Wednesday, 23 January 2019 18:16

Europe's Easternmost Port

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Europe's Easternmost Port

By S. Frederick Starr

European Interest, January 23, 2019


What is one of the world’s largest dredging vessels doing in Georgia, a country that is several thousand miles from the nearest ocean and boasts some of Europe’s highest mountains? It is there because little Georgia, with a population of only 3.7 million, is constructing a major international deep sea port on its Black Sea coast. Anaklia, as the new port has been named, will be a game changer in just about every respect.

Anyone who has observed the huge ships in the Bosporus at Istanbul knows the problem Anaklia is designed to solve. An ocean-going freighter from the Americas or Africa can pass into the Mediterranean at Gibraltar or arrive from the Persian Gulf via Suez. All of these, as well as large ships from any port in Europe, can pass easily into the Black Sea. But if their cargo is headed to the East—Azerbaijan, Central Asia, China, Afghanistan or even Pakistan—there has not been any port on the eastern end of the Black Sea that can accommodate them.

The same problem existed for goods coming from the East. China has pushed hard to open a transport corridor across Central Asia to the Caspian Sea and beyond. But for now, most western-bound traffic heads north from Kazakhstan through Russia. New Caspian ports being built by Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan will enable goods to go directly West by rail from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Georgia and on to Turkey. But the alternate sea route from Georgia to the rest of the world has been blocked by the absence of a deep-sea port. Such a port must accommodate ships with a draft of up to seventeen meters. That will be Anaklia.

Once functioning, Anaklia will be the only deep -sea port east of the Bosporus able to host “Panamax” vessels, i.e., those that can traverse the widened and deepened Panama Canal. Goods crossing from Anaklia can then proceed by ship into the Danube system, or by train to anywhere in Central or southern Europe. Or they can proceed directly to the Mediterranean and beyond.

Since 2017 hundreds of workers from the surrounding area have been hard at work constructing the new port. In the near future they will begin building Anaklia City, which is designed to be a free-trade zone and regional commercial center serving Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Caucasus, and northeastern Turkey.  Because of the country’s central location, its sixth place ranking (out of 190 countries) in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” report, and to its having the second lowest perceived incidence of crime in Europe, according to the NUMBEO Crime Index,[1] Georgians hope that firms from both Europe and Asia will find it convenient to base their Silk Road offices in the new city.

Mention of the Silk Road reminds us that over the millennia the territory of Georgia and the Caucasus were integral parts of the great trade routes connecting Europe with both China and India. Archaeological finds from ancient sites close by Anaklia confirm this. More recently, many countries have eyed the route from the Caspian Sea through the Caucasus to the Black Sea as key elements of the emerging continent-spanning transport corridors.

Thus, barely a year after the collapse of the USSR, the European Union launched its TRASECA program (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia) in order to open the Caucasus and Central Asia to the West. Then Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and western partners teamed up to build a new pipeline from the Caspian to the Mediterranean and then a new highway and railroad from the Baku clear through Georgia and Turkey to Istanbul and beyond.

Simultaneously, the newly independent countries of Central Asia lying to the east of the Caspian launched their own programs to build roads and railroads that would link with the emerging corridor through the Caucasus. To this end, Kazakhstan undertook a massive project to create transport infrastructure stretching from its border with China to the Caspian shore. In the same spirit, Turkmenistan planned and constructed both road and railroad links between its border with Afghanistan and its Caspian shore.

Topping off this massive multinational effort were the construction of no fewer than five entirely new ports on the Caspian Sea itself.  Throughout the Soviet era the Caspian had served mainly as a north-south sea link between Iran and Russia. Thanks to these initiatives arising from both the Caucasus and Central Asia the Caspian has been transformed into a major corridor of east-west transport.  To achieve this, the littoral countries—Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan –have constructed modern new ports at Aylat, Aktau, and Turkmenbashi to serve what they expect to be the massive growth of east-west and west-east transport over the coming years. All three of these mega-projects will pour goods through Anaklia and will in turn serve as entrepots for goods being sent east from Anaklia.

How does China figure in this picture, and especially its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)? Announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, BRI mapped out infrastructure projects that would be necessary in order to create a global transport network centering on China. Significantly, it also created a fund that could eventually reach hundreds of billions of dollars, to be parceled out mainly as loans to partner countries so as to enable them to pay for the construction of roads, railroads, and ports on their territory.

Notwithstanding the fact that all of the above projects appear on Chinese maps of the BRI network, they were—with one exception—funded entirely by the countries themselves and not by China. The exception was the road and railroad across Kazakhstan, which received partial funding from China beginning in the 1990s. For both countries this was a strategic decision. Kazakhstan saw these loans as the only way to open east-west transport across the country and to break Russia’s monopoly over its foreign trade, and China saw it as essential to preventing its trade with Europe from becoming totally dependent on Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railroad.

Meanwhile, the Government of Georgia moved quickly to expand its relations with China and to make sure that its Anaklia project would occupy a significant place on China’s global transport maps. It had already convened a “Silk Road Forum” in Tbilisi in 2015 and then in 2017 held a “Belt and Road Forum,” with strong representation from China. Georgia also bought twenty-eight Chinese freight locomotives and agreed to collaborate with China on developing both its energy network and agriculture. By that year China had become Georgia’s third largest trading partner, an increase of forty times since 2002, and had taken out loans from six different Chinese financial institutions.

These developments might tempt one to conclude that Georgia has been thoroughly drawn into China’s transport orbit and perhaps developed a dangerous financial dependency as well. This appears not to be the case. It is true that Chinese firms have invested in the free industrial zone at Poti, one of Georgia‘s two other Black Sea ports, but the sums involved are not large, and the U.S. is an active participant in the more important project, namely, upgrading Poti’s port. And it is also true that the Anaklia project is expected to receive up to $400 million in loans from the diversified pool of four European, American, and Asian financial institutions, with China’s new Asian Infrastructure Development Bank providing only 25% of the total. Further funding comes from the Government of Georgia and private Georgian investors.

Thus, the fact that Anaklia appears with a star on recent Chinese maps of BRI does not mean that China controls it either directly or indirectly, through debt. To their credit, the Georgians have worked out a constructive relationship to China and BRI, just as they have done with Europe and TRASECA. China has even broached further transport projects with Tbilisi. But Georgians are far too protective of their sovereignty to allow China to control them through debt.

From top to bottom Anaklia has a strong Atlanticist stamp. SSA Marine of Seattle, one of the world’s largest port managers, will run Anaklia’s terminal. Bob Watters, SSA Marine’s senior vice president, sees the growth of Anaklia’s cargo port as “very exciting.” Anaklia City’s judicial and mediation services are expected to operate on the basis of British law. German, Swiss, and Danish logistics giants are expected to dominate west-east shipping. Mamuka Khazaradze, a Georgian entrepreneur and banker who founded and presides over TBC Holding, the founding member of the Anaklia Development Consortium.

It is no secret that what was once the southern border of the Soviet Union is today one of the world’s major geopolitical fault-lines. Recent events in Ukraine and Crimea vividly remind us that that that line runs from the Black Sea straight through the South Caucasus, from Georgia to Azerbaijan. Inevitably, it involves not only the new ports at Anaklia and Aylat but their counterparts on the eastern shore of the Caspian as well: Kazakhstan’s Aktau and Turkmenistan’s Turkmenbashi. Georgians have not forgotten the Russian army’s invasion of their country in August 2008, nor can they ignore the pressure Moscow is exerting against Ukraine’s Black Sea ports at Kerch, Berdyansk, and Mariupol. However, for the time being Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have kept their silence about Anaklia. To be sure, in an interview with Russian journalist D. Aslomov, Lavrov hinted that Russia would respond to any military activity in Anaklia, but he went no further.[2] Perhaps he and Putin want to avoid further conflict with Europe and America or, more likely, are not prepared to oppose something favored by its nominal ally, China. Or perhaps they have concluded that the new port does Russia no harm and could even benefit its impoverished and conflicted provinces in the North Caucasus.

If Anaklia poses no direct threat to Russia, it will be a positive boon to Central and East European countries that were once under Moscow’s sway. For Poland, it mitigates the risk of depending on the unreliable Belarus-Russia border and the railroad line running south to Kazakhstan, which Russia could close at any time. Polish goods will be able to reach Anaklia through the Krakow-Constanza route or via Katowice and Odessa. Indeed, Polish producers are already looking to Anaklia as the gateway through which they can reach markets in Central Asia, China, the Middle East, and India. Similarly, Romania will benefit by being linked to the East through its major port of Constanza, while other Central European countries will gain similar access via the Rhine-Danube Corridor and its direct link to Constanza. Meanwhile, of course, Europe’s Mediterranean and North Seas ports will be able to send goods to the entire East through Anaklia. If this happens, Georgia’s new port will have enabled Poland to implement its centuries-old dream of connecting the Baltic and Black Seas.

At first glance Turkey might seem to pose a problem for Anaklia. Has it not invested heavily in the railroad connecting Baku and Istanbul by way of northeastern Anatolia? But Georgia has been a partner in that Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project from the beginning and sees the rail and sea links not as competitors but as complementary to one another. Moreover, Anaklia will give eastern Turkey’s agricultural hinterland ready access to a deep-sea port, whence foodstuffs can be sent to diverse markets on several continents.  Much the same can be said of northern Iran. To be sure, the Iranians are working hard to complete a modern rail line from Turkey to its new Gulf of Oman port and free trade zone at Chabahar, currently under Indian management. This could eventually provide competition to the railroad running between Baku and Istanbul, although important impediments (of which sanctions are only one) would first have to be overcome.  But if shippers from India wish to get their goods to northern Europe or North America, a far more efficient route than sending them by rail from Chabahar to Istanbul would be to trans-ship them directly to Anaklia via the railroad connection through Baku.

Finally, we should note the potential value of Anaklia to the countries of Central Asia. Uzbekistan, for example, is the world’s fourth largest producer of raw cotton, much of which it still markets through the distant Baltic ports, which they reach via the Russian railroad network. Both Tajikistan and Turkmenistan grow cotton as well, and share Uzbekistan’s difficulties in getting their crop to market. Anaklia could greatly speed this process and also cut costs.  Other products of landlocked Central Asia could reach markets more efficiently by being shipped from the eastern Caspian ports of Aktau or Turkmenbashi to Aylat in Azerbaijan and thence by a short overland trip to Anaklia.

These scenarios are undeniably attractive and would seem to justify the cost and labor involved in creating a completely new port and commercial center. But are they the whole story?  What are the pitfalls that might befall the Anaklia project and which of these have the potential to delay or even prevent its full development?  A sober answer to this question must be included in any fair assessment of this $2.5 billion project.

A first factor that threatens to dim Anaklia’s luster is the sheer inefficiency of the TRASECA corridor to date. Over the entire decade since 2010 the transit of European goods through Georgia and Azerbaijan has steadily declined.  Border crossings have often slowed to a snail’s pace and tariffs along the route have been volatile, even though signed agreements should have prevented this.  Bluntly, the European Union’s vaunted TRASECA Corridor is by no means competitive today and shows few signs of becoming so in the immediate future. EU offices face more urgent tasks and many of the countries along the TRASECA route from western Europe to Georgia and Azerbaijan are preoccupied with what they consider more immediate problems. Of course, Anaklia itself will create pressure to improve this situation, but there is as yet no sign that the EU will initiate the process.

In the absence of a functioning deep-water port on Georgia’s Black Sea coast, and with the Caspian ports of Aktau and Aylat only now beginning to flourish, nearly all cargo from China has reached Europe by crossing Kazakhstan and then diverting northward to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railroad, and thence to northern Germany. Anaklia, working in tandem with Aktau and Aylat, should attract a significant part of this Europe-bound trade to the Caucasus route, i.e., to the EU’s TRASECA. The exact extent of this shift will depend less on governments than the judgment of the market.  At any rate, China itself seeks to make greater use of the Caucasus route and therefore has supported Anaklia.

A major long-term argument against the viability of Anaklia is that China’s productivity is bound to decline over the coming decades as its labor force shrinks and the number of its retirees soars. Demographic data confirm that this process has begun, and is unstoppable.[3] This development will limit Chinese production and hence China-Europe trade. Tending towards the same outcome would be a greater emphasis on high-value-added goods, which may mean less bulk to be transported.

Meanwhile, the size of the labor force of the Indian sub-continent (India, Pakistan, and Bangla Desh) is soaring while the number of its retirees remains relatively small. With a labor force that will be twice the size of China’s within a generation, it is all but inevitable that the Indian sub-continent will become a world economic center, as indeed is already happening. This will generate great demand for east-west transport, which will be met by a combination of sea and land routes. The Great India Road, India’s counterpart to the Silk Road to China, is older and longer than the China route. Until it was cut by the Soviet borders, it also carried more goods and was less frequently interrupted than the Silk Road between China and Europe. This route went straight to the Caspian shores at Baku, Azerbaijan and thence to the Black Sea.

The revival of this long-forgotten Great India Road will more than make up for any long-term decline of Chinese shipping through Anaklia that might occur. Indeed, the first steps towards this revival are already being taken. Thus, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan are working to revive what they call the Lapis Lazuli Corridor from their common border clear to Europe via the Caucasus.  And only recently Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia signed a deal to complete the rail connection across the width of Afghanistan to Peshawar in Pakistan.  Meanwhile, two newly built ports on the Arabian Sea– Pakistan’s Gwadar and Iran‘s Chabahar– will enable goods shipped from the East to proceed westward by land, with the route through the Caucasus to Anaklia being a strong option.

There is no lack of hypothetical impediments to the future success of Anaklia. Among them, none is more compelling than the possibility of continued low international prices on oil. This would reduce the cost of shipping goods from China to Europe by sea and could therefore cut into the volume of land cargo from the East that should feed Anaklia. But that shift would at the same time benefit Anaklia by reducing shipping cost for the deep-sea vessels it will accommodate. In other words, like all the other potentially retarding factors discussed here, there are good reasons to think that this one may not prove significant, if it emerges at all.

On the other side of the ledger are the many potential benefits that Anaklia may bring. First, it will facilitate trade and interaction between Europe and China. China’s BRI has elicited a skeptical response from many in the West and many elsewhere as well. However, neither in the Caucasus nor in Central Asia are the declared interests of China, Europe and the United States in conflict. In fact, these are regions where one could imagine East and West working out practical understandings. If Anaklia could help bring that about, it will have been an agent of compromise in a situation otherwise defined by conflict.

Second, Anaklia–port and city–will be as the biggest development project ever undertaken in the western Caucasus. As such, it has the potential to impact positively on the entire region, including both Russia’s North Caucasus, Armenia, northern Iran, and the poorer regions of western Georgia itself.  In light of the fact that these regions have been several times been riven by conflict since the collapse of the USSR, the economic and social development Anaklia fosters is bound to be beneficial.

Third, the benefits this new port and commercial center will bring to Georgia itself are notable. They will create thousands of jobs, most of them requiring modern skills and a significant number of them being in emerging sectors of technology and finance. This in turn will diversify Georgia’s economy and make it more self-sustaining, which in turn will render the society more modern and forward looking. Anaklia looks both east and west, but its strongest impact on Georgia will be to strengthen its ties with Europe and the Atlantic world. Georgians themselves have already declared integration with European life and culture to be their strategic objective. By offering European economies a new path by which their products can reach the East, it will strengthen Europe’s appreciation of Georgia, not just as an attractive if curious distant land but as a country that contributes directly to Europe’s own welfare.

These and many other considerations underscore the value and importance of Anaklia for the United States. True, it will bring profits and jobs to the port’s builder, Conti Group of New Jersey, and to SSA Marine of Seattle, which will oversee its operations. And by expanding the channels for continental trade across Eurasia, Anaklia (and the upgraded but smaller port at nearby Poti) will create opportunities for American manufacturers and their branches in Europe, and for American firms in such diverse areas as shipping, logistics, insurance, hotels, and storage. These important developments will all have a positive impact regionally, involving equally Azerbaijan and its new port at Aylat, and both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, with their new Caspian ports. Others who will benefit from the expanded corridor created by Anaklia will include Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, all of which figure prominently among U.S. interests. Such developments will help both Washington and Brussels to define a new strategy towards the Caucasus and Central Asia, one that stresses continental trade through the region, and which is prepared to find common cause with other powers–including China, Russia, and India–so long as they respect the sovereignty and self-determination of both regions. In the end, Anaklia benefits all countries that seek a new order in the Caucasus and Central Asia based not on confrontation and interference but on trade and cooperation.

Anaklia is a fifty-two year project and it is only now beginning its second year.  Many aspects of its future development have yet to be worked out, and its impact on the world around it for now remains hypothetical. What is already clear, however, is that Georgians are capable of conceiving, planning, and carrying out highly complex and significant projects that serve their country, their region, and the world.  Not bad for a country of 3.75 million that is better known for its wine and tourism than for its contribution to continental commerce.

[1] NUMBEO is a crowd-sourced global data base covering consumer prices, perceived crime rates, quality of health care, etc.


[3] See S. Frederick Starr, “From Thailand to Hamburg: Eurasia’s Emerging Southern Corridor,”   Horizon, (Belgrade), 2018, No. 11, pp. 2 ff.

S. Frederick Starr is chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute with offices at American Foreign Policy Council in Washington and, the Institute for Development and Security Studies, Stockholm. He is the author of LOST ENLIGHTENMENT: CENTRAL ASIA’S GOLDEN AGE, now translated into 21 languages.

Read 4577 times Last modified on Wednesday, 23 January 2019 18:54





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  • S. Frederick Starr Testifies at House Subcommittee Hearing on "Current Developments in Central Asia"
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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

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    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.