Caucasus Crisis - August 2008

Russia's strategic objectives within Georgia are becoming clearer: set up militarized buffer zones around Abkhazia and Ossetia in preparation for their upcoming independence or annexation into the Russian Federation; control the strategic harbor of Poti; monitor Georgia's vital east-west highway. It now seems as if Russia will be staying in Georgia proper to enforce peace and stability within the Caucasus for some time, or until Saakashvili's incompetent and hostile government is replaced by one that is more suitable for the region.



Russia Plans to Keep Grip on Poti, Senaki

August, 2008

(Russian soldiers guard their new military position, at the entrance of the Black Sea port city of Poti, western Georgia, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008. Russia started to withdraw its forces from Georgia on Friday, but some units started to dig new positions around Poti, which is 32 km (20 miles) south of Abkhazia and lies well outside the security zone, where Russian peacekeeping forces are allowed to stay on Georgian soil)

According to Civil Georgia, a Russian army map outlining the Russian troops’ planned deployment in Georgia shows they have no intention to give up control over Senaki and the port town of Poti. In MOSCOW , the deputy chief of general staff of the Russian armed forces, Anatoly Nogovitsin, showed a map detailing what he said would be “zone of responsibility” of the Russian “peacekeepers.” This includes checkpoints at Nabada, just outside Poti, and in Senaki, a town less than 40 kilometers away from Poti. Georgia’s key military base and strategic airfield are located in Senaki. “Airfield in Senaki is also part of the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers,” Nogovitsin said. On the eastern front, in the South Ossetian conflict zone the Russian troops’ “zone of responsibility” includes southern areas from the South Ossetian administrative border. The zone even includes some portions of the Georgia’s major east-west highway – in particular at the village of Shavshvebi and Agara. The town of Gori itself is not part of the zone. “Our forces will be pulled back to these zones of responsibility today,” Nogovitsin said. The Russian forces started removing their checkpoints and roadblocks from some of the locations deep inside the Georgian territories, including from Gori and Igoeti. But there was no sign of the Russian troops’ withdrawal from the entrance of Poti. “We will not and the world will not let the Russian forces to increase their zone activity deep inside the Georgian territory,” Davit Kezerashvili, the Georgian defense minister, said on August 22. It also emerged on August 22, that Russia plans to keep 2,142 soldiers in Abkhazia as part of its peacekeeping forces. Nogovitsin said that 109 armored personnel carriers (APC) – BTR-80s and BTR-70s; fourteen APCs of BTR-R145 type and four armored patrol vehicles – BRDM, as well as 34 mortar launchers will also remain in Abkhazia. The military unit in Abkhazia, he said, would also be supported by two Mi-24 combat helicopters and two Mi-8 helicopters.


Russia to keep control of key Georgian highway: General

Russia will retain control over a key highway linking the Georgian capital to the sea even after completing a troop pullout, maps shown to journalists by a top general indicated on Friday. The maps, displayed at a press conference by deputy chief of general staff Anatoly Nogovitsyn, clearly showed Russia's self-proclaimed "zone of responsibility" to include long stretches of Georgia's main east-west road. These included most of the route from Georgia's main commercial port of Poti to the town of Senaki, where Nogovitsyn said troops would occupy the military aerodrome. Nogovitsyn said the zones were permitted under previous agreements that let Russian peacekeepers patrol parts of Georgia after the separatist wars of the early 1990s, when Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke free of Tbilisi's control. "All these zones are legitimate and arise from the framework of the existing agreements. This is our principal position," the general said. It was unclear whether Russian forces would block the east-west road, cutting off a major transport corridor for the Caucasus country. When asked if Russian forces would check cars along the road, the general said: "Why should they bother with such details?"

According to the maps, one "zone of responsibility" was situated near the rebel region of Abkhazia in the west of Georgia, while the other zone was located near South Ossetia, another rebel region. The zone around South Ossetia enclosed stretches of Georgia's main east-west road but did not include the central Georgian city of Gori. It extended past the administrative borders of South Ossetia, reaching in various places from six to 18 kilometres (from four to 11 miles) into Georgia proper. Russia planned to leave eight posts manned by 272 servicemen along the outer line of the South Ossetia zone, and 10 posts manned by 180 servicemen along the inner line, which corresponds to South Ossetia's border, Nogovitsyn said. Russian officials have earlier suggested that more troops could stay within South Ossetia, behind the buffer zone, without giving an exact number.

A second buffer zone extended around Abkhazia, fully enclosing the Georgian town of Zugdidi, reaching to Senaki and stopping just north of Poti, whose port has attracted major foreign investment in recent years. The map marked two Russian posts just north of Poti. It also showed that the limits of the Abkhazia buffer zone enclosed most of the road connecting Poti and Senaki. Nogovitsyn dismissed complaints from Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that the presence of Russian forces amounted to occupation of Georgia. "We will not ask Mr Saakashvili about the buffer zones" as he has "neither the legal nor the moral right" to ask for changes, Nogovitsyn said. Russia poured troops and armour into Georgia earlier this month to repel a Georgian attack on South Ossetia, whose separatist administration, like that of Abkhazia, is backed by Moscow.


Official: Russia-led defense bloc to hold regular drills

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is to hold large-scale military exercises every two years, including those in the hot spot region of Caucasus, a senior official said on Saturday. "The participants of a meeting of the CSTO defense ministers decided to hold large-scale exercises every two years. Thus, the next exercises will take place in 2010," Interfax news agency quoted CSTO Deputy Secretary General Valery Semerikov as saying. Those war games will be held with the situation in the region to be taken into consideration, including the Caucasus, he said. The CSTO defense ministers met on Thursday in the Armenian capital of Yerevan to discuss the military and political situation in the region, the military cooperation of the member states, as well as their foreign and defense policies. The Russia-led bloc has held four-stage military exercises in Russia and the Caucasus state of Armenia in July and August, involving about 4,000 troops from Armenia, Russia and Tajikistan. Military staff from the other CSTO member states also joined the exercises. The seven-member organization was renamed in October 2002 on the basis of the Collective Security Treaty, which was signed in Mary 1992 within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The current members of the CSTO include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia and Uzbekistan.


U.S. Sees Much to Fear in a Hostile Russia

The president of Syria spent two days this week in Russia with a shopping list of sophisticated weapons he wanted to buy. The visit may prove a worrisome preview of things to come. If Russia’s invasion of Georgia ushers in a sustained period of renewed animosity with the West, Washington fears that a newly emboldened but estranged Moscow could use its influence, money, energy resources, United Nations Security Council veto and, yes, its arms industry to undermine American interests around the world. Although Russia has long supplied arms to Syria, it has held back until now on providing the next generation of surface-to-surface missiles. But the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, made clear that he was hoping to capitalize on rising tensions between Moscow and the West when he rushed to the resort city of Sochi to meet with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri A. Medvedev.

The list of ways a more hostile Russia could cause problems for the United States extends far beyond Syria and the mountains of Georgia. In addition to escalated arms sales to other anti-American states like Iran and Venezuela, policy makers and specialists in Washington envision a freeze on counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation cooperation, manipulation of oil and natural gas supplies, pressure against United States military bases in Central Asia and the collapse of efforts to extend cold war-era arms control treaties. “It’s Iran, it’s the U.N., it’s all the counterterrorism and counternarcotics programs, Syria, Venezuela, Hamas — there are any number of issues over which they can be less cooperative than they’ve been,” said Angela E. Stent, who served as the top Russia officer at the United States government’s National Intelligence Council until 2006 and now directs Russian studies at Georgetown University. “And of course, energy.”

Michael McFaul, a Stanford University professor and the chief Russia adviser for Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Russia appeared intent on trying to “disrupt the international order” and had the capacity to succeed. “The potential is big because at the end of the day, they are the hegemon in that region and we are not and that’s a fact,” Professor McFaul said. Russia may yet hold back from some of the more disruptive options depending on how both sides play these next few weeks and months. Many in Washington hope Russia will restrain itself out of its own self-interest; Moscow, for instance, does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons, nor does it want the Taliban to regain power in Afghanistan. Dmitri Rogozin, a hard-liner who serves as Russia’s ambassador to NATO, told the newspaper Izvestia this week that Moscow still wanted to support the alliance in Afghanistan. “NATO’s defeat in Afghanistan would not be good for us,” he said.

Moscow may also be checked by the desire of its economic elite to remain on the path to integration with the rest of the world. The main Russian stock index fell sharply in recent days, costing investors $10 billion — many with close ties to the circle of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin. Still, although the confrontation over Georgia had been building for years, the outbreak of violence demonstrated just how abruptly the international scene can change. Now Russia is the top focus in Washington and some veteran diplomats fret about the situation spiraling out of control. “Outrage is not a policy,” said Strobe Talbott, who was deputy secretary of state under President Clinton and is now the president of the Brookings Institution. “Worry is not a policy. Indignation is not a policy. Even though outrage, worry and indignation are all appropriate in this situation, they shouldn’t be mistaken for policy and they shouldn’t be mistaken for strategy.”

For Washington, there are limited options for applying pressure. Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, wants to throw Russia out of the Group of 8 major powers. Such a move would effectively admit the failure of 17 years of bipartisan policy aimed at incorporating Russia into the international order. Yet Washington’s menu of options pales by comparison to Moscow’s. Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said “there’s a lot more” that the United States needed from Russia than the other way around, citing efforts to secure old Soviet nuclear arms, support the war effort in Afghanistan and force Iran and North Korea to give up nuclear programs. “Hence Russia has all the leverage,” she said. In forecasting Russia’s potential for causing headaches, most specialists look first to Ukraine, which wants to join NATO. The nightmare scenario circulating in recent days is an attempt by Moscow to claim the strategic Crimean peninsula to secure access to the Black Sea. Ukrainian lawmakers are investigating reports that Russia has been granting passports en masse to ethnic Russians living in Crimea, a tactic Moscow used in the Georgian breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to justify intervention to protect its citizens.

Arms sales, as Mr. Assad’s visit underscored, represent another way Russia could create problems. Israeli and Western governments have already been alarmed about reports that the first elements of the Russian-built S-300 antiaircraft missile system are now being delivered to Iran, which could use them to shoot down any American or Israeli planes that seek to bomb nuclear facilities should that ever be attempted. While Mr. Rogozin expressed support for assisting NATO in the war in Afghanistan, other officials have warned darkly about cutting off ties with NATO. The two sides have already effectively suspended any military cooperation programs. But Russia could also revoke its decision in April to allow NATO to send nonlethal supplies overland through its territory en route to Afghanistan. Russia could also turn up pressure on Kyrgyzstan to evict American forces that support operations in Afghanistan and could block any large-scale return to Uzbekistan, which expelled the Americans in 2005. “The argument would be, ‘Why help NATO?’ ” said Celeste A. Wallander, a Russia scholar at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.

Even beyond the dispute over Iran, Russia could obstruct the United States at the United Nations Security Council on a variety of other issues. Just last month, Russia vetoed sanctions against Zimbabwe’s government, a move seen as a slap at Washington. “If Russia’s feeling churlish, they can pretty much bring to a grinding halt any kind of coercive actions, like economic sanctions or anything else,” said Peter D. Feaver, a former strategic adviser at the National Security Council. Russia could also accelerate its withdrawal from arms control structures. It already has suspended the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty to protest American missile defense plans and threatened to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty. Renewed tension could fray a recently signed civilian nuclear cooperation agreement and doom negotiations to extend soon-to-expire strategic arms control verification programs. “Ironically, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there’s always been the concern about Russia becoming a spoiler,” said Ms. Stent, of Georgetown, “and now we could see the realization of that.”


In a related development:

Nagorno Karabakh can be recognized by Armenia simultaneously with Russia recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia

According to a REGNUM European diplomatic information source, the official Yerevan may recognize the independence of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic on August 25. “There is apprehension that Yerevan may recognize Nagorno Karabakh independence simultaneously with Russia recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” the source said. As it already was reported, the same day Russia might recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It will be recalled that people of Abkhazia on August 21 appealed to the president of Russia, the Federal Assembly and the State Duma to recognize the independence of their country. An address on it by the Abkhazian president was supported by the Abkhazian parliament earlier. On August 20, North Ossetian MPs promulgated another appeal to Russian federal authorities with a request for South Ossetia independence recognition. President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev said before that Russia would support any solution of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts regulation if it was supported by nations of the unrecognized republics.


President Serzh Sargsyan’s Interview to Austrian “DER STANDARD” Newspaper

President of Republic of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan discusses current problems of South Caucasus and particularly Russian role in the region in his August 22 interview to Austrian newspaper “Der Standard”.

“Standard”: “Be friendly to Russia and don’t go too far with the West,” under this slogan was conducted Russian invasion to Georgia. What is your opinion about this?

Sargsyan: Have a look at Armenian history, and it will be clear for you, that Russia has alwas been our friend and partner. The partnership cannot be obligatory. I don’t want to speak in the name of other countries, but at least Armenia has always been frank in relations with Russia. Moreover, our military cooperation with Russia has never hampered Armenia’s dynamic collaboration with NATO, EU or the US and Iran.

“Standard”: It’s not the first time Armenia suffers in the result of Georgia-Russia disputes. What is the advice to your Georgian counterpart?

Sargsyan: I’m not the one to give advice. But I must say that in our small region which is too sensitive to world leaders’ interests, it is better to maintain effective collaboration in general profits sphere, then to raise tensions between them. This is certainly harmful for South Caucasus first. Therefore, it’s no use making new artificial ideological parties thus creating new obstacles in our way to stable regional environment.

“Standard”: As known, an important Russian military-base is situated in Armenia. Is the military presence and leadership of Russia in South Caucasus preferable for Armenia?

Sargsyan: Armenia is in favor of effective military cooperation for sake of security in the whole region. That is why Armenia is the member Collective Security Treaty Organization. So, I think that military-bases are more symbolizing effective collaboration and not particular country’s leadership.

“Standard”: Are there any certain consequences for another “freezed conflict” of Nagorno Karabakh after South Ossetia dispute?

Sargsyan: The South Ossetia conflict has proved that any kind of military interference to the right of nations to self-determination brings about very serious geopolitical developments. Moreover, it is clear now that South Caucasus has become a place of arms race, and insensible extension of military budget. Every country should respect all nations’ right to self-determination, otherwise military interference will grow into ethnic cleansings and violation of international humanitarian law.

“Standard”: Turkey has never responded to the proposal of “start of diplomatic relations with Armenia without any preconditions.” However, you even invited Turkish president Abdulla Gul to be present the coming Armenia-Turkey football match.

Sargsyan: I can confirm that Armenia was always in favor of establishment of diplomatic ties with Turkey. It’s useless arguing and being eternal foes. If we start relations, it will be profitable for both of us. Moreover, my Turkish counterpart has said recently that Turkey has no enemies in this region, and Erdoghan even said that Turkey’s readying to talks with Armenia. So, in my opinion, president Gul’s visit to our country will make real grounds for our future negotiations. We can have hundreds of problems, but we can never solve them unless we start talks as normal civilized countries do.


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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

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