More than 6,000 Russian forces flowed into the Ukrainian region of Crimea on Saturday, generating strong fervent criticism from Western powers and placing Ukraine in an uncertain situation. The maneuvers engaged in by the Russian forces began Friday with the arrival of armed men to the southeastern Ukrainian region, but the incursion into Ukrainian territory was officially authorized by the Russian upper house of parliament, the Duma, on Saturday. More than 6,000 Russian forces have since moved into the region, seizing control of major communication centers, airports and surrounding Ukrainian military installations. The ruling by the Russian parliament did not, however, limit the actions of the Russian military to the Crimea, an aspect that has engendered widespread uncertainty through the region.
The motivations surrounding the attack are ostensibly to protect the lives of Russian citizens in the Crimea and prevent “Ukrainian nationalistic attacks on Russian citizens.” In a speech given before the United Nations Human Rights Council, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov cited a list of disturbances in the Crimea that he described as posing a threat to the lives of Russian citizens in the area, including ultranationalist, anti-Russian protests and anti-Semitism directed towards Russian Jews. He further stated that violent protests in Kiev that culminated in the ouster of former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych are a legitimate concern for Moscow, and that the move into the Crimea reflects these fears.
Fears of war typify the reaction amongst the interim Ukrainian government. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has stated openly that the country is on the “brink of disaster” while citing the continued flow of reinforcements into the Crimea, defections of Ukrainian naval officers and continued Russian subterfuge and propaganda as ongoing sources of concern. Sentiments expressed by foreign leaders mirror those pronounced by officials in Kiev, with the leaders of the UN and governments in Poland, England, and France all issuing similar statements condemning the Russian occupation of Crimea as an act of aggression towards a sovereign state. President Obama has echoed these sentiments and gone a step further in stating that there will be “costs” for any type of aggression, and threatened the Russian government with sanctions and removal from the G8. There are many, however, that doubt the ability of the West to influence policy in Moscow. The close economic relationship between Russian and European oil and gas sectors would make any type of restrictive economic sanctions difficult to enact without negatively impacting Brussels’s own economic policy, whereas political or military posturing, as in the case of Georgia, is unlikely to influence decision making.
It remains to be seen whether or not Russian occupation will continue, or if the predominantly pro-Russian region will choose to secede. If it does opt for secession, it is possible that Russia will follow a similar policy as that used in the Russian occupied region of South Ossetia in Georgia, which it assumed occupation of following the 2008 Ossetia War. For the time being, the focus seems to be on limiting the scope of Russian military action inside Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Kiev, and emergency meetings have been convened by NATO, the UN Security Council and the EU in order to coordinate a response to the situation in Crimea.
- Russia has deployed surveillance drones to its base in Tajikistan. The models, known as the Granat and the Zastava, are small, portable UAV’s designed for “detecting radiation, creating interference for radio signals and suppressing specific frequencies.” While it remains unclear what radiation the drones might be searching for in Tajikistan, the drone’s other functions might be related to opium that is transported north to Russia from Afghanistan. As the US withdraws from Afghanistan, the threat of an uncontested traffic of opium north will become more pronounced, and these drones might represent the first stage in a concerted effort to prepare. Alternatively, with the news that America is actively seeking a new drone base in Central Asia, with military officials visiting Dushanbe, it could also be an effort to monitor American drone activity in the region.
- EurasiaNet reports that the Kyrgyz coal bed of Kara-Keche is one of Kyrgyzstan’s more attractive opportunities for foreign investment. But unlike Kumtor, the second largest gold mine in the world run by Canadian mining conglomerate Centerra, Kara-Keche is situated in the Naryn province, which is characterized by a lack of transportation infrastructure, corruption, and violence. The coal bed is dominated by a plurality of smaller producers that keep the price so high that Kyrgyzstan is forced to source most coal from abroad. As a result, coal production is only a quarter of what it was in the 1970’s. The most recent news concerns the organized crime ring centered around an alleged gangster from Issyk-Kul province named Maksat “the Diver” Abakirov, who supposedly started the riots in the communities surrounding Kumtor in May 2013.
- Officials in Central Asian countries have been growing more and more concerned about their own citizens leaving to fight in Syria, which has been advertised as a “jihad.” They are especially concerned with those militants who return to their home countries after the fight. The most well-advertised incident concerning militants came on February 14, when Kyrgyz law enforcement detained six militants who were alleged to be planning attacks in Bishkek and Osh. Officials in Tajikistan share similar concerns, where the opposition party, the “Islamic Renaissance Party” (IRPT), when they jailed a member of the party for fighting on behalf of the Syrian rebel cause.
- The elections in Afghanistan continue, despite the lack of any clear frontrunner. This is partly due to major polling and voter registration problems. In Kabul, lines formed at 9 am to receive voter identification cards, but most were not called until 1 pm. The long waits have made the preponderance of registered voters the unemployed. No candidates have yet spoken out against the voting and registration procedures, as they wish to distance themselves as much as possible from the rampant fraud of the 2009 election. Most Afghan leaders are optimistic about the prospects for the election, even one notorious warlord and Taliban ringleader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hezb-i-Islam faction.
- An exhaustive new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research institute (SIPRI) has come to the conclusion that military aid to Central Asia by major powers like Russia and the United States is having little effect. Russia remains the main source of military and security assistance, with the US in second place, but both are concerned with the main object of their foreign policies: the US is focused more on securing supply routes for its operations in Afghanistan, and Russia is focused on maintaining its overall control of the region. The amount of attention that Central Asian military aid receives, according to Dmitry Gorenburg, author of the report, is irrelevant to the attention it receives in the media. Special Forces training, he alleges, is more valuable than arms transfers, but these operations usually receive little to no mention in the media.
- The last US troops have left the Manas Air Base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, which has been a central transit hub for US operations for the past 12 years. The only operations that will continue from now until the Kyrgyz deadline in July is hauling cargo and equipment from the base so that it will be completely vacated in a few months’ time.