Russia's Black Sea Fleet taking part in military exercises this week.
Russia's surprise, large-scale military exercises on the Black Sea are raising alarm among some of its neighbors. Russian President Vladimir Putin sprung the exercises on his military at 4 am Thursday and showed up in person, along with Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, to observe the exercises on Friday. The exercises involve around 30 warships, 7,000 servicemembers and various armored vehicles and artillery.
But the Black Sea is a complex geopolitical environment: Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based in Sevastopol, in on-again-off-again ally Ukraine. NATO members Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania also have naval forces on the sea, as of course does Russia's foe Georgia. So the international response to the exercise wasn't entirely positive. As RT put it, "The Russian naval drills came as a surprise not only to the Russian armed forces, but also for neighboring countries’ militaries as well, which were forced to rub sleep from their eyes and rush to their duties as up to 30 Russian battleships left port."
Russian officials pointed out that there is nothing to prevent them from conducting these sorts of surprise drills. “According to international practice, exercises involving up to 7,000 people do not require us to inform our partners in advance,” said Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Caption: Kamchybek Tashiev stumping during his failed run for the presidency, October 28, 2011.
A court in Bishkek found three members of Kyrgyzstan’s nationalist opposition party guilty of trying to overthrow the government and handed them short prison sentences on March 29. The verdict, though less severe than their supporters had feared, did little to temper passions outside the courtroom, where riot police held back several hundred protestors, local news agencies reported.
Under the terms of Kyrgyzstan’s constitution, the three must be stripped of their parliamentary seats, which should be passed to other members of their party.
Kamchybek Tashiev and two other Ata-Jurt ("Fatherland") lawmakers were arrested after a protest outside parliament on October 3 grew violent. Tashiev, Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov organized the rally, which drew approximately 1,000 demonstrators, to demand nationalization of the country’s most-lucrative asset, the Kumtor gold mine. After vowing to “replace this government,” and “occupy” the White House, Tashiev led dozens of protestors over a fence surrounding the building and chased away armed guards. Tashiev later said he was just trying to get to work.
The three pled not guilty. Their lawyers vowed to appeal.
Not me, declared Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava on March 28, thereby making even smaller the potential cast of characters for this October's Georgian presidential election.
Thirty-seven-year-old Ugulava has long been rumored as likely to take the torch from his mentor, President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now using his lame-duck year to keep his United National Movement afloat in its revived role as opposition force.
“I don’t plan to run. Nor is the party considering my candidacy,” said Ugulava, whose mayoral term expires in 2014. “It is a privilege and a challenge to hold this position and, therefore, I have no intention of leaving [the office of mayor], tempting as the other opportunities out there may be.”
The highfalutin' aside, Mr. Mayor may be making a pragmatic move here. Ugulava is currently awaiting trial on criminal charges of alleged embezzlement/misappropriation of budgetary funds and money laundering -- a tricky detail to explain to voters, despite his denials of guilt.
Even without that, though, the chances for a UNM candidate’s success are not a given these days. Though the coalition may have lost some of its initial, crowd-pleasing luster, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream juggernaut is still seen as sitting in the catbird seat.
Plus, as Georgia slowly metamorphoses into a parliamentary republic, the presidential position is just not as enticing as it used to be.
A new mosque will be a bridge between Turkey and Georgia, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoğlu, but, depending on how the matter is handled, the sanctuary could also become a wall between the two countries.
Screenshot from Pentagon Channel video report on Alaska National Guard C-130J training mission to Mongolia (http://www.dvidshub.net/video/284878/alaska-guard-travels-mongolia#.UVORwlvGSp2)
Mongolia is in discussions to buy American-made military transport airplanes, and is getting U.S. help in learning how to operate the aircraft. That ambitious purchase appears to signal that Mongolia has mining money to spend, and it's using some of it to upgrade its armed forces.
Mongolia is looking at buying three C-130J transport airplanes, manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The planes would likely be used to transport the country's armed forces on its increasingly ambitious international peacekeeping missions. From a press release by the Alaska National Guard, whose airmen recently traveled to Mongolia to conduct training on C-130 maintenance:
In a country as vast and open as Alaska, the Mongolian Air and Air Defense Force is tasked with transporting Mongolian Armed Forces, but with only Soviet-era helicopters that include the MI-24B, MI-8T and MI-171E, they lack the capacity to transport large numbers of personnel, making it impossible to meet all their mission requirements.
“This is a great professional exchange for us,” said 1st Lt. Bayasgalan Baljinnyam, platoon commander, Unit 337 Nalaikh Air Base, Mongolian Air and Air Defense Force. “Our national Air Force needs a C-130 because we need to participate in every mission and right now we have to call on civilian aircraft to transport our troops. We need to have our own C-130 so we can manage ourselves and transport our own troops to other countries.”
TV footage released Wednesday suggests President Islam Karimov has not been felled by a heart attack, contrary to the widely distributed claims made by one of Uzbekistan’s exiled opposition leaders. The 75-year-old Uzbek strongman was shown this evening in a televised broadcast that appeared to be shot March 27, eight days after he was rumored to have suffered the massive attack.
On March 22 and 24, Muhammad Solih, head of the Norway-based People’s Movement of Uzbekistan, said, citing separate unnamed sources in Tashkent, that Karimov was near death. The rumor has percolated unchallenged through much of the Russian-language media in recent days. But this evening Karimov looked pretty much like he did eight days ago, last time he was on television: old, yes, but alive.
State-run Yoshlar’s evening news program showed Karimov hosting Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov at his Oksaroy residence. Yesterday, Idrissov’s ministry had announced that he would be in Tashkent the following day. In the footage, Karimov wore a black suit with a red tie and appeared to speak in his usual tone and manner. The two discussed bilateral relations, with Karimov praising Kazakhstan’s relatively new initiative to conclude a treaty of strategic partnership.
Armenia’s post-election standoff has moved into the direction of an epistolary novel as President Serzh Sargsyan and his challenger, Raffi Hovhannisian, work their way to a truce through correspondence that is cc'd to the rest of the nation.
In his latest letter, President Sargsyan kindly asked his hunger-striking rival to have a bite of something, cut the dramatics and sit down to talk. “Please stop the hunger strike, take a day or two to recover and then we will do some serious work, without the theatrics,” the president wrote to Hovhannisian, who claims that Sargsyan stole the presidency from him in Armenia's February 18 election.
Both sides, though, combine the careful courtesy with pointed barbs. Sargsyan, for instance, agreed to entertain Hovhannisian’s ideas for crisis resolution -- “half-baked” and “anti-constitutional” though they may be.
The ideas, laid out in an earlier missive from Hovhannisian, center on a request to hold a repeat presidential election or a parliamentary election preceded by an overhaul of the electoral system. And the prerogative to appoint some key officials such as the general prosecutor and the foreign minister, among others.
Hovhannisian, in turn, has agreed to consider Sargsyan's proposal to meet, thanked his political pen pal for his concern about his health, but assured him that there is no reason to be worried.
A rumor that Uzbek President Islam Karimov has suffered a debilitating heart attack is spreading as quickly as a pandemic in a thriller. As more media outlets reprint the rumor, it may be increasingly perceived as the truth, but in fact the sourcing remains as thin as it was when this started last weekend.
The allegations all go back to the same person, an exiled opposition figure thousands of miles away in Norway – Muhammad Solih, head of the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan (PMU). On March 22, Solih’s website cited an unnamed source in Tashkent as saying Karimov, 75, had suffered a heart attack after attending festivities marking the Navruz spring holiday. On March 24, Solih reiterated the rumor by citing a second source, a journalist “working for one of the state media outlets, performing his activities directly under the oversight of the National Security Committee and the press service of the president of Uzbekistan.”
The U.S.'s growing military ties with Uzbekistan may be a strategic necessity, given the importance of the Central Asian country in the U.S.'s war effort in Afghanistan. But it is forcing the U.S. to confront an important, if little-discussed, complication: Uzbekistan is the least-trusted, most-feared country in the region. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have well-known border and water conflicts with Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan sees Uzbekistan as a regional rival. So is the U.S.'s military aid to Uzbekistan raising regional tensions?
U.S. military aid, after being suspended for several years because of human rights concerns, is steadily being ramped up. That the U.S. is giving small surveillance drones to Uzbekistan is the worst-kept secret in Washington (OK, in the narrow slice of Washington that The Bug Pit inhabits). It's also giving Uzbekistan's armed forces night-vision goggles, body armor, and GPS systems, and there are credible rumors in Washington of heavier military equipment being considered for Uzbekistan to either buy or be given. (And it's not just the U.S.: Uzbekistan has pledged to work more closely with NATO on training, and the U.K. is also planning to make some donations to Uzbekistan as well.)
Gulnara Karimova, Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s eldest daughter, seems to have had a change of heart: Once described as a “robber baron” for the way she used her position of privilege and power to seize successful enterprises in Uzbekistan, she’s now championing the cause of the small businessman.
The private Novyy Vek newspaper reports that Karimova has complained about the difficulties small- and medium-sized businesses face in Uzbekistan due to, in the paper’s words, “bureaucratic and other obstacles created by government agencies.”
Speaking on March 25 at the awards ceremony of a fair showcasing handicrafts made by select artisans from across Uzbekistan, Karimova described the plight of a “promising” factory in southern Surkhandarya Region that had been forced to close because of such obstacles, Novyy Vek quoted her as saying.
“Once we visited a factory in Surkhandarya and it made very beautiful items and quality carpets and silks and it had a very interesting and good team of women and girls. Generally, it was such a decent small business,” said Karimova, who has long been rumored to covet her father’s position.
“We discussed how this enterprise could supply its products to Tashkent in order expand the factory’s sales and opportunities, but several months later we learned that the enterprise was shut,” she explained, because of “difficulties” meeting raw silk quotas set by Uzbekistan’s state body overseeing the textile industry.