On 2 September (although unofficial reports cited 29 August as the date), the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov died in Tashkent. Formally, the President’s duties are currently being carried out by the leader of the Senate, Nigmatilla Yuldashew (although he has not been sworn in as head of state), and elections to the post of president are to be held over the next three months. Due to the undemocratic nature of the system in Uzbekistan, the successor to Karimov will be decided by an informal fight for the leadership, and not the result of the election. Currently, the most likely successor seems to be the ruling Prime Minister, Shavgat Mirziyayev, who among other indications headed the funeral committee, received the foreign delegations who attended Karimov’s funeral on 3 September, as well as the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, during his surprise visit to Samarkand on 6 September.
This article was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) in June 2016.
Russia’s recession and its geopolitical standoff with the West are taking their toll on the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). During a summit of the EAEU’s leaders in Astana on 31 May, several participants voiced concerns over the union’s poor economic performance. And Moscow’s reaction to the recent flare-up of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict cast doubts for Armenia on the security benefits of EAEU membership.
Against this backdrop, 18 months after the launch of the EAEU, its member states are demonstrating increasing resistance to Moscow’s vision of Eurasian integration. As a result, its success will largely depend on Russia’s leverage – positive and negative – over its smaller partners.
Looming stick, dwindling carrot
The launch of the EAEU was overshadowed by two developments. First, Russian pressure on Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine in the context of the finalisation of Association Agreements with the EU and accession to the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), culminating with the annexation of Crimea and a Moscow-backed insurgency in the Donbas; and, second, the global slump of commodity prices and the enforcement of Western economic sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, leading to a slowdown of the Russian economy (the ultimate guarantor of the union’s economic success). In this context, EAEU accession was perceived by its signatories as a bitter pill that could not be refused.
ISIS is refocusing its strategy in Turkey towards destabilizing the Turkish state and isolating it from the West. ISIS has two main lines of effort in Turkey. The first is to incite an ethnic war between the Kurds and the Turkish state in order to weaken its opponents in northern Syria and regain freedom of action in southern Turkey. The second is to undermine the Turkish state and punish it for being part of the anti-ISIS coalition through attacks against western targets in Turkey. ISIS has more actively pursued this second line of effort by targeting Westerners in Istanbul beginning in early 2016 while continuing its campaign along the Syrian border. The triple suicide bombing at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport on June 28, 2016 supports ISIS’s stated strategic objectives of seizing Constantinople and undermining the Turkish state by harming the vital tourism industry, targeting infrastructure that connects Turkey to the West, and raising requirements for domestic security services. ISIS has not claimed any spectacular attacks against the state in Turkey in order to avoid a major domestic crackdown that would threaten its freedom of action as well as its cross-border mobility into Syria. Moreover, ISIS already accomplishes its objectives in Turkey through spectacular attacks without risking a claim.
ISIS’s evolved strategy in Turkey mirrors a corresponding shift in the policies pursued by Turkey towards the group. Turkey joined the international anti-ISIS coalition in September 2014 but initially avoided overt confrontation with ISIS. Turkey instead tolerated ISIS as a vector to apply indirect pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and hasten the overthrow of his regime by opposition groups supported by Turkey. ISIS also provided Turkey with a means to contain the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an existential threat due its affiliation with secessionist agenda of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey’s reluctance to restrict cross-border flow of foreign fighters and supplies provided ISIS with an incentive to avoid conducting terrorist attacks inside the country and jeopardizing its freedom of movement through Turkey to Syria. Turkey altered its calculus after the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition deepened its cooperation with the Syrian Kurds throughout early 2015, enabling the YPG to secure major gains along the Syrian-Turkish Border. The prospect of further motion towards a contiguous autonomous zone in Northern Syria controlled by the Syrian Kurds prompted Turkey to deepen its own engagement with the coalition. The coalition also acted to encourage this decision through the use of alternating incentives and disincentives meant to influence decision-making in Ankara. The U.S. in particular modulated its provision of aircraft, missile defense systems, rocket artillery, and other high-end capabilities in order to generate a policy convergence on Syria.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the global political and economic architecture has been undergirded largely by one superpower, which set the stage for an unprecedented period of globalisation managed through multilateral institutions and actors. Now that unipolar moment is giving way to an era of diffused powers, with countries like the US, China and Russia each bearing considerable disruptive capacities, and each struggling to stitch together new norms and rules for these rapidly changing times.
This phase, the beginning of which was marked by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and characterised by America’s two bruising wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has seen a vacuum emerge. Many are seeking to fill it, most determinedly China, but with a push back from countries such as Japan and India. Separately, ISIS and radical energies in the Middle East also seek to grab new space. Russia has chosen this very moment to signal its ability to muddy the Eurasian fields and intervene in the Middle East. The fact is, there is not enough room to accommodate all of these ambitions.
A median will have to be arrived at, but who will sacrifice what?
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the Popular Mobilization launched a major operation on May 23 to recapture Fallujah from ISIS. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced Operation Breaking Terrorism late on May 22 following weeks of force build-up in the area. The ISF and Anbar Sunni tribal fighters carried out shaping operations to the south of Fallujah in the weeks prior, recapturing al-Salaam Junction and moving along the southern road on May 7. Iranian proxy Shi’a militias, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Harakat al-Nujaba, deployed heavily to the vicinity of Fallujah beginning on May 17. Progress of the actual operation has been rapid, with the joint ISF-Popular Mobilization forces recapturing key locations within the first 24 hours. These included Garma sub-district, a small town northeast of Fallujah, and Naimiyah on the southern edge of Fallujah City on May 23. Even before ISIS, Sunni militants including Jaish al-Mujahideen, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, and Jaish Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandiyah (JRTN) used Garma as a support zone. As of May 26, security forces have captured much of the Garma area and have pressed on Fallujah’s northern, eastern, and southeastern flanks, though the progress of the ISF and Popular Mobilization in Albu Shajal and Saqlawiyah, on the northeastern axis, remains limited. These areas need to be controlled in order to complete the encirclement of Fallujah.
Operation Breaking Terrorism comes amid a period of instability for Baghdad and the Iraqi government. PM Abadi is weak, and the Council of Representatives has failed to make quorum due to boycotts by numerous parties, including the Kurdistan Alliance, the Reform Front, and the Sadrist Trend. Meanwhile, Sadrist demonstrators have threatened Baghdad security, breaking into the Green Zone and major government buildings first on April 30 and again on May 20, when protesters clashed with security forces. The demonstrations have exceeded the Interior Ministry’s security forces’ ability to provide basic protection in Baghdad; the increased instability caused by large-scale protests has required the deployment of additional forces to the capital, including members of the Golden Division, a unit within the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), that closed the entrances of the Green Zone on May 20.