The Caucasus fracture

Agency WPS
What the Papers Say. Part A (Russia)
May 17, 2004, Monday


SOURCE: Rodnaya Gazeta, No. 18, May 14, 2004, p. 12

by Stanislav Tarasov

The geopolitical intrigue in the Caucasus related to Adzharia had a
different outcome to what many Russian analysts had assumed. Aslan
Abashidze, who was drifting from a position of armed confrontation
with Tbilisi (blowing up the border bridges) to attempts to solve the
problem by political and diplomatic means, finally had to leave
Batumi. The forces that wanted to retain control over the routes for
transportation of Caspian oil to foreign markets by any means with
assistance of Abashidze were defeated. This happened as a result of
intensive consultations of Moscow, Tbilisi and Washington.

Very few people know what kind arguments the parties used in the
course of these very rapid negotiations. But judging by the reaction
of Tbilisi, which emphasizes the constructive personal role of
Vladimir Putin in a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Adzharia, it
is possible to guess that Moscow has managed to achieve some
opportunities for building up its new policy in the Caucasus.

There was a kind of mystic aspect in this situation too and President
of Georgia Saakashvili hinted at it. In Batumi he told journalists,
“I believe the forebodings.” It seemed that Vladimir Putin decided
not to darken his inauguration with a local armed conflict between
Tbilisi and Batumi.

Of course, Tbilisi is triumphing and already announces its readiness
to restore its control over Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. In any case,
majority of analysts presume that it will hardly be possible to solve
these problems according to the scenario of “revolution of roses.” If
Tbilisi uses armed force, appearance of new zones of armed
confrontation in the Caucasus is inevitable and the entire Caucasus
region may start burning in this case. Although this may seem
strange, neither Moscow nor the West cannot offer a “quick-action
vaccine” to the warring parties now that can cure them from the
existing and dormant centuries-long local territorial and
inter-ethnic conflicts. Despite the victory of Tbilisi in Adzharia,
the situation in the region embracing the territory between the
Caspian and Black seas remains very explosive. Events on this
territory can develop according to their own geopolitical logic that
does not take into account the established borders between the

We need to mention another mysterious coincidence connected with the
first days of Vladimir Putin second term in office: the murder of
President Akhmad Kadyrov of Chechnya. Some Western analysts are
linking the issues of Abashidze and Kadyrov, saying that Russia is
allegedly losing its influence in the Caucasus. If the opposition in
Armenia manages to at least influence the government’s foreign
policy, if not to replace the ruling regime, it will be possible to
speak about closing the “Caucasus circle.”

But the question now is this: has Moscow suffered a defeat in the
Caucasus, or is this a case of Russia shaping a new policy doctrine
in this region?

Back in 1919 and 1920, serious debates were going on in the Kremlin:
is it necessary to bind the Caucasus to the mainland or to create a
“sanitary cordon” in the region? For instance, former Colonel of the
Tsarist General Staff Alexeev, who was a military attache of Soviet
Ambassador to Tbilisi Sergei Kirov, wrote the following in his
analytical report: “It is necessary to take into account the historic
experience of Russia’s ownership of the Caucasus. The first option is
not to interfere in the affairs of the Caucasus, to let the processes
develop in a natural way and to deal with the strong afterwards. The
second option is to divide the sphere of influence in this region
with neighboring Turkey and Iran and the West, and to indicate our
presence in the region primarily by economic means. The third option
is to conquer the region by military force: but in this case the
Caucasus will make itself known again in the event of another Russian
geopolitical fracture.”

It is known that the Bolsheviks chose the third option. But it seems
that Vladimir Putin has decided to deviate from Bolshevism in his
policy in the Caucasus. The first and the second scenarios of Colonel
Alexeev have been brought into play. This means that in case of
another fire in the Caucasus, we will no longer need to intervene to
pull anyone else’s chestnuts out of the fire.

Translated by Pavel Pushkin