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

Turkish Meddling in Xinjiang Overshadows Erdogan's China Visit, Russia: ISIS Comes- NED Goes & 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.

On July 31, representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban were scheduled to meet in Pakistan for the second round of the recently launched Afghan peace talks. The first round of talks in the hill resort of Murree just outside Islamabad was hailed as a "breakthrough," raising hopes that the warring parties could come to an agreement. Pakistan's efforts to facilitate the meeting and the attendance of Chinese and U.S. officials signaled widespread support for the peace talks. But just as people were getting their hopes up, two days before the next meeting in Pakistan, BBC's Afghan Service dropped a bombshell by reporting the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Two weeks earlier, the Taliban leader had purportedly endorsed the peace talks in a statement posted on the Taliban's official website, making the reports of his death all the more surprising. It was not the first time that Mullah Omar's death has been reported but this time everyone agreed that Mullah Omar was dead:

Afghan government formally confirms death of Mullah Omar The government of Afghanistan formally confirmed the death of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. A statement by the President Palace said “The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban died in April 2013 in Pakistan.” The statement further added “The government of Afghanistan believes that grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before, and thus calls on all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process.”

Mullah Omar's Death Spoils Afghan Peace Talks

Pakistan reportedly confirmed the death as well and the U.S. deemed the reports credible. According to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS), Mullah Omar died in a hospital in Karachi in April 2013. A former Afghan Taliban minister and member of the central leadership mentioned the same time of death and added that Omar died of tuberculosis. Last but not least, Mullah Omar's family and the Taliban leadership officially confirmed the death after Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor had been chosen as Omar's successor. As usual, the Taliban put their own spin on the whole story by claiming that "Mullah Omar never visited Pakistan or any other country except Afghanistan" but all parties agreed to finally acknowledge the death of the long-time Taliban leader and move on. However, the choice of Mullah Omar's successor didn't go down well with everyone:

Mullah Omar's son says he cannot support new Taliban leader

No sooner had the Taliban selected a new chief to replace Mullah Omar than deep fractures emerged on Friday, as the former leader's son said he rejected the choice of successor. Mullah Yacoob, Mullah Omar's oldest son, said he and three other senior leaders walked out of a meeting called to elect a leader, and were demanding a wider vote. “I am against the decision to select Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as leader,” he told The Associated Press.

Signs of deep fractures within the Taliban movement have already surfaced during the Afghan peace talks. Mansoor endorsed negotiations with Kabul, whereas battlefield commander Abdul Qayyum "Zakir" went as far as threatening to join ISIS if the talks continued. Zakir is now spearheading efforts to form a new leadership council that would replace the existing Quetta Shura because he wants to see Mullah Omar's son Yacoob as the new supremo. With the Taliban in disarray, the prospects for the Afghan peace talks are bleak. Although Mansoor is clearly more inclined toward dialogue, he felt the need to pander to his audience by distancing himself from the peace process. Moreover, he offered to meet his critics and address their grievances. Mansoor emphasized the "need for unity" as "the world tried its best to create rifts in our ranks." His top priority is to stop the factionalism that has been fueled by Mullah Omar's death. Otherwise, the Taliban are also going to lose more fighters to ISIS:

IMU Pledges Allegiance to Islamic State Only days after the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar was announced, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan terrorist group has reportedly sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. In a video posted by the IMU-controlled Furqon TV on July 31, a figure identified as the group’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Muhammad Ali, stands in front of the black flag of IS and pledges loyalty to the organization. The rest of the 16-minute video shows IMU militants carrying out attacks on Afghan army posts in Zabul province, which borders Pakistan. Usman Ghazi, the IMU’s leader since 2012, features in the clip. This is the first time the IMU’s central leadership has formally sworn allegiance to ISIS. But it is not the first report of IMU-linked militants allying themselves with ISIS.

Mullah Omar's jihadist credentials have long prevented more insurgents from joining ISIS. The confirmation of his death is going to have profound ramifications for the Taliban movement and the Afghan peace process. Remarkably enough, shortly after his death was finally confirmed, Pakistani media reported that Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Haqqani network, has also been dead for some time. Members of the Haqqani family and the Taliban immediately denied the reports and published a statement purportedly quoting Jalaluddin Haqqani as mourning the loss of Mullah Omar and giving his backing to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Jalaluddin Haqqani's son Sirajuddin was recently named as Mansoor's deputy. Considering that the Haqqani network is a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's ISI intelligence service, there is some evidence to suggest that Pakistan used Mullah Omar's death to put more easily controllable leaders in charge of the Taliban. After all, the Pakistani authorities don't want to take any chances in light of the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [emphasis mine]:

Any attempt to obstruct, impede CPEC will be thwarted: COAS The army chief on Friday reiterated that any attempt to obstruct or impede the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be thwarted. According to a statement issued by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Friday evening,, Army Chief General Raheel Sharif congratulated the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) on its 88th anniversary. He also commended the deep ties between Pakistan and China. Gen Raheel also fired broadsides at state and non-state actors trying to destabilise Afghanistan. “Our cooperation for regional stability will squeeze space for state and non-state actors for a stable Afghanistan,” the statement added.

Turkish Meddling in Xinjiang Overshadows Erdogan's China Visit

It remains to be seen whether or not the 'all-weather friends' Pakistan and China will be able to walk the talk. Given that new Taliban leader Mansoor has to put his house in order first, it is unlikely that the Afghan peace talks will resume anytime soon. As the Taliban are already killing each other over Mansoor's appointment, China is also getting worried about how Mullah Omar's death will affect previous understandings with the Taliban regarding Xinjiang. Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura normally promised Beijing not to allow Uyghur jihadists to operate autonomously or launch attacks against China from Afghan territory. These kind of guarantees are more difficult to obtain when dealing with various warring factions. The Chinese authorities spare neither trouble nor expense to convince other state and non-state actors of supporting China's war on terror. Mullah Omar and the Taliban more or less kept their promises but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not to be trusted in this regard:

Turkish president opposes terror against China Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday vowed to cooperate with China to fight against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) during his visit to Beijing, a clear signal that observers say indicates Turkey is ready to remove obstacles in Sino-Turkish ties and seek closer economic cooperation. 

During his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Erdogan said that Turkey will respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, oppose any terrorist acts against China, including those launched by ETIM, and will not allow any force to harm Sino-Turkish ties. He added that Turkey is also a victim of terrorism, China Central Television reported.  Zan Tao, an expert on Turkey affairs and an associate professor at Peking University, told the Global Times that Erdogan's remarks about ETIM are very clear and strong, compared with his previous remarks over similar matters.

Erdogan's visit to China came at a crucial moment in Sino-Turkish relations. China is Turkey's second-largest trade partner and both countries want to boost economic cooperation in order to build a new Silk Road but disagreements over China's Uyghur minority have strained the relationship significantly in recent months. Beijing publicly reprimanded Ankara twice for its support of the East Turkestan independence movement by revealing damning information about Turkey's role in Uyghur smuggling and terror operations. The latest disclosure was prompted by an ongoing row over Uyghur refugees in Thailand and a vicious propaganda campaign during Ramadan, which has given rise to anti-China sentiments in Turkey. In the run-up to his China trip, Erdogan eventually tried to defuse the situation as Asians in Turkey were about to get lynched. A few days ago, the Turkish President then continued his reconciliation efforts in Beijing, much to the dismay of the East Turkestan crowd at home:

Erdoğan’s ’terrorism’ reference regarding Uighurs draws public criticism Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's use of the term “terrorism” in reference to Uighurs -- an ethnic Turkic minority in western China -- while in Beijing where he pledged to cooperate with the Chinese government to combat terrorism, including activities by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), have drawn fierce criticism from the Turkish public as well as opposition lawmakers. "For the president of Turkey, these remarks were not proper. Just to make a gesture to China, Erdoğan's remarks are not only misleading and wrong, but also will encourage Chinese officials to treat Uighurs as they used to do in the past," veteran Turkish diplomat and former deputy for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Faruk Loğoğlu told Today's Zaman. "Considering the fact that Uighurs have been subjected to restrictions and pressure over their identity and religion, this reference to ETIM would likely to undercut righteous struggle of Uighurs to fully realize their cultural and religious rights," said Oktay Vural, deputy chairman of opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

The far-right MHP and its paramilitary youth wing, the Grey Wolves, have been leading Turkey's fight against Asian tourists and "China's brutality in East Turkestan" but Erdogan and the Turkish government are doing their bit as well. Ankara's support of the East Turkestan independence movement is being exposed more and more. A few weeks after Beijing complained that Turkish diplomats in Southeast Asia are handing out travel documents to Chinese Uyghurs, Reuters revealed lately that the documents even list "East Turkestan" as their nationality. Erdogan's pledge to respect China's territorial integrity and to support Beijing's war on terror should therefore be taken with a grain of salt. Even Ankara's flirt with a Chinese air defense system cannot disguise the fact that relations between the two countries remain uneasy. To make matters worse, Turkey's favorite terrorist group has recently called on China's Uyghurs to join its "caliphate," which means more work for Turkish border guards:

Turkey detains 457 Syria-bound 'foreign terror' suspects Almost half of the 457 people detained by Turkish authorities on the Turkish-Syrian border between January 1 and June 30 are Chinese nationals, Turkish Armed Forces sources told Anadolu Agency Wednesday. According to the sources, out of the 457 people detained, 241 are Chinese, 13 British, seven Afghans, five Germans, two Americans, one Australian, five Azerbaijanis, one Bangladeshi, five Belgians, one Brazilian, two Bulgarians, one Danish, one Moroccan, 12 French, 30 Palestinians, six South Koreans, five Dutch, one Kazakh, two Maldivian, one Egyptian, one Romanian, 56 Russians, two from Trinidad and Tobago island, one Slovakian, nine Saudis, six Tajiks, two Tunisians, 29 Turkmen, three Uzbeks, two Iranians, two Spanish and two Italians.

The suspects were detained at the Turkish border when they tried to enter Syria illegally and were being treated by authorities as suspected “foreign terrorist fighters", the sources added.

Russia: ISIS Comes, NED Goes

The exceptionally high number of Chinese nationals detained on the Turkish-Syrian border suggests that either the Turkish authorities are deviating from standard operating procedure by actually preventing Uyghurs from crossing into Syria or previous estimates of Uyghur fighters in Syria were dead wrong. Turkey has now officially declared war on ISIS but wannabe caliph al-Baghdadi and his minions don't have to be afraid because the Kurds are the real target. Only a small fraction of the more than 1000 "terrorist suspects" recently detained in Turkey were ISIS supporters while over 80 percent of the suspects were linked to the PKK. The Russian authorities can consider themselves fortunate to have convinced the Turks of arresting two suspects linked to ISIS recruitment in Russia. LifeNews just reported that the man in charge of ISIS recruitment in Russia has been identified and that two of his subordinates in Turkey were detained. This comes shortly after ISIS made headlines in the North Caucasus:

Russia says security forces kill 14 Islamist militants Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) forces killed eight Islamic State militants on Sunday and six other Islamist rebels on Monday in the North Caucasus, the National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) said. NAK said the rebels killed on Sunday in the republic of Ingushetia were involved in "terrorist crimes" including killing law enforcement officials and extorting money. NAK identified one of those killed in Ingushetia as Adam Tagilov, who it said was behind fighting in the city of Grozny, capital of Chechnya, that killed more than 20 people — policemen and militants — in December 2014.

The killing of eight ISIS "rebels" on Sunday was one of the first major incidents involving ISIS in Russia. Given that ISIS has taken over from the Caucasus Emirate as the leading terrorist group in the North Caucasus, it was certainly not the last one. Russian officials have been hyping the ISIS threat from day one and the actual emergence of ISIS supporters in the North Caucasus provides the perfect pretext for ramping up the war on terror. Human rights activists have their work cut out but they have to look for new sources of funding if they don't like the "foreign agent" label. After the Kremlin has long been threatening to go after organizations that receive funding from abroad, they are now finally walking the talk. The Russian NGO "Committee Against Torture," which has long been a thorn in the side of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, was one of the first groups to adapt to the new circumstances:

Igor Kalyapin announces creation of "Committee to Prevent Torture" The "Committee against Torture" (CaT), liquidated because of being put on the registry of "foreign agents", will be replaced by the "Committee to Prevent Torture" (CPT). The new organization will continue working in Chechnya, said its chairman Igor Kalyapin. "This week we'll submit documents (to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) of the Russian Federation – note of the "Caucasian Knot") on the liquidation of the organization; and on the following week, the CaT ceases to function. On August 3, another interregional organization – the "Committee to Prevent Torture" – will start working," the TASS quotes Mr Kalyapin as saying. He stressed that the new organization will not receive any foreign funding and will exist "solely on donations of Russian citizens," the RIA "Novosti" reports.

Russian NGOs will now have to make do without grants from the U.S. government, George Soros and other generous foreign sponsors. Although Russia is just following the example of the Foreign Agent Registration Act in the U.S., the West is of course freaking out. On July 21, Russia's Justice Ministry issued warnings to the Committee Against Torture and 11 other Russian NGOs that were identified as "foreign agents." The MacArthur Foundation, which is one of the foreign NGOs on Russia's "patriotic stop list," announced shortly thereafter that it is closing its branch office in Moscow because the new regulations make it "impossible to operate effectively" in Russia. George Soros' Open Society Foundations and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) are just two of the many high-profile NGOs on the "patriotic stop list." The Khodorkovsky Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Jamestown Foundation and others could join them soon. These organizations are at risk of being banned from Russia:

U.S. National Endowment for Democracy Becomes Russia's First 'Undesirable Organization' The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a U.S.-based international organization that exists to promote democracy, was declared an “undesirable organization” Tuesday by Russia's Prosecutor General's Office, meaning all its activities are banned on Russian soil. “Using the capabilities of Russian commercial and non-commercial organizations under its control, the National Endowment for Democracy participated in work to recognize election results as illegitimate, to organize political action with the goal of influencing government policy, and to discredit Russian army service,” the Prosecutor General's Office said in an online statement. Earlier this month, senators of the Federation Council — the upper chamber of the Russian parliament — proposed a list of 12 foreign NGOs whose work they said posed a threat to national security and who should therefore be declared undesirable. The NED was one of them.

# # # #

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: July 29, 2015

Terror Spreads Across China as Uyghurs Explore New Escape Routes, Kyrgyzstan Cancels Treaty Because U.S. 'Sought Chaos' & 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.

As the situation in northern Afghanistan deteriorates further, the neighboring Central Asian states as well as Russia and China are becoming increasingly worried about a possible spillover of violence. The United States, on the other hand, has dismissed these concerns from the beginning and continues to insist that the security situation in Afghanistan poses no threat to the neighboring 'stans. This is a bold claim in light of the territorial gains by the Taliban and other militant groups in Faryab province, which borders Turkmenistan. A few days ago, insurgents blew up an electricity tower in Faryab, disrupting electricity supply to the provincial capital Maymana and four other districts. It was the second time in one week that the power supply lines have been cut due to the fighting. Since pro-government militias are retreating in most areas and Maymana is in danger of falling to militants, the Afghan government wants to launch a major military operation in the province as soon as possible:

Major operation on the way in northern Faryab province A major military operation is due to kick off in northern Faryab province of Afghanistan to clear the under the control of the Taliban militants. The operation is expected to be launched jointly by the Afghan national security forces including Afghan special forces along with the anti-Taliban public uprising forces. A lawmaker representing northern Faryab province in the Lower House of the Parliament – Wolesi Jirga, told Radio Free Europe (RFE) that the operation will be conducted as per the instructions of the First Vice President. 

China, Pakistan Could Become 'Guarantors' of Afghan Peace Deal

First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum and another equally powerful and controversial figure, the governor of Balkh province Atta Mohammad Noor, recently agreed to join forces in order to repel the insurgents in Faryab and other northern Afghan provinces. Noor has long criticized the government for ignoring the rising militant violence in the north. In the search for scapegoats, Dostum has lately also suggested that people inside the government "have paved the way" for the militants and he vowed to reveal the culprits very soon. Although the infamous Afghan warlord is not a friend of the Taliban, he pointed out that foreign fighters from Central Asia and China are the driving force behind the current militant offensive and not the Afghan Taliban. Moreover, Dostum asserted that he is now capable of dealing with the insurgency in northern Afghanistan thanks to the full backing of the government, which had not been the case previously. But given the alarming situation, Kabul doesn't have much choice:

Taliban Take Remote Afghan Police Base After Mass Surrender The Taliban took control of a large police base in a remote part of northeastern Afghanistan after some 100 police and border guards joined the insurgents following three days of fighting, security officials said Sunday. The loss of the Tirgaran base in Badakhshan province marked the largest mass surrender since U.S. and NATO forces concluded their combat mission at the end of last year. It highlighted the challenges facing Afghan security forces, which have seen their casualties soar in the face of stepped-up insurgent attacks. The police base, in the province's Wardoj district, had been cut off as heavy rains destroyed roads into the area, said Gen. Baba Jan, Badakhshan province's police chief. It wasn't clear why reinforcements hadn't been flown into the area, though the province's steep valleys often make aircraft landings difficult. 

While Afghan officials stated that the local police commander and his men defected to the Taliban and handed over the base's weapons and ammunition, the Taliban claimed that they managed to overrun the police base and capture the security forces. They substantiated their claims shortly thereafter by releasing 107 security personnel captured at the base. Badakhshan has seen some of the heaviest fighting since the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) left the province in the hands of the Afghan security forces. The ineptitude of the Afghan army and the growing presence of Taliban and foreign fighters have not gone unnoticed by neighboring countries. Especially Tajikistan has been sounding the alarm over the developments in Badakhshan province but China is worried as well. This is one of the reasons why Beijing is taking a leading role in facilitating the Afghan peace talks:

Afghan peace deal: Islamabad, Beijing ready to become ‘guarantors’ Pakistan and China are ready to become ‘guarantors’ of a possible peace deal between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban, officials familiar with the development have said. “We are ready to go the extra mile. We are even willing to become guarantors for any peace agreement,” said a senior Pakistani official, who requested not to be named because of sensitivity of the issue. During the talks, the Afghan side demanded immediate ceasefire from the Afghan Taliban. However, the Taliban reportedly agreed to cease fire if Islamabad and Beijing become ‘guarantors’ to ensure that a ‘United National Government’ will be formed in Afghanistan. Another official said China is also ready to provide guarantees if all the negotiating parties accept this arrangement. Following the Murree talks, China had hinted at playing a more proactive role in brokering a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

The noteworthy statement of the unnamed senior Pakistani official immediately attracted India's attention and the Press Trust of India (PTI) asked Beijing to comment on the report. China's Foreign Ministry evaded a direct response and only said that China will maintain close cooperation will all parties to bring about peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. After the first meeting between representatives from the Afghan government and the Taliban in Islamabad went better than expected, most parties have high hopes for the second round of talks this week. China was expected to host the upcoming meeting but a senior Pakistani security official just confirmed that the negotiations will continue in Pakistan. With the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor making progress, it comes as no real surprise that Islamabad and Beijing are currently doing their best to facilitate the Afghan peace talks:

China-Pakistan economic corridor under construction Pakistan's army chief General Raheel Sharif has inspected a road network under construction in Balochistan Province, which is part of a China-Pakistan development project. The economic corridor project links Gawadar Port in southwestern Pakistan to northwestern China's Xinjiang. Sharif said the corridor will transform the lives of local people and boost the development of the region. The construction is being out by Pakistan's Frontier Works Organisation, a military administrative staff corps. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was launched as part of the "One Belt, One Road" initiatives to connect Asia and Europe proposed by China.

Terror Spreads Across China as Uyghurs Explore New Escape Routes

Given the ongoing security problems in Balochistan and Xinjiang, chaos in neighboring Afghanistan is the last thing that Pakistan and China need right now. The Pakistani military has vowed to protect Chinese workers and engineers, who will assist in the construction of the project, with a 12,000 strong special security force. In exchange for billions of dollars in investments, Islamabad has also taken some action against Uyghur jihadists and other foreign fighters seeking refuge in the Pakistani tribal areas. As usual, Beijing prefers to throw money at the problem. Lately, Chinese consulate officials have reportedly been offering money to Uyghurs in Pakistan for information about activists campaigning against Chinese rule in 'East Turkestan.' The Chinese authorities take no chances when it comes to the insurgency in Xinjiang but an incident in the capital of the northeastern Liaoning province two weeks ago served as a stark reminder that the Uyghur militancy is no longer confined to China's far west:

China says police shoot dead three Xinjiang 'terrorists' Chinese police in the northeastern city of Shenyang shot dead three knife-wielding Uighur militants screaming for Islamic holy war and wounded another on Monday as they tried to resist arrest, the government and state media said. "When police pursued the terrorist suspects, four terrorists armed with knives resisted arrest. Police fired shots only after the terrorists ignored warnings," the Shenyang public security bureau said on its official microblog late on Monday. The state-run Beijing News, citing the Liaoning provincial government, said the militants, from Xinjiang, were killed on Monday afternoon after police tried to enter a rented house during a raid.

Police said that the four were suspected of involvement in the "June 12 Hijra case" without elaborating what the case is about. 16 other people have been arrested in connection with the case. Hijra refers to the journey of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution. Chinese counterterrorism expert Li Wei pointed out that suspected terrorists used to travel to southern China but the "case in Shenyang suggests that the Hijra movement might have spread across the country." As previously discussed, the Chinese government has stepped up its efforts to prevent Uyghurs from crossing the border into Southeast Asia. When Tong Bishan from China's Ministry of Public Security recently exposed Turkey's role in Uyghur smuggling and terror operations, he mentioned that more Uyghurs are now trying to leave via northeastern China due to increased security along the borders with Laos and Vietnam. One week after the shooting in Shenyang, China's state broadcaster highlighted the growing terrorist threat in the north by airing an interview:

China arrests Uygur suspect who planned 'bomb attack' on shopping mall Police foiled a terrorist plot to bomb a shopping mall in Hebei province, state media said on Monday, as it aired a “confession” by a suspect from the far western region of Xinjiang who said he had trained for the attack in Syria. The suspect from Kashgar said in a eight-minute video on China Central Television that he had fled to Syria via Turkey for “bomb-making training” in early 2013. He said he returned to China earlier this year, staying in Shijiazhuang, where he plotted to blow up a shopping mall. The case and confession could not be independently verified, but the report underscored Beijing’s concern that the threat of terror attacks was spreading.

Furthermore, the report underscored Turkey's role in facilitating the illegal migration and terrorist recruitment of Uyghurs. According to Beijing-based analyst Jiang Zhaoyong, the Chinese authorities "wanted the video to show the danger of having a pathway in Turkey for illegal migrants to flee to overseas terrorist groups." Predictably, World Uyghur Congress (WUC) spokesman Dilxat Raxit had a different take on the video. He dismissed the confession as an attempt to "hype up hostility against Uyghurs." Beijing is getting increasingly fed up with the WUC and its Western supporters. After the shooting in Shenyang, the Global Times launched a scathing attack on the WUC and the West, emphasizing that "Chinese people are clear that some Western forces are pushing the terrorist activities in Xinjiang." As recent developments have shown, these terrorist activities are now spreading across the country:

Chinese police catch two terror suspects, seize explosives and knives after tip-off Mainland police on Friday caught two terror suspects in a pre-dawn crackdown on an alleged terrorist group based in Wenzhou in the eastern Zhejiang province. Officers seized explosives, knives and other weapons and were investigating the case, the office said on Weibo. It did not give details about the suspects' ethnicity, their plots or the number of people involved.

Li Wei, director of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations' counterterrorism research centre, said the cases showed that separatists and religious extremists were exploring new routes to flee abroad for terrorist training.

Kyrgyzstan Cancels Treaty Because U.S. 'Sought Chaos'

Now it is up to the Chinese authorities to shut down the new routes. Poor intelligence and porous borders have long stymied China's efforts to stop Uyghurs from leaving via Southeast Asia but increased security along the boders with Laos and Vietnam appears to be paying off. Prior to that, many Uyghurs tried to cross into Central Asia via Kyrgyzstan. According to a Beijing-based diplomatic source, Southeast Asia became the preferred route for Uyghurs to flee the country only after Kyrgyzstan stepped up security at China's request. Joint Kyrgyz-Chinese border operations highlight the fruitful cooperation. Since Beijing is not in the business of giving awards to human rights activists, Kyrgyzstan's cooperation with China doesn't face the same difficulties as cooperation with Western partners. The U.S. just learned the hard way that the Kyrgyz government doesn't flinch from taking drastic measures if it feels offended:

Kyrgyzstan cancels cooperation treaty with United States Kyrgyzstan canceled a cooperation treaty with the United States on Tuesday, raising the stakes in a diplomatic row triggered by the award of a human rights prize to a jailed dissident. Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariyev ordered his cabinet to renounce the 1993 Bilateral Agreement with the U.S. It will not be valid starting Aug. 20, the government said in a statement. The agreement provided for U.S. aid to Kyrgyzstan to be brought into and out of the country without the levying of taxes, customs duties or any other payment.

Moreover, the agreement ensured that U.S. personnel supporting military or civil aid programs in Kyrgyzstan were granted near-diplomatic status. Although renouncing the 1993 treaty is by no means tantamount to breaking off diplomatic relations, it is a significant step highlighting the deterioration of Kyrgyzstan's relationship with the United States. Washington didn't expect Bishkek to take such drastic measures in response to the human rights award for Azimjon Askarov. The U.S. said it was disappointed by the decision but reaffirmed that it will continue to provide assistance to the Central Asian country. USAID, which has been involved in a lot of projects in Kyrgyzstan, will now have to make do without its privileged status. Despite mounting criticism at home and abroad, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev defended the decision to cancel the agreement and went on the offensive:

Kyrgyz leader says U.S. 'sought chaos' by decorating dissident Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev said on Monday the United States had sought to "create chaos" in his country by granting an award to a jailed dissident. "This (U.S. award) cannot fail to shock and, for Kyrgyzstan, this means ethnic instability and an attempt to create chaos," Atambayev told a news conference in a resort area outside the capital Bishkek. "It's just revolting. Someone needs instability in Kyrgyzstan. Someone wants these ashes to smolder all the time."

Atambayev warned that the award could nurture a dangerous "separatist mood" among Uzbeks by promoting the preconception that "there will never be justice in Kyrgyzstan" for the Uzbek community. Not everyone in the country shares Atambayev's views. Many people criticized the government for renouncing the treaty. Opposition leader Ravshan Zheenbekov even suggested bringing Prime Minister Temir Sariyev to justice for abuse of power because he was the one who signed the document. Some critics emphasized that the government probably didn't make this decision on its own but rather after getting some friendly advice from Moscow. This theory has also been promoted by the usual suspects in the media. Kyrgyz President Atambayev is clearly aware that it looks like Moscow was pulling the strings behind the scenes. Therefore, he decided to point out that Kyrgyzstan is not a Russian vassal:

Atambayev: Some Day, Russian Military Will Have To Leave Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyzstan's president has suggested that Russia's military base in the country will have to leave at some point, perhaps in an effort to signal that even as relations with the United States suffer, he doesn't intend the country to be a Russian vassal. "We have a long term agreement, but sooner or later in the future Kyrgyzstan will have to defend itself, without relying on the bases of brotherly friendly countries," Almazbek Atambayev said at a press conference on July 27. He did suggest that the base's presence was still welcome today: the base's establishment "was due to threats which the republic can not withstand still today, so the decision on the opening of the base was correct and remains relevant today," he added.

# # # #

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: July 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

Saakashvili Fans Try to Exploit Georgian Border Woes 

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

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

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

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

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

Locals unhappy about South Ossetia border protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyrgyzstan Claims to Have Foiled ISIS Attack on Russian Air Base

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # # #

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: July 15, 2015

China Reveals Explosive Information to Give Turkey a Warning, India Eyes Central Asia as SCO Expands & 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.

Turkey's far-right National Movement Party (MHP) and its paramilitary youth wing, the Grey Wolves, have been leading the protests against "China's brutality in East Turkestan." Korean tourists and the Uyghur cook of a Chinese restaurant in Istanbul were the first ones to learn that Turkish ultranationalists don't flinch from using violence to protest China's "Ramadan ban" or other Chinese misdeeds. Even after Turkish police had to rescue the Korean tourists, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli tried to play down the recent wave of ultranationalist attacks and defended the attackers by pointing out that Chinese and Koreans both "have slanted eyes." While MHP-linked groups began openly printing death threats against Chinese, Beijing warned Chinese citizens traveling in Turkey to be on guard and stay away from anti-China protests. Amid rising tensions, Thailand further aggravated the situation by sending 173 Uyghur women and children to Turkey and then returning about 100 Uyghur migrants to China:

Thailand sends nearly 100 Uighur migrants back to China Thailand confirmed on Thursday it had forcibly returned nearly 100 Uighur migrants to China, heightening tensions between Ankara and Beijing over the treatment of the Turkic language-speaking and largely Muslim minority. "Thailand sent around 100 Uighurs back to China yesterday. Thailand has worked with China and Turkey to solve the Uighur Muslim problem. We have sent them back to China after verifying their nationality," Colonel Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, deputy government spokesman, told reporters on Thursday.

A group of more than 170 Uighurs were identified as Turkish citizens and sent to Turkey, and nearly 100 were identified as Chinese and sent back to China. Fifty others still need to have their citizenship verified.

China Reveals Explosive Information to Give Turkey a Warning

Predictably, Washington and its favorite Uyghur exile group lost no time in commenting on the matter. The U.S. State Department condemned Thailand's deportation of the Uyghurs and urged the Thai authorities "to allow those remaining ethnic Uighurs to depart voluntarily to a country of their choice." World Uyghur Congress (WUC) spokesman Dilxat Raxit drew attention to the pictures of Uyghurs in hoods saying that the pictures showed they had been "stripped of their dignity." Beijing vehemently denied allegations of mistreatment or torture and rejected the criticism coming from the United States. The Chinese government was not amused when more than 170 Uyghurs left Thailand for Turkey, where they were welcomed by Raxit's colleague Seyit Tümtürk, but when ultranationalists in Turkey learned of Thailand's decision to return some of the remaining Uyghurs to China, all hell broke loose:

Thai consulate in Istanbul attacked after Uighurs deported Some 200 Turkish demonstrators stormed the Thai consulate in Istanbul in protest at the deportation of dozens of Uighur Muslims to China, reports said on Thursday. The attack was the latest in a series of nationalist-tinted protests in Turkey during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan over China's treatment of the Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim Uighurs in the north-western Xinjiang region. Nine people were arrested after the action at the consulate building in Istanbul late on Wednesday organised by a group calling itself East Turkestan Education Association, the Dogan news agency reported.

As previously highlighted, there is some evidence to suggest that the East Turkestan Education Association (ETESA) has been involved in recruiting Uyghurs for jihad in Syria. The Thai authorities surely know by now why the Istanbul-based Uyghur exile group has long been a thorn in Beijing's side. One day after the attack on the Thai consulate in Istanbul, another group of pro-Uyghur protesters attacked Thailand's embassy in Ankara and almost lynched a passing Asian tourist, assuming that the woman was Chinese, before attempting to break into the Chinese embassy. Turkish police eventually dispersed the protesters with pepper spray. Thailand immediately warned its citizens to "be on alert" and decided to close its embassy and consulate temporarily. While the Thai government tried to ease tensions by pointing out that it had rejected Beijing's request to return all Uyghur migrants held in Thailand, Turkey's state Anatolia news agency and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan finally conceded that media coverage of China's "Ramadan ban" does not correspond with reality:

Reports on Chinese practices in Xinjiang largely inaccurate, says Turkey’s Erdoğan Many news reports on China’s alleged restrictions on Muslim Uighurs during the holy month of Ramadan do not reflect reality, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, amid anti-Chinese demonstrations by Turkish nationalists over the treatment of the Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang region. His words come amid a spike in attacks against East Asian tourists in Turkey. Earlier on July 9, an Asian tourist was attacked by pro-Uighur protesters in Ankara as they assumed that she was Chinese. “I call on the public to be careful on this issue. I request for people not to rise to the bait of provocateurs. Security of life and property of all of our East Asian guests, who come to our country for work, travel and living, is our honor,” Erdoğan said, while also urging Turkey’s security forces to be more careful on the issue.

Erdogan seems to live by the motto 'better late than never.' Luckily for him, no Asian tourists have been lynched in Turkey before he set the record straight. After being bombarded with countless misleading reports about China's "Ramadan ban," hardly anybody noticed it when China tried to counter the propaganda and it is to be feared that the recent admissions from Turkey will be overlooked as well. Understandably enough, Beijing is fed up with Ankara's behavior and decided to give the Turks a warning by shedding more light on Turkey's passports-to-Uyghurs scheme. Shortly after the latest attacks in Turkey, a Chinese official from the Ministry of Public Security explained to a small group of foreign reporters in Beijing why Thailand had identified some of the Uyghurs as Turkish nationals and why the West should think twice before criticizing China for repatriating Uyghur migrants:

China says Uighurs being sold as 'cannon fodder' for extremist groups Uighurs from China's Xinjiang are being given Turkish identity papers in Southeast Asia by Turkish diplomats and then taken to Turkey where some are sold to fight for groups like Islamic State as "cannon fodder", a senior Chinese official said. "Turkish embassies in Southeast Asia will give them proof of identity," Tong Bishan, division chief of the Ministry of Public Security's Criminal Investigation Department, told a small group of foreign reporters in Beijing on Saturday. Tong said that hundreds of Uighurs had been given documents by Turkish diplomats, especially in Kuala Lumpur, and then allowed into Turkey.

Taliban Rift Threatens to Derail Afghan Peace Talks

According to the Ministry of Public Security, 13 of the 109 Uyghurs repatriated from Thailand had fled China after being implicated in terrorist activities and another two had escaped detention. After the damning revelations in January, China has now exposed Turkey's role in Uyghur smuggling and terror operations for the second time this year. But given the importance of the East Turkestan project for various factions in Turkey and the U.S., it is highly doubtful that this will stop the Turkish authorities from supporting their Uyghur "brothers." In addition to Turkey's meddling in Xinjiang, the volatile situation in neighboring Afghanistan is giving Beijing headaches as well. In recent months, China has pulled out all the stops to restart the Afghan peace talks. Obama's decision to slow the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan complicated matters but Beijing's efforts are apparently paying off after all:

Afghan Government, Taliban Begin Two-Days of High-Level Talks Afghan government officials and Taliban representatives on Tuesday began two days of discussions in Pakistan, Afghan officials said, signaling a possible start to a formal peace process. The meeting was one of the highest-level contacts between the two warring parties in recent years, offering hope that a formal peace process aimed at ending the long-running conflict could soon begin. A senior Afghan official said U.S. and Chinese officials took part in Tuesday’s meeting as observers. Their attendance, together with Pakistan’s willingness to play host, is significant as it points to a broadening involvement of key players in a possible peace process. 

Members of the Haqqani network also attended the peace talks. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described the meeting as a breakthrough because it was the first time that Kabul had sent an official team after several informal meetings between representatives from the two sides. While the Afghan delegation had the full backing of the Kabul government, the Taliban delegation had only been authorized by Taliban political leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. His rival, battlefield commander Abdul Qayyum "Zakir," didn't approve of the meeting and threatened that he would either join ISIS with his men or set up another group if the talks continued. Considering that both delegations agreed to hold the next round of talks after the end of Ramadan, Mansour has to decide very quickly whether he wants to risk losing several thousand fighters to ISIS or end the peace process before it gets going:

Afghan Taliban seek ‘united national govt’ In a significant development that may lead to an elusive peace deal in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban have agreed to cease fire if Pakistan and China guarantee that a ‘united national government’ will be formed in the war-ravaged country. The Taliban representatives made this offer during crucial talks with senior Afghan government officials in the popular tourist resort of Murree Tuesday night. Officials from Pakistan, China and the United States also attended the closed door talks, suggesting the latest process has the backing of major international players. A senior government official familiar with the meeting told The Express Tribune that both sides exchanged a list of demands in an effort to take the process forward.

The Afghan side reportedly agreed to include the third-tier leadership of the Taliban in the government but the Taliban demand the inclusion of its first-tier leadership. As Kabul and the political leadership of the Taliban are inching closer to an agreement, the rift within in the Taliban could derail the peace talks at a crucial moment. If Taliban commander Zakir acts on his threats and leaves with his men, a peace deal won't be worth the paper it is written on. ISIS's Afghan affiliate, on the other hand, would certainly weclome this development. The group needs all the help it can get after losing several leaders in U.S. airstrikes. ISIS released an online audio clip to prove that its leader for Afghanistan, Hafez Saeed, was not killed along with his fellow jihadists but it is safe to say that the airstrikes have dealt a blow to Baghdadi's fans in Afghanistan. To make matters worse, Hezb-e Islami recently denied that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar had called on his followers to support ISIS in the fight against the Taliban, as suggested by a statement circulating in Afghan media:

Hekmatyar's Afghan militants deny joining Islamic State An influential Afghan militant faction on Monday denied reports that it had shifted loyalty to Islamic State's budding movement in the region. A spokesman for Hizb-i-Islami, led by Afghan commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, said a statement that had circulated in Afghan media last week alleging Hekmatyar had thrown his support behind the ultra-hardline jihadist movement also known as ISIS was a fake. "It was not true. None of us had issued any such statement in support of ISIS in Afghanistan against the Afghan Taliban," spokesman Haroon Zarghoon said.

India Eyes Central Asia as SCO Expands

Clashes between ISIS and the Taliban have been escalating in recent weeks, underscoring the deteriorating security situation in the country. The chaos in Afghanistan is frequently discussed when leaders from the region come together and the latest meetings in the Russian city of Ufa were no exception to this rule. Last week, leaders from the BRICS countries and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) gathered in Ufa for two noteworthy summits. Host Vladimir Putin wanted to use the opportunity to show his former colleagues in the G-7 that all the talk about isolating Russia is just wishful thinking and in light of the expansion of the SCO, even Western media was forced to admit that the Russian President might have a point. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia and Nepal joined the organization as dialogue partners, Belarus was upgraded from dialogue partner to observer state and, most importantly, India and Pakistan began the accession process, which will be finalized at the SCO summit in India:

India and Pakistan join Shanghai Co-operation Organisation The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation has embarked on a big enlargement process that could transform the club that includes China, Russia and four central Asian countries into a security and economic grouping stretching from eastern Europe to southeast Asia. SCO leaders decided on Friday to admit India and Pakistan as members and made Belarus an observer — a status that could eventually be upgraded to membership. The expansion marks a big diplomatic achievement for President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who hosted the summit in the southern Urals city of Ufa, as it allows him to demonstrate that western sanctions have failed to isolate Moscow internationally.

Both India and Pakistan hailed the emergence of a new economic axis and Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif stressed that Putin's "efforts will enhance the political and economic scope of the Eurasian belt." One of the major issues discussed in Ufa was using the SCO to link the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) with China's Silk Road Economic Belt. The final document of the SCO summit made no mention of this plan but Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng told reporters shortly thereafter that China and the EEU will start negotiations on an economic partnership agreement "as soon as possible." As Russia and China are looking to join forces in Central Asia, India also wants a piece of the cake. The BRICS and SCO summits in Ufa were just a stopover for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who embarked on an extensive Central Asia tour on July 6. Modi's tour brought some interesting news but especially a report in the Daily Mail ahead of his Tajikistan visit raised a few eyebrows:

India wants to expand footprint in Central Asia: Modi to ask Tajikistan for lease of ex-Soviet airbase Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to ask Tajikistan for the lease of a former Soviet airbase that was refurbished by India in 2007. Government sources told Mail Today that use of the Ayni airbase for the Indian Air Force, tops the agenda for discussion with Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon when the prime minister arrives on a state visit on July 12.

India refurbished the base in 2007 but could not base fighters and helicopters there because of Russian pressure.

A Tajik government source immediately denied that the use of Ayni Air Force Base was on the agenda and there is no indication that Modi visited the base or that the issue was discussed. Given that both Dushanbe and Moscow have to agree to the lease, India's chances of using Ayni are slim anyway. Tajikistan was the last stop on Modi's Central Asia tour. Whereas security and counterterrorism cooperation were high on the agenda during his visits to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, talks in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan focused mostly on economic cooperation. One of the major projects discussed was of course the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. Although the TAPI countries are still looking for a consortium leader, Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow and others have claimed that the construction will start this year. No one seemed to take the unpredictable situation in Afghanistan into account but Modi has now cast doubt on the planned route of the pipeline [emphasis mine]:

PM Narendra Modi pitches for early implementation of TAPI gas pipeline project Batting for early implementation of the USD 10 billion TAPI gas pipeline project, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today evinced India's interest in long-term investment in the energy sector in Turkmenistan as the two countries inked seven pacts and vowed to jointly combat terrorism in the region. Calling TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) project as a significant initiative in relationship between the two countries, Modi said possibility of land-sea route through Iran for the pipeline should be explored. The project was envisaged to take gas from Turkmenistan, which holds the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves, to India and Pakistan through Afghanistan.

# # # #

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: July 8, 2015

Russia Rewards Armenia for Not Starting Another Maidan, Turkey's Anti-China Propaganda Takes Its Toll on Uyghurs-Koreans & 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 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the entire country was widely celebrated in the U.S. and many other countries but not everyone welcomed the decision. Western media, which is more concerned about LGBT rights in Russia than in any other country, awaited eagerly how Russians would react to the ruling. The Washington Post was dumbfounded when influential journalist Dmitry Kiselyov and other prominent Russian figures didn't react as expected but fortunately Western journalists still got the reaction they were looking for. What went largely unnoticed is that Russians are not the only ones who see the U.S. Supreme Court ruling as a "big mistake." Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili assured his compatriots that he will do his best to prevent legalizing same-sex marriage in Georgia. This resonates with many people in his country. More and more Georgians are wondering whether Euro-Atlantic integration is really worth the trouble:

Spurned by the West, Georgians look to Russia despite past quarrels In this fiercely pro-Western nation that fought a brief war with Russia in 2008, few thought the Kremlin could ever regain a toehold. But with the West backing away from Georgia’s path to E.U. and NATO membership after a year of conflict in Ukraine, pro-Russian sentiments are on the rise. “More and more Georgians are feeling they haven’t gotten anything tangible from the West,” said Shorena Shaverdashvili, a prominent Georgian journalist. “There isn’t more love for Putin and Russia. It’s just a realization that we’re left face-to-face with Russia and we have to deal with it.” “Georgia should be neutral, and it should be militarily free,” said Archil Chkoidze, the leader of Georgia’s Eurasian Choice, a coalition of pro-Russian groups that says it has nearly 16,000 members. Among the warnings about Europe that he passes to his members, he said, was that E.U. leaders are more concerned with cultural issues such as gay rights — deeply unpopular in a socially conservative nation — rather than the everyday lives of Georgian citizens.

Georgian Government Not Swayed By Rising Pro-Russian Sentiments

Western promotion of gay rights and NATO's refusal to grant Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP) have contributed to a rise of pro-Russian sentiments in the country. Disappointment over the free-trade deal with the European Union is also a major factor. In June of last year, Georgia signed a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU as part of its Association Agreement. The result after one year is sobering. Georgian farmers are still struggling with EU food-safety standards and the benefit of the free-trade deal is debatable, to say the least. That is why support for signing the EU trade agreement is decreasing while support for joining the Russia-led Eurasian Union is increasing, as highlighted by a recent public opinion poll from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which shocked the West. The Georgian government has not been swayed by the changing public sentiment but it is becoming increasingly difficult for the West to reject Tbilisi's plea for NATO membership:

Georgia risks Kremlin fury with Nato overture

GEORGIA has vowed to press ahead with its attempts to join Nato, in a move set to provoke a furious reaction from Russia, which is hostile to any further expansion of the alliance. Tina Khidasheli, the defence minister of the former Soviet republic, said Nato was already “increasing its footprint” in her country and the next “logical step” would be an offer of membership. Khidasheli’s call came as Nato defence ministers discussed a potential upgrade of the alliance’s collective nuclear policy for the first time since the end of the Cold War, after an announcement by the Kremlin that it would add 40 warheads to its already vast nuclear arsenal.

Georgia's first ever female Defense Minister has picked up where her predecessors left off. Since taking office in May, Khidasheli has already visited NATO headquarters in Brussels twice and she lost no time in signing a controversial air defense deal with France. This came as a surprise to former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, who had claimed that he was fired because the government tried to prevent him from signing a similar deal. Alasania's sacking sent shockwaves through Brussels and Washington but concerns that this could spell the end for Georgia's NATO membership ambitions were completely unfounded, as Khidasheli's statement once again shows. The rise of pro-Russian sentiments notwithstanding, the Georgian authorities remain committed to Euro-Atlantic integration and support Western projects as best they can. A few days ago, Georgia hosted Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow and the talks focused primarily on the Southern Gas Corridor:

Turkmenistan’s President Visits Georgia, Discusses Gas Transit Project Energy projects, involving potential transit of Turkmen gas via southern corridor to Europe, were among the main issues discussed by the Georgian leaders and President of Turkmenistan, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who is paying his first official visit to Georgia on July 2-3. President Margvelashvili said that “this cooperation is beneficial” not only for Georgia and Turkmenistan, but also for “the entire region and for many countries in Eurasia.” “Our joint transit and energy projects will make it possible to transit Turkmen energy resources to the European markets,” the Georgian President said.

Before Georgia can transit Turkmen gas to European markets, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan will have to build the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. After Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan agreed to their maritime border in the Caspian Sea, proponents of the Trans-Caspian pipeline have again gotten their hopes up that the project will be implemented but Russia and Iran also have a say in this matter. Much to the delight of Turkmenistan, Georgia doesn't care much about what Russia has to say. In fact, the Georgian government loses no opportunity to support projects which are directed against Russia. Although the Georgian authorities are annoyed about the strong presence of former Georgian officials in Ukraine, they keep supporting the Kiev regime and turn a blind eye to the activities of former Georgian soldiers in Ukraine. Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has done a tremendous job in luring other Georgians to Ukraine but not every one of his followers is up to the task:

Ukraine’s ‘Georgian’ minister resigns Embattled Ukrainian Health Minister, Alexandre Kvitashvili, resigned Thursday after harsh criticism by the parliament, Verkhovna Rada and even by his former boss and current informal leader, Mikheil Saakashvili. “The old system breaks down, bribery and other levies thrive in hospitals, and nothing has improved in recent years, but on the contrary, deteriorated,” Mikheil Saakashvili, the governor of strategic Odessa Oblast, said. Ukrainian media quotes Saakashvili as saying that Kvitashvili, who held the same position of the health minister in Georgia during Saakashvili presidency, hasn’t been ‘aggressive and active’ enough to carry out necessary reforms.

Russia Rewards Armenia for Not Starting Another Maidan

As Saakashvili is showing Kvitashvili & Co. how to be more "aggressive and active," the U.S. government is making sure that the disgraced former Georgian President and his minions don't run out of money. In light of the developments in Ukraine after the Maidan Putsch, it is not difficult to understand why Russian officials and media were freaking out when they saw thousands of protesters gathering in the Armenian capital Yerevan. Although many protesters had made it clear that they don't want to follow the Ukrainian example, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov deemed it best to warn the West against any attempt to spark a color revolution in Armenia by exploiting "Electric Yerevan." Armenian Prime Minister Ovik Abramyan also pointed out that the movement could be hijacked by forces whose real goal is destabilizing the country. In contrast to Lavrov, Abramyan was not referring to the West but rather to the Armenian opposition and he did have a point:

Armenian politician arrives at Yerevan's Baghramyan Avenue with EU flag (PHOTOS) Paruyr Hayrikyan, leader of Armenia’s Union for National Self-Determination, arrived at Yerevan’s Baghramyan Avenue accompanied by several supporters, who carried the flags of Armenia and EU. The protestors began to shout angrily “Go away!” and urged Hayrikyan to remove the EU flag. Protestors qualify this step by Hayrikyan as a provocation. Responding to the journalists’ observations on whether such a step isn’t a provocation and won’t give a reason to foreign and specifically Russian media to present the protests in Baghramyan Avenue as Maidan, Harikyan said he’s not interested in that.

As protesters tore up the EU flag, they told Hayrikyan and his supporters in no uncertain terms: "Baghramyan is not Maidan, don't associate it with the latter!" That is exactly what the Kremlin wanted to hear. "Electric Yerevan" has made the Russian government very nervous. Moscow tried to appease the crowd by granting Armenia one concession after another but the protesters stood by their three demands, which can only be fulfilled by the Armenian government. Yerevan has merely offered to absorb the costs of the electricity price hike until an independent audit determines whether the planned price hike is justified. So the protests continued and Russia made another move. After granting Armenia a $200 million loan to buy Russian weapons, Russian defense industry sources leaked a few days ago to the press in Russia and Armenia which weapons the country might get:

Russia ‘Negotiating’ On New Missile Supplies To Armenia Russia is reportedly holding negotiations with Armenia on supplying it with sophisticated Iskander-M missiles that would significantly boost Armenian defense capabilities in the unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan. “A contract has not been signed yet; negotiations are still going on,” the official TASS news agency quoted an unnamed source in the Russian defense industry as saying late on Thursday. The source gave no further details, saying that “all information about such contracts is secret.”

Details are scarce but when the news broke, it created a stir in Armenia and abroad because the delivery of Iskander missile systems could have serious implications for the military balance in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Given that Azerbaijan is not capable of intercepting Iskander missiles, one would expect that the report caused an outcry in Baku but Azerbaijani media preferred to downplay the issue. AzerNews advised Armenia "to improve its economic situation rather than frivolously spending the money on its military" and Trend suggested that Russia is just trying to sell more weapons to Azerbaijan. This view was shared by an Armenian newspaper, which argued that Russia granted Armenia the $200 million loan to keep the arms race going and provoke Azerbaijan into buying Russian weapons for billions of dollars. Regardless of whether or not there is some truth to these claims, it is safe to say that "Electric Yerevan" has prompted some major developments despite failing to achieve its goals:

Police End ‘Electric Yerevan’ Protests, For Now Riot police forcibly unblocked on Monday a central Yerevan avenue that has been the scene of a nonstop demonstration for the past two weeks against a controversial rise in electricity prices in Armenia. Only between 100 and 200 protesters remained camped out on Marshal Bagramian Avenue when the police began dismantling their barricade. They went on to carefully disperse the small crowd. No To Plunder, a youth group that launched the “Electric Yerevan” campaign, urged the protesters on June 28 to unblock Marshal Bagramian Avenue. Most protesters rejected the appeal. Nevertheless, attendance at the protests fell dramatically in the following days.

Turkey's Anti-China Propaganda Takes Its Toll on Uyghurs, Koreans

While Russia can stop worrying about the "anti-Russian" protests in Armenia, China would be well advised to keep a very close eye on the anti-Chinese protests in neighboring Turkey. As discussed in the last round-up, Turkey has been ramping up its East Turkestan propaganda in recent weeks. When Western media and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) started their annual propaganda campaign against China's "Ramadan ban," Turkey took the lead with media, politicians and other prominent figures all condemning "China's brutality in East Turkestan." The Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed its "deep concern" to China over Ramadan restrictions in Xinjiang and even raised the issue with China's ambassador in Ankara. Beijing was outraged and tried to set the record straight about the "Ramadan ban" but the anti-China propaganda was already having the desired effect:

Turks Protesting China Pick Random Chinese Food Restaurant, Trash It Turkish protesters stormed a Chinese restaurant in central Istanbul Sunday, shouting anti-China slogans, flinging blue paint and dropping a “dead” baby doll on a table. They were apparently protesting China’s bans on Ramadan fasting in the majority-Muslim region of Xinjiang. That region’s native people, the Uyghurs, speak a language related to Turkish, and some separatists prefer to call the region “East Turkestan.” Sunday’s instigators were members of a small nationalist group, whose ideology, Turanism, espouses unity among the world’s Turkic peoples. In a rally outside the restaurant, they flew banners reading “Long Live East Turkestan,” and chanted the slogans “Down with Red China” and “Murderous China, get out of Turkestan.”

Moreover, they beat the cook of the restaurant, thinking that he was Chinese. As chance would have it, the guy was a Uyghur Turk. The protesters were members of "Turancı Hareket Platformu," which seems to be affiliated with the Grey Wolves, the paramilitary youth wing of the National Movement Party (MHP). The far-right MHP finished third in the Turkish general election last month, winning more than 16 percent of the vote. MHP leader Devlet Bahceli has been one of the strongest advocates of the East Turkestan independence movement. Recently, he was arguing with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about who has done more for their "Uyghur brothers." Given the history of the MHP and the Grey Wolves in 'Gladio' operations in Turkey, it comes as no real surprise that they are also playing a decisive role in Washington's East Turkestan project. A few days after the attack on the Chinese restaurant, anti-China protests erupted all over Turkey, once again led by the Grey Wolves:

Turks protesting against China attack Koreans ‘by mistake’

Turkish nationalists protesting China's treatment of ethnic Uighur Muslims attacked a group of Korean tourists in the heart of Istanbul's old city yesterday, mistaking them for Chinese nationals. The tourists were rescued by riot police, who fired tear gas to disperse the attackers, members of the notorious far-right Grey Wolves closely affiliated with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Video footage by Dogan news agency showed a distraught Korean tourist telling reporters: "I'm not Chinese, I'm Korean."

Judging by the scenes in Istanbul, the Turkish authorities will have to tone down the East Turkestan propaganda if they don't want Asians to get attacked on a regular basis. China's Foreign Ministry lost no time in warning Chinese citizens traveling in Turkey to stay away from anti-China protests, pointing out that some Chinese tourists have recently been "attacked and disturbed." As if the situation was not already tense enough, Radio Free Asia reported a few days ago that 173 Uyghur women and children have arrived in Turkey after being held in Thailand for more than a year. A Thai lawyer told Reuters that they had left Thailand on a "secret charter flight" provided by Turkey. Shortly after our old friend Seyit Tümtürk from the World Uyghur Congress welcomed the Uyghur refugees in Turkey, Beijing criticized Ankara for supporting illegal migration. The response from Ankara was not long in coming:

Turkey says to keep doors open for Uighur 'brothers', irking China Turkey vowed on Friday to keep its doors open to ethnic Uighur migrants fleeing persecution in China, a stance likely to exacerbate Ankara's row with Beijing over its treatment of the largely Muslim, Turkic-language speaking minority.  U.S.-based Radio Free Asia reported that 173 Uighur women and children had arrived in Istanbul this week from Thailand, where they had been detained for more than a year by immigration authorities for illegal entry. Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic declined to comment on the report, but said Ankara would continue to welcome its "Uighur brothers", citing "cultural and historical bonds".

# # # #

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 14, 2015

Gülen Movement Uses Turkey's Uyghur Adventures to Attack AKP, Aliyev Discovers His Faith as Azerbaijan & GCC Eye Closer Ties & 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 this year, China's state-run Global Times shed light on Turkey's role in smuggling Uyghur would-be terrorists out of the country and funneling them into Syria or Iraq. It is likely that Beijing made the story public to put pressure on Ankara in the ongoing tug-of-war between China and Turkey over Uyghur refugees in Thailand. But interestingly, the Chinese authorities haven't been the only ones to draw attention to this issue in recent months. In an interview with Turkish daily Hürriyet at the end of last year, Washington's favorite Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer complained that the Turkish government has ignored requests to take action against Turkey-based illegal human trafficking networks bringing Uyghurs to Syria and Iraq. AKP officials and the Islamist press responded by calling Kadeer "an infidel" and "an American agent for sale." The latter characterization is not exactly inappropriate and Kadeer's statement indicates that some people in Washington are willing to reveal information about Turkey's role in the East Turkestan project in order to settle a score with the Turkish government. A recent report in the newly launched newspaper of the Gülen movement supports this assumption:

ISIL recruits Chinese with fake Turkish passports from Istanbul The Turkish daily Meydan has uncovered a network based out of Istanbul, recruiting and facilitating the transport of fighters from China’s autonomous Turkic Uighur Xinjiang region to Syria and Iraq. The network is based out of Zeytinburnu, a district on Istanbul's European side which is home to a community of Uighurs who live in Turkey. It is headed by Nurali T, a businessman who has been facilitating the movement of Uighurs from China to Syria and Iraq via Turkey since 2011. He is known by his code name Abbas. An individual who works for him, AG, says that a total of 100,000 fake Turkish passports have been produced, 50,000 of which have been shipped to China to be handed to fighters recruited to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Gülen Movement Uses Turkey's Uyghur Adventures to Attack AKP

Meydan quoted "A.G." as saying that more than 50,000 Uyghurs have made their way to Turkey via Thailand and Malaysia with these fake passports. A.G. claimed that most of the Uyghurs were caught by police after landing in Turkey and had their passports seized before they were released and sent to join ISIS. The modus operandi sounds familiar and much of the report doesn't seem far-fetched, except for the ridiculously high numbers. Regardless of whether or not there is some truth to the claims, the report shows that the CIA-backed Gülen movement is also prepared to throw the spotlight on Turkey's East Turkestan activities in order to discredit Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his associates. The first issue of Meydan was published last Monday and it didn't take long before Gülen's new paper launched its first attack. Erdogan's mouthpiece Daily Sabah lost no time in responding to the report:

Gülenist media attacks Uighurs fleeing Chinese crackdowns with ISIS claims Uighurs who were forced to seek refuge due to the Chinese government's religious, cultural and language restrictions as well as ethnic discrimination policy faced a smear campaign by several Turkish media outlets that are associated with the Gülen Movement. In efforts to harm Turkey and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, fabricated Gülenist media reports claimed that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) was given more than 100,000 fake Turkish passports under the government's authorization and these passports were used by Uighurs escaping to Turkey to enter Syria and join ISIS.

Our old friend Seyit Tümtürk, the go-to-guy for Uyghurs in Turkey, was once again chosen to set the record straight. Tümtürk lamented that Hizmet's smear campaign is "devastating" for Uyghurs living in Turkey and he emphasized that the Gülen movement "has placed its signatures under a great tyranny" by propagating these "baseless claims." As previously discussed, Gülen and his puppeteers in Washington don't flinch from exposing Turkey's role in U.S.-NATO terror operations when the information can be used against Erdogan. The Turkish power struggle has already revealed some of NATO's dirty secrets in Syria and now it is turning the spotlight on the East Turkestan project as well. China won't mind. The Chinese authorities are grateful for any information which can be used to justify the increasingly harsh anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang. Despite the ongoing violence, Xinjiang authorities claim that the overall situation in the autonomous region remains "stable and controllable." Xinjiang's stability becomes ever more important as China expedites more major projects in the region:

China to Build Pipeline From Iran to Pakistan China will build a pipeline to bring natural gas from Iran to Pakistan to help address Pakistan’s acute energy shortage, under a deal to be signed during the Chinese president’s visit to Islamabad this month, Pakistani officials said. The arrival of President Xi Jinping is expected to showcase China’s commitment to infrastructure development in ally Pakistan, at a time when few other countries are willing to make major investments in the cash-strapped, terrorism-plagued country. The pipeline would amount to an early benefit for both Pakistan and Iran from the framework agreement reached earlier this month between Tehran and the U.S. and other world powers to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. had previously threatened Pakistan with sanctions if it went ahead with the project.

Iran says that it has already completed its 560-mile portion of the pipeline and China is now giving Pakistan a hand to construct the Pakistani side of the project. The "Peace Pipeline" will run to Pakistan's Gwadar deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea, which is under Chinese management. Iranian gas could be shipped from Gwadar to China by sea or a new pipeline could pump the gas along the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Xinjiang. Given that China plans to ship less oil and gas across the Strait of Malacca, Beijing will probably prefer the second option. But this is only going to work if the situation in Xinjiang and Balochistan doesn't get out of hand. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. strongly oppose the construction of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline for obvious reasons and they will do their best to sabotage the project. The House of Saud is not amused about the latest developments. As Pakistan eyes closer ties with Iran, the Saudis are left out in the cold:

Pakistan declines Saudi call for armed support in Yemen fight Pakistan's parliament voted on Friday not to join the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, dashing Riyadh's hopes for powerful support from outside of the region in its fight to halt Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia had asked fellow Sunni-majority Pakistan to provide ships, aircraft and troops for the campaign, now in its third week, to stem the influence of Shi'ite Iran in what appears to be proxy war between the Gulf's two dominant powers. While Saudi Arabia has the support of its Sunni Gulf Arab neighbors, Pakistan's parliament voted against becoming militarily involved.

Aliyev Discovers His Faith as Azerbaijan & GCC Eye Closer Ties

Some Pakistanis could barely contain their joy and celebrated that "for once Pakistan does not dance to the unmelodious Arab tune." The Gulf Cooperation Council is still raging but it is doubtful whether the "oil-spoilt sheiks" will be able to convince Pakistan of changing its decision: "The sheiks can shoke on their fury for all we care." Fortunately for Riyadh, not all Iranian neighbors are fed up with the Saudis and their GCC friends. Azerbaijan is looking to strengthen its ties with the Gulf states and the best thing is: Azerabaijani leader Ilham Aliyev couldn't care less about the opinion of his people. Contrary to what some American politicians believe, Azerbaijan is not exactly a democracy. At the beginning of this month, Aliyev hosted the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in Baku to strengthen bilateral cooperation:

UAE and Azerbaijan forge deals Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on Thursday held talks with Azerbaijan’s president during a two-day visit that resulted in bilateral economic and emergency readiness agreements. Sheikh Mohammed and president Ilham Aliyev discussed ways to strengthen cooperation with Azerbaijan, state news agency Wam said. Mr Aliyev voiced confidence in the results of the bilateral exchange, particularly in investment. Also on Thursday, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry issued a study on investment opportunities with Azerbaijan, Wam said.

A few days after Sheikh Mohammed's visit, Aliyev took his family on a trip to Saudi Arabia. The Azerbaijani leader is not known for his religious piety, quite the contrary, but he used the opportunity to pose for one photo op after another at Islam's holiest sites. During their visit to the holy city of Mecca, the Aliyev family and the Grand Mufti of the Caucasus, Allahshukur Pashazadeh, performed the Umrah, which was extensively documented by camera. Besides all the posing, Aliyev also found the time to hold talks with Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and other Saudi officials. United in their subservience to Washington and in their love for democracy, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia maintain close ties. According to Aliyev, the two countries "are brothers and friends." And in order to put a check on Iran, Saudi Arabia wants to expand cooperation with its brother and friend in all fields:

Saudi King holds talks with Azerbaijan’s president Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud met with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in the royal palace at the capital Riyadh on Sunday, the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. The president’s visit signals the GCC’s intention of strengthening ties with central Asia states, especially Azerbaijan, according to Mohamad Al Salami, a Riyadh-based researcher on Iranian affairs. “By strengthening economic, cultural, and political ties with central Asian states, which border Iran, GCC states would force Iran to reassess its political stance on issues in the area,” Al Salami told Al Arabiya News Channel.

Considering that Azerbaijan is already touting itself as an economic bridgehead for Arab states, it is safe to say that Baku is not averse to supporting the GCC plans. A big plus of working with the Gulf states is that they won't criticize democratic deficits or the worsening human rights situation in Azerbaijan, in contrast to Baku's Western partners. Human Rights Watch and several other NGOs just called on the European Olympic Committees to speak out against Azerbaijan's crackdown on activists and journalists and urge Baku to release political prisoners ahead of the first European Games in Azerbaijan. It remains to be seen if the Azerbaijani authorities will be swayed by this criticism. Aliyev & Co. know that they can get away with almost anything as long as they don't question Azerbaijan's close energy and military cooperation with the West:

Azerbaijan, US to agree on military co-op Azerbaijan and the United States will agree on the issues of bilateral cooperation in the defense sector, the message of the defense ministry of Azerbaijan said Apr.8.

During the conference, the participants discussed the work carried out in the defense sector between the two countries, the prospects for bilateral cooperation, as well as the project of the “Work plan on military cooperation for 2016 between the armed forces of Azerbaijan and the US European Command.”

Turkey Alarmed As Kardashians Draw Attention to Armenian Genocide

In the end, human rights are only of secondary importance. Washington would never threaten to end its military cooperation with Azerbaijan in response to Baku's relentless crackdown on critics. The country in the South Caucasus is too important as proxy for the U.S. and NATO. Vital NATO member Turkey plays a decisive role in this regard because it is Azerbaijan's closest ally. The two countries maintain very close military ties and regularly conduct joint military exercises. Moreover, they also share a common enemy: neighboring Armenia. As previously mentioned, when relations between Washington and Baku soured, Aliyev turned to his buddy Erdogan for support and he used every opportunity to emphasize the common struggle of both countries against "the invader Armenia, that is laying down groundless claims against Turkey and Azerbaijan." Against this backdrop, it comes as no real surprise that there are some claims about Turkish military involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict:

Azerbaijan denies presence of Turkish soldiers on contact line with Armenia

Azerbaijan has denied reports from the Armenian side that the country has Turkish soldiers fighting on its side on the contact line between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops.

The battles along the line of contact between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops involve only Azerbaijani servicemen, who are fit with the most modern weaponry and equipment, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry told Trend Apr. 7.

The ministry was commenting on a recent report spread by Armenian media about an alleged involvement of the Turkish servicemen in the battles along the line of contact as part of the armed forces of Azerbaijan.

Irrespective of these claims, Armenia is currently out of sorts with Turkey. Tensions between Yerevan and Ankara have been rising in recent weeks as the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide approaches. The Turkish government spares no effort to discourage people from using the word "genocide" to refer to the mass slaughter of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. When Pope Francis called it "the first genocide of the 20th century" and urged the international community to recognize it as such, Ankara lost no time in recalling its Vatican envoy. But to make matters worse for Turkey, Pope Francis hasn't been the only immensely popular figure to draw attention to the Armenian Genocide. American reality TV star Kim Kardashian visited Armenia for a couple of days with her family, rapper husband Kanye West and camera team to explore the Kardashians' ancestral homeland and shoot new episodes for the TV series, making the PR disaster for Turkey perfect:

Kardashian sisters will continue fighting for Armenian Genocide recognition The Prime Minister of Armenia, Hovik Abrahamyan, on Thursday received members of the famous American Armenian Kardashian family (photo). The PM underscored the Kardashian’s contribution to the international recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide, and their visit to Armenia ahead of the Genocide Centennial. Abrahamyan stressed the fact that the Kardashian family, just like the other Armenians worldwide, do not forget their roots, and they make Armenia more recognizable by visiting their historical homeland.

Thanks to Pope Francis' comments and the Kardashians' efforts, the Armenian Genocide received more media attention than Turkey would like. While the Armenian press is celebrating the unprecedented interest in Armenia, Turkish media is very concerned that the Kardashians' visit to the Armenian Genocide Memorial "can be propaganda of genocide recognition on American TV channels." So Turkish officials will probably watch the next episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians very closely. As Turkey is trying to make the best of a bad job, Azerbaijan is probably relieved that the Kardashians didn't show more interest in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But perhaps that is planned for the next season. Meanwhile, Armenia is preparing the official commemoration ceremony on April 24 and that includes removing some misguided individuals who want to exploit the anniversary for political purposes:

Armenian Opposition Group Leaders Sent To Pretrial Detention Five leaders of an Armenian opposition group have been sent to pretrial detention. A spokeswoman for Armenia's Investigative Committee, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL on April 10 that the five leaders of the Constituent Parliament group had been sent to pretrial detention for two months. The Constituent Parliament had announced plans to organize antigovernment protests during events on April 24, marking the 100th anniversary of what Armenia considers genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

# # # #

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

                                                       

The New Great Game Round-Up: March 31, 2015

Guangzhou: New Hot Spot of China's War on Terror, Obama's Decision to Slow Withdrawal Undermines Afghan Peace Talks & 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.

In recent weeks, Uyghur terrorists have been making headlines in several countries, ranging from Turkey to Indonesia and of course China. The Chinese authorities are increasingly concerned that Uyghur would-be terrorists who travel to the Middle East could return and fuel the insurgency in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Xinjiang's party chief Zhang Chunxian revealed during a meeting at the annual session of the National People's Congress that local authorities "have broken up terror groups who were plotting violent attacks on Chinese soil after fighting in battles in Syria with the IS." Although ISIS's threat to China is often exaggerated, Beijing's concerns are not unfounded. As discussed in a recent episode of Porkins Great Game, efforts are underway to smuggle Uyghurs out of China and turn them into jihadist mercenaries for U.S.-NATO terror operations. In order to nip the threat in the bud, Beijing wants to prevent Uyghurs from fleeing the country and catch those who have left:

China's Secret Plan to Track Militants and Bring Them Home Days after Indonesia arrested four Uighur terrorism suspects in September in the country’s east, China dispatched three intelligence officers to ask authorities to hand them over. While Indonesia initially demurred, China has now secured a preliminary agreement for the men to be returned after a trial in Jakarta, according to Irfan Idris, a senior official at Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency. The four, who are yet to be charged, face potential execution if repatriated. China pressed for the deal as part of a global operation begun last year to return terrorism suspects to Chinese soil, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the initiative is confidential. Many of the suspects are members of the Turkic-speaking Uighur Muslim minority, they said.

Guangzhou: New Hot Spot of China's War on Terror

The suspects in question are believed to be part of the group that carried out the horrific knife attack at Kunming's railway station in March of last year. Given that China just executed three men for leading the Kunming attack, it is safe to assume that the arrested Uyghurs will be executed if the Indonesian authorities hand them over. The four men and five other Uyghurs, who managed to escape, had entered Indonesia from Malaysia with Turkish passports, posing as asylum seekers. This has become a preferred strategy among Uyghur insurgents. Turkey's role in all of this was exposed at the beginning of this year in the course of the ongoing tug-of-war between Beijing and Ankara over Uyghur refugees in Thailand. While Turkey is playing the benevolent guardian of all Uyghurs, China is trying to convince the rest of the world that not all Uyghurs leaving the country are innocent refugees:

South China now favoured way out of country for IS recruits: terrorism expert China's southern seaboard has replaced the mountainous and tightly guarded western frontier as the preferred route for Islamic extremists to slip recruits out of the country, according to a leading expert on terrorism. Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, claimed that "over 400 Uygurs have left, most through Hong Kong via Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to join the IS [Islamic State]". Gunaratna's claim comes as a leaked Guangdong police document revealed that the authorities broke up a Pearl River Delta syndicate that smuggled at least six Uygurs to Macau on February 18 and 24. The document said the syndicate was planning to smuggle more Uygurs hiding in Guangzhou, Foshan and Zhongshan to Macau before police busted the ring on March 2.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong Police Force played down the issue, saying that the city's terrorist threat level remained moderate but the recent emergence of ISIS flyers in Hong Kong suggests that there might be something to Gunaratna's claim. Citing Hong Kong news reports, U.S.-based Chinese political news outlet Duowei News pointed out that Indonesian domestic helpers in Hong Kong have been receiving leaflets encouraging them to join ISIS. Even more interesting is the flyer's assertion that recruits will be sent to "carry out missions" in Xinjiang. The authorities in Hong Kong are clearly alarmed by the ISIS flyers and the same is probably true of the authorities in mainland China. As the above-mentioned break-up of another smuggling operation shows, China's fight against terrorists and would-be terrorists is not confined to Xinjiang. Southern China is becoming an increasingly important part of the battlefield. Uyghurs who are hiding in and around Guangzhou, the capital and largest city of Guangdong province, have caused a lot of trouble in recent weeks:

Police shot dead two Uygur women before railway knife attack in Guangzhou Police shot dead two ethnic Uygur women who resisted arrest and detained more than a dozen Uygur men during a late-night raid in a village outside Guangzhou just hours before the knife attack at the city's main railway station on March 6, which left 13 people injured, witnesses said. Residents of Xiniujiao - or Rhino Horn - village who witnessed the police raid told the Sunday Morning Post that more than 100 officers, some of them armed, had swooped on the suspects during the Lantern Festival on March 5. Three knife-wielding men attacked passers-by and passengers at random in the rail attack earlier this month. Police have been tightlipped about the ethnicity of the assailants, saying only that one had been shot dead and another arrested.

According to Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, the perpetrators of the knife attack at Guangzhou's railway station had planned to be smuggled to Macau before traveling to the Middle East via Southeast Asia to join ISIS. But they were forced to stay in Guangzhou after the boat they had arranged sank late last month. Four days after the break-up of the above-mentioned smuggling ring and hours after police raided a group of 40 Uyghur terror suspects from Xinjiang hiding in an apartment in Guangzhou's Baiyun district, the men launched the attack, resembling the Kunming attack in many ways. Guangzhou appears to be the new hot spot in China's fight against smuggling and terrorism. A few days ago, the South China Morning Post broke the very interesting story of a self-claimed "American scholar," who visited South China Normal University to recruit Uyghurs and smuggle them to Malaysia:

Terrorists 'recruited Uygur students at Guangzhou university' Uygur students in Guangzhou have been warned to stay away from "outsiders" after several were recruited by a suspected religious extremist and had been missing since last year, various sources told the South China Morning Post. A man claiming to be a US national conducting social science research visited the campus of the South China Normal University [SCNU] last year. Sources said the man recruited several Uygur students, gave them money and arranged for them to flee to Malaysia. It is not clear if Malaysia was their final destination, or whether they were headed for Turkey or Syria, as some believe.

Obama's Decision to Slow Withdrawal Undermines Afghan Peace Talks

As usual, the NED-funded World Uyghur Congress lost no time in playing down the issue but this story highlights that the Chinese authorities have to be on their guard. And although "China's southern seaboard has replaced the mountainous and tightly guarded western frontier as the preferred route for Islamic extremists," the situation in neighboring Afghanistan gives reason for concern as well. On March 22, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah traveled to Washington for a five-day visit. The two Afghan leaders met with President Barack Obama and senior U.S. officials to discuss the troop withdrawal, reconciliation talks with the Taliban and other important issues. Ghani began the visit by thanking the Americans "who have sacrificed continuously since September 11th to bring us freedom and hope" before asking Obama to keep more troops in Afghanistan. Obama didn't know exactly which Afghan President he was talking to but he needed no second invitation:

Obama slows withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan President Barack Obama on Tuesday granted Afghan requests to slow the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and said he would maintain a force of 9,800 through the end of 2015 while sticking to a 2017 exit plan. Capping a day of VIP treatment for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House, Obama said the U.S. force would be kept at its current strength to train and assist Afghan forces, who took over responsibility for the fight against Taliban and other Islamic militants at the start of the year. Obama said the pace of the U.S. troop reduction in 2016 would be established later this year and the goal remained to consolidate U.S. forces in the country in a presence at the Kabul embassy at the end of 2016.

It remains to be seen if the U.S. will really retain only a small force at the Kabul embassy after 2016. There are already some doubts and Afghan leader Ghani has expressed a need for foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2016. Since taking office in September of last year, Ghani has been doing Washington's bidding and this has finally paid off. During his visit to Washington, the Afghan President received the "Distinguished Leadership Award" from the Atlantic Council and the United States Institute of Peace, presumably for being a better puppet than predecessor Hamid Karzai. Ghani also secured more U.S. funds for the Afghan security forces who are suffering from a number of problems, including "serious combat losses" and desertions. But American taxpayers will be relieved to hear that Afghanistan will be able to pay for its own security forces within a decade - at least this is what Ghani promised U.S. lawmakers. Possibly, the problem will resolve itself when the Taliban take over:

Slowing down of US pullout to affect peace efforts: Taliban President Barack Obama’s decision to slow the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan would hamper peace efforts, the Taliban said on Wednesday, vowing to continue fighting. “Obama’s announcement to continue to keep troops in Afghanistan is a response to the peace efforts,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. “This damages all the prospects for peace. This means the war will go on until they are defeated,” he said.

Not everyone was happy with Ghani's U.S. visit and the news from Washington. It is to be feared that Obama's decision to slow the "withdrawal" will undermine the peace talks, which had seen some progress due to China's efforts. Ghani attracted a lot of criticism for pushing for U.S. troops to stay longer. The Afghan High Peace Council, the official body overseeing the Afghan peace process, and other influential players in the region warned that Ghani is sending the wrong message to the Taliban. The statement by Taliban spokesman Zabuhullah Mujahid proves them right. Perhaps Ghani was too busy hyping the ISIS threat to recognize that there is a downside to keeping U.S. toops in the country. Just ahead of his visit to the U.S., the Afghan President acknowledged for the first time that ISIS is gaining influence in Afghanistan and by the time he arrived in Washington, Ghani was hyping the threat like none other:

Ghani: Islamic State 'terrible threat' to western, central Asia Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday that Islamic State and its allies pose a "terrible threat" to the countries of western and central Asia. In a speech to a joint meeting of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Ghani said Islamic State militants are already sending advance guards to southern and western Afghanistan "to test for vulnerabilities."

Turkmenistan Looking for Help to Defend Afghan Border

Nobody is going to deny that ISIS flags are becoming more popular in Afghanistan but ISIS doesn't pose a "terrible threat" to Central Asia. Furthermore, the links between ISIS in Afghanistan and the "original" ISIS in the Middle East are tenuous at best. Some insurgents who have previously fought for the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) or other groups are now pledging allegiance to ISIS. This has prompted a lot of fear-mongering in Central Asia and Russia. As previously discussed, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have every reason to be worried in light of the deteriorating security situation along their borders and the massing of fighters in northern Afghanistan but ISIS is not going to conquer Central Asia anytime soon. Turkmenistan is arguably the country which has been affected the most by the volatile situation in northern Afghanistan:

Four Said Killed By Police In Violence Near Afghan-Turkmen Border A local leader in an ethnic Turkmen village near Afghanistan's border with Turkmenistan says police killed at least four people and wounded at least seven others while dispersing a protest. The head of Qarqeen village council, Gulam Rasul Qaryadar, told RFE/RL that police fired shots on March 16 after ethnic Turkmens gathered in front of the district administration building, demanding help from the authorities to stop what they say are efforts by Turkmenistan to take land they claim as their own.

The villagers have said that Turkmen forces are grabbing their land on an island that was formed several years ago in the Amu River, which serves as part of the border between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.

Territorial gains by the Taliban and other groups prompted Turkmenistan last year to "invade" Afghanistan and the situation on both sides of the border has been highly volatile ever since. While ethnic Turkmens in northern Afghanistan are urging the Afghan authorities to investigate the deadly shooting by police, the Turkmen authorities are reportedly using the Taliban/ISIS threat to arrest would-be protesters. But Ashgabat doesn't take the situation lightly. General Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, revealed during a recent Congress hearing that Turkmenistan has approached the U.S. asking for military aid to address the instability on the Turkmen-Afghan border. And if the Turkmen exile website Chronicles of Turkmenistan is to be believed, even foreign troops have already been deployed to the border:

Report: Troops From Uzbekistan And Russia Deployed To Turkmenistan-Afghanistan Border Troops from Russia and Uzbekistan are helping Turkmenistan guard its border against militant incursions from Afghanistan, an Turkmenistani exile website reports, citing residents of border areas. According to the report on Chronicles of Turkmenistan, "residents of Afghan border villages have recently noticed the presence on Turkmen territory border units from Uzbekistan." And it added: "About a month ago military instructors from Russia also appeared on the border. Obviously, the Turkmen authorities appealed to the Russian leadership for help guarding the border with Afghanistan, a situation where, with the arrival of warm weather, has begun to heat up."

The report should be taken with a grain of salt because there have not been any independent verifications of the information but it underlines concerns about the situation on the Turkmen-Afghan border and Ashgabat's ability to deal with the threat on its own. Turkmenistan is now experiencing the disadvantages of its neutrality. Neither American nor Russian help will come with no strings attached. It is not unlikely that this will affect Turkmenistan's pipeline politics. Unperturbed by the chaos in Afghanistan, Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow just instructed his country's oil and gas leaders to accelerate the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. Turkmenistan plays a decisive role in two major U.S.-backed pipeline projects, TAPI and the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which is now back on the table despite vehement Russian opposition:

EU wants to revive gas pipeline project from Turkmenistan The European Union is seeking to revive a gas pipeline project from Turkmenistan to Europe and involve European energy companies, an EU diplomat in Turkmenistan said. Denis Daniilidis told Reuters that Maros Sefcovic, the EU's head of energy union, was going to visit Turkmenistan in coming months to restart talks about the TransCaspian pipeline. While he did not provide other details, Turkmen officials said earlier this month that "active" negotiations were under way to supply Europe with between 10 and 30 billion cubic metres of gas per year.

# # # #

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.

# # # #

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.

# # # #

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

                                                       

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

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

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

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

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

Kadyrov's Nemesis Vanishes as ISIS Looks for Russian Spies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taliban Losing Fighters to ISIS in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China Cracks Down on Illegal Border Crossings by Uyghurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # # #

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

                                            

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Killing of Armenian Family Tests Armenia-Russia Ties

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # # #

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

                                                       

The New Great Game Round-Up: November 3, 2014

Russia's "Conspiracy Theorists" Accuse West of Sponsoring Terrorism, Georgia's Efforts to Win Back Abkhazia & South Ossetia Fail & More

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

After performing a pilgrimage to Mecca and holding talks with King Abdullah and other high-level Saudi officials on his first foreign trip since taking office in September, Afghanistan's newly selected president Ashraf Ghani travelled to China for an important four-day visit aimed at strengthening ties between the two neighboring countries. As the NATO-led forces are reducing their presence in Afghanistan, Kabul is looking east for foreign investment while Beijing is trying to ensure stability in the region. On the first day of his visit, Ghani met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who called for "a new era of cooperation in China-Afghanistan relations." The two leaders agreed on a new long-term partnership and given that Beijing is alarmed at the prospect of a failed state or a civil war right on China's doorstep, Ghani didn't have a hard time in securing some desperately needed investments:

China Pledges $327 Million in Aid to Afghanistan

China has pledged two billion yuan ($327 million) in aid to Afghanistan, which is seeking new sources of foreign help amid a drawdown of U.S. troops and increasing worries about regional instability.

The offer of aid through 2017 came after China’s President
Xi Jinping and newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met in Beijing on Tuesday, according to a joint declaration published Wednesday by China’s foreign ministry. Beijing and Kabul also agreed to step up intelligence sharing to fight drug trafficking and address other cross-border issues

China, Afghanistan Herald Start of New Era of Cooperation

It is important to note that the grants of $327 million, which will be paid out over a period of three years, are more than all the economic assistance from China since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Moreover, the Chinese authorities pledged to encourage new investment in Afghanistan by Chinese enterprises and to provide professional training and scholarships for 3,500 Afghans over the next five years. During Ghani's visit, China hosted for the first time the annual conference of the so-called "Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process," further demonstrating Beijing's interest in playing a bigger role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Knowing that economic assistance alone won't suffice, the Chinese government has also offered to help Afghanistan build its antiterrorism capabilities. As mentioned last week, the Afghan authorities have already evinced interest in working with the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in this regard and Ashraf Ghani told the Chinese exactly what they wanted to hear:

China says Afghan president vows to help China fight extremists

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani has pledged to help
China fight Islamist extremists, a senior Chinese official said on Tuesday, after Ghani met President Xi Jinping in Beijing on his first visit abroad since his September inauguration.

China, which is connected to Afghanistan by the narrow, almost impassable Wakhan Corridor, says militants seeking to set up a separate state called East Turkistan in its western Xinjiang region are holed up along the ungoverned Afghan-Pakistani border.

"In the area of security, President Ghani expressed the readiness and staunch support from the Afghan side in China's fight against East Turkistan Islamic Movement terrorist forces," Kong Xuanyou, Director General of the Foreign Ministry's Asian Affairs Department, told journalists after Ghani and Xi met.

China's willingness to help its neighbor can be traced back to concerns that unrest in Afghanistan could spill over the border into Xinjiang, where the local authorities are already stuggling to contain the increasing violence. Considering that Afghan security forces are currently engaged in heavy fighting with Taliban in Badakhshan Province, which borders Xinjiang, these concerns are not completely unfounded. Afghan leader Ghani used the Istanbul Process meeting in Beijing to reiterate his call for the Taliban to join a national peace dialogue but the group has made it clear that it does not "want to waste time talking to an administration [in Kabul] with no authority," which is just serving American interests. The Chinese government knows of course full well that the Americans are still pulling the strings behind the new Afghan government and that the remaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan will continue tracking China, Russia and Iran from this geo-strategic location. This begs the question of whether Beijing plans to join forces with Tehran in order to kick the Americans out:

Could Iran and China Cut the US Out of Afghanistan?

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met in Beijing on Friday,
Xinhua reports. On one level, the meeting was simply the latest example of growing China-Iran ties. The timing of the meeting, however, suggests a more specific aim for bilateral relations – greater cooperation between Beijing and Tehran to achieve their joint goals in Afghanistan.

While China has been relatively accepting of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as a means of achieving this end goal, Iran wants the U.S. gone as soon as possible. Unlike other major regional powers, Tehran opposed the recently-signed Bilateral Security Agreement that will allow a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan post-2014. Currently, Beijing is willing to accept the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan as a necessary evil. However, if Iran and China can cooperate to achieve their goals vis-à-vis Afghanistan while reducing or eliminating the need for U.S. involvement, it would suit both countries’ goals.

Lately, China and Iran have been growing closer together. Last week, Iran’s naval chief, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, visited Beijing for talks with the PLA Navy commander and Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan, who used the opportunity to stress that China wants to have closer military ties with Iran. Depending on whether Tehran manages to reach a nuclear deal with the West by November 24, Iran will also join the SCO in the near future. For the moment, only Pakistan and India are set to become full members at the next SCO summit. As previously discussed, China counts on the soon-to-be SCO members in dealing with the mess in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan's track record in supporting various terrorist groups in the region puts a questions mark over China's plans and both Afghanistan and India never grow tired of pointing this out. Afghan and Indian officials present at the recent Istanbul Process meeting are positive that Beijing finally got the message:

Delhi, Kabul warn China: Pak maybe your ally but it exports terror

Asked by India Today if China was prepared to take steps to address Afghan and Indian concerns on terrorism emanating from Pakistan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, "I am happy to tell you that among the confidence building measures we agreed today, the first is on counterterrorism".

"We believe that the international community should not accept any forms of terrorism," he said. "During the conference we have had an extensive exchange of views on the topic."

An Indian official present at Friday's meet said that it was striking that the terror issue took centre stage. "At one point this was as sensitive for China as [raising] the South China Sea" considering Beijing's "all-weather" ties with Pakistan, the official said.

Russia's "Conspiracy Theorists" Accuse West of Sponsoring Terrorism

The chaos in Afghanistan and the increasing violence in Xinjiang might have led to a change of thinking in Beijing but it remains to be seen if the Chinese authorities actually walk the talk. Up until now, China has always refused to publicly criticize close ally Pakistan for its support of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, knowing that Pakistan's alliance with radical Islam is closely linked to the Kashmir conflict. But to some extent, Pakistan's use of jihadist gangs is also accounted for by Islamabad's willingness to participate in Washington's terror operations in the region, the best known being Operation Cyclone. Chinese President Xi Jinping should perhaps take a cue from his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who didn't mince his words, when he addressed this issue last week at the annual meeting of the influential Valdai Club:

Putin Accuses West Of Sponsoring "Terrorist Invasions" Of Russia, Central Asia

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of sponsoring terrorism in Russia and Central Asia.

The entire speech is fascinating, and certainly will be studied as much as the
Munich speech or his post-Crimean annexation speech by those trying to figure out Russia's foreign policy. But one section of this speech is of particular interest to Bug Pit readers:

They [the U.S.] once sponsored Islamic extremist movements to fight the Soviet Union. Those groups got their battle experience in Afghanistan and later gave birth to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The West if not supported, at least closed its eyes, and, I would say, gave information, political and financial support to international terrorists’ invasion of Russia (we have not forgotten this) and the Central Asian region’s countries. Only after horrific terrorist attacks were committed on US soil itself did the United States wake up to the common threat of terrorism. Let me remind you that we were the first country to support the American people back then, the first to react as friends and partners to the terrible tragedy of September 11.

This is not exactly news but Western media is still desperately trying to convince the public that all the reports about U.S./NATO operations using jihadist mercenaries in Russia's North Caucasus and Central Asia are just "conspiracy theories." Therefore, the editorial board of the Washington Postlost no time in portraying the Russian President as a lying conspiracy theorist. And if one were to believe Western media, the same is true of Putin's most important ally in the North Caucasus, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who recently urged ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi "to take off his mask" and admit that he is a CIA agent. Kadyrov announced last week that his men are searching for al-Baghdadi but that they cannot find him because he is working for the CIA. The comments were the latest in a war of words between Kadyrov and ISIS, which has prompted influential ISIS leader Omar al-Shishani aka Tarkhan Batirashvili to put a $5 million bounty on Kadyrov's head. Interestingly enough, Batirashvili's curious background raises the question of whether he is working for an intelligence agency as well and as more details emerge, it becomes clear that Batirashvili is not your average jihadist:

The Secret Life of an ISIS Warlord

Like so many of the world’s most brutal dictators, military leaders, tyrants, and jihadists, it appears Tarkhan was trained by the very best: the United States government. According to his father and former colleagues, Tarkhan worked for an elite “Spetsnaz” Georgian military-intelligence unit—at least until he caught tuberculosis, lost his job in the intelligence unit, was then framed by that same intelligence unit, and went to jail in 2010 for weapons possession.

Tarkhan’s father claims that his son worked, specifically, for the ministry of interior’s KUD or “Kudi,” basically the domestic-intelligence and special-operations service in Georgia, officially called the Constitutional Security Department. The agency was notoriously brutal. When asked if it was true that his son Tarkhan was trained by the United States, Temur says, “Of course they did. They trained all of the Georgian army back then… My boy was just 19 when he went to the army… This KUDI, where he was working, it was an intelligence and reconnaissance unit.”

Batirashvili has been described as the "tactical mastermind behind Islamic State’s swift military gains on the ground in Iraq’s Anbar province" and he is credited with many battlefield successes but according to the above-mentioned article in TheDaily Beast, Tarkhan Batirashvili "may well be a figurehead for his older brother" Tamaz who is supposed to be "the real mastermind behind the Chechen operatives running ISIS offensives in Syria and Iraq." At any rate, the two brothers have long-standing ties with Georgian intelligence and the article even mentions that "Georgia’s Anti-Terrorism Center, or ATC, allegedly ran some jihadists out of Pankisi to fight against Moscow’s troops in Grozny." Georgia's role in these kind of operations has been exposed time and time again and Russia's mob-up operations abroad frequently shed some light on the other actors involed. Chechen exiles should watch their backs, regardless of whether they found shelter in France or in Turkey:

Turkish suspect confesses to Chechen leader’s murder

The Turkish man who is suspected of killing a Chechen leader in Turkey last year has been detained and confessed to the murder, claiming that “pro-Russian Chechens” had made him shoot the victim.

The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria’s honorary consul in Ankara, Medet Ünlü, 53, was killed by armed assailants at the honorary consulate in
Ankara on May 22, 2013.

“They promised me a life in
Ukraine that I can’t even imagine,” he reportedly told police, referring to pro-Russian Chechens in Turkey who commissioned him to target Ünlü, because Ünlü was sending Turkish donations to opposition members in Chechnya.

Georgia's Efforts to Win Back Abkhazia & South Ossetia Fail

Most people living in Chechnya have long seen through NATO's manipulation of Muslims. A recent survey by the pro-Western, Caucasus-based news outlet Caucasian Knotfound that most Chechens oppose the idea of fighting in Syria because they believe that ISIS and other so-called "Syrian rebels" are just fighting for Western interests. In the light of these survey findings, destabilizing Chechnya won't be easy, even if neighboring Georgia decides to host a training camp for "Syrian rebels." Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania recently threatened to adopt a "very aggressive" foreign policy in response to Russia's "attempt to annex occupied Abkhazia." And while Russia and Abkhazia are still working on the proposed treaty, Georgia made a last-ditch effort to win back its two breakaway regions:

Georgian PM offers autonomy to Abkhazians, Ossetians

The Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili offered autonomy and the European perspective to the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples.

“I am sure that only with us, with Georgia, which has the European perspectives, our Abkhazian brothers will be able to preserve their language and culture,” Garibashvili said.

“I’d like to call on them to thoroughly realize the situation, to think about their children, the future generations, and how they imagine life without Georgia and their development.”

Predictably, Garibashvili's offer of broad autonomy and of sharing the prospective benefits of Georgia’s integration with the European Union was immediately rejected by the Abkhaz government, which responded by saying that this proposal proves once again the "ignorance of reality in the region" and Garibashvili's "inability to perceive this reality." South Ossetia also dismissed the offer as being out of touch and to make matters worse for Georgia, the South Ossetians have been inspired by the proposed treaty between Russia and Abkhazia:

South Ossetia to Russia: Go Ahead, Crimea Me!

While Russia is on a land-grabbing binge, South Ossetia hopes Moscow will not forget about its aspirations, too. The region’s separatist leadership is drawing up an agreement meant to insert the disputed territory into the Russian Federation.

The agreement is influenced by a recent integration plan that Moscow offered to South Ossetia’s separatist twin, Abkhazia, but reportedly goes far beyond it. Both regions maintain de-facto independence from Georgia and almost existentially rely on backing from Russia. Abkhazia, however, insists on some ground rules in its relationship with Moscow, such as keeping space for sovereignty.

Given that the South Ossetians are even more keen on joining Russia than the people in Abkhazia, Georgia is now in real trouble. Georgian officials are infuriated by Russia's "attempt to annex" not just one but both breakaway regions and the government has been urged to come up with an "anti-annexation" strategy. This issue will most certainly be high on the agenda when a Georgian delegation led by PM Garibashvilis arrives in Brussels later this month to attend the first Georgia-EU Association Council session. Garibashvili will also use this opportunity to talk with the new Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, about the "substantive package," which Georgia has been promised by the U.S.-led military alliance. Stoltenberg was not exaggerating when he called Georgia a "very strong partner." Russia's southern neighbor is forging ever closer ties with NATO, as demonstrated by Defense Minister Alasania's recent trips to France and Germany:

Georgian, German Defense Ministers Meet in Berlin

Georgian Defense Minister, Irakli Alasania, met his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen in Berlin on October 30.

Bilateral cooperation, Georgia’s contribution to the Afghan mission, as well as situation in the Caucasus region and relations with Russia were discussed during the meeting, according to the German Ministry of Defense.

“Georgian-German military cooperation is being intensified,” Alasania said, adding that Georgia’s contribution to the Afghan mission, as well as Germany’s assistance in the field of military education and implementation of the NATO-Georgia cooperation package offered by the Alliance at the Wales summit.

# # # #

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 27, 2014

SCO Eyes Bigger Role in Afghanistan But NATO Clings to Poppy Fields, Al-Qaeda Targets Xinjiang as China Struggles to Contain Violence& More …

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

Every day, the new star in the world of takfiri terrorist groups, the Islamic State aka ISIL aka ISIS aka Da'ish, is dominating the headlines. Western media is eager to highlight every atrocity committed by ISIS while similar crimes committed by the "moderate Syrian rebels" have been swept under the rug for years and are still being ignored. The "Syrian rebels" used chemical weapons?! No, that is completely inconceivable. ISIS used chemical weapons?! Yes, that goes without saying. Although the Kurds exposed the new darling of Western media as "the most overhyped military force on the planet" during the siege of Kobane, there is no end in sight to the ISIS hype, much to the dismay of the previous number one boogeyman al-Qaeda. The organization of U.S./NATO puppet Ayman al-Zawahiri is desperately trying to get some attention. Last month, Zawahiri released one of his dubious videos announcing the establishment of a new branch on the Indian subcontinent and lately the group threatened China, stressing that Xinjiang needs to be "recovered [into] the shade of the Islamic Caliphate":

Al-Qaeda Declares War on China, Too

Al-Qaeda central appears to have joined the Islamic State in calling for jihad against China over its alleged occupation of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

This week, al-Sahab media organization, al-Qaeda’s propaganda arm, released the first issue of its new English-language magazine Resurgence. The magazine has a strong focus on the Asia-Pacific in general, with feature articles on both India and Bangladesh, as well as others on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

However, the first issue also contains an article entitled “10 Facts About East Turkistan,” which refers to the name given to Xinjiang by those who favor independence from China. The ten facts seek to cast Xinjiang as a longtime independent state that has only recently been brutally colonized by Han Chinese, who are determined to obliterate its Islamic heritage

Al-Qaeda Targets Xinjiang as China Struggles to Contain Violence

ISIS had already called on its followers to "liberate East Turkestan" a few weeks earlier. Al-Qaeda is apparently afraid of losing out to its competitor in this new emerging market but, as Zachary Keck points out in the above-mentioned article, "attempting to use an English-language publication to motivate would-be jihadists in places like Xinjiang displays a remarkable degree of desperation." Predictably, the first Uyghurs who noticed the article are not living in Xinjiang but in the United States and Europe, where they advocate for East Turkestan's independence on behalf of Washington. Alim Seytoff, president of the NED-funded Uyghur American Association and director of the NED-funded Uyghur Human Rights Project, lost no time in distancing himself and his fellow Uyghur exile activists from any kind of terrorist activity. Seytoff lamented that the recruitment efforts of ISIS, al-Qaeda & Co. "have unfairly painted Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang as prone to terrorist behavior." That might be true but the regular attacks by Uyghur insurgents certainly played a role in this as well:

At Least 22 People Are Reported Killed in Attack at a Market in Western China

An attack on a farmers market in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang has reportedly left at least 22 people dead and dozens injured, Radio Free Asia, the news service financed by the American government, has reported.

Radio Free Asia said on Saturday that the rampage, which took place Oct. 12 in Kashgar Prefecture, was carried out by four men armed with knives and explosives who attacked police officers and merchants before being shot dead by the police. Most of the victims were ethnic Han Chinese and the assailants were ethnic Uighur, the news service said, citing local police officials.

As of Sunday, news of the attack had not appeared in the Chinese news media, which frequently delays reporting about unrest in the region for reasons not entirely clear. The authorities make it difficult for foreign journalists to travel to the string of towns and cities in southern Xinjiang where much of the recent bloodshed has occurred.

The attack appears to follow a recent pattern in which takfiri terrorists target Han Chinese civilians as well as Uyghur police office and government officials. In May, a similar attack on a market in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi left 43 people dead and more than 90 wounded. This spoiled the celebration of the game-changing Russia-China gas deal and prompted the Chinese government to start a one-year-long no-holds-barred anti-terror campaign. According to the Financial Times, the latest incident in Kashgar Prefecture brings to at least 244 the number of people who have been killed in attacks in Xinjiang since the start of China's anti-terror campaign. The Chinese authorities are now looking to create a vast community surveillance network in the autonomous region in order to contain the increasing violence:

China launches massive rural 'surveillance' project to watch over Uighurs

The last two weeks alone have seen reports of an attack on a farmers' market near Kashgar that claimed at least 22 lives and of two Uighurs being shot dead following a "stabbing rampage" in which three civil servants and three police officers, including a pregnant woman, died.

Such clashes, which have been driven partly by the lack of rights and economic opportunities for Uighurs and partly by a growing vein of Islamic extremism, have driven the Communist party to send 200,000 officials out to improve relations in the field.

The teams have been told to interview each household in their village and compile detailed reports on their employment status as well as on their observance of Islam, noting down, for example, whether the women wear veils and the men have beards.

China's war on beards and veils has reached worrying levels and the success of this approach is doubtful to say the least. The same applies to the ever-increasing number of death sentences for Uyghur insurgents. Last week, another 12 people were sentenced to death for the attacks in Xinjiang's southern Yarkant county in July in which almost 100 people died. Furthermore, 15 others were given suspended death sentences, nine got life in jail and another 20 sentences ranging from four to 20 years. Courts in Xinjiang are taking a hard line but the brainwashing is more effective than the deterrence effect:

China broadcaster says Xinjiang attack mastermind sought Islamic state

China Central Television (CCTV) showed several Uighur defendants dressed in orange prison uniforms confessing and expressing regret for their crimes.

They said they had been brainwashed into "holy war" by a man named NulamaitiSawuti, who the government said incited the violence in July and was killed then.

"He talked about jihad, about establishing an Islamic state," one Uighur defendant, identified as AilimuRouze, told CCTV, referring to Sawuti.

"We often thought about carrying out holy war," another defendant, AiliTuersun, said.

SCO Eyes Bigger Role in Afghanistan But NATO Clings to Poppy Fields

As the Chinese authorities struggle to defeat the insurgency in Xinjiang, more and more people argue that "Beijing's iron fist to fight terrorism should be extended beyond its borders" in order to secure the stability of China's far west. Beijing has been promoting the fight against the "three evils" of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism in talks with other countries in the region for quite some time but serious efforts to walk the talk were made only recently. The increasing violence in Xinjiang and NATO's so-called "withdrawal" from Afghanistan have prompted China to boost anti-terror cooperation with the Central Asian states, to expand the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and to strengthen the military capability of the SCO. Much to the delight of China, Afghanistan has already evinced interest in working with the SCO to ensure the stability of the region:

Shanghai Cooperation Organization Says Afghanistan Requests Help in Fighting Terrorism

Kabul has asked Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states to help Afghan special services in combating terrorism, the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (SCO RATS) said Thursday.

The SCO RATS director Zhang Xinfeng and Afghan Ambassador to Uzbekistan Mohammad SadiqDaudzai discussed the security situation in Afghanistan on October 17.

Afghanistan's newly selected president Ashraf Ghani will travel to China next week, where he will meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and potential investors in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. The trip to China was expected to beGhani's first foreign trip since taking office last month but he deemed it best to visit Saudi Arabia first. Afghanistan's new head of state met among others with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz to review "prospects for cooperation between the two brotherly countries." Ghani's masters in Washington are very happy with his performance so far. A glance at his First Vice President, infamous warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, demonstrates that NATO's efforts to turn the country into a narco-criminal state have been highly successful. American taxpayers have spent more than $104 billion to rebuild Afghanistan and, in particluar, the money for "counter-narcotics efforts" was well-invested:

Afghan opium poppy cultivation hits all-time high

Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has hit an all-time high despite years of counter-narcotics efforts that have cost the US $7.6bn (£4.7bn), according to a US government watchdog.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Afghan farmers grew an “unprecedented” 209,000 hectares (523,000 acres) of opium poppy in 2013, surpassing the previous high of 193,000 hectares in 2007, said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

The poppy "eradication" was a resounding success and the same is true of NATO's fight against the Taliban. One of the stated goals of the NATO mission was to defeat the Taliban and some spoilsports lose no opportunity to point this out but Western media and politicians have long moved on. As British forces and U.S. Marines formally end their combat operations and UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon warns that there was "no guarantee" that Afghanistan would be safe and stable, the Taliban are regaining territory. Lately, they took control of one district in the province of Wardak, just south of Kabul, and of two districts in the northern province of Kunduz. Many foreign fighters have joined the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, especially in the provinces of Kunduz and Badakhshan, which are bordering Tajikistan, and in the provinces of Badghis and Faryab, which are bordering Turkmenistan:

Taliban near Turkmenistan said to include many foreign fighters

About 1,500-2,000 Taliban are fighting in Faryab Province, Afghanistan, including 100-150 foreign fighters, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)'s Turkmen service reported October 10, quoting Bashir Ahmet Tayanch, an Afghan MP from Faryab Province.

The foreign fighters seldom take part in battle, usually teaching the local Taliban how to build bombs and commit terrorist acts, Tayanch said.

They include many men from Pakistan, Uzbekistan and the Northern Caucasus, he said, adding that Almak District alone has six Uzbek militants and their families, according to official data.

Tajikistan Moves to Strengthen Border, Attract Investment

A few weeks ago, Turkmenistan even sent some troops into Afghanistan to drive back Taliban forces that had settled on the border between the two countries. The Turkmen authorities are now doing their best to lock down the border to keep the insurgents out. If the Afghan officials in Kunduz are to be believed, neighboring Tajikistan should also keep an eye on its border. One official described the situation as "alarming" as he called on the government in Kabul to take action against the 600 fighters who are menacing his district. Dushanbe is aware of the threat and Tajik leader Emomalii Rahmon announced last week that the government will allocate more money to strengthen the country's borders:

ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan to make Tajikistan strengthen border security

The withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force from Afghanistan will make Tajikistan provide additional budget means for strengthening security on its borders and protecting foreign investments, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon said on Wednesday.

“If the anti-terrorist coalition withdraws troops from Afghanistan, Tajikistan has to increase expenses for strengthening its borders because there will be no investments, entrepreneurship development and the economy without guarantees,” Rakhmon said.

The situation in Afghanistan and the necessity of reinforcing the Tajik-Afghan border were also high on the agenda during Nikolai Patrushev's recent trip to Tajikistan. Patrushev met with Rahmon to discuss these issues as well as further military cooperation between Russia and Tajikistan before he visited Russia's military base in the country. After heading the FSB for almost a decade, Patrushev has been Secretary of the Security Council of Russia since 2008. Last week, he gave a very interesting interview to RossiyskayaGazeta in which he explained how the United States brought down the Soviet Union and the similarities to the current campaign against Russia. The economic war against Russia has caused a stir in Central Asia. While Kazakhstan is freaking out about the oil price, Tajikistan is already looking to China for much-needed investment:

Tajikistan looks to China as Russian remittances dry up

Tajikistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, is counting on an influx of Chinese investment to cushion its economy from the reverberations of sanctions-hit Russia.

China is to invest at least $6bn in Tajikistan over the next three years, JamoliddinNuraliev, the country’s deputy finance minister, says in an interview with the Financial Times.

The planned investment, equivalent to two-thirds of Tajikistan’s 2013 gross domestic product and more than 40 times annual foreign direct investment, is the latest sign of China’s economic expansion into former-Soviet central Asia, as it seeks to secure natural resources and ensure stability in a region Chinese expats call Beijing’s “wild west”.

Not everyone in Tajikistan is sold on China's investment in the country. Many Tajiks are concerned that Tajikistan could become too dependent on China. The Financial Times cited one businessman in Dushanbe as asking: "Will there be anything left after the Chinese have finished?" But until Tajikistan's efforts to attract investment from other parts of the world pay off, the Tajik government cannot afford to be choosy:

Tajikistan touts itself as new investment frontier

If you are bored of Botswana, tired of Tunisia and Mongolia is just not edgy enough any more then perhaps Tajikistan could be your next true frontier market destination.

The Tajik government certainly hopes so. It has just organised its first ever investment conference – and with some 600 people in attendance, it would seem there is certainly some curiosity about what Tajikistan has to offer.

With 8m people and GDP of just $8.5bn last year (making it one of the world’s 30 poorest countries by GDP per capita), Tajikistan is not an obvious destination for foreign investment. Add endemic corruption, unreliable electricity supplies, ever-changing tax and customs regulations, an economy under pressure from the slowdown in Russia and competition from politically-backed Chinese investors and it is clear that investing in Tajikistan is only for the hardiest souls.

####

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 21, 2014

Kyrgyzstan Targets U.S. NGOs amid Fears of Kyrgyz Maidan, Georgia Freaking Out over Russia's "Attempt to Annex" Abkhazia & 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.

Much to the dismay of the United States, Russia "has been steadily strengthening its foothold" in Kyrgyzstan in recent years. This became apparent in June of this year, when American troops vacated the important U.S. air base at Manas International Airport after the Kyrgyz government had yielded to Russian pressure and agreed to kick the Americans out. Since 2001, the U.S. had used Manas not only to support U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, but also to engage in all kinds of nefarious activities. After years of unsuccessful attempts to convince Bishkek of closing the base, the Russians finally got their way a few months ago, marking "Kyrgyzstan’s new era as a Russian client state" according to Alexander Cooley, Deputy Director for Social Sciences Programming at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, which is famous for its anti-Russian bias. Cooley's statement shows that the closure of Manas was a heavy blow for the United States. Moscow lost no time in capitalizing on the departure of U.S. forces and is now apparently planning to expand Kant Air Base in Kyrgyzstan as well as its base in Armenia [emphasis mine]:

Russia Strengthens Air Defenses With Bases in Belarus and Central Asia

As Moscow moves to bolster its military presence in ex-Soviet allied states, the head of the Russian air force announced that Russia will establish an airbase for fighter jets in eastern Belarus in 2016, state media outlets reported Wednesday.

Colonel General Viktor Bondarev also said Moscow planned to expand its airbases in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.

The three nations are members of a loose Russia-dominated security alliance known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which has accelerated efforts to create a unified air defense network as the Ukraine crisis reenergizes the West's military powerhouse, NATO.

Kyrgyzstan Targets U.S. NGOs amid Fears of Kyrgyz Maidan

Russia has been talking about its air base in Belarus since last year but location and date of the opening keep changing. Work at Kant Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, on the other hand, is already making some progress. The expanding military presence is just one example of Russia's growing influence in Kyrgyzstan. Inspired by Russian legislation, Kyrgyz lawmakers are now pushing bills, which target 'homosexual propaganda' and NGOs. The Kremlin couldn't be more proud. Washington was less impressed with the Russian-style bills and the U.S. Embassy Bishkek used the opportunity "to interfere in the internal affairs of Kyrgyzstan." At least that's how it has been perceived in the Kyrgyz parliament. Lately, the Kyrgyz authorities have been increasingly suspicious of the activities of American NGOs in the country. One Kyrgyz MP was particularly concerned about the recent TechCamp event in Bishkek:

Kyrgyz MP concerned about meetings held with youth by NGO holding similar meetings in Ukraine prior to unrest

MP Irina Karamushkina said at today's plenary session of the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan the NGO “TechCamp” is holding meetings with youth in Bishkek, which held similar meetings prior to the Maidan events in Ukraine.

“This NGO has been holding meetings with our youth for 2 weeks already. Do our special services have information about what kind of meetings this NGO is holding? This NGO held similar meetings with youth prior to the events on Maidan in Ukraine. Aren't we wasting time, while someone is shaping views of your youth?” the lawmaker interrogated.

Karamushkina's concerns with regard to the TechCamps initiative, which is led by the U.S. State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy, might seem absurd at first glance but given that former Ukrainian MP Oleg Tsarov demanded on 20 November 2013 a criminal investigation into the activities of TechCamp in Ukraine because he believed it was part of "preparations for inciting a civil war," it is probably a good idea to keep a close eye on the TechCamp events. One day after Tsarov had accused the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine of training "information war experts and potential revolutionaries to organize protests and overthrow the regime," the Euromaidan protests erupted. Although he was later proven right, Tsarov had no reason to celebrate. While running for president, he was brutally beaten by an angry mob and eventually forced to flee the country because Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky put a $1 million bounty on his head. Kyrgyz politicians want to avoid a similar fate. Therefore, American "non-governmental" organizations, such as Freedom House, are now under high scrutiny:

Activities of Freedom House in Osh suspended

In the city of Osh, activities of Freedom House international organization suspended. Media Resource Center public organization confirmed the information to 24.kg news agency.

According to local journalists, Freedom House office in Osh is closed temporarily and its representative is called to Bishkek.

Azattyk notes that "previously conducted by the organization survey among ethnic Uzbeks in Osh was frustrated." According to experts and representatives of Uzbek diaspora, monitoring issues of the organization were incorrect and Freedom House staff could not explain the purpose of the survey. The organization believes that the survey was correct.

Freedom House refused to comment on the closure of its office in Osh. Only a few weeks ago, the U.S.-based NGO dismissed Kyrgyz media reports accusing the organization of plotting to overthrow the government as absurd. How dare anybody questions the ulterior motives of infamous CIA/State Department front organizations. Speaking of which, USAID and the Gülen movement are also heavily active in Kyrgyzstan. While other countries in the region are shutting down schools of the CIA-backed Gülen movement, Kyrgyzstan is still opening new Gülen schools. Considering the above, it is hardly surprising that the country continues to struggle with Islamic extremism. Especially the rise of female Islamists in Kyrgyzstan attracted attention recently. Kyrgyzstan's security service highlighted the other day that a significant number of the Kyrgyz who have gone to Syria are women. ISIS and other jihadist groups are reportedly recruiting female students from Kyrgyzstan to work as nurses in Syria:

Kyrgyz Medical Student Joins Islamic Militants In Syria  

Kyrgyz authorities say a 19-year-old medical school student from Kyrgyzstan's southern Osh region is "fighting" on the side of Islamic State militants in Syria.

Osh regional police said on October 6 that the young woman, whose name was not disclosed, had traveled to Syria via Turkey in July.

Osh regional police chief Suiun Omurzakov says jihadist groups are recruiting female students from Osh's medical school to work as nurses in Syria, promising them high salaries and arranging their trips to Syria through Turkey.

Tajikistan Struggles with Syria Blowback, Boosts Ties With Azerbaijan

Neighboring Tajikistan is facing similar problems. For the most part, the Tajik authorities are turning a blind eye to the recruitment of Tajik citizens for the various terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq in order not to upset their friends in Riyadh, Ankara and Washington. This has led to an increasing number of Tajiks being killed in the Middle East. According to the country's Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda, 50 Tajik jihadists fighting for the "Syrian rebels" have bite the dust so far. Dushanbe couldn't care less about these jihadi mercenaries as long as they are fighting and dying in the Middle East but if they manage to return to their home country, the Tajik authorities are forced to take action:

Tajik Islamists Held For Plotting Attacks

Police in Tajikistan have reportedly arrested 20 alleged Islamist militants for plotting to blow up two road tunnels.

An unidentified Interior Ministry spokesman told AFP news agency on October 18 that the group wanted to blow up the tunnels linking the center to the north of the countries.

He said all those arrested had returned to Tajikistan after fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.

Some people in Tajikistan have probably realized by now that it makes sense to take a few jihadists off the streets before they leave for Syria. In recent weeks, law enforcers in Tajikistan's Sughd Region detained ten local residents who were trying to leave the country and join the "Syrian rebels." Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon could have asked his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev how to deal with this problem given the fact that Azerbaijan contributes a significant number of jihadi mercenaries as well. Aliyev visited Dushanbe this week to meet with Rahmon and other top officials. The talks were fruitful and the two post-Soviet states agreed to expand cooperation in various fields:

Azerbaijan, Tajikistan discuss expansion of ties (UPDATE)

President Aliyev, who arrived in Tajikistan on an official visit on October 15, was officially welcomed by the Tajik president at the Palace of Nations in Dushanbe on October 16. After the official welcoming ceremony, the two presidents held a one-on-one meeting.

During the official talks held in an expanded format the sides reviewed the two countries' achievements in the fields of economy and trade, and stressed the importance to further strengthen the activities of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation.

The two leaders also noted the importance to develop direct relations between the business circles of the two countries, expressed readiness to strengthen and expand the interaction in the security and defense fields, as well as cooperation in combating against terrorism, extremism and other threats of the modern world.

Combating terrorism is not necessarily Azerbaijan's strong suit. Instead the Aliyev regime is known for its relentless crackdown on NGOs, political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and so on. After the Azerbaijani authorities had already pressured the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to close its office in Baku, the U.S. NGO IREX also halted its work in the country at the end of last month "following pressure from the Azerbaijani government," including "a police raid on its offices." Fed up with Baku's efforts to prevent the U.S. from meddling in Azerbaijan's affairs, U.S. officials reportedly warned the Aliyev regime that "recent harassment of international and Azerbaijani nongovernmental organizations is unacceptable." The criticism from Washington won't convince Baku to give U.S. NGOs a carte blanche to operate in Azerbaijan but it might have prompted Aliyev's decision to pardon a few prisoners, including three members of the U.S.-backed NIDA civic movement:

Azerbaijan frees four opposition activists in amnesty

Four jailed opposition activists in Azerbaijan have been pardoned and released as part of a wider amnesty announced by President Ilham Aliyev, state media said on Friday.

Three, all members of a youth movement called NIDA, were convicted of hooliganism, possessing drugs and explosives, and intent to cause public disorder. The fourth, Hasan Huseinly, was head of a non-governmental organisation, "Intellectual Citizen".

The opposition activists were among a group of 80 pardoned prisoners, including citizens of Turkey, Pakistan and Iran, but there were no details of the crimes these people had been sentenced for.

Georgia Freaking Out Over Russia's "Attempt to Annex" Abkhazia

Although Washington and Baku quarrel regularly over NGOs and the like, Azerbaijan is still an absolutely reliable puppet state of the United States, as demonstrated by Baku's unease about the declaration adopted at the recent Caspian Summit, which bans any future possible deployment of NATO forces in the Caspian Sea. Russia is now trying to convince Azerbaijan of closer naval cooperation in order to solidify its control over the Caspian Sea and to keep the Americans out. At the same time, the Kremlin is also trying to do the job properly in the South Caucasus. Russia offered Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia a new treaty that "proposes a merger of military forces, coordination of police and an alignment with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union." Abkhazia's new President Raul Khajimba, who lately made headlines with his announcement to close down all crossing points but one into Georgian-controlled territory, is keen on signing the agreement:

Khajimba: New Treaty with Moscow to ‘Modernize’ Abkhaz Army 

New comprehensive cooperation treaty with Russia will enhance military alliance with Moscow and help to modernize Abkhaz army, Abkhaz leader, Raul Khajimba, said at an event marking 22nd anniversary of the breakaway region’s armed forces on October 11. 

“We need to strengthen and enhance our military alliance with Russia. That is also an aim of new agreement, which we plan to sign before the end of this year. It will allow us to carry out a large-scale modernization of our army, bring to higher level its material-technical support and preparedness, and will significantly increase salaries and social protection of servicemen,” Khajimba said.

Not everyone in Abkhazia is as enthusiastic about the offer as Khajimba but given that Abkhazia is already heavily dependent on Russia, it is an exaggeration to talk about a "loss of sovereignty." Predictably, many Georgian officials freaked out when they heard of the proposed treaty and Tedo Japaridze, former Ambassador to the U.S. and former Foreign Minister, urged the government to call off this week's Abashidze-Karasin meeting. However, Zurab Abashidze, Georgia's special envoy to Russia, who represents Tbilisi in the talks with Moscow, ignored this advice. After his meeting with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, Abashidze told the media that he and his Russian interlocutor "have radically different views" on the planned treaty and that it is now up to the government to decide whether Georgia continues with this format of direct dialogue with Russia or not. The following statement of Georgia's parliament offers little hope in this regard:

Parliament Condemns Russia’s ‘Attempt to Annex’ Abkhazia

The Parliament adopted on October 17 with 80 votes a statement, which “condemns” Russia’s “attempt to annex occupied Abkhazia” through its new treaty on “alliance and integration” with Sokhumi.

If signed, the Russian-proposed treaty “will give rise to a new wave of violation of international legal norms, create an additional threat to regional stability, significantly damage the process of normalization of Russian-Georgian relations,” reads the statement.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili complained that Georgia had taken "constructive and pragmatic steps towards normalizing relations with Russia" and that Russia responds by "annexing" Abkhazia. As usual, Garibashvili and Co. are doing their best to criticize Russia without wasting any words on NATO's military build-up in Georgia. Moscow has warned Tbilisi repeatedly that the establishment of NATO-linked infrastructure in Georgia could threaten stability in the South Caucasus, to no avail. Now the gloves are coming off and the situation in the Caucasus is heating up:

Tbilisi Says to Counter Russia’s Abkhaz Moves with ‘Pro-Active’ Foreign Policy

The Georgian authorities will take measures aimed at “consolidating” and heightening international focus on Russia’s “attempt to annex” Abkhazia thought its
proposed new treaty on alliance and integration with Sokhumi, senior officials said after a meeting of the Georgian State Security and Crisis Management Council on Saturday.

Defense Minister, Irakli Alasania, said after the meeting that “very aggressive – meaning active” foreign policy steps will be undertaken.

# # # #

 

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

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

ISIS Vows to Attack Russia,Russian Warnings Fall on Deaf Ears in Georgia & Russia Prepares for Trouble in Tajik

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

After nearly four years of negotiations, the European Union and Kazakhstan finally agreed on a new enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) during this week's visit to Brussels by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The agreement, which is expected to be signed next year, "aims to boost cooperation in around 30 policy areas including trade and foreign and security policy." Given that the PCA is a far weaker deal than the infamous European Union Association Agreement and that the Kazakh negotiators had been "very careful that the agreement respects their country's commitments to the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union," the Kremlin won't get worked up over the agreement. With the PCA negotiations concluded, Nazarbayev travelled to Minsk to attend summits of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Economic Community and, most importantly, the Eurasian Economic Union, which welcomed a new member:

Armenia Joins Eurasian Union

After months of delay, Armenia formally joined the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan on Friday, drawing praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

President Serzh Sarkisian signed a corresponding accession treaty with Putin and Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus at a summit of the Russian-led bloc held in Minsk.

Speaking at the gathering, both Putin and Sarkisian expressed hope that the treaty will be ratified by the parliaments of the EEU’s three member states by the end of this year. The Armenian president said his country should be able to “start working from January 1” as a full-fledged member of an alliance which critics fear will restore Russian hegemony over much of the former Soviet Union.

Russia Expands Eurasian Union, Prepares for Trouble in Tajikistan

Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambaev expressed hope that his country would also join the organization by year's end. The Kyrgyz government had approved a roadmap for joining the EEU just before the summit. Neighboring Tajikistan is still considering the offer and doesn't rule joining the economic bloc as well. Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon said during the talks in the Belarusian capital that Dushanbe is currently analyzing the EEU legal documents. While Kyrgyzstan has decided to cast its lot with Russia, the Tajik authorities are not yet fully convinced of this idea. Lately, some people in Tajikistan have cast doubt on Russia's intentions or abilities to fulfill its obligations with regard to the promised economic and military aid but Moscow is doing its best to assure Dushanbe that Russia will follow up its words with deeds:

Russia Promises Tajikistan "Armageddon," Polite People

Russia will build a new military training facility in southern Tajikistan to help the two countries carry out drills together, a Russian military official has said.

Few details were given about the new facility other than the name, which certainly makes a statement: "Armageddon."

"Russian soldiers will help their Tajikistani colleagues in setting up a new polygon, Armageddon, in the Khatlon province for joint training of military units of the two countries," said a spokesman for Russia's Central Military District, Yaroslav Roshchupkin.

With reference to the immensely popular 'polite people' who protected Crimea after the coup d'état in Kiev, Roshchupkin added that the Tajik language classes that Russian soldiers are going to take "are intended to form and strengthen the image of 'polite people' among soldiers of the Central Military District." A few weeks ago, two Russian soldiers were accused of murdering a Tajik taxi driver and the Russian military is now trying to prevent any further incidents, which could upset the host country. Roshchupkin made this announcement during the recent drills of the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan:

Russian Military Holds 'Antiterror' Drills In Tajikistan

Russian forces based in Tajikistan are holding military drills near the Central Asian nation's capital, Dushanbe.

A spokesman for Russia's Central Military District, Yaroslav Roshchupkin, says the maneuvers started on the Lyaur training ground on October 6.

He said more than 1,000 servicemen and 300 pieces of military hardware from Russia's 201st military base, which is located in Tajikistan, are practicing to ward off possible attacks by "international terrorists."

Tajikistan shares a long border with Afghanistan and Russia has pledged to support the Central Asian state in dealing with a possible spillover of violence from Afghanistan. Other countries in the region have also offered to provide Tajikistan with military aid to bolster the border with Afghanistan. Tajikistan has already received aid from Belarus as well as from Armenia and Tajik leader Rahmon used the meetings in Minsk to thank the two countries for their assistance. The increasing violence in northern Afghanistan doesn't bode well for Tajikistan and it is of little help that the Tajik regime is more or less turning a blind eye to the recruitment of Tajik fighters for the war in Syria. But instead of addressing these issue and going after real extremists, the Tajik authorities are busy stifling any sign of dissent and going after "extremist" opposition groups:

Tajik Opposition Group Banned As Extremist

Tajikistan's Supreme Court has banned the opposition organization Group 24.

The October 9 decision followed growing government pressure on the opposition group after it used the Internet to call for street protests in the capital, Dushanbe, on October 10.

Supreme Court judge Salomat Hakimova ruled that Group 24, which is led by fugitive Tajik businessman Umarali Quvatov, is "extremist" and therefore is banned in Tajikistan.

ISIS Welcomes IMU, Vows to Attack Russia

While the Tajik authorities were going after the "extremists" from Group 24, the arguably more dangerous extremists from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) made an interesting announcement, which could affect Tajikistan as well. According to an Uzbek law enforcement official, IMU head Usman Ghazi confirmed that the group has joined ISIS. In recent months, the IMU had been fighting alongside the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). For example, the Jinnah International Airport attack in June and the Quetta airbase attacks in August were the result of joint TTP-IMU operations. Last week, some media reports alleged that the Pakistani Taliban had also pledged support to ISIS but the group lost no time in denying these reports and reaffirmed that they have declared allegiance only to Mullah Omar. Up until now, the IMU has not issued any denial and the Uzbek authorities claim to have "operational video and audio information about IMU's support and participation in joint military actions on the side of IS units." Uzbek security officials and analysts named, among others, the current financial hardship of the IMU as a key motive for the decision to join forces with ISIS:

Helplessness forces IMU to call itself an ISIL 'partner'

A recent expression of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) support for the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) betrays the IMU's weakness, analysts are saying.

The IMU lost support in Afghanistan as its brutality leads to civilian suffering, the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB) says. Now the IMU reportedly is eyeing northern Afghanistan, where most of that country's ethnic Uzbek minority lives.

"IMU militants were forced to [announce their 'alliance' with ISIL] because donations had dried up," Tashkent political analyst Linara Yuldasheva said. "They're essentially leaderless, and they're looking for someone to cling to. But this alliance can't guarantee them any more power."

Although Pakistan's Operation Zarb-e-Azb is not anything like as successful as the Pakistani military claims, the military offensive has at least forced IMU fighters and other insurgents in the Pakistani tribal areas to temporarily leave their hideouts and seek shelter in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Northern Afghanistan has long been a safe haven for the IMU, regardless of whether troops of the NATO-led security mission were stationed there or not. Both the IMU and the Taliban are now trying to exploit the ISAF drawdown and conquer even more territory. ISIS is also looking to expand its activities in Afghanistan but the group seems to have a hard time deciding on its next target. If ISIS leader Tarkhan Batirashvili aka Omar al-Shishani gets his will, the next target won't be Central Asia or China but rather Russia:

How Islamic State Grooms Chechen Fighters Against Putin

When the Islamic State commander known as “Omar the Chechen” called to tell his father they’d routed the Iraqi army and taken the city of Mosul, he added a stark message:
Russia would be next.

“He said ‘don’t worry dad, I’ll come home and show the Russians,’” Temur Batirashvili said from his home in
Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, on the border with the Russian region of Chechnya. “I have many thousands following me now and I’ll get more. We’ll have our revenge against Russia.”

Al-Shishani is the tactical mastermind behind Islamic State’s swift military gains on the ground in Iraq’s Anbar province, west of
Baghdad, including an encirclement in which his forces killed as many as 500 Iraqi troops and captured 180 more near Fallujah, according to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

Given that Gartenstein-Ross is praising the "brilliant tactical maneuvers" of the "exceptional field commander" Batirashvili, it is probably a good idea to take a closer look at the suspicious background of the Georgian ISIS commander. As mentioned two weeks ago, several jihadists from the Pankisi Gorge have left the Caucasus to follow Batirashvili's lead and dozens of Georgian citizens are now fighting for ISIS. Fighters from the Caucasus are the backbone of the mercenary army. Therefore, the Russian authorities won't be casual about Batirashvili's threat. The recent terrorist attack in Chechnya served as a stark reminder that the foreign-backed North Caucasus insurgency continues to pose a threat to Russia. One day after the suicide bombing in Chechnya, Russian security forces prevented a similar attack in the neighboring republic of Dagestan, which has become the hotbed of terrorism in Russia:

170 kg of explosives destroyed in Russia's Dagestan

Russian security forces have prevented a series of potentially “resonant” terrorist attacks, destroying almost 170 kg of explosives in the southern Republic of Dagestan. Two policemen and a militant were killed in the operation.

The militant was preliminarily identified as Alidibir Asudinov, a bomb expert and an “active member” of the so-called Kizilyurt gang, who was on the federal wanted list for terrorist crimes.

According to the Anti-Terror Committee, the gang “planned a series of resonant terrorist attacks” in the Republic of Dagestan.

Russian Warnings Fall on Deaf Ears in Georgia

Alidibir Asudinov reportedly recently returned from Syria, where had studied explosives, further highlighting the Syria-North Caucasus connection. When Foreign Policybroke the story of Georgia's offer to host a training camp for "moderate Syrian rebels," Russia was understandably alarmed. The subsequent denials from Tbilisi have failed to reassure the Kremlin and NATO's other activities in Georgia cause additional tensions between the two neighboring countries. NATO compensated the Georgian government with a 'substantive package' for the disappointment of having been denied a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the summit in Wales. Among other things, this package includes a military training center for NATO members and partners in Georgia. Moscow tried this week once again to make its position on this issue clear to Tbilisi:

NATO Presence in Georgia Could Threaten Stability in Caucasus: Russia

The placement of military infrastructure in Georgia in the interests of
NATO would pose a threat to stability in the Caucasus region, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

"The Russian side has expressed concern over rumors circulated by Georgian media about plans to place elements of NATO-linked infrastructure in Georgia," the Russian ministry said in a statement.

"Such actions would threaten the existing stability in South Caucasus," the statement reads.”

The warning fell on deaf ears in Georgia. Alexi Petriashvili, Georgia's State Minister on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, countered that the closure of Russian bases in Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and Moldova (Transnistria) and the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine would be a better way of ensuring stability and security in the region. Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania took the same line emphasizing that Georgia will proceed with its integration into the U.S.-led military alliance:

NATO infrastructure in Georgia surely to be created - Ministry of Defence

NATO infrastructure in Georgia will surely be created, Georgian Defence Minister Irakli Alasania said, commenting on the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia.

“I would like to state that the infrastructure of NATO in Georgia will be created,” the minister said. “It is an agreement reached at the summit. NATO-Georgia package is aimed at creation of an alliance infrastructure in our country, conduction of joint military exercises. This will increase both the constraint of the aggression, which comes from Russia, and our defence.”

Just recently, Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas visited Georgia to discuss with Alasania and other top Georgian officials the idea of joint military exercises. The two post-Soviet states agreed to conduct joint drills within the framework of the NATO cooperation program in the future and after his meeting with Olekas, Alasania announced that Georgia looks set to increase its defense budget next year. But although Georgia is doing its best to expedite the military build-up in accordance with Washington's plans, the Georgian leadership seems to have a hard time understanding why Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia doesn't show any interest in Tbilisi’s "reconciliation efforts":

Breakaway Abkhazia Wants to Break Away Further 

In a move that many Georgians believe bodes ill for their remaining links with breakaway Abkhazia, the region’s new de-facto leader, Raul Khajimba, has stated he wants to eliminate all crossing points but one into Georgian-controlled territory.

“The national border with Georgia on the Enguri River will be reinforced,”
RIA Novosti quoted Khajimba as saying in reference to what most of the rest of the world sees as an administrative boundary line between Abkhazia and the Tbilisi-controlled region of Samegrelo.

“There should be only one checkpoint for reasons of national security,” Khajimba told an assembly of his party, the Forum of People’s Unity of Abkhazia.”

# # # #

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