Eurasia News Week in Review

A round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the last week:

Caucasus

  • Georgia intends to try to buy “defensive” weapons from Israel, including drones and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, the country’s defense minister, Iraklia Alasania, has told Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv (in Hebrew, translated by BBC Monitoring). Russia had pressured Israel to cease the moderate amount of defense cooperation it had with Georgia after the 2008 war over South Ossetia. “We are no longer at war with Russia, and we can advance our security relations with Israel,” Alasania told Ma’ariv. Alasania and Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili plan to visit Israel next week. (Alasania also recently visited Azerbaijan, which has a well-developed arms trade with Israel.)

  • A number of protests over Georgia’s military presence in Afghanistan after several combat deaths there have posed a challenge to the political leadership in Tbilisi. Protests against the Georgian deployment and NATO generally took place in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Batumi. Georgia’s contingent in Afghanistan, the largest by a non-NATO member, has been the centerpiece of Tbilisi’s strategy to gain Western support for NATO membership. “The debate following the attack on Georgia’s Afghan contingent shows that public debate and opinion might be shifting, as Georgians are becoming more frustrated about the reluctance of NATO to take in Georgia regardless of Georgia’s casualties in Afghan and earlier in the Iraqi mission,” wrote Vasili Rukhadze in Jamestown’s Eurasia Daily Monitor. “Such a backlash may further increase in the future if Georgian casualties in Afghanistan mount and NATO continues to drag its feet regarding accepting Georgia.”

  • Russia has delivered a large shipment of weapons to Azerbaijan, prompting alarm in neighboring Armenia. The shipment was worth about $1 billion and included “nearly 100 T-90C tanks, Smerch and TOS-1A multiple rocket launchers and Msta-A and Vena artillery cannons,” Reuters reported. Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war in the 1990s over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh, which Armenian forces won, and Azerbaijan is now arming itself in preparation for retaking the territory. Russia has close political ties to Armenia, operating a military base there and supplying Armenia with low-cost weapons, but the recent news has renewed debate in Armenia about the reliability of Russia as a partner.

Central Asia

  • The parliament of Kyrgyzstan voted 91-5 in favor of a bill to “annul” the current agreement between Kyrgyzstan and the United States over the lease of the Manas air base. The vote in effect ratifies a decree made by the government in May. The importance of the vote was not clear, however. It stipulates that the U.S. must leave the base by July of 2014, which was already the expiration date of the current agreement. U.S. officials have made it clear that they intend to continue discussions on a new agreement. Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament also approved a bill allowing for NATO cargo to be transited through the country.

  • Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, is scheduled to visit Kazakhstan by the end of the month. Transit of British military equipment out of Afghanistan is expected to be high on the agenda of the two-day visit, the first by a sitting British PM to Central Asia. Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev “was apparently eager to trade concessions over military transit for the prestige of hosting a major foreign leader on his home turf,” reported the Independent.

Quick Hits from Central Asia and the South Caucasus:

  • Georgia’s Interior Ministry announced that it had found several caches of “weapons, explosives, drugs, and documents targeting opponents of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s party.”

  • The U.S. State Department has lowered Uzbekistan’s ranking on its annual Trafficking in Persons report, now giving the country the lowest possible rating. The move could result in sanctions against the country, a key partner in military transit to Afghanistan.

  • Uzbekistan border guards shot and killed a Kyrgyzstan citizen.

  • Kyrgyzstan’s Dastan torpedo factory is only working three days a week because of a lack of business, company officials say.

  • The U.S. signed an agreement with Russia to buy Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghanistan armed forces.

  • Kazakhstan is preparing a new policy aimed at countering “terror” groups as the number of attacks on security forces has increased over the last two years.

  • A new Russian attack missile ship is expected to start trials in the Caspian Sea in July. Ex-U.S. Secretary of Defense has visited Kyrgyzstan. 

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