The history of the Caucasus has long been dominated by three surrounding powers: Turkey,Russia, and Iran. And while Europe and the U.S. have become part of the equation in recent years, the region is still likely to be subject to the influences of its big neighbors to the west, north, and south. And so a big project by the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies on "The Turkey, Russia, Iran Nexus" is particularly interesting for observers of the Caucasus. CSIS has just released a report (pdf) examining how the various bilateral relationships (i.e. Turkey-Russia, Russia-Iran, Turkey-Iran) interact in political, economic and other ways. The report notes that Russia is not as worried about Iranian influence in the Caucasus as it is about Turkey:
Moscow is not enthusiastic about any state increasing its influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus, be it Turkey, Iran, China, the United States, or whomever. As then-President Dmitri Medvedev stated in September 2008 just after the five-day Georgia War, Russia regards the post-Soviet states as its “zone of privileged interests.” Having noted that, Iran’s presence and activities in Central Asia have been viewed as very much aligned with those of Moscow while Turkey’s as neither significant nor malign enough to draw too much attention.
Mongolia’s sweeping steppe and nomadic heritage attract tens of thousands of tourists from around the world each summer. Come winter, though, popular tourist spots are eerily deserted; tour operators have traditionally hibernated. But some are starting to ask: ‘are we missing an opportunity?’
He may be the sole inmate of an island prison in the Sea of Marmara, but Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), still knows how to command the headlines. Thursday, as Kurds celebrated the spring holiday of nevruz -- in years past an occasion for often violent protests -- Ocalan made what could turn out to be a game-changing call for the fighters of the PKK to cease fire and withdraw from Turkish soil.
Hundreds of thousands of Kurds, gathered in the regional center of Diyarbakir, cheered and waved banners bearing Ocalan's mustachioed image when a letter from the rebel leader, held since 1999 on a prison island in the Marmara Sea, was read out by a pro-Kurdish politician.
"Let guns be silenced and politics dominate," he said to a sea of red-yellow-green Kurdish flags. "The stage has been reached where our armed forces should withdraw beyond the borders ... It's not the end. It's the start of a new era."
Ocalan's call for a ceasefire, which had been expected for some weeks now, gives a major boost to the ongoing "peace talks" between Turkey and the Kurds and represents a major turnaround in how both sides had been dealing with each other. Up until a few years ago, it was common for Turkish courts to charge Kurdish politicians with the crime of referring to the jailed PKK leader as "the honorable Mr Ocalan." On the other hand, until fairly recently, many Kurdish leaders in Turkey had written off the government led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), considering it and its leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as having been cut from the same Kurdish-identity denying nationalist cloth as previous Turkish governments.
This month, the Turkish government sent to parliament a major judicial reform package that it claims will change once and for all Turkey’s bad-boy image at the European Court of Human Rights. But critics say the initiative will not enable substantive change of Turkey’s controversial anti-terrorism law.
China is financing the construction of Kyrgyzstan’s first major oil refinery, and excitement is building in Bishkek that the facility could enable the Central Asian nation to break Russia’s fuel-supply monopoly. At the same time, some observers express concern that the project may stoke local resentment, or become enmeshed in political infighting.
An industry survey has called Kyrgyzstan one of the world's “least attractive” places for mining companies to invest. In one category, Kyrgyzstan, which is embroiled in a contract dispute with its largest foreign investor, ranked last for "uncertainty concerning the administration, interpretation and enforcement of existing regulations.”
The survey, released February 28 by the Fraser Institute, a non-profit Canadian research outfit, is based on interviews with representatives of 742 mining companies working in 96 jurisdictions (countries, states, provinces) who spent a total of $6.2 billion in exploration worldwide last year.
Fraser uses something called the Policy Potential Index (PPI), “a comprehensive assessment of the attractiveness of mining policies in a jurisdiction, [which] can serve as a report card to governments on how attractive their policies are from the point of view of an exploration manager.”
Overall, Kyrgyzstan ranked 92nd of 96.
Miners answered questions about topics like environmental and tax regulations, land disputes, “socioeconomic agreements, political stability, labor issues” and security. Corruption (where Kyrgyzstan also plumbed the bottom of the rankings) was surveyed but not factored into the PPI.
Kyrgyzstan fared slightly better in “potential” and quite high in “room for improvement.”
Conflicting reports about a bloody skirmish, or two, on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border in recent days have generated some basic questions -- like, who got killed? Some Russian-language media say the Uzbeks killed three Afghan police officers on March 16; Tashkent says it killed three Afghan attackers on March 14.
According to Tashkent’s account, about 10 Afghans attacked Uzbek border guards on March 14 and tried to seize their weapons. Uzbek guards were forced to shoot, wounding four Afghans, three of whom died.
But on March 17, Afghanistan’s border police commander, General Mohammad Jan Mamozai, said that Uzbek border guards had shot seven Afghan “police” on an Afghan island in the Amu Darya river, according to an Afghanistan.ru report, killing three.
The "police" narrative seems to have taken hold in the Russian-language media. But Pajhwok Afghan News, also citing Mamozai, says the seven Afghans were civilians.
Haji Sharfuddin, an elder from Kaldar District in Afghanistan’s Balkh Province, denounced the killings. He said the civilians had not crossed the border into Uzbekistan, according to Pajhwok.
The two countries share a 137-kilometer border defined by the Amu Darya.
Neither the Uzbek border service, nor the National Security Service (SNB, formerly the KGB), which operates it, have responded to the Afghan allegations.
Tajikistan has seen the massive amount of military aid that Russia has promised Kyrgyzstan, and has decided that it wants in on the windfall. And it's willing to delay the ratification of the Russia-Tajikistan military base agreement signed back in October in order to get it, according to a report in Russian newspaper Kommersant.
Recall that last year, Russia promised a big military aid package to both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with the former country getting $1.3 billion and the latter $200 million. Tajikistan's aid was part of the deal for a 30-year extension of Russia's lease on the 201st military base. It's not clear why it took so long, but Tajikistan's president, Emomali Rahmon, has now apparently decided that he got a raw deal. From Kommersant:
In the words of Kommersant's source close to the bilateral government commission [working out the base agreement] Dushanbe has raised two additional conditions [to the base deal]. The Tajik side has demanded a formal bilateral agreement based on the verbal agreements reached in October -- on Russia's provision of the means of modernizing Tajikistan's armed forces, and money for the development of its hydroenergy. Moreover, in Dushanbe they have expressed the wish for Moscow to allocate more than the promised $200 million for the rearming of the Tajik army, noting that Russia promised Kyrgyzstan around $1 billion for the analogous purpose.
This comes on top of another delay, imposed by the Tajik side in January. And the Kommersant piece ends with a dark warning: