Friday, March 20, 2015

Is Ukraine Promoting Traitors?

By Oleksandr Gavrylyuk

“Traitors are promoted!” Ukrainian journalist Anna Babinets wrote on her Facebook page on March 12. She was commenting on the defense minister’s order No. 70 (given on February 5, 2015), which appointed Major-General Vyacheslav Nazarkin the first deputy commander of the West Operational Command (, March 12). The appointment was reportedly arranged by Nazarkin’s old-time colleague, current chief of Ukraine’s General Staff, Viktor Muzhenko.

Last year, Babinets’ investigative reports (YouTube, Part One, Part Two, November 28, 2014) for the project of blamed Nazarkin for collaborating with the enemy while he served as the chief of the Special Operations Department of Ukraine’s General Staff.
According to the journalist, units under Nazarkin’s command were repeatedly ambushed by pro-Kremlin insurgents and Russian soldiers arousing suspicions that he was conspiring with the Russian military to organize attacks on his own troops. On July 29, 2014, a group of 19 Kirovohrad-based commandos fell into a trap near Snizhne, Donetsk region. Twelve scouts were killed, three were captured and only four managed to escape. The commandos had reportedly been sent to search for a Ukrainian Su-25 pilot allegedly shot down by the pro-Russia forces. However, secret and open sources confirm that this pilot was successfully rescued five days earlier, on July 24. And in fact, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced the pilot’s rescue, on July 28.

The ambushed commandos have claimed that enemy forces were told of the Ukrainian scouts’ route. Major-General Nazarkin, who had earlier served in Russia himself, allegedly phoned his brother, the deputy commandant of the Omsk garrison in Russia, every time he deployed Ukrainian troops to Donbas (eastern Ukrainian region encompassing Donetsk and Luhansk provinces). So nearly every special operation involving Nazarkin has ended in death and disaster.
However, when phoned by Babinets, Nazarkin denied having a sibling and abruptly ended the call. Later, the two Nazarkin brothers deleted their common photos from their online social network profiles. Instead, Russian online media outlets Russian Spring and Asia Center depicted the Ukrainian general as the victim of a whispering campaign (, August 30, 2014).

Following the’s investigation, Nazarkin was dismissed from office, and his former position in the military was given to Colonel Serhiy Kryvonos, the former head of the Airborne Forces Staff and a widely respected officer in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Babinets was invited to testify as a witness before the Military Prosecutor’s Office, while Chief of the General Staff Muzhenko sent Nazarkin away from journalists to the western Ukrainian city of Khmelnytsky (, September 11, 2014).

Nazarkin and Muzhenko once served together at Zhytomyr, a regional center west of Kyiv. Muzhenko even used to represent the Party of Regions in the regional council. Muzhenko’s affiliation with the ruling party helped him enter the General Staff, and Nazarkin followed him up the military ladder. Indeed, in December 2013, during the EuroMaidan protests in Kyiv and across the country, Nazarkin was named acting head of Special Operations in the Armed Forces (, August 27, 2014).

In January 2014, Nazarkin urged Yanukovych to “restore order in the country” despite his colleagues’ refusal to become involved. Nonetheless, following the EuroMaidan Revolution, in March 2014, the general was promoted to department head.

Now, Nazarkin has been offered a new appointment. “Instead of terms of imprisonment, the suspects [including Major-General Nazarkin] in collaborating with enemy are given new opportunities to lead the army,” Babinets exclaims.

On August 24, 2014, Nazarkin’s patron Muzhenko was himself promoted to the rank of colonel-general. The same day, the catastrophe in Illovaysk unfolded, where Ukrainian forces under his command were surrounded by Russian troops and suffered heavy losses. This year, the Ukrainian Army was footsteps away from repeating the tragedy near Debaltseve. And yet, for now it seems that Muzhenko’s and Nazarkin’s positions within the military are unassailable.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ethnic Russians Flee North Caucasus Because They Do Not Feel Presence of Russian State

By Paul Goble

Ethnic Russians left the North Caucasus in massive numbers in the 1990s because of the collapse of their economic prospects, fear for their personal security, an increase in crime, and personal ties with family members elsewhere in the Russian Federation. But today, according to new research, most of those choosing to leave are doing so less because of any direct threats but rather for psychological reasons, including the sense that there is no firm presence in the region of Russian statehood or any institutions there that defend their interests. And consequently, there is little reason to expect that the outmigration of ethnic Russians from the region will not continue until this group, which has played a key role in cementing the North Caucasus to Russia, is no longer represented there.

In a survey of more than 15 recent studies on the issue of Russian flight from the Caucasus, Natalya Varivoda, a scholar at the Nalchik Institute for the Study of the Humanities, says that the number and share of Russians in the population of the North Caucasus republics grew throughout the Soviet period until the early 1960s, began to decline relatively after that, fell both absolutely and relatively during the 1990s at rates far higher than official Russian statistics show, and continue to fall now in both urban and rural areas in most republics of the region (, January 15).

Between the 1989 and 2002 censuses, she writes, 279,000 more ethnic Russians left the region than arrived. But those are “official figures.” Detailed analyses of the census returns show that the number of Russians leaving was “somewhat higher and formed on the order of 330,000–335,000.” That meant that the Russian exodus left Chechnya and Ingushetia mono-ethnic republics, and it meant that the Russian share in the populations of all the capitals in the region fell by more than a third. The situation in rural areas was more varied: virtually all ethnic Russians left the rural areas of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Few remained in Dagestan. But in Adygea and North Ossetia–Alania, the Russian numbers remained unchanged; and in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, the number of ethnic Russians, though not their share of the population, actually rose slightly.

The exact mix of factors leading ethnic Russians to leave varies from one republic to another as does their choice of where to go to. Most ethnic Russians from the North Caucasus have moved not to Moscow or other central Russian cities, as have many non-Russians from the region, but into those predominantly ethnic-Russian regions adjoining the North Caucasus—Stavropol kray, Krasnodar kray and Rostov oblast. Not surprisingly, such people bring their concerns and fears from the North Caucasus to these regions and contribute to the rise in inter-ethnic tensions there.

The sense ethnic Russians have that they are not wanted has little to do with the attitudes of the indigenous population, Varivoda says. Polls show that majorities of these nations view the Russians now less as occupiers than as people who can make a significant contribution to the economic development and stabilization of the region. Thus, they are concerned about the departure of the ethnic Russians and are especially worried when the rate of departures accelerates. But governments are another matter: Most republican governments are less interested in retaining the Russians and have adopted numerous policies, including declarations about the “state-forming” role of the titular nationalities, which seem to leave Russians out of the equation. And Moscow, in the views of the ethnic Russians remaining there, has failed to show the flag and prove convincingly that the North Caucasus will forever remain part of the Russian state.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Two-Thirds of Ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan Say They Would Like to Leave—But Few Do So

By Paul Goble

Two out of every three ethnic Russians now living in Kazakhstan say they would like to leave that country, according to a major study being conducted by a team of Kazan-based ethnographers, but few actually do so. According to official statistics, the number departing has been stable at approximately 20,000 a year. The first figure may appear apocalyptically disturbing, while the second may appear completely reassuring. But the scholars say that the situation is in fact far more complicated than that (, March 13).

On one hand, the statement of preferences reflects how people feel about where they live as opposed to where they would like to be and suggests that the ethnic Russians in Kazkhstan are perhaps less well integrated into the country’s community than many in Astana or Moscow think. And on the other hand, the low number of actual departures is the product, among other things, of the actual prospects for jobs in the Russian Federation. At a time of economic difficulty, most people will remain where they are out of fear that moving could land them in an even worse position. Consequently, changes in Kazakhstan and Russia could easily lead to more unhappiness and more departures.

In 2012, at the request of the Kazan Institute of History, the Scientific Center for History and Ethnology at the Southern Kazakhstan State University interviewed 130 ethnic Russians in Chimkent—about one-tenth of one percent of the ethnic Russian population there. Since that time, the Kazan scholars have organized similar surveys the Kazakhstani capital of Astana, as well as in Petropavlovsk. None of the research has been published up until now, but discussions about it have become so widespread that Igor Savin, one of the researchers at the Chimkent center has decided to go public with some of the data. What he presents provides a fascinating glimpse into one of the most important issues in Eurasia (, March 13).

Savin says that of those who say they want to leave, 52 percent point to Kazakhstan’s language and ethnic policies as their reason to emigrate. An additional 24 percent say that they would like to escape what they see as a worsening of inter-ethnic relations. The community is isolated: Only two percent of its members speak Kazakh fluently; 51 percent have some familiarity with the language of the country; but 33 percent say they do not know a word of it. As a result, he continues, more than four out of five—82 percent—feel “discomfort” in interacting with others in Chimkent.

As far as inter-ethnic relations are concerned, 71 percent of the ethnic Russians surveyed say they often or sometimes experience discrimination because of their nationality. That happens, they say, most often in government offices, somewhat less in day-to-day living, and relatively infrequently at work or in schools. Thirty-nine percent of ethnic Russians consider Kazakhstan their native country; but 13 percent say their native country is the Russian Federation; 11 percent name the former Soviet Union; and two percent point to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The survey also sought to determine ethnic-Russian attitudes toward marriage with members of other nationalities and toward other more personal activities. Almost a third of the Russians surveyed were married to someone of a different nationality; and 40 percent say they would be indifferent or approve of the marriage of one of their daughters to an ethnic Kazakh. Only 16 percent say they would be “categorically” against such unions. On a relative issue, 88 percent of the ethnic Russians say they are quite ready to live next door to a Kazakh: only 2 percent say they would not want to.

These patterns suggest that ethnic Russians are far from integrated in Kazakhstan and that, in the event of a crisis or of intense Moscow propaganda, the situation could deteriorate quickly in a Donbas-type scenario. But if the situation continues without either of those factors, the ethnic Russians of Kazakhstan are likely to decline in numbers still further and not present Astana with a serious problem.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Armenia Cautiously Expanding Ties With Iraqi Kurdistan

By Paul Goble

Over the last year, Armenia and Iraqi Kurdistan have exchanged a series of high-level delegations. The diplomatic visits were the result of Erbil’s interest in gaining support for its apparent drive toward greater autonomy or even independence. At the same time, Yerevan is interested in improving ties with a place where there is a significant Armenian minority; building an alliance with a people long at odds with Armenia’s bĂȘte noire, Turkey; and gaining benefits for itself while limiting the possibility that Kurdish aspirations will in any way threaten Armenia’s position either in the region or within the borders of Armenia itself.

Last month (February 2015), Armenian Foreign Minister Edvard Nalbandyan received Iraqi Kurdistan’s President Masood Barzani. And judging from media reports, the two discussed many of these issues, some longstanding and some new. The two agreed to increase their cooperation not only to ensure added protection for the Yezidis, a significant minority in Iraqi Kurdistan and the second largest ethnic group in Armenia, but also to develop the five Armenian villages in Kurdistan whose populations total some 5,000 people (, February 27).

Many Armenian officials and academic specialists are convinced that the region’s roughly 35 million Kurds will finally achieve their goal of an independent state sometime soon. And Yerevan wants to be sure that it develops a friendly relationship with a potential new state that is certain to find itself at odds with Turkey. Moreover, an independent Kurdistan would have the potential to create problems for Christian and Armenian minorities on its own territory and for mobilizing some in Armenia itself.

Indeed, Yerevan apparently believes the Kurdish autonomy in Iraq is already an entirely legitimate state formation, and that its strengthening could lead to the formation of a second Kurdish autonomy or even state within Turkey. Such a development would force Ankara to moderate its opposition to Armenia. Consequently Yerevan wants to be an active participant in any such developing trend. Building the relationship now is thus important to Armenia if it is to play that role in the future.

But Armenia has three additional reasons to want to be involved with a Kurdish state. First, many Kurds talk about a Greater Kurdistan, which would approach or even impinge on Armenian territory. Therefore, any such discussions could set the stage for conflict in the region at some point in the future. Second, because of Iraqi Kurdistan’s proximity to Armenia, Yerevan wants to make sure that Armenia has access to oil and gas from there and also to open the door for Armenian specialists to work in Kurdistan.

And third and most intriguingly, there is an idea—which has periodically surfaced over the last 25 years—that the restoration of Kurdish autonomous districts in Armenia and Azerbaijan could be a possible precondition for the settlement of the Karabakh dispute between those two countries. Such districts existed early in Soviet times. However, this idea seems remote since the numbers of Kurds in the South Caucasus today is quite small—only a few thousand declare themselves officially as Kurds, although many more were forcibly re-identified as Armenians and Yezidis in Armenia or as Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, given Armenian sensitivities about anything that touches on Karabakh, it seems likely that this issue, too, is part of the mix.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Kyrgyzstan: Another Central Asian State Whose Army Is Not Combat Ready

By Paul Goble

The countries of Central Asia face challenges from both within and without, but few of them have militaries capable of maintaining domestic order or blocking the invasion of Taliban or Islamic State forces from Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan’s military is in particularly dire straits. The country’s Armed Forces suffer from inadequate food, uniforms and supplies, widespread mistreatment of draftees by older soldiers and officers, corruption, suicides, and mass desertion, according to a new 66-page Russian-language report prepared under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It concludes brutally: “the Armed Forces of the country need complete reformation” (OSCE, February 2015). 

The study, conducted jointly by the OSCE and local researchers, examined the situation in 70 different units throughout Kyrgyzstan, in the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken of conditions in the uniformed services of that country. Twenty-two of the units were in the army, thirty-four in the border guards service, six were in the national guard and penal guard services, and two were in the emergency services ministry. In all, 1,115 servicemen were interviewed. And while the OSCE study naturally focused on the human rights dimension, its portrait of an army in disarray cannot fail to concern anyone worried about whether Kyrgyzstan will be able to withstand the obvious challenges it now faces.

In presenting the report, Sergey Kapinos, the head of the OSCE Center in Bishkek, said bluntly that the uniformed services of Kyrgyzstan will not be able to fulfill their military tasks if they do not respect the rights of servicemen. The problems of these services, he continues, involve not only dedovshchina (“the mistreatment of junior soldiers by their seniors”) but also, and importantly, inadequate support for all those serving their country and the fact that “experienced military personnel are becoming ever fewer” and are not being replaced by a new generation.  Kapinos suggested that the military has made some efforts in the right direction but that both it and the government need to do far more.

The attitude toward, or at least the ability of the Kyrgyzstani state to support, its military is reflected in the fact that sergeants receive only $163–193 a month and that the most senior commanders receive less than $409 a month.  Border guards are paid a little more, but not much. And perhaps the most damning finding of all: the Kyrgyzstani army currently spends a dollar a day to feed its soldiers, 40 cents less than the country’s jails spend on feeding prisoners.

The situation may be even worse than the OSCE study suggests: According to one of those who conducted the survey, many units returned all of their questionnaires without filling them in, apparently out of fear that those above them would punish their members for answers the regime would not approve of. The only bright spot, he said, is that the General Staff of the Armed Forces explicitly said that it would like the team to travel to all units to explain the rights soldiers are supposed to have and that they would welcome more such surveys in the future.

The OSCE also reported that 94.6 percent of the soldiers in the army were ethnic Kyrgyz, vastly more than the 64 percent of the population they form.  That means that the non-Kyrgyz, including Russians and Uzbeks, are distinctly underrepresented, yet another reason to worry about the military’s capacity to do its job.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Neo-Paganism Spreading Among Russia’s Neo-Cossacks

By Paul Goble

The spread of neo-paganist cults  is the latest problem to affect the “neo-Cossacks,” as those who have come to identify as Cossacks over the past two decades are known even though they have little or no relationship to the historical Cossack hosts of pre-1917 Russia. Indeed, this rise in neo-paganist beliefs among the neo-Cossacks calls attention to something traditional Cossacks, both in the Russian Federation and abroad, have long complained out: Those declaring themselves to be Cossacks are doing so less out of a belief in Cossack values than because it has become fashionable or because Cossack units, in some cases, provide a cover for political activity.

In an extensive article in, Nikolay Kucherov says that few people associated the neo-Cossacks with the neo-pagans or felt that the latter were much of a problem in Cossack circles until a series of events in Stavropol krai showed how shortsighted such a view was. Not only were neo-Cossacks who had been recruited to neo-pagan sects threatening Cossack leaders with Internet campaigns and attacking the Russian Orthodox Church, but some of them were actively promoting pro-Ukrainian views, up to and including the proposed inclusion of parts of the north Caucasus within Ukraine. Given the extreme sensitivity of any such talk, the journalist says, that has prompted officials and prosecutors to consider the matter more closely (, February 16).

Kucherov cites the controversial anti-sect specialist Aleksandr Dvorkin’s argument that “in present-day Russia, neo-pagan nativist sects are appearing like mushrooms” and “despite the comparatively small size of each nativist sect, taken as a whole, they represent a significant phenomenon of post-Soviet religious life.” These neo-paganist groups have penetrated many institutions, including the neo-Cossacks, Dvorkin alleges.

Many people view an interest in such sects as “innocent fun,” and as a result, the sects have often been able to expand without opposition. Nativist cults, Kucherov says, have enjoyed particular success “among the Slavic population of the North Caucasus and particularly in Stavropol.” This is because one of the leaders of these cults, Aleksandr Asov, claims that it was in the Caucasus where “the first Russian state—Ruskolan—first existed,” thus able to gain converts by invoking local pride.

Such sects have been attracting ever more members in recent years, Kucherov says. And it is a matter of extreme concern because “paganism has become not only a religious but quite an influential social-political movement in Stavropol,” simultaneously offending Orthodox believers and compelling prosecutors to look into what is going on.

Orthodox hierarchs have attacked the neo-pagans for many years. Last November, for example, Patriarch Kirill condemned “attempts at the construction of a pseudo-Russian neo-pagan faith” (Interfax, November 11, 2014). And this year, bishops in the North Caucasus called for putting neo-paganism in the same category as Wahhabism and Nazism. But despite that, the groups have continued to grow and to challenge the authorities and Cossack leaders (, February 16).

This pattern might have continued for some time, Kucherov says, had it not been for one thing: Some of the neo-Cossack neo-pagans began to promote the idea of “unity of the south of Russia with Ukraine,” rather than the more approved notion of the unity of south Ukraine with Russia.  That led one Cossack group to vote 357 to 43 to expel those holding such views from its ranks, and it has prompted prosecutors to consider bringing charges against them.

At least three things are interesting about all this: First, the neo-Cossacks may be an important syncretic element in Russia, combining a variety of notions and not just the simple replicators of traditional Cossack values as many, including the Russian government, have long assumed.

Second, instead of being the bulwark of Russian statehood that Vladimir Putin has proclaimed them to be, the Cossacks may be, at least in some places, a threat to the territorial integrity of the country, a conclusion that could lead to a new round of repressions against Cossacks as such.

And third, Kucherov’s article has all the features of one about a phenomenon of which the facts he reports are only the tip of the iceberg.  The relationship of the neo-Cossacks and the neo-pagans appears certain to expand, at least in the near term, and more or less regardless of what Cossack elders or Russian government officials do.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Nemtsov’s March and the Russian Opposition

By Richard Arnold

Nearly 50,000 people participated in a memorial march, on Sunday, March 1, in Moscow, for the slain opposition figure Boris Nemtsov (gunned down in a public street on February 27). The march was originally planned by Russian opposition figures, including Nemtsov, to protest against the war in Ukraine and the economic crisis that has resulted from it. But following the murder of the former deputy prime minister, the organizers turned it into a memorial march. Smaller similar demonstrations were also held in other cities across the Russian Federation. The Moscow march began at Slavic Square near the Chinatown metro station (, March 1). While many pundits and Russia-watchers deplored Nemtsov’s murder as an example of the brutality of Putin’s regime, it is not clear that the assassination will intimidate the opposition. Instead, there remains the possibility that it may breathe new life into a movement many thought absent from the Russian political scene.

The march in Moscow was the largest. Here, protestors carried placards reading “Je suis Boris” (a reference to the solidarity marchers that rallied behind the murdered journalists from the Charlie Hebdo magazine in France), “heroes never die,” “he fought for your future,” “he died for his opinion,” and many similar sentiments (TASS, March 1). Others carried Russian flags, suggesting an attempt to wrestle back the meaning of patriotism from its current Kremlin masters. Until now, the Kremlin has had a monopoly on defining the meaning of Russian patriotism, criticizing opposition to its Ukraine policy as “unpatriotic.” While the marchers at the rally on Sunday clearly have a long way to go in contesting this monopoly in anything like a systematic fashion, it does, once again (see, February 10), show that there are divisions in Russian society.

The Moscow march drew on the same support that has catapulted Alexei Navalny to the forefront of Russian politics (Richard Arnold, Alexei Navalny and the Russian Opposition, Routledge, 2015). On the one hand, the protest drew extreme right nationalists who came to support the release of prisoners of conscience (most of whom are nationalist ideologues, such as the currently imprisoned former leader of the “Movement Against Illegal Immigration” Alexander Belov), peace between Slavic nations, and a Russia for ethnic Russians (Facebook, March 2). One theory floated by the Russian government immediately after Nemtsov’s murder alleges that the politician was killed by an aggrieved ultra-nationalist dismayed by Nemtsov’s opposition to the war in Ukraine. Indeed, nationalist writer Eduard Limonov opined a minority-view conspiracy theory when he said that Nemtsov’s murder was a “provocation with the distant goal of an ultra-liberal victory in Russia” (, February 28). Of course, Nemtsov was himself a liberal politician, and so many of the marchers undoubtedly were of a liberal persuasion. Thus, the murder itself and the memorial march together serve as a metaphor for the forced marriage of oppositionist forces in Russia.

Moscow was not the only city to see a march, and parallel demonstrations were held in cities throughout Russia, including St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Perm, Vologda, Voronezh, Samara, Barnaul, Izhevsk, Orenburg, Chelyabinsk, Ulyanovsk, Rostov-on-Don, Kirov and Irkutsk, although they attracted less news coverage than the main march in Moscow. In Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, the march reportedly attracted between 6,000 and 10,000 participants (, March 1). The marches in provincial cities were smaller and organized on the social networking site Vkontakte—for example, the march in Kirov (, March 2). Participation at the provincial marches varied. Uin Ulyanovsk it attracted only 20 participants (, March 2), but in Novosibirsk as many as 250 protesters took part (, March 1).  The ability of a single event to generate even this amount of open support in a climate marked by fear from the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is impressive. If Nemtsov’s murder was a plot by forces within the regime to repress the opposition, the result instead has been to highlight the country’s opposition forces. Although it has also shined a spotlight on the anti-Kremlin movement’s many divisions.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Threatened From Afghanistan, Turkmenistan Faces Serious Military Manning Shortfalls

By Paul Goble

Now threatened by both Taliban and Islamic State forces operating in northern Afghanistan, Turkmenistan has begun work to fortify its border with a six-meter-deep trench and a two-meter-tall wall (, February 24). But serious doubts persist about whether its own military has the capacity to defend the border or prevent the infiltration of Islamist forces into Turkmenistan and, beyond that, into other Central Asian countries.

For some years, Ashgabat has faced problems meeting its draft quotas. First of all, some 800,000 of its young men are working as migrant laborers in Russia or elsewhere. And second of all, Turkmenistan’s Armed Forces offer low pay, bad housing and food, and abusive commanders. As a result, many of the country’s military units are undermanned or include people who would likely run away rather than fight, according to Central Asian military analyst Akhmet Mamedov (, February 21).

At present, approximately 60,000 young Turkmenistanis enter the prime draft-age cohort per year. But in addition to those who go abroad to work, many have been receiving deferments if they go on to higher educational institutions. Eliminating those deferral options would be extremely unpopular. But their continued existence has reduced the annual draft pool to roughly exactly the number of men the army needs to take in. Furthermore, the government recently compounded its problems in this regard by decreeing that no one could serve in the military if he or one of his relatives had been convicted of a crime. That measure was taken to weed out those whose relatives might be involved in smuggling or anti-regime activities. But its impact has been to allow many young men to avoid service.

As a result, the government has been forced to try to hunt down anyone seeking to evade military service, to try to bring young Turkmenistanis home from abroad, and to block others from traveling or working abroad except under extraordinary circumstances. But even those measures have not been sufficient to fill the ranks, Mamedov says. And as a result, the military high command is now considering drafting individuals it had earlier excused for physical or mental shortcomings (, February 21).

Not surprisingly, as the government cracks down on draft evaders, and as the military tries to conscript ever more people to counter the looming threat from Afghanistan, corruption is flourishing. The cost of a bribe to be identified as someone “medically unfit” for service is now $500–600; and a bribe certifying that the bearer has already performed military service when, in fact, he has not, has risen to $4,000.

The state of morale inside the military is horrendous, the analyst says. Drug use and even drug trafficking, especially in units along the Afghan and Iranian borders, are now endemic; suicides are frequent, forcing the regime to cover them up; and desertion has “acquired a mass character.” Drug abuse is now so serious, Mamedov says, that Ashgabat has set up a special “military section” in the government’s national drug treatment center.

To change all this, and thus to field a fully manned and fully capable military, would require that Turkmenistan’s government carry out “deep structural reforms” and shift the military in the direction of a professional one. But given the size of the military, now estimated at more than 50,000 in uniform, the costs associated with such reforms are almost certainly beyond Ashgabat’s capacities. That may provide a tempting opening for Islamist militant forces in Afghanistan as well as a headache for Turkmenistan, Central Asia, Russia and all those concerned about these militant groups’ potential northward expansion.