Eurasia News Week in Review - May 9, 2014

Central Eurasia

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns expressed the United States’ commitment to the sovereignty and independence of the Central Asia states during his visit to the region, while a new bill in the Senate aims to enhance U.S. defense cooperation with Georgia and Azerbaijan. 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:

United States security stories:

  • Deputy Secretary of State William Burns visited Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan on Wednesday and Thursday respectively, where he met with the presidents of the two countries and other senior officials. Burns thanked both countries for their participation in the Northern Distribution Network and discussed ways to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine. Interestingly, in Uzbekistan Burns noted that the U.S. – Uzbek partnership could only reach its full potential if the countries maintained an open dialogue about a variety of U.S. human rights concerns. In Kazakhstan, meanwhile, Burns only vaguely stated that political progress should keep pace with the country’s economic development. 
  • Late last week the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), introduced the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014. The bill calls on the administration to grant Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova “major non-NATO ally” status, which would significantly enhance defense ties with those countries. The bill also calls for “expanded security force training, assistance and defense cooperation” with a number of countries in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, including Georgia and Azerbaijan. Armenia, which is a member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), was left out of the bill entirely.
  • Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania continued his U.S. visit and met with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Wednesday. The two sides discussed Georgia’s deployments to Afghanistan, Georgia’s interoperability with NATO, the U.S. defense relationship with Georgia, and the situation in Ukraine.
  • The U.S. Navy frigate USS Taylor is docking in the Georgian port-town of Batumi this week. While in Georgia, U.S. sailors will conduct a variety of trainings with their Georgian Coast Guard counterparts.
  • In an interview with Defense News, the outgoing commander of U.S. Transportation Command, General William Fraser, stated that the U.S. continues to use the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) for shipping material in and out of Afghanistan. General Fraser also said that while the U.S. has not negotiated any new transport lanes in Central Asia or the South Caucasus, it has renewed transit agreements with all NDN participating countries.
  • On Wednesday the U.S. co-chair of the Minsk Group (a French, Russian and U.S. group charged with helping to resolve the Nagorno Karabakh conflict) gave one of the first U.S. policy statements about the conflict in recent years. While Ambassador James Warlick’s speech mainly reiterated stated-U.S. policy, he also provided some subtle challenges to the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, according to Carnegie Endowment Senior Associate Thomas de Waal. For instance, Warlick called for increased engagement by both countries’ presidents, suggesting that current efforts by Armenia and Azerbaijan’s foreign ministers are insufficient to resolving the conflict. 
  • On Tuesday the United States and other major nuclear powers signed the Protocol to the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free- Zone (CANWFZ) Treaty. Under the treaty, the five Central Asian states pledge not to station, test or develop nuclear weapons. In return, the treaty “provides legally-binding assurances … [that the major nuclear power won’t] use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against CANWFZ Treaty parties.”

Some other top security stories:

  • In an interview with The Daily Beast, Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said that Georgia is offering Ukraine “lessons learned” from Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia. For instance, Alasania “stressed the importance of targeting moles within the military and security services … He said that only young, pro-Western officers should be promoted to key positions.” These lessons are partly derived from a report commissioned by the current Georgian administration regarding the 2008 conflict, which is due to be released soon.
  • A NATO delegation traveled to Azerbaijan this week to evaluate a large-scale military exercise by Azerbaijan’s infantry battalion. NATO officials also met with Azerbaijan’s defense minister on the sidelines of the exercise. 
  • Twenty-five people were injured on Thursday when clashes broke out between Tajik and Kyrgyz citizens near the Tajikistan – Kyrgyzstan border. The region last experience serious tensions in January, and the current situation is described as “‘tense’ but stable.”
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the presidents of Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus (all CSTO countries) to discuss the crisis in Ukraine and other bilateral issues. The presidents also attended a Russian military exercise.