Eurasia News Week in Review - February 21, 2014

Central Eurasia

The United States is searching for possible sites for drone bases in Central Asia, the Los Angeles Times reported, while a Central Asia analyst recently released a report stating U.S. military training may pose a threat to regional security. 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 hits from Central Asia and the South Caucasus:

  • If the United States cannot use its Afghanistan bases to target militants in Pakistan following the 2014 drawdown, the administration may move its drone operations to Central Asia, the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday. Though officials quoted in the LA Times story did not identify where the U.S. would like to place the airbase, regional analyst Joshua Kucera pointed out that the U.S. had conducted drone operations from an airbase in Uzbekistan around the September 11 attacks in 2001. However, both Kucera and analyst Andrey Kazantsev argued that the U.S. would have to overcome numerous obstacles to find a host for its drone operations.
  • Regional analyst Dmitry Gorenburg recently released a working paper and a policy brief on foreign military assistance to Central Asia, with chapters on assistance from Russia, the U.S., and other countries. In a blog published this week, Gorenburg highlighted his findings on U.S. assistance to the region. Gorenburg argued that concerns over the excess defense equipment the U.S. might leave the Central Asian states are “overstated,” and that “the security consequences of such donations will be limited.” Instead, “The greater threat to regional security is posed . . . by long-standing US training programmes for the region’s special forces, as part of an effort to increase counterterrorism preparedness.” Gorenburg noted that these trainings are often cheaper than other forms of assistance, and therefore may continue even as the U.S. withdraws from the region. Training of Central Asian special forces units by the U.S. increased in 2012, as data on the Security Assistance Monitor indicates.


Quick hits from Central Asia and the South Caucasus:

  • The U.S. responded with “grave concern” on Thursday to new amendments in Azerbaijani law affecting registration, fines and funding of NGOs, which “restrict the space for a free and independent civil society and run counter to Azerbaijan’s OSCE commitments.” The reproach followed another U.S. criticism, in which Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) expressed concern for “the safety and liberty” of Khadija Ismayilova, an RFE/RL journalist who regularly reports on government corruption. Her recent detainment over spying charges has already been declaimed as “absurd” by the U.S. Embassy in Baku.
  • U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland praised Georgia’s decision to contribute a company size army unit to a European Union peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic. Norland noted the “significantly higher training level” of Georgia’s servicemen, referring to their work in Afghanistan, and expressed his appreciation of Georgia’s readiness to participate in E.U. missions.
  • Both Georgia and Russia declared a willingness to start a “rational dialogue” to improve relations between the two countries after the 2008 conflict over Georgian breakaway territories South Ossetia and Abkhazia damaged their diplomatic ties. Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili noted, however, that he does “not see whether it is possible to concede anything,” since the recognition of Georgia’s territorial integrity is a fundamental issue. A discussion on the possibility of a meeting between the two nations’ presidents is scheduled for March 5th.
  • Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili is scheduled to visit the United States between February 22nd and March 1st to “further strengthen” bilateral cooperation upon Vice President Joe Biden’s invitation.
  • The Special Representative of the Swiss Chairmanship of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, admitted the OSCE faces certain limitations in monitoring the cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including an inability to conduct unannounced visits to the border and the lack of a mandate to investigate reported cease-fire violations. 
  • A delegation from the U.S. National Defense University traveled to Uzbekistan and met with officials from the country’s foreign ministry.
  • Officials from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan made progress towards implementing the CASA-1000 project, which would deliver electricity from Central Asia, through Afghanistan and into Pakistan. The U.S. has been a big supporter of the project, as it fits in with the U.S.’s New Silk Road vision of regional economic connectivity.