Great Game

Kyrgyzstan: 'authoritarian' new constitution unveiled

Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan unveiled a new constitution on Nov. 17, drawing criticism over the expansion of presidential powers. Shortly after a draft of the document was released, politicians and activists expressed concerns that it would lead to full-blown authoritarianism. Among the many changes, it reduces the size and power of parliament. Any responsibilities taken from parliament were transferred to the presidency. Significant differences exist between the Russian and Kyrgyz language versions, making it unclear whether the president could serve one or two terms. It would also establish a People's Kurultai, an ad hoc body consisting of members of the public that would propose policy changes. The drafters insist that the body would promote popular representation. Critics view it as potentially easy to manipulate. They also question the necessity, given that parliament already consists of elected representatives. Kyrgyzstan uses a proportional representation system, with seats apportioned between the parties based on the percentage of the national popular vote received. 

ETIM dropped from US 'terrorist' list: how real?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Nov. 6 that he is revoking the "terrorist organization" designation of the supposed "East Turkestan Islamic Movement" (ETIM)—an entity that may not actually exist in any organized sense but has been used to justify China's mass detention of the Uighurs in Xinjiang region. Reaction has been perfectly predictable. The Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project called Pompeo's decision "long overdue" and a "definitive rejection of China's claims." It was likewise applauded by the DC-based self-declared East Turkistan Government in Exile. Beijing's Foreign Ministry, in turn, accused the US of "backpedaling on international counter-terrorism cooperation," and expressed China's "strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to the US decision."

Franco-Russian game in Central African Republic?

French and Russian military networks are backing rival forces to influence upcoming elections in Central African Republic according to a new report by The Sentry, a Washington-based NGO co-founded by Hollywood actor George Clooney. France used to call the shots in CAR, its former colony, but President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has allied himself to Russia and availed himself of the Wagner Group, a shadowy mercenary organization linked to Vladimir Putin. The Sentry claims France now supports a rebel coalition that opposes Touadéra—who is standing for a second term in December—though the French foreign ministry denies the accusation. All of this spells bad news for ordinary Central Africans, who have suffered under rebel groups for years. More than one in four are currently internally displaced or living as refugees in neighboring countries.

Libya: will ceasefire really be 'permanent'?

Libya's warring factions on Oct. 23 signed a "permanent ceasefire" agreement, raising hopes of progress toward ending the conflict and chaos that has gripped the country since Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown and killed during a 2011 NATO-backed uprising. The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and eastern forces led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar have been fighting for control of Libya since April 2019—each backed by a bevy of militias in a war that has seen international powers join the fray and an arms embargo routinely violated. While violence has subsided in the capital city of Tripoli in recent months, countrywide peace efforts have until now gone nowhere. Acting UN head of mission Stephanie Williams hailed the agreement, hammered out during talks in Geneva, as "an important turning point," but some have expressed doubts that it can be implemented on the ground. Under its terms, all foreign fighters must leave within three months, and a new joint police force will aim to secure the peace. The ceasefire is to start immediately.

Revolution in Kyrgyzstan: who is in control?

Protestors in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, occupied and set fire to the White House, the building that houses both the president's office and parliamentary chamber. The headquarters of State Committee for National Security (GKNB), which oversees the secret police, was also taken over. Opposition politicians imprisoned there were liberated. The Oct. 6 uprising followed a day of demonstrations that filled the city's central Ala-Too Square, finally escalating to clashes with police, who fired rubber bullets into the crowd. The demonstrations were called to demand that parliamentary elections held one day earlier be annulled. The victory for the ruling party was marred by claims of fraud and vote-buying.

Campaign to recognize Republic of Artsakh

Ten days into renewed heavy fighting over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the enclave's capital, Stepanakert, is coming under heavy shelling by Azerbaijan, with some 20 civilians killed. The self-governing enclave within Azerbaijan has since 1994 been under the control of ethnic Armenians, who constitute the majority there, and have declared the de facto Republic of Artsakh. The National Assembly of Artsakh on Oct. 5 issued a statement accusing Azerbaijan of intentionally targeting civilian infrastructure and using banned weaponry such as cluster munitions. The statement also accused Turkey of directing the offensive, and backing it up with mercenary fighters. The National Assembly called upon the international community to formally recognize the Republic of Artsakh as "the most effective way to put an end to the ongoing grave crimes against the peaceful population of Artsakh, and to protect their rights."

Iraq and Afghanistan: US troops out, Chevron in?

On a visit to Baghdad this week, Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of the Pentagon's Central Command, announced that US forces in Iraq will be reduced in the coming weeks from some 5,200 troops to about 3,000. McKenzie later told reporters that troop levels in Afghanistan will drop from the current 8,600 to 4,500. All of this is to happen by "late October," he said. How convenient. (AP, Politico) This all smells more of politics that strategy. There are still more than 10,000 ISIS fighters remaining across Iraq and Syria, according to a UN estimate from August. So, as Defense One comments, "any 'mission accomplished' moment remains elusive to clear-eyed observers of ISIS and the Middle East."

Russian mercenaries occupy Libyan oil terminals

Libya's eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, his long siege of Tripoli broken by the city's defenders in June, continues to hold the country's principal oil terminals, and has established effective control over the Petroleum Facilities Guard. The UN this week brokered a ceasefire between Haftar and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, seeking to re-open exports from the terminals. Haftar agreed to the ceasefire after the US threatened sanctions against him. Russia, in turn, is apparently backing Haftar, sending arms and mercenaries to help his forces secure the terminals. Russia's paramilitary Wagner Group is especially said to be present at Es-Sider terminal, outside the port city of Ras Lanuf. (Argus Media, Libyan Express, OilPrice.com, Middle East Eye)

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