Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A geopolitical game on the Roof of the World....From China to MENA to Africa and way Beyond.....

A geopolitical game on the Roof of the World....From China to MENA to Africa and way Beyond.....

Moscow and Washington’s interests have yet again collided in Tajikistan all the way to MENA and beyond...?

Viktoria Panfilova

Two military-political delegations arrived in Dushanbe on Wednesday: Russia was represented by the head of the presidential administration, Sergey Naryshkin, and defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, and the United States by the assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield. Both parties were interested in issues concerning border security and establishing their military bases on the territory of the republic.

While President Emomali Rahmon was meeting with Sergey Naryshkin and Anatoly Serdyukov on Wednesday, the US official was sent to inspect the country’s southern borders. He met with the head of state on Thursday. At the Tajik border, the US assistant secretary took part in the opening of barracks in the Sharabad Border Guard Detachment and a new frontier post at Yakhchi-Pun, the construction of which cost the USU more than $1.6 million. This is not the first project implemented by the US authorities on the Tajik-Afghan border. After the Russian border guards withdrew six years ago, the US began upgrading the frontier posts and re-arming the border guards. According to the US Embassy in Tajikistan, since 1992 more than $984 million has been invested into programs promoting the development of law enforcement agencies and security. This time in Dushanbe issues concerning Tajik-Russian military co-operation and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s upcoming visit to Tajikistan, scheduled for early September, were discussed. Following the talks, Anatoly Serdyukov did not appear before the press.

However, an optimistic, yet at the same time intriguing, announcement was made by Sergey Naryshkin. In particular, he said that the main documents to be signed in the course of Dmitry Medvedev’s visit have already been determined. “They include a program for bilateral economic cooperation in 2011-2014, as well as a border co-operation agreement between Tajikistan and Russia,” said Naryshkin. In regard to the presence of the 201-st Russian base in the country, Naryshkin said that “orders had been issued to both sides related to the status and further stay of the base in Tajikistan.” He stressed that it was not only in Russia’s interests, but also in the interests of Tajikistan.”

The reason for Naryshkin’s optimism is not quite clear because, objectively, the sphere of Russian interests in Tajikistan is narrowing, just as it is in the entire region,” Aleksandr Knyazev, senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta (NG).

According to him, “having declared the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the Americans are strengthening their positions in all of the republics in the region. American units are in full control of the Uzbek-Afghan border and a large part of the Tajik-Afghan border in Afghanistan. Talks are ongoing about the establishment of new full-featured US military facilities on the territories of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In particular, this includes establishing US military bases in Batken in Kyrgyzstan, in the Ayni and in Fahrabad in Tajikistan, perhaps in Murghab, Pamirs, in direct proximity to China,” said Knyazev. This is evidenced by the dynamics of high-ranking US diplomats and military officials’ visits to Dushanbe. “Against this background, Naryshkin and Serdyukov’s talks look less than modest,” says the expert.

View Larger Map

President of the Academy of Geopolitical Studies, Leonid Ivashov, agrees with these assessments, and asserts that Russia is being pushed out of Central Asia, on the one hand by China, which following the liquidation of Osama bin Laden declared Pakistan its zone of responsibility, and on another, and even more forcefully by the United States. “Regional configuration is changing. And in order to establish its military presence here, which is a determining factor, Washington is taking control over the local elite by all means possible. In the state of crisis, amid the cooling of relations with Russia, Tajikistan is preparing for a long-term US presence on its territory. Soon all the countries in the region, starting with Afghanistan and ending with Turkmenistan, will be dotted with military bases. And they won’t be Russian,” Leonid Ivashov told NG.

This is also being recalled in Dushanbe. “Today the region is gaining in significance for the West. The US and European interests in Central Asia will expand. Dushanbe has the opportunity to find a new form of constructive relations with its partners, including Russia,” Sukhrob Sharipov, director of the Center for Strategic Research under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, told NG. In his opinion, Tajikistan is a more reliable ally of Moscow in the military sphere. “Since Soviet times, the 201-st military base has been deployed in the republic free of charge. The Okno (Window) optical fiber complex in Nurek, which could bring profits to the republic each year, was transferred practically free of charge. And what did we get in return? Today, Dushanbe is no longer expecting anything from Moscow, as it understands that it will not keep any of its promises,” noted Sharipov. He believes that if Russia intends to continue its military presence in the republic, then it must pay.

Tajikistan has set forth its demands: if you want Ayni, then pay, just as you are paying in Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. Why doesn’t Moscow want to pay Tajikistan?” asked the Tajik political scientist.
Moscow, meanwhile, disagrees with Dushanbe’s conditions. Apparently that is the reason why talks regarding the deployment of the 201-st base and the use of the Ayni airfield have gone on for three years. Russian units of 6,800 people are stationed in Dushanbe, Kulyab, and Kurgan-Tyube. In 2004, a document was signed for a period of 10 years, on the basis of which the Russian base is stationed in Tajikistan. Not long before the contract expires, the republic’s officials suggested setting the partnership on a commercial track and presented a bill for $300 million. In Moscow’s opinion, that is an inflated amount. “This is typical eastern bargaining. It would be more logical for Tajikistan to agree on gradual payments, rather than on the payment of the entire amount at once,” Azhdar Kurtov, a leading expert with the Russian Institute of Strategic Research, told NG. He believes that Russia is not ready to pay a lot of money. But, as was noted by Sergey Naryshkin, talks regarding the use of the Ayni airfield continue, “the process is in good condition”, he said.

According to Azhdar Kurtov, today it is important for Russia to have Ayni at its disposal because aerial capabilities are the leading component in modern warfare. This has been shown by the events in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The expert believes that it would be more logical to use the Ayni airfield within the framework of the CSTO, such as Kant (Kyrgyzstan), where an aerial division of the regional organization is deployed. “It’s another issue that not all of the CSTO states are able to fund their air force presence. But it’s not right to demand money from only one country. Besides, the price of Ayni will hardly exceed $10 million. There are no plans to deploy a large military contingent there,” noted Kurtov.

Experts say Russia’s desire to use the Ayni airfield could be supported financially through investments and discounts on petroleum supplies. “In politics, there are no ideals, its basis are interests, which not only Russia has. And the niche which Russia had occupied in Tajikistan, partially due to the post-Soviet inertia, is now becoming increasingly more narrow,” Knyazev told NG.

Syria Experiencing Wide Scale Campaign Targeting Its Independent Policy and Support for Resistance....and Saudi Arabia’s message to Syria, decoded....

Vice President of the Academy on Geopolitical Affairs Gen. Leonid Ivashov said on Saturday that what is currently taking place in Syria is a wide scale campaign carried out by Israel’s Mossad and western countries – particularly the United States and France – in an attempt to fragment Syria due to its independent policy, support for resistance against Israel and establishing strong relations with Iran.

In an interview with SANA’s correspondent in Moscow, Ivashov said that the west is also targeting Syria because of its position in the Arab world and its unique style of development that can serve as a role model of Arab people, noting that the international financial circles that organized the campaign against Syria don’t want the Syrian model to succeed and continue its independent policy.

He pointed out that the third stage of the U.S. plan to destabilize Syria is taking place, and that this stage consists of carrying out sabotage and assassinations, causing bloodshed, and taking the situation from a political track to a combat track.

Ivashov explained that the second stage consisted of inciting armed confrontations with the army and law-enforcement forces, while the first stage involved amassing funds and weapons, carrying out a strong media misdirection campaign, and organizing armed terrorist groups.

In this context, Ivashov criticized the intense media and psychological war waged by some mass media establishments and satellite channels against Syria to cause chaos, fear and panic. He also lauded the Syrian media which is confronting the media weapons and uncovering its lies and misdirection to the public opinion.

Ivashov voiced confidence that Syria will emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient due to the initiatives of President Bashar al-Assad, and that Syria will succeed in foiling the acts of terrorist and sabotage planned by the Mossad and western intelligence agencies.

He also condemned the acts of sabotage that targeted a passenger train between Aleppo and Damascus and an oil pipeline in Homs.

On a relevant note, Ivashov pointed out that the U.S. organized a training course in a neighboring country for Syrian opposition, providing them with instructions and directions to carry out acts of terrorism and sabotage in Syria and exploit the just demands of some Syrians, adding that the Syrian leadership began finding solutions to these demands by issuing a number of legislations and reform laws.

Resisting Pressure and Foreign Interference the Only Way Out for Syria

In an article published recently in Serbia’s Novi Standard newspaper, Ivashov said that resisting pressures and foreign interference is the only way for Syria to emerge from its current situation.

Ivashov said that Syria works with a stable foreign and internal policy, and that President Bashar al-Assad’s political strategy is based on tackling the issue of defense and security on the bases of national, social and political unity of Syrian society, creating an independent policy that doesn’t appeal to the United States and its bid for controlling the world.

He pointed out that the U.S. uses all methods to fight the countries it labels as enemies, including revolutionary technology and military force, along with international organization, in addition to using the resources of countries under U.S. and NATO influence to form clandestine units of extremists and mercenaries to fight countries that attempt to follow and independent and free policies.

Ivashov said that mass media opposed to Syria try to pass criminal acts as protests, and that the arrests of gang members are repression of political rights and liberties, with the U.S. truing to push through with a Security Council resolution to impose a blockade on Syria. However, after the experience in Libya, Russia and China thwarted these attempts.

He added that U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are in a delicate situation, as they must go into elections after suffering one defeat after the other; first in Libya and now in Syria.

Ivashov concluded by saying that Syrians must either resist western pressure or end up like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq....

It is Iranian influence, not the killing of civilians, that Saudi Arabia is concerned about as it recalls its ambassador in Syria

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has announced that he is recalling the kingdom’s ambassador from Syria for ‘consultations’. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

Saudi Arabia has become the first Arab country to take a firm stand against the Syrian regime’s killing of civilians. In a statement issued late on Sunday night, King Abdullah demanded an end to the bloodshed and announced that the kingdom was recalling its ambassador from Damascus.

There are only two options for Syria, the king said: “Either it chooses wisdom willingly, or drifts into the depths of chaos and loss.” He called for “quick and comprehensive reforms” – “reforms that are not entwined with promises, but actually achieved so that our brothers the citizens in Syria can feel them in their lives”.

These are the strongest comments made so far by any Arab leader, and on that basis we should probably welcome them – especially if they encourage other countries in the region to take a stand. But, as one Twitter user noted, the king’s denunciation of the Assad regime does make him sound a bit like Al Capone condemning the Kray twins.

Back home, King Abdullah has shown no inclination towards the “quick and comprehensive reforms” that he is now urging upon Syria; Saudi Arabia has nothing to teach Syria about democracy, and protest demonstrations in the kingdom are totally banned. So the king’s message to Syria betrays more than a little irony.

Perhaps more troubling, though, is the negative role that Saudi Arabia has been playing during the “Arab spring” – a role that now it seems to be extending to include Syria.

The tone was set in February when Saudi Arabia gave refuge to Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the ousted Tunisian dictator. The Saudi government last week seemed unhappy when Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, was actually put on trial, with one official describing it as “a humiliating spectacle for everyone”.

The Saudi-dominated Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) has also sought to bolster the status quo in Jordan and Morocco by inviting them into the rich men’s club. Since neither country is a significant oil producer and neither is located anywhere near the Gulf, GCC membership for Jordan and Morocco only makes sense in terms of bringing all the Arab monarchs under a single umbrella for their collective protection.

We saw this monarchical insurance scheme operating at a practical level in March when Saudi troops entered Bahrain (under the auspices of the GCC’s military arm, Peninsula Shield) to save the king from protesters. Considering how much criticism there has been of Nato’s intervention in Libya, Saudi Arabia’s neo-imperialist adventure in Bahrain has attracted remarkably little attention – and it didn’t even have the cover of the UN security council resolution.

Saudi Arabia has long been the hegemonic power in Yemen, too, and its role there since the Yemeni uprising began has been more unhelpful than helpful. While recognising that Ali Abdullah Saleh is no longer a viable option as president, the Saudis are looking for a solution that would keep Yemen’s current political establishment intact – the last thing they want is a revolution of the kind favoured by protesters on the streets.

King Abdullah perhaps deserves some gratitude for detaining Saleh in Riyadh, as a “guest” locked up in luxury, now that he has beendischarged from hospital – since his return to Yemen would certainly result in more bloodshed. But no one should have illusions about that: the Saudis are looking after their own perceived interests, not those of the Yemenis who are trying to change the system. The GCC-mediated “transition plan” for Yemen was meant to prevent a genuine revolution, not help to accomplish it.

Which brings us to Syria and the question of Saudi intentions there. King Abdullah’s call for swift reform and an end to the killings is unlikely to be heeded, but perhaps it is not meant to be. Perhaps it’s meant to do nothing more than distance Saudi Arabia from the Assad regime, in preparation for its fall.

Saudi Arabia has no interest in promoting democracy or human rights in Syria; it does have an interest in promoting Sunni Muslim influence and combating Shia influence (as embodied at the international level by Iran). Considering the Assad regime’s ties with Iran, this suggests a motive for Saudi Arabia to become involved now – in the hope of driving a wedge between Iran and a post-Assad Syria....

Syria lays bare India’s foreign policy...

By M K Bhadrakumar

In a high-profile month of August, occupying the presidency of the United Nations Security Council could have embellished India’s claim to permanent membership of the club. But it is not going to happen that way, but instead it may turn out to be a test of the resilience of India’s ‘non-alignment’ in a multi-polar world. India’s tight-rope walk on Syria moves on to a delicate trapeze act this week when the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon presents his report on Syria and the 15 members begin to deliberate what to do with it.

Quite a bit of evidence is available already that an orchestrated move is underway engineered by the United States to get the UN SC adopt a resolution on Syria. Look at the sequence in the run-up to Ban’s report which is expected to be presented on Thursday. Last Friday, for the first time Turkey hinted that it might intervene in Syria. On Saturday, Ban spoke to Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad and demanded an immediate end to violence and sounding critical of the Syrian regime. (No need to bet what Ben’s report is going to contain.) On Sunday, for the first time, Arab League (where Saudis call the shots) raised its voice and suggested a foreign minister-level meet on Syria. On Monday, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador in Damascus and this was followed by similar moves by Kuwait and Bahrain. (Qatar did the same earlier.) Ahmed al-Tayeb, head of al-Azhar, the pinnacle of Sunni establishment, immediately followed the Saudi king and issued a critical statement on Syria on Monday. On Tuesday, Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoglu is visiting Damascus to deliver an ultimatum.

Things are moving with clockwork precision. What emerges is that like over Libya, western powers and NATO can now claim an ‘Arab consensus’ in favour of intervention in Syria. The speech by Saudi King Abdullah on Syria will stand out in international politics and the politics of the Middle East as one of the most cynical acts of modern times. What motivates the Persian Gulf autocrats to turn up as the voice of freedom, democracy and human rights? It’s politics, Stupid. The Saudis are consumed by the blinding hatred of the rise of Iran in the region. Brian Whitaker of the Guardian has an excellentarticle on the complicated Saudi mind and the great paradoxes that Abdullah represents in the Arab Spring. Equally ironic is the role of Bahrain. Kuwait is terrified of the Shi’ite crescent, too.

What fascinates is Egypt’s deafening silence. And Iraq’s support of Assad regime. Egypt, Syria and Iraq represent the mind, heart and soul of the Arab world. Currently, one of Iran’s most influential politicians — Alae’ddin Broujerdi, chairman of the Majlis foreign and security affairs commission — is visiting Cairo. This is the first high-level visit by an Iranian official to post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt and is indicative of the shift in the balance of power in the region.

India’s predicament is going to be acute. The plain truth is that geopolitics lie at the core of the Syrian crisis. Turkey has territorial ambitions over its former colony. It also has dreams of reclaiming the Ottoman legacy in the region. The NATO wants to arrive in the heart of the Muslim Middle East, which would be a huge leap out of Europe in its journey to become the premier global security organisation. For the US and Israel, the regime change in Damascus means the weakening of Hamas and it also opens the way to isolate Iran and Hezbollah, which in turn enables Israel to regain its regional dominance. The Sunni-Shi’ite schism provides the ideal backdrop for the US to retain its regional dominance over the strategically important Arab world — ‘divide-and-rule’. The Persian Gulf autocrats are hoping that Syria would divert attention away for a long while from their own rotting parishes.

All-in-all, the decision India takes at any UN Security Council process can only be viewed as ‘ideological’ insofar as it will be about: a) India’s strategic partnership with US and the need to harmonise with US regional policies; b) India’s dependence on the Jewish lobby in the US and the military ties with Israel; and, c) India’s time-tested friendship with the Syrian regime. If India votes with a US-Israeli-Saudi-Turkish move against the Syrian regime, will it bring India closer to UN Security Council membership? No way. Does India have stakes in the Sunni-Shi’ite schism that is going to tear apart the Muslim world? Certainly not. Does India have partisan interests in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry? Unlikely — even making allowance for the Saudi/Wahhabi/petrodollar clout over the ruling Congress Party in India’s domestic politics.

Finally, what happens if there is a regime change in Syria? Will it be any better than the chaos that unfolded in Iraq or Libya? Does India have any clear-cut vision to offer for a post-Assad Syria? Not even a brave heart in South Block will claim it has one. The strong likelihood is the emergence of the Islamist forces in yet another part of the Middle Eastern landscape. In sum, India’s stance on Syria in the UN is going to be something to write home about. It will lay bare the beating heart of India’s foreign policy establishment.

Three years have passed since Georgia attacked on South Ossetia on August 8, 2008, and it has become clear in the time since that the war was a point of departure for Russia’s new foreign policy. Russia demonstrated its ability to defend its vital interests by force, if necessary. Washington responded by dialing down its confrontation with Moscow in the post-Soviet space and entering into a dialogue with Russia as equals for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The five-day war was a serious test for Russia’s political leadership. For the first time in its recent history, Russia had to use military force outside its borders. By launching a military operation to “enforce peace,” the Kremlin disregarded the wishes of the West, primarily Georgia’s patron the United States. As a result, Russian-U.S. relations soured to an extent not seen since the Cold War.

However, it’s fair to say that the bilateral “reset” launched in 2009 was a direct consequence of the events in South Ossetia.

Last gasp

Three years give us enough perspective to answer at least some basic questions about the war in South Ossetia. No doubt, South Ossetia was the last gasp of the U.S. policy of “forechecking”, which Washington had pursued in the former Soviet Union since the early 1990s. The United States took a serious gamble by making Georgia its key ally in the Caucasus.

In retrospect, Georgia could very well have become a vehicle of U.S. influence, helping it project its military might in the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. It could have also become a foothold of sorts for monitoring events in Russia’s North Caucasus.

A number of Russian and foreign experts have repeatedly criticized this policy as pointless. However, given that Russian-U.S. competition in the post-Soviet space did not cease for a minute since the 1990s, this was a well-thought-out and pragmatic policy. It guaranteed the United States control over an important oil route (the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline), created many opportunities for power plays in the oil-and-gas-rich Caspian Sea region, and opened a northern channel for a potential military operation against Iran.

Logic of confrontation

Needless to say, there is no direct evidence that Washington ordered the attack on South Ossetia. However, there are some signs that it was not Tbilisi but the anti-Russian neo-cons in the George W. Bush administration that orchestrated the August war.

First, the logic behind the Russian-U.S. confrontation initiated by officials in the Bush administration had been leading to this point. By the end of the 2000s, Moscow managed to halt the triumphal procession of color revolutions and even regained some of its positions in the post-Soviet space. One could see the war in South Ossetia as Washington attempting to show Moscow who was in the driver’s seat in the former Soviet republics.

Moreover, a swift defeat of South Ossetia, a republic that was under Russia’s wing despite ostensibly belonging to Georgia, would have damaged Moscow’s reputation beyond repair and created new opportunities for the United States. After all, who needs a weak ally? It is always better to side with a country that can take action.

Clearly, if Moscow had shown indifference to South Ossetia’s fate, the federal government’s authority in the North Caucasus would have been severely damaged. Given the mentality of North Caucasian elites, there is reason to assume that surrendering South Ossetia would have likely caused a serious crisis in the region and called into question Russia’s territorial integrity.

Finally, Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia was a great opportunity for the U.S. to test Moscow’s combat capabilities and determine the condition of its armed forces, while at the same time gauging the effectiveness of the Georgian army. Washington needed to know whether Tbilisi was ready to be its regional military ally, especially given the possibility of a military operation against Iran.

What next?

The timing of the August 8 operation was perfect, but many other important factors were neglected. For example, there was the fact that the well-equipped Georgian army had no combat experience; rumors of the Russian military’s death had been greatly exaggerated; and the proximity of the theater of war to Russia’s border.

The authors of this war were no doubt surprised to discover Moscow’s great political will and unexpected readiness to see the conflict through.

As a result, the attack on South Ossetia achieved the opposite of what it was meant to – a U.S. ally failed to consolidate its position, whereas Russia greatly increased its international clout and convincingly nullified all U.S. security guarantees.

However, after getting off to a great start, Moscow adopted a passive approach toward Georgia after the end of hostilities and its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. It goes without saying that reconciliation is impossible with the current Georgian political leadership, but this does not justify Russia’s lack of a clear strategy toward the Saakashvili regime. As long as this dangerous adventurist, susceptible to foreign influence, remains in power, tensions in the region will not subside.

It is also necessary to put on a practical plane the issue of the legal responsibility of the Georgian president and his entourage for the war crimes in South Ossetia. Judging by everything, Russia’s political leaders, particularly President Dmitry Medvedev, are ready to move in this direction....