The New Great Game Round Up- September 8, 2013

China's Quest for Gas in Eurasia, Pipelines- Pakistan & the SCO, Terrorist State Georgia & More!

*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 in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

This week, China's President Xi Jinping started his Central Asia tour in Turkmenistan where he met with Turkmen leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, to cement ties between the two countries. Xi and Berdymukhamedov attended the opening ceremony for the Galkynysh gas field, the second-largest natural gas deposit in the world:  

Turkmenistan Opens Huge Gas Field to Supply China – Reports

Chinese President Xi Jingping and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguli Berdymukhammedov opened a giant natural gas field in Turkmenistan that will vastly increase the ex-Soviet nation’s energy supplies to Beijing, Turkmenistan media reported Wednesday.

China's Quest for Gas in Eurasia

Galkynysh, which means "Renaissance" in Turkmen, will supply an additional 25 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year to energy-hungry China by 2020 and further assures Turkmenistan's position as China's largest supplier of natural gas: 

Turkmenistan Supplying over Half of Chinese Gas Imports

Turkmenistan is now, by a great margin, China’s largest foreign supplier of natural gas: over 21.3 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2012, or 51.4 percent of imports, according to data published by the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. That’s about three times more than Qatar supplies China (see chart). And the number is set to skyrocket with the opening of the giant Galkynysh field this autumn, which will also feed the 1,833-kilometer Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China pipeline. 

During Xi's visit, the two sides also agreed to include Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in the regional gas pipeline network and to build a new gas artery along the route Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan-China. While Beijing is able to secure huge natural gas supplies from Central Asia, Europe is losing out on the opportunity to lessen its dependence on gas from Russia:

Europe fails to tap Caspian Sea’s surging gas supplies

EU countries such as Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia all depend on Russia for over 60% of their gas imports. In addition, countries aspiring to be EU members such as Moldova, Turkey, and Ukraine rely on Russia for over 65% of their imports.

But while China has moved swiftly to source supplies from Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, Europe has been distracted by a crippling economic recession.

In addition to the European countries, Gazprom can also count on China as customer for the future. Before continuing his successful Central Asia tour in Kazakhstan, Xi Jinping attended the G20 summit in St. Petersburg. The Chinese leader used the opportunity to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and finalize the long-awaited multi-billion dollar gas deal: 

China, Russia Clinch Terms of Multi-Billion Dollar Gas Deal

Russian gas giant Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) signed the basic conditions for the long-term deal to supply at least 38 billion cubic meters of Russian gas a year to China.

Gazprom said the deal is expected to be finalized by the start of 2014. The project envisages the construction of a new Russian pipeline to China by 2018.

These latest deals are part and parcel of Beijing's plan to increase economic cooperation with Eurasian countries. Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao outlined the strategy at the opening ceremony of the China-Eurasia Expo in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi this week. Li emphasized that cooperation is the key to advance mutual trust and to guarantee regional security:

China seeks better economic ties with Eurasia

"The Eurasian region is stable on the whole. Yet, local turbulence and terrorist activities happen from time to time," Li told the forum on Monday. "Faced with such threats which are often transnational, no country can stay immune. Cooperation among all countries is the only viable way to uphold regional security." In the next five years, China will import goods worth $8 trillion from Asia and Europe, and will invest over $450 billion in Asia and Europe, Li said.

Pipelines, Pakistan & the SCO

Security and stability in the region are becoming more and more important to Beijing because the implementation of major projects like the 2.000 km trade corridor connecting China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region with Pakistan's Gwadar port depends on these factors. Li Wei, director of Chinese think tank Institute of Security and Arms Control Studies, recently highlighted the importance of the situation in Pakistan and Islamabad's relations with Afghanistan and India:    

Afghanistan, India plays key role in Pak-China $18b trade corridor

Li Wei quoted by PTI News said, “Generally speaking, the security situation in Pakistan is very important for Pakistan for the establishment of the corridor and also the security situation in the neighbouring countries and Pakistan’s relations with the neighbouring countries.”

The comments by Li Wei comes amid recent reports which suggested India’s concerns relating to the project as it runs through the disputed Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK).

Kashmir has been in the spotlight for the past few weeks with skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani troops reigniting old tensions. The potentially disastrous consequences of this longstanding conflict involving two nuclear powers are a major cause for concern in New Dehli and Islamabad. However, the renewed tensions did not only have negative side effects for the Pakistani government and served as perfect pretext for Islamabad's refusal to participate in India-based talks on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline:

Pak to skip US brokered TAPI pipeline talks in India over LoC tensions

Pakistan has refused to participate in talks with India on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, following the increased tensions between the two nations over ceasefire violations in border areas of Kashmir. The Express Tribune reports that the TAPI pipeline dialogue has been postponed after Pakistan refused to attend the meeting in India on August 22. 

Chevron and the U.S. State Department had reportedly pressured Pakistan into joining the TAPI talks. But while Washington is negotiating with reliable partners such as the Taliban about a pipeline which will never be built, Islamabad is instead focusing on the Peace pipeline no matter how strongly opposed the United States are to this project [emphasis mine]:

Islamabad will complete IP gas pipeline project: Pakistan min.

Pakistani minister of petroleum and natural resources has stressed the importance of the multi-billion-dollar pipeline projected to carry natural gas from Iran to its eastern neighbor, stating that Islamabad will complete the project regardless of any domestic or foreign pressure.

Natural gas from Iran is expected to reach its eastern neighbor by early 2015. Projects like the China-Pakistan economic corridor and Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline, which could turn into the Iran-Pakistan-China (IPC) pipeline, demonstrate that Islamabad is drifting further away from Washington. Another step in this process was the recent first-ever strategic dialogue between Pakistan and Russia in Moscow. Both Russia and China have endorsed the upgrade of Pakistan's status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization from observer to full member. According to some reports, Pakistan and several other observer states might acquire full membership already next Friday when Bishkek hosts the upcoming SCO summit:

Massive Expansion: Pakistan, India, Afghanistan likely to become SCO members Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Mongolia are expected to become full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at its next summit, said former Secretary General of Ministry of Foreign Affairs Akram Zaki on Wednesday. Speaking at an international conference entitled “SCO’s Role in Regional Stability: Prospect of Its Expansion” organized by Islamabad Policy Research Institute here, Akram Zaki said China and the Russian Federation had supported Pakistan, India and other countries’s membership of the SCO.

In light of renewed tensions between New Dehli and Islamabad, it seems unlikely that both countries will become SCO members next week but Pakistan's membership is merely a question of time. With important issues like Washington's planned illegal attack on Syria and NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan high on the agenda at the SCO summit, Moscow is pushing Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to travel to Kyrgyzstan:

Russia wants Nawaz to attend SCO summit

Pakistan, which has an observer status at the SCO, a key regional security organisation, is sending the Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, to take part in the summit.

However, in view of the likely military strike against Syria as well as the US drawdown in Afghanistan next year, Moscow is pushing Islamabad to send Prime Minister Nawaz, officials told The Express Tribune.

Sartaj Aziz, the replacement of PM Nawaz, already stated that Islamabad seeks to work with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in order to promote regional harmony. In regards to the pullout of ISAF troops from Afghanistan, Aziz emphasized Pakistan's policy of "no interference and no favorites" in Afghanistan in the post-2014 period. This policy would basically be an invitation for the Taliban to take over the country. The Afghan security forces are not capable of countering any threat whatsoever. General Joseph Dunford, current commander of ISAF and U.S. Forces Afghanistan just proposed to extend the support and did not rule out a combat role for NATO troops after 2014:

Afghan forces suffering too many casualties, says top Nato commander

Afghanistan's police and army are losing too many men in battle, and may need up to five more years of western support before they can fight independently, the top US and Nato commander in the country has told the Guardian.

Dunford admitted that NATO and Afghan commanders are concerned about Afghan casualty rates, which have regularly topped more than 100 dead a week. "I view it as serious, and so do all the commanders," Dunford said. "I'm not assuming that those casualties are sustainable."

In Afghanistan's northeastern province of Badakhshan, where the Afghan National Army (ANA) and National Police (ANP) are now in charge of security duties, the Taliban and terrorist groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have been gaining ground. Even high-level officials are not safe from terror attacks:

Afghan governor escapes bomb attack, 4 guards killed

The governor of the northern Afghan province of Badakhshan on Tuesday escaped a bomb attack in which four of his bodyguards were dead, said a provincial government spokesman. 

Terrorist State Georgia

Meanwhile in Russia's North Caucasus, terrorism was also the main topic. The beginning of September marked the 9th anniversary of the Beslan school hostage crisis in the Russian Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. Chechen and Ingush terrorists, reportedly sent by Chechen separatist warlord Shamil Basayev, were responsible for the terrible attack:

The 9th anniversary of Beslan tragedy

Today Russia has marked the Day of Solidarity in the Fight Against Terrorism. On this day the country remembers the victims of the Beslan tragedy, during which more than 300 people were killed, most of whom were women and children. On September 1st, 2004, during a celebratory line-up, terrorists stormed Beslan's School Number 1. A group of armed people held adults and children in the school for three days. 334 people were victims of the tragedy, including 318 hostages, 186 of whom were children.

Some militants in the region had apparently their own idea of "celebrating" the Beslan massacre anniversary [emphasis mine]:

Cache with ammunition found in Dagestan’s Buinaksk

According to the Interior Ministry, a home-made explosive device made of a 3-litre plastic bucket with a 200-gram TNT block, an industrial detonator ID-8, striking pieces, a grenade, cartridges and other components for a home-made bomb were found in the bags.

Meanwhile, the ministry noted that a piece of paper with a schematic view of the Buinaksk School was found.

In the evening on September 1, a police patrol came under fire in Buinaksk. A policeman was wounded, an attacker was killed, the second attacker escaped.

The terrorist killed in the shootout with police was Zaur Umarov, a specialist for bomb construction. So a possible anniversary attack was fortunately foiled but police officers in Dagestan are paying a high price for their fight against terrorism:

Three Police Officers Killed In Daghestan

Policeman Killed in Dagestan Car Blast 

As discussed last week, Bandar Bush recently confirmed that the House of Saud is pulling the strings behind the Chechen terrorists but there are of course more players supporting these terrorist groups against the Russian government. The Lopota incident, which took place one year ago in Georgia, highlights the role of President Saakashvili's government in recruiting and training Chechen militants. Eleven people were killed during a military operation of Georgian troops against "armed subversives". In April of this year, Georgian human rights ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili released an explosive report concluding that…

Pankisi Gorge was allegedly often used by Chechen terrorists and Islamic militants, including foreign fighters from Afghanistan and Arab countries, as a base for transit, training and shipments of arms and financing. Now there have been new allegations substantiating Nanuashvili's report but blaming the Georgian Defense Ministry instead of the Interior Ministry for the Chechen terrorist training program. Be that as is may, there is credible evidence implicating Saakashvili's government in creating and supporting Chechen terrorism in order to destabilize Russia and according to witnesses the operation was not a small one [emphasis mine]:

Is Georgia a terrorist state? 

Moreover, witnesses suggested that this was not an isolated event. Apparently, bearded men from abroad had been arriving for some years, and by 2012 as many as one hundred and twenty militants had received support. Nanuashvili’s report indicates the existence of a secret programme, run by officials of Georgia’s previous UNM government, to arm and train Chechen and Islamist militants. Ex-president Saakashvili has rejected the allegations, pointing out that they tallied with Russian claims. While a number of former officials have attacked the Ombudsman’s report, some have corroborated it.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

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