Eurasia News Week in Review - September 6, 2013

Central Eurasia

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

The Caucasus:

  • Iran's naval chief publicly criticized neighboring Azerbaijan for buying naval missiles from Israel. “We have announced many times that the Caspian Sea is the Sea of peace and friendship and the littoral states should provide its security through cooperation with each other but certain sides adopt such measures (purchasing Israeli missiles) through coordination with others,” said Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, when asked in a press conference about Azerbaijan's purchase of Gabriel-5 anti-ship missiles from Israel last year. Azerbaijan's foreign ministry responded by saying that the country's naval buildup was “not directed at any country.”

  • Georgia's defense ministry was behind a scheme to recruit and train Chechen militants to attack Russia, according to a letter from one Chechen involved to a Georgian newspaper. The letter was published on the one-year anniversary of a military operation on the Georgia-Chechnya border, which remains mired in secrecy. At the time of the operation, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that it was aimed at stopping terrorists infiltrating the country from Russia. But since then, a number of officials have claimed that it was in fact the result of a botched attempt by the government to foment instability in Russia.

  • Armenia's president announced that his country intended to join the Russian led Customs Union, in what appeared to be a blow to the country's prospects for integration with Western institutions. Armenia had been expected to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union this fall, and EU officials have said the two organizations are incompatible. Armenian officials insisted, however, that they still intended to follow both tracks. Armenia hosts a Russian military base and receives extensive military aid from Russia, a factor which was widely interpreted as factoring into the decision.

Central Asia:

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping began a visit to Central Asia in which he was expected to visit Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Questions of security were expected to dominate the tour: China fears that instability following the departure of United States and coalition forces from Afghanistan may create a haven for militants of China's restive Uyghur minority, whose homeland borders Afghanistan and Central Asia. Xi's trip will end at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Bishkek.

  • A group of environmental activists in Kazakhstan has demanded that the country close all of the military bases and facilities that Russia operates there. The most significant facility is the Baikonur cosmodrome, Russia's main space launch station. Kazakhstan also hosts a Russian missile-testing range and an early-warning radar station. Kazakhstan receives about $27.5 million annually from Russia for use of the bases, and also gets spots for its cadets in Russian military academies.

Quick Hits from Central Asia and the South Caucasus:

  • U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers visited Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries, his first visit to the region.

  • Russia's deputy foreign minister warned that Georgia's accession to NATO would have “serious consequences” for stability in the region, notwithstanding the fact that Georgia's new government has tried to reduce tensions with Moscow.

  • The de facto foreign ministry of Nagorno Karabakh accused Azerbaijan of exploiting the crisis in Syria for its own ends, after Baku claimed that Armenia was resettling ethnic Armenians from Syria in the disputed territory.

  • Armenia's defense minister said that the country's defense acquisitions over the past three years have been “unprecedented” in their scale.

  • Indonesian arms manufacturer PT Pindad has proposed joint production of its assault rifles in Azerbaijan.

  • Naval vessels from Azerbaijan made a visit to Russia's main Caspian Sea port, Astrakhan.

  • A senior official from the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office visited Tajikistan to discuss Central Asian security with President Emomali Rahmon and other officials.

  • A NATO official said that the alliance is “satisfied” with Russia's Ulyanovsk logistics hub intended for transit of coalition cargo out of Afghanistan, in spite of the fact that it has yet to be used.