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:

Central Asia:

  • A senior military official has said that of the cargo that the U.S. is shipping out of Afghanistan, only about four percent goes via the overland routes through the former Soviet republics known as the Northern Distribution Network. That compares with about 80 percent of the cargo going into Afghanistan, said the official, Scott Anderson, U.S. Central Command’s deputy director for logistics and engineering. The reason is partly geographical, in that most U.S. forces now are in southern Afghanistan, thus making the route through Pakistan more attractive, Anderson said. He also noted that political factors like the difficulty of setting up the retrograde NDN routes contributed to their scant use.

  • Russia will start sending a large shipment weapons to Kyrgyzstan starting this year, Russia’s defense minister said. The weapons will include “tanks, armored vehicles and personnel carriers, as well as rocket launchers, artillery, small arms, and surveillance and communication systems,” according to RIA Novosti. The weapons are part of a deal, worth more than $1 billion, that Russia signed with Kyrgyzstan to counter the threat of Islamist spillover from Afghanistan, as well as to counter the U.S.’s growing ties with Uzbekistan, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported back in the fall.

  • In 2014, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will hold its annual “Peace Mission” military exercise in China, the group announced during a meeting of member country defense ministers in Bishkek. China’s defense minister said during the meeting that Beijing is committed to improving defense ties with Central Asia.

 Caucasus:

  • Azerbaijan held a large military parade in the capital of Baku to mark the 95th anniversary of the creation of the country’s armed forces. The parade reportedly included more than 5,000 soldiers, 300 vehicles and other equipment, and 100 aircraft. At the parade, Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev said that Azerbaijan’s military budget is now $3.7 billion, compared to just $2 billion for neighboring rival Armenia’s entire state budget. The parade was the fourth that Azerbaijan has held since 1991. Meanwhile, Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization Nikolay Bordyuzha explained Russia’s recent large arms delivery to Azerbaijan, in apparent defiance of CSTO treaty partner Armenia, as necessary to maintain “parity” between the two countries.

  • President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia announced that he had personally ordered arms to be cached across the country after the 2008 war with Russia over South Ossetia. The Interior Ministry, controlled by Saakashvili’s political rival the Georgian Dream coalition, had previously announced that it had discovered the caches, which it said contained drugs and videos incriminating political opponents as well as weapons and ammunition. Saakashvili denied those charges, saying that the caches were arranged to prepare for another war with Russia.

  • Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili traveled to Israel in a bid to improve relations, reportedly including defense ties, with the country. Georgian officials said, however, that arms deals were not part of the discussion. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen traveled to Tbilisi and called Georgia a “model partner” for the alliance.

Quick Hits from Central Asia and the South Caucasus:

  • Uzbekistan held large-scale military exercises simulating an “enemy invasion,” reported state television, via BBC Monitoring.

  • Russia announced that it will upgrade its military base in Armenia, in a process starting this year and lasting for several years, officials from the two countries said.

  • Iran sent a naval flotilla across the Caspian Sea to visit the Russian Caspian Fleet.

  • A report in Defense News suggested that Turkey was leaning towards choosing a Chinese system in its high-profile air defense program, potentially creating problems with its NATO allies.

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