Posts Tagged ‘central asia’

 

Yesterday another band of terrorists was destroyed in Kazakhstan. On the same day, another man with an arsenal of explosives and ammunition was detained. Such cases have become so frequent in Kazakhstan that they are no longer seen as something extraordinary. Yet not so long ago reports of an emerging terrorist underground were seen as conspiracy theory nonsense. Let’s look at the situation one year after the wave of terror began in Kazakhstan.

Minus five

The Atyrau region yesterday was roiling with unrest. Law enforcement officials have discovered a band of terrorists in one of the apartment of a residential high-rise building. The area was cordoned off, residents evacuated, and the bandits were ordered to surrender. But the bandits responded with gun fire and detonated several explosives, injuring one special ops trooper. In the resulting assault five terrorists were killed and another wounded and taken to hospital.

Interestingly, detectives discovered this group while investigating another terrorist cell. A week earlier in Atyrau a Kazakh citizen blew himself up, having apparently mishandled an explosive device. Three more home made bombs were later found in his apartment. The dead man’s associates, discovered as a result of the investigation, let the police to the group which was subsequently destroyed yesterday.

Also yesterday, a resident of the Alma-Ata region was seized with a fully fledged military arsenal: three sticks of TNT, one RGD-5 hand grenade without a fuse, a fuse to the hand grenade, a fully loaded Makarov magazine, 153 rounds of 9mm cartridges and an EDP-1 electronic detonator.

News from the Front

The fact of the matter is that something terribly wrong is going on in Kazakhstan that even the blind can see. This is a partial list of recent high-profile incidents in Kazakhstan:

– August 17, 2012. Nine terrorists were killed in the course of a special operation near Alma-Ata;

– August 14, 2012. 11 people slaughtered in the Ile-Alatau National Park by unknown attackers;

– July 11, 2012. Self-explosion in Tuasamaly. Weapons and extremist literature were found on the scene. According to some reports the bomb was intended for Nazarbayev;

– May 31, 2012. Unidentified attackers shot 12 people from NATO-standard weapons on the border of  the Alma-Ata region;

– May 25, 2012. Police raided a resident of Ridder, seizing an arsenal of explosives and ammunition. On the same day another weapons cache was found;

– December 16, 2011. Oil workers strike in Zhanaozen. Unexpectedly stiff resistance from the police and the professional organization of the protest suggests participation of foreign coordinators;

– December 3, 2011. A band of 5 terrorists was destroyed in the Alma-Ata region in a special operation;

– November 12, 2011. Bandits made a real show of shooting grenade launchers, pursuing and killing  police officers in Taraz;

– November 8, 2011. In Alma-Ata gunmen attacked a patrol unit, killing two police officers;

– October 31, 2011. Two explosions in Atyrau, one of which was a suicide bombing.

Again, this is not a complete list of events. Most experts agree on the idea that the Kazakh secret services were unprepared for such a rapidly deteriorating situation. As a result the country is taking urgent steps to increase the powers of the National Security Committee (analogue of the Russian FSB, the Federal Security Service).

Me, worry?

That was the question asked by many of our Russian readers when the wave of terror began in Kazakhstan and, unfortunately, continue to ask now. Recall that Russia and Kazakhstan share the longest land border (7000 km), which in many areas is not controlled or monitored in any meaningful way. Destabilization of Kazakhstan will lead to a stream of refugees, drug traffic, terrorism and arms exports to Russia. Take a look at what is happening in Syria and its neighbors, and then compare the extent of their borders and ours. Get the picture?

Of course, this is the worst case scenario. But let us remember where destabilize began in Kazakhstan. It started with the adoption of a law on religion, which was condemned by the West as anti-democratic, and which caused various extremist groups to issue statements of jihad to the Kazakh authorities. In one such statement the band calling themselves Jund al-Khalifa, commented a series of explosions in Kazakhstan: “The two explosions were a warning to the government … if in the future we will not see that they listened to our requirements, we swear … that the next attack will bring rivers of blood. ”

President Nazarbayev himself at the time gave a very accurate description of what was happening: “The experience of recent years proves against and again that terrorism is a product of very particular forces having a very specific purpose. Historically, modern terrorism has its roots in political and economic issues. It is strongly associated not only with transnational crime, drug trafficking and arms smuggling. Unfortunately, it also has geopolitical origins.”

So far, the situation in Kazakhstan is developing along a negative scenario and the trend is worsening. Ahead is the withdrawal of the international coalition forces from Afghanistan, with possible transfer of US military bases to other Central Asian republics, which will lead to the spread of extremism across the region. In this situation, it would be logical for Russian anti-terrorism experts to provide maximum support to Kazakh law enforcement forces, and indeed, this is taking place. However, Russia has its own set of problems with two carefully fueled regions – Dagestan and Tatarstan. This means that all of us are in for some very unsettling times.

 

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The struggle for influence in Central Asia, similar to an endless tug of war, seems to be approaching its final stage. As 2014 draws near, it is becoming increasingly difficult to pursue a multi-vector policy of wearing several hats at the same time. Recently we guardedly wrote that Kyrgyzstan seems to turn more and more towards Russia, and today this hunch received strong confirmation. At the same time, our concerns about spreading US influence in Uzbekistan have also been confirmed. Thus, as of today, the balance of power is this: Russia is solidifying its power base in Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. must negotiate with Uzbekistan, while Tajikistan remains at a crossroads. What was the cost to us (Russia)?

The Kyrgyzstan accord

Following the recent visit of Kyrgyz Prime Minister Babanov to Moscow, it seemed that the proverbial skies over our relationship have cleared. In order to consolidate this foreign policy success a Russian delegation headed by Mr. Shuvalov arrived on the shores of lake Issyk-Kul.  According to Mr. Shuvalov, he was ordered by Mr. Putin not to come back without positive news. And it is obvious that concrete results of this meeting are more than necessary – the Russo-Kyrgyz talks on the fate of national debt, construction of hydroelectric power plants and purchase of defense companies has been a protracted one. Solutions to these issues will ultimately determine the level of influence Russia would be able to exhort in Kyrgyzstan.

But why did the need to reach agreements on these issues come to head now, and not later? After all, they have been postponed many times in the past, so what happened to make them different this time?

Perhaps the Russian side has been spurred into action by Uzbekistan’s new law “On Approval of the Concept of foreign policy of the Republic of Uzbekistan”. It states, inter alia, that “The Republic of Uzbekistan does not allow placement of foreign military bases and facilities on its territory.”

If so, then the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan acquires even greater significance for the US, and, therefore, the Americans will try to win the republic over even harder. This would explain why the Russians are suddenly in such a hurry to resolve all pending issues, aiming to ensure that in case President Atambayev does not change his mind to expel the U.S. forces from the Manas military base in 2014.

But the Americans were also quick to act. While Russia was busy negotiating, the US showered the republic with unexpected gifts. Just a few days ago the U.S. gave the Kyrgyz border guards a new barracks, dining room and headquarters facilities.

However, these gifts pale in comparison to what the Russians brought to the table. Russia agreed to forgive Kyrgyz debt of almost $ 500 million, get involved in the construction of hydropower plants and promised to aid in reconstruction of the Bishkek heat and power plant. Moreover, if earlier Russia was demanding the transfer of shares of the Dastan torpedo factory in exchange for debt forgiveness, there is no news where such transfer was part of the deal in this latest round of negotiations. We only know that a portion of the factory shares will be offered for sale “to all interested investors.”

One can assume that the situation became aggravated enough to force the Russian government to withdraw from its previous rather stringent demands, in exchange for loyalty of the Kyrgyz leadership. We can only hope that in the long run such concessions will be justified.

Uzbekistan plays games

Uzbekistan’s decision to ban deployment of foreign military bases on its soil introduced more volatility into the Central Asian setup. But Russia was not the only one forced to react. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake urgently postponed all his meetings and went to see President Karimov. Incidentally, he also canceled the planned visit to Alma-Ata and Bishkek, knowing full well that such an insult would not be easily forgotten.

The discussion revolved around economic cooperation and the situation in Afghanistan. Mr. Blake “praised Uzbekistan’s role in ensuring security and sustainable development of the region, peaceful revival of Afghanistan, and reiterated U.S. interests in adding new practical implications to the comprehensive partnership with Uzbekistan.”

We cant help but wonder what Hillary Clinton’s aide is counting on, if Uzbekistan isn’t going to allow foreign military bases on its territory? As it turns out, all is not yet lost. The law was approved by the lower chamber of the Majilis, but the upper chamber deferred consideration until September. This means that there is still time to bargain.

Meanwhile, President Islam Karimov has prepared another surprise for his American partners in the form of increased cost of transit through Uzbekistan. Under the new law, international freight companies whose trucks weigh over 50 tons will be required to pay a toll for using the country’s roads, at a rate of $1 per kilometer. And if the axial load should exceed approved standards, the fee will be raised to $2 per kilometer. So much for “practical implications!”

Of course, one must always exercise caution and reserve final judgment when talking about events and agreements in Central Asia. Loyalties here have a finite value and are traded like fruit at the local bazaar. Nevertheless, it is perhaps for the first time in a very long while that we are able to glimpse the shadow of the future balance of power in this region. Is the situation becoming really so dire?..

Eugene Super