Will Turkey Abandon NATO? - August, 2008

Naturally, one of the greatest fears of an Armenian is the emergence of a Turkish-Russian alliance. With EU membership looking impossible to obtain and with US/Israel supporting a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, Ankara may begin looking north to Moscow. Some of Ankara's statements during the brief but bloody Russia-Georgia war, which could easily be interpreted as pro-Russian were curious, especially in the light of the fact that Georgia and Turkey have had very good relations and Ankara has supported the anti-Russian insurgency in Chechnya. The troubling thing for me as an Armenian is that Ankara has much more to offer Moscow than our tiny, landlocked and impoverished Armenia. With that said, a serious alliance between Russia-Turkey is not going to happen, at least not in the foreseeable future. Economically and politically, Turkey is still greatly dependent on the West for survival. The Western elite and Israelis/Jews still have great influence over Turkish power brokers, there is still the great potential of Islamic problems in Turkey. Moreover, Turkey and Russia have been historic competitors for regional resources and assets, and they have a very long and bloody history of wars between them. However, even if such an alliance somehow did evolve that would not necessarily mean the end of Armenia. Strategically, Moscow would still need a viable Armenia in the Caucasus as a check valve against potential Turkish or Islamic expansion.



Russia-Georgia Conflict Puts Turkey in Vulnerable Position

August, 2008

NATO-member Turkey is treading a fine line between its loyalty to the alliance and its economic interests in its Black Sea neighbor Russia, with some fearing Ankara could find itself at the frontline of a new Cold War. Evidence of Turkey's dilemma in the standoff between the West and Russia over its action against Georgia was on display last week, when two U.S. ships sailed through the Istanbul Strait on their way to the Black Sea. Russia has accused the West of stirring tensions with a NATO naval build-up in the Black Sea following a brief war between Russia and Georgia. A close U.S. ally which aspires to join the European Union, Turkey is the passage way to the sea. During the Cold War, Turkey was NATO's southern flank, an isolated bulwark on Soviet frontiers. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has become Turkey's top trade partner, supplying the majority of Turkey's energy needs.

"(Current tensions) put Turkey in a very tight spot because it is under pressure from Russia and its Western allies," said Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. "Turkey is again a frontline state like in the Cold War, but the difference now is that its dependency on Russia is much bigger," he said. Turkey fears it is already feeling signs of a possible fallout with Moscow affecting their $38 billion trade. Ankara has protested to Russia over trade restrictions as 10,000 Turkish trucks are being held at various Russian border crossings. Russia says inspections on Turkish trucks are due to a new customs law, but Turkish officials see darker motives. Turkish businesses are concerned Turkey could lose $3 billion in the short term if the delays continue, and Turkey's Foreign Trade Minister responded to the move in harsh terms. "If you harass us, we will you," Turkish newspapers reported Foreign Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen as telling Russian officials.


Turkey, which neighbors Georgia, has kept a low profile since the outbreak of a brief war between Moscow and Tbilisi earlier this month. Unlike its Western allies, it has refrained from condemning Russian actions. But NATO members may want a more strident supporter on its eastern frontline. "(Turkey) must act like a NATO member ... if it wants its place in Trans-Atlantic relations. It became a member years ago, and that means Turkey has to support the steps that NATO takes," a high-level U.S. official was quoted by Sabah daily as saying.

Analysts have also said the United States may want Turkey to change the terms of the Montreux Convention, which regulates shipping traffic through the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul. Turkey's dependence on Russian gas and coal, however, may make it difficult for Ankara to take those steps. Last year Russia provided more than 60 percent of Turkey's imported natural gas through two pipelines as well as 56.4 percent of Turkey's thermal coal, used in the country's power and booming construction sectors. Turkey asked Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom to increase its supplies to Turkey after Iran turned off its gas to Turkey to meet its own domestic needs last year. Potential problems with Russian gas or coal supplies would create large problems for Turkey in the winter. "On the pipeline there may arise 'technical problems' which means we have real problems ... that means for industry, for consumers, your economy will be harmed," said energy analyst Necdet Pamir.

Turkey has worked hard since the fall of the Soviet Union to become an energy hub delivering Caspian gas and oil to European markets, and the country often boasts of its important geostrategic position. But if tensions continue to build in the Caucasus, Turkey may not find its position so appealing. "Turkey's geostrategic importance can sometimes be a liability and this case is an example," said Piccolli.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/reute...BrandChannel=0

Will Turkey Abandon NATO?

Will Turkey side with the United States, its NATO ally, and let more U.S. military ships into the Black Sea to assist Georgia? Or will it choose Russia? A Turkish refusal would seriously impair American efforts to support the beleaguered Caucasus republic. Ever since Turkey joined NATO in 1952, it has hoped to never have to make a choice between the alliance and its Russian neighbor to the North. Yet that is precisely the decision before Ankara. If Turkey does not allow the ships through, it will essentially be taking Russia's side. Whether in government or in the military, Turkish officials have for several years been expressing concern about U.S. intentions to "enter" the Black Sea. Even at the height of the Cold War, the Black Sea remained peaceful due to the fact that Turkey and Russia had clearly defined spheres of influence. But littoral countries Romania and Bulgaria have since joined NATO, and Ukraine and Georgia have drawn closer to the Euro-Atlantic alliance. Ankara has expressed nervousness about a potential Russian reaction.

The Turkish mantra goes something like this: "the U.S. wants to expand NATO into the Black Sea -- and as in Iraq, this will create a mess in our neighborhood, leaving us to deal with the consequences once America eventually pulls out. After all, if Russia is agitated, it won't be the Americans that will have to deal with them." Nonetheless, Ankara sided with fellow NATO members in telling Georgia and Ukraine that they would be invited to join the alliance -- albeit without any time frame. But now that Russia has waged war in part over this decision, the Turks will have to pick sides. Deputy chief of the Russian general staff Anatoly Nogoivtsyn already warned Turkey that Russia will hold Turkey responsible if the U.S. ships do not leave the Black Sea. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will travel to Ankara on Monday to make clear that Russia means it.

Russia is Turkey's largest trading partner, mostly because of Turkey's dependence on Russian gas. More important, the two countries share what some call the post-imperial stress syndrome: that is, an inability to see former provinces as fellow independent states, and ultimately a wish to recreate old agreements on spheres of influence. When Mr. Putin gave a speech in Munich last year challenging the U.S.-led world order, Turks cheered. The Turkish military even posted it on its Web site. President Abdullah Gül recently suggested that "a new world order should emerge." Turkey joined Russia at the height of its war on Georgia in suggesting a five-party "Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform." In other words, they want to keep the U.S. and the EU at arm's length. Both Russia and Turkey consider Georgia's American-educated president, Mikheil Saakashvili, to be crazy enough to unleash the next world war. In that view Turkey is not so far from the positions of France or Germany -- but even these two countries did not suggest that the Georgians sign up to a new regional arrangement co-chaired by Russia while the Kremlin's air force was bombing Georgian cities.

Two other neighbors -- Azerbaijan and Armenia -- are watching the Turkish-Russian partnership with concern. Azeris remember how the Turks -- their ethnic and religious brethren -- left them to be annexed by the Soviets in the 1920s. Armenians already fear their giant neighbor, who they consider to have committed genocide against them. Neither wants to have to rely on Iran (once again) as a counterbalance to Russia. Oh, and of course, Iran had its own sphere-of-influence arrangements with the Soviets as well. Though Turkey and Iran are historic competitors, Turkey has broken with NATO countries recently by hosting President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad on a working visit. As the rest of NATO was preoccupied with the Russian aggression in Georgia, Turkey legitimized the Iranian leader amidst chants in Istanbul of "death to Israel, death to America."

A few days later, Turkey played host to Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide by the rest of NATO -- but not by Russia or Iran, or by the Muslim-majority countries who usually claim to care so much about Muslim lives. Where is Turkey headed? Turkish officials say they are using their trust-based relations with various sides to act as a mediator between various parties in the region: the U.S. and Iran; Israel and Syria; Pakistan and Afghanistan, etc. It may be so. But as more American ships steam toward the Black Sea, a time for choosing has arrived.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1219...googlenews_wsj

In related news:

Russia Warns Turkey on U.S. Ships in Black Sea

Russia said U.S. ships could only stay in the Black Sea for 21 days according to the Montreux Convention, and warned if they do not leave by then Turkey would be responsible. Russia's deputy military chief Anatoly Nogovitsyn said the NATO warships' entrance to the Black Sea is a "serious threat to our security," Hurriyet daily reported on Thursday. He said under the Montreux Convention, signed in 1936 on the status of the Turkish Straits, the warships can only stay in the Black Sea for 21 days. "If the NATO ships continue to stay in the Black Sea after the expiration of 21 day-period, then I would like to remind you that Turkey would be responsible," he added. The U.S. warships are spearheading a humanitarian aid mission to Georgia, a U.S. ally that wants to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Clashes erupted in the Caucasus after Russia responded to Georgia's military operation to regain the control in the breakaway region South Osstia. The U.S. ships are carrying nuclear missiles that can hit Russian targets as far away as St. Petersburg, Nogovitsyn said, according to Hurriyet. Russia has dispatched its own ships to track the U.S. vessels, the newspaper said.


Russian Military Bloc Steps Up Military Exercises

Large-scale military exercises within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will be held once every two years and will take account of the military-political situation in the collective security regions, including the Caucasus, the organization's deputy secretary-general, Valeriy Semerikov, told journalists on Saturday [23 August]. "It was decided at a session of the CSTO Defence Ministers' Council to hold large-scale military exercises once every two years. The next exercise, Rubezh [Border or Boundary], which ended yesterday in Armenia, will, thus, be held in 2010. It will certainly be large-scale," Semerikov said. "All the exercises will be held on a bilateral basis and will take account of the situation that exists in the collective security regions, including the Caucasus," he added. In between the large-scale exercises, he said, the CSTO countries will hold smaller-scale exercises, headquarter training sessions and bilateral exercises. The CSTO comprises Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Source: http://groong.usc.edu/news/msg242354.html

Russian Weapons In The Middle East

Three events have come together independently. But they produced an intrigue that has hooked both politicians and media in the Middle East. Here is what happened. First, Moscow hosted MVSV-2008, an international show of weapons and military equipment. Then King Abdullah II of Jordan visited the show, met with designers and producers and had a discussion with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. A few days previously, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had flown in for talks with Dmitry Medvedev. The press and television in Amman, Damascus and Tel Aviv made much of the events, especially the Syrian visit. Israeli media claimed Bashar al-Assad had arrived on a purchasing spree, and his main aim was to buy the Iskander-E tactical missile system, in addition to Pantsyr-S1 and Buk-M2 ground-to-air missile systems and Su-30, MiG-29SMT and MiG-31E fighters. The Iskander missile had been promised to Damascus in 2001, and only a personal request by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to former President Vladimir Putin put a stop to its sale to Syria. But now that Israel has helped to train Georgian commandos and equip the Georgian army that attacked South Ossetia, Moscow is within its rights to "repay the debt" and provide Damascus with the system, the media in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv said.

Yet Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters during al-Assad's visit that Moscow "is ready to supply Syria only with defensive weapons, ones that do not upset the balance of strength in the region." This means Syria, as Moscow promised to Tel Aviv, will not get the Iskander system. Regarding ground- and air-based air defense units, including interceptor fighters, they are not considered offensive armaments and are immune from Russian-Israeli agreements. It is another matter that military technical cooperation between Moscow and Damascus needs re-evaluating. Syria owes Russia $3 billion for weapons supplied to it, and this on top of Damascus' $10 billion debt for armaments sold in Soviet times which Moscow forgave, incidentally, for a pledge to spend another $2 billion on arms purchases from Russia. Contracts currently being negotiated include Pantsyr and Buk missile systems, as well as Sukhoi and MiG fighters, but not Iskander missiles. The parties are also discussing the expansion of a Russian naval maintenance base at the Syrian port of Tartus. Any movement of Black Sea Fleet forces from Sevastopol to Syria, as some Middle East publications suggest, is, of course, out of the question. But a supply and maintenance center for warships on missions in the Mediterranean will come in handy for Moscow. In the Soviet era, the Soviet Navy's 5th Mediterranean Squadron made full use of this port.

King Abdullah's visit to Moscow did not produce as much excitement as the trip by Bashar al-Assad to Sochi, perhaps because problems between Jordan and Israel are not as serious as between Tel Aviv and Damascus. Discussions mainly focused on military-technical cooperation between Moscow and Amman, rather than on Middle East issues. This cooperation is now on the rise, Dmitry Medvedev said during the meeting. "Our relations are making good headway, this is our third meeting in six months and that points to the intensity of our contacts and good-neighbor relations," the president said, opening the discussion. "Trade between our countries grows steadily, although both countries would like to see it develop more quickly," Medvedev said. Jordan lives up to these words. In recent years it has bought from Russia two Il-76MF military transport planes worth a combined $100 million, and six light multi-role Ka-226 helicopters (at an estimated cost of $25 million), which will be assembled in Jordan under license. The two countries have even set up a joint venture, Oboronprom Middle East, to assemble 15 to 20 Ka helicopters a year.

Plans are also under way to set up a joint venture for the production of RPG-32 Hashim multi-caliber grenade launchers. The launcher was developed by the Bazalt Moscow State Research and Production Enterprise at the suggestion of Abdullah himself. It is designed to engage armored vehicles and defended gun posts from a distance of up to 700 meters with 72mm and 105mm grenades. It will be produced in quantity both in Russia and in Jordan. Trial specimens have already been sent to Amman and were highly praised. A manufacturing license contract is expected to be signed soon. Jordan has received a special $350 million credit from Russia for this purpose, although the sum is also supposed to cover repairs and upgrading of weapons previously supplied to Amman. Other equipment includes armored personnel carriers, fighting infantry vehicles, Kornet anti-tank missile systems, Igla ground-to-air missiles, and weapons for special operations - reconnaissance, sabotage and protection of the royal palace. King Abdullah is a former commando. He is an arms expert, and his buying of Russia's VSS silent sniper rifles and PSS silent pistols is good publicity for Russian arms-makers. It is not impossible that after his visit to Moscow, Amman will take delivery of Pantsyr-S1 ground-to-air missile systems, which are considered today among the most effective close-range air defense systems.

Russian weapons appeal not only to buyers in the Middle East. On August 23, the Russian president sent a message to President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, raising the matter of military-technical cooperation between the two countries. "Russia is interested above all in trade and economic cooperation between security-related agencies," the Russian leader told his Nicaraguan counterpart. "Military-technical cooperation between us offers a promising future." This means that the military equipment once supplied to Nicaragua by the Soviet Union and which needs repairing, upgrading or replacing could be replaced with more advanced weapons, if Managua is willing. And Managua is willing, as is clear from the close ties that exist between Ortega and Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan leader is very pleased with Russian weapons. The target mentioned at the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, of exporting $8 billion worth of Russian arms supplies in 2008, compared with $6.2 billion in 2007, does not seem too far-fetched.

Source: http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20080826/116285462.html

Iran Backs Russia Over Georgia

Iran has blamed Georgia for its confrontation with Russia and in a reference to Israel and the U.S., urged regional countries to unite against foreign interference. Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Saturday Georgia caused the crisis because it miscalculated the reaction to its use of military power in South Ossetia. Speaking earlier on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the conflict would not have taken place had Georgia “not allowed countries from outside the region to interfere in their internal affairs.” Analysts say that wary of U.S. troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has reasons to welcome the reduction of American influence in its northern neighbourhood. Mr. Ahmadinejad further pointed to an Israeli hand in the Caucuses war. Iran’s Fars New Agency, quoting Israeli media reports, said Georgia had commissioned nearly 1,000 military advisers from Israeli security firms to train its armed forces. On Thursday, Mr. Ahmadinejad met Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the summit. Apart from the developments in Georgia, the leaders discussed the situation arising out of the Iranian nuclear programme. Now, Russia has decided to send a delegation to discuss the completion of the Russian-aided Bushehr atomic power station. The director of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency, Sergei Kireinko, is expected to head the visiting delegation on Sunday. Russia’s Ambassador to Iran had said after all tests are concluded by the end of this year, the plant would be operational in early 2009.

Source: http://www.hindu.com/2008/08/31/stor...3155371400.htm

Chinese Support for Russia at SCO Summit - August, 2008

As to why China has remained silent regarding Moscow's actions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia: Silence means support, in this case; China has indirectly supported Russia's actions in the Caucasus. There aren't many nations on earth today that are willing to openly go against the western world's global political/financial system or apparatus. In a sense, all roads in the modern world - economic, security, political, social - lead to the western world, specifically to the United States. Nations are forced to enter this global system to prosper, or to simply survive. We keep forgetting that the only reason why China exists, as a economic superpower, is because of its very close ties with the West's global economic system. The West seeks to check Russian power in Asia by sustaining China. As a result, China is desperately dependent on its lucrative trade with the western world to survive and it also has to import virtually all of its vast energy needs. On the other hand, the Russian Federation is perhaps the only political entity on earth today that is truly independent of the West; not totally, but to a great extent. Russia's great natural wealth and military power, coupled with its political independence is what is making the political/financial elite in the West looking for ways to undermine it. The Russian Federation has great potential and power brokers in the West do not want to be second (or third) to anyone. This is where the real danger to global security lies, the West will do anything in their power to maintain their long held global primacy.



Support for Russia at SCO Summit

August, 2008

Russia has won crucial support for its peace efforts in South Ossetia from China and other allies in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). At a summit meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on Thursday, the six-nation SCO security grouping explicitly backed Russia’s “active role” in restoring peace in the region and endorsing a six-point peace plan worked out jointly with France. “The SCO states welcome the adoption in Moscow on August 12 of six principles of settling the conflict in South Ossetia and support Russia’s active role in contributing to peace and cooperation in the region,” said the leaders of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in a joint declaration adopted at their one-day summit.

Though the SCO leaders refrained from condemning Georgia’s military attack on its breakaway territory of South Ossetia, their solidarity with Russia stood in stark contrast with the West’s denunciation of the “Russian aggression” against Georgia. The SCO support came ahead of an EU summit meeting on Monday called to discuss ways to punish Russia. “The SCO states express grave concern in connection with the recent tensions around the South Ossetian issue and urge the sides to solve existing problems peacefully, through dialogue, and to make efforts facilitating reconciliation and talks,” said the SCO declaration.

It made no reference to Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, who attended the summit, thanked the SCO leaders for their “understanding and objective assessment of Russia’s peacemaking efforts”. “I hope [the SCO stand] will send a serious signal to those, who try… to justify the bloody adventure of the Georgian leadership,” said Mr. Medvedev, adding that Georgia’s “criminal actions” had been “connived and incited” from abroad. At a one-to-one meeting with Mr. Medvedev, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev said his country “understands and supports the measures taken by Russia”. “I’m amazed at the West’s failure to acknowledge the fact that it was Georgian armed forces who attacked peaceful civilians in Tskhinvali,” said Mr. Nazarbayev in televised remarks. “This started the conflict, and Russia’s all subsequent actions were aimed at stopping the bloodshed,” he said.

Source: http://www.hindu.com/2008/08/29/stor...2956281400.htm

Russia wins backing from China, Central Asia over Georgia

Russia won support Thursday from China and Central Asian states in its standoff with the West over the Georgia conflict as the European Union said it was weighing sanctions against Moscow. Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said he hoped the "united position" of a summit of Central Asian nations would "serve as a serious signal to those who try to turn black into white". The West has strongly condemned Russia's military offensive in Georgia this month and Medvedev's decision to recognise Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Ratcheting up pressure on Russia, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the presidency of the European Union, said the 27-nation bloc was preparing sanctions on Moscow. EU leaders meet Monday in Brussels for an emergency summit to press demands for a further Russian withdrawal from Georgia. "Sanctions are being considered, and many other means," Kouchner said in Paris.

China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan voiced support for Russia's "active role" in resolving the conflict in Georgia, according to the draft of a joint statement released by the Kremlin. Leaders from the countries met in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a regional group set up in 2001 to counter NATO influence in the strategic Central Asia region. On Wednesday, the Group of Seven industrialised powers strongly condemned Russia's recognition of the two rebel regions. "We deplore Russia's excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia," said the statement from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. Former Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze warned meanwhile that Russia's recognition of the regions would boomerang on Moscow. "They will live to regret it," Shevardnadze said in an interview in Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper, adding that the move would "encourage separatist movements within ethnically-diverse Russia".

Russia claims it had to act after Georgia on August 7 launched an offensive to retake South Ossetia, an attack that South Ossetia's prosecutor general said Thursday had killed 1,692 people, according to the Interfax news agency. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday called on Moscow to allow an international probe into the allegations of abuses. "(Moscow) alleges that these atrocities were meted out on the South Ossetian population. Russia or South Ossetia must document whether this is the case and to what extent," Steinmeier told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily. On a visit to Ukraine on Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned Russia not to start a new Cold War. But he also conceded that isolating Russia would be counterproductive because the West relied on cooperation with Moscow to tackle global problems like climate change and nuclear non-proliferation. "The Russian president says he is not afraid of a new Cold War. We don't want one," Miliband said, adding: "He has a big responsibility not to start one," he added. Russia has lashed out at the West for ratcheting up tensions in the Black Sea and warned that attempts to isolate Moscow could lead to an economic backlash.

Officials said they were monitoring a growing NATO naval presence in the Black Sea, as the second of three US ships sent to deliver aid arrived in Georgia. Moscow has accused the West of using aid shipments as a cover for rearming Georgia after the Russian military surge into Georgia this month left much of the Georgian military in tatters. "Certainly some measures of precaution are being taken," said a spokesman for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov. "It's not a common practice to deliver humanitarian aid using battleships." In a reminder of Russia's energy muscle, he also warned against trying to isolate Moscow. "Any attempts to jeopardise this atmosphere of cooperation... would not only (have) a negative impact for Russia but will definitely harm the economic interests of those states," Peskov said.

Russia moved its own naval forces to the Abkhaz port of Sukhumi, where they got a rapturous reception from Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh. In Tbilisi, the secretary of the Georgian national security council, Alexander Lomaia, told AFP that Russian troops would leave the key Black Sea port of Poti on Thursday or Friday "as a result of international pressure". No confirmation of such a move was forthcoming from the Russian side. In the Georgian port of Batumi, the second of three ships sent by Washington arrived with aid for some of the 100,000 people that the UN refugee agnecy estimates have been displaced in the conflict.

Source: http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5...teZrJ-_G9q_hLw

In other news:

Russia Remains a Black Sea Power

If the struggle in the Caucasus was ever over oil and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) agenda towards Central Asia, the United States suffered a colossal setback this week. Kazakhstan, the Caspian energy powerhouse and a key Central Asian player, has decided to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Russia over the conflict with Georgia, and Russia's de facto control over two major Black Sea ports has been consolidated. At a meeting in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on Thursday on the sidelines of the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Kazakh President Nurusultan Nazarbayev told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that Moscow could count on Astana's support in the present crisis.

In his press conference in Dushanbe, Medvedev underlined that his SCO counterparts, including China, showed understanding of the Russian position. Moscow appears satisfied that the SCO summit also issued a statement on the Caucasus developments, which, inter alia, said, "The leaders of the SCO member states welcome the signing in Moscow of the six principles for regulating the South Ossetia conflict, and support Russia's active role in assisting peace and cooperation in the region." The SCO comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. There were tell-tale signs that something was afoot when the Kazakh Foreign Ministry issued a statement on August 19 hinting at broad understanding for the Russian position. The statement called for an "unbiased and balanced assessment" of events and pointed out that an "attempt [was made] to resolve a complicated ethno-territorial issue by the use of force", which led to "grave consequences". The statement said Astana supported the "way the Russian leadership proposed to resolve the issue" within the framework of the United Nations charter, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and international law. The lengthy statement leaned toward the Russian position but offered a labored explanation for doing so. Kazakhstan has since stepped out into the thick of the diplomatic sweepstakes and whole-heartedly endorsed the Russian position. This has become a turning point for Russian diplomacy in the post-Soviet space. Nazarbayev said:

I am amazed that the West simply ignored the fact that Georgian armed forces attacked the peaceful city of Tskhinvali [in South Ossetia]. Therefore, my assessment is as follows: I think that it originally started with this. And Russia's response could either have been to keep silent or to protect their people and so on. I believe that all subsequent steps taken by Russia have been designed to stop bloodshed of ordinary residents of this long-suffering city. Of course, there are many refugees, many homeless. Guided by out bilateral agreement on friendship and cooperation between Kazakhstan and Russia, we have provided humanitarian aid: 100 tons have already been sent. We will continue to provide assistance together with you. Of course, there was loss of life on the Georgian side - war is war. The resolution of the conflict with Georgia has now been shifted to some indeterminate time in the future. We have always had good relations with Georgia. Kazakhstan's companies have made substantial investments there. Of course, those that have done this want stability there. The conditions of the plan that you and [President of France Nicolas] Sarkozy drew up must be implemented, but some have begun to disavow certain points in the plan.

However, I think that negotiations will continue and that there will be peace - there is no other alternative. Therefore, Kazakhstan understands all the measures that have been taken, and Kazakhstan supports them. For our part, we will be ready to do everything to ensure that everyone returns to the negotiating table. From Moscow's point of view, Nazarbayev's words are worth their weight in gold. Kazakhstan is the richest energy producer in Central Asia and is a regional heavyweight. It borders China. The entire US regional strategy in Central Asia ultimately aims at replacing Russia and China as Kazakhstan's number one partner. American oil majors began making a beeline to Kazakhstan immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 - including Chevron, with which US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was associated. Unsurprisingly, Kazakhstan figured as a favorite destination for US Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W Bush has lavishly hosted Nazarbayev in the White House.

The US had gone the extra league in cultivating Nazarbayev, with the fervent hope that somehow Kazakhstan could be persuaded to commit its oil to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, whose viability is otherwise in doubt. The pipeline is a crucial component of the US's Caspian great game. The US had gone to great lengths to realize the pipeline project against seemingly hopeless odds. In fact, Washington stage-managed the "color" revolution in Georgia in November 2003 (which catapulted Mikheil Saakashvili to power in Tbilisi) on the eve of the commissioning of the pipeline. The general idea behind the commotion in the South Caucasus was that the US should take control of Georgia through which the pipeline passes. Besides, Kazakhstan shares a 7,500 kilometer border with Russia, which is the longest land border between any two countries in the world. It would be a nightmare for Russian security if NATO were to gain a foothold in Kazakhstan. Again, the US strategy had targeted Kazakhstan as the prize catch for NATO in Central Asia. The US aimed to make a pitch for Kazakhstan after getting Georgia inducted into NATO. These American dreams have suffered a setback with the Kazakh leadership now closing ranks with Moscow. It seems Moscow outwitted Washington.

Belarus voices support The other neighboring country sharing a common border with Russia, Belarus, has also expressed support for Moscow. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko visited Medvedev in Sochi on August 19 to express his solidarity. "Russia acted calmly, wisely and beautifully. This was a calm response. Peace has been established in the region - and it will last," he commented. What is even more potent is that Russia and Belarus have decided to sign an agreement this autumn on creating a unified air defense system. This is hugely advantageous for Russia in the context of the recent US attempts to deploy missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic.

According to Russian media reports, Belarus has several S-300 air defense batteries - Russia's advanced system - on combat duty and is currently negotiating the latest S-400 systems from Russia, which will be made available by 2010. Attention now shifts to the meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which is scheduled to take place in Moscow on September 5. The CSTO's stance on the crisis in the Caucasus will be closely watched. It appears that Moscow and Kazakhstan are closely cooperating in setting the agenda of CSTO, whose members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The big question is how the CSTO gears up to meet NATO's expansion plans. The emergent geopolitical reality is that with Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Moscow has virtually checkmated the US strategy in the Black Sea region, defeating its plan to make the Black Sea an exclusive "NATO lake". In turn, NATO's expansion plans in the Caucasus have suffered a setback. Not many analysts have understood the full military import of the Russian moves in recognizing the breakaway Georgian republics.

Russia has now gained de facto control over two major Black Sea ports - Sukhumi and Poti. Even if the US-supported regime of Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine creates obstacles for the Russian fleet based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol - in all probability, Moscow will shrug off any Ukrainian pressure tactic - the fleet now has access to alternative ports on the Black Sea. Poti, in particular, has excellent facilities dating to the Soviet era. The swiftness with which Russia took control of Poti must have made the US livid with anger. Washington's fury stems from the realization that its game plan to eventually eliminate Russia's historical role as a "Black Sea power" has been rendered a pipe dream. Of course, without a Black Sea fleet, Russia would have ceased to be a naval power in the Mediterranean. In turn, Russia's profile in the Middle East would have suffered. The Americans indeed had an ambitious game plan towards Russia. There is every indication that Moscow intends to assert the strategic presence of its Black Sea Fleet. Talks have begun with Syria for the expansion of a Russian naval maintenance base at the Syrian port of Tartus. The Middle East media recently suggested in the context of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Moscow that Russia might contemplate shifting its Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol to Syria. But this is an incorrect reading insofar as all that Russia needs is a supply and maintenance center for its warships, which operate missions in the Mediterranean. In fact, the Soviet navy's 5th Mediterranean Squadron had made use of Tartus port for such purpose.

China shows understanding

Moscow will approach the CSTO summit pleased with the SCO's backing, even it it was not without reservations. Medvedev said of the SCO meeting, Of course, I had to tell our partners what had actually happened, since the picture painted by some of the Western media unfortunately differed from real facts as to who was the aggressor, who started all this, and who should bear the political, moral and ultimately the legal responsibility for what happened ... Our colleagues gratefully received this information and during a series of conversations we concluded that such events certainly do not strengthen the world order, and that the party that unleashed the aggression should be responsible for its consequences ... I am very pleased to have been able to discuss this with our colleagues and to have received from them this kind of support for our efforts. We are confident that the position of the SCO member states will produce an appropriate resonance through the international security, and I hope this will give a serious signal to those who are trying to justify the aggression that was committed.

It must have come as a relief to Moscow that China agreed to line up behind such a positive formulation. On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow also seems to have had its first contact with the Chinese Embassy regarding the issue. Significantly, the Foreign Ministry statement said the meeting between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin and Chinese ambassador Liu Guchang took place at the Chinese initiative. The statement claimed, "The Chinese side was informed of the political and legal motives behind Russia's decision and expressed an understanding of them." (Emphasis added.) It is highly unlikely that on such a sensitive issue, Moscow would have unilaterally staked a tall claim without some degree of prior tacit consent from the Chinese side, which is a usual diplomatic practice. The official Russian news agency report went a step further and highlighted that "China had expressed its understanding of Russia's decision to recognize Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia". The favorable stance by Belarus, Kazakhstan and China significantly boosts Moscow's position. In real terms, the assurance that the three big countries that surround Russia will remain on friendly terms no matter the West's threat to unleash a new cold war, makes a huge difference to Moscow's capacity to maneuver. Any time now - possibly this weekend - we may expect Belarus to announce its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Clearly, Moscow is disinterested to mount any diplomatic campaign to rally support from the world community for the sovereignty and independence of the two breakaway provinces. As a Moscow commentator put it, "Unlike in comrade Leonid Brezhnev's time, Moscow is not trying to press any countries into supporting it on this issue. If it did, it could find quite a few sympathizers, but who cares?" It serves Moscow's purpose as long as the world community draws an analogy between Kosovo and the two breakaway provinces. In any case, the two provinces have been totally dependent on Russia for economic sustenance. With the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, what matters critically for Moscow is that if the West now intends to erect any new Berlin Wall, such a wall will have to run zig-zag along the western coast of the Black Sea, while the Russian naval fleet will always stay put on the east coast and forever sail in and out of the Black Sea. The Montreal Convention assures the free passage of Russian warships through the Straits of Bosphorous. Under the circumstances, NATO's grandiose schemes to occupy the Black Sea as its private lake seem outlandish now. There must be a lot of egg on the faces of the NATO brains in Brussels and their patrons in Washington and London.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

Source: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/JH30Ag02.html

NATO Ships in Black Sea Raise Alarms in Russia

Russian commanders said Wednesday that they were growing alarmed at the number of NATO warships sailing into the Black Sea, saying that NATO vessels now outnumbered the ships in their fleet anchored off the western coast of Georgia. As attention turned to the balance of naval power in the sea, the leader of the separatist region of Abkhazia said he would invite Russia to establish a naval base at Sukhumi, a deep-water port in the territory. But in a move certain to anger Russia, Ukraine’s president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, said he would open negotiations with Moscow on raising the rent on the Russian naval base at Sevastopol, which is in Crimea, a predominantly Russian province of Ukraine. The United States was pursuing a delicate policy of delivering humanitarian aid on military transport planes and ships, apparently to illustrate to the Russians that they do not fully control Georgia’s airspace or coastline.

The policy has left American and Russian naval vessels maneuvering in close proximity off the western coast of Georgia, with the Americans concentrated near the southern port of Batumi and the Russians around the central port of Poti. It has also left the Kremlin deeply suspicious of American motives. “What the Americans call humanitarian cargoes — of course, they are bringing in weapons,” President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia told the BBC in an interview on Tuesday, adding, “We’re not trying to prevent it.” The White House dismissed all assertions that the Pentagon was shipping weapons under the “guise” of humanitarian aid, as the state-controlled news media put it, calling them “ridiculous.” Apparently testing Russian assurances that their forces have opened the port of Poti for humanitarian aid, the United States Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, said a Coast Guard cutter, the Dallas, would try to dock there on Wednesday, well within a zone controlled by the Russian military during the war. The Dallas, however, docked instead at Batumi, to the south. It was carrying 34 tons of humanitarian aid.

Georgian military officials said the other port might have been mined, The Associated Press reported. During the conflict with Georgia, Russian soldiers occupied the port of Ponti and sank Georgian ships in the harbor. Russian officials have said that their forces are now out of the city, but that they are still occupying positions at checkpoints just to the north. Russian ships are also patrolling off the coast. NATO on Wednesday called on Russia to reverse its decision to recognize two rebel Georgian regions and urged it to respect Georgia’s territorial integrity. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said in a speech to the French diplomatic corps that no one wanted another cold war and called on Russia to pull back its forces to positions they held before the current conflict with Georgia. “NATO is not an adversary but a partner of Russia,” he added. “As for the European Union, it seeks to build with this country a close and positive relation. It is for Russia today to make a fundamental choice.”

Russia continued to dismiss Western criticism, with Mr. Medvedev defending Russia’s actions as necessary to protect against a “genocide” by the Georgian armed forces in South Ossetia. In Moscow, the agriculture minister, Aleksei Gordeyev, told reporters that Russia could cut poultry and pork import quotas by hundreds of thousands of tons, the news agency Itar-Tass said. The Kremlin also kept up efforts to build support for its actions in Georgia, although with little result. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry broke a long silence from Beijing by saying that China was concerned about “the latest development in South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” Agence-France Presse reported. And the Russian ambassador to Macedonia told reporters that he had asked the authorities there to recognize the two breakaway Georgian regions, though Russia has pledged not to force any states to recognize them. Macedonia itself broke away from Yugoslavia, when that country disintegrated in the 1990s.

In Moscow, the naval maneuvering was clearly raising alarms. Russian commanders said the buildup of NATO vessels in the Black Sea violated a 1936 treaty, the Montreux Convention, which they maintain limits to three weeks the time noncoastal countries can sail military vessels on the sea. Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, said at a briefing in Moscow that under the agreement, Turkey, which controls the straits of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, must be notified 15 days before military ships sail into the sea, and that warships could not remain longer than 21 days. “The convention stipulates a limited number of vessels,” he said. “That is, the same state cannot deploy a certain group without any limit.” He said any sustained NATO deployment would require rotating ships through the straits. It was unclear on Wednesday how many NATO ships were currently in the Black Sea.

A spokesman at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, in Mons, Belgium, said there were four NATO warships there on a previously scheduled exercise called Active Endeavor, for training in antiterrorist and anti-pirate maneuvers. But he cautioned that other NATO countries could have ships in the sea not operating under NATO command. “Obviously, there are other NATO-affiliated nations out doing things,” Lt. Col. Web Wright, the spokesman, said. “But I can’t speak for those nations.” The United States guided missile destroyer McFaul, for example, docked over the weekend in Batumi to deliver humanitarian aid. A report by the Russian news agency Interfax cited this ship, along with three others, as operating in the sea, though it was unclear whether it referred to vessels taking part in the previously scheduled exercise.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/28/wo.../28russia.html

Russia 'Could Destroy NATO Ships in Black Sea Within 20 Minutes'

Russia's Black Sea Fleet is capable of destroying NATO's naval strike group currently deployed in the sea within 20 minutes, a former fleet commander said on Friday. Russia's General Staff said on Tuesday there were 10 NATO ships in the Black Sea - three U.S. warships, the Polish frigate General Pulaski, the German frigate FGS Lubeck, and the Spanish guided missile frigate Admiral Juan de Borbon, as well as four Turkish vessels. Eight more warships are expected to join the group. "Despite the apparent strength, the NATO naval group in the Black Sea is not battle-worthy," Admiral Eduard Baltin said. "If necessary, a single missile salvo from the Moskva missile cruiser and two or three missile boats would be enough to annihilate the entire group." "Within 20 minutes the waters would be clear," he said, stressing that despite major reductions, the Black Sea Fleet (Image gallery) still has a formidable missile arsenal. However, Baltin said the chances of a military confrontation between NATO and Russia in the Black Sea are negligible. "We will not strike first, and they do not look like people with suicidal tendencies," he said. In addition to its flagship, the Moskva guided missile cruiser, Russia's Black Sea Fleet includes at least three destroyers, two guided missile frigates, four guided missile corvettes and six missile boats. NATO announced its decision to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia after the conclusion of hostilities between Tbilisi and Moscow over breakaway South Ossetia on August 12. Moscow recognized on Tuesday both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgia republic, despite being urged by Western leaders not to do so. Russia's General Staff later said the alliance's naval deployment in the Black Sea "cannot fail to provoke concern", with unidentified sources in the Russian military saying a surface strike group was being gathered there. According to Russian military intelligence sources, the NATO warships that have entered the Black Sea are between them carrying over 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Source: http://en.rian.ru/russia/20080829/116377956.html

Russia Steps up Security of its Navy Facilities in Ukraine

Russia's Black Sea Fleet has stepped up security at its facilities in Ukraine to deter possible provocative acts, a senior navy official said Thursday. "Intelligence reports said authorities and a number of well-known public organizations in Ukraine plan actions against the Black Sea Fleet's navigation and hydrographic support facilities," said Cap. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo, an aide to Russia's navy commander. Dygalo said the fleet is enhancing security measures at the facilities to ensure their uninterrupted operation and safe navigation. The official said that such provocative actions would be illegal and in breach of the 1997 agreements on the lease by Russia of its Black Sea Fleet's naval base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

He added that such steps, if implemented, would harm talks in a Russian-Ukrainian sub-commission on the operation of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine. "The purpose of this sub-commission is to discuss any problems that might occur in a civilized manner. Decisions by local Ukrainian judicial institutions have no legal power in relation to Russian Black Sea Fleet facilities, and attempts by public movements and organizations to obstruct the operation of these facilities would cause extra tension in the region, where the Black Sea Fleet is located," Dygalo said. Frequent disputes have flared up between Russia and Ukraine over the lease of naval facilities on the Crimean peninsula. Ukrainian bailiffs have made several attempts to seize the headquarters of the Russian fleet's hydrographic service in Sevastopol and radio navigation facilities over the last few years.

The ownership of lighthouses, and the rent Russia pays for them, is one of the main ongoing disputes between the ex-Soviet neighbors. Under bilateral agreements, Russia's Black Sea Fleet uses the Sevastopol base until 2017. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko recently announced that Ukraine would not extend the lease beyond the date. In early June, Russia's lower house of parliament adopted a resolution saying the Russian-Ukrainian cooperation treaty could be denounced if Ukraine joins NATO. To Russia's annoyance, Ukraine's pro-Western leadership has been pursuing NATO membership since Yushchenko's 2004 election. Ukraine failed to secure an agreement on a NATO Membership Action Plan, a key step toward joining the alliance, at the organization's summit in April, but was told the decision would be reviewed in December.

Source: http://en.rian.ru/russia/20080828/116359212.html

Russia Tests Long-Range Missile as Tensions Mount

Russia successfully tested a long- range Topol missile designed to avoid detection by anti-missile defence systems from its Plesetsk launch site, a Russian military spokesman said yesterday. "The launch was specially tasked to test the missile's capability to avoid ground-based detection systems," said Colonel Alexander Vovk of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces. Washington and Warsaw formally signed a deal last week to station elements of a US missile defense shield in Poland, a move that has aggravated Russian- Western tensions already raw from Moscow's intervention in Georgia. Russia has heaped scorn on the missile defence system, which the United States says is aimed at Iran, and through its Foreign Ministry last week vowed "to react, and not only through diplomatic protests." The RS-12M Topol, called the SS-25 Sickle by NATO, has a maximum range of 10,000 km and can carry one 550-kilotonne warhead. NATO yesterday rejected Russian criticism of its decision to send navy ships to the Black Sea, saying the five vessels there - from the United States, Spain, Germany and Poland - are on a routine exercise far from the coast of Georgia. The exercises were organized before Russia's military offensive in Georgia on August 8 to rebuff a Georgian attempt to retake breakaway South Ossetia. Russia has linked the visit of NATO warships to a delivery of aid to Georgia by two other US ships and accused NATO of a naval build- up in the Black Sea in violation of international agreements.

Source: http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_d...721&con_type=1

Georgia Conflict: South Ossetia Seeks to Merge With Russia

Mr Kokoity, holder of a Russian passport, is leader of the region's separatists, who use roubles, hold Russian passports and dream of rejoining Russia

Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia has signalled that it will formally seek to merge with Russia. This move would amount to Russia’s annexation of an area of another state and the redrawing of the map of a corner of Europe. South Ossetia, with a largely Russian population of only 70,000, has no viable future as an independent state and observers believe that its only realistic option is to join its giant neighbour. President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia discussed this option with his South Ossetian counterpart, Eduard Kokoity, earlier this week during a meeting in Moscow. Znaur Gassiyev, the Speaker of South Ossetia’s parliament, said the enclave would formally join Russia "in several years" or possibly earlier. This had been "firmly stated by both leaders” during their meeting in Moscow. Tarzan Kokoiti, the deputy Speaker, predicted: “We will live in one united Russian state.” While the Kremlin has recognised South Ossetia as an “independent” country, Russia effectively controls the tiny enclave, which has no viable economy and depends largely on smuggling. If the area merges with Russia, this would be a formal acknowledgement of reality. At the close of this month’s war with Georgia, Russian troops were in full control of South Ossetia and the other breakaway region, Abkhazia.


Don't Pick a Fight you Can't Finish, Mr Miliband

When he visits Kiev, the Foreign Secretary should remember the threats posed by Nato's drive eastwards

Before making his speech on policy towards Russia in Kiev, Ukraine, later this week David Miliband would do well to ponder some wise advice from a great predecessor. Lord Salisbury, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister in the days of the British Empire, dispensed immense global power; but that did not mean that he liked playing about with that power. Faced with proposals for British policy that he understood to be deeply damaging to the interests of other great powers, Salisbury would look his colleagues in the eye and ask simply: “Are you really prepared to fight? If not, do not embark on this policy.” If the events of the past fortnight in Georgia have demonstrated one thing clearly, it is that Russia will fight if it feels its vital interests under attack in the former Soviet Union - and that the West will not, and indeed cannot, given its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Other Western threats are equally empty. Russia itself pulled out of co-operation with Nato. If a real threat is made of expulsion from the G8, Russia will leave that organisation too - especially since a club that does not include China and India is increasingly meaningless anyway. The threat of being barred from joining the World Trade Organisation is a bit stronger - but Russia has done so well economically without membership that this goal too has lost much of its allure. Moscow has reminded Nato of the importance of Russian goodwill to secure the supply lines of the US-Nato operation in Afghanistan through Central Asia. Alternatively, Nato can become wholly dependent on routes through Pakistan. From where I am sitting, that does not look like a very good move - and where I am sitting at this moment is a hotel room in Peshawar, Pakistan. By siding fully with Iran, Russia has the capability to wreck any possibility of compromise between Tehran and the West, and to push the US towards an attack that would be disastrous for Western interests - and enormously helpful to Russia's.

However, if only he will take it, Mr Miliband's speech could be a magnificent opportunity to set British policy towards Russia on a footing of sober reality - strengthening Western unity and resolve on issues such as reducing our energy dependence on Russia; but eschewing empty promises and shelving hopeless goals such as restoring Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia and Abkhazia and forcing Russia to change its Constitution to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, accused of killing the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. Russia, for its part, will have to abandon or shelve its own hopeless goals such as restoring Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo and forcing Britain to change its laws to extradite Boris Berezovsky and the Chechen leader Ahmed Zakayev.

Above all, Mr Miliband needs to think hard before committing Britain to support Nato membership for Georgia and Ukraine. He should look carefully at the widespread Western belief that Russia “set a trap for Georgia” in South Ossetia. There was no Russian trap. In recent years Moscow has made it absolutely, publicly and repeatedly clear that if Georgia attacked South Ossetia, Russia would fight. The obvious trap was set by President Saakashvili for the West, and was based on the belief that if he started a war to recover Georgia's lost territories, the West would come to his aid. This didn't work as well as Mr Saakashvili wished, because we have not gone to war for Georgia. On the other hand, every Western government statement offering future Nato membership is an implicit promise that we will do so in future if necessary. How can we make such a promise to a man who tried to involve us in a war without even asking us first? On Ukraine, Mr Miliband should study carefully a range of reliable opinion polls showing that by a margin of about three to one, ordinary Ukrainian voters are opposed to Nato membership. This is not only because they want good relations with Russia, but because they fear being dragged into disastrous American wars in the Muslim world. Even when it comes to the wider question of alignment with the West rather than Russia, the Ukrainian majority in favour of the Western line is slim - about 53 to 47 per cent to judge by the last Ukrainian presidential election. We should have learnt by now from the ghastly examples of Bosnia and elsewhere that a narrow numerical majority is simply not enough when existential national issues are at stake.

In other words, it is Nato's eastward drive, not Russian ambition, that is the greatest threat to Ukrainian stability and unity. A realistic British policy towards Ukraine should mean a genuine commitment to help it to develop economically, socially and politically in ways that will gradually draw it closer to the West and may one day make European Union membership possible. Under no circumstances should it mean plunging Ukraine into a disastrous crisis for the sake of a Nato alliance that cannot and will not defend it anyway. Viewing this conflict from Pakistan gives some interesting perspectives. The first is the absolute insanity of the West's stoking a crisis with Russia while facing such intractable problems in the Muslim world. It is also striking that the Pakistani media have been very balanced in their coverage of the crisis, despite their traditional hostility to Moscow. Is this because they have suddenly fallen in love with Russia? Not a bit. It is because when it comes to international lawlessness, bullying and aggression, they no longer see a great difference between Russia and America. The moralising of Western leaders, therefore, no longer cuts much ice in Peshawar - or anywhere else much outside the West itself.

Anatol Lieven is a professor at King's College London and a former Times correspondent in the Soviet Union

Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/com...cle4607471.ece

David Miliband Must Stop Playing With Fire

It takes two to start a cold war and Russia has so far been provoked pointlessly into confrontation

Russia, according to President Medvedev, is ready for a “new Cold War”. If politicians, including our own, want a new Cold War, they will get one. But the fault will lie as much with us as Russia. Every move in Russia's foreign policy is greeted by the West with alarm and suspicion. But its policy has been perfectly consistent for years. Russia's aim has been to rebuild itself as a great power, and use that power to regain a dominant position in the old Soviet space it surrendered in the 1990s. In Russia's perception, the United States wants to take over the space vacated by Russia as fruit of its victory in the Cold War, using Nato as a dagger, and Britain to supply moralistic veneer. Russia has made it clear for years how deeply it resents the expansion of Nato to its borders. One of Stalin's aims was to create “buffers” between the Soviet Union and Germany to stop a repetition of the two invasions that cost millions of Russian lives: the “buffer” reflex explains the militarily useless decision to keep a few Russian troops a few miles beyond the South Ossetian border. Russia was rightly pushed out of its satellites in 1989-90 by popular uprisings but it created the Commonwealth of Independent States in the expectation that it would provide a buffer against Western expansion. What did the West do? It expanded not just its political but also its military penetration into the CIS area whenever an opportunity presented itself. Most recently, the Anglo-American consortium made it clear that it wanted Georgia and Ukraine inside Nato, though Germany and France succeeded in blocking the move temporarily.

What did Britain and America think they were doing? Pushing Nato deep into the old Soviet Union and setting up a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic on the patently false pretence that it was to counter the (non-existent) threat from Iran was bound to add to Russia's already considerable paranoia, without achieving anything worth having. Significantly, every shade of Russian opinion, from liberal to xenophobic, regards Western policy as crass. Does the British Government realise with what fire it is playing? Have they no memory of how a “local” quarrel in 1914 escalated into a world war? About a year ago I was at a lunch with the Georgian Ambassador, a delightful man but full of small-country big talk. I pointed out politely that small countries on the edge of big countries had to be careful not to provoke their larger neighbour; but that it is also perfectly possible for them to coexist peacefully if the smaller nation understands its place in the scheme of things. The conditions for such peaceful coexistence need not be especially onerous. Finland is a classic postwar example of a state that conducted itself so as to retain its independence and liberty even under Stalin's baleful eye. It was not a heroic or romantic stance, but a mature one.

President Saakashvili is a hothead. He invaded South Ossetia aiming to translate theoretical sovereignty into practical sovereignty and lost Georgia's theoretical sovereignty as a result. He ought to be removed by his people, not for war crimes but for gross incompetence. The West takes its stand on the rule of law. But international law has no enforcement mechanism. So its maintenance depends on the co-operation of the great powers; and this depends not only on the great powers being sensitive to each others' concerns, but small powers recognising that, whatever the UN charter says about equal sovereignty, some states are more sovereign than others. Russia will no more accept international law as binding if it goes against its interests than the US does, as it has shown in Kosovo, Iraq and elsewhere. Kosovo taught Russia an important post-communist lesson: if the West can invade a sovereign state without Security Council sanction, why not Russia?

The last thing Georgia needs is to join Nato. Membership will do nothing to protect its theoretical sovereignty; trying to get in will intensify its bullying by Russia and, will dangerously sour international relations. Russia and China are not natural allies, but Western moralism and geopolitical ambition will drive them together to resist what they see as encroachments on their space. If that happens, the world would be divided into democratic and authoritarian blocs - with a new arms race, economics turned into politics and globalisation stalled. Is this what David Miliband wants? If not, can he explain his foreign policy? The solution to the present crisis is obvious enough, but only the Georgians can bring it about. They should replace their hot-headed President with a cooler head. The new president should set about mending Georgia's fences with its giant neighbour. A helpful move would be to suspend its application to join Nato. Russia will cool down and we will all be able to breathe more easily. Mr Miliband might even be reduced to talking sense.

Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article4622004.ece

Georgia Was the "Last Straw" For Russia


A keen sense the West cheated Moscow out of promised warmer ties after the Cold War explains why Russia, recovered from post-Soviet collapse, has refused to be cowed over Georgia and demanded its views be heard. "It could have been Georgia or something else, but some kind of 'last straw' was waiting to come along," one Kremlin official commented. "We cannot endlessly retreat with a smiling face." Russia's military response to Georgia's bid to retake its Moscow-backed breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and their subsequent recognition by Moscow, has fuelled Western speculation of a reborn Soviet empire striking back. But things look totally different from Moscow, frustrated at what it sees as the West's failure to put their relations on an equal footing and its attempts to encircle Russia with a new "cordon sanitaire". The bitterness dates back to 1990, when reformist Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, keen to launch a new age in ties with the West, agreed to pull out troops from East Germany and give the green light to German unification. Russia says NATO reneged on a crucial promise. "Moscow's only condition was that NATO did not station troops in East Germany," a top Russian diplomat who took part in talks said. "The promise was given, but soon forgotten."

Some NATO officials challenge this, saying no such undertaking was given. In the ensuing years relations with the West were further strained by NATO giving membership to Moscow's Soviet-era satellites in Eastern Europe as well as to the ex-Soviet Baltic republics -- Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Poland and the Baltic states have since become vociferous critics of Russia within the U.S.-led alliance. In 1999 Russia protested in vain against NATO's bombings of Belgrade in a military campaign which ultimately led to the West recognizing the independence of Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo earlier this year. "We cannot base our actions on the opinion of a state whose budget falls within the statistical error of the U.S. budget," a senior U.S. diplomat in Moscow told reporters at the time. Top Russian officials have complained that Moscow's cooperation with the West on key international issues like the fight against terrorism, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea have failed to translate into a qualitative change in relations. "There is a feeling that the West treats Russia merely as a loser in the Cold War, which has to play by the winners' rules," Vladimir Putin, Russia's president for eight years until this May, once told reporters.


In the 1990s, when Russia's economy was in ruins, Moscow hid its pride. But in the last eight years an economic boom has allowed a resurgent Russia to play a more assertive role in the global economy and international diplomacy. Russia, a vital energy supplier for Europe and a lucrative investment location, decided it had sufficient levers and resources to speak in a different tone of voice. The West failed to notice the change. Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev have urged the West to treat Russia as an equal partner in a broader European context and review security arrangements that take account of its interests. But Russian protests were waved aside again, Moscow says, when Washington decided to station elements of its missile defence system in Eastern Europe. The move was seen by Moscow as a direct threat to its security despite U.S. insistence that the project is design to repel any potential attack by Iran and represents neither a political nor military threat to Russia. The United States has also pushed heavily for NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine -- something anathema to Russia because of its deep historical ties with these countries with whom it shares direct borders.

Russia has sent many signals that its patience was running out but the West dismissed as a rhetoric a tough speech by Putin in Munich in 2007. Similarly, the West failed to react to other warning shots by Moscow, such as resuming flights by its strategic bombers over the Atlantic and the freezing of Russia's obligations under a key pact limiting conventional arms in Europe. Russia's intervention in Georgia has clear signaled that Moscow has finally drawn a red line. "The 'entente cordiale' did not work," Russia's NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin has said, referring to accords between Britain and France signed in the early 20th century that put a line under centuries of hostility and conflict. "Relations should now be pragmatic," he said. "The good performance of our army in Ossetia has already impressed our partners," he added. "We should do everything to uphold this impression and end once and forever any temptation by our partners to resolve any problems by force.."

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/gc07/idUSLT24567020080830

Karabakh Armenians Hail Russian Recognition Of Abkhazia, South Ossetia - August, 2008

Although Armenian authorities in Nagorno Karabakh have publicly supported Moscow's recognition of Abkhazia's and South Ossetia's independence, officials in the Armenian Republic have not. Armenia does not have a choice in this sensitive matter, it must remain silent. Moscow never intended to annex or destroy the Georgian state. Thus, Georgia still remains the country through which over 90% of Armenia's goods and energy supplies come through. If Tbilisi ever decided to seal its border with Armenia, Armenia's already fragile economy would most probably collapse overnight. What's more, Armenia simply can't afford to ruin its cordial relations with the Western world. Official Yerevan simply can't afford to be emotional or sentimental when it comes to these types of matters. What has been happening recently in the region is not a street fight, it's not a family dispute, nor is it child's play. This is serious geopolitics at play. As shortsighted officials in Tbilisi showed us recently, a single wrong move by the authorities in any one of the regional countries can prove catastrophic. Armenia today is not a major power. As a matter of fact, politically and economically, Armenia is very vulnerable and is at the mercy of foreign powers. I rather have official Yerevan remain overtly neutral and covertly pro-Russian through all this; which is what Yerevan seems to be doing at this point.

Regarding official recognition for Nagorno Karabakh: What recognition do we want? By whom? Why? To feel good? Nagorno Karabakh is free and independent and it has been free and independent for over fifteen years now. What is international recognition going to get it? Besides feel good rhetoric, nothing. The fact remains that official recognition of Nagorno Karabakh's independence is 'not' in the interests of the major powers and that includes Russia, China and Iran, not to mention the West. For nations like Russia and Iran, it makes more strategic sense to have the Nagorno Karabakh dispute unresolved as leverage over Azerbaijan.



Karabakh Armenians Hail Russian Recognition Of Abkhazia, South Ossetia

August, 2008

In a move contrasting with official Yerevan’s silence, the ethnic Armenian leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh has welcomed Russia’s controversial decision to recognize Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s de facto independence from Georgia. Bako Sahakian, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), sent on Thursday congratulatory messages to his Abkhaz and South Ossetian counterparts.

“It is with sincere joy that the people of Artsakh (Karabakh) received this news long awaited by your people,” Sahakian wrote to Abkhazia’s President Sergei Bagapsh. “Abkhazia has achieved something which it has sought for many years, having deservedly overcome numerous obstacles.” The Karabakh leader extended similar congratulations to “the brotherly people of South Ossetia” and their leader, Eduard Kokoyty. “May peace take a permanent hold in your country,” read Sahakian’s letter to Kokoyty made public by his press office. Russia recognized the two breakaway regions following its crushing victory in a brief war with Georgia that was triggered by Tbilisi’s attempt to regain control over South Ossetia. The Kremlin says the extraordinary move was necessary to prevent a repeat of what it calls an attempted “genocide” of South Ossetia’s non-Georgian population.

Georgia and much of the international community have strongly condemned the Russian recognition, saying that it runs counter to the universally accepted principle of territorial integrity. The Georgian government has said it amounts to an “unconcealed annexation” of a part of its internationally recognized territory. Echoing statements by Russian, Abkhaz and South Ossetian leaders, the NKR Foreign Ministry pointed on Wednesday to another international principle upholding peoples’ right to self-determination. The Karabakh Armenians, backed by Armenia proper, have long said that self-determination should take precedence over territorial integrity in the resolution of the conflict with Azerbaijan. The NKR ministry also implicitly blamed Georgia for the outbreak of the war that killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands of others. “We have repeatedly warned that threats to use force, disproportionate military build-ups and a penchant for solving problems by force are fraught with humanitarian disasters,” it said in a statement.

Unlike the NKR leadership, Armenia’s government has so fair declined to explicitly comment on the Russian support for Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s secession from Georgia. The Armenian Foreign Ministry issued a short statement Wednesday reaffirming Yerevan’s stated support for a peaceful settlement of the regional ethnic disputes. But in what could be construed as an indirect endorsement of the Russian recognition, the statement said the conflicts in Karabakh and elsewhere in the South Caucasus should be resolved “on the basis of a free expression of peoples’ will.” President Serzh Sarkisian likewise said last week that “the military way of conflict resolution is futile.” Despite its close ties with Russia, Armenia is extremely unlikely to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, mindful of negative international reaction and Georgia’s vital importance for its transport communication with the outside world.

A leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), one of the four parties represented in Armenia’s government, said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday that the Sarkisian administration should not rush to follow Moscow’s example because “having normal relations with Georgia stems from our country’s vital interests.” “Armenia has not even recognized Karabakh’s independence because it believes the international community has not exhausted its capacity to solve the problem peacefully,” Armen Rustamian told the “Hayastani Hanrapetutyun” daily. “We think that the possibilities of a peaceful settlement of the Russia-Georgia conflict have not been exhausted either.”

Source: http://www.armenialiberty.org/armeni...A79DFE03D9.ASP

All Quiet on the Southern Front

Despite Having Been Affected by the Russo-Georgian Squabble, Both Armenia and Azerbaijan Cautiously Abstain From Taking Sides

The events of the “five-day war” in South Ossetia demonstrated that countries of the Southern Caucasus largely act according to their own national interests, and not on the assurances of “eternal friendships.” Thus, both Armenia and Azerbaijan behave in a careful and calculated manner, realizing that getting involved in the Russian-Georgian conflict bears a lot of “hidden reefs” which could prove to be more dangerous than the status-quo that is so despised by Baku and so cherished by Yerevan.

Georgia’s attempts to “restore the constitutional order” in South Ossetia and the harsh Russian response have altered the politico-legal and power configurations in the CIS, and not only in the two “hot spots.” They had a serious impact on the entire ethno-political situation in Eurasia. In this regard, it is crucial to consider the consequences of this “security deficit” in the South Caucasus, especially because in recent weeks, Armenia and Azerbaijan have remained in the shadows. What lessons were Baku and Yerevan able to draw, having been brought to a conflicted state by the events in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the “hot August” of 2008?

Let’s consider the horizontal links among the three former Caucasus republics, all of them now independent states in the South Caucasus region. Georgia considered Azerbaijan its natural ally. Baku was ready to reciprocate the sentiment. Let’s recall that the day before the new escalation in South Ossetia, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called Azerbaijan no less than the “guarantor of independence” of his country. Typical theatrics of the Georgian leader aside, we should recognize a few important points. First, Georgia and Azerbaijan are members of an organization whose stated goal is to play a peculiar anti-CIS role—GUAM. After Georgia officially left the CIS, GUAM remains the sole structure in which Tbilisi can realize its integration projects (another question is how successfully) within Eurasia.

Secondly, Azerbaijan has always supported the territorial integrity of Georgia. Unlike Ukraine, Azerbaijan itself lost some 13 percent of the land that is recognized as its integral part, and hence its support, along with political reasons, has emotional and psychological grounds (which in politics, especially in the Caucasus, is extremely important). Thirdly, there is the economic cooperation. In 2005, during the energy crisis, it was Azerbaijan that provided gas for Georgia. "The Georgian people will never forget this," Saakashvili said in a statement during the groundbreaking opening ceremony for the Turkish section of the "Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars" railway on July 24 (only two weeks remained before the Tskhinvali tragedy). The two Caucasian states were also united by two pipelines (oil and gas). Baku also often served as a profitable and reliable sponsor for Tbilisi.

Unlike Azerbaijan, Georgia never considered Armenia as a strategic partner and even less as a “guarantor of security.” There have been a lot of sensitive issues in their bilateral relations. These include the position of Armenians in Georgia (in the Armenian populated Samtskhe-Javakheti and in Tbilisi itself, considered to be an important cultural center for all Armenians), and the role of the Armenian community in the Abkhaz events. During the Georgian-Abkhazian war of 1992-1993, the Bagramyan battalion fought on the side of the "aggressive separatists" (as they call them in Tbilisi). There were far fewer Armenian participants on the Georgian side (largely from the aforementioned Tbilisi). In present-day Abkhazia, the Armenian community is represented both in the government and in business, and is generally loyal to the leadership of the de facto state. The irritating factors are compounded by the military partnership between Armenia and the Russian Federation (particularly the military base in Gyumri, to which, among others, Russian military units from Georgia were moved). Prior to the withdrawal of the Russian military base from Akhalkalaki, there were many local ethnic Armenian residents employed there. Also, Georgia (along with Iran) is Armenia’s window to the world (because of the land blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan). Hence, Yerevan does not want to move past certain milestones in its relations with Tbilisi. Armenia also realizes that its gateway to Russia is through Georgia, and that is why the dependence on the dynamics of Russian-Georgian relations is an extremely sore point for Armenia. In turn, given the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Tbilisi is more cautious in dealing with the “Armenian question.” The Georgian leadership cannot ignore that, unlike the Abkhazians or Ossetians, Armenians have strong support in the United States and the EU (similarly from France).

Indeed, the given dispositions have determined the attitude that Georgia’s neighbors have toward the “hot August” events. Despite its commitment to a strategic alliance with Russia, Armenia preferred to abstain from sudden moves and categorical statements. There are many reasons for this. There is a reluctance to either clearly align their actions with the Russians or to spoil their relations with the West. They are already uneasy in connection with the events of March 1 in Yerevan. It is understandable that Serzh Sargsyan is no Alexander Lukashenko, to whom the United States and the EU have long ago given their “blessing” of more freedom in his interpretation of events.

Armenia, which has such a vulnerable place as the Karabakh, was also not overly interested in anchoring the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR) and the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict to Russian-Georgian relations. Besides, even earlier, both Armenia and the NKR leadership distanced themselves from an openly pro-Ossetia and pro-Abkhazia position. This is why representatives of Armenia’s Ministry of Defense hastened to declare on August 10 that raids on the Georgian airbases were not being conducted from the Russian base located in Armenia: "The 102nd military base in the city of Gyumri has no military aircraft capable of committing acts such as these bombings,” they claimed.

The position of Armenia in connection with the heated Russian-Turkish relations is another sensitive issue. Mild support by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan for the Russian Federation’s position is creating a feeling in Yerevan (as well as in the Armenian Diaspora in the West) that the two great powers can agree with each other to the detriment of Armenia (in particular, on the Karabakh issue). Recall that on August 13 Erdogan stated: "The situation in South Ossetia gives us cause to review the relationship between our countries, whose solidarity in this region is of great importance." Here is what Karapet Kalenchyan, an expert at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies, wrote on this matter: "Seeing that Russia is once again entering the South Caucasus, Turkey gives it its full support in exchange for certain concessions on the part of Russia. What kind of concessions could these be? Armenians have often worried that such concessions might be made at the expense of our interests.”

Prudence (only in the opposite direction) is also what set apart Azerbaijan’s position. Representatives of various political parties of the republic (including the ruling party) were more open in expressing their positions. According to Mubariz Gurbanly (the ruling “Yeni Azerbaijan” party), the "Georgian authorities' actions to restore the country's territorial integrity are fully merited. These actions were undertaken in accordance with the UN Charter." Note that this idea (the legality of actions to punish separatists) had so far been far more popular in Azerbaijan than in Georgia. The chairman of the Supreme Majlis of the "Musavat" (opposition forces) party, Sulhaddin Akper, stated that Georgia "was forced to conduct the operation against the separatists in South Ossetia." However, Baku was officially much more cautious than, for instance, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and the Foreign Ministry of his country (which, unlike Azerbaijan, does not have such serious interests in the region).

The statement by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs from August 8 in support of Georgia’s territorial integrity (approved by the Georgian diplomats) contained general statements on the validity of the Georgian operation under "international law," but was not further clarified.

Five leaders of states that expressed their solidarity with Georgia were present at a rally in Tbilisi on August 12. There were leaders of the three Baltic countries, Poland, and Ukraine, but Ilham Aliyev, the head of the state which Saakashvili called the "guarantor of independence" less than a month earlier, was not there. Baku preferred caution, given their interest in maintaining stable relations with Russia. Unlike Georgia, Azerbaijan’s foreign policy is not based on a rigid confrontational manner. In Baku, they consider Russia to be a counterweight to the West (which does not have such unambiguous relations with Azerbaijan as it does with Georgia). Azerbaijan is also afraid of being drawn into the “Iran game,” where it is destined to play a role as either a runway or the target of “Tehran’s retaliatory shot.” Hence the desire to appreciate the generally friendly, albeit difficult, relations with Russia.

The opposition is trying to take advantage of this situation. Isa Gambar, the leader of the "Musavat" party (who received second place in the last presidential elections) believes that the official Baku reaction to the events in South Ossetia is inadequate. But what level of influence does Isa Gambar, or other opposition figures (Eldar Namazov or Ali Keremli), enjoy today that he can alter the position of the president’s team? That is a rhetorical question. Let's consider a hypothetical situation. Tomorrow either Gambar or Namazov replace Ilham Aliyev. I think that they would also strictly separate rhetoric and realistic politics, guided by the national interests of Azerbaijan. Note that if such a scenario were to be repeated in Nagorno-Karabakh, Baku would receive a much tougher reaction from the West. There would even be talk of the consolidated opinion of the United States, Russia, and leading EU countries. And that is why the Azerbaijani police prohibit protests at the Russian embassy in Baku, and prevents anti-Russian hysteria from sweeping the country.

Source: http://www.russiaprofile.org/page.ph...id=a1219848872

InterMedia Survey Finds Armenians Most Favorably Inclined Towards Russia and Optimistic about Democracy in their Country

Despite a powerful Diaspora lobby in the United States, Armenians' positive feelings towards the U.S. are nearly 40 percentage points behind their feelings towards neighboring Russia. So says a survey of the small (3 million inhabitants) yet strategically located nation, conducted earlier this year by InterMedia, a Washington, D.C.- based research, evaluation and consulting organization. The InterMedia survey found fully 90 percent of Armenians are favorably inclined towards Russia, but only 53 percent say they are so inclined towards the United States. "The higher favorability towards Russia compared to the U.S. is not surprising," says Lyuda Andriyevska, one of InterMedia's project managers for Eurasia. "Russia has been the main strategic partner for Armenia for centuries. Currently, Russia provides landlocked Armenia with oil and gas, invests heavily in business and infrastructure, sells weapons and supports many positions of Armenian foreign policy, the touchiest of which is its dispute with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region."

Armenia is strategically significant in the region due in part to its location at both the energy and ethnic crossroads of Europe, Asia and Middle East. With growing demand for energy resources in the world, Armenia is an important player among three regional powers -- Iran, Turkey and Russia -- all of which compete for political and economic leadership in the region. Only slightly more than one-quarter of Armenians, 28 percent, are favourably inclined towards their northern neighbour, Georgia. "One reason is the souring of Georgian-Russian relations over the last couple of years," says Ms. Andriyevska. "Georgia serves as a lifeline for the Armenian economy, as all the inland trade with Russia goes through it. However, the ongoing conflict between Georgia and Russia has seriously disrupted communication and transportation of energy and food supplies to Armenia. This should serve to increase Armenians' animosity towards Georgia and perhaps even take some of the lustre off their feelings towards Russia."

The InterMedia survey also found Armenians are pro-European but less keen on NATO. Seventy percent of the population agree or strongly agree with the statement that "Armenia should join EU." NATO, on the other hand, has the support of only slightly more than a quarter of the population, 27 percent. Although favorability toward Russia is high, there are fundamental differences in public sentiment between the two countries. The InterMedia survey finds Armenians are more optimistic about democratic changes in their country and have more faith in the power of the electoral process than do Russians. Almost two-thirds of Armenians, 64 percent, anticipated increased chances for democracy and personal self expression after the presidential elections in February 2008; only 5 percent of the Russian population expected similar improvements in terms of democracy and self expression after their own 2008 presidential elections. (InterMedia's Russian survey took place in January 2008.)

InterMedia is a leading international media research, public opinion, evaluation and consulting organization creatively equipping clients to understand their audiences, gauge their effectiveness and target their communications in transitional and developing societies worldwide. Based in Washington, D.C., and active year-round in more than 60 countries, InterMedia helps clients understand complex issues in challenging research environments. The company's strengths include its people-area experts skilled in scientifically-based research and focused on client solutions-its vast global network of local research partners and contacts and its rich data archive of more than 670 media and opinion surveys carried out over the past 15 years.

Survey Details: InterMedia conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,000 face-to face interviews in Armenia between 22 January and 27 February 2008. Maximum margin of error, with a 95% confidence interval, is +/-2.2%.

Source: http://www.marketwatch.com/news/stor...A%7D&dist=hppr

In other news:

After Georgia, US fears interests at risk in Ukraine, Azerbaijan

The United States is worried that after the Georgian conflict, US strategic interests in Ukraine and Azerbaijan -- especially in oil -- could be at serious risk. The clearest sign of US concern: Vice President Dick Cheney next week will travel to Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. The White House, on announcing the trip Monday, said President George W. Bush had given Cheney the job of discussing the United States' common interests with these key partners. The White House did not specifically identify these interests, but analysts say there is a common thread in these former Soviet republics: the strategic Black Sea region, where major powers have played out power struggles ever since oil was found around the Caspian Sea in the early 20th century.

Even that far back, Azerbaijan, which does not have direct access to the Black Sea, shipped its oil to the Georgian port of Batumi to gain access to Europen markets, said Edward Chow, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). It is no fluke that during the Georgian conflict, US officials firmly spoke out against Russia's brief control of port facities at Poti, now a key site in Caspian Sea oil and gas shipping. Meanwhile, an attack in Turkey in early August claimed by the Kurdish rebel PKK underscored the vulnerability of the BTC oil pipeline (Bakou-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) linking Azerbaijan and Turkey. It follows the Russian border. "The transit route through Georgia previously thought to be relatively secure and reliable is now seen as vulnerable and threatened by regional hostilities," Chow stressed.

US oil giants ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips have major stakes in Caspian sea oilfields, he noted. With its broad opening on the Black Sea, Ukraine also is a key strategic US ally in the region. The United States is keen to diversify its suppliers of oil to reduce dependence on the Middle East, and to limit Moscow's influence. Washington is strongly in favor of expanding NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia. But for Stephen Larrabee, of the Rand Corporation: "Georgia is a sideshow. What the Russians are really concerned about is Ukraine. "Georgia's entry into NATO wouldn't have major strategic consequences for Russia. Ukraine, on the other hand, is a very different matter," Larrabee added.

If Ukraine joins NATO Russia would not only be forced to remove its ships based in Crimea; it also would see dashed its hopes of founding a Slavic union with Ukraine and Belarus, he said. What's more, Russian and Ukrainian defense industries are closely linked. For Dmitri Trenin, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "it is Ukraine... that moves into the center stage of the new geopolitical rivalry. "No Russian leader could have failed to respond to a direct attack on Tskhinvali," he added in an opinion piece in Newsweek. "But, more ominously, no Russian leader can remain in power if he 'loses' Ukraine to the United States as a member of NATO," Trenin stressed. Crimea, a peninsula attached to Ukraine in 1954 under Nikita Kruschev, is two-thirds Russian speaking.

Source: http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5...5dcgREnqjVBXCA