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Eurasia Security Watch - No. 235

Edited by Jeff M. Smith
February 11, 2011


MANAS CLEARS ANOTHER HURDLE?
The oft-troubled American airbase at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, is facing yet another challenge, this time over a tax dispute over fuel supplies. The Manas airbase is the last U.S. military base located in the five former Soviet Central Asian Republics and serves a critical logistics and refueling role in the U.S.-led war effort in neighboring Afghanistan. On several occasions, multiple Kyrgyz administrations have threatened to evict the United States from Manas, often at the urging of Moscow. The latest spat arose in January when the Kyrgyz government moved to essentially revoke the tax exemption status the U.S. has enjoyed over fuel supplies bought in and transiting through Kyrgyzstan – an exemption codified in a bilateral 2009 Agreement for Cooperation between the two governments. An attempt was made in May 2010 to apply a value-added tax on fuel sales to Manas, but the U.S. government successfully deflected the tax increase. This time around, Kyrgyz government representatives have offered the U.S. new terms: pay an excise tax of $55 per ton of kerosene or, if they are adamant about being tax exempt, “let them pay $100 per ton of kerosene voluntarily to the state budget,” in the words of Kyrgyz MP Omurbek Abdrakhmanov.

At the center of the dispute is the U.S. contractor Mina Corp, which supplies the U.S. fuel at Manas. Kyrgyz politicians have targeted the company and accused it of improper dealings with the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted last April. A resolution appears to have been reached on February 8, when the U.S. signed a $630 million agreement with Bishkek allowing the newly-formed Kyrgyz state company Manas Refuelling Complex to supply 20 percent of U.S. fuel needs now, and up to 50 percent in the future. (Eurasianet.org January 14, 2011; Beijing Peoples Daily February 9, 2011)

TURKEY AND AZERBAIJAN SOLIDIFY ALLIANCE

Turkey and Azerbaijan have signed an Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Support that signals a shift in Azerbaijan’s longtime reluctance to link itself into security arrangements with countries from NATO or the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Turkey and Azerbaijan have been military allies since Azerbaijan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 (Azeris are ethnically Turkic but 85% hail from the Shi’ite sect of Islam; Turkey is majority Sunni). But Azerbaijan has been reluctant to sign any kind of formal treaty with Turkey for fear of “irritating the Kremlin and putting the kibosh on a Russia-brokered resolution” over Nagorno Karabakh, a territory disputed by Azerbaijan and its neighbor and longtime nemesis, Armenia.

However, a military cooperation deal between Armenia and Russia in August 2010, and the stagnation of bilateral negotiations over Nagorno Karabakh, which Armenia controls and Azerbaijan claims, seems to have eliminated Baku’s hesitancy about formalizing its alliance with Ankara. Azerbaijan, flush with oil revenues, has seen a surge in military spending in recent years, announcing a $3.5 billion military budget for 2011, more than the entire annual budget of the Armenian government. In January, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev repeated that his country has “the full right to liberate the occupied Azerbaijani territories by military force.” The 10 year agreement binds Turkey to intervene in the case of aggression against Azerbaijan, but only after “additional consultations.” (Eurasianet.org January 18, 2011)

TRIBES USE REGIONAL UNREST TO PRESSURE JORDAN’S KING

The early weeks of 2011 have been marked by a surge of protests in the Middle East and North Africa have now overturned two longstanding autocratic regimes, in Tunisia and Egypt. However, the wave of democratic protests have not been contained to the Maghreb, even if the entrenched regimes of the Gulf and Levant do not appear under immediate threat. One country being watched very closely by Washington is Jordan, which ranks as one of America’s staunchest allies in the region. Jordan looked an unlikely target for the kind of social unrest found elsewhere in the region, with a more progressive and popular ruler, and a more vibrant economy than most of its neighbors. However, anti-government protests at the end of January led Jordan’s King Abdullah to dismiss his cabinet and appoint a former army officer, Marouf Bakhit as prime minister. The move was preceded by a $500 million aid package raising civil service salaries and curbing price rises.

Yet, rather than assuaging demonstrators’ concerns, the policies may have emboldened them: a group of 36 tribal leaders who have traditionally served as the “backbone” of the monarchy’s support have issued a petition calling for King Abdullah to end his wife’s role in politics. Queen Rania is resented by some in Jordan for her high profile and her Palestinian background. Moreover, she has earned the ire of some Hashmite tribes for supporting a law that would naturalize more Palestinians, which form a large and growing population in Jordan. The petition calling for Rania’s ouster ominously warned that “disregard for the content of the statement will throw us into what happened in Tunis and Egypt and what will happen in other Arab countries.” (Ha’aretz February 8, 2011)

A SAUDI POLITICAL PARTY EMERGES?

The after-effects of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings can be found in Saudi Arabia too, albeit on a more measured level. Tempered demands for reform in the Gulf Kingdom have precipitated the creation of the first Saudi political party, although the founders are still seeking the King’s recognition. Formed by ten moderate Saudi scholars, the Umma Islamic Party is calling for greater political rights, including elected government, and the promotion of women’s rights. The ten founders of the party are including university teachers, businessman, and political activists. (
Associated Press
February 11, 2011)


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