Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The New Great Game Round-Up #101

The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

When the Armenian authorities reluctantly approved a request by the country's energy monopoly, Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA), to increase electricity tariffs from the beginning of August by 7 Armenian dram (1.5 U.S. cent), President Serzh Sargsyan and his government didn't expect that this could turn into a huge problem. They knew full well that ENA was trying to compensate for its losses, which had been caused by graft, but figured that the people would put up with yet another rate increase - the third one over the past two years. However, this time many Armenians decided that enough was enough. What started with a small sit-in in the center of Yerevan on June 19 soon evolved into huge protests on Baghramyan Avenue. As more and more people joined "Electric Yerevan," the government began to understand the gravity of the situation and tried to nip the protests in the bud:
Armenian Police Forcefully Disperse Yerevan Protesters, 18 Injured

Armenian police used force and water cannons to clear a demonstration in central Yerevan overnight after a standoff with activists protesting against rising electricity prices.

In the early hours of June 23, special police forces moved to disperse hundreds of protesters who spent more than nine hours seated in the street not far from the presidential compound.

The protesters insisted that their actions were peaceful and demanded that President Serzh Sarkisian revoke the decision made by state regulators to raise electricity prices by 16 percent beginning August 1.
© Photo PHOTOLURE News Agency/Demotix/Corbis

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Porkins Great Game: Episode #8 - Proxy War in Transnistria

On this edition of Porkins Great Game, Pearse Redmond and I discuss the appointment of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as governor of Ukraine's Odessa region and how this ties in with recent developments surrounding the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria. We also take a look at the European Games in Azerbaijan and OMV's plans to build a 'Russian Nabucco' before we move on to Afghanistan. Pearse and I discuss what has been going on in northern Afghanistan recently and explain why the rivalry between the Taliban and ISIS spells more trouble for the war-torn country. We close out this month's episode with two weird terrorism stories involving Tajikistan's OMON commander, ISIS, "Syrian rebels" and British intelligence agencies.


The New Great Game Round-Up #100

The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Every few days, Afghanistan is making headlines due to the deteriorating security situation in the country, the most recent example being the Taliban attack on the Afghan parliament on Monday. As Afghan lawmakers were trying to confirm a defense minister, a large explosion rocked the parliament building in Kabul. The attack by a suicide bomber was the signal for fellow Taliban fighters, who had taken positions in a nearby building, to open fire. After an intense firefight, security forces managed to kill all six gunmen but the latest Taliban attack, which left two civilians dead and 40 injured, raises again questions over the government's ability to maintain security. Statements by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid suggest that the purpose of the attack was to embarrass the "puppet administration" in Kabul "at a time which they were casting confidence vote for the minister of defense." It is safe to say that the Taliban achieved their goal. The Kabul government is looking increasingly shaky:
Taliban and Afghan Government Dispute Status of Kunduz

After Taliban insurgents said Sunday that they were on the verge of taking their first city, Kunduz in the far north of Afghanistan, officials there expressed alarm as residents began to flee the area. But the central government in Kabul said there was no cause for concern.

The Afghan government also announced Sunday that it had retaken the administrative center of Yamgan District, in northern Badakhshan Province, from the Taliban. But that only deepened the government’s credibility problem because just a week earlier officials in Kabul had claimed that they had already retaken Yamgan.
 
For months now, several districts in both Kunduz and Badakhshan Provinces in the north have gone back and forth between government and Taliban control, as the insurgents have intensified their fighting in parts of northern Afghanistan where they traditionally had been weak.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The New Great Game Round-Up #99

The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Ukrainian oligarch-turned-President Petro Poroshenko is not very popular among his people but at least his equally criminal friends continue to support him and that is what really matters. Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was so thrilled about Poroshenko's first year in power that he wrote an op-ed for Newsweek lauding Poroshenko's reform program, better known as the "4-Ds"- de-regulation, de-bureaucratization, de-centralization and de-oligarchization(!). According to Saakashvili, his buddy Poroshenko "has succeeded in nation-building, at a rapid pace." Never mind that most Ukrainians think that Poroshenko and the current regime are to blame for Ukraine's economic problems and that they are not doing enough to stop the war in the country. One wonders what they will say when they realize that Poroshenko and Saakashvili are trying to open another front in this war:
Saakashvili announces plans to reinforce border with Transdniestria

Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region Mikhail Saakashvili said on Tuesday he plans to reinforce Ukraine’s border with the unrecognized republic of Transdniestria.

"We have two major tasks - to reinforce the border and curb corruption. Drug and weapons trafficking across this border mean nothing good," he told a news conference in Odessa.
Engineering works aiming to block movement of military hardware and contraband started at the Transdniestrian section of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The New Great Game Round-Up #98

The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

After the United States has been bombing Afghan wedding parties for years, it should come as no real surprise that Afghan funerals are now becoming a popular target for U.S. drone attacks as well. The Afghan government was quick to assert that all victims were Taliban, pointing out that the funeral ceremony was for a slain Taliban commander. Therefore, according to Kabul's logic, all the mourners must have been Taliban too. Afghan MPs from the region and the Taliban beg to differ. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai also stated that most of the victims were civilians and he condemned the U.S. drone strike in the strongest possible terms. Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who has been doing his best to please Washington since taking office, prefers not to comment on such incidents. Considering that Ghani is already under fire for a lack of leadership, the silence won't help his case:
Leader in Afghan north dismisses Kabul government as a 'show'

Atta Mohammad Noor, a powerful governor in northern Afghanistan, visited a local amusement park last week and grabbed a video arcade gun. Firing on fictional aliens made a break from the frequent target of his ire: the government in Kabul.

Noor, a former general hardened in wars against the Soviets and Taliban but now suited and affluent, complains of a lack of leadership by President Ashraf Ghani and is angry his warnings of rising militant violence in the north were not heeded.

"They told me that they will take action, but unfortunately they didn't," the governor of Balkh province told Reuters, recalling a warning he gave Kabul several months ago to prepare for more Taliban violence in the north. 
© Photo Getty Images/AFP

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The New Great Game Round-Up #97

The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.
 
The disappearance of
Colonel Gulmurod Halimov, commander of Tajikistan's Interior Ministry paramilitary squad (OMON), has caused a great stir in the Central Asian country. Tajik media reports suggested early on that Halimov had traveled to Syria in order to join the West's beloved terrorist army ISIS but his family dismissed these reports as "baseless" and portrayed him as a dedicated policeman and father of eight. While his brother insisted that Halimov had never spoken about ISIS, Asia-Plus quoted a friend as saying that he had turned into an ISIS fanatic. The story got even more confusing when Tajik law enforcement agencies denied a report by news agency TojNews claiming that Halimov had been arrested in Turkey while trying to cross into Syria with a fake passport. As the speculations were getting out of hand, ISIS eventually cleared up the mystery of Halimov's disappearance by releasing a new shiny propaganda video featuring none other than Tajikistan's missing OMON commander: 
Missing Tajik Police Commander Appears On Internet, Says Has Joined IS

A top Tajik police commander who has been missing for weeks has reappeared on the Internet, claiming that he has joined the Islamic State (IS) militant group in protest at official restrictions on religious observance back home.

In a video posted on YouTube, Colonel Gulmurod Halimov, the commander of the Tajik Interior Ministry's Special Forces, known as OMON, singled out Tajikistan's crackdown on Islamic dress and limitations on public prayer as reasons for his radicalization.

Halimov, a father of eight, says that Tajik labor migrants "must stop serving infidels" in Russia and join IS in Syria and Iraq in order to establish Shari'a law in other countries, including Tajikistan.