The Russian Mind Today: A Geopolitical Guide - April, 2011

The "Russian mind" was all but ignored while the Russian nation was being systematically raped and pillaged throughout the 1990s by a conglomeration of corrosive interests both foreign and domestic. With Moscow gradually reversing its setbacks of the 1990s throughout Eurasia as of late, all of a sudden, a lot is now being written about the "Russian mind". Geographically, the Russian Federation is the largest nation on earth. The natural wealth Russia possesses is by-far the largest in the world. Russia's armed forces are amongst the world's most lethal. The Russian Federation is perhaps the only fully self-sufficient nation on earth today. Consequently, the biggest long-term fear strategic planners in the West have is Russia's growing independence as well as its rising nationalism (real Slavic/Czarist nationalism). Although it naturally requires a lot of reading between the lines, the following is a very well written piece by Herman Pirchner, president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.

April, 2011


The Russian Mind Today: A Geopolitical Guide

During my 60-plus trips to Russia over the last 20 years, I've noticed how Russian attitudes toward the U.S. -- once relatively friendly -- have evolved. Today, dislike -- even hatred -- of America leads some Russian national security officials to believe that if you are an enemy of the U.S. (e.g., Venezuela, Iran), you must be a friend of Russia. Most are not so dogmatic, but they also are not America's friends. Their philosophical embrace of something akin to Mussolini's corporate state, plus their ambitions for increased influence in, or annexation of, former Soviet territory, practically ensures they will hold negative feelings about the American government. After all, we believe in an open society and the independence and sanctity of borders of the former Soviet states.

Russia's antipathy toward the U.S. is mitigated only by its opportunism. When it suits Russian strategic interests, Moscow will cooperate with the U.S. -- over Afghanistan, say, or securing loose nuclear materials. Conversely, Moscow certainly will not hesitate to cause problems for the U.S., whether through sleeper agents or in its dealings with Iran or Venezuela. Russia's dominant geopolitical idea, then, is neither friends nor enemies -- only interests. Yet despite this openly opportunistic approach, Russia has been getting what it wants from the Obama regime.

For instance, Barack Obama canceled George Bush's planned missile defense deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic, thus devaluating American promises worldwide (regardless of the military merits of the move). The Obama administration's current plans to deploy a less robust missile defense system have not lessened the fear of American unreliability. Furthermore, Obama made the START agreement, which has formal language favorable to the Russians, even more attractive by pledging to restrict the development of American missile defense programs. And under the Obama regime, America has disheartened its friends in Ukraine, Georgia, and other parts of the former USSR with increasingly passive behavior in Russia's "Near Abroad." For instance, Obama reversed the Bush administration's suspension of nuclear cooperation with Moscow in protest against Russian actions during and after the 2008 Georgian/Russian war. This reversal is viewed by many as "letting Russia off the hook" and a harbinger of things to come.

All of these concessions occurred without a substantial change in Russian behavior. Of course, that may come, in which case the Obama team's defenders will have a case to make. If not, however, the Obama administration will increasingly be judged as incompetent. In any case, Obama's policies have made him very popular among Russia's ruling class. This lovefest is likely to continue, with the only question being who will be the main Russian interlocutor for this popular American president.

Relations between the camps of Russian p resident Dmitri Medvedev and his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, are increasingly contentious. Medvedev has been irked by Putin's activity in national security areas that are the province of the president. Further, in addition to the usual competition for power, there are significant domestic policy differences between the Putin and Medvedev camps, which now consider themselves rivals. The Medvedev camp lacks the raw political power of the Putin camp, whose loyal KGB colleagues control Russia's most important positions and have already registered websites for Putin 2012. What then is the basis for serious Russians saying that Medvedev has any chance to fully grasp the reins of power?

The answer is "kompromat," the Russian word used to describe secret evidence proving misconduct. If the Putin/Medvedev battle becomes serious, look for shocking public revelations of Putin misdeeds -- evidence that would make the continuation of his public role a problem for those whose collective support is necessary for anyone who wishes to lead Russia. This battle, however, may not happen as the personal relationship between Putin and Medvedev is not beyond repair. Additionally, key players in both camps have an interest in preserving some version of the status quo -- namely, not igniting a risky power struggle that could jeopardize ownership of private property questionably accumulated by many top supporters of both Putin and Medvedev. Russia's domestic policy would likely move in a more "free market" direction should Medvedev consolidate his power, with Putin fading from the stage. What difference would a Medvedev-directed national security policy make? It is impossible to know, but perhaps not very much. Whether it's Medvedev or Putin in charge, Russia will grapple with serious problems that will test the Kremlin's relationship with the U.S. Here is a guide to some of the key trouble zones.

The Muslim Population

Russia's problems with its Muslim population are not new. It suffered enormous casualties (estimates range as high as 500,000) bringing the Caucasus under control during the 1834-1859 Murid Wars -- wars in which no quarter was given. Russia's last two Chechen wars (1994-1996 and 1999-2000) and subsequent guerrilla and terrorist activities have also been gruesome. On numerous occasions, Chechens tortured Russian prisoners and sent videotapes of the torture sessions to Moscow, in addition to launching separate terror attacks on Russian theater patrons and schoolchildren. And the Russians' leveling of Chechen cities and treatment of their prisoners was conducted in the same vein. This brutality, designed in part to dissuade other Caucasus clans from a similar rebellion, has not stopped increasingly Islamicized and foreign-funded elements in the Caucasus from seeking a broader insurrection. In fact, anti-Russian terrorism increased in 2009, with more than 100 bombings killing 263 people in Dagestan (population 2.4 million) and 319 in Ingushetia (population 460,000). The increased foreign funding and training of terrorists in Russia motivates Moscow's support for sharing intelligence on terrorist and Islamist activity with the U.S. Because Russian officials fear that homegrown Muslim extremism will be a long-term and growing problem for them, their appetite for a common approach with the West will not fade soon.

The Near Abroad

Of course, Russia's problems extend beyond its borders, and no countries are more important than those of Russia's "Near Abroad" -- the now independent countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union. Russia wishes to be the dominant foreign power in these areas. That means reducing the West's influence. Apart from negotiating a reduction in Western activity and influence in these countries, Russia's national security establishment believes that if they can exacerbate U.S. problems in other parts of the world, Washington will have less desire and capability to interfere in Russia's Near Abroad. They are constrained, however, by the need for American cooperation in areas where U.S. and Russian interests overlap (e.g., our sharing of intelligence on terrorist activity). These conflicting policy goals play out in different parts of Russia's Near Abroad.

Belarus: The Putin inner circle would like to unite Belarus and Russia. In spite of early signs to the contrary, Belarussian dictator Lukashenko has blocked all serious attempts to do so, as he prefers being head of a sovereign state to being an expendable governor of the expanded state. This opposition and the bad personal chemistry between Lukashenko and Putin have aggravated relations between Belarus and Russia. These relations were further damaged when Belarus recently granted asylum to ousted Kyrgyz leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev. When I asked why Putin did not simply use covert means to push Lukashenko aside and annex Belarus, senior Russian figures told me that Belarus's KGB are of a Soviet-era mentality and more effective than the current crop of intelligence officials running Russia. This led me to believe that Russia is making efforts to topple Lukashenko. In spite of a growing Belarussian nationalism, time is on Russia's side as its Nord Stream pipeline, due to begin operation in 2012, will permit Russia to meet its contracts in Western Europe without using the pipelines that currently go through Belarus. In this case Russia could end the heavily subsidized delivery of gas to Belarus, forcing it to buy at market prices -- or even higher. This would be disastrous for the already weak Belarus economy. As a result, those in Minsk who favor accommodation with Russia may gain sway.

Central Asia: Although they are geopolitical and economic competitors in Central Asia, Russia and the U.S. share an interest in combating the rise of Islamist extremism in that area. The region is ruled by secular autocrats, and the form of Islam practiced widely in Central Asia is largely resistant to extremism. However, jihadist groups with goals inimical to those of Washington and Moscow have now taken root in all five countries of Central Asia. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is perhaps the most prominent jihadist group, emerging in 1998 with the stated goal of overthrowing the Uzbek regime and installing an Islamic state. The IMU is allied with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and maintains a presence in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. More generally, the U.S. and Russia have an interest in promoting state-sponsored forms of moderate Islam and combating efforts by established jihadist organizations to recruit from and gain a foothold in the Central Asian Republics.

Moscow and Washington also share an interest in seeing the Republic of Kyrgyzstan protect and maintain its sovereignty -- a sovereignty challenged by Uzbekistan. Relations between Kyrgyzstan and its large, dominating neighbor have long been acrimonious, and the two have clashed over energy, border claims, and military basing. Ethnic Uzbeks (many of whom are recent arrivals who squatted on unused Uzbek farmland) make up some 15 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population and are concentrated heavily in the south. Quiet cooperation between Moscow and Washington during the recent coup and subsequent fighting in Kyrgyzstan underscores our common interests.

Since Uzbekistan's eviction of U.S. forces from their Karshi-Khanabad (K2) air base in 2005, Kyrgyzstan has hosted the only U.S. air base (Manas) in the region -- a facility vital to the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. Roughly 15,000 personnel and 500 tons of cargo transit through Manas every month, and the base serves as the principal aerial refueling hub for the coalition war effort. While Moscow previously pressured the Kyrgyz government to close the U.S. base, the Kremlin now seems comfortable with our temporary war-related presence there as well as America's use of Russian airspace to supply our troops in Afghanistan. However, this position, now under attack by Moscow hard-liners, will likely remain a bargaining chit in American/Russian negotiations.

One important component of China's rise on the world stage has been its growing influence in Central Asia. To date, China's primary interest in the region has been energy. Chinese state-owned enterprises, investment groups, and sovereign wealth funds have been snapping up Central Asian companies and the rights to Central Asian resources as well as laying the infrastructure to import oil and gas from the region. China has been very active in closing significant energy-related deals in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

Columbia University's Alexander Cooley noted that in 2009, for the first time, Chinese trade with Central Asia exceeded that of Russia. At least in the near future, Russia's economic importance in Central Asia will continue to decline relative to China's. For Russia, the question will be: Are Moscow's interests best protected with or without American (and Western) involvement in the region? Or, alternatively: Should Russia and China try to keep everyone else out of Central Asia? And what of American interest in supplying our troops, keeping fundamentalists out of power, and giving our companies an even playing field? Is America best served by any one country (i.e., China or Russia ) being dominant in Central Asia?

Georgia: Conversations in official circles are replete with references to the need to "settle Russia's score" with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili. He will be "repaid" for starting the war that disturbed the 15-year (see below) status quo with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Additionally, the Russian leadership has not forgiven him for turning his back on Russia after seeking and receiving Russian help in his successful effort to remove then Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze from office. This grudge may not, however, extend to the Georgian state. With a new Georgian leadership, Russia's relationship with Georgia could normalize. However, as long as Saakashvili rules, Georgian/Russian relations are destined to remain very tense. Another potential headache for Saakashvili lies with Georgia's Armenian communities (about 7 percent of the Georgian population), who are increasingly dissatisfied with their lack of prerogatives.

Georgia's Lost Territories: Many times during both the Czarist and Soviet eras, the Ossetians and Abkhaz made serious efforts to end Georgian administrative control over their territories. They preferred administrative control by Moscow because they disliked the Georgians far more than they disliked the Russians. It was, therefore, no surprise that, shortly before the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, both areas launched insurrections (supported by Moscow) that, by 1993, gave them de facto independence from Georgia. That status quo remained until Saakashvili triggered the 2008 war that led to the little-recognized independence of both South Ossetia (pop. 70,000) and Abkhazia (pop. 180,000). Today, as in Russia, almost all Abkhaz and South Ossetian officials have a KGB background and feel very comfortable working with their former colleagues of the Russian intelligence services.

In assessing Abkhazia's future, it should be remembered that Abkhazia existed for 54 years as a nominally independent principality under the protection of Czarist Russia before being formally annexed in 1864. Almost no one in Russia contemplates returning Abkhazia to a sovereign Georgia. But is annexation to Russia in the cards? Probably, but Russia can well afford to bide its time, as it did in the 19th century. The fate of South Ossetia will likely be the same. Its memory of the 5,000 Ossetians killed before the end of its war with Georgia in 1922 as well as deaths in other Ossetian/Georgian struggles leading up to the 2008 fighting remains too vivid for it to peacefully become part of Georgia. Further, Russian military support of South Ossetia (and Abkhazia) means certain defeat for Georgia should it attempt to use force to regain lost territory.

Ukraine: Contrary to U.S. interests, Russia would like, at a minimum, to treat Ukraine almost as it treated Eastern Europe during the Cold War. At a maximum, however improbable today, it would like to see Ukraine once again as part of Russia. The steps toward either goal are the same, and the first steps have already been taken. The election of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich as the new Ukrainian president has already resulted in a 25-year (to 2042) extension of Russia's lease of the Sevastopol Naval Base located in the Russian-speaking Ukrainian province of Crimea. If Russia has its way, the Yanukovich presidency will:

1) facilitate continued Russian economic penetration of Ukraine;

2) slowly move Ukrainian democratic and human rights standards closer to the Russian model; and

3) discourage Western political involvement in Ukraine.

Independent of this effort, Moscow plans to build a bridge from Russian territory to Crimea. Further, as the Crimean population is now dependent on water from Ukraine, there are discussions in Moscow on the possibility of supplying Crimea's water from Russian territory. Finally, Russia is building a gas pipeline system that will permit it to deliver gas to Europe without going through the territory of Ukraine. This South Stream pipeline is projected to be completed in 2016. Then Russia will have the capability to squeeze Ukraine by raising gas prices while depriving it of transit fee revenue, both unsettling thoughts for Kiev given Ukraine's weak economy. The combined pressure from all of the above will create opportunities for Russia that cannot be clearly foreseen at this time. On the other hand, the future of Ukraine's economic development, nationalism, military capability, and pro-Moscow leadership is not predictable either. In short, Ukraine remains in play.

Russia's Far Abroad

Afghanistan: Russia has no interest in seeing the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan, having sponsored the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance prior to America's invasion. Its reasons for supporting a non-fundamentalist Afghan government remain the same now as in 2000.

Drug Trade: An estimated 30,000 Russians die each year as a result of overdosing on heroin imported from Afghanistan. Countless more lead non-productive or criminal lives because of Afghani heroin. Current and past Russian/U.S. cooperation on the Afghan war has always been accompanied by Russian pressure to stop the drug trade.

Export of Extremism: If the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan, Russians believe (correctly) that this will lead to greater fundamentalist efforts to subvert the governments of Central Asia and Russia proper. Very little is more important to Russia than stopping such a scenario.

China: On one level, the relationship between China and Russia is strong. The border issue that once brought the USSR and China to the brink of war is settled -- at least for the foreseeable future. Diplomatic cooperation -- often against the U.S. -- has become the order of the day. But every year, as China gets militarily, politically, and economically stronger, a proud Russia will increasingly be forced to play the unwanted role of junior partner. This trend is not likely to change, and Russia's importance to China is increasingly as a source of raw materials, not as a supplier of sophisticated military equipment or other types of manufactured goods. Still, Russian strategic weapons would dominate in any possible confrontation with China in the near term and, as long as that is the case, Moscow's opinion will count at the table with China. In the long run, Moscow understands things may change and Putin himself has told citizens in Russia's rapidly depopulating Far East that if they don't get their act together, one day they will be speaking an Asian language. He did not mention China by name, but everyone in Russia's Far East knows that this territory was part of China until 1858-1860, when Russia made a land grab from a then-weak China.

Iran: Perhaps no other Russian national security issue generates more internal division than Moscow's policy toward Iran. On the plus side, after years of postponing their contracted sale of S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Iran, Putin last June announced that the missiles would not be delivered. This is important because Israel has reportedly served notice that it will attack Iran rather than permit any S-300 systems to become operational. Also on the plus side, after years of strong opposition to sanctions against Iran, Moscow supported the successful June 9, 2010, UN vote to sanction Iran -- albeit after using their influence to weaken the sanctions. On the negative side, after many delays, Iran's Russian-built nuclear power station in Bushehr should be in operation very soon, if it isn't already by the time you read this. What are the main ideas influencing Moscow's Iranian policy? Russians make at least four arguments in favor of cooperation with Iran:

1. An accommodation with Iran postpones the day the Islamic Republic will use its resources to stir up the Muslim populations of Central Asia or -- even worse -- Russia proper.

2. If a serious crisis occurs with the West, oil prices will go up dramatically -- an event that will help Russia.

3. The West's continuing problems with Iran reduce America's appetite and capability for playing a role in Ukraine, Georgia, and other parts of the former USSR.

4. Russia profits from reactor and arms sales. Apart from the pending sales, Moscow worries about its credibility with other buyers if the Iran contracts are not met.

The counter-arguments, which are ascendant, include:

1. If Iran gets the nuclear bomb, other unstable and unfriendly Muslim states will also get the bomb. This is dangerous for Russia.

2. A nuclear Iran will not need cooperation with Russia, and Tehran's most extreme elements will help Russian jihadists. Thus, Russia should help the West stop this problem before it grows.

3. Hoping for a confrontation between the West and Iran is stupid because the consequences cannot be predicted -- including the effect on the world economy and midterm oil prices.

4. Can Moscow be sure that Iran would not give the nuclear material necessary for a dirty bomb (or worse) to Russia's Muslim extremists?

As mentioned above, Russia decided to stop delivery of S-300 systems to Iran. It is telling that this decision was made public following Vladimir Putin's Paris meeting with French president Sarkozy, not in a forum that would let the Obama administration take maximum credit for Russia's policy reversal.

Western Europe: Using the leverage of Europe's dependence upon Russian gas, Moscow hopes to affect the policies of Western European countries in areas of the world that matter to Moscow -- starting with its Near Abroad. Apart for a growing lack of military capability, Western Europeans have little appetite for the serious use of military force. Hence, getting many NATO countries to oppose membership for Ukraine (whose population does not want it) and Georgia (whose population does) was not a hard task when the alternative would have been severely strained relations with Moscow. Moscow's energy lever will also be apparent as other questions (e.g., trade) are decided in Russian-European negotiations.

Russia and America, for Now

The 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union gave rise to hopes of a democratic, open, free market, pro-Western Russia that would respect the boundaries of the newly independent states of the former USSR. Today, an increasingly closed Russia is driven by thoughts of greater influence in, or absorption of, the Christian parts of its former empire. This puts Moscow at odds with Washington in spite of common interests that include the fight against radical Islam, anti-proliferation initiatives, space cooperation, and nuclear cooperation. The Obama administration's efforts to improve relations have thus far consisted primarily of disproportionate concessions affecting America's missile defense program as well as American interests in Eastern Europe and parts of the former USSR. Left unchanged, this policy will likely whet the appetite of the usually shrewd Russian geostrategists to ask for, or take, more.



Russia's Star On Rise Again In KyrgyzstanRussian humanitarian aid for delivery to ethnically Uzbek villages in the town of Osh in June 2010, following the worst of the ethnic bloodshed in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Outside forces have competed for influence in Kyrgyzstan since the vacuum left by the Soviet Union's collapse two decades ago. Kyrgyzstan allowed the United States to use its Manas airport for supporting efforts in Afghanistan and eagerly welcomed Chinese investment. Bishkek also granted Russia use of an air base at Kant. Kyrgyz policy appeared to play one power off against another. For a time, Russia's power appeared to be on the wane. But the overthrow of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev's regime a year ago might have paved the way for Moscow's resurgence.

A year ago, an angry Russia used a combination of hard and soft power to help destabilize Bakiev's government, after the former Kyrgyz leader reneged on his promise to kick out the Americans from Manas in exchange for a $2 billion loan. Alexander Cooley, an associate professor at Columbia University's Barnard College, says that Russia's response put into motion events that eventually toppled Bakiev.

"The Russian media launched an all-out blitz against Bakiev, accusing him of nepotism and corruption and repression and so forth," Cooley says. "[Russia] also pulled its fuel subsidy, which led to the sky-rocketing in prices in early April. That mobilized a lot of the first anti-Bakiev demonstrations over inflation and unacceptable spikes in energy prices." The Kremlin suddenly revived ties with Kyrgyzstan's political opposition. On the morning of April 7, the day that crowds chased Bakiev from office, several Kyrgyz opposition figures arrived in Bishkek from Moscow.

Ring In The New

Russia was the first country to recognize the leadership of interim President Roza Otunbaeva, and she repaid the favor by praising Moscow's role as a key partner. But it was the deadly clashes two months later, between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan, and the subsequent humanitarian crisis that convinced Bishkek that the only country that could offer any serious help was Russia.

Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military maneuvers in Tajikistan (file photo)

With Bishkek's consent, the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) amended its charter in December to include intervention in internal conflicts of member states, a change clearly related to Kyrgyzstan's ethnic clashes. After parliamentary elections in October, newly elected Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev hinted that the agreement with Washington on Manas would not be renewed once it expired in 2014. He then announced that his first visit as head of the new government would be to Moscow. "Russia is and always has been our strategic partner," Atambaev said. In addition to America's possible long-term exit from Manas, China's announcement of a five-year moratorium on most foreign investments in Central Asia leaves Russia in the driver's seat, according to John MacLeod of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

"It certainly will limit [Kyrgyzstan's] options," MacLeod says. "Moscow can step in as the substitute or replacement for China to an extent on the economic front. I guess Chinese ambitions were less overtly political whereas the U.S. interest was obviously political security and again the Russians can substitute that fairly neatly, so over the years perhaps the Western engagement falls away."

Influential Friend

In the meantime, Russia continues to press its advantage. "Of course Russia has the Kant air base," Cooley says. "It is also now seeking additional assets -- not only this naval presence on Issyk-Kul but also constructing a new antiterrorism center under CSTO auspices in the southern part of the country."

The naval presence to which Cooley refers is a torpedo plant on the shore of Kyrgyzstan's scenic mountain lake. Russia has sought a stake in the Soviet-era plant for years, with Kyrgyz authorities seeking to squeeze the maximum amount of money from Russia; Moscow originally agreed with Bakiev to write off some $200 million in debt in return for a large stake in the plant. Russia now appears close to sealing that deal after saying it would only write off about $85 million of debt, in the face of continued Kyrgyz haggling over the plant.

Russian jet fighters train near Kant air base (file photo)

Kyrgyzstan's calls earlier this year for higher rent on the Kant military base that Russia uses quieted after Russian media started airing reports about the questionable business links of some officials in the new government. "I definitely think this kind of signaling goes on, and I definitely think that Russia wants to remind each member of the ruling coalition -- as if they need reminding -- of the potential kind of mechanisms of control that they have," Cooley says. Prime Minister Atambaev indicated during a visit to Moscow in mid-March that the signal was received loud and clear.

"We promise to respect all of our old agreements and we will fulfill them," Atambaev said. "On the [Kant] military base, we've been discussing this and the proposal from our side about raising the rent and other matters, and...we have withdrawn this request and decided matters of security should never be an issue for bargaining."



Located at the crossroads of Russia, the rest of Europe, and the Middle East, the South Caucasus republics' political and economic security has depended on the balancing of relations with both their regional neighbors and with the major powers. Matters of territorial integrity, historical memory, ethnic brethren residing in foreign countries, and trade routes have all become important factors in the development of foreign policy. This paper will examine the relations between the South Caucasus republics and Russia and how the former countries have attempted to decrease Russian influence through ties with other major powers.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, three republics in the South Caucasus--Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia--achieved independence from Russia for the second time during the twentieth century. Their first experience was contentious and short-lived, had little support of the major European countries and the United States, and was brought to an end by the newly formed Soviet Union, with the tacit approval of the Turkish government in Ankara. Located at the crossroads of Russia, the rest of Europe, and the Middle East, the republics’ political and economic security has depended on the balancing of relations with both their regional neighbors and with the major powers. Their foreign policy has been shaped by matters of territorial integrity, historical memory, ethnic brethren residing abroad, and trade routes.

This article will examine the relations between the South Caucasus republics and Russia and how the former countries have attempted to lessen the latter’s influence through ties with other major powers and neighboring countries. The South Caucasus republics’ position with regard to Russia is somewhat similar to that of the Latin American states in the Caribbean Basin vis-à-vis the United States throughout much of the twentieth century. Perception of national interest would serve as justification for intervention in the affairs of the smaller neighboring states. The 2008 Russian-Georgian war has shown that the United States and others are reluctant to become directly involved in conflicts in what is regarded as “Russia’s backyard.” Two centuries of Russian and later Soviet control over these territories are in part responsible for this attitude. Also, the European Union is quite dependent on Russia for energy resources--33 percent of oil imports and 40 percent of gas imports[1]--while Turkey--which is also dependent, 29 percent of oil imports and 63 percent of gas imports[2]--and Israel are not willing to jeopardize political and economic ties with Russia over South Caucasus disputes.


Geographic location has necessitated that each South Caucasus republic balance its relations with Russia and other countries. This has not been an easy task--especially given the limited cooperation between the republics themselves and in the cases of Armenia and Azerbaijan, being in a state of war over Nagorno-Karabakh. One method employed by the South Caucasus republics is having (or seeking) membership in both regional and international political, economic, and military organizations.

Ethnic brethren residing in Russia and other foreign countries is another consideration in foreign policy. Most ethnic Georgians outside their country live in either Israel or Russia and their number in the latter country, some half a million, is roughly one-third the populations of both ethnic Armenians and Azeris in Russia.[3] There are more than twice as many ethnic Azeris residing in Iran (some 15 to 20 million) than in their home country and about half as many (roughly 50,000) as the ethnic Georgian population in Israel.[4] Besides those in Russia, ethnic Armenians in the diaspora--much larger in number than Armenia’s population--reside in North America, Europe, and the Middle East, especially in the United States, Canada, France, Ukraine, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. Azeris and Armenians live in areas of eastern and southern Georgia.[5]

Of the three republics, Georgia has the worst relations with Russia and the closest ties with the West. In 2008, as a result of its war with Russia, Georgia withdrew from the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), whose membership includes all of the former Soviet republics except for the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Along with its South Caucasus neighbors and Russia, Georgia is a member of the Istanbul-based Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) organization that also includes Turkey, Greece, Ukraine, Moldova, Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. Georgia sought membership in NATO, but was rejected along with Ukraine in 2007; nevertheless, Georgia and its South Caucasus neighbors and Russia are members of the Western defense organization’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.[6]

At the same time, Armenia is part of the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), whose membership includes Belarus and the Central Asian states in the former Soviet Union, excluding Turkmenistan. Armenia and Azerbaijan are official observers of the meetings of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), whose membership includes 118 countries worldwide in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Azerbaijan has been a member of the Tehran-based Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) since 1992. Also among ECO members are the former Soviet Central Asian states, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, as well as the Saudi-inspired Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), considered the second largest international governmental organization after the United Nations since 1991. The OIC’s membership includes other secular countries such as Turkey and Albania as well as the states of former Soviet Central Asia. Economic benefit and/or political support in territorial disputes are the motivations for the South Caucasus republics joining these organizations. These multilateral ties also might be used to varying degrees to counteract the excesses of Russian influence. Conversely, as Georgia is not a member of the CSTO like Armenia--and, unlike Azerbaijan, sought to join NATO, albeit unsuccessfully--Russia felt that there was indeed motivation for it as well as nothing preventing it from taking military action against Georgia in August 2008.

Besides Georgia’s desire to join NATO and the West in general, Abkhazian and South Ossetian secessionists’ actions have been the most contentious and dominant issues in Georgian-Russian relations. As for Azerbaijan, its most important problems with Russia have been the oil and gas transportation routes to the West and Russia’s favoritism for Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenia, which has the best relations with Russia of the three South Caucasus republics, does not have the agricultural resources of Georgia or the energy reserves of Azerbaijan, while Russia continues to have control over Armenia’s security as well as an important presence in its economy. In addition, because of its conflict with Azerbaijan, Armenia has not been able to benefit like Georgia from the transport of Azerbaijani oil and natural gas to the West or from other transportation projects. Russia is in fact satisfied with this situation, as it has sought to transport through its own territory greater supplies of Caspian Sea oil than the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline. At the same time, the Russian company Lukoil has a 10 percent share in both the Shah Deniz natural gas project off the coast of Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus (or Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum) Pipeline, which ships gas to eastern Turkey.


A few years before its independence from the Soviet Union, conflict was brewing in the predominantly Armenian populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, where around 77 percent of the territory’s inhabitants live. Located some six kilometers at its closest point to Armenia, this affected Armenia’s relations with both Azerbaijan and with Turkey. In October 1987, the first demonstration calling for Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-determination took place in Yerevan. The unrest was also fueled by environmental issues and the corruption of First Secretary of the Armenian Communist Party Karen Demirchian, who left office in May 1988, after 14 years.

By late February 1988, Armenian officials in Nagorno-Karabakh requested that Moscow transfer the province to Armenia. Shortly thereafter, violence broke out both in Karabakh and Sumgait, an industrial suburb of Baku, where many Armenians resided. This resulted in 32 deaths over a three-day period, while almost a 200,000 Armenians fled the environs of Baku. Meanwhile, in Armenia, a group of intellectuals formed a loose group called the Karabakh Committee, whose goal was the incorporation of the province into Armenia. Among its members was Levon Ter-Petrosian, who would become first deputy of Armenia’s Supreme Soviet in August 1989, a few months after his Armenian National Movement was legalized, and chairman of that body a year later. (Ironically, Ter-Petrosian, who served as independent Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, was forced out of office for being too conciliatory with Azerbaijan in trying to reach a resolution regarding the ongoing frozen conflict.) When Moscow refused to transfer Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, the Karabakh Soviet unilaterally did so in July 1988. Azerbaijan then imposed a land blockade between the two entities.

In January 1989, a month after a devastating earthquake in Armenia left 25,000 people dead and thousands of others homeless, Nagorno-Karbakh came under the direct control of Moscow. Soviet security forces, however, did nothing to stop the actions of Armenian and Azeri militias. In November 1989, the territory was returned to Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction. In January 1990, Azerbaijanis demonstrated against the Communist regime in Baku and attacked the remaining Armenians who had not already left the city. While Ayaz Mutabilov was installed as first secretary of the Azerbaijan Communist Party, Soviet troops entered the city, killing over 100 Azerbaijani nationalists and injuring many more. Though Mutabilov led Azerbaijan to independence in October 1991, in March 1992, he was overthrown in a peaceful coup led by the nationalist Popular Front of Abulfaz Elchibey, who succeeded in getting Russian troops to withdraw from Azerbaijan.

Also, in January 1990, Moscow declared a state emergency in Nagorno-Karabakh while Soviet troops joined Azerbaijani security forces to try to stop the low-intensity war; however, they alienated the Armenian population and were viewed as allies of the Azeri militias. At the same time, fighters made their way from Armenia to assist their brethren in Nagorno-Karabakh. Between early 1988 and mid-1991, the private militias had killed perhaps as many as 1,000 people. However, with the de facto independence of both Armenia ( in September 1991) and Azerbaijan (in October 1991) and the availability of arsenals and personnel following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the war intensified and the death toll grew. The Armenians were better organized and obtained most of the weapons left behind by Soviet troops in Nagorno-Karabakh. They also signed an agreement in May 1992 allowing Russian troops to remain stationed in Armenia. By early 1993, they had driven out about 600,000 to 800,000 Azeris, both from Nagorno-Karabakh and from other surrounding Azerbaijani territory, in addition to about 300,000 who had left Armenia earlier. This led to the overthrow of Elchibey in June 1993, who was replaced by former Soviet official Heydar Aliyev, who signed a ceasefire agreement in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in May 1994.[7]

Overall, 25,000 people died in the conflict, and Russia, while formally supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity--at least until 2008, when it recognized Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence--of the successor states of the Soviet Union has also given succor to secessionist entities. In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia, according to Dov Lynch, “entrenched the status quo,” especially in the years followingthe ceasefire, by limiting international involvement in seeking a resolution to the problem.[8] The conflict falls under the purview of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the largest regional security organization in the world, whose members include the United States, Canada, all of the European countries, other former Soviet republics, and Turkey. Specifically, the Minsk Group, under the chairmanship of representatives from France, Russia, and the United States is charged with the task of finding a “political solution” to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[9] Unlike the conflicts in Georgia, no Russian peacekeeping presence was established.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict also contributed to tensions between Turkey and Armenia. In solidarity with Azerbaijan, the former instituted a blockade of Armenia in April 1993, when military actions spilled out of the enclave into Azerbaijan proper. The embargo is still in place today, despite an internationally-backed agreement signed by Turkey and Armenia in October 2009 to establish bilateral diplomatic ties, subject to the approval of their respective legislative assemblies. The parliaments, however, have not acted, so nothing has changed.[10] The blockade has hurt Armenia’s economy and has made it more dependent on Russia. In 2006, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Armenia was a mere $450 million--compared to $3.7 billion in Azerbaijan and $1 billion in Georgia. Moreover, while in 2006 the greatest amount of FDI came from Lebanon (whose ethnic Armenian population is approximately 4 percent of the country’s total), as a result of the hardships of the Israel-Hizballah war, Russia has since become the largest source of FDI.[11] In addition, in order to pay off external debts, Armenia has either transferred or sold a very large share of its energy sector to Russian interests, including the Armenian section of the Iran-Armenia natural gas pipeline completed in December 2008, which is owned by Russia’s Gazprom.

In 2008, Russia was Armenia’s biggest trade partner, taking 19.7 percent of the latter’s exports and sending to Armenia 19.1 percent of that country’s imports. Georgia and the United States were fifth and seventh in terms of exports from Armenia, at 7.7 and 5 percent respectively. Turkey, the United States, and Iran were fourth, sixth, and seventh in terms of imports to Armenia, at 6 percent, 4.9 percent, and 4.6 percent, respectively.[12] As rail and road links through Azerbaijan and Turkey are blocked and its narrow border with Iran limits transportation, about 70 percent of Armenia’s trade is conducted via Georgian territory,. During the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, Armenia’s economy lost $600 million.[13] It should be noted that Georgia’s rail link to Russia travels through Abkhazia, and its coastal ports on the Black Sea are close to that secessionist region. In addition, Iran and Armenia signed a deal to build a rail link between the two countries (and beyond, to the Persian Gulf) in April 2009 that will not be completed until about 2014. The project is expected to cost between $1.5 and 1.8 billion, with Iran providing a loan of $400 million and Russia, China, and Ukraine also expressing an interest in investing in the project.


As aforementioned, in 1994, Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president from 1993 until his death in October 2003 (when he was succeeded by his son Ilham), signed a ceasefire agreement ending the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Aliyev rejoined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and tried to repair relations with Russia. In September 1994, just a few months after the ceasefire agreement, his government signed what was referred to by the Azerbaijanis as the “Contract of the Century,” as they expected their overall profit to be more than $80 billion over the next 30 years. This foreign investment deal, which created the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), gave the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) a 20 percent share, which together with royalties ensured Azerbaijan 80 percent of the total profits. The consortium led by British Petroleum (BP) also included companies from the United States, Japan, Norway, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. (Two months later, Iran was promised a one percent share in the consortium, but the offer was subsequently withdrawn due to pressure from the U.S. government.)

Following the signing ceremony, the Russian Foreign Ministry took an antagonistic position toward the AIOC and asserted that the deal was a unilateral decision on the part of Azerbaijan, thereby violating the Soviet-Iranian agreements of 1921 and 1940 concerning usage of the Caspian Sea. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev warned Azerbaijan and the foreign oil companies that they must take into account all interests including Russia’s. The Russians did not back down in their resistance until they were given assurances that the oil would transit their territory by a pipeline to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. Indeed, the first oil from the AIOC was sent by that route in January 1998, and it was not until April of the following year that Azerbaijani oil was shipped out of Georgia’s Black Sea port of Supsa.

BP’s other co-ventures in Azerbaijan include the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline to the Mediterranean, the second longest oil pipeline in the world (some 1,090 miles long), which opened in July 2006; the Shah Deniz natural gas project; and the South Caucasus Pipeline--with Russia’s Lukoil (in addition to Norwegian, French, and Iranian companies) owning shares of the latter two. The South Caucasus Pipeline opened in December 2006. (BTC investors include companies from the United States, Norway, Japan, Italy, France, and Turkey.) Russia does not need fossil fuels from the Caspian Sea basin to meet domestic demands--it has the largest gas reserves in the world and the eight largest oil reserves--but its goal is to become an “energy superpower,” and it does not like the fact that Western companies account for 70 percent of the Caspian Sea basin’s oil production.[14]

Russia eventually signed an agreement with Azerbaijan in 2001 delineating divisions of the Caspian seabed. Iran, however, objected to this, as it wants an equal division of the seabed between the five littoral states (the others being Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan). To make a point of its disagreement, the same year, Iran sent a gunboat into the area of the Caspian Sea it disputes with Azerbaijan to force out a BP seismic ship. While Azerbaijan has used Russia to balance off Iran, Russia does not have as much leverage on Azerbaijan as it does on that country’s two South Caucasus neighbors, largely due to Western investment in that country. However, Russia is Azerbaijan’s largest trading partner, accounting for 18.8 percent of the latter’s imports. Also, Russia can put political and economic pressure on Georgia, upon which Azerbaijan is dependent for the oil and gas transport. In 2007, Turkey ranked as the top foreign investors in Azerbaijan, followed by Great Britain, the United States, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Italy, France, and Iran.[15] In 2008, Azerbaijan’s largest export market was Italy, accounting for 40.2 percent of total trade, while the United States and Israel ranked second and third at 12.6 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively. Turkey accounted for the second largest percentage of imports to Azerbaijan at 11.2 percent.[16]


As in Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia’s nationalist movement strove for majority ethnic domination and an end to the Communist Party leadership’s misrule. However, it was far more radicalized and fragmented and did much to stir up Abkhazian and Ossetian nationalist feelings that were not as developed as those of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.[17] Nevertheless, both Abkhazians and South Ossetians preferred being associated with neighboring Russia; the former are closely linked linguistically to others in the North Caucasus, while the latter wanted to be united with their brethren in the more populated North Ossetia, which remained part of Russia following the breakup of the Soviet Union. In 1989, Abkhazians and South Ossetians constituted roughly 18 percent and 66 percent of their respective territories.

Prior to the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, some 13,000 people had died in the two separate conflicts--Abkhazia from 1992-1993 and South Ossetia from 1991-1992--while the Abkhazians drove out approximately 200,000 ethnic Georgians from Abkhazia, located on the Black Sea. In the case of South Ossetia, where roughly half of the families in that territory were of mixed origin, a handful of mixed villages survived the war, and some 40,000 refugees fled to Russia or Georgia proper.[18] Russian troops provided support for the rebels in Abkhazia. North Caucasian irregulars did the same in South Ossetia. On the Abkhazian front, the Georgians shot down an unmarked fighter plane with a Russian officer in uniform.[19]

Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who established himself as leader of the Roundtable-Free Georgia coalition, proved to be a very divisive figure. The bloc swept the Communists out of power in October 1990, even though they agreed with the nationalist’s goal of independence from the Soviet Union. (The April 1989 killing of 19 peaceful demonstrators--mostly women and girls--and the wounding of hundreds of others by Soviet troops tended to unify all Georgians in that regard.) The following month, Gamsakhurdia was elected chairman of Georgia’s Supreme Council and president of the republic in May 1991, just one month after that country’s parliament declared its independence from the Soviet Union. By January 1992, Gamsakhurdia was overthrown by the Georgian National Guard. He died under mysterious circumstances in December 1993 after first going into exile in Armenia and then challenging the government militarily from bases in western Georgia.

Former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze returned to Georgia in March 1992 to become chairman of the state council, holding the post until November 1995 when he became president. Shevardnadze made use of militia leaders who had opposed Gamsakhurdia as he consolidated his power, but had to settle for ceasefire agreements in first the Ossetian and later the Abkhazian conflicts. In June 1992, Shevardnadze, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and representatives from North and South Ossetia met at the Black Sea resort of Dagomys, Russia near Sochi. They agreed to establish a joint peacekeeping force led by Russia to monitor the ceasefire. Georgia was forced to join the CIS in late 1993, and early the following year, also to become a member of the CIS’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). In 1999, however, both Georgia and Azerbaijan quit the latter group. A major motive for their departure was that Georgia had been required to let Russia station troops at four military bases on its territory, one of which was in Abkhazia. Only in November 2007 did Russia evacuate the last base in Georgia, outside of Abkhazia.[20] In April 1994, Georgian and Abkhazian officials met in Moscow and agreed on the deployment of some 3,000 Russian peacekeepers. In August of that year, the United Nations established a 136-man Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), whose mandate came to an end in June 2009.[21]

As early as 1995, Russia and Georgia began to drift apart, and:

Shevardnadze had realized that the evolution of Russian internal and external policies would exclude a profitable partnership…. [He] was increasingly under attack in Russia, perceived as one of the main gravediggers of the Soviet Union, an unpardonable sin for a Russian political elite increasingly dominated by revanchism….. Russia kept trying to weaken Tbilisi through its continuous support for the secessionists and its numerous attempts to undermine Georgian sovereignty.[22]

Indeed, one other place where Moscow exerted its influence was in the Black Sea region of Ajaria just across the border from Turkey, inhabited by Muslim Georgians and ruled by Aslan Abashidze as a “personal fiefdom.” The area was closed off to the Georgian military, and revenues could not be collected by the central government, as Russian troops based in Batumi gave his regime protection. Shevardnadze, who had more pressing problems, made a “gentleman’s agreement” with Abashidze; in return for support for his political party, Union of Citizen’s of Georgia, and an agreement not to secede, Abashidze would remain in power and would collect tax and trade revenues. This continued until the Rose Revolution forced Shevardnadze to resign in November 2003, following rigged parliamentary elections.

Mikhail Saakashvili, who became president in January 2004 sought to impose centralized control on the breakaway regions, and Ajaria was the weakest of the three. In March of that year, when Abashidze visited Moscow, Saakashvili and other party members were refused entry to the region to campaign for parliamentary elections. Moreover, economic sanctions were imposed on Ajaria, while the Georgian government encouraged peaceful opposition demonstrations against Abashidze’s regime, which were violently broken up. Georgia’s military entered the region, and Abashidze sought asylum in Russia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia had more popular leaders and were contiguous to Russia’s borders.

While Russia disliked Shevardnadze, it detested Saakashvili’s attempts to move closer to the West and his dreams of NATO and European Union membership.[23] Russian antagonism toward Georgia had heated up earlier on, during the Second Chechen War, which began in October 1999 and ended in May 2000 when Russia established direct rule over Chechnya. In June 2000, a few months before the Russian operation against the Chechens had commenced, Vladimir Putin became prime minister under Yeltsin. Putin was acting president when the latter resigned in December 1999, and he was inaugurated as president in May the following year. Russia accused Georgia, which borders North Caucasian territory along the Pankisi Gorge, of serving as a transit country for Muslim volunteers and military supplies entering Chechnya, though it never provided any credible evidence of this. In the summer of 2002, Russia threatened to launch military operations in the area without Georgia’s consent.[24] However, it was the so-called “Kosovo precedent” (in which many, primarily Western, countries recognized the independence of the predominantly-Albanian populated former Yugoslav and later Serbian region in February 2008) that gave Russia encouragement to push for the independence of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The short Russian-Georgian war took place only six months later.

According to Ronald D. Asmus, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs during President Bill Clinton’s second term, Russia under Putin had adopted “Eurasianism,” i.e., becoming more focused on reasserting its control over the former Soviet Union as an alternative to cooperation with the West, as the elites in Georgia and Ukraine “wanted to take their countries in exactly the opposite direction.” Indeed, the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war:

…was against the West more generally. Georgia was the physical target… [and] the whipping boy for Russian complaints and resentments that had been building for years against the United States, NATO, and those countries Moscow saw as giving encouragement to Georgia. That was clear in everything from how the war was treated in the Russian media, to the way Russian officers described their mission during the brief occupation period, to the graffiti left behind by departing Russian troops…. This was its way of saying to the West collectively that Georgia was in its backyard and we should stay out.[25]

Georgia’s moves toward the West--politically or militarily--have definitely been put on hold. At the same time, the Obama administration has been aggressively courting Russia, especially over Iranian sanctions, and rarely discusses publicly continued Russian dominance over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The last such reference was during U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s July 2010 visit to the South Caucasus states.[26] Nonetheless, Georgia and the United States still have strong economic ties. Besides Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence has only been recognized by Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru, while Kosovo, as of the end of March 2011, has been recognized by 75 out of 192 UN member states, including Nauru.

Since its independence, Georgia’s largest foreign investors have been the United States, Great Britain, Turkey, and Russia. Russia’s FDI, however, has decreased considerably since 2006.[27] In 2008, Turkey was Georgia’s biggest trading partner, receiving 17.6 percent of the latter’s imports and responsible for 14.1 percent of Georgia’s imports; Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Armenia, and the United States were second, third, fourth, and sixth in terms of exports from Georgia, at 13.7 percent, 9 percent, 8.2 percent, and 6.8 percent. Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Russia, and the United States were second, third, fifth, and sixth in terms of imports to Georgia, at 10.4 percent, 9.6 percent, 6.8 percent, and 5.7 percent.[28]


While during the early part of the Second World War, Russia was able to annex the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which had been independent for about two decades, today’s political environment vastly differs. Countries may still be able to invade sovereign states for various reasons, but indefinitely occupying those areas or trying to incorporate those territories into another state has not been accepted by the world community. One exception regarding annexation might be India’s takeover of the Portuguese colonies of Goa, Daman, and Diu, on the Arabian Sea in 1961.

The political futures of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where numerous people possess Russian passports, still remain to be seen. Russia and a few other countries may recognize their “independence,” but their political and economic survival very much depends on their northern neighbor. As for Nagorno-Karabakh, no country has recognized it as an independent entity or its separation from Azerbaijan for that matter.

Since the early 1990s, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia have been independent, a far cry from their short-lived experiences around the time of the First World War and its immediate aftermath. Over the years, these republics have strengthened their respective political institutions and economies, and their survival is not in doubt. However, Russia will continue to be able to exert political and economic pressure on the South Caucasus states. One alternative foreign partner that Georgia, and to a lesser extent Azerbaijan, has been developing is Israel. They have done this on the basis of a realpolitik assessment of their interests.[29] Armenia, with its close relations to Iran, has taken a different approach. One factor here is that the Jewish state--like the United States and every country in the Arab world (except for Lebanon, with its large ethnic Armenian population)--has refused to recognize officially the Armenian genocide so as not to offend Turkey. Moreover, about a half a year before the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war, there were “strong protests by Russian officials” against the increasing involvement of retired Israeli military and security experts in Georgia and the procurement of Israeli technology and hardware. In response, Israel imposed “significant limitations on arms transfers,” fearing that Moscow would retaliate by lifting its own restrictions on similar deals with Iran and the Arab states.[30]

*Dr. Michael B. Bishku is a Professor of Middle Eastern History at Augusta State University in Georgia, USA. He served as president of the American Council for the Study of Islamic Societies (2004-2005) and the Association of Third World Studies (1994-1995). He was a Visiting Professor at Bogaziçi (Bosphorus) University in 2004.


Who Restarted the Cold War?

By Patrick Buchanan, 2007

"Putin's Hostile Course," the lead editorial in The Washington Times of Oct. 18, began thus: "Russian President Vladimir Putin's invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Moscow is just the latest sign that, more than 16 years after the collapse of Soviet communism, Moscow is gravitating toward Cold War behavior. The old Soviet obsession — fighting American imperialism — remains undiluted. ... "(A)t virtually every turn, Mr. Putin and the Russian leadership appear to be doing their best in ways large and small to marginalize and embarrass the United States and undercut U.S. foreign policy interests." The Times pointed to Putin's snub of Robert Gates and Condi Rice by having them cool their heels for 40 minutes before a meeting. Then came a press briefing where Putin implied Russia may renounce the Reagan-Gorbachev INF treaty, which removed all U.S. and Soviet medium-range missiles from Europe, and threatened to pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, whereby Russia moved its tanks and troops far from the borders of Eastern Europe. On and on the Times indictment went. Russia was blocking new sanctions on Iran. Russia was selling anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. Russia was selling weapons to Syria that found their way to Hezbollah and Hamas. Russia and Iran were talking up an OPEC-style natural gas cartel. All this, said the Times, calls to mind "Soviet-era behavior." Missing from the prosecution's case, however, was the motive. Why has Putin's Russia turned hostile? Why is Putin mending fences with China, Iran and Syria? Why is Putin sending Bear bombers to the edge of American airspace? Why has Russia turned against America? For Putin's approval rating is three times that of George Bush. Who restarted the Cold War? To answer that question, let us go back those 16 years.

What happened in 1991 and 1992?

Well, Russia let the Berlin Wall be torn down and its satellite states be voted or thrown out of power across Eastern Europe. Russia agreed to pull the Red Army all the way back inside its border. Russia agreed to let the Soviet Union dissolve into 15 nations. The Communist Party agreed to share power and let itself be voted out. Russia embraced freedom and American-style capitalism, and invited Americans in to show them how it was done. Russia did not use its veto in the Security Council to block the U.S. war to drive Saddam Hussein, an ally, out of Kuwait. When 9-11 struck, Putin gave his blessing to U.S. troops using former republics as bases for the U.S. invasion.

What was Moscow's reward for its pro-America policy?

The United States began moving NATO into Eastern Europe and then into former Soviet republics. Six ex-Warsaw Pact nations are now NATO allies, as are three ex-republics of the Soviet Union. NATO expansionists have not given up on bringing Ukraine, united to Russia for centuries, or Georgia, Stalin's birthplace, into NATO. In 1999, the United States bombed Serbia, which has long looked to Mother Russia for protection, for 78 days, though the Serbs' sole crime was to fight to hold their cradle province of Kosovo, as President Lincoln fought to hold onto the American South. Now America is supporting the severing of Kosovo from Serbia and creation of a new Islamic state in the Balkans, over Moscow's protest. While Moscow removed its military bases from Cuba and all over the Third World, we have sought permanent military bases in Russia's backyard of Central Asia. We dissolved the Nixon-Brezhnev ABM treaty and announced we would put a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Under presidents Clinton and Bush, the United States financed a pipeline for Caspian Sea oil to transit Azerbaijan and Georgia to the Black Sea and Turkey, cutting Russia out of the action. With the end of the Cold War, the KGB was abolished and the Comintern disappeared. But the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House and other Cold War agencies, funded with tens of millions in tax-exempt and tax dollars, engineered the ouster of pro-Russian regimes in Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia, and sought the ouster of the regime in Minsk. At the Cold War's end, the United States was given one of the great opportunities of history: to embrace Russia, largest nation on earth, as partner, friend, ally. Our mutual interests meshed almost perfectly. There was no ideological, territorial, historic or economic quarrel between us, once communist ideology was interred.

We blew it.

We moved NATO onto Russia's front porch, ignored her valid interests and concerns, and, with our "indispensable-nation" arrogance, treated her as a defeated power, as France treated Weimar Germany after Versailles. Who restarted the Cold War? Bush and the braying hegemonists he brought with him to power. Great empires and tiny minds go ill together. To find out more about Patrick Buchanan, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at


In other news developments:

Terrorists’ base in Russia destroyed

Seventeen militants were killed on Monday in a raid on a base in the volatile Russian North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia used by Islamist insurgents to train suicide bombersAlign CenterUmarov no more? Russia's most wanted terrorist 'killed':

Russian special services have destroyed a terrorists’ base in Ingushetia, an autonomous republic in Russia’s Caucasus. 17 terrorists were killed. Supposedly, there are several top terrorist leaders among them. The location of the base was found out thanks to interrogation of two brothers, Islam and Iles Yandievs, who were detained as being involved in the explosion at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport several days before the New Year. During their arrest, an explosive belt was found. It was the Yandiev brothers who took the suicide bomber Magomed Evloev to the airport and controlled his actions. During interrogation, the brothers said that their commander, a certain Khamzat, had a base in a forest in Ingushetia, where terrorists for Ingushetia and neighboring North Ossetia were trained, and named the base’s location.

The Russian command decided to destroy the terrorists’ hideout. The base was surrounded by special services’ troops, and, after two airstrikes, it was attacked on land. The militants desperately fought back, killing two security forces officers and one policeman, but, finally, the terrorists were all killed. The dead militants are still to be identified, but there are probably several top terrorist leaders among them. One of them may be Doku Umarov, the man behind the Domodedovo explosion and the two explosions in the Moscow subway one year ago. There is information that Umarov had strong links with Al Qaeda and was financed by it.

For several years, terrorism in Russia’s Caucasus is one of the government’s biggest headaches. Mass unemployment among young people and other social problems in this region feed terrorism. This is used by terrorist leaders from abroad to stir anti-government moods in Russia’s Caucasus. For all the efforts of the federal security forces to fight terrorism, the situation might have been better if the local authorities had done more to stabilize the social and economic situation in the region.

A veteran of Russian special forces Sergey Goncharov says: “This operation to destroy the terrorists’ base was done so perfectly that it deserves to be put down into manuals for special forces servicemen. One of the terrorists’ major hotbeds has now been liquidated. Unfortunately, this still cannot be called the end of terrorism in Russia’s Caucasus. The situation can hardly change much for the better until the local population starts to actively cooperate with the federal forces.”

However, Chechnya’s head Ramzan Kadyrov says that if Doku Umarov is really dead, the situation in Russia’s Caucasus will be much more stable. People will stop living in fear and be more optimistic about the future.


Russian terrorist leader Umarov not among Ingushetia militants
Doku Umarov

People who personally knew Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov's fighters examined the bodies of militants killed in a special operation but did not identify Umarov among them, a high-ranking law enforcement source said Tuesday. The source said a DNA test will prove whether it was Umarov who was killed. Seventeen militants were killed on Monday in a raid on a base in the volatile Russian North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia used by Islamist insurgents to train suicide bombers, Russia's antiterrorism committee said. The operation involved ground forces and air strikes. Three Russian servicemen were also killed. Russian forces said Umarov could have been among those killed during fighting in the region, the Kommersant daily reported earlier on Tuesday. Umarov, who has styled himself as the Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, claimed responsibility for the March 2010 twin suicide bombings on the Moscow subway, in which 40 people died. He is also said to have ordered a deadly bomb attack on Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport in January that claimed 37 lives. There have been several false reports of Umarov's death in recent years, including speculation that he had been killed in an airstrike in Chechnya at the turn of the year.


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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.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.