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.

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: 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.

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

                                                       

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

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

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

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

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

Saakashvili Fans Try to Exploit Georgian Border Woes 

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

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

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

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

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

Locals unhappy about South Ossetia border protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyrgyzstan Claims to Have Foiled ISIS Attack on Russian Air Base

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: 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.

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

                                                       

The New Great Game Round-Up: 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".

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: June 30, 2015

Kyrgyzstan- Color Revolution Expert Richard Miles Caught Red-Handed, WUC- Turkey Highlighting "China's Brutality in East Turkestan" & More!

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

When the Armenian authorities reluctantly approved a request by the country's energy monopoly, Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA), to increase electricity tariffs from the beginning of August by 7 Armenian dram (1.5 U.S. cent), President Serzh Sargsyan and his government didn't expect that this could turn into a huge problem. They knew full well that ENA was trying to compensate for its losses, which had been caused by graft, but figured that the people would put up with yet another rate increase - the third one over the past two years. However, this time many Armenians decided that enough was enough. What started with a small sit-in in the center of Yerevan on June 19 soon evolved into huge protests on Baghramyan Avenue. As more and more people joined "Electric Yerevan," the government began to understand the gravity of the situation and tried to nip the protests in the bud:

Armenian Police Forcefully Disperse Yerevan Protesters, 18 Injured Armenian police used force and water cannons to clear a demonstration in central Yerevan overnight after a standoff with activists protesting against rising electricity prices. In the early hours of June 23, special police forces moved to disperse hundreds of protesters who spent more than nine hours seated in the street not far from the presidential compound. The protesters insisted that their actions were peaceful and demanded that President Serzh Sarkisian revoke the decision made by state regulators to raise electricity prices by 16 percent beginning August 1.

"Electric Yerevan" Sends Shockwaves through Armenia & Russia

Yerevan police arrested 237 people but released all of them shortly thereafter. Much to the dismay of the Armenian authorities, the crackdown didn't have the desired effect. The protests continued and more people joined in. To make matters worse, Russian, Ukrainian and Western media tried to use "Electric Yerevan" to push their own agendas, thereby inflaming tensions in Armenia and abroad. The fact that ENA is fully owned by Russian energy company Inter RAO was neither lost on the protesters nor on Western media, which pointed out that the protests were not only directed against the Armenian government but, by default, also against Russia. Although many Armenians went out of their way to stress that they don't want to turn "Electric Yerevan" into a Maidan-style color revolution, Russian officials and media were not easily convinced and kept insisting that this is another Western plot:

Russian Officials See 'Color Revolution' in Armenia Russian lawmakers said Wednesday that rolling protests on the streets of the Armenian capital of Yerevan could be the first stage of a "color revolution" similar to those that have toppled governments in post-Soviet countries including Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. "It's no use deluding yourself, all 'color revolutions' developed along these lines," said Konstantin Kosachev, head of the International Committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, the RIA Novosti news agency reported Wednesday. Other lawmakers compared the demonstrations to the collapse of a pro-Russia government in Ukraine last year, a process the Kremlin characterizes as a foreign-backed coup.

Armenia has long been tipped as a Western 'regime change' target. Given that the country is Russia's only ally in the South Caucasus, it is hard to overstate the importance of keeping Armenia in Russia's sphere of influence. When Maidan mastermind Victoria Nuland and a high-level USAID official visited Armenia during their South Caucasus tour a few months ago, many people were already expecting the worst. So it came as no real surprise that Russian lawmakers believed "Electric Yerevan" to be the color revolution that everyone had been waiting for. It didn't help that the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia denied any U.S. involvement in the protests. Armenia's close relationship with Russia has been put to the test time and again in recent months. Russian arms deliveries to Azerbaijan and the murder of an Armenian family by a Russian soldier are still a hot topic in Armenia. Therefore, the Kremlin deemed it best to appease the protesters by making some concessions:

As Protests Continue In Yerevan, Russia Concedes To Armenia On Soldier Murder Case Russia has agreed to let Armenian courts try a Russian soldier accused of murdering seven members of an Armenian family after deserting Russia's major military base in the country. The move is a major concession by Moscow, and comes as large-scale street protests in Yerevan against Armenia's Russian-owned electricity company have been gathering strength. On June 26, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan met with a Russian government delegation to discuss energy fees, the issue that sparked the Yerevan protests. But the scope of the discussions was apparently wider than that, and Sargsyan's office issued a surprise announcement after the meeting: On top of that, Russia also apparently agreed to give Armenia $200 million in credit for arms purchases.

President Sargsyan thanked the Kremlin for helping him out but Moscow's concessions didn't stop "Electric Yerevan" and only whet the appetite of the protesters. Although the movement brought together many different people with different objectives and claimed to be leaderless, the protesters had agreed on three demands - the cancellation of the electricity price hike being the most important one. After initially refusing to listen to the demands, the government eventually offered to pay the additional costs until an independent audit determines whether the planned price hike is justified. Predictably, the protesters lost no time in rejecting the offer and vowed to continue the fight. However, ten days of protest have taken their toll on the people and a split within the movement has also played a part in contributing to the decline of "Electric Yerevan." So it remains to be seen in which form the protests will continue:

“No to Plunder”: Struggle at Baghramyan Avenue is politicized The struggle at Baghramyan Avenue is already politicized, this is the reason “No to Plunder” initiative decided to continue their actions at Liberty Square, member of the initiative group Vaghinak Shushanyan told reporters. “We are apolitical structure and we are dealing with the social problems, and our task is to cancel the decision to increase hike in electricity prices. This is the reason we continue our struggle at the square,” he added. Vaghinak Shushanyan previously urged the protesters to leave Baghramyan Avenue for Liberty Square and turn it into a tent city, because the logic of the struggle requires it. He also said that there are provocateurs at Baghramian Avenue who are trying to transform their civil claims into political one.

Kyrgyzstan: Color Revolution Expert Richard Miles Caught Red-Handed

Fears that the protests could be hijacked have been dismissed as "Russian paranoia" but it is noteworthy that Western propaganda outlets, such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Hromadske.TV, are showing great interest in "Electric Yerevan" and have been embraced by leading figures of the movement. The Russian Defense Ministry is probably keeping a close eye on "Electric Yerevan." They are developing a manual on countering color revolutions. Depending on how the situation in Yerevan develops, they might be able to add a few pages to the manual. But Armenia is not the only post-Soviet state in Russia's sphere of influence which deserves closer attention. Since last year, Kyrgyzstan has seen a number of suspicious developments suggesting that the U.S. is trying to start a Kyrgyz Maidan. Only a few weeks after the controversy surrounding the delivery of 150 tons of "diplomatic mail" to the U.S. Embassy Bishkek, the U.S. is now again making headlines in Kyrgyzstan:

Scandal in Kyrgyzstan After Protest Organizer Seen With US Diplomat A media scandal has broken out in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan following the posting of a YouTube video showing a protest organizer meeting with the American ambassador. On Wednesday, a few dozen people organized by civil society and rights groups gathered in front of the presidential building in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, protesting a government initiative to hold a referendum which would make changes to the country's constitution. Protesters attached portraits of government officials with their faces crossed out to the presidential building's gates, and carried banners saying "Do Not Sell the Country!" and "Do Not Rape the Constitution." But the scandal, which broke out on Wednesday evening, was over an anonymous YouTube video which showed protest organizer Nurbek Toktakunov, leader of local NGO 'Precedent', meeting with US Charge d'Affaires Richard Miles shortly after the protest.

Toktakunov tried to downplay the meeting by claiming it had been planned for a long time and had no relation to the protest. Regardless of whether or not that is true, meetings between local NGO leaders and American diplomats should always raise red flags - and even more when the American diplomat in question is Richard Miles. They don't call him a "genius of color revolutions" for nothing. Although Miles serves only "temporarily" as U.S. charge d'affairs in Bishkek until a new ambassador is found, his arrival in Kyrgyzstan was met with a lot of suspicion. Judging by the revealing video, which was presumably recorded by Kyrgyz and/or Russian intelligence, the fears were justified. Moreover, this scandal will reinforce Bishkek's decision to monitor the NGOs in the country. Despite strong opposition from the usual suspects, Kyrgyzstan's parliament recently gave the go-ahead for a 'foreign agents' bill:

Kyrgyzstan Passes 'Foreign Agents' Bill in Preliminary Vote After stalling for almost two years, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has overwhelmingly passed a bill that will have a chilling effect on the Central Asian country’s vibrant civil society, if it becomes law. Local media reported that legislators voted 83 to 23 on June 4 in favor of the “foreign agents” bill. The bill – which must go through two more votes in parliament before landing on the president’s desk – is modeled on a similar law passed in Russia in 2012 that has been used to crack down on independent groups there. Kyrgyzstani rights activists fear that with Russia tightening its grip on the region, and lawmakers seemingly eager to please Moscow, the walls are fast closing in on free speech and other civil liberties.

Kyrgyzstan has indeed a "vibrant civil society." There are so many NGOs operating in the country that is difficult to keep track of all of them. The Ministry of Justice has already announced that it won't be able to carry out audits of the NGOs' financial activities, as proposed in the bill, unless its staff is being increased. Richard Miles was certainly relieved to hear that. Western opposition to the 'foreign agents' bill is not exactly grounded in a passion for democracy. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about possible attempts by the West to destabilize the country. Last month, Kyrgyz police detained as many foreigners in the city of Osh as they could find after mysterious text messages and rumors about an imminent revolution and interethnic conflict created a stir in the south of the country in the run-up to the fifth anniversary of the 2010 South Kyrgyzstan riots. One of the messages said that the U.S. is distributing weapons to Hizb ut-Tahrir members, which is even more curious given the fact that Hizb ut-Tahrir members usually refrain from using violence and focus on radicalizing others:

Hizb ut-Tahrir printing house found in south Kyrgyzstan A clandestine press has been found at a house in Kara-Suu district, Osh Region, in southern Kyrgyzstan, which printed literature of the banned international religious and extremist organization, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Osh regional police spokesman Zhenish Ashirbayev told Interfax on Friday. The discovery was made during searches of the houses of eight local residents who were involved in propagating the ideas of the banned organization, he said. For his part, a regional police source said that whereas a few years ago Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters received literature from abroad, now they can print all necessary material locally, having all the necessary equipment. 

WUC, Turkey Highlight "China's Brutality in East Turkestan"

While the Kyrgyz authorities are trying to prevent Hizb ut-Tahrir and others from radicalizing the population in Kyrgyzstan, the Chinese authorities are trying to do the same in neighboring Xinjiang. And just as the Kyrgyz authorities don't care if they send a few innocent people to jail, the Chinese authorities don't care if they violate a few religious traditions. Every year, as Ramadan approaches, China's so-called "Ramadan ban" is hitting the headlines in Western media and the NED-funded World Uyghur Congress (WUC) comes out of the woodwork to remind everyone that "this will only lead to instability and conflict." Never mind that only few people are affected by the ban and that thousands upon thousands of Muslims in Xinjiang are still openly celebrating Ramadan. As regular readers of the New Great Game Round-Up may recall, Western media and the WUC like to exaggerate when it comes to China's Ramadan ban but the Chinese authorities do their bit as well:

'Many Uygurs like to drink': Chinese academic defends beer festival in Muslim region A Communist Party academic defended a government-organised beer festival in a mainly Muslim county ahead of Ramadan by saying that locals enjoyed alcohol, a state-run newspaper reported on Tuesday. Islam prohibits alcohol but authorities in Niya county, in the troubled Xinjiang region, held a beer drinking contest last Monday, three days before the start of Islam's holiest month, with cash prizes of up to US$160 for winners, the Global Times reported. Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for exiled group the World Uygur Congress, slammed the festival as an "open provocation" to faithful Muslims.

As usual, our old friend Dilxat Raxit, the WUC's Sweden-based spokesman, used the opportunity to slam the Chinese goverment. Just a few days earlier, Raxit had already criticized that China is stepping up controls on religious activities in Xinjiang ahead of Ramadan. Predictably, Beijing didn't listen to Raxit's warnings that "this will only lead to instability and conflict." Shortly thereafter, at the beginning of Ramadan, Uyghur insurgents attacked police with knives and bombs at a traffic checkpoint in the city of Kashgar. The ensuing clashes left between 18 and 28 people dead. Considering that these kind of attacks happen on a regular basis in Xinjiang, it was not surprising that Raxit's "prediction" came true within a matter of days but even some of China's allies wondered after the attack whether the WUC might have a point. The latest outbreak of violence in Xinjiang was also noticed in Turkey, where many Uyghurs have found a new home after leaving China:

Actors, academics and politicians decry treatment of Uyghurs

After 28 people were killed in East Turkestan during the holy month of Ramadan, actors, academics and politicians in Turkey have raised their voices criticizing the Chinese government and calling for the freedom of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. In Ankara, the Ülkü Ocakları, a youth organization affiliated with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), prayed at a funeral procession for those killed in East Turkestan, at the Mustafa Asım Köksal Mosque in Keçiören. Speaking after the prayer, Olcay Kılavuz, the head of the youth movement, gave a press statement where he declared that the red flag of Turkey and the blue flag of East Turkestan were equal. Kılavuz also said that members of Ülkü Ocakları would resume their struggle in favor of their brothers in East Turkestan, until their last breath. He added that the government was keeping silent about the killings and ongoing oppression in East Turkestan.

MHP leader Devlet Bahceli echoed the remarks of Kilavuz and lamented on Twitter that "everbody is concerned about the fight between two terrorist groups in Kobane" but "nobody is speaking about China's brutality in East Turkestan." This didn't go down well with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who took the criticism personally and responded in the usual manner. While Bahceli and Erdogan were arguing about who has done more to help "their brothers in East Turkestan," Turkish ultra-nationalists launched a campaign on social media promoting the "liberation of East Turkestan." As previously discussed, Turkey plays a decisive role in Washington's East Turkestan project. This has led to several disputes with China in recent months. The Chinese authorities tried to put pressure on Ankara by shedding some light on Turkey's role in Uyghur smuggling and terrorism operations. And last but not least, they stepped up their efforts to prevent Uyghurs from fleeing to Turkey:

After Attempting to Join Her Husband in Turkey, Uyghur Woman Dies in Custody in Xinjiang A young ethnic Uyghur woman detained by Chinese police in February while attempting to flee the country to join her husband in Turkey has died in police custody in her native Xinjiang, according to sources in the region and in exile. Tursungul, 32 and described as healthy before she was taken into custody, died shortly after being taken to the Shaptol Township police station in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture’s Peyziwat (Jiashi) county, a Uyghur living in Turkey told RFA’s Uyghur Service, citing sources in Xinjiang. “She died within a week and was buried somewhere by the police,” said the man, who had successfully escaped to Turkey with Tursungul’s husband some time before.

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: March 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.

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: February 23, 2015

Uyghur Terrorists Making Headlines in Turkey- China-Indonesia, Victoria Nuland and USAID Go on South Caucasus Tour & More!

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

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

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

Kiev's Preference for Georgians Strains Georgian-Ukrainian Relations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victoria Nuland & USAID Go on South Caucasus Tour 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uyghur Terrorists Making Headlines in Turkey, China & Indonesia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: February 16, 2015

TAPI Saga Continues as U.S. Escalates Shadow War in Afghanistan, Indonesia Catches Kunming Attack Suspects Carrying Turkish Passports & More!

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

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

TAPI pipeline: India asks Turkmenistan to ease rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indonesia Catches Kunming Attack Suspects Carrying Turkish Passports

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armenia Has Second Thoughts about Eurasian Economic Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                       

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

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

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

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

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

Kadyrov's Nemesis Vanishes as ISIS Looks for Russian Spies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taliban Losing Fighters to ISIS in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China Cracks Down on Illegal Border Crossings by Uyghurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                            

The EyeOpener Report- Sibel Edmonds on Gladio B, Xinjiang Operations, Paris Shooting & Much More

Sibel Edmonds joins us today to discuss a range of issues, from terror operations in Xinjiang to Gladio B in Belgium and her reaction to the Paris shooting. We also talk about pseudo-alternative media, George Soros, and her new podcast, Probable Cause, and what she is hoping to accomplish with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Killing of Armenian Family Tests Armenia-Russia Ties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                       

The New Great Game Round-Up: December 1, 2014

U.S. Mulls Weapons Exports in Response to Russia-Abkhazia Treaty, Chinese Soldiers to Fight Terrorism at Home & Abroad and much more!

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

In May of this year, China launched a one-year-long no-holds-barred anti-terror campaign in its far-western Xinjiang region after a major terrorist attack had struck Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, killing 43 people and wounding more than 90. In the last six months, the Chinese authorities have been arresting everyone and his brother to stop the violence in Xinjiang, including prominent Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life in prison on charges of advocating separatism and inciting ethnic hatred. Western governments and media did their best to highlight Tohti's imprisonment and called repeatedly for his release, to no avail. Last week, a court in Urumqi upheld the life sentence and a few days later the same court opened separatism trials for seven of Tohti's students. While Western media criticized the latest act of Chinese repression, Chinese media lauded the results of the first six months of the anti-terror campaign. According to China's Ministry of Public Security, 115 terrorist cells were quashed and more than 300 suspects detained. But only a few days after the ministry released its report, another terrorist attack reminded everyone that the violence continues:

15 killed, 14 injured in Xinjiang terrorist attack

Fifteen people, including 11 mobsters, were killed and 14 people were injured in a terrorist attack in Shache County on Friday afternoon in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, local authorities announced in a statement on Saturday.

The mobsters threw out explosive devices and attacked civilians with knives at a food street in the county around 1:30 p.m. on Friday. Police patrolling nearby killed 11 of them.

A number of explosive devices, knives and axes were found at the scene.

Chinese Soldiers to Fight Terrorism at Home & Abroad

A few months ago, a similar incident in Shache (Yarkant) County left 96 people dead, when clashes between Uyghur insurgents and police spiraled out of control. Washington's favorite Uyghur exile leader Rebiya Kadeer claimed afterwards that Chinese security forces had massacred at least 2,000 Uyghurs but eyewitness accounts and video footage support Beijing's version of events, according to which "only" 59 insurgents and 37 civilians (35 Han Chinese and two Uyghurs) were killed during the clashes. Back in May, residents of Shache County helped the police to get the situation under control but although the Chinese authorities encourage people to take action if they "know how to fight terrorists," this is not an ideal solution. With Xinjiang authorities increasingly worried that the police is not able to ensure safety in the restive region on its own, former soldiers are now supposed to help out:

Xinjiang hires ex-soldiers to protect residents

Urumqi in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region will for the first time recruit 3,000 ex-soldiers to protect residential communities, a move observers said is aimed at coping with increased violence and terrorism.

All soldiers who left the service this year, who are under the age of 30, are "against separatism and illegal religious activities" and have no criminal record can apply for the job, the capital city's Civil Affairs Bureau announced Thursday on its website.


The soldiers have to undergo an application process, which includes a political examination and health check before being hired. Once they become community workers, they will be paid at least 3,000 yuan ($500) a month and given a local hukou, or residence certificate, the recruitment ad said.

There is every indication that Chinese soldiers will play a greater role in the fight against the "East Turkestan forces" and this fight won't be limited to Xinjiang or China. Beijing has drafted new legislation authorizing the army and the paramilitary police to carry out counter-terrorism missions abroad if all involved nations give their consent. Given that China has always been reluctant to deploy troops in other countries, this would be a significant shift from previous policies to a more aggressive approach in dealing with terrorism and extremism in Xinjiang's neighborhood. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have recently pledged to support China's war on terror and the new law is most likely aimed at fighting Uyghur insurgents in these two countries. Just a few days ago, Afghanistan's former intelligence chief warned China against turning a blind eye to Pakistan's support of various terrorist groups in the region:

Former Afghan Intelligence Chief warns China on Pakistan terror threat

Just as Afghanistan's new President Ashraf Ghani told SAARC leaders on Wednesday he would not allow a "proxy war" on Afghan soil, the country's former intelligence chief has warned China about the dangers of ignoring the terror threat emanating from its "all-weather" ally Pakistan.

On Wednesday, Beijing received its clearest word of warning yet that its current strategy of ignoring other groups in Pakistan - and merely focusing on the ETIM - would not shield it from the rising threat of terrorism in the region.

Amrullah Saleh, the former head of Afghanistan's National Security Directorate and a key figure in the country's security establishment over the past decade, called on China to "pay attention to the whole picture" and ask the question of why terrorists, including those from Xinjiang, had managed to find "sanctuaries across the border" in Pakistan.

Insurgents from Xinjiang find sanctuary in Afghanistan as well and as the NATO-led coalition forces are reducing their presence in the country, Taliban and foreign fighters are conquering more territories in northern Afghanistan, for example in Badakhshan Province, which borders China's Xinjiang. During last week's Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, former Afghan Foreign Minister and National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta pointed out that Afghanistan captured members of the ETIM in Badakhshan Province last year, when they tried to enter Xinjiang via the Wakhan Corridor. Kabul handed the captured ETIM members over to the Chinese government and Beijing would prefer other countries to do the same, regardless of whether the Uyghurs in question are insurgents or just refugees. In recent months, China has been pressing the Thai authorities to repatriate the Uyghur refugees, who were found at a human smuggling camp in Thailand, to no avail. Much to the dismay of Beijing, the Turkish government is now trying to convince Thailand of sending the refugees to Turkey: 

China rebukes Turkey for offer to shelter Uighur refugees 

China on Friday lashed out at Turkey for offering shelter to roughly 200 Uighurs from the western Chinese region of Xinjiang who were rescued from a human-smuggling camp in Thailand

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency on Wednesday reported a request by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for Thailand to send the Uighurs there, a move that angered China, which views their move to Thailand as "illegal immigration".

Asked for a response on Turkey's offer, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the case was a matter for China and Thailand and "the relevant country" should stop interfering.

Current Conflicts Prompt Kazakhstan to Take Preventive Measures

China has good reason to vehemently oppose Ankara's offer to shelter the Uyghur refugees considering that Turkey is one of the strongest supporters of the East Turkestan independence movement. Turkey plays a decisive role in Washington's plans to destabilize Xinjiang and Uyghurs in Turkey have to be careful if they are offered "help" by dubious organizations such as the Istanbul-based East Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association (ETESA). Otherwise they might find themselves fighting in Syria or plotting terrorist attack in Xinjiang sooner rather than later. Vital NATO member Turkey spares neither trouble nor expense to funnel foreign fighters into Syria, including Uyghur and Central Asian jihadists. Thanks to the help of the Turkish authorities, who are not even trying to hide their support of ISIS, hundreds of Central Asian fighters have made their way to Syria, many of whom brought their families with them, as shown in the latest ISIS propaganda video:

ISIS release shocking new video of child soldiers from Kazakhstan being trained with AK47s

A new ISIS propaganda video has emerged on social media showing the indoctrination and training of dozens of child soldiers from Kazakhstan.

Entitled 'Race Towards Good', the video was produced by the terror group's main media branch, Al Hayat Media Center. The dialogue in the video interchanges between Kazakh and Arabic, with three sets of subtitles including English.

The video claims: 'Meet some of our newest brothers from the land of Kazakhstan. They responded to the crusader aggression with their hijrah and raced to prepare themselves and their children, knowing very well that their final return is to Allah.'

The 15-minute video caused a great stir in Kazakhstan and the Kazakh authorities lost no time in warning media outlets and Internet users about "possible legal consequences" for distributing the ISIS video. Only a few days before the video was released, Nurtai Abykayev, the Chairman of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan, stated that more than 300 Kazakh nationals, including 150 women, have joined ISIS. However, the ISIS video showing fresh recruits from Kazakhstan casts doubt on the low figure mentioned by Abykayev. Astana is worried about the increasing number of Kazakh citizens fighting abroad and Kazakhstan's Prosecutor General warned last month that "mercenaries" are liable to prosecution. Some of these Kazakh mercenaries are fighting in Ukraine. Kazakhstan is trying hard to stay out of the new Cold War but the country has still been badly affected by the economic war against Russia. Therefore, the Kazakh government deems it best to prepare for the worst:

Russia vs West confrontation makes Kazakhstan take preventive measures: Nazarbayev

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev has held a roundtable discussion on industrialization with international experts and Kazakhstan officials,
Tengrinews reports citing the press service of Akorda.

Nazarbayev stressed that “Kazakhstan decided to take preventive measures in light of the crisis connected to the confrontation between Russia and Western countries.”

He reminded that the new
State of the Nation Address made earlier this month envisioned significant government injections to ensure a continued growth of Kazakhstan's economy and creation of new jobs. This, he said, would allow strengthening the financial system of the country and giving an impetus to the development of small and medium sized businesses.

Nazarbayev's State of the Nation Address was indeed noteworthy because the Kazakh leader unveiled a new economic policy that he dubbed "The Pathway to the Future," which includes massive infrastructure investments to the tune of $3 billion annually over the course of the next three years. An ambitious program of privatization and market reform is supposed to stave off a looming economic crisis. Furthermore, Kazakhstan is working to diversify its oil exports in case that the sanctions against Russia escalate. China and Iran are possible alternative routes to the Russian direction and a route from the Port of Aktau through the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan is being considered as well. Given that the country wants to position itself as "an important transport-logistics mega-hub between Europe and Asia," Kazakhstan has also conveyed interest in joining the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which is expected to to be put into operation next year after several delays: 

Test train to run on Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway by late 2014

Georgia, located at the crossroads of Central Asia and the Middle East, is the connecting link between Western Europe, Central Asia, China and India, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said on Nov.26.

He made the remarks at Georgian-Latvian business forum with participation of Latvian President Andris Berzins.

He said that a test train is expected to run on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway by late 2014 and it is planned to complete the implementation of the project in 2015.

U.S. Mulls Weapons Exports in Response to Russia-Abkhazia Treaty

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway should have been operational by the end of 2013 but the project is being delayed time and again. Georgian Prime Minister Garibashvili is currently more concerned with another railway project in the region, which is causing him quite a headache. Following the signing of a new treaty between Russia and Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed setting up a railway transit to Sukhumi, Tbilisi and Yerevan. Armenia, which lacks a land connection to the other countries of the Eurasian Economic Union, would benefit the most from this railway but all involved parties could potentially benefit from the project. Tbilisi is sending mixed signals on Putin's proposal but it is highly unlikely that the Georgian government will give its consent anytime soon. Georgian officials are still busy condemning the new treaty in the strongest possible terms:

Tbilisi considers Russia’s new Abkhazia treaty a form of annexation

The signing of a new treaty between Abkhazia and Russia has caused outrage in Tbilisi.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said he considers what has happened annexation.


Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili went as far as saying that the treaty turns the breakaway region into a part of Russia.

Georgia is making a great fuss about Russia's "annexation" of Abkhazia but essentially the agreement only "lays out in writing much of what is already in place." The most significant part of the new treaty is arguably the creation of a joint Russian-Abkhaz military force under Russian command, which is also a contentious issue in Abkhazia. Russia will double its financial assistance to console the Abkhaz for agreeing to this. Meanwhile, Georgia is looking to its Western partners for support. Predictably, the United States and its European lapdogs criticized the agreement with harsh words. The U.S. State Department said it would not recognize any "so-called treaty" between Russia and Abkhazia and the Georgian government asked the United National Security Council to discuss the legality of the treaty. Since everyone knows that this will lead to nothing, the U.S. looks set to do what it does best:

U.S., Georgia Intensifying Talks On "Weapons Procurement"

A flurry of high-level military visits between Washington and Tbilisi appears to be setting the stage for wider-scale exports of weaponry from the U.S. to Georgia.

Georgia, for
several years, has been trying without luck to get the U.S. to give or sell it lethal "defensive" weaponry, in particular anti-aircraft and anti-tank systems. But with the growing conflict between Russia and the West, the U.S. has stepped up its security assistance to its partners on Russia's borders, with Georgia looking to score a variety of potential benefits from the U.S. including increased military aid, sales of transport helicopters, and official "major non-NATO ally" status. NATO, too, has agreed on an increase in cooperation including setting up a training base in Georgia. So it wouldn't be surprising if the U.S. now decided to loosen its policies on allowing weapons exports to Georgia.

Weapons exports to Georgia won't help to ease tensions in the Caucasus but that has never been the objective of most U.S. and Georgian officials anyway. Especially former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement (UNM) Party are certainly going to welcome Washington's new weapons export policies. As far as Saakashvili and the UNM are concerned, Georgia's "pro-Russian" government is pursuing a policy of appeasement vis-à-vis Russia. While the UNM is pressing the government to join Western sanctions and cut all ties with Russia, Saakashvili and the Georgian authorities continue their war of words. Recently, Saakashvili blamed the Georgian government for blocking the appointment of one his former associates as business ombudsman in Ukraine. The Ukrainian regime is considering to fill the cabinet with former Georgian officials, which prompted Russian MP Aleksey Pushkov to propose appointing Saakashvili as Ukrainian Prime Minister. Given that Saakashvili cannot return to Georgia, that is perhaps a viable option:

Saakashvili Charged With Abuse Of Office In Murder Case

Georgian prosecutors have charged former President Mikheil Saakashvili with complicity in the 2006 murder of banker Sandro Girgvliani.

Girgvliani, the head of the United Georgian Bank's Foreign Department, was found dead in January 2006 outside Tbilisi with multiple injuries after he had an argument with a group of high-ranking Interior Ministry officials in a bar.

Prosecutors said in a November 27 statement that Saakashvili was an accomplice in the falsification of evidence in the case, along with Vano Merabishvili, who was then the interior minister, and other officials.

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: November 24, 2014

Soros' Visit a Bad Omen as Kyrgyzstan Prepares to Join EEU, TAPI Countries Push Pipeline Despite Afghan 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.

So-called color revolutions have long been used by the United States to replace governments all over the world with more pliable alternatives if the respective leaders have outlived their usefulness or antagonized Washington, the most recent example being the Euromaidan in Ukraine. After Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, the U.S. and its allies launched Orange Revolution 2.0 to ensure Kiev's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration and to nip Ukraine's accession to the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in the bud. On November 21, Ukrainians gathered in Kiev to mark the first anniversary of the start of the fateful anti-government protests, which have plunged the country into war, leading to a new confrontation between Russia and the West. In light of the developments in Ukraine, many governments are increasingly alarmed at color revolutions. Especially Russian officials have been repeatedly warning against this "new form of warfare" in recent months. A few days ago, President Putin urged Russian security chief to do everything necessary to prevent a color revolution in Russia and the issue was also high on the agenda during this week's talks between Russian and Chinese defense ministers:

Russia, China should jointly counter "color revolutions" — Russian Defense Ministry

Russia and China should jointly stand against “color revolutions” which both countries are facing, a deputy Russian defence minister said after talks between Russian and Chinese defence chiefs on Tuesday.

“We focused on those events which have recently taken place in Hong Kong, and both ministers acknowledged that no country is immune from ‘color revolutions,’” Anatoly Antonov said.

“It only seems that these “color revolutions” and these experiments by Western spin doctors, including those from the United States, are being implemented somewhere far from China or the Russian Federation,” Antonov said. “All this is in fact near us, and we believe that Russia and China should work together to withstand this new security challenge to our countries.”

Soros' Visit a Bad Omen as Kyrgyzstan Prepares to Join EEU

Before he travelled to Islamabad to sign a landmark military agreement with Pakistan, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu met with his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan and other top officials in Beijing to discuss military cooperation between Russia and China. Chang called for joint efforts to "promote bilateral military-to-military ties to a higher level" and both sides agreed to respond to Washington's attempts to strengthen its military and political clout in the Asia-Pacific region by forming a regional collective security system. Moscow's concerns with regard to color revolutions probably found a sympathetic ear in Beijing considering that the Chinese government is worried about the Hong Kong protests. Beijing has been portraying Occupy Central as an evil Western plot but although the usual suspects have a hand in the "Umbrella Revolution," the protests are not merely another color revolution. Nevertheless, both Beijing and Moscow have every reason to be on their guard, as the example of Ukraine shows. Some people are concerned that China's neighbor Kyrgyzstan will be the next target and the visit of color revolution expert George Soros didn't help to allay fears of a Kyrgyz Maidan: 

Myktybek uluu Bekbolot: Kyrgyzstan will not survive after another coup

"We are against arrival of the billionaire George Soros to our country," the representative of NGO Strong Kyrgyzstan Muratbek uluu Bekbolot defined the aim of the protest, passing near the building of the US Embassy in the Kyrgyz Republic, to 24.kg news agency.

According to him, after his first visit to our country there was a coup in 2005. "Now Soros again appeared, and we suspect that he is planning another revolution in our country. We are for peace Kyrgyzstan and don't want war. Our country will not survive after another coup," he added.

A few dozen protesters carrying signs with slogans such as "U.S. hands off of sovereign Kyrgyzstan" gathered near the U.S. Embassy Bishkek to demand that George Soros must immediately leave the country and stop interfering in Kyrgyzstan's internal politics. Neither Soros nor the Kyrgyz authorities were swayed by the small rally and the founder of the infamous Open Society Foundations completed his first trip to Kyrgyzstan after almost ten years without incident. After meeting with a representative of the Aga Khan Foundation and the current president of the American University of Central Asia (AUCA), Soros visited AUCA to talk to students and check if his money is well-invested. AUCA is being funded by Soros' Open Society Foundations and the U.S. government. The multi-billionaire also met with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev to discuss the activities of the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan, which begs the question of whether or not Atambayev told Soros that one of the projects financed by his foundation will be charged with "inciting interethnic hatred":

Kyrgyzstan's Spooks Hounding Rights Groups with "Absurd" Charges

The State Committee on National Security (GKNB) charged two staff of the Human Rights Advocacy Center, an anti-torture campaigner in Osh, on November 20 with “inciting interethnic hatred,” a source with intimate knowledge of the case told EurasiaNet.org. One was told that the former director of Freedom House’s Kyrgyzstan office would also be charged.

The GKNB had outlined its case in a September
criminal complaint, stating that an opinion survey distributed by the Advocacy Center posed a threat to national security and could reignite interethnic conflict in the country’s volatile south. The Advocacy Center project was funded by Freedom House, which receives some of its funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

The source with intimate knowledge of the case believes Kyrgyzstan will try to shut down foreign-funded NGOs altogether and kick out USAID, as Russia did in 2012. “This is the beginning of the end. This has been building for awhile,” the source said. The Advocacy Center and Freedom House are just scapegoats, the source added. “Russia wants these groups to leave. They’re going to push. It may take a year or more, but they [Russia] are aiming to get them cleared out.

The Human Rights Advocacy Center receives funding from Freedom House as well as from the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan. As previously discussed, the above-mentioned survey caused a great stir in Osh and in light of the Euromaidan protests and subsequent coup d'état in Kiev, the Kyrgyz authorities take no chances when it comes to the activities of foreign-funded "non-governmental" organizations. According to Kyrgyzstan's National Institute for Strategic Studies, 16,000 NGOs are now officially registered in the Central Asian country and although only a few hundred are active, it is difficult to stay on top of things. Therefore, legislators in Bishkek have been pushing for a Russian-style foreign agents law in recent months. As Kyrgyzstan is preparing to join the EEU and moving closer to Russia, some people in Bishkek and Moscow are concerned that Washington will try to impede this process but the Kyrgyz government stands by its decision to cast its lot with Russia:

Kyrgyzstan Has "No Alternative" to Closer Russia Ties - Prime Minister

The slowdown of Russia’s economy is inflicting pain across Central Asia. But impoverished Kyrgyzstan has no choice but to stay close to Moscow, Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev tells EurasiaNet.org.

In recent weeks, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has passed reams of legislation on membership in both the customs union and the EEU, which will come into being on January 1.

“We’ve gotten some criticism from the United States,” Otorbaev says of EEU membership talks. “I would like to hear the arguments of those who would like us to close the border. [...] With whom are we going to trade? I don’t know. The United States is not here. Europe neither. China is very aggressively importing things. If someone would advise us, I would be more than happy to hear them.

Georgia's "Pro-Russian" Government Continues NATO Integration

George Soros and the U.S. government will have to do a lot of persuading to woo Kyrgyzstan away from Russia. But although U.S. NGOs have lately been running into trouble in Kyrgyzstan and Russia, the use of NGOs is still very popular around the world. Archil Chkoidze, the leader of the Georgian NGO coalition "Eurasian Choice," recently suggested that Russian NGOs should beef up their presence in Georgia to counter U.S. influence in the country. Chkoidze stressed that many U.S. organizations are already working in Georgia to this end and nobody can deny that they have been very successful so far. Before visiting Kyrgyzstan, George Soros spent two days in Georgia to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Open Society Georgia Foundation. Soros also met with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who has been doing his best to assure the West of Georgia's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration after the dismissal of Defense Minister Irakli Alasania. This week, Garibashvili travelled to Brussels to attend the first meeting of the EU-Georgia Association Council and to meet with NATO's new Secretary General:

Georgian PM, NATO Chief Discuss Implementation of ‘Substantive Package’

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met Georgia’s PM Irakli Garibashvili in Brussels on November 17 and discussed implementation of the “substantive package” of cooperation, which NATO
offered to Georgia at its summit in Wales in September.

Among those elements of the package are assisting defense capacity building in Georgia through, as Stoltenberg put it, “embedded trainers” and setting up of a joint training center in Georgia.


“We are pleased that Georgia will also host NATO-Georgia Training Center. The Center will help the Georgian forces to maintain their ability to work with NATO and it will prepare Georgia and other partners for future contributions to NATO Response Force,” the NATO Secretary General said.

Stoltenberg emphasized that he has "no reason to doubt" Georgia's commitment to NATO integration and he stated that concrete decisions on the training center will be made at the ministerial meeting of NATO countries in February 2015. With that said, it is quite difficult to argue that Georgia is about to abandon its pro-Western course or that the Georgian government is loyal to Russia but that is exactly what some people in Georgia are alleging. A few days ago, dismissed Defense Minister Alasania, who called the corruption investigation into the military "an attack on Georgia's Euro-Atlantic choice," gave a 'final warning' to the Prosecutor’s Office and threatened to get the international community involved if his lawyers don't get the files of the case. Shortly afterwards, Alasania travelled to the United States to meet with representatives of the State Department. Another darling of Washington is also blasting the government in Tbilisi. According to former president Mikheil Saakashvili and his party, the current government is pursuing a "policy of appeasement vis-à-vis Russia":  

At ‘No to Annexation’ Protest Rally UNM Slams ‘Collaborationist’ Govt

Thousands of protesters were gathered in Tbilisi center on November 15 at a rally organized by the opposition UNM party against what it calls is Georgian government’s “inaction” amid threat of “annexation” of Georgia’s breakaway regions by Russia.

In his address via video link from Kiev, ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who is chairman of UNM party, told protesters, gathered on the Rustaveli Avenue outside the Parliament, that it is now time “for the entire nation to stand united and to tell, before it is not too late, to [ex-PM Bidzina] Ivanishvili that the Georgian nation does not share his dream.”

Saakashvili and his United National Movement are the most vocal critics of Russia's "attempt to annex" Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which is quite ironic considering that they have contributed significantly to the current situation by starting the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Former Georgian President Nino Burjanadze heavily criticized Saakasvhili and the current government for their "NATO rhetoric" and she stressed that Georgia's territorial integrity is more important than joining any international organization. Burjanadze blamed Tbilisi’s endless talk of a NATO training center in Georgia for Russia's decision to offer Abkhazia a new treaty and she urged the Georgian authorities to talk to the Russians, Abkhazians and Ossetians about this issue instead of "going to Brussels like kids and complaining before [NATO and EU] officials." Unfortunately, it is already too late for this. Russia and South Ossetia are working on a new integration treaty and Abkhazia is about to sign a revised version of the treaty proposed by Moscow a few weeks ago:

Russia, Abkhazia to Sign Agreement on Strategic Cooperation, Integration

Abkhazia's President Raul Hajimba will visit Russia Monday to meet with President Vladimir Putin and sign a deal on strategic cooperation and integration, Kremlin's press service announced Sunday.

"President of
Abkhazia Raul Hajimba will visit Russia on November 24 at the invitation of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin… It is planned to sign an agreement on integration and strategic partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia," the press service stated.

TAPI Countries Push Pipeline Despite Afghan Violence

Georgia's quest for NATO membership comes with heavy cost. Russia's southern neighbor is not only paying with its territorial integrity but also with the lives of Georgian soldiers for its dream of joining NATO. Georgia has made its mark as the top non-NATO troop contributor in Afghanistan and 750 Georgian troops will stay in the war-torn country after the so-called withdrawal. The security situation in Afghanistan is dire, as demonstrated by the recent suicide bombing at a volleyball match, and given that the casualties suffered by Afghan security forces in the fight against the Taliban have reached an "unsustainable" level, it came as no real surprise, when U.S. President Barack Obama secretly signed an order that expands the United States’ direct combat role in Afghanistan throughout 2015:

In a Shift, Obama Extends U.S. Role in Afghan Combat

President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the
Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”

Despite all that, some countries think that it is a good idea to push major regional and international infrastructure projects, which depend on the situation in Afghanistan. Representatives from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey discussed recently in Ashgabat the construction of a transport and transit corridor connecting the five countries. Furthermore, the Turkmen capital hosted the latest round of talks in the never-ending saga of the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI). Last week, the state gas companies of the four involved countries established a company that will build, own and operate the planned pipeline and a few days later the TAPI steering committee agreed to start the construction of the project as early as next year:

TAPI countries agree to start pipeline project by 2015

Taking another step towards realising the ambitious TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) natural gas pipeline project, petroleum ministers of the four countries
met in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan Thursday and agreed that steps will be taken to start the project by 2015.

"It was decided that the next meeting of the steering committee will be held in February 2015 in Islamabad," the petroleum ministry said in a statement here on the 19th round of TAPI steering committee meeting attended by Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

There has been a lot of talk about the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline in the last two decades but the security situation in Afghanistan has always prevented the implementation of the project and it is still "practically impossible" to build the pipeline. Especially the Turkmen authorities should be aware of the deteriorating security situation in neighboring Afghanistan given the fact that they were already forced to send troops across the border to drive back insurgents in the area. But since Turkmenistan is desperately looking for new gas customers to check its dependency on China, inconvenient facts are apparently being overlooked. The Turkmen authorities have been trying hard to diversify the country's gas exports after the Iranians announced that they no longer needed gas from Turkmenistan because they were planning to boost Iran's domestic gas production. Fortunately for Turkmenistan, this requires more time and money than the Iranians previously thought meaning that Turkmenistan will be able to keep its second-best gas customer for now:

Turkmenistan and Iran Reignite Gas Affair

Iran, it seems, was calling Turkmenistan’s bluff earlier this summer when Tehran said it no longer needs gas from its northern neighbor. Now a top official says Tehran will keep buying.

That is good news for Turkmenistan, which is so dependent on its main gas customer, China, that it is starting to look like a client state.

The Iran-Turkmenistan gas trade has been
dispute-prone over the years. Iranian energy officials have complained on a number of occasions that Turkmenistan does not always deliver on the contractual terms it signs. So the deal may mean more on paper than in practice. But for the moment, it buys both a little time.

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

The New Great Game Round-Up: November 17, 2014

Russia Sees ISIS Terrorists Everywhere, China Sets Out to Bring Peace to Afghanistan- Xinjiang & 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.

Three months ago, Armenia and Azerbaijan were on the brink of all-out war after the worst clashes in years over the disputed Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan had left more than a dozen soldiers dead. Russian President Vladimir Putin brought both sides to the negotiating table to prevent a further escalation of the conflict and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev readily agreed to postpone the recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh, which fueled speculation that Baku had provoked the clashes for political reasons. Azerbaijan has shown a pattern of provoking such events in order to get the international community to devote more attention to the conflict. Moreover, the escalation of violence in late July/early August coincided with a crackdown on human rights activists and NGOs. After this short period of heavy fighting the situation calmed down and last month French President Francois Hollande hosted "constructive" talks between Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan. The two leaders agreed to continue the dialogue to find a negotiated peace to the Karabakh conflict but this week's downing of an Armenian helicopter doesn't bode well for the shaky peace process:

Azerbaijan shoots down Armenian helicopter

The armed forces of Azerbaijan shot down and destroyed an Armenian military helicopter in the Nagorno-Karabakh region on Wednesday, the defense ministries of both countries said.

The incident threatened to set off another cycle of violence between the two South Caucasus neighbors over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but along with some surrounding territory has been under the control of Armenian soldiers and local Armenian forces since a 1994 cease-fire.

Nagorno-Karabakh said the helicopter belonged to its armed forces and was on a training flight near the cease-fire line. All three crew members on board were killed, a high-ranking officer with the Nagorno-Karabakh forces told the AP. The officer was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release the information.

Downing of Armenian Helicopter Disrupts Shaky Peace Process

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry alleged that "two military helicopters, performing combat maneuvers over the Azerbaijani positions, attempted to open fire at the positions of the Azerbaijani armed forces." Azerbaijani troops then returned fire and and brought down one helicopter. The spokesman of Nagorno-Karabakh's armed forces pointed out that the helicopter was not engaged in a combat operation but conducting a training flight as part of the ongoing joint Armenia-Nagorno-Karabakh military drills "Unity 2014", which involve about 17,000 soldiers and a large amount of military hardware. Artsrun Hovannisyan, the spokesman of the Armenian Defense Ministry, called Azerbaijani claims the helicopter attacked Azerbaijani troops "absurd" and he emphasized that the downed helicopter carried no weapons. Hovannisyan warned that this "unprecedented provocation" leads to an escalation of the situation and Armenia vowed to respond to the provocation:

Armenian helicopter downing: 'Grave consequences' warning

Armenia has threatened "grave consequences" after Azerbaijan shot down one of its helicopter in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
"This is an unprecedented escalation and the consequences for Azerbaijan will be grave," Armenian foreign ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovannisyan said.

A further statement from Armenia's foreign ministry accused the Azeris of a "criminal provocation" and of "gravely violating agreements reached at recent summits."

Armenian leader Sargsyan showed that he means business. One day after the helicopter was shot down and Azerbaijan "declared its airspace closed over the occupied territories," Sargsyan flew there anyway on a helicopter and Nagorno-Karabakh presidential press secretary David Babayan said "the airspace over Karabakh is really closed, but only for the Azerbaijani air force." Armenia's president and other high-level officials visited units of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army and attended the "Unity 2014" military exercises. Addressing the officers of both armies, Sargsyan stressed that there will be "redemption day" for Azerbaijan and he warned the Azerbaijani authorities that war against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia will be "no flash mob." While almost everyone is wondering how and when Armenia will retaliate, Azerbaijan's Aliyev is also promising more military action:

Aliyev Hails Armenian Chopper Downing, Vows More Military Action

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev praised his army for the Nov. 12 downing of an Armenian helicopter that killed three crew members in the worst military incident between the two countries in 20 years.

Aliyev promised more armed responses to Armenian “provocations” in future during an “operational meeting” yesterday with his generals in the western Shamkir District, his office said.

The soldier who shot down the helicopter has been awarded and Baku is apparently more interested in "correcting" "wrong" media reports than in resolving the conflict. Aliyev's critics often accuse him of using high diplomatic tensions with Armenia as a cover to target and lock up political activists and the downing of the Armenian helicopter conveniently diverts attention from Baku's "crackdown on independent media and rights activists." Fortunately, Aliyev's friends in the West are not swayed by trifles, such as human rights abuses. Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, secretly flew to Azerbaijan this week to meet with his buddy Aliyev. The Queen’s second son has already met the Azeri President eleven times on official business in the past decade and his friendship with Aliyev and other controversial leaders cost him his post as the UK’s trade envoy in 2011. But "Air Miles Andy" was not the only noteworthy guest in Baku this week. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also travelled to the Azerbaijani capital a few days ago to hold talks with Aliyev and other senior officials. It was Rouhani's first visit to Azerbaijan since his election last year and the two neighboring countries agreed to boost cooperation in various areas despite their difficult relationship:

Iran, Azerbaijan ink five cooperation agreements during President Rouhani's visit

The Iranian and Azeri officials signed five cooperation agreements on Wednesday to expand ties in areas of economy, renewable energy, industry, communications, and transport, IRNA reported on Wednesday. The cooperation deals were signed at the presence of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Baku.

Prior to his trip to Baku, Rouhani stated that the Caucasus is Iran's "bridge" to Europe and Iran is also the Caucasus's bridge to the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

"This bridge and multilateral relations with the Caucasus and the Central Asia should be strengthened," he added.

Russia Sees ISIS Terrorists Everywhere

 Azerbaijan is already positioning itself as a gas mediator between Iran and Europe but first of all Tehran has to reach a nuclear deal with the West, which looks unlikely to happen before the November 24 deadline. Judging from Rouhani's words, Iran wants to follow Russia's and China's lead and strengthen its foothold in the Eurasian Balkans. China, which boasts strategic partnerships with all five 'stans, focuses primarily on economic cooperation, whereas Russia also regularly tries to convince the local regimes of closer military cooperation. In recent months, Russian officials and pundits have used the threat of Central Asian ISIS fighters, who might return from Iraq and Syria, to this end. For example, Russian commentator Alexander Sobyanin argued a few weeks ago that the Central Asian jihadists are sponsored by U.S. intelligence and that they could be used to foment instability in Central Asia, creating a pretext for U.S. military presence in the region. One Russian lawmaker has now come up with a plan to prevent the long prophesied Islamist takeover in Central Asia:

Lawmaker Proposes 'Russian Foreign Legion' To Combat IS

Should Russia have a foreign legion, like France? A Russian lawmaker thinks such a concept could
address the threat of the Islamic State (IS) group in Russia and Central Asia.

The proposal, by State Duma Deputy Roman Khudyakov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) faction, comes amid growing fears over the influence of the IS in Russia and former Soviet Central Asian republics.

The Russian lawmaker said that a Russian foreign legion could guarantee stability in Central Asia, and oppose possible aggression from Islamic State militants operating in the region.

Khudyakov is known for his creative proposals for new legislation and his latest idea was not met with much approval but it demonstrates once more that the ISIS hype has reached Russia. Last week, Russian media reported that members of the so-called "GTA gang", which had terrorized Moscow motorists in recent months with a series of murders resembling the popular video game "Grand Theft Auto," were Central Asian migrant workers linked to ISIS. According to law enforcement officials, several of the detained gang members were set to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Interestingly enough, many of the Central Asians fighting in Iraq and Syria have been recruited while working in Russia and not in their home countries. Russian officials are not only concerned about the spreading of radical Islam among Russia's Central Asian migrant workers but also about the plans of Western intelligence agencies with regard to ISIS. Especially Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has absolutely no doubt about CIA, MI6 & Co. pulling the strings behind the much-hyped terrorist group and the ongoing war of words between Kadyrov and ISIS entered another round a few days ago:

ISIS commander 'Omar the Chechen' allegedly killed

The Islamic State military commander "Omar the Chechen,” who threatened Russia with a jihadist onslaught, has been eliminated, said Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov. He posted a photo on Instagram which he says is proof.

“The enemy of Islam, Tarkhan Batirashvili, who called himself Omar Ash-Shishani ("Shishani" is Arabic for "Chechen"), has been killed," Kadyrov posted. "That will happen to everyone who will threaten Russia and the people of Chechnya. This will happen to everyone who sheds Muslims' blood."

Kadyrov's message was reported all around the world but it didn't take long before the Chechen leader deleted his post. As many people quickly pointed out, the photo posted by Kadyrov doesn't show Tarkhan Batirashvili's dead body and the same picture has been used on at least one previous occasion to "prove" the death of Kadyrov's new nemesis. Given the fact that his death was reported at least four times in recent months, Batirashvili seems to be following in the footsteps of Osama bin Laden and Kadyrov's previous nemesis Doku Umarov, who was "killed" about a dozen times before he eventually left the stage. Up until now, Western and Arab media have portrayed Batirashvili as the military genius of ISIS but his military prowess has recently been called into question. One former associate, who fought alongside Batirashvili in Syria, accused the ISIS leader of only knowing how to send mujahedin as cannon fodder but that is apparently the preferred strategy of ISIS anyway. Nevertheless, Kadyrov won't take any chances and will do his best to get rid of Batirashvili and the cannon fodder: 

Chechen Gets 2 Years in Prison for Battling Assad's Forces in Syria

A 22-year-old Chechen man has been sentenced to two years in prison for fighting in Syria's civil war, a news report said Tuesday.

Said Mazhayev, who prosecutors say went to Syria last November and fought alongside the Free Syrian Army until January, admitted his guilt in court, prosecutors told the Caucasian Knot news website.

Under Russian law, he could have faced up to 10 years in prison for taking part in an armed conflict in a foreign state. Ahead of the verdict, which was issued Monday, prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Mazhayev to three years and two months in a penal colony.

China Sets Out to Bring Peace to Afghanistan, Xinjiang

There are hardly any Syrians left among the "Syrian rebels," as foreign fighters are pouring into Syria faster than ever. According to U.S. and British counterterrorism officials, "the growing number and variety of foreign fighters streaming into Syria is unprecedented in recent history." Lately, even fighters from the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), also known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), made their way to the battlefields of northern Syria. China is very concerned about the Syria-Xinjiang connection and the capture of a Chinese national fighting with ISIS in Iraq caused a great stir. It is unclear how many Uyghur insurgents have travelled to the Middle East but the emergence of ETIM fighters in Syria will reinforce Beijing's concerns in this regard. China has long avoided getting involed in conflicts like Syria or Afghanistan but the Chinese authorities have realized by now that they will have to bite the bullet sooner or later. As the NATO-led coalition forces are reducing their presence in neighboring Afghanistan, China is now trying to achieve what the U.S. and its allies failed to do: 

EXCLUSIVE - China seeks greater role in Afghanistan with peace talk push

China has proposed setting up a forum to restart stalled peace talks between Afghanistan and Taliban insurgents, the latest sign Beijing wants more of a say in its troubled neighbour's affairs as it frets about its own Islamist militant threat.

Documents seen by Reuters show that China put forward a proposal for a "peace and reconciliation forum" that Afghan officials said would gather representatives from

Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the Taliban command.

China's proposal has not yet been formally announced because Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants more time to see whether the Taliban and Pakistan are willing to join in, according to his aides.

China's "peace and reconciliation forum" was certainly high on the agenda during Ghani's recent two-day visit to Pakistan, where he met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other top officials to ease relations between the two countries. Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to expand their bilateral trade to $5 billion but it remains to be seen if they will pull together when it comes to the peace talks. Beijing will definitely do its part to bring Islamabad to the negotiating table. Considering that the Taliban have previously endorsed China's growing role in Afghanistan, China may even have a chance of succeeding in restarting the peace process. Pakistan has only recently signaled its readiness to support China's fight against the "East Turkestan" forces and to cooperate more closely on Afghanistan: 

Pakistan says will help China fight Xinjiang militants

Pakistan will help China with its fight against extremists Beijing says are active in its unruly far western region of Xinjiang, the country's prime minister said on Saturday during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Pakistan Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif told Xi that his country would "continue to resolutely fight the East Turkestan Islamic Movement terrorist forces", China's foreign ministry said in a statement following the meeting in Beijing.

Pakistan will increase its coordination with China on
Afghanistan too, so as to "jointly maintain regional peace and stability", Sharif said.

Of course, Pakistan's cooperation comes at a price. China promised its close ally billions of dollars in investment during Nawaz Sharif's trip to Beijing. Pakistan and China signed 19 agreements and memorandums mostly centered on the energy sector to the tune of over $40 billion. Amir Zamir, spokesman for Pakistan's ministry of planning and development, stressed that "there is no loan or aid for the energy projects, but pure investment by the Chinese." China spares neither trouble nor expense to push economic cooperation and to maintain stability in the region. Predictably, Washington's Uyghur exile groups are alarmed at all these deals because "Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Shanghai Cooperation countries’ deals means more heavy-handed repression of Uighurs." China won't be swayed by such concerns and continues its crackdown on illegal religious activities in Xinjiang:

China targets 'wild imams' in mass public sentencing

China has jailed almost two dozen people including "wild imams" who preach illegally in the western region of Xinjiang where the government says Islamists are waging a violent campaign for a separate state, Chinese media reported on Tuesday.

The 22 suspects were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 16 years at a mass public sentencing in Xinjiang on Monday, the state-controlled
China News Service reported.

As well as the imams, or Muslim religious leaders, those sentenced included religious leaders who engaged in religious
activities after being sacked, as well as those who broke the law while at their posts, it said.

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