The New Great Game Round-Up: March 30, 2014

FSB Counters Destabilization of Russia, West Protects Saakashvili from Prosecution & 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.

After the party of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had lost power in the 2012 Georgian parliamentary election, the controversial political leader faced more and more pressure in his home country. Even before Saakashvili left office, then Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili had threatened him with criminal prosecution and went after his associates. So the former President took no chances and left Georgia after the end of his second term. Although Ivanishvili has turned his back on politics by now, the current government is still determined to hold Saakashvili accountable. After all, he is implicated in numerous criminal cases including the death of his former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. Since Saakashvili does not want to acknowledge that there are plenty of reasons for his questioning, he takes the same line as almost all Western politicians and media in recent weeks [emphasis mine]: 

Saakashvili refuses to come home for questioning, blames Putin

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Tuesday made his first comments regarding the news that he is asked to testify in ten serious criminal cases in his home country.

He claims the request sent out by his country’s top prosecutor, asking him to help solve ten of the most controversial criminal cases, including the death of his own prime minister, is a ploy masterminded by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking to Rustavi 2, Saakashvili reiterated that he believes that his summoning is a direct order from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to ‘destroy’ him.

West Protects Saakashvili from Prosecution

Perhaps Saakashvili believes the anti-Russian propaganda, which he and his friend John McCain were spouting during the Euromaidan protests in Kiev. It is definitely more convenient to blame Russia's President Putin than to confront the new information regarding the death of his former Prime Minister. Zurab Zhvania died allegedly from carbon monoxide poisoning, due to an inadequately ventilated gas heater. Most Georgians have never believed this official version and last week an anonymous user posted a YouTube video titled "Saakashvili murderer" showing the autopsy pictures of Zhvania, which suggest that he had been beaten before his death. Georgia's prosecutor's office has now offered Saakashvili to conduct the questioning via Skype but the former President rejected this proposal immediately and emphasized that he does not want to be questioned. Fortunately, Saakashvili can count on his friends in Washington and Brussels to protect him:

West warns Georgia against prosecuting Saakashvili

Georgia’s Western partners are threatening that prosecuting former President Saakashvili may jeopardize an EU treaty and membership in NATO.

Georgia has for years sought closer integration with the European Union and membership in NATO. In June, the EU is expected to sign the Association Agreement, and NATO is rumored to be planning a Georgia membership action plan (MAP) in September – eventually leading to full membership.

But now both “carrots” may be withheld by the country’s closest allies, after the top prosecutor asked former President Saakashvili to come home and be questioned about ten very serious criminal cases.

Tbilisi plans to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union in June and favors an acceleration of the process. But given the latest threats, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili is now concerned about Georgia's future and warned the EU that "crises similar to Ukraine will reemerge" if Brussels fails to give the successful Eastern Partnership countries a clear promise on EU membership. So the Georgian government has to think twice before prosecuting the former President. The U.S. State Department voiced its infamous "concern" regarding the questioning of Saakashvili and without Washington's support there will be no NATO membership for Georgia. However, after President Obama's latest comments, the Georgian authorities will most certainly wonder how much this support is worth anyway:

Obama: Georgia, Ukraine 'Not on Path to NATO Membership'

There are “no immediate plans” for expanding NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine, U.S. President Barack Obama said at a press conference after the EU-US summit in Brussels on March 26.

Responding to a question whether the crisis in Ukraine will make it more or less likely that NATO will expand to include Ukraine and Georgia, President Obama responded: “Neither Ukraine or Georgia are currently on a path to NATO membership.”

While Georgia's Prime Minister and President tried to downplay Obama's statement, some people in the country were disappointed and vented their anger on Facebook and Twitter with comments like this: “Nice to know that all those people died in Afghanistan for nothing.” Georgia has gone to great pains to please NATO including sending soldiers to Afghanistan, 29 of whom have died. More and more Georgian citizens are now starting to challenge the unconditional support of NATO and take a closer look at the U.S.-led military alliance: 

Supporters and opponents of NATO clash in Tbilisi

Three people were detained in Tbilisi on Monday as supporters and opponents of NATO clashed outside the Cinema House.

Tension was already high during the screening of a 30 minutes long film about NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, organized by the Eurasian Institute.

A minor scuffle broke out as a young man went to the front of the cinema hall and accused the audience of being Russian agents.

Turkish Charity Commemorates Doku Umarov

There is abundant evidence of NATO's disregard for international law from Yugoslavia to Syria. This week, the terror campaign in Syria, which has been portrayed as heroic fight of "moderate Syrian rebels" against the evil Assad regime, was once again exposed for what is really is due to an ongoing power struggle in Turkey between the Gülen movement and Prime Minister Erdogan. Vital NATO member Turkey plays a central role in supporting terrorists in accordance with U.S. foreign policy, regardless of whether it concerns Syria or Russia's North Caucasus. Turkish aid organizations like the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and IMKANDER are essential to keep the Islamist insurgency running. IMKANDER removed any doubt about its relationship with the "Chechen rebels" last week, when the Turkish charity commemorated Doku Umarov, the now officially deceased leader of the Caucasus Emirate (IK):

Turkish charity İMKANDER praises slain Islamic Caucasus Emirate emir in rally

A charity known as İMKANDER has praised Doku Umarov, the former emir of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate whose death was announced by the jihadist group just last week, during recent rallies in several Turkish cities.

Murat Ozer, İMKANDER's president, addressed the large crowd in Istanbul. Ozer "emphasized in his speech that the proclamation of the Caucasus Emirate in 2007 was not something new for the Caucasus, as the opponents try to present, but an act of restoration of an Islamic state, uniting the Caucasian Muslims under the common flag of Monotheism, which was lost as a result of aggression and capture of Caucasus by Russia," Kavkaz Center said.

Of course, the rallies were covered by the Kavkaz Center, IK's mouthpiece and anti-Russian propaganda outlet. Last year, Russia already tried to have IMKANDER as well as Kavkaz Center's Mikael Storsjö and Isa Dzhabrailov blacklisted by the United Nations Security Council but this initiative was blocked by the NATO member states United Kingdom, France and Luxembourg. Russian officials insisted that the Turkish chartiy and the two individuals were linked to the Caucasus Emirate and Russia's Foreign Ministry criticized this decision as "further evidence of a disappointing policy of double standards". But the Kremlin knows very well that NATO counts on the Imarat Kavkaz and other terrorist groups to fight on its behalf, wherever required. Right now, IK's fighters are reportedly doing a great job in Syria and the Russian authorities are therefore keeping a close eye on the Syria-North Caucasus connection: 

MIA: KChR resident trained as terrorist in Syria detained in Krasnodar

As reported by the press service of the Chief Department for the North-Caucasian Federal District (NCFD) of the Russia's Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), a resident of the Karachay-Cherkessian Republic (KChR), who underwent training at the commando training camp of the international terrorist grouping in Syria, was detained in the Krasnodar Airport.

It happened on March 19, when the man arrived in Krasnodar from Turkey. According to the above Department of the NCFD, he was trained in the camp of the international terrorist grouping "Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar", and was sent by its emissaries to Russia for subversive activities.

At the beginning of March, five Dagestani citizens were detained at Makhachkala Airport after arriving from Egypt on the suspicion that they had been fighting in Syria. Even without more battle-tested jihadists from Syria, Russian law enforcers have to deal with more than enough terrorists in Dagestan. According to Dagestan's police chief, there are currently 13 illegal paramilitary formations operating in the volatile republic. During the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian media refrained from covering special operations and other terrorism-related incidents in the region. But the violence never ended and meanwhile the reporting is back to normal: 

Police Kill Militant Leader, 4 Islamist Rebels in Dagestan

A suspected militant leader and four members of his armed group were killed Tuesday in a shootout with police in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, Russia’s anti-terrorism authority said.

The National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) identified the militant leader as Tural Ataev, a 28-year-old native of Azerbaijan, who allegedly headed a militant group in the Babayurt district of Dagestan. 

FSB Counters Destabilization of Russia

Besides the Sochi Olympics, there was of course another reason why Russia's North Caucasus did not get much media coverage lately: the Ukraine crisis. As previously discussed, some of the Ukrainian neo-Nazis who took power in Kiev had fought alongside the "Chechen rebels" in the First Chechen War against Russia. So it came as no surprise, when one Chechen insurgent turned up in Ukraine. Unfortunately for him, he was arrested before "Yats" & Co. took over and the new regime is now trying to spruce up its image: 

Ukraine Hands Over Suspected Chechen Gunman to Russia

Ukraine has extradited to Russia a Chechen man suspected of assaulting local residents in the North Caucasus republic, the Prosecutor General's Office said Thursday.

Muhammed Migayev, who was put on an international wanted list in 2008, was detained in Odessa, southern Ukraine, last December. Russian prosecutors sent a request on his extradition in January.

Ukraine agreed on Migayev's extradition earlier this month.

At the beginning of this week, prominent Ukrainian neo-Nazi terrorist Alexander Muzychko, who was also wanted by Russia, had to learn the hard way that the putsch regime in Kiev cares a great deal about its image abroad. In the meantime, Russia's President Putin wants to draw a lesson from the coup d'état and urged Russian lawmakers to analyze all colour revolutions including the latest events in Ukraine in order to better defend Russians from terrorism and extremism. Furthermore, the Federal Security Service (FSB) warned against increasing efforts by the United States and its allies to destabilize the Russian Federation and vowed to thwart these plans [emphasis mine]:

FSB: west steps up attempts to destabilize the internal situation in RF

“The number of external threats to the state has increased. The legal volition of the people of Crimea and eastern Ukraine to be together with Russia are driving the United States and its allies into hysteria. They are trying to destabilize the socio-political and economic situation in this country,” FSB Deputy Director Alexander Malyovanyi said at a ceremony on Friday where President Putin met senior officers who had received new appointments and had been promoted to higher military ranks.

“Under these circumstances we are drawing up and implementing offensive counter-intelligence and intelligence measures aimed at thwarting such aspirations,” Malyovanyi went on to say, pledging to protect Russian nationals from radicals and extremists penetrating into Russia, including in the newly-formed Crimean Federal District.

As Pepe Escobar has alerted, especially Tatar jihadists in Crimea could pose a threat to Russia because they might be used by the House of Saud to destabilize the Crimean Peninsula. According to reports in the French, Ukrainian and Russian press, dozens of Crimean Tatar jihadists were transferred from Turkey to Sevastopol by the CIA and Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT) as early as last November. However, at this time they were still needed in Kiev to "secure" the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Now these jihadi mercenaries are obviously free for new assignments. CIA's propaganda outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is already doing its bit and told us which organization would play a central role in Crimea's destabilization [emphasis mine]:

As Russian Law Comes To Crimea, Local Tatars Brace For 'Extremism' Accusations

Two days before the disputed referendum in Crimea, the Ukrainian branch of Hizb-ut Tahrir issued a statement warning of "provocations." 

"We foresee the possibility of provocations taking place, whether they are attacks on the security forces or citizens by unknown assailants, that will then be falsely blamed on Hizb ut Tahrir to justify the presence of Russia in the Crimea," the statement said "We categorically deny all of this in advance, and if and when this takes place, we hold those who occupied the Crimea responsible."

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been banned in Russia since 2003 and members of the organization are frequently arrested in the country. Since the conveyor belt for terrorists enjoys a strong presence in Crimea, the Russian authorities will have their work cut out. Some Hizb ut-Tahrir members lost no time in leaving the peninsula after the Crimean referendum and moved to Lviv before Russia's FSB could take them off the streets [emphasis mine]: 

Hizb ut-Tahrir activists move from Crimea to Lvov as refugees

Leader of Crimean public organization Milli Firka Vasvi Abduraimov urges to active struggle against followers of the terrorist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir on the peninsula. 

"Hizb ut-Tahrir has nothing to do with Islam. We believe it is the most terrific evil that can be in Crimea. They are non believers, they are potential mechanism for murder and bloody conflicts governed from the outside. So its "clean-up" won't cause any indignation. We believe that corresponding measures including tough ones should be taken against Hizb ut-Tahrir," Abduraimov said in his interview to Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.

According to his information, today main Hizb ut-Tahrir activists moved to Lvov "where there will be settlements and training camps established for them."

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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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