Eurasia News Week in Review - May 30, 2014

Central Eurasia

Kazakhstan is moving to upgrade its military arsenal, while the United States has offered a million dollars for any information on Kamchybek Kolbayev’s criminal network. Below is a roundup of these stories and some of the other top articles and news highlights from around Central Eurasia over the last week:

Top stories from Central Asia and the South Caucasus

  • During the country’s biennial defense expo, KADEX, Kazakhstan expressed interest in purchasing drones, military transport aircraft, naval ships and other military equipment. Blogger and analyst Joshua Kucera, who attended KADEX, reported that Kazakhstan signed a memorandum of understanding with American drone manufacturer General Atomics. Kucera stated that Kazakhstan hopes to test out the company’s Predator XP surveillance drone before deciding whether to purchase it. Kucera also reported that Kazakhstan showed interest in naval ships produced by Chinese manufacturer Poly Technologies. According to Kucera, Kazakhstan “planned to sign more than 30 agreements worth USD1.2 billion” during KADEX, though the agreements will only be revealed at a later date.
  • President Barack Obama unveiled the United States’ post 2014 strategy in Afghanistan in a Rose Garden speech on Tuesday. Obama stated that 9,800 American troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2014, with that number shrinking in half by the end of 2015. These remaining troops will withdraw completely by the end of 2016. The post 2014 mission will concentrate on two objectives, “training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda,” with Afghan security forces assuming full responsibility for maintaining security in the country.
  • Georgia, which has 800 troops in Afghanistan, welcomed Obama’s Afghanistan drawdown plan. Leaders from Central Asia, who frequently express concern over potential instability spilling over from Afghanistan into Central Asia after the withdrawal of coalition troops, have yet to respond to Obama’s announcement. The presence of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan through 2016 may extend the utility of the Northern Distribution Network transport routes, which run through Central Asia and the South Caucasus.  


Quick hits from Central Asia and the South Caucasus

  • The U.S. State Department is offering $1 million for information that leads to the disruption of Kamchybek Kolbayev’s criminal network, which is responsible for “drug trafficking, arms trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, and other crimes.” Kolbayev, a notorious crime boss in Central Asia, could be released from a Kyrgyz prison next month.
  • Afghan insurgents killed three Turkmen border guards on May 24, the second deadly confrontation along the border this year. Bruce Pannier discussed the situation along the border in his Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty blog, though much about this specific incident remains unknown.
  • Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service published “An Explainer” on the tensions in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhstan region, which includes an update on negotiations between the government and protestors and provides an explanation of the protestors’ longstanding grievances against the government.
  • The Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Russian-led security alliance, said that while the security situation along the Afghan-Tajik border could worsen after the withdrawal of NATO troops, the CSTO’s Rapid Deployment Forces “can be airlifted within hours to the border” if a serious threat to stability emerged.
  • The CSTO concluded a counternarcotics exercise in Tajikistan on May 25, which included both strategic drills and combat operations. During the exercise, security forces from CSTO member states reportedly seized 12 tons of Afghan drugs.
  • Senior officials from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan met in Dushanbe on Thursday to discuss counternarcotics and border management cooperation.      
  • As Joshua Kucera highlighted on The Bug Pit blog, Russia revealed a number of potential arms deals with Azerbaijan, including for additional T-90S tanks, rocket launchers and anti-ship missiles. Kucera noted that these potential deals would likely unnerve Azerbaijan’s foe and key Russian ally, Armenia. In response to the stories, Armenia’s defense minister said he cannot support Russia’s moves, but admitted he has no right to interfere in Russian decision-making. 
  • In one of the deadliest weeks of the year, two Azerbaijani officers and one Armenian soldier were reportedly killed in clashes between the countries.
  • Violence broke out in Gardabani, Georgia on Wednesday between ethnic Georgians and Azerbaijanis, as a seemingly small quarrel evolved into more serious clashes between residents. Officials from Georgia’s two largest parties accused one another of inflaming the clashes ahead of the upcoming local elections. 
  • Secretary of State John Kerry and several U.S. members of Congress congratulated Azerbaijan on marking its Republic Day on May 28. However, the U.S. also criticized Azerbaijan for jailing the leaders of a number of election and democracy non-governmental organizations.