Eurasia News Week in Review - October 18, 2013

Central Eurasia

A roundup of some of the top articles and news highlights from around Central Eurasia over the last week:

Central Asia:

  • American officials are reportedly close to an agreement to move some operations from the United States’ air base in Kyrgyzstan to Romania. AFP quoted U.S. officials that “the final details are being worked out” to set up the transit of troops in and out of Afghanistan at the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base on Romania's Black Sea coast. The government of Kyrgyzstan earlier this year told the U.S. that it would have to leave the Manas air base by July 2014. In September 2012, the U.S. carried out “proof of principle” tests of transiting troops through Romania.

  • A coalition of local civil society organizations issued a report on the military operation in the eastern Tajikistan city of Khorog in July 2012. According to the report, the operation killed 22 residents of Khorog and up to 23 members of the security forces. It blamed the security forces for a number of violations of human rights, including disproportionate use of force and depriving residents of information about the operation.

  • In a rare trip to a European Union member, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov visited Latvia. After a meeting with Latvian President Andris Berzins, the two sides announced, “the two countries' cooperation would be intensified to counter terrorism and extremism, drug trafficking, international organized crime and other challenges and threats of the present day.” Latvia also vowed to support Uzbekistan in the EU and to help build up Afghanistan's security forces after the end of the coalition combat mission in 2014.

The Caucasus:

  • Russia's food safety czar accused a United States-funded infectious diseases laboratory in Georgia of being a secret bioweapons facility. “According to our estimates, the laboratory is an important element of the offensive part of the U.S. military-biological potential," said Gennady Onishchenko, head of the Russian Service on Surveillance for Consumer Rights Protection. “The lab creates agents that can be used to destabilize the political and economic situation in the country.” He added that if Georgia did not close down the facility that Russia may close its markets to Georgian wine, a potentially large blow to the important Georgian industry. Georgian and U.S. officials have denied the claim. “There still seems to be misperception that this laboratory is a military facility or is engaged in biological weapons research which is absurd,” said Richard Norland, the U.S.'s ambassador to Georgia, in July.

  • On a visit to Armenia, a NATO official said that the country's decision to join the Russia-led Customs Union would not affect its cooperation with the alliance. James Appathurai, NATO's special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, said on twitter after meeting with President Serzh Sargsyan: “In Armenia. Press asked if Armenia joining Customs Union hurts relations with NATO. Answer: no. In fact, President and I discussed doing more.” Meanwhile, the head of Armenia's delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly said that the country would sign an agreement with the European Union at its upcoming summit, but that it would not be the Association Agreement that was expected before the decision to join the Customs Union.

  • Tensions between the U.S. and Azerbaijan spiked after the U.S. sharply criticized the conduct of presidential elections earlier this month. Officials from the office of Azerbaijan's president and Ministry of Defense accused the U.S. embassy in Baku of trying to orchestrate how much of the vote should be given to the incumbent and winner, Ilham Aliyev, and how much to the opposition. And the U.S. embassy accused the Ministry of Defense of inappropriately and incorrectly quoting the U.S. ambassador on the election.

Quick Hits from Central Asia and the South Caucasus:

  • Tajikistan's parliament ratified an agreement with the United Kingdom on shipping military equipment from Afghanistan through the country.

  • Kazakhstan's navy started exercises to practice protecting oil and gas installations in the Caspian Sea.

  • Uzbekistan has claimed responsibility for the derailment of a train carrying hundreds of Tajikistani conscript soldiers, Tajikistan rail officials said.

  • Deliveries of Russian naval Uran-E missiles to Azerbaijan should start next year, officials in Baku said.

  • Kazakhstan has promised military aid to Tajikistan including ammunition and hand grenades.

  • Turkey's defense minister said that the decision to buy a Chinese air defense system would not harm relations with the U.S.

  • Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to visit Tajikistan next week.