecution

Kadyrov pretended that he had nothing to do with Geremeyev's escape via Chechnya and tried to pin the Nemtsov assassination on Chechen terrorist Adam Osmayev, who became famous for trying to kill Russian President Putin and is now fighting for the Kiev regime in eastern Ukraine. But in contrast to Kadyrov's close associate Geremeyev, Osmayev is not a prime suspect in the Nemtsov murder. Aside from the fact that he is hardly capable of organizing any assassinaton, Osmayev hailed Nemtsov as a "true hero" for condemning Russia's second war in Chechnya and "Russian aggression" in Ukraine. The new leader of the Dudayev battalion should be prosecuted for a number of crimes but the killing of Boris Nemtsov isn't one of them. If it were not for the coup d'état in Kiev, Osmayev would still be sitting in jail. Fortunately, the "new Ukraine" offers endless opportunities for every criminal who hates Russia:

New head of Odessa Police escapes prosecution in Georgia Georgia does not continue criminal proceedings against Giya Lortkipanidze, who on June 16 was appointed the head of the Odessa Police. This was stated by experts interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot". The Georgian Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) have no claims against Giya Lortkipanidze, the "United National Movement" (UNM) Party reports.

As previously discussed, former Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Gia Lortkipanidze has joined his old boss Mikheil Saakashvili in Odessa. While Saakashvili is clearly in his element, Lortkipanidze seems to be less convinced of his new job but at least he won't have to worry about prosecution anymore. The two former Georgian officials can now pick up where they left off in Georgia: provoking conflict with Russia. During Saakashvili's rule in Georgia, Lortkipanidze was responsible for coordinating the recruitment and training of Chechen jihadists. The current government claims to have ended these terror operations but the increasing number of Georgian jihadists traveling to Syria has put pressure on Tbilisi. Critics were not impressed with the government's attempt to solve the problem by making a few adjustments to the anti-terrorism legislation and the recent special operation in Georgia's notorious Pankisi Gorge was not much better either:

Cousin of ISIS leader released from detention in Georgia The Georgian police have released four of the five Kistis (Georgian Chechens) who were earlier detained in the Pankisi Gorge (Kakhetia region, Eastern Georgia). According to Georgian media reports, among the released people is Merab Tsatiashvili, a cousin of Tarkhan Batirashvili, one of the leaders of the terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS). The only person the police did not release is Ayuf Borchashvilia, imam of the village of Jokolo.

Borchashvili denied any involvement in terrorist recruitment in Pankisi. The special operation led to some tensions in the valley region. Borchashvili's family and friends staged a protest against his arrest but some Pankisi residents welcomed the operation, saying that the raid "was long overdue." Moreover, Georgian police also arrested three young men at Tbilisi airport as they tried to leave the country for Syria. The prosecution claims that the three were heading to Syria to join ISIS after they had been recruited by Borchashvili. This all begs the question of why it took the Georgian authorities so long to take some action against terrorist recruitment in the country. Perhaps they didn't want to ruin Georgia's chances of hosting a training camp for "moderate Syrian rebels" or they were just too busy buying weapons from NATO allies in order to demonstrate their commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration:

Georgia Finalizes Controversial Air Defense Deal With France Georgia and France have finalized a blockbuster air defense deal that was the source of a major political crisis in Tbilisi last year, though many of the details of the deal and the crisis remain shrouded in mystery. Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli on June 15 signed an agreement with the company ThalesRaytheonSystems in Paris on the purchase of “advanced” air defense systems that will “guarantee country’s air defense,” Khidasheli said, according to Georgian news website Civil.ge.

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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 16, 2015

Poroshenko-Saakashvili Open Another Front in Ukrainian, Iran Backs Taliban to Counter U.S.-ISIS in Afghanistan

*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.

Ukrainian oligarch-turned-President Petro Poroshenko is not very popular among his people but at least his equally criminal friends continue to support him and that is what really matters. Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was so thrilled about Poroshenko's first year in power that he wrote an op-ed for Newsweek lauding Poroshenko's reform program, better known as the "4-Ds"- de-regulation, de-bureaucratization, de-centralization and de-oligarchization(!). According to Saakashvili, his buddy Poroshenko "has succeeded in nation-building, at a rapid pace." Never mind that most Ukrainians think that Poroshenko and the current regime are to blame for Ukraine's economic problems and that they are not doing enough to stop the war in the country. One wonders what they will say when they realize that Poroshenko and Saakashvili are trying to open another front in this war:

Saakashvili announces plans to reinforce border with Transdniestria Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region Mikhail Saakashvili said on Tuesday he plans to reinforce Ukraine’s border with the unrecognized republic of Transdniestria. "We have two major tasks - to reinforce the border and curb corruption. Drug and weapons trafficking across this border mean nothing good," he told a news conference in Odessa.

Engineering works aiming to block movement of military hardware and contraband started at the Transdniestrian section of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.

Poroshenko & Saakashvili Open Another Front in Ukrainian Conflict

As discussed two weeks ago, there is some evidence to suggest that the United States and its client regime in Ukraine want to provoke a conflict with Russia by squeezing Transnistria. Saakashvili is clearly not telling the whole story when he talks about reinforcing the border and curbing corruption. Transnistria's Foreign Minister Nina Shtanski recently pointed out that Ukrainian toops are massing at the border, causing panic in the pro-Russian breakaway state. A coalition of Transnistrian activist groups immediately sent an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking him to protect the people in Transnistria and recognize the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic. Moscow's worst fears appear to be coming true. One ominous development cited by the Transnistrian activists was the deployment of S-300 air defense missile systems on the border, which would raise the stakes significantly:

Ukraine to place S-300 antiaircraft missiles on border with Transdniestria

Ukrainian authorities will deploy S-300 antiaircraft missile complexes on the border with Transdniestria - a mostly Slavic-populated breakaway region of Moldova that has existed as an unrecognized Dniester Republic since the early 1990. A report published by Odessa-based Taimer newspaper quoted the Ukrainian Defence Ministry officials as saying the missile complexes will be deployed in the Bolgrad district of the Odessa region. "Officials at the war ministry said the S-300 missiles will ensure defence of the country in the south of the Odessa region on the border with the Dniester Republic," Taimer said.

Reports of Ukraine deploying S-300 systems in the Odessa region have sent shockwaves through Transnistria and Russia. It is seen as "an ultimatum upsetting the possibility of an air bridge" between Russia and the pro-Russian breakaway state in Moldova. Even the guys from Stratfor noticed the significance of this development: "Although the potential cost of interdicting Russian flights would be incredibly high and would essentially constitute a declaration of war against Russia, the deployment of these systems establishes the capability to do so." Only few people in Ukraine are crazy enough to shoot down Russian planes but it is probably worth mentioning that the new governor of Odessa is one of them. To make matters worse, Saakashvili is bringing in his old crew from Georgia. Media reports saying that former Georgian Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili will get a job in Odessa haven't been confirmed so far but former Deputy Interior Minister Gia Lortkipanidze is about to join his old boss:

The dark past of Saakashvili’s appointee in Odessa Gia Lortkipanidze served under President Mikheil Saakashvili when he was in power in Georgia. A Ukrainian media outlet now reports that Lortkipanidze will head the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s Odessa department, the city where Saakashvili is now the governor. His appointment is controversial, as there are questions asked about his background not only by the public in Georgia, but also by UNM members. For years, he was the deputy of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili (now in jail in Tbilisi), but he never received media attention until the so-called Lapankuri special operation on August 28, 2012. He was one of the leading figures in this operation. After the police operation, relations between him and Saakashvili, and with Data Akhalaia, became strained.

Saakashvili praised Lortkipanidze as "a man of absolute honesty" when he talked about his appointment during a news conference in Odessa. Georgian media seems to have a different take on the former Deputy Interior Minister. As regular readers of the New Great Game Round-Up may recall, the Lapankuri special operation refers to a shootout between Georgian special forces and Chechen militants in the Caucasus gorge of Lopota near the Russian border. An investigation by Georgia's Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili showed that the Saakashvili government "recruited, trained and equipped Chechens living in exile in Europe to join the North Caucasus insurgency." Nanuashvili’s report names Lortkipanidze as having coordinated the recruitment and training. So he is definitely the right man for the job in Odessa. Although the current government maintains that terrorist recruitment and training in Georgia ended with Saakashvili's rule, the country is still exporting a lot of jihadists:

Police in Georgia conduct special operation in Pankisi

Georgian police on Sunday carried out a special operation in Pankisi, a valley in the northeast of the country mostly inhabited by Kists, who are ethnic Chechens. Omar Al-Shishani, or Tarkhan Batirashvili, one of the field commanders of ISIS, was born and raised in Pankisi. He left for Syria a few years ago to join the war. His father and relatives still live in Pankisi. According to the most recent information, the special operation aimed at detaining those who allegedly have helped Georgians go to Syria, also because of suspected ties to ISIS.

Iran Backs Taliban to Counter U.S., ISIS in Afghanistan

It is remarkable that Georgia is now cracking down on terrorist recruitment considering that only a few months ago, the country was making headlines with an alleged offer to host a training center for NATO's "moderate Syrian rebels." The Georgian government would do anything to join the U.S.-led military alliance but more and more people in Georgia are beginning to question their NATO ambitions. Especially the country's huge contribution to the mission in Afghanistan, which has claimed the lives of 30 Georgian soldiers, is a contentious issue. About 880 Georgian soldiers are currently serving in NATO's Operation Resolute Support, meaning that the country is making the second-largest contribution after the United States. New Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli visited the soldiers in Afghanistan on her first foreign trip late last month to boost the troops' morale but it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell the mission in Afghanistan as a success:

Taliban seize villages in Sar-i-Pul Taliban militants have seized several villages in the Sayad District of northern Sar-i-Pul province. Officials say That Taliban captured these village after a clash with security forces that also left a policeman martyred and a militant killed. A security official said that Taliban launched the attack while security forces were offering Friday prayers.

After Badakhshan, Kunduz, Faryab and Badghis, the northern province of Sar-e Pol is now also in the grip of violence. The fighting in northern Afghanistan is intensifying day by day, the Afghan security forces are a mess and the government in Kabul is nothing but a "show." Not exactly the best conditions for ending the violence. Moreover, the insurgents are also fighting among themselves. Ever since ISIS gained a foothold in the war-torn country, the group has been trying to outstrip the Taliban. Former Guantanamo inmate Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, who is now leading ISIS in Afghanistan, told BBC Persian in an interview that ISIS "found other ways to wage jihad after realizing Taliban are receiving instructions from Pakistani intelligence." Given the fact that neither ISIS's rise in the Middle East nor its rise in Afghanistan would have been possible without the support of foreign intelligence agencies, Dost and his fellow jihadists should probably avoid this topic:

ISIS rise in Afghanistan would threaten Russia and China: Karzai

The former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group in Afghanistan would not be possible without the foreign backing.

“So, if you hear ever in the coming days, or months, or years that Daesh is on the rise in Afghanistan, and is strong and expanding militarily, it will mean that it is a foreign-backed force intending to destabilize the region, particularly Central Asia, China and Russia,” he added. Karzai put the blame for the rapid expansion of IS on “foreign interference” in Iraq and Syria saying that it was all “the result of events” there.

It is not difficult to guess which "foreign interference" Karzai was referring to. After sidelining its competitors in Syria, ISIS is now looking to expand in Afghanistan, much to the dismay of the Taliban. At the end of last month, ISIS's Afghan chapter released a video threatening the Taliban and in particular its camera-shy leader Mullah Omar. ISIS also vowed to take revenge for the fighters who had been killed by the Taliban in Nangarhar province in the middle of May. Shortly after the video was released, the group followed up its words with actions. ISIS captured and then beheaded 10 Taliban members in Nangarhar and used this for another propaganda video. While the U.S. is "taking time" to assess ISIS's expansion in Afghanistan, Iran has apparently seen enough and decided to take action. If anonymous officials and the Wall Street Journal are to be believed, Iran has begun to support the Taliban with cash and weapons in order to counter U.S. influence in the region and stop the rise of ISIS:

Iran Backs Taliban With Cash and Arms

When Abdullah, a Taliban commander in central Afghanistan, needs more rifles and ammunition, he turns to the same people who pay his $580-a-month salary: his Iranian sponsors. “Iran supplies us with whatever we need,” he said. Afghan and Western officials say Tehran has quietly increased its supply of weapons, ammunition and funding to the Taliban, and is now recruiting and training their fighters, posing a new threat to Afghanistan’s fragile security. Iran’s strategy in backing the Taliban is twofold, these officials say: countering U.S. influence in the region and providing a counterweight to Islamic State’s move into the Taliban’s territory in Afghanistan.

New Pipeline Projects Leave "Land Of Fire" Out in the Cold

Betting on the re-emergence of the Taliban is probably not the worst idea but the Israel lobby in the U.S. will certainly use this information to torpedo the Iran nuclear talks, which have "virtually stalled." A diplomatic source told Russian news agency TASS that the June 30 deadline may have to be postponed again. Europe is desperate for Iranian gas but as long as the sanctions remain in place, European countries will have to make do with gas from neighboring Azerbaijan. This has led some people in Baku to believe that Azerbaijan has major leverage over Europe and can pressure European leaders into endorsing the European Games in Baku. The absence of European leaders at the lavish opening ceremony of the Games didn't go down well in the energy-rich country and Trend News Agency's Aynur Gasimova lost no time in warning the Europeans that they might regret this:

Europe, it is time to stop playing with the Land of Fire. You can get burned Azerbaijan is known worldwide as the Land of Fire, and today Europe is playing with that fire. The result of playing with fire is for Europe itself to decide. But all the recent actions taken by the European countries’ leaders suggest that they aren’t complying with the “don’t play with fire!” rule. The entire world’s attention was focused on the opening of the European Games in Baku. But at the same time, this same place witnessed another important event. The heads of states, which today decide the fate of Europe’s security, gathered in Baku, however, Europe itself, because of its own stupidity, was not represented.

As Gasimova points out, the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Turkmenistan used the opportunity to discuss major energy projects in Baku but the notion that Europen leaders missed out on important deals and are "sacrificing their citizens' energy security" is absurd. Most energy projects discussed in Baku are spearheaded by Brussels and are aimed at bringing gas from the Caspain Sea to Europe, bypassing Russia, except for Russia's Turkish Stream pipeline. After Russian President Putin let his Turkish counterpart Erdogan wait for a couple of minutes, as usual, the two leaders held "constructive" talks on the Turkish Stream project behind closed doors in Baku. Gazprom has sent the coordinates of the onshore section of the pipeline to Turkey and is doing its best to start the construction as soon as possible. Turkish Stream's progress has not gone unnoticed in Austria, where OMV is now looking for a new project after recovering from the loss of Nabucco and South Stream:

Die Presse: OMV May Be Planning 'Russian Nabucco' Gas Pipeline The future head of Austria’s OMV Rainer Seele appears to be planning a new route for Russian gas to Europe bypassing Ukraine jointly with Gazprom, according to Austrian newspaper Die Presse. According to the Austrian newspaper, the new route appears to resurrecting the closed gas pipeline project Nabucco – with one major difference: instead of carrying Caspian gas to Europe it will transport Russian and possibly Iranian natural gas via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to Austria.

The original Nabucco pipeline project, officially buried in 2013, was designed to bring Caspian gas via Turkey and the Balkans to a central European hub in Baumgarten near Vienna in order to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. Two years later there are signs that OMV is considering a 'Russian Nabucco pipeline', according to Die Presse.

Some people in Washington and Brussels will probably fall off their chairs when they hear of OMV's plans. The pipeline which was supposed to bypass Russia and Iran could celebrate an unlikely comeback by bringing Russian and Iranian gas to Europe. Reinhard Mitschek, the former managing director of the Nabucco consortium, will promote the new project. Mitschek had already tried to win Russia and Iran as suppliers for the old Nabucco project despite strong opposition from the United States. So he knows what he is getting himself into. Although Washington and Brussels spared no effort to build Nabucco, they had to settle for the smaller and less expensive Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which will eventually bring gas from Azerbaijan to customers in the EU. One wonders what the "Land of Fire" thinks of OMV's new Nabucco plans considering that Azerbaijan hasn't been mentioned as a gas supplier but the Aliyev regime is apparently too busy "promoting" the European Games:

Azeri government behind foreign media ban, say European Games officials A decision to ban some foreign media from attending the inaugural European Games in Azerbaijan this month rested with the government and was not taken by the event’s organisers, officials said on Saturday. Journalists, including the Guardian’s chief sports correspondent Owen Gibson, have been refused entry visas but organisers of the event in Baku said it was the government who was clearing individuals to enter the country based on their own set of criteria. Apart from media, several representatives from international human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also been blocked from entering the country, ruled by the Aliyev family since 1993.

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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 4, 2015

Saakashvili's Appointment Spells More Trouble for Transnistria, Tajikistan's War on Islam Backfires as OMON Commander Joins ISIS & More!

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

The disappearance of Colonel Gulmurod Halimov, commander of Tajikistan's Interior Ministry paramilitary squad (OMON), has caused a great stir in the Central Asian country. Tajik media reports suggested early on that Halimov had traveled to Syria in order to join the West's beloved terrorist army ISIS but his family dismissed these reports as "baseless" and portrayed him as a dedicated policeman and father of eight. While his brother insisted that Halimov had never spoken about ISIS, Asia-Plus quoted a friend as saying that he had turned into an ISIS fanatic. The story got even more confusing when Tajik law enforcement agencies denied a report by news agency TojNews claiming that Halimov had been arrested in Turkey while trying to cross into Syria with a fake passport. As the speculations were getting out of hand, ISIS eventually cleared up the mystery of Halimov's disappearance by releasing a new shiny propaganda video featuring none other than Tajikistan's missing OMON commander:

Missing Tajik Police Commander Appears On Internet, Says Has Joined IS A top Tajik police commander who has been missing for weeks has reappeared on the Internet, claiming that he has joined the Islamic State (IS) militant group in protest at official restrictions on religious observance back home.

In a video posted on YouTube, Colonel Gulmurod Halimov, the commander of the Tajik Interior Ministry's Special Forces, known as OMON, singled out Tajikistan's crackdown on Islamic dress and limitations on public prayer as reasons for his radicalization.

Halimov, a father of eight, says that Tajik labor migrants "must stop serving infidels" in Russia and join IS in Syria and Iraq in order to establish Shari'a law in other countries, including Tajikistan.

Tajikistan's War on Islam Backfires as OMON Commander Joins ISIS

After vowing to bring jihad to Tajikistan and Russia, Halimov also added a threat for the United States: "We will come to your cities, to your homes, and we will kill you." The OMON commander turned ISIS fighter pointed out that he is well-prepared for future battles thanks to the counterterrorism training that he received on American soil: "Listen, you American pigs: I've been to America three times. I saw how you train soldiers to kill Muslims." State Department spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala confirmed to CNN that Halimov participated in five counterterrorism training courses in the U.S. and in Tajikistan, through the Department of State's Diplomatic Security/Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. While much of the media coverage focused on Halimov's training by Blackwater and his references to the U.S., some analysts suggested that his threats to Russia might be more significant. But one thing is certain: the radicalization of the OMON commander was driven by Tajikistan's repression against religious activities, which is now reaching grotesque proportions:

Tajiks Probe Fake Permits For Hijab, Beards Tajik prosecutors have launched an investigation into suspected fraud in connection with the sale of bogus permits to unsuspecting people hoping to avoid falling afoul of official efforts to combat religious extremism.

The "permits" -- which grant permission to Muslims to wear long beards in the case of men, or head scarves (hijabs) in the case of women -- purport to be from the State Committee for Religion and Traditions and Rites Regulations.

Officials at the Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL on May 18 that investigations are targeting the "repeated forgery of documents" and the "incitement of religious, ethnic, racial, and social hatred."

In addition to targeting hijabs and beards, the Tajik government is now mulling a ban on names which sound too Arabic. This won't do much to calm the waves as more and more people question President Rahmon's ongoing secularization campaign. Halimov's defection to ISIS shows that radicalization of the population is a major problem and by no means limited to Tajikistan's poorer citizens, as is often said, but banning hijabs, beards and Arabic names is clearly not the solution. Shutting down schools affiliated with the shadowy movement of CIA puppet Fethullah Gülen makes much more sense. At the beginning of this year, the Tajik authorities announced that they are going to review the licenses of Gülen's schools and the review didn't end well for the Gülen movement. According to Tajikistan's Minister of Education and Science, the schools will be be shut down and reopened as state-run schools with different names. After taking the first step in the right direction, the Tajik regime should also consider taking measures against jihadi TV channels brainwashing the population:

Undeclared information war going on against Tajikistan

Several radical Islamic TV channels now broadcast to Tajikistan from abroad, Tajik journalist Nourali Davlat told Asia-Plus in an interview.

“These are Ahli Bayt, Tavhid, Fadak and Nour and Visoli Haq joined them this spring,” said the journalist. “These TV channels are engaged in brainwashing the youth in the Islamic world, especially in the Persian-speaking countries – Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.”

“Meanwhile, Afghan newspaper 8 Subh says this radical Islamic TV channels broadcasting to Afghanistan and Tajikistan have been established by Arabic sheikhs from the Persian Gulf countries,” said the journalist. “According to the newspaper, the Arabic sheikhs intend to spread war from Afghanistan to Central Asia’s countries. For this, the radical Islamic TV channels use problems existing in relationships between the governments and Muslim communities, in particular the problem of wearing beard or hijab, which is widely discussed in Tajik society.”

The democracy-loving petro-monarchies in the Gulf use every opportunity to find new comrade-in-arms in the fight for freedom and democracy in Syria, or wherever Washington deems it necessary. Halimov was not the first Tajik to join the terrorist gangs in Syria and he won't be the last one. Another high-profile Tajik fighter, Nusrat Nazarov, who came to prominence after claiming that 2,000 Tajiks are fighting for ISIS, was reportedly killed in Syria just recently. Tajikistan's Prosecutor General's Office has already opened criminal cases against 417 citizens on charges of mercenary activities. Halimov is the latest addition to the list. The defection of the former OMON commander highlights Tajikistan's struggle with extremism and it comes at the worst possible time considering that the country is currently trying to prevent a spillover of violence from Afghanistan. Dushanbe has lifted the ban on entry of foreign citizens to Gorno-Badakhshan but the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border remains volatile:

A joint military exercise conducted for Tajik and Russian servicemen in Gorno Badakhshan

A joint military exercise with a final phase featuring live-fire mission has been conducted for units of the Tajik national army and the 201st Russian military base in the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on May 21.

In connection with the possible deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, Russia pays a special attention to strengthening its borders with Central Asia’s nations and helps train personnel for the national armies of the Central Asian countries, the Russian Central Military District press center was cited by RIA Novosti as saying.

Renewed Hope for Afghan Peace Talks

Strengthened by the arrival of foreign fighters who were forced to leave Pakistan due to a large-scale military operation, the Taliban and other groups have been making inroads in northern Afghanistan. The neighboring Central Asian countries are keeping a very close eye on the situation as NATO-trained Afghan forces are struggling to fend off the insurgents. China is equally concerned. This year's spring offensive by the Taliban is particularly noteworthy for the strong involvement of foreign fighters. According to eyewitness reports, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Pakistanis, Arabs, Chechens and Uyghurs are involved in the fighting. Beijing has been trying for months to restart the stalled Afghan peace talks and the presence of Uyghur fighters in northern Afghanistan is certainly an extra motivation for the Chinese to get the Afghan chaos under control. China's efforts to bring Kabul and the Taliban to the negotiation table have been undermined by Obama's decision to slow the "withdrawal" but Beijing won't give up that easily:

Taliban and Afghan Peace Officials Have Secret Talks in China

A peace envoy from Afghanistan met in western China last week with former Taliban officials with close ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency, in an attempt to keep open the possibility of formal Afghan peace talks, officials said Monday.

The meeting, hosted by China and, in part, organized by Pakistani officials, took place Wednesday and Thursday in Urumqi, capital of the western region of Xinjiang, which has mountainous borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan and is home to many Muslims.

The fact that China agreed to host the talks was the latest sign that Beijing is encouraging peace efforts and an end to Afghanistan’s 13-year civil war. In late 2014, two Afghan Taliban officials came to Beijing with Pakistani officials to discuss peace moves.

Although Beijing denied any knowledge of the talks and the Taliban rejected the reports as "propaganda," it is fair to assume that talks did take place and that they were brokered by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) on behalf of the Chinese government. In recent months, China has been putting a lot of pressure on its all-weather friend to crack down on foreign fighters in North Waziristan and play a constructive role in the Afghan peace talks. It remains to be seen whether China's efforts to stabilize the region will be successful but they might have contributed to a rapprochement between Kabul and Islamabad. A few weeks ago, Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Pakistan's ISI signed a intelligence-sharing deal despite lots of opposition. Opponents of the agreement include NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil, former President Hamid Karzai and Afghanistan's Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah. Nevertheless, President Ashraf Ghani got his way:

Afghan Unity Government Split On Intelligence-Sharing Deal

Cracks in Afghanistan's unity government are appearing following the signing of a controversial intelligence deal with neighbor and archrival Pakistan.

According to an inside source, the divide over the memorandum of understanding signed this week between the two countries' spy agencies is evident at the highest levels of the Afghan government.

The source -- a government official who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity -- said Abdullah considers the document "unacceptable" and has made his opposition known to Ghani and senior security officials.

Since many other people share Abdullah's opinion, Ghani came under fire at home for selling out to Pakistan. In order to silence the critics, the Afghan President quickly wrote a letter to Islamabad demanding that the Pakistanis take stronger action against the Taliban. But behind the scenes Kabul and Islamabad are apparently pulling together. NED-sponsored Afghan newspaper Hasht-e-Subh quoted a source as saying that the Afghan government is going to issue 210 political passports to Taliban leaders. During the recent visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Kabul, it was reportedly agreed that the Taliban will be allowed to reopen their political office and that some of the Taliban leaders will be removed from the United Nations blacklist. One of the first steps is exchanging the Pakistani passports that they are currently using for Afghan passports. As the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, peace talks with the Taliban are probably the only way to stop the violence:

Wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan leave 150,000 dead, US study estimates

The wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan have left nearly 150,000 soldiers and civilians dead since 2001, a new US study estimates.

Another 162,000 have been wounded since the US-led offensive that toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks, says the study by the Costs of War project, based at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

The war in Afghanistan is intensifying rather than moving toward an end, it added, as the number of deaths and injuries has increased significantly in recent years.

Saakashvili's Appointment Spells More Trouble for Transnistria

Although the U.S. and its allies have not achieved any of their objectives in Afghanistan, except for boosting the opium production, they are still hailing the Afghan war as a major success. When Georgian civil society activist turned Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli recently visited the war-torn country during her first foreign trip, she congratulated the Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan for proving that "Georgia struggles for global security alongside with the civilized world." These are of course exactly the words one would expect from a Rose Revolution veteran and Soros-approved politician. Khidasheli picked up where her predecessors left off and she will certainly do her best to lead Georgia into NATO. Meanwhile, her former Rose Revolution ally Mikhail Saakashvili is dominating the headlines once again. The disgraced Georgian ex-president has spent a lot of time in Kiev since the Euromaidan protests. Lately, he has been advising President Petro Poroshenko, presumably on how to start a war with Russia, but now he can finally do this himself - one more time:

Ex-Georgian president, wanted at home, becomes governor in Ukraine

Georgia's former President Mikhail Saakashvili, wanted by his country's prosecutors for embezzlement, abuse of power and politically-motivated attacks, has been appointed governor of Ukraine's Odessa region.

President Petro Poroshenko personally appointed Saakashvili to the post, saying the former Georgian leader is "a friend of Ukraine." In a statement at Saakashvili's nomination in Odessa, Poroshenko said the two had known each other for 25 years, since university days.

According to Poroshenko, Saakashvili "has proven with deeds, not words that he can not only give birth to creative ideas, but also put them into practice." He added Georgia's ex-president had changed his country "in the direction of transparency, effectiveness, anti-corruption, appeal for foreign investors, fair justice, protection of citizen's rights, democracy," something Poroshenko "would like to see very much" in Odessa.

"Delusional" does not even begin to describe Poroshenko's statement. Saakashvili's appointment as governor of Odessa is crazy, to say the least. It came as a huge surprise because the former Georgian President had rejected previous offers to take a post in the government saying that he doesn't want to give up his Georgian citizenship. He reiterated this only a few weeks ago but he suddenly changed his mind. This begs the question of whether Saakashvili had a change of heart or whether his friends in Washington told him to take the governor post. The timing of Saakashvili's appointment is curious. Some have suggested that Poroshenko is trying to reduce the influence of his rival Igor Kolomoisky but there might be more to this story. Odessa Oblast borders Moldova and more importantly Transnistria, the pro-Russian breakaway state in Moldova. Only a few days before Saakashvili was named as governor of Odessa, Ukraine and Moldova began restricting Russian access to Transnistria:

Russian Troops In Transnistria Squeezed By Ukraine And Moldova

Ukraine and Moldova are restricting Russian military access to the breakaway territory of Transnistria, where Russia maintains about 1,500 troops.

Last week Ukraine's parliament voted to suspend military cooperation with Russia. And while much cooperation was of course already suspended, throughout the current crisis Russia has been able to use Ukrainian territory to supply its troops in Transnistria, a slender territory on Ukraine's western border. No longer.

Further complicating Russia's predicament, on May 25 the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that Moldova has quietly been arresting and deporting Russian soldiers who try to fly into Moldova en route to Transnistria. Moldova hasn't stopped all Russian soldiers from traveling through its territory -- only those not in the Moldova-supported peacekeeping mission, and only those who don't give a month's notice that they will be traveling to Moldova. (Of the roughly 1,500 Russian troops stationed in Moldova, about 1,000 are in the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova, which Moldova does not support; the rest are peacekeepers regulated by the Joint Control Commission, which includes authorities from Moldova, Transnistria, and Russia.)

As The Saker and others have pointed out, there is a very real danger that Washington and its lackeys will try to provoke a conflict with Russia by squeezing Transnistria. A columnist in the Russian newspaper Izvestia warned a few days ago that Russia "seriously faces the prospect of a repeat of 08.08.08, now around Transnistria." Who better to run the crucial Ukrainian region of Odessa at this moment in time than the man who started the Russo-Georgian War in 2008? And Saakashvili is not alone. Ukrainian media reported that he will be joined by his former Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili, who is also wanted in Georgia. Adeishvili was reportedly appointed as chief prosecutor of Odessa. A few months ago, Tbilisi asked Kiev to extradite both Saakashvili and Adeishvili, to no avail. The Georgian authorities didn't object to Saakashvili's appointment as governor of Odessa but they heavily criticized the former president for renouncing his citizenship and they will certainly cancel it - sooner or later:

‘We’ll cancel Saakashvili’s citizenship when we want’

The Georgian government is not in a hurry to go through with the formal procedures that will strip ex-President Mikheil Saakashvilli of his native citizenship after being appointed governor of Odessa and acquiring Ukrainian citizenship.

“Let this issue hang over his head like a sword of Damocles. This is a political decision and we will make it when it is necessary,” Justice Minister Thea Tusulukiani said. In January Ukraine appointed as its Deputy Justice Minister former Georgian official Gia Getsadze, who served on various high-ranking positions in ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration till mid-2005.

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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: March 30, 2014

FSB Counters Destabilization of Russia, West Protects Saakashvili from Prosecution & 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 party of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had lost power in the 2012 Georgian parliamentary election, the controversial political leader faced more and more pressure in his home country. Even before Saakashvili left office, then Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili had threatened him with criminal prosecution and went after his associates. So the former President took no chances and left Georgia after the end of his second term. Although Ivanishvili has turned his back on politics by now, the current government is still determined to hold Saakashvili accountable. After all, he is implicated in numerous criminal cases including the death of his former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. Since Saakashvili does not want to acknowledge that there are plenty of reasons for his questioning, he takes the same line as almost all Western politicians and media in recent weeks [emphasis mine]: 

Saakashvili refuses to come home for questioning, blames Putin

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Tuesday made his first comments regarding the news that he is asked to testify in ten serious criminal cases in his home country.

He claims the request sent out by his country’s top prosecutor, asking him to help solve ten of the most controversial criminal cases, including the death of his own prime minister, is a ploy masterminded by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking to Rustavi 2, Saakashvili reiterated that he believes that his summoning is a direct order from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to ‘destroy’ him.

West Protects Saakashvili from Prosecution

Perhaps Saakashvili believes the anti-Russian propaganda, which he and his friend John McCain were spouting during the Euromaidan protests in Kiev. It is definitely more convenient to blame Russia's President Putin than to confront the new information regarding the death of his former Prime Minister. Zurab Zhvania died allegedly from carbon monoxide poisoning, due to an inadequately ventilated gas heater. Most Georgians have never believed this official version and last week an anonymous user posted a YouTube video titled "Saakashvili murderer" showing the autopsy pictures of Zhvania, which suggest that he had been beaten before his death. Georgia's prosecutor's office has now offered Saakashvili to conduct the questioning via Skype but the former President rejected this proposal immediately and emphasized that he does not want to be questioned. Fortunately, Saakashvili can count on his friends in Washington and Brussels to protect him:

West warns Georgia against prosecuting Saakashvili

Georgia’s Western partners are threatening that prosecuting former President Saakashvili may jeopardize an EU treaty and membership in NATO.

Georgia has for years sought closer integration with the European Union and membership in NATO. In June, the EU is expected to sign the Association Agreement, and NATO is rumored to be planning a Georgia membership action plan (MAP) in September – eventually leading to full membership.

But now both “carrots” may be withheld by the country’s closest allies, after the top prosecutor asked former President Saakashvili to come home and be questioned about ten very serious criminal cases.

Tbilisi plans to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union in June and favors an acceleration of the process. But given the latest threats, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili is now concerned about Georgia's future and warned the EU that "crises similar to Ukraine will reemerge" if Brussels fails to give the successful Eastern Partnership countries a clear promise on EU membership. So the Georgian government has to think twice before prosecuting the former President. The U.S. State Department voiced its infamous "concern" regarding the questioning of Saakashvili and without Washington's support there will be no NATO membership for Georgia. However, after President Obama's latest comments, the Georgian authorities will most certainly wonder how much this support is worth anyway:

Obama: Georgia, Ukraine 'Not on Path to NATO Membership'

There are “no immediate plans” for expanding NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine, U.S. President Barack Obama said at a press conference after the EU-US summit in Brussels on March 26.

Responding to a question whether the crisis in Ukraine will make it more or less likely that NATO will expand to include Ukraine and Georgia, President Obama responded: “Neither Ukraine or Georgia are currently on a path to NATO membership.”

While Georgia's Prime Minister and President tried to downplay Obama's statement, some people in the country were disappointed and vented their anger on Facebook and Twitter with comments like this: “Nice to know that all those people died in Afghanistan for nothing.” Georgia has gone to great pains to please NATO including sending soldiers to Afghanistan, 29 of whom have died. More and more Georgian citizens are now starting to challenge the unconditional support of NATO and take a closer look at the U.S.-led military alliance: 

Supporters and opponents of NATO clash in Tbilisi

Three people were detained in Tbilisi on Monday as supporters and opponents of NATO clashed outside the Cinema House.

Tension was already high during the screening of a 30 minutes long film about NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, organized by the Eurasian Institute.

A minor scuffle broke out as a young man went to the front of the cinema hall and accused the audience of being Russian agents.

Turkish Charity Commemorates Doku Umarov

There is abundant evidence of NATO's disregard for international law from Yugoslavia to Syria. This week, the terror campaign in Syria, which has been portrayed as heroic fight of "moderate Syrian rebels" against the evil Assad regime, was once again exposed for what is really is due to an ongoing power struggle in Turkey between the Gülen movement and Prime Minister Erdogan. Vital NATO member Turkey plays a central role in supporting terrorists in accordance with U.S. foreign policy, regardless of whether it concerns Syria or Russia's North Caucasus. Turkish aid organizations like the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and IMKANDER are essential to keep the Islamist insurgency running. IMKANDER removed any doubt about its relationship with the "Chechen rebels" last week, when the Turkish charity commemorated Doku Umarov, the now officially deceased leader of the Caucasus Emirate (IK):

Turkish charity İMKANDER praises slain Islamic Caucasus Emirate emir in rally

A charity known as İMKANDER has praised Doku Umarov, the former emir of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate whose death was announced by the jihadist group just last week, during recent rallies in several Turkish cities.

Murat Ozer, İMKANDER's president, addressed the large crowd in Istanbul. Ozer "emphasized in his speech that the proclamation of the Caucasus Emirate in 2007 was not something new for the Caucasus, as the opponents try to present, but an act of restoration of an Islamic state, uniting the Caucasian Muslims under the common flag of Monotheism, which was lost as a result of aggression and capture of Caucasus by Russia," Kavkaz Center said.

Of course, the rallies were covered by the Kavkaz Center, IK's mouthpiece and anti-Russian propaganda outlet. Last year, Russia already tried to have IMKANDER as well as Kavkaz Center's Mikael Storsjö and Isa Dzhabrailov blacklisted by the United Nations Security Council but this initiative was blocked by the NATO member states United Kingdom, France and Luxembourg. Russian officials insisted that the Turkish chartiy and the two individuals were linked to the Caucasus Emirate and Russia's Foreign Ministry criticized this decision as "further evidence of a disappointing policy of double standards". But the Kremlin knows very well that NATO counts on the Imarat Kavkaz and other terrorist groups to fight on its behalf, wherever required. Right now, IK's fighters are reportedly doing a great job in Syria and the Russian authorities are therefore keeping a close eye on the Syria-North Caucasus connection: 

MIA: KChR resident trained as terrorist in Syria detained in Krasnodar

As reported by the press service of the Chief Department for the North-Caucasian Federal District (NCFD) of the Russia's Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), a resident of the Karachay-Cherkessian Republic (KChR), who underwent training at the commando training camp of the international terrorist grouping in Syria, was detained in the Krasnodar Airport.

It happened on March 19, when the man arrived in Krasnodar from Turkey. According to the above Department of the NCFD, he was trained in the camp of the international terrorist grouping "Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar", and was sent by its emissaries to Russia for subversive activities.

At the beginning of March, five Dagestani citizens were detained at Makhachkala Airport after arriving from Egypt on the suspicion that they had been fighting in Syria. Even without more battle-tested jihadists from Syria, Russian law enforcers have to deal with more than enough terrorists in Dagestan. According to Dagestan's police chief, there are currently 13 illegal paramilitary formations operating in the volatile republic. During the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian media refrained from covering special operations and other terrorism-related incidents in the region. But the violence never ended and meanwhile the reporting is back to normal: 

Police Kill Militant Leader, 4 Islamist Rebels in Dagestan

A suspected militant leader and four members of his armed group were killed Tuesday in a shootout with police in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, Russia’s anti-terrorism authority said.

The National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) identified the militant leader as Tural Ataev, a 28-year-old native of Azerbaijan, who allegedly headed a militant group in the Babayurt district of Dagestan. 

FSB Counters Destabilization of Russia

Besides the Sochi Olympics, there was of course another reason why Russia's North Caucasus did not get much media coverage lately: the Ukraine crisis. As previously discussed, some of the Ukrainian neo-Nazis who took power in Kiev had fought alongside the "Chechen rebels" in the First Chechen War against Russia. So it came as no surprise, when one Chechen insurgent turned up in Ukraine. Unfortunately for him, he was arrested before "Yats" & Co. took over and the new regime is now trying to spruce up its image: 

Ukraine Hands Over Suspected Chechen Gunman to Russia

Ukraine has extradited to Russia a Chechen man suspected of assaulting local residents in the North Caucasus republic, the Prosecutor General's Office said Thursday.

Muhammed Migayev, who was put on an international wanted list in 2008, was detained in Odessa, southern Ukraine, last December. Russian prosecutors sent a request on his extradition in January.


Ukraine agreed on Migayev's extradition earlier this month.

At the beginning of this week, prominent Ukrainian neo-Nazi terrorist Alexander Muzychko, who was also wanted by Russia, had to learn the hard way that the putsch regime in Kiev cares a great deal about its image abroad. In the meantime, Russia's President Putin wants to draw a lesson from the coup d'état and urged Russian lawmakers to analyze all colour revolutions including the latest events in Ukraine in order to better defend Russians from terrorism and extremism. Furthermore, the Federal Security Service (FSB) warned against increasing efforts by the United States and its allies to destabilize the Russian Federation and vowed to thwart these plans [emphasis mine]:

FSB: west steps up attempts to destabilize the internal situation in RF

“The number of external threats to the state has increased. The legal volition of the people of Crimea and eastern Ukraine to be together with Russia are driving the United States and its allies into hysteria. They are trying to destabilize the socio-political and economic situation in this country,” FSB Deputy Director Alexander Malyovanyi said at a ceremony on Friday where President Putin met senior officers who had received new appointments and had been promoted to higher military ranks.

“Under these circumstances we are drawing up and implementing offensive counter-intelligence and intelligence measures aimed at thwarting such aspirations,” Malyovanyi went on to say, pledging to protect Russian nationals from radicals and extremists penetrating into Russia, including in the newly-formed Crimean Federal District.

As Pepe Escobar has alerted, especially Tatar jihadists in Crimea could pose a threat to Russia because they might be used by the House of Saud to destabilize the Crimean Peninsula. According to reports in the French, Ukrainian and Russian press, dozens of Crimean Tatar jihadists were transferred from Turkey to Sevastopol by the CIA and Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT) as early as last November. However, at this time they were still needed in Kiev to "secure" the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Now these jihadi mercenaries are obviously free for new assignments. CIA's propaganda outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is already doing its bit and told us which organization would play a central role in Crimea's destabilization [emphasis mine]:

As Russian Law Comes To Crimea, Local Tatars Brace For 'Extremism' Accusations

Two days before the disputed referendum in Crimea, the Ukrainian branch of Hizb-ut Tahrir issued a statement warning of "provocations." 

"We foresee the possibility of provocations taking place, whether they are attacks on the security forces or citizens by unknown assailants, that will then be falsely blamed on Hizb ut Tahrir to justify the presence of Russia in the Crimea," the statement said "We categorically deny all of this in advance, and if and when this takes place, we hold those who occupied the Crimea responsible."

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been banned in Russia since 2003 and members of the organization are frequently arrested in the country. Since the conveyor belt for terrorists enjoys a strong presence in Crimea, the Russian authorities will have their work cut out. Some Hizb ut-Tahrir members lost no time in leaving the peninsula after the Crimean referendum and moved to Lviv before Russia's FSB could take them off the streets [emphasis mine]: 

Hizb ut-Tahrir activists move from Crimea to Lvov as refugees

Leader of Crimean public organization Milli Firka Vasvi Abduraimov urges to active struggle against followers of the terrorist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir on the peninsula. 

"Hizb ut-Tahrir has nothing to do with Islam. We believe it is the most terrific evil that can be in Crimea. They are non believers, they are potential mechanism for murder and bloody conflicts governed from the outside. So its "clean-up" won't cause any indignation. We believe that corresponding measures including tough ones should be taken against Hizb ut-Tahrir," Abduraimov said in his interview to Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.

According to his information, today main Hizb ut-Tahrir activists moved to Lvov "where there will be settlements and training camps established for them."

# # # #

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

EU fails to free Ukraine’s most famous criminal

The truth about Yulia Tymoshenko

As the EU summit of “Eastern Partnership” in Vilnius approaches, the European Union stepped up its pressure on the Ukrainian government. German chancellor Angela Merkel demanded once again the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison and urged Kiev to take “credible steps” to overcome politically motivated “selective justice”. The Yanukovych-led government wanted to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union but Brussels set several conditions. In addition to Tymoshenko’s release and judicial reform, Ukraine’s electoral legislation had to be changed. [1] Apparently, there is some unease in the West about the latest election results in Ukraine. [Read more...]

The New Great Game Round Up- September 8, 2013

China's Quest for Gas in Eurasia, Pipelines- Pakistan & the SCO, Terrorist State Georgia & 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.

This week, China's President Xi Jinping started his Central Asia tour in Turkmenistan where he met with Turkmen leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, to cement ties between the two countries. Xi and Berdymukhamedov attended the opening ceremony for the Galkynysh gas field, the second-largest natural gas deposit in the world:  

Turkmenistan Opens Huge Gas Field to Supply China – Reports [Read more...]

BFP Report: Obama May Have Come Up with the Needed Bone for Russia on Syria

Curiously Timed and Sourced New Reports Establish Georgia as the Recruiter &Trainer of Chechen Terrorists

New reports based on evidence have emerged to identify the Georgian government as recruiter and trainer of Chechen terrorists to destabilize Russia. According to these credible new allegations, the Georgian government recruited and trained Chechens to take part in Islamist militant movements. The Western think-tank, NGOs and media sourced reports may in fact provide Obama and his Neocon entourage with a perfect bone to offer Russia on the intended aggression war on Syria. [Read more...]

U.S.’s Georgian Satrapy Prepares For “Total Defense”

satrapy1Six days after being installed as the Mikheil Saakashvili regime’s new defense minister, Georgia’s Dimitri Shashkin briefed one of his nation’s newspapers on what he referred to as a three Ts policy in regard to the armed forces.

The Ts in question were identified as Total Care, Total Training and Total Defense.

The account of the above on the English-language Civil Georgia website employed the term three Ts, though the Georgian language uses its own alphabet and not the Latin. There is reason to believe that the new Georgian defense chief’s initiative was written in English – by the Pentagon – and transliterated into the local language.

By way of substantiating the above suspicion, Shashkin also announced that he was introducing a new motto for the Georgian Defense Ministry – No Man Left Behind in Peace and in War – which he acknowledged as a derivation of the slogan No One Gets Left Behind used by U.S. Army Rangers and other American special operations forces. [Read more...]

Donald Rumsfeld Returns to Georgia

The War-Tested & Conflict-Ready Pentagon-NATO Surrogate Army in Georgia

By Rick Rozoff

rum1Only reported in English on the website of the Georgian Ministry of Defense, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Georgia for a week in late June.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, also an American, and NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation General Mieczyslaw Bieniek were also in the country last month. During Vershbow’s visit Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze announced that Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will visit his nation in September.

Something is drawing top U.S. and NATO officials to the South Caucasus nation, as a six-member U.S. Congressional delegation also arrived there on July 2 to meet with President Mikheil Saakashvili and Deputy Defense Minister Nodar Kharshiladze and observe U.S.-trained Georgian troops prepare for deployment for NATO’s war in Afghanistan.

rum2Vershbow, former ambassador to NATO and to Russia and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, was in the nation to attend the Georgia Defence and Security Conference on June 29 and was accompanied by Assistant Secretary of Defense (and principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense and Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics for matters concerning nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs) Andrew C. Weber; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia Celeste Wallander; and Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery, U.S. European Command’s deputy director of plans, policy and strategy.

In May Admiral Montgomery was the first to announce, a week before the NATO summit, that the U.S.-NATO European interceptor missile system had reached initial capability with the deployment of American warships equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors, a forward-based radar in Turkey and a command and control center at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany.

Before the conference in Georgia, NATO’s Vershbow met with Georgian Defense Minister Bachana (Bacho) Akhalaia to discuss the host country’s NATO integration and its enhanced troop strength in Afghanistan, where Georgia will soon be the largest contributor of any non-NATO member.

Poland’s General Bieniek, second-in-command of NATO’s U.S.-based Allied Command Transformation, was also in Georgia for two days in June during which time he delivered a lecture at the National Defence Academy and met with NATO member states` defence attachés accredited to Georgia.

The American congressional delegation will “observe U.S. and Georgian service members training together in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF),” according to a U.S. embassy press release. [Read more...]