Geopolitics

Can Russian Giveaways Of Old Weapons Keep U.S. Shut Out Of Central Asia

Russian helicopters flying over Kazakhstan
Russian helicopters flying over Kazakhstan
Ivan Safronov, Elena Chernenko and Kabai Karbekov

BISHKEK — Russia has reached a deal with the leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to provide military aid to the two Central Asian nations. Though the details are still being hammered out, Moscow appears to have netted a deal with potentially major geopolitical implications.

“We have agreed with our colleagues regarding the delivery of weapons, which will be provided at the expense of the Russian Ministry of Defense,” Valery Gerasimov, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Russian Army, told Kommersant matter-of-factly late last week.

In the aid agreement, Russia has pledged to give $1.1 billion in military aid to Kyrgyzstan and $200 million to Tajikistan. Moscow’s plans to bankroll a modernization in both countries’ armed forces was first reported last November, but the details of the military aid are only being worked out now.

According to Russia officials briefed in the negotiations, delays occurred because both the central Asian countries were dragging their feet in completing some of Moscow's key prerequisites for granting the aid. One key issue for Moscow was that the Kyrgyz government finally officially announce that U.S. troops would be leaving the country, and a closing date of June 2014 was given for the American base at Manas. Meanwhile in Tajikistan, the Lower House of Parliament at last ratified an agreement allowing the Russian army to open a 201st military base in Tajik territory this past week.

After the ratification of the agreement allowing the Russian base, Sherali Khairulloev, the Tajik Defense Minister, said that "in exchange, we will get help in terms of aviation, communications equipment, artillery, missiles and infantry weapons.” He added that there are also plans to possibly expand the program that allows free tuition for Tajik students studying in military universities in Russia (there are around 500 such students now). In conjunction with the military help, Russia has also promised to give migrants from Tajikistan special benefits, and to abolish tariffs on petroleum and lubricants between Russia and Tajikistan. An official agreement on those points is expected soon.

According to sources at the Russian Joint Chiefs of Staff, Kyrgyzstan will be receiving helicopters, armored transport and armored cars, mobile multiple rocket launchers, artillery machinery as well as communications equipment. “Bishkek the Kyrgyz capital is primarily interested in dry-land military transportation, due to its geographic characteristics,” our source explained.

Sources in the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry said that the full accounting of the military aid was not yet complete. “Right now, our specialists in military management and administration of the Ministry of Defense are visiting military factories in Russia,” one source explained. He said that Kyrgyzstan could get both brand new machines as well as used machines. “The thing Kyrgyzstan needs most is helicopters. Our military doesn’t have any attack helicopters that are suitable for military action,” he explained.

Regional influence

According to experts, two central objectives were driving Moscow's seemingly generous aid to its Central Asian neighbors. One is to provide security to the south in advance of NATO’s planned withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. But the most important motivation behind Russia’s military aid is to prevent the United States from gaining a stronger foothold in the region.

“The important question right now is, who will provide the security structure in Central Asia post-2014,” explained Vadim Koyulin, an expert from the Russian Center for Policy Studies. “The U.S. has not yet made its plans clear, but it is not out of the question that the U.S. would want to have military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.” By announcing military aid to both countries very quickly, Russia has managed to “take the initiative away from the United States and become the main actor in Central Asia, at least in terms of security.”

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan had both expressed interest in receiving the American military supplies that are being removed from Afghanistan. “If American engineers and instructors had accompanied the supplies, a growth in U.S. influence in the region would have been unavoidable,” explained a source in the Russian government. “Now there is a barrier for the U.S.”

In Kyrgyzstan, Alik Karimbekov, a representative of the Defense Council, confirmed that "there are currently no discussions with the Pentagon regarding Kyrgyzstan getting used American military equipment.”

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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