Joint Center Publications

The Hill
December 10, 2019

By Mamuka Tsereteli

America must defend its allies against clear Russian hostility

 

It is in American interests to deter an increasingly assertive Russia. One way of doing this is to strengthen the independence and sovereignty of the countries around Russia, most of which face growing pressure from Moscow. The Black Sea states of Ukraine and Georgia, as well as Moldova and Belarus, are primary targets of Russian power. Other countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia also face assertive Russian policies. All these nations have suffered the collateral damage of changing ideologies of various administrations in the United States. American disengagement from different parts of the world over the last decade has created a large geopolitical vacuum now filled by Russia, China, and other adversaries.

Russia is particularly assertive in this process. After the occupation of Georgia and the annexation of Crimea, Russian leaders claim that Europe has a different map now, with some new states and new borders. Russia no longer considers itself bound by any formal international agreements, allowing its military presence almost anywhere in the world. In addition, Russia is in blatant violation of both the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which are fundamental and important for stability and security all across Europe.

In addition to direct military aggression, Russia ignited and fueled conflict in Eastern Ukraine using proxies, as it had done in Georgia and Moldova before. Russia also pushes countries into the Eurasian Economic Union, to keep them attached to its own inefficient and corrupt market system. It is increasing pressure on Belarus, which could lead to the elimination of Belarusian sovereignty. There is also constant pressure on Georgia. While moving artificially created borders and expanding occupied territories, the Russian military and its local proxies are escalating violations of basic human rights of ethnic Georgians inside the occupied territories, thus trying to humiliate the Georgian state and exacerbate existing divisions.

All of these facts and many other developments indicate that nations in the Russian neighborhood are under increased pressure on an almost daily basis. Most of them have had historical experiences with Russian military invasions, losing their sovereignty to imperial or Soviet Russia. Because of their fears of Russia, they are responding to the pressure. Meanwhile, messages from democracies in the West are baffling.

French President Emmanuel Macron says that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is brain dead. The United Kingdom is trying to leave the European Union, and prospects of the union are also in question. The United States is distracted with impeachment, and officials who need to be substantively thinking about the sovereignty of these countries are occupied with investigations. Internal political dynamics in the United States impact its credibility as a strategic ally, while leaving many of the small sovereign countries, which are loyal friends of the United States, vulnerable in times of such great need for American leadership. Russia is clearly a winner in this geopolitical struggle, at least for the time being.

For those who ask why the United States should be engaged, I would ask them to consider Ukraine. In 1994, Ukraine gave up its significant nuclear arsenal in exchange for guarantees of security and territorial principles, affirmed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia. Along with the strategic interests in supporting a country that can assist in balancing Russia, the United States has a moral obligation to support a responsible international actor that agreed to weaken its position against potential aggression to follow what appeared to be the international rule of law.

The notion that the United States should not spend its resources on the security of its allies is wrong for several reasons. Most importantly, the cost of supporting sovereign nations now will prevent higher American costs in the future. The costs of preventing major European wars and balancing an increasingly assertive Russia now will be lower than the costs of potential new military operations. There is no time to waste.

Russia is a powerful military state with large nuclear stockpiles. It is also an adversary which challenges American interests around the world. But low energy prices and Western sanctions made an impact on the Russian economy, and its economic output is smaller than the state of Texas. In this challenging environment, the Black Sea plays a critical role as an export gateway for Russian energy resources and other products. This opens the door for collaboration, but also for pushback and deterrence. What is required is American leadership, a clear strategy, and appropriate policies built on strong political will. In these times of turmoil, Congress can and must provide this international leadership before it is too late.

Mamuka Tsereteli is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.

Thursday, 05 December 2019 16:58

Is This Central Asia’s ASEAN Moment?

The Diplomat
December 5, 2019

By S. Frederick Starr

Is This Central Asia’s ASEAN Moment?

On November 29, Central Asia re-emerged as a world region.

 

Hats off to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan, First President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan, and President Sooronbay Jeenbekov of the Kyrgyz Republic. On November 29, 2019 these leaders jointly resolved to develop:

forms and mechanisms for the development of cooperation in the areas of trade, economy, investments, transport and transit, agriculture, industrial cooperation, protection of environment, energy, water resources, tourism, science and culture.

In short, they pledged to develop in Central Asia something akin to ASEAN, the Nordic Council, the Vishegrad Group, or Mercosur. After centuries of being played against one another, the Central Asian states have linked arms to advance their common welfare.

Even though it took these newly independent countries 28 years to achieve this, the logic of their decision is impeccable. Their landlocked status, poor intraregional communication, minimal intraregional trade, and poor links in countless areas have greatly hampered development throughout the region. With an average population of barely 14 million, the individual countries of Central Asia rank with Chad, Somalia, or Zimbabwe. However, their combined population puts them in the same league with Britain, Thailand, or France. Through coordination and cooperation they seek to overcome the liabilities of intraregional isolation and reap the benefits of efficiency and scale.

The presidents do not view their as-yet unnamed Central Asian entity as an alternative to national sovereignty. Rather, they conceive it as a kind of second story to the full statehood they gained with the collapse of the USSR. For all of them it is a natural response to the increasingly competitive environment in which small states everywhere must function. And by joining forces they will discourage outside powers from playing them off each other.

The officials who signed the Tashkent document vary widely in experience. The convener, Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan, has been in office for only three years, while Rahmon of Tajikistan was first elected in 1992 and survived a lengthy civil war. Although Nazarbayev officially left Kazakhstan’s presidency in March after 29 years, he still bears the honorary title of Leader of the Nation, in which capacity he represented his country in Tashkent. Meanwhile, the presidents of Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan have served 12 and two years, respectively.

The governments they head are equally diverse. All except Kyrgyzstan, which struggles to function as a parliamentary republic, are top-down regimes, which their mildest critics characterize as authoritarian. Indeed, over the years, not one has escaped the charge of dictatorship. Yet Mirziyoyev has launched a transformative program of reforms in Uzbekistan, while Nazarbayev’s successor has announced the goal of making Kazakhstan a state that listens to its citizens. Rahmon justifies his one-man rule as necessary to prevent religious extremists from crossing into Tajikistan from Afghanistan, while Berdymukhamedov defends his authoritarianism as necessary to ward off foreign threats and preserve Turkmenistan’s non-aligned status.

One might question if such diverse countries and leaders can work together successfully. Yet the commonalities of the five countries far outweigh their differences. All are Muslim societies and adhere to the relatively mild and commercially oriented Hanafi school. And while they proudly view their region as a major historical seat of the faith, they all have secular states, laws, and courts. All but Persianate Tajikistan are Turkic, and all five societies can claim thousands of years of close commercial and cultural interaction with one another. This is no surprise, as these are the people who both originated and operated the Silk Roads. As Nazarbayev put it in 2017:

I know that we share a common past, a common culture, common values, and common understandings, and we also face common threats. Furthermore, I know that we all know each other far better than outsiders know us.

Acknowledging this basis for mutual collaboration in Central Asia, one should also note that some of the most successful regional entities globally are comprised of countries that differ radically from one another. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) includes among its member states Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim countries. While some of them boast participatory governments based on market economies, they also include authoritarian and communist states. In population ASEAN countries range from Indonesia (271 million) to Singapore (5.7 million) and Brunei (430,000). And yet they collaborate effectively through a complex web of coordinating, consultative, and legislative bodies in virtually every field of endeavor. Similarly, the venerable Nordic Council, formed in 1952, includes both members of the European Union and nonmembers, as well as members of NATO and nonmembers.

If the case for regional coordination and collaboration in Central Asia is so strong, why was such an initiative not mounted before now? The fact is that it was, and these efforts can even be traced to the last decades of Soviet rule. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s the First Secretaries of the Communist Parties of all five Central Asian republics frequently consulted with one another and coordinated their dealings with Party leaders in the Kremlin. The key figure in this unofficial but intensive form of regionalism was Sharof Rashidov, who ruled Uzbekistan between 1959 and 1983, but his counterparts in all the other republics participated actively. By so doing they created a kind of semi-autonomy for their republics as a group.

This broke down after independence, as each new country focused on asserting its own sovereignty and identity. Their path was difficult, for all five had to design and adopt new laws and institutions, establish themselves on the international scene, and create symbols and rituals that enabled members of the public to view themselves as citizens of a nation-state rather than subjects of an empire. While all this was taking place, they had also to completely reorganize their economies, taking control of sectors that had heretofore been run from Moscow and introducing private property to a populace long accustomed to life under communism.

For most of the 1990s the new governments were preoccupied with these concerns. Yet they consolidated their rule and survived. Tajikistan, which endured a brutal civil war, achieved peace in 1997. Confidence returned everywhere. It was in this mood that three countries — Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan — launched the Central Asia Union, which later become known as the Central Asia Cooperation Organization. The bold founders designed this body to address even the most sensitive region-wide issues, including water and security. Turkmenistan, citing its UN-approved nonaligned status, stood aside, but Tajikistan was ready to join once peace was concluded there. Then Vladimir Putin intervened.

Putin’s first move was to seek observer status for Russia. With no alternative, members acceded to this request, but it was quickly followed by a request for Russia to be admitted as a full member. No sooner had the Central Asians acceded to this than Putin proposed to close down the regional body and replace it with what became his Eurasian Economic Union. As had happened so often over recent centuries, centrifugal force overwhelmed region-based centripetalism.

But the Central Asians did not abandon their quest for regionally-based cooperation and collaboration. Their new tool for advancing this cause was to make their region a nuclear free zone. Kazakhstan had voluntarily given up its nuclear arms in 1992 and in that same year the five presidents met in Almaty and declared their intention to keep their region free of nuclear arms. This idea germinated quietly until 1997, when a meeting in Turkmenistan’s capital of Ashgabat produced a formal proposal signed by all five countries, which the General Assembly of the United Nations promptly approved by consensus. Then followed another period of quiet diplomacy at the international level, which culminated in 2006 with the signing in Kazakhstan of a treaty banning nuclear weapons from the region. The United States, France, and Britain opposed this step while both Russia and China supported it. Relying on none of these partners, the Central Asians successfully asserted their right to act as a group, without the interference of outside powers.

At this point the initiative for regional collaboration shifted to sympathetic foreign powers. In 2004, Japan, eager to outflank China in the region, began convening annual meetings with all five countries as a group in what it called the “Central Asia Plus Japan” initiative. The European Union copied this format for their own annual meetings and, significantly, backed it with a new strategy for “Enhanced Integration for Prosperity in Central Asia.” What the Central Asians had difficulty doing on their own, they could accomplish with the help of sympathetic outsiders, East and West.

The United States, preoccupied with Afghanistan, ignored this centripetal movement within Central Asia. Over several years Uzbekistan sought to persuade Washington to use its Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFA) with Central Asian countries as a platform for region-wide meetings. But Washington remained indifferent. Finally, in 2015 Kairat Umarov, Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Washington, proposed to then-Secretary of State John Kerry that America create a “C5+1” structure comprising the five Central Asian states and Washington. Kerry agreed, but the State Department did little to lift the resulting consultations above the level of bureaucratic routine.

The election of Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2018 gave a new impetus to the movement for Central Asian regionalism. By making improved relations with Uzbekistan’s Central Asian neighbors his first priority, Mirziyoyev swept away many impediments to cooperation and coordination. When he proposed a new meeting of the five presidents, Nazarbayev immediately offered not only to host the group in Astana but to issue the invitation in the name of its initiator, Uzbekistan. A new era of regional comity had begun.

Although the meeting took place as planned, the follow-up meeting scheduled for Tashkent was postponed. Rumors circulated that both the Kyrgyz and Turkmen had offered objections. Many thought the regionalist movement had died. But it hadn’t. At the joint initiative of the Central Asian ambassadors to the United Nations, the General Assembly on  June 22, 2018 approved a resolution “Affirming Cooperation in Central Asia” that acknowledged the existence of Central Asia as a world region with its own interests and objectives, and with the right to organize itself to advance them. All the major powers, including China, Russia, the EU, and the United States, voted in favor. Then, in February 2019, Uzbekistan organized a major conference on regional cooperation in Tashkent. Of great significance was the fact that the secretary general of the United Nations blessed the event, affirming its international legitimacy.

But now a new centrifugal force was being exerted across the region. Under great pressure from Russia, Kyrgyzstan had joined Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union. Now that pressure was refocusing on Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Tashkent managed to gain time by accepting only observer status for a period of five years, a step that provided cover for its smaller neighbor Tajikistan. Given the fact that Uzbekistan had earlier joined and then quit both the western-oriented GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) organization and Russia’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), this temporizing cannot be seen as simply a means of delaying membership.

It is one thing to affirm common interests and declare solidarity, and quite another to develop institutions and structures to give permanence to such mutual relations. Here the November 29 declaration is deliberately vague. Besides calling for annual meetings of the presidents around the time of the ancient and region-wide Nowruz festival, which coincides with the vernal equinox, the conferees launched a process of discussion to determine the most appropriate institutional structures for their collaboration. Meanwhile, region-wide meetings of think tanks and educational institutions have already taken place, and many more such conclaves are planned.

As they plan their future regional organization, the Central Asians will closely examine the experience of existing entities like ASEAN, the Nordic Council, etc. This has already begun, with several analytic papers already in print and a study visit to Singapore to enable young Central Asian leaders to meet with officials of ASEAN. The key will be to learn from both the successes and failures of others; in other words, to adapt, and not simply adopt. Given the strong sense of regional identity and self-interest that exists in Central Asia, one can expect this process of institutionalization to yield some innovative results.

What, then, are the chances of success for the new regional institutions that the Central Asian presidents announced in Tashkent on November 29? There are many causes for concern. Among these, the broad differences between the economic, social, and institutional resources of the participating countries present a particularly acute challenge. What works in Kazakhstan may not work in Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan. The effort to find a middle ground will inevitably consume time and energy, and could well prevent action.

A second possible retardant will be the huge demands and sheer magnetic attraction of global engagement. Obviously, the founding presidents see their new entity as a way to facilitate successful engagement with international structures, not as an alternative to them. But the endless claims of foreign governments, international financial institutions, and donor organizations could upstage intraregional developments and draw attention and energy away from them. Only if regional elites and publics perceive regional organizations as benefitting them personally will the new initiative succeed.

Still a third possible brake on the development of a regional association of Central Asian states could be opposition from Moscow. President Putin has always presented his Eurasian Economic Community (2000) and Eurasian Economic Union (2014) as better alternatives to any purely regional organization of Central Asians. That is why he moved to close down the Central Asia Union. The Central Asians are understandably concerned over the overwhelming economic and demographic disparity between Russia and all the EAEU’s other members. Beyond this, they know that Moscow sees the EAEU as a means of weaning the entire region from its ties with Europe and the West in favor of a grand new “Greater Eurasia” built around Russia and China. And, finally, they realize that Russia wants the resulting east-west trade to be channeled through Siberia, not Central Asia, which would return their region to the lowly status of a supplier of energy and raw materials.

Yet whether joining the EAEU is wise or foolish, it need not preclude membership in the new regional organization. If this were to change, it would, of course, be a cause for grave concern. But it should be noted that Russia voted for the 2018 UN resolution affirming Central Asia as a world region entitled to organize in order to protect its own interests, and made no overt moves to thwart the November 29 statement. With so many ambitions and commitments elsewhere, Putin may decide to give Central Asians a pass on their self-organization. Or maybe not. And if not, the Kremlin can call on its many assets across the region, including the security services in several of the countries.

Here the role of other outside powers comes into play. China has its own ambitions in Central Asia but has indicated its intention to respect the Central Asians’ decision to form a purely regional association. Japan has long supported such arrangements, as has the EU. If European commercial and political contacts continue to deepen, as appears likely, the Central Asians will think twice before putting them at risk. The same holds for the United States, which until now has invested mainly in Central Asian energy and raw materials. This is now changing rapidly, with new investments and interactions emerging daily at both official and unofficial levels.

The only problem with this formulation is that up to now Washington’s response to the new regionalism in Central Asia has been passive, unimaginative, and bureaucratic. Yes, it claims to support the emerging regional spirit, but to date it has not even taken full advantage of its TIFA and C5+1 agreements to back Central Asia’s emergence as an organized world region. Whatever the State Department may say, money is not the issue, since the new investments are market-based and private. Rather, it is the failure of the State Department, other relevant U.S. agencies, and private foundations to use their convening power to bring together Central Asians in ways that benefit the growth of regional contacts and structures.

This dark picture is brightened by brightened by important positive forces. Promenent among them is the spirit of urgency that prevails across the region. Facing pressures from the north and common security challenges like drug trafficking and religious extremism, they know they must seek common responses, and organize themselves to implement them. Moreover, all countries of the region are awakening to the reality that they must compete in a rapidly changing global economic environment, in which they must either work with their neighbors or fade away as sovereign states.

A further positive element is the leavening influence of reforms in Uzbekistan. Whether or not they are copied by neighboring states, the Mirziyoyev reforms have removed many impediments to fruitful interaction on the regional level, and set processes in motion that will further this development. Significant increases in intraregional travel, communications, investment, cultural exchanges, and citizen interactions are daily increasing the chances for success of the November 29 program. Indeed, the geometric increase of such contacts are transforming regionalism from a purely top-down process to one in which change is also being generated from below as well as from above.

It is still too early to say whether the presidency of Kassim-Jomart Tokayev in Kazakhstan will have a similarly positive impact on the development of region-wide consultative institutions. However, this is strongly likely. Tokayev has declared his intention to shift to a more responsive and citizen-based mode of governing. Given his cautious manner, his steps in this direction will be the more easily borrowed and assimilated by other regional states. Moreover, Tokayev has more international experience than any of his regional peers. Significantly, he was the author of the widely copied strategy of “balancing” the major external powers against one another through positive relations. As such, he understands clearly that it will be far easier for the Central Asian countries to achieve such a balance by acting in coordination with one another than by acting alone. He knows that the best way to prevent outside powers from playing the ancient “divide and conquer game” in Central Asia is for the Central Asian countries to act in consort, through a process of communication and coordination.

The document signed in Tashkent by all the regional leaders on November 29 clearly indicates that they have all come to this same conclusion. They see the new Central Asia-wide structures as an essential component of the development of their own states and societies. Moreover, their joint declaration makes clear that participating countries will be free to join or not join any other groupings or alliances they wish, provided they honor their commitments to their Central Asian neighbors.

Stated differently, they do not advance the need for Central Asia-wide institutions in a spirit of opposition to any foreign power or economic bloc but as the best way to overcome their landlocked status, relatively small populations, and distance from major economic centers. Far from seeing this step as in any way revolutionary, they view it as affirming their deepest historical and cultural traditions. As they state in their joint resolution of November 29 2019, “The [proposed] political dialogue and positive processes of interstate rapprochement in Central Asia are of an open and constructive nature and are not aimed against the interests of third parties.”

On this basis, the United States, Russia, China, the EU, and the entire international community should welcome and embrace this innovative and promising project.

S. Frederick Starr is Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council.

Thursday, 05 December 2019 16:54

America and the Kurds

Real Clear Defense
December 3, 2019

John Bednarek and Svante E. Cornell 

 

Much of the outrage and frustration for the U.S. withdrawal from Syria focused on America’s long-standing relationship with the Kurds, without differentiating between Kurdish groups. While America’s relations with Syria’s Kurds are in flux, as a matter of foreign policy, America should increase its support for the Kurds of Iraq, a clear and reliable long-term partner in this historically contested region.

The Kurds, an ethnic group living on the borderlands between Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, have figured prominently in American strategy in the Middle East for three decades. The 1990 Gulf war focused mainly on rolling back Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.  It also led America to impose a no-fly zone on oil-rich northern Iraq. This drove the Kurds to set up their own autonomous government structure, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). This “regional framework” grew stronger following America’s invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein.  As a second order effect, the KRG became the most stable, reliable, and U.S.-friendly part of the country.

By contrast, the main force purporting to represent the Kurds of Turkey has been the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Marxist-Leninist organization that both America and the E.U. consider a terrorist group. The PKK has routinely targeted civilians during its decades-long struggle against the Turkish government. This highlights one of the challenges with America's Syria policy because the Syrian Kurds are loosely acknowledged to be an extension of the PKK.  The United States military partnership with a group affiliated alongside terrorist linked organizations remains politically tenuous.

NATO ally Turkey did not and does not see the fight against Islamic State as a priority.  Appearances are that Ankara is more concerned with the Kurdish challenge and its ill-conceived efforts to topple the Assad regime and install a Muslim Brotherhood regime in Damascus.

Still, there is no love lost between the KRG and PKK: the Iraqi Kurds loathe the PKK, whose Leninist ideology they fear, and have repeatedly sought to prevent the PKK from using its territory to stage attacks against Turkey. One of the authors’ (LTG(R) Bednarek) experiences and recurring discussions with our Kurdish / Peshmerga warrior partners between 2013-2015 bear this out.  In fact, the U.S. has acknowledged that back in 2017, it contributed to helping rebrand the Syrian Kurds into the "Syrian Democratic Forces" to make America's partnership with them more in line with the U.S. led coalition against ISIS.  But the idea that America could build its Syria policy on this group after Islamic State was nearly defeated was incorrect.

Going forward, the United States must take stock of how its relationships with Kurdish factions relates to its key regional priorities. The first priority must be to roll back Iranian expansionism in the region while reinforcing America’s presence and assistance in Iraq and boost Israel’s security. This also means upping the game in Iraq to counter Iran’s pervasive influence. America maintains a small, but formidable military presence in Iraq and enjoys strong ties with the KRG. But America is not alone. Both Russia and Iran have worked hard to establish themselves in northern Iraq.

Russian energy companies have invested heavily in northern Iraq, providing the KRG with much-needed cash to stay afloat. Moscow even helped the KRG relieve $1 billion of debt, an indication of its willingness to step into the void left by the United States.

As for Iran, General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds force, has been a frequent visitor to the KRG. Iran made its influence clear when it urged the Kurds to withdraw from Kirkuk, a disputed northern Iraqi city and endorsed an offensive by Iraqi forces and pro-Iranian militias on the city. Kurdish politicians have learned that they cross Iran at their own peril.

By 2017, KRG leader Masoud Barzani, a legendary Peshmerga fighter, had already threatened to re-evaluate his reliance with Washington and move closer to Moscow and Tehran. The Trump administration’s withdrawal from northern Syria has put in question America’s credibility, its trust as a reliable partner, and its foreign policy in a region fraught with tension.

If America wants to bolster its influence in the Middle East, a good place to solidify our position is through our U.S. consulate in Erbil, the capital of the KRG, and obviously our U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Unlike the SDF, Turkey cannot and will not object to America's ties to the KRG, as it has close ties with the KRG itself.

America already spends millions of dollars in military support to the KRG, and for years American diplomacy has been key in mending fences between the KRG and Baghdad. However, this region is also at the crossroads of Turkish, Iranian and Russian interests. America could quickly lose its vital strategic position and leverage in the region unless it strengthens its relationship with Iraq’s Kurds.


LTG John “Mick” Bednarek, USA (ret.), is former Senior Defense Official in Iraq, and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA). Svante E. Cornell is Director of the American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, co-founder of the Institute for Security and Development Policy, and a Policy Advisor to JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense & Strategy.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019 18:39

Azerbaijan: Reform Behind A Static Facade

Ilham

 THE AMERICAN INTEREST

By Svante E. Cornell

October 17, 2019

Oil-rich Azerbaijan is undergoing a major process of top-down modernization. Here’s why the reforms are happening now—and why Washington should take an interest.

Screen_Shot_2019-09-17_at_11.15.09_AM.png

Image: Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kazakhstan's President and presidential candidate, votes during presidential election in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan June 9, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov/File Photo via Atlantic Council

 

  • President Tokayev seeks to "maintain continuity" yet nonetheless calls for "systemic reforms." He appears to mean both.
  • In the effort to engage society more deeply in governance, Kazakhstan will institute and seek to manage reforms from above.
  • In continuing the principle of balance in its foreign policy, which Tokayev invented two decades ago, Kazakhstan will seek increased engagement and investment from the West.

By S. Frederick Starr

September 17, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-07-31 at 10.42.14 AM

A police vehicle patrols in Kashgar, China, June 25, 2017. PHOTO: JOHANNES EISELE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES via Wall Street Journal

The Turkic people has an ancient language and traditions. Even Mao didn't expect to erase it.

By S. Frederick Starr

July 26, 2019

1906TAI

Lost in the electoral struggle for Istanbul, the deeper lesson of Turkey’s local election is the rise of Turkish nationalism. It has weakened President Erdoğan, and it offers the United States new options in developing a coherent Turkey policy.

US Perspectives on China's Belt and Road Initiative in Central Asia adn the South Caucasus

By S. Frederick Starr

Abstract

To date, the US response to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Central Asia and the Caucasus has been calm, if not tacitly supportive. Two main reasons for this are: (a) the reopening of age-old east–west trade corridors as one of the most important legacies of the collapse of the USSR and (b) it views the engage- ment of both China and Europe in east–west trade across Central Asia as fur- thering the Central Asians’ own ability to achieve balanced and positive relations between all the major powers, thereby constraining hegemonic aspirations from any quarter. Further, the United States supports the emergence of Central Asia as a defined world region akin to ASEAN or the Nordic Council and believes that reforms under way in Uzbekistan and elsewhere in the region serve that end as well as increase east–west and west–east trade across the region. Finally, the United States realizes that the ultimate judgement on the viability of BRI in Central Asia and the Caucasus will be that of the market and not geopolitics.

Continue Reading

 

Monday, 08 April 2019 00:00

The Rise and Rise of the Turkish Right

The Rise and Rise of the Turkish Right

By Halil M. Karaveli

The opposition parties challenging President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offer another version of the right-wing nationalism of his party and its nationalist partner.

The New York Times, April 8, 2019

Since March 31, the defeat in Turkey of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic conservative Justice and Development Party, the A.K.P., and its ultranationalist electoral partner Nationalist Movement Party, the M.H.P., in municipal elections in Ankara, Istanbul and several others cities has led to premature commentary that Turkey is on the verge of change.

Continue Reading

 

U.S. Strategy Towards Afghanistan and (The Rest of) Central Asia 

By S. Frederick Starr, S. Enders Wimbush

Americanl Interest, January 24, 2019

 

From Europe to Asia, everything is in motion. Russia’s growing weakness as a state tempts it more than ever to employ its refurbished military in risky adventures. China faces an unfamiliar fragility at home and pushback to its policies abroad. India is rising but must still make up for decades of clumsy domestic policies. Pakistan has a growing middle class but is failing nonetheless. In Afghanistan, a talented new generation is rising but solutions to decades of turmoil require constant replenishing. The people of Iran are once again flirting with revolution. Turkey is lurching towards an Islamic and neo-Ottoman identity, and has in the process upended most conventional thinking about its strategic importance. The European Union’s process-driven raison d’être appeals to fewer and fewer citizens of the nations it hoped to homogenize. And the Middle East continues to breed the pathologies that have characterized it for a century.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019 18:16

Europe's Easternmost Port

Anaklia

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News

  • S. Frederick Starr- Distinguished Speaker Lecture: Is Russia Becoming Central Asia's Near Abroad?
    Tuesday, 02 October 2018 00:00

     

    On October 2, S. Frederick Starr addressed the topic of Russia's relationship to Central Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center entitled "Is Russia Becoming Central Asia's Near Abroad" convened by the Kennan Institute 

    The video of the event is available from the following link.

    Scroll down to watch the full recording of the event.IMG 0817

     

     

  • S. Frederick Starr Testifies at House Subcommittee Hearing on "Current Developments in Central Asia"
    Thursday, 19 July 2018 00:00

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  • Resources on Terrorism and Islamic Radicalism in Central Asia
    Tuesday, 11 April 2017 12:20

    Recent terrorist attacks in Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and New York City have been committed by perpetrators with an origin in Central Asia. The CACI-SRSP Joint Center has collected resources from its publication on the topics of terrorism and Islamic radicalism in Central Asia on this page.

    For press inquiries: the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute is part of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington DC (202-543-1006); the Silk Road Studies Program is part of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.(+46-734-150065) Please click here for further contact information.

     

     

    List of Analytic Resources

    Svante E. Cornell and Michael Jonsson, eds. Conflict, Crime, and the State in Postcommunist Eurasia. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. (Includes chapters on Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the North Caucasus)

    Svante E. Cornell, “Russia: an Enabler of Jihad?Op-Ed, Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, January 16, 2017

    Jeffry W. Hartman “The May 2005 Andijan Uprising: What We Know” Silk Road Paper, May, 2016, pp. 68

    John C.K. Daly “Rush to Judgment: Western Media and the 2005 Andijan Violence” Silk Road Paper, May, 2016, pp. 85

    Shirin Akiner “Kyrgyzstan 2010: Conflict and ContextSilk Road Paper, July, 2016, pp. 146

    S. Frederick Starr, ”Moderate Islam: Look to Central AsiaNew York Times, 26 February 2014.

    Peter Sinnott, “Peeling the Waziristan Onion: Central Asians in Armed Islamist Movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 4 (2009) pp. 33-53

    Didier Chaudet, “When the Bear Confronts the Crescent: Russia and the Jihadist Issue” China & Eurasia Forum Quarterly. Vol. 7 Issue 2, 2009, pp.37-58.

    Svante E. Cornell, Narcotics, Radicalism, and Armed Conflict in Central Asia: The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Terrorism and Political Violence, 17:4, 2007, 619-639, 2007

    Galina M. Yemelianova “The Rise of Islam in Muslim Eurasia: Internal Determinants and Potential Consequences.” China & Eurasia Forum Quarterly. 2007, Vol. 5 Issue 2, pp 73-91.

    Svante E. Cornell, Narcotics and Armed Conflict: Interaction and Implications, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30:3 ,2007, 207-227, DOI: 10.1080/10576100601148449

    Michael Scheuer “Central Asia in Al-Qaeda's Vision of the Anti-American Jihad, 1979-2006” The China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: Terrorism, Volume 4, No. 2,2006, pp. 5-10

    Saule Mukhametrakhimova “Perception and Treatment of the "Extremist" Islamic Group Hizb ut-Tahrir by Central Asian Governments” The China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: Terrorism, Volume 4, No. 2,2006, pp. 49-54

    Svante E. Cornell & Regine A. Spector, Central Asia: More than Islamic extremists, The Washington Quarterly, 25:1, 2002, 193-206, 2002

     

     

    CACI Analyst Articles, 2014-2017, on Islamism, Central Asia and Syria

    Emil Souleimanov “Attacks in Chechnya Suggest Opposition to Kadyrov is Far from EradicatedThe CACI Analyst,  March 24, 2017

    At the turn of 2016 and 2017, events took place in parts of Chechnya that again challenged the triumphant statements of local pro-Moscow and federal authorities that the jihadist-inspired insurgency in this North Caucasian republic was eradicated. Aside from illustrating the latent character of armed conflict in the region in general and in Chechnya in particular, the recent upsurge of violence in Chechnya contains particularities that may have far-reaching consequences. Sporadic attacks against the Kadyrov regime will likely recur in the years to come and intensify should the regime’s grip on power weaken

    Stephen Blank “Central Asia: An Opportunity for the Trump Administration” The CACI Analyst, March 22, 2017

    Central Asia has never ranked high on U.S. priorities. That is unlikely to change under the Trump Administration. Yet recent developments in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan, do offer an opportunity to advance U.S. interests through a greater economic-political presence in the region, whilst also countering growing Chinese economic dominance and Russian efforts at military hegemony at a relatively low cost. The two key countries in this possible opportunity for the U.S. are Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

    Fuad Shahbazov “China’s Long March into Central Asia: How Beijing Expands Military Influence in Tajikistan” The CACI Analyst, February 21, 2017

    China's gradually increasing economic role in Central Asia since the early 2000s is unsurprising considering the region's geographic proximity to China's dynamic economy. In this context, Beijing has carefully shaped a military strategy in the region, particularly in neighboring Tajikistan. In September 2016, Beijing offered to finance and build several outposts and other military facilities (in addition to the Gulhan post, which was opened in 2012) to beef up Tajikistan's defense capabilities along its border with Afghanistan, whereas China's and Tajikistan's militaries performed a large counter-terrorism exercise in October 2016. These unexpected actions have raised concerns in Russia over rising Chinese influence in Tajikistan.

    Huseyn Aliyev “Islamic State-inspired attacks continue in ChechnyaThe CACI Analyst,  February 7, 2017

    On December 17, 2016, a shootout in central Grozny between members of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and local security forces claimed the lives of three militants and one police officer. On December 18, a counter-terrorist operation (CTO) launched in the aftermath resulted in the death of four more insurgents, whereas four remaining members of a militant cell were arrested. Three police officers were killed and one injured. While the confrontation between militants and police in Grozny was only the fourth conflict-related incident in the republic during 2016, it demonstrates that ISIS still has the capacity to target Chechen security forces.

    Jacob Zenn “Abu Zar and Al Qaeda’s presence in Central AsiaThe CACI Analyst, January 16, 2017

    Abu Zar al-Burmi was one of the most prominent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) muftis and a close associate of the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda. Despite pledging loyalty to the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2015, he has recently renounced his support of ISIS and is preaching under the banner of the Imam Bukhari Brigade (IBB), which is a Syria-based IMU offshoot that is loyal to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The case of Abu Zar shows how, since the rise of ISIS in 2014, al-Qaeda has defended its stake in Central Asian jihadism.

    Stephen Blank “New signs of Chinese military interest in Central AsiaThe CACI Analyst , January 16th, 2017

    Recent evidence shows a gradual increase in Chinese military activity in Central Asia, particularly with Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, although China has for years denied any military interest in the region. In October, PLA and Tajik forces jointly participated in counterterrorism exercises in Tajikistan near the border with Afghanistan, following earlier activity in 2016. Whereas Tajikistan was then silent, this time it publicized the exercises, which aroused a visible anxiety in the Russian media although the Russian government has hitherto been unwilling to comment on this issue. China’s initiative could imply a major new development in Chinese policy and in Central Asia’s overall security, with lasting implications for the region.

    Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan between a new president and the same nation: is it perestroika?The CACI Analyst, January 10, 2017

    On December 4, 2016, three months after the death of Uzbekistan’s first President Islam Karimov, the country held new presidential elections. The Prime Minister and acting Interim President Shavkat Mirziyoev became president-elect by defeating three competitors in a highly asymmetric campaign characterized by the utilization of so-called administrative resources. Yet Mirziyoev’s campaign was also an explicit demonstration of new domestic and foreign political trends in post-Karimov Uzbekistan towards more liberal reforms. The campaign also revealed rising new expectations on the part of the Uzbek nation after a quarter-century of one-person rule.

    Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan-Tajikistan: game over, but what is the score?” The CACI Analyst, December 15th, 2016,

    Uzbekistan’s and Tajikistan’s independence in 1991 raised the Shakespearean “To be or not to be?” question concerning the ambitious construction of a dam on the mountainous Vakhsh river in Tajikistan, which would embody the Rogun Hydro Power Station. Uzbekistan – a downstream country – has permanently and vigorously rejected and resisted the project referring to numerous risks associated with Rogun for all downstream countries. Uzbekistan’s president has been the principal political antagonist of this project. Two months after his death in September 2016, Tajikistan’s president has decided to move on with the project.

    Stephen Blank “Russian intervention in Syria and the CaucasusThe CACI Analyst,  November 27, 2016

    Few people think about trends in the Caucasus with reference to or in the context of Russia’s Syrian intervention. But Moscow does not make this mistake. From the beginning, Moscow has highlighted its access to the Caucasus through overflight rights and deployment of its forces in regard to Syria, e.g. sending Kalibr cruise missiles from ships stationed in the Caspian Sea to bomb Syria. Therefore we should emulate Russia’s example and seriously assess military trends in the Caucasus in that Syrian context.

    Edward Lemon “Signs of improving relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan but tensions remainThe CACI Analyst,  October 19, 2016

    Since the death of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov in early September, signs have emerged of a thaw in relations between Uzbekistan and its neighbor Tajikistan. In the years since independence, bilateral relations have been plagued by mistrust, disputes over water resources and outright hostility. Both sides have adopted a series of punitive measures against each other. Although acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has expressed interest in “resetting” relations with Tajikistan, any improvement will be tempered by the ongoing conflict over Tajikistan’s planned hydropower plants.

    Huseyn Aliyev “Revival of Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus?” The CACI Analyst, October 14, 2016

    The last week of August 2016 saw two large-scale Counter-Terrorist Operations (CTOs) in the North Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan, followed by another CTO conducted in the second week of September. This relatively low-scale increase in military confrontations between militants and security forces in the region nonetheless indicates a steady recovery of non-ISIS Islamist cells, which have been in decline since the emergence of ISIS in the region. While these recent developments may not indicate a revival of the local Islamist insurgency, they indicate that local insurgent jama’ats are still present and active in the region.

    Dmitry Shlapentokh “Prospects of Turkmenistan-Iran gas cooperationThe CACI Analyst, October 12th, 2016

    On June 8, 2016, FSU Oil & Gas Monitor quoted former UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry as saying that gas from Turkmenistan could reach European markets by various different means, including “overland routes through Iran.” It is unlikely that Hendry would make such an announcement without having received encouraging signals from both Tehran and Ashkhabad. The prospect of gas deliveries from Turkmenistan to European markets is disconcerting for Moscow, which regards the monopolization of gas supply to Europe as one of its major geopolitical and geoeconomic goals.

    Emil Aslan Souleimanov “The North Caucasus insurgency: weakened but not eradicated” The CACI Analyst, October 6 th,  2016

    The North Caucasus insurgency has weakened dramatically in recent years. While Chechnya-based jihadist groups now number a few dozen fighters, jamaats operating in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay have been nearly wrecked. In Ingushetia, a few insurgent groups remain numbering a couple of dozen members. In Dagestan, the epicenter of the regional insurgents, several jamaats have survived and number around a hundred active members. Indicative of the unprecedented weakening of the North Caucasus insurgency is the jihadists’ inability to elect an amir of the Caucasus Emirate: since the liquidation of the last amir Magomed Suleimanov in mid-August 2015, the jihadist resistance has been beheaded as it lacks a formal leadership. Yet has the regional insurgency indeed been defeated?

    Franz J. Marty “The phantom menace of ISIS in Northern AfghanistanThe CACI Analyst, September 8th, 2016

     Many accounts allege that the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has expanded to northern Afghanistan and intends to infiltrate Central Asia from there. Taking a closer look, however, it becomes apparent that virtually all such claims lack a sound foundation and that the remaining, more specific hints like reported sightings of black flags also stand on shaky ground. Consequentially, and contrary to the eastern parts of Afghanistan, there is no compelling evidence of a presence of the self-styled Caliphate in northern Afghanistan and, hence, also no immediate threat to Central Asia.

    Farkhod Tolipov “The Tashkent summit and the expanded SCO” The CACI Analyst, July 27th, 2016

    50 years ago, Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent hosted a summit ending the India-Pakistan war of 1965, resulting in the Tashkent Declaration. It was, so to speak, a Soviet “Camp David” aimed at bringing two antagonists – India and Pakistan – to peace. The SCO summit of June 2016 was, symbolically speaking, a second – multilateral – platform created in the same place, Tashkent, for the same two states to restore peace. Yet this summit did not appear to be a second Tashkent “Camp David,” but rather a challenge for the SCO itself.

    Emil Souleimanov “Chechen authorities raise pressure on human rights organizations” The CACI Analyst, July 23rd, 2016

    Recent months have seen increased attacks on journalists and human rights activists in Chechnya. Such attacks have long become characteristic of the Moscow-backed Chechen authorities’ attitude to any form of dissent, both within and outside the North Caucasus republic. While most human rights organizations and journalists were pushed out of Chechnya in the 2000s, the recent wave of violence has been particularly aggressive and threaten to remove the last resort for complaints on human rights violations as well as the only remaining sources of data on such violations in the republic.

    Rafis Abazov  “Fixing the Aral Sea disaster: towards environmental cooperation in Central Asia?The CACI Analyst,  June 28th, 2016

    Kazakh experts have recently begun to call water the “liquid gold of the 21st century,” as all states in the Central Asian region face greater demand for water concurrent with a significant decline in water supply. The Aral Sea – which became a symbol of environmental mismanagement and environmental catastrophe at the end of the 20th century – shows that sustainable development policies can help to deal with even the most difficult water issues. Conversely, however, mismanagement and border conflicts over water might worsen the situation, leading to further political and economic tensions. The current question is whether Kazakhstan can collaborate with other Central Asian states in saving and perhaps reviving the Aral Sea.

    John C.K. Daly “The death of Mullah Mansour and the future of the Taliban” The CACI Analyst, June 7th, 2016

    On May 21, a U.S. drone attack killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour and taxi driver Mohammad Azam near Nushki in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. Mansour was returning from Taftan, Iran, where he had gone for medical treatment, to his residence near the provincial capital Quetta, a 370-mile journey. Mansour and his driver had completed roughly two-thirds of the nine-hour trip. A Pakistani passport and a Computer National Identity Card (CNIC) identifying Mansur as “Wali Muhammad” were found near the wreckage. Mansour’s death, coming nine months after his contested election as “Amir al-Mu'minin” by the Taliban’s Rahbari Shura, has added additional volatility to Afghanistan’s complex political landscape, effectively sidelining any possibility of renewing peace negotiations with the Afghan government as Mansour’s successor seeks to consolidate his position.

    Farkhod Tolipov “Ad-hoc peace or ad-hoc war: micro-geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus” The CACI Analyst, June 2nd, 2016

    A few weeks before the April 2-5 fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a border crisis occurred between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan on March 18-26. Some observers connected these two events as links in the same chain. Indeed, both cases revolve around so-called frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space; where one of the conflicting sides is a CSTO member and the other is not; and where speculations proliferate of a hidden Russian hand in both the instigation and mediation of the clashes. The two conflicts can be seen as a by-product of the same process – the continuing divergence of the former single Soviet space.

    Dmitry Shlapentokh “Kazakhstan's history as a geopolitical battlefield” The CACI Analyst, May 27th, 2016

    Throughout 2015, Kazakhstan celebrated the 450th anniversary of what it regards as the beginning of its statehood as a major national event. This extraordinary interest in a seemingly academic subject had clear political undertones: Kazakhstan is not an “artificial” state, as sometimes proclaimed by representatives of the Kremlin. The country’s continuous process of distancing itself from Russia has been coupled with repression against suspected proponents of separatism in Northern Kazakhstan, populated by considerable numbers of ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers. Despite the existence of clearly pro-Russian attitudes in this region, Moscow has not supported them out of fear that it could raise extremist forms of nationalism in Russia, which would be highly problematic for the Kremlin.

    Jacob Zenn “The IMU is extinct: what next for Central Asia's jihadis?The CACI Analyst,  May 3rd, 2016

    For more than a decade after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was the “bogeyman” of Central Asian militancy. It was the most well-known militant group in Central Asia and abroad, even though it was in exile in Afghanistan and Pakistan under the protection of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Years of drone strikes and counter-insurgency operations failed to eliminate the IMU. Ironically, however, it was neither the U.S. nor coalition forces that destroyed the IMU. Rather, it was the Taliban who liquidated the IMU in late 2015 as punishment for its “betrayal” of the Taliban (and al-Qaeda) by pledging loyalty to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). This will change the nature of the militant threat to Central Asia and force a reconsideration of Uzbekistan’s counter-extremism measures.

    Roger N. McDermott “Russia-Tajikistan antiterrorist exercises: strategic messagingThe CACI Analyst, March 28th, 2016

    Russia’s and Tajikistan’s joint antiterrorist exercise on March 15-20 involved five Tajik training ranges, and showcased bilateral security cooperation. The exercise seemed routine, consistent with each country’s national security concerns; however a number of factors coalesced on Moscow’s planning and deployment side to make it both unique and potentially revealing. Buoyed by its recent experience of military conflict in Ukraine and Syria, Russia’s Armed Forces display increased confidence in supporting a more pro-active Russian foreign policy posture. The elements it deployed in Tajikistan for the exercise contain strategic messages for the benefit of other actors and Russia’s potential adversaries in Central Asia: for regional governments, the message is one of reassurance and renewed confidence.

    Richard Weitz “Moscow's agenda in Central Asia and the Caucasus: it is officialThe CACI Analyst, March 18th, 2016

    The states of Central Asia and the South Caucasus are in for a rough ride if recent Russian national security documents and speeches genuinely represent the Kremlin’s worldview. Not only do these texts veto their membership in NATO, but they exclude mutually profitable partnerships for these countries with the European Union and other Western institutions, constrain their domestic development, and encourage the suppression of civil liberties by warning of fictitious Western plots to change their regimes under the guise of democracy promotion and human rights.

    Roger N. McDermott “Russia recalibrates 201st base in Tajikistan” The CACI Analyst February 25th, 2016

    Moscow has stated that among its defense and security priorities for 2016, Central Asia and the South Caucasus will top its agenda. Kavkaz 2016, the main strategic military exercise of the year, will take place in the Southern Military District (MD), while Tsentr 2015 occurred in Central MD with among its vignettes a rehearsal of intervention in Central Asia. Surprisingly in this context, the Defense Ministry plans to restructure the 201st Base in Tajikistan from divisional to brigade status. This initiative is driven by Moscow’s growing concerns about the future of Central Asian security as it faces multiple potential threats stemming from Afghanistan and Islamic State (ISIS). But paradoxically, Moscow’s latest moves to strengthen the basing of its forces in Tajikistan serves as an indicator of official perceptions that the region could suffer a serious security challenge.

    Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Azerbaijan, islamism, and unrest in NardaranThe CACI Analyst, December 27th, 2015

    On November 25-26, Azerbaijani law enforcement carried out a special operation in Nardaran, a township on the northern edge of the Absheron peninsula located 25 kilometers northeast of the capital’s center. The purpose of the special operation was to break the backbone of the Muslim Unity group, a purportedly militant Shiite organization. The context and implications of the Nardaran events have received little attention in Western media, despite the concerns raised both within and outside the region about Azerbaijan finding itself on the brink of religiously inspired civil unrest.

    Richard Weitz  “Building on Kerry's Central Asian tourThe CACI Analyst, December 22nd, 2015

    In early November, John Kerry made a long overdue trip to Central Asia, becoming the first Secretary of State to visit all five Central Asian countries in one diplomatic tour. His agenda focused on reassuring the regional governments that the United States cares about their concerns, specifically Afghanistan and religious extremism. Kerry also highlighted U.S. support for region-wide economic integration, ecological protection, and cultural and humanitarian cooperation. He further developed bilateral cooperation with each Central Asian government. However, there were no major agreements or blockbuster initiatives announced during Kerry’s visit. It will require sustained follow-through by the current and next U.S. administrations to achieve enduringly positive results.

    S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell “The EU and Central Asia: Developing Transport and TradeThe CACI Analyst December 10th, 2015

    A number of initiatives have combined to make the development of continental transport and trade across the heartland of Eurasia a reality rather than a mere vision. Some of these have been external, while many have been internal to the region. Yet Europe, which launched the visionary TRACECA program in the early 1990s, is largely absent from the scene today. Yet if Europe works with Central Asian states, it stands to benefit greatly from this process. This would involve work to make the transport corridors more attuned to market logic; to promote the development of soft infrastructure; to pay attention to the geopolitics of transport and support the Caucasus and Caspian corridor; and not least, to look ahead to the potential of linking Europe through Central Asia not just to China, but also to the Indian subcontinent.

    Huseyn Aliyev, Emil A. Souleimanov “Russia's missile launches and the militarization of the Caspian SeaThe CACI Analyst, November 23rd, 2015

    In early October, Russia's Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu announced that Russian navy warships based in the Caspian Sea had fired a total of 26 missiles at the positions of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. The minister claimed that all the 11 targets, located around 1,500 kilometers from the warships, were destroyed over two days. Russian authorities and pro-regime media have considered the strikes a big success. While information soon resurfaced that some cruise missiles had landed on Iranian soil, the fact that the October strike is definite proof of the failed attempts to turn the landlocked water basin into a demilitarized zone has received less attention.

    Farkhod Tolipov “Pluses and minuses of the C5+1 formatThe CACI Analyst, November 13th, 2015

    During the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2015 in New York, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Kazakhstan’s, Kyrgyzstan’s, Tajikistan’s, Turkmenistan’s and Uzbekistan’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs to set up the new C5+1 format for dialogue between the U.S. and Central Asian states. As a first manifestation of this dialogue platform, Kerry made a Central Asian tour in early November. The C5+1 meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, took place in the context of global geopolitical turbulence that has raised Central Asia’s profile in U.S. global strategy

    Dmitry Shlapentokh “The ISIS threat and Moscow's influence in Central Asia and the Middle EastThe CACI Analyst, November 6, 2015

    Moscow has recently undertaken several actions aiming to increase Russia’s influence in the Middle East and Central Asia. On August 23-28, 2015, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes several members from Central Asia, undertook military exercises in Russia. Russian authorities stated that the maneuvers aimed to help CSTO members develop means to effectively move airborne forces and other troops to conflict zones, including in Central Asia. The exercises partly served to address a real concern on the part of Russia as well as other CSTO members over the rise of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). However, Russia sees ISIS not only as a threat but also as an opportunity for both increasing Russia’s influence in Central Asia and providing a pretext for its venture in the Middle East.

    Avinoam Idan “Russia in Syria and Putin's geopolitical strategy” The CACI Analyst, October 22nd, 2015

    The deepening of Russia’s military presence in Syria and its direct involvement in aiding the Assad regime during the Syrian crisis is a game changing step in the geostrategic context of the Middle East. This is Russia’s third move during the last eight years to change the strategic status quo in the greater Middle East by means of military force. Russia’s new step in Syria aims to influence the geopolitical makeup of the Middle East following the collapse of the Sykes-Picot order. Russia aims to establish itself as a key player from the Caspian Basin in the east, via the Black Sea, to the Eastern Mediterranean.

    Erica Marat “Kyrgyzstan: beyond democratic elections” The CACI Analyst, October 12th, 2015

    On October 4, Kyrgyzstan held parliamentary elections marked by significant improvements in the country’s democratic development.  The elections have demonstrated the viability of Kyrgyzstan’s 2010 constitution, which delegates more powers to the parliament and aims to prevent the emergence of autocratic political center. Fourteen political parties competed, and six were able to pass the national and regional thresholds to win seats.

    Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Russia's Syria initiative and the exaggerated ISIS threat to Central Asia” The CACI Analyst, September 25th, 2015

    Russia’s recent military engagement in Syria and calls for the establishment of an international coalition against the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) has produced renewed interest in Moscow’s policies toward the jihadist quasi-state. Against this background, while many have speculated about Moscow’s true intentions in the Middle East, relatively little attention has been paid to Moscow’s interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus in the context of its increasingly vocal rhetoric of fighting ISIS. Moscow is actively utilizing the risks and threats stemming from the ISIS to boost its clout in the near and far abroad.

    Edward Lemon “Violence in Tajikistan emerges from within the state” The CACI Analyst, September 23rd, 2015

    Rather than resulting from external factors, as the regime has argued, the recent violence in Tajikistan erupted from within the state itself. Elites within the Tajik state continually compete for political influence and economic gain. These struggles occasionally break out into violence. Ironically, such conflicts are actually useful for the regime. They allow it to legitimize a purge of potentially disloyal members and a crackdown on other opponents. By blaming the latest conflict on the country’s leading opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), the regime legitimized its move to ban the party and arrest its leading members.

    Emil Aslan Souleimanov “A weakened insurgency precludes IS inroads to the North Caucasus” 09/02/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    Recent months have seen North Caucasian amirs pledging allegiance to the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). Many have pointed to this process as a sign of the changing paradigm of the regional resistance, which is being transformed into – or absorbed by – the global jihadist insurgency. But these assumptions can be challenged by a look at the internal dynamics, the distance from key hotbeds of jihadist violence, and the limits of the North Caucasian insurgency. While ISIS may have some impact on the North Caucasian jamaats, it is likely to be rather limited and indirect.

    Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan concerned over SCO expansion” 05/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held its annual summit on June 9-10, 2015, in the Russian town of Ufa, which was an historical turning point in the organization’s evolution. It adopted a Development Strategy towards 2025 and admitted India and Pakistan as full members. Uzbekistan has taken over the Chairmanship of the SCO from Russia for the next one year period. During the summit, Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov expressed concerns revealing Tashkent’s reluctant acknowledgement of the fact that from now on the SCO will be more than just a Central Asia-focused structure.

    George Voloshin “The Uzbek-Tajik détente: can it last?” 08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    On June 22-24, Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, hosted a third meeting of the Uzbek-Tajik intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. Unlike the two previous sessions, which were organized in Dushanbe in August 2002 and February 2009, this year’s bilateral trade talks took place against the backdrop of an emerging détente between the two Central Asian neighbors. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are currently confronted with a host of shared challenges ranging from the threat of radical Islam to socioeconomic instability, while their bilateral relationship is still constrained by unsettled disputes from the past.

    Charlie Smith “Islamic State in Central Asia: threat or opportunity” 08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    Central Asia is a key region that many believe has fallen into the crosshairs of the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). Local governments are gravely concerned about returning fighters and possible ISIS infiltration in the region, and foreign powers, especially neighboring Russia and China, have expressed their deep concerns. This grim picture, however, obscures a more complex, and perhaps more accurate, story. Might the specter of ISIS have less to do with its on-the-ground ability to destabilize the region and more to do with the geopolitical concerns of those who are stating these threats?

    Kevin Daniel Leahy “Existing Paradigms for Resistance in the North Caucasus Challenged by Kadyrov, ISIS” 06/24/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    With the recent death of its leader and the decisions by numerous field commanders in Dagestan and Chechnya to disassociate themselves with the organization, analysts are wondering if the Caucasus Emirate can endure. The terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) has emerged as the latest paradigm for resistance to Russian rule in the Caucasus. It is, however, only the latest in a long line of such paradigms to take root in the region, competing with the Caucasus Emirate, Chechen nationalism and other forms of ethnic separatism. What is the outlook for ISIS as a paradigm for resistance in the North Caucasus?

    Nurzhan Zhambekov “Russia’s Regulation of Labor Migration Set to Hurt Central Asian Economies” 04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    The slowing Russian economy suffered a triple shock in the form of Western economic sanctions, falling oil prices, and the plummeting Russian ruble in 2014, resulting in a negative impact on Central Asian states. In addition, tighter migration regulations in Russia, in force since early 2015, are having an effect on the flow of migration from Central Asia, particularly from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. These three countries rely heavily on remittances from their migrant workers in Russia. The drop in remittances could increase socioeconomic disaffection in parts of Central Asia that are dependent on labor migrants’ earnings. 

    Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Caucasus Emirate Faces Further Decline after the Death of Its Leader” 04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    On April 19, 2015, the Caucasus Emirate’s leader Aliaskhab Kebekov, nom de guerre Ali Abu Mukhammad, was killed in a special operation carried out by Russian elite forces in Dagestan’s Buynaksk district. His death came at a time of profound decline of the North Caucasian jihadists, coupled with the ongoing split in their ranks as an increasing number of fighters and insurgent leaders turn to the Islamic State (IS). Upcoming months will show whether the North Caucasus insurgency, and particularly its Dagestani branch, will become dominated by IS sympathizers and ink up with the global jihad, or remain a largely local endeavor.

    Emil Souleimanov “Dagestan’s Insurgents Split over Loyalties to Caucasus Emirate and IS” 04/15/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    Recent months have been hectic for Dagestani jihadists. Since mid-2014, this hotbed of the North Caucasian insurgency has witnessed a gradual split, with numerous Dagestan-based jihadist commanders pledging oath (bayat) to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. In response, the Caucasus Emirate’s formal leader, Aliaskhab Kebekov, himself a Dagestani, criticized the disloyal commanders for splitting the ranks of the local insurgency. In mid-February, the newly appointed amir of the Dagestani Vilayat, Kamil Saidov, joined Kebekov in his condemnation of those submitting to Baghdadi’s authority. Given the North Caucasian and Dagestani jamaats' weakening capacity, the ongoing developments in Dagestan could break the unity in this last bastion of the regional insurgency.

    Huseyn Aliyev “Conflict-related Violence Decreases in the North Caucasus as Fighters go to Syria” 04/01/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    The end of 2014 and early 2015 have witnessed a notable reduction in conflict-related violence across the North Caucasus. With the continuous departure of Islamist volunteers from that Russian region to the Middle East, in 2014 the number of casualties, among both militants and security forces, have decreased by more than half, compared to the previous year. While observers associate the current de-escalation of violence with the outflow of large numbers of North Caucasian youth to join Islamic State (IS) and with internal conflicts within the North Caucasus Islamist underground (Caucasus Emirate), reasons behind the recent decline of insurgency-related activities are likely to be more complex. 

    Emil Souleimanov “Dagestan’s Jihadists and Haram Targeting” 02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    The recent attacks in Paris against the studio of satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, known for its caricatures of Muhammad, have sparked heated debates in Dagestan. While Dagestanis have primarily focused on evaluating the implications of this single case of lethal violence, their debates have unfolded against the background of increasingly frequent attacks carried out by members of local jihadi groups – jamaats – against targets deemed anti-Islamic according to Salafi dogma.