U.S. And NATO Strengthen Positions Along Russia’s Southern Flank

17 September 2010

By Rick Rozoff

On September 15 U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov signed a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation in Washington, D.C.

The two defense chiefs also issued a joint declaration committing their respective states to establishing a defense working group which will meet annually.

According to a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, the two officials discussed what is euphemistically referred to as missile defense and ratification of the updated Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) agreement. In addition, “The parties also plan[ned] to focus on some problems of regional security, including the situation in Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caucasus,” according to Itar-Tass.

The mainstream media in both countries will doubtlessly herald the news as further confirmation of warmer ties between the nations after the current U.S. administration succeeded that of George W. Bush in the tiresome seesaw of Republican-Democratic rotations that have gone on since 1852 with little enough substantive difference in foreign policy.

Obligatory and unimaginative references to a largely rhetorical “reset button” and similar cliche-mongering will be rife.

All’s now right with the world whether or not God’s in his Heaven, and the unfortunate contretemps that set in after then-Russian president Vladimir Putin dared to speak the truth about contemporary world affairs at the Munich Security Conference three years ago and the five-day war between Washington’s client in Georgia and Russia of a year later has been relegated to the realm of the regrettable past.

Official Moscow is permitting the transit of non-lethal cargo across Russian territory for NATO’s war in Afghanistan – evidently without any sense of historical irony – and there is talk of reactivating the NATO-Russia Council after the suspension of its work following the 2008 Caucasus war.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will tout his role in recalibrating relations with the world’s sole military superpower and expect to harvest corresponding political rewards for himself and his United Russia party.

Russia’s experience with military cooperation pacts, from that with Napoleon Bonaparte’s France in 1807 to that of Adolf Hitler’s Germany in 1939, might have taught it a lesson or two. But history is long and memory is short.

While Gates and Serdyukov discussed South and Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Pentagon, in its own right and through the global military bloc it controls, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has been doing more than talking.

Reports persist of the U.S. planning to set up new military training sites in the former Soviet Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, in addition to the Pentagon and NATO continuing to transit an estimated 50,000 troops a month through Kyrgyzstan for the war in Afghanistan and NATO running operations from an air base in the Tajik capital.

American troops and those of its British ally wrapped up ten days of 2010 Steppe Eagle military exercises in Kazakhstan, the one Central Asian nation that borders Russia.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a post-Soviet defense alliance led by Russia which also includes Belarus, Armenia and Uzbekistan. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan are the only nations outside of Europe to have been granted a NATO Individual Partnership Action Plan.

On September 11 of this year the CSTO’s main rival in post-Soviet space, NATO, began disaster simulation exercises in Armenia under the auspices of the Alliance’s Partnership for Peace program, one that includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. That is, all former Soviet republics except for Russia and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the last three full NATO members since 2004.

The Armenia 2010 exercise includes troops from 15 Partnership for Peace and Mediterranean Dialogue NATO partners. The Mediterranean Dialogue consists of Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. Five warships with the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 docked in Morocco on September 16 to “allow NATO forces to develop cooperation with civil and military (Moroccan) authorities,” according to a statement by the North Atlantic military alliance.

Russia and Armenia signed an agreement on August 20 to extend the lease on a Russian military base in the South Caucasus country until 2044. But leases are frequently broken.

Last December Armenia approved a request from NATO to deploy its troops to serve under the bloc in its war in Afghanistan, the first and to date only CSTO member state to do so. Its two neighbors in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan and Georgia, have over a thousand troops assigned to NATO in the Afghan theater of war.

This week Robert Simmons, the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, was in the Armenian capital as the Armenia 2010 exercise was underway.

Simmons’ post was created at the 2004 Istanbul summit of the North Atlantic military bloc, one which registered the largest single expansion in NATO’s 61-year history with seven new members – Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia – inducted, and the launching of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative to elevate the six-nation Mediterranean Dialogue to the level of the Partnership for Peace (the recruiting mechanism for NATO’s 12 newest members) and to build military partnerships with the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The last-named is the first Persian Gulf state to provide NATO with troops for Afghanistan.

The year before Simmons, an American, was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO for Security Cooperation and Partnership, where he concentrates on the former Yugoslavia and the western portion of the former USSR, a position he holds in addition to that for the Caucasus and Central Asia. His agenda is to expand NATO influence and presence from the Balkans to China’s western border.

While in Yerevan, he discussed further implementation of the country’s Individual Partnership Action Plan, invited Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to attend this year’s NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal for discussions on the military alliance’s first 21st century Strategic Concept, and broached the subject of deploying NATO forces as putative peacekeepers for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The U.S. and its NATO partners have long entertained plans to “internationalize” the Karabakh dispute after the earlier Yugoslav model.

Earlier this month the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, John Tanner, pledged to raise the Nagorno-Karabakh issue at the Assembly’s autumn session. Several Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers have been killed in fighting in the last three weeks.

This month Azerbaijani troops have been involved in NATO training exercises in Germany, Ukraine and Montenegro.

Earlier this month Simmons continued efforts to bring Uzbekistan back into NATO’s and the Pentagon’s fold after the country expelled U.S. military forces five years ago following a deadly uprising in Andijan. German NATO troops have remained near the city of Termez and the Uzbek government has reached an agreement with NATO for the transit of supplies as part of the Northern Distribution Network for the Afghan war.

In a message on the nation’s independence day, Simmons praised Uzbekistan for the use of an air base, the transit of NATO supplies and its recently intensified efforts toward NATO integration under Partnership for Peace provisions.

Ten days later it was announced that Uzbekistan would not participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Peace Mission-2010 exercises in Kazakhstan with fellow members Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Last week Georgian officials revealed that NATO will open a permanent mission in their country later this month, “another step in deepening the integration of Georgia into NATO” according to the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Akaki Minashvili. Until now the Alliance has been represented by a liaison officer in the Georgian Defense Ministry. Shortly after the five-day war between Georgia and Russia in August of 2008 – which began with a Georgian assault against South Ossetia a week after NATO exercises in Georgia with 1,000 U.S. Marines ended and with American troops and equipment still in the country – NATO granted Georgia an unprecedented Annual National Program and Washington crafted the United States-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership.

This September 8 Frank Boland, director of NATO’s Defense Policy and Planning Department, arrived in Georgia to join a group of NATO experts to evaluate the country’s implementation of obligations under the Partnership for Peace Planning and Review Process and the Annual National Program. The delegation met with officials of the defense, interior and finance ministries and the National Security Council, including Deputy Defense Minister Nodar Kharshiladze and other defense and military officials as well as military attaches of NATO nations and representatives of member states’ embassies.

On August 30 Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was quoted in the Russian newspaper Kommersant warning that the U.S, is still rearming Georgia, stating, “further rearmament of Georgia is underway. Why? That’s real; we see that. There would have been no aggression and bloodshed if not for the rearmament of Georgia two years ago; we had been telling this to our partners, including to our European friends; and everyone kept silence; and how did it all end? It led up to the war. This rearmament continues today.”

Last week former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Georgia to attend a “symposium dedicated to discussion of the issues [relating to] global challenges.”

On September 13 Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili spoke at a military base in the city of Kutaisi where a NATO Square was inaugurated during last October’s NATO Days events in the country. Days after Georgia lost its first soldier in Afghanistan, the U.S.-educated leader stated that the nearly 1,000 troops he has provided to NATO for the war were gaining “combat experience” and were becoming “further integrated with its Western allies.” According to the Civil Georgia website, he asked “can we say no to a war school? This is an opportunity to become integrated to the world’s best armies, to see the most advanced (military) equipment and achievements.”

When Saakashvili attacked South Ossetia on August 7-8 of 2008, 2,000 Georgian troops were in Iraq – the third largest contingent after those of the U.S. and Britain – receiving war zone experience, and they were flown home on U.S. military transport planes for the war with Russia. The Georgian soldier killed in Afghanistan had earlier served in Iraq. In all three of the nation’s soldiers were killed in Iraq and 19 were wounded.

Like Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, Georgia borders southern Russia and like the two other nations has an advanced NATO integration program; in fact two, an Individual Partnership Action Plan and an Annual National Program.

On the eastern sector of Russia’s southern flank, last month U.S. Pacific Command led the latest of annual Khaan Quest military exercises conducted since 2003 to train Mongolian troops for deployments to, first, Iraq, and lately Afghanistan. This year’s war games included forces from the U.S.’s NATO allies Canada, France and Germany and Asian nations India, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, all of whom except for India – officially – have provided troops for or in other manners assisted the war effort in Afghanistan.

Along with the Pentagon’s recent deployment of a Patriot missile battery and over 100 troops to eastern Poland, 35 miles from Russian territory, to be followed by the stationing of a land-based version of Standard Missile-3 anti-ballistic missiles and radar in Romania and Bulgaria across the Black Sea from Russia, NATO has expanded and modernized the Soviet-era Amari Air Base in Estonia which will now be able to accommodate 16 NATO fighters, 20 transport planes and 2,000 military personnel daily. The base will complement one in Lithuania, the Siauliai Air Base, used by NATO aircraft to patrol Baltic airspace since Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia joined NATO in 2004.

The four-month rotation started on September 1 is being conducted by the U.S. with F-15C Eagle warplanes.

The U.S. led the 12-nation, two-week Sea Breeze 2010 Partnership for Peace maritime exercise in Ukraine’s Crimea in July, the largest maneuvers in the Black Sea this year with 20 ships, 13 aircraft and over 1,600 troops from Azerbaijan, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Moldova, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine and U.S.

On September 14 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned against a NATO build-up to Russia’s north, in the Arctic Ocean, and the following day Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated, “We do not see what benefit NATO can bring to the Arctic….I do not think NATO would be acting properly if it took upon itself the right to decide who should solve problems in the Arctic.”

When Pentagon chief Robert Gates, who has a doctorate degree in Russian studies from Georgetown University, met with his opposite number this week, Defense Minister Serdyukov would not have been out of line asking his counterpart to genuinely push the reset button and cease U.S. and NATO military encroachment on his nation from almost every direction.



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