CSTO emerging as an alternative to NATO


Nearly two decades after it was formed, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a seven-member regional security bloc led by Russia, is rapidly expanding its profile in the evolving global security architecture and is emerging as an alternative to counter the designs of the US and NATO in the Central Asian region.


The pressure from the NATO and the US on the former Soviet Central Asian republics is spiking tensions in the extended region, including Afghanistan, Iran and the Middle East. The NATO’s manoeuvres, under the garb of advancing democratic values and freedoms, has made the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military-political regional security bloc led by Russia, all the more important in countering common threats and in influencing the evolution of the global security architecture.


The CSTO was signed into force on May 15, 1992 during a volatile period of speedy changes and transformation of the security architecture in the Eurasian area. The seven-member regional security bloc includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia and the four former Soviet Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The CSTO seeks to jointly combat drug-trafficking, terrorism, and organised crime, with its member states pledging to provide immediate military assistance to each other in the event of an attack.


In the 1990s, Russia, which played a leading role in uniting the seven former Soviet republics under the CSTO, was already feeling the threat of the NATO’s eastward expansion close to its borders and the planned deployment by the US of the national missile shield in East Europe. In fact, Moscow has long considered the Central Asian countries as Russia’s sphere of influence and has viewed with alarm Washington’s rising military profile in the region, especially since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan.


The NATO’s eastward expansion and the US’ missile shield plan in East Europe compelled the CSTO to create a Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF)  for deployment in Central Asia. The agreement on the CRRF was signed on June 14, 2009 which aimed at repelling aggression, carrying out special operation and fighting terrorism. The CRRF is also responsible for responding to emergency situations and providing emergency humanitarian assistance, reinforcing armed forces covering national borders and guarding member-states’ public and military facilities, and resolving challenges identified by the CSTO’s Collective Security Council.


“The Collective Rapid Reaction Force will be well-equipped and will operate just as well as that of the NATO,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had said after the signing of the agreement on CRRF at the summit of the CSTO head of states in Moscow. “It will be a mobile force designed to respond to any critical developments and not only of military nature. It will be promptly used in case of any urgent necessity upon the authorisation of the Collective Security Council of the CSTO,” he said.


The CRRF, permanently based in Russia, is placed under a single command, with the CSTO member-states contributing special military units. It is formed on the basis of Russia’s 98th Airborne Division and the 31st Airborne Assault Brigade. In its efforts to emerge as an alternative to the NATO, the CSTO  also signed an agreement with the UN  for creating a peacekeeping force in 2009. The member-states are in the process of forming a peace-making contingent for operations both on the territory of the CSTO member-states and, whenever necessary, beyond their boundaries on the strength of a UN mandate.


In another important development, at their top-level summit meeting in the Kremlin on December 20 in Moscow, the CSTO leaders unanimously agreed that countries outside the regional security bloc will only be able to establish military bases on the territory of a member-state with the consent of all members.


“In order to deploy military bases of a third country in the territory of the CSTO member-states, it is necessary to obtain the official consent of all its members,” Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on the 20th anniversary of the Collective Security Agreement and the 10th anniversary of the CSTO.  “The decision we have made with regard to military bases of a third country is very important for the consolidation of positions within the CSTO,” Medvedev said, stressing the decision was supported unanimously by all the seven member-states of CSTO. At the Moscow summit, more than three dozen items on the agenda were devoted to a greater degree of systematisation of activities within the CSTO and increasing its weight in the international arena, wrote Rossiskaya Gazeta.


“One of our main goals is to show in the international arena that our organization is a real, effective and capable of making a contribution to strengthening regional security, that is, in the CSTO responsibility zone and international security,” Russia’s envoy to the CSTO Igor Lyakin-Frolov said. “This is one of the key measures worked out by Moscow for turning the CSTO from a ‘decorative structure’ into a ‘fully fledged military-political bloc,’ whose members take into account not only their own financial benefit, but also the interests of the partners,” leading Russian business daily Kommersant said.


The new agreement on foreign military bases on the territory of the CSTO gives Russia an opportunity to prevent the deployment of the US airbases in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, the newspaper noted.


The tightening of rules for opening extra-regional military bases apparently does not apply to existing facilities, such as the US transit centre in Kyrgyzstan, a German air transit facility in Uzbekistan and French military aircraft based in Tajikistan.


However, the CSTO’s decision on foreign military bases assumes importance in view of Washington’s reported plans to redeploy to Central Asian countries some of the forces that will be pulled out of Afghanistan in 2014. When asked what will happen now with the US military airbase at Manas in Kyrgyzstan, CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha said on the sidelines of the summit that the Kyrgyz leadership should take a decision on the issue.


Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev has repeatedly called for the closure of the Manas airbase when the current agreement expires in 2014.


The CSTO partners also demonstrated their solidarity with Russia by condemning the unilateral deployment of strategic missile defence systems in East Europe.


“The unilateral deployment of strategic missile defence systems by one state or a group of states without due account for the lawful interests of other countries and without extending legally-binding guarantees to the latter may damage international security and strategic stability in Europe and the world as a whole,” the CSTO leaders said in a statement.


The Russian government has long opposed the NATO’s controversial plan of deploying the missile defence system in East Europe, arguing that the system in its “backyard” is not to secure Washington’s European allies but is effectively aimed at Russia.


Moscow has also called for sharing control of any missile system, saying the aim of the so-called shield is to encircle Russia. Washington, however, refuses to share the missile shield control with any third party.


The US and the NATO have also refused to sign a written guarantee requested by Russia, assuring that their system does not target Moscow.


The CSTO leaders at the summit also criticised the “growing trend for the force interference in crisis situations” by third countries. Neither Libya nor Syria was mentioned, but everybody understood which “crisis situations” were meant by the leaders of the CSTO member-states.


Recently, Russia has also been pushing for an equal and indivisible global security agreement with the participation of CSTO and NATO. “Both the European security system represented by NATO and the post-Soviet security system represented by the CSTO are facing the same problems,” said Bordyuzha at the Global Policy Forum in Yaroslaval (Russia). “The EU and NATO are trying to influence the situation in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Arab countries,” he said. Commenting on the need for a single global security, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on December 26: “We have been developing the interaction with the NATO despite the remaining difficulties.” “Our dialogue with NATO centered on creating an equal and indivisible security architecture in the Euro-Atlantic region. We will attain a qualitatively new level of partnership if we settle the matter taking mutual interests into account,” he said.


Although the CSTO’s key goal still remains to collectively assure military security, since 2005-2006, there has been a tendency to transform the CSTO into a multifunctional organization aimed at ensuring collective security through cooperation in various fields, besides the military one, as well as at countering the combined symmetric and asymmetric threats. It is obvious that by becoming engaged in more constructive cooperation with the UN, European security structures, CIS, SCO, EurAsEC, as well as building its own peacekeeping forces and Collective Rapid Reaction Force, the CSTO has already crossed the threshold to emerge as an important player in the construction of the new global security architecture. This is reflected in the evolving cooperation of the CSTO with the UN and by making it a “worthy competitor to NATO,” as Medvedev vowed in 2009.


On November 29, ahead of the CSTO summit in Moscow in December, in the presence of Medvedev, a new radar station capable of monitoring missile launches from the North Atlantic, as well as the future European missile defence system, was put into operation in Russia’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.


On December 1, the radar station officially became part of the national missile early warning system, which is capable of monitoring simultaneously up to 500 targets at a distance of up to 6,000 kilometers. “I hope this station will operate well and fulfill the tasks at hand,” Medvedev told the station command. The launch of a new anti-missile radar station in Kaliningrad should be treated by the West as the “first signal” of Russia’s readiness to counter “threats” posed by the NATO’s missile defence plans, Medvedev warned.


Dadan Upadhyay is a senior Indian journalist based in Moscow.

Enter Russia as tension rises

Enter Russia as tension rises

hurriyet daily news

The political fault line along the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria, from Hindi Kush Mountains in Central Asia to the salty waters of the Mediterranean, started to crack earlier than expected as triggered by the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

The day before we were talking about the U.S.-Taliban talks in Afghanistan that led to the reaction of Afghan President Hamid Karzai because of being left out. Since then an awful video was leaked to media showing four American soldiers urinating like barbarian on the dead bodies of supposedly Taliban militants.

The statement made by the Taliban in a few hours’ time in an extremely cold-blooded fashion saying that the video would not damage the talks – despite the prejudgments the other way around – underlined a few factors:

1) Taliban is focused on cutting a deal with Americans and assessed that the video was leaked by those who are against such an agreement; not necessarily Karzai, could be anyone else.

2) The deal they want to cut with Americans is to claim ownership on Afghanistan as soon as possible, since Obama wants to wash his hands out of the rough geography since the elimination of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year. And

3) Knowing the political dynamics of the region, the Taliban assessed the fragility of the situation in Pakistan so does not want to be squeezed in between in the power struggle there.

The day before yesterday we were also talking about the radical political consequences in Pakistan following the ultimatum of the Army led by Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani; the probabilities include a military takeover of the government. Yesterday President Asif Ali Zerdari left his country “for a scheduled trip” amid rumors the U.S. applies pressure on the Army in order not to topple the government.

But will the Pakistani Army listen to the U.S.? That is another matter, since the main focus of the Americans in the region is Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s neighbor Iran.

Following the assassination of a nuclear scientist working in Iran’s program for which the Israeli Army spokesperson “shed no tears,” the tension around Iran increased further. The U.S. Navy sent another ship to the Hormuz Strait area, which is the passage for more than one third of the world’s oil exports, amid increased demands for more sanctions on Iran.

It was not a very good day for Washington regarding its sanction demands. The European Union demanded some more time to make its mind up, which in practice means playing with time, and Turkey said clearly that Ankara would only implement United Nations Security Council resolutions on sanctions, which are not very likely to come since China openly objected to it.

And enter Russia… Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev’s interview with Kommersant was something bold, warning the U.S. to avoid a military intervention in Iran, which Israel opts for the opposite. Moscow also warned NATO countries on Syria, including its neighbor Turkey, about a military intervention.
In response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry revealed Turkish Navy intelligence showing that the Russian ship reportedly carrying ammunition and which had been released by the Greek Cypriots the day before on the promise that it would not go to Syria, actually did go to the Syrian port of Latakia where the Russian fleet had a support visit last week. We might have more to see as the tension rises.

Rent-a-Mob Protests in Central Asia

Rent-a-Mob Protests in Central Asia

Journal of Turkish Weekly

When angry citizens take to the streets in Kyrgyzstan, not all of them are there out of conviction – some may be “activists for hire”, part of a band of people prepared to express public outrage in return for some kind of remuneration.

More often than not, they are women recruited as a cheap way of filling out crowd numbers, and perhaps reducing the likelihood that the police will storm in, batons flailing, as they would do if demonstrators were predominantly male.

In neighbouring Uzbekistan, meanwhile, major public protests are non-existent, and the state uses rent-a-mob tactics for a more ominous purpose. In order to discredit and assault dissidents, it hires women to set on them in the role of outraged citizens unconnected with the state. According to sources IWPR talked to in the country, it is standard practice to coerce civilians into committing acts of intimidation and violence.

IWPR interviews with hired “activists”, police and commentators in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan reveal that hiring female labour is an effective way of creating a stir, at little cost and at arm’s length. Despite considerable differences in the way such women are deployed in the two states, they are typically from marginalised groups and in need of an income.


In Kyrgyzstan, political groups began actively recruiting women as protest participants some years ago, in the belief their presence on the streets could help defuse confrontations with the security forces.

Women played a key role in protests in the southern town of Aksy in 2002, turning out in the altruistic hope that this would offer some protection to their male relatives and neighbours who were taking part. In the event, this did not happen, and police killed six of the protesters.

Many more protests ensued, often against President Askar Akaev until he was ousted in 2005, and then against his successor Kurmanbek Bakiev, forced out in 2010.

These days, the motives of protest participants of either sex are often less clear. According to Pavel Dyatlenko of the think tank Polis Asia, rent-a-mob schemes have become widespread.

The phenomenon of hiring female protesters is so common that they have acquired the jocular collective nickname OBON – “special-assignment female units” – by analogy with the OMON riot police.

Selecting women for the role may be a calculated move to play on the perception that since “their place is in the home” in this male-dominated society, they must be resorting to protest out of genuine desperation.

In contrast to Uzbekistan, women are less likely to be employed as provocateurs in Kyrgyzstan than as general campaigners for some kind of political cause. And because the political climate is less rigidly authoritarian than in Uzbekistan, the cause may be either pro- or anti-government, depending on who is paying.

The OBON phenomenon has gained such notoriety that politician Ravshan Sabirov raised it in the Kyrgyz parliament in November, calling for such mercenary action to be punishable by law.

According to the Knews.kg news site, Justice Minister Abylay Muhamedjanov said in response that it would be hard to include a ban on something called “OBON” in the bill on freedom of assembly then before parliament, and suggested the wording should be “destructive forces”.

In the capital Bishkek, protest participants are often drawn from the shanty towns created by incomers from the countryside who are desperate for work and easily manipulated.

The principal incentive is either straight cash or an in-kind reward such as the offer of a good job later on.

The private TV station Channel 5 in Kyrgyzstan last year reported that the informal pay scale for this kind of activity ranged from 11 to 22 dollars a day for taking part in a demonstration; 44 dollars a day for recruiting and managing ten demonstrators, rising to 500 dollars a day for doing the same with a crowd of 1,000; 22 to 33 dollars for a day’s heckling and 66 dollars for more serious troublemaking. The fee for hunger strikers was negotiable. Experts say these approximate rates still apply.

Despite this, many of the women interviewed for this report played down the monetary aspect, suggesting that they were motivated by support for a politician from their clan or region.

At the same time, they were clear that they expected favours or payment in return. And once they got started, just having a steady source of income often obscured any higher motive.

Salkynay, a 40-year-old divorced mother of two from the northern town of Karabalta, told IWPR how she got involved with a political party campaigning for the October 2010 parliamentary election.

A neighbour offered her work distributing leaflets and recruiting new members from her network of friends, and she was then given her own assignment – to attend a public meeting held by a rival candidate and attempt to derail his performance by heckling him.

“I got 500 soms [around 11 US dollars] for bombarding him with difficult questions,” she said, admitting that on this first outing, she had to read from a script while other hecklers had their questions off pat.

Salkynay acknowledges that money was uppermost in her mind, but says she was also happy to be supporting her local member of parliament, who had built a playground and helped pensioners. She would have campaigned for any of the parties, though perhaps not with the same degree of enthusiasm, she said.

The election campaign earned Salkynay just over 200 dollars in the space of a month – more than the average wage, and twice what she used to earn in casual jobs as a market trader or restaurant dishwasher.

Salkynay said the political party agents who hired people like her knew what they were doing, and sized each new recruit up to calculate just how little they needed to pay them.

“They know who these people are and how they live,” she said. “Depending on their financial situation, they can offer them 500 soms, and top that up if necessary.”

Given the army of unemployed, she added, there was no shortage of people willing to spend a couple of hours standing in some square as part of a demonstration, for which they would earn as much as for a full day’s work.


Those who join protest movements for purely mercenary aims attract a lot of criticism.

A local government official in southern Kyrgyzstan told IWPR about one woman who he said had worked for opposing political sides, all for money.

“Against Bakiev, for Bakiev, in support of the opposition, against the opposition,” he said.

IWPR spoke to the former activist herself, who said she was just “a woman who is always fighting for justice” and had turned against Bakiev only when he proved to be no better than his predecessor Akaev, against whom she also protested until he was ousted in 2005.

She insisted she never got any remuneration, saying, “I never took part in a rally for money, or for anything else.”

Salima, 60, from outside the capital Bishkek, used to be a regular participant in demonstrations in support of a political figure who fell out with the government about ten years ago. Although she was paid for mobilising and participating in protests at the time, she said she was a committed supporter of the politician, since she was from the same region as him.

In the end, she gave it up later, because the politician failed to deliver when she approached him and asked him to secure a good job for her daughter.

“Now I see women my age taking part in rallies, and I want to tell them that no politician is worth all that time and effort,” she said.


Many rights activists believed that the OBON idea in Kyrgyzstan was borrowed from Uzbekistan, and then modified to suit the different circumstances there.

In Uzbekistan, where the police state has a monopoly on political activity, rent-a-crowd tactics are used for more sinister aims.

For at least a decade, the uniformed police and the National Security Service, SNB, have been coercing women to harass and assault dissidents and disrupt demonstrations. They commonly use prisoners released on probation, others with a criminal record, sex workers, or market traders – all groups that live in fear of the police, and can therefore be pressured into carrying out their will.

For the security services, the advantage of using proxies is that they can dissociate themselves from the use of physical violence.

Yelena Urlaeva, head of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, has been on the receiving end of such attacks more than once. Six years ago, she travelled to the western city of Bukhara to attend the trial of dissident poet Yusuf Juma.

“As soon as I got off the train, a group of women attacked me with steel bars and sticks, shouting at me and demanding that I leave,” she recalled.

In April 2011, Urlaeva’s house was broken into by another group of women, after she and her colleagues were interviewed in the Russian media.

An SNB officer confirmed that it was official policy to recruit and deploy groups of women.

“It isn’t a new practice – it was employed in the Soviet era, and it was pretty effective,” he told IWR on condition of anonymity. “At the beginning of the 2000s, it was decided to revive it, as it was becoming difficult to use force to crush protests and rallies held by rights activists and other disgruntled people. With western journalists always present in the country, brutal treatment of protesters would be reported immediately. When the ‘women’s battalions were used, there could be no reproaches against the police or the authorities – it was as if people, women were unhappy with the protesters and were taking a stand.”

According to the SNB officer, the police will put together a “women’s battalion” and set its civilian members on an individual human rights defender, or on a group of activists.

“There are about 30 women in such groups. Each of them is put together to perform a particular task. If someone has to be beaten up, it will be well-built young women aged 20-25,” he said, adding that older women would be called on if threats and intimidation were all that was required.

Muhabat, a sex worker in the capital Tashkent, was forced to take part in organised attacks after police put pressure on her.

She says she and other prostitutes had been paying off local police, but were then visited by a senior officer who told them they were now on a list of police agents tasked with combating “enemies of the people” whenever required to do so.

Their first job was to break up a protest outside the prosecutor’s office in Tashkent’s Chorsu district, where several dozen residents were trying to get the demolition of their homes halted.

“We were instructed to mostly attack the men, to bite them and provoke them into hitting back so that they could be arrested for beating up women. We were told to hurl insults at them and tear at their clothing. The instructions were to hit men in the face or kick them in the groin and pull women by the hair where possible,” she said.

Nargiz, a market trader in Tashkent, was swept up with a group accused of failing to issue receipts, during a police raid to stop tax evasion. They were given a simple choice – cooperate with the police or face punishment, and Nargiz agreed to the former.

“Two hours before being sent out to disperse a protest, we were issued our instructions and given sticks to beat up the rights activists. For each action, we got paid 50,000 soms [25 US dollars], plus assurances that we could continue trading at the Kuyluk market unhindered,” she said. “Sometimes we didn’t get paid anything, and instead we were threatened with trouble.”

Nargiz said she used to be called up two or three times a month, but nowadays it was less frequent. This ties in with the accounts of both Urlaeva and the SNB officer, who said the use of these special “female units” had tailed off in recent years.

“It used to be widespread. Such units still exist, but they aren’t sent into action as often as before,” the security officer said.

The reasons for this have more to do with the fact that there are so few active dissidents and human rights activists left in Uzbekistan, rather than a shift to more liberal attitudes. After the 2005 shooting of hundreds of civilians in Andijan, rights defenders and independent journalists were arrested or fled the country.

In parallel, foreign reporters and human rights monitors were expelled or forced out of Uzbekistan, so the kind of scrutiny the SNB officer spoke about was less of a problem for the security services.

In Kazakstan, using women as an arm’s-length way of meting out state-sanctioned violence is rarer. One case occurred in June 2011 in the western town of Janaozen, when striking oil workers and their wives were detained for several hours. The incident began when a woman approached their demonstration and began insulting and assaulting them.

As is common practice in neighbouring Uzbekistan, the Kazak police waded in and detained the victims of the attack, not the perpetrator. Police later told journalists that the woman had filed a complaint against the demonstrators.

In Kyrgyzstan, the consensus view is that OBON-type activities will continue as long as there are people willing to do anything for money – in other words, as long as the economy remains in severe depression.

Dinara Oshurakhunova, head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, says she does not blame the women who allow themselves to be recruited. But she is scathing about those with the money and will to “exploit the knowledge that these people are prepared to come out for a rally because they need to feed their families”.

The names of some interviewees have been changed to protect their identities.

Alexander Kim reports for the Kloop.kg website from Osh. Asyl Osmonalieva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek. Inga Sikorskaya is IWPR senior editor for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Bakhtiyor Rasulov is a pseudonym for a journalist in Tashkent.

Friday, 13 January 2012


NATO Snipers Turned the Tide Against Gaddafi In Tripoli

NATO used its forces to the maximum to take Tripoli

Sergei Balmasov

NATO used its forces to the maximum to take Tripoli. 46367.jpeg

Italy’s L’Espresso daily publication wrote that NATO’s special forces played the key role when taking Tripoli, the capital of Libya. A participant of the operation shared his impressions with the publication. According to the author of the article, the man, whose story the newspaper published, was struggling with the butchers of Muammar Gaddafi, foreign snipers and killers, who had come to Libya from all over the world. According to him, all of them came to Tripoli to make money by aiming their guns at rebellious people.

The man, who introduced himself as a member of the Italian special forces, said that the secret weapon had been aimed against inexperienced rebels for months. “Those snipers stopped the first groups of the rebels, who entered the Libyan capital,” the man said.

The author of the article admitted that bombs and missiles were useless against them. The residents of Tripoli did not struggle with them to avoid massacre in return. “There was only one way to remove them – to challenge them to a duel: a shooter vs. a shooter. This is exactly what NATO did. They gathered best snipers of the alliance under the conditions of extreme secrecy and brought them to Libya to get rid of the regime there. It was their weapons that contributed most to the fall of the dictatorship. It was them who opened the road for the rebellion. There were Italian servicemen among them too,” the article said.

L’Espresso published the story told by Ale – a serviceman of the special forces of the Italian navy, who supposedly took part in the taking of Tripoli. According to the author of the article, Ale and his partners were working in the south-east of Tripoli. The men were equipped with Ar 15 guns with silencers of the new generation and state-of-the-art sniper rifles for high-precision gunfire for the distance of up to a thousand meters. Their equipment also included comfortable shoes and clothing: body armor with extra protection on the chest, cartridges, containers for water, medications and medical equipment neatly packed in the uniforms, etc.

“When Ale and his men arrived to the front, they took perfect positions. They could control the whole square from the height that they had taken. The snipers had to be removed before daybreak. Ale’s men had already detected two enemy snipers with the help of electronic devices. Ale determined the target and said that he was ready. The enemies were quiet. They would make several shots before changing positions. That was a lethal mistake for them to make. The night was drawing to its end. It was time to move to another bunker of Gaddafi’s supporters to open the door for the revolution wider.”

Stories like these make one think about the real participation of NATO troops in the Libyan war. According to the official information from the alliance, NATO conducted bombings, restricted arms shipments, and assisted in training the forces who were struggling against Gaddafi’s troops.

There is also unofficial information, which was exposed by the British media. According to British publications, Britain, for instance, went far beyond the framework set by the UN. The country supposedly participated in at least restricted operations in which it suffered considerable losses.

The above-mentioned article in the Italian newspaper also said that Ale was a member of the special team in which there was also a French legionary, a Briton from SAS and two US marines. All of them were veterans, whose skills were far better than that of Gaddafi’s mercenaries.

According to the author, the use of those snipers became a critical element like a nuclear bomb in 1945, which changed the course of the conflict.

NATO sources said that there were as many as 4,000 US marines deployed near the Libyan shores during the operation. White House officials say that those marines did not take part in the Libyan “revolution.” Was it really so?

It is worthy of note that there were reports saying that Gaddafi’s soldiers downed helicopters with NATO commandos on board. It was also reported that the Libyan army had captured European mercenaries during the standoff.

The West uses professionals against unwanted regimes. However, the above-mentioned stories also mean that the West is ready to use its pros against other regimes as well – in Syria, Iran, etc. Foreign special services reportedly continue to sound out the possibilities for the Libyan scenario to repeat in Syria. There are also reports saying that mysterious snipers attack demonstrators and policemen to provoke armed clashes. Will Teheran and Damascus be able to set anything against mercenaries and commandoes who are capable of changing the course of any conflict?

Uzbek People, Tajiks and Kyrgyz In the Cold But Uzbek Gas Starts Flowing To China In April

[SEE: Uzbekistan: “On the 20th anniversary of independence, we were left without gas and light” ; Uzbekistan: Residents of the Fergana region advised to stock up with firewood and charcoal]

Uzbekistan to start gas supplies to China in April: report

Moscow (Platts)

Uzbekistan’s state-owned pipeline operator Uztransgaz is to start gas supplies to China via the Central Asia-China pipeline in April, Russian news agency Prime reported Friday, citing a source in Uztransgaz.

The source didn’t provide information on supply volumes in 2012, adding that the supplies are in line with a gas contract between the two countries signed in the fourth quarter of 2010.

A spokeswoman for Uztransgaz declined to comment on the issue when contacted by Platts for confirmation of the report.

“I am not saying the information is incorrect. However, we cannot comment on it. We do not comment on details of our contract agreements,” she said.

The spokeswoman confirmed that gas supplies will be in line with a contract between Uzbekistan and China signed in late 2011.

In June 2010, Tashkent and Beijing signed a framework agreement, under which state-owned oil and gas producer Uzbekneftegaz is to supply 10 billion cu m/year of natural gas to China’s CNPC, according to CNPC’s website.

CNPC didn’t reveal supply volumes and the timeframe of the contract. –Dina Khrennikova, dina_khrennikova@platts.com

We all pay for Middle-East posturing

We all pay for Middle-East posturing

by Vu Thu Ha

Viet Nam News

A series of showdowns between the West and Iran over its nuclear programme is darkening the already-gloomy picture in the Middle East. Pessimists predict a more stormy time ahead, with the worst scenario being war. If this happens, make no mistake, it will be a disaster not only for the countries involved, but also for the region and the whole world.

The latest trouble began with decisions to impose tougher sanctions on Iran by the United States and European countries which have targeted Iran’s petrochemical industry, its oil exporting business and the activities of its central bank. As tension flared, the US concluded billion-dollar weapon deals to Iran’s regional rival, Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Iran responded with a 10-day naval drill in the Strait of Hormuz, from where most of its oil is shipped, and is planning more. In the latest escalation, Iran annouced that it was expanding uranium-enrichment activities to an underground site. Then, it sentenced an American to death for spying and then accused Israel and Western powers of killing one of its nuclear scientists.

In the war of words, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if the West imposed sanctions on its oil exports. The strait is only 50km wide but its waters carry the vessels transporting 40 per cent of world oil trade.

This tit-for-tat game between the two sides is nothing new. Analysts believe the major players are following their own clear-cut scenarios behind the words and tension they seem to enjoy fanning.

The whole world, including Viet Nam, is caught up in one way or another in the endless pushing and shoving in the Middle East. Colonel Le The Mau, a senior official with the Ministry of Defence’s Military Strategy Institute and foreign affairs commentator, said that once again, the US had tried to spark public panic based on unsubstantiated claims of nuclear weapons.

He said this was done to “generate a large-scale propaganda campaign to create preconditions for tougher actions against Iran”. Colonel Mau said all options were on the table, including military intervention. According to Mau, one of the US’s ultimate goals is to overthrow the current Iran administration for an explicit reason: the US simply cannot tolerate a nation that aspires to become the predominant regional power while being very hostile to America.

As the US has completed troop withdrawals from Iraq – and plan to do the same in Afghanistan by 2014 – the threat of an emerging Iran has become much more pressing. “Opposition to Iran’s nuclear weapon ambition is, after all, a US-directed drama,” Mau said.

One cannot help recalling 2002, when the George W Bush administration prepared to wage the war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Then there was the Greater Middle East project unveiled a year later – a plan said to serve the US’s ambition of strengthening its grip on oil and seek regime change in anti-American governments in the region.

Look at what has been happening during the so-called Arab Spring. After Libya, the US and its allies seem to be applying the same Libyan scenario to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s key regional ally. But, Mau said, this tactic is facing difficulties because of the close alliance between the two countries. “So raising the tension in Iran at this time is like killing two birds with one stone,” he added.

Meanwhile Iran’s leaders also have strong reasons to continue the escalation. The fact that Iran superseded the West’s strong rhetoric with even tougher rhetoric may lie in a belief that at the time of widespread economic turbulence, the US and its EU allies cannot afford another military conflict.

Stricter economic sanctions against Iran, the second-largest oil producer in OPEC, also means increasing the burden not only to debt-ridden EU economies but also many other key US allies around the world.

As the tension increases, oil has risen to above $113 a barrel (as of Tuesday, January 10) which is good news for Iran, whose economic health depends much on the price of oil and gas. Indeed, the US and Iran may actually share the same philosophy for nurturing the current tension. The leaders of both nations face a troublesome economy, a discontented public and, more importantly, upcoming elections.

In an interview with Russia Today on television, Pierre Guerlain, professor of political science at Paris West University Nanterre La Defense, said he believed the current stand-off was driven by “leaders who are facing elections”. He said acting tough was good for Obama, who has been accused by the Republicans of being soft on Iran. Similarly, being opposed to the US is good for Iranian leaders who themselves are fighting difficulties at home. It is “a game where everyone is trying to benefit from the opposition of the other”, Guerlain said.

Some experts say a war is not very likely at this politically sensitive time for both sides. But there is always a chance for miscalculations in the heated confrontation, for example, if Iran closes the Strait of Homuz because it cannot bear the economic agony of new sanctions.

And if the worst scenario really happens, the world would be faced with a lose-lose situation, long before an imagined threat by Iran’s nuclear weapons. A military clash between Iran and the US in the Persian Gulf, whether big or small, would rapidly engulf the already-divided Middle East and spread to the further world, where Iran has both foes and allies.

And, any attack on Iran would be seen as an attack on Islam, especially by extremists. This could arouse forces close to Iran, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, to attack Israel, which has always been viewed as having a strong hand behind the current mess.

Oil prices would certainly skyrocket. Some experts predict they would climb to more than $200 a barrel. This would be a catastrophe for crisis-ridden economies around the world.

One can only hope that the war talk be given a rest to allow for continued dialogue and flexible policies – for the sake of the world. — VNS

What US can’t accept in Belarus, it supports in Uzbekistan

What US can’t accept in Belarus, it supports in Uzbekistan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov in Tashkent in October 2011. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov in Tashkent in October 2011. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Last week, President Obama signed into law a bill that expands sanctions against Belarus, whose authoritarian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko continues to imprison his opponents and critics. Lukashenko unleashed the latest crackdown hours after the flawed December 2010 presidential vote, which declared him winner of a fourth term. Repression in Belarus is ongoing. Last week, authorities further tightened their grip on the media by restricting access to blacklisted websites. On Monday, a district court in Minsk jailed an independent reporter for filming a one-man protest vigil in front of the KGB headquarters.

The Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011, which Obama signed into law a week ago after its passage through Congress, updates legislation from 2004 and 2006. Its aim is to compel Lukashenko, also known as the last European dictator, to release his jailed opponents and stop repressing the media. Among others provisions, the law expands a ban on issuing U.S. visas to Belarusian officials involved into the crackdown. It requires the U.S. administration to monitor Internet censorship in Belarus, and inform the Congress of any arms sales to the regime.

But whereas the European dictator and his officials are not welcome in the U.S., his Uzbek counterpart, President Islam Karimov, has received stunningly cordial treatment from the Obama administration. A former Communist party leader, Karimov has ruled nonstop, with the help of referendums and rigged elections, since 1989. He personally oversaw the May 2005 massacre in the city of Andijan, and his regime virtuallyannihilated the independent press after it spread the word about those brutalities.

With five reporters imprisoned because of their work, Uzbekistan is the leading jailer of journalists in Eurasia. Until November, the president’s own nephew, journalist Dzhamshid Karimov, was among those locked up. He had languished at a psychiatric facility since September 2006, when authorities abducted him from the street and forcibly hospitalized him without any medical diagnosis or court order.

There are scores of examples to position the Uzbek leader as far more brutal and dictatorial than Lukashenko’s regime. The human rights abuses include forced child labor; arbitrary detentions and torture of detainees; harassment of lawyers and imprisonment of rights defenders; absolute state control over the media and Internet; and eviction of the last international monitor–Human Rights Watch–from its offices in Tashkent. All of these and other issues are listed in the U.S. State Department’s own 2010 Human Rights report for Uzbekistan, which brands the country as “an authoritarian state.”

Yet, in September, Karimov received a warm phone call from Obama, and heard appraisal on his “progress” in human rights from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her October visit to Tashkent. Also last year, the U.S. Congress removed what was left of the 2004 arms embargo imposed against Uzbekistan in connection with its grave human rights record. The Pentagon is planning to hand over used military equipment to the Uzbek regime, the independent news website EurasiaNet reported in December. Karimov’s regime is also getting a raise from the Pentagon for providing “logistical, military, and other support” to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, EurasiaNet said Tuesday.

It’s no secret that Uzbekistan’s proximity to Afghanistan, and the heavy use of its territory as a land supply route for American troops there, are the main reason behind Obama’s policy toward Karimov. Since Osama bin Laden’s killing by U.S. special forces and the bombing of Pakistani soldiers by American drones in 2011, Pakistan has virtually shut the ground routes formerly used by the Pentagon, leaving Uzbek territory as its only option for supplying the troops in Afghanistan.

But no geopolitical or military interest should justify any kind of support–be it a phone call or a courtesy handshake–of such a repressive regime. Policymakers and executors in Washington must realize that by dealing with Karimov and equipping his army, they are participating in the repression. They’re helping him to stifle the media and perpetuate abuses. Karimov already showed the world in 2005 what his army and special forces will do with weapons and training received from the West.

The U.S. “has ongoing, serious concerns about the state of human rights in Uzbekistan and raises those concerns with the government of Uzbekistan every chance we get,” Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, told The Daily Beast last month. He said that “human rights in Uzbekistan are going to improve because Uzbekistan determines it is in its own interest to improve them,” The Daily Beastreported.

The administration must understand: even if they scold Karimov on his government’s rights record during private talks, no criticism leaves the negotiations room in a country where all independent media has been silenced. Rather, the state-controlled media tells the Uzbeks that the U.S. is his friend and an ally.

As one of the initiators of the legislation on Belarus, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, said, “With these sanctions we stand with the Belarusian people and against their oppressors,” as Charter 97 reported. Who will stand with the Uzbek people and against its oppressor?