Eurasia Week in Review

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

Central Asia

  • Russia’s deputy defense minister has criticized the Western coalition for pulling out of Afghanistan too quickly, reported RIA Novosti. The International Security and Assistance Force “has been too hasty about making the final decision to pull out in 2014,” Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said, adding that Afghan “domestic security forces capable of countering radical elements have not yet been created.” Antonov said Moscow is “doing very much to strengthen our contingents” in the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan ahead of the pullout.

  • United States funds are helping create a public health laboratory in Kazakhstan, reorienting the country’s Soviet-era biological weapons expertise toward peaceful use. The aim of the program, U.S. officials said, was to employ biological weapons scientists “so that they will not be tempted to sell their expertise to terrorists or rogue nations,” according to a report in National Journal. While the U.S. has provided all the funding to set up the laboratory, the plan is for American funds to be phased out and for Kazakhstan to take full responsibility.

  • The commander of the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan saidthat as a result of the Kyrgyzstan government’s move to not renew the base’s lease past next summer, the U.S. is exploring how to “move the operations somewhere else.” The U.S. uses the base for refueling operations in Afghanistan, as well as to process all U.S. troops entering or leaving Afghanistan. U.S. officials have declined to comment on what options they may be exploring. Meanwhile, the U.S. is planning to resurface the runway at the airport, Manas, which is also Kyrgyzstan’s main civilian airport. (Note: page with interview linked to above appears to have been taken down.)

  • There have been conflicting reports as to whether Iran’s newly elected president Hassan Rouhani would take part in next month’s summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Kyrgyzstan. The trip would be Rouhani’s first outside Iran since being elected president. Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, applied for full membership in the group and placed a high priority on it as a geopolitical alternative to the West. (The SCO’s full members are: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.) Rouhani, however, has suggested that he will not emphasize Iran’s role in the organization.

The Caucasus 

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Baku, leading a high-profile delegation that also included the minister of defense, minister of foreign affairs and commander of Russia’s Caspian Flotilla. The meeting took place in the context of worsening relations between Russia and Azerbaijan’s foe, Armenia. After his meeting with Putin, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said that arms trade between the two countries amounted to $4 billion. A Russian flotilla also accompanied the Kremlin delegation, and the two sides announced that Azerbaijani naval vessels would visit Russia by the end of the year.

Quick Hits from Central Asia and the South Caucasus:

  • A U.S. Navy destroyer and two Georgian coast guard vessels conducted joint exercises in the Black Sea. The event was most newsworthy, though, for being the site of a public spat between the country’s two political leaders.

  • Kyrgyzstan’s finance minister warned (in Russian) the country’s parliament that the departure of the U.S.’s air base – and the associated rent and aid – could render the country unable to pay its foreign debt.

  • China and Kyrgyzstan conducted joint “anti-terror” exercises on the border between the two countries.

  • Asked about the prospect of Georgian NATO membership in an interview with Georgian television, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said, “We are against — putting it mildly — Georgia’s joining NATO” and pointedly mentioned that Russia has nuclear weapons.

  • Former U.S. National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones wrote an op-ed urging the U.S. not to lose interest in Central Asia after the upcoming withdrawal from Afghanistan.

  • Military exercises including the U.S., Mongolia and several other countries concluded in Mongolia.

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