Archive for the 'Georgia' Category



It’s Time To Engage the Caucasus Part III

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 8 months ago

From The Times of India:

The US is now less dependent on Pakistan for supply of cargo for its troops fighting al-Qaida and Taliban  militants in Afghanistan, a Congressional report said today, amid a standoff between Washington and Islamabad over supplies through the country.

The Senate committee report said that only 29% of the total Afghan cargo supply now goes through Pakistan; which about an year ago was nearly 50%.

Islamabad has closed the crucial Nato supply route from Pakistan after the November 26th airstrikes that killed 24 of its soldiers.

“An estimated 40% of all cargo transits the NDN (Northern Distribution Network), 31% is shipped by air, and the remaining 29% goes through Pakistan. An estimated 70% of cargo transiting the NDN enters Afghanistan via Uzbekistan’s Hairaton Gate,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said.

Since 2009, the US has steadily increased traffic on the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a major logistical accomplishment.

According to US Transportation Command, close to 75 per cent of ground sustainment cargo is now shipped via the NDN, it said.

As a result of increasing dependence on NDN for supply of logistics and cargo to its troops in Afghanistan, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee emphasized that there was a need to build relationship with the Central Asia countries.

“Central Asia matters. Its countries are critical to the outcome in Afghanistan and play a vital role in regional stability. As we reassure our partners that our relationships and engagement in Afghanistan will continue after the military transition in 2014, we should underscore that we have long-term strategic interests in the broader region,” Kerry said.

And of course, you heard about the need for this transition here before you heard about it anywhere else.  But there is a catch.  Kerry is right – Central Asia matters, but our lines of logistics now rely exclusively on routes through Central Asia and Russia (whereas I had recommended a logistics line from the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus Strait in Turkey, and from there into the Black Sea.  From the Black Sea the supplies would go through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan.  From here the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan).  The added benefit of such a logistics line would be increased spending, influence and authority in the region, a region heavy in oil and natural gas.

The Caucasus region matters too.  From The Jamestown Foundation:

The “disbalance of interests” (see EDM, December 15), favoring Russia over the United States in the South Caucasus, used to be offset by superior US resources, attractiveness and credibility. But that offset has diminished as US policy turned toward de-prioritizing this region (compared with the earlier level of Washington’s engagement). Lacking a strategy for the South Caucasus, the US has taken a back seat to Russia at least since 2008 in the negotiations on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

Washington had reduced its profile and role on this issue (and on South Caucasus regional security writ large) already during the second term of the Bush administration. It folded the Karabakh conflict portfolio into other portfolios within the State Department; it handled this issue through medium-level diplomats versus Russia’s top leaders; and it separated this issue from US regional strategy, which was itself fading out. Under the Obama administration, the policy drift grew more pronounced, with domestic politics distorting US diplomacy on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

Takeaway point: “Lacking a Strategy.”  Read the whole report.  What other administration could pull off such a feat?  We have transitioned our logistics lines to the North (as I recommended almost three years ago), all the while alienating the Caucasus region in favor of Russian routes.  Meanwhile, while every other nation is preparing to cut and run from Afghanistan, including the U.K., Georgia is literally doubling down on its troop levels in Afghanistan.

What a strange world in which we live.  Georgia is begging to be our ally, assisting us in Afghanistan at their own peril, and we have the chance to increase U.S. authority and presence in the Caucasus, and choose instead to empower Russia.  Again, what other administration could pull off something like this?

It’s Time To Engage the Caucasus

It’s Time To Engage the Caucasus Part II

Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy Part II

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 3 months ago

Iran is attempting to move to higher Uranium enrichment, and Ambassador John Bolton is warning us to get ready for a nuclear Iran.  The CIA has already warned us.  Unless Israel acts unilaterally, the Obama administration will be in the difficult position of trying to explain why so much energy was invested in the prevention of a nuclear Iran, when it was acceptable all along for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon.  In other words, it must explain why containment would have worked all along, thus making fools of those who tried to forestall that otherwise acceptable condition.

In a stark testimony to the fact that the Middle East has no confidence in our stomach for doing whatever is necessary to contain Persian hegemony, Kuwait and France have signed agreements on nuclear cooperation, and Saudi Arabia has established a new national agency to take the lead role in nuclear activities.  These countries do not need commercial nuclear power for purposes of energy infrastructure.  Commercial nuclear power is the first step to having the infrastructure, QA, training and protocols to control a weapons program.  Even the UAE is planning a nuclear site with four reactors.

Iran has made no attempt to hide its lack of fear of U.S. presence in the region.  Iran has been at war with us in Iraq since the inception of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and there are dead U.S. servicemen whose lives were sacrificed to the altar of avoiding the necessity of addressing the regional conflict.  Just recently an Iranian reconnaissance aircraft buzzed the U.S. aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, coming within 1000 yards of the ship.  This kind of aggression has become fairly routine.  During the 2008 deployment of the 26th MEU, an Iranian helicopter all but landed on the deck of the USS Iwo Jima.  The Marines could almost touch it from a standing position on the deck, but no actions were taken.  The Navy refused to allow the Marines to fire on the aircraft.  Iran has made its presence known in the recent Iraqi elections, and Moqtada al Sadr is trying to emerge as a legitimate political power after having been trained in Iran for the last several years.

Things don’t look much better to the North.  In spite of recommendations to seriously engage the Caucasus region, we have snubbed our allies in Georgia (in spite of their having sent the Georgian 31st Infantry Battalion to assist us in Afghanistan)  and most recently it appears that we are losing Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s long-standing alignment with the United States is rapidly unraveling in the wake of Washington’s recent policy initiatives. As perceived from Baku, those US initiatives fly in the face of Azerbaijan’s staunch support over the years to US strategic interests and policies in the South Caucasus-Caspian region.

Current US policies, however, are seen to favor Armenia in the Karabakh conflict resolution negotiations, curry favor with Armenian advocacy groups in domestic US politics, split Turkey and Azerbaijan from one another over the Karabakh issue, isolate Azerbaijan in the region, and pressure Baku into silent acquiescence with these policies.

Key actors in the region tend to share Azerbaijan’s perceptions in this regard. During last week’s nuclear safety summit in Washington, Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, and Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spoke frankly in this regard. They told US interlocutors at every step that the refusal to invite Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, to the summit was a mistake, counterproductive to US interests in the region, and confirming perceptions that Washington was attempting to isolate Baku.

US President, Barack Obama’s, meeting with his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan during the Washington summit (while failing to invite the Azerbaijani president) confirmed perceptions that Armenian issues in US domestic politics distort Washington’s policy on the Karabakh conflict and toward Azerbaijan.

Ankara had cautioned Washington against such moves ever since Erdogan’s December 2009 visit to the US. At least from that point onward, Turkey has closed ranks with Azerbaijan, instead of distancing from it and opening the Turkish-Armenian border promptly and unconditionally at the Obama administration’s urging. The administration insists on de-linking the border opening from the continuing Armenian military occupation of seven districts beyond Karabakh, deep inside Azerbaijan. The administration had, instead, hoped to link the border opening with the April 24 US anniversary of the 1915-1918 Armenian events in Ottoman Turkey.

Washington’s summit miscalculation is the latest in a year-long series of blows to US-Azeri relations. This trend continues amid an apparent US strategic disengagement from the wider region (rationalized as a “strategic pause” to assuage pro-US governments there). In Azerbaijan’s case, Washington seems unable even to fill the long-vacant post of US ambassador in Baku. The vacancy deprives the United States of steady high-level access to Azerbaijan’s leaders (which had never been a problem previously), while making it more difficult for Washington to grasp the crisis in US-Azerbaijan relations and its region-wide implications.

Addressing an April 14 cabinet meeting in front of TV cameras, President Aliyev criticized the US policy of pushing Turkey to open the border with Armenia, despite the latter’s occupation of seven Azeri districts beyond Karabakh. This move pulls the rug from under Azerbaijan’s carefully constructed negotiating position for a stage-by-stage peaceful solution to the conflict. It also seems designed to separate Turkey from Azerbaijan. Accordingly, Aliyev complained about “certain countries that believe that they can meddle in everything…by exerting pressure and blackmailing. This is how we see it. This policy clearly runs against Azerbaijan’s interests, and the Azeri state is taking appropriate steps.”

It isn’t clear if the U.S. policy regarding Azerbaijan is malicious or merely inept.  What is clear is that we are still witnessing the collapse of U.S. foreign policy, a fact both easy and sad to catalog.

Prior: Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy

At Nuclear Summit Obama Snubs an Ally

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

From Jackson Diehl:

Forty-seven world leaders are Barrack Obama’s guests in Washington Tuesday at the nuclear security summit. Obama is holding bilateral meetings with just twelve of them. That’s led to some awkward exclusions — and some unfortunate appearances, as well.

One of those left out was Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, who got a phone call from Obama last week instead of a meeting in Washington. His exclusion must have prompted broad smiles in Moscow, where Saakashvili is considered public enemy no. 1 — a leader whom Russia tried to topple by force in the summer of 2008. After all, Obama met with Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine and a friend of the Kremlin. And he is also meeting with the leaders of two of Georgia’s neighbors — Armenia and Turkey, both of which enjoy excellent relations with Russia.

So is anyone really surprised?  Each passing day of our Caucasus policy makes another Russian invasion of Georgia more likely.  Perhaps Obama’s previous assurances to Georgia ring hollow now?  And perhaps Georgia will rethink sending the Georgian 31st Infantry Battalion, recently deployed to serve alongside the U.S. Marines in the Helmand Province, to assist with the campaign in Afghanistan?

Prior:

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

The Coming War in the Caucasus

Obama, Russia and the Future of Georgia

Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy

Progress on Logistics Through Georgia?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

There are more logistical problems in the Khyber region, just as I predicted two years ago.

Suspected Islamist militants armed with guns and rockets on Monday blew up a tanker carrying fuel through Pakistan for NATO troops based in neighbouring Afghanistan, police said.

Several armed men lobbed a rocket and then opened fire on the supply convoy on the outskirts of Pakistan’s northwestern city Peshawar, senior police officer Imtiaz Ahmed said.

“The attack triggered a huge fire and destroyed one tanker. Its driver escaped unhurt but his helper was wounded,” he said.

In a subsequent exchange of fire lasting up to an hour, Pakistani security forces killed a militant, another police officer Karim Khan said.

Police did not immediately identify the assailants, but the Taliban and members of local militant group Lashkar-e-Islam regularly attack NATO supply vehicles on the main route through northwest Pakistan.

Lashkar-e-Islam is active in the lawless region of Khyber, which is just outside Peshawar and part of Pakistan’s tribal belt snaking along the Afghan border that Washington has branded the headquarters of Al-Qaeda leaders.

About 80 percent of supplies destined for the 121,000 US and NATO troops in landlocked Afghanistan pass through Pakistan.

Khyber_Attack

Are we making any progress on engagement of the Caucasus?

President Mikheil Saakashvili recently offered Georgia as a logistical hub for NATO’s operations in Afghanistan. This offer, made in an interview with The Associated Press, came only days after NATO had finalised a supply route agreement with Kazakhstan in the wake of NATO’s expanding mission in Afghanistan. While a supply route through Georgia already functions (for equipment, not armaments), U.S. officials have not immediately accepted Saakashvili’s new proposal. Russia might be in the way, analysts say.

Saakashvili offered Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi as docks for military supply ships and the country’s airports as refuelling points for cargo planes. AP quoted Pentagon officials as saying that the U.S. Defense Department was aware of Saakashvili’s offer, but had not explored the proposal.

The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, has scheduled a visit to Georgia on February 21-22. He plans to meet Saakashvili and visit Georgian troops at the Krtsanisi National Training Centre and observe their training for the operation in Afghanistan. Reportedly, the issue of Georgia as a supply route for the war could also be on the table.

Georgia has already been utilised as a transit point for shipment of non-armaments. “The route to Afghanistan is already used extensively, because almost 80 percent of cargo which is not going through Pakistan is going through Georgia, and only 20 percent through Russia, already,” said Alexander Rondeli, President of GFSIS (the Georgian Foundation for Security in International Studies).

Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said that the supply route to Afghanistan via Eurasia has been in existence since 2001. “I do not think this [Saakashvili’s offer] is something particularly remarkable because the U.S. is covering all the bases. It is shipping equipment, both lethal and non-lethal, via Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as via Georgia and Azerbaijan across the Caspian Sea to Central Asia.

Oh good heavens – commit already.  To say that 80% of logistics that don’t flow through Pakistan already flow through the Caucasus is to say nothing.  Ninety percent of our logistics flow through Pakistan.  To say that Russia stands in the way is to reiterate what we all already know, i.e., that there are dangerous dictators who desire regional hegemony.  It is to say nothing.  Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation is a nice title for a man who needs to do better analysis work.  The U.S. has not covered all of the logistical bases when we are reliant on Karachi, Chaman and Khyber to supply our troops in Afghanistan.

There are attempts at better logistics, but this work bottlenecks in Khyber.  It’s still not too late to engage the Caucasus (including Georgia) like I recommended one year ago.

The Coming War in the Caucasus

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

In It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus we described a potential logistics route through the Caucasus region in lieu of the problematic and troublesome Pakistan routes (especially through Khyber).  The recommended route involved transit from the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus Strait in Turkey, and from there into the Black Sea.  From the Black Sea the supplies would go through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan.  From here the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.

In addition to this region being a potential viable alternative to Pakistan, we noted this region as being an up-and-coming economic power due in part to the massive quantities of energy buried beneath its soil.  The engagement of the Caucasus region would potentially lead not only to logistics routes, but political and energy partnership as well.  But the darker truth that accompanies this potential is that Russia is also interested.

Russia is interest for several reasons, including the fact that Russian bases in Armenia have no viable land resupply and logistics route except through Georgia.  Recent NATO exercises in Georgia infuriated the Russian administration, causing the Russian ambassador to say that “Differences between Russia and U.S. on a number of issues still persist. The most recent example is NATO maneuvers in Georgia. It disappoints us as it assures Georgian government that regardless of what it did towards Russia, it will gain NATO membership. Unfortunately, no lesson was drawn from August events,” referring to their 2008 invasion of Georgia.

This is the first admission of the real reason behind the invasion of Georgia, veiled though it was.  It was all about “lessons” for the U.S. and Georgia.  The most recent warnings are less veiled.

A Kremlin policy paper says international relations will be shaped by battles over energy resources, which may trigger military conflicts on Russia’s borders.

The National Security Strategy also said that Russia will seek an equal “partnership” with the United States, but named U.S. missile defense plans in Europe among top threats to the national security.

The document, which has been signed by President Dmitry Medvedev, listed top challenges to national security and outlined government priorities through 2020.

“The international policy in the long run will be focused on getting hold of energy sources, including in the Middle East, the Barents Sea shelf and other Arctic regions, the Caspian and Central Asia,” said the strategy paper that was posted on the presidential Security Council’s Web site.

“Amid competitive struggle for resources, attempts to use military force to solve emerging problems can’t be excluded,” it added. “The existing balance of forces near the borders of the Russian Federation and its allies can be violated.”

Medvedev’s predecessor Vladimir Putin, who is now Russia’s powerful prime minister, often accused the West in the past of trying to expand its clout in the ex-Soviet nations and push Russia out of its traditional sphere of influence. The Kremlin has fiercely opposed NATO’s plans to incorporate its ex-Soviet neighbors, Ukraine and Georgia.

Russia currently controls most natural gas export routes out of the former Soviet region, but that grip is coming under growing pressure from China and the West.

The European Union, which depends on Russia for about one-quarter of its gas needs, has sought alternate supply routes, including the prospective Nabucco pipeline that would carry the Caspian and Central Asian gas to Europe but skirt Russia.

Intensifying rivalry for influence in the ex-Soviet region fomented tensions and helped stage the ground for last August’s war between Russia and Georgia, which sits astride a key export pipeline carrying Caspian oil to Western markets.

The war erupted when the U.S.-allied Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili sent troops to regain control over the separatist province of South Ossetia, which had close links with Russia. After routing the Georgian army in five days of fighting, Russia recognized both South Ossetia and another Georgian rebel province of Abkhazia as independent nations and permanently stationed nearly 8,000 troops there.

President Barack Obama’s administration has sought to rebuild ties with Moscow, which plummeted to a post-Cold War low under his predecessor and focus on negotiating a new nuclear arms control deal. Medvedev and other Russian officials have hailed what they called the new administration’s constructive approach and voiced hope that Washington will drop plans to deploy missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic — a top irritant in U.S.-Russian relations.

Reflecting the Kremlin’s hope for better ties with Washington, the strategy paper said Russia will seek “equal and full-fledged strategic partnership with the United States on the basis of coinciding interests.”

But it warned that missile defense plans and prospects to develop space-based weapons remain a top threat to Russia’s security, and said Russia will seek to maintain a nuclear parity with the United States. However, it added that Russia’s policy will be pragmatic and will exclude a new arms race.

The Captain’s Journal has recommended engaging the Caucasus by means of friendship, assistance and special dispensation for business partnerships.  This remarkable admission by Russia, signed by Medvedev, directly admits that war is possible over energy.

The romantic notions of influence in its so-called near abroad has been dropped in favor of more honest but crass verbal bullying and threats, targeted at an administration which wants to press the “reset” button with them.  The team of Putin and Medvedev intend to bloat the cash flow directly into Russia in payment for energy, this very energy being extorted by force if necessary.

Given the predisposition of the current administration to negotiate, talk, bargain and expect only the best of our supposedly erstwhile enemies, it isn’t apparent that Georgia, the Ukraine and other regional countries have any hope of continued sovereignty as it currently exists.  If extortion and threats don’t pave the way towards a re-emergence of the old Soviet style government, then they have made their only other option clear.  War is coming to the Caucasus.

Prior:

Mutiny in Georgia

Obama, Russia and the Future of Georgia

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy

Mutiny in Georgia

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

We have previously predicted a war between Russia and Georgia, or better described, a Russian invasion and rapid takeover of Georgia.  The casus belli will be political instability, or cross border shooting at each other, or some other absurd smoke screen.  The real issue will be the Russian bases in Armenia and inability to reach them without passage through Georgia.  That, combined with Russian hegemony in its near abroad, will be the impetus for renewed military action.  But the method in which is almost began is interesting.

Georgian police officers are seen in a truck body at a road outside Tbilisi today. Georgian troops staged a mutiny on the eve of NATO exercises in the ex-Soviet republic, which the government said it ended without violence but accused Russia of backing the rebels (Vano Shlamov / AFP / Getty Images).

Reporting from Moscow and Tbilisi, Georgia — Georgia’s president, a post-Soviet darling of the Bush administration, is already struggling with a buildup of Russian troops in breakaway territories and an angry opposition movement intent on driving him from power. Suddenly, the integrity of the armed forces is in doubt as well.

The short-lived mutiny of a tank battalion today was another reminder of the instability that has racked Georgia since it was defeated last summer in a war with Russia. President Mikheil Saakashvili rushed to negotiate with the mutineers. And he took to the airwaves to accuse Russia — whose leaders loathe him and are bitterly opposed to his hopes of joining NATO — of trying to organize a coup.

“What happened today is just a signal that the war has not ended yet,” said Alexander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies.

The flare of insurrection was over in a few hours. The commander of the 500-member tank battalion was in custody, the base was calm, and the government had turned its attention to circulating a news release describing “the failed military mutiny.”

But the uprising further pressurized politics in the small republic in the volatile Caucasus region.

The government accused Russia of orchestrating the uprising in an effort to undermine NATO war games set to begin in Georgia on Wednesday.

Saakashvili called the uprising “a serious threat and a serious challenge,” but said it was isolated. He also said the mutineers had “connections with special forces in a specific country known to us.”

“I am asking and demanding from our northern neighbor to refrain from provocations,” Saakashvili said in a televised address.

This mutiny is thuggery, the actions of criminals.  It’s tailor-made and just perfect for Vladimir Putin and his lap dog Dmitri Medvedev.  Money has been pouring into Georgia to support the forces of unrest, and it’s quite the wonder that Georgia has held on as long as it has.  But while the U.S. is glad-handing, or hand-slapping, or fist-bumping, Russia, and hitting the rest button in our relations, Russia is flipping the U.S. the bird.  The Russian ambassador to the U.S. has given a stern warning on what the invasion in the August of 2008 really meant.

Russia deplores the NATO decision to hold military training in Georgia. It shows that the alliance did not draw right lesson from the developments in the Caucasus in August 2008, RIA Novosto quoted Russian ambassador the United States Sergey Kislyak a saying in New York.

Corporative Longbow 09 /Corporative Lancer 09 multinational training is expected to begin on May 6 and run through June 1 in Georgia. As many as 1,300 military men from 19 alliance member states and partners will participate.

“Differences between Russia and U.S. on a number of issues still persist. The most recent example is NATO maneuvers in Georgia. It disappoints us as it assures Georgian government that regardless of what it did towards Russia, it will gain NATO membership. Unfortunately, no lesson was drawn from August events,” Russian ambassador said at Carnegie Council in New York.

Lessons.  That was the point of the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.  Apparently we (and Georgia) didn’t learn them the easy way, and with the fist-bumping and smiles being the order of the day, The Captain’s Journal wonders if Georgia regrets sending its sons to fight alongside U.S. troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Some ally we turned out to be.

Prior:

Obama, Russia and the Future of Georgia

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy

Will Russian-Afghan Logistics Dictate Foreign Policy?

Obama, Russia and the Future of Georgia

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

Significant attention is being given to Mr. Obama and his administration’s position on engaging the Muslim world.  But little attention has been given to what may be a very important exchange over the Caucasus.  We have extensively covered Russia’s interest in its near abroad, including in Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy, where we observed that the ceasefire with Georgia:

… has left the strategically important Russian base in Armenia cut off with no overland military transit connections. The number of Russian soldiers in Armenia is limited to some 4000, but during 2006 and 2007 large amounts of heavy weapons and supplies were moved in under an agreement with Tbilisi from bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki (Georgia). At present there are some 200 Russian tanks, over 300 combat armored vehicles, 250 heavy guns and lots of other military equipment in Armenia – enough to fully arm a battle force of over 20,000 (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozrenie, August 20, 2004). Forces in Armenia can be swiftly expanded by bringing in manpower by air transport from Russia. Spares to maintain the armaments may also be shipped in by air, but if a credible overland military transit link is not established within a year or two, there will be no possibility to either replace or modernize equipment. The forces will consequently degrade, undermining Russia’s commitment to defend its ally Armenia and Moscow’s ambition to reestablish its dominance in the South Caucasus

Russia hasn’t lost interest in the Causasus in spite of the overwhelming worship of the new administration on the world wide stage.  They have a long attention span and have kept their eye on the ball, so to speak.  At The Captain’s Journal we have recommended the full engagement of the Caucasus region, including transit of logistics through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan; from there the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.  This approach would have a dual affect.  First it would address the issue of interdiction of supplies through the Khyber region in Pakistan by the Taliban, and second, it would aid and benefit Georgia and assure the world that the West supports its sovereignty.

But perhaps Georgia shouldn’t have sent troops to Iraq to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The U.S. doesn’t have such a long memory when administrations change.  Russia is playing nice when it comes to logistics, in that it has “offered to discuss allowing the US to ship military cargoes across its territory to Afghanistan in a significant step seemingly aimed at building bridges twithWashington” (sic).  On another front, the Russians are hailing comrade Obama.

Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev hailed Barack Obama as “my new comrade” Thursday after their first face-to-face talks, saying the US president “can listen” — even if little progress was made on substance.

The Russian president contrasted Obama as “totally different” to his predecessor George W. Bush, whom he blamed for the “mistake” of US missile shield plans fiercely opposed by Moscow.

Obama agreed to visit Moscow in July after his talks with Medvedev on Wednesday on the sidelines of a G20 summit in London aimed at fixing the battered world economy.

“I believe that we managed to establish contact. But Moscow lies ahead. I cannot say that we made much progress on the most serious issues,” he told reporters, adding: “Let’s wait and see.”

“I liked the talks. It is easy to talk to him. He can listen. The start of this relationship is good,” he said, adding: “Today it’s a totally different situation (compared to Bush)… This suits me quite well.”

So Dmitri Medvedev is happy, something that may be a sign of trouble.  Continuing:

“Today from the United States there is at least a desire to listen to our arguments,” he said, adding that: “Such defence measures should be carried out jointly “between Washington and Moscow.”

The missile defence plan was “a mistake that the previous US administration is responsible for. Many of my European colleagues also believe this,” the Russian leader added, without specifying who.

Obama, speaking on Wednesday, admitted US-Russian ties had cooled, saying: “What we’ve seen over the last several years is drift in the US-Russian relationship.

“There are very real differences between the United States and Russia, and I have no interest in papering those over. But there are also a broad set of common interests that we can pursue,” he said.

One area of difference is Georgia — Russia sent troops and tanks deep into the ex-Soviet republic last August in response to a Georgian military attempt to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Medvedev made clear later Thursday that Moscow’s views have not changed — in particular about Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili — however he feels about Obama.

“Everything that has happened, I will tell you frankly, that the leader of Georgia is responsible for everything. That is my direct and honest and open opinion.

“A lot of people had to pay for the mistakes of one man. We love and appreciate the Georgian people. But I do not want to have any relations with President Saakashvili.”

A catchphrase to remember: “jointly between Washington and Moscow.”  So there you have it – the price for the happiness.  Georgia had best be preparing to defend itself or have a puppet dictator installed who is subservient to Moscow.  Same for the Ukraine, and other nations in the Russian near abroad.  As for any possible U.S. reaction to this potential aggression?  Well, we wouldn’t want to “cool” our new-found happy relations with Moscow.

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

We have closely followed the implementation of the Taliban strategy (pointed out here at The Captain’s Journal one year ago and one half year before it began in earnest) to shut down lines of logistics via the Khyber region and through the Torkham Crossing.  The closing of the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan has occurred due to entirely different reasons than enemy strategy.  Or has it?  Russia is asserting itself in what it considers to be its near abroad, and has essentially bribed the officials in Kyrgyzstan to close down the Manas Air Base.  This makes the U.S. utterly dependent on logistical lines that run through Russia to Central Asia.  Of course, this places the U.S. in a precarious position regarding membership of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO, as well as missile programs in Poland and elsewhere.  If the U.S. is dependent on Russia for logistics, then it is much more likely that Russia will be able to assert itself in the region with U.S. weakness because of dependence on Russian cooperation for logistics.

For this reason The Captain’s Journal had recommended approximately two months ago that the U.S. work harder on a potential logistical lines through the Caucasus region, specifically, from the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus Strait in Turkey, and from there into the Black Sea.  From the Black Sea the supplies would go through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan.  From here the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.

If this line of supply came to pass, then this leaves the issue of refueling for air supply and transit through the region unaddressed, since this was the primary mission of the Manas Air Base.  Stephen Blank, professor at the US Army War College, has written that of the potential replacements for Manas, none appear to be viable.  But unaddressed in Blank’s commentary is the potential to base air support in either Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan.

Returning to lines of logistical supply, as we recently reported, there are ongoing talks concerning the Caucasus region regarding the very routes we have discussed.  Furthermore, trial runs of supplies are ongoing to test these routes.

… the Air Force is working on contingency plans to move the tanker fleet to bases in the Persian Gulf if it loses basing rights to Manas.

The Azeri capital, Baku, is emerging as a leading candidate to substitute for Manas, should the Kyrgyz government refuse to reconsider its withdrawal of the basing rights.

American and Azeri officials said that the focus of the discussions on Monday and Tuesday was a surface route that would move supplies from the Georgian port of Poti on the Black Sea and overland to Baku, where they would cross the Caspian Sea to Aktau, Kazakhstan, and then overland across Uzbekistan into Afghanistan.

A second potential route would land cargo at the Caspian seaport of Turkmenbashi, in Turkmenistan, for transit into Afghanistan. Talks on supply routes have also been held with officials in Tajikistan, another neighbor to the north of Afghanistan.

One American official said the first “trial run” of cargo containers on the new route was conducted within the last two weeks, with shipments of lumber sent from Turkey to Georgia to Azerbaijan, and then onward toward Afghanistan.

So this report notes not one, but two potential lines of logistical supply over land, as well as the potential replacement of the Manas Air Base with Baku, Azerbaijan.  At this point it might be that the Russians backpedal on disallowing Manas to continue to function (thus the recent equivocation in the news), since U.S. involvement in the Caucasus (i.e., their near abroad) is the last thing they want.

But this logistical transit route is viable.  First to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is more developed than Turkmenistan, and is obviously the center of gravity of both of the potential logistical lines discussed above.  Baku would be almost ideal for an air base to support refueling operations for U.S. aircraft supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.  Turkmenistan is far less developed, and the only viable route for supplies would go through Ashgabat from the port city of Turkmenbashi, and then South to Kandahar or East to Kabul.

Much ink has been spent spilled over the human rights record of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and both are undoubtedly repressive regimes, although there is evidence that Turkmenistan is slowly and gradually changing for the better.  There is also significant corruption in Turkmenistan.  But there is also indication that Turkmenistan is opening up to economic cooperation.  They have expressed an interest in becoming an associative partner in the ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization), and have recently opened their air space to NATO supply flights to Afghanistan.

The U.S. has a history of moral preening when it comes to working with unsavory dictators and political regimes, but this preening must be put aside in favor of functionality and logistics.  Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have all expressed an interest in working with the U.S. to enable lines of logistical supply to Afghanistan.  This plan is, after all, what provided more than 40% of the supplies to Russian troops during their campaign.

Moreover, a stronger presence in the Caucasus region is in the interests of the U.S. in both the near and long term.  Stronger ties will serve to ensure continued supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, cement critical relations in this region and Central Asia, and provide a counterbalance to Russia’s increasing hegemony in their near abroad.  It is the right time and circumstances to engage the Caucasus.

Postscript: The Captain’s Journal thanks Mr. Bob King, Instructor, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations, Leavenworth, for the encouragement to write this article.

Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 6 months ago

Iran is quickly advancing towards becoming a nuclear state.  In troubling developments in air power, Iran can now deploy UAVs, and Russia may have supplied Iran with new air defense systems, including their long range S-300 surface to air missiles.  If they haven’t, the system is being used as a bargaining chip by Russia.  There are reports that they have refused to sell the missile system, but responding to the Israeli plan to sell weapons systems to Georgia by saying that Moscow expected Israel “to show the same responsibility.”  In the first case, Iran is armed with an air defense system that would make an attack against its nuclear assets much more difficult.  In the second case, Russia has used this potentiality to weaken Georgia and prime it for another invasion.

Pavel Felgenhauer at the The Jamestown Foundation has recently published a commentary entitled Russia’s Coming War with Georgia.  The commentary very smartly connects the isolated Russian base in Armenia – which in itself is further demonstration of Russian intentions of control over its “near abroad” – with the need to control Georgia.    Says Felgenhauer, “The ceasefire last August has left the strategically important Russian base in Armenia cut off with no overland military transit connections. The number of Russian soldiers in Armenia is limited to some 4000, but during 2006 and 2007 large amounts of heavy weapons and supplies were moved in under an agreement with Tbilisi from bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki (Georgia). At present there are some 200 Russian tanks, over 300 combat armored vehicles, 250 heavy guns and lots of other military equipment in Armenia – enough to fully arm a battle force of over 20,000 (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozrenie, August 20, 2004). Forces in Armenia can be swiftly expanded by bringing in manpower by air transport from Russia. Spares to maintain the armaments may also be shipped in by air, but if a credible overland military transit link is not established within a year or two, there will be no possibility to either replace or modernize equipment. The forces will consequently degrade, undermining Russia’s commitment to defend its ally Armenia and Moscow’s ambition to reestablish its dominance in the South Caucasus.”

Concerning the timing of the potential invasion, Felgenhauer observes:

While snow covers the Caucasian mountain passes until May, a renewed war with Georgia is impossible. There is hope in Moscow that the Georgian opposition may still overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili’s regime or that the Obama administration will somehow remove him. However, if by May, Saakashvili remains in power, a military push by Russia to oust him may be seriously contemplated. The constant ceasefire violations could escalate to involve Russian servicemen – constituting a public casus belli. The desire by the West to “reset” relations with Moscow, putting the Georgia issue aside, may be interpreted as a tacit recognition of Russia’s right to use military force.

With the addition of the Biden pronouncement that the U.S. would “press the reset button” with Russia, the U.S. is now in the throes of a logistical dilemma.  On the one hand, the missile defense program for NATO states is meant as a deterrent for a potential Iranian nuclear and missile based military capability.  On the other hand, the current administration is seen as likely to jettison the whole project.

The U.S. is now beholden to Russia for logistical supply lines to Afghanistan.  General David Petraeus has visited numerous European and Central Asian countries recently, including Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.  Supplies are soon to leave Latvia bound for Afghanistan.  But the common element in all of the logistical supply lines are that they rely on Russian good will.  This good will exists as long as the missile defense doesn’t, and the missile defense was intended to be used as a deterrent for Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Alternative supply routes have been suggested, including one which wouldn’t empower Russian hegemony in the region, from the Mediterranean through the Bosporus strait, into the Black sea, and through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan.  From there the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.  An alternative to the air route from the recently closed Manas Air base is sea transport to India, rail or truck to the Indian-controlled Kashmir region, and then air transport to Kabul.  But none of these options has been pursued.  The current administration is locked into negotiations that empower Russia.

Pakistan President Zardari has observed, and correctly so, that Pakistan is in a state of denial concerning the threat posed by the Taliban, yet rather than eliminate the threat, the strategy has been to make peace deals with the Tehrik-i-Taliban and plead for the same financial bailout being offered across America, saying that in order to defeat the Taliban Pakistan needs a “massive program,” a “Marshall Plan” to defeat the Taliban through economic development.

Certainly, some of the foreign policy problems were present with the previous administration, from the failure to plan for logistics for Afghanistan, to support for Musharraf’s duplicitous administration, assisting the Taliban by demure on the one hand while money was received with the other.  But the currents appear to be pointing towards a revised world opinion of what the U.S. is willing to sustain on behalf of “good relations,” and the current administration’s prevarications appear to be going headlong into numerous dilemmas.

We wish to use the missile program in Europe as an bargaining chip to avoid the reality of an Iranian nuclear program, while the Iranian supreme has said that “relations with the U.S. have for the time being no benefit to the Iranian nation.”  Russia, who is assisting Iran in its military buildup, is unimpressed because we have planned for no other option for logistics for Afghanistan except as dictated by Vladimir Putin.  The best that we can come up with, so far, is to forestall the planned troop reduction in the European theater, a troop reduction that is needed to help fund and staff the war against the global insurgency.

Pakistan’s Zardari figures that if the administration is willing to give away on the order of a trillion dollars, they can play the game of “show me the money” like everyone else, from Russia over logistical lines to Afghanistan to over-leveraged homeowners in the U.S.

Israel figures that all of this points to throwing their concerns under the bus, and thus they have launched a covert war against Iran, a program that is unlikely to be successful, pointing to broader regional instability in the near term.  Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, has said that they will acquire or have acquired anti-aircraft weapons.  While they have stood down over the war in Gaza, they are apparently preparing for more of the same against Israel.

The current administration has attempted to befriend Syria, while at the same time the USS San Antonio has interdicted Iranian weapons bound by ship to Syria, intended for Hezbollah or Hamas.  Most of this has occurred within less than two months of inauguration of the current administration in Washington.  It may prove to be a difficult four years, with unintended consequences ruling the day.

Update: Welcome to Instapundit readers and thanks to Glenn for the link.

Will Russian-Afghan Logistics Dictate Foreign Policy?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

We have raised the issue of Georgian and more broadly European involvement in the search and decision-making for a new logistics line for Afghanistan.  As to the proposed supply line through Georgia, we observed that:

… interestingly, this leaves us vulnerable yet again to Russian dispositions, even with the alternative supply route.  Georgia is the center of gravity in this plan, and our willingness to defend her and come to her aid might just be the one thing that a) kills the option of Russia as a logistical supply into Afghanistan, and b) saves Georgia as a supply route.  Thus far, we have maneuvered ourselves into the position of reliance on Russian good will.  These “thawed relations” might just turn critical should Russia decide again to flex its muscle in the region, making the U.S. decisions concerning Georgia determinative concerning our ability to supply our troops in Afghanistan.  Are we willing to turn over Georgia (and maybe the Ukraine) to Russia in exchange for a line of supply into Afghanistan, or are we willing to defend and support Georgia for the preservation of democracy in the region and – paradoxically – the preservation of a line of supply to Afghanistan?

Stratfor weighs in on the logistical maelstrom (at the time of writing of this article, the Stratfor analysis was still available through Google organic search, but not by direct URL for non-registered users).

With little infrastructure to the east, the Pentagon is forced to go north, into Central Asia. Though some fuel is shipped to Western forces in Afghanistan from Baku across the Caspian Sea, there is little indication that existing shipping on the Caspian could expand meaningfully. Additionally, there would be the challenge of transferring cargo from rail to ship back to rail on top of the ship-rail-truck transfers that are already required in Afghanistan.

But even if Caspian shipping was not a problem and if there was sufficient excess seaworthy capacity, there remains the problem of Georgia. Though politically amenable at the moment, it is unstable; furthermore, with some 3,700 Russian troops parked in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russian military forces are poised to sever the country’s east-west rail links.

These realities will likely drive the logistical pathway farther north, through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and through Kazakhstan to Russia proper (some U.S. transports already utilize Russian airspace).

Turkmenistan presents its own challenges, as it is particularly isolated after years of authoritarian rule and continues to suffer from the legacy of what was essentially a state religion of worshipping the now-deceased Turkmenbashi. His successor, Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov (who is rumored to be the Turkmenbashi’s illegitimate son), continues to struggle to consolidate power and is left with a series of delicate internal and external balancing acts. In short, enacting new policies under the new government remains problematic to say the least.

There is another choice: Use a Russian or Ukrainian port of entry where organized crime will be a particularly serious problem (as well as espionage with any sensitive equipment shipped this way), or use a more secure — and efficient — port that will require a rail gauge swap from the European and Turkish 1,435 mm standard to the 1,520 mm rail gauge standard in the former Soviet Union.

All of this is complicated, but the linchpin is working out an agreement to use Russian territory. This presents an even more profound challenge than Russia’s real (but not unlimited) capacity to meddle in its periphery.

While there are a number of outstanding questions — where exactly U.S. supply ships might dock to offload supplies, whether a transfer of cargo from the Western to Russian rail gauge might be necessary, whether the route would transit Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan or both, etc. — these are minor details in comparison to the Russian problem. If there is an understanding with Moscow, the rest is possible. But that understanding must entail enough reliability that Russia cannot treat U.S. and NATO military supplies like natural gas for Europe and Ukraine.

Without an understanding between Washington and Moscow, none of this is possible.

The problem is that while the Kremlin has been reasonably cooperative up to this point when it comes to U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan, such an understanding may not be possible completely independent of the clash of wills between Russia and the West. There is too much at stake, and the window of opportunity is too narrow for Moscow to simply play nice with the new American administration without a much broader strategic agreement and very real concessions. Nevertheless, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Gen. Bantz Craddock, has been making overtures to Russia about improving relations.

General David Petraeus is also involved in the efforts to line up a logistics pathway to Afghanistan.  “The top US military commander for the Middle East and Central Asia has denied reports the US is planning to open a military base in Kazakhstan.

Speaking in the Kazakh capital, Astana, Gen David Petraeus also said the US had no plans to withdraw its military presence from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

The general is in Kazakhstan for talks on the role of Central Asian states in supporting America’s Afghan operations.

Gen Petraeus and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev discussed the partnership between their countries, and Kazakhstan’s role in supporting US operations in Afghanistan.  Kazakhstan has recently signed an agreement allowing the transit of non-military US supplies to Afghanistan.”

Assuming the veracity and accuracy of this report, it would appear that the probability is that the chosen line of supply directly involves Russia, although only for so-called “non-military” supplies.

But this choice might burden any upcoming decisions on the Ukraine and Georgia and whether they are allowed to enter into NATO, as well as other important European issues such as whether missiles will be deployed in Poland.  While not learning much from the Stratfor analysis, they are on target with their analysis of the affects of the decision-making as it pertains to Russia.

Stratfor says “there is too much at stake, and the window of opportunity is too narrow for Moscow to simply play nice with the new American administration without a much broader strategic agreement and very real concessions.”  Concessions indeed.  And while the route selected will be moderately to significantly less problematic that the alternatives, and while Gates, Petraeus and Craddock might actually believe (for now) in Russian good intentions, they should remember that Russia is ruled by ex-KGB, bent on regional hegemony for at least what they consider to be their near abroad.

The alternative through Georgia still exists, as long as the U.S. is willing to play hard ball and defend her sovereignty (as well as defend her as a line of logistical supply to Afghanistan).  More specifically, the line of supply is as follows.  First, supplies (including military supplies) would be shipped through the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus Strait in Turkey.

And from there into the Black Sea.  From the Black Sea the supplies would go through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan.

From here the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.  A larger regional map gives a better idea of the general flow path.

The problems are numerous, including the fact that the supplies would be unloaded in Georgia to transit by rail car or road, unloaded from rail or truck to transit again by sea, and finally loaded aboard rail cars or trucks again (after passage across the Caspian Sea) in Turkmenistan to make passage to Afghanistan.

But it isn’t obvious that this line of supply is impossible, however impractical it may be.  U.S. military leadership should remember that an alternative exists to the Russian line of supply to Afghanistan.  It will be too late to act to secure a line of supply through Georgia at some point in the future, but until then, the U.S. should carefully examine the Russian demands for this logistical aid.  The Russian demands are likely to evolve and expand, and it is this expansion that will prove to be troubling.  Russia is playing nice now.  This won’t last forever.

Prior:

New Afghan Supply Route Through Russia Likely

U.S-Georgia Strategic Partnership

The Logistical Battle: New Lines of Supply to Afghanistan

The Search for Alternate Supply Routes to Afghanistan

Large Scale Taliban Operations to Interdict Supply Lines

More on Lines of Logistics for Afghanistan

How Many Troops Can We Logistically Support in Afghanistan?

Targeting of NATO Supply Lines Through Pakistan Expands

Logistical Difficulties in Afghanistan

Taliban Control of Supply Routes to Kabul

Interdiction of U.S. Supplies in Khyber Pass

The Torkham Crossing

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan


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