Author Topic: Russia-Turkey, Georgia, Caucasus, Central Asia  (Read 67500 times)

Crafty_Dog

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GPF: Caucasus,
« Reply #150 on: September 29, 2020, 08:47:01 AM »
September 29, 2020   Open as PDF



    The Fighting in the Caucasus
By: George Friedman

Fighting has broken out again over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave inside Azerbaijan nominally controlled by Azerbaijan but governed by ethnic Armenians. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has been beset by low-level, intermittent skirmishes, but this round seems to be more serious, with reports from either side suggesting more than 500 Armenian servicemembers and 200 Azerbaijani troops are dead, not to mention that vehicles and other equipment have been destroyed.
 
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The unusually high body count makes this episode of fighting important, but Nagorno-Karabakh’s geographic location in the Caucasus makes it geopolitically relevant. Empires have fought over this territory for millennia – the most frequent belligerents were Russian, Turkish and Iranian – but now that the states within the Caucasus are independent, it is more of a proxy battleground over precious global real estate. This year, Turkey expressed its support for Azerbaijan, a country with which Turkey has linguistic and cultural affinities. Russia tends to play both sides but has troops based only in Armenia. Iran has a very large ethnic Azeri population, some of whom, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hold high positions of power. Azerbaijan’s government is basically secular and mistrusts Iranian intentions. Iran is equally cautious; though it has an interest in trade, it has satisfied that interest through Armenia. (Georgia, which fought a war with Russia in 2008, has had closer ties to Azerbaijan and Turkey.)

Russia’s interest in the Caucasus is simple: It was one of the only effective avenues of invading the heartland. (The other, from the west, creates a need for strategic depth, hence Moscow’s enduring interest in Belarus.) The Caucasus is divided into two parts by a river valley. Russia lost the southern portion when the Soviet Union fell, but it still de facto controls the northern portion, and so long as it does, Russia can rest a little easier. However, much of the North Caucasus is rebellious by nature, often because of the radical brand of Islamism that is bred there, which is why Moscow has ruthlessly suppressed movements in places such as Dagestan and Chechnya. The Russian strategy is to prevent a threat from the south by holding the north and keeping the south off balance.

Turkey’s northeastern frontier is anchored in the South Caucasus, bordering Georgia and Armenia. Historically, its interest there has been Russia. Though it still considers Moscow a direct competitor, the fall of the Soviet Union has made the Kurds, who occupy various parts of the Caucasus, Turkey’s number one security interest. Armenia and Turkey have been bitter enemies over what the Armenians regard as a Turkish genocide that took place after World War I, and which the Turks bitterly deny. The distrust between the two countries is intense.
 
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Northern Iran was occupied during World War II by the Soviets. The area they occupied was largely Azeri, but when they left they kept what is now Azerbaijan while northern Iran was returned to Iran proper. Iran has a complex relationship with Azerbaijan, which is far less Islamic than Iran, and which has energy resources Iran wants. Iran has little interest in Caucasian conflict but is interested in dealing with each of the countries.

These are just some of the reasons that alliances in the Caucasus, already ambiguous at best, shift quickly. Armenia has maintained close ties with Russia, which uses it to maintain a balance of power in the region. Also supporting Armenia is Iran, an important trade partner and buffer state. Turkey is increasingly working with Azerbaijan, a move that is linked to efforts to expand regional Turkish influence. Georgia is close to the U.S. but not as important a priority as the Georgians would like, and it too is moving close to Turkey, with which it has transportation links and mutual interests in the Black Sea.

None of these relationships is fixed in stone and all of them are coupled with complex relations with other countries. No doors are locked, but at the same time wars in this region cannot be waged intensely without the support of either Russia or Turkey (Iran would play a role as a subsidiary of Russia). In that sense, the recent fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh is, much like Syria and Libya, another dimension of the Russo-Turkish rivalry. Already there are reports that Turkey has sent mercenaries from Syria to support Azerbaijan.

The fighting might well die down. Neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia wants to pay a steep price for Nagorno-Karabakh, and neither Russia nor Turkey is ready for a serious test of power, even if they were confident in where they stood. What is most interesting is the absence of the U.S. Washington has a long record of intervening in areas where it has limited interests, and where the price for achieving little will be high. This is why it was involved in the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, on Georgia’s side. It is now content to let Russia, Turkey and Iran balance each other.   

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    Daily Memo: Confusion Reigns in Nagorno-Karabakh
By: Geopolitical Futures

Scorekeeping in Nagorno-Karabakh. On Monday, day two of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan, losses continued to mount. Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian enclave at the center of the fight, said 53 of its soldiers died fighting Azerbaijani forces on Monday, a day after self-reporting 31 deaths. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan published videos of the fighting and made conflicting claims about the damage they had inflicted on the other. Shortly before publication, Armenia's Defense Ministry said a Turkish F-16 shot down an Armenian Su-25 in Armenia's airspace on Tuesday morning, killing the pilot. A Turkish government spokesman denied this.

At the behest of five European states – Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom – the U.N. Security Council will discuss the worsening situation in a closed-door session on Tuesday. The Russian State Duma urged an immediate cease-fire and offered to mediate. Amid rumors that Turkey sent Syrian mercenaries to assist Azerbaijan, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman denied allegations that Tehran had allowed weapons and military hardware to transit through its territory to Armenia, saying the claims were intended to destroy friendly relations between Iran and Azerbaijan.
« Last Edit: September 29, 2020, 09:15:57 AM by Crafty_Dog »

Crafty_Dog

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GPF: France, Russia and the U.S. issued a statement urging a cease-fire and
« Reply #151 on: October 01, 2020, 01:01:49 PM »
France, Russia and the U.S. issued a statement urging a cease-fire and negotiations in Nagorno-Karabakh.
By: Geopolitical Futures

Stop fighting. That was the message to Armenia and Azerbaijan on Thursday from the presidents of France, Russia and the United States. Specifically, the statement by the three co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Minsk Group called for the immediate end of hostilities and for the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to resume good faith negotiations without preconditions. Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone, and according to the French side’s readout, they “shared their concern regarding the sending of Syrian mercenaries by Turkey to Nagorno-Karabakh.” (Turkey backs Azerbaijan in the conflict over the Armenian separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.) It’s an accusation that has been making the rounds in recent days, though Paris offered no evidence to support it, and Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said only that “illegal armed units” from Libya and Syria are present, without attributing responsibility for that presence. In the meantime, Dubai-based Al Arabiya reported that Israel has been sending weapons to Azerbaijan.

As for the fighting itself, the most notable development is that five mortar rounds reportedly landed on Iranian territory, destroying two housing units. Nagorno-Karabakh’s forces also said they had shot down two Azerbaijani planes and a helicopter, the latter of which went down in Iran. Azerbaijan denied this.

Crafty_Dog

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GPF: Iran nervously watches Nagorno-Karabakh
« Reply #152 on: October 07, 2020, 04:59:27 PM »
   
    Daily Memo: Iran Nervously Watches Nagorno-Karabakh
Azerbaijani troops are reportedly gathering near the Iranian border.
By: Geopolitical Futures
Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh risks drawing in others. Azerbaijani forces are gathering near the Iranian border in preparation for an offensive, according to an Armenian Defense Ministry representative. He said Azerbaijan hopes to provoke forces from the mostly ethnically Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh into firing at the massing troops, endangering Iran in the process. In the meantime, fighting continues along the Line of Contact in the disputed region, and Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry threatened to retaliate using “weapons with great destructive power” if Armenia deploys Iskander short-range ballistic missiles against it. On Tuesday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in an interview that his government and Nagorno-Karabakh were prepared to make concessions if Azerbaijan did the same.
Also on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, to express his government’s concern and hope for a swift, peaceful resolution. Aliyev reportedly said Azerbaijan’s troops would reoccupy captured land near the border and establish border infrastructure there. The commander of the Iranian Border Guards also said the guards were “vigilant” and had been “moved into the necessary formation.”
Finally, there’s Turkey and Russia. On Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, was in Azerbaijan, where he said Turkey would act “together as one state” with Azerbaijan, if necessary. The Kremlin’s spokesman, on the other hand, stressed Wednesday that Russia’s defense obligations to Armenia, a fellow member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, do not apply to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Taiwan’s $15 billion “step in the right direction.” The United States wants Taiwan to spend a lot more on defense. At an annual semi-official bilateral defense conference on Monday, senior Taiwanese officials gave their U.S. counterparts a lengthy military shopping list. The U.S. side, evidently, didn’t think it was long enough. On Tuesday, David Helvey, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said Taiwan’s proposed $15.2 billion defense budget for the upcoming year – a 10 percent increase over 2019’s budget – is merely a “step in the right direction” and "insufficient to ensure that Taiwan can leverage its geography, advanced technology, workforce and patriotic population to channel Taiwan’s inherent advantages necessary for a resilient defense.”
Taiwan has immense geographical advantages over China, but its military hasn’t been optimized around deterring a seaborne Chinese assault. This is starting to change, and Taiwan’s new defense budget reflects growing political will to take painful measures to boost Taiwan’s deterrence capacity. But it’s unclear just how much more defense spending the Taiwanese economy and political system can sustain. One current problem: Taiwan is apparently spending gobs of money – an astounding $900 million this year alone – just on scrambling to respond to Chinese air incursions.
Additional Intelligence
•   The Turkish lira fell to 7.8787 per U.S. dollar, a new low, as fighting continued in the South Caucasus and Washington again warned Turkey not to test its Russian-made S-400 air defense system.
•   Former rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas agreed on a roadmap to restructure Palestinian institutions and end division after a round of reconciliation talks.
•   Poland’s antitrust office imposed fines totaling 29 billion zlotys ($7.6 billion) on Russian energy giant Gazprom over construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, saying the project breaks fair competition rules and will create increased dependents on Gazprom. Another $61 million in fines were imposed on five international companies involved in the project: France's Engie, Austria's OMV, British-Dutch Shell, and Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall.
•   Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in Qatar for meetings with the country’s emir and defense minister and Turkey’s ambassador.
•   The United Kingdom will loan Ukraine 1.25 billion pounds ($1.61 billion) for the construction of naval vessels.   


Crafty_Dog

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Re: Russia-Turkey, Georgia, Caucasus, Central Asia
« Reply #153 on: October 08, 2020, 02:48:43 PM »
F-16s Reveal Turkey's Drive to Expand Its Role in the Southern Caucasus
5 MINS READ
Oct 8, 2020 | 20:19 GMT

Confirmation of Turkish F-16 fighter aircraft operating out of Azerbaijan amid conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh illustrates Turkish commitment to challenging Russian hegemony in the Southern Caucasus. Satellite imagery published by The New York Times showed Turkish F-16s at Ganja airbase on Oct. 3, just four days after Armenia claimed that F-16s shot down one of its Su-25 attack aircraft during a mission along the Nagorno-Karabakh frontline. The presence of the Turkish fighter aircraft doesn't prove their involvement in the downing of the jet, but it does demonstrate direct military involvement by Turkey that goes far beyond already-established support, such as its provision of Syrian fighters and military equipment to Azerbaijani forces.

Ankara's resolve to support the Azerbaijani offensive on Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh poses an immediate challenge to Moscow's position in the Southern Caucasus. So far, Russia has sought to manage tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan to prevent outside powers from stepping into the fray.
 
July clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan likely provided the opportunity and cover for Turkey to help prepare an Azerbaijani offensive that supports longer term Turkish ambitions in the Southern Caucasus. Turkey has long sought to increase its influence in Azerbaijan to boosts its foothold in the Southern Caucasus, a region where Turkish and Russian ambitions are in competition. Greater tensions with Armenia likely made Azerbaijan more open to greater Turkish support, and hence more willing to contest Armenia's control over Nagorno-Karabakh. Sustained increased activity along the contact line separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces may have helped obscure preparations for military operations that began Sept. 27.

Four days of clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border that started July 12, at the time the most intense escalation between the two countries since 2016 fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, triggered close interaction between the Turkish and Azerbaijani military.

On July 16, the Azerbaijani Deputy Minister of Defense and high-ranking military commanders visited Turkey, initiating a conversation that likely led to the planning of currently ongoing operations.

By July 29, Turkish forces joined their Azerbaijani counterparts for two weeks of military exercises that included the deployment of Turkish F-16s to Ganja airbase.

Following the July escalation and intensified interaction with the Turkish military, increased back-and-forth artillery fire on the contact line was sustained while Azerbaijan upgraded defensive positions and moved military equipment forward in preparation for current operations.

Turkey has demonstrated a reliable mitigation strategy with Russia over the course of conflicts in Syria and Libya, limiting the potential for a direct sustained conflict between the two powers. While the move will increase Russo-Turkish tensions, these ultimately will prove manageable under Russian and Turkey's existing model for bilateral mediation and deescalation.  Direct military involvement in Azerbaijani operations against Armenia risks creating yet another theater where Turkish and Russian forces directly face each other. The current Turkish involvement has not yet prompted a Russian military response in support of Armenia; Moscow has likely been reluctant to do so in a bid to maintain a balance in its relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Additional Turkish deployments or direct engagement in combat operations may, however, force Russia to deploy forces to Armenian-controlled territory. Should this come to pass, sustained combat between Russia and Turkey still remains unlikely. As proven in conflicts in Syria and Libya — where Russia and Turkey have each supported opposing sides and have even seen limited direct engagements — the two countries have developed a reliable method for deescalation and stabilization. In this case, direct Turkish and Russian deployments are more likely to stabilize the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh than they are to erupt into a greater conflict. An expansion of Turkish involvement would thus become more likely only if Azerbaijan were to struggle to hold territory.
 
In the longer term, sustained economic weakness will limit Turkey's ability to support its external ambitions, but at this point, its capabilities will support its aggressive foreign policy. A Turkish perception of future limited capabilities may in fact even propel Turkey to pursue an aggressive foreign policy while it still can. While making its power plays on its periphery, mounting Turkish economic underperformance continues to threaten its ambitions in the long term. The Turkish lira has continued to weaken, forcing the government to adjust its monetary policy, and the lira took a further hit from Turkish involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis. Its current economic struggles will not, however, impede an aggressive foreign policy or even military capabilities in the short-term.

Turkey has conducted multiple military offensives in Syria. It maintains a presence in rebel-held areas of Idlib and along the northern border of Syria despite direct confrontations with the Syrian and Russian militaries.

In response to the Libyan National Army's offensive on Tripoli in April 2019, Turkey deployed military assets to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, prompting increased Russian military support for the Libyan National Army.

In the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has ratcheted up territorial disputes with Greece and Cyprus as it furthers its ambitions to develop offshore energy resources, leading to a wider standoff with the European Union.

Turkey has also challenged the European Union directly on other issues, using its ability to increase or lower refugee flows for leverage.

In the Southern Caucasus, Turkey has sought to expand its influence through its relationships with Azerbaijan and Georgia, and is now doing so by military involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Crafty_Dog

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GPF: Russia's low key problem in Kyrgyzstan
« Reply #154 on: October 14, 2020, 03:23:48 AM »
Russia’s Low-Key Problem in Kyrgyzstan
Instability in this overlooked nation could upset the balance of power in Central Asia.
By: Ekaterina Zolotova

On Oct. 4, Kyrgyzstan held parliamentary elections that, true to form, ended in political unrest. Rallies broke out the next day, leaving more than 1,200 injured in the ensuing clashes. Protesters seized the parliament building. They released former President Almazbek Atambayev from prison and have called for the removal from office of current President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Over the past 30 years, Kyrgyzstan has had few legitimate transfers of power. The country's first president, Askar Akayev, was ousted in 2005 following similar protests. He was replaced by Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted during a coup in 2010. The interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, held office for just one year before transferring power to the elected president, Atambayev, who passed the post of the president in 2017 to Jeenbekov.

It also bears a likeness to some other areas in Russia’s all-important periphery – namely, Belarus and Nagorno-Karabakh. And though Kyrgyzstan’s is still an exclusively internal affair, the timing raises questions with regard to Bishkek’s relationship with Moscow.

To be clear, that relationship has been largely cooperative. Russia has always wanted to at least preserve its influence in Kyrgyzstan, which, despite its size and lack of wealth, occupies an area that gives Russia strategic depth. Hence why Russia remains one of the key partners in the economy and maintains an important military base in the country. Bishkek has, of course, benefited from Russian largesse, so it has had little reason to abandon Moscow for China (which is interested in its mining operations), the United States or the European Union.

Even so, the Kremlin has expressed concern over what it has called the “mess and chaos” in the country. But it won’t be easy to fix. The mess and chaos are rooted in historical divisions between the north and the south, which are practically completely isolated from each other by mountainous terrain. (This has also left the country relatively weak and vulnerable.) There are no modern highways between the capital and the main regional urban centers; the roads run mainly along the periphery of the country or make up its borders. The south and north of the country are connected by only one transport road from Osh to Bishkek. This terrain makes it very difficult to create a single economic space and accelerate the country's development without significant investments and modern technologies, which Kyrgyzstan doesn’t have.
 
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There are also notable economic disparities between the north and south. The north borders Kazakhstan and so has received more active development of industrialization and infrastructure than the south, which borders the far poorer and lesser developed areas of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. It’s a vestige of World War II, when factories and scientific facilities and their attendant workers were relocated from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to northern Kyrgyzstan. The south remained traditionally agrarian, with comparatively weak social infrastructure and insufficient education, medicine, transportation and engineering but with large labor pools.
 
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On top of these divisions is a society dominated by clans. Kyrgyz citizens transpose a long-standing tradition of tribal affiliation to higher levels of government through the appointment (of family or clan member) to key positions of state. Clans' influence can extend to the prosecutor's office, law enforcement agencies, the Security Council, the media, the banking sector and so on, with each trying to get as much of the pie as it can.

The competition among clans grew more intense after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when an unprecedented surge of nationalism combined with an economic crisis and a transformation of power. Kyrgyzstan’s clans are far too complicated to outline here, but suffice it to say that very broadly speaking, northern clans are considered more progressive, while the southern clans are more conservative, more Islamized and more sympathetic toward separatism. Northern clans are also generally more “Russian” than their southern counterparts, which maintain Uzbek cultural influences. (The current unrest can be seen at least partially in this light. President Jeenbekov is a southerner, while former President Atambayev is a northerner.) These divisions are so stark that when the Soviet Union’s satellites gained independence, there was a real chance what we now call Kyrgyzstan would be broken into two states.

Much to Russia’s chagrin, Kyrgyzstan’s divisions are a cause and a consequence of regional competition. To the north, Kazakhstan is keenly interested in protecting the rights of Kazakhs with property, especially economic infrastructure interests, in Kyrgyzstan. In recent years, Kazakh companies have invested more than $1 billion in the Kyrgyz economy, and several Kazakh businessmen hold large stakes in everything from mining to telecommunications. Uzbekistan, meanwhile, naturally is interested in protecting the rights of ethnic Uzbeks and in ensuring the security of the Fergana Valley. Increased immigration from Uzbekistan has resulted in roughly 14 percent of the Kyrgyz population being ethnically Uzbek. The environment is primed to become a power struggle between Kyrgyzstan’s more powerful neighbors.

Russia would prefer to have a friendly, stable and pro-Russia government in Bishkek rather than have to balance between countries. But just as important, Moscow is worried that other countries – namely, China – could exploit the situation to their benefit. China has already become one of the country's key trading partners; almost 40 percent of all direct investments in Kyrgyzstan come from China. The trade turnover between the countries has almost doubled over the past five years.

Cooperation goes far beyond trade. Various Kyrgyz officials took out loans in China for infrastructure development, mostly for the construction of roads and the repair of a combined heat and power plant. Yet, many Kyrgyz citizens are unhappy with the way Chinese business is being conducted and its consequences for the environment. Anti-China protests pop up every so often, including last year, when an incident between local residents and foreign workers at the Zhong Ji Mining Solton-Sary gold mine left about 50 people injured. (Bishkek suspended the company’s operations.) Kyrgyzstan is also heavily indebted to China, leading Beijing to include it in the list of "financially vulnerable" states. This means that there is a possibility that the largest creditor, China, will dictate the terms, but the Kyrgyz government does not have a clear plan to pay off its debts. Many in Kyrgyzstan therefore worry that the state will have to pay with land, as happened in 1999.

But that’s not even the most immediate of Kyrgyzstan’s economic issues. The country was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with its economy contracting more than any other member of the Eurasian Economic Union. This is a problem for Kyrgyzstan, of course, but since the instability – or potential partition – could upset the balance of power in Central Asia, it’s a problem for Russia too. Russia won’t get involved so long as the clans in Bishkek remain allies with Moscow.