Thursday, December 22, 2011

Political Violence in Western Kazakhstan

By  The Jamestown Foundation

Kazakhstan has experienced an unusual wave of political violence in the oil-rich western part of the country. The deadly clashes between protestors and Kazakhstan’s security forces that left 15 dead and 110 injured took place just a month before the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 15, 2012.

Violence erupted in the western Kazakh city of Zhanaozen on December 16, the day the country marked 20 years of independence, leaving 14 dead and over 90 injured, according to official information. The police clashed with a crowd that disrupted the Independence Day celebrations by burning down several buildings, including the mayor’s office, the ruling Nur-Otan party quarters, and the offices of the state oil and gas company KazMunaiGas. The rioters wore jackets with the logo of KazMunaiGaz indicating they belonged to the oil workers who have been on strike since May. Many of those who lost their jobs at KazMunaiGaz subsidiary OzenMunaiGaz have protested on the main city square throughout the summer and fall.

The unrest continued on December 17 when protesters blocked the railway station in the village of Shetpe, near Zhanaozen and not far from Aktau, a key transportation hub for the Northern Distribution Network, which provides transit of non-lethal supplies for US troops in Afghanistan. One person was killed and 11 were wounded during clashes with police (Interfax, December 18).

A peaceful demonstration in support of the striking oil workers took place in Aktau on December 18. The protesters made demands to the authorities to stop the violence, restore peace in the region and resolve the labor dispute. It appears that negotiations between the protestors and the local authorities have begun (K-Plus TV, December 18).

Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev has announced a state of emergency in Zhanaozen until January 5, 2012, during which time a curfew is imposed and public gatherings are prohibited.

The clashes in the western city of Zhanaozenare were related to the oil workers’ strike, but at this point it is not clear whether the oil workers started the violence or if their strike was exploited for political purposes. However, in the aftermath of 15 civilian deaths and over one hundred injured, some people in western Kazakhstan accuse the security forces of using lethal force against rioters and blame the authorities for failing to resolve the labor dispute at OzenMunaiGas. Disturbing videos of the police shooting at fleeing rioters and beating them up have caused deep concern among foreign governments and human rights groups. The Kazakh Ambassador to the US, Erlan Idrissov, stated that the video images were shocking and his government is investigating the events (RFE/RL, December 22). “Everyone who is guilty of starting the violence or exceeded his powers in dealing with the rioters will be held responsible,” he said in a press conference in Washington on December 22. The Kazakh Minister of Interior Kalmukhambet Kasymovhas acknowledged that the police would have to put in place better contingency planning for the deployment of nonlethal crowd control techniques (Moscow Times, December 20). 

In a rare move for any of the Central Asian republics, on December 22, Kazakhstan’s prosecutor-general Ashat Daulbaev invited the United Nations to take part in investigations into the deadly clashes between security forces and protesters in the oil-rich west (RFE/RL, December 22).

In addition, President Nazarbayev said on December 22 that he would sack the head of the sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna, Timur Kulibayev, who is also his son-in-law (Reuters, December 22). The heads of the state oil and gas company KazMunaiGas and its London-listed subsidiary KazMunaiGas Exploration Production were also replaced, as well as the governor of Mangystau region where the events took place (Lada - News from Aktau, December 22).
The Jamestown Foundation is closely following developments in Kazakhstan and will provide thorough analysis as more information becomes available.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Kamalov Murder Points to Increased Risks for Civil Activists In the North Caucasus

By Valery Dzutsev

On December 15, a well-known Dagestani journalist and publisher, Khajimurad Kamalov, 46, was gunned down near his office in Makhachkala. On December 16, president of Dagestan Magomedsalam Magomedov made a special statement about Kamalov’s murder. Magomedov attributed the attack to “enemies of Dagestan” (, December 16).

Experts were divided on who could be behind the prominent Dagestani journalist’s murder. reported that Kamalov’s colleagues were convinced he was killed because of the imminent publication of an article about law enforcement’s abuses in Dagestan. The brazen manner in which Kamalov was killed – the killer followed him in the city street shooting at him – probably attests to this version (, December 16). However, Kommersant reported that Kamalov’s main media resource, the newspaper Chernovik, had become much more loyal to the republican authorities and that could have caused a retaliation by insurgents (, December 16). Respected expert on the North Caucasus, Alexei Malashenko, also tentatively suggested that Chernovik was more of “an irritant” for the insurgents, than for the government (, December 16).

Yet, officials professing the government’s position are on the record with open threats againt Khajimurad Kamalov; on the other hand, there is no evidence that the Dagestani militancy ever made such a threat. To date, the Dagestani insurgents’ website only republished the news about Kamalov’s killing with no substantial comment on his murder (, December 16). Out of a dozen cases of journalists killed in Dagestan in the past decade, not one such death was proven to have been carried out by insurgents, and not one of these crimes has been solved.

Given the prominence of Khajimurad Kamalov, his murder may signal a new era of crackdown on civil liberties in Dagestan and the North Caucasus as a whole. With the government’s legitimacy undermined after manifestly rigged parliamentary elections in Russia, the insurgency rises and civil activists galvanize. Journalists and civil activists, however, may be in an especially vulnerable position as they become targeted by the conflicting sides – first and foremost by the government authorities.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Does Russia Want a Toehold in the Balkans?

By Matthew Czekaj

Just days after Serbia received a recommendation for EU Candidate status, and less than a month since Belgrade announced its upcoming involvement in the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) missions in Africa, Belgrade’s security priorities swung back in Moscow’s direction. On October 17, Russia and Serbia jointly declared the opening of a Russian base in Niš, Southern Serbia, just 100 km from the border with Kosovo. Both Belgrade and Moscow officials denied that the Russian base had a military character, calling the installation a “humanitarian” center. The center would be used to respond to catastrophes, natural disasters and crises in the Balkans and throughout Europe.

To underscore the benign nature of the base, Russia flew in 35 tons of humanitarian supplies by plane belonging to the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations (EurActiv, October 18). The emergency response equipment included tents, blankets and power generators. Yet, some analysts were skeptical of Russia’s real intended use for the facility in Serbia. For instance, suggestions arose that Russia planned to use the base to spy on the US military facility being set up in Romania, which will be part of NATO’s missile defense shield. Moscow vociferously denied such allegations. During the opening ceremony for the Niš center, Russia’s minister for emergency situations, Sergey Shoigu, invited all countries mistrustful of Moscow’s intentions in Serbia to join the humanitarian center’s de-mining teams, which will be tasked with removing unexploded cluster ordinances dropped on the Niš area by NATO in 1999. At the same time, Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic rebuked all questions critical of the Russian base by declaring Serbia’s sovereign right to host foreign military installations on its territory even though the Niš center will only be for humanitarian purposes. “Shoigu and I are not doing anything secret,” Minister Dacic said defensively. “This humanitarian center is a part of the European mechanism to deal with emergency situations.”

It is the timing of the Niš base’s announcement, however, which is most curious. News of plans to build such a facility was first revealed in October of 2009 during Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s state visit to Belgrade. Yet, since then, neither the Russian nor Serbian side made any further moves until this past October – within days of the European Union’s recommendation to give candidate status to Serbia. The EU declaration sounded bittersweet in Belgrade, however, since it failed to name a date to begin accession talks and linked further progress to a Serbian-Kosovar political rapprochement. Achieving any true solution to the Serbia-Kosovo conflict will be difficult, especially considering the turmoil and violence that has gripped Kosovo’s ethnic Serb-majority northern border areas since summer. Moscow’s unwavering political support of Belgrade over the status of Kosovo underscores the Niš base as a sour jab at Europe over its unsatisfying candidacy declaration for Serbia (EurActiv, October 18).

At the same time, Serbia has also clearly acquiesced to the presence of the Russian base on its territory out of economic considerations. During the Niš center announcement ceremony, Serbian Interior Minister Dacic solicited Russian help to restore Serbia’s post-war economy, still recovering after 1999 – a none-too-subtle dig at NATO. Despite these political overtones, in the midst of an EU financial crisis with no end in sight, Serbia’s overture for Russian investment actually reflects Western advice. None other than the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) suggested recently that Serbia – as well as other emerging European economies – should look eastward for closer trade and economic ties to prevent being dragged down by financial troubles in the EU.

Nevertheless, Russia’s true intentions for its Niš emergency and crisis response center – located on the doorstep of ethnically-unstable Kosovo – encourage open speculation. As Jamestown Senior Fellow Vladimir Socor wrote in Eurasia Daily Monitor in 2009, “It seems hard to imagine a European country agreeing to host Russian militarized fire-fighting, flood-response, or chemical-protection units on its national territory in anticipation of some catastrophes. Serbia’s bizarre agreement with Russia is the first of its kind.” Socor further noted the importance Moscow placed on politically supporting Belgrade’s stance on Kosovo, concluding,

Moscow’s tactics are designed to prolong an ambiguous situation in Kosovo, set Belgrade at odds with the US and EU on that issue […], and encourage Serbian past-oriented nationalism as a means for Russia – alongside its economic means – to compete against the West in the Balkans (Eurasia Daily Monitor, October 27, 2009).

Meanwhile, Russian military thinking has recently focused again on the pre-emptive use of force. The October 23 issue of the Russian military journal, Voyennaya Mysl (Military Thought), openly explores legal justifications for military pre-emption in an article titled, “On the Question of the Right of States to Preemptive Use of Military Force,” written by Colonel of Justice (Reserve) Viktor Kirilenko and Captain 2nd Rank (Reserve) Stanislav Korostelev, both military academy educators (Voyennaya Mysl, October 23). Moreover, according to an RFE/RL article from November 17, some ethnic-Serbs living in northern Kosovo have openly requested Russian passports from Moscow. Notably, the “Medvedev Doctrine,” articulated after Russia’s August 2008 invasion of Georgia, includes Moscow’s “responsibility” to protect Russian passport holder abroad. Thus, it suddenly becomes easy to imagine a future spark on the Serb-Kosovo border leading to a Georgia-like scenario in the heart of the Southeastern Europe with Russia’s military involvement.

Of course, Russia has no tanks, regular brigades, bombers or attack helicopters currently stationed in Niš. Nonetheless, to ensure the above-mentioned scenario of a fresh frozen conflict in Europe does not come to pass, the West will need to actively prevent any future unilateral militarization of Russia’s new toehold in the Balkans. Serbia has every sovereign right to host Russian emergency response teams on its territory, so open Western protests would be futile. Instead, the West should do all in its power to “Europeanize” the Niš center and truly weave its capabilities into a lower-level European security fabric.

In particular, European countries should call Moscow’s bluff and request to station their own natural disaster and catastrophic accident response teams at Niš, actively and regularly train with their Russian counterparts there, and even propose the opening of a similar center in Russia. Western presence at Niš would allow European countries to keep a closer eye on the facility and prevent Russia from gradually upgrading the base’s military capabilities. Multilateral authority over the Niš center would also be preferable to sole Russian military control. Therefore, the West should insist on moving the operational control of the Russian emergency response center to the OSCE or the NATO-Russia Council – or even inside an EU CSDP framework. Finally, Brussels, Washington and the North Atlantic Alliance have to significantly step up their diplomatic efforts at resolving the inter-ethnic conflict in northern Kosovo, and work toward a workable and lasting rapprochement between Belgrade and Pristina. Removing this source of instability in the Balkans would diminish the possibility of the Niš center becoming a Russian base for regional military operations.

As last year’s catastrophic flooding in Macedonia and the destructive “red sludge” chemical accident in Hungary has shown, there is indeed a real need for a quick emergency response and disaster relief capability in Europe, which until now has not been filled at a European-wide level. The Niš center could certainly fill such a niche, but only on fully European terms, not purely on Russia’s. If Moscow agrees, then Western involvement will keep Russian intentions in Niš honest; if not, then at least Europe will not be able to say that it was blindsided by a Russian toehold in the Balkans.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Silk Road Strategy: Problems and Perspectives – Interview with Prof. S. Frederick Starr

By Dr. Guli Yuldasheva and Mavlon Shukurzoda.

Since the collapse of the bipolar world system, discussions on the new world order and problems of regional instability have not yet ceased. They have recently achieved perhaps their apogee – fierce mass media disputes have erupted around the Russian-proposed Eurasian way of development from the one side, and the US “New Silk Road” strategy from the other. Each suggested model of development has its own advantages and vulnerabilities. It is quite obvious that each vision’s success is closely linked with the settlement of the Afghan issue in one or another format; that is natural in conditions of globalization, integrity and indivisibility of international security.

In fact, any strategy pertaining to the Eurasian area should have to deal with the Afghan dilemma, directly or indirectly affecting the speed and the level of its realization. Besides the issues of illicit traffic in drugs, illegal migration and criminality from the territory of Afghanistan, the following external tendencies should be kept in mind that can also negatively influence the processes ongoing on the Eurasian continent:
  • spread of radical movements in Central Asia (currently found in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan);
  • atomism and absence of geopolitical unity in the CA region;
  • gradual ascent of Islamic regimes to power in the Middle East and continuation of instability there;
  • gridlock in the Caspian dispute and uncertainty in the sphere of energy policy in the Middle East.

In this connection, the concept of the so-called “New Silk Road” is of special interest. It was suggested by Prof. S. Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Institute of Central Asia and Caucasus at Johns Hopkins University, and later formulated as a new US strategy jointly with the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies. At present, the Obama Administration seems to have actively started implementing its provisions, as evidenced by the agenda of US Secretary of State Hillary Clintons last visit to the republics of Central Asia and Pakistan, which immediately border Afghanistan.

The ideas, set forth in the concept are not new. Similar ideas have been already voiced in October 1997 by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), who closely cooperated with Prof. Starr in his legislative initiative “Silk Road Act,” and later were extensively developed by Prof. Starr in his “Big Central Asia” concept. Today he suggests the renewed version of the concept named a “New Silk Road” in his report titled “Afghanistan Beyond the Fog of Nation Building: Giving Economic Strategy a Chance.”

It is worth noting that the regional dimension of the US Central Asian strategy was analyzed by Prof. Starr in such his earlier works such as “A Strategic Assessment of Central Asia and the Caucasus, 1999-2000” and “The New Silk Roads” (2008).

In “Afghanistan Beyond the Fog,” Prof. S. Frederick Starr continues to focus on the regional dimension of the new US strategy, but takes into account opinions of his opponents and present-day realities. The process of realizing transport-trade operations in Afghanistan rests upon the support of such states as Russia, China and Iran, the role of which he analyzed in detail as early as in 2008. Indirect cooperation with Iran is in fact already proceeding, though quietly.

In the interests of geopolitical and economic stability, Prof. Starr’s report justifies a leadership and broker’s role for the US in this project, which is de-facto the biggest investor in Central Asia and whose interests therefore cannot be ignored in any analytical layout. At the same time, long-term economic and political goals, set forth in the new Afghan strategy, logically exclude US global leadership so as to avoid the clash of numerous involved resources and interests, without which the project itself will not be practically fulfilled.

By the same logic, in this strategy Afghanistan plays the role of an important hub and a crossroads for the trade-transport routes under construction. Yet, as an unstable state, it is only a center for concentrating efforts on social-economic stabilization of Central Asia, but not by all means as a geopolitical center or a model of development for its neighbors.

The following factors will benefit the “New Silk Road” project’s realization:

  • diversification of regional transit routes is in the interest of all CA republics;
  • the transport-logistical system of the Northern Distribution Network, so important for the US strategy in Afghanistan, covers the territory of nine former republics of the USSR – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Latvia;
  • US experts often speak in favor of a partnership with Russia and China as important regional players, whose potential and interests should be taken into account in the Afghan strategy;
  • rapprochement of the EU and US positions on Afghanistan (in particular, Germany and the US);
  • removal of military sanctions and activation of American business in Uzbekistan;
  • diplomatic and other efforts of the US on regulating interstate relations in Central Asia;
  • the continued aspiration for regional integration among some CA states, which is underscored by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s adherence to the idea of the Central Asian Union’s revival, and the efforts of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to normalize relations (opening borders between them on October 26 this year);
  • a restoration of the dialogue between Pakistan and India, culminated with the signing of a transit agreement between them.

It goes without saying that these tendencies are still unstable and much more should be done. However, alongside with statistical data provided in Prof. Starr’s book, they inspire hope for a positive outcome in Central Asia.

What follows is an in-depth interview with Prof. Starr, where he extrapolates the main ideas of his new concept on Afghanistan. It should be stressed that the ideas and thoughts set forth in the introduction and conclusion of this article reflect opinions of the authors and by no means refer to the position of Prof. Starr.


Question: The US government has recently presented a “New Silk Road” strategy, which is aimed at deepening economic and trade relations between Central and South Asia. What are the distinctive differences between the new strategy and the previous American approach to economic reconstruction in Afghanistan?

Prof. S. Frederick Starr: The new US strategy is concentrated on the development of an integrated strategy of economic and social development in Afghanistan, which means construction of the new system of transport and trade routes along the ancient Silk road.
The US’s approach to economic renewal of Afghanistan will rest on job creation, the provision of basic services, the construction of infrastructure and the development of fiscal sustainability. However, all these goals will be focused around a more purposeful yet comprehensive strategy, one that embraces the expansion of transport and trade as the main engine of economic advancement.
At the same time the usage of military measures will only be a means and not the final strategic goal. The revival of the ancient transit routes through Afghanistan in new conditions can solve the present US strategic dilemma and can become a genuine key to the success of their regional strategy, whereby the US can efficiently use its leadership potential and possibilities in this issue.
A new economic strategy acknowledges the reality that the Afghan struggle is regional in scope, affecting the rest of Central Asia, Pakistan, India, China, Iran, etc., and must be resolved on a regional basis. Such a strategy benefits all and is directed against no one. Priority projects include the completion of the Afghan Ring Road and Kabul-Herat highway, and linking them to continental trunk routes, especially to the Pakistani port at Gwadar; completing trans-Afghan rail lines linking Europe and Asia; constructing the TAPI pipeline; and completing electrical transmission lines linking Central Asia, Afghanistan, northern Pakistan and India.
The US nowadays treats the implementation of a “New Silk Road” strategy as a matter of the highest priority. In keeping with this, the Obama administration has already appointed a special Presidential-appointed Envoy to lead a major inter-agency task force that will work closely with military and civilian leaders in the US, Afghanistan, among coalition partners and in regional states. At the same time it is planned to use all tools at the disposal of the US government to engage the private sector.

Question: What criteria must a revised economic strategy for Afghanistan meet to achieve success?

Prof. S. Frederick Starr: First, it must directly and manifestly improve the lives of Afghans, Pakistanis and people in those Central Asian states that are key to this region-wide project. As this happens, internal and external stakeholders will buy into the effort. Only through these means can one expect a decline in the resort to violent solutions. Only in this way will the need for a large and costly US military presence begin to lessen in the immediate future.
Second, it must be possible to pursue the economic strategy simultaneously with the military strategy, and in such a way that the two are mutually reinforcing. Third, it must leave the Afghan government with an income stream. Today the US is paying the salaries of all Afghan soldiers and civil servants. This cannot go on forever.
Fourth, an economic strategy must work fast, showing substantial results within the next 1-2 years. An early focus on removing administrative and procedural blockages to trade will produce quick results. Overall, economic progress will create the conditions that will enable the US to shift its main emphasis from military power to economic and social betterment.
The only approach that meets these criteria is one that focuses on reestablishing Afghanistan’s traditional role as a hub of transport and trade, linking Europe and the Middle East with the Indian sub-continent and all South and Southeast Asia.

Question: There is no doubt that Afghanistan’s advantage is its geostrategic location. At the same time this country is still viewed as the “end of the road” rather than a central hub. How do you assess this situation?

Prof. S. Frederick Starr: Over two millennia, Afghanistan was the place where trade routes to India, China, the Middle East and Europe all converged. This is why Marco Polo crossed the country en route to China, and why Arab travelers like Ibn Battuta crossed it on their way to India. Such trade along the misnamed “Silk Road” (in fact, every conceivable product was transported over it) produced immense wealth. Balkh, near Mazar-e-Sharif, was once among the largest and richest cities on earth. Medieval Arabs, who knew something about urban life, called it “the Mother of Cities.” Bagram once maintained lucrative ties simultaneously with ancient Greece and India, enabling it to flourish in opulent splendor.
The US-led Operation Enduring Freedom radically changed the situation in modern Afghanistan by reopening its northern border to long-distance trade for the first time since 1936, and by creating similar potential on Afghanistan‘s eastern border with Pakistan. This action, entirely unintended and largely unnoticed in America or elsewhere, is one of the most transformative developments on the Eurasian landmass in the past century.

Question: What other factors contribute to the future development of transcontinental trade in Eurasia via Afghanistan?

Prof. S. Frederick Starr: The most powerful drivers of the expansion of transcontinental Eurasian trade in the coming years will be the rapid growth of the Indian and Chinese economies. To date, most of Chinese and Indian exports are shipped by sea, but the anticipated continued growth of such exports will increase demand for transcontinental road and rail shipping routes. Much shipping from Western China, for example, naturally lends itself to transcontinental trade, given the long distance from production site to port and the slowness of maritime transport. Realistic estimates for Indian trade by land through Central Asia to European and Middle Eastern markets foresee a growth to US $100–120 billion annually by 2015. Afghanistan and its neighboring Central Asian countries stand to benefit immensely from this trade through the collection of tariffs and through the growing role of their own transit-related industries.

Question: But some politicians and analytics argue that a transport-based “New Silk Road” cannot be realized until stability is established in Afghanistan. Do you agree with such an assessment?

Prof. S. Frederick Starr: It cannot be denied that sustained violence in Afghanistan – as well as areas like Baluchistan, Kashmir and other parts of Eurasia – inhibits economic activity and dampens the private and public investment that could help foster continental trade and growth. Yet, the continuing flow of Pakistani trucks ferrying NATO supplies from Karachi to Afghanistan along roads fully accessible to Pushtun and other insurgents is proof that commercial activity can flourish amid instability. Any gains that militants would make from disrupting these vital supply lines on a strategic level are outweighed by the fact that local tribes derive significant income from the traffic. As long as such incentive structures hold, local populations have shown themselves ready to prioritize commerce over political violence. The US and NATO would do well to recall that one reason the Taliban succeeded in gaining control of Afghanistan is that they promised to abolish local toll-collection points.
Improvements in the 3,000 km Ring Road, which connects the cities of Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul, Kandahar and Heart, have already facilitated Afghan internal transportation growth. IMF and Afghan authorities estimate that there are now more than 600,000 vehicles in Afghanistan today, as compared to 175,000 in 2002, and they travel on more than 13,000 km of newly built or rehabilitated roads. These improvements are part of a strategic priority placed on transportation by the Afghan Government, and they serve to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan.

Question: As the world and regional trade benefit from the reestablishment of the New Silk Road, what do you estimate the role has been of individual countries in the development of a transportation sector in and around Afghanistan so far?

Prof. S. Frederick Starr: The project in fact is already supported by all neighboring states. With or without America, they would like to get benefits for what, they consider, they have all historical rights. Uzbekistan, with financing from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), has extended its rail system to Mazar-e-Sharif and is sending electricity to light Kabul. Neighboring Tajikistan, with help from China and Iran, has opened a road across the lofty Pamirs from China to the new American-built bridge to Afghanistan and also intends to lay a rail line from its capital of Dushanbe to the Afghan border. Turkmenistan is also constructing roads and railroads to link with the Afghan Ring Road.
Pakistan and China are rebuilding the main north-south road across Pakistan that provides Afghanistan with a key link, through the Khyber Pass, both to China and the Arabian Sea. At its southern terminus at Gwadar, they have already built a new port that will provide the most efficient sea link between Central Asia, Afghanistan and the burgeoning economies of Southeast Asia. China also hopes to enhance Afghanistan’s access to the East with a railroad through the Khyber Pass that will then connect to east-west lines across Pakistan.
Iran, meanwhile, is extending its railroad and highway systems to Herat, the key city of western Afghanistan. Teheran is also constructing a new port at Chabahar rivaling Gwadar. India has helped build a road to connect Chabahar to Afghanistan’s Ring Road. Afghanistan’s neighbor to the northwest, gas-rich Turkmenistan, has meanwhile built a new port on the Caspian Sea at the city of Turkmenbashi that will transmit cargoes from Afghanistan and the East to Azerbaijan and then the Black Sea and Europe. Turkmenistan signed an agreement with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India to construct a gas pipeline to deliver Turkmen gas across Afghanistan to India’s energy starved northwest, as well as to Pakistan. And, as I mentioned earlier, the United States spent US $1.8 billion to redevelop 635 km of the Ring Road and 2,700 km of other roads linking primary and secondary markets.

Question: You described in detail the situation with the highway and railroad projects in Afghanistan. What progress do you see concerning the aviation sector in this country?

Prof. S. Frederick Starr: Connecting Afghanistan with the larger world by air has proceeded slowly, and in a competitive environment in which most of Afghanistan‘s neighbors are striving to become the main stopover for East-West flights. Japan, however, has reconstructed the terminal at Kabul airport and a new private Afghan-owned airline is already flying into Frankfurt. Direct flights from Kabul to major air hubs are essential, as is the development of a reliable and Afghan-owned airline for internal travel. Uzbekistan has already made huge strides in establishing itself as an air hub between South and East Asia and Europe. Those who think only in terms of a “zero sum” fail to realize the large potential of this traffic in the future. Afghanistan may not become THE main air hub, but it can play a useful role and one that benefits its domestic economy.
In Afghanistan and around the region there are many opportunities to implement relatively routine enhancements to commercial aviation operations that would result in more safe, secure and controlled airspace and ground operations. This would allow Central Asian countries along the New Silk Road to assert rights and collect rents commonly associated with destination and en route flight operations in the developed world.

Question: Recognizing that inadequate infrastructure is not the only barrier to expanded commerce in the region, what measures are necessary to address institutional impediments to efficient transportation in Afghanistan?

Prof. S. Frederick Starr: There is a lot of research, which concludes that the biggest obstacles to transcontinental trade are institutional, bureaucratic and political. The most common of these obstacles are excessive duties imposed by governments, simple corruption on the part of border officials, and the failure of bordering states to cooperate to facilitate trade. A survey conducted by the ADB of nearly 1,000 continental truck drivers from various countries hauling goods across Afghanistan supports this assessment, with 90 percent pointing to the bureaucracy at borders as the greatest impediment to trade. This does not mean that infrastructure is unimportant. It is crucial, of course – especially railroads, pipelines and power lines. But that is only part of the story.
That is why the standardization and professionalization of customs administration is essential to unlocking Eurasia’s trade potential. They will reduce the opportunity for low-paid and untrained officials to extract illegal rents from shippers, and will also spur private investment. In addition, the modest expense of a comprehensive standardization and professionalization effort can be shared among leading trading nations or funded by multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank. Both the political and financial risks involved are modest, and would decline further as success breeds success. The resulting reductions in dollars-per-ton-per-mile costs will allow Afghanistan, Central Asia, Pakistan and their neighbors on the Modern Silk Road to compete favorably with other trans-continental transportation routes.

Question: Who will lose under this proposal?

Prof. S. Frederick Starr: First, it is not a proposal. The new silk roads are advancing on many fronts, with or without the US or any other single country or grouping of countries. The opening of continental transport across Afghanistan and Central Asia is inevitable. The only question is whether it can be hastened through US support. So we are not asking whether or not such a project should go forward. It is already advancing quickly.
Will there be losers as well as winners? Not necessarily. The opening of continental transport across Afghanistan and central Asia is not against anyone. The Russian government in Moscow may have expressed skepticism, because it wants to preserve Soviet era patterns of transport. But meanwhile, businesses in the Urals, West Siberia and Altai are eager to be able to ship goods to India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia, and will benefit enormously from the proposed initiatives. The only losers will be those who refuse to compete, and those who try to prevent others from competing.

Question: What main considerations were behind the American administration’s adoption of the “New Silk Road” concept for Afghanistan?

Prof. S. Frederick Starr: First, the failure by the US to embrace a “Silk Road Strategy” for Afghanistan and adjacent countries would have been a blow to Washington’s credibility in Kabul and other regional capitals. This prospect of becoming strategically irrelevant is no trivial matter for the US, given that Afghanistan and Central Asia are the only region on the planet surrounded by four, or possibly five, nuclear powers (Pakistan, India, China, Russia and, possibly, Iran). It means that in some future crisis Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Pakistan, too, will respond first not to Washington but to other voices, by no means all of which wish America well.
Second, if Washington took a pass on a transport and trade-based strategy, it would have failed to seize and build upon its comparative advantage throughout the broader region. It would proclaim to anyone listening that the greatest commercial power also have passed up an opportunity to engage NATO partners and other powers in a project to which even their most pacifist parliaments cannot object. In other words, if the US had failed to embrace and lead a transport- and trade-based strategy, NATO, too, would also have paid the price.
Third, a transport strategy effectively attracts the US private sector, including American firms. Even though their role will surely not be enormous, it is an important factor in garnering domestic support for Central Asia within the US. Business leaders in China, India, Japan and Iran, with strong encouragement and help from their governments, are already actively lining up transport-related projects that will cross Afghanistan and the region. As the new corridors open, opportunities in fields as diverse as insurance, freight forwarding, hotels, mining, hydroelectric production, agriculture, and manufacturing will open up.
Finally, if the US had failed to open its eyes to a trade-based economic strategy, or rejects it as nation-building, it would have squandered its enormous investment in the form of American blood and treasure, and at a moment when a positive outcome is still within reach. This would be all the more regrettable in light of the fact that the United States has already been the biggest single investor in the new transport systems that will reconnect Afghanistan with the world.


  1. It is obvious that a solution to the Afghan issue, as described above, first of all benefits US interests by removing the potential threats to American and Central Asian interests. The solution preserves American presence in Central Asia. Furthermore, US efforts at raising the regional countries’ economic, scientific-technical and commercial potential strengthens their links with global political institutions and financial markets.
  2. In the meantime, the problems of democracy-building are relegated to secondary importance due to the incommensurability of potential consequences of regional instability for democratic development. It will be easier, however, for more open political systems to evolve in those countries that enjoy peace, stability and solid economies.
  3. It is impossible to exclude as well the interests of the regional states themselves, including first of all CA states, in achievement of stability, development of transit possibilities and regional trade, solution of the social-economic issues. Purely political projects for “integrating” Central Asia have not advanced, and for understandable reasons. The New Silk Road strategy calls not for integration but for coordination, which is compatible with the concerns of all regional states to preserve and enhance their sovereignty and independence.
  4. Despite shared regional interests supporting the New Silk Road strategy, current bi-lateral friction such as between US-China, US-Iran and US-Pakistan, as well as lesser US disagreements with Russia, hamper its realization, Special US efforts are needed to remove these barriers. But it should be stressed again: the New Silk Road Strategy is not against anyone. Everyone will benefit from it, not least China, Russia and Iran.
  5. It is obvious that success of the “New Silk Road” will be largely defined by economic interests in the region, by existing demand and completed projects. However, political support will also play an important role. If political disputes and discussions on New Silk Road implementation are prolonged, and unanticipated difficulties in the Central Asian area arise, the new strategy will risk turning into nothing more than just another political slogan. If the New Silk Road strategy stumbles, Moscow’s proposed Eurasian way of development will undoubtedly be the strongest impetus for Central Asian coordination.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Conflict In Dagestan Displays Entrenchment Trends

By Valery Dzutsev

In September-October 2011, the North Caucasian journal Dosh conducted a survey in several cities and villages of Dagestan. Over 2000 people were polled on the causes of insurgency in the republic. Answering the question about why Dagestanis join the insurgents, half of the respondents, 49.4 percent, said people were driven to rebellion by law enforcement’s abuses, to protect their lives or to take revenge for their relatives. According to 20.8 percent of the respondents, the main motivation for Dagestanis to join the insurgency’s ranks is unemployment and the poor economic situation (, October 31).

The authors of the survey admit that their primary respondent base was made up of people and their relatives who were protected by rights activists and were treated by the police as suspicious. Still the survey results show that practically an entire class of people has formed in Dagestan that deeply distrusts Russian state institutions, especially the police. Even the Dagestani government’s spokesman, Zubairu Zubairuev, admits that some of the rebels joined the insurgency movement out of social protest, although he regards them as marginal forces that do not fit in with the rest of modern society (, October 31).

A Russian Internet-TV crew conducted its own research in Dagestan in the summer of 2011. According to its findings, the government-enforced monopoly of one particular kind of Sunni Islam causes dissenters to radicalize. Corruption and widespread poverty are cited as another major reason for youth radicalization in Dagestan. The authorities, according to the authors, pursue the policy of “driving everybody [all dissenters] to the forests [into the insurgency’s ranks].” The law enforcement agencies reportedly have vested interest in keeping up the levels of violence to receive additional funding and power (

Since there are no popular elections of regional governors in Russia, the government of Dagestan does not bear the costs of radicalization of its constituency. This allows the Dagestani authorities to outsource dealing with the radicals and dissenters to the police without fearing for their own political survival. In the long run, however, this may result in a backlash as the Dagestanis will increasingly perceive the civil conflict as a Russian-Dagestani war.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Discovery of the Russian People

By Valery Dzutsev

Many observers have pointed out the rise of xenophobia in Russia, especially toward the North Caucasians. But perhaps the pivotal recent change in Russian public opinion took place when Russians unearthed the Russian question. Namely: what is the position of the ethnic Russian people in the Russian Federation? This question is so important that hardly any viable political force can ignore it.

The pro-government forces, such as the so-called “Eurasianists,” advance the thesis of the Russian people as the state-building nation of the Russian Federation ( This approach, however, is weak on both accounts – legal and political. Proclaiming ethnic Russians as the primus inter pares among all ethnicities in the country should consequently result in some legal privileges for ethnic Russians. For political reasons this would hardly be acceptable even for Putin’s regime. Without such legal implications, the proclamation is empty and unlikely to satisfy anyone.

Instead, opposition-minded Russian nationalists advance the goal of the creation of ethnic Russian-majority republics that would that would exist on a constitutionally equal basis with the North Caucasus and other autonomous republics within the Russian Federation ( Evidently, the conflict in the North Caucasus and the Russians’ growing resentment of the North Caucasians moved some Russian nationalists to think about ethnic Russians’ own position in the contemporary Russian Federation (

Moreover, roughly 60 percent of Russians reportedly consider entirely separating the North Caucasus or some parts of it from the rest of Russia as an acceptable solution. However, no politician has appeared yet to articulate this view in a persuasive and appealing manner (

Thus, the issues of ethnic Russians’ political rights and the future of the North Caucasus are increasingly intertwined. They plausibly will be hotly debatable questions in the run up to the presidential elections in Russia in 2012 and beyond.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Azerbaijan Voted Onto UN Security Council For First Time In 20-Year History

By Matthew Czekaj

The votes are in and the results have been announced: for the first time in its 20-year history as a post-Soviet state, Azerbaijan will sit as a non-permanent member on the UN Security Council. After 17 rounds of voting in the General Assembly, Azerbaijan was able to obtain the necessary support of two thirds of member countries, thus taking over the Security Council seat – traditionally reserved for an Eastern European country – being vacated by Bosnia-Herzegovina on December 31. In the last round of secret ballots cast, Azerbaijan received 155 votes, while the other contenders vying for the seat, Slovenia and Hungary, received 13 and one vote, respectively. Azerbaijan will sit on the UN’s highest body from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2013.

The final vote came as a disappointment for Hungary, which hoped that its diplomatic actions during the Libyan civil war would win it greater international support. When fighting grew most intense in the North African country, the Hungarian Embassy in Tripoli was one of the few foreign diplomatic representations that did not close for security reasons during the entire Libyan revolution. Budapest maintained a presence in Libya long after US, British and French diplomats left. Despite the “great security risk” they worked under, Hungarian embassy employees became diplomats of “last resort” for around 50 governments seeking access to Libya during the seven-month conflict.

The Central European state served as the rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers when the Libyan uprising erupted, and felt it was its duty to remain on the ground amidst the conflict. As the pro-Gaddafi forces clashed with the rebels, Hungarian diplomats aided in the release of Western journalists held prisoner during the fighting, as well as in helping Western citizens escape Libya. They also sought to be a “bridge” between the two warring Libyan factions. Their efforts were recognized both by the locals in Tripoli (who renamed the street on which the Hungarian Embassy stood “Hungarian Street”) as well as the United States government, which sent a formal letter of gratitude from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi (Bloomberg, October 18; Wall Street Journal, October 19).

Budapest hoped that Washington’s open gratitude would put it over the top in its candidacy to the Security Council. But, its record in North Africa was not enough to generate the needed votes (Bloomberg, October 18). Consequently, over the next two-year term, Baku will have the responsibility to debate and vote on matters of international security, war and peace in the world’s highest international forum. It remains to be seen whether this South Caucasian country, which has been locked in a frozen conflict with Armenia over the break-away territory of Upper Karabakh for two decades, will attempt to use its new influence to bring the regional issue to the Security Council. The Armenian side claims to be “unfazed” by the Azeri Security Council seat. Yet, it is certain that Yerevan will now be stepping up its lobbying pressure to ensure that Upper Karabakh – or at least Azerbaijan’s preferred solution to it – stays off of the UN agenda over the next two years.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Serbia Follows France to Somalia, Hopes to End Up In Europe

By Matthew Czekaj

Though little noticed in the press, Serb-EU relations reached a new milestone, recently. On September 23, Serbian Secretary of State for Defence Tanja Miščević announced at a conference on Serbia’s EU integration that around November 10, her country would send Serbian officers to take part in the European Union’s anti-piracy mission to Somalia – Operation “Atalanta.” According to Miščević, Serbian officers will participate on board a French naval vessel attached to the Atalanta mission. In addition, Serb military personnel will assist in training Somali security forces as part of the EU Training Mission in Uganda.

Belgrade’s military cooperation with Paris in Uganda and off the Horn of Africa is the result of a Serb-French diplomatic breakthrough, which culminated in early April of this year. In the first visit of a Serbian Head of State to Paris in about a century, Serb President Boris Tadić and his French counterpart Nicholas Sarkozy signed a strategic partnership agreement cementing France’s support for Serbia’s European integration. In addition to political, economic, and cultural cooperation, the two governments also agreed to defense collaboration and military exchanges as well as discussed joint action in the Atalanta and the EUTM mission Somalia – Uganda. Serbia’s participation in EU military campaigns was made possible by the Balkan country’s formal acceptance on May 26, of the EU’s security procedures for the exchange and protection of classified information, and an official agreement reached between Brussels and Belgrade on June 8, to cooperate in military and civilian missions.

Exact numbers of Serbian soldiers taking part in the EU missions in and off the coast of Africa were not cited in any English-language media sources, and the Serbian Embassy in Washington, DC had not responded before this article was posted. However, the level of Serb participation is likely to remain small. Only a handful of Serbian military personnel are deployed in multinational peacekeeping missions abroad, and the largest contingent currently in place is composed of 45 troops and individuals serving in the United Nations (UN) peace mission to Cyprus. Nevertheless, the Serb-EU military relationship is groundbreaking for another reason: namely, it represents the first time that Serbia has participated in a European led mission abroad; all of Serbia’s previous multinational peacekeeping contributions served under UN missions.

Though an aspiring EU member, Serbia is under no obligation to take part in the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) missions. Its voluntary involvement is a clear effort by Belgrade to associate itself more closely and significantly with Brussels. The EU and its Member States (MS) share this sentiment. EU foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton noted that Serbia’s participation in CSDP efforts is “a step that will bring Serbia closer to the Union” and “a clear sign of mutual trust” (EurActiv, September 30). These remarks were echoed by the British and German ambassadors to Serbia. That is not to say that Belgrade has changed its attitude toward the other major Euro-Atlantic security organization – NATO. Serbia still considers the North Atlantic Alliance a threat, and has no interest in joining, currently bound by a resolution mandating the country’s neutrality toward all military alliances (EurActiv, September 30). Nevertheless, closer EU-Serbia ties are important to Belgrade in all areas, including the military.

Serbia’s willingness to play by Europe’s rules seems to have paid off. On October 12, the European Commission recommended that Serbia receive official candidate status, citing positive reforms taken over the past decade in political and economic spheres. The EU Council of Ministers will formally vote on Serbia’s status in December. Yet, the EU refused to offer a date to begin accession talks until Serbia improved its relations with Kosovo. Indeed, the issue of Serbia’s conflict with Kosovo, which it still considers a break-away province, will likely prove to be a major stumbling block in Serbia’s future accession negotiations with the EU. And the issue has been compounded in recent months by the violence that has been occurring on the Serb-Kosovar border.

Though the European Union is far from unified in its stance vis-à-vis Kosovo, enlargement fatigue following Bulgaria and Romania’s entry as well as ongoing financial woes are likely to encourage some EU members to use Kosovo as an excuse to keep Serbia out for now. The presence of Serb military personnel accompanying French forces in the Indian Ocean is a significant outcome for Serbia, which has been trying to improve the international image of its armed forces. Yet, its participation in EU missions abroad is unlikely to completely smooth Serbia’s rocky and winding road toward European membership.