In mid-December, Moscow announced its decision to abandon the radar station in Gabala, Azerbaijan, prompting discussions about a deterioration of Russo-Azerbaijani relations. Both sides have nevertheless officially declared that bilateral relations will not be affected by the decision. The official reason for Russia’s evacuation of the station is a sharp increase of the leasing rent demanded by Azerbaijan. However, previous changes in Azerbaijani, as well as Russian, military doctrines have made a continuous Russian presence at Gabala untenable. The future of the radar station is now uncertain as Azerbaijan looks for new partnerships in operating the station. Israel is seemingly considered an interested party.
The rapid development of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) technology has spurred a renewed interest in the vast untapped reserves of Turkmenistan. In late fall 2012, a Romanian delegation visited Turkmenistan to emphasize Bucharest’s interest in importing Turkmen gas, while Ukraine has increasingly made similar overtures after starting the construction of an LNG terminal near Odessa in late November 2012. Exporting gas to European markets is an attractive option for Turkmenistan, and LNG technology is increasingly presenting the country and its potential customers with an opportunity to override Russian objections, a fact clearly demonstrated by the renewed interest among East European countries such as Romania and Ukraine.
The flurry of regional diplomatic activity in recent months has demonstrated that Central Asia’s two main states, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, are finally taking concrete steps in response to the failure of regional security institutions in Central Asia, and in the direction of working jointly to assume greater responsibility for their own security and reduce security dependence on Russia. The closer alignment between Tashkent and Astana is a novel and crucial development in Central Asian security affairs.
Turkmenistan has officially announced a large scale privatization of state owned industries to be launched beginning of next year. In November 2012, the Turkmen leadership approved a strategic document entitled State Program for Privatization of Enterprises and Objects of State Property in Turkmenistan for 2013-2016, outlining the government’s privatization goals. The program is a major step forward in an attempt to create a genuine private sector in the country. If implemented, the privatization process has the potential to move the least transformed of all post-communist countries further away from the inherited Soviet central command system towards a free market economy as it is envisaged in Turkmenistan’s constitution.
As the civil war in Syria rages on, members of non-Arab minorities of this Middle Eastern country, notably Armenians, Kurds, Druze, and Circassians feel themselves increasingly caught in the crossfire and forced to take sides. Seeking to escape the bloody armed conflict between the supporters of the Assad regime and various factions of the anti-Assad opposition, Armenians have moved in relatively large numbers to their historical homeland, whereas Circassians have experienced problems in their efforts to repatriate to their native areas of the North Caucasus.
On December 5, the Government of Kazakhstan admitted publicly for the first time that Jund al-Khilafah (JaK) posed a threat to national security. The statement was issued by the National Security Committee’s Deputy Chairman, Kabdulkarim Abdikazymov, who said that JaK was composed largely of Kazakh nationals and was based in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. JaK cells are also believed to operate in the North Caucasus. Although JaK has not carried out any attacks in Kazakhstan since December 2011, JaK remains the primary Islamist militant group targeting Kazakhstan and is one of a host of security concerns that Kazakhstan envisions in 2013.
Following the parliamentary elections and Bidzina Ivanishvili’s installation as Prime Minister, Georgia has undergone a series of arrests of former high government officials and members of the security establishment. While the now ruling coalition Georgian Dream (GD) promised during the election campaign that it would prosecute alleged misdeeds of the former government, the actions also carry the signs of a politically motivated campaign to weaken the former ruling party. While the case can be made that certain practices of the previous government should be investigated and prosecuted, the pattern of arrests risks damaging Georgia’s relations with international partners as well as its domestic development process.
In recent years, Moscow has considerably been reducing the share of conscripts to the Russian Army from the republics of the North Caucasus, particularly from Dagestan. Military service remains popular in Dagestan, in stark contrast to much of the Russian Federation. Yet, the changing draft policy appear to be motivated by the perceived difficulty of North Caucasians to conform with the hierarchic traditions of the Russian army, and by the dangers of providing young Dagestanis with military training in the context of the North Caucasus insurgency, which is increasingly centered on Dagestan.
Whatever their political affiliation, Georgians can join with Russia’s other neighbors in contemplating how the leadership changes in the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) might affect their security. During his years as Russia’s first civilian defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov and the Russian government made the unprecedented decision to purchase expensive Western defense equipment. The decision was designed partly to fill gaps in Russian military capabilities, and partly to use the threat of foreign competition to induce its military-industrial complex to modernize its means of production and contain its costs. Now the recent shakeup in the leadership of suggests that Russian policy makers are reconsidering their decision to import advanced foreign military equipment and experts.
Shifts in Uzbekistan’s foreign policy over the fall, including the decision to “suspend” its membership in the Russia-sponsored CSTO and President Islam Karimov’s announcement in September that conflict over water distribution in Central Asia could lead to war, have led both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to boost their defense-related cooperation with Russia. Recent developments open for new geopolitical arrangements in the region with an increased potential for military conflicts. However, the constant flux in Central Asia’s geopolitical configurations escapes easy prediction and the region’s current tendency toward division into two opposite political and military camps is just one among many trends