Can Armenia exploit Russian actions in the Caucasus? - April, 2012

As war fever grips Washington and Tel Aviv, tensions inside the Kremlin seems to be running very high. For the first time in well over twenty years, the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and Moscow may be preparing for a war that will inevitably pit them directly against each other. As expected, Western designs over Syria and Iran have solicited strong reactions from Moscow. The escalating unrest in regions adjacent to Russia's vulnerable underbelly is elevating the importance of the already very important geostrategic significance of the Caucasus for Moscow. As wars and political unrests encroach on Russian interests in the region, it is only natural that Moscow would begin to take on a more aggressive political posture. Libya was the pawn Moscow reluctantly gave up in its desperate effort to protect its bishops, Syria and Iran. Russian officials realize that they are in the midst of a high stakes chess game and losing it is something Moscow simply cannot afford at this time. Realizing now that its presence in the strategic region is being directly threatened by the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and friends, Moscow has finally decided to do away with diplomatic niceties and draw a clear line in the sand.

Although they are not talking about it in public, behind closed doors Western officials are not only alarmed they are also surprised at the amount of power Moscow has retained in the Middle East. Syria and Iran were not to last this long. As suggested in previous blog posts, Tehran and Damascus would have succumbed to outside pressures long ago had it not been for the powerful Russian factor in the region. These conflicts may in fact ultimately prove beneficial for Moscow. Anything short of a total collapse in Tehran or Damascus, Moscow can potentially benefit from. A limited and/or managed conflict in the region will provide Moscow with opportunities it has not enjoyed for decades. For one, as the outward flow of Iranian oil decreases, Moscow's opportunities in filling the void will increase. Moreover, the deeper Moscow gets pulled into the crisis in the Middle Easts, the greater chance it will have to increase its presence in the region. Finally, as warmongers in Washington continue poisoning the world with their "project for a new American century", Moscow can present itself to the global community as an effective antidote. In other words, all this may be providing Moscow with a unique new opportunity to finally create a new ideological calling for itself, something it has been sorely missing for over two decades. Therefore, although certainly cautious in its moves and clearly afraid of unintended consequences, Moscow is nevertheless very carefully positioning its chess pieces for an eventual checkmate.

Georgia may be the first casualty of war

One of the lines Moscow is drawing in the sand may in fact run through Georgia.
As I have been suggesting for some time now, one of the first casualties of a war against Iran may ironically be Georgia. Moscow has clearly signaled that if the shooting begins it will invade Georgia to establish a land-corridor with its military outpost in north-eastern Armenia. Various Western and Israeli sources have been reporting on this Russian threat but the mainstream news press in the West has avoided any mention of it. Several recent news reports following this commentary describe in further detail the military preparations Moscow is currently undertaking in anticipation of a major regional war. For additional information about what has been going on in the region with regards to Syria and Iran, please revisit the following blog posts as well -
Growing tensions in the Caucasus as the West tries to apply the "Libyan Model" to Syria and Iran:

Russian military buildup in Caucasus, Russian anti-terror troops arrive in Syria, Armenia moves closer to Russia:

Political unrest nearing Russia's southern border:

A Call to Arms:
Acting as Moscow's only true ally in the south Caucasus region and enthusiastically hosting a significant Russian military presence on its soil, Armenia today is beginning to play a major role in the Caucasus region's geopolitical life. Armenia has become a crucial base of operations for Moscow, and this has made Yerevan untouchable in the region. In fact, Georgia and Azerbaijan, Armenia's larger and wealthier neighbors, have begun to fear Yerevan. Yerevan's strategic alliance with Moscow has finally placed Armenia on the map. The following quote about the Russian military base in north-eastern Armenia was taken from an English-language Israeli website -
“Military Base 102 is a key point, Russia’s outpost in the South Caucasus,” a Russian military source told the newspaper. “It occupies a very important geopolitical position, but the Kremlin fears lest it should lose this situation.”
It is now becoming increasingly obvious that Moscow is seriously preparing various contingency plans in preparation of a Western/Israeli attack against Iran. The simple fact that Moscow has serious fears concerning its military presence in Armenia implies a lot. There are a lot of implications in this for the small and landlocked republic in the Caucasus, not the least of which is that Moscow will not spare any effort in protecting its strategic presence in Armenia, thereby ensuring Yerevan's survival in that hostile environment. Allied to Moscow, strategically situated in the south Caucasus and straddling the regions of unrest, Armenia will therefore become a major theater of operations once the shooting begins - whether we Armenians want it or not. Therefore, it is better to be prepared and looking for opportunities.

Russian news sources are claiming that military officials in Moscow have been
busy overseeing the procurement of new weapons systems, restructuring military units, stockpiling large amounts of ammunition, deploying large numbers of modern military hardware and special troops into sensitive areas and increasing the frequency and intensity of training exercises. In September of this year one of the largest military exercises in recent years is said to take place in the Caucasus. The following are links to several Russian television reports about the heightened levels of military training Russian forces have been currently undergoing in Armenia -
Armenia (База напряжения) Фор-пост РФ в Гюмри:
Разведчик не остановится ни перед чем:
В три раза больше:

На страже Армении российские летчики:
Although no one is hoping for a war, if a war comes there may be some opportunities in it for Yerevan. I recognize that the fear factor amongst Armenians is high. But sometimes calculated risks need to be taken for the nation's benefit. A war in the region may provide Yerevan with some unique chances to help it finally break out of its current predicaments. But do we Armenians have the backbone or the foresight to take advantage of such opportunities when they present themselves? To be honest, looking at Armenia's past performances is not very encouraging. We Armenians may be hardwired only for survival and we have proven incapable of rallying around our national flag in the absence of a calamity or a war. Moreover, while many Armenians genuinely understand the nature of the current geopolitical climate of the world and they truly appreciate their newly established statehood, there are also significant numbers of Armenians that are in fact a liability for Armenia.

Washington has Armenians chasing their tails

As the world prepares for war, significant numbers of Armenians today are preparing for war against their fledgling state. I have been warning that Washington's many operatives within our communities have been actively
seeding our nation for political unrest. A number of Washington's street whores have been tasked with creating an "Arab Spring" in Armenia. A number of Washingtonian organizations have been disseminating anti-Armenia propaganda throughout the internet. And a number of "panel discussions" in the United States have been calling for chaos and regime change in Armenia. I discussed two such recent gatherings in the following blog post -
As if the previous two propaganda assaults were not damaging enough, another one was held at Fordham University's Lincoln Center Campus in New York City during the evening of March 30. And yet another one will be held again in Saint Leon Church on the evening of April 20. And a big one is being planned for this September -
Some Armenians, like Arabs, seem to love self-destructive behavior. At a time when we Armenians need to be rallying around our state, Washington has our nation's many idiots preparing for a war against Armenia instead. To realize its self-serving political agenda in the Caucasus, Washington is simply doing what it knows best how to do: Manipulate and exploit the idiots of this world. Therefore, when it comes to blaming, I primarily blame our idiots for allowing Washington to exploit them against the Armenian state.

What is it going to take to convince our #&%@ing idiots that
Armenia's many problems are primarily rooted in its geopolitical and geographical situation, and to some extent in Armenian culture itself. The pursuit of "democracy", "human rights", "free and fair elections"... these are all red herrings, diversions intended to grossly mislead our sheeple and make them perennially chase their tails as the nation continues to stagnate. As long as Armenia remains small, remote, landlocked and in an unstable geopolitical environment like the Caucasus, it will continue suffering from severe socioeconomic and sociopolitical problems. Armenia's most pressing problems today have nothing to do with "corruption" or the lack of "democracy". Armenia's most pressing problems today are geostrategic in nature. Armenians seriously need to rewire their thinking with regards to Armenia. Armenians need to begin looking at Armenia not in the terms of how many families are in need of food or money but in terms of how to get the embattled nation freed of its mountainous prison. There is simply no other way to fix Armenia's core problems.

Russia is Armenia's strategic advantage

It is very important for Armenian military commanders to continue maintaining a combat state-of-readiness in Armenia and Artsakh. And it is even more important for Armenian officials to seek ways of becoming a ubiquitous presence within the walls of the Kremlin. While Armenia's military is Yerevan's tactical advantage, Armenia's alliance with Russia must be its strategic advantage.

Yerevan also needs to stop playing footsie with well-dressed reptiles in Washington. Yerevan needs to stick as close to Moscow as possible and Yerevan needs to seriously begin planning national contingency plans of its own. Instead of continuing their reactionary approach with regarding to regional political developments, Armenian officials need to begin taking the initiative for once. As already noted, if the shooting begins, there may be some historic opportunities to exploit. Therefore, Armenian officials need to grow some testicles and start thinking in the long-term - especially since we have the decisive Russian factor on our side. One of the main reasons why Armenia has stagnated for centuries is the simply fact that we Armenians have not had many farsighted leaders who have been courageous enough and nationalistic enough to take certain calculated risks for the long-term benefit of Armenia. We need a patriotic leadership that will think in the long-term. And thinking in the long-term for Armenia simply means thinking about the Black Sea and/or Russian border.

For the first time in well over one thousand years Armenia has increased its size and is closely allied with a major superpower. Against all odds, Armenia has managed to remain independent and victorious. At the end of the day, however, we Armenians must be humble enough and wise enough to recognize that Moscow has helped Yerevan make all this possible. The strategic alliance between Moscow and Yerevan is as genuine as it is historic and it has placed Armenia on the map. Historically and geostrategically, Armenian and Russian interests have been compatible. As long as the Caucasus is threatened by Islamic and/or Turkish influences, Moscow will continue looking at Armenia as a strategic partner. As long as the Caucasus retains its vital geostrategic value for Russia, Moscow will not spare any efforts in protecting Armenia. There are opportunities in all this.

Moscow has problems with NATO, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and various Islamic tribes in the north Caucasus. Moreover, Moscow does not trust Iran either. In this kind of a geopolitical climate, Moscow and Yerevan will be in a political embrace for the foreseeable future. An Armenian even with a half-a-brain should immediately recognize opportunities here. Similar to how Moscow has been effectively exploiting its alliance with Armenia for its benefit, Yerevan must begin exploiting its strategic alliance with Russia for Armenia's benefit. Yerevan needs to stop being passive and begin actively using its alliance with Moscow as a strategic advantage.

There is currently a good opportunity to further deepen and fortify Armenia's strategic ties with Russia. Armenian officials need to use all their available levers to convince their Russian counterparts that it would be better for Russia if they demolished the Russian military's radar installation in Gabala and built a new one in Armenia instead. Besides providing Armenians with an opportunity to work on its construction and maintenance, such projects also serve to further increase the strategic importance of Armenia for Moscow. It's simply a way of deepening the alliance's foundation.

Javakhq is only the first step

Despite the wild fantasies of Washington's "democracy" activists in Yerevan, Armenians must understand that Armenia's main problem today is not its lack of "democracy" or the absence "free and fair elections". Rather, Armenia's primary problem today is geopolitical and geographical. Being that Armenia is small, poor, landlocked, remote and surrounded by hostile nations, we must recognize that there are essentially three ways we can effectively cure Armenia's serious economic aliments: One, physically move the country and place it next to a nation like Germany. Two, extend Armenia's borders to the Black Sea and/or to Russia. Three, pray that Moscow creates Pax Russicana in the Caucasus. Simply put, Armenia needs to break out of its current geographical predicament. Number one is a dream. Number three may be the most practical. But number two would be ideal for Armenia...

When Armenians finally put aside their victim mentalities and stop looking at the political West for any kind of assistance, they may finally come to the realization that for Armenia to truly prosper it must gradually begin formulating a long-term expansionist policy in the Caucasus. Javakhq is one example of where Armenian officials and activists can realistically seek collaboration with their Russian counterparts with hopes of expanding Armenia's border a little further north. It is no secret that we Armenians are a very intelligent people but our intelligence is almost always misplaced and/or misused. We need to learn to apply our intelligence and talents to the strategic benefit of the Armenian state. Let's use our nation's collective powers and human assets to begin convincing Russian officials that a larger Armenia or an Armenia on Russia's borders is in Moscow's strategic interests.

However, there is a catch.
In order to convince Russians that a large and powerful Armenia is in Moscow's strategic interests, Yerevan must first cleanse Armenia of all its Russophobes and it must stop playing footsie with Washington. One of the reasons why Moscow has been somewhat nervous with its dealing with Yerevan is the ominous fact that Armenia's political landscape has been utterly infested by Russophobes in recent years. Consequently, Russian officials would not want risking Armenia to grow too powerful, lest it loses control over Yerevan. Therefore, Kremlin officials have sought to contain all nations in the region, including their ally Armenia. While they have surely ensured Armenia's survival in the south Caucasus, they have nonetheless implemented a policy in the region that keeps all sides weak and in conflict. Simply put, while it treats Armenia as a strategic partner, at the same time Moscow fears that Armenia is vulnerable to Washington's political machinations. The following blog post from several months ago addressing this very worrying topic -
Therefore, as a fundamental first step in alleviating the Kremlin's justified concerns and suspicions with regards to the political maturity of Armenians today, I am calling for a thorough purging of Armenia's dangerous Russophobes and I am calling for deeper collaboration between Armenia and the Russian Federation.

Armenia will eventually need to expand north, north-east and/or northwest. In other words, Armenia needs to reach Russia and/or the Black Sea. Javakhq is only the first stop. Those who still dream about liberating Western Armenia need to realize that the keys to Western Armenia lies in Moscow (and to a lesser extent in Tehran, if the regime there survives). In the meanwhile, Armenians who look forward to Western Armenia's liberation should stop placing hope in some worthless piece of paper being waved around by worthless pro-Western politicians like Ara Papyan.

Azerbaijan is terrified of a Russian-Armenian attack

And they should be. If push comes to shove, that is if Baku decides to go against Moscow's expressed wishes by attacking Artsakh or assisting the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance in attacking Iran, Russian-Armenian troops will be washing their sweaty feet in the Caspian Sea in about a week's time. Azeris know this very well. Baku also realizes that time is in fact not on its side. And all the anti-Armenian hysteria it had been propagating for the past twenty years has now created a situation where Azeri officials feel forced to act. Simply put, Baku is very desperate and we all know that desperation fosters irrationality. To add insult to injury, Baku also realizes that Moscow (and to a lesser extent Tehran) will never favor Azerbaijan over Armenia. Therefore, Baku has been actively searching for willing partners-in-crime. They have found four in their immediate vicinity. Washington, Tel Aviv, Tbilisi and needless-to-say Ankara have been providing Baku with support against Armenia. With this kind of support Baku may be feeling a little emboldened and is thus hoping to create a new reality on the ground when the time is right. It is safe to assume that Baku may be thinking that once major hostilities in the region begins it can take advantage of the situation. In other words, Baku may be hoping for Moscow to be preoccupied with saving Iran and Syria as it makes its move against Artsakh. But the recent military buildup in Russia's Daghestan region is a clear indicator that Moscow sees what Baku's Aliyev is up to.

It was recently reported that Moscow had began building-up its military presence in the north Caucasian Russian republic of Daghestan. Initial reports suggested that this was intended as a measure against foreign-backed Islamic terrorists. This simplistic explanation, however, may not have been the whole story. There is no need for deploying large numbers of army regulars and heavy military hardware such as modern T-90 tanks and multiple rocket launchers in Daghestan - unless there is something else on Moscow's mind. Therefore, it would be safe to assume that the Russian military buildup in Daghestan may actually have a conventional military purpose. The "Argumenty Nedeli" article posted below this commentary suggests that Moscow may in fact be building up its forces in Daghestan to discourage Baku from invading Artsakh this summer.

What Wikileaks released recently can be considered somewhat of a bombshell. The article in question can be found below the commentary. The following is an excerpt -

"When I was in Baku recently, they showed me a 3-D topographic map of Armenia, AZ [Azerbaijan], Nagorno [Karabakh]," the Czech related. "You can see very clearly that once (and if) the Armenians cross over with Russian backing, it is a flat path to Baku. The Russians told them during the Georgia war that Georgia could just be the first stop... pretty direct threat. The Azerbaijanis are terrified of this."

Vaclav Bartuska, Czech envoy according to Wikileaks

Ask yourselves: Why did Moscow threaten Baku with an invasion during the Russian-Georgian war of 2008? What did Baku have to do with Moscow's war against Georgia? In my opinion, this information is additional evidence that Baku was indeed hoping to invade Artsakh if the Western-backed Georgian offensive against South Ossetia succeeded during the summer of 2008. According to various informed sources, including the Washington-based think tank known as Stratfor, when Georgia invaded South Ossetia in early August of 2008, taking advantage of the situation (perhaps hoping that Moscow would be too busy with the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia) Baku began preparations to invade Artsakh. The following is a link to the Stratfor article that first reported on Baku's plan to invade Artsakh. I had posted
Stratfor's report in this blog in September of 2008 -

I'd like to convey to the reader a little story that is related to all this.

I was in Yerevan with my family when the war between Russia and Georgia broke out on August 7, 2008. During dinner
with the family of a close friend at a Chinese restaurant on Tumanyan Street on the evening of August 12, I had the great fortune of discovering something that most Armenians to this day do not know anything about. That night I learned that sometime during the first few days of the Russian-Georgian war, Armenian forces in Artsakh were given the green light to carryout a preemptive strike against the Azeri military. While the Russian Bear was mauling Georgia's Western/Turkish/Israeli backed military, Armenians had apparently attacked Azeri positions in force and managed to liberate large tracts of land in Martakert and along the Arax River. According to some claims, proximately 20,000 hectares of land were liberated at the time.

This information was relayed to me during the course of our dinner by my friend's sister who just happened to be the mother of a young soldier involved in the military offensive I referred to above. Apparently, the young soldier had called his mother from Artsakh to inform her of the developing situation. I remember rushing home that night hoping to see news reports of this incident in Artsakh. I couldn't find anything about what I had heard during dinner on television or on the internet. None of the news services, be it Western, Russian, Armenian or Turkish/Azeri reported anything about Artsakh. All the news agencies were reporting on was the on-going war between Russia and Georgia... The very next day, I called the mother of the soldier and asked if she was sure of what she had heard from her son. In response, she basically repeated everything she had said during dinner the night before. I left it at that.

We returned back in the United States in late August. Sometime in September, I was talking to an acquaintance in the Armenian community where I live and the topic of the war between Russia and Georgia came up in the conversation. Before I was able to say anything about what I had learned several weeks prior, my acquaintance said that there was a major clash in Artsakh during the Russian-Georgian war and that large tracts of territories were liberated by Armenians. I asked him how he knew this information, he said through his wife's relative who was a military officer in Yerevan.

Here I was getting similar information from two very reliable sources... yet I was unable to find any of this information on the internet. Although I believed that something major had in fact occurred in Artsakh during the time of the Russian-Georgian war, I nonetheless still felt the need for some sort of confirmation... Then, several months later, I was made aware that one of Armenia's Western propaganda organs, Hetq, had reported the following information -

"The armed forces of the NKR aren’t preparing to execute any so-called concessions. On the contrary, during the past year the territories in our possession have grown by some several thousand hectares... Armenian front lines on the right flank along the Arax River have advanced by four kilometers."

Lieutenant General Movses Hakobyan (NKR Defense Minister)

Needless to say, these somewhat vague comments by Artsakh's Defense Minister Lieutenant General Movses Hakobyan was the confirmation I was looking for. The following links are where the above quotes were taken from -

NKR Defense Minister – “Armed forces not preparing for any concessions”:

NKR Forces Along Arax River Advance 4 Kilometers in 2009:

To summarize: During the early days of the Russian-Georgian war in the summer of 2008, Baku was preparing to attack Artsakh. Armenians carried-out a large preemptive strike against Azeri forces and in doing so liberated large tracts of land. Apparently, Baku kept quiet over the incident because the green light for the Armenian attack was given by Moscow.What I was not aware of until now is the recently released information by Wikileaks that Moscow had also directly threatened Baku with an invasion. As far as I'm concerned, this fully explains why Baku took the massive hit by the Armenian military and has remained quiet about it to this day.

I hope our nation's Russophobes are paying close attention to all this. A lot of very important conclusions to be drawn from all this information. And when we juxtapose this information with recent news that Moscow has been building-up its military assets in Daghestan perhaps in an effort to discourage Baku from planning yet another military incursion into Artsakh, the military strategy being employed by Moscow and Yerevan becomes all too clear. None of us should be worried that Armenian controlled territories in or around Artsakh will be surrendered to Azeris as a result of on-going negotiations, and none of us should be worried about how far Moscow is willing to go to ensure Armenia's survival in the volatile region. By helping Armenians retain control over the territories in question, Moscow ensures Armenia's alliance and Azerbaijan's subservience. In other words, Nagorno Karabakh is the sledgehammer hanging over Turkish heads.

The following blog posts discusses two of Armenia's neighbors and it addresses some of the ideas brought up in this commentary -

There are no other solutions to Armenia's core problems. Sooner or later, Armenia needs to expand. I'm not a dreamer therefore I fully realize the complexities of such a suggestion. I also recognize that such a thing is wrought with risks. However, the point is that if we want our homeland to free itself of its severe socioeconomic and sociopolitical ailments and turn into a powerful state that Armenians will be proud of and would want to live in, Armenia's expansion towards the Black Sea and/or Russia is a historic necessity that we as a nation must collectively embark upon. This is a crucially important national project we Armenians must adopt and hardwire into our thinking.

Convincing Moscow

Moreover, let's also realize that the keys to much of this, as well as keys to Western Armenia, are found in Moscow.
Therefore, Moscow is where Armenians need to make a pan-national effort. If done right, Kremlin officials will listen. Armenia's presence in the Caucasus has for centuries been protecting Russia's vulnerable southern regions. Armenians have been an effective hedge against Muslims. Since Czarist times high officials in Russia have fully understood this. It is up to us Armenians now to effectively exploit this. The geostrategic significance of Armenia is as important for Russian officials today as it was for Czarist officials, if not more. In a region that suffers from powerful Turkic and Islamic influences, Armenia's political independence and its close alliance with Moscow will be zealously protected by Russian officials for the foreseeable future. As a result, there exists a receptive political culture in the Kremlin for Armenians to tap into.

If Moscow was ready to go to war when Armenia was threatened by Turkey in the early 1990s, during a time when Moscow was literally on its knees, I think the reader can use his/her imagination as to what Moscow would be willing to do today if outside forces ever dared to threaten Armenia again. If Moscow today is willing to forcefully standup to the West and the rest over Syria and Iran, we can expect Moscow to place its nuclear arsenal on combat alert if Armenia is in any way threatened. Realizing the great strategic significance of Armenia for Moscow, Armenian officials must stop being passive and reactionary and start being proactive by planning and initiating long-term policies for Armenia's expansion.

The key here is of course to use our national assets throughout the world to convince Russians that t
he only way to pacify the Caucasus region is to partition parts of Georgia and/or Azerbaijan between Russia and Armenia. At the very least, Moscow must be convinced that Armenia needs to be given the opportunity to establish a common border with the Russian Federation through Georgia and/or Azerbaijan. The best time to implement this is when a major war breaks-out in the region. Russian officials must be made to understand that geostrategically speaking a stronger and larger Armenia in the Caucasus means a stronger Russia. A powerful Armenia is the only effective way to solve the Caucasus region's many pressing problems - including but not limited to Islamic insurgency, pan-Turkism and Western expansionism.

In the meanwhile, Armenians need to stop chasing their tails as per Washingtonian demands and recognize that Armenia's expansion to the Black Sea or to the borders of the Russian Federation should be the one and only long-term strategic agenda for the Armenian nation. Yerevan needs to begin seriously thinking along these lines because there may be some opportunities during the next few years.

The following articles are in my opinion some very interesting news reports. I derived them from different websites in recent days. The articles in question basically outlines the various measures Moscow has currently been undertaking in preparation of a military strike against Iran. A reoccurring theme in many of these articles is Russia's military buildup in Armenia. To provide the reader a deeper geopolitical perspective, I have also posted some other relevant materials. Please make time and read them all.

April, 2012


The Russian Military Has an Action Plan Involving Georgia if Iran Is Attacked

Russian Defense Ministry sources told the semiofficial news agency Interfax that action plans are being finalized to react to an armed conflict involving Iran and its nuclear program. The General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces “calculates” that military action against Iran will commence “in the summer” of 2012. Since Israel does not have sufficient assets to defeat Iranian defenses, the Russian military considers US military involvement inevitable (Interfax, March 30).

Bits of information have been appearing, indicating the essence of Russian military action. Last December it was disclosed that families of servicemen from the Russian base in Armenia have been evacuated to Russia, while the troops have been moved from the capital, Yerevan, north to Gumri – closer to the borders of Georgia and Turkey. The preparation of Russian forces in Armenia for action in the event of military conflict with Iran began “two years ago” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 15).

After the short Russo-Georgian war in August 2008, break-away provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia were occupied by Russian troops. Tbilisi in turn stopped military transit to the Russian troops in landlocked Armenia. There is only an air link to Russia, while fuel and other essentials reportedly come over the Iran-Armenia border. Moscow believes this border may be closed in the event of war. According to Lt. General (retired) Yury Netkachev – former deputy commander of Russian forces in Transcaucasia – “Possibly, it will be necessary to use military means to breach the Georgian transport blockade and establish transport corridors, leading into Armenia (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 15). The geography of the region implies that any such “corridor” may go through the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

Large scale “strategic” military exercises Kavkaz-2012 are planned for next September, but it is reported that preparations and deployments of assets have begun already because of the threat of the possible war with Iran. New command and control equipment has been deployed in the region capable of using GLONASS (Russian GPS) targeting information. The air force in the South Military District (SMD) is reported to have been rearmed “almost 100 percent” with new jets and helicopters. In 2008, Kavkaz-2008 maneuvers allowed the Russian military to covertly deploy forces that successfully invaded Georgia (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 16).

Last September it was announced that sniper units will be created in all Russian army brigades. The first 1,300 newly trained snipers have been deployed in the SMD (RIA Novosti, January 16). SMD units in Abkhazia, Ossetia, Chechnya and Volgograd have been rearmed with new T-90A and T-72BM tanks and new armored vehicles. In 2010 and 2011, SMD units received more than 7,000 pieces of new heavy weapons and have been more than 70 percent rearmed (RIA Novosti, January 16). According to President Dmitry Medvedev, by 2011 the overall rearmament of the entire Russian military with new weapons was much less – 16 percent (, March 20).

Last January the newly appointed commander of the 58th army that spearheaded the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, Major General Andrei Gurulev, announced: “The army is a front-line force that keeps the peace in the region and has been rearmed more than 60 percent” (, January 28). After an inspection of the SMD by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, it was announced that new Special Forces units will be deployed in Stavropol and Kislovodsk “to further strengthen the security of the region” (RIA Novosti, January 26). Stavropol and Kislovodsk are ethnic Russian-inhabited North Caucasian regions that have not seen much Islamist or separatist activity.

A new 120-kilometer range land-mobile guided anti-ship missile, Bal-E, has been deployed on the Caspian shore of Dagestan (Interfax, February 8). The Russian military believes that when the US goes to war with Iran, it may deploy forces in friendly Georgia and warships in the Caspian with the possible help of Azerbaijan. It is reported that in 2012 SMD forces will be 65 percent equipped with new communication devices, while the rest of the Russian military will have 26 percent (RIA Novosti, February 9). SMD units have received 20 new Tornado-G MRLS launchers (first procured in 2012) to replace the aging Grad MRLS. The Grad was massively used by the Russian troops against the Georgians in 2008. The 122-mm Tornado-G is reported to be “three times more effective than Grad,” with increased accuracy, firepower, mobility and a range of up to 100 kilometers (Interfax, April 3). The commander of the airborne troops (VDV), Lt. General Vladimir Shamanov, has announced the Russian troops in Armenia will be reinforced by paratroopers, possibly together with attack and transport helicopters. According to Netkachev, assault VDV units with helicopters may be moved into Abkhazia and South Ossetian (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 4).

The above stream of reports by official spokesmen and carried by government news agencies describes the forming of an offensive spearhead force in the SMD facing Transcaucasia. The force is too heavily armed with modern long-range weapons to be exclusively intended to take on the dispersed rebel guerrilla forces in Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. This week, the Secretary of the Georgian National Security Council Giga Bokeria told radio Ekho Moskvi about the growing threat of a war with Russia (Ekho Moskvi, April 2).

In Tbilisi, the possible threat of a new Russian invasion is connected to the parliamentary elections scheduled for next October and possible disturbances that may accompany them. According to polls, the ruling party of President Mikheil Saakashvili seems to be poised for another landslide victory, while the opposition movement, organized by the Russian-based billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, seems to be failing to gather mass support.

Of course, Moscow would be glad to see the electoral defeat of Saakashvili, but the Iranian war is a much more important issue. The Russian spearhead may be ordered to strike south to prevent the presumed deployment of US bases in Transcaucasia, to link up with the troops in Armenia, and take over the South Caucasus energy corridor along which Azeri, Turkmen and, other Caspian natural gas and oil may reach European markets. By one swift military strike Russia may ensure control of all the Caucasus and the Caspian states that were its former realm, establishing a fiat accompli the West, too preoccupied with Iran, would not reverse. At the same time, a small victorious war would unite the Russian nation behind the Kremlin, allowing it to crush the remnants of the prodemocracy movement “for fair elections.” And as a final bonus, Russia’s military action could perhaps finally destroy the Saakashvili regime.


Russia Expecting Attack on Iran by Summer

Plans to move troops to protect interests, possibly assist Islamic enclave

The Russian military anticipates that an attack will occur on Iran by the summer and has developed an action plan to move Russian troops through neighboring Georgia to stage in Armenia, which borders on the Islamic republic, informed Russian sources say in a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin. Russian Security Council head Viktor Ozerov said that Russian General Military Headquarters has prepared an action plan in the event of an attack on Iran.

Dmitry Rogozin, who recently was the Russian ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, warned against an attack on Iran. “Iran is our neighbor,” Rogozin said. “If Iran is involved in any military action, it’s a direct threat to our security.” Rogozin now is the deputy Russian prime minister and is regarded as anti-Western. He oversees Russia’s defense sector. Russian Defense Ministry sources say that the Russian military doesn’t believe that Israel has sufficient military assets to defeat Iranian defenses and further believes that U.S. military action will be necessary.

Russia’s purpose in moving its troops would be not only to protect its own vital regional interests but possibly to assist Iran in the event of an attack. Sources add that a Russian military buildup in the region could result in the Russian military potentially engaging Israeli forces, U.S. forces or both. Informed sources say that the Russians have warned of “unpredictable consequences” in the event Iran is attacked, with some Russians saying that the Russian military would intervene because its vital interests in region would be threatened.

The influential Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper has quoted a Russian military source as saying that the situation forming around Syria and Iran “causes Russia to expedite the course of improvement of its military groups in the South Caucasus, the Caspian, Mediterranean and Black Sea regions.” This latest information comes from a series of reports and leaks from official Russian spokesmen and government news agencies who say that an Israeli attack is all but certain by the summer.

Because of the impact on Russian vital interests in the region, sources say that Russian preparations for such an attack began two years ago when Russian Military Base 102 in Gyumri, Armenia, was modernized. It is said to occupy a major geopolitical position in the region. Families of Russian servicemen from the Russian base at Gyumri in Armenia close to the borders of Georgia and Turkey already have been evacuated, Russian sources say. “Military Base 102 is a key point, Russia’s outpost in the South Caucasus,” a Russian military source told the newspaper. “It occupies a very important geopolitical position, but the Kremlin fears lest it should lose this situation.”


Russia Is Massing Troops On Iran's Northern Border And Waiting For A Western Attack

The Russian military anticipates that an attack will occur on Iran by the summer and has developed an action plan to move Russian troops through neighboring Georgia to stage in Armenia, which borders on the Islamic republic, according to informed Russian sources. Russian Security Council head Viktor Ozerov said that Russian General Military Headquarters has prepared an action plan in the event of an attack on Iran.

Dmitry Rogozin, who recently was the Russian ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, warned against an attack on Iran. "Iran is our neighbor," Rogozin said. "If Iran is involved in any military action, it's a direct threat to our security." Rogozin now is the deputy Russian prime minister and is regarded as anti-Western. He oversees Russia's defense sector.

Russian Defense Ministry sources say that the Russian military doesn't believe that Israel has sufficient military assets to defeat Iranian defenses and further believes that U.S. military action will be necessary. The implication of preparing to move Russian troops not only is to protect its own vital regional interests but possibly to assist Iran in the event of such an attack. Sources add that a Russian military buildup in the region could result in the Russian military potentially engaging Israeli forces, U.S. forces, or both.

Informed sources say that the Russians have warned of "unpredictable consequences" in the event Iran is attacked, with some Russians saying that the Russian military will take part in the possible war because it would threaten its vital interests in the region. The influential Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper has quoted a Russian military source as saying that the situation forming around Syria and Iran "causes Russia to expedite the course of improvement of its military groups in the South Caucasus, the Caspian, Mediterranean and Black Sea regions."

This latest information comes from a series of reports and leaks from official Russian spokesmen and government news agencies who say that an Israeli attack is all but certain by the summer. Because of the impact on Russian vital interests in the region, sources say that Russian preparations for such an attack began two years ago when Russian Military Base 102 in Gyumri, Armenia, was modernized. It is said to occupy a major geopolitical position in the region.

Families of Russian servicemen from the Russian base at Gyumri in Armenia close to the borders of Georgia and Turkey already have been evacuated, Russian sources say. "Military Base 102 is a key point, Russia's outpost in the South Caucasus," a Russian military source told the newspaper. "It occupies a very important geopolitical position, but the Kremlin fears lest it should lose this situation."

With Vladimir Putin returning to the Russian presidency, the prospect that he again would order an attack on Georgia as he did in August 2008 also has become a possibility, these informed sources say. The Russians believe that Georgia would cooperate with the United States in blocking any supplies from reaching Military Base 102, which now is supplied primarily by air. Right now, Georgia blocks the only land transportation route through which Russian military supplies could travel. Fuel for the Russian base in Armenia comes from Iran. Russian officials believe this border crossing may be closed in the event of a war.

"Possibly, it will be necessary to use military means to breach the Georgian transport blockade and establish transport corridors leading into Armenia," according to Yury Netkachev, former deputy commander of Russian forces in Transcaucasia. Geography of the region suggests that any such supply corridor would have to go through the middle of Georgia approaching Georgia's capital of Tbilisi given the roads and topography of the country.

In September, the Russian military plans to hold its annual military exercises called Kavkaz 2012. However, informed Russian sources say that preparations and deployments of military equipment and personnel already have begun in anticipation of a possible war with Iran. These sources report that new command and control equipment has been deployed in the region capable of using the Russian GPS system, GLONASS for targeting information. "The air force in the South Military District is reported to have been rearmed almost 100 percent with new jets and helicopters," according to regional expert Pavel Felgenhauer of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation.

In 2008, Felgenhauer pointed out, Kavkaz 2008 maneuvers allowed the Russian military to covertly deploy forces that successfully invaded Georgia in August of that year. Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov already has announced that new Spetznaz, or Special Forces units, will be deployed in Stavropol and Kislovodsk, which are located in the North Caucasian regions.

Russian sources say that the Russian military believes that if the U.S. goes to war with Iran, it may deploy forces into Georgia and warships in the Caspian Sea with the possible help of Azerbaijan, which since has stated that it will not allow its territory to be used by Israel to launch an attack on neighboring Iran. There had been speculation that given the improved relations between Israel and Azerbaijan, the Jewish state may use bases from which to launch air attacks on neighboring Iran's nuclear sites. Israel recently agreed to sell Azerbaijan $1.6 billion in military equipment.

A further irritant to Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili is the prospect that Russian assault airborne troops, or VDV units, with helicopters could be moved into Georgia's two breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two provinces were taken by the Russian military during the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war. Initially they were declared by Moscow to be independent countries, but now the Kremlin is indicating they may be annexed to Russia.

Similarly, Lt. General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the VDV, has announced that Russian troops in Armenia will be reinforced by paratroopers, along with attack and transport helicopters. "The Russian spearhead (from the Transcaucasia region) may be ordered to strike south to prevent the presumed deployment of U.S. bases in Transcaucasia, to link up with the troops in Armenia and take over the South Caucasus energy corridor along which Azeri, Turkmen and other Caspian natural gas and oil may reach European markets," Felgenhauer said.

"By one swift military strike, Russia may ensure control of all the Caucasus and the Caspian states that were its former realm, establishing a fiat accompli the West, too preoccupied with Iran, would not reverse," he said. "At the same time, a small victorious war would unite the Russian nation behind the Kremlin, allowing it to crush the remnants of the prodemocracy movement 'for fair elections,' and as a final bonus, Russia's military action could perhaps finally destroy the Saakashvili regime."

Putin has made no secret that he despises Saakashvili and with his return to the presidency, he may consider taking out the Georgian president as unfinished business. Just as in 2008, Putin will not have much to worry about if he sends Russian troops into Georgia, since there was muted reaction from the U.S. and the European countries to the Russian invasion and subsequent occupation.

Moscow Optimizes its Military Grouping in the South

Russia prepares for an adequate response to Tel-Aviv and Washington’s possible strikes against Tehran

The geopolitical situation unfolding around Syria and Iran is prompting Russia to make its military structures in the South Caucasus, on the Caspian, Mediterranean and Black Sea regions more efficient. Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s (NG) Defense Ministry sources are saying that the Kremlin has been informed about an upcoming US-supported Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The strike will be sudden and take place on “day X” in the near future. One could assume Iran’s reaction will not be delayed. A full-scale war is possible, and its consequences could be unpredictable.

This problem is currently being addressed as a priority issue at the EU-Russia summit in Brussels with the participation of President Dmitry Medvedev. A day before the event, Russia’s envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, relayed a message from the Kremlin, saying that an Israeli or US strike on Iran will lead to “a catastrophic development of events.” The diplomat stressed that the negative consequences will not only be felt by the region, “but also in a much broader context.” Russia’s direct diplomatic pressure on Europe and the global community in respect to issues concerning a possible war in Iran began recently after the IAEA’s publication of a report on the Iranian nuclear program in November.

However, in the military sphere, Russia’s preparations for minimization of losses from possible military action against Tehran began more than two years ago. Today, they are nearly complete. According to the Defense Ministry sources, the 102nd military base in Armenia was fully optimized in October-November 2011. Military personnel’s families have been evacuated to Russia, and the Russian garrison deployed near Yerevan reduced. Military sub-units stationed in the area have been transferred to Gyumri district, closer to the Turkish border.

Strikes against Iranian facilities by US troops are possible from Turkish territory. So far, it is unclear as to what tasks the 102nd military base will perform in relation to this. But it is known that Russian troops stationed at military bases in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have been on high alert since December 1 of this year. Meanwhile, ships of the Black Sea Fleet are located not far from the Georgian border which in this conflict could act on the side of the anti-Iranian forces.

In Izberbash, Dagestan, nearly adjacent to the Azerbaijani border, a coastal guided missile battalion equipped with onshore anti-ship Bal-E missile systems with a range of 130 km, have been put on permanent combat readiness status. All guided missile craft of the Caspian Flotilla have been redeployed from Astrakhan to Makhachkala and Kaspiysk districts to form a single group. Meanwhile, the flagship of the Flotilla, the sentry rocket ship “Tatarstan”, will soon be joined by the small gunboat "Volgodonsk” and missile ship “Dagestan”. The flagships of the Flotilla are equipped with missile systems with a range of up to 200 km.

Recently, the Northern Fleet’s aircraft carrier group with the heavy aircraft carrier “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov”, headed towards the Mediterranean with plans to ultimately enter the Syrian port of Tartus. NG’s sources from the Defense Ministry did not confirm or deny the fact that the surface warships are being accompanied by the Northern Fleet’s nuclear submarines. The tasks that will be carried out by the army and the navy in the event of a war against Iran are, of course, not being disclosed. But Russia’s Defense Ministry is apparently concerned about the logistical support of troops in Armenia. The 102nd military base is a key point as it is Russia’s outpost in the South Caucasus. It holds a very important geopolitical position. But Kremlin officials are worried that this position will be lost. In the event of a US-Israeli war against Iran, this will indeed be tragic for Russia.

In April of this year, Georgia broke the agreement on the transit of military cargo to Armenia from Russia. Essentially, the Russian-Armenian grouping in the South Caucasus has been isolated. Supplies to the Russian army (POL, food, etc.) are delivered only by air and through direct agreements with Armenia which, in turn, purchases these products (gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene) from Iran. A war in Iran will close this supply channel.

Lt.-Gen. Yury Netkachev, who for a long time served as the deputy commander of the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus and was personally engaged in work on the supply of arms and ammunition to combined armed forces and units (including the 102nd military base), believes that, in the event of a full-fledged war against Iran, Russia will be looking to securely supply the military facility through Georgia. “Perhaps, it will be necessary to break the Georgian transport blockade and supply the transport corridors leading to Armenia by military means,” said the expert.

“Apparently, Russia’s Defense Ministry is also quite wary of Azerbaijan, which over the last three years has doubled its military budget and is currently buying Israeli drones and other advanced means of reconnaissance and topographic location, naturally aggravating Tehran and Armenia,” says head of the Center for Military Forecasting, Anatoly Tsyganok. “Baku has stepped up its pressure on Moscow, demanding significantly higher rental fees for the Gabala radar station. But even considering the disputes between Iran and Azerbaijan over oilfields in the south of the Caspian Sea, one could hardly argue that Baku will support an anti-Iranian military campaign. It is also very unlikely that it will unleash hostilities against Armenia.”

Col. Vladimir Popov, who was engaged in the analysis of hostilities between Baku and Yerevan between 1991 and 1993, and is currently following the military reforms conducted by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, disagrees with the expert. Popov believes that “the negotiation process on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict has been unreasonably delayed.” Baku is making open statements on revenge. “Azerbaijan pre-emptive strikes on Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, made in order to finally settle the territorial dispute in its favor, are possible,” says the expert.

But, in his opinion, the question of how Russia will behave is important. “If in the midst of a war in Iran, Azerbaijan supported by Turkey, attacks Armenia, then, of course, all of the adversary’s attacks against Armenia will be repelled by Russia in conjunction with Armenian anti-missile defense forces. It’s hard to say whether or not this will be considered as Moscow’s involvement in military action. Russian troops will certainly not be engaged in military action on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. But in the event of a military threat to Armenia coming from Turkey or Azerbaijan, for example, Russia will apparently take part in ground operations,” says Popov.

The analyst does not exclude the possibility of Russia’s military involvement in the Iranian conflict. “In the worst-case scenario, if Tehran is facing complete military defeat after a land invasion of the US and NATO troops, Russia will provide its military support – at least on a military-technical level,” predicts Vladimir Popov.


Russia to “Cut Military Transport Corridor” through Georgia?

Recently, the news media was filled with speculation about the possibility of renewed Russian military action against Georgia. There have been periods since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war when military scenarios and Russia’s military warnings have appeared on the web. As soon as the tensions around Iran’s nuclear program were aggravated, with US and Israeli sources often pondering military strikes against Tehran, Moscow’s ally, Russian military officials began to publicly voice warnings that Russia’s wouldn’t stand idle.

In one of the previous media reports, a map of Tbilisi’s outskirts was shown on the radar of a new Russian military satellite-controlled command facility, which was being tested. On other occasions, Russian officials spoke to the media about Russia’s strategic determination to use nuclear weapons in certain cases to deal with regional conflicts. The annual Caucasus military exercises held since 2008 also triggered concerns.

In March 2012, the Russian newspaper Kommersant, based on an anonymous Russian Defense Ministry source, suggested that Russia was ready for a US war against Iran which according to Russian diplomats, would likely happen before the end of the year. “We have calculated our actions in case of a war with Iran. For this contingency we have a plan for mobilization”, said the MOD source back then.

In the case of military escalation in Iran, Russian high-ranking officers expect an exodus of refugees to Iran’s neighbor Azerbaijan. The borders of Azerbaijan and Armenia, another of Iran’s northern neighbors, could be closed, posing a challenge for Russian soldiers stationed in the 102nd military base in Gyumri, Armenia. There is a risk that the hardware supplies to this base, now provided by Russia only through air transfers via Georgian airspace, will be disrupted, along with the fuel supplies delivered from Iran.

In December last year, in an interview with Nezavisimaia Gazeta, Russian General-Lieutenant Netkachov, formerly deputy commander of Russia’s troops in the South Caucasus, assured that in the case where there is a disruption of supplies, Russian forces “will have to break Georgia’s transport blockade and provide transport corridor leading to Armenia via military means”.

According to Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst with close contact with the Russian defense establishment, “the geography of the region implies that any such “corridor” may go through the Georgian capital of Tbilisi”. Russian direct military assistance to Tehran is also not excluded.

Georgia, Russian officers believe, will ally with the US in the military standoff with Iran and further blockade Russian reach to Armenia; proof of which they claim is the recent annulment by Tbilisi of the agreement on “open sky”. Georgian military experts stress that this later decision by the Georgian government makes Russia’s strategic partnership with Armenia very costly. Dmitry Rogozin, Vice Prime Minister of Russia, a fervent anti-western, formerly Russian envoy to NATO, warned against an attack on Iran which, as he put it, “is a direct threat to Russia’s security”.

Nezavisimaia Gazeta sources say Russians have started the contingency planning for this scenario two years ago. There are several signs that have alarm bells ringing among pundits.

First, for September, Russia planned the military drills Caucasus 2012 which many have directly linked with the possible US/Israeli war against Iran or other conflicts in the Caspian or South Caucasus region. Second, unlike the Caucasus 2008 which set the scene for the invasion of Georgia, this exercise is planned on the strategic level rather than operational-tactical as well as being joint, that is, involving all types of forces and services of the Defense Ministry but also other paramilitary state forces. This means the drills are tailored for operations on a larger scale.

Thirdly and as part of the second point, the drills will reportedly involve Russian troops deployed on the 7th military base in the occupied region of Abkhazia and the 4th base in the occupied South Ossetia, as well as the Gyumri military base in Armenia. The bases on Georgian soil are part of the Russian so-called South Military District.

Felgenhauer, who has previously warned of a war before 2008 and did the same soon after it, has argued the danger is real, giving a detailed account of Russian preparations. For example, additional units like modern command and control vehicles and air defense systems with the range of the entire South Caucasus region have been deployed in the North Caucasus. The air force in the South Military District (SMD) has been strengthened with new jets and helicopters, while all units have been furnished with new armed vehicles. The media also reported that last year, Russia’s base in Armenia was upgraded while the families of Russian servants had been evacuated to Russia.

At the same time, Russian bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been put on alert. Furthermore, as the Iranian news agency reports, Russia has deployed guided anti-ship missiles in the Caspian, and offensive spearhead forces heavily armed with modern long-range weapons, all aimed to strike preventively against the probable US basement in the South Caucasus in the run up to the Iran war.

So, will the Russians really cut a transport corridor through Georgia or even attempt to take Tbilisi? It is hard to predict. On the one hand, there are reasons why they could really do so. There is a consensus among Russian militaries that maintaining the Gyumri base is too important strategically for them and since there is no other way to reach the landlocked Armenia other than via Georgia, linking up its troops in South Ossetia with those in Armenia via Georgia could be a real possibility. Putin, notorious for his contempt for Georgia’s independence, is back in the Kremlin and pundits in the West have started to talk about Putin giving orders to invade Georgia as he did in 2008.

However, there are also good reasons why this would not happen. Unlike 2008, there are now about 200 EU monitors closely observing the situation around the occupied territory which the international community can use as a verification tool. Hence, Russia would have a hard time finding a casus belli. Politicians and bureaucrats in the West are also more critical towards Russia now that they know Moscow’s real motives. This could bring more pressure on Russia. In fact, it could have been due to such pressure that at the latest round of Geneva talks, Russian envoy Grigory Karasin downplayed the importance of the Caucasus 2012 drills, saying no troops beyond Russian territory would participate.

Even if the Russian top military brass have prepared a contingency plan which is by the way a routine task of military staffs, Russian politicians may not be that eager to repeat what they did so costly four years ago. And finally, a big question is whether the US will indeed go on war with Iran.


Russia Prepares For A US-Israeli Military Strike Against Iran

Russia has undertaken intensive preparations during the past few months for a possible military strike by Israel and the United States on Iran. According to recent reports, the Russian General Staff expects a war against Iran this summer, with enormous repercussions for not only the Middle East but also the Caucasus.

Russian troops in the Caucasus have been technically upgraded, and a missile division situated on the Caspian Sea has been placed in readiness. The missile cruisers of the Caspian flotilla are now anchored off the coast of Dagestan. The only Russian military base in the South Caucasus, located in Armenia, is also on alert for military intervention. Last autumn, Russia sent its aircraft carrier Kuznetsov to the Syrian port Tartous following the escalation of the conflict in Syria. Experts believe that Russia would support Tehran in the event of war, at least on a military-technical level.

In a commentary in April, General Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Science, wrote that “a war against Iran would be a war against Russia” and he called for a “political-diplomatic alliance” with China and India. Operations were being undertaken throughout the Middle East in order to destabilise the region and proceed against China, Russia and Europe. The war against Iran, Ivashov wrote, would “end up at our borders, destabilise the situation in the North Caucasus and weaken our position in the Caspian region.”

Of central concern for Moscow are the consequences for the South Caucasus in the event of a war against Iran. Armenia is the only ally of the Kremlin in the region and has close economic links with Iran, while neighbouring Georgia and Azerbaijan maintain military and economic ties with the United States and Israel.

The Kremlin fears above all that Azerbaijan could participate in a military alliance alongside Israel and the United States against Iran. Azerbaijan borders Iran, Russia, Armenia and the Caspian Sea, and since the mid-1990s has been an important military and economic ally of the US in the South Caucasus, housing several American military bases.

Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan are already very tense. Tehran has repeatedly accused Baku of participating in terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage, most probably in collaboration with the Israeli and American intelligence agencies. In recent years, Azerbaijan has doubled its military spending and in February completed a weapons deal with Israel worth US$1.6 billion involving the supply of drones and missile defence systems.

Citing senior sources in the Obama administration, Mark Perry told the American journal Foreign Policy in late March that Baku had allowed Israel access to several air bases on the border to northern Iran that could be used for an air strike on Tehran. The magazine quotes a senior government official saying, “The Israelis have bought an airport and this airport is Azerbaijan.” Perry warned, “Military strategists must now take into account a war scenario, which includes not only the Persian Gulf, but also the Caucasus.”

The Baku government immediately denied the report, but the editor of the Azerbaijani newspaper Neue Zeit, Shakir Gablikogly, warned that Azerbaijan could be drawn into a war against Iran.

Even if Azerbaijan should not prove to be the starting point for an Israeli attack on Iran, there is the danger that war will lead to a military escalation of other territorial conflicts such as the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. The region has been independent since the end of the civil war in 1994, but the government in Baku, the US and the European Council insist it be regarded as part of Azerbaijan. There have been repeated border conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the past two years, and commentators have warned that the dispute could escalate into a war involving Russia, the United States and Iran.

In a recent interview with Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda, military expert Mikhail Barabanov said that conflicts in the post-Soviet region could lead to military intervention in Russia. Any intervention in the region by the US or other NATO power would bring with it “the inevitable risk of the use of nuclear weapons.” Russia has the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world after the US.

Due to its geostrategic importance, Eurasia has become the epicentre for economic and political rivalries and military conflicts between the US and Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia form a bridge between resource-rich Central Asia and the Caspian Sea on one side, and Europe and the Black Sea on the other. The US has sought to win influence in the region via economic alliances since the 1990s. In 1998, the then US vice president Richard Cheney declared, “I can not remember a time when a region so suddenly gained such huge strategic importance as the Caspian.”

In his book The Grand Chessboard (1998), Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to US president Jimmy Carter, wrote: “A power that dominates Eurasia would control two thirds of the most advanced and economically productive regions of the world. In Eurasia, there are about three-quarters of the known energy resources in the world.” The central importance of the region is its role as a transit area for energy supplies to Europe from Asia, which bypasses Russia. By supporting alternative pipeline projects, Washington has sought to weaken Russian links to Europe, which depends heavily on Russian oil and gas.

So far, Georgia is the key country for the transit of gas and oil supplies and has been at the heart of conflicts in the region. Georgia’s “Rose Revolution” in 2003 was instigated by Washington to push Mikhail Saakashvili into power as president in order to safeguard US economic and strategic interests in the region. It led to an intensification of tensions with Moscow for geostrategic supremacy. The war between Georgia and Russia in the summer of 2008 represented a further ratcheting up of the rivalry between the two countries with the potential to expand into a Russian-American war. Relations between Russia and Georgia remain very tense.

US influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia has declined significantly in recent years. In addition to Russia, China has emerged as a major force in the area, establishing significant economic and military ties with Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan. Although Russia and China remain rivals, they have struck a strategic alliance in their competition with the United States. For the US, war against Iran represents a further stage in its growing confrontation with China and Russia for control of the energy resources of Central Asia and the Middle East.


Russia Hopes to Dissuade Azerbaijan From Going to War Over Runaway Nagorno-Karabakh

Three hypotheses explaining a dramatic enlargement of the Russian military group in Dagestan. Between 15,000 and 25,000 servicemen of the Defense Ministry and Internal Troops with heavy fighting vehicles were dispatched from Chechnya to Dagestan. The authorities call it planned rotation one day and establishment of the Interior Ministry's Tactical Force in Dagestan the following.

Eyewitness reports mentioned over 300 vehicles including armored personnel carriers, Ural ferries, and armored command vehicles on the way to Dagestan. T-90 tanks and multiple rocket launcher systems were already moved to Dagestan from Chechnya. According to official explanations, "some forces of the Provisional Task Force will be moved from Chechnya to Dagestan and transformed into the Interior Ministry's Tactical Force." Dagestani Security Council Secretary Magomed Baachilov, however, called it "planned rotation".

Both explanations are lame, of course. Official explanation is invalidated by the simple fact that no Tactical Force ever needs so many heavy armored vehicles and Grad launchers. Baachilov's is plain rubbish on account of the scope of the so called rotation. The impression is that a major operation against the extremist underground is planned in Dagestan. Or else the federal center knows something that warrants deployment of an equivalent of two divisions... in addition to the 136th Brigade quartered in Buinaksk, Marines in Kaspiisk, and countless OMON units.

There is, however, a third hypothesis as well. "As matters stand, there are between 55,000 and 57,000 servicemen quartered in the republic... discounting local law enforcement agencies... It is rumored here that come summer Azerbaijan will make another go at Nagorno-Karabakh and try to reabsorb the runaway region. All this military might concentrated in Dagestan is meant as a warning to Baku, a message that Russia will stand by Armenia," said a source in Dagestani security structures.

Source: Argumenty Nedeli, No 11, March 22, 2012, p. 2

Air Assault Units to Expand Russian Military Presence Abroad

Russian military bases in Central Asia and the Caucasus are to be considerably strengthened. They might be reinforced by units of the national Airborne Force to increase mobility and combat efficiency, said the force’s commander, Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov. First of all, judging by the experience of the Airborne Force’s peacekeeping operations, forward bases are required in order to successfully accomplish the objectives set by Russia’s leaders, General Shamanov believes. He added that such bases would make it possible to expand operations in specific sectors. Another factor is the international commitments of Russia and the CIS countries within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

The CSTO’s Collective Rapid Reaction Force comprises Russia’s 98th Guards Airborne Division and the 31st Detached Guards Air Assault Brigade. Russian paratroopers were deployed at an air base in Kyrgyzstan and at other local Russian military installations during the unrest in the country in 2009. The re-deployment of airborne units to Tajikistan was enacted during a strategic military exercise in 2011. In 2012, the Airborne Force is planning exercises at the 102nd military base in Armenia, which will involve elements of the above-mentioned Collective Rapid Reaction Force. But it is unclear whether airborne units will remain there on a permanent basis.

General Shamanov also proposes subordinating helicopter units to airborne formations. Such units, providing air assault strike capabilities, might also be deployed at Russian military bases abroad. Shamanov said last February that Russia’s military-political leaders had already decided to deploy a helicopter regiment near Novorossiisk in southern Russia. Shamanov justified this decision by the fact that the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was becoming increasing complex, and that Russian-Georgian relations were continuing to deteriorate. Consequently, airborne units needed to become more mobile.

The regiment, to comprise 60 military transport and attack helicopters, should support the Seventh Air Assault Division, which was successfully deployed during the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war. At that time, it took ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet several days to re-deploy to the conflict zone near the Georgian-Abkhazian border. The helicopter regiment can do the same in the space of a few hours.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry has protested the deployment of a helicopter regiment in Novorossiisk, saying Russia looks like it is preparing for new hostilities. Tbilisi is also worried by the upcoming Caucasus-2012 military exercise, which would reportedly involve Russian personnel from military bases in the Caucasus. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that there were no plans to involve the personnel of Russian military bases abroad or foreign armed forces.

A Russian military analyst said a possible decision to deploy air assault units and helicopters at Russian military bases in the Caucasus had only positive aspects. He added that a recent Georgian-U.S. exercise had involved counter-insurgency operations which served to remind people of Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers in August 2008.


Russia to Strengthen Military Base in Armenia

Armenia and Russia cannot stay aside if Israel attacks Iran, military expert Artsrun Hovhannisyan told journalists on Saturday. If U.S. and Israel decide to launch war against Iran, they can hardly be stopped. However, it is possible to influence the development of the events as a whole. “On the background of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran, such possibility is small. Armenia, in its turn, should weaken tension as much as possible. Undoubtedly, Yerevan is dealing with it through its diplomatic channels,” he said. As for Russia’s role in the region, Kremlin is important, while the only Russian military facility in the South Caucasus is a military base in Armenia’s Gyumri. “Thus, we can conclude that the Russian military base will be modernized, improved and strengthened. Moscow will try to strengthen its military presence in the region within the framework of the existing Armenian-Russian agreements or just concluding new ones,” the expert concluded.


Russia Plans Additional Military Aid To Armenia

Armenia will receive additional military assistance from Russia within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the secretary general of the Russian-led alliance of seven ex-Soviet states announced on Friday. Nikolay Bordyuzha said Moscow will specifically supply new weapons to Armenian and other allied troops making up a NATO-style rapid reaction force that was formed by the CSTO member states in 2009. “We have practically finished work on a program to arm the Collective Operational Reaction Forces (CORF) of the CSTO,” Bordyuzha told a news conference in Yerevan. He said the program will be submitted to an upcoming CSTO summit for approval.

“It envisages the provision of modern types of weaponry to contingents making up the Collective Operational Reaction Forces, including troops from Armenia,” added the Russian official. In that context, Bordyuzha also stressed the importance of growing cooperation, also within the CSTO framework, between the Armenian and Russian defense industries. “What is now being done in the military-economic area, especially the creation of a number of Russian centers or joint ventures in Armenia for the maintenance, repair and modernization of some types of weaponry, also contributes to the provision of modern weapons to the Armenian armed forces,” he said.

Armenian and Russian officials agreed to set up such ventures after talks in Yerevan in July 2010. Bordyuzha announced at the time the launch of a “pilot project” aimed at integrating Armenian defense enterprises into Russia’s military-industrial complex. The announcement came shortly before Moscow and Yerevan signed a new defense accord that extended the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia by 24 years, until 2044, and upgraded its security mission. The bilateral deal also committed Moscow to supplying the Armenian military with “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.”

Bordyuzha spoke to journalists on Friday after signing with Artur Baghdasarian, secretary of President Serzh Sarkisian’s National Security Council, a plan of Armenia’s CSTO-related actions. That includes the holding of CORF exercises in Armenia next year. Baghdasarian described the drills as “extremely important” for Yerevan. According to Bordyuzha, the document also envisages “a number of events that will allow us to use more effectively the CSTO’s potential for ensuring Armenia’s security.”


Field Drills to Test Russian Base in Armenia

Rocket force and artillery subdivisions of Russian military base #102 stationed on the territory of Armenia are currently at the Armenian Alagyaz educational-training complex where field drills are conducted on missile strike management. More than 400 servicemen take part in the drills with around 100 artillery armory units, as well as military and special equipment.

The final stage of the large-scale drills coincided with the enlarged joint session of the Armenian and Russian units of Intergovernmental Commission for Military-Economic Cooperation of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) held in Yerevan. A top-ranking delegation has arrived in the Armenian capital from Russia, including CSTO deputy secretary general Valery Semerikov.

Last month CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha made a number of important statements, in particular, that strikes at Iran would shock the region from all perspectives – starting with politics and ending with economy. He also stated that CSTO is closely watching the situation and that “Armenia will receive whatever assistance it needs in case of a crisis in the Karabakh conflict zone”.

“We have a big potential in terms of the application of forces or operational counteraction subdivisions. But I cannot say today what kind of assistance will be shown, as it can be said only based on a definite situation. Nonetheless, I repeat that Armenia will receive all the assistance it needs as a full-rights CSTO member,” stressed Bordyuzha.

The military drills of CSTO’s operative response collective forces will be conducted in Armenia next fall. The details of the drills were discussed both during the session, and at the National Security Council of Armenia (NSCA). “Armenia is doing its best not to allow a shift in the balance of forces in the region,” said NSCA Secretary Artur Baghdasaryan on April 12, while commenting on the possible change in the layout of forces in the region as a result of Azerbaijan’s military build-up.

He stressed that according to NSCA’ state-approved plan for 2011-2015, Armenia, too, is purchasing modern armory and, despite Azerbaijan’s growing military budget, Armenia is taking all possible measures to maintain the balance of forces. It has become known that Armenia and Russia will be signing a new agreement on military-technical cooperation.

Baghdasaryan stressed that the new agreement would help to overcome the existing obstacles, which would allow military-industrial enterprises to communicate directly. And besides, it would allow for a considerably broader cooperation. During the joint session issues were discussed also on creating repair and technical assistance centers for military machinery in Armenia; there are currently seven joint Armenian-Russian military-industrial enterprises functioning on its territory.


Armenian-Russian joint military-industrial companies to be created in Armenia

Armenian-Russian joint military-industrial companies will be created on the basis of existing companies or creation of new ones. The issue is being discussed at the extended sitting of the CSTO and Military-Technical Cooperation Inter-State Commission. Assistant Secretary General of the CSTO Valery Semerikov said today that the arrangements reached during the previous meetings mainly refer to the military engineering. "But today we will discuss the opportunity of setting military-industrial centers in Armenia, which in its turn will promote the increase of the defense level of Armenia," Semerikov said.

Secretary of the National Security Council Arthur Baghdasaryan said the session gathered all those engaged in the military industrial sphere of their country. "The current results are very positive and the procedure of establishing seven new joint ventures goes on successfully. The main goal of this sitting is preparation of a new agreement in the sphere of military-technical cooperation between Armenia and Russia," Arthur Baghdasaryan said, adding that Russia has such agreement with Belarus as well.


Wikileaks: Azerbaijan “terrified” by potential Armenian attack

Despite record growth in military spending and frequently heard threats by top officials to resume hostilities in Karabakh, Azerbaijani leadership is said to be "terrified" by a prospect of an Armenian military attack, a Stratfor memo made available via Wikileaks revealed. The memo was prepared by Reva Bhalla, Stratfor's director of analysis, following her August 2010 meeting with a source described as "Ambassador-at-large for energy security, Czech Republic." While the official is not named in the memo, Vaclav Bartuska has been the Czech envoy on energy security for the last several years.

The Czech official reportedly told Bhalla that "It is remarkable to what degree Azerbaijan is under Russian influence. THey are thinking about their survival. The Azerbaijanis cannot agree to a final deal on Shah Deniz II" natural gas field being developed in the Caspian by BP and whose output is sought by Russia and Western energy consumers.

"When I was in Baku recently, they showed me a 3-D topographic map of Armenia, AZ [Azerbaijan], Nagorno [Karabakh]," the Czech related. "You can see very clearly that once (and if) the Armenians cross over with Russian backing, it is a flat path to Baku. The Russians told them during the Georgia war that Georgia could just be the first stop... pretty direct threat. The Azerbaijanis are terrified of this."

According to press reports, in June 2010 Bartuska participated in the Baku oil and gas conference annually organized by the Azerbaijani government. Bhalla's memo was part of the Stratfor e-mail cache obtained last December by internet hacking group known as the Anonymous. Last year, speaking on the third anniversary of the Georgia war, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev argued that the 2008 war taught parties to the Karabakh conflict "a very serious lesson" that it was "better to conduct endless talks" than fight even a few days of war.

And State Department cables also released by Wikileaks made clear that in U.S. assessment, despite the military build-up and threatening rhetoric, Azerbaijan remains incapable of launching a successful military campaign against Armenia.


CSTO Will Protect Armenia in ‘Critical Situations’

As a full member of the CSTO, Armenia will be protected in the event of ‘critical situations,’ the organization’s secretary general told a video conference from Moscow on Tuesday. General Niklolay Bordyuzha, who heads the Collective Security Treaty Organization, of which Armenia, along with other CIS countries is a member, stressed that in any critical situation CSTO will assist Armenia as its complete member.

“Armenia has the same rights and responsibilities as the other members have. In this case Armenia has right to get assistance for its territorial integrity,” Bordyuzha said adding that the type and volume of assistance will depend on the current critical situation.

Bordyuzha also said that the CSTO did not mediate the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that the OSCE Minsk Group is the international entity tasked with the peace process. CSTO secretary-general said that the organization has not only military but political and peacekeeping potential. Bordyuzha announced that he will be visiting Yerevan next month to discuss the completion of agreements made between the presidents of Russia and Armenia.

Along with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan are also members of the CSTO, which is a security alliance borne after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova opted out of joining the CSTO and formed their own alliance known as GUAM. Bordyuzha, who was speaking at the Novosti media center in Moscow enumerated the various coordinating activities between member states and called that effort a success.

The Secretary-General said that existing mechanisms in the CSTO charter allow the member states to work together during critical situations and in the prevention of illegal drug trade and immigration. He also explained that the CSTO has cooperated with 22 countries, especially in efforts to curb illegal drug trade.


Why Russia is Planning Iran War Games

As tensions ratchet up in the Persian Gulf, the Kremlin is signaling that it will use all its diplomatic influence to oppose war and, according to a leading Moscow newspaper, has ordered the military to prepare for any possible spillover from a conflict between Iran and the US into the sensitive post-Soviet Caucasus region.

Russia will block any further sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, a Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday, because it believes rising tensions could trigger a conflict that would destabilize the wider region. Last week Russian deputy prime minister and former ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin warned that any Western attack on Iran would constitute "a direct threat to [Russian] national security."

The independent Moscow daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Monday that this year's annual military exercises in Russia's south, Kavkaz 2012, will be much larger than usual and organized around the premise of a war that begins with an attack on Iran but spreads to neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan, and draws Russia into a regional maelstrom. The newspaper said the war games, which are usually confined to Russian territory, might this year include maneuvers in the breakaway Georgian statelets of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and perhaps also in Russian-allied Armenia.

"We believe that sanctions relative to Iran have lost their usefulness," Gennady Gatilov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, told a Moscow press conference Tuesday. "We will oppose any new resolution [on UN sanctions against Iran].... "Russia would consider any use of force against the territory of Iran unacceptable. That would make the situation even more critical.... Unfortunately, many [Western] government leaders are not restraining themselves and are speaking openly about a military strike against Iran," Mr. Gatilov added.

A harsh sanctions regime, signed into law by President Obama two weeks ago, would target Iran's ability to earn cash through oil exports by penalizing Western companies who clear payments through Iran's central bank. The European Union could enact its own sanctions against Iranian oil exports as early as next week.

Doesn't want nuclear weapons in Iran, but doesn't want war

Russian experts say that Moscow opposes Iran's alleged drive for atomic weapons, but may fear the consequences of a military strike aimed at curbing the country's nuclear program more. "War in Iran could create a new situation in the wider Caucasus and the Caspian Basin, which would a very serious challenge to Russia," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal. "There is a high degree of uncertainty about what would happen in neighboring regions. How would it affect the situation around Nagorno Karabakh, for instance?"

Armenia and Azerbaijan (see map here) fought a savage war in the 1990s over the tiny Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno Karabakh, which ended with Armenia annexing the territory and some surrounding regions. Azerbaijan has never accepted that outcome, but its desire for revenge has been checked by intensive international diplomacy.

"The situation around Karabakh is stable now, but the status quo could be destroyed by an external shock, such as war in next-door Iran," says Mr. Lukyanov. "For Russia, this would pose an impossible dilemma. That's why upcoming military exercises will be designed to address various possible outcomes and find ways to deal with them. . . Russia is absolutely not interested in war breaking out."

Secret benefits for Russia

But, he adds, Russia might also "secretly benefit" from any US attack on Iran as long as it didn't produce pro-Western regime change in that country. Prices for oil, Russia's main source of foreign exchange, would skyrocket, at least in the short term. "The most likely outcome is that the US would become bogged down in another complicated, long-term conflict," Lukyanov says. "That means US attention would be less directed than ever on the post-Soviet region, and that would be good for Moscow."

The Russo-Georgian August 2008 war came just days after the Russian military completed its Kavkaz 2008 war games in the north Caucasus, a conflict that ended with Russia declaring South Ossetia and Abkhazia fully independent from Georgia. Tensions between Russia and NATO-friendly Georgia continue to this day, and might also be deeply complicated by any conflict that breaks out between the US and nearby Iran.

Mr. Rogozin, the Russian deputy prime minister, when asked to clarify his earlier comment that war against Iran would create a threat to Russia's national security, told journalists Tuesday that "any ratcheting up of tensions on Iran can bring nothing useful, it would lead to a catastrophe in the region.... Russia is doing everything it can from the point of view of diplomacy to resolve the conflict," he added.


Georgia Warns Against ‘Offensive’ Russian Exercise

Russia’s South Strategic Command is planning the exercise ‘Caucasus 2012’ in September. Foreign military attaches were briefed about the exercise at a meeting in Moscow last December with the head of the Russian military’s chief of staff. It will involve not only army but also border guards, air force, interior ministry, security and emergency services, as well as what is called the Air Defense Force Management System.

This air defense system controls not only Russian skies but also covers the South Caucasus, justified by the need to protect the Russian base in Armenia, Nezavisimaia Gazeta reports. According to Russian defense sources, unlike in previous exercised, this year it will also take place inside Georgia’s breakaway regions, Abkhazia and the South Ossetia, as well as in Armenia. Georgia’s Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday that the exercise is offensive in nature and a provocation meant to stoke ‘permanent tension’ in Georgia and the Black Sea region.

“The international community should pay attention to the fact that the Russian foreign policy is not changed. It continues aggressive actions, including demonstrating military forces and provocations. Russia is the source of destabilization and negative events on the international arena,” the statement says. But Nezavisimaia Gazeta reports that the background for the exercise is increased tension in the Persian Gulf and the danger of a U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran and that this would necessitate steps to protect the Russian troops stationed around the Caucasus region.


Military Buildup: Russia’s Top Secret Bases

Over 400 modern ground- and sea-based ICBMs, 8 ballistic missile submarines, about 20 general purpose attack submarines, over 50 surface ships and some 100 military-purpose spacecraft, over 600 modern aircraft, including fifth-generation fighters, more than a thousand helicopters, 28 regimental sets of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, 38 division sets of Vityaz air defense systems, 10 brigade sets of Iskander-M tactical missile systems, more than 2,300 modern tanks, some 2,000 self-propelled artillery systems and guns, and more than 17,000 military vehicles. These are the figures of the massive rearmament program announced by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin in an article published on February 20 by state-owned newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

The article, titled “Being Strong is a Guarantee of Russia’s National Security,” shows Putin’s determination to preserve Russia’s deterrence power facing US plains aimed at achieving nuclear primacy. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the gap between Russia’s declining arsenal and US constantly improving systems is actually increasing to the point of making the age of MAD nearing an end. Nevertheless, Russian nuclear deterrent is still formidable, as Moscow can count on more than 2,000 operational strategic warheads deployed along the entire territory of the federation and the seas plowed by the submarines of the Russian Navy. But what is more, in case of nuclear crisis Russia can still rely on several top secret bases inherited by the Soviet Union, and not only.

Russia’s national command and control system is dispersed among different hardened underground locations. According to US sources, two of the main secret bases are located in the Ural Mountains, where conventionally European Russia ends and greater Siberia begins. The first one is the Yamantau Mountain complex. Located near the closed town of Mezhgorye, in the Republic of Bashkortostan, this site is not far from Russia’s main nuclear weapons lab facility, Chelyabinsk-70. Military analysts suspect that Yamantau’s huge 400-square-mile underground complex houses nuclear warhead and missile storage sites, launch control and several full-blown nuclear weapons factories designed to continue production after a hypothetical nuclear war begins.

The second secret base in the Urals is an underground command and control center located at the Kosvinsky Mountain, about 850 miles east of Moscow. The site hosts the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces alternate command post, a deep underground command post for the general staff built to compensate for the vulnerability of older command posts in the Moscow region. The facility, finished in early 1996, was designed to resist US earth-penetrating warheads and is the Russian version of the American Cheyenne Mountain Complex.

Besides Yamantau Mountain and the Kosvinsky Mountain underground complex, Russia can still count on the Sherapovo bunker site, south of Moscow. Initially built in the 1950s, it was the primary command center for the Soviet leadership. The Kremlin is connected to Sherapovo and other bunkers by a secret subway line. According to a 1988 Pentagon report, once at Sherapovo, the Soviet leaders could have conduct a nuclear war by sending orders and receiving reports through a highly redundant communications system. Russia’s general staff has a similar facility some 20 kilometers away from Sherapovo, known as Chekhov. Both sites can accommodate an estimated 30,000 people each one.

Although Russia has tried to keep secrecy about its underground bases, information about these sites have circulated anyway. According to a CIA report, “the command post at Kosvinsky appears to provide the Russians with the means to retaliate against a nuclear attack.” The construction of the facility has actually helped Moscow to counterbalance the decline of its nuclear forces following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. In this sense, the existence itself of top secret bases within the territory of the Russian Federation is the best means of deterrence against any first strike intention, and thereby a warranty to world peace.

Armenia Ready to Provide Site for Russian Radar

If Russia fails to agree with Azerbaijan lease of the Gabala missile defense radar, Armenia is ready to provide a site on its territory for construction of the radar, Kommersant daily reported on Wednesday, quoting Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan. “There may even be advantages, because Aremenia is a mountainous country. Coverage can be broader,” Sargsyan said.

Russia has been in talks with Azerbaijan to extend the lease of the Soviet-era radar, which it has operated in line with a 2002 deal. The current agreement is due to expire on December 24. The Russian daily Kommersant newspaper reported in late February that Azerbaijan had demanded Russia pay $300 million instead of the previously agreed $7 million for the lease, which Russia is seeking to extend until 2025.

Sources in the Russian Defense Ministry were quoted as saying the price demanded by Baku was “unreasonably high.” The deputy director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, Alexander Khramchikhin, has said the end of the Gabala radar lease will do no “real damage” to Russia’s defense capabilities because another radar, constructed in the southern Russian town of Armavir, would cover the area of the Gabala radar.

The Voronezh-class radar in Armavir in the Black Sea area is currently operating in test mode and is a serious breakthrough when compared to the previous generation Dnepr and Daryal class radars, which the Gabala radar belongs to.


Russian radar in Armenia to block an US/Israeli strike on Iran from the north

Moscow has stepped into the vacuum created by US President Barack Obama’s decision to stay out of any potentially incendiary Middle East involvement while campaigning for a second term. After blocking the way to direct Western and Arab military intervention in Syria through the Mediterranean, Russia sent its Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week on a round trip to the capitals of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – an expedition designed to secure Iran against a potential US/Israeli attack via its northern and eastern neighbors, debkafile’s military sources report.

On his return to Moscow, April 6, the Russian army let it be known that highly-advanced mobile S-400 surface-to-air missiles had been moved into Kaliningrad, the Baltic enclave bordered by Poland and Lithuania, its response to US plans for an anti-Iran missile shield system in Europe and the Middle East. In Yerevan, the Russian minister finalized a deal for the establishment of an advanced Russian radar station in the Armenian mountains to counter the US radar set up at the Turkish Kurecik air base, our sources disclose.

Just as the Turkish station (notwithstanding Ankara’s denials) will trade data on incoming Iranian missiles with the US station in the Israeli Negev, the Russian station in Armenia will share input with Tehran.Moscow remains deeply preoccupied in Syria, successfully fending off Western and Arab pressure against its ruler Bashar Assad. debkafile’s sources hear that Assad will not meet the April 10 deadline for moving his heavy armor and battalions out of Syrian cities. Monday, April 8, he sent his foreign minister Walid Moallem to Moscow for instructions for getting him off the hook of failing to comply with his commitment to the UN envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, starting with a truce.Lavrov, rather than US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is evidently regarded these days as the senior Middle East power broker.

In a thumbs-down on Russia’s deepening footstep in the region, the London-based Saudi Sharq al Awsat captioned a Sunday op-ed item, “Nor do we want a ‘Sheikh’ Lavrov.”For the first time since the Cold War ended, the management of a major world crisis has passed into the hands of the Kremlin in Moscow and the UN Secretariat in New York.Weeping crocodile tears, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Saturday that the April 10 date for a Syrian truce “was not an excuse for continued killing” by the Syrian regime, ignoring the fact that “the continued killing” could have been avoided were it not for the strategy pursued by Kofi Annan, the special envoy he shares with the Arab League, with Moscow’s back-stage wire-pulling.

This is because President Barak Obama is advised by his campaign strategists that the way to the American voter’s heart in November is through burnishing his image as a “balanced and responsible” multinational diplomat, in contrast with his Republican rivals’ hawkish support of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program. In the case of Syria, the White House finds itself on the same side as the UN and the Kremlin. They all share the common goal of obstructing Western and Arab military intervention in Syria at all costs.

Hundreds of Syrian protesters are still paying the price in blood - although its dimensions of the butchery are frequently exaggerate by the opposition. After brutalizing his population for thirteen months, Bashar Assad is more or less on top of the revolt in Syria’s main cities, excepting the Idlib province and one or two pockets in and around Homs. He used the extra days afforded him by Kofi Annan’s deadline for the ruthless purge of the last remnants of resistance in small towns and villages, cetain that Moscow, the UN secretary - and Washington, by default - would do nothing to stop him.

Should current circumstances shoot off in unforeseen directions – for instance, a Syrian government poison chemical or biological weapon attack causing hundreds of dead, over and above the 9,000 confirmed by UN figures – Obama might be forced to resort to limited military action, pulling in the Turkish army. This has not yet happened. That the Russians are not letting the grass grow under their feet, turning Middle East bushfires to their advantage and closing one American Middle East option after another, appears to be a minor consideration in Washington up until November.


Russian Black Sea Fleet and the Air Force Su-27 fighters will be stationed in Abkhazia

According to Itar-Tassy, Russia and the Republic of Abkhazia are in the a national consultation to establish military bases, and soon to sign a formal agreement. The Republic of Abkhazia report quoted presidential spokesman Kulisidi Yang’s words, “Last year, Abkhazia and Russia signed a” friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance agreement ‘, according to this agreement, the two being set up two military bases in Abkhazia to conduct consultations, according to the current situation of the talks in the next few months will be reached in the Abkhazia region of Bohm Bor Gudauta Chomsky and the establishment of the Russian Air Force base in the establishment of the Russian naval base in Ochamchira agreement currently being conducted on a number of technical issues final consultation. “Kulisidi Yang said, the main naval base Ochamchira Russian Black Sea Fleet deployment forces, the Air Force base area than Gudauta naval base early in use. According to Russian sources, Russia hopes to deploy in Abkhazia, including the Su-27 fighters, Su-25 bombers and military transport aircraft, including 20 aircraft.

reported that during the Soviet era, Soviet Air Force fighters, bombers and transport aircraft have deployed in the Bohm Bor Sharansky airport. According to the agreement signed between the two countries in 2008, will be built up in Abkhazia and 3,700 in the Russian Air Force bases. Bohm Bor Chomsky airport is the Black Sea coastal areas important military objectives is the largest military airfield outside the Caucasus. Russian Air Force deployed in the cluster do not need here costs too much, because there have the necessary ground support facilities. Bohm Bor Chomsky airport runway length of aircraft movements is 4 km, has to accept all types of fighters and military transport aircraft capacity.

According to reports, the Russian military bases in Abkhazia, Georgia has aroused anxiety.


Russia Tries to Undermine Javakheti

Soon, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will be complete. The line passes through the Javakheti region of Georgia before entering Turkey. This is the same area where Moscow is trying to undermine the sovereignty and people of Georgia, hoping to inspire the ethnic Armenia population to declare yet another "independent state" on Georgian territory.

According to a Russian newspaper, the ethnic Armenian population in the region wants to separate from Georgia and declare its independence. The paper names Georgia’s efforts to join NATO as the major reason for their complaint, as when Georgia is granted membership it will "automatically" become a major Turkish ally, which is supposedly unacceptable to the Armenian population in Javakheti. This is the opinion of Agas Aramyan, the leader of an organization called Javakhk Diaspora in Russia, but not necessarily that of the people living in the region itself.

So far, such provocative statements had been ignored by the Georgian leadership. But on Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze deigned to comment, saying that ethnic conflicts in Georgia are in the interests of the Russian Federation. She also mentioned that Armenia successfully cooperates with NATO. But the idea of separatism is still promoted by certain forces supported by the Kremlin, which is actively trying to implement this project.

Officially, Yerevan is taking a wise policy. The government there has not made any anti-Georgian statements; on the contrary, it is trying to develop good neighbourly relations between the two states. This position is shared by the Georgian side as well, as these countries are fated to be neighbours forever – thus it is in our mutual interest to preserve good relations.


Turkey's Neo-Ottoman Foreign Policy

How does Turkey’s ruling Islamist party react when it gets a report it doesn't like from the United Nations? By yanking diplomats, threatening military conflict with a neighbor, and menacingly eyeing that neighbor's new yield of natural resources. If the General Assembly ever does something really provocative and votes on a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide or the right of Kurdish self-determination, you can bet that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will make the prison guard in "Midnight Express" look like Florence Nightingale.

Reacting to the leaked UN Palmer Report on the 2010 flotilla fiasco, which found that Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip is legal and that the passengers aboard the "Mavi Marmara" were cruising for a bruising, Erdogan’s government has taken to issuing thuggish pronunciamentos. At issue is the fact that Israel refused to apologize to Turkey for killing nine Turkish nationals in the Mediterranean. Israel reckons that to do so would be an insult to the commandos who abseiled onto the "Mavi Marmara" only to be bludgeoned, stabbed, and shot.

Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) has tried to have it both ways on the flotilla. It banned its own members from participating in order to distance itself from what was obviously a blockade-running provocation. Yet ranking AKP members are on the board of IHH, the Turkish "charity" that organized the event.

Anatolian Chest-Poundings

And Erdogan's refusal to let the 2011 flotilla start out from Istanbul -- at the urging of Washington -- complicates the government's claims of having no control over a supposedly independent NGO. Needless to say, bilateral relations with Israel have gone from lousy to dire. “The eastern Mediterranean will no longer be a place where Israeli naval forces can freely exercise their bullying practices against civilian vessels,” one Turkish official said, promising a military escort for all future “aid” ships to Gaza -- assuming, that is, that these ships can outfox the savvy Israeli lawyers who made the sequel set-sail a busted flush.

From the sound of it, Turkey now wants to become the chief maritime bully. Part and parcel with its “more aggressive strategy” in the eastern Mediterranean is its attempt to stop Israel from mining its huge natural gas and oil fields, recent discoveries which some experts predict will make the Jewish state one of the largest -- and wealthiest -- energy exporters in the world. The threat by a NATO member to skirmish on the high seas with a major U.S. ally follows other Anatolian chest-poundings.

Earlier in the week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose foreign policy vision used to be known as “no problems with the neighbors,” announced that Ankara would be expelling all Israeli Embassy officials above the rank of second secretary. Erdogan wants to visit Gaza in the coming days to increase “international attention” on Israel’s siege of the strip. This from the man who previously said that he doesn’t think Hamas is a terrorist group. Erdogan's visit is sure to impress upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas which party the AKP would like see ruling the Palestinian state the UN is about to recognize.

A Dirty Little Secret

Finally, Erdogan vowed to suspend all military relations and defense industry trade between Turkey and Israel. Years ago, this might have been significant. Yet here’s a dirty little secret: Greece, which diplomatically facilitated the second flotilla’s deep-sixing, is fast replacing Turkey as Israel’s favorite regional military partner.

Not only is flight distance between Israel and Greece the same as that between Israel and Iran, but the Hellenes have got S-300 antiaircraft missiles that the mullahs have been itching to buy from Russia in order to deter an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Joint Israeli-Greek military exercises are therefore seen as very valuable at the moment. The Israelis and Palestinians have had their share of Turkish strong-arming, but so have the Syrians.

Indeed, the reason that a Syrian National Council was hastily announced on Al-Jazeera late last month, following weeks of oppositionist wrangling and backbiting at a conference in Istanbul, is that a faction of Syrian youth activists had grown tired of seeing the AKP trying to make their revolution a Muslim Brotherhood-led affair. (What better way to minimize the Islamists than to propose a secular French sociologist chairman of a Syrian National Council, as a group of youth activists did last month?)

Erdogan did happy business with Bashar al-Assad while he could, but he now wants to make sure that any post-Assad state consists of loyal Sunni ideologues. That'd be one way to undercut Iran’s influence in the Middle East, and never mind that the people bleeding and dying in Syria are mostly apolitical kids who don’t trust neo-Ottoman power brokers any more than they do former regime apologists.

Turkish intelligence and the Muslim Brotherhood are also trying to co-opt the Syrian Free Army of rebel soldiers, according to Syrian sources. "They are the only ones connected to them," one opposition activist told me recently. "I'd rather the Syrian Free Army connect to the CIA. Tell your NATO friends that I extend them an open invitation to Syria."

Michael Weiss is the communications director of The Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank based in London. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL


Turkish Factor: Moscow conference reviews geopolitical threats and dynamics in Mideast and former Soviet space

Turkish Factor: Moscow conference reviews geopolitical threats and dynamics in Mideast and former Soviet space

The Turkish factor in the Middle East and post-Soviet countries was the main issue of research at the conference held at Moscow’s Strategic Research Center recently. Expert in Turkish studies Ruben Safrastyan says Russia has concerns over the Turkish factor and is trying to define its role in the region. “The conference was the first step that will lead to a closer investigation of Turkey’s role in geopolitical developments and, most importantly, what threats the Turkish factor is posing,” says Safrastyan, head of the Institute of Eastern Studies at the RA National Academy of Sciences, who participated in the conference.

He says after the collapse of the Soviet Union scientific relations between Russia and Armenia had seen a decline. However, today, when Moscow is becoming an extremely important factor in the Middle East, the mutual ties in the sphere are being resumed and strengthened. At the conference the Institutes of Eastern Studies of both countries’ National Academies of Sciences signed agreements. Safrasyan says the conference will become a fulcrum for enhancing cooperation with Russian institutes in particular, which has to do with the Russia’s activated regional politics.

Twelve reports were presented on how the Turkish factor influences many countries’ domestic political affairs, among them Georgia and Azerbaijan. By a number of reports, experts from different countries clearly demonstrated Turkey’s backstage activities. In his report Safrastyan touched upon the Turkish factor, structure and dynamics, stressing that Turkey had intruded into South Caucasus. After the collapse of Soviet Union it has shifted its policy and has been following it in relations with Russia, Middle East and CIS countries.

“The Turkish factor has turned into Turkish expansion by peaceful means and spreading of pan-Turkism and Islamism,” he says. “Turkey has started consolidating its positions in the geopolitical struggle. However, in most cases, those positions do not match with the ones it actually has. The next couple of years will show whether Turkey will remain within its frame or will go beyond it and by doing so pose a threat to geopolitical processes. ”

Safrastyan stresses that the Turkish factor has to be thoroughly researched, and measures taken, to prevent it from strengthening. He does not rule out Turkey’s potential military involvement in Syrian affairs, which would endanger the Syrian Armenian community.

“If hostilities burst out in Iran Turkey might be part of it as well. This fits into the so-called “trade relations” with the United States” the main purpose of which is to keep the United States from using the word ‘genocide’,” he says. In his report Safrastyan raised an issue, saying that although Russia had long recognized the Armenian Genocide however was lagging behind France which is trying to adopt the law on criminalizing genocide denial. “The key message was that Russia, too, has to start a similar process,” he says. “A number of countries are following the evolution of the issue, so if France passes the bill, quite possible, that several European countries might accede as well.”

The Azeri press, particularly the online newspaper, covering Safrastyan’s Moscow report, qualified it as “an attempt to drive a wedge between Turkey and Russia.”


Whoever Opposes Azerbaijan is Georgia’s ‘Enemy,’ Says Saakashvili

In discussing “problems” Georgia and Azerbaijan share with “unresolved conflicts,” Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said “whoever opposes Azerbaijan” is Georgia’s “enemy.” In an interview published in a special issue of The Business Year magazine devoted to Azerbaijan, the Georgian leader described the relationship between the two countries as a strategic partnership.

“Georgia and Azerbaijan should stand side by side, taking into account our geographic position and common history. We share a common vision, we have strong ties. I am convinced that our countries will be able to create a better future through unity, good relationships and shared success. Both our states have serious problems with regard to unresolved conflicts, and whoever opposes Azerbaijan and Georgia is an enemy of both our countries. Our strength lies in unity, and this is not just words, but reality,” he stressed.

“In recent years Georgian-Azerbaijani relations have reached their peak, and we will continue to work in this direction. Undoubtedly, the foundation of these relations was laid by Heydar Aliyev, and we seek to maintain this trend in the future. Thanks to the incredible efforts of President Ilham Aliev, our ties are constantly strengthening. We are absolutely convinced that this relationship will contribute to stability and the development of our region. I am convinced that this is a new start of the great partnership of friendship and brotherhood,” Saakashvili said.

Azerbaijani-Georgian friendship has a long history and has stood the test of time, the Georgian leader continued. “In January 2008, when Georgia was left without electricity or gas, for reasons still not clear to me, Azerbaijan helped the Georgian people in that cold winter though it had to cut gas supplies to its own population. Georgia will never forget this help of the Azerbaijani people. We will not forget this help because it was provided in the most difficult time for Georgians. And it’s not just the result of a strategic partnership, but also a symbol of our brotherhood. In fact, we have established federal links. The two countries have no problems,” the head of the Georgian state said.

Speaking about successful joint projects, the president highlighted the importance of the construction of the railway from Baku via Tbilisi to Kars in Turkey. This project demonstrates geopolitical transformation in the region, as “a completely new strategic relationship is created not only between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, but also with Central Asia, China and Europe”. “In essence, this is a modern version of the Silk Road. This project will certainly guarantee the successful long-term development of our countries. Our relationship is more than just a regular connection. Georgia and Azerbaijan have been friendly countries for many years,” Saakashvili said.


Georgia’s Chokehold on Armenia Reaches Critical Level

While Armenian news media outlets have been concentrating on the French Senate action criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide, closer to home relations with neighboring Georgia are causing heartaches for citizens and government officials alike. Relations are tense, to say the least. Georgian authorities are cognizant that they have the upper hand in their bilateral relations with Armenia; they are using that advantage to help tighten the noose which Azerbaijan and Turkey have put in place through their blockade. That policy is nothing less than the continuation of the Genocide by squeezing Armenia out of existence.

By virtue of its NATO ambitions, the Tbilisi government is doing anything and everything to ingratiate itself to Ankara and Baku. Unfortunately, Armenia is at the receiving end of that policy. Georgian actions have bearings on three different areas: a) regional politics, b) domestic abuses of human rights in Georgia and c) a planned depopulation program in Javakhk. Because of the blockade, Armenia is restricted in its access to the outside world, which impacts negatively on its economic development.

One outlet for Armenian is Iran, which remains precarious, because of sanctions and threats against that country by the United States and the European Union. In the event of a conflagration, Armenia will be devastated. The other outlet is, of course, Georgia. The Tbilisi government is using that leverage against Armenia cynically.

Every excuse is being used to restrict the movements of people and goods to the outside world through Georgian territory: road conditions, weather, tense relations with Russia, etc. Recently many citizens of Armenia were stranded on the Georgian borders with Turkey and Russia because of weather conditions. Their ungraceful Georgian hosts took the opportunity to impose exorbitant taxes on those citizens. These seem minor issues, but many Armenians travel to Turkey through Georgia to bring goods for sale to Armenia in order to provide for their families.

But besides such low-level harassments, high political games are at play. At one point, Mikheil Saakashvili’s government toyed with the idea of a federation with Azerbaijan to further strangulate Armenia. During his last visit to Baku, the Georgian president assured President Ilham Aliyev that Georgia would side with Azerbaijan should a war break out. The only problem that Azerbaijan has at this moment is with Armenia (if we discount the late president of Azerbaijan Abulfez Elchibey’s dream to wrest Northern Azerbaijan from Iran).

To add insult to injury, recently Georgia’s deputy speaker of the parliament, Friton Dotvan, announced in Baku that “Azerbaijan and Georgia will return their occupied territories, because those are their own.” The reference is, of course, to Nagorno Karabagh, which is being equated to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, all casualties of reckless actions of war-mongering leaders in Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The next level of political harassment in Georgia is against citizens of Armenian origin. For centuries, Tbilisi had been a hub of Armenian culture. Georgian jealousy has reduced that community to a shell of its former self and that discriminatory policy is still on-going. Armenians are not only being denied equal economic opportunities under different, at times cryptic statutes, but their schools are forced to close down and their churches are being usurped and re-consecrated as Georgian churches.

In 2009, the 14th-century St. Kevork of Mughni Church collapsed; despite repeated requests to the government to shore up the building before the collapse, the government took no steps to help. The Georgian authorities have yet to make good on their promises to rebuild the church. At this time, the destiny of St. Nishan Church in Tbilisi is at stake. Recently an “accidental” fire broke out, causing the collapse of one wall. In the late 19th century, there were 29 active Armenian churches in Tbilisi; today there are only two. St. Nishan is among the six Armenian churches claimed by the Georgian Orthodox Church. During the visit of Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II to Georgia both President Saakashvili and Patriarch Illya II had promised to resolve the contentious issue, which to this date remains unattended.

The Georgian government, in its desire to join NATO and the European Union, had promised to discontinue trampling minority rights. One of the issues the Georgian government had pledged to HH Karekin II and the international community was to recognize minority churches as legal entities. Now that issue has turned out to be a catch-22. The legalization of the Armenian Church in Georgia has been tied to the legalization of the Georgian Church in Armenia, where there is no restriction whatsoever, not only for different religious groups, but even fanatical sects. But it turns out that the Georgian Church does not intend to take the initiative to seek legal status in Armenia, thus leaving the legal status of the Armenian Church in Georgia in limbo, because of a lack of reciprocation.

Every day a new scandal breaks out, forcing the Armenians to forget the existing ones. The most recent scandal is the potential sale of the poet Hovhanness Toumanyan’s Tbilisi house which in 1899 was baptized as Vernadoon, where writers, poets, artists, editors gathered rendering it a hearth of Armenian culture. Writers Ghazaros Aghayan, Avedik Issahakian, Levon Shant, Derenik Temirjian and others have been permanent guests. In the 1930s, Toumanian’s descendants had turned over the house to the government of Soviet Georgia, including a valuable research library. After taking over that cultural sanctuary the Soviet government of Georgia had put it to “good use” by converting it to a macaroni storage. And today, the democratic government of Georgia has put the facility for sale and the buyer is a Turkish-Georgian company, which intends to convert it into a hostel for Turkish guest laborers. Armenians in Armenia and Georgia are appalled and they are trying to salvage that cultural icon.

The third level of pressure is on Javakhk Armenians. Javakhk is a historic Armenian territory that fell into Georgian hands during political upheavals in the region, before the region’s absorption into the Soviet Union. The Russian government maintained a military base in Javakhk. Armenians depended heavily on the base for economic sustenance and for security guarantees. Moscow decided to evacuate the base prematurely, driven by its own political motivation, leaving the Armenian community to the tender mercy of the Georgians.

Javakhk is a depressed economic area. There are no proper roads, living conditions are substandard and the authorities manipulate the situation in such a way that the condition of the Armenians is further aggravated. Political activists like Vahakn Chakhalian are jailed, organizations are banned in this country, which is a darling of the West for its openness and transparency. There is yet another threat hanging over the heads of the Armenians; the Tbilisi government is planning to resettle in Javakhk Turkish Metzkets exiled to Central Asia by Stalin. That will further exacerbate the ethnic tensions in the region, which is the intention of successive Georgian administrations.

Anti-Armenian policies in Javakhk are so strong now that they don’t even allow textbooks from Armenia to be used by Armenian students there. What is the Armenian government doing to confront these provocations? Unfortunately, Yerevan’s hands are tied; first, Armenia does not wish to jeopardize its access to the outside world through Georgia. And then, the leaders in Armenia remember that history repeats itself. We are at a political juncture where we were during the first independent republic (1918-20). Armenia cannot confront its hostile neighbors on three sides.

Recently, Minister of Culture Hasmik Poghosian gave an interview citing all these problems and highlighting the importance of Georgian-Armenian relations. She has dispatched a commission to study the situation in Georgia and seek solutions. That very much outlines the position of the government, which soft-pedals all relations with Georgia. Following the visits of Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian and even President Serge Sargisian, similar pronouncements were made. A deceptive formula is being promoted to hide the intentions and grievances of both sides that there are no problems between the two countries that cannot be solved.
We need to be aware, however, that not only are the issues not being solved, but that Georgia is able to easily apply more pressure to keep up its chokehold, its political fig leaf not withstanding.


What Does 'Confederation' Mean In The South Caucasus?

On July 18, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, in Batumi and mentioned the idea of a “confederation” between the two countries. The phrase quickly got people wondering what exactly the president had in mind. Analysts have been raising questions and offering ideas ever since.

Journalists and political commentators from the countries of the South Caucasus have examined the idea (whether they endorse it or not) in the context of confrontational geopolitics. In August, Russia and Armenia agreed to extend the pact on the presence of Russian military bases in Armenia until 2044. At the same time, they expanded the format of bilateral military cooperation: henceforth Russia is obliged to defend Armenia from any external threat, which Yerevan expects primarily from Azerbaijan. In short, Armenia has become an even closer Russian ally than it was previously.

The discussion of a possible Georgia-Azerbaijan confederation was immediately placed in the traditional context of the “vertical” axis of Russia-Armenia (and, possibly, Iran) and the “horizontal” axis of Georgia and Azerbaijan (and, possibly, Turkey). And they don’t forget overseas allies, asserting that, of course, the idea of a confederation comes from Washington and is aimed at containing Russia. In a nutshell, after the failed Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, everything has come back to its place: we loved to talk about all these things back in the 1990s. But what concrete political and legal steps would be necessary to realize this “confederation” project? I haven’t heard anything specific about this yet.

First, let’s take a look at exactly what Saakashvili said, some two months ago. “A few years back I said that we must form confederative relations,” Saakashvili said. “In fact, relations between our countries are far beyond the relations that two countries ordinarily have. We are a continuation of one another.” In short, the Georgia-Azerbaijan confederation, according to the president, is not a project for the future, but a description of the present. That is, the term shouldn’t be viewed in strictly legalistic terms, but as a rhetorical figure of speech that signifies “particularly close relations between countries.”

What’s more, people in the president’s entourage insist that the same could be said of Georgia-Armenia relations: there as well, the level of closeness is very high. Of course, the Armenian side welcomes the use of this term (even rhetorically) considerably less. To be sure, it would be hypocritical to speak about an equivalence between Georgia-Azerbaijan and Georgia-Armenia relations. Under the circumstances of the cold war with Russia, Georgia can’t be pleased by the intensification of Russia-Armenia military cooperation. There’s no getting around that.

Enemies And Friends

Nonetheless, neither Georgia nor Armenia would benefit from drawing strict geopolitical conclusions from the two clear facts that Russia and Georgia are enemies, while Russia and Armenia are allies. Likewise, Russia and Azerbaijan do not intend to become enemies just because Azerbaijan and Armenia are enemies and Armenia and Russia are allies. The geopolitical formula that the “friend of my enemy is my enemy” does not apply in the Caucasus today. And thank God.

Since the August 2008 war with Russia, Georgia has placed more significance on regional relations and has actively sought to intensify ties with all the countries of the region without regard for their relations with one another. There is an element of competition with Russia in this. Russia’s policy of not recognizing the Saakashvili government is an effort to isolate Georgia internationally. Moscow wants not only to undermine Tbilisi’s support in the West, but also to exclude Georgia from regional connections.

Saakashvili is taking countermeasures, so far generally with success. Of course, one can always argue about what “success” means, but under the present circumstances Georgia views any sign of warming relations with the countries of the region as a success - and, at the same time, as a failure for Russia.

Russia is actively working to draw Azerbaijan into its sphere of influence with various economic projects. While Turkey and Armenia were flirting under Western patronage and Azerbaijan felt forgotten and rejected by its closest friends -- Ankara and Washington -- it seemed that some sort of geopolitical shift was possible. But the accelerated construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad and new steps toward realizing the Nabucco pipeline project show that the Georgia-Azerbaijan-Turkey axis of cooperation is still functioning. It is such projects most of all that are the real content of the rhetorical term “confederation.”

But, on the other hand, the opening in March of the Russia-Georgia border crossing at Verkhny Lars is not a sign of the warming of Russian-Georgian relations (as Western experts want to believe). It is an expression of Armenia-Georgia cooperation, since that road is needed most of all by Armenia. What difference does it make whether such a friendship is or is not called a "confederation?"


Global Insights: U.S. Must Strengthen Ties With Azerbaijan

This month marks the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and the post-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, a country that is currently playing a vital role in sustaining NATO forces in Afghanistan, supporting Georgia and other U.S. friends in Eurasia, and helping to moderate Iranian and Russian ambitions in the energy-rich Caspian Basin region. But Washington needs to prioritize its ties with Baku to strengthen the partnership and to make sure that Azerbaijan and its fragile neighbors in the geopolitically vital South Caucasus region remain strong and stable.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Azerbaijan was among the first countries to offer the United States unconditional support in the war against terrorism, opening its airspace to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Since then, its airbases have provided landing and refueling support for U.S. military transports to Afghanistan. Azerbaijan has also assumed a lead role in allowing NATO countries to deliver material to their troops in Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network, which passes through its territory.

More quietly, Azerbaijan is helping to prevent Iran from expanding its influence in Eurasia. Located on Iran’s northern border, Azerbaijan is understandably leery of a direct confrontation with Tehran, in part because of concerns over Iran’s large population of ethnic Azeris as well as Iran’s illicit subversive activities in Azerbaijan. But behind the scenes, Azerbaijan is providing the United States and Israel with intelligence on Iran’s nuclear activities. And Israel recently announced a major arms deal with Azerbaijan designed to bolster their mutual security.

Baku has even sought to reduce tensions between Washington and Moscow over the issue of ballistic missile defense to counter the Iranian missile threat by offering them both shared use of the Russian military radar installation based in Gabala. As U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rubin correctly put it after talks last month with Azeri officials in Baku, “Azerbaijan is with us” on the Iranian issue.

Meanwhile, when it comes to European energy security, not only does Azerbaijan export enormous amounts of natural gas from its own production, but it also serves as a vital land corridor for Caspian and Central Asian energy deliveries to our European allies. These deliveries decrease Europeans dependence on Russian and Iranian energy sources and also help reduce the cost of U.S. energy imports by dampening the effect of Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz or curtail its own oil exports. U.S. energy firms have a major presence in Azerbaijan’s energy sector thanks to the government’s preferential treatment of U.S. energy companies. This partnership has helped propel the country’s GDP from $1.2 billion in 1992 to $54.4 billion.

Azerbaijan was recently elected to serve as a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Already its diplomats have supported U.S. efforts, opposed by Russia and China, to force the brutal Syrian government to end its killing of innocent civilians. In the next two years, the United States could conceivably need Azerbaijan’s support in future votes -- to impose additional sanctions on Iran, for instance, or to roll back North Korea’s nuclear program.

One means to ensure that the U.S.-Azerbaijani strategic partnership remains solid is to help resolve Azerbaijan’s territorial dispute with its western neighbor, Armenia. The two countries fought a brutal war in the early 1990s over the breakaway separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a conflict that continues to fester: Nagorno-Karabakh’s status remains uncertain and both nations confront each other in a dangerous face-off that periodically flares into violent military skirmishes along the border.

Azerbaijan has used some of its energy riches to build a powerful military that many experts believe could forcefully seize the disputed territories, which in addition to Nagorno-Karabakh include adjacent Azerbaijani territory currently occupied by Armenian troops. Although Azerbaijani officials have emphasized that they would like to settle this dispute through peaceful means -- perhaps within a comprehensive framework that would also achieve a normalization of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey -- they have indicated that they cannot accept the status quo indefinitely. The 2008 Georgia War shows how these supposed “frozen conflicts” in the former Soviet Union can abruptly thaw and explode.

Fortunately, the United States has strong ties with Armenia, another good friend of the West. Like Azerbaijan and Georgia, Armenia participates in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and contributes troops to NATO missions, including in Kosovo and Afghanistan. And the United States provides democracy assistance and other aid to Armenia.

In October 2009, Armenia and Turkey signed an accord, brokered by the U.S., to establish diplomatic ties. The protocol, which called for the reopening of the countries’ border and would also work toward reducing tensions between the two countries, was the first major step toward reconciliation that Armenia and Turkey had taken in the past 16 years. The Armenian parliament approved the agree,emt within the timeframe cited in the documents, but the Turkish government is awaiting a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to do so.

The Obama administration should step up its efforts to promote a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement as a means to prevent any collateral damage to U.S. security and energy interests in Eurasia that would ensue from another Armenia-Azerbaijan war.

The current structure for seeking a negotiated settlement -- the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes the U.S., Russia, France and the OSCE -- has failed to make enduring progress despite more than a decade of efforts. The administration should appoint a high-level envoy of the sort that is routinely sent to the Middle East, to present concrete bridging proposals directly to the parties in conflict.

Congress can support this effort by repealing an outdated provision of the 1992 Freedom of Support Act (Section 907) (.pdf) that prohibits direct aid to Azerbaijan’s government. Whatever its value was in ending the original Nagorno-Karabakh war, the provision is now impeding U.S. diplomatic flexibility and weakening U.S. influence in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, including efforts to promote their democratic development and sustain their autonomy from foreign influence. With respect to democracy, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe states that Azerbaijan does not meet its criteria for free and fair elections. In addition, the U.S. State Department has been critical of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. Sustained U.S. diplomatic engagement with Azerbaijan and the other South Caucasus governments could help overcome these deficiencies, which are unfortunately widespread in the post-Soviet states. It would also promote their political development and strategic autonomy.

Ideally, Congress and the administration should support a negotiated settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with financial and diplomatic support to both states, ranging from enhanced trade benefits to full-scale U.S. diplomatic representation to U.S. efforts to promote Armenian-Turkey reconciliation. Azerbaijan has shown its willingness to be a friend to Washington, and right now, America needs all the friends it can find in this strategic region.

Richard Weitz is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a World Politics Review senior editor. His weekly WPR column, Global Insights, appears every Tuesday.


Navy Special Ops Demos Training in Azerbaijan

The high-speed maneuvers off the coast of Baku similar to those Petty Officer 2nd Class Mike Jensen said special warfare combat crewman would use to evade enemy fire--highlighted a visit here by participants in the 2004 Joint Civilian Orientation Conference. Spinning "donuts" in the Caspian Sea aboard special warfare rigid inflatable boats provided a thrilling introduction to Navy special operations for a group of U.S. civilian leaders here June 9.

The U.S. civilians' visit here was part of their whirlwind visit this week to military sites to observe U.S. military operations and meet the men and women who carry them out. The conferees, from business, academia and local governments throughout the United States got a close-up view of cooperative training between U.S. Navy SEALS and their Azeri counterparts.

According to Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Csrnko commander of Special Operations Command Europe, the joint combined exercise is the part of an ongoing program to promote cooperation and understanding between the two countries' militaries. This was the third three-week training session between U.S. Navy SEAL Team 2's Hotel Platoon and Special Boat Team 20 from Little Creek Amphibious Base, Va., and the Azeri Navy's 641st Special Warfare Naval Unit, headquartered here.

Capt. 1st Rank Zaur Kaziyev, director of Azeri Naval Intelligence, told conference participants the training is "a big step forward" for Azerbaijan as it sets its sights on qualifying for NATO membership. The country currently participates in the Partnership for Peace program, which helps prepares countries meet NATO requirements. "This training forges friendships and enhances cooperation between Azerbaijan and the United States," Kaziyev said. "I hope to see more of it in the future."

Increased cooperation between the two countries is critical, explained Crsnko, as Azerbaijan gains strategic importance and becomes increasingly important to the stability of Eurasia. A pipeline that will transport oil from the country's largely untapped offshore reserves to Turkey is expected to be completed next year, and a gas pipeline is also under construction.

Petty Officer Nick Rappo said he's encouraged by the skill and motivation he's witnessed among the Azeri SEALS participating in the combined training qualities Csrnko said will become critical for them to protect their country's pipelines. "These guys are highly motivated and extremely eager to learn," Rappo said. "We've built a rapport and established a strong working relationship."

During their visit to the 641st Special Warfare Unit's training facility, U.S. civilian leaders witnessed snapshots of the cooperative training, including close-quarter combat drills and a stress course that requires shooters to race the clock as they move over, around and even under obstacles while engaging targets. The civilians also got the opportunity to live-fire U.S. special operations weapons, handle both U.S. and Azeri weaponry and communications equipment, and chat with the SEALS about their mission.

Jim Schloeman, president of the Transport Museum Association in St. Louis, Mo., called the opportunity to observe the training and ride in a rigid inflatable boat "awesome." "But it's really these guys who are awesome," he said. "I'm dazzled by these guys. I'm impressed that they're so unassuming, while it's obvious they have supreme confidence in their ability to do their jobs. That's pretty incredible."

Barbara Kellerman, director of research at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, called it "really stunning" to see the caliber of the Navy SEALS working with the Azeri Navy. Kellerman said her participation in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference has opened her eyes to the magnitude of the U.S. military mission around the world. "I've never been as struck by the reach of the American military," she said.

But after visiting Navy SEALS here, Army National Guardsmen in Bosnia, and airmen at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Kellerman said she's particularly impressed by the professionalism of the U.S. armed forces as a whole something she said much of the American public doesn't fully appreciate. "A trip like this gives you a good appreciation of the armed forces both their reach and quality," agreed Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of Premiere American Bank in Miami. "It's been a truly incredible experience."



MPRI, Inc., Alexandria, Va., is being awarded a $19,000,000 not-to-exceed firm-fixed-price, indefinite-quantity contract to provide a laser marksmanship device/system to meet the training needs in basic rifle marksmanship and preliminary marksmanship instruction for the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve, U.S. Army National Guard and the Governments of Columbia and Azerbaijan. In addition, this contract provides for new equipment training and total system performance responsibility type warranty for up to three years per device. This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Army ($5,707,000; 92 percent) and the Governments of Columbia ($631,550; 7 percent) and Azerbaijan ($86,418; 1 percent) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. Work will be performed in Alexandria, Va., and is expected to be completed in September 2008. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, Orlando, Fla., is the contracting activity (N61339-07-D-0007).


McCain and Lieberman Meet With Syrian Rebels

After months of advocating direct military intervention against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) have made a surprise trip to the Turkish-Syrian border to meet with leaders of the Free Syrian Army and visit Syrian refugees who have fled violence in their own country. The senators’ trip was strategically and politically planned. On the first official day of the ceasefire agreement brokered by UN envoy Kofi Annan to end attacks by government forces and halt the insurgency vying for international support, the visit is meant to give legitimacy to the Syrian opposition fighters and rally Washington to arm them. “We respect Mr. Annan’s desire to find an end to the killing in Syria.

Unfortunately, Bashar al-Assad does not share this goal. That fact has been clear to many of us for months, but it should now be undeniable for everyone,” the senators said. Their statement intentionally omits any mention of the fact that elements of the opposition have flouted and rejected Annan’s peace plan, refusing to cease violence. Other elements of the opposition – which is too fractured and unorganized to have a single voice – have rhetorically accepted Annan’s plan, while acting very differently. This, incidentally, precisely describes Assad’s approach, which the senators do not forget to mention.

Allying with the rebel fighters in a bid to oust the Assad regime is a grave mistake for the U.S. The opposition is unorganized, has itself committed serious crimes, and contains elements of religious extremists. Using them as a proxy to topple the Assad government, then, seems tactically impossible. It’s also strategically dangerous, considering they have no capacity to form a government post-Assad. Finally, ousting Assad fits rather conveniently into America’s imperial plans for the Middle East, especially since it would isolate Washington’s foremost enemy Iran.

But intervention would escalate killing. Syria, like Iraq after the American invasion, would likely descend into chaos. The U.S. and its allies – like the Assad regime – have endorsed the peace process, while refusing to halt their own reportedly non-lethal aid to the Syrian rebels. Such a policy is probably prolonging the conflict and was not authorized by Congress or any international body. This not only prolongs conflict, but opens the floodgates for yet another war of choice by the Obama administration.


Israeli Military Practicing for Military Occupation of Lebanon

Though most of the Israeli military’s efforts right now are focused on planning to attack Iran or planning another ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, units of ground troops are also being put through “special training,” according to officials, with an eye toward a military occupation of Lebanon. One of the top ranking officers involved said that in the next war Israel had to capture some territory because “this is the only way the concept of victory can be established.” The troops are being trained to operate as occupiers in populated areas. Which, since Israel has been occupying the West Bank since 1967 would be something the military is already familiar with. Officials, however, say a full-scale military occupation of Lebanon would require effort above and beyond the “patrols or raids on Palestinians” that the military is used to. The commander of the mission said a major goal is “to distinguish between militants and uninvolved civilians,” and said the soldiers would have to “use their discretion” on when to shoot apparent civilians.


Russia’s Gunboat Diplomacy: Russian Warships to Patrol Syria’s Coast?

On April 13, the Russian RIA Novosti news agency quoted a high-ranking source in the Russian defense ministry as saying, “A decision was made to deploy Russian warships near the Syrian shores on a permanent basis.” The source announced that Russia’s naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean had “nothing to do” with Syria. Russia’s naval maneuvering has everything to do with geopolitics. This news comes at a troubling time, as a fragile ceasefire holds in Syria. Russia, which acts as Syria’s political sugar daddy and weapons supplier, has continually vetoed attempted U.N. condemnations of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s bloody clampdown on the opposition.

There is practically nothing the Russian warships can do to save Assad. However, the continued naval presence sends a strong signal of a new geopolitical assertiveness and support for a regime that has lost all legitimacy on the international stage. This gunboat diplomacy is sure to aggravate the odd coalition of the U.S., the Europeans, the Gulf monarchies (including the powerful Saudi Arabia), and the Islamist forces (such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists) that are opposing the Assad regime. Perversely, Russia’s support for the Assad regime will further radicalize the Sunni Muslims in Russia, from the Northern Caucasus to Tatarstan, including radical Muslim communities called jama’ats in the Russian cities.

Together with Beijing, Russia has repeatedly torpedoed sanctions aimed at Damascus. Russia continues to arm Syria not just against its neighbors but also against a possible escalation in fighting. Since the Assad regime is broke, it appears that its friends in Tehran are picking up the tab. With President-elect Vladimir Putin about to take power in May, Russia is clearly ignoring the reset policy pushed forward by the Obama Administration and the outgoing president, Dmitry Medvedev. As Stephen Blank of the U.S. Army War College and I wrote in our Issue Brief “Reset Regret: Russian Global Strategy Undermines American Interests” last year:

Russia defends Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime despite its bloody repression of its own citizens. This is, among other reasons, because Russia has signed an agreement with Syria to return Soviet naval bases in Latakiye and Tartus to Russian control. Therefore, Russia obstructs U.N. resolutions of censure against Syria.… Despite the “reset,” it is in U.S. interests to find out to what degree Moscow orchestrates or participates in joint activities among these problematic states, including arms sales from Iran and Syria to Hamas and Hezbollah.… U.S. policymakers should reassess the “reset” and develop regional strategies that counter Russia’s (and China’s) agendas. Such policies should increase pressure on Iran, the most anti-American regional power, and [its satellite] the Assad regime in Syria.


Russian Warships to Patrol Syrian Coast

Russian warships will be continuously deployed for patrol duty off the Syrian coast in the Mediterranean, a high-ranking source in the Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday. “A decision has been made to deploy Russian warships near the Syrian shores on a permanent basis,” the source said. The Russian Kashin-class guided-missile destroyer Smetlivy is currently deployed near the Syrian coast. “Another Black Sea Fleet ship will replace the Smetlivy in May,” the source said, adding that several Russian warships were on their way to the Mediterranean. “This may be the Pytlivy frigate or one of the amphibious assault ships,” he said, adding that “deployment of a Black Sea Fleet task force to the region cannot be ruled out.”

The United States, France, Great Britain, Germany and some other countries have deployed more warships to the Mediterranean since the outbreak of unrest in Syria in February 2012. More than 9,000 people have been killed in the violence, according to the United Nations. On Thursday, the Syrian government declared a ceasefire with opposition fighters as part of a U.N.-brokered peace plan. The Russian military has repeatedly underscored the need for Russian warships to patrol the Mediterranean on a permanent basis. In Soviet days, up to 50 warships from the Fifth Squadron of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and other Soviet Navy units have been deployed in the Mediterranean on a permanent basis.

Over the winter months, a Russian task force, led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, has been deployed to the Mediterranean. The ships returned to the Russian Northern Fleet’s home base of Severomorsk in February, after two-month naval exercises. Other Russian ships currently on patrol duty in the Mediterranean are the Kildin surveillance ship, as well as the Iman tanker vessel and a floating workshop deployed near the Syrian port of Tartus.


Echoes of War Across the South Caucasus

As the standoff over Iran's nuclear program intensifies, South Caucasus leaders are pondering contingencies since the consequences of open conflict or prolonged tensions are potentially serious for all three nations. Over the past several years, Iran has become an increasingly influential player in the South Caucasus as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have each sought to diversify their economic and political ties away from their traditional alliances - none more so than Armenia, which now relies on Iran as a major trading partner and investor.

However, with tensions on the rise in the Persian Gulf, and with threats by Iran to disrupt oil supplies passing through the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for the sanctions that have been slapped on it by various countries over its uranium-enrichment activities, South Caucasus capitals are pondering what role they would play should the standoff get hot. While some analysts see opportunity for the region, others worry the three small countries could get pulled into an unpredictable conflict.

Out of the three, Armenia is the most concerned with preserving the status quo, said Sergey Minasyan, head of the Political Studies Department at the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, the capital and largest city of Armenia. Minasyan said Armenia's relationship with Iran had been "a constant dynamic" since its 1991 independence. Landlocked Armenia has been geographically isolated since its conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s, during which Turkey also cut ties and closed its border with Armenia in support of its Turkic Azeri brethren.

At the time, despite their ideological differences, the Islamic Republic backed Christian Armenia over Muslim Azerbaijan and, along with Russia, has been a source of important political support. Furthermore, about one-third of Armenia's trade passes through Iranian territory. Armenia's only alternatives are land routes passing through Georgia to Russia and the Black Sea, however, heavy snows and avalanche threats regularly close the Armenia-Georgia and Georgia-Russia border crossings.

Iran has also been a key investor in Armenian business and infrastructure, feeding the country natural gas through a recently completed pipeline and an oil pipeline is in the works. Yerevan views these links as key to preventing a near total dependence on Russia for commerce. In its 2011 report, "Without Illusions", the Yerevan-based Civilitas Foundation said that both the Karabakh war and the supply disruptions caused by the 2008 Russia-Georgia war proved that Armenia's "only reliable access to the world was through Iran".

Minasyan said Armenia had also served as a "proxy" for Iran in developing business and political contacts in ways that bypass its official isolation. Still, Minasyan said that amid the occasionally violent stalemate with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, the biggest consequences for Armenia of a weakened or preoccupied Iran would be political, not economic.

"For the medium term, it would be possible to replace that trade using Georgian routes. But the more important - the more dangerous - would be the geopolitical results of closing the border if something happened in Iran. On the other hand, another very important issue is that not only Armenia is afraid of the possible consequences of a new crisis with Iran. For Azerbaijan, it's also a problem. Some experts are thinking that we will have a crisis in Karabakh if something happens in Iran, but politicians and experts in Azerbaijan are more afraid of that outcome than in Armenia," he said.

Indeed, Azerbaijan's rocky relationship with Iran has hit an historic low in recent months. Iran has long warned Azerbaijan against exploiting energy resources near Iran's Caspian waters, and, in 2001, used military force to halt a BP-sponsored project near the dividing line. Since then, the two have traded barbs over ideological differences related to Azerbaijan's stolidly secular observance of Sunni Islam, and Iran's devotion to theocratic Shi'ite governance. Iran also worries that Azerbaijan might play on the discontent among Iran's sizable, but repressed ethnic Azeri minority.

Last month, Azerbaijani government websites were hit by a wave a cyber-attacks, which were responded to in turn with attacks against Iranian state websites. Then, on January 25, Baku announced it had foiled an Iranian plot to assassinate the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan and attack a Jewish religious school in the country. The suspects were captured after one allegedly met with his handlers in northern Iran and was promised US$160,000 for the mission. The capture came days after top Iranian officials had promised retribution for the assassination of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist, and bore a striking resemblance to Iran's alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Iran regularly accuses Azerbaijan of collaborating militarily with both the US and Israel. After the nuclear scientist was killed, an intelligence official in Tehran was quoted as saying, "None of those who ordered these attacks should feel safe anywhere." Stephen Blank, a research professor at the United States Army War College, said that the threats Iran regularly made to Azerbaijan should be taken seriously, including those saying that the country would be "targeted and destroyed" if it allowed the US or it's allies to use Azerbaijani territory or air bases for an attack against Iran.

Azerbaijani airspace is already a key link in the Northern Distribution Network supplying North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan has signed a number of defense deals with Israel, but none of these arrangements were directed against Iran thus far, Blank said.

That may not matter, however. "I think Iran is driven by a different calculus. I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that we are dealing with people who are deranged, because they're not. But [...] Iran is driven by this kind of obsession of anti-Semitism and anti-Sunni thinking and I think it manifests itself in their policy," Blank said. "Second, they have discovered that terrorism is an instrument that works."

Lincoln Mitchell, a professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, said, on the contrary, that the region would stand to benefit from a US-Iranian escalation because it "puts [the South Caucasus countries] in the driver's seat, particularly Azerbaijan, with its relationship with the US". "Azerbaijan plays a make-or-break role in this, and Azerbaijan can make any attempt by the United States to do anything in Iran extremely difficult, or it can make it considerably easier. So, the growing tension between Iran and the United States gives far more leverage - particularly to Azerbaijan - than they have now," he said.

Mitchell said that in increasing its utility to the US, Azerbaijan could alleviate Western pressure on Baku over democracy and human-rights issues. Georgia, while it does not share a border with Iran, may also come into play.

Since coming to power in the 2003 "Rose" revolution, President Mikheil Saakashvili has placed NATO membership at the forefront of his foreign policy agenda. After Georgia's brief war with Russia in 2008, those aspirations appeared to be dashed, but Saakashvili has not given up hope, deploying as many as 1,700 soldiers in Afghanistan's most violent province as a part of the NATO war effort.

However, Georgia has also sought to strengthen its ties with Iran since the war, signing a visa-free travel agreement with the Islamic Republic and opening up greater economic, academic and commercial links in various agreements with Tehran.

Still, Mitchell, who worked as the chief of party at the National Democratic Institute's office in Georgia from 2002-2004 and has authored a book on the Saakashvili regime, said that Georgia would likely acquiesce to any requests by Washington to use Georgian territory in support of American operations against Iran.

In an election year, Georgian opposition politicians and former Georgian president Eduard Shevarnadze have publicly accused Saakashvili of potentially dragging the country into a war with neighboring Iran. But David Smith, a senior fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi, said such claims "are reaching really far" and attributed the worries to political polemicists.

Blank said that while there had been very few statements made about the situation publicly, officials in all three countries were nervous about the rising tensions. "They are clearly concerned, as are the Russians, about the fact that they're being dragged into a contingency outside their area that they don't really have anything to say about," he said.

Russia has responded to the standoff by announcing military exercises in the North and South Caucasus that are unprecedented in scale. While Russia regularly runs military drills in the North Caucasus, the "Kavkaz-2012" maneuvers will also involve Russian units in Armenia and the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia. It had also reinforced its military presence throughout the North and South Caucasus for an indefinite term in response to the crisis, Blank said.

Over the past year, Russian officials have often warned that foreign intervention in either Syria or Iran could lead to a "wider conflict" in the region. Viewing both Syria and Iran as countries on the periphery of its spheres of influence, Blank said Russia was now attempting to reassert its claim over the South Caucasus, its traditional buffer zone against the Middle East.

With the baseline of regional tensions raised, Mitchell said that the rhetoric in both Russia and Georgia would likely turn increasingly more provocative, as both countries' leaders had a track record of using external distractions to boost their personal popularity. While most of talk remains just that, he said the confluence of the regional events could lead to "a potentially explosive situation".

So far, the South Caucasus has been exempted from pressure to freeze its relations with Iran. Azerbaijan was even granted a special exemption as European officials and energy lobbyists convinced the US Congress not to include the development of Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz natural gas field in its list of forbidden economic activities with Tehran, although the Islamic Republic owns a 10% stake in the venture.

However, Blank said that the South Caucasus should not count on being able to stay neutral forever. "I think they will come under pressure to move back from their relationship with Iran if the situation continues to remain at a high level of tension. On the other hand, I think a war would be a worse contingency for them," he said.


The Next Stage of Russia's Resurgence: The Caucasus States

The former Soviet republics in the Caucasus -- Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan -- have very different attitudes toward Russia's resurgence. Armenia depends on Russia for its security and is one of Moscow's most loyal allies. Georgia bore the brunt of Russia's resurgence in 2008, when Russia invaded two breakaway Georgian republics (where Russian troops remain stationed), and is likely to resist any further encroachment of Russian influence. Azerbaijan is cooperative with Russia but uses its energy wealth and support for pipeline projects that would not serve Moscow's interests as leverage against its large neighbor.


Armenia, located in the South Caucasus, serves as a territorial buffer for Russia to the south. It also gives Moscow a strategic foothold in the center of the Caucasus because it borders both Georgia and Azerbaijan, as well as Turkey and Iran.

Russia's Levers

  • Political: Russia supports and is allied with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia. Moscow also has ties to former presidents Levon Ter Petrosian and Robert Kocharian.
  • Social: Armenia represents an Orthodox Christian foothold in the predominantly Muslim Caucasus. Also, a large Armenian diaspora of 1.5 million to 2.5 million people lives in Russia.
  • Security: Russia is Armenia's security guarantor against Azerbaijan in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. More than 5,000 Russian troops are stationed in Armenia in Russia's 102nd Military Base in Gyumri, and Russia has extended its lease of military facilities to 2044. Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Rapid Reaction Force.
  • Economic: Russia owns most of the pipeline, energy, rail and telecommunications assets in Armenia. Remittances from Armenians working in Russia amount to around 10 percent of Armenia's gross domestic product.

Russia's Successes, Obstacles and Ambitions

During the past two years, Russia strengthened its military presence in Armenia by extending its lease of military facilities to 2044 and getting permission to move Russian troops throughout the country. Russia also manipulated normalization talks between Armenia and Turkey in order to strengthen its relationships with Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Russia's goals for Armenia for 2012 and beyond include maintaining its current levers in Armenia and preparing Armenia for possible integration into the Common Economic Space and Eurasian Union. Russia also wants to sustain the divisions between Armenia and Azerbaijan (and Baku's ally, Turkey).

Armenia's Position and Strategy

Any government in Armenia will operate in a difficult environment, both geographically and ethnically. Armenia is almost completely mountainous and is surrounded not only by three major powers -- Russia, Turkey and Iran -- but also Georgia, Azerbaijan and other smaller but independently minded ethnic groups. Armenia must, at a minimum, maintain internal consolidation in order to defend itself within the region, but it must also look for an external power patron to protect it from the larger powers. But given Armenia's location and lack of strategic natural resources, balancing external powers against each other to extract concessions is not much of an option.

Armenia has chosen Russia as its external power patron, with Moscow controlling much of the infrastructure in the country. Russia also has a substantial military presence in Armenia that serves as Armenia's security guarantor from Azerbaijan (its adversary in the Nagorno-Karabakh territorial dispute) and from Turkey and Iran (whose borders the Russian military patrols).

Other external powers have very limited influence in Armenia. The country maintains an economic relationship with Iran and has tried normalizing relations with Turkey (which, along with Azerbaijan, has economically blockaded Armenia), though these talks have failed because of Russia's manipulation and the wider geopolitical balance of power in the region. Although Armenia would like to open its borders with Turkey, Russia's security guarantee against Azerbaijan is more important. There is a sizable and influential Armenian diaspora in the United States and France, though its implications are more economic than political, as Armenia is firmly in Russia's orbit and not part of the Western-oriented camp in the former Soviet Union. Barring any substantial weakening of Russia's geopolitical position, Armenia can be expected to remain loyal to Moscow and to continue participating in Russia's regional initiatives.


Like Armenia, Georgia is important to Russian security because its location in the Southern Caucasus makes it a territorial buffer from powers like Turkey and Iran. Georgia also flanks restive Northern Caucasus Russian republics like Chechnya, borders the Black Sea and possesses strategic ports.

Russia's Levers

  • Political: Certain Georgian opposition leaders have espoused the need for closer ties with Russia, and some have met with Russian officials. Russia has weak ties to Georgia's government and business community, however.
  • Social: Georgia has no significant Russian population. However, approximately 80 percent of the country is Orthodox Christian.
  • Security: Russia occupies the breakaway Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with about 3,500 troops stationed in each area. Also, Russian intelligence has penetrated Georgia proper. However, Georgia remains committed to NATO and EU membership and has stayed outside of Russia's alliance system.
  • Economic: Russia financially supports Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and around 1 million Georgians live in Russia and send remittances back to Georgia.

Russia's Successes, Obstacles and Ambitions

Since 2010, Russia has built up its military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and extended its lease of military facilities there by 49 years. Russia's relationship with important NATO members, particularly Germany and France, has kept the alliance from any meaningful interactions with or presence in Georgia. However, Russia has not been able to create or support a viable opposition movement capable of truly challenging the anti-Russian president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili.

In the coming months and years, Russia wants to increase the likelihood of the formation of a viable opposition movement in Georgia. It also wants to prevent the West, particularly the United States, from re-engaging in the country.

Georgia's Position and Strategy

Like many former Soviet countries, Georgia is split internally, both in geographic and political terms. Georgia has two breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and two regions with autonomous tendencies, Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti. Internal political consolidation is needed to overcome these autonomous tendencies, but that alone is not enough.

Georgia needs an external power patron to counter and potentially overcome Russia's influence and presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For cultural and historical reasons, neither Iran nor Turkey is an attractive option for Tbilisi, so Georgia has chosen to take its chances with the West, particularly NATO and the U.S. security guarantee membership in NATO implies. However, given the region's geopolitical complexity and the strategic threat Russia poses to Georgia, the West has not been willing to become a reliable ally that guarantees Georgia's security against a resurgent Russia. While Georgia explicitly opposes Russia's resurgence and actively lobbies for Western engagement, it has not been able to receive significant assistance from the West.

This does not mean Georgia has no alternatives to Russia; it has partnered with Azerbaijan and Turkey to form a southern corridor for energy and trade that goes around Russia. But these alternatives are limited to economics and politics and leave Georgia militarily isolated and vulnerable. Lacking NATO membership, Georgia has sought to purchase weapons and build up its own military with help from the United States and Israel, but Russia has been able to obstruct these efforts.

As long as Russia maintains its strong and resurgent position, Georgia is unlikely to get the closer security relationship with the West that it wants. Russia will continue to have difficulties building political and economic ties inside of Georgia proper, but as long as it has its military foothold in the breakaway territories, Georgia's ability to challenge Russia is severely limited.


Azerbaijan, like the other former Soviet states in the Caucasus, serves as a territorial buffer for Russia from the south. It also borders the Caspian and has significant energy resources. Azerbaijan is an important part of a southern corridor that could undermine Russia's importance in the areas of trade and energy.

Russia's Levers

  • Political: Russia dominates the negotiation process between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. Moscow's political ties in Azerbaijan are limited compared to Armenia, but it does have strong connections to the political and security elites in Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • Social: Russia has few ethnic or social ties to Azerbaijan, as most of the population is ethnic Azerbaijani and Muslim.
  • Security: Russia has a radar installation in Garbala. Its military presence in Armenia and Georgia helps to keep Azerbaijan in check, and Russia has a significant intelligence presence in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is not part of Russia's alliance system, but it is also not part of NATO (though it has a bilateral security partnership with NATO member Turkey).
  • Economy: Russia does not control Azerbaijan's energy resources but has offered to purchase all of its natural gas. Azerbaijanis working in Russia send home remittances, but the effect of these remittances on the Azerbaijani economy is minimal.

Russia's Successes, Obstacles and Ambitions

Since 2010, Russia has been able to limit Azerbaijan's expansion of energy projects like the Nabucco and Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy pipelines that work against Russia's interests. Russia has also manipulated Azerbaijan's relationship with Armenia and Turkey to its advantage in the wider region. However, Azerbaijan has not sold all of its energy supplies to Russia (it only delivered 2 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Russia in 2011), and it continues to increase exports to other countries and pursue other southern corridor projects.

Russia's goals for Azerbaijan include preventing Azerbaijan and Turkey from developing a stronger relationship in terms of energy and security. Russia also wants to expand and extend its lease for the Garbala radar station and continue to prevent pipeline projects from coming to fruition.

Azerbaijan's Position and Strategy

Like the other two former Soviet states in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan must have internal consolidation if it is to face the challenges of its difficult environment. Azerbaijan proper is consolidated via a centralized authority and security apparatus. However, its breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is supported by Armenia and secured by a military guarantee from Russia that undermines Azerbaijan's sovereignty in the territory.

Unlike Georgia and Armenia, Azerbaijan has had some success in its second imperative of balancing powers to preserve the sovereignty it has. It owes this success largely to its energy resources. Azerbaijan is the only country in the Caucasus that has avoided having foreign troops on its soil; it has leveraged its energy resources for this purpose. Azerbaijan exports energy to nearly all directions -- to Russia, Iran and the West via Georgia and Turkey -- but not to Armenia.

In terms of security, Azerbaijan knows it cannot be oriented toward Russia, which supports Armenia, or toward Iran, which historically possessed territory that is now part of Azerbaijan and has a large Azerbaijani minority in northern Iran. Therefore, it has partnered with Turkey for military and weapons deals, though Azerbaijan knows this is not enough of a deterrent to match Russia and the country prefers to keep some distance from Ankara. Baku has proceeded cautiously, despite the rhetoric about taking back Nagorno-Karabakh by force. It has focused on building up its energy sector and using its energy revenues to build up its military and economy.

Azerbaijan will continue using its energy and the accompanying pipeline projects in order to protect its sovereignty from its large neighbors, especially Russia. It will be able to maintain this strategy in 2012, and despite Russia's efforts to undermine its energy options Azerbaijan will be the most difficult country in the Caucasus for Russia's resurgence to penetrate, though Baku will certainly not be immune.


Russia's Energy Plans for Turkey


Russia is interested in building natural gas storage facilities in Turkey, officials from Russia's Gazprom said March 20. Over the winter, Gazprom redirected natural gas from its storage facilities in Europe after a spike in demand in Turkey. Now, Gazprom wants to build underground natural gas storage facilities in Turkey to help when supplies dwindle in the future.

Gazprom's proposal is part of Russia's larger strategy -- in both Turkey and Europe -- to increase Moscow's energy leverage with its customers. Although Ankara will be wary of giving Moscow more influence in Turkey, there is little it can do at the moment to withstand the Kremlin's strategy.


Energy is one of the cornerstones of the Russo-Turkish relationship. Russia provides approximately 58 percent of Turkey's natural gas supplies, making it Turkey's largest natural gas supplier. Ankara has long sought ways to reduce its dependence on Russian natural gas, since Moscow traditionally uses its energy supplies as political leverage with many of its customers. For its part, Russia wants to keep Turkey tied to it through energy and to prevent other suppliers from helping Ankara diversify its natural gas sources. Thus, Russia wants to increase its leverage in its energy relationship with Turkey.

Russia is working on a complex strategy to strengthen its position relative to its Western energy customers, particularly in Europe. The first element of the strategy is to move Russia away from its primary role of natural gas supplier and increase its ownership of other natural gas-related assets. The second element is to lock many of Moscow's customers into 10-to-15-year contracts, which Russia has made more appealing by offering natural gas at a discount.

Russia is in negotiations to purchase electricity networks in Germany, natural gas distribution networks in Greece, and electricity and distribution networks in Italy. Moscow has also shown interest in the natural gas distribution networks in the Czech Republic. Russia has struck tentative deals with Germany, Italy and others on 10-year contracts with natural gas price discounts of between 10 and 30 percent. Amid Europe's financial difficulties, the discounts are welcomed. Russia knows that many long-term energy diversity programs are under way in Europe and so is trying to prepare for when those become operational by striking long-term deals.

This European strategy appears to be expanding into Turkey with Gazprom's announcement of interest in building natural gas storage facilities there. Turkey is already on Gazprom's list of countries that could take part in renegotiations on natural gas price contracts, according to Stratfor sources. Russia and Turkey's contract on supplies sent via the Blue Stream pipeline is set to expire in 2013, though the contract on Russian supplies that transit Bulgaria has many years left. Turkey could enter into larger negotiations, like the Europeans, and receive a discount of 10 percent or more. The problem is that Russia will insist on a long-term contract, likely spanning at least 10 years, and Turkey will resist such a deal because it anticipates an increase of natural gas supplies from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz II project in approximately 5 years.

In the short term, however, the possibility of cheaper natural gas and Russia's constructing natural gas storage in Turkey are attractive ideas. Russia's offer comes as Turkey is in a pricing dispute with its second-largest natural gas provider, Iran. Turkey currently pays Iran $505 per thousand cubic meters (mcm) of natural gas -- a steep price compared to the $400 per mcm it pays Russia. Turkey also regularly experiences reliability problems with supplies from Iran, especially in the winter. While Ankara has been careful to maintain a working relationship with Tehran to help Iran circumvent sanctions, Turkey also would likely be interested in more security if more problems arose with Iranian supplies, particularly amid increasing sanctions on Iran from the United States and Europe.

Moscow would be more inclined to provide a greater discount on natural gas supplies to Ankara if the negotiations included Russia gaining assets in Turkey, as it would if it built natural gas storage facilities there. Such facilities could relieve the stress on Turkey's supplies should issues with Iran grow more problematic. Cheaper natural gas and more secure supplies from Russia make Moscow's offer attractive to Ankara. However, either agreement would give Russia greater leverage in Turkey, since Russia would own assets in the country and Turkey would be locked into a long-term contract.

Ankara could want to diversify its natural gas supplies away from Russia and prevent Moscow from gaining more energy -- and ultimately political -- leverage in Turkey. But Ankara has little recourse against Russia's strategy right now. New natural gas supply options -- increased supplies from Iran, the Azerbaijani expansion of Shah Deniz II or liquefied natural gas alternatives -- are years away, and problems with Iran are jeopardizing Turkey's current supplies. Russia might be the only option Turkey has in the short term.

Source: Russia's Energy Plans for Turkey | Stratfor

'World Attention Needed For Russian Pressure On Armenia'

Interview with Nika Chitadze, Georgian political scientist.

Q: What are the main threats for security in the South Caucasus?

A: With regard to the main threats for the security in the South Caucasus, can be consider the following:

Political Threats: Internal conflicts and occupation about 18% of the territory of Georgia in August 2008 and territory of Azerbaijan in May, 1994. This factor endanger Georgia’s and Azerbaijan`s sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-violability of borders and jeopardize establishment of constitutional order on the whole territory of those countries. Illegal arms and drugs trade, trafficking and other transnational crimes have found fertile ground on the occupied territories. Moreover, Russian occupants in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Regions and representatives of the separatist regimes systematically violate human rights on the uncontrolled territories, especially in the occupied regions of Georgia, which are mostly populated by ethnic Georgians in Gali district of Abkhazia and Akhalgori district of South Ossetia. Moreover, these territories can be used by terrorist groups for achieving their aims.

Russian Federation’s military forces are present on the territory of two historic regions of Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) without any political or legal ground and in Armenia-Giumri base. Their presence has a negative impact on the security environment and stability of entire region. International terrorism is a serious threat to the national security of South Caucasus states, especially considering that Region finds itself in the region close to the terrorist bases of the North Caucasus and Middle East. Among the New Challenges should be pointed out about: New forms of terrorism, such as bio-terrorism; Possible proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction, its components and technologies necessary for its development; Illegal arms and drugs trade, trafficking, smuggling and other transnational organized crime, Information related challenges.

Q: What kind of changes in Russian policy in the South Caucasus do you expect in near future?

A: In case of Georgia, it is expected that Russia will continue to cause destabilization on the territory of Georgia, thus to weaken Georgian statehood. It can be implemented by creating destabilization near the occupied zones, implementation terrorist attacks against infrastructure on the territory of Georgia, to support pro-Russian political forces etc. The deterioration of the political situation in Georgia will cause loosing the trust of the western states toward Georgia and failure of the further integration of Tbilisi to European and Euro-Atlantic structures and implementation of the energy projects, which are bypassing Russian territory. In case of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia will try again to play the role of mediator in the resolution Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but at the same time will do nothing for the getting any progress in this direction.

Q: Do you believe in reconciliation process between Georgia and Russia in a soon future, and what are preconditions for that?

A: Even now, there are some contacts between Russia and Georgia. For example, according to 2011, Russia – among of the foreign-trade partners of Georgia, is at the 5-th place (mostly because of trade of electricity). At the same time, it was re-opened the ground state border between Russia and Georgia in Lars since 1 March, 2010. There are thousands of Russian tourists, who travel to Georgia within the whole tourist seasons. There are restored the direct flights between Tbilisi and Moscow. Despite of it, it is less expected the restoration of normal relations between two countries until the Russian President will be V. Putin and until Russia will not stop the implementation of the imperialistic policy against Georgia.

Q: What should be done by Georgia and Azerbaijan separately or together to get back the occupied territories?

A: Georgian experience is likely to discourage Baku from using its armed forces to regain Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku understands that the Russian-Georgian war is a good illustration of what a military conflict with Russia’s ally may entail, especially taking into consideration the fact, that Armenia is a member of CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization, and Russia has legal obligations to protect Armenia in case of war. So, alternative to avoid the conflict with Russia by Georgia or Azerbaijan and de-occupation of occupied territories should be further strengthening cooperation between Georgia and Azerbaijan in the different fields, and by this way to provide the further socio-economic development of both countries, which can increase the interests of the inhabitants at the occupied territories toward the positive processes in Georgia and Azerbaijan.

In this regard, the Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, probably TANAP (gas pipeline which will provide the transportation of natural gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia) projects, furthermore the creation of the closer ties in the framework of GUAM will create the convenient base for the de-occupational process in the future. Together with it, it is necessary the more attraction of the international community for the implementation pressure to Russia and Armenia for the making progress for the resolution of the conflicts in South Caucasus.

Q: How may possible war in Iran influence a situation in the South Caucasus?

A: There are some threats, that if the war in Iran is started, in this case Russia will take advantage and for the providing security in South Caucasus and protection of the Russian military base in the bordering with Iran country - Armenia – Giumri base, will invade in Georgia and by this way will revenge the west-first of all USA, for the military operation against Russia`s ally-Iran. But this scenario is not very reliable, because, in case of war in most of the case is expected, that USA (probably together with several European allies, first of all UK) will implement the air bombardments against nuclear and military objects and will not be involved in the ground operations against the country, territory of which prevails 1 million square kilometers and is able to mobilize about 12 million reservists.

Furthermore, in case of war, there is less probability, that USA will use air spaces of Georgia and Azerbaijan, because US air bases are deployed on the territories of the Persian Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuweit, Bahrein etc. So, from the strategic and geographic point of view, for the military company the more convenient for the US will be implementation the military actions from the Persian Gulf.