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Author Topic: Russia-Georgia, Turkey, Caucasus, Central Asia  (Read 21360 times)
Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #50 on: August 31, 2008, 09:26:30 PM »

August 29, 2008
With Cold War tensions building in the Black Sea, the Turks have gone into a diplomatic frenzy. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan had his phone glued to his ear on Thursday speaking to his U.S., British, German, French, Swedish and Finnish counterparts, as well as to the NATO secretary-general and various EU representatives. The Turks are also expecting Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili to arrive in Istanbul on Aug. 31. And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to arrive for a separate meeting with Turkish leaders early next week.

The Turks have a reason to be such busy diplomatic bees. A group of nine NATO warships are currently in the Black Sea ostensibly on routine and humanitarian missions. Russia has wasted no time in sounding the alarm at the sight of this NATO buildup, calling on Turkey — as the gatekeeper to the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits between the Black and Mediterranean seas — to remember its commitment to the Montreux Convention, which places limits on the number of warships in the Black Sea. As a weak naval power with few assets to defend itself in this crucial frontier, Russia has every interest in keeping the NATO presence in the Black Sea as limited and distant as possible.

Turkey is in an extremely tight spot. As a NATO member in control of Russia’s warm-water naval access to the Black Sea, Turkey is a crucial link in the West’s pressure campaign against Russia. But the Turks have little interest in seeing the Black Sea become a flashpoint between Russia and the United States. Turkey has a strategic foothold in the Caucasus through Azerbaijan that it does not want to see threatened by Moscow. The Turks also simply do not have the military appetite or the internal political consolidation to be pushed by the United States into a potential conflict — naval or otherwise — with the Russians.

In addition, the Turks have to worry about their economic health. Russia is Turkey’s biggest trading partner, supplying more than 60 percent of Turkey’s energy needs through two natural gas pipelines (including Blue Stream, the major trans-Black Sea pipeline), as well as more than half of Turkey’s thermal coal — a factor that has major consequences in the approach of winter. Turkey has other options to meet its energy needs, but there is no denying that it has intertwined itself into a potentially economically precarious relationship with the Russians.

And the Russians have already begun using this economic lever to twist Ankara’s arm. A large amount of Turkish goods reportedly have been held up at the Russian Black Sea ports of Novorossiysk, Sochi and Taganrog over the past 20 days ostensibly over narcotics issues. Turkish officials claim that Turkish trucks carrying mostly consumer goods have been singled out for “extensive checks and searches,” putting about $3 billion worth of Turkish trade in jeopardy. The Turks have already filed an official complaint with Moscow over the trade row — with speculation naturally brewing over Russia’s intent to punish Turkey for its participation in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and to push Ankara to limit NATO access to the Black Sea.

But the Russians are playing a risky game. As much as Turkey wants this conflict to go away, it still has cards to play — far more than any other NATO member — if it is pushed too hard. As Turkish State Minister Kursat Tuzmen darkly put it, “We will disturb them if we are disturbed. We know how to disturb them.” If Turkey gets fed up with Russian bullying tactics, there is little stopping it from allowing an even greater buildup of NATO warships in the Black Sea to threaten the Russian underbelly.

The Turks could also begin redirecting their energy supply away from the Russians, choosing instead to increase their natural gas supply from Iran or arrange for some “technical difficulties” on the Blue Stream pipeline. The Russians also ship some 1.36 million barrels per day of crude through the Black Sea that the Turks could quite easily blockade. These are the easier and quicker options that Turkey can employ. But there are some not-so-quick and not-so-easy options for Turks to consider as well, including riling up the Chechens in the northern Caucasus or the Turkic peoples in Central Asia and within the Russian Federation to make trouble for Moscow.

These are not options that Ankara is exactly eager to take, but they remain options, and will be on both the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers’ minds when they meet in the coming days.

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captainccs
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« Reply #51 on: September 01, 2008, 09:23:58 AM »

All those ships in the Black Sea are nothing but a couple of peacocks (USA-NATO) strutting their tail feathers but the real action is on the ground, in Georgia, which has been invaded and split up by the Russians. No matter how many ICBMs you have, control on the ground is based on foot soldiers and not a single USA-NATO soldier has set foot in Georgia nor are they likely to.

The purpose of the strutting is to save face and to feed your friendly media, not to save Georgia from being mauled by the big Russian Bear: Hungary 1956, Checkoslovakia 1968, Georgia 2008.

Sadly, but that's what back yards are for.

Denny Schlesinger



PS: One of my cousins -- now living in Los Angles -- has a piece of the Stalin statue. I recall praying (I was still a believer in those days) for American help which never materialized.

http://www.hungary1956.com/photos.htm
 

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Denny Schlesinger
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« Reply #52 on: September 02, 2008, 09:51:23 PM »

Denny, Thanks for your wisdom on the situation in Georgia.  A hundred or a thousand ships mean nothing if we are committed to non-intervention.  Whether we look at our failure to rescue Hungary or our difficulties liberating Iraq,  I wish we had the time, resources and resolve to topple more tyrants and give more people a shot at freedom.

What makes many battles impractical IMO is the lack of contribution and sacrifice from other nations.  They seem to feel a resentment of America that is stronger than the offense they take to oppression or aggression.

There is the unarmed, worthless UN where Russia has a permanent veto and there is American unilateralism. There isn't much in between. 
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #53 on: September 07, 2008, 04:55:00 AM »

US navy ship steams into port where Russian troops stationed
(Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)
The USS Mount Whitney, pictured here in the Bosphorus, today made a controversial landing at the port of Poti

James Hider in Tbilisi
A US navy flagship has steamed into a Georgian port where Russian troops are still stationed, stoking tensions once again in the tinderbox Caucasus region.

A previous trip by American warships was cancelled at the last minute a week ago amid fears that an armed stand off could erupt in the Black Sea port of Poti.

The arrival of the USS Mount Whitney came as Moscow accused Dick Cheney, the hawkish US vice-president, of stoking tensions during a visit to Tbilisi yesterday, in which he vowed to bring Georgia into the Nato alliance. Russia sees any such move as a blatant Western encroachment on its traditional sphere of influence.

Russia’s leadership has already questioned whether previous US warships that docked at the port of Batumi, to the south, were delivering weapons to rearm the smashed Georgian military, something Washington has denied.

Related Links
Cheney delivers warning to Moscow
Georgia linked to Nato early warning system
Britain values unity in Nato over Georgia
While Russia again questioned the deployment of what it described as "the number one ship of its type in the US navy” on the Black Sea, it said it planned no military action in response. The Russian Army has kept a small number of soldiers in Poti, where local Georgian officials accuse them of looting port authority buildings.

“Naval ships of that class can hardly deliver a large amount of aid,” said Andrei Nesterenko, a Russian foreign ministry spokesman. “Such ships of course have a hold for keeping provisions for the crew and items needed for sailing. How many dozens of tonnes of aid can a ship of that type deliver?"

He said the presence of US warships could contravene international conventions governing shipping on the Black Sea, and - in particular - restricting the entry of naval ships from countries that do not share a Black Sea coastline.

Militarily, the small Russian garrison in Poti would pose almost no threat to a vessel like the Mount Whitney, but the proximity of two hostile forces in such a fraught setting set the political temperature rising again in the Caucasus, a month after Russia’s five day war with Georgia.

The American warship is too large to actually enter the port, where Russia sunk several Georgian navy vessels in its offensive last month. Instead, it is expected anchor offshore and unload its cargo of blankets, hygiene kits, baby food and infant care supplies on to smaller boats.

"I can confirm it has arrived in Poti. Anchoring procedures are still ongoing but it has arrived," said a US naval official.

Moscow, which followed up its crushing military defeat of Georgia by unilaterally recognising the independence of two of its breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, was fuming that Mr Cheney still insisted on Georgia’s entrance into the Atlantic alliance – something several key NATO members are wary of.

“The new promises to Tbilisi relating to the speedy membership of NATO simply strengthen the Saakashvili regime’s dangerous feeling of impunity and encourages its dangerous ambitions,” said Mr Nesterenko.

Washington has also pledged one billion dollars in aid to help Georgia rebuild after Russia pounded many of its military bases to dust and targeted important infrastructure.

The brief conflict has left thousands of Georgians homeless, including many driven from South Ossetia and the surrounding Russian buffer zone inside Georgia itself.

Georgian officials have accused the Russian-backed Ossetian militias of “ethnically cleansing” remote villages, while Moscow has charged Tbilisi with “genocide” for its heavy handed attack on the breakaway region last month.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #54 on: November 07, 2008, 07:11:13 AM »

The NY Times is frequently a dishonest newspaper and IMHO the subject matter of this article precisely of the sort wherein the NYT is motivated to lie, mislead, misrepresent, and distort.

Caveat lector:
======================

TBILISI, Georgia — Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression.

Georgia moved forces toward the border of the breakaway region of South Ossetia on Aug. 7, at the start of what it called a defensive war with separatists there and with Russian forces.

Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.
The accounts are neither fully conclusive nor broad enough to settle the many lingering disputes over blame in a war that hardened relations between the Kremlin and the West. But they raise questions about the accuracy and honesty of Georgia’s insistence that its shelling of Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway region of South Ossetia, was a precise operation. Georgia has variously defended the shelling as necessary to stop heavy Ossetian shelling of Georgian villages, bring order to the region or counter a Russian invasion.

President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia has characterized the attack as a precise and defensive act. But according to observations of the monitors, documented Aug. 7 and Aug. 8, Georgian artillery rounds and rockets were falling throughout the city at intervals of 15 to 20 seconds between explosions, and within the first hour of the bombardment at least 48 rounds landed in a civilian area. The monitors have also said they were unable to verify that ethnic Georgian villages were under heavy bombardment that evening, calling to question one of Mr. Saakashvili’s main justifications for the attack.

Senior Georgian officials contest these accounts, and have urged Western governments to discount them. “That information, I don’t know what it is and how it is confirmed,” said Giga Bokeria, Georgia’s deputy foreign minister. “There is such an amount of evidence of continuous attacks on Georgian-controlled villages and so much evidence of Russian military buildup, it doesn’t change in any case the general picture of events.”

He added: “Who was counting those explosions? It sounds a bit peculiar.”

The Kremlin has embraced the monitors’ observations, which, according to a written statement from Grigory Karasin, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, reflect “the actual course of events prior to Georgia’s aggression.” He added that the accounts “refute” allegations by Tbilisi of bombardments that he called mythical.

The monitors were members of an international team working under the mandate of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or O.S.C.E. A multilateral organization with 56 member states, the group has monitored the conflict since a previous cease-fire agreement in the 1990s.

The observations by the monitors, including a Finnish major, a Belorussian airborne captain and a Polish civilian, have been the subject of two confidential briefings to diplomats in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, one in August and the other in October. Summaries were shared with The New York Times by people in attendance at both.

Details were then confirmed by three Western diplomats and a Russian, and were not disputed by the O.S.C.E.’s mission in Tbilisi, which was provided with a written summary of the observations.

Mr. Saakashvili, who has compared Russia’s incursion into Georgia to the Nazi annexations in Europe in 1938 and the Soviet suppression of Prague in 1968, faces domestic unease with his leadership and skepticism about his judgment from Western governments.

The brief war was a disaster for Georgia. The attack backfired. Georgia’s army was humiliated as Russian forces overwhelmed its brigades, seized and looted their bases, captured their equipment and roamed the country’s roads at will. Villages that Georgia vowed to save were ransacked and cleared of their populations by irregular Ossetian, Chechen and Cossack forces, and several were burned to the ground.

Massing of Weapons

According to the monitors, an O.S.C.E. patrol at 3 p.m. on Aug. 7 saw large numbers of Georgian artillery and grad rocket launchers massing on roads north of Gori, just south of the enclave.



============
Page 2 of 3)


At 6:10 p.m., the monitors were told by Russian peacekeepers of suspected Georgian artillery fire on Khetagurovo, an Ossetian village; this report was not independently confirmed, and Georgia declared a unilateral cease-fire shortly thereafter, about 7 p.m.

During a news broadcast that began at 11 p.m., Georgia announced that Georgian villages were being shelled, and declared an operation “to restore constitutional order” in South Ossetia. The bombardment of Tskhinvali started soon after the broadcast.
According to the monitors, however, no shelling of Georgian villages could be heard in the hours before the Georgian bombardment. At least two of the four villages that Georgia has since said were under fire were near the observers’ office in Tskhinvali, and the monitors there likely would have heard artillery fire nearby.

Moreover, the observers made a record of the rounds exploding after Georgia’s bombardment began at 11:35 p.m. At 11:45 p.m., rounds were exploding at intervals of 15 to 20 seconds between impacts, they noted.

At 12:15 a.m. on Aug. 8, Gen. Maj. Marat M. Kulakhmetov, commander of Russian peacekeepers in the enclave, reported to the monitors that his unit had casualties, indicating that Russian soldiers had come under fire.

By 12:35 a.m. the observers had recorded at least 100 heavy rounds exploding across Tskhinvali, including 48 close to the observers’ office, which is in a civilian area and was damaged.

Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said that by morning on Aug. 8 two Russian soldiers had been killed and five wounded. Two senior Western military officers stationed in Georgia, speaking on condition of anonymity because they work with Georgia’s military, said that whatever Russia’s behavior in or intentions for the enclave, once Georgia’s artillery or rockets struck Russian positions, conflict with Russia was all but inevitable. This clear risk, they said, made Georgia’s attack dangerous and unwise.

Senior Georgia officials, a group with scant military experience and personal loyalties to Mr. Saakashvili, have said that much of the damage to Tskhinvali was caused in combat between its soldiers and separatists, or by Russian airstrikes and bombardments in its counterattack the next day. As for its broader shelling of the city, Georgia has told Western diplomats that Ossetians hid weapons in civilian buildings, making them legitimate targets.

“The Georgians have been quite clear that they were shelling targets — the mayor’s office, police headquarters — that had been used for military purposes,” said Matthew J. Bryza, a deputy assistant secretary of state and one of Mr. Saakashvili’s vocal supporters in Washington.

Those claims have not been independently verified, and Georgia’s account was disputed by Ryan Grist, a former British Army captain who was the senior O.S.C.E. representative in Georgia when the war broke out. Mr. Grist said that he was in constant contact that night with all sides, with the office in Tskhinvali and with Wing Commander Stephen Young, the retired British military officer who leads the monitoring team.

“It was clear to me that the attack was completely indiscriminate and disproportionate to any, if indeed there had been any, provocation,” Mr. Grist said. “The attack was clearly, in my mind, an indiscriminate attack on the town, as a town.”

Mr. Grist has served as a military officer or diplomat in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Kosovo and Yugoslavia. In August, after the Georgian foreign minister, Eka Tkeshelashvili, who has no military experience, assured diplomats in Tbilisi that the attack was measured and discriminate, Mr. Grist gave a briefing to diplomats from the European Union that drew from the monitors’ observations and included his assessments. He then soon resigned under unclear circumstances.

A second briefing was led by Commander Young in October for military attachés visiting Georgia. At the meeting, according to a person in attendance, Commander Young stood by the monitors’ assessment that Georgian villages had not been extensively shelled on the evening or night of Aug. 7. “If there had been heavy shelling in areas that Georgia claimed were shelled, then our people would have heard it, and they didn’t,” Commander Young said, according to the person who attended. “They heard only occasional small-arms fire.”

The O.S.C.E turned down a request by The Times to interview Commander Young and the monitors, saying they worked in sensitive jobs and would not be publicly engaged in this disagreement.

Grievances and Exaggeration

=================

Page 3 of 3)

Disentangling the Russian and Georgian accounts has been complicated. The violence along the enclave’s boundaries that had occurred in recent summers was more widespread this year, and in the days before Aug. 7 there had been shelling of Georgian villages. Tensions had been soaring.

Each side has fresh lists of grievances about the other, which they insist are decisive. But both sides also have a record of misstatement and exaggeration, which includes circulating casualty estimates that have not withstood independent examination. With the international standing of both Russia and Georgia damaged, the public relations battle has been intensive.
Russian military units have been implicated in destruction of civilian property and accused by Georgia of participating with Ossetian militias in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Russia and South Ossetia have accused Georgia of attacking Ossetian civilians.

But a critical and as yet unanswered question has been what changed for Georgia between 7 p.m. on Aug 7, when Mr. Saakashvili declared a cease-fire, and 11:30 p.m., when he says he ordered the attack. The Russian and Ossetian governments have said the cease-fire was a ruse used to position rockets and artillery for the assault.

That view is widely held by Ossetians. Civilians repeatedly reported resting at home after the cease-fire broadcast by Mr. Saakashvili. Emeliya B. Dzhoyeva, 68, was home with her husband, Felix, 70, when the bombardment began. He lost his left arm below the elbow and suffered burns to his right arm and torso. “Saakashvili told us that nothing would happen,” she said. “So we all just went to bed.”

Neither Georgia nor its Western allies have as yet provided conclusive evidence that Russia was invading the country or that the situation for Georgians in the Ossetian zone was so dire that a large-scale military attack was necessary, as Mr. Saakashvili insists.

Georgia has released telephone intercepts indicating that a Russian armored column apparently entered the enclave from Russia early on the Aug. 7, which would be a violation of the peacekeeping rules. Georgia said the column marked the beginning of an invasion. But the intercepts did not show the column’s size, composition or mission, and there has not been evidence that it was engaged with Georgian forces until many hours after the Georgian bombardment; Russia insists it was simply a routine logistics train or troop rotation.

Unclear Accounts of Shelling

Interviews by The Times have found a mixed picture on the question of whether Georgian villages were shelled after Mr. Saakashvili declared the cease-fire. Residents of the village of Zemo Nigozi, one of the villages that Georgia has said was under heavy fire, said they were shelled from 6 p.m. on, supporting Georgian statements.

In two other villages, interviews did not support Georgian claims. In Avnevi, several residents said the shelling stopped before the cease-fire and did not resume until roughly the same time as the Georgian bombardment. In Tamarasheni, some residents said they were lightly shelled on the evening of Aug. 7, but felt safe enough not to retreat to their basements. Others said they were not shelled until Aug 9.

With a paucity of reliable and unbiased information available, the O.S.C.E. observations put the United States in a potentially difficult position. The United States, Mr. Saakashvili’s principal source of international support, has for years accepted the organization’s conclusions and praised its professionalism. Mr. Bryza refrained from passing judgment on the conflicting accounts.

“I wasn’t there,” he said, referring to the battle. “We didn’t have people there. But the O.S.C.E. really has been our benchmark on many things over the years.”

The O.S.C.E. itself, while refusing to discuss its internal findings, stood by the accuracy of its work but urged caution in interpreting it too broadly. “We are confident that all O.S.C.E. observations are expert, accurate and unbiased,” Martha Freeman, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail message. “However, monitoring activities in certain areas at certain times cannot be taken in isolation to provide a comprehensive account.”



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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #55 on: December 02, 2008, 12:42:09 PM »

Since Russia invaded Georgia last August, the international community seems stuck on one question about how the war started: Did the Georgian military act irresponsibly to take control of Tskhinvali in the South Ossetia region of Georgia?

 
Reuters
Russian armor on the move in Georgia, August 2008.
This question has been pushed to the center in large degree by a fierce, multimillion-dollar Russian PR campaign that hinges on leaked, very partial, and misleading reports from a military observer from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that claimed Georgia responded militarily in South Ossetia without sufficient provocation by Russia. Judging from recent media coverage, this campaign has been successful.

Focusing on this question distracts from Russia's intense, blatant policy of regime change that has long aimed to destabilize Georgia through ethnic manipulation, and thus thwart our democracy while stopping NATO's expansion. Furthermore, it has never been in dispute whether our forces entered South Ossetia. I have always openly acknowledged that I ordered military action in South Ossetia -- as any responsible democratic leader would have done, and as the Georgian Constitution required me to do in defense of the country.

I made this decision after being confronted by two facts. First, Russia had massed hundreds of tanks and thousands of soldiers on the border between Russian and Georgia in the area of South Ossetia. We had firm intelligence that they were crossing into Georgia, a fact later confirmed by telephone intercepts verified by the New York Times and others -- and a fact never substantially denied by Russia. (We had alerted the international community both about the military deployment and an inflow of mercenaries early on Aug. 7.)

Second, for a week Russian forces and their proxies engaged in a series of deadly provocations, shelling Georgian villages that were under my government's control -- with much of the artillery located in Tskhinvali, often within sites controlled by Russian peacekeepers. Then, on Aug. 7, Russia and its proxies killed several Georgian peacekeepers. Russian peacekeepers and OSCE observers admitted that they were incapable of preventing the lethal attacks. In fact, the OSCE had proven impotent in preventing the Russians from building two illegal military bases inside South Ossetia during the preceding year.

So the question is not whether Georgia ordered military action -- including targeting of the artillery sites that were shelling villages controlled by our government. We did.

The question is, rather: What democratic polity would have acted any differently while its citizens were being slaughtered as its sovereign territory was being invaded? South Ossetia and Abkhazia are internationally recognized as part of Georgia, and even some areas within these conflict zones were under Georgian government control before the Russian invasion. We fought to repel a foreign invasion. Georgians never stepped beyond Georgian territory.

My government has urged the international community to open an independent, unbiased investigation into the origins of the war. I first proposed this on Aug. 17, standing with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Tbilisi. I offered to make every shred of evidence and every witness available. Russia has yet to accede to such terms of inquiry.

Also, last Friday I stood for several hours before a commission established by the Georgian Parliament, chaired by a leader of an opposition party, to investigate the conduct of the war. This is the first time that any leader from this part of the world has been scrutinized live on national television for his or her wartime decisions by a legislative investigation. I have also required every member of my administration and military to make themselves available to the committee.

The real test of the legitimacy of Russia's actions should be based not on whether Georgia's democratically elected leadership came to the defense of its own people on its own land, but on an assessment of the following questions. Was it Georgia or Russia (and its proxies) that:

- Pursued the de facto annexation of the sovereign territory of a neighboring state?

- Illegally issued passports to residents of a neighboring democracy in order to create a pretext for invasion (to "protect its citizens")?

- Sent hundreds of tanks and thousands of soldiers across the internationally recognized borders of a neighboring democracy?

- Instigated a series of deadly provocations and open attacks over the course of many months, resulting in civilian casualties?

- Refused to engage in meaningful, bilateral dialogue on peace proposals?

- Constantly blocked all international peacekeeping efforts?

- Refused to attend urgent peace talks on South Ossetia organized by the European Union and the OSCE in late July?

- When the crisis began to escalate, refused to have any meaningful contact (I tried to reach President Dmitry Medvedev on both Aug. 6 and 7, but he refused my calls)?

- Tried to cover up a long-planned invasion by claiming, on Aug. 8, that Georgia had killed 1,400 civilians and engaged in ethnic cleansing -- "facts" quickly disproved by international and Russian human-rights groups?

In today's Opinion Journal
 

REVIEW & OUTLOOK

Travels With HillaryMumbai and ObamaMore Immigration Losers

TODAY'S COLUMNISTS

Global View: Media Narratives Feed Terrorist Fantasies
– Bret StephensMain Street: What's Good for GM Could Be Good for America
– William McGurn

COMMENTARY

Georgia Acted in Self-Defense
– Mikheil SaakashviliAIG Needs a New Deal
– Maurice R. GreenbergGovernors Against State Bailouts
– Rick Perry and Mark Sanford- Refused to permit EU monitors unrestricted access to these conflict areas after the fighting ended, while engaging in the brutal ethnic cleansing of Georgians?

These are the questions that need to be answered. The fact that none can be answered in Russia's favor underscores the grave risks of returning to business as usual. Russia sees Georgia as a test. If the international response is not firm, Moscow will make other moves to redraw the region's map by intimidation or force.

Responding firmly to the Putin-Medvedev government implies neither the isolation nor the abandonment of Russia; it can be achieved in tandem with continuing engagement of, and trade with, Russia. But it does require holding Russia to account. Moscow must honor its sovereign commitments and fully withdraw its troops to pre-August positions. It must allow unrestricted EU monitoring, and accede to the international consensus that these territories are Georgia. Such steps are not bellicose; they are simply the necessary course to contain an imperial regime.

We all hope that Russia soon decides to join the international community as a full, cooperative partner. This would be the greatest contribution to Georgia's stability. In the interim, we should make sure that we do not sacrifice democracies like Georgia that are trying to make this critical part of the world more stable, secure and free.

Mr. Saakashvili is president of Georgia.

 
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Crafty_Dog
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WSJ
« Reply #56 on: December 03, 2008, 06:10:27 AM »

TBILISI, Georgia -- As ex-Eastern bloc countries from Hungary to Ukraine stumble in the face of the global financial crisis, Georgia, which also suffered a war, has so far largely escaped. The reason: the war.

More than half a billion dollars in mainly U.S. reconstruction aid has already been allocated at high speed since the war between Russia and Georgia in August, filling holes in Georgia's budget and replacing financing for commercial and infrastructure projects that might otherwise have dried up.


A building in Gori, Georgia, smolders after being bombed by Russian jets in August. Reconstruction aid, mainly from the U.S., has replaced commercial financing that might have dried up amid the global financial crisis.

"If there ever was a good time to have a war then this was it," said Roy Southworth, shortly before retiring as country manager for the World Bank in Tbilisi last week.

Georgia was particularly fortunate, he said, with the timing of an Oct. 23 international donor's conference in Brussels, where countries pledged a total of $4.5 billion in aid that should help fill the gap left by an expected drop in foreign investment after the war. "The worst of the financial crisis was still a few days off -- a week or two later and who knows if governments would have been so willing to pledge money," he said.

Most of Georgia's rapid recent economic growth has come from foreign direct investment, which made up close to 20% of gross domestic product in 2007, according to government figures. But the war has put that trend at risk.

Kazakhstan said in September that it had ditched plans to build a $1 billion oil refinery in Batumi, and in October that it might consider selling its gas-distribution business in Georgia. Kazakhstan is a major investor in Georgia but must carefully balance its interests here with keeping its bigger trading partner, Russia, happy.

With growth set to slow sharply to 3.5% this year from 12.4% in 2007, according to World Bank forecasts, unemployment is expected to rise, a prospect that has the government worried.

"Not a single Georgian would have wanted this money as a consequence of war," said Eka Sharashidze, Minister for Economic Development, at a signing ceremony Monday for $10.7 million in U.S. and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development grants and loans to overhaul the water-supply system in the city of Borjomi. "But this support will help Georgia get back on its feet."

 Georgia's government can take credit for some of the economic stability during and after the war, said Mr. Southworth. Unlike some other East European economies, Georgia hadn't run up massive deficits prior to the financial crisis that made its currency vulnerable. The government recently said it will cut the nation's flat income-tax rate by five percentage points to 20% in January in an effort to stimulate the economy.

About $570 million of the $1 billion U.S. portion of the international aid has already been allocated, with $250 million to fill a hole in the government's budget, helping to pay politically sensitive state pensions and salaries.

Georgia also has fans in the foreign-investment community willing to wait and see. This year, the country leapt to the 15th-best place to do business in the world in the World Bank's annual rankings. As recently as 2005, Georgia ranked 112th.

Foreign investors "that already invested time or money are continuing, even if they are delayed a few months," said David Lee, general director of MagtiCom Ltd, Georgia's leading mobile-telecommunications company, adding that 70% of all companies in Georgia are his clients. "But the big question is -- will new investors come?"

Mr. Southworth points to a slew of five-star hotels under construction in downtown Tbilisi as a bellwether for how bad the impact gets. Several seem likely to finish almost according to prewar schedules, despite the war. One, to be operated by Hyatt International LLC, is set to receive about $30 million in cheap finance from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC, part of a $176 million loan package for seven projects in late October.

"The OPIC finance is goodwill and assistance because private-equity funds won't invest in Georgia now, they won't take on the country risk or the high political risk," said Kakha Sharabidze, the Tbilisi-based CEO of Loyal Estate, the developer of the project.

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« Reply #57 on: December 22, 2008, 08:41:58 AM »

The Moscow Times » Issue 4051 » News

Ria-novosti / AP

Signs of a Kremlin Fearful Of Unrest
12 December 2008By Nikolaus von Twickel / Staff WriterThis is the 12th in a series of reports about the effect of the global financial crisis on Russia.

Sociologist Yevgeny Gontmakher has painted a disturbing picture of what might emerge from the financial crisis.

As Gontmakher sees it, a provincial industrial town will see huge protests after massive layoffs at its main factory next year. The authorities scramble haphazardly to contain the unrest. Violence will spread, ultimately reaching Moscow.

The scenario, published under the headline "Novocherkassk 2009" in Vedomosti last month, is purely fictitious. But it triggered a very real reaction from the authorities. The government's media watchdog fired off a warning to Vedomosti that it was inciting extremism. Vedomosti is part of Independent Media Sanoma Magazines, the parent company of The Moscow Times.

Novocherkassk is a town in the southern Rostov region where Soviet police brutally quashed rioting workers in 1962.

Gontmakher, a deputy social protection minister and Kremlin official in the 1990s, said he had not expected such a response from the government, but the threat is real and growing daily as the crisis takes it toll. "Of course they are worried, and they should be," he said of the government.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, has said Russia should be able to get through the crisis with minimal problems. He has repeatedly denied that his government bears any responsibility for the crisis, saying the economic downturn spread from the United States and has infected "all the economies of the world."

But Gontmakher is by no means alone in arguing that Russia's political stability, seen as a major achievement of Putin's eight-year presidency, is deceptive. The crisis has already led to a wave of layoffs across the country, despite the fact that Russian companies traditionally reduce wages before shedding staff.

Putin himself acknowledged in his televised question-and-answer session last week that the number of unemployed workers was expected to increase next year to "a little over 2 million" from the current 1.7 million.

In another sign that the government is nervous about disorder, President Dmitry Medvedev last month ordered law enforcement agencies to stamp out any social unrest linked to the crisis. "If someone tries to exploit the consequences of the financial crisis … they should intervene, bring criminal charges. Otherwise, there won't be order," he told senior police officials at a public briefing in St. Petersburg.

Incidentally, Putin and Medvedev visited Novocherkassk this February and laid flowers at a stone in memory of those killed in 1962.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former independent State Duma deputy and liberal opposition activist, said much of the crisis has been brought on by the government and its refusal to deregulate the economy, be held accountable by the parliament and allow political competition.

"This crisis did not arise because of events in America. It arose because of [the government's] mistakes," he said.

Ryzhkov said Russian companies would not have secured so much foreign debt during the last three years — decisions that now have led the economy to the brink of bankruptcy — if the parliament had been given oversight over the government's actions. He singled out Medvedev and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin as being particularly responsible for the current financial straits, noting that Medvedev, who was chairman of Gazprom before acceding to the presidency this spring, and Sechin, Rosneft's chairman, had overseen heavy foreign borrowing by the two state corporations over the past three years.

Yet opinion polls indicate that the government faces little public discontent. Trust in Putin stood firmly at 59 percent in late November while trust in Medvedev dipped slightly from 45 percent to 44 percent, according to a survey by state-run VTsIOM. The poll had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

The government's popularity will depend largely on its ability to stave off the crisis, said Nikita Belykh, the former leader of the Union of Right Forces, who this week was nominated by Medvedev to become the governor of Kirov.

"The Kremlin has enough money to keep the situation under control for a few months. But in the medium term, political changes are inevitable, and there will be clashes between powerful political groups," Belykh said.

Two factors in the government's favor, he said, are its ability to control information through state media and Russians' tendency to be apolitical. However, popular anger against the authorities could increase considerably because the public is feeling increasingly alienated from the country's leadership, he said.

Ryzhkov said the crucial question was whether the government could balance the budget over the first half of 2009. "The turning point will come when they cannot pay off state corporations' gigantic debts anymore," he said.

The government's financial capabilities are largely linked to oil prices, which have fallen to less than $50 a barrel from a high of $147 in July.

"If oil falls below $20, there will be a revolution," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, a political analyst with the Panorama think tank.

He said Putin's popularity rested on the fact that ordinary people had gotten a share of the riches, in stark contrast to the 1990s when a tiny minority got very rich while the majority sank into poverty.

"Crises will break out left and right if the Kremlin oligarchy can no longer share the wealth with the people," Pribylovsky said.

While the economic boom of recent years has increased the real incomes of most people, inequality levels have not come down. Moscow's Gini index, a scientific standard for measuring income distribution, is estimated at 0.6, making the capital one of the world's most unequal cities.

Putin's popularity is almost entirely built on the economic boom, so it could crumble if the economy goes bust, said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who tracks Kremlin politics. "Everyone was happy as long they got government money," she said.

That puts the government in the difficult position of how to trim spending. Cuts to the public sector would upset bureaucrats, while cuts to defense would anger the powerful siloviki.

The government has shown reluctance to speak out openly about the crisis after many people saw their savings vanish in two previous crises — the Soviet collapse in 1991 and the 1998 default. The authorities "only have two choices — to lie or to create a panic. In 1998, they chose the truth and panic, and the result was very bad," Kryshtanovskaya said.

In late November, the Economic Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly warned that a global recession would threaten "to undermine the very foundations of democracy" in many countries.

Interestingly, the government appears to have stepped up its efforts to rein in opposition groups. Last month, remnants of the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, were folded into a new pro-business party called Right Cause, a move that is widely seen as a Kremlin attempt to round out the political spectrum with obedient parties.

Belykh, who resigned from SPS saying cooperation with the Kremlin was unacceptable, raised eyebrows in liberal circles this week with his decision to accept Medvedev's invitation to become governor.

Ryzhkov said that even though Russia's opposition was weak and divided, there were people in the regions who were willing and able to challenge the government. "I will not name anyone, but I can tell you that there are terrific specialists on economic and political reform who could make up a Russian dream team that would fix the flagrant mistakes made by Putin's people," he said.

In the meantime, people are wondering how bad matters will get. Harald Leibrecht, a German lawmaker with the liberal Free Democrats and deputy chairman of the German-Russian parliamentary group, said the Vedomosti incident showed that the situation was not as rosy as depicted by Putin and Medvedev.

"It is very strange but telling" that the newspaper received the warning, Leibrecht said in e-mailed comments.

The warning is probably linked to government fears that the country might slide into the chaos of the 1990s, he said.

The media watchdog, the Federal Service for Oversight over Communications and Mass Media, has the power to ask a court to revoke a newspaper's license after issuing two warnings. But Vedomosti lawyers have decided that last month's warning did not qualify has an official warning but as a reminder.

In any case, the head of the watchdog, Boris Boyarskov, was dismissed last week by Medvedev after four years in the post, Interfax reported Wednesday. The circumstances behind the decision were unclear.

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/1010/42/373091.htm
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« Reply #58 on: December 22, 2008, 10:58:31 AM »

They are already protesting and getting beat up in Vladivostok:

Hundreds protest car tariffs in Russia's far east

Car-tariff protesters beaten in Russia's Far East

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« Reply #59 on: December 22, 2008, 05:37:18 PM »

The story is about unrest, but it also brings to the forefront the contest between free trade versus 'protectionism'  that applies everywhere.  A story at the link tells of a consumer who won't be able to buy his dream (Japanese) car and concludes with: "Many Russians say they have a right to buy what they want on the free market and do not want to pay to support the Russian auto industry."

The protests in Vladivstok highlight the fact that jobs are tied to the trade business as well, as we see another case of government picking winners and losers. 

If you can't secure a competitive contract with your own workers, if you can't build a product that consumers want at competitive prices or if your business is not strong enough and flexible enough to survive a downturn, then go to the government and have them put a tax on your competitors or demand operating capital from the government - from the taxes paid by the workers of successful businesses - to put into the losing enterprise.  This could never happen in America... Oops.
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« Reply #60 on: March 11, 2009, 12:24:13 AM »

Georgia: Left to Russia's Mercy?
STRATFOR Today » March 10, 2009 | 1041 GMT

VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili Summary
The United States and the European Union have let Georgia know that the West cannot protect the small Caucasus country from Russia, even though Georgia is pro-Western and an ally of NATO. Russia knows that Georgia on its own cannot threaten Moscow, but grows concerned when outside powers reach out to support the anti-Russian government in Tbilisi.

Analysis
Related Special Topic Page
The Russian Resurgence
The United States and the European Union have both informed Georgia that the West cannot really protect the small Caucasus state from its larger neighbor, Russia, even though NATO considers Tbilisi an ally. Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri was informed of this shift in position March 5 at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. First, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Gilauri to explain that the United States valued healing relations with the Russians over its commitment to the Georgians. After that, Gilauri went to the Europeans for clarification on their relationship with Georgia. According to STRATFOR sources, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner not only reiterated the U.S. position, she also advised Georgia to re-establish a working relationship with its former master, Russia.

Both the Americans and the Europeans understand that Russia has drawn a line in the sand around Georgia and most of its other former Soviet territories. And if the West wants Russia’s help on any issue — from strong energy ties to Afghanistan to Iran — it must change its relationship with Georgia.

Since the 2003 Rose Revolution brought a vehemently pro-Western and anti-Russian government to Tbilisi, Georgia has sought to solidify its relationship with the West by joining two Western institutions: NATO and the European Union. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the United States has sought to bring Georgia into NATO in hopes of expanding Western influence into the former Soviet sphere in an area other than Europe.

But Moscow sees Georgia as one of the cornerstones of Russia’s buffer and protection against the West and the other regional powers that touch the Caucasus, like Turkey and Iran. Russia knows that because of its geographic position and layout, Georgia is inherently weak, fractured and chaotic to the point that it cannot stand, let alone consolidate into a threat against Russia, without a benefactor. This has allowed Russia to overlook Georgia’s rebellious nature and anti-Russian sentiments. However, whenever another power begins to flirt with Georgia, Russia steps in to ensure that the country, which Moscow considers its turf, remains true to the Russian objective of keeping other powers at bay.

Geography
Georgia is destined to be a buffer state — and an unstable one at that. It is located in the Caucasus region along the dividing line between Europe and Asia, and it borders Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. Georgia can be characterized by its river valley, mountain ranges and secessionist regions that split the country into countless pieces.





(click image to enlarge)
First, the only real core of the country exists around the Mtkvari River Valley, which runs like a horseshoe up through the center of the country. Many successful states are based around river valleys, but the Mtkvari flows the wrong way — into the landlocked Caspian, a sea with low coastal populations and thus low trade — to be of any benefit to Georgia. There is another river, the Rioni, that flows down from Georgia’s northern border and into the Black Sea at the port of Poti; however, this river is so shallow that trade is virtually impossible to the bustling Black Sea (or the connecting Mediterranean Sea). But the two rivers split the country into two major regions: one oriented toward Poti and the Black Sea, and the other toward the capital of Tbilisi and the Caspian Sea.

Neither of these cores is large or strong enough to overcome the isolation created by the mountain ranges that slice across most parts of Georgia. The mountains do have some benefits; the northern ranges protect the mainly Orthodox Christian country from Russia’s Muslim Caucasus belt and its myriad militant groups, and they provide limited protection from Russia itself. However, these mountains have created countless pockets of populations that see themselves as independent from Georgia. This has led to the rise of four main secessionist or separatist regions in Georgia, which account for approximately 30 percent of the country’s area and more than 20 percent of its population.





(click image to enlarge)
Abkhazia and South Ossetia
The breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are located on Georgia’s northern border with Russia. Their location and their ethnic links across the Russian border have made them fervently pro-Russian areas. Both have seen some intense wars with Georgia (especially the 1992-1993 Abkhazian War) in their bids for independence. The two regions were known around the world after the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia — through these two regions — which ended in Moscow recognizing the secessionist areas’ independence from Tbilisi. Only one other country — and an unimportant one at that — has also recognized the two regions’ independence, though the regions now have a permanent and decisive Russian military presence (3,600 soldiers in each region) to prevent Georgia from retaking the territory. Abkhazia and South Ossetia control the only two easily traversable routes north into Russia, leaving Georgia virtually cut off from any possibility of trade with its northern neighbor. Furthermore, Georgia’s largest and most-developed port, Sukhumi, is located in Abkhazia and is kept from Georgian use.

Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti
On Georgia’s southern border are the Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti regions. Georgia considers Adjara, which borders Turkey, an autonomous republic (like Abkhazia and South Ossetia). Georgia has fought to keep a hold on this region because it is the country’s most prosperous and is home to Georgia’s second-largest port, Batumi. The region attempted a major uprising in 2004, but without a major international backer — like Abkhazia and South Ossetia had — it failed to break free from Tbilisi.

Samtskhe-Javakheti differs from Adjara in that its majority population is ethnically Armenian, not Georgian. The region is closely tied to Yerevan, through which Russia pushes its influence. Tbilisi is also desperate to keep control over this area, because Georgia’s two major international pipelines — the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the South Caucasus natural gas pipeline — run from Azerbaijan to Turkey through the region. Samtskhe-Javakheti has called for autonomy like Georgia’s other three secessionist regions, though it is not yet organized enough to fight for such independence.

Economy
Because of Georgia’s geographically fractured and isolated condition, it has no real or substantial economy. Georgia’s main economic sector is agriculture, which only brings in less than 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) but accounts for more than 55 percent of the workforce.

The problem with Georgia counting on agriculture is that all the good farmland is in the country’s west, far from the capital. (The rest of the country is too mountainous for agriculture.) The country cannot transport its agricultural goods easily or cheaply. Because of their location, size and direction, Georgia’s rivers cannot really transport goods, so Georgia is forced to use roads and some rail, which absorb every scrap of money the country has. These transport problems mean that vast amounts of crops spoil in Georgia’s fields, and the cost of domestic goods is higher than that of goods imported from Turkey or Russia.

The country’s next two economic sectors are heavy industry, which cannot run without supplies imported from Russia, and tourism, which has dropped off exponentially since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Georgia has thus had to rely on foreign cash to make up for its gap in revenues. In 2007, the country received $5.2 billion — approximately 55 percent of its GDP — in foreign direct investment, though most of that came from the pipelines crossing Georgia from Azerbaijan to Turkey.

Politics
Despite Georgia’s splintered geography, population and economy, the country is politically consolidated. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power after the Rose Revolution, which was Western-funded and organized. Since then, he and his party have kept a tight grip on Tbilisi, winning the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections with more than 95 percent of the vote. Any opposition is split among dozens of minuscule groups that have yet to show any signs of unifying. Also, Saakashvili has thus far befriended, crushed or booted out of the country any viable opposition candidates.

Saakashvili and his group are firmly anti-Russian, but they understand that political power is not enough to challenge Russian influence in the country. This is why Georgia has had to rely on foreign backers — mainly Europe and the United States — to give any sort of protection to the small, structurally troubled state. There is a regional power Georgia could turn to in Turkey. However, Ankara understands that Russia has marked the state as its turf, and Turkey has decided that Georgia is not worth the messy fight in order to gain influence in the Caucasus.

And Europe and the United States do not have the advantage of being geographically close to Georgia in order to keep their influence present. It would be easy for Europe and/or the United States to project power into Georgia via its seaports, but in order to get across and hold Georgia, troops would have to take multiple routes, as the Russians did in 2008. That would not be a simple process for powers that do not border Georgia.

The Russian View
Russia does not really care if Georgia is friendly to it, nor does it care if Tbilisi is pro-Western. Georgia simply cannot threaten Russia, and Moscow has too many ways to destabilize the small state. Because of its geographic makeup and infrastructure, Georgia is easy to destabilize and easily opened to Russian power projection, as messy as that process is.

However, Moscow does feel threatened about Georgia’s ability to swipe at Russia’s underbelly with the assistance of a powerful foreign backer. Russia views Georgia much like the United States views Cuba: The small country cannot do much damage acting out on its own, but if a foreign power begins to flirt with the state, then Russia must immediately and forcefully pull it back into its sphere.
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« Reply #61 on: April 09, 2009, 09:49:26 AM »

April 8, 2009 | 1943 GMT

Georgian opposition politicians making a statement in Tbilisi on March 27Summary
Georgian opposition movements have planned mass protests for April 9, mostly in Tbilisi but also around the country. These protests could spell trouble for President Mikhail Saakashvili. The Western-leaning president has faced protests before, but this time the opposition is more consolidated than in the past. Furthermore, some members of the government are expected to join in the protests, and Russia has stepped up its efforts to oust Saakashvili.

Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): April 8, 2009

Opposition parties inside Georgia are planning mass protests for April 9, mainly in the capital city of Tbilisi but also across the country. The protests are against President Mikhail Saakashvili and are expected to demand his resignation. This is not the first set of rallies against Saakashvili, who has had a rocky presidency since taking power in the pro-Western “Rose Revolution” of 2003. Anti-government protests have been held constantly over the past six years. But the upcoming rally is different: This is the first time all 17 opposition parties have consolidated enough to organize a mass movement in the country. Furthermore, many members of the government are joining the cause, and foreign powers — namely Russia — are known to be encouraging plans to oust Saakashvili.

The planned protests in Georgia have been scheduled to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Soviet crackdown on independence demonstrators in Tbilisi. The opposition movement claims that more than 100,000 people will take to the streets — an ambitious number, as the protests of the past six years have not drawn more than 15,000 people. But this time around, the Georgian people’s discontent is greatly intensified because of the blame placed on Saakashvili after the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008. Most Georgians believe Saakashvili pushed the country into a war, knowing the repercussions, and into a serious financial crisis in which unemployment has reached nearly 9 percent.

Georgia’s opposition has always been fractured and so has only managed to pull together sporadic rallies rather than a real movement. But the growing discontent in Georgia is allowing the opposition groups to finally overcome their differences and agree that Saakashvili should be removed. Even Saakashvili loyalists like former Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze and former Georgian Ambassador to the United Nations Irakli Alasania have joined the opposition’s cause, targeting Saakashvili personally. The problem now is that opposition members still do not agree on how to remove the president; some are calling for referendums on new elections, and some want to install a replacement government to make sure Saakashvili does not have a chance to return to power. But all 17 parties agreed to start with large-scale demonstrations in the streets and go from there.

If the movement does inspire such a large turnout, it would be equivalent to the number of protesters that hit the streets at the height of the Rose Revolution, which toppled the previous government and brought Saakashvili into power in the first place.

Saakashvili and the remainder of his supporters are prepared, however, with the military on standby outside of Tbilisi in order to counter a large movement. During a demonstration in 2007, Saakashvili deployed the military and successfully — though violently — crushed the protests. But that demonstration consisted of 15,000 protesters; it is unclear if Saakashvili and the military could withstand numbers seven times that.





(click image to enlarge)
There is also concern that protests are planned in the Georgian secessionist region of Adjara, which rose up against and rejected Saakashvili’s government in 2004 after the Rose Revolution. This region was suppressed by Saakashvili once and has held a grudge ever since, looking for the perfect time to rise up again. Tbilisi especially wants to keep Adjara under its control because it is home to the large port of Batumi, and many of Georgia’s transport routes to Turkey run through it. If Adjara rises up, there are rumors in the region that its neighboring secessionist region, Samtskhe-Javakheti, will join in to help destabilize Saakashvili and the government. Georgia already officially lost its two northern secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russian occupation during the August 2008 war and is highly concerned with its southern regions trying to break away.

These southern regions, like the northern ones, have strong support from Russia; thus, Moscow is square in the middle of tomorrow’s activities. Russia has long backed all of Georgia’s secessionist regions, but has had difficulty penetrating the Georgian opposition groups in order to organize them against Saakashvili. Though none of the 17 opposition groups are pro-Russian, STRATFOR sources in Georgia say Russian money has been flowing into the groups in order to nudge them along in organizing the impending protests.

Russia has a vested interest in breaking the Georgian government. Russia and the West have been locked in a struggle over the small Caucasus state. That struggle led to the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war, after which Moscow felt secure in its control over Georgia. Since Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama met April 1 and disagreed over a slew of issues, including U.S. ballistic missile defense installations in Poland and NATO expansion to Ukraine and Georgia, Russia is not as secure and is seeking to consolidate its power in Georgia. This means first breaking the still vehemently pro-Western Saakashvili. This does not mean Russia thinks it can get a pro-Russian leader in power in Georgia; it just wants one who is not so outspoken against Moscow and so determined to invite Western influence.

The April 9 protests are the point at which all sides will try to gain — and maintain — momentum. The 2003 Rose Revolution took months to build up to, but the upcoming protests are the starting point for both the opposition and Russia — and opposition movements in Georgia have not seen this much support and organization since the 2003 revolution. April 9 will reveal whether or not things are about to get shaken up, if not completely transformed, in Georgia.
=================
   
Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): April 8, 2009
April 8, 2009 | 2035 GMT

VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
A Georgian political youth group at a rally in Tbilisi on April 8Editor’s Note: The following is an internal STRATFOR document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus.

Related Special Topic Page
Weekly Updates
Related Link
Red Alert: A Possible Revolution Simmering in Georgia
April 9 may see the first real movement against the Georgian government since it came to power in the 2003 pro-Western “Rose Revolution.” This is not an anti-Western movement to change the regime, but a movement to oust President Mikhail Saakashvili, who has been blamed for getting Georgia into the August 2008 war with Russia. The Georgian opposition — made up of 17 typically fractious parties — wants to have a government in place that can at least work with the Russians, since they currently occupy the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (which make up 20 percent of the country).

The 17 opposition parties have organized for the first time and claim that they will have 100,000 people hit the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi — the largest number of demonstrators since the Rose Revolution. Saakashvili is prepared, however; there are reports that the Georgian military has already deployed outside Tbilisi in order to counter the demonstrations. But the Georgian military consists of only approximately 21,000 active soldiers, and most of them are deployed on the borders of the northern Russian-occupied secessionist regions.

There are also rumors of demonstrations spreading across the country, with one possible in the secessionist region of Adjara. Adjara was the scene of an anti-Rose Revolution uprising just after Saakashvili took power, though the new president forcefully brought the region under control. Russia’s influence in the situation is being seen, though Moscow typically has trouble working with the moderately anti-Russian opposition movements. Reports of Russian money flowing in to help organize Thursday’s demonstrations, and Russian support for Georgian secessionist movements, put Russia in the thick if things.

If this is a true revolution against the government, it will take time to build up. The April 9 protests will show whether or not the opposition can gain momentum. Going into this possibly country-breaking event, there are several questions STRATFOR is asking:

Can the opposition actually get 100,000 people on the streets of Tbilisi?
What are the movement’s plans if it does get such large numbers on the streets?
How will the much-smaller military clamp down on the capital to ensure more protesters don’t move into Tbilisi?
Where is the Georgian military deployment pulling from — particularly in the case of the troops on the borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia — in order to protect the capital?
Will Saakashvili finally give in to the opposition?
Are the southern secessionist regions of Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti prepared to join in the uprising?
Are the northern secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia planning on taking advantage of the Georgian government and military’s preoccupation?
Is this a ploy for Russia to move back into the country?
Is the West prepared to intervene — either overtly or covertly — to support Saakashvili? 

« Last Edit: April 09, 2009, 10:04:06 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #62 on: April 19, 2009, 09:14:48 AM »

hope the link comes through live:



Presidents of Russia, Turkey adopt strategic declaration: “The presidents of Russia and Turkey adopted a joint declaration following talks in Moscow on Friday to promote ties and enhance bilateral friendship and partnership. Turkish President Abdullah Gul arrived for his first four-day visit to Russia [in February]….They also vowed to move quicker in settling issues related to defense cooperation….Turkey receives about 65% of its gas from Russia, which is pumped via Ukraine and the Blue Stream pipeline that passes directly from Russia to Turkey under the Black Sea. Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko told reporters on Friday that Russia could sign an energy contract worth more than $60 billion with Turkey on the construction of a nuclear power plant and power supplies to the country for the next 15 years. He said four reactors for a potential nuclear plant in Turkey could cost $18 billion-$20 billion….’I believe my current visit will open up a new page in the history of Russian-Turkish ties,’ Gul said.”
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« Reply #63 on: April 21, 2009, 02:40:22 PM »

Turkey: Challenges To Ankara's Influence in the Caucasus
Stratfor Today » April 20, 2009 | 1648 GMT

VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev (L) shakes hands with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Russia on April 17

Summary

Recent top-level meetings between Azerbaijan and Russia revealed the obstacles that Turkey faces in attempting to broaden its sphere of influence in the Caucasus. While Azerbaijan is threatening to move its natural gas eastward toward Russia and edge the Turks out, the Turks are exploring their options with the Europeans while continuing to probe the limits to its cooperation with Russia in the Caucasus.

Analysis

A series of meetings between top Azerbaijani and Russian officials in Moscow that were held April 16-18 have shed light on what exactly Turkey is up against in trying to enlarge its footprint in the Caucasus.

STRATFOR has been closely tracking negotiations between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. Turkey’s attempt to restore diplomatic relations with Armenia and fortify Ankara’s foothold in the Caucasus was being done under Moscow’s close supervision. Russia was willing to allow Turkey to patch things up with Yerevan, so long as Ankara stayed true to its pledge to remain neutral in Russia’s ongoing tussle with the West.

However, Russia came to doubt Turkey’s intentions when U.S. President Barack Obama made clear to the world during his visit to Ankara in early April that the United States and Turkey were reinvigorating their alliance, and that Washington would be Ankara’s biggest supporter in its regional rise. Azerbaijan, meanwhile, was deeply resentful that its Turkish patrons were leaving Baku out of the negotiations with Armenia and leaving the contentious Nagorno-Karabakh issue out of the deal. As far as Baku is concerned, if Turkey betrays Azerbaijan by striking a deal with Armenia that does not include a demand for Yerevan to return Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, then the Azerbaijanis have no choice but to turn to Moscow to try and keep the Turks in line. So, the Russians invited Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to Moscow for talks.

Aliyev was apparently treated quite well during his three-day trip to Moscow, where he met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitri Medvedev and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. The Russians allowed Aliyev to vent against Turkey and reassured him that Moscow would stand behind Baku. Shortly after Aliyev’s meetings with Putin and Sechin, he told Russia’s Vesti state television channel in an interview that he would like Russia to serve as a transit state for Azerbaijan to transport natural gas to Europe. In other words, Europe can forget about trying to diversify its energy supply away from Russia through Turkey. With Azerbaijan now shifting into Moscow’s camp due to its recent falling out with Ankara, Aliyev is threatening to send his country’s natural gas east through Russia to reach the Europeans, thereby giving Moscow more political leverage in its energy relationship with Europe.

According to a STRATFOR source in Baku, Aliyev made this statement because Russia and Azerbaijan struck a deal to expand the Soviet-era natural gas pipelines running between the two countries. During the trip, Azerbaijan’s state-owned energy firm SOCAR signed a deal with Gazprom to send natural gas extracted from the second phase of Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz field (which is expected to become operational in November 2009) to Russia and on to Europe. Shah Deniz contains 1.2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves and, in its first phase of production, pumps 8.6 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually, which goes to Europe. The second phase of the field is expected to pump another 8.6 bcm annually. This deal between Azerbaijan and Russia is a major blow to Turkey, who was expecting to sign the Shah Deniz deal at the April 16 Black Sea Economic Cooperation summit in Yerevan so that it could reap more revenues from transiting Azerbaijan’s natural gas to Europe via Greece.

As STRATFOR reported, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier requested to be present at the Russian-Azerbaijani talks in Moscow so that he would not be caught by surprise by any deals between Moscow and Baku (such as the aforementioned Shah Deniz deal) that would edge the Turks out of the energy equation. Though Moscow granted Erdogan’s request to attend the meeting, Erdogan did not show up. Instead, STRATFOR was told that he sent a Turkish delegation to Moscow for talks while he spent the weekend in Hannover, Germany, where he attended former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s birthday party.

During Aliyev’s meeting with the Turkish officials who did show up in Moscow, Aliyev apparently lashed out against Ankara over its perceived betrayal, telling the Turkish delegation “we were supposed to be one nation of two states, yet you have left us in the dark and have now lost our confidence.” Fearful that the Turks would sidestep the Nagorno-Karabakh issue to make the deal with Armenia go through, Aliyev made clear that he could not tolerate Turkey’s refusal to share documents that were being exchanged between Turkey and Armenia that detailed the timetable and conditions attached to normalizing relations. He also expressed his disappointment with the Russians and Europeans for leaving Azerbaijan out of these talks, but Putin and Sechin assuaged him by pointing out that the Russians were the ones bringing Azerbaijan back into the fold. Azerbaijan will follow up with these talks with Russia when Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian travels to Moscow on April 24.

Given Azerbaijan’s threats to cut energy cooperation with Turkey and send its natural gas east toward Russia, the Turks are backing off the Armenia deal for the time being. The timetable for announcing a peace deal has already been delayed indefinitely, and Erdogan made a gesture to Baku when he announced during his trip to Hannover that “a decision to open the border gate with Armenia will depend on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue being solved. If the Armenian occupation of Azeri territory continues, Turkey will not open its border gate.”

Turkey has set the Nagorno-Karabakh condition to temporarily calm Baku, but Ankara is still keeping its options open with Armenia. A STRATFOR source in Baku explained that the Turkish negotiators told Aliyev that Turkey would not be the one mediating Armenian-Azerbaijani talks over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and would not set firm conditions on the Armenians to resolve the territorial dispute. In essence, Turkey is signaling to Baku that it is washing its hands of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue in order to keep its negotiations with Yerevan alive. The Armenians, meanwhile, see the writing on the wall and are privately discussing what to do now that the Turks are clearly waffling on the deal.

The Turks are not about to bend to Russian and Azerbaijani demands that easily. After all, Turkey knows Azerbaijan cannot put all its trust in Moscow, who is backing Baku’s chief rivals in Yerevan simultaneously. Azerbaijan still needs Turkey’s support and is using these talks with Russia to grab Ankara’s attention. At the same time, Turkey wants to test how far it can actually go in cooperating with the Russians in the Caucasus before the Russians feel threatened enough by Ankara’s relationship with the West to pull the plug on the Armenia deal.

Erdogan also wants to see how he can use these negotiations to gain leverage in Turkey’s talks with the Europeans, particularly on energy issues and Turkey’s EU accession bid. If the Europeans get serious about Turkish EU membership, Turkey could find it worthwhile to stand up against Russian wishes in the Caucasus by signing on to energy projects that circumvent the Russian network. Erdogan likely discussed these issues while in Germany, and this will be the main item on the agenda when Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan arrives in Prague on April 21 for an EU-Turkey ministerial meeting. So far, the Turks appear to be unimpressed by the European Union’s recent move to open chapters on taxation and on social policy and employment in its EU membership negotiations. Turkey wants to see the Europeans demonstrate their seriousness in these talks by opening a key chapter on energy and by assuring Ankara that these talks will actually lead somewhere.

Nonetheless, German and French opposition to Turkey’s EU accession will not be easy to overcome, and all it takes is one veto in the EU voting bloc to kill Ankara’s chances of making it into the club should talks even progress that far to begin with. Turkey will take its time to explore its options in Europe while it stalls on Armenia, but the Russians are already laying the groundwork with Azerbaijan to constrain Turkey’s moves in the Caucasus.
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« Reply #64 on: May 05, 2009, 11:09:17 AM »

Georgia: An 'Attempted Coup'
Stratfor Today » May 5, 2009 | 1244 GMT

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Georgian President Mikhail SaakashviliA number of Georgian troops — rumored to be a few tank battalions — staged a mutiny May 5 at a military base in Mukhrovani, approximately 12 miles outside of Tbilisi. According to reports, the mutiny began when soldiers at the base began disobeying orders.

Details are sketchy, though the Georgian Interior Ministry has deployed tanks and armored troops to the base to quell what the government is calling a “Russian backed coup.” Representatives from the Interior Ministry have said that a coup plot within this section of the military has been known for months and most of its leaders have already been arrested, while one leader — a special forces commander — remains at large.

But the government overall is already blaming Moscow, saying that the “rebellion appeared to be coordinated with Russia.” Moscow certainly does have an interest in instability inside Georgia at the moment, with the highly contested next phase of NATO exercises in Georgia set to begin May 6. Russia has already increased the pressure on its other former Soviet states who are participating in the exercises, and Kazakhstan has already pulled out. But its pressure on Georgia escalated as Russia moved its last batch of intended troops into Georgia’s separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the past two weeks, bringing the number of Russian troops on Georgian turf up to 7,500. But STRATFOR sources in Georgia have said that there is no word of those Russian troops actually moving into Georgia proper at this time — quelling rumors of another round of war.

Though this “attempted coup” at the Mukhrovani base does seem somewhat controlled by Georgian Interior Ministry forces, it is a clear sign of the much larger instability rumbling inside Georgia. STRATFOR had spoken of dissenters within the Georgian military who blame the president solely for giving the order for invading South Ossetia, prompting a war in which Russia got involved. But this dissent multiplied in April when the typically fractured opposition movement inside the country began to organize against Saakashvili, whom they blame for the war with Russia, holding mass protests across the country. Those protests have continued for over a month, though the number of protesters is smaller — approximately 15,000 — compared to the nearly 60,000 who hit the streets originally.

But STRATFOR said in April to carefully watch Georgia and to not expect a large, concerted coup against Saakashvili but a slowly building counter movement. Now the military is starting to dissent — though currently only a few thousand of the 21,000 active troops, it is yet another group that Saakashvili does not have under his control. The tides are building against Saakashvili, though the president holds firm to his post.

STRATFOR has been chronicling the Russian involvement in this counter movement against Saakashvili, and sources are saying that the Kremlin has funded the opposition movements in the past few months. At this moment, Russia has a clear interest in escalating the instability in the country with NATO staging very public exercises in Georgia and not heeding Russia’s warnings that this is indeed its turf. Now we need to continue keeping a close eye on the Russian troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. While there may be no movement yet into Georgia proper, Moscow’s escalation is already being seen in other places.
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« Reply #65 on: May 07, 2009, 11:20:03 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: A Case of Georgian Deja Vu
May 6, 2009
STRATFOR is experiencing deja vu: Events in Georgia are calling to mind those that led up to the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008.

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi escalated yet again on Tuesday, when Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili claimed to have “thwarted” a Russian-backed coup from within the Georgian military and accused Russia of “massing up naval forces and warships in the sea off the coast” — all while Georgia was preparing for large (by its standards) military exercises in conjunction with NATO.

There have been other recent developments:

Since early April, Russia has increased its troop presence in Georgia’s breakaway regions from 3,000 to more than 7,600. Three months before the August war broke out, Russia had doubled its troop strength there from 1,500 to 3,000.
Russia has been accused of building up its naval presence off the coast of Abkhazia. In the months before the war, there were accusations that Russia was expanding that region’s ports.
Georgia and NATO will launch the next phase of NATO exercises in Vaziani on Wednesday — nearly the same exercises as the ones held at Vaziani three weeks before the Russo-Georgian war began.
Small-arms fire across the South Ossetian-Georgian border resumed in April. Last year, cross-border firing gave way to mortar attacks that precipitated Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia.
But while Russia may be ready for another round of conflict — or at least ready to create the illusion of another round, as a means of pressuring its smaller neighbor — there are other significant shifts under way in Georgia, and these are creating levels of pressure that Tbilisi has never before faced.

Political unrest in Georgia has reached a pitch not seen since the 2003 Rose Revolution that brought Saakashvili to power. Mass protests began in early April and have persisted, albeit with dwindling numbers of demonstrators, to the present. Saakashvili has seen members of his own inner circle break away and join the traditionally weak opposition. Moreover, the allegations that a coup plot was being hatched within the Georgian military signals that Saakashvili cannot rely on support from the military, which blames him for dragging the country into the war with Russia.

Typically, the inner workings of Georgian politics have no geopolitical significance, since these affairs have more to do with personalities than shifts in alignment toward the West or Russia. But right now, everything that provides outsiders with opportunities to influence Tbilisi matters, because Georgia is the cornerstone of Russia’s foreign policy agenda toward the West and within the Caucasus. Georgia is Russia’s Achilles’ heel as Moscow attempts to re-establish its influence in all corners of the former Soviet region and create a geographic buffer between Russia and other global powers.

But Georgia’s relevance as that cornerstone is now being tested: Dynamics in the rest of the Caucasus region are shifting for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union. Turkey, a key member of NATO, is moving to normalize relations with Armenia, Georgia’s neighbor to the south. And that means that the three small states in the Caucasus — Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia itself — are re-evaluating their allegiances to NATO and Russia. Armenia, a Russian ally, is negotiating with Turkey; Azerbaijan, Turkey’s brother nation, is turning to Russia; and Turkey is balancing its relationship with all parties involved. If they could hold Armenia, balance Turkey and reconnect with Azerbaijan, the Russians would not need to worry about what happens with Georgia, which would be locked into the Soviet sphere by default.

And that brings us full circle to the sense of deja vu involving Russia and Georgia: namely, Moscow once again dominating Tbilisi. From the outside, all the circumstances today appear similar to those of August 2008, but upon closer inspection, Georgia is dealing with two other significant and destabilizing trends. Georgia has never been a stable country. Traditionally, it has faced challenges stemming either from Russia, from domestic political tensions or from its neighbors in the Caucasus — but never from all three at once.

The redefinition of Georgia is taking place, and forces largely beyond its control are remaking Tbilisi’s role in the region.
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« Reply #66 on: August 06, 2009, 12:07:12 PM »

Indications of War Preparations
Stratfor Today » August 5, 2009 | 2139 GMT
Summary

Aug. 5, 2009, is looking eerily similar to Aug. 5, 2008, in the Caucasus as the first anniversary of the Russo-Georgian war creeps closer. Just like last year, STRATFOR is closely watching the region for any signs that another war could break out.

Analysis
In August 2008, war broke out between Russia and Georgia. Though the two countries had been rattling sabers for years, several key geopolitical and technical indicators convinced STRATFOR that war would indeed break out between Georgia and Russia in the summer of 2008.


Geopolitical Diary: Shades of a Second War

Aug. 5, three days before the anniversary of the start of that war, similar activity is evident. Another fracas in the Caucasus is far from inevitable, but the geopolitical conditions are ripe for Russia to make another move against Georgia. Thus, several triggers need to be monitored in the days and weeks ahead.

What follows is a list of indicators STRATFOR has been following in the Caucasus that could mean preparations for war are under way. We have also listed a few key indicators that we saw in 2008 but have yet to see this year. STRATFOR will follow up with a more analytical examination of Russia’s deeper motives for creating another crisis in the Caucasus.

In place since the August 2008 war:

Russian troops have remained inside Georgia’s secessionist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia since August 2008. Russia has established facilities and a military presence consisting of roughly 1,000 troops (though the actual numbers are disputed) in each breakaway province. With these troops stationed inside Georgia, within striking distance of the country’s major east-west road and rail infrastructure and the capital city, Moscow has established a military reality in Georgia that not even the United States is currently disposed to alter. In 2008, a military exercise in North Ossetia (in Russia proper) preceded the invasion of Georgia, with the units involved in the initial thrust in a heightened state of readiness when hostilities began. Depending on the current disposition of Russian troops and their military objectives, some mobilization might be necessary for an invasion of Georgia. However, given the proximity of Russian troops to Georgia proper and the dearth of firm intelligence out of the region, such mobilization might not be detected or recognized until hostilities have already broken out.

In the last month:

STRATFOR has received unconfirmed reports that possibly 10,000 troops from Chechnya loyal to the Kremlin are in the republic of Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, following a separate security situation in the region. Though this is not directly related to Georgia, the troops are conveniently located just 31 miles from the Roki Tunnel, which is where Russia began its operations — including funneling soldiers and tanks into South Ossetia, and later Georgia — in 2008.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Georgia in late July in what was overall an embarrassment for the Georgians, since the United States did not give any noticeable meaningful support for Georgia and said it refused to sell weapons to or provide monitors for Tbilisi. However, after this trip, Biden gave an interview in which he came out verbally swinging against Moscow, stating that Russia is on a demographic and economic decline and will ultimately have to face its withering geopolitical position. This did not go unnoticed by Moscow.
While Biden was in Georgia, key Russian security and defense officials, including First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, were in South Ossetia to meet with the breakaway republic’s leadership. Several military intelligence officials also attended the meeting.


The past two weeks have seen the most noise on the South Ossetian-Georgian border since the August 2008 war. Though tensions never fully ended — gunfire has been traded sporadically across the border — there have been reports recently of mortar fire from both sides, something rarely seen since 2008.
The Georgians allegedly have planned a civilian march from Tbilisi to the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, rumored to coincide with the Aug. 8 anniversary of the war. However, it should be mentioned that plans for such a march have been made several times in previous months but failed to materialize. The South Ossetians have said any such march would be seen as an “attempted invasion.” The secessionist region has closed its border.
Russia said July 29 that this week, it could deploy unmanned aircraft in Georgia that could carry out attacks 6-15 miles inside the country. Russia also said it could send Antonov An-2 and An-3 aircraft, which are capable of carrying people and supplies to small, primitive airstrips.

Upcoming indicators and potential triggers:

Aug. 6: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will travel to Turkey to meet with his counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. These two leaders — well aware of each other’s resurgent position — must thoroughly discuss any possible moves that either will make in the region, including moves in Georgia.
Aug. 8: The anniversary of the start of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war.
Aug. 9: The 10-year anniversary of Putin’s coming into power.
While the above indicators are firmly in place and eerily reminiscent of the lead-up to the 2008 war, there are two crucial indicators from 2008 that STRATFOR has yet to see this year:

Before hostilities erupted into full-scale war last year, the Russians dropped leaflets by air into South Ossetia and Abkhazia warning of “Georgian aggressions.” This, in effect, led to the second indicator:
There was a mass movement of civilians from South Ossetia and Abkhazia into Russia, mainly into the republic of North Ossetia. While Russia could be warning the breakaway provinces’ populations of impending conflict by other means (considering Russia now maintains a significant troop presence in both regions), STRATFOR sources in Abkhazia have yet to witness such developments on the ground.
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« Reply #67 on: August 08, 2009, 07:36:13 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: Putin Goes to Turkey
August 7, 2009
After baring his chest for the cameras in the Siberian wilderness, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shirted up and made his way to Ankara on Thursday for a long-anticipated visit with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Putin has a close relationship with Erdogan. They meet regularly at Putin’s holiday getaway in Sochi, on the Black Sea coast, to privately discuss many topics in which any foreign intelligence agency would take considerable interest. There was much for them to discuss in Ankara, but unlike previous Putin-Erdogan summits, this meeting was meant to be in the media spotlight.

Russia and Turkey are both at critical junctures. Russia — where Putin will mark a decade in power on Sunday — is moving to lock down its influence in the former Soviet region, while the United States remains preoccupied with its wars in the Islamic world. Turkey, emerging from the 90-year geopolitical slumber that followed the Ottoman period, is in the process of rediscovering its old areas of influence in the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Balkans and Central Asia.

With overlapping spheres of influence, Russia and Turkey must be extremely careful not to step on each other’s toes. The two have battled each other multiple times throughout history, but circumstances require them to cooperate for now. The Russians realize they have limited time to implement their agenda for Eurasia, with the United States tied up elsewhere, and they don’t need Turkey — a NATO member and critical ally for the Americans — to get in the way. The Turks, still heavily dependent on Russia for a steady energy supply, are still feeling out old stomping grounds and prioritizing expansion plans, which leaves them with little compulsion to draw Moscow’s anger.

Therefore, Putin and Erdogan have staged a high-profile meeting to show the world — Europe and the United States, in particular — that relations are progressing smoothly.

Energy deals announced Thursday were part of this show. Less than a month after Turkey signed onto the exorbitant Nabucco pipeline project (designed to ship Central Asian natural gas through the Caucasus and Turkey, bypassing Russia on the way to European markets), Erdogan — joined by Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — made a display of signing the equally ambitious South Stream pipeline deal. South Stream is designed to ship Russian natural gas through Turkey’s territorial waters in the Black Sea to Bulgaria, for distribution to Europe. The politics of the day, the technical impediments and the skyrocketing costs of both projects make both Nabucco and South Stream unfeasible for the moment.

Still, there are plenty of political implications when such hollow energy deals are announced. The Russians, who were kept informed by Erdogan that the Nabucco announcement would be made in mid-July, get to remind Western powers that their friends in Ankara won’t help them evade Russia when it comes to European energy security. Turkey gets to assert itself as an indispensable player to both the East and West — saying yes to every project, while buying time to lay the groundwork for its own geopolitical expansion. Most of all, these bilateral visits allow the Turks to demonstrate that the days when Turkey was simply a western outpost along the Russian periphery are gone, and that the country is now an independent global player in its own right.

But beneath these political atmospherics, Putin and Erdogan also had very serious matters to discuss in Ankara. War drums are beating over both Georgia and Iran: Russia is contemplating another show of force in Georgia, and the United States is pressuring Iran to come to the negotiating table over its nuclear program before September ends. These are two areas where Putin and Erdogan are likely to bump heads.

Russia, extremely irked by Washington’s seemingly flippant attitude toward its demands, is drawing attention to the levers it holds in Iran — reminding U.S. President Barack Obama of the implications of failing to take Moscow seriously. The Turks, however, have no interest in seeing a U.S.-Russian showdown over Iran that would bring further turmoil to the Middle East — especially as Ankara is charting out a course to consolidate Turkish influence in its Muslim backyard. Erdogan will continue to cooperate with Putin, but he also might be reminding him of certain levers Turkey possesses that could complicate life for the Russians if they push the envelope on Iran. The options include everything from Turkey — the gatekeeper of Black Sea access — allowing a major NATO build-up that threatens Russia, to boosting defense support for Georgia with major weapons transfers.

The Russians are still contemplating exactly how to maneuver against Washington, but at the same time, Putin is keeping Turkey in sight while determining the costs and benefits of Russia’s next move in this geopolitical chess match.
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« Reply #68 on: August 14, 2009, 11:39:16 AM »

Summary

The U.S. military said Aug. 14 that it will continue to train Georgian troops for a deployment to Afghanistan. The United States insists that the training will be limited to assisting Georgian forces on the ground in Afghanistan and that it will not provide weapons to the small country. But Russia is strongly opposed to the continued military cooperation between United States and Georgia, and Moscow will have no choice but to respond to the perceived interference in its sphere of influence.

Analysis
The United States will resume its military training mission in the former Soviet republic of Georgia on Sept. 1 in order to prepare a select contingent of troops for deployment to Afghanistan, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Aug. 14. Morrell said the training would only help Georgian troops contribute to the Afghan operations and is not intended to act as a counterweight to Russian military influence along Georgia’s borders or within the separatist regions.

The United States has continually trained Georgian troops for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003 — this has kept approximately a dozen U.S. military personnel inside of Georgia. Tbilisi pulled Georgian troops out of Iraq in August 2008 after Russia invaded Georgia (they were flown back to Georgia in U.S. military aircraft). The United States also froze its training of Georgian troops during and following the Russo-Georgian war, but resumed smaller military officer training in the past month. However, now Tbilisi has repledged 750 troops for Afghanistan, and between 10 and 50 U.S. Marines will train the Georgian troops — this training will focus specifically on counterinsurgency and tactical proficiencies appropriate to the U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan.

Georgia has regularly requested that the United States or NATO help train its military on defensive operations that will help the country counter an invasion by its more powerful, conventionally armed neighbor: Russia. But that request was clearly rejected during U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit to Tbilisi in July. Biden and the Pentagon assured Russia that it had nothing to fear because the training would be limited strictly to helping the Georgian forces on the ground in Afghanistan and no weapons would be provided to Georgia. Also, the only troops to be trained by the United States will be leaving Georgia to deploy — an issue that proved problematic in August 2008 when many of the best-trained Georgian troops (in terms of unit cohesion and basic tactical proficiencies) were not in the country when Russian troops entered Georgia.

But even though the U.S. training is not as focused on developing the tactics and skills necessary for Georgia to defend itself as Tbilisi would like, the continued connection between the United States and Georgia — especially militarily — goes against Russian wishes. Moscow has made it clear since the August 2008 war that Georgia lies in Russia’s sphere of influence and the United States should stop its push for a pro-Western Georgia via politics, military or inclusion into Western organizations like NATO.

Having the Georgians participate militarily with NATO operations offends Moscow. Russian relations with the United States have worsened following U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Moscow in which he refused to back down on his support for Georgia, Ukraine and U.S. ballistic missile defense plans in Poland. Now, the United States is demonstrating this continued support in Georgia. Russia has already started to respond by turning up its own military heat near Georgia, indicating that Russian forces are prepared on the ground to launch another invasion at any moment.

But the Russians need to respond not only to Georgia, but also to the United States’ continued dismissal of Russia’s returning status as a great power. Acting out against the United States in Georgia is significant, but Russia has already proven that it is the decisive power in this region. What STRATFOR is watching for is other arenas in which Russia could act out against the United States, such as Iran and Europe. However, it is clear that Moscow will continue its pressure on Georgia.
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« Reply #69 on: August 15, 2009, 08:20:15 AM »

I'm still hoping for a post from a forum member who is well-informed about Georgia.

In the meantimes, here is this-- it is from the NYT, so caveat lector:

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South Ossetia Tries to Disarm Its Citizens 

Russians and South Ossetians fought together last August north of Tskhinvali, during the brief war against Georgia.

By ELLEN BARRY
Published: August 14, 2009

TSKHINVALI, Georgia — For years, there was not much difference between a civilian and a soldier in South Ossetia, which was embroiled in a long struggle to separate from Georgia.

David G. Sanakoyev, for example, wore a tie during the day. As South Ossetia’s ombudsman for human rights, he handled complaints about prison conditions or unlawful firings. Three times a week, after work, he changed into camouflage and took up a position at the territory’s border, rotating in and out of combat duty until morning.

Then he put his suit back on, and returned to his desk — a pattern interrupted only once, he recalled, when he was shot through the thigh in a Georgian ambush.

This has been the strange way of life inside South Ossetia, on and off, since the end of the Soviet Union. The tiny population of this valley — factory workers, university students, farmers and smugglers — has been turned into a loosely organized fighting force, deployed along the boundary that separates South Ossetia from Georgian-controlled territory.

Now, with Russia guaranteeing its security, South Ossetia is asking residents to turn in their weapons voluntarily. The police have opened 50 criminal prosecutions for illegal weapons and plan to offer $300 to $400 for each Kalashnikov rifle, a top official said.

The program is a test of confidence, a year after the war between Russia and Georgia.

Mr. Sanakoyev said he had never owned a gun but felt it was still too early to disarm.

“Life has changed,” he said. “But inside, you don’t yet feel that life has changed.”

Twenty years ago, few people in this valley were armed. The first clash between Ossetians and Georgians was fought with wooden bats and hunting rifles in 1989, after an estimated 12,000 Georgian demonstrators surrounded Tskhinvali to protest its first separatist bid. In the two days of violence that followed, six people died, according to Human Rights Watch.

That began a great surge of arming. Timur Tskhovrebov, then working as a tomato farmer, became “a specialist in stealing from Soviet warehouses,” he recalled, with a broad, reminiscent smile. The commander of a 10-man local militia, he would bribe a sentry, throw a mattress over the barbed-wire fence, and clamber in and out, arms loaded with weapons, for two hours until the next sentry arrived.

“This is only one way,” said Mr. Tskhovrebov, 51. “It’s the most honest way. You just steal them.”

As they withdrew into Russian territory, Soviet troops were ready to make deals, in any case. A Kalashnikov could be traded for a Zhiguli or Lada car or, in the case of villagers, a cow. Whole arsenals, put up for sale in Chechnya, supplied South Ossetia.

Irina Kozayeva, a 74-year-old woman with a cloud of hennaed hair, recalled the awe she felt at her first major purchase: a 12.7-caliber machine gun, a World War II-era weapon often mounted on Soviet tanks and capable of shooting down aircraft.

“When I saw it, I closed the door and laid it down on the rug,” she said. “I almost fainted. The sight of such a weapon can make you crazy.”

Ossetians’ attachment to their weapons grew fierce during those years, said Dmitri Medoyev, South Ossetia’s ambassador to Russia. Before the first clashes, authorities in Georgia had stripped many Ossetian hunters of their rifles, and then the Soviet Army twice betrayed Ossetia by withdrawing its forces, Mr. Medoyev said, so “we, the population, cannot trust anyone.”

In addition to a small army, Tskhinvali contrived a defense based on the Swiss armed forces, in which every adult man was required to show up, prepared to fight, during periods of tension.

For an Ossetian, Mr. Medoyev said, “a weapon is an essential part of daily life, his worldview, his accessory, if you will.” Asked how many guns were owned privately, he said, “As many as there are people in the population, that’s how many weapons there are.”

“Of course,” he added, “I’m not counting small children.”

But conditions have changed since last August, said Vitaly G. Gassiyev, South Ossetia’s first deputy interior minister. At a brand-new Russian base in Tskhinvali, dozens of tanks and self-propelled artillery are lined up a few minutes’ drive from Georgian positions, making it unlikely that Ossetian volunteers will be called to the front anytime soon.

By disarming, Mr. Gassiyev said, South Ossetia was using the lessons Russia had learned in the north Caucasus, where wars left a residue of crime, with “guns in hands and lots of uncontrolled elements.”

Two weeks ago, the call went out for people to turn in their arms voluntarily. So far, the police have collected or confiscated 100 machine guns — among them 15 American-made M-4 carbines, presumably lost by Georgian soldiers — and 110 pounds of explosives. In the near future, the police are planning to offer citizens from $370 to $470 in exchange for turning in guns and other weapons.

“I think the project will work without question,” Mr. Gassiyev said. “There is a guarantee of security now.”

When the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe tried to sell this idea to Ossetia’s populace several years ago, it was met with ridicule, recalled Magdalena Frichova, who monitored the conflict in South Ossetia for 10 years for the International Crisis Group. But last year’s war has transformed the dynamics in Ossetia, she added, and Russia may feel a need to ensure control in a region where small militias have thrived.

“This is the fear for the Russians, that it’s going to become like the north Caucasus,” Ms. Frichova said. “You have all these armed groups that aren’t under a command.”

Nerves were still strung tight last week at a border post south of Tskhinvali. The Russian border patrol was nowhere in sight, and two Ossetian men, one in camouflage, were watching cows grazing in no man’s land, waiting for something to happen, just as they have for 18 years. A Georgian police post in Ergneti was visible through the summer foliage. Five days before, the two men said, a rocket-propelled grenade was shot from the Georgian side and exploded in the air.

“If you call someone your brother, but he shoots at you, is he still your brother?” said the man in camouflage, his face weathered by the sun. “For 18 years, they have devoured us. They are jackals, jackals.” He refused to give his name.

His friend, Timur, 39, had left military service after the war, and was watching in slacks and a turtleneck. This year has been quiet, he allowed, but not calm, not yet. Asked about the government’s program to collect weapons, he grinned mischievously.

“Officially, I have given up my gun,” he said.
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« Reply #70 on: January 13, 2010, 05:56:49 AM »

The Turkish-Russian Struggle Over the Caucasus
TURKISH PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN travels to Moscow Tuesday for a two-day trip in which he will meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev. Although Erdogan and Putin are chummier with each other than they are with most world leaders, this meeting has been planned and postponed a number of times in recent months.

The relationship began to decline last summer as Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party continued pushing for a peace deal with Armenia that would open up another major outlet for Turkish expansion in the Caucasus, a mountainous region that encompasses the states of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Russia, however, had been busy building up clout in this region long before the Turks started focusing on neighborhood relations again. Since Armenia is essentially a client state of the Russians, it was Moscow that was calling the shots every time Turkey attempted a dialogue with Yerevan.

Russia has been happy to chaperone these negotiations for Ankara while seizing the opportunity to get on the good side of a critical rival in the Black Sea region. At the same time, Russia was not about to grant Turkey its wish of an Armenian rapprochement that would encroach on Russia’s own sphere of influence in the Caucasus. Moreover, Russia had a golden opportunity at hand to encourage Turkey to alienate Azerbaijan, its tightest ally in the region. Azerbaijan sees Turkey’s outreach to Armenia –- an enemy of Azerbaijan that occupies disputed territory inside of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region –- as an outright betrayal to the historic brotherly alliance between Turkey and Azerbaijan. While keeping Georgia in a vice and Armenia’s moves in check, Russia strategically coaxed Turkey’s allies in Azerbaijan into an alliance that would provide Moscow with a crucial lever to control the flow of energy to Europe. Turkey, meanwhile, has been left empty-handed: no deal with Armenia and very angry allies in Azerbaijan.

“Gazprom’s chief said Baku was considering a deal in which all of Azerbaijan’s natural gas could be sold to Russia.”
Just one day prior to Erdogan’s trip to Moscow, the Russians decided to flaunt their rapidly developing relationship with Azerbaijan. Following a meeting between Russia’s natural gas behemoth, Gazprom, and the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), Gazprom’s chief Alexei Miller said Monday that Baku was considering a deal in which all of Azerbaijan’s natural gas — present and future — could be sold to Russia. This would in effect allow Moscow to sabotage any plans by Turkey and Europe to diversify energy flows away from Russia.

Azerbaijan has already been prodding Turkey with its blossoming relationship with Russia, throwing out threats here and there of sending more of its natural gas to Russia instead of Turkey. But if Azerbaijan has actually agreed to such a deal with Moscow to send not just some, but all of its natural gas to Russia, then a major shift has taken place in the Caucasus — one in which the Turks cannot afford to remain complacent.

Azerbaijani national security rests on its ability to diversify its trade and political alliances to the greatest extent possible. If Azerbaijan entered into a committed relationship with the Russians, however, it would be just as vulnerable as Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Turkmenistan or any other state in the Russian periphery that is frequently subjected to Russian economic and military pressure tactics to fit Moscow’s political agenda. What, then, would encourage such a fundamental shift in Azerbaijani foreign policy?

Our first task is to verify with the Azerbaijanis whether the Gazprom chief is speaking the truth in claiming such a deal. Miller, after all, has been known to spin a few tales from time to time when it comes to Russian energy politics. If the story is true, then we need to nail down what caused the shift in Baku to sacrifice its energy independence to Moscow. Russia would have to pay a hefty price for such a deal, and that price could very well be tied to Azerbaijan’s territorial obsession: Nagorno-Karabakh.

If Azerbaijan is prepping its military to settle the score with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, and we have heard rumors building to this effect, it would want guarantees from Moscow to stay out of the fray. We have no evidence of this hypothesis as of yet, but it is some serious food for thought for Erdogan as he makes his way to Moscow.
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« Reply #71 on: January 29, 2010, 08:55:35 AM »

January 27, 2010 | 2219 GMT



JACQUESCOLLET/AFP/Getty Images
Zurab Nogaideli in July 2006The leader of Georgian opposition party the Movement for a Fair Georgia, former Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli, said Jan. 26 that his party would like to form a partnership with United Russia, the ruling party in Russia led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Nogaideli stated that “previous experience has shown that this kind of cooperation works,” adding that his recent visits to Moscow resulted in the release of detained Georgian teenagers from the breakaway region of South Ossetia as well as a resumption of civilian flights between Georgia and Russia.

Nogaideli’s proposal is indicative of a growing movement within the Georgian opposition that favors a more pragmatic and workable relationship with Russia than the strongly pro-Western and anti-Russian stance of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. While Saakashvili has grown increasingly unpopular among the Georgian public ever since the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war, the country’s opposition has been largely fractured, split between 14 or more parties unable to pose a united front against Saakashvili. That may now be changing, as significant elements of the opposition have seen the writing on the wall in Ukraine and have begun to rally around Nogaideli and his proven record of being able to work with the Russians.

A partnership between the Georgian opposition and the Russian ruling party, by far the most dominant political force in Russia, would be an unprecedented move. While United Russia has yet to respond officially to Nogaideli’s request, the very fact that it was made undoubtedly is pleasing to Moscow (and unpleasant to Saaskashvili). There will be much to discuss on Nogaideli’s upcoming trip to Moscow to meet with Putin in February.
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« Reply #72 on: June 09, 2010, 12:47:55 AM »

Next Steps for Ankara and Moscow
WORLD LEADERS FROM ACROSS EURASIA and the Middle East will be gathering in Istanbul Tuesday for a Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit hosted by the Turkish leadership. Some of the high-profile attendees include Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar al Assad, Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

With Turkish-Israeli relations in serious jeopardy in the wake of the flotilla crisis, the war in Afghanistan in flux, Moscow contemplating a shift in foreign policy with the West and the United States trying to juggle all of the above, the geopolitical intensity surrounding the summit is all too apparent.

The headlining issue of the conference will of course be the Turkish-Israeli flotilla crisis. Not surprisingly, Israel decided to send a lower level diplomat from its consulate in Turkey rather than having a senior official come under fire by the Turkish hosts. Turkey will use the CICA platform — as well as a summit beginning Wednesday in Istanbul with Arab foreign ministers as part of the Turkish-Arab Cooperation Forum — to highlight what Turkey sees as the gross illegality of Israel’s actions that resulted in the death of eight Turkish citizens in international waters off the Gaza coast. Turkey does not intend to let this issue rest. The issue is not even really about Gaza, anymore. On the contrary, Turkey views its current crisis with Israel as an opportunity to accelerate its regional rise to fame.

For this plan to work, Turkey needs to go beyond the public censures and pressure Israel into making a very public concession to Ankara. The problem for Turkey is that there is no Arab consensus to build on in forging this campaign against Israel. The Arab states are happy to engage in the rhetoric alongside Turkey, but when it comes to taking action against Israel, the impetus falls flat. Though Turkey will attempt to galvanize the Arabs at the Wednesday summit, it is not clear to STRATFOR that Ankara will be able to overcome the challenge of Arab fractiousness and weakness in formulating its response to Israel.

“Turkey is not the only one with its hands full at this summit.”
Turkey will also be spending some quality time during the CICA summit with the Iranian president. Iran is happy to see the flotilla crisis deflect attention away from its own nuclear controversy with the West, but it’s also not enthused about Turkey soaking up the spotlight and hijacking Iran’s role in defending the Palestinians. Wanting their piece of the action, the Iranians have announced that they will send their own aid ships to the Gaza coast, while privately hinting that they will try to score a moral victory in attempting to recreate the Mavi Marmara incident by provoking Israeli forces into an attack. An Iranian-provoked confrontation with Israel in the Mediterranean is precisely what the Turks cannot afford. Such a move would draw the United States to Israel’s side and undercut Turkish momentum in a snap. The Turks will use the summit as an opportunity to share some of the spotlight with Ahmadinejad and thus try to keep Tehran from scuttling its own agenda, but Iranian tenacity on this issue may also be hard to beat.

Turkey is not the only one with its hands full at this summit. Putin has a slew of private meetings lined up with the leaders of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. His sideline meetings in Istanbul come after Russia held a week of meetings in Germany and the Baltic states and ahead of a visit to France. Rather than an attempt to rack up frequent flyer miles, the prime minister’s busy agenda stems from a major shift Russia is seriously contemplating making in its foreign policy toward the West.

The strategic thrust behind the shift is a Russian desire to obtain Western technology to modernize the Russian economy in everything from energy to space to telecommunications. Russia has internally acknowledged that for it to get its hands on this technology –- and ensure Russia’s competitiveness as a global power in the years to come –- it needs to appear more pragmatic to the West in making its foreign policy moves. This doesn’t mean Russia is ready to be any less nationalistic, just a little more willing to strike deals to get what it wants. The only reason Russia can even think about making such a dramatic shift is because it has spent the past several years carefully laying the groundwork in the former Soviet Union states in preparation for this very moment.

Russia wants to make sure that before it follows through with this plan, it gets some assurances from Europe and the United States that they will reward Russian cooperation with the technological cooperation Moscow is seeking and respect the sphere of influence Russia has recreated. At the same time, Putin -– acting as the enforcer on this issue -– is talking to the former Soviet states to make sure they understand that any Russian opening to the West is not a signal of Russia relenting in its former Soviet space, but a sign of Moscow dealing with the West on its own terms and in the time of its choosing. In other words, Putin wants to make sure Ukraine, Georgia, the Central Asians and the Baltic states don’t get any ideas about trying to flirt with the West the second they see Moscow shift.

While Putin delivers this stern reminder to Ukraine and the Central Asians, he will also be meeting separately with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Russians are wary of Turkey’s regional resurgence and want to ensure that the two don’t bump heads in pursuing their respective agendas. But the Russians have a plan for this, too. By regularly waving deals on energy and peace agreements in the Caucasus, Russia is keeping its relationship with Turkey on an even keel. Putin is not (yet), however, scheduled to meet with the Iranian president, something that will not go unnoticed in Tehran. The Iranians, picking up on the leaks of a coming Russian foreign policy shift, have already spent the past weeks publicizing their ire against Moscow and warning the Russians against turning on them for a grand bargain with the United States. The Russians are not at the point of throwing Iran under the bus (Iran is still a very useful lever for them in dealing with Washington), but it doesn’t hurt Moscow to keep the Iranians on edge as Russia feels out the West and contemplates a major foreign policy shift that may be on the horizon.
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« Reply #73 on: July 07, 2010, 06:45:53 AM »


By George Friedman

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited some interesting spots over the July 4 weekend. Her itinerary included Poland and Ukraine, both intriguing choices in light of the recent Obama-Medvedev talks in Washington. But she also traveled to a region that has not been on the American radar screen much in the last two years — namely, the Caucasus — visiting Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The stop in Poland coincided with the signing of a new agreement on ballistic missile defense and was designed to sustain U.S.-Polish relations in the face of the German-Russian discussions we have discussed. The stop in Ukraine was meant simply to show the flag in a country rapidly moving into the Russian orbit. In both cases, the trip was about the Russians. Regardless of how warm the atmospherics are between the United States and Russia, the fact is that the Russians are continuing to rebuild their regional influence and are taking advantage of European disequilibrium to build new relationships there, too. The United States, still focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, has limited surplus capacity to apply to resisting the Russians. No amount of atmospherics can hide that fact, certainly not from the Poles or the Ukrainians. Therefore, if not a substantial contribution, the secretary of state’s visit was a symbolic one. But when there is little of substance, symbols matter.

That the Poland and Ukraine stops so obviously were about the Russians makes the stops in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia all the more interesting. Clinton’s statements during the Caucasian leg of her visit were positive, as one would expect. She expressed her support for Georgia without committing the United States to any arms shipments for Georgia to resist the Russians, who currently are stationed inside Georgia’s northern secessionist regions. In Azerbaijan and Armenia, she called on both countries to settle the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region within western Azerbaijan proper. Armenia took control of the region by force following the Soviet collapse. For Azerbaijan, the return of Nagorno-Karabakh under a U.N. resolution is fundamental to its national security and political strategy. For Armenia, retreat is not politically possible.

This means Clinton’s call for negotiations and her offer of U.S. help are not particularly significant, especially since the call was for Washington to help under the guise of international, not bilateral, negotiations. This is particularly true after Clinton seemed to indicate that the collapse in Turkish-Armenian talks was Turkey’s responsibility and that it was up to Turkey to make the next move. Given that her visit to the region seems on the surface to have achieved little — and indeed, little seems to have been intended — it is worth taking time to understand why she went there in the first place, and the region’s strategic significance.

The Strategic Significance of the Caucasus
The Caucasus is the point where Russia, Iran and Turkey meet. For most of the 19th century, the three powers dueled for dominance of the region. This dispute froze during the Soviet period but is certainly in motion again. With none of these primary powers directly controlling the region, there are secondary competitions involving Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, both among these secondary powers and between the secondary powers and the major powers. And given that the region involves the Russians, Iranians and Turks, it is inevitable that the global power would have an interest as well — hence, Hillary Clinton’s visit.

Of all the regions of the world, this one is among the most potentially explosive. It is the most likely to draw in major powers and the most likely to involve the United States. It is quiet now — but like the Balkans in 1990, quiet does not necessarily reassure any of the players. Therefore, seven players are involved in a very small space. Think of it as a cauldron framed by Russia, Iran and Turkey, occasionally stirred by Washington, for whom each of the other three major powers poses special challenges of varying degrees.

The Caucasus region dominates a land bridge between the Black and Caspian seas. The bridge connects Turkey and Iran to the south with Russia in the north. The region is divided between two mountain ranges, the Greater Caucasus to the north and the Lesser Caucasus in the south; and two plains divided from one another, one in Western Georgia on the Black Sea and another, larger plain in the east in Azerbaijan along the Kura River. A narrow river valley cuts through Georgia, connecting the two plains.

The Greater Caucasus Mountains serve as the southern frontier of Russia. To the north of these mountains, running east to west, lies the Russian agricultural heartland, flat and without any natural barriers. Thus, ever since the beginning of the 19th century, Russia has fought for a significant portion of the Caucasus to block any ambitions by the Turkish or Persian empires. The Caucasus mountains are so difficult to traverse by major military forces that as long as Russia maintains a hold somewhere in the Caucasus, its southern frontier is secure. During the latter part of the 19th century and for most of the Soviet period (except a brief time at the beginning of the era), the Soviet position in the Caucasus ran along the frontier with Turkey and Persia (later Iran). Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia were incorporated into the Soviet Union, giving the Soviets a deep penetration of the Caucasus and, along with this, security.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the three Caucasian republics broke free of Moscow, pushing Russia’s frontier north by between about 160 to 320 kilometers (100-200 miles). The Russians still maintained a position in the Caucasus, but their position was not secure. The northern portion of the Caucasus consisted of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan and others, all of which had significant Islamist insurgencies under way. If the Russians abandoned the northeastern Caucasus, their position was breached. But if they stood, they faced an interminable fight.

Georgia borders most of the Russian frontier. In the chaos of the fall of the Soviet Union, various Georgian regions attempted to secede from Georgia with Russian encouragement. From the Georgian point of view, Russia represented a threat. But from the Russian point of view, Georgia represented a double threat. First, the Russians suspected the Georgians of supporting Chechen rebels in the 1990s — a charge the Georgians deny. The more important threat was that the United States selected Georgia as its main ally in the region. The choice made sense if the United States was conducting an encirclement strategy of Russia, which Washington was doing in the 1990s (though it became somewhat distracted from this strategy after 2001). In response to what it saw as U.S. pressure around its periphery, the Russians countered in Georgia in 2008 to demonstrate U.S. impotence in the region.

The Russians also maintained a close relationship with Armenia, where they continue to station more than 3,000 troops. The Armenians are deeply hostile to the Turks over demands that Turkey admit to massacres of large number of Armenians in 1915-16. The Armenians and Turks were recently involved in negotiations over the normalization of relations, but these talks collapsed — in our view, because of Russian interference. The issue was further complicated when a U.S. congressional committee passed a resolution in March condemning Turkey for committing genocide, infuriating the Turks.

One of the countercharges against Armenia is that it has conducted its own massacres of Azerbaijanis. Around the time of the Soviet breakup, it conducted a war against Azerbaijan, replete with the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis in a region known as Nagorno-Karabakh in western Azerbaijan, leaving Azerbaijan with a massive refugee problem. While the U.N. Security Council condemned the invasion, the conflict has been frozen, to use the jargon of diplomats.

The Importance of Azerbaijan
For its part, Azerbaijan cannot afford to fight a war against Russian troops in Armenia while it also shares a northern border with Russia. Azerbaijan also faces a significant Iranian problem. There are more Azerbaijanis living in Iran than in Azerbaijan; Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a prominent Azerbaijani-Iranian. The Soviets occupied all of Azerbaijan during World War II but were forced to retreat under British and American pressure after the war, leaving most of Azerbaijan inside Iran. The remainder became a Soviet republic and then an independent state.

The Azerbaijanis are deeply concerned about the Iranians. Azerbaijan is profoundly different from Iran. It is Muslim but heavily secular. It maintains close and formal relations with Israel. It has supported the war in Afghanistan and made logistical facilities available to the United States. The Azerbaijanis claim that Iran is sending clerics north to build Shiite schools that threaten the regime. Obviously, Iran also operates an intelligence network there.

Adding to the complexity, Azerbaijan has long been a major producer of oil and has recently become an exporter of natural gas near the capital of Baku, exporting it to Turkey via a pipeline passing through Georgia. From the Turkish point of view, this provides alternative sources of energy to Russia and Iran, something that obviously pleases the United States. It is also an obvious reason why Russia sees Azerbaijan as undermining its position as the region’s dominant energy exporter.

The Russians have an interest, demonstrated in 2008, to move southward into Georgia. Obviously, if they were able to do this — preferably by a change in government and policy in Tbilisi — they would link up with their position in Armenia, becoming a force both on the Turkish border and facing Azerbaijan. The Russians would like to be able to integrate Azerbaijan’s exports into its broader energy policy, which would concentrate power in Russian hands and increase Russian influence on Russia’s periphery. This was made clear by Russia’s recent offer to buy all of Azerbaijan’s natural gas at European-level prices. The Turks would obviously oppose this for the same reason the Russians would want it. Hence, the Turks must support Georgia.

Iran, which should be viewed as an Azerbaijani country as well as a Persian one, has two reasons to want to dominate Azerbaijan. First, it would give Tehran access to Baku oil, and second, it would give Tehran strategic bargaining power with the Russians, something it does not currently have. In addition, talk of present unrest in Iran notwithstanding, Iran’s single most vulnerable point in the long term is the potential for Azerbaijanis living in Iran to want to unite with an independent Azerbaijani state. This is not in the offing, but if any critical vulnerability exists in the Iranian polity, this is it.

Consider this from the American side. When we look at the map, we notice that Azerbaijan borders both Russia and Iran. That strategic position alone makes it a major asset to the United States. Add to it oil in Baku and investment by U.S. companies, and Azerbaijan becomes even more attractive. Add to this that its oil exports support Turkey and weaken Russian influence, and its value goes up again. Finally, add to it that Turkey infuriated Azerbaijan by negotiating with Armenia without tying the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh to any Turkish-Armenian settlement. Altogether, the United States has the opportunity to forge a beneficial relationship with Azerbaijan that would put U.S. hands on one of Turkey’s sources of oil. At a time when the Turks recognize a declining dependence on the United States, anything that could increase that dependence helps Washington. Moreover, Azerbaijan is a platform from which Washington could make the Iranians uncomfortable, or from which to conduct negotiations with Iran.

An American strategy should include Georgia, but Georgia is always going to be weaker than Russia, and unless the United States is prepared to commit major forces there, the Russians can act, overtly and covertly, at their discretion. A Georgian strategy requires a strong rear base, which Azerbaijan provides, not only strategically but also as a source of capital for Georgia. Georgian-Azerbaijani relations are good, and in the long run so is Turkey’s relation with these two countries.

For Azerbaijan, the burning issue is Nagorno-Karabakh. This is not a burning issue for the United States, but the creation of a stable platform in the region is. Armenia, by far the weakest country economically, is allied with the Russians, and it has Russian troops on its territory. Given that the United States has no interest in who governs Nagorno-Karabakh and there is a U.N. resolution on the table favoring Azerbaijan that serves as cover, it is difficult to understand why the United States is effectively neutral. If the United States is committed to Georgia, which is official policy, then it follows that satisfying Azerbaijan and bringing it into a close relationship to the United States would be beneficial to Washington’s ability to manage relations with Russia, Iran and Turkey.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Azerbaijan a month ago and Clinton visited this weekend. As complex as the politics of this region are to outsiders, they are clearly increasing in importance to the United States. We could put it this way: Bosnia and Kosovo were obscure concepts to the world until they blew up. Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia are equally obscure now. They will not remain obscure unless strategic measures are taken. It is not clear to us that Clinton was simply making a courtesy call or had strategy on her mind. But the logic of the American position is that it should think strategically about the Caucasus, and in doing so, logic and regional dynamics point to a strong relationship with Azerbaijan.
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« Reply #74 on: September 13, 2010, 09:08:51 PM »

PC: 

Good subject and nice follow up-- I had not seen what Microsoft has done.

That said, I'm thinking of our various threads on different aspects of Russia, this one might be a better place to continue it:

http://dogbrothers.com/phpBB2/index.php?topic=1103.50

TIA,
M.
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« Reply #75 on: September 24, 2010, 04:05:08 PM »

Summary
An agreement likely to be signed Sept. 24 by Russian and Kyrgyz military delegations comes amid continued unrest in Kyrgyzstan and fresh tensions in its southern neighbor, Tajikistan. Moscow has planned for years to increase its military presence in the Central Asian core, but these recent events have accelerated that plan. However, the region comes with its own share of geographic and demographic challenges, and it is unclear how involved Russia wants to become in its attempts to enforce stability there.

Analysis
A Russian military delegation led by Col. Gen. Valery Gerasimov, deputy commander of the Armed Forces General Staff, has been in Kyrgyzstan since Sept. 19, holding talks with its Kyrgyz defense counterparts. The delegation is set to sign an agreement Sept. 24 to create a unified Russian base structure in Kyrgyzstan. This will consolidate Russia’s four military facilities in the country — an air base in Kant, a naval training and research center at Lake Issyk-Kul, and seismic facilities in the Issyk-Kul and Jalal-Abad regions — under a single, joint command.

It remains unclear what this unified Russian base structure in Kyrgyzstan will actually entail; officials from both countries have been vague on its format and purpose. But what is clear is that Russia, which has been undergoing a reorganization of its military command structure this year, is laying the groundwork for a more pronounced and efficient military presence in a region that faces its fair share of geographic and security challenges.


Kyrgyzstan has seen much turmoil over the past several months, most notably a Russian-backed uprising in April that ousted former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Bakiyev had been using the U.S. Transit Center at Manas, a key logistical hub in Kyrgyzstan for U.S. operations in Afghanistan, as leverage to get more money out of both Russia and the United States. This was a key factor that led to the Kyrgyz president’s ouster and the ushering in of a more Russia-friendly interim government led by Roza Otunbayeva. Pacifying the country after the coup has been a challenge for the interim leadership. Violence broke out again in June in the southern regions of Osh and Jalal-Abad, prompting Bishkek to request that Russia increase its military presence in the country.

Russia has thus far not made any major military moves in the country beyond temporarily reinforcing its Kant air base with a company of 150 paratroopers, which have since been withdrawn. But according to STRATFOR sources, Moscow is considering a major infusion of up to 25,000 troops into Central Asia in the next few months and through 2011. These troops previously served in the North Caucasus but have since been withdrawn and are waiting to redeploy elsewhere.

This comes amid heightened security concerns in neighboring Tajikistan after the escape of 25 high-profile Islamist militants from a Dushanbe prison. The escapees sought refuge in the mountainous Rasht Valley, which has become the scene of continuing clashes between security forces and militants. This violence has caused much worry in Kyrgyzstan, which borders the Rasht area, prompting Bishkek to close the border between the two countries.

Tensions in Tajikistan and continuing uncertainty in Kyrgyzstan have lent new urgency to Moscow’s long-term plan to consolidate its presence in these former Soviet states by boosting its military footprint in the region. But 25,000 troops, especially Russian troops intended to establish a sustained presence, are not deployed quickly or easily. Significant logistical and infrastructural preparations are required.

Hence the discussions this week between the Russian and Kyrgyz military delegations. The agreement likely will see Russia increase the length of its leases on bases in the country to 49 years. There are also unconfirmed rumors that it could open a new facility in Osh. In exchange, Russia would pay more to lease these facilities, likely at least partially in the form of military hardware and small arms (Russia currently pays Kyrgyzstan $4.5 million annually for its military facilities, compared to the $60 million per year the United States pays for the U.S. Transit Center at Manas). There are also discussions of Russian state-owned energy firm Gazpromneft’s participating in a joint venture with a Kyrgyz state company to supply jet fuel to aircraft at Manas, providing Russia with yet more potential leverage over the U.S. presence in Central Asia.

It is notable that Russia is making such agreements with Kyrgyzstan — and Tajikistan — just as security tensions in the countries are on the rise. However, the protocols to be signed on Sept. 24 will be just that, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said there would not be any conclusive deals until Kyrgyzstan holds its parliamentary elections in October and ushers in a permanent government rather than the interim government that currently leads the country.

Ultimately, while Russia is clearly looking to move a big contingent of troops to the region, it remains unclear just how deeply entangled in the region Russia wants to become. Moscow has a strong national interest in ensuring that it dominates Central Asia and keeps out other powers, particularly the United States. But that need not necessarily entail major military engagement. Stationing troops there is an important step. Having those troops become directly and actively involved in the militant landscape — facilitated by complex demography, Islamist ideology and rugged geography — is another step entirely. Russia has exceptionally long borders and interests far beyond Central Asia. While it looks poised to commit multiple divisions to the region, the Kremlin will remain wary of becoming bogged down in intractable, insurgent conflict.



Read more: Russia Prepares for Military Consolidation in Kyrgyzstan | STRATFOR
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« Reply #76 on: September 27, 2010, 11:00:47 AM »

The Tajikistan Attacks and Islamist Militancy in Central Asia
September 23, 2010




By Ben West

Militants in Tajikistan’s Rasht Valley ambushed a military convoy of 75 Tajik troops Sept. 19, killing 25 military personnel according to official reports and 40 according to the militants, who attacked from higher ground with small arms, automatic weapons and grenades. The Tajik troops were part of a nationwide deployment of security forces seeking to recapture 25 individuals linked to the United Tajik Opposition militant groups that had escaped from prison in Dushanbe on Aug. 24. The daring prison break was conducted by members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and saw five security guards killed and the country put on red alert. According to the Tajik government, after the escape, most of the militants fled to the Rasht Valley, an area under the influence of Islamist militants that is hard to reach for Tajikistan’s security forces and thus rarely patrolled by troops.

Sunday’s attack was one of the deadliest clashes between militants and the Tajik government since the Central Asian country’s civil war ended in 1997. The last comparable attack was in 1998, when militants ambushed a battalion of Interior Ministry troops just outside Dushanbe, killing 20 and kidnapping 110. Sunday’s incident was preceded by a Sept. 3 attack on a police station that involved a suicide operative and a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) in the northwest Tajik city of Khujand that killed four police officers. Suicide attacks are rare in Tajikistan, and VBIEDs even more so. The Khujand attack also stands out as it occurred outside militant territory. Khujand, Tajikistan’s second-largest city after the capital, is located at the mouth of the Fergana Valley, the largest population center in Central Asia.

This represents a noticeable increase in the number and professionalism of militant operations in Tajikistan. Regardless of whether the September attacks can be directly linked to the Aug. 24 jailbreak in Dushanbe, the sudden re-emergence of attacks in Tajikistan after a decade of quiet in Central Asia deserves our attention. In short, something is percolating in the valleys of Central Asia that has reawakened militant groups more or less dormant for a decade. This unrest will likely continue and possibly grow if Tajik security forces can’t get control of the situation.


The Central Asian Core’s Divided Geography

Greater Central Asia, which encompasses southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and western China, comprises the northeastern frontier of the Muslim world. A knot of mountain ranges defines the geography of the region’s core, which forms a buffer between the Chinese and Russian spheres of influence. The region’s rugged terrain acts as a force multiplier for local populations seeking their own sovereignty, complicating foreign powers’ efforts to control the region.





(click here to enlarge image)
The Fergana Valley is the best-suited land in Central Asia for hosting a large population. Soviet leader Josef Stalin split the valley up between the Soviet republics that would become the countries of Central Asia to ensure the region remained divided, however. Uzbekistan controls most of the basin itself; Tajikistan controls the most accessible entrance to the valley from the west; and Kyrgyzstan controls the high ground around the valley. Uzbekistan also controls several exclaves within Kyrgyzstan’s portion of the valley, affording the Uzbek government and Uzbek citizens (including militants) access fairly deep into Kyrgyz territory. Meanwhile, the Rasht Valley follows the Vakhsh River across the Tajik-Kyrgyz border, giving locals (again including militants) a passage through the mountainous border region south of the Fergana Valley. These complex geographic and political divisions ensure that no one country can dominate Central Asia’s core, and hence Central Asia itself.


The Militants of Central Asia

An often-confusing assortment of militant groups has called Central Asia home since the end of the Soviet Union, many of which have split or joined up with one another. The most significant players in the region’s militant landscape include:

Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). Founded in 1990, it was the first Islamist political party to gain Soviet recognition. After it was banned throughout Central Asia in 1992, many of its members resorted to violence.
Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). The Tajik branch of the IRP, the IRPT was active during the Tajik civil war of 1992-97 but has since turned to the political sphere.
United Tajik Opposition (UTO). UTO was an umbrella organization for the groups that fought against the Moscow-backed Tajik government during the Tajik civil war, but most of its members turned to politics at the end of the war. UTO derived much of its strength from constituent Islamist groups like the IRP, but it also encompassed the Democratic Party of Tajikistan and the ethnic Gharmi group.
Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). Founded in East Jerusalem in 1953, HT seeks to establish a worldwide caliphate. The group is present in more than 40 countries; its Central Asian base is Uzbekistan. The group promotes ideological extremism, though it does not directly engage in violence. Even so, the region’s security forces have targeted it.
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). A militant Islamic group aligned with al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, IMU was formed in 1998 after the UTO turned to politics. Its ultimate aim was to transform Uzbekistan into an Islamic state. IMU leaders since have spread to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Islamic Jihad Union/Group (IJU). The IJU split off from IMU; it has a small presence in Europe.
Movement for the Islamic Revival of Uzbekistan (MIRU). MIRU was formed in 1994 and was incorporated into the IMU in 1998.
East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). A group primarily focused on independence for the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, ETIM is thought to have ties with the IMU.
Islamic Movement of Turkistan (IMT). Like ETIM, IMT is thought to have ties with the IMU.

Islam and Militants in Central Asia

Historically, the moderate form of Islam known as Sufism predominated in Central Asia, with Salafism (a far more conservative form of Islam also called Wahhabism) being very much in the minority. Islam was strongly suppressed during Russian, and later Soviet, rule, however. Soviet security forces frequently raided mosques and madrassas, and Muslim religious leaders were routinely arrested. Generations of religious repression saw Sufism’s role in the region decline as Central Asians became more secular. Salafism was able to capitalize on this vacuum as the Central Asian Soviet republics gained independence in 1991, aided materially and in manpower by their co-religionists beyond the Soviet sphere. Sufism, by contrast, was much more localized and could not draw on such resources.

By 1991, when Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan all got independence, many Salafists in Central Asia (and elsewhere) had incorporated violence into their ideology, classifying them as jihadists. With growing influence, groups like the IRPT (although banned in 1993) allied with secular opposition groups to fight the government during Tajikistan’s five-year civil war. During this time, radical Islamists who turned to violence attacked Dushanbe from their bases in the Rasht and Tavildara valleys in northern Tajikistan as well as from Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, where they relied on the large population of Tajik-Afghans (some of whom had ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda) for support. After the civil war, many IRPT leaders joined the political process, leaving only a hardened remnant in the valleys to the north or in Afghanistan.

Later, the IMU began its campaign to bring down the Uzbek government in 1998. Uzbek President Islam Karimov used a heavy hand against the IMU and other Islamists. The IMU accordingly found it easier to operate in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, including the Uzbek exclaves of So’x and Shohimardon.

By 2000, militants faced government crackdowns throughout Central Asia, though they could still operate in Tajikistan and across the border in Afghanistan. The IMU, for example, was largely wiped out after 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in the battle of Kunduz. The Taliban and IMU had decided to make a stand against the Northern Alliance and U.S. forces in Kunduz, but the Taliban withdrew, leaving the IMU to fend for itself. The IMU lost one of its two founding members and leaders, Juma Namangani, in the subsequent crushing defeat. While the IMU managed a few more large-scale attacks in Tashkent, including suicide attacks on the Israeli and U.S. embassies and the Uzbek prosecutor general’s office in 2004, this did not signal a resurgence. Its remaining members relocated along with other fractured militant groups to northwestern Pakistan, where they took advantage of smuggling opportunities to raise funds. In August 2009, the IMU’s other founder and leader, Tahir Yuldashev, died in a suspected U.S. missile strike in Pakistan. The involvement of Yuldashev and his fighters in the Islamist insurgency in Pakistan shows just how far the IMU had deviated from its original goal of toppling the Uzbek government. While the Uzbek and Tajik governments routinely blame attacks such as the Sept. 19 raid on the IMU, the group is no longer the coherent movement it was in the late 1990s.


Islamist Militant Fragmentation

Now, governments frequently use the IMU as a catchall phrase for Islamists in Central Asia who would like to overthrow the regions’ governments. In reality, various factors divide the region’s militants, and continuing to use convenient labels like IMU frequently masks real shifts and complexities in Central Asia’s militant landscape. These groups are divided by the particular conditions of their areas of operation, by ethnicity and tribe, and by their particular cause.

Groups like the IMU depend on commanders of militants in places like the Rasht, Tavildara or Fergana valleys to carry out the attacks. The situations in each valley are quite different. For example, the increasing Tajik military presence in the Rasht Valley means militant commanders there will have different missions from commanders in the Fergana Valley, to say nothing of the IMU members fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan or smuggling drugs in Pakistan. The name IMU to a large degree has become a generic label for Islamic militant activity in a similar fashion to how the devolution of al Qaeda has shifted the original understanding of the group and its name.

Ethnicity and tribal structures also complicate the picture. Central Asia is a hodge-podge of ethnicities, including Tajiks, Uzbeks, Kyrgyzs, Turkmen, Kazakhs and Uighurs. They speak different languages and have different customs, leading to highly localized, clan-based loyalties. Various groups and subgroups frequently cross national borders, making the activities of some factions more transnational in their ambitions or more interested in creating their own state rather than taking power from the government of the day.

And militants’ shifting causes vary considerably. In hostile terrain like that of Central Asia, it is difficult enough to survive, much less adhere to consistent ideological goals. Groups like the IRPT frequently started as peaceful political groups, fractured, and then became more militant during the Tajik civil war, only to rejoin the political process.


The Regional Outlook

The past has shown that violence in one country can quickly spread to its neighbors. Thus, while Uzbekistan has largely mitigated the militant threat through strict security measures, it remains vulnerable due to its proximity to the chaotic countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the geographically distorted borders around the Fergana Valley.

The Afghan question also looms large. With the United States and NATO set to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in less than a year, Central Asian countries will face a much less restrained Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s relative weakness in northern Afghanistan will mitigate this threat, but the region will nonetheless be in limbo after NATO withdraws. For their part, Central Asia’s militants hope the Western withdrawal and the hoped-for Taliban rise to power will restore Afghanistan as a militant safe haven from which to pursue their home-country ambitions. And this prospect, of course, makes Central Asian governments quite uneasy.

Complicating matters, Russia is moving to protect its interests in Central Asia by moving up to 25,000 troops to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to increase security at its military installations there. Central Asian states are looking to balance their security needs in light of a destabilizing Afghanistan by accepting more Russian troops.

Between increasing militant activity in Tajikistan after years of relative quiet, the impending Western withdrawal from Afghanistan and a resurgent Russia, Central Asia faces challenging times ahead.
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prentice crawford
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« Reply #77 on: March 18, 2011, 06:35:23 AM »

Woof,
 You never know where a war crimes criminal will show up.

       www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42145729/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts

           P.C.
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« Reply #78 on: April 02, 2011, 10:01:42 AM »

Why Russia, Turkey Look Toward Armenia and Azerbaijan

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian announced Thursday that he would personally be on the first civilian flight from Armenia into the newly rebuilt airport in Nagorno-Karabakh when it opens in May. (Nagorno-Karabakh is an Armenian-backed secessionist region enclosed within Azerbaijan.) Azerbaijan had earlier announced that it would shoot down any plane over its occupied territories. For now, the issue is at a standoff as both sides have laid a challenge that could not only propel the region back into the brutal war of the 1990s, but could also pull in some global heavyweights. That said, STRATFOR is looking beyond the political theater that normally, and incessantly, takes place between Yerevan and Baku to whether this has been orchestrated by the country that has held the peace between the two, Russia.

The southern region of the Caucasus has seen countless struggles in the past century, though one of the most enduring is between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis over Nagorno-Karabakh. Soviet rule from the 1920s onwards stifled these battles for the most part. But as soon as the Soviet Union’s disintegration looked imminent, conflict flared up when Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan, with intention to unify with Armenia. Free of being restrained by Moscow, Azerbaijan defended its territory and a full-scale war erupted, stretching across Armenia and Azerbaijan until Russia brokered a cease-fire.

“Both Ankara and Moscow know that any Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict would not remain contained within the region.”
Though simmering hostilities have continued, there are two reasons the conflict has remained frozen. First, beginning in the mid-1990s, neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan had the resources to continue fighting. Armenia’s economy was, and is, non-existent for the most part. Without the financial means, it would be impossible for Armenia to launch a full-scale war. At the same time, Azerbaijan’s military has been too weak, thus far, to assert control over the occupied lands.

After nearly two decades, the issue is beginning to thaw again as the balance between Armenia and Azerbaijan is beginning to change. Baku has grown exponentially stronger in the past six years. Rich with energy-wealth, Azerbaijan has started creating a modern and competent military and the largest out of the Caucasus countries. Moreover, Azerbaijan’s close ally, Turkey, has renewed its commitment to defend Azerbaijan in any conflict with Armenia, recently signing a strategic cooperation agreement to this end. On the other hand, Armenia has been reduced to a satellite of Russia for the most part, with little independent foreign policy, politics or economy. Being folded under Russia’s wing, Armenia feels protected against its rival. These two shifts have led to an increase in tensions between Baku and Yerevan over whether either is bold enough to revive hostilities.

The involvement of Turkey and Russia is the main cause of deterrence that is holding the two sides back. Both Ankara and Moscow know that any Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict would not remain contained within the region. Each power would be expected by Baku and Yerevan to defend their respective ally — whether they actually would is unclear. Therefore, the standoff has become more about Moscow and Ankara holding back each side and not allowing the instability to become exacerbated to the extent of an open conflict or war.

However, two other issues are also evolving. First, Baku is becoming more powerful than Moscow is comfortable with. It is not that Russia is concerned it cannot handle Azerbaijan on its own, but Russia is attempting to maintain a regional balance by dominating each of the three Caucasus states in its own way. Baku’s resource wealth and hefty foreign connections are beginning to tip those scales in comparison to the other two states. Still, Russia has held back as to not launch a larger conflict with Turkey, which Moscow is wary to provoke.

This is where the second development comes in. Turkey is engulfed in other large conflicts and is one of the key members in the Middle Eastern theater helping the United States suppress the instability. Turkey is struggling within NATO to carve out a leadership role and is embroiled in a standoff with some European NATO members over how extensive the Libyan intervention ought to be. Ankara is also using its influence in the Iranian-Saudi struggle over Bahrain and the Arab world in general. There are also domestic politics to consider, with important elections coming up in June for Turkey. Such a string of endless conflicts also has the United States, which has deep relations with both Yerevan and Baku, preoccupied.

On the other hand, Russia isn’t wrapped up in any of those issues. Moreover, Moscow feels pretty confident these days with its position globally. First, Russia has been largely successful in its resurgence into its former Soviet sphere. Second, as of the past few months, it has even more room to maneuver now that the West is dealing with the instabilities in the Islamic theater. Third, Europe is torn over taking part in those conflicts and its need to focus on its own set of domestic challenges, both economically and politically. Lastly, the conflicts have caused energy prices to soar and many countries to demand more supplies — of which Russia is the winner. Russian international reserves crossed over the $500 billion mark on March 18 for the first time in two and a half years. The last time Russian reserves were in the $500 billion range, Moscow confronted Georgia in August 2008.

If there ever were a time for Russia to look at the more difficult issues it has avoided — like the standoff between Azerbaijan and Armenia or challenging an ascendant Turkey that does not seem to be slowing down, it would be now. It is most likely that Russia is not looking to launch a new conflict, but instead it wants to test how assertive Azerbaijan feels with its strengthening position against Armenia and just how willing Turkey is to dance with the bear. It is easier to feel such things out when the rest of the world is looking elsewhere.

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« Reply #79 on: April 26, 2011, 08:56:21 AM »

Russia's Crime of the Century
How crooked officials pulled off a massive scam, spent millions on Dubai real estate, and killed my partner when he tried to expose them.
BY JAMISON FIRESTONE | APRIL 20, 2011

If there remains any pretense that justice and rule of law exist in Moscow today, that notion should now be counted as pure fantasy. The case of Sergei Magnitsky -- a senior partner at my law firm who was imprisoned, tortured, and murdered after his efforts to shed light on a massive governmental fraud by Interior Ministry officials stealing subsidiaries of my client's company, the Hermitage Fund, and the $230 million of taxes they had paid -- has illuminated the cruelty and criminality of Russian legal enforcement. And new evidence released last week on YouTube as part of the broad campaign seeking justice for Sergei, goes even further -- exposing the blatant theft, impunity, and ill-gotten gains of senior Russian tax officials who were complicit in the fraud and subsequent murder of my colleague.

The very bureaucrats -- government tax officials on modest salaries in Moscow Tax Office 28 -- exposed by Sergei three years ago of perpetrating the massive fraud stashed millions of dollars in overseas bank accounts, created offshore companies, and purchased luxury villas in Dubai, Montenegro, and Moscow. Worse still, the Kremlin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in particular, have refused -- out of embarrassment, inability, culpability, or incompetence -- to review and prosecute what is now overwhelming evidence of this clear crime.

When I opened my law firm, Firestone Duncan, in Moscow in 1993, I was aware of the dangers of doing business in Russia. The stories about "mafia" groups of tracksuited thugs extorting businesses were well known to me. What I never expected was that the Russian mafia would merge with the government; its members are now the same officials who are supposed to be protecting the public.

The story begins in July 2007, when Russian Interior Ministry officers Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov raided my law offices in Moscow and seized without a warrant two vanloads of documents and corporate seals (imprints that go along with the signature on any signed document in Russia) from companies belonging to my firm's clients, including the Hermitage Fund, which had once been Russia's largest foreign investor. At the time, one of my junior lawyers protested that their search was illegal. He was taken into a conference room by the officers and beaten so severely that he was hospitalized for three weeks.

A few months later, we learned that the materials seized by the police had been handed over to a criminal group that used them to fraudulently re-register the companies under the name of a frontman, the convicted murderer, Viktor Markelov. Markelov had been recently released from pretrial detention on an unrelated kidnapping and extortion charge involving the same officers, Kuznetsov and Karpov. The seized documents were also used to create $1 billion of fake backdated contracts. Markelov and two other ex-convicts were made directors of the re-registered companies and, through their lawyers, pleaded guilty in several regional courts to $1 billion in these fake liabilities. We learned this from a bailiff in the St. Petersburg court who called our office looking for hundreds of millions of dollars of assets to satisfy those claims.

At this point, Sergei got involved. He started investigating the scheme and, after a few weeks, pieced the story together through court records, registration files, and bank statements. He prepared a number of very detailed criminal complaints against the police officers and perpetrators involved in the massive fraud. These complaints were filed with the most senior Russian law enforcement authorities on Dec. 3, 2007. The police did nothing.

Three weeks later, on Christmas Eve 2007, the stolen firms under Markelov's name applied for a refund of $230 million in taxes that the Hermitage Fund companies had paid one year earlier. It was the largest tax refund in Russian history -- and it was granted in one day by Olga Stepanova, head of Moscow's Tax Office 28, and her colleague in Moscow Tax Office 25, Elena Khimina. The money was then wired to a small Russian bank, Universal Savings Bank, owned by another convicted criminal, Dmitry Kluyev. The money then left Russia through the Austria-based Raiffeisen bank and was later funneled through Citibank and JPMorgan Chase.

We were shocked by the theft of the Hermitage companies and the fake court judgments, but when we discovered the $230 million refund, we knew something was spectacularly wrong. It wasn't just a crime against Hermitage -- it was also a massive crime against the Russian state. Something had to be done. Sergei, in particular, was adamant that criminal complaints be filed with every single law enforcement agency in Russia. His logic: Even if there were a few bad apples in the system, surely once the Russian leadership realized that hundreds of millions of dollars had been stolen from state coffers, then the "big guns" would be rolled out to arrest the corrupt officials and criminals involved. Sergei volunteered to give a sworn testimony to the Russian State Investigative Committee about the collaboration of Russian police and tax officials with organized criminals in stealing millions from taxpayers.

Sergei testified against officers Kuznetsov and Karpov on Oct. 7, 2008. The next month, on Nov. 24, he was arrested by three subordinates of Kuznetsov under a case opened by Karpov. He was thrown behind bars at the Interior Ministry's detention center on Petrovka Street in Moscow, where they tortured him to force him to withdraw his testimony and sign a false confession saying he was the one who stole the $230 million.

The case against Sergei was assigned to Maj. Oleg Silchenko of the Interior Ministry. Silchenko transferred Sergei between detention centers in secrecy; refused to allow Sergei contact with his wife, mother, and children; denied all his legal requests; and put emotional and psychological pressure on him to retract his testimony against officers Kuznetsov and Karpov. Sergei, however, continued while in detention to insist on his testimony while in detention -- evidence that exposed the partnership between government officials and organized crime. But Silchenko did not investigate Sergei's evidence. Silchenko was working together with Kuznetsov -- who had been assigned to this investigation by senior Russian Interior Ministry brass -- to cover up the theft of the $230 million

The more Sergei insisted on his testimony in sworn statements and in court, the more pressure Silchenko applied to him. He was put in a cell with eight inmates and only four beds so the detainees had to sleep in shifts. In December 2008, he was put in a cell with no heat and no windowpanes -- he nearly froze to death. Later, he was moved to another cell with no toilet, just a hole in the floor where the sewage overflowed.

After six months of this treatment, Sergei -- who went into detention a healthy 36-year-old man -- had lost 40 pounds. He developed pancreatitis and gallstones and needed medical attention. In July 2009, Sergei was moved to Butyrka, a maximum-security facility that had no medical facilities. At Butyrka, Silchenko repeatedly denied medical care to Sergei, hoping that it would break him. Sergei remained defiant and continued to write complaints about his innocence and the pressure applied to him. But nearly one year after his arrest, on the night of Nov. 16, 2009, he became gravely ill. He was transferred to the intensive-care wing of Matrosskaya Tishina detention center, but instead of receiving medical attention, he was put in a straitjacket, chained to a bed, and left by himself in an isolation cell for one hour and 18 minutes while doctors waited right outside the door until they were certain he was dead.

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Sergei's death, the Interior Ministry called a news conference to announce the findings of Silchenko's investigation. The entire highly sophisticated $230 million tax fraud conspiracy was pinned on two minor criminal participants, Markelov and one other frontman who turned themselves in and "confessed" to the crime, and who in turn named three dead men as their accomplices. The two confessors were tried in secret hearings and were given the minimum sentence of five years. They were not asked about the stolen money or their connections with officers Kuznetsov and Karpov.

In the news conference, the Interior Ministry announced that Sergei had masterminded the fraud. He was accused of organizing the very conspiracy to which he had alerted the government. The government's sole evidence of Sergei's guilt was the hearsay of the two convicts who "confessed" to their role in the crime and who Sergei had asked authorities to arrest in early December of 2007 before any money was stolen.

Furthermore, Interior Ministry officials stated that according to their findings, the tax officials were innocent and were themselves victims of the crime. They had simply been tricked into refunding the money. They went on to say that the bank that received the stolen funds was owned by another dead person. To cap it all they announced that the stolen government money could not be found -- a truck transporting the records had apparently crashed and exploded. Karpov, Kuznetsov, and Silchenko were credited with "solving" the case of the stolen $230 million. The Russian government promoted and decorated them with the honor of "Russia's Best Investigators." And the criminals were now safe to enjoy the proceeds of their crime. Enjoy them they did.

But Sergei's friends -- outraged by the Russian state's continued efforts to vilify the whistle-blower while protecting the corrupt -- continued to pursue an independent investigation in hopes of bringing to justice those responsible for the tax fraud and Sergei's untimely death. Through the work of nearly 100 sources inside and outside Russia, we now have a much clearer picture of the economics behind this crime. Three weeks after approving the fraudulent refund, the entire top management of Moscow Tax Office 28 began buying multimillion dollar properties at the Kempinski Palm Jumeirah -- a luxury hotel and housing complex on an artificial palm-shaped island off the coast of Dubai. The Kempinski properties were paid for by three tax officials using the same bank account at Credit Suisse. The head of Moscow Tax Office 28 also bought a $20 million avant-garde house in Moscow's most exclusive neighborhood, Rublevskoe Shosse, designed by Moscow's most famous architect, Alexei Kozyr, and a $700,000 beach house in the seaside town of Bar in Montenegro.

The scale of the crime and the coverup is truly astounding. It directly involves the Russian deputy interior minister, the deputy general prosecutor, the head of the economic counterespionage unit of the secret police, the heads of Moscow Tax Offices 25 and 28, and a dozen judges, as well as hundreds of functionaries throughout the system. But the Kremlin has shown little willingness to prosecute this case. Instead, Medvedev has tried to deflect attention away from it and portray Sergei's case as an important investigation of Russian prison conditions after a possible death in detention due to "negligence."

As this farce plays out, Medevedev continues to make reassuring statements that he is serious about fighting corruption, that the rule of law is sound, and that international investors have nothing to fear in Russia. It is clear that the Kremlin is prepared to let things lie. But around the world, governments, activists, and independent civilians are speaking up. In 2010, Sergei was posthumously awarded Transparency International's Integrity Award. In Russia, too, there is overwhelming public support to launch an official independent investigation into his case. Russia's leading human rights activist, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, filed a criminal complaint in March of 2010 against officers Silchenko, Kuznetsov, and Karpov, as well as their subordinates, for Sergei's torture and murder. Valery Borschev, head of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission, a Moscow NGO that focuses on prisoners' rights, said that Sergei was kept in torturous conditions and killed to cover up the crime he exposed.

Western governments have begun taking steps to contain this corruption inside Russia. The European Parliament recently passed a resolution calling on EU member states to impose visa sanctions and asset freezes on the Russian officials responsible for the tax fraud, Sergei's death, and the coverup. And on April 15, U.S. Rep. James McGovern reintroduced the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act to the House of Representatives to effectively do the same.

It is imperative for both Russia and the United States that this bill be passed. There will be no progress in Sergei's case -- or for Russian justice as a whole -- unless the West forcefully sanctions the corruption and cronyism gripping Russia today. Measures such as the EU resolution and the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act would put effective "soft" pressure on Russian officials to clean their own house. This would not weaken U.S.-Russia relations but redefine and strengthen them.

The U.S. government has a duty to its people to keep Russian lawlessness from reaching its shores -- or those of friendly nations, such as the United Arab Emirates. Russia and the United States are bound by numerous treaties, the success of which presupposes a level of honesty and integrity of the officials and legal systems of both countries. Sergei's case -- more precisely, Medvedev's unwillingness, or perhaps inability, to bring the perpetrators of this massive government conspiracy to justice -- demonstrates the fallacy of the supposition. It is dangerous to U.S. interests to be forced to rely on and to grant comity to information, decisions, and requests made by foreign officials who are abusing the implicit trust that these treaties rely upon.

This case has the potential to be Russia's Watergate: The evidence unearthed by Sergei would expose the graft and cronyism that is corroding Russia's core. Acting upon it would not only cleanse the system of a score of corrupt officials but would set a new standard of expected behavior and send a message to Russians that the president would support them if they fight corruption. But left ignored, Medvedev's war on corruption and any pretense of rule of law in Russia are but a sham.


 
Jamison Firestone is the managing partner of Firestone Duncan, a U.S. law firm headquartered in Moscow.

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/04/20/russia_s_crime_of_the_century?page=full
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #80 on: August 21, 2011, 03:10:43 PM »

Analyst Eugene Chausovsky examines the current politics of energy infrastructure from the Caucasus region to central Europe as the European Union seeks alternatives to Russia.


Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski continued his weeklong tour of the Caucasus region on July 27, where he is visiting Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Poland, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, is trying to establish closer ties to all of these countries. Of these countries, Azerbaijan represents the most important, both to Poland and to wider Europe.

Azerbaijan is important both for its strategic location and for its energy, particularly as a growing natural gas producer and exporter. The latter is what Azerbaijan has been heavily courted by the West as demonstrated by Poland’s recent initiative to restart energy negotiations with Azerbaijan along with Turkmenistan, which is a major natural gas producer and exporter under the format of the EU. The reason that these countries are so important to the EU is that they would represent a formidable alternative to Russian energy supplies, which Moscow uses not only as an economic but also as a political tool. The EU has been focusing specifically on two energy projects: Nabucco and Trans-Caspian.

Nabucco is a project that would take natural gas from Azerbaijan, across Turkey, through southeastern Europe to the gas-trading hub of Vienna, via a pipeline. Nabucco will be very difficult to construct, however, and, because of Nabucco’s high cost and capacity, another source of energy must be included into the project. And that is where the Trans-Caspian pipeline comes in. The Trans-Caspian project would connect Turkmenistan’s natural gas supplies to Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea, and would make Nabucco a much more viable project, at least in terms of securing suppliers.

But it is for this reason that these projects face substantial resistance from outside powers. Russia knows that if Nabucco were to come online, it would be a significant blow to Russia’s use of energy as a tool of influence in Europe, particularly central Europe. Therefore, Russia has been working to block the progress of Nabucco and foster divisions within the various European partners included in the project.

The Trans-Caspian project has also faced substantial resistance from Russia, as well as Iran, and is being contested on the legal and political grounds. So despite the fact that Poland has demonstrated an interest in reviving the Nabucco and Trans-Caspian projects, both of these projects to face many political and technical obstacles.

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« Reply #81 on: April 01, 2012, 07:38:39 AM »


Russia is interested in building natural gas storage facilities in Turkey, officials from Russia's Gazprom said March 20. Over the winter, Gazprom redirected natural gas from its storage facilities in Europe after a spike in demand in Turkey. Now, Gazprom wants to build underground natural gas storage facilities in Turkey to help when supplies dwindle in the future.

Gazprom's proposal is part of Russia's larger strategy -- in both Turkey and Europe -- to increase Moscow's energy leverage with its customers. Although Ankara will be wary of giving Moscow more influence in Turkey, there is little it can do at the moment to withstand the Kremlin's strategy.



Analysis

Energy is one of the cornerstones of the Russo-Turkish relationship. Russia provides approximately 58 percent of Turkey's natural gas supplies, making it Turkey's largest natural gas supplier. Ankara has long sought ways to reduce its dependence on Russian natural gas, since Moscow traditionally uses its energy supplies as political leverage with many of its customers. For its part, Russia wants to keep Turkey tied to it through energy and to prevent other suppliers from helping Ankara diversify its natural gas sources. Thus, Russia wants to increase its leverage in its energy relationship with Turkey.

Russia is working on a complex strategy to strengthen its position relative to its Western energy customers, particularly in Europe. The first element of the strategy is to move Russia away from its primary role of natural gas supplier and increase its ownership of other natural gas-related assets. The second element is to lock many of Moscow's customers into 10-to-15-year contracts, which Russia has made more appealing by offering natural gas at a discount.

Russia is in negotiations to purchase electricity networks in Germany, natural gas distribution networks in Greece, and electricity and distribution networks in Italy. Moscow has also shown interest in the natural gas distribution networks in the Czech Republic. Russia has struck tentative deals with Germany, Italy and others on 10-year contracts with natural gas price discounts of between 10 and 30 percent. Amid Europe's financial difficulties, the discounts are welcomed. Russia knows that many long-term energy diversity programs are under way in Europe and so is trying to prepare for when those become operational by striking long-term deals.

This European strategy appears to be expanding into Turkey with Gazprom's announcement of interest in building natural gas storage facilities there. Turkey is already on Gazprom's list of countries that could take part in renegotiations on natural gas price contracts, according to Stratfor sources. Russia and Turkey's contract on supplies sent via the Blue Stream pipeline is set to expire in 2013, though the contract on Russian supplies that transit Bulgaria has many years left. Turkey could enter into larger negotiations, like the Europeans, and receive a discount of 10 percent or more. The problem is that Russia will insist on a long-term contract, likely spanning at least 10 years, and Turkey will resist such a deal because it anticipates an increase of natural gas supplies from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz II project in approximately 5 years.

In the short term, however, the possibility of cheaper natural gas and Russia's constructing natural gas storage in Turkey are attractive ideas. Russia's offer comes as Turkey is in a pricing dispute with its second-largest natural gas provider, Iran. Turkey currently pays Iran $505 per thousand cubic meters (mcm) of natural gas -- a steep price compared to the $400 per mcm it pays Russia. Turkey also regularly experiences reliability problems with supplies from Iran, especially in the winter. While Ankara has been careful to maintain a working relationship with Tehran to help Iran circumvent sanctions, Turkey also would likely be interested in more security if more problems arose with Iranian supplies, particularly amid increasing sanctions on Iran from the United States and Europe.

Moscow would be more inclined to provide a greater discount on natural gas supplies to Ankara if the negotiations included Russia gaining assets in Turkey, as it would if it built natural gas storage facilities there. Such facilities could relieve the stress on Turkey's supplies should issues with Iran grow more problematic. Cheaper natural gas and more secure supplies from Russia make Moscow's offer attractive to Ankara. However, either agreement would give Russia greater leverage in Turkey, since Russia would own assets in the country and Turkey would be locked into a long-term contract.

Ankara could want to diversify its natural gas supplies away from Russia and prevent Moscow from gaining more energy -- and ultimately political -- leverage in Turkey. But Ankara has little recourse against Russia's strategy right now. New natural gas supply options -- increased supplies from Iran, the Azerbaijani expansion of Shah Deniz II or liquefied natural gas alternatives -- are years away, and problems with Iran are jeopardizing Turkey's current supplies. Russia might be the only option Turkey has in the short term.   


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Read more: Russia's Energy Plans for Turkey | Stratfor
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« Reply #82 on: February 03, 2013, 09:06:38 AM »

Central Asian Tensions
January 30, 2013 | 1000 GMT

 
By Robert D. Kaplan and Lauren Goodrich
 
If the West is disillusioned by the Arab Spring, what may eventually happen in Central Asia is beyond its worst imaginings. The Middle East, for all its challenges, has no legacy of Stalinism, boasts Western-educated elites, knows something of capitalism and the free market and is proximate to Europe via the Mediterranean. European colonialism in the Middle East was benign in the extreme compared to that of Stalin's Soviet Union in Central Asia. There is no legacy in the Middle East of mass deportations and eradications of whole intelligentsias, as there is in Central Asia. Central Asia, in terms of modern political consciousness, is the back of beyond.
 
Indeed, much of Central Asia, including the demographically and geographically pivotal states of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, has yet to enter a post-Soviet phase. Such states are still governed by the same Leonid Brezhnev-style central committeemen as in the days before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. But political change of some sort must come. Central Asia probably has a big future in the news.
 
Throughout Central Asia, Islamic consciousness has risen over the past two decades as a moral force against the rule of often brutal, sterile and corrupt authoritarian regimes. A wild card in this regard is Afghanistan. Following the withdrawal of substantial numbers of American troops from the country in 2014, the possibility arises that Islamic fighters from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will return to their ethnic homelands and sow unrest. Yet the real chance of epochal change in former Soviet Central Asia may come less from Islamic revolution than from the passing of aged leaders themselves, who have no credible successors of the same stature, while the institutions required for successful political liberalization remain problematic. Each of these states has populations willing to challenge the regime in question. The fact is, Central Asian political elites lack essential political legitimacy, even as their populations evince less in the way of civil societies than the populations of many Arab states. The leaders themselves may in certain cases enjoy cult-like status. But that won't be true of those who follow them.
 
Whereas states like Yemen and Libya in the Middle East are mere geographical expressions, their borders may still have more meaning than those of Central Asian states like Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan: Designed by Stalin, these so-called states were deliberately meant to conflict with ethnic settlement patterns, so as to make it impossible for them to break free of the Soviet Union. Wherever the Arab Spring leads us, the Palestinian Territories excepted, borders in the Middle East may be on the whole less disputable than those in Central Asia, should revolts take hold there.
 
Central Asia, with the exception of Tajikistan, is Turkic. But by further breaking the region up into ethnicities -- Uzbek, Kazakh, Turkmen, Kyrgyz -- and creating official republics, even as they made sure the clan system everywhere remained intact, the Soviets ensured that pan-Turkism would have a hard time rearing up. The result, given Stalin's artificial borders, are states that are mutually suspicious of each other and that are partial misnomers themselves. For example, there are large Uzbek populations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, even as Tajiks dominate the slum encampments on the hills in the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand inside Uzbekistan.
 
Uzbekistan, with 27.6 million people, is by far the most populous country in the region, with close to half of the whole population of Central Asia. This is mainly because Uzbekistan has a cartographic appendage in the northeast that encompasses most of the Fergana Valley -- the demographic inkblot of Central Asia, with 10 million people. Whereas much of Central Asia is high and dry terrain, the Fergana is a well-watered depression, suitable to agriculture and packed with large populations of Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz. Ethnic rioting between these groups has been a periodic feature of post-Soviet life.
 
In 2005, Uzbek forces opened fire on Uzbek protesters in the Fergana (in Andijan specifically), as part of a clampdown that drew condemnation from Washington and other capitals in the West. Moscow loved this because it estranged the United States from Uzbekistan (leading eventually to the closure of a U.S. air base) and isolated Uzbekistan from straying too far from its relationship with Russia. Russia knows that Uzbekistan -- because of its demographic heft and particularly assertive ethnic nationalism -- constitutes the biggest threat to Russian domination of the region. But while Uzbek nationalism is vibrant, Uzbekistan as a state is weak. The clans who run the state from the capital of Tashkent are estranged from those who dominate the Fergana Valley, where much of the population lives. Politics are kept in check by President Islam Karimov, 74, who may run the most oppressive regime in the former Soviet Union. The West hates Karimov because of his human rights record. But it is not out of the question that, following Karimov, interethnic chaos will create a humanitarian disaster worse than his rule.
 
Kazakhstan to the north has aligned itself with Russia to balance against Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan, whose land area is larger than the rest of former Soviet Central Asia combined, is part of a customs union that includes Russia and Belarus. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, 72, conscious of the ethnic threat from Uzbekistan, actually wanted the Soviet Union to continue to exist beyond 1991. Kazakhstan may be territorially vast, but its population of 15.4 million is split between those bordering Russia and those clustered deep in the south close to the ethnic cauldron of the Fergana Valley and Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Thus, it is vulnerable to political unrest.
 
Kyrgyzstan, with a population of 5.4 million, is in a state of constant instability because of an obvious reason journalists ignore: It is geographically divided, with the capital of Bishkek in the extreme north part of the Kazakh plain and more integral to Kazakhstan, while different clans occupy the teeming Fergana in Kyrgyzstan's southwest, separated from Bishkek by formidable mountains. You see the pattern: The Fergana is where most everyone actually lives, and it is divided among several artificial states with capitals relatively far away. It is ethnic unrest in the Fergana (as played out a little more than a decade ago), in combination with a political crisis in one or more of these capitals, that has the potential to unravel the region.
 
Tajikistan already had a civil war in the 1990s. Burdened by Central Asia's roughest terrain and bordering the Fergana to the north and war-torn Afghanistan to the south, Tajikistan is internally divided by clans. With virtually no industrial economy or energy production at home, many of its young men either work in Russia and Kazakhstan or fight in Afghanistan.
 
It is Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in particular that, unlike some other Central Asian countries, are propped up by energy wealth: principally oil in Kazakhstan and natural gas in Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan, far to the west of the Fergana, is geographically and demographically isolated, and to a greater extent than Kazakhstan, is playing China against Russia. Turkmenistan received $5 billion in loans from Beijing in 2011 and $4 billion in 2010 in order to facilitate Turkmen natural gas exports to China.
 
Central Asia constitutes the world's most fascinating geopolitical experiment. Its legal borders make little sense. It is fabulously rich in hydrocarbons and strategic minerals and metals. (Kazakhstan is about to become the world's largest producer of uranium and has the world's second-largest chromium, lead and zinc reserves.) It will increasingly be crisscrossed by energy pipelines in all directions. And it is politically unstable. Russia and China are battling for influence here. What the map looks like in Central Asia decades hence is perhaps harder to predict than anywhere else on the globe.
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Read more: Central Asian Tensions | Stratfor
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« Reply #83 on: March 10, 2013, 10:19:30 AM »

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139049/leon-aron/the-putin-doctrine?cid=soc-facebook-in-snapshots-the_putin_doctrine-031013

From the article:

Much in Russian foreign policy today is based on a consensus that crystallized in the early 1990s. Emerging from the rubble of the Soviet collapse, this consensus ranges across the political spectrum -- from pro-Western liberals to leftists and nationalists. It rests on three geostrategic imperatives: that Russia must remain a nuclear superpower, a great power in all facets of international activity, and the hegemon -- the political, military, and economic leader -- of its region. This consensus marks a line in the sand, beyond which Russia cannot retreat without losing its sense of pride or even national identity. It has proven remarkably resilient, surviving post-revolutionary turbulence and the change of political regimes from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin.
 
After his election as president in 2000, Putin added to this agenda an overarching goal: the recovery of economic, political, and geostrategic assets lost by the Soviet state in 1991. Although he has never spelled it out formally, Putin has pursued this objective with such determination, coherence, and consistency that it merits being called the Putin Doctrine. Domestically, the doctrine has guided the regime to reclaim the commanding heights of the economy (first and foremost, the oil and natural gas industries) and reassert its control over national politics, the judicial system, and the national television networks, from which an overwhelming majority of Russians get their news. In foreign and security policy, the doctrine has amounted to a reinterpretation of Russia's geostrategic triad, making its implementation and maintenance considerably more assertive than originally intended. Although U.S. President Barack Obama has signaled lately that he will attempt to revive the "reset" with Russia, Washington's best option may well be a strategic pause: a much-scaled-down mode of interaction that reflects the growing disparity in values and objectives between the two countries yet preserves frank dialogue and even cooperation in a few select areas.
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« Reply #84 on: June 26, 2013, 09:54:51 AM »


Summary

Russia continues to exploit tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan by reinforcing security ties with both countries. During a June 24 visit to Armenia, Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev said Moscow would overhaul the Russian 102nd military base in Gyumri. One week earlier, Moscow delivered the first installment of a $1 billion weapons package to Azerbaijan. Achieving a military balance among the Caucasus states is not Russia's primary objective. Rather, Moscow wants to bolster security ties with its two neighbors while ensuring they remain at odds over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Analysis

The military base in Gyumri has long been a mainstay of Russia's security presence in the Caucasus. Established in the Soviet era, the base hosts roughly 3,000 of the 5,000 Russian soldiers stationed in Armenia. In 2010, Russia and Armenia agreed to extend Russia's lease of the base to 2044. The agreement also provided for an upgrade to the base's military hardware. In addition to its technical capabilities, the base symbolizes Russia's intent to defend Armenia if it were ever attacked (Armenia is in a geopolitically tense region).

The 102nd military base is a particularly important component of Armenia's relationship with Azerbaijan, with which Yerevan has a tenuous relationship. From 1988 to 1994, the two countries fought a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory but tensions over the issue remain. In fact, skirmishes occur regularly around the Line of Contact, the area along the Azerbaijan-Armenia border near Nagorno-Karabakh.

Baku has said it would reclaim the territory by force, and revenue earned from its vast energy resources have enabled it to build up a military that surpasses Armenia's. What prevents Azerbaijan from following though on this claim is Russia. Indeed, Moscow's military presence in Armenia is the single greatest deterrent to large-scale military action from Azerbaijan, which cannot and will not fight Russia militarily. 
A Favorable Balance

Russia has a complicated relationship with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is the most independent state in the region. Unlike Armenia, which is a member of the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, and Georgia, which seeks membership in NATO, Azerbaijan eschews military alliances for various bilateral security arrangements. These include arrangements with Turkey and Israel, with which it has signed several major weapons deals.
In the Caucasus, Russia Secures its Position by Exploiting Regional Tensions

Russia has also supplied Azerbaijan with weapons, though over the past two years arms shipments have been halted. However, on June 18 Russia announced that it would begin delivering weapons in accordance with a $1 billion deal it had struck with Azerbaijan between 2011 and 2012. The agreement includes main battle tanks, self-propelled artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems. A Russian defense official said the agreement had been postponed to avoid "upsetting the military balance" in the Caucasus region. He added that the deal went through because of pressure from Russia's arms industry, which relies on exports.

Russia cares less about helping Armenia and Azerbaijan militarily than about its own security position. One of the best ways to secure this position is to ensure that its two neighbors remain combative over Nagorno-Karabakh. This is why Moscow responded to Armenia's concerns over the Azerbaijani arms deal by pledging to upgrade the 102nd military base. It needed to reassure Yerevan that it would not abandon its security commitments. This creates a situation where Armenia is even more dependent on Russia than it once was, but where Azerbaijan is no less likely to cease hostilities with Armenia. And it does not change the fact that Baku cannot act militarily for fear of Russian reprisal.

Ultimately, Russia favors its security relationship with Armenia over its defense ties with Azerbaijan because the former is more strategically valuable. As long as Russia maintains its military presence in Armenia -- and in the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in neighboring Georgia -- Azerbaijan's options in the region are limited and Russia's position is secure. Given that no outside powers are prepared to challenge Russia in the region militarily, it is likely that Moscow will maintain this dominant position for the near- to midterm.

Read more: In the Caucasus, Russia Secures Its Position by Exploiting Regional Tensions | Stratfor
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« Reply #85 on: July 01, 2013, 03:49:54 PM »

Interesting geopolitical implications here; I have posted previously about this-- freeing central Asian gas from the monopsony (one buyer as vs one seller of monopoly)  of Russia, the implications in this regard of the Russian invasion of Georgia, etc.


Azerbaijan's Natural Gas Plans with Europe
Media Center, Image
June 27, 2013 | 1258 Print Text Size
Azerbaijan's Natural Gas Plans with Europe

On June 28, a consortium of energy companies developing the Caspian Sea field -- including BP, Total and Azerbaijani state-owned SOCAR -- is expected to officially announce the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline has been chosen as its link from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz II natural gas field to the Continent via the route known as the Southern Corridor. On June 26, the consortium behind the rival Nabucco West project announced that it had not been selected. The Shah Deniz II field in the Caspian Sea is set to provide an estimated 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year when it comes online around 2017 or 2018 -- an especially attractive development for European countries eager to diversify their supplies from their traditional provider, Russia, which currently provides roughly 130 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe each year.

Though either project would have supported Europe's efforts to diversify its energy supplies, the Trans-Adriatic project is smaller in scale and more manageable than Nabucco West, and its more southern supply route -- which will run from Turkey to Italy -- poses less of a strategic threat to Moscow. The pipeline will increase Azerbaijan's access to European energy markets, and choosing it rather than the more ambitious Nabucco West project mainly reflects an understanding between Baku and Moscow that will allow Russia to maintain a strong energy foothold in Europe.
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« Reply #86 on: July 08, 2013, 06:37:24 AM »


Summary

Located between Europe and Asia and replete with energy and mineral resources, the Caucasus has long held the attention of regional and global powers. The countries of the Caucasus were in disarray after the fall of the Soviet Union: Armenia and Azerbaijan fought over Nagorno-Karabakh, while Georgia struggled with the secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But over the past decade the Caucasus states have achieved relative domestic political stability and have developed their own distinct foreign policies.

In the future, Russia, Turkey and Iran will remain active in the Caucasus, but a deeply fragmented Europe will not even be able to interact with the world as a unified force, let alone have a major impact on the region. Washington's involvement will not be as obvious, but the region is of too great a strategic interest to the United States to be ignored.
Analysis

After holding its least controversial presidential election in years in February, Armenia looks poised for relative political stability. With generally the weakest economy of the Caucasus states, Armenia has relied on Russia, which owns many major assets in the country's energy, transit and telecommunications sectors. Russia has also served as Armenia's security guarantor, helping to prevent another outbreak of war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, the separatist region in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan found stability much sooner, at least during the presidency of Heydar Aliyev from 1993 to 2003. Like his predecessor and father, current President Ilham Aliyev has sought to balance between Azerbaijan's larger neighbors while developing the country as an energy producer and exporter.

Georgian Politics Shift as Ties with Russia Grow

The most dynamic political situation in the Caucasus is in Georgia, which witnessed the Rose Revolution in 2003 and, most recently, the rise of billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream movement. Ivanishvili has been consolidating power since becoming prime minister in October 2012, and with President Mikhail Saakashvili unable to run for another term, the country's presidential election in October could be another turning point in Georgian politics. Even if Ivanishvili's candidate lost, impending constitutional changes will limit the power of the presidency, meaning late 2013 will likely be the end of Saakashvili's decadelong domination of Georgian politics.
Future Policy Direction

Given its newfound political stability and its dependence on Russia, Armenia's foreign policy is unlikely to change much in the next few years. Russia's military presence and subsidization of Armenia's economy are the strongest sources of influence that any foreign power has in Armenia, and Yerevan will likely only increase its cooperation with Moscow. Russia's support of Armenia, while a source of tension between Azerbaijan and Russia, will likely keep full-scale war from erupting over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan will hold a presidential election in October, but with few significant challengers, Aliyev is likely to win, enabling him to continue to focus on Baku's emergence as an energy power. However, success could depend on the European market -- a worrisome proposition for Baku. With other sources of energy becoming available, European natural gas consumption is not expected to climb significantly in the coming years. Moreover, Georgia is a crucial transit state for existing and future Azerbaijani pipeline projects to Europe, and Georgia's new government appears to be set to work more closely with the Russians. Azerbaijan must consider that Russia could use its ties in Georgia to pressure Baku into compliance on various issues. To counter warming Russo-Georgian relations, Azerbaijan will probably increase energy, political and security cooperation with Turkey, though the Turks would not be able to provide the kind of energy diversification and leverage that Azerbaijan hopes to find in Europe.

Saakashvili's Georgia has been thoroughly oriented toward the West, but Ivanishvili campaigned on building closer ties with Russia. This will be the greatest shift of the Ivanishvili era. Change has been gradual so far, and Georgia has continued its Western-oriented course at least rhetorically, but its regional partners -- Azerbaijan and Turkey -- are nervous that a wider political shift could be imminent.
The Policies of Regional Powers

Other powers' strategies for the Caucasus will also affect the region's developments. Most important is Russia, which aims to block any foreign influence in the region, particularly Western influence. To do so, it will maintain its already strong position in Armenia and deepen its foothold in Georgia. Both will be key to Moscow's efforts to shape the actions of Azerbaijan, the most strategically important and most independent of the Caucasus countries. The potential for warmer ties with Georgia under Ivanishvili and his political camp could encourage Azerbaijan to be more accommodating toward Russia.

Turkey is a major consumer of Azerbaijani oil and natural gas and serves as a key transit state for energy bound for Europe. Though it may be uncomfortable for Azerbaijan given its desire to diversify its export market, Turkish demand for its natural gas and the uncertainty of the European energy market will bind the two together. Russia's military presence in Armenia and in Georgia's breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, will also encourage the two to enhance defense ties. Still, Russia is the main supplier of Turkey's energy, and that fact will preclude Turkey from becoming too close to Azerbaijan in the security realm.

Iranian relations with Armenia (mostly limited to the economic sphere) and Georgia will remain mostly the same, but the occasional diplomatic row could arise between Iran and Azerbaijan. Tehran will keep pressure on Baku through religious and cultural groups in Azerbaijan, though their effect will be limited. There is also the chance of a military buildup in the Caspian Sea as Iran tries to strong-arm Azerbaijan into cutting back its cooperation with Israel.

Given the ongoing crisis that is fracturing the European Union, Europe cannot be relied upon to finance strategic projects in the Caucasus. Similarly, the United States is working to reduce its role in various parts of the world and is thus unlikely to become more involved in the Caucasus. However, the rebalancing of U.S. foreign policy means the United States will be more reliant on foreign partners to accomplish its goals. Due to the uncertainties of its future relations with Georgia in the Ivanishvili era, the United States could look to Azerbaijan to fill the role of partner in the Caucasus.

Azerbaijan's growth as an energy producer and exporter will make it a dynamic player, while Armenia will build on its close economic and security relationship with Russia. But it is the specifics of Georgia's political evolution that are the least clear and that have the greatest potential to alter the trends in the Caucasus.

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« Reply #87 on: July 14, 2013, 11:27:40 PM »


Summary

Georgia's presidential election in October will take place during a time of profound domestic and foreign policy changes. Such changes are but the latest manifestation of a long and complicated history that is ultimately rooted in geography. Georgia's strategic location in the Caucasus has subjected it to foreign influence and domination by powers from multiple directions. And its internal geography, which is marked by the Greater Caucasus and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges, has made uniting the country as difficult as repelling outside forces. Geography will continue to shape Georgian domestic and foreign policy in the future, regardless of who wins the election, just as it has in the past.
Analysis

Located in a transcontinental zone between Europe and Asia, Georgia has been dominated or otherwise divided by Western and Eastern powers for most of its history. Indeed, its occupation and partition goes back millennia. In the pre-Christian era, the kingdom of Kartli-Iberia, located in what is now modern day Georgia, experienced influences from the ancient Greeks to the West and the ancient Persians to the East. Throughout the first millennium, Georgia was divided between the Byzantine and Persian empires, though its adoption of Christianity in the early part of the millennium brought it closer to Byzantium culturally.

Beginning with the reign of David the Builder, Georgia experienced a "Golden Age" in the 11th and 12th centuries, when foreign forces were driven out of the country and various kingdoms and principalities were brought unified into a Georgian state. This unification was short-lived, however, as the Mongol invasion of the 13th century ended Georgia's independence and ushered in a long period of decline that subjected the country to further foreign influence. When Byzantium fell to the Ottomans, Georgia's trade ties with Western Europe were severed, and thus began several centuries of domination by Ottomans and Persians. Once more closely connected to the Byzantine Empire, Georgia now found itself enveloped by Eastern powers.

This East-West divide started to erode in the late 18th and 19th centuries, when a new imperial power -- Russia -- overtook Georgia in its quest to dominate the Caucasus region. Georgia initially called on Russia, a fellow Orthodox country, to protect it against the Muslim Persians and Ottomans, but it was eventually incorporated into the Russian Empire itself. Under Imperial Russian rule, the Transcaucasus railway was built across central Georgia, uniting eastern and western Georgia with a transport route for the first time in its history.

Still, Georgia could not overcome its internal divisions. Because of the country's mountainous terrain, Georgia's various non-Georgian ethnic groups have maintained autonomy for millennia. These groups, which include Abkhazians, Ossetians, Svans, Armenians and Turks, preserved their culture and identity just as Georgia as a nation was able to survive centuries of occupation and division. When the Russian Empire collapsed and gave rise to the Soviet Union (between which Georgia had a very brief and unstable period of independence), the Soviets organized Georgian territory so as to exploit ethnic and inter-communal differences. Best exemplifying the Soviet reorganization are the Abkhazians and Ossetians, who were given their own autonomous territories -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia, respectively -- within the Georgian Soviet republic.

Georgia became independent after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but its geographic realities endured, leaving it with two major problems. First, it was still surrounded by large foreign powers, and second, it was still divided internally by numerous ethnic groups that did not want to be fully incorporated into Georgia. This was further aggravated by a weak government, which was reeling from the absence of Soviet economic support, and by an aggressive nationalistic approach pursued by the country's first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Georgia descended into civil war early in the post-Soviet era. The war included military conflict with breakaway republics in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both supported by Russia, which was still relatively strong despite the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia's backing of these breakaway territories and its enduring interest in Georgia eventually piqued the interests of Europe and the United States. Former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze sought to counter Russian influence by cooperating with the West militarily and economically through alliances with NATO and the European Union. Current President Mikhail Saakashvili intensified these efforts. For their part, Western powers were interested in Georgia because they saw it as security leverage against Russia. Moreover, because of its location Georgia could serve as an energy transit route, linking neighboring Azerbaijan to Europe, that bypassed Russia. The current Russian-EU/NATO competition over Georgia mirrors similar competitions by rival powers that have gone on for centuries. 

Looking East

For the past decade, the Georgian government under Saakashvili has tried to orient the country to the West, during which Georgia's relations with Russia deteriorated. Relations bottomed out in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, which began over a conflict in South Ossetia. Saakashvili incorrectly predicted that the war would earn the support of NATO. The military alliance simply was not prepared to intervene directly in the war in the face of Russian military action. While Georgia was a committed NATO ally, it was not a NATO member and therefore not subject to Article 5 of the NATO charter that guarantees collective defense among members.

Georgia: A Historical Battleground Between East and West

The war prompted South Ossetia and Abkhazia to formally declare independence from Georgia, and Russia quickly increased its military presence and support in these territories. It also damaged relations between Russia and Georgia -- so much so that the two countries broke off economic and diplomatic ties.

While most Georgians believed that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are a rightful part of Georgia, many were wary of Saakashvili's assertiveness, which provoked the Russian military aggression. Furthermore, trade with Russia was an important part of Georgia's small economy. Russia had been the largest destination market for Georgian wine, mineral water and agricultural exports.

It is under these conditions that Saakashvili and his United Naitonal Movement suffered a major setback in parliamentary elections in October 2012. Georgia's opposition had been severely divided since the 2003 Rose Revolution, but 2011 saw the emergence of billionaire retail tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili. Ivanishvili cobbled together much of the fractious opposition parties into the Georgian Dream movement, the ultimate objective of which was to defeat Saakashvili and end his monopoly of political power. Combined with Saakashvili's declining support in the midst of worsening economic conditions, Ivanishvili's substantial finances and grassroots support help beat the United National Movement, earning the billionaire the post of  prime minister.

Since then, Ivanishvili and his camp have consolidated power at the expense of Saakashvili's political bloc. Numerous Saakashvili loyalists in key sectors such as the judiciary, industry and security have been replaced with those loyal to Ivanishvili. Many important figures within the United National Movement, including Saakashvili's former prime minister, Vano Merabishvili, have been detained and could face imprisonment. The upcoming presidential election, for which Saakashvili is ineligible to run, could further damage Saakashvili, who himself could face detention on corruption charges. Not only are Saakashvili and his party polling at historical lows, but a constitutional change that would go into force concurrently with elections would give greater powers to the parliament at the expense of the presidency -- thus ensuring that Ivanishvili and his movement will be in a strong position regardless of the outcome.

In terms of Georgia's foreign policy, this has significant implications. Ivanishvili campaigned on a platform of strengthening ties with Russia, particularly in the economic sphere. Already significant changes have been made, with Georgia resuming trade of key goods with Russia and discussions of increased cooperation in other areas, such as energy and security, showing greater potential. Depending on how the internal political situation plays out during and after elections, it is possible that Georgia could be undergoing another broader strategic re-orientation, this time in favor of Russia.

However, several obstacles stand in the way of a complete foreign policy realignment. First, Ivanishvili has maintained, at least nominally, that membership in the European Union and NATO remain Georgia's top foreign policy priorities. Furthermore, Russia's military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain a fundamental deterrent toward any comprehensive normalization of ties between Tbilisi and Moscow. But increasingly it appears as though the fervently pro-Western and anti-Russian orientation of Georgia under Saakashvili, already weakened over the past year, will come to an end after the presidential election.

The emergence of Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream movement represents the latest oscillation in Georgia's foreign policy orientation. But these fluctuations have always been constrained by geography; the larger and stronger powers that surround Georgia -- not the Georgian government -- ultimately shape the country's external and internal policies. Even if such decisions are made subjectively in Tbilisi, history has shown that these will eventually be shaped and corrected by the vast impersonal forces of geopolitics.

Read more: Georgia: A Historical Battleground Between East and West | Stratfor
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« Reply #88 on: July 20, 2013, 10:09:12 PM »

Not the first time I've seen this reported on a minor website of unknown reliability.  If we had trustworthy media, we could ignore this , , ,

http://tatoott1009.com/2013/07/19/they-are-keeping-everyone-distracted-while-disaster-is-about-to-strike-russia-just-said-they-are-at-full-readiness-for-war-against-who/
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« Reply #89 on: July 21, 2013, 10:42:58 AM »



 Azerbaijan and Turkey's Evolving Military Ties
Analysis
July 19, 2013 | 0501 Print Text Size
Azerbaijan and Turkey's Evolving Military Ties
Azerbaijani soldiers prepare for a military parade in Baku in 2008. (OSMAN KARIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary

Increasing military ties between Azerbaijan and Turkey will give both countries more flexibility in the strategic but sensitive Caucasus region, though numerous impediments to deeper relations remain in the short to medium term. Following an opening ceremony at the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry's Garaheybat Training Center, Azerbaijan and Turkey launched joint military drills July 16. The exercises, which will run until July 28, will be held in Baku and Nakhchivan and are the largest such drills ever between the two countries.

Azerbaijan and Turkey have cooperated in the military sphere since Baku established independence following the fall of the Soviet Union. The two countries have strengthened military ties in the past few years; they have engaged in more frequent and larger military exercises, and Azerbaijan has increased its weapons purchases from Turkey. But despite the strong and growing cooperation, Russia remains a major security challenge for Azerbaijan both in terms of its dependence on Russian arms exports and because of the conventional military presence of Russia in the region.
Analysis

Azerbaijan is located in the Caucasus region, a transcontinental zone between Europe and Asia. It is surrounded by three major regional powers -- Russia, Turkey and Iran -- which largely shape its foreign policy and orientation. The other two countries in the Caucasus, Georgia and Armenia, also influence Azerbaijani decision making in the security sphere. In particular, Armenia's strong relationship with Russia -- 5,000 Russian troops are stationed in Armenia -- has shaped Azerbaijan's security strategy.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory from 1988 to 1994, during which Armenia seized the territory and several contiguous regions that were formerly part of the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan's defeat, combined with Russia's subsequent de facto backing of Armenia, forced it to build up its military spending on the back of its growing energy production and exports. It also spurred Baku to look for other guarantors and partners as part of its security strategy. An important country in this regard has been Turkey, with which Azerbaijan shares cultural, linguistic and historical roots and which Baku sees as a significant factor in its security position.
History of Military Cooperation

Azerbaijan's military ties to Turkey trace back to its first years as an independent state. In 1992, the two countries signed an agreement to establish ties in military education. In 1993 amid the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey imposed a full economic embargo on Armenia in support of Azerbaijan and subsequently closed its border with Armenia. In the following years, many broad agreements and protocols were signed between Azerbaijan and Turkey, including a border protocol in 1997 and an agreement on training and assistance for Azerbaijan's State Border Service by Turkey's armed forces in 2003.
Azerbaijan and Turkey

The dynamic shifted in 2009, when Turkey attempted to normalize relations with Armenia and the leadership of the two countries began discussions on reopening the border. This prompted a significant backlash from Azerbaijan, which felt that no such normalization should occur as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh issue remained unresolved. Azerbaijan threatened to raise the price of its oil and natural gas exports to Turkey and reached out to Russia to show Ankara that it had other options. Turkey responded by abandoning the talks with Armenia and tying any normalization between the countries to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

To reassure Baku of their bilateral relationship, Turkey established a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan in December 2010 that prioritized security cooperation and assistance. The agreement, which consisted of 23 articles and five chapters, guaranteed mutual assistance in the event that either country was subject to a "military attack or aggression." The pact also called for closer cooperation in defense and military-technical policy and joint training between the two states.

Since the strategic partnership was established, there has been a significant increase in cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey in two areas: weapons production and sales and military exercises. In 2011, the countries signed an agreement to jointly produce 107 mm and 122 mm rocket artillery. A year later, Turkey's Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corp. sold more than $600,000 worth of weapons and ammunition to Azerbaijan. More recently, the Turks have delivered several different models of their Otokar Cobra armored vehicles to Azerbaijan, and they are currently training the Azerbaijanis in their use. Several other deals are in the works, including production of BOA thermal weapon sights and Azerbaijan's purchase of Turkish mobile field hospitals. The Turks are also looking to sell their T-155 Firtina self-propelled howitzers to Azerbaijan despite German objections. (Germany makes the power plant for the vehicles, but the Turks purportedly have found a replacement engine.)

Joint military exercises between Azerbaijan and Turkey have also increased in both frequency and scope in recent years. In 2011 and 2012, the two armies conducted both counterterrorism and tactical exercises in Turkey. Also in 2012, Azerbaijani and Turkish special operations forces -- with Georgian participation -- held "Caucasus Eagle" exercises. The latest exercises are the largest such drills between Azerbaijan and Turkey in the past two decades. An infantry division is doing exercises in Baku, and a mechanized infantry division will conduct drills in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakchivan (the latter of which is also notable due the proximity to Iran). The sides agreed to hold such exercises on an annual basis.
Strategy and the Future

The growing ties between Azerbaijan and Turkey are a counterbalance to the partnership that Russia has with Armenia. In 2010, Armenia approved an extension of the lease of Russia's military base in the country to 2044, and Moscow is providing more modern equipment to Armenia's armed forces. For Baku, better ties with Ankara strengthen its confidence in a tense region, and weapons purchases enable Azerbaijan to build up its military in the hope of one day re-engaging Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. From the Turks' perspective, Azerbaijan is a lucrative market for their weapons industry and provides a foothold in the Caucasus region, where Russia has a very strong position.

However, there are significant limits on the effectiveness of Azerbaijan's security relationship with Turkey. Despite the growing ties between the two in terms of weapons transfers and production, there is a significant amount of Soviet-era equipment in use in the Azerbaijani military. The majority of the Azerbaijani armed forces' hardware is still from Russia or former Soviet states, as is the infrastructure used to maintain this hardware. Azerbaijan has sought cooperation with Turkey to improve on its current weapons systems and revamp its equipment, but a complete renovation is expensive and takes time. Azerbaijan has also looked to other countries, such as Israel, to improve and modernize its weapons systems.

But the Azerbaijani military has and will continue to maintain a relationship with the Russian armed forces out of necessity. Indeed, it recently signed a $1 billion weapons package deal with Moscow that includes main battle tanks, self-propelled artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems.

While Azerbaijan will not be able to eschew Russia completely in favor of Turkey, there does appear to be a notable evolution underway in Baku and Ankara's cooperation in military matters. Azerbaijan has been gradually diversifying its weapons systems, and Turkey serves as an important component of that. In the meantime, the ongoing military exercises show a larger commitment in the joint training of ground forces between the two countries. Given that this is the first year for such exercises, it will be important to track their level of sophistication in the future.

Russia remains the dominant military force in the Caucasus, and that is not likely to change in the near to medium term. However, in recent years Azerbaijan has been building up the ability to project force, and its growing cooperation with Turkey shows that their partnership is becoming more substantial. This lays the groundwork for potential security shifts in the region, and Russia and Armenia will no doubt be watching these developments closely and planning accordingly.

Read more: Azerbaijan and Turkey's Evolving Military Ties | Stratfor
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« Reply #90 on: August 12, 2013, 01:31:05 PM »


 5 Years Later, Reflecting on the Russia-Georgia War
Geopolitical Diary
Thursday, August 8, 2013 - 16:58 Text Size Print

Five years ago Thursday, Russian tanks crossed the Roki Tunnel from the Russian republic of North Ossetia into South Ossetia in Georgian territory. In the course of the full-scale war that lasted the next five days, Russia destroyed much of Georgia's military and dismantled its vital supply lines and transport infrastructure. Moscow also established a military presence in the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and recognized the territories as independent states. The Russian army did not venture farther into Georgia proper but stopped within striking distance -- a little more than 45 kilometers (about 30 miles) away -- of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

Today, the Russian military remains in the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Only a handful of countries in Latin America and Oceania have joined Russia in recognizing the republics as independent states; not even Moscow's closest allies in the former Soviet space have granted their recognition. But that is effectively irrelevant. The message that Russia intended to send, that Western support for Georgia was hollow and that Russia was back as a regional power, was received and reverberates to this day.

The root of the Georgian conflict can be found not in South Ossetia but rather in Europe. The expansion of the European Union and NATO into Eastern and Central Europe beginning in the late 1990s and going well into the 2000s entrenched Western influence in the former Soviet periphery while undermining the influence of Moscow. It was the West's recognition of Kosovo's independence from Serbia, a traditional ally of Russia, in early 2008 that set the process of war in motion. Despite Moscow's opposition to Kosovar independence, much of the West, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, proceeded with the recognition anyway. Only a few months later, at a NATO summit in Bucharest, the military bloc promised Georgia and fellow former Soviet state Ukraine that they would eventually become members.

These actions came at a time when many in the West still saw Russia as the weak and chaotic state of the 1990s that was barely held together by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. But Russian President Vladimir Putin was not Boris Yeltsin. By 2008, Putin had consolidated much of the bureaucracy and oligarchs under his control, and the Russian economy had been buoyed by years of high energy prices. In Putin's view, the West had repeatedly taken actions that undermined Russia's national interests, and now was the time to react.

Georgia was the perfect setting for Russia's response. Under the leadership of President Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia had become firmly oriented toward the West, and although it sought accession into the European Union and NATO, it had not yet gained admission and was not automatically subject to Article 5, NATO's collective defense treaty. In addition, because of its small size and strategic location immediately adjacent to Russia's North Caucasus region and far from mainland Europe, Georgia served as an excellent platform for Russia to project military power. A war with Georgia provided Russia with three opportunities: to degrade Georgia's military capabilities, to demonstrate that its own military was still very effective and, most important, to make the West appear weak in its commitment to its partners in the Russian periphery. In August 2008, Russia accomplished all three.

The consequences of the war extended well beyond Georgia. NATO, not Russia, was now seen by many as impotent and indecisive, while Moscow was looked at as a strong and effectual military power. Regardless of the realities of their actual capabilities, this was the popular perception, especially in the former Soviet states; the war changed their thinking about relations with Russia.

In the years since the war, this perception has been a major factor in the behavior of the states in the former Soviet periphery. Ukraine has officially dropped its NATO ambitions and outlawed membership in any military bloc. Countries that were already aligned with Russia, such as Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, have only increased their security ties with Moscow. Even Georgia has changed; the emergence of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who defeated Saakashvili's camp in the 2012 parliamentary elections, has led the country to modify its stance toward Russia. Ivanishvili has sought to build closer economic ties with the Russians, and although he has officially maintained his commitment to integration with the West, the national attitude in Georgia has taken on a more pragmatic view of Russia.

The consequences of the five-day war are very visible even five years later. Russia will not return to superpower status on par with the United States as it was during the Soviet era. But even its staunchest opponents cannot deny its role as a substantial, though flawed, regional power, particularly at a time when the European Union is going through a deep political and economic crisis and alignment with the West is no longer as attractive as it was a decade ago. In this way, the Russo-Georgian war is more than just an event to reflect upon; it is a source of guidance for the countries of the region when it comes to planning ways of dealing with Moscow in the future.

Read more: 5 Years Later, Reflecting on the Russia-Georgia War | Stratfor
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« Reply #91 on: November 20, 2013, 10:32:35 AM »

Meet the Syrian Rebel Commander Assad, Russia and the U.S. All Fear
Tarkhan Batirashvili, Ethnic Chechen, Leads Group Deeply at Odds with Western-Backed Rebels in Syria
By Alan Cullison
Nov. 19, 2013 11:34 p.m. ET

For months, Syrian government forces hunkered down at a remote air base north of Aleppo, deftly fending off rebel assaults—until one morning a war machine rumbled out of the countryside, announcing that the Chechens had arrived.

The vehicle was notable for its primal scariness: Rebels had welded dozens of oil-drilling pipes to the sides of the armored personnel carrier, and packed it with four tons of high explosives, according to videos released online by the rebels.

It was piloted by a suicide driver, who detonated the vehicle at the base, sending a ground-shaking black cloud into the sky in an attack that analysts said finally cleared the way for rebels to storm the airfield.
Chechens Get Involved in Syria
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Some ethnic Chechens and Russian-speaking Islamists have for the first time joined a call to international jihad in large numbers, giving a new potency to rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos for The Wall Street Journal

The final capture of the airport in August immediately boosted the prestige of its unruly mastermind Tarkhan Batirashvili, according to analysts—an ethnic Chechen whose warring skills, learned in the U.S.-funded Georgian army, are now being put to use by a group deeply at odds with more mainstream Western-backed rebels.

The jihadi commander has recently emerged from obscurity to be the northern commander in Syria of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), an al Qaeda-connected coalition whose thousands of Arab and foreign fighters have overrun key Syrian military bases, staged public executions and muscled aside American-backed moderate rebel groups trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Conversations with Mr. Batirashvili's relatives and two of his former army commanders reveal a complex portrait of a modern jihadist from the former Soviet Union, motivated by misfortune as much as newly found religious zeal.

Born to a Christian father and Muslim mother, he served in an intelligence unit of the Georgian army before opportunities dried up at home and he left for holy war, friends and former colleagues said.

Efforts to reach Mr. Batirashvili were unsuccessful. And a website, fisyria.com, which boasts of his accomplishments, didn't respond to requests for comment.

The arrival of Mr. Batirashvili, known by his Arab nom de guerre Emir Umar al-Shishani, comes as other ethnic Chechens and Russian-speaking Islamists have for the first time responded in large numbers to the call of an international jihad in Syria.
Enlarge Image

Tarkhan Batirashvili, in 2008 as a soldier in Georgia and earlier this year as a rebel commander in Syria. Right: fisyria.com

Fighting in tightknit groups, the men have awed and repelled fellow jihadists with their military prowess and brutality, talking to one another in Russian or Chechen and to outsiders in the formal Arabic of the Quran, according to accounts of fellow rebels. Some have carved out fiefdoms inside Syria, enraging locals by collecting taxes and imposing Islamic Shariah law.

Even by the gruesome standards of the war in Syria, their rise has become notable for its unusual violence. One rebel from Russia's Dagestan, for instance, was chased out of the country after he appeared in an online video where he beheaded three locals for supporting the Syrian government, according to analysts with ties to the rebel groups. And just last week, Mr. Batirashvili's group apologized for mistakenly beheading a wounded soldier who actually turned out to be an allied rebel commander.

The prominence of the rebels on the battlefield has turned the conflict into a geopolitical struggle between the U.S. and Russia, which has long accused the West of ignoring the danger of Islamists in the troubled Chechen region, where an insurgency has been active for decades.

While people close to Mr. Batirashvili say he views the war as a chance to strike a blow against one of the Kremlin's allies, he has also talked of his hatred of America. In a recent interview with a jihadi website, he described Americans as "the enemies of Allah and the enemies of Islam."

Until recently, Mr. Batirashvili had few outward religious convictions, former colleagues said. But like many Chechens he wanted to fight the Kremlin wherever he had the chance. "He had that kind of hatred for them," said Malkhaz Topuria, a former commander who has watched his onetime subordinate's stardom grow in videos posted on the Internet. "It was in his genes."

Moscow has mostly crushed its Islamist rebellion in the North Caucasus region, but a top Kremlin official warned last month of the new "terrorist international" in Syria, which could eventually return its focus on the mother country.

U.S. intelligence estimates that as many as 17,000 foreigners are fighting on the side of rebels in Syria. About half fight for the ISIS; of those, officials in Russia say, at least a thousand are from the country's North Caucasus and from Europe, where many Chechens have sought asylum since the collapse of the Soviet Union and hostilities in Chechnya in the 1990s.

While the Russian-speaking Islamists represent a fraction of the total rebels, many have risen to positions of power because of their history of fighting a standing army in Russia, according to analysts.

Kremlin officials say that these fighters are picking up more military experience, as well as contacts to Arab financiers who bankrolled uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa.

"One day, it's highly likely many of these fighters will return to their home republics in the Caucasus, which will clearly generate a heightened security threat to that region," said Charles Lister, analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

The Chechen region has come under scrutiny lately in the U.S. in the wake of this year's Boston Marathon bombing. The alleged bomber on trial, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has roots in Chechnya and posted videos online recruiting fighters to Syria.

Mr. Batirashvili's ability to work with foreign jihadis appears to have been vital to his rise within the ISIS, which has become the main umbrella group for foreign fighters in Syria, including Saudis, Kuwaitis, Egyptians and even Chinese, according to analysts.

The ISIS, originally founded as an umbrella organization for Iraqi jihadists, views the war in Syria as a means not only to overthrow the Assad regime but a historic battleground for a larger holy war and the establishment of a larger Islamic state, Mr. Batirashvili said in an interview recently with a jihadist website.

Some of the men respond to appeals on YouTube under a generic call to fight for an Islamic state under Shariah law, according to analysts. Most fly into Turkey and then slip over the porous border into Syria, according to interviews with fellow Islamists.

Mr. Batirashvili hailed from outside Russia's borders, but hostility to Kremlin rule pulsed around him. His parents were ethnic Chechens from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, a rugged valley that borders Chechnya that has been a traditional safe haven for fighters opposing Russia.

Mr. Batirashvili got his first exposure to the rebel spirit as a shepherd boy, living in a brick hut with no plumbing in the village of Birkiani, his father Temuri said. There, Mr. Batirashvili helped Chechen rebels cross secretly into Russia and sometimes he joined the fighters on missions against Russian-backed troops, his father said.

After high school, he joined the Georgian army and distinguished himself as master of various weaponry and maps, said Mr. Topuria, his former commander, who recruited him into a special reconnaissance group.

Russia has long accused the U.S. of irresponsibly funding the Georgian army, which it says in turn supports Islamists—a charge the Georgians and the U.S. deny.

Mr. Batirashvili was easygoing and popular with fellow soldiers and steered clear of discussing religion, though he did acknowledge his Muslim family, Mr. Topuria said.

Mr. Batirashvili rose fast in the army, being promoted to sergeant in a new intelligence unit, where his monthly salary of about $700 was more than he had ever made in his life, his father and former commanders said.

A representative for the Georgian army confirmed only the basic facts of his service in the army, declining to comment on any other activities.

When Georgian forces were ordered to attack the Russian-backed breakaway province of South Ossetia in 2008, Mr. Batirashvili was near the front line, spying on Russian tank columns and relaying their coordinates to Georgian artillery units, a former commander said. The war lasted five days.

Two years later Mr. Batirashvili's life began to unravel. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2010 and confined to a military hospital for several months. When he emerged, he was deemed unfit for the military and discharged, the ministry said.

Returning home, Mr. Batirashvili was "very disillusioned," his father said. The local police force wouldn't hire him, and his mother died after having fought cancer for years.

"He was very nervous, and worried about money," a former Georgian army commander said. He said Mr. Batirashvili also appeared to be helping Islamist rebels inside Russia, and asked the former commander for help finding some military-grade maps of Chechnya.

In September 2010, Mr. Batirashvili was arrested for illegally harboring weapons, the defense ministry said, and sentenced to three years in prison.

The ministry refused to provide further details about the case.

Mr. Batirashvili's cousin Jabrail said he was released from jail after about 16 months in early 2012 and immediately left the country. "He had plenty of time to sit and think in jail about how he had been treated," his cousin said. "He served in the army in the most dangerous places, and then when he got sick they took his job and then they put him in prison."

In a recent interview with the jihadi website, Mr. Batirashvili said that prison transformed him. "I promised God that if I come out of prison alive, I'll go fight jihad for the sake of God," he said.

Though Mr. Batirashvili announced that he was headed for Istanbul, his father said it was clear he was planning to offer his services to Islamists. Members of the Chechen diaspora in the Turkish capital were ready to recruit him to lead fighters inside Syria, and an older brother had gone there months before, his father said.

"We argued about [his decision] bitterly," he said. "But he was a man with no job, no prospects. So he took the wrong path."

His former army commanders also lost contact with him, and only received word of his whereabouts this spring when Georgia's army intelligence service contacted them.

The army, they said, wanted help identifying a jihadi leader who had appeared lately in videos from Syria. The man spoke Russian with a Georgian accent, they said.

When he opened the first video, "I recognized him immediately," one of his commanders said. Mr. Batirashvili had traded in his Georgian army fatigues for a traditional South Asian shalwar kameez shirt and had grown a red beard that reached down to his chest.

But his speech, barely above a mumble, and his habit of staring at the ground as he talked were the same, he said.

In videos, Mr. Batirashvili was first identified as commander of a group calling itself Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, or "Army of Emigrants and Helpers." He called for donations, claiming jihadists finally had a chance to establish an Islamic state in the Middle East.

This summer, videos identified him as a newly named commander of the ISIS. His speeches, delivered in Russian, are distributed over a website, www.fisyria.com, which brags of his group's victories and frequently appeals for donations.

In a recent report, International Crisis Group said that Mr. Batirashvili's army has imposed extremist rule of law in areas he controls, shooting into peaceful demonstrations and detaining activists for offenses that include nonviolent dissent and smoking cigarettes during Ramadan.

Mr. Batirashvili's father said he hasn't heard from his son for almost two years and gets news of him mostly through his older brother, who has been fighting with him in Syria. He said he doubts his son's beard was grown out of any religious conviction.

"He just switched armies, and now he's wearing a different hat," he said.
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« Reply #92 on: February 12, 2014, 11:41:19 AM »

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2014/02/05/the_circassians_and_the_olympics_did_the_age_of_genocide_begin_in_sochi.html

From the article:

As Richmond writes, the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, had “declared Circassia a part of Russia but did not accord the Circassians the same rights as Russian Subjects. The Russians could deal with them as they wished, and St. Peterburg chose to treat them as an enemy population occupying Russian land.” The Circassians were, in effect, stateless people.

After the war ended, Alexander decided that rather than attempting to pacify the Circassians, they should be forcibly relocated to Turkey. And in 1859 the military began a campaign of destroying Circassian villages and massacring their inhabitants to drive them to the coast. 
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« Reply #93 on: March 04, 2014, 03:20:40 PM »

There is much here in the attitude with which I disagree, but it does seek to address something I find really important-- as several of my posts here over the last number of years suport.

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/10/the-wars-in-the-middle-east-and-north-africa-are-not-just-about-oil-theyre-also-about-gas.html
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« Reply #94 on: May 12, 2014, 10:44:35 AM »

Note the discussion of Central Asian gas seeking market alternatives to Russia-- a point I have made many times

 Borderlands: The View from Azerbaijan
Geopolitical Weekly
Monday, May 12, 2014 - 03:00 Print Text Size
Stratfor

By George Friedman

I arrive in Azerbaijan as the country celebrates Victory Day, the day successor states of the former Soviet Union celebrate the defeat of Germany in World War II. No one knows how many Soviet citizens died in that war -- perhaps 22 million. The number is staggering and represents both the incompetence and magnificence of Russia, which led the Soviets in war. Any understanding of Russia that speaks of one without the other is flawed.

As I write, fireworks are going off over the Caspian Sea. The pyrotechnics are long and elaborate, sounding like an artillery barrage. They are a reminder that Baku was perhaps the most important place in the Nazi-Soviet war. It produced almost all of the Soviet Union's petroleum. The Germans were desperate for it and wanted to deny it to Moscow. Germany's strategy after 1942, including the infamous battle of Stalingrad, turned on Baku's oil. In the end, the Germans threw an army against the high Caucasus guarding Baku. In response, an army raised in the Caucasus fought and defeated them. The Soviets won the war. They wouldn't have if the Germans had reached Baku. It is symbolic, at least to me, that these celebrations blend into the anniversary of the birth of Heydar Aliyev, the late president of Azerbaijan who endured the war and later forged the post-Soviet identity of his country. He would have been 91 on May 10.

Click to Enlarge

Baku is strategic again today, partly because of oil. I've started the journey here partly by convenience and partly because Azerbaijan is key to any counter-Russian strategy that might emerge. My purpose on this trip is to get a sense of the degree to which individual European states feel threatened by Russia, and if they do, the level of effort and risk they are prepared to endure. For Europe does not exist as anything more than a geographic expression; it is the fears and efforts of the individual nation-states constituting it that will determine the course of this affair. Each nation is different, and each makes its own calculus of interest. My interest is to understand their thinking, not only about Russia but also about the European Union, the United States and ultimately themselves. Each is unique; it isn't possible to make a general statement about them.

Some question whether the Caucasus region and neighboring Turkey are geographically part of Europe. There are many academic ways to approach this question. My approach, however, is less sophisticated. Modern European history cannot be understood without understanding the Ottoman Empire and the fact that it conquered much of the southeastern part of the European peninsula. Russia conquered the three Caucasian states -- Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan -- and many of their institutions are Russian, hence European. If an organic European expression does exist, it can be argued to be Eurovision, the pan-continental music competition. The Azerbaijanis won it in 2011, which should settle any debate on their "Europeanness."

But more important, a strategy to block Russia is hard to imagine without including its southern flank. There is much talk of sanctions on Russia. But sanctions can be countered and always ignore a key truth: Russia has always been economically dysfunctional. It has created great empires and defeated Napoleon and Hitler in spite of that. Undermining Russia's economy may be possible, but that does not always undermine Russia's military power. That Soviet military power outlived the economically driven collapse of the Soviet Union confirms this point. And the issue at the moment is military.

The solution found for dealing with the Soviet Union during the Cold War was containment. The architect of this strategy was diplomat George Kennan, whose realist approach to geopolitics may have lost some adherents but not its relevance. A cordon sanitaire was constructed around the Soviet Union through a system of alliances. In the end, the Soviets were unable to expand and choked on their own inefficiency. There is a strange view abroad that the 21st century is dramatically different from all prior centuries and such thinking is obsolete. I have no idea why this should be so. The 21st century is simply another century, and there has been no transcendence of history. Containment was a core strategy and it seems likely that it will be adopted again -- if countries like Azerbaijan are prepared to participate.

To understand Azerbaijan you must begin with two issues: oil and a unique approach to Islam. At the beginning of the 20th century, over half the world's oil production originated near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Hence Hitler's strategy after 1942. Today, Azerbaijani energy production is massive, but it cannot substitute for Russia's production. Russian energy production, meanwhile, defines part of the strategic equation. Many European countries depend substantially on Russian energy, particularly natural gas. They have few alternatives. There is talk of U.S. energy being shipped to Europe, but building the infrastructure for that (even if there are supplies) will take many years before it can reduce Europe's dependence on Russia.

Withholding energy would be part of any Russian counter to Western pressure, even if Russia were to suffer itself. Any strategy against Russia must address the energy issue, begin with Azerbaijan, and be about more than production. Azerbaijan is not a major producer of gas compared to oil. On the other side of the Caspian Sea, however, Turkmenistan is. Its resources, coupled with Azerbaijan's, would provide a significant alternative to Russian energy. Turkmenistan has an interest in not selling through Russia and would be interested in a Trans-Caspian pipeline. That pipeline would have to pass through Azerbaijan, connecting onward to infrastructure in Turkey. Assuming Moscow had no effective counters, this would begin to provide a serious alternative to Russian energy and decrease Moscow's leverage. But this would all depend on Baku's willingness and ability to resist pressure from every direction.

Azerbaijan lies between Russia and Iran. Russia is the traditional occupier of Azerbaijan and its return is what Baku fears the most. Iran is partly an Azeri country. Nearly a quarter of its citizens, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are Azeri. But while both Azerbaijan and Iran are predominantly Shiite, Azerbaijan is a militantly secular state. Partly due to the Soviet experience and partly because of the unique evolution of Azeri identity since the 19th century, Azerbaijan separates the private practice of Islam from public life. I recall once attending a Jewish Passover feast in Baku that was presided over by an Orthodox rabbi, with security provided by the state. To be fair, Iran has a Jewish minority that has its own lawmaker in parliament. But any tolerance in Iran flows from theocratic dogma, whereas in Azerbaijan it is rooted in a constitution that is more explicitly secular than any in the European Union, save that of France.

This is just one obvious wedge between Azerbaijan and Iran, and Tehran has made efforts to influence the Azeri population. For the moment, relations are somewhat better but there is an insoluble tension that derives from geopolitical reality and the fact that any attack on Iran could come from Azerbaijan. Furthering this wedge are the close relations between Azerbaijan and Israel. The United States currently blocks most weapons sales to Azerbaijan. Israel -- with U.S. approval -- sells the needed weapons. This gives us a sense of the complexity of the relationship, recalling that complexity undermines alliances.

The complexity of alliances also defines Russia's reality. It occupies the high Caucasus overlooking the plains of Azerbaijan. Armenia is a Russian ally, bound by an agreement that permits Russian bases through 2044. Yerevan also plans to join the Moscow-led Customs Union, and Russian firms own a large swath of the Armenian economy. Armenia feels isolated. It remains hostile to Turkey for Ankara's unwillingness to acknowledge events of a century ago as genocide. Armenia also fought a war with Azerbaijan in the 1990s, shortly after independence, for a region called Nagorno-Karabakh that had been part of Azerbaijan -- a region that it lost in the war and wants back. Armenia, caught between Turkey and an increasingly powerful Azerbaijan, regards Russia as a guarantor of its national security.

For Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh remains a critical issue. Azerbaijan holds that U.N. resolutions have made it clear that Armenia's attack constituted a violation of international law, and a diplomatic process set up in Minsk to resolve the crisis has proven ineffective. Azerbaijan operates on two tracks on this issue. It pursues national development, as can be seen in Baku, a city that reflects the oil wealth of the country. It will not endanger that development, nor will it forget about Nagorno-Karabakh. At some point, any nation aligning itself with Azerbaijan will need to take a stand on this frozen conflict, and that is a high price for most.

Which leads me to an interesting symmetry of incomprehension between the United States and Azerbaijan. The United States does not want to sell weapons directly to Azerbaijan because of what it regards as violations of human rights by the Azerbaijani government. The Americans find it incomprehensible that Baku, facing Russia and Iran and needing the United States, cannot satisfy American sensibilities by avoiding repression -- a change that would not threaten the regime. Azerbaijan's answer is that it is precisely the threats it faces from Iran and Russia that require Baku to maintain a security state. Both countries send operatives into Azerbaijan to destabilize it. What the Americans consider dissidents, Azerbaijan sees as agents of foreign powers. Washington disputes this and continually offends Baku with its pronouncements. The Azerbaijanis, meanwhile, continually offend the Americans.

This is similar to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Most Americans have never heard of it and don't care who owns it. For the Azerbaijanis, this is an issue of fundamental historical importance. They cannot understand how, after assisting the United States in Afghanistan, risking close ties with Israel, maintaining a secular Islamic state and more, the United States not only cannot help Baku with Nagorno-Karabakh but also insists on criticizing Azerbaijan.

The question on human rights revolves around the interpretation of who is being arrested and for what reason. For a long time this was an issue that didn't need to be settled. But after the Ukrainian crisis, U.S.-Azerbaijani relations became critical. It is not just energy; rather, in the event of the creation of a containment alliance, Azerbaijan is the southeastern anchor of the line on the Caspian Sea. In addition, since Georgia is absolutely essential as a route for pipelines, given Armenia's alliance with Russia, Azerbaijan's support for Georgian independence is essential. Azerbaijan is the cornerstone for any U.S.-sponsored Caucasus strategy, should it develop.

I do not want to get into the question of either Nagorno-Karabakh or human rights in Azerbaijan. It is, for me, a fruitless issue arising from the deep historical and cultural imperatives of each. But I must take exception to one principle that the U.S. State Department has: an unwillingness to do comparative analysis. In other words, the State Department condemns all violations equally, whether by nations hostile to the United States or friendly to it, whether by countries with wholesale violations or those with more limited violations. When the State Department does pull punches, there is a whiff of bias, as with Georgia and Armenia, which -- while occasionally scolded -- absorb less criticism than Azerbaijan, despite each country's own imperfect record.

Even assuming the validity of State Department criticism, no one argues that Azerbaijani repression rises anywhere near the horrors of Joseph Stalin. I use Stalin as an example because Franklin Roosevelt allied the United States with Stalin to defeat Hitler and didn't find it necessary to regularly condemn Stalin while the Soviet Union was carrying the burden of fighting the war, thereby protecting American interests. That same geopolitical realism animated Kennan and ultimately created the alliance architecture that served the United States throughout the Cold War. Is it necessary to offend someone who will not change his behavior and whom you need for your strategy? The State Department of an earlier era would say no.

It was interesting to attend a celebration of U.S.-Azerbaijani relations in Washington the week before I came to Baku. In the past, these events were subdued. This one was different, because many members of Congress attended. Two guests were particularly significant. One was Charles Schumer of New York, who declared the United States and Azerbaijan to be great democracies. The second was Nancy Pelosi, long a loyalist to Armenian interests. She didn't say much but chose to show up. It is clear that the Ukrainian crisis triggered this turnout. It is clear that Azerbaijan's importance is actually obvious to some in Congress, and it is also clear that it signals tension over the policy of criticizing human rights records without comparing them to those of other countries and of ignoring the criticized country's importance to American strategy.

This is not just about Azerbaijan. The United States will need to work with Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary -- all of whom have been found wanting by the State Department in some ways. This criticism does not -- and will not -- produce change. Endless repetition of the same is the height of ineffectiveness. It will instead make any strategy the United States wants to construct in Europe ineffective. In the end, I would argue that a comparison between Russia and these other countries matters. Perfect friends are hard to find. Refusing to sell weapons to someone you need is not a good way to create an alliance.

In the past, it seemed that such an alliance was merely Cold War nostalgia by people who did not realize and appreciate that we had reached an age too wise to think of war and geopolitics. But the events in Ukraine raise the possibility that those unreconstructed in their cynicism toward the human condition may well have been right. Alliances may in fact be needed. In that case, Roosevelt's attitude toward Stalin is instructive.

Read more: Borderlands: The View from Azerbaijan | Stratfor

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« Reply #95 on: June 24, 2014, 12:16:23 PM »

 The Effects of the Ukraine Crisis Reach the Caucasus
Analysis
June 24, 2014 | 0400 Print Text Size
The Effects of the Ukraine Crisis Reach the Caucasus
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a news conference in Moscow on May 26. (VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Summary

The standoff between Russia and the West over the former Soviet periphery is having ripple effects throughout the region, and the Caucasus is a prime area for potential change. In its efforts to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, Europe is focused on countries in the region, particularly on Azerbaijan. In response, Russia has stepped up its activity in the Caucasus and is particularly focused on Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that Armenia and Azerbaijan dispute. It is not yet clear that a major change is in the making, but Russia's flurry of diplomatic activity regarding the region suggests that anything is possible.
Analysis

Located between Europe and Asia, the Caucasus region is characterized by a web of complex relationships. First, there is Georgia, which is oriented toward the West and at odds with Russia. The government in Tbilisi aspires to join the European Union and NATO, to the point, in fact, that it fought a war with Russia in 2008 over its NATO ambitions. Then there is Armenia, a staunchly pro-Russian state that has eschewed any meaningful interaction with the West. Driving Armenia's closeness with Russia is its adversarial relationship with Azerbaijan, the third country in the Caucasus.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the late Soviet and early post-Soviet period, and frictions remain to this day. Its relationship with Armenia notwithstanding, Azerbaijan is neither overwhelmingly pro-Russian nor pro-Western. Rather, Baku has used its extensive energy resources to balance between both sides while at the same time building up its military to potentially re-engage Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Caucuses and Nagorno-Karabakh
Click to Enlarge

Adding to these complexities in the Caucasus is the position of other regional powers. Turkey has a strong relationship with Azerbaijan and is a crucial part of the Southern Corridor energy route, through which Baku exports its energy supplies to Europe. Turkish ties with Armenia are not so strong, however, because of Turkey's support for Azerbaijan and the mass killings of Armenians at the end of the Ottoman period. Iran has a solid relationship with Armenia but is suspicious of Azerbaijan; Baku has close security ties with Israel, and northern Iran boasts a large Azeri minority. Finally, the United States has influence in all the Caucasus countries but has not shown a serious level of commitment to any of them.
Impermanent Relationships

These relationships are impermanent, of course. Ties are constantly shifting, and as they reset they affect the entire region, sometimes in unexpected ways. This is particularly true amid the confrontation between Russia and the West.

The standoff has centered on Ukraine but already reverberates elsewhere. Indeed, Georgia is undergoing the same process of EU integration that set off the uprising in Ukraine, and Tbilisi will sign the same EU association and free trade agreements that Ukraine and neighboring Moldova are set to formally conclude with the bloc at a summit on June 27. In response, Russia has become more assertive not only in Ukraine -- where it annexed Crimea and has tacitly supported separatists -- but also in the Caucasus. Georgia's move toward EU integration has prompted Russia to more seriously promote its own integration bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union. Armenia will join the Russian-led grouping at the beginning of 2015. Russia has also beefed up its security presence in Armenia and Georgia (specifically in the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia), a worrying sign for Azerbaijan.

Russia is not alone in becoming more active in the region. As a way to counter Russia's influence and lessen their own energy dependence on Russia, the Europeans have increasingly looked to the Caucasus region as an alternative energy provider. Key in this regard is Azerbaijan, which could serve as an exporter and transit state for significant amounts of natural gas from its own fields and potentially from those in Turkmenistan, Iran and even Iraq. This development has bolstered the position of Baku, which is always looking for opportunities to diversify its partnerships. At the same time, however, the increased attention from Europe is a serious challenge to Russia's position as Europe's energy supplier. Add to this a renewed U.S. interest in the Caucasus, and in Azerbaijan specifically, and this has the potential to rework the power structure of the entire region.

Sensing the changes underway, Russia has altered its own strategy. For example, it is engaging Baku on the energy front, resuming imports of natural gas from Azerbaijan and signing several cooperation deals with Azerbaijani state energy firm SOCAR. Russian diplomats have also become more active in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the matter June 23 with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev. On the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandian, and promised that Moscow would do its best to find a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Russia is key to any peaceful settlement of the issue because of its strong political relationship with Armenia and its military presence there. But the Russian government also knows that Azerbaijan is a pivot in the Caucasus and must at least be kept neutral. Greater U.S. engagement with Azerbaijan gives Baku substantial leverage.

Though it is notable that Russia is simultaneously engaging Armenia and Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, a major shift is not necessarily imminent. There has been a lot of push and pull over the disputed region over the past two decades, with little to show for it. But the standoff between Russia and the West has caused all the players in the region to review their position on all major issues, including Nagorno-Karabakh. Whether that leads to a change and what that change actually would look like remains unclear, but the feverish diplomatic activity between Russia and the other states in the region suggest that all options are on the table.

Read more: The Effects of the Ukraine Crisis Reach the Caucasus | Stratfor

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