Eurasia News Week in Review - January 17, 2014

Central Eurasia

Events in Central Eurasian this week highlighted both the absent role of one regional security body, the CSTO, in the border clashes between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and the controversy surrounding Georgia’s entry into another security body, NATO. 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:

  • Officials closed the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border this week after three Tajik and five Kyrgyz border guards were injured in clashes between the two countries on Saturday. Kyrgyzstan accused Tajikistan of starting the fighting and using hand-grenades and mortars against its troops, while Tajikistan claimed Kyrgyz soldiers were conducting work in a disputed area and were first to fire on the Tajik guards. By Thursday officials from both countries resumed talks on ensuring security along the disputed borders, agreeing to withdraw all special detachments from the conflict area and to patrol the border jointly.
    • RFERL wrote an excellent analysis of the recent incident and the disputed Fergana Valley region. Meanwhile, analyst Joshua Kucera examined the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s surprising silence on the issue, noting that this is the second major security incident in Central Asia that the organization has chosen not to address.
  • Georgian parliamentary speaker Davit Usupahvili urged NATO to grant Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a final step before a country can gain NATO membership, during the 2014 NATO Summit in September. Usupashvili argued that a failure to do so would “ruin and undermine” domestic political stability and strengthen anti-Western voices in the country. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili disagreed with these statements, however, maintaining that Georgia’s “foreign vector remains unchanged … if there is no MAP, it will not pose a threat to and change [Georgia’s] European integration.”
  • Prime Minister Garibashvili also stated on Thursday that he expects “provocations” from Russia as Georgia moves ahead with signing an Association Agreement with the European Union, a move opposed by Russia. Garibashvili linked his statement to recent events, in which Russia “placed barbed wire on an administrative boundary.” Meanwhile, on Saturday Russia pledged over $180 million in aid to Georgian breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Georgia considers its territory.
  • President Aliyev and Secretary General RasmussenAzerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev visited NATO’s headquarters on Wednesday to meet with Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Rasmussen thanked Azerbaijan for its logistical and peacekeeping support for NATO operations in Afghanistan and stated, “We are determined to reinvigorate our political dialogue including on strategic issues, such as energy security and counter terrorism.” Rasmussen also said that Azerbaijan has been a “staunch member” of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, which “is founded on a commitment to democratic values and principles.” For his part, Aliyev restated Azerbaijan’s commitment to the post 2014 NATO mission in Afghanistan and thanked the alliance for its cooperation on matters ranging from counterterrorism to defense institution reform. 


Quick Hits from Central Asia and the South Caucasus:

  • A United States State Department delegation visited Ashgabat this week to attend the third U.S.-Turkmenistan Annual Bilateral Consultations. In addition to discussing ties in trade, energy, agriculture, education, and the construction of a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural-gas pipeline, the U.S. reportedly thanked Turkmenistan for assisting the socio-economic situation in Afghanistan.
  • Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov argued on Tuesday that NATO’s impending withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 could “lead to even more tensions” near the Uzbek border. Central Asian leaders, and particularly Karimov, frequently play up the threat of instability spilling over from Afghanistan, though many regional observers remain skeptical of this theory.  
  • Russia’s ambassador to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) firmly stated that the regional alliance would not assume responsibility for Afghanistan’s security after the withdrawal of NATO forces. As previously noted by Joshua Kucera, while SCO member states have expressed concern about the situation in Afghanistan, the alliance has struggled to define its role as it relates to the country.
  • On Monday Darigha Nazarbaeva, lawmaker and daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, proposed to lease control of the 140,000 hectares of cannabis fields in the Chui Valley to pharmaceutical firms, instead of destroying them. Kazakhstan hopes to harness 5,000 to 6,000 tons of hemp produced annually from this valley into a new boom industry for the country.
  • Russia announced on Friday the formation of a helicopter squadron in its Erebuni airbase in Armenia. Russia’s current MiG-29 fighter jet deployment “will be strengthened with Mi-24P attack helicopters, Mi-8MT and Mi-8SMV military transport helicopters…” RIA Novosti reported.
  • Azerbaijan intends to purchase Turkish OMTAS and UMTAS anti-tank missiles. The UMTAS missiles have a longer range and can be operated from both land-vehicles and aircraft.
  • The current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, discussed the OSCE’s upcoming efforts to resolve the border tensions in the South Caucasus.
  • On Monday Azerbaijani opposition party activist and advisor Yadigar Sadiqov was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for “hooliganism.” According to human rights groups, this makes him one of 145 political prisoners held in Azerbaijan. Two days later, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev denied again the existence of any political prisoners in his country.
  • This week marked the 20th anniversary of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, NATO’s main forum for defense cooperation with the Central Eurasia region.