U.S. Wants Chain of Anti-Russian Bases in Central Asia

Russia has been warning Tajikistan that the U.S. wants to overthrow President Emomali Rakhmon for the sake of eliminating Russian influence in the country and creating “a string of anti-Russia military bases from Baghram (Afghanistan) to Manas (Kyrgyzstan).” That’s according to a U.S. State Department cable just released by WikiLeaks. It recounts a conversation with then-U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan Richard Hoagland and Tajikistan’s ambassador to Washington, Homrahon Zaripov, who was back home in Dushanbe at the time.

[...] This is, of course, before the relatively West-friendly Dmitry Medvedev came to power in Moscow and the Obama administration’s “reset” with Russia, so it’s worth wondering if this attitude still pervades. A more recent cable, from February 2010, describes deteriorating Russia-Tajikistan relations, but doesn’t much touch on Russia’s perception of what the U.S. is doing in Tajikistan.

Continue Reading >> Eurasianet | February 5, 2011

Webster Tarpley On The Moscow Airport Bombing

Recent causes of US-UK animus towards Russia include the Khodorkhovsky verdict (the US position being that a finance oligarch that rich should of course be above the law), the inability of NATO to foment a gas crisis this winter, President Medvedev’s endorsement of a Palestinian state (re-affirming the 1988 decision by the USSR), and Afghan President Karzai’s visit to Moscow, where he created the premises for a long-term post-NATO strategic relationship with Russia including the Salang tunnel, hydroelectric plants, and a Turkmenistan-India gas pipeline the US has been seeking to block. Also worth noting is that, in a recent Wikileaks document dump, the impotent gaggle of marginal Russia opposition figures assembled by Obama’s lightweight NSC Russia director Michael McFaul demonstrated a special desire to oust Chechen President Razman Kadyrov, a Putin ally. Are their alleged human rights concerns only a cover story for their fear that Kadyrov is actually suppressing NATO-backed terrorism in Chechnya?

Tarpley | January 25, 2011

China and America: A second Cold War?

The Obama administration is working to maintain positive US-china relations; however the nation remains a serious enemy in the minds of many American politicians.

To make matters more contentious, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced $78 billion cuts to the Pentagon budget and is currently on a trip to China. Those who see China as a greater threat argue cuts will damage America security and what is really needed are boosts in US defense spending.

Journalist Pepe Escobar from the Asia Times explained that the Pentagon, from a Chinese perspective, can easily be conceived as a threat, but not the other way around.

US forces are based in South Korea, Japan and other parts of Asia, as well as Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and the Indian Ocean. US military expansion in Asia is ongoing through regions strategically important to China.

Continue Reading >>

Russia Today | January 11, 2011

China Quietly Extends Footprints Into Central Asia

Murghab, Tajikistan — On the outskirts of this wind-scoured town, founded in 1893 as a Russian military post, the construction of a new customs compound heralds the return of another major power.

When it opens this year, the sprawling new lot will accommodate much larger caravans of Chinese trucks than the existing trade depot, speeding the flow of clothing, electronics and household appliances that have lately flooded Central Asia, from nomadic yurts on the Kyrgyz steppes to ancient alleyways in Samarkand and Bukhara.

“Trade is growing between China and all these countries around it,” said Tu’er Hong, whose truck was one of about 50 from China transferring goods to Tajik drivers one day recently at the current post.

While China is seizing the spotlight in East and Southeast Asia with its widening economic footprint and muscular diplomacy, it is also quietly making its presence felt on its western flank, once primarily Russia’s domain.

Chinese officials see Central Asia as a critical frontier for their nation’s energy security, trade expansion, ethnic stability and military defense. State enterprises have reached deep into the region with energy pipelines, railroads and highways, while the government has recently opened Confucius Institutes to teach Mandarin in capitals across Central Asia.

Central Asia, says Gen. Liu Yazhou of the People’s Liberation Army, is “the thickest piece of cake given to the modern Chinese by the heavens.”

Continue Reading >>

The New York Times | January 2, 2011

Chinese Military Advisors in Afghanistan?

Chinese advisers are believed to be working with Afghan Taliban groups who are now in combat with NATO forces, prompting concerns that China might become the conduit for shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, improved communications and additional small arms to the fundamentalist Muslim fighters.

A British military official contends that Chinese specialists have been seen training Taliban fighters in the use of infrared-guided surface-to-air missiles. This is supported by a May 13, 2008, classified U.S. State Department document released by WikiLeaks telling U.S. officials to confront Chinese officials about missile proliferation.

Continue Reading >>

Aviation Week | December 13, 2010

War for Caspian Sea inevitable?

The countries of the Caspian region are trying to find a solution to a long-standing dispute about the Caspian Sea. There is something to argue about indeed: sturgeons, crude and natural gas deposits, as well as the transportation of oil and gas. The leaders of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan gathered in Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan) to discuss the problem in detail.

The legal status of the Caspian Sea has not been solved yet. Consequently, not all Caspian states could settle the question about sea borders. Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan seem to have agreed on the issue, but the state of affairs in the southern part of the Caspian Sea is still unstable.

Iran’s position is the main problem here. This country claims its rights for one-fifth part of the sea, which is unacceptable for all other Caspian states.

Russia Today: Caspian nations discuss sea’s legal status

Similar problems exist in the relations between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, as well as between Azerbaijan and Iran. These countries still argue about the borders of their sectors of the sea.

The Caspian dispute has triggered the militarization of the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan’s President Gurbangully Berdymuhammedov approved the establishment of the Navy of Turkmenistan. The country only had patrol boats before, and it was obvious that Turkmenistan was too weak to compete against the navy of Azerbaijan, which has the second largest navy in the region (following Russia).

“The Caspian Sea is not just a pool, as many people call it. The sea is very rich with oil and gas reserves. A special agreement, signed by the Caspian states, divides the sea into several zones, but some members of the agreement still argue about its terms. It seems that there is no peaceful solution to the problem, so the navy will play an important role at this point. One should also take account of the destructive influence of the West, the USA, first and foremost, as they attempt to destabilize the situation in the region,” the expert said.

“Andrey Grozin, a senior expert with the Institute for CIS and Baltic States, believes that any country, including Turkmenistan, wants to defend its interests.

“The dispute between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan is one of the key ones. They fight for the right to develop three large oil fields. Azerbaijan already develops two of the three disputed fields, which Turkmenistan considers its own. Western partners hoped that it would be possible to change the situation for the better after Turkmenistan had a new leader, but the problem still remains unsolved,” the expert said.

Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan realize their importance to the West as fuel suppliers and they compete with each other. Turkmenistan understands that Nabucco will not happen without Turkmen gas. The resources of Azerbaijan play an important role in the work of the trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Azerbaijan is much more important when it comes to the transit of Central Asian gas to Europe.

It is an open secret that neither Iran nor Russia were considered as partners for Nabucco project. As for Russia, Nabucco was designed to eliminate Russia’s influence in the transportation of natural gas to Europe.

Sergey Balmasov

Pravda | November 19, 2010

Northern route eases supplies to US forces in Afghanistan

The United States has established several new transit corridors to deliver non-lethal goods to its forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan had previously been the main transit point for all types of supplies, but the increasingly fragile security situation along its border with Afghanistan convinced the US authorities of the need to establish alternative routes. A major component of this strategy is the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a series of rail, water and road links to deliver cargo to Afghanistan through the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. The network now handles about 30% of all ground supplies.

The NDN comprises a southern route – starting at the Georgian port of Poti, going over land to the port of Baku, Azerbaijan, then by ferry to Aqtau, Kazakhstan, and on through Uzbekistan to Afghanistan – and a more heavily used northern route, traversing Latvia, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. A spur of the northern route bypasses Uzbekistan and runs from Kazakhstan via Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, but is hampered by bad roads in Tajikistan. Moving supplies via the northern rail route costs approximately 10% of the cost of movement by air.

The US military is keen to have a diverse range of supply routes so as to avoid dependency on any particular one. For example, if it were to secure a transit agreement with Turkmenistan, the port of Turkmenbashi could be an additional destination for goods leaving Baku by ferry. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Baku in June 2010 to strengthen ties with Azerbaijan and discussed ways to diversify routes. Washington is also exploring the idea of expanding the NDN eastwards by adding a Chinese branch, originating in China’s Pacific ports and travelling via road and rail to Afghanistan.

Continue Reading >>

IISS | November 23, 2010

The Importance of Turkmenistan

Analyst Eugene Chausovsky looks at the geopolitics behind Turkmenistan’s importance to players beyond its Central Asian neighbors.

Stratfor | October 21, 2010

The Gas Cartel Idea: On the Road to Another OPEC?

As oil sees its image tarnished from the disastrous oil spills that took place off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Dalian, China, and as the most promising oil fields remain off limit to the Western oil majors, gas is gaining in popularity.

Gas is present in large quantities and in many countries of less questionable reputation such as in the United States and is also less harmful to the environment than oil. Though gas is not intended to replace oil, some gas-rich countries such as Russia and Iran are strongly advocating for a gas cartel to regulate the industry, which can explain the reluctance of Russia to adopt sanctions towards Iran at the United Nations as both countries heavily rely on the income generated by their natural resources.

When the 156th Meeting of the OPEC Conference ended in Vienna in March 2010, the idea of a gas cartel was still floating in the air. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is a 50 years old organization whose mission, according to Article 2 of its Statute, is to coordinate and unify the petroleum policies of its Member Countries and ensure the stabilization of oil markets in order to secure an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consumers, a steady income to producers and a fair return on capital for those investing in the petroleum industry.

Its members are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

In 2001 The Gas Exporting Countries Forum was established in Tehran, Iran. Though it isn’t an equivalent to OPEC, it is a venue for gas producing countries to meet. Its members are Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. Algeria, Iran, Nigeria, Qatar and Venezuela belong to both.

Interestingly, Russia is not part of OPEC as it never wanted any organization to monitor, control and regulate its output. In fact, Russia was taking advantage of OPEC self-imposed output reductions to increase its own output. In the second quarter of 2009, Russia exports rose to 7.4 million barrels per day against 7 billion barrels per day for Saudi Arabia.

What Benefits for Gas Users?

When the price of oil went skyrocketing OPEC did not react too promptly to alleviate the burden on oil consumers despite its stated commitment to economic supply to consumers. After all, every additional dollar to the price of a barrel results in billions in the bank at the end of the year for many oil-producing countries.

Few countries had excess capacity to offer to increase the offer in order to alleviate the out of control price escalation. Saudi Arabia, the only country that had then an excess capacity of about 2 million barrels per day and sufficient enough to cool down the market, dragged its feet when oil prices spiked out of control to reach almost $150 per barrel in the summer of 2008 and only released about 250,000 more barrels per day which did little at the time to put an end to this price inflation. In this context, one can wonder what gain end-users would get from the creation of a gas cartel operating in similar ways to OPEC.

Russia’s bad habits of cutting off gas when having disputes with its Ukrainian and Belarusian neighbors – through which transits respectively 80% and 20% of the gas going to Europe – has shown that Russia has no qualms about using energy as a political and economic pressure tool irrespective of the damage to its long-term public image.

Many member countries of OPEC are often the first ones to break the quotas such as Angola and Nigeria, the latter overproducing 300,000 barrels per day in December 2009. The result is that some countries end up having to produce more oil to offset the drop in price, pushing the price of oil further down. The lack of effective sanction mechanisms towards cheaters plagues OPEC and would probably plague a gas cartel, as no country would really want to be part of an organization sanctioning them too harshly.

It is also questionable to think that some countries would want any interference with what is for them a critical life supply of hard currency. For instance, Libya is known for doing what it feels like doing. Furthermore, it has signed some very promising contracts, notably with Italy to supply Europe via a Southern route that is very appealing to counterbalance the unpredictable Eastern route controlled by Russia.

Another country like Turkmenistan, said to hold the 4th or 5th largest world gas reserves has repeatedly put forward its neutrality status and would not want to get caught in political games that would undermine its status. Also, after having been heavily dependent on the goodwill of Russia and on the Gazprom pipelines for the transit of its gas to Europe, which was interrupted for nearly nine months in 2009, it is doubtful Turkmenistan would want to be told how much it could supply China, which became a leading client after the opening in 2010 of a new pipeline linking Turkmenistan to China via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Another factor to take into consideration is the huge infrastructure and equipment investments made by some countries to become leaders in the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry. LNG is a revolution in the energy industry as long pipelines are no longer part of the equation, except to bring LNG to the tankers. Some countries have become leaders such as Algeria, Libya and Qatar. Others, such as Australia, Egypt, Nigeria and Norway are building up their export capabilities.

Gas Cartel coming soon to town?

In light of the above it is very doubtful that a gas cartel as structured as OPEC will become a reality. The inability to strictly enforce quotas and to sanction wrongdoers is little incentive for any rule-abiding country to become a member. The prevalence of individual interests with some of its members not abiding by the rules and decisions of the cartel has weakened the organization.

Furthermore, though OPEC members hold two thirds of world reserves, they only account for less than 40% of world oil, enabling a lot of other players to have an impact on the oil scene outside the framework of OPEC. The Gas Exporting Countries Forum will remain, as it name states it a forum, but the creation of a legal structure is most doubtful and so is the ability of the existing members of the Forum to structure it into a well-operating international organization.

Intel Daily | October 6, 2010

China’s High-Speed Eurasian Railway Strategy for Central Asia

Beijing’s plan to build a high-speed railway network across Asia and Europe through Central Asia is its key project for the continent. A reflection of the rise of China on the global stage, the proposed network will connect 17 countries and comprises three major routes linking Kunming in China with Singapore via South Asia, Urumqi and Germany through Central Asia, and Heilongjiang with Southeastern Europe via Russia (www.ruvr.ru, March 10; www.transday.ru, March 11). The implications of such undertaking are more than substantial for Eurasia. From expanded trade and economic development, to inter-regional and global integration on Beijing’s terms, the revival of the old Silk Road by the “middle kingdom” entails far-reaching, and controversial geopolitical ramifications, particularly for Central Asia.

For a part of its history this region has been “landlocked” economically, politically, and geographically. In some measure, this was the case after the decline of the Silk Road trade in the sixteenth century and during the 70 years of the Soviet era. However, as Central Asia increasingly becomes the focal point of inter-state cooperation and competition over strategic locations and energy resources, it will face enhanced prospects of connectivity with the outside world, despite daunting security challenges. China’s rise, and the high-speed railway network, therefore presents Central Asia with an opportunity, as well as a geopolitical reality.

On March 11, a spokesman in China’s ministry of railways confirmed the network would consist of northern, southern, and western routes. This will make a two-day trip from Beijing to London, possible by 2025. The western route of the network will connect Xinjiang with Germany, through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey. The entire project is a part of China’s Pan-Asian railway plan attempting to link 28 states with 81,000 km of railroads (www.globaltimes.cn, March 12).

China’s high-speed railways are already the world’s longest and fastest, with speeds of up to 350 km per hour. As Beijing Jiaotong University Professor, Wang Mengshu, stated that China is “aiming for the trains to run almost as fast as airplanes.” Cheap construction costs and technological expertise might enable China to outperform Japan, Germany, and France. Reportedly, other countries, particularly India, have reached out to China to construct railway networks, with Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Poland already considering China for their railway plans (www.inform.kg, March 16; www.paruskg.info, March 16). Central Asia and China, too, have an interest in such cooperation, but not without reservations.

Commanding considerable energy resources, Central Asia is also a trade conduit, the potential of which has not been fully utilized due to intra-regional, political, and infrastructure hurdles. Additionally, the region borders Xinjiang, which trades with about 150 countries, but exhibits separatist trends. China thus views the railway network as a tool to link Asian and European markets, tap into, and ensure efficient delivery of Central Asian energy resources, develop its western regions, advance regional security, and its global role (www.today.kz, March 18).

Central Asia will also benefit, and countries such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, have already reached related agreements with China. Tajikistan now seeks a $13 million loan from the OPEC Fund for International Development to build a Kuliab-Kalai Khum road connecting it with Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, while Kyrgyzstan relies on China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway links to develop its southern areas. China also plans to build 12 highways linking the region with Xinjiang (EDM, February 14; 24.kg, March 23, March 15; www.thehindu.com, March 15).

China’s railway plans are sure to elevate the region’s importance as an East-West connector, facilitate its integration into the global economy, and enhance its trade with what soon may become the world’s largest economic power. China is already investing heavily in regional trade, energy, and transportation projects that will only expand with the construction of the railway system (www.today.kz, March 18).

Indeed, regional trade through Xinjiang reached $18.4 billion in 2007, more than 60 percent up on 2006, reaching $25 billion in 2008 –only $2 billion short of the Russian level for the same year. The pipeline between China and Turkmenistan, however, now leaves Russia with only 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually (as opposed to a planned 80 bcm). China’s 21 percent stake in Kazakhstan’s oil production has further surpassed Russia’s by 2.5 times (www.centrasia.ru, February 18; November 17, 2009; China Brief, March 5).

Nonetheless, China faces other regional transport plans, such as the Russian Trans-Siberian railroad, European TRACEA and road projects funded by Japan, the WB, and the ADB. Yet, these projects lack similar proportions or financial resources. This is not to say that China does not face challenges. High speed lines are three times more expensive than regular ones, involve track gauges standardization, and could leave China with a $616 billion debt by 2020, despite its “technology for resources” railway construction scheme. There are also doubts about the cost-effectiveness of the railway project (www.gzeta.ru, March 15; www.2point6billion.com, March 8; Strait Times, March 27). Moreover, China’s accelerating economic engagement might scare Central Asian regimes, which are sensitive to economic and political challenges, both external and internal.

It is too early to argue whether Chinese railway networks, and related Eurasian integration, will promote much-needed economic or, more contentiously, political liberalization across Central Asia. However, it is clear that its burgeoning economic presence will entail political and military engagement by Beijing to protect its expanding regional and continental interests. China’s growing influence in light of the region’s imperial history is thus viewed with serious caution in Central Asian capitals, as well as by Moscow and Washington, which have already seen a relative decline in their regional influence. The task, and indeed the dilemma, of the Central Asian states is to benefit from China’s regional involvement and proposed railway networks, but also to escape the potential pitfalls of changing geopolitical realities.

The Jamestown Foundation | April 2, 2010

Arms Race on the Caspian?

Nations around the Caspian Sea are boosting their navies. With Russia and the West involved as well, it’s getting complicated.

The Caspian Sea, an oil-rich body of water on the border of Iran and the former Soviet Union, has seen an unprecedented amount of naval activity this year: Iran has launched its largest ship yet into the Caspian, Kazakhstan has declared plans to start construction of six new ships by the end of the year and Turkmenistan announced the creation of its first navy. This military build-up, though so far still modest in scope, has observers wondering if the stage is being set for an arms race on this heretofore quiet sea.

The stakes in the Caspian Sea are high: According to the US Department of Energy, the Caspian region contains about ten percent of the world’s potential oil reserves, as well as still precisely unknown—but vast—natural gas deposits. The newly-independent countries that surround the sea have staked their futures on petroleum riches, and they’re trying to use the first revenues to protect that future. A Russian defence magazine recently described the emerging situation as ‘a keg of gunpowder in a sea of black gold.’

Government and military leaders of the five countries surrounding the Caspian—Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan—often use rhetoric about ‘demilitarizing’ of the sea. The president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has said, ‘demilitarization of the Caspian is the most favourable option.’ And in 2007, the commander of Iran’s navy said: ‘We view the Caspian as a sea of peace and friendship and we believe upgrading and expanding military equipment in this sea is incorrect.’

But actions haven’t matched words. In April, Iran announced that it had launched a Jamaran-class ship (Iran calls it a destroyer, but by international standards it’s a smaller corvette) in the Caspian. With a displacement of about 1,400 tonnes, the Jamaran is the largest ship in its 90-something Caspian fleet, and is designed to host an armed helicopter. Iran is also planning to build 75 smaller missile boats of the Peykaap II class, which though they will likely be largely based in the Persian Gulf, Russian analysts believe could be transported by land to the Caspian if necessary. And at the end of August Iran announced that it will start mass production of a new missile boat, the Seraj, which will be deployed in the Caspian.

Kazakhstan, meanwhile, now maintains only a coast guard, but has said it’s planning to commission its first six naval ships this year, three patrol boats and three corvettes. The commander of Kazakhstan’s navy has said the ships will be equipped with Exocet ship-to-ship missiles, but has also said the navy was not oriented towards fighting other navies and is instead aimed at defending Kazakhstan’s oil and natural gas infrastructure from terrorists, a claim that has been received sceptically. Kazakhstan also is currently building a naval base at Aktau, and is building up its manpower by training cadets abroad—mainly in Russia and Turkey, but also in smaller numbers in the United States, Germany, India, Pakistan and South Korea.

Turkmenistan, too, has announced that it will construct a navy by 2015 and wants to buy two or more larger warships, possibly corvettes, as well. President Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedovrecently announced that the country will be establishing a naval academy and a naval base for the purpose of ‘reliable protection of the sea border and for effective struggle against smugglers, terrorists and other criminal elements.’

Azerbaijan’s military modernization is more oriented towards taking back its lost territory of Nagorno Karabakh from its neighbour Armenia, which is landlocked. So although Azerbaijan’s defence budget has ballooned in recent years, relatively little of that modernization has benefited the navy. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, though, has said the country intends to contract with foreign investors to build a shipyard in Baku, suggesting that naval upgrades are on the way.

Meanwhile, the Russian Caspian Flotilla, which has been the dominant naval force in the sea, is inexorably declining and contains only two ships that can be called modern—a frigate and a missile boat. Russia has said it plans to add more frigates and corvettes to the Caspian Flotilla, but the Russian navy is stretched thin and priority is often given to other naval commands. All the other ships in the Caspian fleet are barely functional and will require replacement. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have shared in the command of the fleet, based in Astrakhan on the northern shore of the Caspian. But their respective development plans suggest they don’t hope to depend on Russia forever.

While all of the countries, of course, claim that their navies are for defensive purposes only (and like to invoke terrorism as a pretext for the build-up), many observers say that Iran is causing genuine concern. As far back as 2001, an Iranian naval vessel threatened a BP research ship, prospecting for oil, which Tehran said had strayed out of Azerbaijan’s waters, an episode that still looms large in the minds of naval planners around the Caspian.

‘You don’t need a corvette to protect an oil rig,’ one naval company official trying to do business with Caspian navies said on condition of anonymity. ‘Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have good relations. But it’s Iran that everyone is worried about.’

Complicating matters is the fact that there’s no legal definition of the international borders of the Caspian. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, only the Soviets and Iran bordered the sea. But the creation of four new countries on the Caspian raised the question of how to redefine its international boundaries, and the countries still haven’t managed to resolve whether to delineate the sea so that each country gets an equal amount or a portion based on the length of each country’s shoreline.

In addition, there’s no obvious mechanism for the five Caspian littoral countries to resolve disputes. For example, the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, which Russia uses to manage its military relations with many of the ex-Soviet states, excludes Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (as well as Iran).

Raising the stakes further is the fact that the Caspian is one of the primary sites of geopolitical competition between Russia and the West. Russia controls most of the oil and natural gas export infrastructure from the sea, but the US and European governments and oil companies are trying to break that monopoly. Westerners have succeeded in building pipelines for oil and gas from Azerbaijan, on the western coast of the Caspian, to Europe, and are now trying to connect those pipelines to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan on the eastern shore.

The United States also has tried to make its mark in the region by helping the newly-independent countries build up their navies. A 7-year, $100 million programme called Caspian Guard carried out over the past decade aimed to coordinate the maritime security capacities of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. While the programme failed to accomplish that goal, the United States has helped Azerbaijan establish maritime radars, a command-and-control centre in the capital of Baku, and trained Azerbaijani Special Forces sailors to protect oil installations. The United States also has provided patrol boats to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and continues to advise Kazakhstan on how to build its navy.

Russia maintains significant influence over its former colonies’ navies, as well. Most of Azerbaijan’s, Turkmenistan’s and Kazakhstan’s naval equipment was inherited from the Soviet navy, and Russia still maintains close ties to the newly independent countries’ navies. Russian shipbuilding companies appear to be in the lead to win the contracts for Kazakhstan’s new corvettes and patrol boats. It has held counter-terror maritime exercises (including Russian, Kazakhstani, Belorussian and Ukrainian forces) on the coast of Kazakhstan. And Russian officials are quick to criticize any US involvement in Caspian naval issues, clearly seeing the two countries as in a rivalry for influence. In 2006, Moscow proposed a sort of alternative Caspian Guard, CASFOR, which would coordinate Caspian security between all five littoral states. But like its American analogue, CASFOR appears not to have amounted to anything.

If anything will slow the naval arms race in the Caspian, it will probably be financial problems. All of the Caspian countries are hamstrung by the worldwide economic crisis, which has forced some austerity in defence budgets, rendering many of these countries plans worth little more than the paper they’re written on. Kazakhstan’s navy was supposed to be operational by 2010; naval officials now decline to predict when they’ll be ready. Construction of some ships for the Russian Caspian Fleet has been delayed; other ships originally intended for the Caspian have been instead diverted to the Baltic Sea.

But the economic crisis will not last forever, and the oil and gas revenues of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, in particular, will give those countries ample spending money to build up their navies. Only time will tell if a true Caspian Sea arms race develops.

The Diplomat | August 31, 2010

US armed forces in Central Asia – Built to last

The US plans to build military training centers in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. First these plans were announced last year and they received a wide response because earlier it had been announced that a Russian military base would be built in the south of Kyrgyzstan. Now Pentagon is not going to confine itself with Kyrgyzstan and plans to build military facilities on the territory of five states of the region. It implies the redeployment of part of military infrastructure of the US from Afghanistan to the former Soviet Central Asia and Kazakhstan and also the construction of NATO facilities there.

According to “EurasiaNet” (an internet-portal financed by George Soros), US Central Command’s counter-narcotics fund was to allocate more than $40 million for the construction of military training centers in the cities of Osh (Kyrgyzstan) and Karatoga (Tajikistan), a canine center and helicopter hangar near the city of Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan) as well as for the strengthening of border check points in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Pentagon estimates the construction of each border check point at $5-10 million. The location of the US border check point in Uzbekistan is not disclosed out but the location of the check points in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan is quite remarkable. The Serahs check point (Turkmenistan) is on the border with Iran and the Kyrgyz check point (where the modernization of electricity supply and water supply and sewerage system is planned) – near Batken. Both check points are of geo strategical importance – first in case of a war between the US and Iran and second – in case of destabilization of the political situation in this part of the Fergana Valley like it was in 1999-2000 during the invasion of Islamic movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

In Kazakhstan the US plans to build a new helicopter hangar near the city of Alma-Ata, a canine center and a center for inspection of transport vehicles, with the total construction costs amounting to $10 million. In Tajikistan the Americans plans to build a military training center in Karatoga (not far from the capital of Dushanbe) for Tajik servicemen. There they plan to practice combat actions in city conditions of a city and to train sharpshooters/spotters. The construction costs are estimated at $10 million. A similar center worth $ 5.5 million for practicing different kinds of combat actions in the course of border and counterterrorist operations should be built in the Kyrgyz city of Batken.

It has been known about the US plans to strengthen its military presence in Central Asia since last autumn when the Northern supply route through Russia began to function alongside with the transport route from Pakistan. It is known that Pentagon is working on the plan to deploy elite units of its special troops in Central Asia namely four battalions of the 3rd Special forces (airborne) group which has a long experience of fighting in Afghanistan.

In addition to Central Asia the US plans to deploy its forces in Southern Caucasus – in particular early warning radars in Georgia. It is expected that besides the radars Pentagon may locate a land military base and a naval base in Georgia with 25,000 servicemen.

Finally Pentagon is to build a special operations complex in Afghanistan near the Uzbek border worth $100 million. The complex with the area of 6 hectares will be located in Mazar-i-Sharif, 275 km north-west from Kabul and 56 km south from the Uzbek city of Termez. In 18 months the Americans are to build a united operational center, residential blocks, a communication hub, a center for tactical operations, storage facilities, a training center, a medical center, repair facilities a center for logistics, a canteen, recreation facilities and a doghouse. They plan to put the complex into operation in late 2012 early 2012. In longer perspective 2012-2016 the US Central Command plans to allocate another $3.8 billion on the construction of military facilities in the countries of the Middle East and Central Asia.

Even a brief look at the deployment of the US military objects shows that it almost fully repeats the geography of “the Eurasian Balkans” of Z. Brzezinski, who gave this geopolitical region a decisive role in fighting Russia on “the Grand Chessboard”. By locating its special troops, surveillance equipment and other forces in Central Asia and in the Caucasus after the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in 2011 the US will ensure its military presence right besides Russia’s “belly” near the northern border of Iran and the western border of China. Here the Americans plan to deploy an intelligence network which will ensure control over the situation in the most important points of Eurasia.

Strategic Culture Foundation | August 13, 2010

Zbigniew Brzezinski on the Afghan War

Zbigniew Brzezinski on Afghanistan and the American strategy for Eurasia and the world.

Brzezinski: Six months before Soviet invasion, we financed the Mujahideen.

TheRealNews | January 12, 2010


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