Russia “Boosts” Military Presence in Central Asia - June, 2008


June, 2008

Russia’s plans to “reinforce” its airbase at Kant in the Kyrgyz Republic and further strengthen its 201st Motor Rifle Division (MRD) in Dushanbe, combined with other elements of boosting its defense cooperation with the Central Asian states, indicate evolving trends in the region’s security dynamics. The timing of such moves to raise Russia’s military profile in Central Asia, albeit through the use of minimal quantities of hardware, suggests that Moscow could be playing on concerns within these regimes about the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections, the future nature of American defense, and security cooperation on Russia’s southern periphery.

The earliest indication that the base at Kant might receive additional Russian reinforcements came from the head of the Russian Air Force (VVS) and was followed by wider political comment on its importance from within the CSTO. On June 4 Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Air Force Colonel-General Alexandr Zelin, announced plans to reinforce the base with more aircraft but was short on details. His statement centered on sending An-26 transport aircraft and three more Su-27 fighters to the base from the Krasnodar aviation school in Russia. On June 5 Secretary General of the CSTO Nikolai Bordyuzha suggested that the additional deployment of elements of the Russian Air Force to Kant could further establish Russia’s seriousness about strengthening the combat potential of the contingent based there, as well as give it greater importance. Kant, which opened in September 2003, has approximately 500 personnel. It is equipped with Russian Su-25, Su-27, An-24 and Il-76 aircraft, along with Mi-8 helicopters, and is supported by Czech-built L-39 training aircraft and helicopters, which Bishkek contributed for use in search and rescue operations (Kabar, June 4; ITAR-TASS, June 5).

Clearly, the additional deployment is not an attempt to build up forces or substantially alter the current structure of the base or achieve any meaningful increase in the combat capabilities of the CSTO airbase. It is, in fact, almost a token effort to increase the political significance Moscow attaches to the base. In order to define the nature of the trends in Russian security thinking on Central Asia, this must be evaluated in the context of Moscow’s wider efforts to “boost” its presence in neighboring Tajikistan, where there are signs of a similar pattern but with a little more flag waving. Bordyuzha himself made the linkage between these issues, commenting that “Russia deployed its 201st base in Tajikistan and the airbase at Kyrgyzstan’s Kant precisely for the purpose of giving greater security to the CSTO member countries in Central Asia.” Again, the “rearmament” of the base in Dushanbe, which had housed the 201st MRD prior to 9/11, serves largely as a way of providing emergency support for border forces on the Tajik-Afghan border and reveals a light-touch approach by the Russian military. It is equally noticeable, at a time of controversy and misunderstanding about the use of Russian armed forces in Abkhazia, that within Central Asia the style is less controversial and, in fact, is “low-key.” In the effort to strengthen the 201st base in Dushanbe, the delivery of Russian military hardware has been slowed down by delays caused in transiting the equipment through neighboring Uzbekistan. Bordyuzha believes these technical and logistical issues will soon be resolved, allowing the successful completion by the set deadline (ITAR-TASS, June 5).

Noteworthy was the recent visit to the region of Deputy U.S. Secretary of State on Eurasia David Merkel. He emphasized the continued importance of Central Asia to the United States, noting that when President George W. Bush announced the new national security strategy in 2006, Central Asia was designated as an area of permanent foreign policy interest for Washington. However, in an interview with Gazeta publishing house, Merkel explained, “We have many issues on the desk concerning Central Asia; they include diversification of global energy sources, combating terrorism, preserving security, ensuring sustainable development and promoting justice and democracy.” Democracy has slipped down the agenda, reflecting longer-term trends in the region and in Russia that the U.S. can do little to change (Gundogar, June 4).

Changes in how the West formulates policy toward Central Asia seem inevitable. On June 2 Uzbek President Islom Karimov welcomed U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher in Tashkent. Both sides are intensifying their efforts to heal the bilateral relationship, both countries’ agendas for bilateral cooperation are moving closer together. Karimov told Boucher, “Your visit to Uzbekistan will produce good results and will give a new impetus to strengthening relations between Uzbekistan and the United States. Indeed, your visit to Uzbekistan is a wonderful opportunity to discuss the current state of affairs in our relations and the level of our relations and to consider the issues that require discussing in terms of the interests of Uzbekistan and the U.S.” (Uzbek Television Second Channel, June 2).

When Russia “boosts” its military presence or offers additional security support in Central Asia, it does so after careful planning, consultation and through multilateral mechanisms, such as the CSTO, which supply an added sense of legitimacy for all parties. In reality, inside the planning staffs of the defense and security structures in Central Asian CSTO member states, there is little appetite for questioning Russia’s motives or attempting to misconstrue such actions. The relationship is reasonably stable and works in practical terms. Moscow does not need to set in motion any grand schemes in order to convince its Central Asian allies that it takes issues relating to their security and the security of Russia itself seriously. The slow, steady approach has essentially paid off, serving to build trust and dispel speculation about hidden agendas.


In related news:

Russia’s Military to Secure Interests in Arctic

Russia’s military will secure interests of the state in the Arctic zone, a portion of which is eyed by Russia, RIA Novosti reported, referring to the spokesman of military community. The RF General Staff will shape potential layout of Russia’s Armed Forces by June 1, said Lieutenant-General Vladimir Shamanov, who is the chief of the main combat training department and services of the RF Armed Forces. Once the strength and the qualitative state of the military are determined, the defense minister will specify targets of the Armed Forces, including in part of the Arctic shelf development. The units of Leningrad, Siberian and Far East military districts are being trained to execute missions in northern and Arctic regions, Shamanov said. On the eve of Shamanov’s statement it emerged that Russia’s two strategic missile carriers, Tu-95s, were ordered to patrol the remote districts of Arctic. The announced aim was to train pilots in northern latitudes.


Putin urges long-term contracts, stable prices in defense sector

Russia's prime minister proposed on Tuesday switching over to long-term contracts and establishing stable prices for the procurement of armaments for the country's military. "We need to switch over to long-term contracts with arms and equipment suppliers," Vladimir Putin told a meeting devoted to Defense Ministry orders in 2009-2011. "Prices [under such contracts] should be stable." Putin, who stepped down as president in May to make way for his ally Dmitry Medvedev, acknowledged the impact of growing inflation, which hit 7.7% as of June 1 and is expected to be well above the forecast 10% by the end of the year. "Inflation is certainly a problem, but there must be no anarchy [relating to defense contracts], and prices must be stable," he said. "We are in fact talking about the financial basis for the development of our Armed Forces, their modernization and training." Russia's military spending is expected to total 1 trillion rubles ($43 billion) in 2008, or about 16% of budget spending. The figure represents an increase of 20% from 2007. Military spending increased by several times during Putin's eight-year presidency, but the army and navy have remained under-equipped since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with experts blaming pervasive corruption and mismanagement in the military ranks. The Armed Forces have also experienced difficulties with conscription due to harsh conditions, the population's ongoing decline, and other factors.


Russian Navy to expand presence in Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific

Russia's Defense Ministry is planning to expand the presence of the Russian Navy in the world's oceans and extend the operational radius of submarines deployed with the Northern Fleet, a high-ranking military official said on Tuesday. "The summer training program [running from June 1 to December 1] envisions the increased presence of the Russian Navy, not only in the Atlantic, but also in the Arctic and the Pacific," said Lt. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, who heads the Defense Ministry's combat training directorate. "We are also planning to increase the operational radius of the Northern Fleet's submarines," he said, adding that the General Staff would determine the new composition and size of the Armed Forces by the beginning of July. The general said that Russia may shift the focus of its military strategy toward the northern latitudes in order to protect its national interests in the Arctic, especially on its continental shelf, which may contain large deposits of oil and natural gas. "We have a number of highly-professional military units in the Leningrad, Siberian and Far Eastern military districts, which are specifically trained for combat in Arctic regions," Shamanov said. Under the Law of the Sea, coastal states hold sovereignty over a zone of 200 nautical mile (370 km) limit, but this area can be extended if it is a part of the country's continental shelf or shallower waters. Some Arctic shelves extend for hundreds of miles, creating a possibility of overlapping territorial claims. Last August, as part of a scientific expedition, two Russian mini-subs made a symbolic eight-hour dive beneath the North Pole to bolster the country's claim that the Arctic's Lomonosov Ridge lies in the country's economic zone. A titanium Russian flag was also planted on the seabed. Russia first claimed the territory in 2001, but the UN demanded more evidence.


Russian strategic bombers complete 20-hour patrol over Arctic

Two Russian Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers have successfully completed a 20-hour patrol flight over the Arctic, a spokesman for Russia's Air Force said on Tuesday. "After completing an almost 20-hour flight, the crews returned to the airbase in Engels. During air patrols, the Russian planes were accompanied by NATO fighters," Lt. Col. Vladimir Drik said, adding that the aircraft practiced midair refueling. Drik said Monday that a pair of Tu-95s had taken off from the Engels airbase near Saratov in southern Russia for a routine patrol flight over the Arctic Ocean. Russia resumed strategic bomber patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans last August, following an order signed by then president Vladimir Putin. Drik said that all flights by Russian aircraft were performed by skilled pilots in strict compliance with international laws on the use of air space over neutral waters, without violating the borders of other states. Although it was common practice during the Cold War for both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to keep nuclear strategic bombers permanently airborne, the Kremlin cut long-range patrols in 1992. The decision came as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ensuing economic and political chaos. However, the newly-resurgent Russia, awash with petrodollars, has invested heavily in military technology, and the resumption of long-range patrols is widely seen among political commentators as another sign of its drive to assert itself both militarily and politically. Air Force commander, Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin said in April that Russia would drastically increase the number of strategic patrol flights over the world's oceans to 20-30 a month in the near future.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.