The slow start for NATO's logistics hub in Russia may be due to cost and fears of Russian meddling, according to a senior NATO-member diplomat, speaking to The Moscow Times. While France just signed an agreement with Kazakhstan to use a facility at Shymkent to facilitate withdrawal, "no alliance member has announced that it will use [Ulyanovsk] for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan," The Times writes. "The only cargo that has been sent through Ulyanovsk so far is a number of containers for the British contingent that were sent from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan to Britain in December. That shipment has been described as a 'trial' by both NATO and Russian officials."
A NATO-country diplomat speaking to the Times reporter offered some intriguing explanations for that state of affairs.
A senior diplomat from a NATO country told the panel that the route was considered too expensive. Experts from his defense ministry have calculated that shipping a container from Afghanistan through Ulyanovsk costs 50,000 euros, while sending it via the Termez airbase in Uzbekistan costs only 30,000 euros, the diplomat told The Moscow Times, asking not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
But Yury Gorlach, a deputy director in the Foreign Ministry's European department, argued that Ulyanovsk was worth the extra cost because it was safer. "When you send valuable cargo from Afghanistan, Ulyanovsk is an option," he said.
The senior NATO member diplomat suggested that alliance countries are reluctant not just because of financial reasons. "They do not like the idea that Russian intelligence can take a close look at what they send back from Afghanistan," he said.
He is wanted by Russian federal investigators. He is suspected of raising “millions” of protesters in Moscow and nearly bringing down Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin. He is Givi the Georgian.
A Moscow court just issued an arrest warrant for Givi Targamadze, a 44-year-old Georgian parliamentarian, staunch supporter of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and, apparently, a lone crusader against the Putin regime and a bespectacled mastermind of international conspiracy.
Russians who rallied against President Putin in 2012 claimed they wanted to end human rights abuses, the monopolization of power and rampant corruption, but Russian investigators knew that there just had to be something or someone else behind it.
After many late hours perusing evidence under a dim, desk lamp light, the investigators have found their man, the "true" source of evil. It was Givi Targamadze, who, Russian prosecutors say, secretly tutored Russian opposition leaders in the art of revolution, the craft he learned so well during Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution.
Along with sharing little tricks of the trade, Targamadze also allegedly slipped a big $3,000 to the dissenting Russians, telling them to go get Putin.
Some in Ukraine might nod their heads knowingly, claiming that he also tried to stop the 2010 election of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych.
But Tbilisi, much though it is attempting to smooth over past differences with Russia, has refused to hand Givi over to Moscow for prosecution.
Thousands of migrant workers, many from Central Asia and the Caucasus, are toiling in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to help stage the most expensive Olympic Games in history. Many are abused and exploited, working in miserable conditions for little or no pay, Human Rights Watch said today.
Released a year before the games kick off, the 67-page report, entitled “Race to the Bottom: Exploitation of Migrant Workers Ahead of Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi,” documents gross violations of Russian and international law, as well as the Olympic spirit.
Tens of thousands of workers, including an estimated 16,000 workers from outside Russia, are helping prepare Sochi for the showcase games, which open next February 7. Human Rights Watch (HRW) focused on these migrant laborers because, compared with Russian workers, they are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Researchers interviewed 66 construction workers from Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.
Migrant workers said employers subjected them to a range of abuses and exploitation, including: failing to pay full wages, excessively delaying payment of wages, and in some cases failing to pay any wages at all; withholding identity documents, such as passports and work permits; failing to provide employment contracts, or failure to respect terms of a contract; and requiring excessive working hours and providing little time off. […] In several cases documented by Human Rights Watch, employers retaliated against foreign migrant workers who protested against abuses by denouncing them to the authorities, resulting in the workers’ expulsion from Russia.
Authorities and construction companies interviewed by HRW deny the allegations.
Last week, Open Democracy Russia ran a very good series of articles on relations between Russia and China. One was especially interesting for EurasiaNet readers, about choices that the Central Asian states are having to make between integration with Russia or China. The piece concentrates on the economic sphere, in which, as the authors convincingly argue, integration with the two big superpowers is becoming mutually exclusive.
Of course, Russia and China also have their respective Central Asia integration schemes in the security sphere: China has the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and Russia the Collective Security Treaty Organization. So I asked one of the piece's authors, Raffaello Pantucci, an expert on Chinese-Central Asian relations, about whether there was going to be a similar reckoning in that sphere. Short answer: no. His more detailed thoughts:
The Bug Pit: Is there a similar looming choice to make for the Central Asian states, whether they prioritize ties with the SCO (dominated by China) or CSTO (dominated by Russia)?
Kazakhstan and Russia have moved to defuse a spat over Moscow’s use of the world’s largest spaceport, which is vital for Russia to maintain its standing as a space power.
Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov smoothed over accounts of a rift between the two close allies during talks in Moscow on January 25, with Idrisov describing reports that Kazakhstan was planning to tear up Russia’s lease of the strategic Baikonur cosmodrome as “absurd.”
The row erupted on December 10, when Kazakhstan’s National Space Agency director, Talgat Musabayev, said Astana was looking to renegotiate the deal. Moscow leases the site from Kazakhstan for $115 million per year. The current agreement runs until 2050.
Musabayev said President Nursultan Nazarbayev had ordered work on “drawing up a new, all-encompassing agreement on the Baikonur site, which could envisage a withdrawal from leasing relations.” “We are not saying that we will immediately halt the lease,” he added, but abandoning it “in stages” was possible.
His remarks provoked an outcry in Russia, which is dependent on Baikonur to launch all its manned space missions and most commercial satellites. Moscow is building its own spaceport in its Far East, but the first launch there is not due until 2015.
The row escalated after Kazakhstan revealed that it was allotting Russia only 12 Proton rocket launches from Baikonur in 2013, against the 17 Moscow desires. Russia’s Federal Space Agency says this will prevent it from fulfilling contractual obligations and cost it $500 million.
Russia and Tajikistan have come to an agreement on one of the sticking points in their deal to extend the lease of Russia's largest military base in Central Asia, reports Tajikistan's minister of energy and industry Gul Sherali. As part of that deal, Russia agreed to duty-free fuel shipments to Tajikistan, but wanted a guarantee that the discounted fuel wouldn't be reexported. Tajikistan had objected, but now has agreed to Moscow's terms:
Tajikistan's Minister of Energy and Industries Gul Sherali told journalists that the two countries expect to sign an agreement on duty free oil product imports during Russian First Vice-Premier Igor Shuvalov's planned visit to Dushanbe in February, according to Asia Plus.
When the deal is signed, Russia will export 1m tonnes of oil products to Tajikistan. This is around three times the 370,000 tonnes of Tajikistan - which has experienced severe fuel shortages - imported in 2012....
[A] provision banning the re-export of oil products from Russia to third countries has been a sticking point in negotiations.
Moscow insists on the clause because of the high level of fuel smuggling in south Central Asia and the risk of fuel delivered to Tajikistan being sold on to third countries such as Afghanistan. Dushanbe had previously objected to the clause, with Tajik officials saying they would be unable to guarantee that gasoline from Russia will not be re-exported.
In addition, the agreement will take effect immediately after signing, which Tajikistan wanted, rather than 60 days after, which Russia wanted.
There was no word on the other main stumbling block, how to implement the new, looser regulations on labor migrants from Tajikistan to Russia.
Uzbek human rights activists have plenty of reasons to feel unsafe at home and in exile. Their well justified fears may now spread: A prominent Russian activist who has written extensively about human rights abuses in Uzbekistan says he has received death threats originating in Tashkent.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has called on Russian authorities to investigate the death threats against Vitaliy Ponomarev, the lead Central Asia expert with the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center, and his family.
His latest report, published on December 26, detailed the Uzbek security services’ interrogations of Uzbek migrant worker Latif Zhalalbaev in a Russian prison: Uzbek operatives have allegedly tortured Zhalalbaev, who was arrested last October on counterfeiting charges, in attempts to extract information on the financing of an Islamist militant group, Ponomarev reported.
On January 12, Ponomarev received three emails within several minutes threatening him and his family. The authors of the emails said they know where Ponomarev lives and specifically threatened to decapitate him. The emails, which came from a single IP address in Tashkent but from different addresses, also warned him against travelling to southern Kyrgyzstan. When Ponomarev publicized the death threats on January 18, he received another threatening email.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake meets Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev January 16 in Bishkek.
The U.S.'s top diplomat dealing with Central Asia, Robert Blake, visited Kyrgyzstan last week and if we are to believe Press.kg, all over Bishkek, "even in schools and kindergartens, for three days they are saying 'Blake is coming! Blake is coming!'" Journalistic hyperbole aside, this was a highly anticipated visit, as it seems that negotiations over the U.S.'s Manas air base are starting in earnest. Before Blake left, he told Voice of America's Russian service that he would be discussing extending the lease for the base, which is now scheduled to expire in 2014. "Manas has a huge significance for the U.S. from the point of view of logistics," he said.
In Bishkek, Blake met with President Almazbek Atambayev and other officials, and while of course the details of the discussions were not divulged, Blake did make an interesting statement to the press after his meetings. He was asked if the U.S. might use the newly established French transit center in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, and he didn't say no. After it's determined what sort of U.S. troop presence there will be in Afghanistan after 2014, the U.S. will assess what sort of facilities it needs in Central Asia, he said:
Once those important decisions [on troop presence in Afghanistan] are made, then we’ll be in a better position to plan for ourselves what kind of facilities we might need either in Afghanistan or in the wider region. Again, I don’t want to speculate on the future of what those might be.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets his Tajikistani counterpart, Hamrokhon Zarifi, in Dushanbe on January 17.
The presidents of Tajikistan and Russia signed an agreement in October to extend the presence of the Russian military base in Tajikistan for another 30 years. But Tajikistan is dragging its feet on the ratification of the deal, waiting first for Russia to carry out its part of the deal, to supply duty-free petroleum products and to loosen restrictions on labor migrants, according to a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant. The Kremlin wanted all of these issues to be dealt with all at the same time, and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov just finished a visit to Dushanbe, where he attempted to iron out these issues. From Kommersant:
On the question of liberalizing the migration regime the two sides agreed that citizens of Tajikistan would be able to stay on Russian territory for 15 days without registration and to receive permission to work for a period of three years. However, as a source in the Russian delegation explained to Kommersant, before softening the regime, Moscow would like Tajikistan to somehow regulate the stream of its labor migrants, for example sending them through a special organization. The authorities in Tajikistan, though, insist that the preferential regime take effect immediately...
On the question of duty-free deliveries of Russian gas and oil products to Tajikistan, the conflict is over reexport. Moscow is against Tajikistan reexporting Russian fuel to third countries. Dushanbe is not ready to give that kind of guarantee.
According to Kommersant's source, Russia is willing to deal: "We're ready to accomodate Tajikistan even on the two disputed questions -- but only if this brings this process [on the base] to an end."
Russia’s criminal world has been bereaved of its top gangster, 75-year-old Tbilisi-born Aslan Usoyan, known to friends and enemies alike as Grandpa Hassan. First among equals in the Soviet-born and ex-Soviet-wide system of criminals, Grandpa Hassan died a soldier’s death, shot by a sniper bullet in central Moscow, on January 16.
The Russian news agency Interfax reported symbolically that the killer fired from the roof of the apartment of the late Soviet poet Sergei Mikhalkov, who penned the lyrics of the Soviet Union's anthem.
A career criminal, Usoyan was born to a Yezidi Kurdish family in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, once the main exporter of mafia bosses. In his teen years, he began his ascent through the Soviet mafia hierarchy known as the thieves-in-law.
His authority soon outgrew Georgia, but Grandpa Hassan kept on climbing the career ladder.
As perhaps no other institution did in Soviet times, thieves-in-law embraced the spirit of multiculturalism with Georgians, Russians, Armenians and others all participating, coexisting and fighting one another.
That code held true for Grandpa Hassan well into old age. Russian media reported that in 2008 he clashed with the competing clan of Tarieli Oniani (also Georgian) at a mafia summit, where plans for appropriating the funds for Sochi's 2014 Winter Olympics were supposedly discussed.
Proud of his ethnic roots, Grandpa Hassan was also known for affirmative action policies to promote the Kurdish minority through the criminal ranks.
He is survived by many fellow mafia bosses in Russia and outside its borders. His criminal remains may be buried near the Moscow grave of another assassinated criminal mafia boss, Yaponchik ("Little Japanese man").