Sunday, December 21, 2008

U.S. sees FSU role in Afghan supplies; NATO on Russia, Ukraine, Georgia; Azeris, Turks seek Turkmen links

First published in December 6, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

U.S. considers Caucasus to Central Asia route to supply Afghanistan forces

Gen. Duncan McNabb. . AP.

With an increasingly unstable Pakistan, the United States is looking into the possibility of supplying its forces in Afghanistan via the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Washington Post reported on November 18 citing Pentagon documents. Since President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to increase the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the need for additional supplies may add to existing concerns.

There are currently 67,000 allied soldiers in Afghanistan, of whom about half are Americans. According to the Post, 75 percent of all supplies to these forces, such as food, gas, and military equipment, currently come from Pakistan or through its port of Karachi, from where they are taken by truck into Afghanistan. Truckers have come under increased Taliban attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan denied the attacks have affected military operations. Nevertheless, the Defense Department dispatched head of the U.S. Transportation Command Gen. Duncan McNabb to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in mid-November.

Since 2001, the U.S. has used the Caucasus to Central Asia air corridor, but not the land route which would have to start at one of Georgian ports then cross Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea, and one or more Central Asian states before reaching Afghanistan. Shipments would be conducted by a contractor who would need to hire local security.

Pentagon documents cited by the Post suggest that the U.S. already secured Georgia's approval for what it called a "northern route," and was in talks with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. The Pentagon said it did "not expect transit agreements with Iran or Uzbekistan."

But according to a Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) analysis published on November 19, the United States will have to continue to rely on Pakistan for most of its supplies, with a much longer and more complicated Central Asian route potentially serving as a reserve option. In addition to the logistics of that route, the United States would have to take into account Russia's increasingly prominent role in Central Asia.

According to the Post, this year Russia agreed to facilitate nonlethal supplies to pass from Europe through its rail system into Central Asia and from there by truck to Afghanistan.

NATO: contacts to resume with Russia; no new decisions on Georgia, Ukraine

de Hoop Scheffer talking to Tkeshelashvili

Meeting on December 2, NATO foreign ministers agreed to resume some of of the alliance's contacts with Russia, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported. The relations were suspended three months earlier over Russian military intervention in Georgia.

The United States has pushed for a tougher international reaction to Russian treatment of America's close ally, leading to temporary suspension of NATO and European Union contacts with Russia.

But last month, shortly after the U.S. presidential elections, the EU resumed partnership talks with Russia over Georgian objections. (See this page in the November 15 Armenian Reporter.)

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said this week that NATO's "graduated re-engagement" with Russia does not mean that the alliance agrees with Russian policies in Georgia.

In another anticipated decision, NATO officials again declined to grant Georgia and Ukraine membership action plans (MAPs). At the same time, they reiterated the NATO's Bucharest summit statement that promised eventual membership to both countries last April, and promised to continue to assist Ukarine and Georgia to achieve "NATO standards."

Reacting to these developments, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on November 28 that he was "pleased that reason has prevailed, unfortunately only at the end of the current U.S. administration. But this at least ascertains the current state of affairs."

Mr. Medvedev made his comments in Cuba where he arrived from Venezuela, whose forces just held joint exercises with a Russian naval group currently in the Carribean.

Russia has strongly opposed NATO's expansion into Ukraine and Georgia.

As Eugeniusz Smolar of the Polish Center for International Relations told RFE/RL, "The Georgia war, in the opinion of most NATO members, is not only an example of Russian aggression - which it was. It was also an example of the irresponsible behavior of the present Georgian leadership."

Last week the Polish security service blamed Georgian leaders for endangering the life of the Polish president on a visit to Georgia when his convoy abruptly turned toward Ossetian territory, causing a shooting incident. Poland has been one of Georgia's staunchest supporters in NATO and the EU.

"In this context, many NATO members - and not just Germany and France - say that they are not politically ready to defend a country that is behaving in such a manner," Mr. Smolar said.

But proponents of NATO expansion suggest the incoming administration of Barack Obama could help mend ties between the United States and Europe, probably at Russia's expense.

"If you imagine in three years' time, if we have a stable government in Ukraine, a different Georgian leadership, a Russia that is preoccupied with its own problems, and a more popular American administration, NATO expansion might not look so crazy," Edward Lucas, deputy editor at the Economist, told RFE/RL.

Azerbaijan, Turkey seek Turkmenistan gas, ferry link up

Ilham Aliyev wearing national garb with Turkmen prez. looking on from portrait.
The presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey were in Turkmenistan last week in another effort to encourage routing of that country's natural gas exports via the Caspian, the Caucasus, and Turkey. The United States has long supported the trans-Caspian gas pipeline, having in August 2007 allocated funds to study its feasibility.

But Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have had difficult relations since independence, with their past dictators Heydar Aliyev and Saparmurad Niyazov arguing over offshore Caspian oil fields.

In recent years, while disagreements about the maritime border have not been resolved, there have been more contacts. Last May Mr. Niyazov's successor, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, went to Baku for talks with Ilham Aliyev.

On November 28-29 Mr. Aliyev paid a return visit, with Turkish president Abdullah Gül arriving apparently to mediate the dispute between the two "brotherly" nations.

The three leaders agreed to reestablish a ferry link between Baku and Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), suspended since the collapse of the USSR, and to continue talks on the disputed Kapaz/Sardar oil field in the middle of the Caspian and on a potential trans-Caspian gas pipeline.

In December 2007 Turkmenistan hosted the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan and agreed to build a new pipeline to export additional natural gas through their territories. The Central Asian nation is believed to have fourth largest gas resources in the world behind Russia, Iran, and Qatar.

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