Don't write off Azerbaijan just yet
November 14th, 2013
10:41 AM ET

Don't write off Azerbaijan just yet

By Matthew Bryza, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Matthew Bryza is a former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan and is now director of the International Center for Defense and Security in Estonia and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Patriciu Eurasia Center. The views expressed are his own.

When a Western ally holds a presidential election that falls short of international standards, should we write it off? Or should we take a sober look at steps we can help the country take to meet our expectations?

That’s the question raised by the recent presidential election in Azerbaijan, an ancient civilization undergoing breakneck modernization just 22 years after its independence from the Soviet Union.

Granted, President Ilham Aliyev faced no real competition for a third term and election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe were particularly sharp in their criticism of the electoral process. Making matters worse, the Central Election Commission appeared to announce results before voting began when a smartphone app developer allegedly tested its election software with false results.

But this is only part of the story. President Aliyev is genuinely popular. Two years ago, when I served as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, independent polls reported Aliyev's approval rating at between 83 percent and 86 percent. These numbers, perhaps unimaginable for a Western political leader, reflect the support he enjoys for delivering what Azerbaijani citizens crave most: stability.


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Topics: Central Asia
My experience of the nuclear horror
September 25th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

My experience of the nuclear horror

By Karipbek Kuyukov, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Karipbek Kuyukov is an artist and Honorary Ambassador of The ATOM Project, a global campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons testing. The views expressed are his own.

As world leaders gather for the United Nations High-level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament in New York, I would like to deliver a short message from the survivors of nuclear weapons testing in Kazakhstan.

The perpetual question of whether to pursue the nuclear arms race or eradicate nuclear weapons has divided international opinion. Experts, politicians and world leaders have traditionally sided either for or against nuclear arms. Some believe that nuclear weapons help preserve peace, yet surely many more believe these weapons are a certain path to another world war and the eventual obliteration of mankind.

But although there has been much discussion of the issue, few on either side have turned for advice to the victims of nuclear tests and explosions. We have a lot to say and a right to be heard.

I was born in 1968, about 100 kilometers away from the notorious Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in eastern Kazakhstan where the Soviet Union tested hundreds of nuclear devices over four decades. I was born without arms, a result of the horrific impact of nuclear radiation on the health of our people. As I grew up, I saw that I was not alone.


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Topics: Central Asia • Nuclear
Central American leaders must step up to ensure security
May 3rd, 2013
02:18 PM ET

Central American leaders must step up to ensure security

By Cynthia J. Arnson and Eric L. Olson, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Cynthia Arnson is director and Olson the associate director of the Latin American Program, Woodrow Wilson Center, in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are their own.

As President Barack Obama visits Mexico and Costa Rica this weekend, the administration is emphasizing the themes of sustainable economic growth, development, and the cultural ties that bind millions of people in the region to immigrants in the United States.  And while the new administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto appears determined to shift the bilateral conversation away from security issues, this topic will frame the meetings in Costa Rica; there, in addition to a bilateral meeting with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, President Obama will meet will all seven Central American presidents, plus the Dominican Republic.

The United States was slow to realize the ways that Mexico’s crackdown on drug trafficking cartels would impact the Central American isthmus.  Today, some 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States passes through Central America, where criminal organizations exploit porous borders, weak and often corrupt law enforcement institutions, and a lack of employment opportunities for young people.  Mexican criminal organizations such as the Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel have expanded their influence, particularly in Guatemala and Honduras, and their violent competition for control of territory has left a trail of death and destruction.


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Topics: Central Asia • Mexico
Why we should be optimistic about Afghanistan
April 25th, 2013
01:35 PM ET

Why we should be optimistic about Afghanistan

By Erlan Idrissov, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Erlan Idrissov is minister of foreign affairs in Kazakhstan. The views expressed are his own.

The view that chaos and violence inevitably await Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force in 2014 is misguided.  Indeed, this sort of prognosis is a potentially dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy.

The fact is that there is actually cause for some optimism that with the right level of assistance from its friends and neighbors, and through the creation of a peaceful environment in its immediate neighborhood, Afghanistan can overcome its historical isolation and take its rightful place in the heart of Asia.

This week, Almaty – Kazakhstan’s second city – will host foreign ministers participating in the Istanbul Process in support of Afghanistan. The meeting, building on a process launched in November 2011, will provide important opportunities to increase the level of regional cooperation and coordination ahead of the transfer of security control in Afghanistan from international to Afghan security forces in 2014.


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Topics: Afghanistan • Central Asia
The truth about the Chechen threat
April 22nd, 2013
09:28 AM ET

The truth about the Chechen threat

By Robert Schaefer, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert Schaefer is a Special Forces (Green Beret) and Eurasian Foreign Area Officer and author of The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, From Gazavat to Jihad. The views expressed are his own.

As we all struggle to make sense of the Boston bombings, and the revelation that the two suspects are ethnic Chechens, there has been a rush to reacquaint ourselves with the troubled North Caucasus region in the hope that we might be able to answer questions like “why did this happen,” or “are we under attack again?” And as the airwaves and the blogospheres are swarmed with facts and opinions, it’s worth taking a step back to put this deluge of information in some context.

It’s not as though we haven’t heard of Chechnya before, it’s just that it’s one of those places that is only occasionally in the news before fading again as our attention is pulled elsewhere. Yet it isn’t actually all that long ago that we were hearing about the two wars of independence that Chechnya fought against Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. And although we may remember President Bill Clinton drawing comparisons between Boris Yeltsin’s efforts to quell the Chechen independence movement with the U.S. Civil War, many may not be aware that the same law that Yeltsin used to declare Russia’s independence from the Soviet Union gave Chechnya (and many other Russian regions) the legal basis to do the same. It was this that created a constitutional crisis that almost destroyed Russia in the mid-1990’s, and created the conditions that resulted in a de-facto independent Chechen republic from 1996-1999.


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Topics: Central Asia • Russia • Terrorism • United States
March 14th, 2013
10:30 AM ET

Will Beijing step up in Central Asia?

By Deirdre Tynan, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Deirdre Tynan is Central Asia Project Director of the International Crisis Group. The views expressed are her own.

China is spending billions of dollars in Central Asia, and is hoping for two things in return. The first is natural resources measured in cubic meters of gas, barrels of oil and metric tons of minerals. The second is more complicated and harder to measure: Beijing wants Central Asia states to be good neighbors – stable, predictable and not given to extremes.

Unfortunately, Central Asia is none of these things. What’s more, it borders China’s Xinjiang Province to the east and Afghanistan to the south, places that before the 20th century were linked by cultural similarities that remain as foreign to China today as they did during the reign of khans and emperors.

What Beijing is looking at beyond its western borders is in fact a region of great political risk and insecurity. Policy makers in Beijing recognize that Central Asia may soon exact a higher price than expected in terms of the political capital required to safeguard China’s borders and contain the brewing threats in the region. But, so far, China’s policy of non-interference prevents it from spending anything other than cash.


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Topics: Central Asia • China
February 21st, 2013
10:21 AM ET

Don’t forget about Central Asia

By Jeffrey Mankoff, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jeffrey Mankoff is deputy director and fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Russia and Eurasia Program. The views expressed are his own.

The Obama Administration has faced some tough criticism for supposedly cutting and running from Afghanistan. Less attention has been paid to the impact of the U.S. withdrawal on neighboring Central Asia, which has enjoyed substantial strategic and financial gains from U.S. and allied operations in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of foreign attention and assistance risks exacerbating the two biggest dangers to Central Asia’s stability: rivalries among the region’s states and the breakdown of governance within them. Rising instability in Central Asia in turn is a threat to U.S. interests because of its potential to undermine Afghanistan’s postwar transition (providing an outlet for Afghan drugs as well as a potential refuge for extremists) and to foster regional conflict.

The good news is that with its own dependence on access to Afghanistan through Central Asia set to decline, the United States has an opportunity to play a more constructive role in both promoting regional cooperation and encouraging reform, reducing the potential for Central Asia to become a source of broader instability in the years ahead.


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Topics: Afghanistan • Central Asia
January 25th, 2013
11:08 AM ET

Tweets can't hide Uzbekistan's woeful record

By Andrew Stroehlein and Steve Swerdlow, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Andrew Stroehlein is communications director at the International Crisis Group and Steve Swerdlow is Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are their own.

Recent Twitter conversations between the wannabe-jet-set daughter of Uzbekistan’s authoritarian ruler and critics of the country’s atrocious human rights record may have been unusual and amusing. They may have even brought a rare blip of international media attention to a reclusive regime the world normally seems happy to ignore.

What the tweets have not done, however, is improve anyone’s life in the miserably abusive state of Uzbekistan itself, where, among other things, torture in police custody is systematic, and over a million children and adults are subjected to forced labor in the cotton fields every year.


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Topics: Central Asia
December 9th, 2011
03:54 PM ET

Bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan

Editor's note: The staff at has been intrigued by the journalism of VICE, an independent media company and Web site based in Brooklyn, New York. The reports, which are produced solely by VICE, reflect a very transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique reporting approach is worthy of sharing with our readers.

"We are breaking the law," says Madiev Tynchtyk, a member of local government in a small village outside of the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, "but here everyone understands this is a tradition and you can't change it." Madiev kidnapped his wife, Elmira more than 10 years ago. He is one of the many Kyrgyz men who have gotten married through the Central Asian practice of bride kidnapping. FULL POST

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Topics: Central Asia
Why Uzbekistan matters
President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov.
October 18th, 2011
09:19 PM ET

Why Uzbekistan matters

Editor's Note: Andrew Stroehlein is Communications Director for the International Crisis Group.

By Andrew Stroehlein - Special to CNN

As Washington’s relations with Pakistan seem to hit a new low every week, the U.S. has been trying to compensate by improving ties with Uzbekistan to the north to shore up international efforts in Afghanistan. It is an understandable repositioning, but it is not one that will improve security prospects in the region.

Step by step, the U.S. has been increasing its reliance on Tashkent. Already the “Northern Distribution Network”, which relies in large part on overland links through Uzbekistan, delivers over 50% of NATO’s non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan, a number set to rise to 75% by he close of 2011.

At the end of last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee helped deepen commitments by approving an Administration-backed measure to remove seven years of human rights-related restrictions barring military aid to Uzbekistan. And to just keep things running smoothly, President Obama personally phoned President Islam Karimov last week to congratulate him on his country’s 20th anniversary of independence. FULL POST

From 'War on Terror' to 'New Silk Road'
(Getty Images)
October 7th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

From 'War on Terror' to 'New Silk Road'

Editor's Note: Parag Khanna is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, visiting senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Second World and How to Run the World.

By Parag Khanna – Special to CNN

Parag Khanna

As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks passed, Americans are searching for a new narrative to understand their country’s role in the world. But far more than declared principles or personalities, America’s place in the world is shaped by what it does in other places. Especially overseas, societies judge us by our actions rather than our words.

October 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-UK invasion of Afghanistan - the first major undertaking of the “War on Terror.” The Obama administration was quick to jettison the term “War on Terror” upon entering office. But more importantly, it has begun to take a series of concrete steps that genuinely constitute a new narrative for the region where that war began: “New Silk Road.” It is a decade overdue, but New Silk Road is more than just a re-branding of the “War on Terror,” and more than a hodge-podge of announcements to cover American tracks as it begins a drawdown from Afghanistan. It is nothing less than a new grand strategy for the U.S. both for Central-South Asia and beyond. It re-frames much of U.S. policy as a two-way street of shared responsibilities and mutual benefit.


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Topics: Central Asia • Foreign Policy • Global • Strategy • Terrorism
June 1st, 2011
02:35 PM ET

China's fraught investment in Central Asia

Editor's Note: Stephanie Pfeiffer is Master of Science candidate in Modern Chinese Studies at St. Antony's College, Oxford University. If you want your writing considered for, please email the site's editor amar[dot]bakshi[at]

By Stephanie Pfeiffer - Special to CNN

China is now looking abroad to invest its large holdings of foreign currency reserves as part of a multifold effort to acquire natural resources and improve its image as a benevolent business partner.

Where and in what manner China invests is of increasing interest to Western governments and companies because of the unique challenges arising from the competition.

What are the geopolitical ramifications of China’s “going out” strategy, whereby Chinese companies invest in road building, telecommunications and other infrastructure projects in exchange for rights to natural resources? FULL POST

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Topics: Central Asia • China • Economy