Political unrest nearing Russia's southern border - February, 2012

Couple of Washington's main propaganda organs operating in Armenia are jointly reporting that Nikolai Bordyuzha, Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), has publicly stated that the Russian-led CSTO will provide help to Armenia during "domestic emergencies" and "critical situations".

I think we should all by now know what "domestic emergencies" mean. Moscow is getting ready to react to any Western-instigated uprising in Armenia during Armenia's upcoming presidential elections. Currently, Western activists throughout Armenian society are actively seeding Armenia for political unrest and some activists are even going as far as openly claiming that "Arab Spring" type demonstrations are being organized in Armenia. Being that Armenia plays a vital geostrategic role for senior officials in Russia, Moscow is not going to leave anything to chance, nor is it going to blindly rely on Armenians to confront this serious problem. I think we can all expect Moscow to take more drastic measures as political unrest reaches the volatile Caucasus.

The escalating unrest and "critical situations" in regions adjacent to Russia's vulnerable underbelly is elevating the importance of the already very important geostrategic significance of the Caucasus for Moscow. As Western-instigated wars and political unrests encroach on Russian interests in the region, Moscow is beginning to take on a more aggressive political posture. Libya was the pawn Moscow reluctantly gave up in its desperate effort to protect its bishops, Syria and Iran. Realizing now that its presence in the strategic region is being directly threatened by the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and friends, Moscow has finally decided to do away with diplomatic niceties and draw a clear line in the sand.

There are no worries with regards to Armenia's/Artsakh's territorial integrity. I can confidently state that Moscow will protect the embattled Armenian republic in the Caucasus as if it is a part of Russia itself. For centuries Armenia's presence in the Caucasus has been protecting Russia's vulnerable southern gate and the region's Armenians have been an effective hedge against regional Turks and Muslims. The geostrategic significance of Armenia is as important for Russian officials today as it was for Czarist officials, if not more. In a region that suffers from powerful Turkic and Islamic influences, Armenia's political independence and its close alliance with Moscow will be zealously protected by Russian officials for the foreseeable future. If Moscow was ready to go to war when Armenia was threatened by Turkey in the early 1990s, during a time when Moscow was literally on its knees, I think the reader can use his/her imagination as to what Moscow would be willing to do today if outside forces threatened Armenia once again. If Moscow today is willing to forcefully standup to the West and the rest over Syria and Iran, we can expect Moscow to place its nuclear arsenal on combat alert if Armenia is in any way threatened.

Recent developments have clearly shown that Ankara and Baku are continuing to pursue political policies and alliances that are placing them in clear opposition to Iranian and Russian interests in the region. Push comes to shove, Russia is more than militarily capable of taking on Turks and the West at the same time and Iran is more than capable of decimating Azerbaijan within a very short time span. Moscow is currently the most prepared political entity in the region to take advantage of situations if a regional war commences. With Vladimir Putin returning to power, we can also expect an abrupt end to Moscow's soft/nuanced approach with regards to Russia's antagonists. With Putin back in power, the countdown to Saakashvili's departure from Tbilisi - dead or alive - may finally begin as well. If upcoming presidential elections in Georgia does not unseat the bloody dictator, Georgia may again be placed on Moscow's chopping block for further mutilation. Many political analysts agree that a Western-led attack against Iran and/or Syria has the potential of drastically changing the political map of the region in question. To that, I would simply add that one of the first casualties of such a war may in fact be Georgia.

Getting back to the situation in the Middle East: There are four new actors enthusiastically participating in the region's Great Game. France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have all been playing increasingly visible roles in the region's political affairs. Since Nikolas Sarkozy's ascension to power in France some five years ago, Paris has gradually begun collaborating closely with the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance. The geostrategic reasons for this are yet unclear. For its part, Ankara is clearly interested in reviving its historic influence in the Middle East. Turned away by the European community and kept out of Central Asia by Russia, Turkish officials have been flirting with Neo-Ottoman desires in the Middle East in recent years. Finally, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have traditionally been sources for funding and Islamic militants. Qatar has been one of Washington's main stomping grounds for the past two decades. Through its state-funded propaganda organ known as Al-Jazeera, Qatar today wields a very heavy influence in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia remains the world's main sponsor of Islamic fundamentalism via extremist schools it finances throughout the world. We have seen Saudi backed Islamic militants and terrorists operating throughout the Caucasus, Central Asia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, and we are currently seeing them operate in places such as Libya, Syria and Iran. The following link is to an interesting recent news release you will not find on CNN or BBC -
Saudi Arabia May Be Tied to 9/11 Attacks, Ex-Senators Say: http://news.antiwar.com/2012/03/01/saudi-arabia-may-be-tied-to-911-attacks-ex-senators-say/
Riyadh's and Doha's corrosive political roles are now being increasingly felt within various theaters of operation throughout the region. In fact, senior officials in Moscow recognize these states as the primary sponsors of Islamic militants and terrorists throughout Eurasia. Naturally, behind the scenes in Riyadh and Doha, Western intelligence agencies continue playing active supporting roles. As various powers in the region maneuver for better positioning, the geopolitical divide the global community is faced with today is becoming better defined. Currently, the two main opposing sides presenting themselves on the proverbial grand chessboard is the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance (strongly supported by the EU, Turkey and Sunni monarchies on the Arabian peninsula) and the Russian Federation and Iran. China is seen on the sidelines of the conflict zone providing Moscow and Tehran with measured support. War or no war, what is clear is that for the foreseeable future the geopolitical divide in the region will essentially reflect this complex lineup.

It should also be mentioned that Moscow has been forced into an alliance of sorts with Tehran due to very distinct geostrategic considerations. Moscow fears that if Tehran falls to its enemies, Russian's already vulnerable position in the Caucasus and Central Asia may become untenable. Moscow fully realizes that the West's main long-term agenda in the region is to exploit the region's remaining energy reserves; to stop emerging nations from growing too powerful; and to contain the Russian Federation and China, the two most powerful nations on the Eurasian supercontinent. Moscow also knows that a weakened Iran means a stronger West, a stronger Turkey and a stronger Sunni Islamic presence in the region. Therefore, what is happening in Syria and Iran is by no means the endgame. For Kremlin officials, a Shiite Iran is an effective buffer against the spread of Sunni Islam. A powerful yet contained Iran is also an effective regional buffer against the United States, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Consequently, although it distrusts Iran's ambitions in the Caucasus and Central Asia and would rather it not become a nuclear power, Moscow will nevertheless do its best to keep Tehran intact. Similarly, Moscow realizes that if Damascus succumbs to its antagonists, the resulting political vacuum in the region will be filled by Islamists and/or Turks. Therefore, Moscow's main concerns in Syria are also geostrategic in nature and they go beyond its trade relations with Damascus or its access to the naval base at the post of Tartus.

Needless to say, we all know where Armenia will have to fall in politically. Yerevan will remain firmly in an alliance with Moscow. If a major war breaks out in the region, there are some possible scenarios that may actually be advantageous for Yerevan. For instance, if Baku, Tbilisi and Ankara continue their risky pursuits in the region, they may eventually end up suffering wrath of Moscow and Tehran. Thanks to the strategic foresight of a few high ranking officials in Armenia, due to Yerevan's strategic alliance with Moscow and its good relations with Tehran, Armenia today stands poised to reap significant benefits if such a thing occurs. If relations between Moscow and the West continues to worsen; if Baku and Tbilisi continue playing with fire; if the Western alliance goes forward with its aggression against Syria and/or Iran; there may come a time when Yerevan will be presented with opportunities to either establish a direct access to the Black Sea or to create common borders with the Russian Federation - or both.
Yerevan should not be hoping for a regional war. But if a war is imposed upon the region by external forces, Yerevan should seek ways of effectively exploiting it.

Javakhq may be a good step forward, but in the big picture it is simply not good enough. Obtaining a direct access to the Black Sea and/or establishing a common border with the Russian Federation should be the single most important agenda for officials in Armenia. In fact, such an agenda needs to be a pan-national pursuit and something that should somehow be incorporated into the Hay Dat. If we want Armenia to prosper - and to finally be taken seriously by international bodies - Armenians simply need to figure out a way of providing our small, impoverished, landlocked and remote nation in the volatile Caucasus with an opportunity to breakout of its geographic predicament. As long as Armenia remains in its current situation, it will continue begging at the feet of the great powers.


Armenia's many cutthroat business sharks (the ones we are so proud of when they do their throat-cutting elsewhere) are currently swimming in a tiny, understocked pond. Our nation's voracious sharks need a well-stocked ocean to operate in. Armenia needs direct access to Russia and/or the Black Sea. Armenia needs to be the primary link/hub in the Caucasus connecting the Russian Federation to Iran and the Middle East. Simply put, despite what our democracy-now idiots think, there are absolutely no other fixes/cures to Armenia's ailments. Armenian expansion in the Caucasus should be Armenia's only geostrategic pursuit. In fact, what I have briefly outlined here is much more doable than "Western Armenia". We need to chose our fights wisely and we need to start planning for the future. The following are additional thoughts regarding this most important of matters:
Saakashvili Says Whoever Opposes Azerbaijan is Georgia’s Enemy: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/09/saakashvili-says-whoever-opposes.html
Erdogan’s visit to Moscow casts no shadow on Armenia-Russia partnership: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/03/erdogans-visit-to-moscow-casts-no.html
The most important thing to do in this regard is to embark on a long-term, multi-pronged, pan-national campaign to convince high ranking Russian and Iranian officials that a larger and more powerful Armenia on their borders is much more desirable to the existing state of affairs in the south Caucasus. Armenians need to convince Kremlin officials, in particular, that having Armenia as a neighbor or as a nation on the Black Sea is in their best national interests. Behind closed doors in the Kremlin, the following is more-or-less what Armenian officials and political experts should be communicating to their Russian counterparts:
Georgia, Azerbaijan and various Islamic tribes in the Caucasus are the main obstacles to a lasting peace and stability in the greater Caucasus region. The only way to pacify the Caucasus region is to partition parts of Georgia and Azerbaijan between Russia and Armenia. At the very least, Armenia needs to be given the opportunity to establish a common border with the Russian Federation through Georgia and/or Azerbaijan. The best time to get this done is when a major war breaks out in the region. Geostrategically speaking, a stronger Armenia in the Caucasus means a stronger Russia in Eurasia. A powerful Armenia is the only effective way to solve the Caucasus region's many pressing problems - including but not limited to Islamic insurgency, pan-Turkism and Western expansionism.
A detailed plan to establish an Armenian presence on the Black Sea and/or an Armenian presence on Russia's southern border should be worked on henceforth and it should be reserved as a contingency plan. The plan should be implemented if major hostilities break out in the region. However, despite how attractive the aforementioned proposal may seem at first glance, I personally believe that the highly volatile region Armenia finds itself in does not need yet another war, let alone one on the scale that this one promises to be. Due to its inherently destructive and very unpredictable nature, a war should not be wished for, except under most drastic of circumstances.

With more direct Russian involvement in the protection of Syria and Iran, coupled with a Russian arms buildup in the Caucasus, the likelihood that the West will start military operations in the region becomes greatly diminished. Putting aside America's warmongering idiots in the Senate and Congress (most of them bought and paid for by various special interests, not the least of which are oil firms, arms developers, Zionists, Turks and Arab monarchies), I do not think any serious high-ranking military official in America would be foolish enough to risk a military confrontation with the Russian Federation. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of America's high ranking military officials would even be against attacking Iran.

I firmly believe that Russia's current muscle flexing, Damascus' surprising resilience and Tehran's active war preparations may actually be preventing a major regional war. I have no doubt that if the Western alliance and friends are made to realize that by attacking Syria and/or Iran they have more to lose than to gain, they will back down.

Therefore, let's all hope for the best. But if the worst comes instead, let's at least hope that Armenian officials have the political maturity (i.e. the testicles) and/or the strategic foresight (i.e. the political wisdom) to take advantage of situations as they emerge. Let's also hope that Moscow continues to live up to its expectations as being the world's last powerful front against American imperialism, Islamic fanaticism and pan-Turkism.

As a major geopolitical storm slowly gathers near Armenia's borders yet again, Yerevan needs to keep a close eye on its Western led "rights activists", "independent journalists" and "opposition politicians" and it needs to keep as close to Moscow as possible. The following articles recently
released by various news agencies paint an accurate yet troubling picture of the current geopolitical climate of the greater Caucasus region. But I need to caution the reader that some of the pieces in question have been put out by Western propaganda organs such as Radio Liberty (Azatutyun Radio) and ArmeniaNow. Therefore, I will again have to ask the reader to disregard the inherent political spin and attempt to read between the lies.

February, 2012


Russia Would Use Nukes to Stave Off Threats - General Staff

Russia would use nuclear weapons in response to any imminent threat to its national security, Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov said on Wednesday. “We are certainly not planning to fight against the whole of NATO,” Makarov said in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio, “but if there is a threat to the integrity of the Russian Federation, we have the right to use nuclear weapons, and we will.”

The general said Russia’s nuclear deterrent is the cornerstone of strategic stability and serious efforts are being taken by the Russian government to modernize the country’s nuclear triad. The Russian Defense ministry is planning to acquire at least 10 Borey class strategic nuclear submarines, thoroughly modernize its fleet of Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers, and equip its Strategic Missile Forces with formidable Yars mobile ballistic missile systems.

Makarov also stressed the importance of maintaining highly-efficient, mobile conventional forces. “Unfortunately, we are facing threats from a number of unstable states, where no nuclear weapons but well-trained, strong and mobile Armed Forces are required to resolve any conflict situation," Makarov said. The Russian government has allocated 22 trillion rubles ($730 billion) on the state arms procurement program until 2020.

Source: http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20120215/171329091.html

Putin Promises Russian Military Buildup


Less than two weeks before presidential elections, Vladimir Putin laid out his ambitious plans Monday for modernizing and strengthening Russia’s defense forces over the next decade, in the face of a threatening world and a powerful United States. “For Russia to feel secure and for our partners to listen carefully to what our country has to say,” he wrote, Moscow must spend about $775 billion by 2022 for new armaments and a more professional military.

“We see zones of instability and artificially maintained, managed chaos emerging,” the current Russian prime minister wrote in a lengthy article that was one of a series of presidential campaign platforms. “Furthermore, we see how some are purposefully provoking such conflicts in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders.” He said Russia’s military response to the U.S. missile defense shield would be “effective and asymmetrical.”

The promise to increase defense spending and modernize Russia’s forces is not new. On Monday, Putin said Russia will put more than 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles into service over the next 10 years, as well as eight nuclear submarines, 600 advanced aircraft, 2,300 tanks and an array of other equipment. Analysts, on the left and right, were skeptical that he can accomplish such a buildup.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/putin-promises-big-russian-buildup/2012/02/20/gIQAzITMPR_story.html

Bordyuzha: Strikes against Iran to have colossal consequences for the whole region


The tensions in the countries of the Muslim world are reaching the borders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization leading CSTO to develop a new strategic policy. First of all, it’s about Syria and the situation around Iran. By mid March CSTO's Secretary General Nikolay Borduyzha will be visiting Yerevan to discuss and reconcile strategic documents, such as the Concept Paper for CSTO’s Development, Collective Security Strategy and Strategic Planning System.

Borduyzha announced that representatives of CSTO's United Staff secretariat will be visiting Armenia already in a day or two to do preparatory work for military drills scheduled to start here in fall. At the same time, CSTO's SG made a number of serious statements, saying that strikes against Iran would shake the region from all perspectives, starting from politics and ending with ecology. “If it happens, there will be very serious, colossal consequences. That is why CSTO member-countries have expressed their opinion on such a possibility a number of times and are definitely against it, such actions are unacceptable to us,” he stressed.

On the other hand, Borduyzha continued, CSTO is watching the overall situation carefully, and is taking measures should there be a big flow of refugees. “As for our readiness, we are taking certain steps. ” What are those steps exactly? With the heightened possibility of military intrusion into Iran and in the highlight of acute aggravation of relations between Teheran and Baku, an opinion is frequently speculated upon that Azerbaijan might be used as a military platform for strike against Iran. In this context provocations on the part of Baku in terms of the Karabakh issue cannot be ruled out either.

Armenia will receive necessary assistance from CSTO in case of a crisis in the Karabakh conflict zone, said Borduyzha, however did not specifically touch upon the issue and gave no details: “I cannot say right now what kind of assistance that would be, as it’s something that should be said based on definite circumstances”. He also stressed that CSTO will not interfere in the settlement issue of the Karabakh conflict. “We are monitoring the situation, we are tracking it closely, understanding that Armenia is our ally.” The CSTO Secretary General's statement has caused Azerbaijani politicians’ indignation.

“Nikolay Borduyzha is making statements way exceeding his commission,” stated Aydin Mirzazade, member of Security and Defense Committee of Azerbaijani parliament. “One can get an impression as if Bordyuzha doesn't know the Charter of the organization he is in charge of. CSTO has to ensure the security of member-countries, whereas Nagorno Karabakh is not an Armenian territory. The so-called Republic of Nagorno Karabakh created by Armenia on an occupied Azeri territory is recognized neither by the world, nor by Armenia herself,” he stressed.

MP Fazil Mustafa said Azerbaijan will take certain actions only after thorough consideration of all issues. “During the past two decades it has become obvious who will be supporting Armenia. One day Armenia has to receive a response, Armenia’s guardian countries will try to help her by all possible means. Azerbaijan has to find allies. Only Turkey is not enough.”

Source: http://armenianow.com/commentary/analysis/35893/russia_armenia_iran_csto_azerbaijan_bordyuzha

Russia: West Arming Syrian Rebels


In comments today to Russian media, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has accused unnamed Western states of secretly sending arms and advising the Syrian rebel factions, warning the move was fueling a crisis. Ryabkov also condemned NATO and the Arab League for attempting to use the UN Security Council to facilitate a regime change in Syria, saying the council was “not a tool for intervention in internal affairs” and threatening “drastic measures” if the policy continues.

Though there is as of yet no solid proof of any nation arming any rebel factions, the Turkish government has openly backed the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and is providing media access to its leadership through the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The FSA is made up of defectors from the Syrian military, led by Col. Riad al-Assad. Many of the defectors have made their way out of Syria with weapons taken from barracks, so it is unclear if they even need arms.

Still, while we can’t prove that arms are flowing yet, officials have given us reason to believe such aid may be forthcoming. Rep. Steve Chabot (R – OH), the head of the House subcommittee on the Middle East, is openly calling for armament of the rebels.

Source: http://news.antiwar.com/2012/02/10/russia-west-arming-syrian-rebels/

Turkey's Neo-Ottoman Foreign Policy


How does Turkey’s ruling Islamist party react when it gets a report it doesn't like from the United Nations? By yanking diplomats, threatening military conflict with a neighbor, and menacingly eyeing that neighbor's new yield of natural resources. If the General Assembly ever does something really provocative and votes on a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide or the right of Kurdish self-determination, you can bet that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will make the prison guard in "Midnight Express" look like Florence Nightingale.

Reacting to the leaked UN Palmer Report on the 2010 flotilla fiasco, which found that Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip is legal and that the passengers aboard the "Mavi Marmara" were cruising for a bruising, Erdogan’s government has taken to issuing thuggish pronunciamentos. At issue is the fact that Israel refused to apologize to Turkey for killing nine Turkish nationals in the Mediterranean. Israel reckons that to do so would be an insult to the commandos who abseiled onto the "Mavi Marmara" only to be bludgeoned, stabbed, and shot.

Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) has tried to have it both ways on the flotilla. It banned its own members from participating in order to distance itself from what was obviously a blockade-running provocation. Yet ranking AKP members are on the board of IHH, the Turkish "charity" that organized the event.

Anatolian Chest-Poundings

And Erdogan's refusal to let the 2011 flotilla start out from Istanbul -- at the urging of Washington -- complicates the government's claims of having no control over a supposedly independent NGO. Needless to say, bilateral relations with Israel have gone from lousy to dire. “The eastern Mediterranean will no longer be a place where Israeli naval forces can freely exercise their bullying practices against civilian vessels,” one Turkish official said, promising a military escort for all future “aid” ships to Gaza -- assuming, that is, that these ships can outfox the savvy Israeli lawyers who made the sequel set-sail a busted flush.

From the sound of it, Turkey now wants to become the chief maritime bully. Part and parcel with its “more aggressive strategy” in the eastern Mediterranean is its attempt to stop Israel from mining its huge natural gas and oil fields, recent discoveries which some experts predict will make the Jewish state one of the largest -- and wealthiest -- energy exporters in the world. The threat by a NATO member to skirmish on the high seas with a major U.S. ally follows other Anatolian chest-poundings.

Earlier in the week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose foreign policy vision used to be known as “no problems with the neighbors,” announced that Ankara would be expelling all Israeli Embassy officials above the rank of second secretary. Erdogan wants to visit Gaza in the coming days to increase “international attention” on Israel’s siege of the strip. This from the man who previously said that he doesn’t think Hamas is a terrorist group. Erdogan's visit is sure to impress upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas which party the AKP would like see ruling the Palestinian state the UN is about to recognize.

A Dirty Little Secret

Finally, Erdogan vowed to suspend all military relations and defense industry trade between Turkey and Israel. Years ago, this might have been significant. Yet here’s a dirty little secret: Greece, which diplomatically facilitated the second flotilla’s deep-sixing, is fast replacing Turkey as Israel’s favorite regional military partner.

Not only is flight distance between Israel and Greece the same as that between Israel and Iran, but the Hellenes have got S-300 antiaircraft missiles that the mullahs have been itching to buy from Russia in order to deter an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Joint Israeli-Greek military exercises are therefore seen as very valuable at the moment. The Israelis and Palestinians have had their share of Turkish strong-arming, but so have the Syrians.

Indeed, the reason that a Syrian National Council was hastily announced on Al-Jazeera late last month, following weeks of oppositionist wrangling and backbiting at a conference in Istanbul, is that a faction of Syrian youth activists had grown tired of seeing the AKP trying to make their revolution a Muslim Brotherhood-led affair. (What better way to minimize the Islamists than to propose a secular French sociologist chairman of a Syrian National Council, as a group of youth activists did last month?)

Erdogan did happy business with Bashar al-Assad while he could, but he now wants to make sure that any post-Assad state consists of loyal Sunni ideologues. That'd be one way to undercut Iran’s influence in the Middle East, and never mind that the people bleeding and dying in Syria are mostly apolitical kids who don’t trust neo-Ottoman power brokers any more than they do former regime apologists.

Turkish intelligence and the Muslim Brotherhood are also trying to co-opt the Syrian Free Army of rebel soldiers, according to Syrian sources. "They are the only ones connected to them," one opposition activist told me recently. "I'd rather the Syrian Free Army connect to the CIA. Tell your NATO friends that I extend them an open invitation to Syria."

Michael Weiss is the communications director of The Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank based in London. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/turkeys_neo_ottoman_foreign_policy/24329172.html

Saudi Arabia Is Arming the Syrian Opposition


Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah scolded Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week for failing to coordinate with Arab states before vetoing a United Nations resolution demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down. Emboldened by the lack of international action, Assad's forces are now slaughtering civilians in the streets at an even greater rate. Referring to the bloodshed, the king ominously warned Medvedev that Saudi Arabia "will never abandon its religious and moral obligations towards what's happening." The last time the Saudis decided they had a moral obligation to scuttle Russian policies, they gave birth to a generation of jihadi fighters in Afghanistan who are still wreaking havoc three decades later.

According to news reports confirmed by a member of the Syrian opposition, Riyadh currently sends weapons on an ad hoc basis to the Syrian opposition by way of Sunni tribal allies in Iraq and Lebanon. But in light of recent developments, more weapons are almost certainly on their way. After his delegation withdrew in frustration from last week's Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said that humanitarian aid to Syria was "not enough" and that arming the Syrian rebels was an "excellent idea." Soon afterward, an unnamed official commented in the state-controlled Saudi press that Riyadh sought to provide the Syrian opposition with the "means to achieve stability and peace and to allow it the right to choose its own representatives." Meanwhile, Saudi clerics are now openly calling for jihad in Syria and scorning those who wait for Western intervention. One prominent unsanctioned cleric, Aidh al-Qarni, openly calls for Assad's death.

Other Sunni Gulf states, principally Qatar, may be contributing weapons. On Monday, Feb. 27, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said, "We should do whatever necessary to help [the Syrian opposition], including giving them weapons to defend themselves." The positions of other regional actors are less clear. But whether or not they supply weapons to the Free Syrian Army -- the armed opposition composed of defectors and local militia -- all these Sunni states now want the Assad regime to crumble because it is an ally and proxy of their sworn Shiite enemy, Iran, which destabilizes the region with terrorism and nuclear threats.

For the Saudis, depriving the Russians of a Middle Eastern toehold is an added bonus. The two countries share a long-standing animus. In the 1970s, the Saudis used their enormous oil wealth to inflict pain on the Soviets wherever they could. The Saudis fought communist governments and political movements with more than $7.5 billion in foreign and military aid to countries like Egypt, North Yemen, Pakistan, and Sudan. Saudi funding was particularly instrumental in supporting anti-Soviet (and anti-Libyan) operations and alliances in Angola, Chad, Eritrea, and Somalia.

But the Saudis didn't simply counter communism. They fueled a generation of zealous Islamist fighters who later caused bigger problems elsewhere. These Islamists were instrumental to the Saudis after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Inspired by the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and armed with Saudi funds and weapons, Arab mujahideen poured into Afghanistan. (An estimated 175,000 to 250,000 Arabs and Afghans fought there at any given time during the war, according to terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.) After a decade of guerrilla war during which the Soviets sustained heavy losses, the Red Army withdrew, and their puppet government in Kabul fell soon thereafter.

A lot, of course, has changed. The Saudis no longer need to fight communism. The new Russians have no ideology and are driven purely by political interests. Additionally, the Kremlin is now allergic to putting boots on the ground in the Middle East or South Asia. Russia's new strategy in the region is to make money and gain influence by selling arms, military hardware, and technology to Iran and Syria. Although arming rogue regimes may seem reckless, it's Russia's last opportunity to exert leverage in a region where, since the Cold War's end, almost every other country has turned to Washington for arms.

Tartus, the second-largest port in Syria, has been the cornerstone of Russian-Syrian naval cooperation since the 1970s. In the past decade, the Russians have doubled down with improvements and investments in what is their primary Mediterranean toehold. In recent months, Russian and Iranian warships have docked in Tartus to show support for the Assad regime. Through it, they have reportedly provided untold amounts of weaponry with which Assad's army continues to attack anti-regime protesters.

The Saudis know that if Syria falls, Tartus falls with it. That's one more reasons to send arms to the opposition. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration continues to express deep misgivings about sending weapons, claiming that the Syrian opposition is too much of a black box. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently expressed concerns that the weapons could flow to terrorist groups such as al Qaeda or Hamas. But the Saudis have run out of patience. They now unabashedly advocate for arming the Free Syrian Army. This is not an empty threat. The Saudis know how to procure and move weapons, and they have no shortage of cash. If Riyadh wants to arm the opposition, armed it shall be. And those who receive the weapons will likely be at least amenable to the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam that has spawned dangerous Islamist movements worldwide.

Of course, a Saudi-led insurgency would not be in the cards if the Obama administration were not so opposed to empowering the opposition. But the longer Obama waits and the deeper the humanitarian crisis worsens, the more likely it becomes that other actors will tip the balance in Syria. Using history as a guide, none would be more dangerous than Saudi Arabia. The Iranians and Russians may yet pay a price for propping up Assad in Syria. But if the Saudis have their way, the world may pay a price too.

Source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/02/27/saudi_arabia_is_arming_the_syrian_opposition

Qatar Wields an Outsize Influence in Arab Politics


Qatar is smaller than Connecticut, and its native population, at 225,000, wouldn’t fill Cairo’s bigger neighborhoods. But for a country that inspires equal parts irritation and admiration, here is its résumé, so far, in the Arab revolts: It has proved decisive in isolating Syria’s leader, helped topple Libya’s, offered itself as a mediator in Yemen and counts Tunisia’s most powerful figure as a friend.

This thumb-shaped spit of sand on the Persian Gulf has emerged as the most dynamic Arab country in the tumult realigning the region. Its intentions remain murky to its neighbors and even allies — some say Qatar has a Napoleon complex, others say it has an Islamist agenda. But its clout is a lesson in what can be gained with some of the world’s largest gas reserves, the region’s most influential news network in Al Jazeera, an array of contacts (many with an Islamist bent), and policy-making in an absolute monarchy vested in the hands of one man, its emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Qatar has become a vital counterpoint in an Arab world where traditional powers are roiled by revolution, ossified by aging leaderships, or still reeling from civil war, and where the United States is increasingly viewed as a power in decline. “Do they fill a void? Yes,” said Bassma Koudmani, a Syrian opposition leader who credited the Qataris with a key role in the Arab League’s startling decision Saturday to suspend Syria and isolate a government at the pivot of the region’s relations. “They are filling a space and a role that is not being taken up by other countries.”

Flanked by the region’s biggest rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Qatar has always played an outsize role in the gulf, but never to this degree. It hosts a sprawling American air base, but some American officials are suspicious of its recent backing of Islamist leaders, particularly in the war in Libya. Angry at its role in driving the Arab League vote, Syrian officials have called it a lackey of American and Israeli interests. On Monday, Syria declared that it would boycott next month’s Arab Games in Doha.

But for all the contradictions in its policies — and there are many — Qatar is advancing a decisive shift in Arab politics that many in the West have yet to embrace: a Middle East dominated by mainstream Islamist parties brought to power in a region that is more democratic, more conservative and more tumultuous. “Qatar is a country without ideology,” said Talal Atrissi, a Lebanese political analyst and commentator. “They know that the Islamists are the new power in the Arab world. This alliance will lay the foundation for a base of influence across the region.”

Not everyone is pleased. “Who is Qatar?” Abdel-Rahman Shalgham, Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, asked sharply this month on the Arabic channel of a German satellite station.Syrian officials have asked that question as the crisis deepens between two once-friendly countries. Personal sentiments seem to figure heavily in Qatar’s policy, as with Libya, where the emir’s wife, Sheika Mozah, spent time as a child. The country long served as an intermediary with Syria, and it invested heavily in an economy that President Bashar al-Assad sought to modernize. But diplomats and analysts say SheikHamad felt rebuffed by Mr. Assad in April, soon after the uprising in Syria began.

Some view Qatar’s policy in Syria through a sectarian lens, supporting as it does a predominantly Sunni Muslim revolt. (It also backed Saudi Arabia’s intervention in neighboring Bahrain to help quell Shiite Muslim protests.) Others see it more opportunistically, offering Qatar a way to realign a Middle East in which Syria has often played off competing powers — Turkey, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and actors in Lebanon. “Syria is such a crucial pivot point in the Middle East,” said Salman Shaikh, the director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. “Syria would just be too tempting a target not to be involved in from the outside, and I’m sure the Qataris will be.”

Ambition dominates Doha, whose frenzied skyline suggests medieval Baghdad crossed with “Blade Runner.” Qatar’s economy offers indicators in superlatives: the world’s highest growth rate and highest per capita income. Its emir, a towering man whose girth was ridiculed by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, has sought to reconcile what could be considered irreconcilable. Yusuf Qaradawi, an influential Egyptian Islamist figure, calls it home. So did Ali Sallabi, a prominent Libyan Islamist. Khaled Meshal, Hamas’s leader, has a residence here, and speculation is rife that the Taliban in Afghanistan may open an office. American schools and companies, situated in the most modern of complexes, are also based here. “Bring them here, give them money and it will work out,” Hamid al-Ansari, a newspaper editor, said of Qatar’s style, only half in jest.

Money proved instrumental in Qatar’s role in Libya this year. Diplomats say hundreds of millions were funneled to the opposition, often through channels Qatar had cultivated with expatriates here, in particular Mr. Sallabi and Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the head of the Tripoli Military Council who once led an Islamist insurgency in Libya. A Libyan opposition channel was set up in Doha. Qatar dispatched Western-trained advisers, who helped finance, train and arm Libyan rebels.

But Qatar’s seeming favoritism of Islamists there provoked the ire of more secular-minded figures. Qatari officials are dismissive of the charges, but others suggest Sheik Hamad, who overthrew his father in 1995, has an affinity for Islamist figures who echo the conservative gulf states far more than ostensibly secular figures like Syria’s president, Mr. Assad. “Historically speaking, dealing with those people is better than dealing with Qaddafi or Assad,” Mr. Ansari said. “We believe religion is important, they believe it.”

Maintaining channels with an array of forces has proven a cornerstone of Qatar’s policy. It hosts two American bases, with more than 13,000 personnel; in Lebanon, the emir was welcomed as a hero by Hezbollah’s supporters last year for helping rebuild towns Israel destroyed in 2006. Unlike Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Qatar enjoys close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, in its various incarnations in Libya, Syria and Egypt, as well as with figures like Rachid al-Ghannouchi, the Tunisian Islamist, all of whom are almost certain to play a crucial role in the next generation of Arab politics.

But it also has what might be described as the Qatari equivalent of soft power: the influence of Al Jazeera, which the emir founded and finances, and which more and more reflects Qatari foreign policy; ties with Mr. Qaradawi, who has his own network of prominent Islamists in the region; and the emir’s own knack for involving Qatar in conflicts as far-flung as Afghanistan and the Darfur region of Sudan. Most recently, Al Jazeera’s director general, Wadah Khanfar, departed in what some journalists there saw as part of Qatar’s determination to appease countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, both long irritated by Al Jazeera’s reporting.

American diplomatic cables in 2009, released by WikiLeaks, claim that Qatar has occasionally offered Al Jazeera’s coverage as a bargaining tool. A senior journalist there said while no order was given, the network’s reporting on Syria changed sharply in April. “We could feel the change in atmosphere,” the journalist said.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/15/world/middleeast/qatar-presses-decisive-shift-in-arab-politics.html

Baku Hub For Israelis Spying on Iran


An Israeli intelligence agent has reportedly admitted that Azerbaijan, Iran’s northwestern neighbor, is “teaming with” Mossad agents who are trying to collect intelligence on the Islamic Republic. “This (Azerbaijan) is ground zero for intelligence work," The Times of London quoted an Azerbaijan-based Israeli intelligence agent named “Shimon” as saying on Saturday. "Our presence here is quiet, but substantial. We have increased our presence in the past year, and it gets us very close to Iran. This is a wonderfully porous country,” JPost quoted Shimon as saying.

Secret documents released by WikiLeaks last April revealed that Israel had been using the former Soviet republic's soil over the past four years to spy on Iran. The document in the US Embassy in Baku, sent to Washington in January 2009, refers to a visit by the Azeri president's advisor for security and defense issues, Vahid Aliyev, to Israel. According to the WikiLeaks cable, the trip was aimed at signing a contract with Tel Aviv which allowed Israel to use Azerbaijan's soil for its spying activities against Iran. The US diplomatic cable further discloses an arms deal between the two sides.

According to the leaked cables, Azerbaijani authorities banned all anti-Israeli protest gatherings anywhere near Tel Aviv's Embassy in Baku during the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip at the turn of 2009. Prior to the leak, there were reports about the operations of Israeli spying cells on the Iranian-Azeri border under the cover of farming activities. Separatist groups and members of the terrorist Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization are also freely operating within Azerbaijan's borders.

Source: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/226350.html

Israel Inks $1.6 Billion Arms Deal With Azerbaijan


Israeli defense officials on Sunday confirmed $1.6 billion in deals to sell drones as well as anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan, bringing sophisticated Israeli technology to the doorstep of archenemy Iran. The sales by state-run Israel Aerospace Industries come at a delicate time. Israel has been laboring hard to form diplomatic alliances in a region that seems to be growing increasingly hostile to the Jewish state.

Its most pressing concern is Iran's nuclear program, and Israeli leaders have hinted broadly that they would be prepared to attack Iranian nuclear facilities if they see no other way to keep Tehran from building bombs. Iran denies Israeli and Western claims it seeks to develop atomic weapons, and says its disputed nuclear program is designed to produce energy and medical isotopes.

In Jerusalem, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Iran's nuclear program will take center stage in his upcoming talks with U.S. and Canadian leaders. Netanyahu is to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa on Friday and with President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday.

Speaking to the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said a U.N. nuclear agency report last week buttressed Israel's warnings that Iran is trying to produce a nuclear bomb. The agency said Iran has rapidly ramped up production of higher-grade enriched uranium over the last few months. Netanyahu said the report provided "another piece of incontrovertible evidence" that Iran is advancing rapidly with its nuclear program.

It was not clear whether the arms deal with Azerbaijan was connected to any potential Israeli planes to strike Iran. The Israeli defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not at liberty to discuss defense deals. Danny Yatom, a former head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, said the timing of the deal was likely coincidental. "Such a deal ... takes a long period of time to become ripe," he told The Associated Press. He said Israel would continue to sell arms to its friends. "If it will help us in challenging Iran, it is for the better," he said.

Israel's ties with Azerbaijan, a Muslim country that became independent with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, have grown as its once-strong strategic relationship with another Iranian neighbor, Turkey, has deteriorated, most sharply over Israel's killing of nine Turks aboard a ship that sought to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2010. For Israeli intelligence, there is also a possible added benefit from Azerbaijan: Its significant cross-border contacts and trade with Iran's large ethnic Azeri community.

For that same reason, as Iran's nuclear showdown with the West deepens, the Islamic Republic sees the Azeri frontier as a weak point, even though both countries are mostly Shiite Muslim. Earlier this month, Iran's foreign ministry accused Azerbaijan of allowing the Israeli spy agency Mossad to operate on its territory and providing a corridor for "terrorists" to kill members of Iranian nuclear scientists. Azerbaijan dismissed the Iranian claims as "slanderous lies." Israeli leaders have hinted at covert campaigns against Iran without directly admitting involvement.

Israel, meanwhile, recently claimed authorities foiled Iranian-sponsored attacks against Israeli targets in Azerbaijan. Such claims have precedents: In 2008, Azeri officials said they thwarted a plot to explode car bombs near the Israeli Embassy; two Lebanese men were later convicted in the bombing attempt. A year earlier, Azerbaijan convicted 15 people in connection with an alleged Iranian-linked spy network accused of passing intelligence on Western and Israeli activities.

Iran has denied Azerbaijan's latest charges of plotting to kill Israelis, but a diplomatic rupture is unlikely. Azerbaijan is an important pathway for Iranian goods in the Caucasus region and both nations have signed accords among Caspian nations on energy, environmental and shipping policies.

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/israel-inks-1-6-billion-arms-deal-azerbaijan-150647547.html

Baku Demands Moscow Pay $300 Mln for Radar Lease

Azerbaijan has demanded Russia pay $300 million instead of the previously agreed $7 million for the lease of a Soviet-era anti-missile radar in the Azeri town of Gabala, the Kommersant daily reported on Wednesday, quoting sources in the Russian foreign and defense ministries. Russia has been in talks with Azerbaijan to extend its lease of the radar, which it has operated in line with a 2002 deal, until 2025. The current agreement is due to expire on December 24.

Russia had expected to finalize talks by June this year, because a new agreement has to be signed at least six month before the existing one expires, the newspaper said. But the talks have been strained since the Azeri authorities asked Moscow to pay almost 43 times more for the lease than it used to, the report said. “This sum of money is unreasonably large,” the paper quoted a Defense Ministry source as saying. “We will push for it to be significantly lowered. We still hope to reach an agreement.”

Another high-ranking source told the paper that Russia may stop operating the radar “if Baku does not limit its financial appetite.” According to the report, Foreign Ministry officials have described the Azeri demands as “agenda-driven.” Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said Russia would continue talks with Azerbaijan on the radar station lease. "Talks on the Gabala radar continue. The first round was very constructive. We will soon agree with our Azerbaijani colleagues on the date when the Russian delegation will head for Azerbaijan to continue the talks,” the deputy defense minister said.

The deputy director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, Alexander Khramchikhin, said the end of the Gabala radar lease will do no “principle damage” to Russia’s defense capabilities. “As far as I know, a radar in Armavir is about to be completed. It will cover this area,” the expert said. The Voronezh-class radar in Armavir in the Black Sea area is currently operating in a test mode. Such radars are a serious breakthrough compared to the previous generation radars of the Dnepr and Daryal class. The Gabala is a Daryal class radar. “In my opinion, we don’t need it [the Gabala station] at all, it only encourages extortion by Azerbaijan,” Khramchikhin added.

On Monday, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev called for a Russian air base in the country to be closed, accusing Moscow of failing to pay the $15 million debt for its lease and saying neither Russia nor Kyrgyzstan needed the base. Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov promised later in the day to repay the debt by the end of February.

Source: http://en.ria.ru/world/20120229/171602578.html

Whoever Opposes Azerbaijan is Georgia’s ‘Enemy,’ Says Saakashvili


In discussing “problems” Georgia and Azerbaijan share with “unresolved conflicts,” Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said “whoever opposes Azerbaijan” is Georgia’s “enemy.” In an interview published in a special issue of The Business Year magazine devoted to Azerbaijan, the Georgian leader described the relationship between the two countries as a strategic partnership.

“Georgia and Azerbaijan should stand side by side, taking into account our geographic position and common history. We share a common vision, we have strong ties. I am convinced that our countries will be able to create a better future through unity, good relationships and shared success. Both our states have serious problems with regard to unresolved conflicts, and whoever opposes Azerbaijan and Georgia is an enemy of both our countries. Our strength lies in unity, and this is not just words, but reality,” he stressed.

“In recent years Georgian-Azerbaijani relations have reached their peak, and we will continue to work in this direction. Undoubtedly, the foundation of these relations was laid by Heydar Aliyev, and we seek to maintain this trend in the future. Thanks to the incredible efforts of President Ilham Aliev, our ties are constantly strengthening. We are absolutely convinced that this relationship will contribute to stability and the development of our region. I am convinced that this is a new start of the great partnership of friendship and brotherhood,” Saakashvili said.

Azerbaijani-Georgian friendship has a long history and has stood the test of time, the Georgian leader continued. “In January 2008, when Georgia was left without electricity or gas, for reasons still not clear to me, Azerbaijan helped the Georgian people in that cold winter though it had to cut gas supplies to its own population. Georgia will never forget this help of the Azerbaijani people. We will not forget this help because it was provided in the most difficult time for Georgians. And it’s not just the result of a strategic partnership, but also a symbol of our brotherhood. In fact, we have established federal links. The two countries have no problems,” the head of the Georgian state said.

Speaking about successful joint projects, the president highlighted the importance of the construction of the railway from Baku via Tbilisi to Kars in Turkey. This project demonstrates geopolitical transformation in the region, as “a completely new strategic relationship is created not only between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, but also with Central Asia, China and Europe”. “In essence, this is a modern version of the Silk Road. This project will certainly guarantee the successful long-term development of our countries. Our relationship is more than just a regular connection. Georgia and Azerbaijan have been friendly countries for many years,” Saakashvili said.

Source: http://asbarez.com/97475/whoever-opposes-azerbaijan-is-georgia%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98enemy%E2%80%99-says-saakashvili/comment-page-1/#comment-2034873

Armenia neighbors in war games as tensions rise around Syria, Iran


In the South Caucasus just near the volatile Middle East and Gulf region, countries are engaged in active muscle play. The most debated issue among local experts is whether a war in Iran would spread to the greater region as well. The discourse is taking place in conditions of continuing saber-rattling by Azerbaijan that does not conceal its aggressive designs against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia who is now running for president in Russia, declared last week that World War III will start next summer. “As soon as they crush Syria, a strike will be delivered against Iran. Azerbaijan will take advantage of this and will again try to capture Karabakh. Armenia will oppose, and Turkey will side with Azerbaijan. And this is how Russia may be drawn into a war in the summer of 2012,” said Zhirinovsky, a veteran Russian politician known for his eccentric behavior and controversial rhetoric.

Apparently, the countries of the region, although hoping that the issue can be settled through diplomatic channels, are still getting ready for the worse-case scenario. A real war of “war games” has started in the region.

The final stage of tactical military exercises of the units of the Russian military bases in Armenia took place on the training ground of Alagyaz, in the north of Armenia, the press service of the Southern Military District of the Russian Armed Forces said on Sunday. The exercises were attended by more than 150 soldiers and involved in about 20 armored vehicles. “During a week soldiers were working on their actions during offensive and defensive operations, as well as for patrol in field and highland conditions,” the statement said.

Earlier, the third field army of Turkey, whose headquarters are located in the east of the country, in Erzurum, began large-scale maneuvers near the Republic of Armenia border in the province of Kars. The prime minister and president of Turkey were present to follow the military drills.

Azerbaijani armed forces also began large-scale maneuvers along the perimeter of the border of Nagorno-Karabakh on February 22. The Armenian military, however, said those are “ordinary exercises”, and the Armenian side has nothing to fear. Iran is also holding military exercises. The Islamic Republic alternates its drills in the Persian Gulf with trainings along the Caspian Sea coast.

The United States also gets some involvement in regional trainings. On February 21-23, Armenia and Georgia held U.S.-sponsored joint exercises in Yerevan aimed at improving their ability to prevent illegal transit of weapons of mass destruction through their territories.

Some escalation of the situation in the region is expected in spring. This expectation is connected with both the parliamentary elections in Iran and the presidential election in Russia (both of which are due in early March). The arms race, meanwhile, is going on. Though, the U.S. intelligence said recently that according to its data, Iran does not have nuclear weapons yet, and the U.S. asked Israel to refrain from unjustified action. But this can hardly be considered an end to military escalation.

Already there are some expert opinions mainly being voiced in Armenia and Russia that the United States has “agreed” with Azerbaijan to give it Karabakh in exchange for its support for the operations in Iran. There is also a view that Russia itself is willing to introduce its “peacekeepers” into Karabakh, and for that purpose it may use the pretext of the Iranian escalation.

For its part, Iran reaffirms its balanced position on the Karabakh conflict. Iranian Ambassador to Armenia Seyed Ali Saghaeyan, speaking at Yerevan State University on February 24, said: “All conflicts should be resolved through peaceful negotiations. Unfortunately, the policy of non-regional countries, and especially Western countries, which is based on the principle of “divide and rule”, still continues. But I must say that all wise leaders manage to protect their people from such threats,” said the ambassador. “Iran is a strong and powerful country and will not allow any changes to take place in the region, especially in its hot spots,” he added.

Renewed War Seen as Growing Possible Scenario


Analysts have recently given more attention to the prospect of resumption of active hostilities on the Karabakh front. Azerbaijan is typically cast as the likely initiator. On the one hand, there is an understanding that Azerbaijan cannot be truly and seriously interested in war, as resuming it would threaten the activities of oil and gas pipelines passing in a close vicinity of the line of contact. Destruction would deprive Azerbaijan of the main basis of its economic development and investments. On the other hand, the political elite of that country cannot keep endlessly promising its people to “return the occupied lands whatever it takes”, especially now when a stronger opposition is being formed in the country and the current authorities are more radically criticized.

It is that circumstance that's forcing the authorities to develop scenarios of possible hostilities. The catalyst of the process is the escalated tension in the relations between Baku and Tehran on the backdrop of greater intimacy of Azerbaijan and Israel. Russian presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky said “war between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh which will trigger war between Armenia and Turkey and by that engage Russia into a new war in the Trans-Caucasus may burst out as soon as the summer of 2012”. Azerbaijan keeps increasing its military potential year by year. There are around 20 industries of military profile operating in the country, producing large-caliber sniper rifles, assault rifles, submachine guns, armored vehicles, trench mortars, etc.

Within the framework of a state program in development of its defense industry Azerbaijan is planning to manufacture tanks of track-type military equipment, self-propelled bridges and armored military-cargo machinery. Part of these works will be done at a tank repair factory. Respective negotiations are currently in process with two Turkish and one Israeli company. It has become known that Israeli unmanned aircrafts and anti-missile and anti-aircraft defense systems amounting to $1.6 billion have been delivered to Azerbaijan. Together with Pakistan, Turkey and Israel are Azerbaijan's most important military-strategic partners. Weaponry purchased by Azerbaijan from Israel is meant to be used against Armenia and not Iran, believes analyst Joshua Kucera.

The timeline of the contract signed between Azerbaijan and Israel on the supply of drones and other armament are misleading, Kucera says in his article posted on Eurasia.net. “Regardless of the increase of tensions between Israel and Iran, as well as the heightened interest in the activities of Israeli intelligence in Azerbaijan, those weapons are destined to be used not against Iran, against Armenia controlling Nagorno Karabakh, though, it’s tempting to think otherwise”, he writes. He believes that Baku and Tel-Aviv exchange reconnaissance data on Iran, but Azerbaijan will not use weapon against the Islamic republic. “The Azeri government doesn't trust Iran, however it fears Tehran's interference in Azerbaijan's domestic affairs, rather that its nuclear program,” says Kucera. At the same time, quite recently CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha informed that military drills of the collective force of CSTO will be held in Armenia in the coming fall.

On February 4 of 2009 CSTO members reconciled and signed the project decree on creating collective rapid reaction forces. Late in 2009 in the border area of Kazakhstan and China, at Matybulak military polygon CSTO’s collective forces held the largest-scale military drills since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And now the planned autumn drills in Armenia. Can they be perceived as a preventive mechanism in the potential scenario of a new war on the Karabakh front? It's hard to give a definite answer to this question, however the same Bordyuzha stated: “Armenia is our ally, and it will be given all the assistance it needs as a full-right member of CSTO.”

Source: http://armenianow.com/commentary/analysis/36123/karabakh_conflict_azeri_increasing_military_potential

CSTO Will Protect Armenia in ‘Critical Situations’


As a full member of the CSTO, Armenia will be protected in the event of ‘critical situations,’ the organization’s secretary general told a video conference from Moscow on Tuesday. General Niklolay Bordyuzha, who heads the Collective Security Treaty Organization, of which Armenia, along with other CIS countries is a member, stressed that in any critical situation CSTO will assist Armenia as its complete member.

“Armenia has the same rights and responsibilities as the other members have. In this case Armenia has right to get assistance for its territorial integrity,” Bordyuzha said adding that the type and volume of assistance will depend on the current critical situation.

Bordyuzha also said that the CSTO did not mediate the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that the OSCE Minsk Group is the international entity tasked with the peace process. CSTO secretary-general said that the organization has not only military but political and peacekeeping potential. Bordyuzha announced that he will be visiting Yerevan next month to discuss the completion of agreements made between the presidents of Russia and Armenia.

Along with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan are also members of the CSTO, which is a security alliance borne after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova opted out of joining the CSTO and formed their own alliance known as GUAM. Bordyuzha, who was speaking at the Novosti media center in Moscow enumerated the various coordinating activities between member states and called that effort a success.

The Secretary-General said that existing mechanisms in the CSTO charter allow the member states to work together during critical situations and in the prevention of illegal drug trade and immigration. He also explained that the CSTO has cooperated with 22 countries, especially in efforts to curb illegal drug trade.

Source: http://asbarez.com/101084/csto-will-protect-armenia-in-%E2%80%98critical-situations%E2%80%99/comment-page-1/#comment-4016138

Russian-Led Bloc To Act Against ‘Chaos’ In Member States


The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will intervene to restore “law and order” if one of its members, including Armenia, is beset by serious unrest, the secretary general of Russian-led alliance of seven ex-Soviet states confirmed on Tuesday. “This is an agreement that was reached by the presidents at their informal summit in Astana [last August,]” Nikolay Bordyuzha told journalists in a live video link from Moscow.

“We discussed mechanisms that are needed for cases where the authorities, law-enforcement bodies of a particular country cannot control the situation, when there is chaos, mass disturbances, looting and it is not possible to control the situation at the national level,” he said. Bordyuzha explained that such intervention would not necessarily take the form of joint military action. The CSTO would primarily rely on its “political and peacekeeping potential,” he said without elaborating.

Aleksandr Lukashenko, the controversial president of CSTO member Belarus, discussed the issue with Bordyuzha last year. Lukashenko, who tolerates little dissent at home, reportedly called for the alliance members to jointly suppress possible attempts by domestic opposition groups to stage a “constitutional coup." Bordyuzha insisted in that regard that the CSTO is not assuming “gendarmerie functions” to help the ruling regimes in the member states crack down on the opposition. He said it would only respond to “chaotic situations” in order to “protect citizens and restore law and order.”

In a move initiated by Russia, the ex-Soviet allies set up in 2009 a NATO-style rapid reaction force which is meant to counter security threats to the bloc. Armenia has already committed troops to the Collective Operational Reaction Forces (CORF) and is due to host CORF exercises this autumn.

Source: http://www.azatutyun.am/content/article/24491703.html

Bordyuzha: CSTO will help Armenia in domestic emergencies


During a February 21 international video conference secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Nikolai Bordyuzha made some sensational statements concerning possible intervention in the internal affairs of member countries, as well as in the Karabakh conflict. The official said that Russia intends to play a more active role in Armenia and Karabakh through the CSTO.

“We have discussed it and concluded that mechanisms are needed for those cases where law-enforcement agencies and the government of a given country are unable to control the situation, where there is widespread chaos, riots, looting in the country and when it is impossible to control the situation at the national level. If there is a consensus in the CSTO, it will become possible to use the organization’s potential, not the troops, not the special units, but, I emphasize, the potential,” said Bordyuzha, speaking during the teleconference, Moscow-Astana-Yerevan-Minsk-Kiev-Chisinau).

He added that such decisions should only be taken to protect citizens and to establish law and order, and the organization has no goal to serve as a tool against the opposition. Bordyuzha stressed that this should not be regarded as a gendarme function or any mechanism for intervention in domestic conflicts. Russia, which accuses the West of intervening in local conflicts, itself is creating a legitimate mechanism of interference in internal affairs of other countries, writes the Armenian newspaper Lragir. For Armenia the CSTO can be an organization that ensures only its external security and it should not have any other rights. This decision will only strengthen the dependence of the Armenian authorities on Russia, the newspaper holds.

The CSTO does not interfere in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but it monitors the situation, said Bordyuzha. At the same time, he said that Armenia will get assistance, if necessary. “Armenia is a full member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. It is obliged to provide its potential for collective security and is entitled to receive the same support from its allies,” said Bordyuzha.

The official said that in mid-March he will visit Yerevan to discuss with Armenian experts and political analysts the strategic documents of the CSTO, in particular, on the concept of CSTO development, a collective security strategy and a strategic planning system. “The rapid reaction force will actually conduct exercises in the territory of Armenia in autumn 2012. Prior to that, such exercises were held in Russia, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan,” said Bordyuzha. Such statements have caused a backlash in neighboring Azerbaijan.

The CSTO secretary general makes statements that go beyond his powers and he must apologize to Azerbaijan for his words, said member of the committee on security and defense of the parliament of Azerbaijan Aydin Mirzazade, as quoted by the Azerbaijani news agency Trend. “The CSTO is supposed to ensure the security of member countries, and Nagorno-Karabakh, as we all know, is not the territory of Armenia,” said the Azeri lawmaker.

Armenian experts predict that, if Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is elected president in the March vote, Russia’s presence in post-Soviet countries will increase, as will increase Russian influence in the Karabakh conflict. Some enforcement action, up to the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone, may also be taken.

Source: http://armenianow.com/commentary/analysis/35845/collective_forces_csto_armeniacis_bordyuzha

Opposition says emergency situation law plays into the government’s hand


The Government-submitted draft bill on ‘Legal Regime of Emergency Situation’ is being discussed at the National Assembly; the new law will define the circumstances under which emergency situations would be declared in Armenia. There is an assumption among oppositionists and mass media that just three months ahead of the upcoming Parliamentary elections, the Government submits such a bill to the National Assembly, fearing that 03/08 clashes might be repeated (when 10 people died during post election fighting between opposition supporters and law enforcement bodies)

On March 1, 2008 then President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan declared an emergency situation in Armenia, which was disputed by the opposition, which stated that the president’s decision was illegal, because Armenia did not have a law on emergency situation. Minister of Justice of Armenia Hrayr Tovmasyan, who presented the bill to the lawmakers, believes that the bill is even belated, and he says that the law is needed for making all relations precisely and certainly regulated through a law. The minister brushed off opposition criticism, saying the opposition would find ways to criticize it no matter what the timing of its introduction.

Under the bill, an emergency situation will be declared in Armenia when “Usurping state power, i.e. seizure of state power, in violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, or keeping it with violence” are attempted. Tovmasyan says that an emergency situation is planned to be declared also in cases of armed revolt, mass disorder, terrorist attacks, and occupations or in case of blockade of special facilities. “The interference of the armed forces will be acceptable in case if the forces of the Police and the national security services are not enough,” Tovmasyan says.

Opposition lawmakers are against the involvement of the army, because they believe that the army’s interference in inter-political processes is dangerous. “The basis of the bill is March 1, 2008. Is it appropriate to give the authorities an opportunity to use the army in Armenia which has the poor experience of the elections [in 2008]? The authorities which must leave, will not leave, they will keep their power enjoying the opportunity of using the army,” says Armen Martirosyan from opposition Heritage faction.

Source: http://armenianow.com/news/vote_2012/35465/emergency_situation_armenia_march_2008

Russia Plans Additional Military Aid To Armenia


Armenia will receive additional military assistance from Russia within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the secretary general of the Russian-led alliance of seven ex-Soviet states announced on Friday. Nikolay Bordyuzha said Moscow will specifically supply new weapons to Armenian and other allied troops making up a NATO-style rapid reaction force that was formed by the CSTO member states in 2009. “We have practically finished work on a program to arm the Collective Operational Reaction Forces (CORF) of the CSTO,” Bordyuzha told a news conference in Yerevan. He said the program will be submitted to an upcoming CSTO summit for approval.

“It envisages the provision of modern types of weaponry to contingents making up the Collective Operational Reaction Forces, including troops from Armenia,” added the Russian official. In that context, Bordyuzha also stressed the importance of growing cooperation, also within the CSTO framework, between the Armenian and Russian defense industries. “What is now being done in the military-economic area, especially the creation of a number of Russian centers or joint ventures in Armenia for the maintenance, repair and modernization of some types of weaponry, also contributes to the provision of modern weapons to the Armenian armed forces,” he said.

Armenian and Russian officials agreed to set up such ventures after talks in Yerevan in July 2010. Bordyuzha announced at the time the launch of a “pilot project” aimed at integrating Armenian defense enterprises into Russia’s military-industrial complex. The announcement came shortly before Moscow and Yerevan signed a new defense accord that extended the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia by 24 years, until 2044, and upgraded its security mission. The bilateral deal also committed Moscow to supplying the Armenian military with “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.”

Bordyuzha spoke to journalists on Friday after signing with Artur Baghdasarian, secretary of President Serzh Sarkisian’s National Security Council, a plan of Armenia’s CSTO-related actions. That includes the holding of CORF exercises in Armenia next year. Baghdasarian described the drills as “extremely important” for Yerevan. According to Bordyuzha, the document also envisages “a number of events that will allow us to use more effectively the CSTO’s potential for ensuring Armenia’s security.”

Source: http://www.azatutyun.am/content/article/24402138.html

Russia to Strengthen Military Base in Armenia


Armenia and Russia cannot stay aside if Israel attacks Iran, military expert Artsrun Hovhannisyan told journalists on Saturday. If U.S. and Israel decide to launch war against Iran, they can hardly be stopped. However, it is possible to influence the development of the events as a whole. “On the background of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran, such possibility is small. Armenia, in its turn, should weaken tension as much as possible. Undoubtedly, Yerevan is dealing with it through its diplomatic channels,” he said. As for Russia’s role in the region, Kremlin is important, while the only Russian military facility in the South Caucasus is a military base in Armenia’s Gyumri. “Thus, we can conclude that the Russian military base will be modernized, improved and strengthened. Moscow will try to strengthen its military presence in the region within the framework of the existing Armenian-Russian agreements or just concluding new ones,” the expert concluded.

Source: http://news.am/eng/news/89133.html

South Russia Missile Radar to be Fully Operational in October


A radar station in the southern Russian town of Armavir will become fully operational in October-November as part of the country's missile warning system, a military official said on Thursday. "The station will be put into operation...in October-November this year," said Gen. Nikolai Abroskin, head of the Federal Agency for Special Construction, which builds radar sites and space launch centers. The station is currently operating in a test mode.

The Armavir radar has been built to monitor any potential missile attacks in the south and southeast of Russia in place of the early warning facilities in Mukachevo in western Ukraine and Sevastopol in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Russia terminated a 1997 agreement with Kiev on the use of both Ukrainian radars in February 2008 on the grounds that they had become obsolete.

With an effective range of 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) the Voronezh-type radar has capabilities similar to its predecessors, the Dnepr and Daryal, which are currently deployed outside Russia, but uses less energy and is more environmentally friendly. Russia has offered the U.S. use of radar stations at Armavir and Gabala in Azerbaijan as alternatives to a planned U.S. missile shield deployment in Central Europe, which Moscow has fiercely opposed as a security threat.

Washington has since shown little interest in the Russian proposal, but with the arrival of a new administration, led by President Barack Obama, has frozen its plans to open a missile interceptor base in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. During his visit to Moscow in July, Obama pledged to consider Russia's concerns and review the U.S.'s European shield plans.
Source: http://en.ria.ru/mlitary_news/20090806/155744822.html

Defense Russian Missile Forces Hold High Alert Drills

Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces are holding a series of exercises to practice putting road-mobile missile systems on high alert, SMF spokesman Col. Vadim Koval said. The exercises involve Topol (SS-25 Sikle), Topol-M (SS-27 Sickle B) and Yars (RS-24) mobile systems stationed in central Russia and Siberia. “SMF units armed with Topol, Topol-M and Yars road-mobile missile systems will practice patrolling, camouflaging and launch preparation procedures during high alert drills from January 16 to February 3,” Koval told reporters on Monday. The SMF are planning to hold over 100 tactical drills in the first half of 2012. As of January 2012, the SMF operated at least 162 mobile Topol systems, 18 mobile Topol-M and 15 mobile Yars systems.

Source: http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20120117/170790557.html

Echoes of War Across the South Caucasus

As the standoff over Iran's nuclear program intensifies, South Caucasus leaders are pondering contingencies since the consequences of open conflict or prolonged tensions are potentially serious for all three nations. Over the past several years, Iran has become an increasingly influential player in the South Caucasus as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have each sought to diversify their economic and political ties away from their traditional alliances - none more so than Armenia, which now relies on Iran as a major trading partner and investor.

However, with tensions on the rise in the Persian Gulf, and with threats by Iran to disrupt oil supplies passing through the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for the sanctions that have been slapped on it by various countries over its uranium-enrichment activities, South Caucasus capitals are pondering what role they would play should the standoff get hot. While some analysts see opportunity for the region, others worry the three small countries could get pulled into an unpredictable conflict.

Out of the three, Armenia is the most concerned with preserving the status quo, said Sergey Minasyan, head of the Political Studies Department at the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, the capital and largest city of Armenia. Minasyan said Armenia's relationship with Iran had been "a constant dynamic" since its 1991 independence. Landlocked Armenia has been geographically isolated since its conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s, during which Turkey also cut ties and closed its border with Armenia in support of its Turkic Azeri brethren.

At the time, despite their ideological differences, the Islamic Republic backed Christian Armenia over Muslim Azerbaijan and, along with Russia, has been a source of important political support. Furthermore, about one-third of Armenia's trade passes through Iranian territory. Armenia's only alternatives are land routes passing through Georgia to Russia and the Black Sea, however, heavy snows and avalanche threats regularly close the Armenia-Georgia and Georgia-Russia border crossings.

Iran has also been a key investor in Armenian business and infrastructure, feeding the country natural gas through a recently completed pipeline and an oil pipeline is in the works. Yerevan views these links as key to preventing a near total dependence on Russia for commerce. In its 2011 report, "Without Illusions", the Yerevan-based Civilitas Foundation said that both the Karabakh war and the supply disruptions caused by the 2008 Russia-Georgia war proved that Armenia's "only reliable access to the world was through Iran".

Minasyan said Armenia had also served as a "proxy" for Iran in developing business and political contacts in ways that bypass its official isolation. Still, Minasyan said that amid the occasionally violent stalemate with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, the biggest consequences for Armenia of a weakened or preoccupied Iran would be political, not economic.

"For the medium term, it would be possible to replace that trade using Georgian routes. But the more important - the more dangerous - would be the geopolitical results of closing the border if something happened in Iran. On the other hand, another very important issue is that not only Armenia is afraid of the possible consequences of a new crisis with Iran. For Azerbaijan, it's also a problem. Some experts are thinking that we will have a crisis in Karabakh if something happens in Iran, but politicians and experts in Azerbaijan are more afraid of that outcome than in Armenia," he said.

Indeed, Azerbaijan's rocky relationship with Iran has hit an historic low in recent months. Iran has long warned Azerbaijan against exploiting energy resources near Iran's Caspian waters, and, in 2001, used military force to halt a BP-sponsored project near the dividing line. Since then, the two have traded barbs over ideological differences related to Azerbaijan's stolidly secular observance of Sunni Islam, and Iran's devotion to theocratic Shi'ite governance. Iran also worries that Azerbaijan might play on the discontent among Iran's sizable, but repressed ethnic Azeri minority.

Last month, Azerbaijani government websites were hit by a wave a cyber-attacks, which were responded to in turn with attacks against Iranian state websites. Then, on January 25, Baku announced it had foiled an Iranian plot to assassinate the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan and attack a Jewish religious school in the country. The suspects were captured after one allegedly met with his handlers in northern Iran and was promised US$160,000 for the mission. The capture came days after top Iranian officials had promised retribution for the assassination of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist, and bore a striking resemblance to Iran's alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Iran regularly accuses Azerbaijan of collaborating militarily with both the US and Israel. After the nuclear scientist was killed, an intelligence official in Tehran was quoted as saying, "None of those who ordered these attacks should feel safe anywhere." Stephen Blank, a research professor at the United States Army War College, said that the threats Iran regularly made to Azerbaijan should be taken seriously, including those saying that the country would be "targeted and destroyed" if it allowed the US or it's allies to use Azerbaijani territory or air bases for an attack against Iran.

Azerbaijani airspace is already a key link in the Northern Distribution Network supplying North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan has signed a number of defense deals with Israel, but none of these arrangements were directed against Iran thus far, Blank said.

That may not matter, however. "I think Iran is driven by a different calculus. I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that we are dealing with people who are deranged, because they're not. But [...] Iran is driven by this kind of obsession of anti-Semitism and anti-Sunni thinking and I think it manifests itself in their policy," Blank said. "Second, they have discovered that terrorism is an instrument that works."

Lincoln Mitchell, a professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, said, on the contrary, that the region would stand to benefit from a US-Iranian escalation because it "puts [the South Caucasus countries] in the driver's seat, particularly Azerbaijan, with its relationship with the US". "Azerbaijan plays a make-or-break role in this, and Azerbaijan can make any attempt by the United States to do anything in Iran extremely difficult, or it can make it considerably easier. So, the growing tension between Iran and the United States gives far more leverage - particularly to Azerbaijan - than they have now," he said.

Mitchell said that in increasing its utility to the US, Azerbaijan could alleviate Western pressure on Baku over democracy and human-rights issues. Georgia, while it does not share a border with Iran, may also come into play.

Since coming to power in the 2003 "Rose" revolution, President Mikheil Saakashvili has placed NATO membership at the forefront of his foreign policy agenda. After Georgia's brief war with Russia in 2008, those aspirations appeared to be dashed, but Saakashvili has not given up hope, deploying as many as 1,700 soldiers in Afghanistan's most violent province as a part of the NATO war effort.

However, Georgia has also sought to strengthen its ties with Iran since the war, signing a visa-free travel agreement with the Islamic Republic and opening up greater economic, academic and commercial links in various agreements with Tehran.

Still, Mitchell, who worked as the chief of party at the National Democratic Institute's office in Georgia from 2002-2004 and has authored a book on the Saakashvili regime, said that Georgia would likely acquiesce to any requests by Washington to use Georgian territory in support of American operations against Iran.

In an election year, Georgian opposition politicians and former Georgian president Eduard Shevarnadze have publicly accused Saakashvili of potentially dragging the country into a war with neighboring Iran. But David Smith, a senior fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi, said such claims "are reaching really far" and attributed the worries to political polemicists.

Blank said that while there had been very few statements made about the situation publicly, officials in all three countries were nervous about the rising tensions. "They are clearly concerned, as are the Russians, about the fact that they're being dragged into a contingency outside their area that they don't really have anything to say about," he said.

Russia has responded to the standoff by announcing military exercises in the North and South Caucasus that are unprecedented in scale. While Russia regularly runs military drills in the North Caucasus, the "Kavkaz-2012" maneuvers will also involve Russian units in Armenia and the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia. It had also reinforced its military presence throughout the North and South Caucasus for an indefinite term in response to the crisis, Blank said.

Over the past year, Russian officials have often warned that foreign intervention in either Syria or Iran could lead to a "wider conflict" in the region. Viewing both Syria and Iran as countries on the periphery of its spheres of influence, Blank said Russia was now attempting to reassert its claim over the South Caucasus, its traditional buffer zone against the Middle East.

With the baseline of regional tensions raised, Mitchell said that the rhetoric in both Russia and Georgia would likely turn increasingly more provocative, as both countries' leaders had a track record of using external distractions to boost their personal popularity. While most of talk remains just that, he said the confluence of the regional events could lead to "a potentially explosive situation".

So far, the South Caucasus has been exempted from pressure to freeze its relations with Iran. Azerbaijan was even granted a special exemption as European officials and energy lobbyists convinced the US Congress not to include the development of Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz natural gas field in its list of forbidden economic activities with Tehran, although the Islamic Republic owns a 10% stake in the venture.

However, Blank said that the South Caucasus should not count on being able to stay neutral forever. "I think they will come under pressure to move back from their relationship with Iran if the situation continues to remain at a high level of tension. On the other hand, I think a war would be a worse contingency for them," he said.

Source: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/NB03Ag01.html

Moscow Optimizes its Military Grouping in the South


Russia prepares for an adequate response to Tel-Aviv and Washington’s possible strikes against Tehran

The geopolitical situation unfolding around Syria and Iran is prompting Russia to make its military structures in the South Caucasus, on the Caspian, Mediterranean and Black Sea regions more efficient. Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s (NG) Defense Ministry sources are saying that the Kremlin has been informed about an upcoming US-supported Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The strike will be sudden and take place on “day X” in the near future. One could assume Iran’s reaction will not be delayed. A full-scale war is possible, and its consequences could be unpredictable.

This problem is currently being addressed as a priority issue at the EU-Russia summit in Brussels with the participation of President Dmitry Medvedev. A day before the event, Russia’s envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, relayed a message from the Kremlin, saying that an Israeli or US strike on Iran will lead to “a catastrophic development of events.” The diplomat stressed that the negative consequences will not only be felt by the region, “but also in a much broader context.” Russia’s direct diplomatic pressure on Europe and the global community in respect to issues concerning a possible war in Iran began recently after the IAEA’s publication of a report on the Iranian nuclear program in November.

However, in the military sphere, Russia’s preparations for minimization of losses from possible military action against Tehran began more than two years ago. Today, they are nearly complete. According to the Defense Ministry sources, the 102nd military base in Armenia was fully optimized in October-November 2011. Military personnel’s families have been evacuated to Russia, and the Russian garrison deployed near Yerevan reduced. Military sub-units stationed in the area have been transferred to Gyumri district, closer to the Turkish border. Strikes against Iranian facilities by US troops are possible from Turkish territory. So far, it is unclear as to what tasks the 102nd military base will perform in relation to this. But it is known that Russian troops stationed at military bases in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have been on high alert since December 1 of this year. Meanwhile, ships of the Black Sea Fleet are located not far from the Georgian border which in this conflict could act on the side of the anti-Iranian forces.

In Izberbash, Dagestan, nearly adjacent to the Azerbaijani border, a coastal guided missile battalion equipped with onshore anti-ship Bal-E missile systems with a range of 130 km, have been put on permanent combat readiness status. All guided missile craft of the Caspian Flotilla have been redeployed from Astrakhan to Makhachkala and Kaspiysk districts to form a single group. Meanwhile, the flagship of the Flotilla, the sentry rocket ship “Tatarstan”, will soon be joined by the small gunboat "Volgodonsk” and missile ship “Dagestan”. The flagships of the Flotilla are equipped with missile systems with a range of up to 200 km.

Recently, the Northern Fleet’s aircraft carrier group with the heavy aircraft carrier “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov”, headed towards the Mediterranean with plans to ultimately enter the Syrian port of Tartus. NG’s sources from the Defense Ministry did not confirm or deny the fact that the surface warships are being accompanied by the Northern Fleet’s nuclear submarines. The tasks that will be carried out by the army and the navy in the event of a war against Iran are, of course, not being disclosed. But Russia’s Defense Ministry is apparently concerned about the logistical support of troops in Armenia. The 102nd military base is a key point as it is Russia’s outpost in the South Caucasus. It holds a very important geopolitical position. But Kremlin officials are worried that this position will be lost. In the event of a US-Israeli war against Iran, this will indeed be tragic for Russia.

In April of this year, Georgia broke the agreement on the transit of military cargo to Armenia from Russia. Essentially, the Russian-Armenian grouping in the South Caucasus has been isolated. Supplies to the Russian army (POL, food, etc.) are delivered only by air and through direct agreements with Armenia which, in turn, purchases these products (gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene) from Iran. A war in Iran will close this supply channel.

Lt.-Gen. Yury Netkachev, who for a long time served as the deputy commander of the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus and was personally engaged in work on the supply of arms and ammunition to combined armed forces and units (including the 102nd military base), believes that, in the event of a full-fledged war against Iran, Russia will be looking to securely supply the military facility through Georgia. “Perhaps, it will be necessary to break the Georgian transport blockade and supply the transport corridors leading to Armenia by military means,” said the expert.

“Apparently, Russia’s Defense Ministry is also quite wary of Azerbaijan, which over the last three years has doubled its military budget and is currently buying Israeli drones and other advanced means of reconnaissance and topographic location, naturally aggravating Tehran and Armenia,” says head of the Center for Military Forecasting, Anatoly Tsyganok. “Baku has stepped up its pressure on Moscow, demanding significantly higher rental fees for the Gabala radar station. But even considering the disputes between Iran and Azerbaijan over oilfields in the south of the Caspian Sea, one could hardly argue that Baku will support an anti-Iranian military campaign. It is also very unlikely that it will unleash hostilities against Armenia.”

Col. Vladimir Popov, who was engaged in the analysis of hostilities between Baku and Yerevan between 1991 and 1993, and is currently following the military reforms conducted by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, disagrees with the expert. Popov believes that “the negotiation process on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict has been unreasonably delayed.” Baku is making open statements on revenge. “Azerbaijan pre-emptive strikes on Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, made in order to finally settle the territorial dispute in its favor, are possible,” says the expert. But, in his opinion, the question of how Russia will behave is important. “If in the midst of a war in Iran, Azerbaijan supported by Turkey, attacks Armenia, then, of course, all of the adversary’s attacks against Armenia will be repelled by Russia in conjunction with Armenian anti-missile defense forces. It’s hard to say whether or not this will be considered as Moscow’s involvement in military action. Russian troops will certainly not be engaged in military action on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. But in the event of a military threat to Armenia coming from Turkey or Azerbaijan, for example, Russia will apparently take part in ground operations,” says Popov.

The analyst does not exclude the possibility of Russia’s military involvement in the Iranian conflict. “In the worst-case scenario, if Tehran is facing complete military defeat after a land invasion of the US and NATO troops, Russia will provide its military support – at least on a military-technical level,” predicts Vladimir Popov.

Source: http://rt.com/politics/press/nezavisimaya/military-russia-armenia-iran/en/

Armenia, Russia Plan New Military Deal


Armenia and Russia plan to work out a new agreement that will deepen the already close ties between their militaries and defense industries, top security officials from the two countries said in Yerevan on Thursday. Armenian and Russian news agency reported that Artur Baghdasarian, secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council, and his visiting Russian opposite number, Nikolay Patrushev, signed a relevant memorandum of understanding after two days of negotiations.

“The protocol envisages concrete positions, including on deepening cooperation in the military-technical field and establishing joint defense ventures in Armenia,” Baghdasarian was reported to tell a news conference. He said the two sides agreed to form a joint working group that will draw up the new Russian-Armenian defense accord. Neither Baghdasarian nor Patrushev gave further details of the planned deal.

​“During the meetings we talked about our military and military-technical cooperation,” Patrushev told President Serzh Sarkisian later in the day. He was quoted by Sarkisian’s press office as calling the talks “productive and useful.” “I am glad that the Russian-Armenian allied relationship is dynamically developing,” Sarkisian said for his part.

Moscow and Yerevan signed a far-reaching defense agreement as recently as in August 2010. The deal extended the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia by 24 years, until 2044. It also committed the Russians to helping the Armenian military obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.” The military alliance with Russia has long enabled Armenia to received Russian military equipment at discount prices or even free of charge. Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian spoke on Wednesday of new “long-range and precise weapons” delivered to his troops last year. But he did not

Incidentally, Ohanian was also present at Patrushev’s meeting with the Armenian president. Patrushev, who previously headed Russia’s powerful Federal Security Service (FSB), visited on Wednesday the Yerevan headquarters of Russian border troops guarding Armenia’s frontier with Iran and Turkey. Baghdasarian said on Thursday that the two sides also agreed to bolster security at the Armenian-Iranian border. But he did not clarify whether that is connected with the situation in Iran or the Islamic Republic’s nuclear standoff with the West.

Source: http://www.azatutyun.am/content/article/24479171.html

‘We Have Been Enhancing Our Military Capacity,’ Says Ohanyan


Armenia is successfully implementing a five-year government plan to modernize its armed forces with long-range weapons and other hardware, the country’s two top military officials said over the weekend. “We have been enhancing our military capacity with arms acquisitions in recent years,” said Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian. “One of the main directions of our reforms is a switch to strategic defense planning, which includes a program of developing weapons and military equipment.” “According to that development program, every year until 2015 we will be acquiring new weapons that will be long-range and very precise. They will enable us to achieve the objectives set for the army,” he told journalists.

The still unpublicized program was approved by President Serzh Sarkisian’s National Security Council in December 2010. Officials said at the time that it envisages, among other things, the acquisition of long-range precision-guided weapons. The types, quantity and source of those weapons remain unknown. Colonel-General Yuri Khachaturov, chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, also spoke of an ongoing military build-up in separate comments to journalists at the Yerablur military cemetery in Yerevan. He said the military is planning more arms acquisitions for the coming years but did not elaborate.

Armenia demonstrated at least some of its long-range weapons for the first time during a military parade in Yerevan last September. Those included Russian-made 9K72 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, known in the West as Scud-B, and S-300 surface-to-air missiles. Designed for the Soviet army in the 1960s, Scud-Bs have a firing range of up to 300 kilometers, putting virtually all strategic facilities in Azerbaijan within their reach. The Armenian military was thought to have possessed them since the late 1990s. The parade also confirmed its possession of more short-range but precise Tochka-U ballistic missiles with a NATO reporting name of SS-21 Scarab-B. Azerbaijan also demonstrated Scarab-Bs during its own military parade held in June.

The shows of force highlighted an intensifying arms race between the two nations. Over the past decade Azerbaijan has spent billions of dollars in oil revenues on a massive military build-up which it hopes will eventually help it to win back Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia – A screenshot of state television footage of Armenian troops test-firing S-300 surface-to-air missiles, undated Armenia is seeking to stay in the race with close military ties with Russia that entitle it to receiving Russian weapons at discount prices or even free of charge. A new Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed in August 2010 commits Moscow to helping Yerevan obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.”

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in February 2011, Ohanian said that his forces received “unprecedented” quantities of modern weaponry in 2010 and will continue the build-up in 2011. Ohanian and Khachaturov, who both played major roles in the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan, laid flowers at Yerablur on Saturday as part of official ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the official establishment of the Armenian Armed Forces. “I’m very happy that we have held on to what we gained 20 years ago and we keep doing that well,” said Khachaturov. “We have changed. We have become a tough army. We have gained a lot of new weaponry. But our main wealth is our young officers.”Link

Source: http://asbarez.com/100597/%E2%80%98we-have-been-enhancing-our-military-capacity%E2%80%99-says-ohanyan/

Global Insights: U.S. Must Strengthen Ties With Azerbaijan


This month marks the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and the post-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, a country that is currently playing a vital role in sustaining NATO forces in Afghanistan, supporting Georgia and other U.S. friends in Eurasia, and helping to moderate Iranian and Russian ambitions in the energy-rich Caspian Basin region. But Washington needs to prioritize its ties with Baku to strengthen the partnership and to make sure that Azerbaijan and its fragile neighbors in the geopolitically vital South Caucasus region remain strong and stable.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Azerbaijan was among the first countries to offer the United States unconditional support in the war against terrorism, opening its airspace to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Since then, its airbases have provided landing and refueling support for U.S. military transports to Afghanistan. Azerbaijan has also assumed a lead role in allowing NATO countries to deliver material to their troops in Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network, which passes through its territory.

More quietly, Azerbaijan is helping to prevent Iran from expanding its influence in Eurasia. Located on Iran’s northern border, Azerbaijan is understandably leery of a direct confrontation with Tehran, in part because of concerns over Iran’s large population of ethnic Azeris as well as Iran’s illicit subversive activities in Azerbaijan. But behind the scenes, Azerbaijan is providing the United States and Israel with intelligence on Iran’s nuclear activities. And Israel recently announced a major arms deal with Azerbaijan designed to bolster their mutual security.

Baku has even sought to reduce tensions between Washington and Moscow over the issue of ballistic missile defense to counter the Iranian missile threat by offering them both shared use of the Russian military radar installation based in Gabala. As U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rubin correctly put it after talks last month with Azeri officials in Baku, “Azerbaijan is with us” on the Iranian issue.

Meanwhile, when it comes to European energy security, not only does Azerbaijan export enormous amounts of natural gas from its own production, but it also serves as a vital land corridor for Caspian and Central Asian energy deliveries to our European allies. These deliveries decrease Europeans dependence on Russian and Iranian energy sources and also help reduce the cost of U.S. energy imports by dampening the effect of Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz or curtail its own oil exports. U.S. energy firms have a major presence in Azerbaijan’s energy sector thanks to the government’s preferential treatment of U.S. energy companies. This partnership has helped propel the country’s GDP from $1.2 billion in 1992 to $54.4 billion.

Azerbaijan was recently elected to serve as a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Already its diplomats have supported U.S. efforts, opposed by Russia and China, to force the brutal Syrian government to end its killing of innocent civilians. In the next two years, the United States could conceivably need Azerbaijan’s support in future votes -- to impose additional sanctions on Iran, for instance, or to roll back North Korea’s nuclear program.

One means to ensure that the U.S.-Azerbaijani strategic partnership remains solid is to help resolve Azerbaijan’s territorial dispute with its western neighbor, Armenia. The two countries fought a brutal war in the early 1990s over the breakaway separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a conflict that continues to fester: Nagorno-Karabakh’s status remains uncertain and both nations confront each other in a dangerous face-off that periodically flares into violent military skirmishes along the border.

Azerbaijan has used some of its energy riches to build a powerful military that many experts believe could forcefully seize the disputed territories, which in addition to Nagorno-Karabakh include adjacent Azerbaijani territory currently occupied by Armenian troops. Although Azerbaijani officials have emphasized that they would like to settle this dispute through peaceful means -- perhaps within a comprehensive framework that would also achieve a normalization of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey -- they have indicated that they cannot accept the status quo indefinitely. The 2008 Georgia War shows how these supposed “frozen conflicts” in the former Soviet Union can abruptly thaw and explode.

Fortunately, the United States has strong ties with Armenia, another good friend of the West. Like Azerbaijan and Georgia, Armenia participates in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and contributes troops to NATO missions, including in Kosovo and Afghanistan. And the United States provides democracy assistance and other aid to Armenia.

In October 2009, Armenia and Turkey signed an accord, brokered by the U.S., to establish diplomatic ties. The protocol, which called for the reopening of the countries’ border and would also work toward reducing tensions between the two countries, was the first major step toward reconciliation that Armenia and Turkey had taken in the past 16 years. The Armenian parliament approved the agree,emt within the timeframe cited in the documents, but the Turkish government is awaiting a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to do so.

The Obama administration should step up its efforts to promote a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement as a means to prevent any collateral damage to U.S. security and energy interests in Eurasia that would ensue from another Armenia-Azerbaijan war.

The current structure for seeking a negotiated settlement -- the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes the U.S., Russia, France and the OSCE -- has failed to make enduring progress despite more than a decade of efforts. The administration should appoint a high-level envoy of the sort that is routinely sent to the Middle East, to present concrete bridging proposals directly to the parties in conflict.

Congress can support this effort by repealing an outdated provision of the 1992 Freedom of Support Act (Section 907) (.pdf) that prohibits direct aid to Azerbaijan’s government. Whatever its value was in ending the original Nagorno-Karabakh war, the provision is now impeding U.S. diplomatic flexibility and weakening U.S. influence in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, including efforts to promote their democratic development and sustain their autonomy from foreign influence. With respect to democracy, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe states that Azerbaijan does not meet its criteria for free and fair elections. In addition, the U.S. State Department has been critical of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. Sustained U.S. diplomatic engagement with Azerbaijan and the other South Caucasus governments could help overcome these deficiencies, which are unfortunately widespread in the post-Soviet states. It would also promote their political development and strategic autonomy.

Ideally, Congress and the administration should support a negotiated settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with financial and diplomatic support to both states, ranging from enhanced trade benefits to full-scale U.S. diplomatic representation to U.S. efforts to promote Armenian-Turkey reconciliation. Azerbaijan has shown its willingness to be a friend to Washington, and right now, America needs all the friends it can find in this strategic region.

Richard Weitz is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a World Politics Review senior editor. His weekly WPR column, Global Insights, appears every Tuesday.

Source: http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/11614/global-insights-u-s-must-strengthen-ties-with-azerbaijan

Georgia’s Chokehold on Armenia Reaches Critical Level


While Armenian news media outlets have been concentrating on the French Senate action criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide, closer to home relations with neighboring Georgia are causing heartaches for citizens and government officials alike. Relations are tense, to say the least. Georgian authorities are cognizant that they have the upper hand in their bilateral relations with Armenia; they are using that advantage to help tighten the noose which Azerbaijan and Turkey have put in place through their blockade. That policy is nothing less than the continuation of the Genocide by squeezing Armenia out of existence.

By virtue of its NATO ambitions, the Tbilisi government is doing anything and everything to ingratiate itself to Ankara and Baku. Unfortunately, Armenia is at the receiving end of that policy. Georgian actions have bearings on three different areas: a) regional politics, b) domestic abuses of human rights in Georgia and c) a planned depopulation program in Javakhk. Because of the blockade, Armenia is restricted in its access to the outside world, which impacts negatively on its economic development.

One outlet for Armenian is Iran, which remains precarious, because of sanctions and threats against that country by the United States and the European Union. In the event of a conflagration, Armenia will be devastated. The other outlet is, of course, Georgia. The Tbilisi government is using that leverage against Armenia cynically.

Every excuse is being used to restrict the movements of people and goods to the outside world through Georgian territory: road conditions, weather, tense relations with Russia, etc. Recently many citizens of Armenia were stranded on the Georgian borders with Turkey and Russia because of weather conditions. Their ungraceful Georgian hosts took the opportunity to impose exorbitant taxes on those citizens. These seem minor issues, but many Armenians travel to Turkey through Georgia to bring goods for sale to Armenia in order to provide for their families.

But besides such low-level harassments, high political games are at play. At one point, Mikheil Saakashvili’s government toyed with the idea of a federation with Azerbaijan to further strangulate Armenia. During his last visit to Baku, the Georgian president assured President Ilham Aliyev that Georgia would side with Azerbaijan should a war break out. The only problem that Azerbaijan has at this moment is with Armenia (if we discount the late president of Azerbaijan Abulfez Elchibey’s dream to wrest Northern Azerbaijan from Iran).

To add insult to injury, recently Georgia’s deputy speaker of the parliament, Friton Dotvan, announced in Baku that “Azerbaijan and Georgia will return their occupied territories, because those are their own.” The reference is, of course, to Nagorno Karabagh, which is being equated to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, all casualties of reckless actions of war-mongering leaders in Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The next level of political harassment in Georgia is against citizens of Armenian origin. For centuries, Tbilisi had been a hub of Armenian culture. Georgian jealousy has reduced that community to a shell of its former self and that discriminatory policy is still on-going. Armenians are not only being denied equal economic opportunities under different, at times cryptic statutes, but their schools are forced to close down and their churches are being usurped and re-consecrated as Georgian churches.

In 2009, the 14th-century St. Kevork of Mughni Church collapsed; despite repeated requests to the government to shore up the building before the collapse, the government took no steps to help. The Georgian authorities have yet to make good on their promises to rebuild the church. At this time, the destiny of St. Nishan Church in Tbilisi is at stake. Recently an “accidental” fire broke out, causing the collapse of one wall. In the late 19th century, there were 29 active Armenian churches in Tbilisi; today there are only two. St. Nishan is among the six Armenian churches claimed by the Georgian Orthodox Church. During the visit of Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II to Georgia both President Saakashvili and Patriarch Illya II had promised to resolve the contentious issue, which to this date remains unattended.

The Georgian government, in its desire to join NATO and the European Union, had promised to discontinue trampling minority rights. One of the issues the Georgian government had pledged to HH Karekin II and the international community was to recognize minority churches as legal entities. Now that issue has turned out to be a catch-22. The legalization of the Armenian Church in Georgia has been tied to the legalization of the Georgian Church in Armenia, where there is no restriction whatsoever, not only for different religious groups, but even fanatical sects. But it turns out that the Georgian Church does not intend to take the initiative to seek legal status in Armenia, thus leaving the legal status of the Armenian Church in Georgia in limbo, because of a lack of reciprocation.

Every day a new scandal breaks out, forcing the Armenians to forget the existing ones. The most recent scandal is the potential sale of the poet Hovhanness Toumanyan’s Tbilisi house which in 1899 was baptized as Vernadoon, where writers, poets, artists, editors gathered rendering it a hearth of Armenian culture. Writers Ghazaros Aghayan, Avedik Issahakian, Levon Shant, Derenik Temirjian and others have been permanent guests. In the 1930s, Toumanian’s descendants had turned over the house to the government of Soviet Georgia, including a valuable research library. After taking over that cultural sanctuary the Soviet government of Georgia had put it to “good use” by converting it to a macaroni storage. And today, the democratic government of Georgia has put the facility for sale and the buyer is a Turkish-Georgian company, which intends to convert it into a hostel for Turkish guest laborers. Armenians in Armenia and Georgia are appalled and they are trying to salvage that cultural icon.

The third level of pressure is on Javakhk Armenians. Javakhk is a historic Armenian territory that fell into Georgian hands during political upheavals in the region, before the region’s absorption into the Soviet Union. The Russian government maintained a military base in Javakhk. Armenians depended heavily on the base for economic sustenance and for security guarantees. Moscow decided to evacuate the base prematurely, driven by its own political motivation, leaving the Armenian community to the tender mercy of the Georgians.

Javakhk is a depressed economic area. There are no proper roads, living conditions are substandard and the authorities manipulate the situation in such a way that the condition of the Armenians is further aggravated. Political activists like Vahakn Chakhalian are jailed, organizations are banned in this country, which is a darling of the West for its openness and transparency. There is yet another threat hanging over the heads of the Armenians; the Tbilisi government is planning to resettle in Javakhk Turkish Metzkets exiled to Central Asia by Stalin. That will further exacerbate the ethnic tensions in the region, which is the intention of successive Georgian administrations.

Anti-Armenian policies in Javakhk are so strong now that they don’t even allow textbooks from Armenia to be used by Armenian students there. What is the Armenian government doing to confront these provocations? Unfortunately, Yerevan’s hands are tied; first, Armenia does not wish to jeopardize its access to the outside world through Georgia. And then, the leaders in Armenia remember that history repeats itself. We are at a political juncture where we were during the first independent republic (1918-20). Armenia cannot confront its hostile neighbors on three sides.

Recently, Minister of Culture Hasmik Poghosian gave an interview citing all these problems and highlighting the importance of Georgian-Armenian relations. She has dispatched a commission to study the situation in Georgia and seek solutions. That very much outlines the position of the government, which soft-pedals all relations with Georgia. Following the visits of Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian and even President Serge Sargisian, similar pronouncements were made. A deceptive formula is being promoted to hide the intentions and grievances of both sides that there are no problems between the two countries that cannot be solved.
We need to be aware, however, that not only are the issues not being solved, but that Georgia is able to easily apply more pressure to keep up its chokehold, its political fig leaf not withstanding.

Source: http://www.mirrorspectator.com/2012/01/26/commentary-georgias-chokehold-on-armenia-reaches-critical-level/

Georgia Warns Against ‘Offensive’ Russian Exercise

Russia’s South Strategic Command is planning the exercise ‘Caucasus 2012’ in September. Foreign military attaches were briefed about the exercise at a meeting in Moscow last December with the head of the Russian military’s chief of staff. It will involve not only army but also border guards, air force, interior ministry, security and emergency services, as well as what is called the Air Defense Force Management System.

This air defense system controls not only Russian skies but also covers the South Caucasus, justified by the need to protect the Russian base in Armenia, Nezavisimaia Gazeta reports. According to Russian defense sources, unlike in previous exercised, this year it will also take place inside Georgia’s breakaway regions, Abkhazia and the South Ossetia, as well as in Armenia. Georgia’s Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday that the exercise is offensive in nature and a provocation meant to stoke ‘permanent tension’ in Georgia and the Black Sea region.

“The international community should pay attention to the fact that the Russian foreign policy is not changed. It continues aggressive actions, including demonstrating military forces and provocations. Russia is the source of destabilization and negative events on the international arena,” the statement says. But Nezavisimaia Gazeta reports that the background for the exercise is increased tension in the Persian Gulf and the danger of a U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran and that this would necessitate steps to protect the Russian troops stationed around the Caucasus region.

Source: http://dfwatch.net/georgia-warns-against-%E2%80%98offensive%E2%80%99-russian-exercise-9424

Prospects of a Putin Comeback


Azerbaijan has decided to have war games on the Nagorno Karabagh borders. Turkey has joined the same games on Armenia’s borders. They both have planned to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Khojaly “genocide” with many provocative manifestations. In Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the state-sponsored demonstrations were headed by Turkey’s interior minister. At the same demonstrations, the ultra-nationalist group, the Grey Wolves, hoisted banners with these threatening slogans: “Today in Taksim, Tomorrow in Yerevan.” Of course a full-page ad in the New York Times “commemorating” the Khojaly incident intended to bring the war drumbeat to the US shores. Oil money can buy anything but the truth.

Why all of a sudden is this war-mongering orchestrated by a country whose foreign minister was claiming that he had reduced Turkey’s problems with its neighbors to zero? Furthermore, aggravating the situation is Israel’s saber rattling against Iran, rendering the entire region to a powder keg. Within the context of war rhetoric and the rising tensions, Armenia has to consider its security arrangements. Armenians have shed too much blood to give any credence to lofty slogans, which the West is showering over the region, under the umbrella of nuclear warheads.

Many people had been questioning the wisdom of extending Armenia’s security arrangement with Russia to another 49 years. Even some politicians in Armenia had joined that chorus. Today the significance of the Russian base in Armenia comes through more vividly. Russia may not exercise the best brand of democracy as far as the West is concerned. That it has the nuclear deterrent to keep Armenia’s enemies at bay is the difference between life and death for our beleaguered ancestral land.

March 4 is a crucial date for Russia and its allies, because the presidential elections will take place in that country then. Vladimir Putin is the front-runner in those elections much to the chagrin of the West. In fact, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cold War has not ended. It still continues, admittedly at a lower intensity. Former President Boris Yeltsin was the darling of the West who was in the perfect position to keep Russia in disarray. That is why President Bill Clinton supported him and befriended him to forestall or delay Russia’s return to the world political scene.

Enter President Putin. Under his leadership, Russia shaped up to assume its former role, although not with full potential. The two-million-strong Armenian community in Russia, goaded with a sense of security, has rallied around the Putin candidacy. Both lay and religious organizations have mobilized their forces in support of Putin, because they see in him the guarantee of a strong hand to keep Russia’s social and economic life in order.

Unfortunately, the economic upheaval and the political about-face in Russia in the past two decades, has given a freehand to the rise of fascists, neo-Nazis, extreme right groups and skinheads, who have descended on those from the Caucasus, harassing and even murdering them. Armenians are also ranked alongside those “undesirable” minorities be targeted for murder. Putin’s strong-arm policies will keep those gangs in check.

The Russian-Armenian community is the strongest economic resource for Armenia. That community tops all other communities in making cash remittances to families and friends in Armenia. Putin himself has engineered many investment and joint economic projects for Armenia. He is a proven hand, which does not have an alternative for the Armenians. Russia extended $500 million to Armenia to weather the recent economic crisis.

In a simplistic view, no US citizen should wish a competing power to rise to challenge US policies around the world. But throughout the Cold War, a bi-polar political system has kept the world in balance, unfortunately, through a balance of terror. But ever since the crumbling of the Soviet Union and the creation of a uni-polar system, many countries have fallen victim to so-called “democratization” and the trend continues.

Our Mid-East foreign policy, to no one’s surprise, is not formulated at Foggy Bottom. It was hijacked leading to the Iraq war, where blood is still spilling, and “democracy,” the stated goal of the neo-conservatives behind the scenes of the Bush II administration, is no closer than when Saddam Hussein ruled with impunity. It was hijacked to destroy a sovereign country like Libya and the drum beat is continuing to launch an aggression against Syria. Russia and China voted at the UN Security Council against an invasion of Syria, infuriating parties eager to bring regime changes in the Middle East for their own selfish needs, at the cost of US tax payers and the blood of uniformed citizens.

There is no doubt that democracy is not a quality peddled — or valued — by the Assad clan in Syria. The killing of innocent civilians is deplorable. However, those who want to topple the regime, do so not to bring democracy there, but to put on the throne their puppet. As seen in Egypt and Libya, when the powerful leader is toppled, the ensuing chaos claims even more lives. The US is not a beneficiary of those wars, for which it pays the price. It only wins more enemies. March 4 will prove to be a watershed for Russia where traditionally strong leadership is favored. It will be a watershed for Armenia too and hopefully will induce some balance in the world politics run berserk.

Source: http://www.armenianlife.com/2012/03/01/commentary-prospects-of-a-putin-comeback/