Eurasia News Week in Review

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

The Caucasus:

  • Armenia is reportedly buying Chinese-made multiple-launch rocket systems. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, citing an unnamed military source in Armenia, said that Armenia is buying a number of AR1A systems, the latest move in an arms race between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Chinese rocket system is an updated version of the Russian Smerch, which Azerbaijan has recently purchased from Russia. If true, the transfer would represent a rare move by China’s defense industry into the post-Soviet world.

  • Georgia’s defense minister visited the United States in a bid to solidify military relations between the two countries. In his trip to Washington, Irakli Alasania met his American counterpart Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon, among other U.S. officials. Alasania declined to reveal concrete results of the talks, but said that they “confirmed” the progress of cooperation programs including the planned provision of military transport helicopters.

  • A former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan said that a Washington visit by that country’s defense minister sent the “wrong signal” to Baku. The diplomat, Richard Kauzlarich, said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (in Russian) that the visit by Defense Minister Safar Abiyev earlier this month gave the appearance that Washington supported the current government in the presidential elections scheduled for this fall. Kauzlarich also said that Baku does not understand that, with the looming pullout of Western forces from Afghanistan and the changing natural gas market in Europe, Azerbaijan’s regional and global importance is declining.

Central Asia

  • Iran’s newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, will attend the September summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Bishkek, Iranian media reported. There had previously been conflicting reports about Rouhani’s plans, amid speculation about what his election will mean for Iran’s relations with Central Asia and the post-Soviet world. The visit to Bishkek will be his first trip abroad as president, and he is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, among other leaders.

  • As the U.S. appears to be resigned to having to leave its air base in Kyrgyzstan when the current agreement lapses next July, military analysts said the most likely U.S. response will be to use existing U.S. or European facilities to take on the base’s missions. Given that the military mission in Afghanistan is winding down, it would not be worth it to undertake the lengthy process of setting up a new facility in Central Asia, the analysts said. Possible alternatives include existing U.S. facilities in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Greece, Turkey, Italy, or Romania.

Quick Hits from Central Asia and the South Caucasus: 

  • Ukraine and Turkmenistan vowed to expand their cooperation in the defense business.

  • Azerbaijan’s defense minister called for expanded military ties with Iran, but a planned visit by the head of Azerbaijan’s navy to Iran has been postponed.

  • Uzbekistan plans to upgrade its fleet of Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters for use with night-vision equipment.

  • A delegation from Uzbekistan attended an international water conference in Tajikistan, amid heightened tensions between the two countries over Tajikistan’s plans to build a dam that Uzbekistan believes would interfere with its water supply.

  • The Collective Security Treaty Organization held a “tank biathlon” near Moscow, which was won by Russia. Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus also participated.

  • The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a radical Islamist group based in Pakistan, announced new threats that implied a new international focus for the group.

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