The New Great Game Round-Up: October 20, 2015

Turkmenistan to CIS: ‘Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here!,’ United National Movement Protests Georgia's Talks with Gazprom & 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.

Islamabad's recent offer to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table for renewed peace talks with the Afghan government is just one example of Pakistan's influence over the Taliban movement in general and its new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in particular. According to some Taliban sources, Pakistan is now taking a two-pronged approach in dealing with the movement. On the one hand, the Pakistani authorities are backing Mansoor and negotiations with Kabul but, on the other hand, they are also supporting the hawkish anti-Mansoor faction in order to keep the new supremo in check and continue the fight in Afghanistan. A senior Afghan intelligence official confirmed this, pointing out that Pakistan recently helped Mansoor's rival Abdul Qayyum "Zakir" launch large-scale offensives in the south of the country, which prompted Mansoor to offer Zakir to become his first deputy or Taliban shadow defense minister. Against this backdrop, it is interesting to note that the United States is now implicating Pakistani intelligence in the Taliban's takeover of Kunduz as well:

APNewsBreak: US analysts knew Afghan site was hospital American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on an Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed by a U.S. military attack because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity, The Associated Press has learned.

The special operations analysts had assembled a dossier that included maps with the hospital circled, along with indications that intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative and activity reports based on overhead surveillance, according to a former intelligence official who is familiar with some of the documents describing the site. The intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons. After the attack — which came amidst a battle to retake the northern Afghan city of Kunduz from the Taliban — some U.S. analysts assessed that the strike had been justified, the former officer says. They concluded that the Pakistani, believed to have been working for his country's Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, had been killed.

U.S. Keeps Troops in Afghanistan as Kabul Takes Desperate Measures 

The Associated Press emphasizes that it is unclear whether the responsible commanders knew about these reports or that the site was a hospital. But although the U.S. keeps changing its story every few days, it is becoming more and more evident that the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz was deliberately targeted. The American military's "unannounced and forced entry" into the hospital compound immediately after the bombing suggests that Washington is not telling the whole truth. Interestingly, there is no public evidence to suggest that a Pakistani was killed in the attack, which makes the allegations against the ISI even more curious. Meanwhile, government forces have managed to drive the Taliban out of Kunduz - the Taliban claim to have withdrawn by their own choice "to avoid further civilian casualties" - but the situation remains highly volatile. The fall of Kunduz has put Afghanistan back on the map and U.S. President Barack Obama used the opportunity to announce that thousands of American troops will stay in the country when he leaves office:

Citing 'very fragile' security in Afghanistan, Obama slows pace of U.S. troop withdrawal Reversing policy on Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday he will prolong the 14-year-old U.S. military engagement there, effectively handing off the task of pulling out troops to his successor. Calling it a "modest but meaningful" adjustment to winding down the American presence in Afghanistan, Obama said Afghan forces were not yet as strong as they needed to be given a "very fragile" security situation and the United States will maintain a force of 9,800 through most of 2016. Obama had previously aimed to withdraw all but a small U.S.-embassy based force in the capital, Kabul, before he leaves office in January 2017. Under the new plan, troops will be drawn down to 5,500 starting sometime in 2017 and will be based at four locations - Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

It comes as no real surprise that Obama won't keep his promise to end the war in Afghanistan. First of all, Obama is not known for keeping his word, and second, it has long been painfully obvious that the Afghan security forces are unable to cope with the deteriorating security situation. U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani and the American military, which had been lobbying for slowing the withdrawal, immediately welcomed Obama's decision but the announcement also engendered criticism. The Taliban reacted as expected, emphasizing that this "means they aren't sincere about a peaceful solution to the Afghan crisis." Russia's Foreign Ministry joined in the criticism as well and stressed that "this forced step is another graphical evidence of the full blunder of the 14-year Washington military campaign and its allies in Afghanistan." And nothing illustrates this better than Kabul's latest idea:

Afghan Plan to Expand Militia Raises Abuse Concerns With the Afghan security forces gravely challenged by Taliban offensives, the government is moving to rapidly expand the troubled Afghan Local Police program by thousands of members, Afghan and Western officials say. The move to expand the police militias, prompted by the disastrous loss of the northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban almost three weeks ago, is being described by officials speaking privately as an attempt to head off panic in Afghan cities threatened by the insurgents. But the expansion also amounts to an open admission that the United States’ main legacy in Afghanistan — the creation of nationalized police and army forces numbering more than 350,000 members — is failing under pressure even before any final American military withdrawal. On Thursday, President Obama called off that pullout, originally due at year’s end, leaving 9,800 American troops in the country for at least another year.

The Afghan Local Police (ALP) is part of the U.S. legacy in Afghanistan. U.S. planners created the ALP in 2010 to support the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP). General David Petraeus modeled the program after the 'Sons of Iraq' initiative. Many ALP members are former Taliban who are now on the payroll of the United States. It is not difficult to imagine what will happen when the money dries up. But the biggest problem are the serious human rights abuses at the hands of ALP units, which are nothing more than village militias with AK-47s. Contrary to what the name suggests, Afghan Local Police members don't have police powers and don't care about the law. Although ALP forces have repeatedly been accused of all kinds of heinous crimes, including torture, rape and murder, Kabul is now planning to expand the program. This shows that the Afghan authorities are becoming increasingly desperate in the face of Taliban advances across the country:

Another Afghan district falls to the Taliban Reports from the northwestern province of Faryab indicate that the Taliban has overrun yet another district in Afghanistan. Ghormach, a district that borders Turkmenistan, is now effectively under Taliban control, according to the jihadist group and the Afghan press. The fall of Ghormach took place just 10 Days after the Taliban seized the districts of Garziwan and Pashtun Kot in Faryab; the Afghan government later claimed to have liberated Garziwan. On week prior, the Taliban attempted to seize control of Maimana, the provincial capital of Faryab. The two districts are on the outskirts of Maimana, and control access from the east.

Turkmenistan to CIS: Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here!

Ghormach's seizure by the Taliban is not only noteworthy because the district borders Turkmenistan but also because warlord-turned-vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum and his family are still being celebrated for the successful government offensive in Faryab province. As previously discussed, the success in Faryab was short-lived. The insurgents picked up where they had left off as soon as Dostum returned to Kabul. Faryab has long been one of the most contested provinces in Afghanistan and it looks as if this won't change anytime soon. To make matters worse, the situation on the Tajik border isn't much better either. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about Russia's possible return to the Tajik-Afghan border. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov fueled the speculations in the run-up to last week's Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) meeting, which focused on the issue:

Russia, ex-Soviet states to jointly defend borders in crisis The leaders of ex-Soviet states, led by Russian President Vladimir Putin, responded to growing instability in Afghanistan on Friday by agreeing to create a joint task force to defend their bloc's external borders if a crisis arises. The move could mean that Russian troops, as part of collective forces, will be deployed to Afghanistan's borders as the U.S.-led coalition gradually withdraws from the country, leaving behind a power vacuum. They agreed on the creation of what is described in a summit document as a "grouping of border (forces) and other institutions from CIS member states designed to resolve crisis situations on the external borders".

Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to convince his CIS colleagues that closer military cooperation is necessary because the situation in Afghanistan is "close to critical". However, it remains to be seen how much this agreement is actually worth. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, for his part, remarked after the meeting that the CIS is pretty much useless and that the issues discussed "are detached from reality." Disagreements between CIS members have often rendered the organization useless. So Karimov might have a point. At any rate, Russian President Putin and Kazakh President Nazarbayev used the latest CIS meeting in Kazakhstan to draw attention to the alarming situation in Afghanistan and to call for closer cooperation in dealing with the problem. Whereas Tajikistan welcomed the initiative, Turkmenistan preferred to deny that there is any problem and to attack anyone who suggests otherwise:

Turkmenistan Strongly Denies ‘Incidents’ at Afghan Border Turkmenistan has registered no incidents at its border with Afghanistan, the Central Asian state's government said on Friday, denouncing as untrue a remark by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The strongly worded statement came ahead of a meeting of ex-Soviet nations to discuss the security of Afghan borders, among other issues, and followed comments by Nazarbayev who said he was aware of "incidents" that had happened at the Afghan-Turkmen border, but did not elaborate. "The Turkmen side expresses its extreme concern and incomprehension with regards to such a statement by the president of Kazakhstan about the situation on Turkmenistan's state border, which is untrue," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Turkmenistan's strongly worded statement indicates that Nazarbayev struck a nerve by bringing up the situation on the Afghan border. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry was not impressed by the harsh words coming from Ashgabat and defended Nazarbayev's remarks. After all, it is absolutely ludicrous to deny that there has been unrest on the Turkmen-Afghan border. Last year, Turkmen forces even crossed the border in order to drive the insurgents back and there have been several "incidents" ever since. According to the foreign-based website Alternative News of Turkmenistan, the Turkmen military has stationed up to 70 percent of its combat-ready military equipment along the Afghan border. The Turkmen government is obviously aware of the alarming situation in northern Afghanistan, but for some reason Ashgabat is now trying to play down the issue. Perhaps this has something to do with Turkmenistan's efforts to push the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, regardless of whether or not that makes any sense:

Hunt on for leader to lay $10 billion TAPI gas pipeline The four-nation consortium has revived the search for a leader to help lay the $10-billion TAPI gas pipeline, laying bare the lack of confidence among the countries to go ahead on their own and threatening to delay the project further. Just two months back, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India had agreed to co-own the project with TurkmenGaz, the state-owned firm of Turkmenistan, expected to make the majority investment in laying the 1800-km pipeline that would begin the construction work in December. Now again the timeline looks shaky. "The key challenge is to select a consortium leader or a partner. We are still looking for one," said BC Tripathi, chairman of GAIL, the state-run firm that represents India in the consortium. The top executives of GAILBSE 1.97 % and other state companies representing three other nations have been negotiating the terms between themselves and figuring out the nuances of the project for the last two months since the oil ministers of the four countries agreed in Ashgabat to go on their own without waiting for a firm with experience in laying and operating pipeline to lead the consortium.

United National Movement Protests Georgia's Talks with Gazprom

Although a TAPI consortium leader is nowhere to be found and the Taliban are making themselves at home on the Turkmen-Afghan border, Turkmenistan is already starting with the construction of the ambitious pipeline project in an attempt to diversify its gas exports. In order to lessen the increasing dependence on China, the Turkmen authorities are also turning to Japan and still promoting the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Russia's launch of cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea should serve as a warning to supporters of the Trans-Caspian project but Ashgabat and Baku refuse to give up on the pipe dream. Azerbaijan's efforts to strengthen its position in the energy market suffered recently an unexpected setback when close ally Georgia announced its plans to buy more gas from Russia and Iran. The words of Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze caused a great stir and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili had to travel to Baku to calm the waves:

Georgian PM Reaffirms ‘Friendly, Strategic’ Relations with Azerbaijan PM Irakli Garibashvili said on October 12 that Tbilisi’s relations with Baku will remain “friendly and strategic” and dismissed talk of “diversification, replacement of Azerbaijani gas” supplies as “utterly absurd”. 

Georgian Energy Ministry said late last week that Tbilisi was open for talks with Gazprom on possible gas supplies for private entities in Georgia in order to, as Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze and his deputy put it, “diversify” energy supplies for the country. Kaladze, who met Gazprom chief executive in Brussels in late September, reiterated on October 12 that private entities might be interested in purchasing Russian gas if the price is acceptable. After the Georgian Energy Minister spoke about possible gas supplies from Gazprom last week, PM Garibashvili made a brief and unannounced visit to Baku on October 10, where he met Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, triggering speculation in Tbilisi that the surprise visit aimed at mending ties after potential fallout caused by Tbilisi’s suggestions over Gazprom gas supplies.

Georgian opposition parties tried to exploit the situation and some people went as far as alleging that the government plans to revise the country's relations with Azerbaijan. Garibashvili vehemently denied this and assured everyone that things will stay as they are. The Georgian Prime Minister stressed that talks with Gazprom are just about a possible increase of transit of natural gas to Armenia. Neither President Giorgi Margvelashvili nor the Georgian opposition were entirely convinced by Garibashvili's words. Last Friday, Tbilisi police detained Tamar Chergoleishvili, the head of pro-Saakashvili TV channel Tabula TV, one of her producers and another activist when they were hanging up posters mocking former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and Gazprom. One day later, a few hundred protesters gathered in front of the central government building to protest against the negotiations with Russia's energy behemoth:

Tbilisi Protests Russia’s Gazprom On Saturday, at the State Chancellery, the protest ‘No to Gazprom’ rallied against Gazprom’s possible entrance into the Georgian energy market. Energy giant Russia is believed to attempt to re-enter Georgia and is said by some to be a non-trivial tool for the Russian government to manage political processes on the ground. The concerns arose after the government initiated talks with Russian energy company Gazprom. The rally involved politicians, public activists and members of the National Movement, as well as concerned citizens from all over Georgia. Tabula, a political magazine, organized the protest action against Gazprom’s possible entrance into the Georgian energy market.

Tamar Chergoleishvili is not only the head of Tabula TV but also the editor-in-chief of the Tbilisi-based Tabula magazine. Tabula is known for its pro-United National Movement (UNM) views, which is hardly surprising considering that Chergoleishvili is the wife of senior UNM leader Giga Bokeria. As mentioned last week, the opposition party is currently trying to prevent the government from taking control of another important pro-UNM media outlet. According to the latest polls, neither the Georgian Dream ruling coalition nor the UNM have benefited from the endless fighting. Although many voters are disappointed by the government, the UNM isn't gaining any support as more and more Georgians don't know which party they should vote for. But more worrying for the West are the rising pro-Russian sentiment and the declining support for joining the European Union and NATO:

NDI Poll on Foreign Policy Issues

Number of Georgian respondents who support “government’s stated goal to join the EU” has dropped by 17 percentage points over the past year to 61%, according to a public opinion survey, commissioned by the NDI and fielded by CRRC in August. Asked whether they support or not Georgia joining Russia-led Eurasian Union, 31% responded positively, same as in April 2015, and 46% negatively, up by five percentage points from four months earlier. When the respondents were offered a choice between two answers – “Georgia will benefit more from joining EU and NATO”, and “Georgia will benefit more from abandoning Euro-Atlantic integration in favor of better relations with Russia” – 45% chose the former and 30% the latter.

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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: September 22, 2015

Tajikistan Exploits General's Rebellion to Crush IRPT Once & for All, Kadyrov Takes Unique Approach in Dealing with ISIS Recruitment & More

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

At the beginning of last week, the leaders of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan gathered in the Tajik capital Dushanbe for a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The summit came at an inconvenient time for host Emomali Rahmon, who was struggling to quell a small rebellion led by former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. Rahmon had sacked Nazarzoda immediately after identifying him as the mastermind of the attacks that rocked the country on September 4. The renegade general subsequently fled with his supporters toward Romit Gorge, about 45 kilometers east of Dushanbe, and kept the Tajik authorities on their toes for several days. Nazarzoda's rebellion overshadowed Tajikistan's 24th independence anniversary as well as the CSTO summit and left dozens of people dead until the general was eventually eliminated on September 16:

Tajik Mutineer And Special Forces Commander Killed In Battle Tajikistan's authorities say they have killed the fugitive general who mutinied two weeks ago. In the fight, however, the commander of the most elite special forces unit in the country, the Alfas, was killed as well. The former general, Abduhalim Nazarzoda, was killed on September 16 at 14:00 local time after a day-and-a-half-long battle in the Romit Gorge at an altitude of 3,700 meters above sea level, Tajikistan's Interior Ministry and State Committee on National Security said in a joint statement. During the fighting, the chief of the Alfas, Colonel Rustam Khamakiyev, and three other officers of the Alfas and OMON (a special forces unit of the Interior Ministry) were killed, the statement added.

Tajikistan Exploits General's Rebellion to Crush IRPT Once and for All 

The motive for Nazarzoda's mutiny remains unclear and there are many different theories about what caused the violence, ranging from a coup attempt to the always popular Islamist angle. However, the most likely explanation seems to be that the former Deputy Defense Minister went rogue after being warned about an impending prosecution against him. Nazarzoda was a field commander of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) during the Tajikistani civil war and joined the Defense Ministry in 1997 after the government signed a power-sharing deal with the UTO. Despite the power-sharing deal, the Tajik regime has tried to neutralize a number of former UTO commanders over the years. The crackdown on political opponents is now again picking up pace. At the end of last month, the Tajik Justice Ministry banned Central Asia's only officially registered Islamic party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), and Nazarzoda's rebellion offers a perfect opportunity to crush the IRPT once and for all:

Tajikistan Pins Recent Violence on Islamic Party Slowly, over months and years, the government of Tajikistan has been eroding the peace accord that ended the civil war. On September 4, a pair of attacks in and near Dushanbe set off a chain of accusations that have seemingly ended with the final closure of the country’s most prominent opposition party*. If the state is to be believed, a constellation of bogeymen connived to overthrow the government right under the defense ministry’s nose. The Tajik Prosecutor-General’s office released an official statement today linking the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), its exiled leader Muhiddin Kabiri, and (until the day of the attacks) Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. The statement says that Nazarzoda, on behalf of Kabiri and the IRPT, established 20 “small criminal groups” in recent years. The two attacks in early September–in Vahdat and Dushanbe–were preceded by an influx of “so-called charitable funds of foreign countries.”

Nazarzoda in the past had links to the IRPT when both were part of the United Tajik Opposition fighting against the government but even then his connections to the party were tenuous at best. Dushanbe's claims that Nazarzoda was a member of the IRPT don't hold water. Nevertheless, the government lost no time in blaming the Islamic Renaissance Party for the outbreak of violence. IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri rejected the accusations and argued that Nazarzoda's motives rather lie in the government's "erroneous" policies. Kabiri has been living in self-imposed exile since March because he had seen it coming. While the manhunt for Nazarzoda was still underway, the Tajik authorities launched an all-out attack on the IRPT. Police seized the party's property and began arresting the remaining IRPT leaders in Tajikistan. As for Muhiddin Kabiri, he hasn't been forgotten by the Tajik regime as well:

Tajikistan reportedly turns to Interpol over IRP leader The Interior Ministry of Tajikistan is reportedly preparing documents to turn to Interpol over the Islamic Revival Party (IRP) leader Muhiddin Kabiri. An official source at the Interior Ministry says the documents for detention and extradition of Kabiri will be sent to the country where he is probably living now. “Criminal proceedings have not yet been instituted against Muhiddin Kabiri, but the Prosecutor-general’s Office is going to institute criminal proceedings against him one of these days,” the source added.

The latest crackdown may very spell the end of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. Warnings that the party's closure will cause its members to go underground and join extremist groups have apparently fallen on deaf ears in Dushanbe. In the eyes of Tajik President Rahmon, most opponents are terrorists anyway. That is also a popular view among Rahmon's CSTO colleagues. As usual, threats of terrorism and extremism were high on the agenda during the CSTO summit in Tajikistan and the deteriorating situation in northern Afghanistan was of course discussed as well. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev raised a few eyebrows when he went as far as to link Tajikistan's border worries with the Nazarzoda rebellion. However, the most noteworthy statement regarding the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border came from a Kommersant source close to the CSTO Secretariat:

Russia may deploy soldiers on Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan: CSTO The Russian forces may return on Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan amid fears the deteriorating security situation may affect the security of Central Asian countries, it has been reported. A source close to the Secretary General of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) has said the return of Russian forces on Afghanistan-Tajikistan border is not unlikely. According to the Russian newspaper – kommersant, the Russian forces may return once they receive a request from the government of Tajikistan.

Dostum Urged to Fight ISIS after Short-Lived Success in Faryab

Up until now, Dushanbe has only requested technical assistance from the CSTO and another source pointed out that the current situation does not require the continued presence of Russian forces or CSTO contingents on the Tajik-Afghan border. In the meantime, Russia is encouraging the Afghan government to deal with this problem on its own by offering more military hardware in exchange for Afghanistan's provision of security along the Tajik border. It is doubtful that this will be enough to secure the border considering the bad shape of the Afghan security forces despite years of training by the United States and its allies. Moscow is not impressed with the results of NATO's mission in Afghanistan as President Putin emphasized once again during the CSTO summit. In addition to the escalating violence, the Kremlin is worried about the rising opium production. Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, raised this issue recently at the UN Security Council:

ISIL Gains Control Of Several Drug Trafficking Routes From Afghanistan The Islamic State (ISIL) extremist group has taken control of a number of drug trafficking routes from Afghanistan, Russian envoy to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said Thursday. The envoy urged the UN Security Council to closely monitor and respond quickly to developments in the drug situation in Afghanistan, as international terrorist groups use drug trafficking to fund their activities. "There is information that a group of militants from ISIS [IS] already control a part of the routes of illegal drug supply from the Badakhshan Province [in northeastern Afghanistan]," Churkin said.

Taliban fighters are constantly causing trouble in Badakhshan but Churkin's assertion that ISIS controls a part of the drug supply routes from the province comes as a surprise. It is not the first time that Russian officials have highlighted the connection between ISIS and the Afghan drug trade. Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, claimed last year that ISIS "obtains fabulous profits by providing half of the total heroin supply to Europe via destabilized Iraq and some African countries." After suffering a few setbacks in Afghanistan, ISIS has gained a foothold in the war-torn country and is now vying with the Taliban for influence. As the fighting between the two groups escalates, some people are pinning their hopes on First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum to destroy ISIS' stronghold in Nangarhar province and repeat the success of his Faryab campaign. They seem to have missed that Dostum's success in Faryab didn't last very long:

Troops Battle Insurgents in Faryab After Short-Lived Clearance Despite weeks of military clearing operations in Faryab, to rid the area of insurgents, the militants immediately returned to their old battle field following Vice President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum's return to Kabul. In August, Dostum donned his military uniform and joined troops on the Faryab frontline. After only a few weeks they cleared the area. However, peace was short-lived and insurgents have once again overrun the area.

Two months ago, Dostum and the powerful governor of Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor agreed to join forces with government troops in order to subdue the insurgents in northern Afghanistan. Noor has recently followed Dostum's example in leading military operations in the north but as Dostum's short-lived success in Faryab shows, defeating the insurgency won't be easy. While the government is stepping up its efforts, the Taliban are trying to settle differences that emerged after the confirmation of Mullah Omar's death. Mullah Omar's family and several other leading Taliban figures didn't approve of new supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Instead they preferred Mullah Omar's son Yaqoob. After weeks of infighting and intense negotiations, Yaqoob and his family eventually agreed to a power-sharing deal and pledged allegiance to Mansoor, much to the dismay of the remaining Mansoor critics:

Afghan Taliban divided as talks between two factions fail The Afghan Taliban may split into two factions, said a spokesman for one group on Saturday, because they cannot agree who should be leader following the death of their founder.  

On Saturday, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a spokesman for the anti-Mansour faction, said talks between Mansour and the dissatisfied commanders had failed. Niazi's comments come after Omar's son Yaqoob and brother Manan swore allegiance to Mansour this week. Omar's family had initially opposed Mansour but agreed to support him after he agreed to a list of their demands. Niazi said Mansour had threatened to cut Taliban funds that Manan had been receiving if he did not support Mansour's leadership.

Kadyrov Takes Unique Approach in Dealing with ISIS Recruitment

A split of the Taliban into two factions would complicate the messy situation in Afghanistan even further and drive more Taliban fighters into the arms of ISIS. The much-hyped terrorist group has managed to establish new branches in several countries by wooing jihadists away from other groups. The Islamic State's "Wilayat Qawqaz" in the North Caucasus is a prime example of this highly successful franchise model. ISIS' Caucasus branch made headlines at the beginning of this month when it claimed responsibility for its first official attack in Russia, which allegedly targeted barracks of the Russian army in southern Dagestan. Unfortunately, security forces and local residents were quick to deny that an attack took place and pointed out that the supposed target doesn't even exist. To make matters worse for "Wilayat Qawqaz," ISIS recruiters in Chechnya are facing unexpected problems:

Chechen Leader Takes Unique Approach in Dissuading Youths From Joining ISIL Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov has taken a blunt approach to flushing out pro-ISIL extremist sentiment in his republic, holding direct face-to-face talks with youths suspected of supporting the terror group, Chechen television channel Grozny has reported. At the event, conducted earlier this week, Kadyrov faced down several young men, who he shamed for voicing their sympathies for the terror group on social media. The talk was attended by local Imams, the heads of municipalities, and the youths' parents; it was then broadcast on Chechen television. Speaking at the event, parents noted that they had tried to raise their children to become pillars of support for their families, devout Muslims and worthy members of their communities and their country. They emphasized that they did not need sons "who betrayed family, relatives, friends, Islam and the Chechen people."

Kadyrov made it quite clear to the humiliated ISIS supporters that "there's no place in Chechnya for anyone who even glances in the direction of ISIS." The Chechen leader is well known for his unorthodox measures and never shies away from causing a scandal. Lately, Kadyrov picked a fight with the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk city court over a ruling that labeled a booklet containing quotes and commentary on verses from the Quran as "extremist." He vowed to appeal the court ruling and branded the responsible judge and prosecutor "national traitors and shaitans [devils]" - a term that is usually reserved for terrorists. Kadyrov also didn't mince his words when he added his two cents to the debate on the alleged participation of Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in the First Chechen War. While it seems highly unlikely that Yatsenyuk fought in the North Caucasus, other Ukrainians definitely supported the "Chechen rebels" and two of them just went on trial in Chechnya:

Russia puts Ukrainians on trial for Chechnya killings Two Ukrainians went on trial in Russia on Tuesday accused of murdering dozens of Russian soldiers in Chechnya in the 1990s while fighting with separatists in a nationalist hit squad. The powerful Investigative Committee said that the supreme court of Chechnya in Grozny began hearing the case of Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk, both of whom are charged with murder and belonging to a militant organisation. The men have been held in pre-trial detention for over a year after being arrested separately when they came to Russia last year.

Klykh and Karpyuk are accused of being members of the infamous Ukrainian ultranationalist group Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People's Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO), which bears all the hallmarks of NATO's 'Gladio' operations. Since its inception in late 1990, UNA-UNSO participated in several conflicts against Russia or Russian-backed forces, ranging from the War in Abkhazia to the First Chechen War. Last year, the group caught again Russian authorities' attention when its members featured prominently in the Euromaidan movement. Chechnya's supreme court will probably use this opportunity to make an example of the two Ukrainian defendants after Ukrainian nationalists repeatedly voiced support for their "Chechen brothers" and even celebrated the terrorist attack in Grozny last December. Although the situation in the North Caucasus has been relatively quiet in recent months, the local authorities have to keep their guard up all the time:

Another Imam Shot Dead In Russia's North Caucasus An imam in Russia's Daghestan region in the North Caucasus has been killed. The Investigative Committee of Russia says two masked men shot dead Magomed Khidirov early in the morning of September 9 while he was on his way to a mosque in Novy Kurush. The killing of Khidirov, 34, came three weeks after another Islamic cleric, Zamirbek Makhmutov, 32, was shot dead in Russia's Stavropol region neighboring Daghestan.

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: August 12, 2015

Russian Soldiers Cause a Stir in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan Refuses to Give Up on Pipe Dreams & 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 recent confirmation of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar has aggravated the alarming situation in Afghanistan. New Taliban supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansoor is struggling to stop the factionalism that has been fueled by Omar's death and the Afghan peace talks have been put on hold for the time being. Many of Mansoor's critics oppose the talks with Kabul and favor Mullah Omar's son Yaqoob as Taliban leader. A few days ago, Afghan parliament member Abdul Zahir Qadir created a stir when he claimed that Yaqoob was assassinated in the Pakistani city of Quetta on behalf of Mansoor and Pakistani intelligence agencies. The Taliban immediately denied the claims but Yaqoob's whereabouts are still shrouded in mystery. As more and more leading Taliban figures come out in opposition to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, senior members of the movement are meeting in Pakistan to resolve the dispute:

Taliban Hold Open Meetings in Pakistan to Discuss Leadership

Senior members of the Taliban are reportedly holding open meetings in Pakistan to discuss the disputed appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as the group's new chief in the wake Mullah Omar's death. Several top Taliban leaders have expressed strong opposition to Mansour's leadership, calling him a puppet of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Sources within the Afghan government told TOLOnews on condition of anonymity on Thursday that scores of Taliban members - including both those who agree and disagree with Mansour's appointment - met with clerics in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan on Wednesday to resolve the dispute over Omar's successor.

Taliban Strain Pak-Afghan Ties with New Wave of Terror

As many as 300 clerics or ulema reportedly met in Pakistan to mediate between the rival groups. Influential Pakistani cleric Sami ul-Haq, the "Father of the Taliban," was chosen by both sides to lead the reconciliation efforts. Haq has endorsed new Taliban leader Mansoor and he tried to convince Mullah Omar's family of doing the same by telling them that people would never forgive them if they "wasted sacrifices of thousands of Afghan Mujahideen by creating divisions within the Taliban movement." Mullah Omar's only surviving brother Abdul Manan Niazi, who is the anti-Mansoor faction's spokesman, said that they are willing to accept any decision taken by the ulema. The religious scholars are expected to announce their decision within the next few days. Predictably, the huge Taliban meetings didn't go unnoticed in neighboring Afghanistan. Many Afghans were furious about the fact that the Taliban were allowed to meet openly in Pakistan while unleashing a new wave of terror in Afghanistan:

Attacks on army, police and U.S. special forces kill 50 in Kabul A wave of attacks on the Afghan army and police and U.S. special forces in Kabul have killed at least 50 people and wounded hundreds, dimming hopes that the Taliban might be weakened by a leadership struggle after their longtime leader's death. The bloodshed began on Friday with a truck bomb that exploded in a heavily populated district of the capital and ended with an hours-long battle at a base used by U.S. special forces. It became the deadliest day in Kabul for years. The Islamist insurgents claimed responsibility for both the police academy attack and the battle at the U.S. special forces base, though not for the truck bomb.

Friday's attacks ended a period of relative calm in Kabul and heralded the start of a terror campaign shaking Afghanistan. One day after the attacks in the Afghan capital, up to 29 people were killed in the northern province of Kunduz when a Taliban suicide bomber targeted members of an irregular anti-Taliban militia and on Monday another Taliban suicide bombing struck Kabul, killing five people and injuring a least 16. Former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh was quick to point out that new Taliban leader Mansoor is trying to show his critics that he remains committed to fighting the Afghan government. Considering that one of Mansoor's first actions was to distance himself from the peace talks, Saleh may have a point. Furthermore, Saleh emphasized Pakistan's role in enabling such Taliban attacks and this issue has also been highlighted by many other Afghans, including President Ashraf Ghani:

Afghan President Points Finger at Pakistan After Bombings in Kabul Under pressure after a wave of deadly bombings in the Afghan capital, President Ashraf Ghani on Monday accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to mass gatherings of Taliban fighters in its territory, where such attacks are planned. Mr. Ghani’s words, a sharp break from the conciliatory tone he had taken toward Pakistan for much of his first year in office, came just hours after a suicide car-bomb struck a crowded entrance of the international airport in Kabul, leaving at least five people dead and 16 wounded. Attacks in the Afghan capital over the last four days have left nearly 70 people dead and hundreds wounded. After the news of Mullah Omar’s death, Mr. Ghani told his ministers that Pakistan had promised him that no new Amir ul-Momineen, as the Taliban call their leader, would be selected on its soil and that no large gatherings of the Taliban would take place to give him legitimacy. But within days, not only had Mullah Mansour replaced Mullah Omar and been endorsed in large ceremonies in Quetta, but also he had announced that his new deputy would come from the Haqqani network, an aggressive organizer of terrorist attacks that has strong links to the Pakistani military intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.

A senior Afghan official recently suggested that Sirajuddin Haqqani's was mainly promoted to Mansoor's deputy because of his networks in urban areas. It appears that he already used these networks. The attacks in Kabul bore many of the hallmarks of the Haqqani network, reinforcing Ghani's argument that "war is declared against us from Pakistani territory." Ghani essentially buried the peace process on Monday by saying that he no longer wanted Islamabad to bring the Taliban to the table. Instead he urged the Pakistani authorities to destroy the group's sanctuaries in Pakistan. As usual, the Pakistanis have other ideas. However, the overt influence over the Taliban also entails all kinds of problems. Mansoor's critics are trying to exploit this issue for their own political ends and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) cited the same point as a key reason for pledging allegiance to ISIS. Mullah Omar's death has been a gift from heaven for ISIS in Afghanistan and the group spares neither trouble nor expense to woo more fighters away from the Taliban:

ISIS release horrific execution video, claiming to be filmed in Afghanistan The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group has released a new execution video claiming to be filmed in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. A group of ten men is shown being blown up after forcing them sit on Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted beneath them in the ground. They have been accused of apostasy and supporting the Taliban militants in their fight against the ISIS affiliates and being the supporter of ISI.

Turkmenistan Refuses to Give Up on Pipe Dreams  

As ISIS and the Taliban are trying to outdo each other in terms of barbaric crimes, the violence is escalating all over the country. Women and children are dying in record numbers and the Afghan security forces have been suffering casualties at an "unsutainable rate" for quite some time. To make matters worse, Kabul is losing even more fighters due to desertions. That is why local militias are playing an increasingly important role, especially in northern Afghan provinces such as Faryab. Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is now personally leading the fight in Faryab to take the pressure of the local pro-government forces, which were unable to cope with the Taliban on their own. He would have preferred to bring his own 9,000-strong militia to the frontline but President Ghani didn't allow this for various reasons. Nevertheless, Dostum didn't travel to Faryab without support. He took his two sons along to show his determination. Not only Afghanistan is counting on the Dostum family to win the fight on the Turkmen border. Turkmenistan is already pushing ahead with ambitious plans:

Consortium Leader Picked for Trans-Afghan Pipeline The pipeline intended to forge a new export route through Afghanistan for Turkmenistan’s natural gas riches has made a fresh stride with the naming a consortium leader for construction. Turkmenistan’s state news agency reported on August 6 that state-owned Turkmengaz will be in charge of bringing TAPI — named for the initials of the four countries it crosses — into existence. Backers of the project, which include the United States and the European Union, appear to be unfazed by occasional and loosely sourced reports of unrest along the Turkmen-Afghan border that would stand to disrupt any major construction work. Security issues do not typically feature in official statements on TAPI, which suggests either that anxieties are overblown or that the parties to the project are simply hoping for the best.

French energy giant Total and several other foreign majors initially evinced interest in leading the consortium, but only on condition of getting a stake in the Turkmen gas field that will feed the pipeline. Turkmenistan refused to accept this condition, prompting one company after another to back out of the project. Even as Turkmenistan was coming under increasing pressure to diversify its gas exports, the Turkmen authorities didn't budge an inch. However, they didn't want to give up on the pipeline either. In a last-ditch attempt to implement the project, Ashgabat proposed to put Turkmengaz in charge of constructing the pipeline. The three other TAPI countries were apparently every bit as desperate as Turkmenistan and endorsed the idea despite Turkmengaz's lack of capacity and experience. Although the construction is scheduled to begin in December, TAPI's actual implementation remains highly doubtful and the same is true of Turkmenistan's other pipe dream:

NATO: We'll Help Protect Trans-Caspian Pipeline

NATO could get involved in protecting a potential trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which Russia strongly opposes, an alliance official has said. The idea of building a pipeline across the Caspian Sea to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan's massive reserves to Azerbaijan and then further on to Europe has been on the drawing board for a long time, but has been held back for a number of reasons, not least Russia's strong opposition. But now a NATO official has said that the alliance would play a part in protecting it. In an interview with Azerbaijani news website AzVision, NATO's South Caucasus Liaison Officer William Lahue weighed in on the pipeline and made some surprisingly bold endorsements of it...

Lahue pointed out that the construction of the Trans-Capsian gas pipeline is technically possible and suggested that NATO's "protection" could remove political obstacles. Given that Washington and Brussels are the driving forces behind the Trans-Caspian project, Lahue's bold statement comes as no real surprise. Russia and Iran, the project's opponents, have seen it coming. That is why they convinced the other Caspian states of rejecting a foreign military presence (i.e. NATO) in the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan desperately wants to diversify its gas exports, and even more so after the recent dispute with Gazprom over unpaid deliveries, but Ashgabat will think twice about asking NATO for "protection." Currently, Turkmenistan's only viable pipeline project is the fourth branch line of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline, which could yield at least a small-scale expansion into Kyrgyzstan's energy market:

Kyrgyz, Turkmen leaders discuss energy and transport issues Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan have agreed to move forward in building a railroad and a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Kyrgyzstan during Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's official visit to Bishkek on August 5. It is Berdymukhammedov's first official visit to Kyrgyzstan. "The construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan will be implemented in the very near future," Berdymukhammedov said after his talks with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev.

Russian Soldiers Cause a Stir in Tajikistan

Tajikistan will host the longest section of the new 1,000-kilometer Line D and is already looking forward to getting millions of dollars in transit fees every year. The poor Central Asian country needs the money more than ever after remittances from labor migrants in Russia, which account for almost half of the country's GDP, declined sharply in recent months due to Russia's economic problems. One could argue that Tajikistan is suffering from Western sanctions as much as Russia. But Tajikistan's close ties with Russia are also creating other problems. The never-ending debate about Russian military presence in the country was recently reignited after a group of drunken Russian soldiers in their underwear got into a brawl with local Tajik men who confronted them about their rude behavior. And just as the Tajik government was trying to assure its people that Russian soldiers don't enjoy "judicial impunity," Tajiks were reminded of another controversial incident last year:

Tajik Murder Trial Starts For Russian Soldiers Two Russian soldiers suspected in the killing of a Tajik taxi driver last year have gone on trial in the capital, Dushanbe. Russian army's deputy platoon commander Fyodor Basimov and former military unit commander Ildar Sakhapov were arrested in August last year after taxi driver Rahimjon Teshaboev, 36, was found dead near Dushanbe. An autopsy revealed that Teshaboev, a father of three, was severely beaten before his throat was slashed.

http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/081115_GGR4.pngAccording to the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Ildar Sakhapov admitted to killing the taxi driver. The judge said that Basimov had just assisted Sakhapov who had planned the murder. Two correspondents from RFE/RL's Tajik Service attended the trial and filmed a few minutes. The presiding Russian judge had granted them permission to do so but the present Russian officers were apparently not big fans of "anti-Russian U.S. propaganda tool" RFE/RL. As RFE/RL and others like to point out, hosting Russian military bases entails a few problems but that applies to foreign military presence in general. Moreover, the escalating violence in northern Afghanistan has reinforced Dushanbe's decision to let the Russians stay in the country for the foreseeable future. Instead of kicking out Russian soldiers, the Tajik authorities are going after Western-backed schools:

Tajikistan greenlights take over of Gulen-run schools Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has authorized the take over and renaming of a network of schools run by the U.S.-based preacher, Fethullah Gulen, in the country, according to Tajikistan's national news agency NIAT Hovar. In accordance with the decision signed by Rahmon, seven schools run by the Selale Educational Institution are going to be turned into public schools, and renamed as "schools for gifted children", the agency said. The decision to shut down the Gulen-run schools, and reopen them as state-run schools with different names was announced in May.

Gülen's schools in Tajikistan have been under high scrutiny for months, and with good reason. The Tajik regime sees the potential radicalization of the population as a major threat to its rule. This has led to some questionable decisions. The defection of Tajikistan's OMON commander to ISIS served as a warning that Dushanbe's war on Islam does more to fuel radicalization than to stop it but Rahmon & Co. didn't learn their lesson. Although experts are warning that the closure of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) will cause its members to go underground and join extremist groups, the regime is doing its best to destroy the IRPT. In doing so, the Tajik authorities risk boosting the terrorist recruitment that they are trying to stop. Tajikistan recently requested Interpol to put 16 Tajik ISIS fighters on the wanted list and announced that the list could be expanded significantly:

Tajikistan puts 16 people fighting for Islamic State on wanted list through Interpol

Interpol has put on the wanted list 16 Tajik citizens who are accused of involvement with the Islamic State terrorist group at the request of Tajikistan, a spokesman for Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security (SCNS) told TASS on Friday. He noted that "the list of wanted Islamic State supporters could grow to 600 and more people." "More than 600 our fellow countrymen are fighting in the ranks of Islamic State, their names and presumable locations in Syria, Iraq and partially in Afghanistan, are known to the country’s law enforcement agencies. Criminal cases against them have been opened under the "mercenary activities" article," the spokesman said. "Explanatory work is conducted among relatives of Islamic State supporters, other methods are used, which made it possible to return several young people to their home country."

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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: February 23, 2015

Uyghur Terrorists Making Headlines in Turkey- China-Indonesia, Victoria Nuland and USAID Go on South Caucasus Tour & 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 "Euromaidan Revolution" was a resounding success. In fact, it was so successful that the "heroes of the Euromaidan Revolution" and their compatriots are now fleeing the country in record numbers. Fortunately, this won't affect the regime in Kiev, which prefers to appoint foreigners to important positions. Ukraine is primarily relying on Georgian experience to "conquer the whole of Russia," as former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili put it. But Saakashvili's presence and the ever-increasing number of Saakashvili-era officials in Kiev have drawn heavy criticism from Georgia since the former President and several of his associates face criminal charges at home. Predictably, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ignored all warnings from Tbilisi and decided to appoint Saakashvili as his non-staff advisor and as head of Ukraine's Advisory International Council of Reforms, where he can use his "knowledge, experience and unique know-how" to develop proposals and recommendations for implementing reforms in Ukraine. Tbilisi's reaction was not long in coming:

Tbilisi Summons Ukrainian Ambassador over Saakashvili Georgian Foreign Ministry has “invited” Ukrainian ambassador in Tbilisi, Vasyl Tsybenko, “to talk on many issues” including about appointing Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is wanted by the Georgian authorities, as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s adviser, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Davit Kereselidze, said on February 16. He said that although this appointment was “surprising” to Tbilisi, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson also stressed that “nothing will obstruct” strategic partnership between Georgia and Ukraine. “Let’s not cause a stir out of it,” Kereselidze said at a news conference responding a question about summoning of the Ukrainian ambassador. “Ukraine is our strategic partner, which is an important country with which we have and will have friendly relations.”

Kiev's Preference for Georgians Strains Georgian-Ukrainian Relations

Although the Georgian government continues to insist that everything is fine, it is safe to say that Kiev's preference for Georgians has strained relations between Kiev and Tbilisi. The Georgian authorities won't go as far as prosecuting former Georgian servicemen who fight for the Ukrainian regime in the Donbass but they have made it clear that Saakashvili & Co. should be arrested and extradited. Unperturbed by the criticism, Ukraine's Ambassador to Georgia, Vasyl Tsybenko, defended Saakashvili's appointment, saying that "Ukraine is an independent state" and that the guys in Kiev can "make the decisions they think are necessary." Calling Ukraine, or rather what's left of Ukraine, an independent state is of course ridiculous and it is a debatable point whether it is really necessary to fill even more key posts with Saakashvili-era officials. Tsybenko was summoned to explain not only Saakashvili's appointment but also what other former Georgian officials, such as ex-Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili, are doing in Kiev. Both Saakasvhili and Adeishvili are wanted in Georgia:

Georgian Prosecutor’s Office: ‘Ukraine Refuses to Extradite Saakashvili’ Georgian Chief Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement on February 17 that despite its request, Ukraine has “not cooperated” with Georgia and refuses to extradite ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili and ex-justice minister Zurab Adeishvili. On February 13 Saakashvili, wanted by the Georgian authorities, was appointed by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko as his adviser and head of International Advisory Council on Reforms. The Georgian Foreign Ministry summoned Ukrainian ambassador in Tbilisi over Saakashvili’s appointment. Although ex-justice minister of Georgia Zurab Adeishvili, who is also wanted by Tbilisi, has no official post in the Ukrainian government, he is informally advising Ukrainian authorities, according to former Georgian officials now working in Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials stressed that issue is still being discussed and that they have not made a final decision on whether to extradite Saakashvili and Adeishvili but the Georgian Chief Prosecutor's Office lost no time in sending another extradition request to Kiev in an effort to demonstrate its determination. Although many Georgians would like to see their former President behind bars, it is highly unlikely that Saakashvili or any other former Georgian official will be extradited. Kiev and Washington count on their "expertise" in the fight against evil Russia. Who better to coordinate the issue of arms supplies to Kiev than Saakashvili? A few days ago, Saakashvili boasted that he convinced U.S. President Barack Obama in 2012 to supply Georgia with powerful defensive weapons. To Saakashvili's horror, the weapons were never delivered because the "pro-Russian" government of Bidzina Ivanishvili had other ideas. He also blamed Ivanishvili, who left politics in late 2013, for the current decline of Georgia and vowed to return to power to save the country from "catastrophe." This may prove to be difficult. Even Washington's other favorite in Georgia doesn't want anything to do with him:

Free Democrats: No deal with Saakashvili party After exchanging barrels of criticism, Georgia’s two main pro-western political parties deny likelihood of future political alliance. At least one of them, Free Democrats of the former defense minister Irakli Alasania, is obviously firm in its loath toward alliance with Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement. In an unlikely sharp remark, former diplomat Alasania called Saakashvili ‘Baron Münchausen’, referring to the fictional German nobleman, a pathological liar.

In contrast to Saakashvili and Alasania, the current Georgian government is not hellbent on starting a war with Russia. But that doesn't mean that Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration is at risk. Georgian-U.S. military cooperation continues and NATO's joint training center in Georgia is expected to open its doors by the end of this year. Although Georgian and NATO officials have repeatedly said that the training center is not aimed at Russia, the Kremlin is alarmed and justifiably so. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently discussed "the non-stop process to drag Georgia into NATO" with his South Ossetian counterpart David Sanakoyev. South Ossetia called NATO's plans to set up training center in Georgia "provocative" and Foreign Minister Sanakoyev stressed that South Ossetia is still worried about the possibility of a Georgian attack. That's one of the reasons why South Ossetia signed this week a new border agreement with Russia, much to the dismay of Georgia:

Georgia Condemns Deal Between Russia, South Ossetia as Step Toward Annexation Georgia has condemned the signing of a border agreement between its breakaway region of South Ossetia and Russia, accusing Moscow of moving closer to annexing a territory it supported in a five-day conflict in 2008. Moscow went further by signing a "strategic partnership" agreement with Abkhazia last November, seven months after annexing Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and throwing its weight behind separatists battling in eastern Ukraine. Russia says it wants to sign a similar document to integrate its security forces and military with South Ossetia's, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed a preliminary agreement with his counterpart in the separatist region on Wednesday.

Victoria Nuland & USAID Go on South Caucasus Tour 

Russia's Foreign Ministry had the ludicrous idea that the border agreement would dispel "Georgia's insinuations about alleged preparations for annexation and accession." As expected, it had the opposite effect. While Georgian officials were freaking out, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland offered moral support, stressing that the U.S. will continue to support Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. During her visit to Georgia, Nuland also commented on the spat between Tbilisi and Kiev over Saakashvili. She reminded the Georgian authorities that Georgia and Ukraine should support each other in this "very imporant moment," as both countries "seek to pursue the path of Euro-Atlantic integration." Georgia was the second stop on Nuland's Caucasus tour. At the beginning of this week, the infamous U.S. diplomat visited Azerbaijan and she was not alone:

US Assistant Secretary: Last 10 days were quite busy period for US-Azerbaijan relations

"At all the meetings, we conveyed the same message that the US welcomes the cooperation it has build with Azerbaijan over a period of more than 20 years. We want  to see an independent and democratic Azerbaijan, and to continue the relations built between the two countries 20 years ago. I’ve been traveling to Baku since 1993. The two countries cooperate in the three areas – security, economy-energy and democracy. We have jointly fought against terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan and Kosovo,” the US official underlined.   The assistant secretary said she arrived in Azerbaijan together with regional representatives of the US Department of Defense and European Command.   “Discussions are underway on joint exercises, training and strengthening of peacekeeping forces,” Nuland noted. 

There has been a lot of talk about Azerbaijan's shift away from the West but the continuing military cooperation tells a different story. Nuland also emphasized that energy ties between the U.S. and Azerbaijan "are in an excellent condition," which leaves the "democracy" issue as the point of contention. Color revolution expert Nuland met with President Ilham Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov as well as members of Azerbaijan's civil society, who are having a rough time. The deteriorating human rights situation was high on the agenda during Nuland's meeting with Aliyev and she stressed the importance of a dialogue between the country's authorities and civil society, making the rather curious remark that a "color revolution is not necessary, when government and civil society are talking with each other." Against this backdrop, it is also interesting to note that Victoria Nuland is not the only color revolution expert currently touring the South Caucasus:

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Susan Fritz Travels to the Caucasus U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Acting Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Susan Fritz will travel to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia from February 20 - March 5. Acting Assistant Administrator Fritz's visit will include meetings with government officials, civil society, international partners, and USAID staff in these countries. This will be Acting Assistant Administrator Fritz's first visit to the Caucasus in her new capacity. During her trip to this important region, she plans to reaffirm the United States' commitment to working with our partners to promote stable, democratic, resilient societies and support energy security and economic growth throughout the region.

Victoria Nuland ended her South Caucasus tour with a visit in Armenia, where she explained to members of Armenian civil society how to make molotov cocktails and cookies. Joking apart, the Assistant Secretary of State lauded Armenia's viable civil society and pointed out that the dialogue between government and civil society is of key importance. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych learned this the hard way. Since Nuland is known for her indiscretion, it came as no real surprise that she managed to upset the authorities in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh even before she got to the country. During a press conference in Baku, Nuland advised Armenia to make a "humanitarian gesture" by releasing the Azerbaijani prisoners Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev, who were detained in Nagorno-Karabakh last year after the murder of an Armenian teenager. If the Aliyev regime had talked directly to the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, the appeal would have had a better chance of success:

Deputy: Nuland should advise Azerbaijan to petition to Karabakh Victoria Nuland should have instead given advice to the Azerbaijan government to petition to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) authorities about the future of the Azerbaijani saboteurs, NKR National Assembly member Gagik Petrosyan told Armenian News-NEWS.am. In his words, Nuland should have expressed her view when Azerbaijan was carrying out acts of sabotage and killing a sleeping man. To note, Armenian lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan was killed in his sleep by Azerbaijani officer Ramil Safarov, and with an axe, during a NATO Partnership for Peace program in Budapest on February 19, 2004. “It would have been better if the US Department of State had focused on the fact that the Azerbaijani saboteurs are killing children. Had they been prisoners of war, perhaps I would have agreed with Nuland; but they are saboteurs,” Petrosyan stressed.

Uyghur Terrorists Making Headlines in Turkey, China & Indonesia

As Victoria Nuland and USAID visit the South Caucasus, the Russian authorities have every reason to be alarmed. Thousands of Russians took to the streets on the recent anniversary of the Maidan coup to make it clear that they don't want any cookies from Nuland. Both Russia and China have identified color revolutions as a serious threat and agreed to work together "to withstand this new security challenge." China is already working on a Russian-style 'foreign agent' law, which aims to regulate the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations in the country. Moreover, Russia and China are still fighting against the destabilization of the North Caucasus and Xinjiang, respectively. Therefore, the increasing number of Russian and Chinese nationals joining the "Syrian rebels" gives Moscow and Beijing a headache. Only a few days ago, Turkish military forces detained a group of would-be terrorists from Xinjiang:

Seven Chinese nationals detained attempting to enter Syria through Turkey The Turkish Armed Forces General Staff Headquarters announced on Saturday that seven citizens of the People’s Republic of China had been apprehended by military forces in the southern province of Hatay. The Chinese nationals were apprehended within the 2nd Border Regiment, Pulluyazı Border Outpost Command area of jurisdiction by border guards as they were trying to illegally enter Syria. The General Staff Headquarters identified them as hailing from the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region in northeastern China. The Chinese nationals were handed over to the authorities.

Perhaps, this was a gesture of good will by the Turkish authorities after China had drawn attention to the fact that Turkey plays a decisive role in destabilizing Xinjiang. The exposure of Turkey's role prompted Turkish National Police Chief Mehmet Celalettin Lekesiz to travel to Beijing and assure the Chinese government that Ankara will be more cooperative in the fight against terrorism in the future. But it remains to be seen if the Turkish authorities will really walk the talk. In recent weeks, Beijing has been very outspoken about the real players behind the terrorist threat. On occasion of the recent White House conference on countering violent extremism, China's official Xinhua news agency published an editorial accusing the U.S. of playing "the role of a terrorist breeder." This attack came on the heels of new reports about violence in Xinjiang. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported this week that a suicide bomber killed up to eight people on February 13 and a few days later another attack left 17 people dead:

Clashes kill 17 in China’s restive west Seventeen people have reportedly been hacked, stabbed or shot to death in the latest episode of deadly violence to hit China's far west. Police were searching homes in a town called Yaqaeriq when a group of around 10 people turned on them, giving chase with knives and axes. In the ensuing violence four officials were killed. Police shot dead nine suspects and four passers-by who were apparently caught in the crossfire.

As is often the case, the Chinese authorities are trying to keep a lid on the latest outbreak of violence. If RFA's reporting is to be believed, the situation in Xinjiang is still very volatile and chaotic despite excessive police presence. During the incident in Yaqaeriq, a group of men managed to snatch firearms away from the police "who did not know how to use the guns" and one policeman told RFA that two of the assailants had escaped with a firearm. While China continues to struggle with the insurgency in Xinjiang, other countries in the region are also looking for Uyghur militants. Uyghur terrorist suspects with Turkish passports are currently again making headlines in Indonesia after the recent arrest of Uyghurs who are believed to be part of the group that carried out the massacre in Kunming. China has called on its neighbors and other countries in the region to repatriate all Uyghurs as soon as they catch them and the Afghan government thought this might be a good opportunity to exert pressure on Pakistan:

Afghans arrested Chinese Uighurs to aid Taliban talks bid: officials Afghanistan arrested and handed over several Muslim Uighur militants from China's west in an effort to persuade China to use its influence with Pakistan to help start negotiations with the Taliban, Afghan security officials said on Friday. "We offered our hand in cooperation with China and in return we asked them to pressure Pakistan to stop supporting the Taliban or at least bring them to the negotiating table," said one of the security officials, who attended a meeting with Chinese officials to arrange transfer of the prisoners. The Uighurs, who the Afghan officials said had trained in militant camps across the border in Pakistan, were handed over to Chinese officials last month.

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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: February 16, 2015

TAPI Saga Continues as U.S. Escalates Shadow War in Afghanistan, Indonesia Catches Kunming Attack Suspects Carrying Turkish Passports & 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 never-ending story of the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India gas pipeline (TAPI) continued this week with a meeting of the TAPI steering committee in Islamabad. Depending on which media outlet you want to believe, the project is either about to be implemented or still the pipe dream that it has always been. After Pakistan's Dawn newspaper had argued only a few weeks ago that the pipeline is unlikely to be built anytime soon, The Daily Times claimed recently that a deal is imminent and that French supermajor Total is prepared to lead the project. Pakistan insists on choosing Total as consortium leader but the company has been reluctant to get involved unless it can secure a stake in the respective Turkmen gas field. Due to its oil price-related problems, Total is currently even less inclined to take unnecessary risks. Therefore, India is now trying to convince Turkmenistan of changing its stance:

TAPI pipeline: India asks Turkmenistan to ease rules

With construction of the USD 10 billion TAPI pipeline stuck for want of a credible operator, India today pressed Turkmenistan to relax its domestic law to help get an international firm for building the project. French giant Total SA had initially envisaged interest in leading a consortium of national oil companies of the four nations in the TAPI project. However, it backed off after Turkmenistan refused to accept its condition of a stake in the gas field that will feed the pipeline. Since the four state-owned firms, including GAIL of India, neither have the financial muscle nor the experience of cross-country line, an international company that will build and also operate the line in hostile territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan, is needed.

TAPI Saga Continues as U.S. Escalates Shadow War in Afghanistan

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated that the TAPI member countries have unanimously agreed to pick Total as consortium leader, adding that the French oil and gas company and the Turkmen government are yet to agree on some details. The involved parties want to fix the start date of the project when the steering committee meets again in Kabul in two months and by then it should be clear if Total is really on board. Even if everything goes according to plan, the first flow of gas is expected no earlier than 2020. Nobody knows how the security situation in Afghanistan is going to develop in the meantime. So the Kabul government might have to share the transit fees it is desperately longing for with the Taliban, the Islamic State (ISIS) or other groups, which end up in control of the territory. With the turf war between the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan intensifying, the Afghan and Central Asian authorities lose no opportunity to hype the ISIS threat and the U.S. military can do what it does best:

US kills Islamic State's deputy emir for 'Khorasan province' in airstrike: report Afghanistan's intelligence service has confirmed that the US killed the Islamic State's deputy emir for 'Khorasan province' in an airstrike in southern Afghanistan earlier today. Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, who was appointed the deputy governor of Khorasan province in January, was previously a senior leader in the Taliban and was a former detainee at Gunatanamo Bay. The National Directorate of Security issued a statement that confirmed Khadim's death, according to Khaama Press. Khadim was traveling in a vehicle in the northern district of Kajaki in Helmand province with his brother and four "Pakistanis" when it was targeted in a US airstrike, Ariana News reported. Since his split with the Taliban, Khadim has reportedly clashed with the group in northern Helmand. An unconfirmed report from Afghanistan indicated that he and dozens of his fighters were detained by the Taliban, but his capture was not confirmed.

The Afghan news report about Khadim's arrest by the Taliban was mentioned in a previous round-up but the "reliable source" was apparently not as reliable as Pajhwok Afghan News claimed. Although ISIS will now have to get on without its foremost recruiter in the country, it is safe to say that the much-hyped terrorist group will continue to make headlines in Afghanistan. Many people have an interest in hyping the threat, even if the insurgents are just changing their flags. Pentagon officials are starting to like the idea of ISIS in Afghanistan. What better way to justify the continuous military presence than a new boogeyman? A former high-ranking Pakistani diplomat told Sputnik lately that the U.S. harbors terrorists in Afghanistan to keep the region destabilized and maintain a military presence there. Notwithstanding that this is pretty hypocritical considering Pakistan's actions, he has a point:

White House weighs adjusting Afghan exit plan to slow withdrawal of troops The Obama administration is considering slowing its planned withdrawal from Afghanistan for the second time, according to U.S. officials, a sign of the significant security challenges that remain despite an end to the U.S. and NATO combat mission there. Under the still-evolving plans, Army Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, could be given greater latitude to determine the pace of the drawdown in 2015 as foreign forces scramble to ensure Afghan troops are capable of battling Taliban insurgents on their own, the officials said. The options under discussion would not alter what is perhaps the most important date in President Obama’s plan: ending the U.S. military mission entirely by the time he steps down in early 2017.

General John F. Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week that he supports a slowing of the troop drawdown and he is in good company. New U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter clarified before his appointment that he would consider changing the current withdrawal plans if security conditions worsen. Although Campbell lauded the efforts of the Afghan security forces during the recent hearing, it is hardly a secret that they are not up to the task despite years of extensive training by U.S. and NATO troops. All the talk about the end of the war in Afghanistan should be taken with a grain of salt. Actually, the U.S. has been escalating the war in recent months but only few people have noticed it because, as a former Afghan security official put it, "it's all in the shadows now." While the U.S. is relying on its tried and tested night raids, China is still hoping to end the violence with diplomacy. The Chinese government has again offered to mediate in stalled peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban as Beijing prepares to invest more money in Afghanistan:

Expanding its role in Afghanistan, China to help build dam, roads China has promised to help build a hydroelectric power plant in a violent Afghan border region, as well as road and rail links to Pakistan, in the latest sign it is taking a more active role in Afghanistan. The assistance will include an unspecified amount of financing, an Afghan foreign ministry spokesman, Sirajul Haq Siraj, said on Tuesday, a day after senior Afghan, Chinese and Pakistani diplomats met in Kabul. "China agreed to support relevant initiatives for projects including the Kunar hydropower plant and strengthening road and rail connections between Afghanistan and Pakistan," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

Indonesia Catches Kunming Attack Suspects Carrying Turkish Passports

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated China's offer to mediate in peace negotiations during his recent two-day visit to Pakistan, where he met with several top Pakistani leaders, including President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Economic cooperation between the two countries and the situation in Afghanistan were high on the agenda. Wang noted that "ending Afghanistan’s turmoil was a common aspiration for both countries" and both sides agreed to coordinate their efforts in this regard. China has been trying to bring all sides to the negotiation table and Taliban representatives visited Beijing last year to discuss the issue but the group clarified a few weeks ago that they had rejected China's offer because they are not interested in peace talks. Although Beijing maintains good relations with the Taliban, the Chinese authorities are increasingly worried about the situation in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban are in control of large parts of Afghanistan's Badakhshan province, which borders China's Xinjiang, and this could become a problem:

As the U.S. mission winds down, Afghan insurgency grows more complex As the United States reshapes its military footprint in Afghanistan, the Taliban is transforming into a patchwork of forces with often conflicting ideals and motivations, looking less like the ultra-religious movement it started out as in the mid-1990s. The fragmentation may suggest the movement is weakening, but it is forcing Afghanistan’s government to confront an insurgency that is becoming increasingly diverse, scattered — and more lethal. What is unfolding here in Badakhshan province offers a glimpse into these complexities — and the future of a conflict in which the U.S. combat mission is formally over. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, this was the only province it was never able to control. Now, the insurgency is making inroads here and in other parts of the north, outside its strongholds in the south and east. The Taliban in Badakhshan has gained strength precisely because it is different from the core insurgency. Its fighters are using their ethnic and tribal ties to gain recruits and popular support, while their knowledge of the landscape helps them outmaneuver Afghan security forces and control lucrative sources of funding.

The Taliban in Badakhshan province are reportedly not as radical as their counterparts in other areas of Afghanistan but they are still not the ideal neighbors when you are trying to prevent the radicalization of Xinjiang's Muslim population. China's increasing efforts to broker a peace deal in Afghanistan are primarily driven by concerns about the support Uyghur insurgents are getting from Afghanistan. For this reason, Beijing wants the Pakistani authorities to ensure that there is no infiltration from Afghanistan through Pakistan into Xinjiang. China is trying to contain the insurgency in its far west by cutting off outside support, as highlighted by the recent crackdown on illegal border crossings by Uyghurs. The arrest of several Turks and Uyghurs in Shanghai in November of last year exposed Turkey's role in the smuggling operations and shed light on the players behind the East Turkestan independence movement. A few days ago, Indonesia announced another revealing arrest:

Kunming terrorist attack suspects nabbed in Indonesia The Chinese and Indonesian governments exchanged information on nine terrorist suspects, believed to be from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, who fled to Indonesia after plotting an attack in China last year, Indonesian media reported. The Indonesian police arrested four of the nine. Three fled into the jungle and two others escaped to Malaysia. The captured suspects are likely to be extradited to China as the two countries signed an extradition treaty in 2009, Jakata Post reported. The suspects fled to Poso, Indonesia, by a land route through Myanmar, southern Thailand and Malaysia. From Malaysia, they entered Indonesia with Turkish passports, posing as asylum seekers, Saut said.

As previously discussed, many Uyghurs are trying to leave China via Southeast Asia and the Chinese authorities have made it clear that not all of them are innocent refugees and that Southeast Asia has become a transit point for Uyghur would-be terrorists. The nine suspects in Indonesia are believed to be part of the group that carried out the massacre at Kunming's railway station in March of last year. Chinese officials stated at the time that the Kunming attackers had tried to leave China and "become jihadis overseas" but failed to do so and decided to launch an attack at home. The captured suspects in Indonesia gave inconsistent statements. At first, they admitted having come from Xinjiang but retracted their statements later and said that they had come from a town in Turkey. World Uyghur Congress deputy head Seyit Tümtürk, the go-to guy for Uyghurs in Turkey, can perhaps clear up where they came from. Meanwhile, China's fight against the 'East Turkestan forces' continues and the Chinese authorities are trying to ensure the stability of Xinjiang by all available means:

China to boost financial help for troubled Xinjiang Four of China's top financial regulators vowed on Thursday to step up policy support for the poorer southern portion of the troubled western region of Xinjiang to boost economic development and ensure stability there. Authorities have employed a carrot and stick approach to bring Xinjiang under control, massively ramping up security but also pumping in money, in a recognition of the economic roots of the unrest, especially in the poorer southern portion. In a joint statement, the regulators, including the central bank, said they would deepen indirect fund-raising, expand direct financing, encourage financial innovation and step up infrastructure projects.

Armenia Has Second Thoughts about Eurasian Economic Union

Xinjiang's economic development is making good progress despite the outside interference. Although the autonomous region is currently facing a slowdown in foreign trade due to falling commodity prices, Xinjiang's trade with Russia has skyrocketed in the last year - another sign of the increasing economic cooperation between the two close allies. A $242 billion high-speed rail link from Beijing to Moscow is going to solidify the relationship in the future and Russia's Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov announced recently that China is now even showing interest in establishing a free trade zone with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) after overcoming a lot of skepticism. The EEU got off to a very bad start, not least because of the economic war against Russia. Although it did not take long before Belarus and Kazakhstan questioned their decision to join the trade bloc, they have no plans to leave the EEU. The same is true of Armenia but that didn't stop Yerevan from resuming talks with Brussels about an European Union Association Agreement:

Armenia: Yerevan Mending Fences with EU With the Russian economy hitting the skids, it looks like Armenia wants to hedge its economic bets. Although Yerevan became a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union in January, a senior Armenian government official told EurasiaNet.org that the country is working to complete an updated version of an EU Association Agreement that Armenian officials put on hold back in 2013. Balancing trade and other commitments inherent in EEU membership along with those involved with an EU association agreement appear, at least on paper, to be problematic. But that isn’t deterring Yerevan. A need for money seems to be the main motivation. With Russia, Armenia’s main economic partner, suffering the effects of both low oil prices and Western sanctions, Armenia saw its remittances from guest workers abroad fall by 39 percent in 2014, and exports sag by 18 percent, according to the National Statistical Service. And so far, the expected economic benefits of joining the EEU have not materialized. Simplified export-import procedures are not in effect yet, while import duties have been raised on over 7,000 products.

Brussels has been undeterred by Armenia's decision to ditch the EU and join the EEU. Traian Hristea, EU Ambassador to Armenia, emphasized a few days ago that the EU will not leave Armenia and continue to support reforms in the country. With relations between Armenia and Russia strained due to the killing of an Armenian family by a Russian serviceman, the EU lost no time in offering Armenia an association agreement without its free-trade component. The recent visit by Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan to Moscow could also play into Brussels' hands. Abrahamyan tried to secure a big loan or investments and to get a lower gas tariff from Russia in exchange for a partial shift from dollars to rubles in gas settlements, to no avail. So far, the Kremlin has been silent on the new Armenia-EU talks about an association agreement but this was perhaps a broad hint. To make matters worse, the trial of Russian soldier Valery Permyakov is still whipping up feelings as well:

Protesters demand handover or Russian soldier to Armenian law enforcers A group of protesters held an action in front of Prosecutor's Office on Thursday demanding guarantees that the accused would be handed over to Armenian law enforcement agencies (photo). The participants demanded justice, transparent investigation and handover of Valery Permyakov, they handed over a letter to Prosecutor General Gevorg Kostanyan.

As reported earlier, six members of the Avetisyan family—including a two-year-old girl—were shot dead, and a six-month-old baby was wounded in their house in Gyumri on January 12; and the baby boy died in hospital on January 19.

Armenia has formally asked Russia to hand over Permyakov but Moscow insists on prosecuting the soldier on the Russian miliary base in Gyumri, where he has been held since his arrest. The killing of the Armenian family has raised questions about the Russian military presence in Armenia but the Armenian authorities are caught between a rock and a hard place because they cannot do without Russian support in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan. Russia's 102nd Military Base in Gyumri is one of the few things deterring Azerbaijan from launching an all-out war against Armenia. The commander of Russia's troops in Armenia has made it clear that Russia will fulfill its obligations within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) if Armenia is attacked. In this light, it is very interesting that both Armenia and Azerbaijan are now looking to join the same organization:

Azerbaijan, Armenia To Become SCO Observers? Azerbaijan and Armenia are both seeking to strengthen their ties with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, applying to be formal observers of the organization, the SCO's chief has said. The China-led economic and security bloc is in expansion mode: in the upcoming summit in Ufa this summer India and Pakistan are expected to become full members. And according to SCO Secretary General Dimitriy Mezentsev, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, and Syria are applying to become observers.

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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: February 2, 2015

China Tries to Lure Turkmenistan with Surface-To-Air Missiles, Russia Vows to Support Tajikistan as ISIS-Taliban Rivalry Escalates & 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.

Over the years, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has proved himself to be an excellent Twitter warrior. Aliyev regularly uses his favorite medium to blow his own trumpet and blast arch-enemy Armenia. So he started the new year by calling Armenia "a powerless and poor country," which "is not even worthy of being a servant." The conflict between the two neighboring countries over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has escalated in recent months. Although international mediators have repeatedly called on both sides to work towards a peaceful solution, the clashes intensified again in January. On Thursday, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said it had shot down an Armenian drone near Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia dismissed the statement as "absurd." Despite all that, Aliyev is touting Azerbaijan as "an island of stability." Most people will also have a hard time agreeing with Aliyev's claims that "the fight against corruption and bribery is proving very successful" and that "no-one is prosecuted or arrested for a critical opinion in Azerbaijan." Baku's unprecedented crackdown on journalists, human rights activists and NGOs has drawn a lot of criticism from the West. Even "civil society" expert George Soros is deeply concerned:

George Soros urges President Aliyev to loosen his stranglehold over civil society The Open Society Foundations are deeply concerned about the intensifying campaign against civil society in Azerbaijan, including the detention of several prominent human rights activists. In April, the authorities targeted Open Society’s foundation in Baku, the Open Society Institute–Assistance Foundation. They froze the foundation’s local bank account and seized its computers, as well as questioned former employees. The Open Society Foundations dismiss any allegations of wrongdoing. George Soros, founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations, met with President Ilham Aliyev in Davos, Switzerland, and urged the president to loosen his stranglehold over civil society and to end his harassment of legally registered charitable organizations.

Atlantic Council Working on Transatlantic Strategy for Europe's East

Aliyev knows full well that he is not in a position to defy Soros and the U.S. deep state, which Soros represents. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Azerbaijan will abandon its pro-Western course, as many people have suggested in recent months. Baku's friends in the U.S. are already trying to pour oil on troubled waters. This week, The Washington Times launched a marketing campaign for the Aliyev regime. The highlight was an article by former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives Dan Burton, in which he explained why "America and the rest of the free world need more friends like Azerbaijan." Burton is currently the chairman of the Azerbaijan America Alliance. He can look back on a long career as lobbyist for Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan and FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds included Burton in her State Secrets Privilege Gallery with good reason. Speaking of 'Gladio B,' former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza, whose name might sound familiar to readers of The Lone Gladio, likewise urged the U.S. to pay more attention to Azerbaijan. It is well known that Aliyev's fiefdom in the South Caucasus is very important to the U.S. and NATO. The Atlantic Council's new strategy for Eastern Europe will definitely take this into account:

“Toward a Transatlantic Strategy for Europe’s East” conference held in Washington

The Atlantic Council in partnership with the government of Latvia has hosted a conference titled “Toward a Transatlantic Strategy for Europe’s East” in Washington. Head of the Azerbaijani Parliamentary delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Samad Seyidov attended the conference. Mr. Seyidov jointly with Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia and Georgia, the Deputy FM of Ukraine and a Polish official participated in the “Toward a Europe Whole and Free" program.

Azerbaijan's neighbor Georgia plays an equally important role in Washington's plans to create a Europe "whole and free," which means the consolidation of a unified Europe controlled by Brussels on behalf of the United States. Georgian Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili attended the Atlantic Council conference during her four-day visit to Washington, where she met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and other U.S. officials. Moreover, Beruchashvili found the time to talk to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) about Russia's imminent "annexation" of South Ossetia. The Georgian Foreign Minister was referring to South Ossetia's new integration treaty with Russia, which is expected to be signed later this month. Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia's has already signed a similar treaty. Russian officials have assured that neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia will be incorporated into the Russian Federation but the draft of the South Ossetia treaty tells another story:

South Ossetia is the Next Crimea Unlike the treaty of the same name that Russia signed with Abkhazia at the end of 2014, which underwent several re-writes, the draft of the South Ossetia treaty involves the transfer of huge amounts of sovereign responsibilities away from the de facto authorities in the capital Tskhinvali to the Russian Federation. These transfers are so comprehensive as to effectively signal the end of South Ossetia as an independent entity. If this treaty is signed into law, South Ossetia will lose control of its military, police, border control, judiciary and education system. In short, all of the attributes of a sovereign polity, recognized or not. The immediate impact of this will be softened due to de facto Russian control, official or via infiltration, of many South Ossetian institutions, but writing such control into law is groundbreaking.

South Ossetia has been calling for much deeper integration for quite some time, which is not difficult to understand considering Georgia's actions. While Beruchashvili was meeting with U.S. officials in Washington and helping the Atlantic Council with its "transatlantic strategy towards Europe's East," her colleagues at home were also busy furthering Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration. At the beginning of this week, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili welcomed Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius, who visited the South Caucasus to discuss Georgia's integration with the EU and NATO. And shortly thereafter, they hosted NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, who flew to Tbilisi to scout out prospective sites for NATO's planned military training center in the country. Vershbow hailed Georgia's "remarkable democratic and defense reforms" and stressed that the U.S.-led military alliance is "committed to have the training center up and running later this year":

NATO To Start Military Exercises In Georgia This Year NATO's planned military training center in Georgia will start operations this year, a senior alliance official said on a visit to Tbilisi. "Starting this year, we aim to hold periodic military exercises here in your country, with NATO Allies as well as with other interested NATO partners," said NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow at a January 30 speech in Tbilisi.

The exercises will be held at a "Joint Training and Evaluation Centre," the establishment of which NATO and Georgia announced last September. A location for the center still hasn't been determined, but one of the items on Vershbow's agenda in Georgia was to scout out locations; Civil.ge reported that one of the candidates sites he visited was the Vaziani training range near Tbilisi.

Russia Vows to Support Tajikistan as ISIS-Taliban Rivalry Escalates

In light of NATO's activities in Georgia, Russia's "annexation" of South Ossetia makes perfect sense. Meanwhile, Russia is also trying to convince Tajikistan of closer integration. Moscow would like Tajikistan to become the third Central Asian member state of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) after Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which is expected to join the bloc in May. To this end, the Kremlin wants to exploit Tajikistan's dependence on remittances from labor migrants in Russia. Remittances from Tajik workers abroad make up about 50 percent of the nation's GDP. Given that Russia's new regulations disadvantage migrant workers from outside the EEU, the Tajik authorities will have a hard time rejecting EEU membership. Furthermore, Russia eyes closer military cooperation with Tajikistan. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov stressed this again during this week's visit to the Central Asian country, as he tried to assuage concerns about slow deliveries of promised military aid:

By providing assistance to the Tajik army Russia strengthens its own security, says Russian official “Antonov noted that Russia and Tajikistan have no choice but to expand cooperation because they face common challenges and threats,” Faridoun Mahmadaliyev, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, told Asia-Plus in an interview. “We realize that Tajikistan is our advanced post in the fight against terrorism and other challenges and threats,” Antonov said. He further added that the Russian defense ministry would continue providing assistance to the Tajik armed forces.

Antonov stated that Moscow wants to strengthen the Tajik army as "an outpost of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Central Asia" and the strengthening of the Tajik-Afghan border was reportedly also high on the agenda during his meeting with Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon. Russian and Central Asian officials have recently sounded the alarm due to the growing number of insurgents in northern Afghanistan. Kidnappings along the Tajik-Afghan border highlighted that the threat has to be taken seriously. The four Tajik border guards, who were supposed to be handed over to Tajikistan last week, are still being held hostage in Afghanistan and two more border guards were lately wounded in shootouts along the frontier. Many of the insurgents in northern Afghanistan are believed to be Central Asian fighters belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) or splinter groups, such as Jamaat Ansarullah. Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's special representative for Afghanistan, raised a few eyebrows when he claimed that the jihadists are from the Islamic State (ISIS) but recent reports suggest that some insurgents have indeed joined ISIS and this has brought a new private militia into the arena:

“Marg” Group formed against Taliban and ISIS in northern Afghanistan A new group calling themselves “Marg” or “Death” announced its existence in northern Afghanistan. Dozens of members of “Marg” group yesterday went to the provincial council of northern Balkh province and announce their readiness to fight Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Taliban in Afghanistan. Marg Group claims that more than 5,000 people have announced their allegiance with them to fight ISIS and Taliban.

Balkh province borders Turkmenistan in the north-west, Uzbekistan in the north and Tajikistan in the north-east. The Central Asian regimes will be relieved to hear that a homegrown militia is now giving the Afghan security forces a hand. But perhaps the problem will solve itself. ISIS and the Taliban are not exactly on the same page. ISIS is trying to woo fighters away from the Taliban and wannabe Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has called Taliban leader Mullah Omar "a fool and illiterate warlord." As mentioned last week, former Taliban commander and Guantanamo detainee Mullah Raouf Khadim was leading ISIS's recruitment efforts in Afghanistan but the Taliban lost no time in getting rid of the competition. It remains to be seen if this signifies the end of ISIS in Afghanistan. All indications are that the much-hyped terrorist group won't give up that easily. ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani recently announced the group's leaders for "Khorasan," which covers Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Tajikistan. Hundreds of Taliban fighters have reportedly joined the new branch of ISIS in Pakistan and the insurgents, who escaped Pakistan's Operation Zarb-e-Azb, are potential recruits as well:

Militants Driven From Pakistan Flock to Afghan Towns Arab and Central Asian Islamist militants have moved into Afghanistan after a military offensive by Islamabad largely eliminated havens in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Afghan officials and local residents say, posing a potential new threat to the country’s already tenuous security. At least 400 families affiliated with militant groups—including members of al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan—crossed into Afghanistan in December and now live in the homes of locals in lawless parts of the country, Afghan officials say. Afghan officials say these fighters aren’t engaging in combat, but their arrival comes as a robust Taliban insurgency confronts the government in Kabul. Islamic State, which occupies swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, has also sought a foothold here.

China Tries to Lure Turkmenistan with Surface-To-Air Missiles

ISIS's expansion into the region has apparently only just begun. The director of a Bishkek-based think tank told reporters last week that ISIS has allocated around $70 million to destabilize the situation in Central Asia and that the group's main target is the Fergana Valley, which spreads across eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. These alarmist predictions should be taken with a grain of salt. The insurgents in northern Afghanistan give the neighboring countries cause for concern but they have not even crossed the border into Central Asia. Furthermore, Uzbekistan is perfectly capable of dealing with the threat. The Uzbek regime will put the 300 armored vehicles from the U.S. to a good use, regardless of whether that means fighting ISIS or crushing dissent at home. Only Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have a good reason to worry about ISIS, the IMU or whatever else the insurgents in northern Afghanistan like to call themselves:

Islamic State fighters appear on Turkmen-Afghan border The presence of Islamic State (IS) fighters has been reported in the Almar district of Afghanistan’s Faryab province along the border with Turkmenistan, Radio Azatlyk (the Turkmen service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) reported on January 22 with reference to Afghan parliament member Gulmuhammed Rasuli. 

According to Rasuli, on January 21 in Kabul, heads of Afghanistan’s special services discussed the situation in the north of the country, and confirmed the fact of IS fighters’ movement from southern Afghan provinces to the north. Rasuli was quoted as saying that black flags of the Islamic State seen in Almar villages inhabited by Pushtuns testify to the presence of IS fighters close to the Turkmen border.

As previously discussed, the presence of insurgents along the Turkmen-Afghan border prompted the Turkmen regime last year to "invade" Afghanistan and push the fighters back. The situation has been very tense ever since. Most of the insurgents, who are causing trouble on the border, were members of the Taliban or the IMU but according to Rasuli, several Taliban groups in the region have now joined ISIS. In contrast to Tajikistan, Turkmenistan cannot count on support from Russia or the CSTO because the country refuses to join the Russia-led military alliance or the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for that matter. Turkmenistan attaches great importance to its neutrality. This has advantages but also some disadvantages. As the security situation deteriorates, the Turkmen authorities might be tempted to turn to Russia or China for assistance. Beijing is already trying to lure Ashgabat with HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles but this begs the question why Turkmenistan would need surface-to-air missile systems:

Central Asian countries trade with China natural gas for weapons China plans to sell HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles to its Central Asian neighbors of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to reduce the price it has to pay the two countries for natural gas, reports Kanwa Defense Review, a Chinese-language military magazine based in Canada, on Jan. 25. Since natural gas produced in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is vital to China's development, the country is willing to sell advanced weapon systems such as the FD-2000, an export version of the HQ-9 missile, to its western neighbors as a way to get better deals. Yet there is a catch. If China successfully convinces both nations to purchase FD-2000s, they will then have to purchase Chinese radars, early warning aircrafts and even fighter jets to coordinate with the air defense system.

From China's point of view, the deal makes a lot of sense but the Turkmen regime would be well advised to think twice about increasing its dependence on China even more given the fact that Turkmenistan is already heavily dependent on its strategic partner. If Iran goes ahead with its plan to boost domestic gas production and stops importing Turkmen gas, Turkmenistan's gas exports will depend entirely on China's demand. China received 25.86 Bcm of Turkmen gas in 2014, a 5.3 precent increase from 2013, but still less than the 30 Bcm/year agreed between Turkmengaz and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) in 2007. It is doubtful that the two companies can adhere to their agreement to boost China's imports from Turkmenistan to 40 Bcm/year by 2015. With China about to import more Russian gas, Turkmenistan is under pressure to diversify its gas exports. As expected, the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline remains a pipe dream. Turkey and Azerbaijan think that they have found the solution but Russia will beg to differ:

Turkey and Azerbaijan want Turkmenistan to join Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline - Turkish FM Both Turkey and Azerbaijan want Turkmenistan to be included in the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline, an indispensable project for Turkey that will be completed within three years, Turkish foreign minister said Thursday. Addressing a press conference after the trilateral meeting of foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in Ashgabat, Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu said, "TANAP is an indispensable project for us. We plan to finish this project in three years," reports Anadolu News Agency.

Cavusoglu said the secure transmission of the Azeri and Turkmen natural gas through Turkey to Europe was also discussed.

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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 8, 2014

The Gülen-SOCAR Network Exposed, Brussels' Reckless South Stream Sabotage & Much More!

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

With the exception of Uzbekistan's leader Islam Karimov, the presidents of all Turkic countries travelled to Turkey this week for the 4th summit of the Turkic Council. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov attended the summit personally for the first time indicating that Turkmenistan is ready to upgrade its status in the organization from observer to full member. Berdimuhamedov had already arrived a few days before the summit to discuss the strengthening of Turkey-Turkmenistan ties with top officials in Ankara. The two countries are set to sign a few trade agreement next year and Turkish President Abdullah Gül stressed during his meeting with Berdimuhamedov that Turkey "is ready to carry Turkmen gas to European markets." Both Ankara and Ashgabat have repeatedly voiced their interest in delivering gas from the Central Asian republic to Europe, which has so far lost out to China in the quest for Turkmen gas. In the light of recent events, Europe and Turkmenistan have ample reason to finally implement this project:

Turkic leaders pledge energy, tourism cooperation

"Trying to reduce its dependency on Russian natural gas, Europe wants Turkmen gas supplies more than ever," said Guner Ozkan, Caucasus and Caspian regions expert at the Ankara-based think-tank International Strategic Research Organization told the Anadolu Agency in an interview.

However, Ozkan pointed out that Russia is the strongest player in the Caspian region and it would be wrong to believe that Russia would not "intervene" in a project that will go through the Caspian and reach Europe to supply an alternative to Russian gas.

"The recent $400 billion agreement between Russia and China, will soften up Turkmenistan’s gas price negotiations with China," Ozkan said, adding, "Turkmenistan needs alternative markets as well and reaching Europe through Turkey is imperative from this perspective."

News from Pipelineistan & the Gülen-SOCAR Network Exposed

As Ozkan notes, one of the biggest obstacles to the Trans-Caspian pipeline is Russia's strong opposition. Furthermore, up to this point, the European Union has failed to come up with a unified energy policy and it does not look like as if this will change anytime soon. Relations between Turkey and Russia are fairly complex and resilient but if the Turkish government continues to push ahead with the Trans-Caspian project, Ankara's ties with Moscow could be damaged beyond repair. In recent weeks, Turkey was remarkably silent about the crisis in Ukraine, much to the dismay of its NATO allies.

According to the Kremlin, Turkish PM Erdogan even praised "the decisions made by the Russian president to improve the situation of Crimean Tatars." With Turkish-Russian relations apparently unaffected by the Ukraine crisis, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev used the Turkic Council summit to make the case for closer cooperation between the Turkic countries and the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and he invited Turkey to join the newly formed trade bloc. Although the Erdogan government will hardly take the offer, there seems to be a rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow. Dr. Vitaly Naumkin explained recently the reason for this:

Russia, Turkey agree on Gulen

Paradoxically, what today promotes the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey is Moscow’s extremely negative attitude toward the activities and ideas of Fethullah Gulen. In the past, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) were allied with the leader of this Islamic sect — which is taking root in many countries around the world and in which a significant portion of Turkey’s population is involved, including prominent officials and, in particular, members of the security structures and the judges — Moscow’s position acted as an irritant for Ankara. Now, however, with the Cold War flaring up between the leader of the AKP and Gulen, who resides in the United States, Moscow’s position creates an interest in joint actions to limit his influence. Recall that all Gulenist schools have been closed in Russia, and in 2012 numerous books by this ideologue were included in the federal list of extremist literature by a Russian court decision

Russia was one of the first countries to ban the CIA-backed Gülen movement and, in contrast to other governments, the Kremlin will not rethink this decision. Experts such as Vasily Ivanov, an associate at the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, warn against the nefarious cult. In his paper "Fethullah Gulen’s Movement: an extremist organization masquerading as supporters of 'the dialogue of civilizations'" Ivanov argues that the Gülen movement "glamorizes the idea of armed jihad." A few weeks ago, more and more people in Azerbaijan came to the same conclusion. The crackdown of the Aliyev regime on the Gülen movement was somewhat surprising considering Baku's subservience to Washington and some things did not add up, as mentioned in a previous round-up:

"A published list of alleged Azerbaijani Gülenists also included Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov and, ironically, SOCAR’s vice-president Khalik Mammadov, which has prompted some speculation whether Baku is really cracking down on Hizmet by placing its schools under SOCAR's control or if the Gülenists are in league with the state-owned oil and natural gas corporation."

This week, a new article exposing the extensive lobbying efforts of the Azerbaijani authorities in the United States shed more light on the relationship between the Sate Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and the movement of CIA puppet Fethullah Gülen. According to the report, since early 2013, American lawmakers in 17 states have introduced resolutions or memorials relating to Azerbaijan, all of which had one thing in common:

Inside Azerbaijan’s Bizarre U.S. Lobbying Push

What the initiatives had in common was they nearly all had at least one sponsor who
attended a conference in the capital Baku in May 2013 organized by the Turquoise Council for Americans and Eurasians. The council is a Houston-based group connected to Fethullah Gulen, the leader of the moderate Islamist Hizmet movement who fled Turkey in 1999 after clashing with secular Turkish authorities who accused him of trying to turn Turkey into a religious Islamist state.

The Turquoise Council, headed by a Gulenist follower named Kemal Oksuz, paid for the travel of lawmakers who went on the trip, according to congressional records. Oksuz also chairs the Assembly for the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ), a Houston group sponsored by SOCAR, which hosted a U.S.-Azerbaijan convention in Washington at the end of April attended by many of the same lawmakers who went on the trip to Baku, as well as other members of Congress and former administration officials. The Assembly’s vice president is Milla Perry Jones, the sister of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and its treasurer is Rauf Mammadov, the chief of SOCAR’s U.S. branch.
Oksuz also owned TDM Contracting, a construction firm in Texas that worked to build a network of Gulenist charter schools there.

So the Gülen movement and SOCAR are definitely working hand in hand, which means that Azerbaijan's move to place the Gülen schools under SOCAR's control did not really amount to a crackdown. Besides the Gülen-SOCAR network, the Aliyev regime is also using the Azerbaijan America Alliance as a conduit to lobby in the United States. The fairly new group is run by Anar Mammadov, the son of Azerbaijan’s Transport Minister Ziya Mammadov, and Dan Burton, former U.S. Congressman from Indiana. Burton demonstrated his abilities as a lobbyist already during his time in Congress. He did not shy away from taking bribes from the government of Turkey or Pakistan's ISI and has earned himself a place in Sibel Edmonds' State Secrets Privilege Gallery. Having friends like Burton in its pocket enables the Azerbaijani government to influence resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh and the like but it will not solve Baku's latest problem. A few days after French energy giant Total decided to sell its stake in Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz II gas project to Turkey's state oil company TPAO, both Total and E.ON announced their plans to withdraw from the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP):

Total, E.ON to exit pipeline to bring Azeri gas to Italy

France's Total and Germany's E.ON plan to withdraw from a pipeline scheme to bring Azerbaijan's gas to Italy, an Azeri official said, as falling Italian demand puts energy projects there into doubt.

The move comes less than a month after Russia's Gazprom said that it would re-route its massive South Stream pipeline, which plans to bring Russian gas to Europe later this decade, to Austria instead of Italy.

Europe sees Azeri gas as an alternative to its reliance on Russia, but analysts say commercial issues cloud the picture.

Brussels' Reckless South Stream Sabotage

With Italian gas demand falling 15% since 2005, E.ON is pulling out of the ailing Italian market and plans to sell its 9% share in TAP. Total's share is 10% and the remaining shareholders are BP (20%), SOCAR (20%), Statoil (20%), Fluxys (16%) and Axpo (5%). One day after the bad news, TAP's managing director reaffirmed that construction work on the pipeline will start next year. After all, TAP has been hailed as the answer to Gazprom's South Stream gas pipeline and Europe's first major step in reducing its dependence on Russian gas. This is of course a bunch of baloney. TAP was never a challenge for Gazprom and the Russians had no reason to complain, when the project was chosen over Nabucco-West. Despite the latest blow to the Southern Gas Corridor and the uncertain future of Russian gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine, Washington's lackeys in Brussels are doing their best to sabotage South Stream. Russian President Vladimir Putin is clearly fed up with the antics and has suggested re-rerouting the pipeline via non-EU countries if Brussels continues to play Cold War. But Russia wants to build the pipeline in any case, that much is clear:

Gazprom to build South Stream regardless of sanctions - CEO

Gazprom and its partners will build the South Stream gas pipeline to Europe regardless, despite the negative statements against this project by EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, the Russian gas giant's CEO, Alexei Miller said on television station Rossiya 24.

"No one can prohibit us from building South Stream, so construction will continue," Miller said, adding that there are regulatory issues [concerning a number of restrictions according to European legislation], "but this applies to the operation of the gas pipeline."

He said the first line of the pipeline is scheduled to be put into operation at the end of 2015, and there is still time to discuss these issues with the European Commission.

Gazprom is prepared to implement the project even if no external funds can be attracted. Some EU countries are also determined to proceed as planned. A few days ago, Brussels demanded that Bulgaria suspends construction work on the pipeline prompting the government of neighboring Serbia to state that there are no plans to delay the construction of Serbia's South Stream leg, which is scheduled for July. While the Serbian government also added that it is prepared to change its position depending on further developments, the Bulgarian government was less cooperative in this regard. Therefore, Brussels and Washington decided to get tough with Sofia. The EU withheld 90 million euros for a completely unrelated development program and the U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria threatened to impose sanctions on certain Bulgarian companies, sparking outrage in the Bulgarian business community. Furthermore, the wannabe cold warriors got a coalition partner in the Bulgarian government to do their bidding:

South Stream project threatens to bring down Bulgarian government

A junior coalition partner in the Bulgarian cabinet has called for early elections today (5 June), after publicly opposing the government's policy to continue construction of the Russian-backed South Stream gas pipeline project, despite European Commission warnings that it infringes EU rules.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), a liberal party, said it disagreed with its senior coalition partner, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, over plans to continue building South Stream.


Lyutvi Mestan, the leader of DPS, a mainly Turkish ethnic party affiliated with the liberal ALDE group, told parliament that Bulgaria “shouldn’t do anything against Brussels”, saying the country should defend its national interest “in cooperation, not in confrontation” with Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hit the nail on the head this week when he accused the United States of doing everything to prevent an alliance between Russia and the EU. Unfortunately, Washington can count on the top officials in the EU to go along with it and act against European interests. This will have dire consequences for Europe sooner rather than later. Russia's eastern energy pivot is just beginning and if the country becomes a swing natural gas supplier between Europe and Asia, the EU will be on the losing end. When asked about the next major deal between Russia and China, Keun-Wook Paik, an expert on Sino-Russian energy issues and a fellow at Chatham House, put it bluntly: "If it materializes, it will be a dream situation for Russia but will be a nightmare for Europe." Brussels would be well-advised to reconsider its Cold War policies before it is too late:

Russia, China Could Agree Upon Altai Gas Pipeline

Just weeks after a historic $400-billion deal, Russia and China are now inching towards a second major gas project to build a pipeline to export natural gas from Russia's western Siberia to north-western China, Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov said Wednesday.

“Considering the pace of China’s economic growth and the agreed pricing formula I’d say it is very likely that we will soon conclude a contract to build a western [pipeline] before long that will run across the Siberian Federal District,” Ivanov said.


Putin’s chief of staff said the project to build the so-called Altai natural gas pipeline was a particularly “huge” endeavor. “It might be less capital-intensive than the eastern one, but it’s no doubt going to cost us tens of billions of dollars,” he explained.

Turkmen-Afghan Border Sees More Violence

The new Cold War will backfire on the United States as well. Gazprom Neft has convinced most of its clients to sign agreements on a possible switch from dollars to euros. Moreover, Moscow and Beijing agreed to increase their cooperation in the monetary policy sector and to set up a joint rating agency. Russia and China seek to strengthen the BRICS as well as the CSTO and SCO. Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council and former director of the FSB, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week to discuss joint security cooperation. Patrushev emphasized that the increased activity of terrorist groups in Xinjiang in recent months "is not accidental" and the "Afghan factor and its impact on regional security" were also high on the agenda during his talks in the Chinese capital. In recent months, Moscow and Beijing have often warned against a possible spillover of violence from Afghanistan to the neighboring Central Asian states. Although these concerns have been ridiculed in the Western media, recent developments along the Turkmen-Afghan border lend credence to the spillover theory. At the end of last month, Turkmenistan's Foreign Minister paid an unscheduled visit to Afghanistan following the killing of three Turkmen border guards: 

Ashgabat, Kabul discuss situation on Turkmen-Afghan border, murder of Turkmen soldiers

Turkmenistan has taken the issue of murder of its border guards with President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai as constant criminal activities have been reported in border areas of Faryab and Badghis provinces on the Turkmenistan-Afghan border.

Turkmenistan believes that Afghan criminal groups are involved in killing Turkmenistan border guards with the support of Afghan border security staff. The matter has been discussed between President Karzai and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov during their
meeting in Kabul.

Karzai assured the Turkmen Minister that Afghanistan would start probes into the border incidents. He regarded the extensive cooperation between intelligence and security agencies of both the countries as important for thwarting criminal activities in the frontiers, and articulated that more Afghan security forces would be deployed in areas bordering Turkmenistan.

It was the second time this year that Turkmen border guards were killed by Afghanistan-based insurgents. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was outraged about the incident but instead of blaming the Afghan authorities or the insurgents he threatened to dismiss Turkmenistan’s border police chiefs and slammed them for their "improper" work and "shortcomings." Meanwhile, the violence along the Turkmen-Afghan border is escalating:

Afghan Village On Turkmen Border Comes Under Attack

Six Afghan border guards have been wounded in an attack on the northern village of Marchak, along the border with Turkmenistan.

The chief of security in the Afghan district, Daulat Mawin, said the attack started late on June 4, when militants launched an assault on the village, which is located in Afghanistan's Baghdis Province.


Mawin said the security situation in the region had been deteriorating for several months.

Turkmen border guards have reportedly increased their surveillance and are now flying regular helicopter patrols along the border. It is not entirely clear whether the attacks in this region are perpetrated by the Taliban or some other group. CIA's RFE/RL linked the latest killing of Turkmen border guards to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and has started to promote the terrorist group. The rise of the IMU in the region might coincide with NATO's "withdrawal" from Afghanistan. Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama outlined a plan to withdraw all but 9.800 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and the rest by the end of 2016. As usual, Obama forgot to mention a few crucial points [emphasis mine]: 

When 9,800 Doesn't Equal 9,800

An invisible army of American diplomats, intelligence personnel, civilian government officials, and contractors will remain in Afghanistan well in the future, likely outnumbering the 9,800 troops that will be there next year and the smaller numbers of troops that will be there in the years to come.

By the Pentagon's latest count, there are 61,452 contractor personnel supporting the Defense Department in Afghanistan, including 20,865 civilians. (This is down from 113,491 near the height of the Afghan war in January 2012.) These figures represent the current contractor support network for U.S. military forces, at a ratio of roughly two contractors for every U.S. service member. After the military withdrawal, our diplomatic footprint will likely rely even more on contractors than the military, because the State Department and other civilian agencies don't have the same logistics, communications, and security force structure as the military. A diplomatic mission of 1,000 to 2,000 could require as many as three to five times its number in support contractors, depending on the extent of its movements around the country and the amount of security risk it wants to take in Afghanistan. (Today, more than 5,000 contractors support the U.S. diplomatic mission in Iraq.) 

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: April 13, 2014

Russia Prepares for More Unrest amid Victory in Chechnya, Turkmenistan-Where Western Pipe Dreams Meet China's New Silk Road, Kyrgyz Opposition Does Washington's Bidding & 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.

Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized in his letter to European leaders that there will be an increasing risk of siphoning off natural gas passing through Ukraine’s territory if Gazprom has to cease gas deliveries to Ukraine for lack of payment. Instead of returning to a reasonable dialogue with the Kremlin, Washington's European lackeys will use the opportunity to argue for turning to other gas suppliers. Although it will take years before the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) opens the Southern Gas Corridor, some people in Brussels are convinced that the Southern Gas Corridor is the solution and refuse to give up on the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline. Never mind that this project could trigger a military conflict with Russia. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are improving their relationship for the sake of the Trans-Caspian pipeline and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has already given his blessing. Unfortunately, the Turkmen leader has a knack for supporting the wrong pipeline projects:

Turkmen President: 2015 Start for Pipeline Work

Turkmenistan's president has demanded that construction work begin in 2015 on a pipeline that will carry natural gas from his energy-rich country to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov said all the agreements required for the project's launch should be completed this year, state media in the Central Asian nation reported Friday.

A memorandum of understanding between the four countries linked by the TAPI pipeline was signed in 2010 and a supply deal was completed in 2012.

Turkmenistan: Western Pipe Dreams Meet China's New Silk Road

Washington has been promoting both the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline and the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline since the 1990s. As early as October 1995, Berdimuhamedov's predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov had signed an agreement for the TAPI project with Unocal managers in New York City. While infamous war criminal Henry Kissinger, acting as an adviser to Unocal, attended the ceremony, no Afghan was present because nobody had deemed it necessary to invite any Afghans. Almost two decades later TAPI's fate still depends substantially on the situation in Afghanistan and there are no indications that the construction of a pipeline in the war-torn country will be feasible in the foreseeable future. So Turkmen gas will not reach Europe or India anytime soon and primarily flow to China. Last month, Berdimuhamedov ordered to accelerate the industrial development of Turkmenistan's gas fields in order to increase exports to China and the two countries continue to strengthen their strategic partnership with cooperation in other areas as well:

Turkmenistan, China to form trade and economic zone along Great Silk Road

A meeting of businessmen from Turkmenistan and China was held on March 24 in Beijing in order to expand and strengthen economic and trade cooperation. The event was organized by the Embassy of Turkmenistan in China, together with the China Committee for Promotion of International Trade, the People's Daily Online reported.

The main objectives of the forum is to attract potential investors and partners for joint projects, exchange of ideas and experiences in economic and trade fields.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping started his now famous Central Asia tour last September in Turkmenistan, he stressed that China attaches great importance to its partnership with the energy-rich country. During his trip Xi visited four 'stans and met all five Central Asian leaders securing one deal after another. Beijing pledged funding for energy and infrastructure projects to the tune of over $50 billion. Thanks in part to Xi's Central Asia tour, China's influence in the region is ever-increasing and the modern-day Silk Road is making good progress:

China's trade with Central Asia reaches levels of region's trade with Russia

China’s importance as a trading partner, investor, and financer of infrastructure projects in the Central Asian region is rapidly rising. After a decade of rapid growth, Chinese trade with Central Asia has grown to levels commensurated with the region’s trade with the Russian Federation, finds the paper titled “Central Asia Trade and Human Development” released by UNDP on April 8.

In terms of trade flows, there are obvious complementarities between Chinese manufactured exports and Central Asian comparative advantage in the primary products that China imports.

Moscow has no time to worry about this development and is itself looking to boost trade with China. In order show the wannabe cold warriors in Washington and Brussels that Russia does not depend on Europe for selling its gas, the Kremlin is considering to sign a major gas deal with Beijing. This deal has been discussed for years, but up until now the two sides have failed to reach an agreement because Gazprom is hoping for a price of $10-$11 per mmBtu (million British thermal units) and the Chinese would prefer to pay less. By way of comparison, China is believed to pay $9 per mmBtu to Turkmenistan. If the Russians lowered the price, the deal could be signed within weeks:

UPDATE 3-Russia says long-sought China gas supply deal is close

Russia said on Wednesday it was close to signing a deal to sell
natural gas to China, a long-sought agreement which President Vladimir Putin could use to show Western sanctions over Crimea cannot isolate his country.

The deal is the Holy Grail for Russia after at least 10 years of talks and Moscow hopes it can be signed when Putin visits China next month.

As talks between state-controlled Gazprom and Chinese officials continued in China, Arkady Dvorkovich, a deputy prime minister, said the sides were close to sealing a deal that would also involve
construction of a pipeline to carry 38 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year.

Russia Prepares for More Unrest amid Victory in Chechnya

Since Russia anticipates more fallout from the Ukraine crisis, precautionary measures are being taken. Russian companies are testing if their Asian clients would agree to using euros as a settlement currency instead of the dollar. But as long as long the Obama administration sticks to harmless sanctions, there is no need to adopt such drastic measures. Meanwhile, President Putin, learning his lesson from Washington's "Brown Revolution" in Ukraine, urged the Federal Security Service (FSB) to keep a close eye on the countless NGOs in Russia:

Putin says West may use NGOs to stir unrest in Russia

President Vladimir Putin told his security chiefs on Monday to ensure
Russia does not follow what he said was Ukraine's example by letting the West use local civil rights groups to foment unrest.

Accusing the West of funding radical groups in
Ukraine that helped to topple President Viktor Yanukovich, he expressed concern that Russia also faced a threat from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) "serving foreign national interests".

Much to the dismay of Washington, Russia's Constitutional Court recently upheld the "foreign agents" law. So the work of GOLOS, Memorial and other regime change NGOs will not get any easier. According to President Putin, Russia's FSB did a good job in counter-intelligence by foiling the activities of 46 foreign intelligence members and 258 agents in 2013. This week, FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov also finally confirmed the death of Chechen terrorist leader Doku Umarov. Bortnikov stated that the leader of the Caucasus Emirate had been killed late last year and that this information had been withheld from the public until now "for specific operational and political reasons". Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, seized the moment to brag about the elimination of terrorism and Wahhabism in Chechnya:

Kadyrov: Chechen cities safe enough for police to be unarmed while off duty

“The warlords have been eliminated and armed gangs wiped out. The militants have no social base inside Chechnya they might rely on. In a situation like this the police should be aware that the nature of their work and of their tasks is changing. It’s time to get used to a peaceful life, to pay more attention to theory. As for practice, they have had enough of it,” Kadyrov said.

But Kadyrov pointed out that the North Caucasus insurgency has not been defeated and is now wreaking havoc in neighboring Dagestan. Moreover, the Russian authorities are concerned about jihadists gaining strength in Central Asia. Both Putin and Bortnikov alerted to the threat of Central Asian terrorists destabilizing not only their home countries but possibly also Russia. Last week, a Russian court sentenced a Tajik Hizb ut-Tahrir member, who had been arrested last year for planning an attack in Stavropol, to 17 years in prison. As Galim Fashutdino, Voice of Russia's correspondent in Tajikistan, explained in the Russian press, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia is fueled from abroad:

Islamists stepping up their activities in Central Asia

"Salafism in Central Asia is linked with a number of groups abroad. And as regards the Turkmen Salafis, they found themselves in the focus of attention of analysts only last year, when it became clear that the Turkmen Salafis are fighting in Syria and that there many of them there. There are 190 Tajik Salafis in Syria, and the number of Turkmen Salafis in the country is much higher. And they have contacts with both the Caucasus and Turkey. And as regards Tajikistan, it has established direct contacts with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while Kyrgyzstan has close contacts with Pakistan’s Karachi."

Kyrgyz Opposition Does Washington's Bidding

Since Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are not willing to sever their ties with the petro-monarchies or Pakistan, both countries will continue to struggle with this problem. A YouTube video showing five Tajiks burning their passports in Syria, where they joined the al-Qaeda mercenaries from ISIS, attracted some attention in Tajikistan this week. In the meantime, another group of Hizb ut-Tahrir members was detained in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Moscow would prefer more stability in the region and has therefore vowed to support the two 'stans with military aid. Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Antonov reaffirmed this again:

Russia to donate military equipment for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan

Russia intends to deliver gratis military equipment for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for several billion rubles in total, in next few years, Deputy Minister of Defense of Russia Anatoly Antonov said.

At the same time, he did not elaborate on what kind of military equipment will be delivered and the amount of the delivery.

There are of course some strings attached. Dushanbe had to extend the contract granting Russian military presence on Tajik territory and Bishkek had to kick the Americans out of Manas. Because the United States cannot afford losing its vital air base, which has played a central role in NATO's drug trafficking and jihadi operations, Washington is stepping up its intelligence operations in the country. Perhaps the Americans will resort to the tried and tested colour revolution in order to fight Russian influence in Kyrgyzstan. A few days ago, police broke up a rally in the Kyrgyz capital and detained some 200 opposition activists:

Police Break Up Opposition Rally In Bishkek

The Bishkek protesters called on President Almazbek Atambaev to revise plans to allow Russian companies to take over the transit center at Manas airport after NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan later this year.

The opposition held similar protest rallies in several other towns and cities across Kyrgyzstan.

They are demanding that presidential powers be limited, that deals on Kyrgyzstan's joining a Russia-led customs union be revised, that a jailed former parliament speaker be freed, and that a major gold mine be nationalized.

So the Russian and Kyrgyz governments can look forward to more trouble in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, tensions with neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan pose additional problems. Dushanbe's move to deploy a paramilitary group of about 150 men near the Kyrgyz-Tajik border did not inspire the Kyrgyz authorities with confidence. Kyrgyzstan plans to set up four new border posts on the border with Tajikistan and deploys more border guards:

Kyrgyzstan increases number of servicemen on borders with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan

Kyrgyzstan is increasing the number of border guards on the border with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, State Border Service Chairman Raimberdi Duishenviyev said at the meeting of Ata Jurt faction on April 11.

“The latest conflicts on the borders showed our special task forces are ready to give rebuff and to protect the border, but we are increasing their numbers stepping up security measures,” he explained.

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

The New Great Game Round Up- August 18, 2013

NATO's Hasty Afghanistan Withdrawal, Shady Turkish Companies, Deportation Facilities in Russia & More!

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

Podcast Show #71

The Boiling Frogs Presents Rick Rozoff

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This is Part 6 of our interview series on the New World Order. You can listen to the previous interviews in this series here: Part I, Part II, Part III , Part IV, and Part 5.

Investigative journalist and NATO expert Rick Rozoff joins us to discuss the eighteen-year-old project of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paul Wolfowitz and their cabal to destroy the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States and create a chain of buffer states around Russia, enclosing it with NATO member states and partners. He provides us with analyses and implications of the invasion of Afghanistan by the U.S. and NATO, and the duo’s expansion into Central Asia where Russian, Chinese and Iranian interests converge. Mr. Rozoff talks about the Central Asia chessboard and how the region may be transformed into a battleground of conflicting 21st century geopolitical interests, the role of Islamic extremism and how it is used by the West on this grand chess board, Mujahideen and Al Qaeda’s partnership with US-NATO in the Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia operations, the real mission of Afghanistan’s NATO-trained 7,000 troops as guardians of the oil and gas pipeline connecting Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India- the TAPI pipeline & more!

Rick RozoffRick Rozoff is an investigative journalist based in Chicago and has been an active opponent of war, militarism and intervention for over 40 years. He manages the Stop NATO e-mail list , and is the editor of Stop NATO, a website on the threat of international militarization, especially on the globalization of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Mr. Rozoff has a graduate degree in European literature.

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Here is our guest Rick Rozoff unplugged!

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Central Asia Militants: A Rhetorical Question of Funding & Sponsors

Central Asian Militants, Pan-Turkic Aims & Mysterious Financiers

armsI just finished reading an interesting article at Asia Times on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is characterized by some as Central Asia's most aggressive militant group. The main focus of the article is placed on the status, recent expansion and transformation of IMU: The IMU is no longer a small band of militants focused on taking down the Uzbek regime and replacing it with an Islamic state. Today, it has a much wider reach and more ambitious goals, and has underlined its revival with attacks that suggest a presence across a wide swathe of South and Central Asia.

Considering my own focus, which I am sure many of you are pretty familiar with by now, the following bits and pieces, none of which happen to receive any elaboration or even a slight explanation by the author, deserve the real attention: [Read more...]

Digging Deeper in Years into Wikileaks’ Treasure Chest- Part I

A Fairly Short List of Goodies for Wikileaks Santa

 

wikiI have been waiting. I have been searching and reading. I have been waiting impatiently while searching and reading the initial pile of recently released Wikileaks’ documents, specifically those pertaining to Turkey. I have received many e-mails asking me impatiently to comment and provide my analyses on this latest international exposé. I am being impatiently patient in doing so, and here is a brief explanation as to why:

There’s so much I don’t know. I don’t know how real this entire deal actually is. If truly ‘real,’ I don’t know how far and deep the involved documents actually go. Many of my trusted friends tell me it is indeed real. A few trusted friends and advisors are ringing cautionary bells. I am truly pro transparency, and considering the abusive nature and use of secrecy and classification, I am mostly pro leak when the information in question involves criminal deeds and intentions.

During the previous release (Afghan Files), in my gut I was a bit bothered by the direction of some of these released documents - pointing towards Iran - which was generously milked by the US mainstream media. But then again, that was only based on some gut feeling, and I didn’t want to pour out analyses and opinion solely based on ‘some gut feeling.’ So far, some of the first cache of the recently released documents is strongly pointing towards Iran, and that too is bothering the heck out of me. But again, in my gut, and that alone is not sufficient to make me sit and analyze and interpret. So this is why I’ve been impatiently patient, waiting for more. Meanwhile, while I am restraining myself and being uncharacteristically patient, I am going to go on record and tell you what I expect to see if this whole deal proves to be completely genuine, and if the obtained files go as far as they say they go. [Read more...]

Did You Know: The King of Madrasas Now Operates Over 100 Charter Schools in the US?

Fethullah Gulen Takes the Great Game a Step Further

gulenThe Controversial Muslim preacher has now extended his tentacles into schools in the United States, where he controls and operates more than 100 charter schools within a calculatively set up maze of dubious NGOs. Fethullah Gulen, whose organizations’ net worth is estimated to be somewhere between $22 billion and $50 billion, owns and operates over three hundred Madrasas around the world, including Pakistan, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. While Gulen’s suspicious and secretive Madrasas have been shut down and or restrained in countries such as Russia, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, based on these governments’ justified suspicions that his schools had more than just education on their agendas, his rapidly and secretively expanding charter school empire here in the US has gone quite unnoticed and unacknowledged.

In less than a decade Gulen’s Islamic network in the US has established over 100 publicly funded charter schools in 25 states. What makes this eyebrow raising phenomenon a very disturbing case is the fact that despite official documents and publicly available data Fethullah Gulen is going out of his way to deny his connections to these schools. The question is why? Here are a few excerpts from a USA Today article in August 2010:

The schools educate as many as 35,000 students — taken together they'd make up the largest charter school network in the USA — and have imported thousands of Turkish educators over the past decade.But the success of the schools at times has been clouded by nagging questions about what ties the schools may have to a reclusive Muslim leader in his late 60s living in exile in rural Pennsylvania.

Top administrators say they have no official ties to Gülen. And Gülen himself denies any connection to the schools. Still, documents available at various foundation websites and in federal forms required of non-profit groups show that virtually all of the schools have opened or operate with the aid of Gülen-inspired "dialogue" groups, local non-profits that promote Turkish culture. In one case, the Ohio-based Horizon Science Academy of Springfield in 2005 signed a five-year building lease with the parent organization of Chicago's Niagara Foundation, which promotes Gülen's philosophy of "peace, mutual respect, the culture of coexistence." Gülen is the foundation's honorary president. In many cases, charter school board members also serve as dialogue group leaders.

…lawmakers, researchers and parents are beginning to put the schools under the microscope for hiring practices — they import hundreds of teachers from Turkey each year — and for steps they take to keep their academic profile high.

The schools' unacknowledged ties to Gülen, they say, mock public schools' spirit of transparency.

My regular visitors are familiar with my on and off coverage of Fethullah Gulen and his movement. Others who have not read our previous commentaries and updates on this topic can check them out here, here, and here . I can sit and write volumes on Gulen’s history and his ‘real’ operations, but I am going to limit the length of this piece and provide you with a list of significant facts and background relevant to this particular post without going into other details: [Read more...]

Weekly Round Up for October 17

The ‘Obvious’ Silence of the Times, China’s Pipelineistan War, Mujahedin’s Penetration of Tajikistan

The other day our friend Metem brought to my attention a story that had made it to the Project Censored list, ‘US Funds & Supports Taliban.’ Here are two excerpts from the introduction which are related to our coverage of the mysterious helicopter activities in northern Afghanistan.

NYT1017In a continuous flow of money, American tax dollars end up paying members of the Taliban and funding a volatile environment in Afghanistan. Private contractors pay insurgents with the hope of attaining the very safety they are contracted to provide. Concurrently, US soldiers pay at checkpoints run by suspected insurgents in order to get safe passage. In some cases, Afghan companies run by former Taliban members, like President Hamid Karzai’s cousin, are protecting the passage of American soldiers. The funding of the insurgents, along with rumors of American helicopters ferrying Taliban members in Afghanistan, has led to widespread distrust of American forces. In the meantime, the US taxpayer’s dollar continues to fund insurgents to protect American troops so they can fight insurgents.

Ahmad Rate Popal is a grand example of how those who controlled Afghanistan under Taliban rule are still controlling Afghanistan today and being paid by US tax dollars. Popal, who served as interpreter at one of the ruling Taliban’s last press conferences, is greatly increasing his wealth through the US war in Afghanistan. In 1988, he was charged with conspiring to import heroin into the United States. He was released from prison in 1997. Popal’s cousin is Afghanistan’s President Karzai. Popal and his brother Rashid (who pleaded guilty in 1996 to a separate heroin charge) control the Watan Group in Afghanistan, which is a consortium engaged in many different fields of business. One of Watan’s enterprises is to protect convoys of Afghan trucks heading from Kabul to Kandahar, carrying American supplies. Popal is one example of the virtual carnival of improbable characters and shady connections, with former CIA officials and ex-military officers in Afghanistan joining hands with former Taliban members and mujahideen to collect US government funds in the name of the war effort.

Okay, that’s what the article is about but it isn’t what got my attention. Here is what I’m getting at:

An example of these contracts are those granted to the NCL Holdings in Afghanistan run by Hamed Wardak, the young American son of Afghanistan’s current defense minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak. NCL is a small firm that was awarded a US military logistics contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite the fact that the firm only operates in Afghanistan, Wardak incorporated NCL in the United States early in 2007, due to his connections there.

On NCL’s advisory board is Milton Bearden, a well-known former CIA officer who in 2009 was introduced by Senator John Kerry as “a legendary former CIA case officer and a clearheaded thinker and writer.” Bearden is an incredible asset to a small defense contracting firm. Wardak was able to get a contract for Host Nation Trucking despite having no apparent trucking experience. The contract is aimed at handling the bulk of US trucking in Afghanistan, bringing supplies to bases and remote outposts throughout Afghanistan. At first the contract was small, but very quickly it expanded by 600 percent, making it a gargantuan contract worth $360 million. NCL had struck pure contracting gold. These profits, which only go to a very select and well-connected portion of the Afghan people, build a large amount of distrust from Afghan citizens toward American troops and those connected to them.

And, this is the part where Project Censored for whatever reason didn’t go one step further:

Since our initial search of corporate media coverage on this issue in February 2010, finding zero coverage at that time, both the New York Times and the Washington Post have covered part of the story on their front pages. Both mentioned President Hamid Karzai’s cousin, and both acknowledged that in all likelihood money is making its way to the Taliban. Neither paper mentioned the US connection, Milton Bearden. The Washington Post covered the story on March 29, 2010, and mentioned the Nation magazine article. The New York Times story came out on June 6, 2010, acknowledging the corruption, but included the news that President Obama was addressing the issue with President Karzai. That the two stories came out two months apart, and that the US links are left out, led to the decision at Project Censored to keep this important story in the top censored stories list for the year.

Way back when, I wrote a couple of pieces on a few of these personalities that have been totally, and intentionally, overlooked by the mainstream media and  the like. Do you remember our piece on General Wardak, his son Hamed Wardak, ex CIA operative with a fairly dubious history, and an ex- congressman in the ‘laundering’ business? Let me refresh your memory:

RittAs the bodies in Afghanistan are piling up and the number of wounded keeps escalating, while Washington is buzzing with the long-known but selectively-buried corrupt and criminal past and present of our installed government officials there, some are cashing in on both sides, and some are paving the way to the next pot(s) of gold reserved for carpetbaggers and war-profiteers in every war or conflict. In this game there always are a few known names and faces who are publicized and who draw the spotlight, and there are those who enjoy operating and profiting quietly without drawing deserved attention and needed scrutiny. That’s how Washington’s war and conflict machine works, and that’s’ the way our foreign policy decisions are influenced and made. I am going to introduce one such character as an introduction to my upcoming longer story on this same topic. Ladies and gentlemen please meet our Neocon Ex Congressman, Don Ritter, and be informed of his new lucrative ‘Laundering Business’ in Afghanistan.

Let’s go back to Mr. Ritter’s entrepreneurial ventures in Afghanistan. His self aggrandizing website has this to say:

“Don is the U.S. investor and Chairman of the U.S. – Afghan company that built and operates the most modern laundry and dry cleaning plant in the region to serve the population of Kabul and execute military and government contracts. He is also currently engaged in building a mountain lodge tourism industry in the Panjshir Valley, a mini-mill for steel products for the Afghan construction boom in Herat, a business development services company in Kabul and an Afghan-American prime contractor to compete for large construction contracts.”

For the real juice on Mr. Ritter’s business dealings, my highly informed sources point me to Afghanistan’s current Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak. The Afghan diaspora in DC name Wardak as one of the key figures in the highly lucrative Poppy & heroin market; albeit in hushed voices. I can’t fathom the feasibility and profitability of a laundry and dry-cleaning business in Afghanistan owned and operated by a Neocon former congressman. What is Mr. Ritter ‘laundering?’

Please do me a favor and read the brief piece here

After that piece I wrote a much longer related piece (okay, much much longer; the usual ‘Sibel length’!) which introduced you further to General Wardak, his son-Hamed Wardak, and Ex CIA operative, Milton Bearden. Again, a few excerpts follow:

BeardOnce upon a time there was man named Milton Bearden, commonly referred to as Milt. He spent his early years in the state of Washington where his father worked on the Manhattan Project. After a few years with the US Air Force he joined the CIA in 1964.

Milt was CIA’s chosen man for their operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In fact, from 1986 to 1989, when our country was supporting the Mujahideen, he was one of their main men on the ground, working with this coalition of the Taliban, the Saudis and their main man Bin Laden, and the Pakistani ISI. The Director of the CIA, William Casey, was the one who appointed Milt Bearden for this task. Here is Milt’s own words describing his importance in a not very unusual ex-CIA conceited manner:

Milt’s cushy CIA retirement and all those glowing medals must not have been enough, for he then engaged in frenzied marketing and self promotion to get himself entrenched in almost all major US networks and newspapers as a consultant, writer, advisor, and of course as a trusted source - a CIA source to provide quotes and information for scripts at the snap of a finger. He coauthored a book with New York Times reporter James Risen called The Main Enemy. Whether this kind of business arrangement, where a commonly used source partners up with a reporter, presents a conflict of interest or even could be called incestuous, is everyone else’s call.

Most interestingly Mr. Bearden seemed to have lured in the American mainstream media by presenting himself as an outspoken critique of the Bush White House Intelligence policies after the September 11 terrorists’ attack. He suddenly became a major spokesperson on ‘how we created this monster called Osama Bin Laden,’ and the nasty radical Taliban. And the mainstream media couldn’t get enough of him. Ironically, he happened to be the man after William Casey and Neocons’ Jeane Kirkpatrick’s own hearts in creating the Bin Laden monster, bolstering the radical Taliban brand of Islamism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and kosherizing all dirty deeds as means to justify the end(s). He didn’t get those medals or promotions for nothing!

Our General Wardak disappeared from the Afghan scene at the beginning of the civil war in the 1990s. He brought his family to the United States where he settled comfortably with enough wealth from undetermined sources, and he enrolled his son, Hamed, in Georgetown University.

The Karzai brothers took a great interest in Wardak Junior, and he enjoyed the benefits of the Karzais’ flashy and high-flying friends. After the September 11 Terror Attacks, the Karzais made Hamed the Vice President of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce, which was founded by Mahmood Karzai. As I mentioned briefly in my piece, our Neocon Ex-Congressman Don Ritter happens to be the co-founder of this organization. Hamed was also appointed to an advisor’s post with President Karzai’s first Finance Minister, Ashraf Ghani. No small accomplishment for the barely 30 year old Hamed!

Hamed Wardak’s most productive venture in tapping into the US Defense Sector Pot(s) of Gold began with joining a Washington DC contracting firm, Technologists Inc., founded by Aziz Azimi, who happened to be a very close buddy of Qayum Karzai. Here is a further detail on this by e-Ariana:

“Hamed Wardak’s new alliances proved extraordinarily advantageous as George W. Bush launched his “war on terror,” particularly with Khalilzad and Strmecki enjoying direct access to Vice-President Dick Cheney’s office.”

Do you want to check out the kind of contracts, the kind of millions, we are talking about with Technologists Inc.? Here is one for you:

Technologists, Inc., Rosslyn, Va., was awarded on Jan. 5, 2009, a $96,090,519 firm fixed price contract for the construction of an Afghanistan National Police National Training Center. Work will be performed in Maydan Wardak, Afghanistan, and is expected to be completed by Mar. 31, 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. Web bids were solicited on Oct. 1, 2008, and 13 bids were received. U.S. Army Engineer District, Afghanistan, is the contracting activity (W917PM-09-C-0005).

That’s right. Just one of these contracts is worth nearly $100 million for connected Afghan carpetbaggers cashing in on wars suffered by ordinary American tax payers and US soldiers.

Here is one of our characters who hasn’t made an appearance for several pages: Milt Bearden, the EX-CIA Rambo in Afghanistan in the 80s, the US media darling on Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taliban…you name it, the shrewd self promoter with books and movies:

Milt Bearden must have been pretty familiar with our General Wardak since he was on the ground in Afghanistan serving his masters at the CIA and the Whitehouse, including the great advocator of ‘use any means,’ our Godmother of Neocons, Jeane Kirkpatrick. Operation Cyclone must certainly have brought him in contact with involved Taliban Generals, including our General, Osama Bin Laden, and other key ISI operators, and his dealings must certainly have included the major heroin operations tapped into to further fund these ‘freedom fighters.’ In fact, our Spook dealt extensively with Hekmatyar, who is considered one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Heroin Operator in Afghanistan - which supplies 90% of the world’s Heroin:

One U.S. official who had considerable dealings with Mr. Hekmatyar was Milt Bearden, who during the Soviet occupation ran the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's covert program in Afghanistan. He says Mr. Hekmatyar struck him as "quirky and paranoid."

Thus, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that our Ex-Spook took an interest in our General’s son, and translated this interest into a close business partnership when our young and chubby Hamed Wardak got closer and closer to big Pots of Gold in Washington DC and his father made it to the Defense Minister position in Afghanistan.

After Hamed Wardak left Technologists Inc. to go further in tapping the US Defense Contractor Gold Pots, and to set up various other front businesses in Afghanistan, many of which happen to be in security sectors, he formed a new front organization, Campaign for a US-Afghan Partnership. Guess who he appointed as the top man for the Board of this ambigious organization? That’s right, none other than our ex-spook, media supplier, Milton Bearden. Check out his glowing background listed on Hamed Wardak’s organization’s website: click here. What exactly this organization does, no one really knows, which should go as another credit to our Mr. Bearden’s CIA background in keeping things convoluted and secretive.

Rumors from the Ex-CIA community in the DC area point to another highly lucrative Wardak company paid by US tax payers, NCL, in Kabul, and hint that their buddy Milt may have been playing a major role there. Because of Mr. Bearden’s cozy relationships no one in the media has been looking for these deeper engagements and lucrative partnerships between him and Hamed Wardak.

You can read the entire piece on Bearden-Wardak and more here. Come on Project Censored! Why not talk about this ex spook’s intimate relationship with the New York Times?! Not only has he been their revered source, but he is the partner of their top reporter. How could James Risen partner up with him (financially, in the publicity arena…), and still he and others use Bearden as their valued source and in many cases as their only source?! As for The Washington Post: this would fall within the coverage area of our infamous Walter Pincus. Yes, I’m talking about the long ago exposed Pincus from Operation Mockingbird, and the father of Pincus Junior who happens to be an attorney for the infamous Black Water (aka XE and several other nicknames).

………………………………………………………..

Operation Tajikistan

OpTajLast week I wrote a piece on the latest developments in Central Asia and the Caucasus which briefly covered the  Mysterious Helicopter Activities in Northern Afghanistan. Using a tad of common sense we checked out the strategically important neighbors in this region where these officially denied (vehemently, that is) mysterious activities took place, and one of the three countries of interest was Tajikistan. Here are a few related articles dealing with our topic and Tajikistan.

Also last week Asia Times ran the following convoluted piece on Tajikistan. The piece is filled with speculations, interpretations, and even wild guesses:

Tajikistan struggles to quell militants

As Tajik government forces continue a security sweep to crush armed groups in the eastern mountains after losing 25 soldiers in an ambush, analysts are divided on the reasons for this resurgence in militant activity.

Enquiries by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) indicate that the resistance is coming from local paramilitary forces led by guerrilla leaders from Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war.

Claims by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, a militant group allied with the Taliban, that it was behind the attack are probably not entirely accurate but may contain a grain of truth, as the IMU has contacts with the Tajik groups and may have sent emissaries to encourage them to rise up.

And here is another opinion: [Read more...]

China-Turkmenistan Score: Another Wave of US-Mujahideen Contracts?

Extreme Competitions May Bring More Familiar Extreme Measures

pipeHere is one of the latest on China-Turkmenistan Pipeline deals:
China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has announced the discovery of yet another gas field on the right bank of the Amu Darya River in Turkmenistan, holding in excess of 100 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas.
Separately, Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow inaugurated a new compressor station at the Bagtiyarlyk fields, estimated by Chinese engineers to hold 1.6 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

These fields feed the Turkmenistan-China pipeline, which traverses Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and was opened in December 2009 with a projected capacity of 40 billion cubic meters per year (bcm/y) by 2015, with some of that volume being consumed in southern Kazakhstan. (See Gas pipeline gigantism

, Asia Times Online, July 17, 2008.)

In June this year, Ashgabad and Beijing agreed to increase Turkmen exports to China above the agreed level; the new compressor station will eventually raise the existing capacity to 22 bcm/y from the 6 bcm/y estimate of Chinese consumption of Turkmenistan-sourced gas for 2010.

This development is only one of a continuing series of events confirming the implementation of Turkmenistan's energy reorientation away from Russia. (See Tectonic shift under way in Turkmen gas, Asia Times Online, May 28, 2010.) Thus a series of meetings among heads of government in the margins of the UN General Assembly Meeting in New York last month has continued to accelerate movement in the direction of seeking to realize the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan

-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline.

Reports in the Indian press over the past month indicate that New Delhi is now following through strongly on its earlier expression of interest. Most interesting is the report that the four partners are seeking to recruit a major international energy firm to discuss costs in greater detail, with a view towards actual construction. The name, or even the nationality, of this firm has not even been hinted at openly.

           

Okay, you can read the rest here.

stateAs we all know the Cold war may be over, kinda, but not the fierce competition over natural resources. And the new battle grounds?  Forget the Old Middle East; I am talking about the New Energy Territories. I am going to use the following introduction paragraph from an article published by Central Asia- Caucasus Institute:

The U.S. has started to formulate and implement more comprehensive policies for Central Asia. The deepening involvement in the war in Afghanistan is the principal, but not sole cause for this policy initiative. Russia’s attempts to impose its hegemony upon Central Asia and oblige the U.S. to recognize it have triggered a reaction in Washington. Likewise, China’s completion of the pipeline to Turkmenistan and major investment projects in Central Asia forced the U.S. to devise new ways to enhance its energy and economic profile there as well. As a result, in early 2010, we now see the elements of a new and stronger policy initiative towards Central Asia.

The above paragraph, the introduction, is the only frank and sound point made in the article. Without going into the typical bologna-ridden point-making fluff used in the rest of the piece I’ll have you jump to the summation of their ‘analysis’:

CONCLUSIONS: The Obama Administration has evidently decided to make an important policy stand in Central Asia beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, it is likely to invest more high-level political resources there and actively promote expanded economic ties between the U.S. and Central Asian states. While those governments will undoubtedly welcome this support and investment of those resources because they add to their room for maneuver among their neighboring great powers, Russia and China will obviously strive to minimize the U.S. presence, thrust, and impact. But they will also simultaneously be competing against each other; a fact that can only contribute to the greater independence and freedom of action of Central Asian states, a primary goal of U.S. policy. To the extent that the U.S. deems it necessary to expand its presence in Central Asia to shore up its campaign in Afghanistan it will in many ways, both foreseen and possibly unforeseen, contribute to the ability of these states to stand on their own feet, an outcome that is necessary both in regard to the threat of terrorism emanating from Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their affiliates, and also in regard to the threat to their effective independence coming from Moscow and/or Beijing.

You see we have two types of foreign policies when it comes to our pursuit of badly needed resources and crucial delivery arteries in our intended regional colonies:

1- The Written Policies (above example): to be used and promoted as marketing tools, yet to remain only as melodically written policy literature. This is where you hear phrases like cooperation on security and against terrorism, or better, democratization.

2- The Unwritten and Unspoken Policies: to be secretly, vigorously, and ferociously practiced and implemented, under the self-created carte blanche ‘The End Justifies the Means’

Think about it, wasn’t this how we carried out almost all our foreign policies during the Cold War? And what’s the difference now? The same competition, only now three-way, and the same objectives regardless of the fluffy and phony descriptions used in the ’written policies.’ 

Based on our consistent and ‘known’ history, my bet goes to the following predictions when it comes to our real foreign policy measures and responses to the latest developments on the Central Asia-Caucasus front: [Read more...]