The Collective Security Treaty Organization is an intergovernmental military alliance comprised of six the six members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – and which receives the majority of its financing from Russia. Recently, CTSO Secretary General and Russian general Nikolay Bordyuzha announced the organization’s ability to deploy troops to the Tajik-Afghan border “within three days” should a conflict along the border between Taliban or other Afghan extremists and Tajik military forces materialize. Bordyuzha insisted that Russia does not want to open a “second front” in Tajikistan, but that it would never allow for the sovereignty of a CTSO member to be violated.
Recently, tensions along the Tajik-Afghan border have risen. The presence of increased militant presence along the border led to the Tajik government in Dushanbe issuing statements of military “readiness” in the event a large scale confrontation were to take place. Minor skirmishes between Afghan militants and Tajik border forces have taken place, and Tajikistan opened a new military base along the border in January. Other countries with land borders with Afghanistan have similarly expanded their military presence along the Afghan border presence, though reports of sustained violence have not occurred. It is unclear what the specific impetus for Bordyuzha’s statement was. Russia operates a military base several miles west of Dushanbe.
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- Members of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, the body that allegedly oversees the activities of the supreme leader, recently voted to choose a new chairman. Despite the widespread belief that Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, a favorite of Ayatollah Khamenei as well as his expected successor, Shahroudi withdrew from the vote, leading to the election of 83 year-old Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi to the chairmanship. The election of Yazdi, a renowned conservative who has spoken in favor of banning music, indicates a shift towards the right in Iranian clerical circles.
- Kyrgyzstan is taking steps towards developing its transportation system. Currently, more than 95% of all cargo and passengers are transported by motor transport within the country, and without a consistent means for road rehabilitation the country is losing approximately 200 kilometers per year to disrepair. As a result, Kyrgyz officials have set out to draft an electronic toll system for “freight vehicles” using public roads. The proceeds from the toll system would then subsequently be reinvested in the upkeep of existing roads, according to Kyrgyzstan’s Transport Ministry.
- Tajikistan will join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), along with 25 other nations. The AIIB is a Chinese alternative to entities such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The bank is still under development though already counts influential states such as Saudi Arabia amongst its members.
- The European Union has continued to explore alternatives to Russian natural gas. The issue is purported to have been “high on the agenda” of a recent EU conference in Vienna, and a new partnership deal struck between British Petroleum and a slew of foreign partners seem to indicate that natural gas will soon be transported to the EU via the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline.
- US and Russian scientists have predicted that Afghanistan and Kazakhstan could become global leaders in rare earth metals production during “the next several years.” The US Geological Survey recently conducted a survey of Afghanistan, estimating the value of its rare and rare earth metals at nearly $1 trillion. Surveys conducted on Kazakhstan, while not as recent, estimate similarly high quantities of rare earth metals. Both countries have received interest from the US and China, among others, with the latter already signing extensive deals with Afghanistan for the extraction of coal.