As a precautionary measure against a fallout from a wider regional war, Russia has reportedly been reinforcing its military presence throughout the Caucasus. Moreover, as a precautionary measure against Baku's militaristic desires with regards to Armenia, Moscow has also been actively helping Yerevan enhance its military capabilities. Concerning General Ohanyan's recent visit to Washington: Giving it much importance would be a mistake. The visit can be characterized as nothing more than giving dangerous imperialists in Washington some lip service.
Russian anti-terror troops in Syria?
Against this already tense backdrop, a major news outlet just released a bombshell. Citing two Russian news source, ABC News is reporting that a Russian "anti-terror squad" has landed in Syria (see news report immediately below this commentary). If this report proves accurate, this is a serious development in the region. Decisions to put troops in harms way, in foreign lands nonetheless, are not made very easily. If Moscow is taking such a risky hands-on approach in Syria, it essentially means two things: One, geopolitically, the Assad regime's preservation in Syria is crucially important to Moscow. Two, Moscow does not have great confidence in the abilities of Assad's security forces.
As predicted, Moscow is not taking any chances as political unrests reach areas it considers strategically important to the Russian Federation. Consequently, we can expect Moscow to begin taking a much tougher stance, especially now that Vladimir Putin has been reelected back into power. As Moscow draws a clear line in the sand, the Western campaign to drastically redraw the map of the Middle East continues unabated. East and West are on a collision course yet again. We may in fact be in the midst of a Cold War II -
The Wall Street Journal commentary posted at the very bottom of this page is a little look at one aspect of the geostrategic nature of the current crisis in the region. With the news agency's blessings, the author of the piece in question is basically explaining the main reason why Moscow has been up-in-arms over Iran. Simply put, the author is telling us: the Kremlin is worried that if the current regime in Tehran falls to the Western alliance, Russia's strategic yet vulnerable positions from the Caucasus to Central Asia will become untenable. The author of the commentary is telling us very candidly what I have been warning about for many years: This campaign is much bigger than Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Lebanon, Syria and Iran. The Western alliance's long-term geostrategic campaign is ultimately against Russia and China, and they are employing Turks and Wahhabi Islamists to realize this goal.
Geostrategic realities that need recognition
I must once again remind the reader that if Damascus and/or Tehran falls, it wont only be Zionists and Western interests reaping the benefits. Islamists, Turks and Azeris will be some of the main benefactors of a weakened Syria and/or Iran. Without the presence of a powerful Iran acting as a natural Shiite buffer in the region, the entire region will inevitably suffer from severe cases of Turkic and Islamic infestations. An Iranian defeat in particular will prove disastrous to Russia's geostrategic positions in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Iran has historically been able to keep Western, Turkish and Sunni Arab forces in check. This natural balance of power in the region has also served Russia well. Therefore, a weakened Iran in the region may significantly weaken Russia's standing in the region. And without a powerful Russian presence in the Caucasus, there is little doubt that the entire region will turn into an Islamic/Turkic cesspool practically overnight.
In fact, without a strong Russian presence in the Caucasus, not even a million of Armenian society's big talking patriots will be able to stop Armenia from disappearing from the map once again.
Although Armenians of Artsakh are very courageous, without outside support they would not last very long in a sustained attack by a large military. It is encouraging that a majority of Armenians in the liberated territories recognize that Moscow is crucially important to their survival. Moreover, Armenians would make a grave mistake if they continue underestimating the military capabilities of Baku. One of the most deadliest mistakes in combat is to underestimate your enemy; the other is overestimating yourself. Armenians may be guilty of both. We Armenians must be reminded of the Wall Street saying: Past performance does not guarantee future results. Despite the fact that man-for-man Azerbaijan's military is currently inferior to Armenia's, Armenians must be prudent enough to also recognize that Azerbaijan's greatly modernized military is lethal and it is continuing to grow. Although they out-numbered Armenians in the battlefield during the war in the early 1990s, Azerbaijan nevertheless did not have any effective combat units. As a result, Armenian courage, perseverance and ingenuity at the time overcame Armenia's numeric inferiority against Azerbaijan. However, Armenians cannot continue relying on the enemy's incompetence for its future victories.
With this in mind, Armenian military commanders must continue maintaining a combat state-of-readiness in Armenia and Artsakh, and Armenian officials must continue being a ubiquitous presence within the halls of the Kremlin. While Armenia's military is Yerevan's tactical advantage, Armenia's alliance with Russia must be its strategic advantage. Despite all the negativity of our peasantry with regarding to Armenian officials, I'm glad to report that Yerevan has been implementing the aforementioned approach.
Caucasus on the edge
A good example of what I am referring to may be what is currently happening in north Caucasus today. It's being reported that Moscow has began building-up its military presence in the north Caucasian Russian republic of Daghestan. Initial reports have been suggesting that this military show-of-force was intended as a measure against foreign-backed Islamic terrorists that are very common in the region. This simplistic explanation, however, may not be the whole story. Moscow has been successfully fighting Islamic militants in the region using special operations troops. There is no need for deploying large numbers of army regulars and heavy military hardware such as modern T-90 tanks and multiple rocket launchers in Daghestan - unless there is something else on Moscow's mind. Therefore, it can be safely surmised that the military buildup in Daghestan may actually have a conventional military purpose. The following "Argumenty Nedeli" article translated from the original Russian (posted towards the bottom of this page) interestingly suggests that Moscow may be building up its forces in Daghestan to discourage Baku from invading Artsakh this summer. The following is a candid quote from the article in question -
"It is rumored here that come summer Azerbaijan will make another go at Nagorno-Karabakh and try to reabsorb the runaway region. All this military might concentrated in Dagestan is meant as a warning to Baku, a message that Russia will stand by Armenia."Which brings me to another point I would like to make. I recognize that a majority of Armenians today may object to what I'm about to say, but it must be said for Armenia's sake. In the big geostrategic picture of the Caucasus, Moscow has been the fundamental reason why Baku has not dared to attack Artsakh or Armenia. Armenia's regional antagonists know very well that they can take on the small, impoverished and landlocked nation without serious problems. Baku's and Ankara's main fear is Moscow's reaction to an attack against Armenia. Historically, Turks have had a natural fear of the Russian Bear. Throughout the past twenty years, Russians officials have repeatedly warned Yerevan's antagonists about attacking Armenia. As long as the Bear needs an Armenian presence in the south Caucasus, no Turk will dare step foot inside Armenia. Again, while we Armenians can be truly proud of our small but powerful military, we must be sober enough to also recognize that it is Russia that is ensuring Armenia's presence in the Caucasus. We Armenians simply cannot afford losing sight of this geostrategic nuance.
If I keep repeating myself, it's only because significant numbers of Armenians today do not posses even a basic understanding of geopolitics. What's more, significant numbers of Armenians continue to suffer from illusions of grandeur (Armenians can conquer the world) and Washingtonian delusions (democracy will cure everything). Some of our silly Qaj Nazar's think that by merely "uniting", Armenians can alone stand up to Turks or any other regional antagonist. Sorry to burst our nationalistic bubble here, but such thinking is akin to an ally cat looking in the mirror and seeing a lion. Underestimating the enemy and overestimating one's capabilities can in fact be suicidal. On the opposite spectrum, our "democracy now" zombies are delusional enough to think that by simply carrying out Washington's political wishes in Armenia, the nation will miraculously turn into a land of milk&honey virtually overnight. Sadly, Armenia today is stuck between these two equally irrational approaches in politics.
As the world around Armenia prepares for battle, Armenians are blindly preparing to battle their state. Will Armenians ever learn from their past mistakes?
Armenia came very close to suffering a major disaster in the 1990s but very few Armenians today know it. No, I am not talking about Armenia's war of liberation in Artsakh. I'm am talking about the Russian Federation coming close to loosing its protracted war against the Islamic uprising in the northern Caucasus back in the 1990s. The bloody insurgency in Russia's southern regions was covertly being supported by Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Western alliance. Had Moscow been pushed out of the Caucasus at the time, Armenia would have been next-in-line and not even a million Armenian "Fedayis" would have prevented Azeris, Turks, Wahhabists, Chechens and - why not Georgians - from bringing our small, impoverished and landlocked Armenia to its knees. Those who do not think that this was a plausible scenario simply do not understand the nature of the beast Moscow faced in the north Caucasus at the time.
The Caucasus region as a whole would have suffered very dire repercussions had Moscow been defeated. Thank God, under Vladimir Putin's supervision, the war against the foreign-backed Islamic insurgency in the Caucasus was won and a historic disaster was thwarted. The following are two older blog entries about the war in Chechnya and how close Russia (and Armenia) came to a major disaster -
Turkish Volunteers in Chechnya: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2009/02/i-have-always-said-that-brutal-war-in.html
Arab Spring in Armenia?
I have already mentioned in previous commentaries that Washington is currently using its many assets within the Armenian community to seed Armenia's political landscape for unrest ahead of the next presidential elections due to take place early next year. In fact, they may be planning an "Arab Spring" type uprising. If Armenia's politically illiterate peasantry takes the bait from their ringleaders and takes to the streets in the name of truth, justice and the American way, I expect counter-terrorism units from Russia to arrive in Armenia as well. Since I don't have much faith in Armenian security forces getting the job done effectively, I would expect the Russia's GRU to perform it. They have done it before, I expect them to do it again. And when they do, I would hope they do a little more extensive housecleaning this time around. In other words, no more sweeping the dirt under the rug.
Armenia's many cancerous tumors need to be surgically removed regardless of how bloody the operation may be. Despite its flaws, the political system currently in place in Yerevan needs to be preserved at all costs simply because the alternatives we see waiting on the political sidelines in Armenia would prove disastrous for the fledgling republic. With the geopolitical stakes in the region much higher now, the political dangers Armenia currently faces as a result are also much more severe than in the past.
Uncle Sam crossdressing as Santa Claus
As we all know, Vladimir Putin returned to power last week. This week, "Radio Liberty" and "ArmeniaNow" are grudgingly reporting that Yerevan is moving militarily closer to Moscow. Knowing that they fear and hate Vladamir Putin like vampires fear and hate the Holy Cross, it was only natural that Washington would have one of its many street dogs in Yerevan to bark-up a nasty storm. During a recent press-conference, agent Richard Giragosian - the American-Armenian "political scientist/expert" with a dubious military intelligence background - began barking, naturally in English, that Moscow is planning to "press" Armenia to "settling" the Artsakh dispute; clearly insinuating that Moscow will be forcing Yerevan into unwanted concessions. The clown indirectly warned Armenia about joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Union. He complimented Sargsyan's administration's diplomatic capabilities, most probably signalling that Yerevan is being expected to continue its balanced approach vis-à-vis Washington/West. And in a veiled threat, the clown also suggested that Washington will be closely watching Armenia's upcoming election process.
Yes folks, Uncle Sam is now crossdressing as Santa Claus and through his many elves he will be watching everybody. And of course he doesn't want good ol' Armenia to behave like bad ol' Russia. Therefore, Armenians better watch out!
As with all servants of the American empire, agent Giragosian naturally sees himself an enlightener of third world savages who are just stepping out of the dark ages; or in Armenia's case, just stepping out from under Russia's wing. Similar to how the Vatican relentlessly pushed its version of Christianity upon undeveloped societies for many centuries, Washington has in similar fashion been pushing its version of a new religion known as Democracy upon the political infidels of the world in recent decades. We are all expected by the empire's proselytizers to offer sacrifices to their holy doctrine because their god is all powerful and omnipresent, and if we dare to displease him his wrath shall be unleashed upon us all.
Armenia exploited by activists
Armenians are failing to understand that Armenia's failings (i.e. its growing pains) are being exploited by Western political interests. There are sinister political motives behind Washington's complaints with regards to the level of "democracy" in Armenia. Some Armenians naively suggest that we should somehow disregard the messenger and simply listen to the message. To which I say, bullshit! Intent is always more important than content. As such, a whore should not be complaining about others not being virgins. Washington needs to worry about the level of democracy in the United States. At the end of the day, we must recognize that Armenia's woes are purely economic in nature.
Speaking of Washington's many zombies in Armenia, in the following video links we see Cold Warrior Paruyr Hayrikian, one of Washington's all-times favorites in the country, somberly summoning ghosts from the distant Soviet past. As if Armenia currently does not have enough on its national plate, individuals like Paruyr Hayrikian (and Raffi Hovanissian) are demanding that the state opens its Soviet era archives and publicly reveal who in today's Armenia was involved with the dreaded KGB. Please watch the irrationality -
«Գաղտնազերծում- Լյուստրացիա» - մաս 2:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApDsuOiIckE
These kinds of tactics are being employed by Western activists simply to tinker with the current political system in Armenia ultimately because Yerevan's course in the region does not suit imperialists in Washington. These are some of the many ways with which Washington's many operatives in Armenia play with the sheeple's emotions and in doing so put pressure on a targeted political entity, in this case the pro-Russian Armenian government. Nevertheless, it has been over twenty years after the demise of the Soviet Union and Paruyr Hayrikyan is still feverishly fighting the Cold War and he is still desperately seeking Western hegemony over the Caucasus.
To these people, I have only one thing to say: Better in the KGB than in the CIA.
We a least had an Armenia under the KGB. If any one of these Washingtonian zombies have their way in Yerevan, Armenia will most probably end up being a desolate province in either Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran or Georgia... or at the very least forced to become subordinate to Ankara. In fact, looking at an Armenian political landscape that is currently full of BMW driving chobans and Western mercenaries, I would actually not mind bringing back some of Armenia's Soviet era bureaucrats. What we don't need in Armenia, however, is characters like Paruyr Hayrikian. Armenia's Cold War era zombies need to be put to rest.
For does who maintain a healthy understanding of geopolitics and for those who do not have high blood pressure or heart problems, I suggest watching the following by Paruyr Hayrikian from about a year ago. In the following interview, Washington's favorite Cold Warrior is sternly warning that if Armenia does not democratize as per Washingtonian demands, or in his words, if Armenia becomes a "filthy Russian province", American naval forces stationed in the Mediterranean Sea will not help Armenia by bombing Baku with cruise-missiles when Azerbaijani forces invade Armenia. Yes folks, you heard it right. If Armenia does not become democratic, Washington wont help Armenia if Baku attacks it one day. This is the alarming state of political illiteracy in Armenia's opposition today. If Paruyr Hayrikian is an accurate example of Armenian nationalism, Armenia is doomed as a nation. Please listen to the utter irrationality of one of Armenia's most beloved nationalists for yourselves and explain to me why Kremlin officials should trust Armenians -
Despite the wild fantasies of Washington's activists in Yerevan, Armenians must understand that Armenia's main problem today is not the lack of democracy or the absence fair elections. Rather, Armenia's primary problem today is geopolitical. Being that Armenia is small, poor, landlocked, remote and surrounded by hostile nations, we must recognize that there are essentially three ways we can effectively cure Armenia's serious economic aliments: One, physically move the country and place it next to a nation like Germany. Two, extend Armenia's borders to the Black Sea and/or to Russia. Three, pray that Moscow creates Pax Russicana in the Caucasus. In other words, Armenia needs to break out of its current geographical predicament.Paruyr Hayrikyan - Pastark Akumb part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlthyY2XrmUParuyr Hayrikyan - Pastark Akumb part 2:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwwjRQMN8Jg
Paruyr Hayrikyan - Pastark Akumb part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5BqwxiUXGw
Doing anything else at this point is simply blowing smoke up people's asses.
Other than some disciplined Germanic nations, virtually all nations on earth today have serious economic problems, including United States, Israel and Britain. In fact, the financial problems the world is facing today are directly connected to Globalism and to the overwhelming power the US Dollar and Western institutions such as the IMF has had over nations of the world. One day, perhaps one day when it's too late, Armenians will realize that Yerevan's integration into Washingtonian institutions is in fact a liability for Armenia. Unfortunately, Serj Sargsyan's balanced approach in East-West politics is providing Armenia's many mercenaries a public podium to spew his fear rhetoric and propaganda. As long as Yerevan continues its policy of playing with imperialists in Washington, Armenia will continue stagnating. Yerevan must learn to do without Washingtonian bribes commonly known as aid and it must learn to begin concentrating its efforts on developing closer relations with the Russian Federation, the European Union, Iran, India and China.
It's very alarming that legions of gullible sheeple in this world have taken Washington's bait - hook, line and sinker. It's usually the fringe elements (e.i. homosexuals, illiterates, criminals, racists, religious cults and emotionally scarred individuals) in targeted societies that empowers Washingtonian reptiles and gives them the semblance of credibility. Moreover, through the exploitation of numerous major international organizations, news agencies, NGOs, social media and pop culture, Washington has also been able to place a great number of people around the world under mass hypnosis. As I see idiots in Moscow or Yerevan take to the streets and chant Western slogans, often times in English, the only explanation I can come up with is that such people are suffering from mass hysteria or mass hypnosis. Nevertheless, instead of meddling in the internal affairs of other nations, power-blind-megalomaniacs in Washington should be trying to put their collapsing house in order. Blinded to reality in the unipolar world of the post-Soviet period, Washington has been spending trillions of dollars on wars and friendly dictatorships as 1/3 of Americans live in or near poverty today.
Russia is the beginning and the end
Despite agent Giragosian's best efforts to derail Armenia's strategic alliance with Russia through fearmongering and manipulation of Armenia's political illiterates, destiny will make sure that Yerevan and Moscow will remain in a firm embrace. Armenia's Qaj Nazar's seriously need to wake-up and realize that for Armenia Moscow is the alpha and the omega of the Caucasus. No Russia in the Caucasus means no Armenia in the Caucasus. While some Armenians foolishly pursue justice via "documents" and "international laws", those that have a real understanding of history and international relations realize that the keys to Artsakh and Javakhq, as well as the keys to Western Armenia are in fact located in Moscow and to a lesser extent in Tehran.
Thus, Armenia's relations with Moscow is key to its long-term security and prosperity in the Caucasus and beyond. If we Armenians lose Moscow's ear or its good will, we will lose Armenia. It's that simple. I'm afraid that Turks may be recognizing the crucial importance of Russia better than us Armenians. But thank God that Russians themselves are making sure Yerevan stays aligned to Moscow. Instead of fearmongering about Russia taking-over Armenia again or selling Armenia to Turks, Armenians should instead be concentrating their efforts on lobbying in the Kremlin and this effort should be a pan-national task! Despite all this, significant numbers of Armenians continue suffering from serious Russophobic disorders and they continue begging and crying at the feet of reptilians in Washington.
Armenia today has a historic opportunity to tap into the great potential of one of the word's greatest powers. All it requires is purpose, vision and organization. If we Armenians manage to cleanse ourselves from the psychological conditioning we have been subjected to by Washington; if we Armenians are able to exorcize our Cold War ghosts; if we Armenians finally put an end to our victim mentalities - we may just begin to realize that Armenians can be in Russia similar to what Jews are in the Western world. Armenians today are found throughout the upper echelons of Russian society. And what are we Armenians doing with this great potential? Looking as our genocide obsessed diaspora and brain-dead crusaders of democracy in Armenia, I'm afraid to say nothing is being done. In fact, Armenians simply enjoy sitting back and admiring what Jews have accomplished in the United States as they continue badmouth Russians and Russian-Armenians...
A very long time ago I came to the sobering realization that we Armenians may be Armenia's worst enemy. And as I have said on many previous occasions, Armenians can be brilliant musicians, scientists, academicians, businessmen and sportsmen... But, for some reason, when it comes to politics, Armenians continue to act like a bunch of self-destructive peasants.
Springtime has historically meant wartime
As Armenians prepare to battle their state, major powers around the world have been preparing for the possibility of a major world war. As noted above, Russia is building up its military in the Caucasus. Veteran diplomat Henry Kissinger was in Moscow for a meeting with Vladimir Putin. Washington's top military man was in a rare visit to Tel Aviv holding secret meetings with Zionist officials. There are rumors that Israel's Diamona power-plant will be shutting down. Sargsyan again met with Aliyev in Sochi. Moscow has supplied Syria with large amounts of modern weaponry. Western troops and diplomats are downgrading their exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan and are repositioning themselves in other nations in the region. And Russia's Sergey Lavrov was in Damascus to hold urgent talks with Assad... The worry on everyone's mind is Iran or Syria and the possibility that a war there may spillover to adjacent regions.
As previously suggested, in the case of a Western-led military strike against Iran there may be some scenarios that can in fact be beneficial for Moscow and Yerevan. One possible scenario envisions Russian forces stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia linking-up with Armenia, thereby establishing a direct land connection between Yerevan and Moscow through Georgia. Needless to say, there are also some horrible scenarios as well. I don't think any sane person would accept such a gamble at this point in time. Once begun, wars take on a life of their own. Wars are simply too unpredictable to gamble on. Thus, a war in the region must be avoided at all costs by those living in or in close proximity to the region. Having said that, however, preparing for a possible war is also a must for Moscow, Yerevan and Tehran.
Preparing for war to avoid a war
If the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and its regional Turkish and Arab friends come to the realization that Moscow is very serious about protecting its regional interests from their aggression and that an attack against Iran might prove very costly for them, they will surely back down. Moreover, the Western war machine will not risk conducting combat operations in a theater where Russian troops are located. Despite their immense war budgets and their state-of-the-art weaponry, when confronted by capable forces in the battlefield, Western militaries have proven to be nothing but pager-tigers.
Therefore, I firmly believe that if confronted with steady opposition from Moscow and Beijing and if Iran and Syria are provided with modern weaponry and persistent political backup on the international stage, the Western alliance will call-off a military strike and it will simply continue its campaign against Tehran and Damascus by other less effective means. In other words, they will continue providing support for Islamic/Al-Qaeda elements operating out of Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan. At the end of the day, if Syria and Iran are spared from destruction, it will essentially be because of the countermeasures Russian has enacted in the region.
Moscow is living up to its expectations as being the last front against American imperialism, NATO expansionism, Globalism, Wahhabist Islamic fanaticism, Zionism and pan-Turkism.
Posted below this commentary are a series of important news articles that have caught my attention in recent weeks. They are all relevant to Syria, Russia and Armenia. However, some of them are Western media reports. Therefore, I ask you to exercise some caution when reading them. In other words, read between the lies because they were written by presstitutes.
Russian Anti-Terror Troops Arrive in Syria
A Russian military unit has arrived in Syria, according to Russian news reports, a development that a United Nations Security Council source told ABC News was "a bomb" certain to have serious repercussions. Russia, one of President Bashar al-Assad's strongest allies despite international condemnation of the government's violent crackdown on the country's uprising, has repeatedly blocked the United Nations Security Council's attempts to halt the violence, accusing the U.S. and its allies of trying to start another war.
Now the Russian Black Sea fleet's Iman tanker has arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea with an anti-terror squad from the Russian Marines aboard according to the Interfax news agency. The Assad government has insisted it is fighting a terrorist insurgency.
The Iman replaced another Russian ship "which had been sent to Syria for demonstrating (sic) the Russian presence in the turbulent region and possible evaluation of Russian citizens," the Black Sea Fleet told Interfax. RIA Novosti, a news outlet with strong ties to the Kremlin, trumpeted the news in a banner headline that appeared only on its Arabic language website. The Russian embassy to the US and to the UN had no comment, saying they have "no particular information on" the arrival of a Russian anti-terrorism squad to Syria.
Moscow has long enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Assad regime, to which it sells billions of dollars of weapons. In return Russia has maintained a Navy base at Tartus, which gives it access to the Mediterranean. Last week Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had no plans to send troops to Syria. "As for the question whether I consider it necessary to confront the United States in Syria and ensure our military presence there… in order to take part in military actions -- no. I believe this would be against Russia's national interests," Lavrov told lawmakers, according to RIA Novosti.
Russia's Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov denied reports that Russian special forces were operating inside Syria. He did say, however, that there are Russian military and technical advisors in the country. U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the U.S. government had not heard of the reports of Russian troops in Syria and declined to comment.
Syria imported nearly six times more weapons in 2007-2011 than in the previous five-year period, with Russia accounting for 72 per cent of the arms supplies to President Bashar Assad's regime, an international research institute reported Monday. The report on global arms transfers by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute highlighted how Moscow continues to provide Syria with weapons even as the U.S., the European Union and others impose arms embargoes due to the regime's violent crackdown on protesters.
It did not specify the volume of weapons exports after the start of the uprising in 2011. Major Russian arms deliveries to Syria in 2007-2011 included air defence systems and anti-ship missiles, which have no direct use in the current unrest in the Arab state. But they have upgraded the regime's capability to defend against outside intervention, SIPRI researcher Pieter Wezeman said.
"They increase the risks involved in and therefore the threshold for foreign military intervention like the NATO operation against the Gadhafi regime" in Libya, Wezeman said. Syria has outstanding orders for 25 Russian MIG-29 combat aircraft, and in late 2011 Russia signed a $550-million US deal for 36 Yak-130 light combat aircraft, he said, adding that questions remain about the timing of the deliveries and Syria's ability to pay.
"However, when delivered the combat aircraft would augment the Syrian military's capabilities to attack rebel positions if the conflict develops in a similar way as the conflict in e.g. Libya developed," Wezeman said in an email to The Associated Press. The UN estimates that Assad's crackdown on the year-long uprising against his regime has killed more than 8,000 people so far.
Syria's weapons imports rose 580 per cent from the 2002-2006 period, lifting the country to No. 33 in the rankings of the world's arms importers from No. 68, SIPRI said. Nineteen per cent of Syria's arms imports came from Belarus and nine per cent from Iran, the report said.
Weapons sales rise
Globally, the report showed conventional weapons transfers jumped 24 per cent in 2007-2011, with the United States remaining the No. 1 weapons exporter, followed by Russia, Germany, France and Britain. India, South Korea, Pakistan, China and Singapore were the five largest recipients of arms. The Arab Spring had only a limited effect on global arms sales in 2011, even though it "provoked public and parliamentary debate in a number of supplier states," SIPRI said. It noted that Saudi Arabia's order last year of 154 F-15 combat aircraft from the U.S. was the largest arms deal in two decades.
The institute has developed its own indicator values to measure volumes of arms transfers. Its database includes major conventional weapons such as aircraft, armoured vehicles, artillery, sensors, missiles, ships and air defence systems. Trucks, small arms, ammunition and most light weapons are not included.
Russia backs Red Cross call to halt fighting
Russia said Monday that Syria's government and rebels should halt their fighting once a day to give the Red Cross access to the wounded and that jailed protesters should be allowed to have visitors. The call from Russia came after its officials met with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had urged Moscow to take such a stand. Russia had previously backed the ICRC's call for a ceasefire, but Monday's statement from the foreign ministry was worded more strongly than the previous ones, in an apparent signal that Moscow is raising the pressure on Syria.
The statement followed Moscow's talks between ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov focusing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Russia's Foreign Ministry said it agrees with the ICRC about what is needed during Syria's uprising. ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad Mardini welcomed the ministry's comment, saying his organization "received positive indications of support on its operational priorities and on its call for a two-hour cessation in fighting on a daily basis."
The Red Cross has not received permission from Syria to access all parts of the country affected by the fighting. Damascus also has not agreed to daily ceasefires.
Last month the European Parliament adopted a resolution strongly urging Russia to immediately stop selling arms and military equipment to Damascus. Syria, the largest importer of Russian weapons in the Middle East, recently signed contracts for the supply of 24 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets and eight Buk-M2E air-defense systems. A contract for the supply of Bastion anti-ship missile systems armed with SS-N-26 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles is currently being implemented.
Russia and China have twice vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria that they believe could lead to a military operation against Syrian government forces as a repetition of “the Libyan scenario.” Russia has also opposed calls to establish air corridors in Syria to provide humanitarian aid to civilian population suffering from the consequences of clashes between troops loyal to al-Assad and opposition forces.
The independent Moscow daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Monday that this year's annual military exercises in Russia's south, Kavkaz 2012, will be much larger than usual and organized around the premise of a war that begins with an attack on Iran but spreads to neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan, and draws Russia into a regional maelstrom. The newspaper said the war games, which are usually confined to Russian territory, might this year include maneuvers in the breakaway Georgian statelets of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and perhaps also in Russian-allied Armenia.
"We believe that sanctions relative to Iran have lost their usefulness," Gennady Gatilov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, told a Moscow press conference Tuesday. "We will oppose any new resolution [on UN sanctions against Iran].... "Russia would consider any use of force against the territory of Iran unacceptable. That would make the situation even more critical.... Unfortunately, many [Western] government leaders are not restraining themselves and are speaking openly about a military strike against Iran," Mr. Gatilov added.
A harsh sanctions regime, signed into law by President Obama two weeks ago, would target Iran's ability to earn cash through oil exports by penalizing Western companies who clear payments through Iran's central bank. The European Union could enact its own sanctions against Iranian oil exports as early as next week.
U.S. Has ‘Grave Concern’ About Russian Arms Flow to Syria
The U.S. has “very grave concern” about arms reaching the Assad regime after news reports that a Russian shipment of ammunition arrived in Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said. Chariot, a Russian-owned ship carrying bullets, was detained by Cypriot authorities on Jan. 9 and allowed to proceed two days later after agreeing to change its destination to Turkey, the Cypriot national broadcaster CyBC reported without saying where it got the information. Instead, the ship stopped transmitting its automatic-recognition signal and went to the Syrian port of Tartus.
Arab League Monitors
Syrian security forces have extended their attacks on demonstrators during the Arab League’s two-week deployment of observers, killing about 400 people in that period, Lynn Pascoe, the UN’s political chief, told the 15-member UN Security Council on Jan. 10. As a result, the UN will deploy four trainers to Cairo for as long as three days to help the league’s monitors in Syria do a better job of holding the Assad regime accountable, according to the office of the UN spokesman. They will probably be deployed on a request by the Arab League after Arab ministers meet on Jan. 22, according to the office.
Under an agreement with the league, Syria’s government promised to withdraw military and security forces from urban areas, release political prisoners and allow observers into the country to monitor implementation of the accord. Syria’s security forces killed 30 people today, according to the Al Arabiya news channel. Authorities also released former political prisoner Najati Tayyara, according to the based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Tayyara was arrested along with hundreds of other activists in house-to-house searches last May.
Syrian and Turkish protesters stand on pictures of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a demonstration in front of the Russian Consulate in Istanbul against the Syrian government and against Russia for allegedly supplying it with weapons
Russia's support for Syria can't just be explained as a desire to help a longtime partner, experts say. It also reflects eagerness to confront the West and the Kremlin's fear of internal opposition. Russia's increasingly vigorous support of Syria's beleaguered government cannot solely be explained as an earnest desire to help its longtime partner and biggest importer of conventional weapons in the Middle East, experts in Moscow say.
Moscow's stance, they say, also reflects a politically inspired eagerness to confront the West as well as the Kremlin's fear of the fast-growing internal opposition movement since December's parliamentary vote, which was marred by accusations of fraud and ballot stuffing. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is seeking a return to the presidency in a March election, "is convinced that any popular protest in any part of the world, and especially in the Middle East and Russia, is inspired by the U.S. White House and sponsored by the State Department," Moscow political and defense analyst Alexander Golts said.
"The closer to the March election, the more evidence the Kremlin will produce to indicate the U.S. involvement and it is becoming a key point on the agenda in Putin's presidential campaign," said Golts, who is deputy editor of Yezhednevny Zhurnal, a liberal online publication. In the last two weeks, a flotilla of Russian warships led by the aircraft carrier Adm. Kuznetsov called at the Syrian port of Tartus and a Russian-managed vessel allegedly unloaded tons of ammunition.
Russia and China blocked a U.S.-backed U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria in October, and this week Moscow proposed its own draft resolution in which "nothing can be interpreted to allow the use of force," as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put it this week. The White House has grown increasingly wary of the Kremlin's tough defense of the Syrian government, which stands accused of killing thousands of protesters during largely peaceful street rallies.
Susan Rice, the American envoy to the United Nations, said Tuesday in Geneva that the U.S. has "very grave concerns about arms flows into Syria from any source," and she lashed out at Russia for opposing sanctions and an arms embargo on Syria that she said were overdue. The Kremlin immediately responded by slamming U.S. and European sanctions on Damascus and saying that Russia has no need to apologize for its weapon deliveries.
"We don't consider it necessary to explain and justify ourselves in connection with a Russian vessel unloading at a Syrian port, as Russia doesn't violate any international agreements and U.N. Security Council resolutions," Lavrov said Wednesday. "Our country trades with Syria in only what is not banned by international law."
Syria has had strong political and military ties to Russia for decades. In 1980, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed a friendship and assistance treaty with Syria's then-ruler Hafez Assad. Since then, 90% of Syria's weaponry has come from Moscow, including, tanks, missiles, antiaircraft artillery and firearms.
"Russia has articulated a firm position … not to allow the repetition of the Libyan scenario in Syria, as the Kremlin will block any U.N. decision in that direction," Igor Korotchenko, editor in chief of the monthly magazine National Defense, said Friday. "Russia is ready to do anything short of direct military involvement in the conflict."
Last month, Putin accused the State Department of meddling in Russian affairs and inciting riots in Moscow. "They will be locking the United States in a fight over Syria and the antiballistic defense in Europe only to prevent it from alleged involvement in Russian domestic affairs on the eve of the presidential vote," Golts said.
Asked about reports of the sale Monday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "If it's accurate, it would be quite concerning." "Our firm belief is that any country that is still trading in weapons and armaments with Syria really needs to think twice," Nuland said, "because they are on the wrong side of history, and those weapons can be used against innocents and have been."
The United States already is asking Moscow to explain why a Russian ship reportedly delivered munitions to Syria earlier this month in violation of European Union sanctions. Nuland said Moscow so far has not given any "clarity" on the shipment. Two top State Department officials have raised the issue of Russian military supplies to Syria during visits to Moscow. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns discussed the issue a week ago and Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman currently is in the Russian capital, according to Nuland.
"Issue number one on his agenda there is Syria," she said, as well as U.S. efforts to muster support for the U.N. Security Council condemnation of the Syrian government's violent crackdown on demonstrators that, according to the United Nations, has killed 5,400 people in 10 months.
Nuland said the United States has frequently warned Moscow "about how dangerous we think it is to be continuing to trade in weapons and encouraging them to do what they can to stop such trades." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed any idea that Moscow needs to explain any arms sales to the Assad regime, which has been carrying out a violent crackdown.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin also cautioned, "No one must interfere with Syria. This is dangerous." Behind the scenes, however, there are signs the Kremlin may be quietly adjusting its position. In comments quoted by Russia's Itar-Tass news agency, Mikhail Margelov, a member of Russia's Parliament and President Dmitry Medvedev's special Africa representative, indicated that Russia has run out of methods to stop the international push for al-Assad to step down.
Russia's veto of the U.N. Security Council resolution, he said, "was the last instrument allowing Bashar Assad to maintain the status quo in the international arena" and was a "serious signal to the president of Syria from Russia. This veto has exhausted our arsenal of such resources."
Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, tells CNN that, by selling fighter trainers or supplying munitions to Syria, Russia is trying to send a signal to the West not to attempt any Libya-style "regime change" there. "It's not that Assad is objectively so important," Rojansky said, "it's that Russia is absolutely drawing a red line vis-a-vis the Libya precedent."
He added, "I don't think they are interested in seeing the Assad regime continue to use weapons against its own citizens. They've been pretty clear that they oppose the bloodshed. So they're not arming him so that he can win in a confrontation. They would like to be the ones that broker an end to the confrontation." The arms sales, he says, are not major. If Russia sold Syria the S-400 anti-aircraft weapon system, he says, that would be significant. The latest moves are "intentionally brash, intentionally public, coming in quick succession," he says, "and that's because it's about signaling."
Syria is not the only global hot spot where Russia stands to frustrate U.S. policy. On Tuesday, Russia's Foreign Ministry lambasted a fresh set of tough EU sanctions against Iran's oil sector as "deeply erroneous." The sanctions, which aim to cut off imports of Iranian oil and freeze assets in an effort to starve the country's nuclear program of funding, are unlikely to drive the Islamic Republic to give up its nuclear program, or could even be counterproductive, the Russian foreign ministry said in its statement.
And Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, told a group of reporters there is nothing substantive at this point to even indicate Iran was building an atomic weapon.
There are not many world capitals today where President Bashar al-Assad of Syria can count on unstinting support. But diplomats who passed through Moscow this week hoping to secure Russia’s help in forcing him from power were met with cold refusal.
The United Nations estimates that more than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March, and among the countries that have called for Mr. Assad to step down are the United States, Turkey and Jordan, as well as the members of the European Union and the Arab League. But Russia remains a staunch defender, providing Damascus with a political lifeline as well as arms and ammunition.
Moscow entrenched itself as Mr. Assad’s political bulwark on Friday, declaring that it would, with China, oppose a Security Council resolution calling on Mr. Assad to step down. A deputy foreign minister, Gennadi Gatilov, told the Interfax news agency that the resolution was “doomed to failure” unless the demand for Mr. Assad’s ouster was dropped and a call for opposition forces to renounce violence was included.
Another deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, rejected Western criticism of continuing arms shipments to Mr. Assad’s government, including a freshly inked $550 million contract for fighter planes. “I do not understand why we should justify ourselves for that, constantly blush, turn pale, be damp with sweat,” Mr. Ryabkov told the radio station Ekho Moskvy on Thursday. “We are acting within our rights.”
Russian political support has proved essential to the Assad government, said Peter Harling, a Syria specialist with the International Crisis Group. Statements of support from Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov are featured continuously by Syrian state news agencies, he said, offering reassurance that Mr. Assad’s government still has mighty allies.
“It is central to the regime’s narrative and key to the cohesiveness of the regime’s ranks,” Mr. Harling said. “They believe that the international community is divided. So Russians are providing cover for the regime to push forward with their approach. There is a strong belief that all doors are not closed.”
Russia has staked out this position for a variety of reasons that have little to do with the specifics of Syria’s political crisis, chief among them weapons exports, domestic politics and resentment over the Libyan campaign. It reflects a shift that has taken place as Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin prepares to return to the presidency, deeply distrustful of the West’s intentions both in Russia and in the Middle East. He has accused the United States of orchestrating uprisings in both regions.
“Theoretically, the Western bloc has a few more months of the Medvedev presidency,” said Yevgeny Y. Satanovsky, president of the Institute of the Middle East in Moscow. “After that, Putin is a bigger realist than Medvedev, he has more experience, he is much more pragmatic. I don’t think he will have these ideas from the Medvedev side that opened the gate to this campaign in Libya.”
Libya is a particular grievance. Mr. Putin seethed over the aftermath of the United Nations resolution establishing what was supposed to be a no-fly zone in Libya, which China and Russia last March agreed not to veto. Many in the government contend that President Dmitri A. Medvedev was deceived by Western allies who then used the resolution to justify airstrikes to drive Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power. “We were naïve and stupid,” said Mr. Satanovsky, an influential analyst. “The Chinese were the same. Trust this: That was the last mistake of such type.”
Another consideration is practical. Syria is a major customer of Russia’s state weapons exporters, who by one estimate have already lost as much as $10 billion in orders during the political turmoil of the Arab Spring and a missile contract with Iran that was shelved as a result of the “reset” with Washington. The military industry holds sway over a significant slice of Russian voters and “will be very angry at the ruling group” if further contracts are lost, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs.
“We have an election year here, and this time it is a more real election campaign. He is campaigning quite seriously,” Mr. Lukyanov said. “That means all groups of society are valuable, and the military industry is very angry over this chain of events.”
Russia has benefited from Syria’s isolation from the West over the years because it enjoys preferential access for its arms and petroleum industries. Syria places orders worth about $700 million a year, making it a “major, very important, high-priced client by Russian standards,” said Ruslan Aliyev, a defense specialist at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow research center. But Moscow wields little influence over Mr. Assad, he said.
This created problems for Moscow in 2006, when Israel, another Russian ally, found that Hezbollah fighters were using Russian-made weaponry that had been sold to Syria, in violation of Syria’s agreement with Russia. Mr. Aliyev called this “a weighty slap in the face.” Mr. Assad has also defied Russian counsel to “stop the hostilities and bloodshed.” “It’s difficult to defend a person who does not want to cooperate with you and is not prepared to take advice from you,” Mr. Aliyev said.
Mr. Aliyev, who was present at meetings with American diplomats last week, said that Americans were convinced that Mr. Assad’s government would fall and advocated engaging with the opposition. Russian officials are “more pragmatic,” arguing that change will lead to “a civil war, followed by rampant violence and banditry and terrorism, as it happened in other countries,” he said. Mr. Lavrov sent a clear signal last week that Russia would not intervene militarily in defense of Mr. Assad’s government.
Some Russian analysts warn that if Mr. Assad falls, it will lead to a broader war pitting Arab nations against Iran. Mr. Satanovsky said that Russia could see “maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of refugees coming from Iranian territory into Azerbaijan and Russia” if that were to occur, as well as ethnic violence against Christian minorities and the spread of terrorism. He said Russia supported not Mr. Assad, but stability.
“After Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Afghanistan, why should Russia once more look at all this with the idea that everything will be all right?” he said. “This is not a choice between good and bad, this is a choice between bad — which we have now — and terrible and apocalyptic.”
But after U.S. and Arab-led efforts to craft consensus in the U.N. Security Council on Syria's political transition were torpedoed by vetoes from Russia and China, some analysts say risks are growing that the international community will line up on opposite sides of a fratricidal war. The volatile ingredients are already in place.
Resistance fighters known as the Free Syrian Army have pledged to liberate the country from Assad's rule. Activists call for armed support for rebels. And Syrian security forces are ratcheting up the violence, vowing to fulfil their president's threat to strike with an "iron fist" against the government's opponents. ""There is a risk of it could become a proxy conflict. It is already headed in that direction," said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"I think you will see now different countries in the region betting on the Free Syrian Army. Already weapons have been coming in from Lebanon. You will now see more coming in from Jordan, from Turkey, from Iraq or from Russia. Everyone will start to operate in this environment."
U.S. officials say their emphasis is on building support for Syria's beleaguered political opposition and possibly providing humanitarian relief for refugees as the fighting intensifies. For their part, Russia and Iran say they are urging Damascus to make reforms. But they reject what they describe as a Western-engineered attempt to overthrow the government of one of their closest allies. Some in Washington worry the situation may eventually edge toward a Cold War-style proxy conflict. "At the moment it is not something that is being discussed," one U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. "That is not to say that at some point down the line it won't be."
A COMPLEX PUZZLE
During the Cold War, Washington and Moscow fought proxy battles in Latin America, Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere, arming allied governments or insurgents fighting against them. U.S. President Barack Obama, facing re-election in November, has steered away from deeper involvement in Syria, a complex and combustible political puzzle that is a potential threat to U.S. allies including Israel, Turkey and Jordan.
"It is very important for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention. And I think that's possible," Obama told NBC this week, dismissing parallels with the international military effort that toppled Libya's Muammar Gaddafi last year. But Damascus, facing its greatest crisis in four decades of the Assad family's dynastic rule, contends that it is already fighting an Islamic insurgency funded and directed by enemies in U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Damascus on Tuesday and emerged saying that Assad was committed to halting the violence and would soon roll out new political reforms, promises the Syrian leader has reneged on in the past. Iran has also stood by Syria, which has long helped it support the militant anti-Israel Hezbollah faction in neighbouring Lebanon, and accused Washington of trying to destabilize the region. "America's plans for Syria are evident and unfortunately some foreign and regional countries take part in America's plans," Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said late last month.
Washington's plan for Syria thus far appears limited. After Russia's and China's double veto in the U.N. Security Council, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday suggested the United States would work with allies to tighten sanctions and support democratic change in Syria even without Security Council backing. But many analysts say expanding violence on the ground may eventually force Washington and its allies to consider additional steps - which would be fraught with political risk even if no foreign forces were directly involved.
"I think we should be helping them, and I think we should look at ways we can help them," Republican Senator John McCain said on Tuesday, suggesting that any new working group on Syria should consider all options including military assistance. "I think everything should be on the table as to what would be the most effective in bringing this massacre to a halt."
And U.S. fears over a Syrian quagmire may find an echo in Moscow, where the immediate push to thwart U.S. objectives at the United Nations may not translate into lasting support for Assad's government, according to Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There are Russian interests at stake, but not vital Russian interests," Cordesman said. "Russia should certainly be trying to find a way to handle this issue which shows that Russia has the influence to be decisive. But they also want to see broad stability."
Turkish Factor: Moscow conference reviews geopolitical threats and dynamics in Mideast and former Soviet space
“The conference was the first step that will lead to a closer investigation of Turkey’s role in geopolitical developments and, most importantly, what threats the Turkish factor is posing,” says Safrastyan, head of the Institute of Eastern Studies at the RA National Academy of Sciences, who participated in the conference.
He says after the collapse of the Soviet Union scientific relations between Russia and Armenia had seen a decline. However, today, when Moscow is becoming an extremely important factor in the Middle East, the mutual ties in the sphere are being resumed and strengthened. At the conference the Institutes of Eastern Studies of both countries’ National Academies of Sciences signed agreements. Safrasyan says the conference will become a fulcrum for enhancing cooperation with Russian institutes in particular, which has to do with the Russia’s activated regional politics.
Twelve reports were presented on how the Turkish factor influences many countries’ domestic political affairs, among them Georgia and Azerbaijan. By a number of reports, experts from different countries clearly demonstrated Turkey’s backstage activities. In his report Safrastyan touched upon the Turkish factor, structure and dynamics, stressing that Turkey had intruded into South Caucasus. After the collapse of Soviet Union it has shifted its policy and has been following it in relations with Russia, Middle East and CIS countries.
“The Turkish factor has turned into Turkish expansion by peaceful means and spreading of pan-Turkism and Islamism,” he says. “Turkey has started consolidating its positions in the geopolitical struggle. However, in most cases, those positions do not match with the ones it actually has. The next couple of years will show whether Turkey will remain within its frame or will go beyond it and by doing so pose a threat to geopolitical processes. ”
Safrastyan stresses that the Turkish factor has to be thoroughly researched, and measures taken, to prevent it from strengthening. He does not rule out Turkey’s potential military involvement in Syrian affairs, which would endanger the Syrian Armenian community.
“If hostilities burst out in Iran Turkey might be part of it as well. This fits into the so-called “trade relations” with the United States” the main purpose of which is to keep the United States from using the word ‘genocide’,” he says.
In his report Safrastyan raised an issue, saying that although Russia had long recognized the Armenian Genocide however was lagging behind France which is trying to adopt the law on criminalizing genocide denial. “The key message was that Russia, too, has to start a similar process,” he says. “A number of countries are following the evolution of the issue, so if France passes the bill, quite possible, that several European countries might accede as well.”
The Azeri press, particularly the Trend.az online newspaper, covering Safrastyan’s Moscow report, qualified it as “an attempt to drive a wedge between Turkey and Russia.”
However, with tensions on the rise in the Persian Gulf, and with threats by Iran to disrupt oil supplies passing through the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for the sanctions that have been slapped on it by various countries over its uranium-enrichment activities, South Caucasus capitals are pondering what role they would play should the standoff get hot. While some analysts see opportunity for the region, others worry the three small countries could get pulled into an unpredictable conflict.
Out of the three, Armenia is the most concerned with preserving the status quo, said Sergey Minasyan, head of the Political Studies Department at the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, the capital and largest city of Armenia. Minasyan said Armenia's relationship with Iran had been "a constant dynamic" since its 1991 independence. Landlocked Armenia has been geographically isolated since its conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s, during which Turkey also cut ties and closed its border with Armenia in support of its Turkic Azeri brethren.
At the time, despite their ideological differences, the Islamic Republic backed Christian Armenia over Muslim Azerbaijan and, along with Russia, has been a source of important political support. Furthermore, about one-third of Armenia's trade passes through Iranian territory. Armenia's only alternatives are land routes passing through Georgia to Russia and the Black Sea, however, heavy snows and avalanche threats regularly close the Armenia-Georgia and Georgia-Russia border crossings.
Iran has also been a key investor in Armenian business and infrastructure, feeding the country natural gas through a recently completed pipeline and an oil pipeline is in the works. Yerevan views these links as key to preventing a near total dependence on Russia for commerce. In its 2011 report, "Without Illusions", the Yerevan-based Civilitas Foundation said that both the Karabakh war and the supply disruptions caused by the 2008 Russia-Georgia war proved that Armenia's "only reliable access to the world was through Iran".
Minasyan said Armenia had also served as a "proxy" for Iran in developing business and political contacts in ways that bypass its official isolation. Still, Minasyan said that amid the occasionally violent stalemate with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, the biggest consequences for Armenia of a weakened or preoccupied Iran would be political, not economic.
"For the medium term, it would be possible to replace that trade using Georgian routes. But the more important - the more dangerous - would be the geopolitical results of closing the border if something happened in Iran. On the other hand, another very important issue is that not only Armenia is afraid of the possible consequences of a new crisis with Iran. For Azerbaijan, it's also a problem. Some experts are thinking that we will have a crisis in Karabakh if something happens in Iran, but politicians and experts in Azerbaijan are more afraid of that outcome than in Armenia," he said.
Indeed, Azerbaijan's rocky relationship with Iran has hit an historic low in recent months. Iran has long warned Azerbaijan against exploiting energy resources near Iran's Caspian waters, and, in 2001, used military force to halt a BP-sponsored project near the dividing line. Since then, the two have traded barbs over ideological differences related to Azerbaijan's stolidly secular observance of Sunni Islam, and Iran's devotion to theocratic Shi'ite governance. Iran also worries that Azerbaijan might play on the discontent among Iran's sizable, but repressed ethnic Azeri minority.
Last month, Azerbaijani government websites were hit by a wave a cyber-attacks, which were responded to in turn with attacks against Iranian state websites. Then, on January 25, Baku announced it had foiled an Iranian plot to assassinate the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan and attack a Jewish religious school in the country. The suspects were captured after one allegedly met with his handlers in northern Iran and was promised US$160,000 for the mission. The capture came days after top Iranian officials had promised retribution for the assassination of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist, and bore a striking resemblance to Iran's alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Iran regularly accuses Azerbaijan of collaborating militarily with both the US and Israel. After the nuclear scientist was killed, an intelligence official in Tehran was quoted as saying, "None of those who ordered these attacks should feel safe anywhere." Stephen Blank, a research professor at the United States Army War College, said that the threats Iran regularly made to Azerbaijan should be taken seriously, including those saying that the country would be "targeted and destroyed" if it allowed the US or it's allies to use Azerbaijani territory or air bases for an attack against Iran.
Azerbaijani airspace is already a key link in the Northern Distribution Network supplying North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan has signed a number of defense deals with Israel, but none of these arrangements were directed against Iran thus far, Blank said.
That may not matter, however. "I think Iran is driven by a different calculus. I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that we are dealing with people who are deranged, because they're not. But [...] Iran is driven by this kind of obsession of anti-Semitism and anti-Sunni thinking and I think it manifests itself in their policy," Blank said. "Second, they have discovered that terrorism is an instrument that works."
Lincoln Mitchell, a professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, said, on the contrary, that the region would stand to benefit from a US-Iranian escalation because it "puts [the South Caucasus countries] in the driver's seat, particularly Azerbaijan, with its relationship with the US". "Azerbaijan plays a make-or-break role in this, and Azerbaijan can make any attempt by the United States to do anything in Iran extremely difficult, or it can make it considerably easier. So, the growing tension between Iran and the United States gives far more leverage - particularly to Azerbaijan - than they have now," he said.
Mitchell said that in increasing its utility to the US, Azerbaijan could alleviate Western pressure on Baku over democracy and human-rights issues. Georgia, while it does not share a border with Iran, may also come into play. Since coming to power in the 2003 "Rose" revolution, President Mikheil Saakashvili has placed NATO membership at the forefront of his foreign policy agenda. After Georgia's brief war with Russia in 2008, those aspirations appeared to be dashed, but Saakashvili has not given up hope, deploying as many as 1,700 soldiers in Afghanistan's most violent province as a part of the NATO war effort.
However, Georgia has also sought to strengthen its ties with Iran since the war, signing a visa-free travel agreement with the Islamic Republic and opening up greater economic, academic and commercial links in various agreements with Tehran. Still, Mitchell, who worked as the chief of party at the National Democratic Institute's office in Georgia from 2002-2004 and has authored a book on the Saakashvili regime, said that Georgia would likely acquiesce to any requests by Washington to use Georgian territory in support of American operations against Iran.
In an election year, Georgian opposition politicians and former Georgian president Eduard Shevarnadze have publicly accused Saakashvili of potentially dragging the country into a war with neighboring Iran. But David Smith, a senior fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi, said such claims "are reaching really far" and attributed the worries to political polemicists.
Blank said that while there had been very few statements made about the situation publicly, officials in all three countries were nervous about the rising tensions. "They are clearly concerned, as are the Russians, about the fact that they're being dragged into a contingency outside their area that they don't really have anything to say about," he said.
Russia has responded to the standoff by announcing military exercises in the North and South Caucasus that are unprecedented in scale. While Russia regularly runs military drills in the North Caucasus, the "Kavkaz-2012" maneuvers will also involve Russian units in Armenia and the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia. It had also reinforced its military presence throughout the North and South Caucasus for an indefinite term in response to the crisis, Blank said.
Over the past year, Russian officials have often warned that foreign intervention in either Syria or Iran could lead to a "wider conflict" in the region. Viewing both Syria and Iran as countries on the periphery of its spheres of influence, Blank said Russia was now attempting to reassert its claim over the South Caucasus, its traditional buffer zone against the Middle East.
With the baseline of regional tensions raised, Mitchell said that the rhetoric in both Russia and Georgia would likely turn increasingly more provocative, as both countries' leaders had a track record of using external distractions to boost their personal popularity. While most of talk remains just that, he said the confluence of the regional events could lead to "a potentially explosive situation".
So far, the South Caucasus has been exempted from pressure to freeze its relations with Iran. Azerbaijan was even granted a special exemption as European officials and energy lobbyists convinced the US Congress not to include the development of Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz natural gas field in its list of forbidden economic activities with Tehran, although the Islamic Republic owns a 10% stake in the venture.
However, Blank said that the South Caucasus should not count on being able to stay neutral forever. "I think they will come under pressure to move back from their relationship with Iran if the situation continues to remain at a high level of tension. On the other hand, I think a war would be a worse contingency for them," he said.
Russia has doubts about the credibility of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based organization whose accounts of Syrian events often become a source of information for Western journalists, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement. “According to our information, only two people work for this Observatory – its head and a secretary,” the statement, published on the Foreign Ministry official website, reads.
The group, the statement said, “is headed by a certain R. Abdurahman, who does not have not only journalistic or legal background, but also a complete secondary education.” “In a media interview in November last year, he himself said that he is a permanent London resident, has British citizenship and is involved in business activities (owns a snack shop),” it said. Lukashevich also noted in his statement that representatives of the Observatory have declined contact requests from Russian diplomats.
“We believe that the facts stated above allow us to make conclusions regarding the credibility of information being provided by this structure,” he added. Last week, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported that more than 8,000 people, including 590 children, had been killed in Syria since the beginning of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad last March.
The United Nations estimated in January that 5,400 people had been killed in the conflict in 2011. As deadly attacks by Syrian troops on rebel strongholds continue, Syrian activists have reported hundreds of new deaths since, but overall figures cannot be independently confirmed because the Syrian government has prevented most foreign media from operating inside the country.
The Syrian authorities say more than 2,000 military and security officers have been killed in clashes with “armed terrorist gangs.”
Baghdasarian gave few details of greater Armenian reliance on the CSTO as he spoke at a joint news conference with Nikolay Bordyuzha, the bloc’s visiting secretary general. Bordyuzha arrived in Yerevan to discuss with Armenian officials a new CSTO strategy drawn up by his Moscow-based office. Bordyuzha said the document will clarify the CSTO’s mission and the obligations of its member states as well as regulate joint military operations by their armed forces. It will also ascertain whether Russia can use nuclear weapons to protect its ex-Soviet allies “in extraordinary circumstances,” he said.
The presidents of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan already agreed last year that their troops acting within the CSTO framework can interfere in a member state beset by serious unrest. Bordyuzha assured journalists last month that the Russian-led alliance is not assuming “gendarmerie functions” to help member governments crack down on the opposition.
The CSTO set up in 2009 Collective Operational Reaction Forces (CORF) tasked with countering security threats to the bloc. Armenia is due to host CORF exercises in October. The deepening Armenian involvement in the CSTO announced by Baghdasarian comes amid growing ties between Yerevan and NATO. President Serzh Sarkisian highlighted them when he visited the NATO headquarters in Brussels last week.
“Neighboring Azerbaijan has been spending huge sums on strengthening its army in order to forcibly resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” Sarkisian said during a visit to Gyumri this week. “We are obliged to guarantee the security of our citizens and the only way to do that is to have a combat-ready army.” “Today we can report to you that in the past five years we have managed to solve that task,” he told hundreds of local members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). “In the last three years alone we have enhanced the level of our armament as much as we were able to do during the first 17 years of our independent statehood.”
“We have imported essential and qualitatively new weapons and ammunition to the Republic of Armenia, providing our army with modern weapons and thereby imposing peace on our foe,” the premier said. He gave no details of those arms deliveries. Armenian military officials have likewise reported an ongoing army buildup. “We have been enhancing our military capacity with arms acquisitions in recent years,” Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian told journalists in January.
Ohanian said the Armenian government is now successfully implementing a five-year plan to modernize the national armed forces with long-range weapons and other hardware. The still unpublicized program was approved by President Serzh Sarkisian’s National Security Council in December 2010. Some of the longe-range weapons already possessed by Armenia were demonstrated for the first time during a military parade in Yerevan last September. Those included Russian-made Scud-B and Tochka-U tactical ballistic missiles capable of hitting strategic targets deep inside Azerbaijani territory.
Armenia is able to stay in an intensifying arms race with oil-rich Azerbaijan mainly because of close military ties with Russia that entitle it to receiving Russian weapons at discount prices or even free of charge. A new Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed in August 2010 commits Moscow to helping Yerevan obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.” Artur Baghdasarian, secretary of the National Security Council, said last month that the two governments plan to sign a new deal that will deepen Russian-Armenian military cooperation further. He made the announcement after talks in Yerevan with his visiting Russian opposite number, Nikolay Patrushev.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan speaking in Gyumri last week made a curious statement, saying that over the past three years the country leadership has largely increased the level of army equipment, much more than during the previous 17 years of Armenia’s independence.
“Our neighbor Azerbaijan is spending huge amounts of money on raising the combat-readiness of its army, in order to settle the Nagorno Karabakh issuer by force. We must ensure the safety of our citizens and the only way to do so is to have a strong, combat-ready army. Today we can say that over the past five years we have managed to achieve that,” the premier said during his meeting with the activists of the Republican Party of Armenia.
No doubt that such a statement was made in the highlight of the campaign period. It was an address of its kind to the Armenian nation aiming at demonstrating the efficiency with which the country’s leadership has worked in terms of raising the country’s defense capacity especially taking into account Azerbaijan’s aggressive bellicose statements and increased tensions on the line of contact.
How can this statement be interpreted? What did the premier mean by saying that in three years they had managed to achieve something that was impossible to do within17 years? Does it mean that during the past thirty six months one president and one defense minister have been able to do what the first and second presidents and their respective defense ministers (several of them, including today’s president of Armenia) had failed to do during 204 months?
Since it’s impossible to compare the kinds and amounts of arms and armament acquired by Armenia during the first 17 years of independent Armenian statehood with respective data of the past three years, we cannot claim anything definite in this respect. At the same time, we can’t help but trust the Prime Minister’s words, who is also member of the National Security Council of Armenia, even if these words were said for campaign purposes.
Tigran Sargsyan might have meant the following: It was three years ago, February 4 of 2009, members of CSTO military-strategic bloc reconciled and signed the project on creation of operative rapid-reaction force (ORRF). This force is designed to be used also to “repulse military aggression”.
By late 2009, in the border area of Kazakhstan and China, at Matybulak military polygon CSTO’s collective forces held the largest-scale military drills since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It marked the beginning of a new stage of equipping CSTO member-countries with contemporary weaponry. Military drills of the collective force of CSTO will be held in Armenia in the coming fall. Moreover, in August of 2011, it became known that Armenia purchased S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.
“Armenia’s armed forces are replenishing their arsenal acquiring new military equipment. It specifically concerns anti-aircraft defense, upgraded on annual basis. Armenia currently possesses S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, ready to fulfill their role at any minute,” defense minister Seyran Ohanyan stated then.
What was even more interesting in the minister’s statement was that “Armenia can further purchase S-400 anti-aircraft missiles. There might come a day when Armenia will purchase those as well.” Ohanyan could hardly have just stated such a prospect with no grounds.
S-400 Triumph (US Department of Defense and NATO reported name is SA-21 Growler) is a Russia-produced new generation anti-aircraft missile of large and medium range, designed for tracking and destruction of all kinds of modern aircrafts (drones, reconnaissance aircrafts, ballistic missiles, etc). Each S-400 has the capacity of simultaneously firing at 36 targets with up to 72 missiles. Many military experts share the opinion that this system has no analogs in the world.
In August of 2009, Secretary of the National Security Council of Armenia Artur Baghdasaryan stated that “nine Armenian-Russian joint military-industrial entities will be founded in Armenia in the nearest future”.
“Over the past two years solid steps have been taken to raise the combat-readiness of the Armenian army. We have been able to adopt a highly important Program of development of military equipment and armament for 2011-2015, providing for not only importing state-of-the art armory and defense technology, but also development of defense industry in our country,” said Baghdasaryan.
Hence, the premier’s words on the achievements of the past few years should be considered from the perspective of all the above mentioned factors, which, indeed, are significant in terms of strengthening Armenia’s defense capacity. This, by no means, implies that fewer efforts were made during the first 17 years. The point is that a new stage of development of bilateral and bloc relations between Yerevan and Moscow started only recently.
On Agenda: Armenian Lawmakers Again Focus on Emergency Rule Law
On March 20, Parliament Speaker Samvel Nikoyan was unable to put the bill to a vote because there weren’t enough members of his party in the chamber for its passage. The speaker said the bill would be voted on the next day. The draft legislation was narrowly passed in its first reading on March 1 (with 67 members of the 131-seat body voting for it, and one voting against).
Before the first reading vote, the two parliamentary minority parties, ARF Dashnaktsutyun and Heritage, as well as the extra-parliamentary Armenian National Congress, an alliance of nearly two dozen opposition parties and groups, held a picket in front of the National Assembly building, demanding that the lawmakers refuse to pass the controversial piece of legislation envisaging that, in certain cases, the army could be employed for dispersing public rallies and demonstrations.
The RPA did ensure the majority for passing the bill on March 21, but questions linger in society about why the party needs a law that has drawn so much criticism. The RPA does not bring forward any arguments in favor of passing the law. Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, who is also a senior member of the ruling party, only referred to the approval from the Venice Commission. And Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasyan, who also joined the RPA recently, said such matters are better regulated by law than left to individuals’ discretion.
On Tuesday, ARF faction leader Vahan Hovhannisyan called on the lawmakers to reconsider their position. “It is all too clear that it is a bad law. Why push it through?” he queried in the chamber. Earlier, one of the veteran RPA members Rafik Petrosyan spoke against passing the law. “It is unacceptable that any political force should use troops to defend its own interests,” he said, claiming that one of the provisions of the proposed legislation runs counter to the Constitution.
Opposition parties already claim that the RPA is getting prepared for post-election rallies and a possible use of the military. Authorities already used the army in public order policing on the night of March 1-2, 2008 when the then president, Robert Kocharyan, introduced a state of emergency in Yerevan to quell street protests and demonstrations against the official results of the presidential election. Ten people, including two security personnel, were killed in the clashes that night. The government then did that without any law on the emergency rule.
Therefore, experts assume that the Republican attempts to pass the law are rather related to external pressure. In particular, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led defense pact of six former Soviet states, including Armenia, recently developed a mechanism for the participation of its Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) in operations during emergencies in member countries. According to the revised CSTO documents, if a member country asks the organization to introduce its RRF, no consent of all members of the defense alliance will be required for that any longer.
Three years ago the CSTO was unable to intervene in the internal conflict in Kyrgyzstan, because some of its members opposed that move. Now, this obstacle, in fact, has been eliminated.
Vladimir Putin reclaiming Russia's presidency will probably exacerbate tensions with the U.S. and Europe as they try to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions and halt bloodshed in Syria, strategists from Moscow to New York said. As Putin celebrated six more years in office after his electoral victory on March 4, he thanked supporters for backing a "Great Russia." The U.S. State Department responded by choosing not to congratulate him and calling for a "credible" investigation into allegations of electoral fraud. "Putin understands geopolitics in terms of a zero-sum competition with Western, particularly U.S., interests," Jenia Ustinova and Alexander Kliment of Eurasia Group in New York said by e-mail. "After four years of a relatively more accommodating stance under President Medvedev, the tone of Moscow's foreign policy toward the West is set to change." The Russian leader's return to the Kremlin gives him the opportunity to stymie U.S. and European policy in the oil-rich Middle East at a time when the region is being buffeted by civil war in Syria and the threat of an Israeli military strike against Iran. Russia reiterated yesterday that it won't support any international interference aimed at toppling Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad amid a government crackdown that has killed more than 7,500 people according to the United Nations. Putin said Feb. 24 that the West is seeking to bring about a regime change in Iran under the guise of halting its nuclear-arms ambitions.
While Russia is against military action or increased sanctions in Iran, it backed European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton's call yesterday for the Persian Gulf state to reach a "full settlement" clarifying questions about its nuclear program. Russia is one of the six countries including the U.S., France, China, the U.K. and Germany that are negotiating with Iran. Medvedev also allowed a United Nations resolution authorizing NATO military action to protect civilians that led to the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi last year. The Libyan vote nevertheless sparked a spat between Medvedev and Putin and, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's campaign went on, prompted accusations in Russia that the military alliance was abusing the UN mandate for regime change. The drive to depose Qaddafi after Medvedev's gesture confirmed to Putin his "very mistrustful" approach toward the U.S., according to Fyodor Lukyanov, an analyst at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow.
Losing Arms Sales
Part of the discussion is moot simply because Putin never left government; as prime minister, he was the key figure making foreign policy decisions. As president, Dmitry Medvedev had some opportunities to advance some innovative rhetoric about modernization in Russia and a new architecture for European security, but as of at least September 2011, Putin dominated in the foreign policy arena, particularly in the Eurasian sphere. He initiated an ambitious project to create a Eurasian Union and proclaimed the end of the Post-Soviet era, saying that this agenda had already been exhausted. Medvedev’s Eurasian policy had no essential differences from the course followed by Russia in 2000-2008; Moscow traditionally tried to preserve the status quo whenever possible.
These leaders ignored the connection between the issues of Northern Caucasus security and the situation in the South Caucasus. They granted unjustified advances to Mikhail Saakashvili and gave him confidence that Moscow’s position could be disregarded. The American leadership is also responsible for the failure of Dmitry Kozak’s plan for the resolution of Moldova-Transnistrian conflict in 2003. It was exactly that failure, and not the series of color revolutions that followed it, that fine-tuned Putin’s harshness and intolerance of the positions of the U.S., the EU and NATO. Had the Transnistrian resolution followed a different path, probably today Russia’s neighbors would not have cause to be alarmed about Putin’s “return.” The West’s position in both these cases was basically an overreaction to its fear of the restoration of the Soviet Union.
While there is no reason to believe the Soviet Union would ever be reestablished – not least of all because today there is no ideology that could unify the region – it is impossible to overestimate Russia’s political and economic influence in Eurasia. Even after the Five Day War, Russia remains the third-largest foreign investor into Georgia, and this is only one example of the country’s economic power in the region. Russia’s military presence is also felt throughout the former Soviet Space. There is a military base in Gyumri, Armenia; Ukraine hosts much of the infrastructure of the Black Sea Fleet in Sebastopol; there is the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan, the Volga radar station in Belarus, and the Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan.
Additionally, in the perspective of many in the region, Russia holds the key to resolving the region’s frozen conflicts. The Georgian political establishment and many politicians in Eurasia and the Baltic countries continue to blame Moscow for the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the Five Day War. By recognizing these two breakaway republics, Russia gave hope to the other frozen conflict zones in the former Soviet space – Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria – and likewise caused concern in the political establishments of Ukraine and Moldova. But after August 2008, Moscow did not follow the path of total revisionism. Moscow instead worked through 2008-2012 to build parallel relationships with Armenia and Azerbaijan and pragmatic ones with Ukraine and Moldova. And there is hardly any reason to believe that in 2012 Russia will step back from this course.
The most important thing to remember when examining Russia’s foreign policy is that Moscow works from the perspective of its own self-interest, and this will be the case no matter who is sits in the Kremlin.Source: http://indrus.in/articles/2012/03/13/russia_to_stay_the_course_in_eurasia_15053.html
In the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Putin recently wrote that the “Eurasian Union” should be built on the inheritance of the Soviet Union:”infrastructure, a developed system of regional production specialization, and a common space of language, science, and culture.”
The issue of CIS integration is clearly important for Putin. Just two weeks after the Izvestia article appeared, he hosted a meeting of prime ministers from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Ukraine in St. Petersburg and triumphantly announced an agreement to form a free-trade zone after years of fruitless negotiations in October 2011.
After the collapse of the USSR, especially together with the rise of Putin, Russia directed its policy priorities toward re-establishing a so-called “sphere of influence” in strict realpolitik terms. Putin’s efforts at further economic consolidation are considered to be in a similar vein to the mercantilist approach of nineteenth century powers within the international system.
Putin sees Eurasian economic integration as a whole primarily as a way of cementing Russia’s international status, says Kyrgyz political scientist Mars Saryiev. He also adds: “If Russia fails to embrace us — the CIS countries — then Russia itself will fail. It will be just the backyard of Europe or a source of raw materials for China. There is no other way for Russia.”
Indeed, young ex-Soviet states had celebrated the twentieth anniversaries of their independence last summer. Most of these states still lack sufficient institutional structures, financial resources and sustainable funds for development. Such abstinences require these states to seek continuous foreign economic support which means dependence upon Russia or the West. Therefore the economic burden of such demands needs to be thoroughly assumed by Putin in his next term if he wishes to keep these states committed to Russia’s “Eurasian vision.”
On the other hand, economic tools and political deterrence measures, as usually devised by Putin previously against regimes not complying with Russia’s demands for further economic consolidation via related organizations, may also occupy headlines in this new era as Putin is considered stringent and harsh in implementing what Russia’s Eurasian vision entails.
The target of Russia’s sanctions was Ukraine after the “Orange Revolution,” through which the latter shifted its focus toward the West. The Ukrainian government in 2009 insisted on lower prices for Russian gas imports and refused to pay its debts. As a response, Russia cut off gas supply to this country, and the trade of gas between the two states could reach its former levels only after the pro-Western government was replaced by a pro-Russian one in the elections of February 2010.
Still, many experts such as Ukrainian lawmaker Oleh Zarubinsky, a member of the Russia-Ukraine inter-parliamentary group, expect that Moscow will continue its tough dealing with Ukraine. According to Zarubinsky: “Over the last few years, Dmitry Medvedev has been in the Kremlin, but the key questions of Russian politics — both domestic and foreign — were de facto determined by Putin,” Zarubinsky says. “So we can’t say there will be some sort of fundamental changes or, as some people are saying, tectonic shifts. Putin has his own style — harsh, pragmatic, and sometimes raw politics, including in foreign relations.”
Together with Ukraine and Georgia as part of an alternative organization named GUAM, a body resistant to Russian economic and political impositions to some extent, Azerbaijan had been compelled to maintain balanced economic policies between the West and Russia during the Medvedev era. However, Azerbaijanis will face a more difficult challenge under Russian political pressure in the forthcoming years according to political analyses.
In recent months, Baku has turned its attention to the West, seeking direct markets for its natural gas in Europe instead of, as Moscow wishes, selling all its energy to Russia’s Gazprom. The carrot-and-stick approach to be devised by Putin will show how this new era will influence the Azerbaijani government’s future energy policies, especially when the sensitivity of the Karabakh issue is considered. Many Azerbaijanis feel that Medvedev previously made sincere efforts to make progress in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In contrast, they think Putin views the festering conflict as a way of increasing Russia’s leverage over both countries.
Unlike Azerbaijan, energy-poor countries such as Armenia, Tajikistan, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan risk retaliation in the form of higher tariffs and fees for Russian gasoline, which caused chaos in Tajikistan last year. The other risk for these countries is a forced return by Russia of tens of thousands of labor immigrants back to their home countries, which would add to the number of unemployed in those countries and risk causing a social explosion.
Director of Regional Studies Center (RSC), political scientist Richard Giragosian said elections in Russia were neither legal nor transparent. Over 90 000 surveillance cameras were installed, most of which were out of operation, he told a press conference in Yerevan. Giragosian said the West gave almost no reaction to developments in Russia during the elections. “An interesting fact is that the opposition united against Putin, but it is split with regard to other issues, and this lessens its impact.” According to the expert, Putin will pursue a tough policy. “Russia will try to press Armenia so that the latter joins the Eurasian Union. The process of Karabakh conflict resolution will see minor development, with no tangible changes, because not everything depends on Russia,” he said. “There is also another party, Baku, and it does not want concessions; in addition, representatives of Nagorno Karabakh should also join the negotiations,” Giragosian added. The political scientist believes that the Russian-U.S. relations will face a new stage of development.
Expert says Russia will further press Armenia on Karabakh issue
Armenian authorities pledged to have higher quality elections than those held in Russia, director of Regional Studies Center (RSC), political scientist Richard Giragosian said. If elections in Armenia prove to be no better, the ruling coalition will face internal confrontation, he told a press conference on March 12. “Unlike Russia, confrontation in Armenia will take place not between the opposition and the authorities,” the expert said. According to Giragosian, Russia will continue to press Armenia to settle the Nagorno Karabakh issue; however, it will fail to do so because current President Serzh Sargsyan differs from Robert Kocharian. Armenia's foreign policy has reached a high level which should be maintained, the expert said. “If elections in Armenia are not transparent, as it happened in 2008, the society will need to worry, since oligarchs’ attempts to penetrate into the governing bodies will prove successful, and this will bring irreparable consequences,” he said.
In Anticipation of a Gathering Storm
In recent months, much has been written by various media outlets and scholars on the potential ramifications of an American or Israeli attack against Iran. However, much of the coverage has ignored the consequences such an attack would bring about in the Caucasus, which is the aim of this brief analysis. In line with this, two main issues come to mind:
The first of which is the high likelihood of Iranian refugees fleeing to Armenia and Azerbaijan, and their ability or lack thereof to support the incoming refugees.
Both nations have had experience with refugees as a result of the Artsakh Liberation War, when hundreds of thousands of people fled in both directions. Whereas Armenia had the will to provide for the Armenian refugees but lacked the financial resources, the situation was the opposite in Azerbaijan, where the regime still continues to use the plight of the Azeri refugees as a bargaining chip in mediations with Armenia and the OSCE Minsk Group.
Turning to the possibility of Iranian refugees coming to Armenia and Azerbaijan, the likelihood is high since it is already quite easy for Iranians to enter either country, and due to the relative stability that the two nations enjoy compared to Iran’s other neighbors, with the possible exceptions of Turkey and Turkmenistan. It’s hard to predict how many refugees would arrive but even if the figure is below 10,000, which is a conservative estimate that would still prove more than what either state can handle given the economic situations of both. This in turn provides a destabilizing effect on Armenia and Azerbaijan as it would pose not only a humanitarian dilemma but also a national security threat. The problem becomes incrementally worse if the refugee number rises. Armenian officials will have to consider, if they have not already, what steps to take to mitigate the negative consequences, yet provide the much needed humanitarian assistance.
The second issue that a Western attack against Iran raises for the Caucasus is the chance of the ceasefire between Artsakh/Armenia and Azerbaijan breaking.
For years now the dictator of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, has spoken about the readiness of his regime to ‘take back’ Artsakh in case negotiations fail. Helped by profits from the Azeri oil and natural gas industry, both under state control, Aliyev has boosted military spending to the tune of $4.4 billion in 2011, more than six times the amount Armenia officially spends on its armed forces. Perhaps strategists in Baku, seeing the status quo as working in the favor of Yerevan and Stepanakert, will see the international cover provided by a war in Iran as the perfect time to execute a strike against Armenian forces in Artsakh and Armenia proper.
While some argue that Aliyev learned an important lesson from Georgia’s mistake in its attempt to take South Ossetia in August of 2008, others have justifiably argued that to make the above assumption is to simply assume that Aliyev is a rational actor, and that the years of state sponsored anti-Armenian smear campaigns haven’t brought the Azeri masses to a boiling point. It should be noted that during the Russian-Georgian war in the summer of 2008, Baku may have been preparing for an attack against Artsakh/Armenia. Reports at the time, including one from the American private security firm, Stratfor, suggested that had the Georgian attack against South Ossetia succeeded in its aim, Baku was planning on invading Artsakh. Also at the time, there was chatter in Yerevan that Armenian forces had preemptively attacked the Azeri military and in doing so had liberated several thousand hectares of territory. During a press conference in 2009, this was confirmed by Lieutenant General Movses Hakobyan. While the General did not state exactly how much lands were liberated or where these lands were located, according to sources, the two most likely areas may have been Mardakert and Fizuli.
The two wild cards in this scenario are what, if any, promises have been made to Azerbaijan by the West if the former allows its airspace and/or land to be used, and whether Russia will come to the aid of Armenia. The first is hard to tell since any such promises would be kept very confidential, while the second is easier to predict based on recent statements made by the Secretary General of the CSTO, Nikolay Bordyuzha, who openly hinted that in case Armenia proper is attacked, Russia will come to its aid.
Though it is still very difficult to predict when or if an attack will take place against Iran, one thing remains certain, the law of unintended consequences will mean that there will be surprises in store for all parties involved, either directly or indirectly, and the best course of action any government can follow is to have multiple contingency plans in place.
Eyewitness reports mentioned over 300 vehicles including armored personnel carriers, Ural ferries, and armored command vehicles on the way to Dagestan. T-90 tanks and multiple rocket launcher systems were already moved to Dagestan from Chechnya. According to official explanations, "some forces of the Provisional Task Force will be moved from Chechnya to Dagestan and transformed into the Interior Ministry's Tactical Force." Dagestani Security Council Secretary Magomed Baachilov, however, called it "planned rotation".
Both explanations are lame, of course. Official explanation is invalidated by the simple fact that no Tactical Force ever needs so many heavy armored vehicles and Grad launchers. Baachilov's is plain rubbish on account of the scope of the so called rotation. The impression is that a major operation against the extremist underground is planned in Dagestan. Or else the federal center knows something that warrants deployment of an equivalent of two divisions... in addition to the 136th Brigade quartered in Buinaksk, Marines in Kaspiisk, and countless OMON units.
There is, however, a third hypothesis as well. "As matters stand, there are between 55,000 and 57,000 servicemen quartered in the republic... discounting local law enforcement agencies... It is rumored here that come summer Azerbaijan will make another go at Nagorno-Karabakh and try to reabsorb the runaway region. All this military might concentrated in Dagestan is meant as a warning to Baku, a message that Russia will stand by Armenia," said a source in Dagestani security structures.
Source: Argumenty Nedeli, No 11, March 22, 2012, p. 2
Now that Vladimir Putin has allowed the Russian electorate to rubber-stamp him back into power, he can return with redoubled purpose to his consistently regressive interference in world affairs. That nobody is surprised at his obdurate defense of the regimes in Tehran and Damascus speaks volumes. Dictators support dictators, don't they?
At this point Mr. Putin apparently doesn't mind much that anyone should include him in that category. After all, if Putinism could be defined by any single principle, if it had a formula, it would have at its core the "power now people later" approach common to all strongmen. Less than 10 years before he ordered the 2008 invasion of Georgia in order to "protect" the separatist South Ossetians, he "solved" the Chechnya problem by ordering the scorched-earth obliteration of its capital, Grozny, where more civilians were killed than at Sreberniza and Homs combined.
And yet one shouldn't suspect Mr. Putin of sentimentality. He doesn't favor dictators for mere principle's sake. Iron-hard strategic calculations underpin his support for the Syria-Iran axis.
Russia is rebuilding its Soviet-era naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus, which allows Moscow to reassert a plausible Mediterranean threat to NATO. Syria also provides Iran with a front line against Israel via Hezbollah in Lebanon, and that too can be a most effective anti-Western arrowhead for Russia. When I covered the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, I learned that a year earlier Israel had stopped providing Tbilisi with antitank and anti-aircraft missiles because the Russians had threatened to supply Hezbollah with the same.
But in the end, the pivotal consideration in Mr. Putin's efforts to re-establish his country's superpower status centers on Iran. Syria is a domino. Without its Syrian ally, Iran would be almost totally isolated and crucially weakened. That Moscow cannot allow.
Why is Iran so central to Mr. Putin's global pretensions? Take a look at the Caspian Sea area map and the strategic equations come into relief. Iran acts as a southern bottleneck to the geography of Central Asia. It could offer the West access to the region's resources that would bypass Russia. If Iran reverted to pro-Western alignment, the huge reserves of oil and gas landlocked in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and the like could flow directly out to the world without a veto from Moscow.
According to an Oct. 16, 2008, Wall Street Journal report, Turkmenistan is "one of the world's hydrocarbon provinces" with enough natural gas to supply Europe's annual needs three times over. Similarly, Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil field is considered one of the world's largest. As things stand, these countries depend on Russian pipelines for their national income.At stake here is not merely the liberation of a vast landmass from the Kremlin's yoke. The damage to Russian leverage would amount to a seismic shift in the global balance of power equal to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.
Russia's gas and oil leverage over Turkey, Ukraine and much of Europe would evaporate. The Silk Road countries would finally reclaim their history since it was diverted forcibly toward Moscow in the 19th century. Their nominal post-Soviet independence would become a reality. Perhaps most irksome for Mr. Putin and his kind, large swaths of the non-Russian zone would prosper disproportionately in comparison to neighboring Russian Federation provinces.
After some 12 years in the Kremlin, Mr. Putin has failed to deliver prosperity and a hopeful future to much of his population. In return for their sacrifice, he has fed them inflated dreams of empire and superpower nostalgia which he has deliberately identified with his own judoka personality cult. This is not a scenario in which free peoples voluntarily choose their destinies and alliances. They bow to what's good for them as determined by a kind of paternal supreme power.
If the mystique of Russian hegemony were to deflate, if formerly subject colonies suddenly rose to stability and affluence—as is happening in Georgia—Mr. Putin's threadbare illusionism would fall apart entirely. He would never recover from the triumph of freedom in Syria and Iran.