Prospects Of War In Transcaucasia And Central Asia



00 :31 06/18/2008

An analytical report of REGNUM News Agency based on its own information
and materials of its correspondents.

1. The global scene

Trasncaucasia and Central Asia are still key conflict areas in the
post-Soviet territory (apart from Crimea). Security prospects are
determined here by following factors:

(1) the nature of the strategic dialog between Russia, the United
States and the accompanying European Union, interests of China,
Turkey and Iran;

(2) domestic political situation in the countries of the mentioned

(3) regional conflicts (Georgian-Abkhaz, Georgian-Ossetian and
Nagorno Karabakh, Azerbaijani-Iranian ones), other regional conflicts
(Kazakh-Uzbek, Uzbek-Tajik, Afghan-Tajik (Uzbek, Kyrgyz) ones) and
other discreet conflicts taking shape of the "security expansion"
(for instance, Iran’s in Transcaucasia and Central Asia, Iran and
China’s in Central Asia);

(4) capability of local regimes to generate domestic and external
conflicts on their own.

The key problem around which the regional competition is taking
place is in control over the energy potential of the Caspian and the
transit potential of the Black Sea region, which is a part of the
bigger Balkan-Black Sea region and the prospect of "the global Balkans
from Suez (Kosovo) to Xinjiang" directly including Central Asia and
Kazakhstan. In this case, the traditional role of "restraining" Russia
from its southern borders is being accomplished by the western line of
"containment" through the Baltic-Black Sea-Caspian axis. And, which is
the most important, "restraining" Russia is a part of the Euro-Atlantic
"containment" of the Arabic world and China, and Eurasia in general.

The West has been suffering economic losses and is short of time
in the practical implementation of its new Euro-Atlantic projects
around the "Transcaucasian Corridor": after investing finances into
laying alternative pipelines, including the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil
pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, by promoting Nabucco,
by involving Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan into the "corridor," the
West has failed to provide guaranteed sources for filling the pipes,
and even estimated amounts of the resources to be exported have no
principal influence upon the energy market. That is why Kazakhstan
rich in natural resources becomes a focus of special political,
military and humanitarian attention of the West, whose key task is
to pull Kazakhstan away from Russia and China. Evidently, the most
realistic scenario of such pulling away will be communicational,
economic and defense isolation of Kazakhstan in the region. The harder
for Kazakhstan will be the results of rearming its anti-aircraft
defense by NATO specialists that would put under its control the
whole Western China, Russia’s territory up to the Arctic Ocean and the
Persian Gulf countries and pose a direct threat to all Kazakhstan’s
neighbors. Opposite to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan has
not acknowledged the prospect of turning into a small change in the
strategy of "containment."

Meanwhile, the key generator of political conflicts in the "global
Balkans" area are the United States rather than regional forces;
namely, the inability of the USA as an irresponsible external force
results of whose policy were disintegration of Iraq, activity of
Iran, indetermination of Turkey and the drug and terror epidemic
from Afghanistan.

2. Transcaucasia

Up to date, the priority practical and tactical goal of the West in
region is to implement the Trans-Caspian pipeline that could fuel
the pipeline junctions along the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey line as
well as load transshipping capacities of Georgian ports.

At the same time, the West has been strategically pushing Iran and
Turkey from the region which makes them situational partners of Russia.

Nevertheless, Turkey is still exerting gross political impact upon the
situation in Azerbaijan using extended social networks as well. In its
turn, Iran, parallel to weakening Russia’s positions, is increasing
its presence in Armenia, turning eventually into a factor guaranteeing
security of the republic.

After Mikhail Saakashvili and his team came to power, Georgia handed
over its sovereignty to the United States, assuming a role of a
full-extent buffer zone from Russia that hampered its capability to
increase its regional interests. Withdrawal of the Russian military
bases from Batumi and Akhalkalaki as well as a many-year massive
anti-Russian campaign instigated by Saakashvili bereaved Moscow of
any influence in Georgia. As a result, Russia practically had to
fence off the region blocking transport links via a check-point on
the Georgian Military Highway and the ports of Poti and Batumi. Within
whole that period, the only legal land way from Russia to the region
was via Dagestan to Azerbaijan and was used only locally.

The Georgian-Russian confrontation granted a great limit of time
to the West and an extensive space for maneuvering in increasing
their influence upon the political systems of the countries. At the
same time, the energy dialog of the West with Azerbaijan was grounded
basically upon prospects of neutralizing Iran, and with Armenia upon a
possibility to take the country out of the Russian orbit and unblock
the border with Turkey. Neither of the goals can be considered to be
fully accomplished, as both Tehran and Ankara did their best not to
let Washington’s positions strengthen excessively.

Meanwhile, the West gained substantial success particular in engaging
the three countries in the region into NATO Individual Partnership
Action Plans and for Georgia, in stating clearly the prospect of
the country joining the alliance. The USA announced directly it
was considering the region as a territory for deploying its air
defense. The Azerbaijani territory is already granted for putting
into practice interests of the American radiolocation systems and Air
Forces. An agreement signed by the US and Azerbaijan on military and
technical cooperation foresees US plans to connect the radiolocation
station in Lerik and radiotelephone observer station in Agstafa to the
Kavkaznet radiolocation system that they intend to establish in South
Caucasus. The USA has placed its radars in the territory of Astara and
Xizi districts, modernized an air-defense base in Kurdamir, is taking
part in talks between Moscow and Baku about future exploitation of
the Gabala Radiolocation Station. From time to time, Azerbaijan is
trying to calm down Tehran saying it would not take actions against
the southern neighbor, however, it is evident that it is impossible to
calm down Iran by statements and pledges. Iran continues developing
its military cooperation with Russia in improving its air defense,
including supply of S-300 air defense systems. Russia has been
leveling off the actions in arming Armenia and Azerbaijan. Tehran is
pursuing not only the evident "security expansion" to Turkmenistan and
Tajikistan, but is carrying out the most active intelligence activity
in Transcaucasia, while it does not give up attempts to establish
pressure groups within frameworks of religious schools. The regional
policy of Iran is in backing the outlines of the Moscow-Yerevan-Tehran
axis, maneuvering in the relations with Yerevan and Baku by using the
Karabakh factor. In this situation, Armenia acts as a weak sister,
which is, in spite of its peculiar ties with Iran and Russia, subjected
to the will of the USA.

If US active policy in Transcaucasia brings about tension in the
relations of Iran and Azerbaijan, Tehran and Yerevan, on the opposite,
are having a pointedly constructive dialog with each other. For the
Iranian side, the relations with Armenia are important in terms of
securing pressure levers upon Baku and preserving its presence in the
border region at all; for Armenia, Iran is becoming an alternative
pole in providing its national security.

Russia is actively involved in Armenian-Iranian energy projects. Iran,
Russia and Armenia have a number of joint projects — a railway
link from Armenia to Iran with participation of the RZhD Russian
Railways company, an oil refinery at the Armenia-Iran border with
participation of Gazprom, supply of gas from Iran to electricity
producing facilities in Armenia owned by Russia, increasing carrying
capacity of electricity networks to export electricity from Armenia
to Iran. Meanwhile, Tehran is trying to sustain relations with the
authorities in Nagorno Karabakh, particularly by conducting several
construction projects there.

The Turkish-Armenian and Turkish-Azerbaijani relations are built on the
reverse logic. Washington’s effort aimed at reconciliation of Yerevan
and Ankara and unblocking a section of the state border between the
two countries bore no results. The government in Yerevan knows it
perfectly well that Ankara is in no way interested in establishing
dialog with the Armenians. The prospect will not suit Azerbaijan
either, which is the major regional Turkish prop and supplier of
hydrocarbons via Turkish transit routes. One can state that the
United States has abandoned promoting its reconciliation strategy,
moreover, discrepancies between the USA and Turkey around Iran and
sovereignization of Kurdistan appeared.

Thus, the policy of the USA and its allies in Transcaucasia
met practically consolidated aversion from Russia, Iran and
Turkey. Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia will have to choose in the long
run their own way depending on outcomes of this struggle of positions:
either to form their own strategy at their own risk or become small
change of the American strategy of "containment," responsibility for
which would be assumed by neither the United States nor Russia or
Iran. To cut it short, the options are not satisfactory.

3. Kosovo forever

The precedent of Kosovo independence recognition, as expected,
resulted in radical change of the situation in Transcaucasia, where
three territorial conflicts involving ethnic and religious elements
have been smoldering.

Despite the fact that before the declaration and recognition of
Kosovo independence, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia announced that
conflict settlement in the region was developing irrelevantly to the
outcomes of the developments in Kosovo, their behavior after the Kosovo
precedent showed the opposite. In particular, the Kosovo independence
was not recognized by Azerbaijan despite the contrary decision made
by Turkey. Even the pro-American Georgian government refused to
follow the example of Washington and recognize Kosovo. Meanwhile,
the Armenian authorities did not rule out recognition of Kosovo,
despite the unambiguously negative attitude of Russia and Iran. There
is direct evidence of a situational behavior of Baku, Tbilisi, and
Yerevan. Denying the precedent nature of Kosovo by word of mouth,
the Transcaucasian nations treated it as precedent, each deciding to
fill it with the contents the needed. Tbilisi is against Kosovo, as it
does not want it to repeat globally in Abkhazia and South Ossetia; Baku
opposes Kosovo as it does not want the same recognition of Karabakh;
Yerevan backs it, as it is fighting for at least preserving the legal
personality of Karabakh.

Kosovo rid the West of time, space for maneuver and pure political
influence in Transcaucasia. Everyone here has no place to retreat;
everyone has to hurry and substitute the voluntary "allied relations"
with the West by primitive bargaining: it is evident to everyone that
after Kosovo there won’t be enough security for all.

After withdrawing the regime of economic sanctions against Abkhazia and
deciding to render economic support to Abkhazia and South Ossetia,
Russia, although it did not declare its readiness to recognize
Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is bringing about integration of the two
protectorates: when Georgia enters NATO, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are
supposed to be fully secured from a possible aggression from Georgia.

Nevertheless, with direct military assistance of the western allies,
Georgia has been intensely preparing itself for military settlement
of the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As the 2014 Winter
Olympics in Sochi are getting closer, Georgia will be increasing
its military pressure in the conflict zones, blackmailing Russia with
possible derailment of the Olympics (and renewal of the ethnic conflict
in North Caucasus by expelling Ossetian population from South Ossetia).

Simultaneously, the USA and the European Union have stirred their
activity in "peaceful" entrance to the settlement processes in
Transdnestr, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, by offering to regional elites
humanitarian, political and economic gains from the cooperation with
the West, while counterweighing Russia’s role at the same time. Top
officials in Transdnestr and Abkhazia, the opposition in South Ossetia
have already picked up the Western rhetoric of multipolar foreign
policy as their official doctrines.

Thus, there are trying to reduce their dependence from the changing
Russian-American and Russian-European relations. At that, however,
the West has not envisaged practical mechanisms of guaranteeing the
capitulated nations and elites from Yugoslavia-style purges. All this
is pushing Georgia and Moldova to give up peaceful settlement.

At the same time, the whole Georgian military and NATO military
assistance are guided by not only offensive (Abkhazia, South Ossetia),
but rear role of Georgia in future US activity against Iran as well
as in activity of radical Muslims in Russia’s North Caucasus.

Azerbaijan has been torpedoing the many-year effort of the OSCE Minsk
Group (Russia, the USA and France) in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict

During a severe domestic crisis in Armenia, it persuaded the UN to
adopt a resolution that weakened dramatically Armenia’s positions
in Karabakh, announced a possibility to dissolve the Minsk Group and
warned that recognition of Nagorno Karabakh by Armenia would result
in a war.

Meanwhile, the level of threats (from Georgia) and the weight of
security guarantees for Abkhazia, South Ossetia (from Russia) cannot
be compared with the realities of Nagorno Karabakh. While the former
Georgian territories are under supervision of the CIS peacekeeping
forces, are populated by Russian citizens and have common borders
with Russia, Nagorno Karabakh is falling out of Russia’s sphere of
control. The only security guarantor of Nagorno Karabakh is a member
of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Armenia. In
recent years, Moscow has taken action to engage Nagorno Karabakh
into the common political context with Abkhazia, South Ossetia and
Transdnestr, but this was met with aversion by Armenia (in particular,
representatives of Stepanakert were invited to hearings at the Russian
State Duma on prospects of conflict settlement, but decided not to come
under recommendation from Yerevan). Russia has already made it public
that a war of Azerbaijan against Nagorno Karabakh would not serve as
a reason for Armenia’s CSTO partners to get into the operation.

The USA has made significantly active its effort in the Nagorno
Karabakh conflict settlement. Within frameworks of the Minsk Group,
basic settlement principles were elaborated: the Armenians agree
to return to Azerbaijan five of the seven occupied territories
around the territory of the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous
Republic, into which Azerbaijani refugees return, peacekeepers from
countries that are not members of the Minsk Group are deployed there,
communications restored. Only after that a stage-by-stage settlement
of the question of the status of Nagorno Karabakh will be started:
Nagorno Karabakh is proposed to be granted postponed status that
would be finally formalized after a referendum in 10-15 years (the
format of such a referendum was not specified). It is evident that
the settlement scenario proposed by the USA in the current situation
can suit only Armenia.

Together with the format of settlement with participation of the OSCE
Minsk Group the plan was torpedoed by Azerbaijan as well, which pushed
Armenia towards NATO even more.

After the Russian military base was withdrawn from Akhalkalaki (a
southern Georgian territory populated mostly by Armenians), Armenia
started having serious concerns about a prospect of establishing a
base for soonest deployment of the "northern front." Implementation of
the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku railway construction project will
contribute to it as well. A possible blockade from the north (from
Georgia) would assign the position of a communications dead-end to
Armenia even taking into account the still existing route via Megri,
Armenia, to Iran. All this helps popularizing among the Armenians the
idea that only Armenia can become an effective partner for NATO in
the region, as Georgia’s joining NATO would deteriorate the situation
around Abkhazia and South Ossetia, increase the confrontation between
NATO and Russia, and Azerbaijan’s membership to NATO will only help
strengthening Turkey’s stance in the region.

The USA will be increasing its pressure upon Armenia (where
social protest is still active and the level of confidence in
the government is low) in order to withdraw it from the orbit of
Moscow’s influence. In the near future, the USA and the EU will
take part in construction of a new nuclear power plant in Armenia,
which will allow influencing the energy security of not only Armenia
but the rest countries in the region as well, they will also actively
promoting ex-foreign minister Raffi Hovhannisyan for the presidential
post. Further deterioration of the domestic political situation
in Armenia (and upcoming election of Azerbaijani President Ilham
Aliyev for the second term) will have as a result destabilization
in Karabakh. So, Armenia is interested in the settlement under the
patronage of the United States, as it has no economic capabilities
to maintain the status quo around Karabakh, while Azerbaijan and
Turkey, Iran and Russia are not interested in the settlement under
the American scenario.

This makes Russia engaged into regional conflicts in Transcaucasia,
however, without providing acceptable starting opportunities for it
in the region.

Meanwhile, technically military preparedness of Georgia and Azerbaijan
for conflicts is very high, however, it is low motivated among the
troops. When Chechen units joined Russian peacekeepers changed
dramatically the psychological portrait of the seat of war to
Russia’s benefit, but it does not change its passive defensive
conception. Understanding disastrous outcomes of a future war
in Karabakh also affects readiness of Armenia for a war with
Azerbaijan. Such "war of nerves" puts the prospect of war in the
extremely militarized Transcaucasia into dependence not on strategic,
controllable factors, but rather upon a poorly controllable spontaneous
"ignition" in front of which interests of regional powers and
transregional communication projects are equally vulnerable.

Prospects of the key destabilizing factor in the region remain
uncertain — US intentions regarding the Muslim Turkish government,
establishment of an independent Kurdistan, Iran’s nuclear program. A
factor of restrain for US activity is huge political investments of
the West introduced to the "Transcaucasian Corridor" that can cease
its existence in case of war. Thus, the conflict initiative is mainly
in the hands of those who is weighing effectiveness of two rival
technologies of strategic containment of Russia:

(1) to halt growth of its impact by diversifying routes of energy
supply to Europe (through Transcaucasia) — or

(2) to aspire to the same goal by undermining its underpinning in
the conflict zones in Transcaucasia with a prospect of extending them
towards North Caucasus.

Impact of the first scenario upon the real energy market of Europe
is overestimated, while the practice of instigating a new Caucasian
War against Russia is clearly underrated. However, the temptation
of the global player to build "the global Balkans towards Xinjiang"
is too high to let us hope that its pro-European sympathies would
overweigh its anti-Russian, anti-Iranian and anti-Chinese complexes.

4. Central Asia

Contrary to Transcaucasia, potential military conflicts in Central
Asia are results of new agenda not implemented in the past rather
than of old, already shaped premises. There has been an assumption
for along time that the key economic spring of the conflicts lies
in the problem of the water and energy balance, where major sources
of water and energy resources (Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) are at the
same time the poorest countries in the region, while major consumers
of water and resources (Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) are the leaders. In
this situation, all the parties in the water and energy balance saw
Russia as a natural mediator in terms of finances, technology and
policy in settlement of the issue.

Today, under conditions of a demographic crisis (overpopulation) in
Uzbekistan, a financial crisis in Kazakhstan, economic, political
and energy crises in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan the most acute are
contradictions of not general economic nature but rather of traditional
— migration, terrorist, social and regional character. The role
of new external players in Central Asia (Iran, China, Afghanistan)
has harshly increased.

Two extraterritorial conflict zones have finally formed — the
Afghan-Tajik border and Fergana Valley, to which the Islamist, terror
and drug trafficking have direct corridor from Afghanistan. China
has become a not less active player in developments in the region;
it is directly interested in "security expansion" into Central Asia
to provide safety of its Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous District that is a
traditional goal for Islamists and a new target of the US activity in
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Mongolia. It is significant to mention that
China’s economic and other activities in the neighboring territories
of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan is based on practical absence of regular
border between China and the countries, and, for instance, actual
trade turnover between China and Kyrgyzstan is multiply higher than
the trade turnover of Kyrgyzstan with Kazakhstan and Russia altogether.

Facing external and domestic weakness of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan,
Uzbekistan has to act more and more "impudently" in forming its own
border system. Kazakhstan could become a rival for Uzbekistan in it,
but now it has to resort to strategic defense in depth.

Within decades, the border with Uzbekistan has been painful for

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the process of delimitation
of borders has not been completed in the post-Soviet Turkestan, while
the Soviet-time frontiers do not reflect peculiarities of historical
settlement of ethnic groups in the territory of the region. Potential
territorial disputes between the republics can appear because of the
Kazakh cities of Turkestan and Sairam, which are populated by Uzbeks
by 70-80%. The increasing proportion of Uzbek population in southern
Kazakhstan, south-western Kyrgyzstan, northern Tajikistan has long ago
turned from a problem of ethnic minority into a problem of prevailing
regional ethnos not represented in regional and central governments
(while hundreds of thousands of Afghanis have already naturalized in
Tajikistan and are represented in local authorities). The situation
is worsened by the problem ethnically-based agrarian slavery,
self-acquisitions of city territories, special acuteness of the
land issue in rural areas that causes extreme deficit of land in
areas with mixed population, mass unemployment, permanent threat of
famine and ethnic conflicts, increasing drug trafficking (officially
registered drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Tajikistan and farther
increased four times within recent years). In many cases, radical
Islamist movements in countries of the region are characterized by
mono-ethnic composition.

The unavoidable problem of succession of power in Kazakhstan and
Uzbekistan and modernization of power in Turkmenistan within next few
years, extreme weakness of the government in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan,
utmost low battle readiness of armed forces in most countries in the
region make them especially vulnerable to external and internal risks
of usage of force.

Escape of excessive population from Fergana Valley in general,
Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to Russia and in part to
Kazakhstan only partially reduces the tension caused by domestic
social problems. Any systematic measures to legalize or cut down
labor migration in Russia and Kazakhstan will result in social
bankruptcy of the government in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and
further sovereignization of their provinces. The semiofficial security
ideology of Kazakhstan states directly that after the regime changes in
Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan will be the key target of migration expansion
of the Uzbek population that it won’t be able to assimilate, which
is fraught with danger of a social and economic explosion in southern
Kazakhstan and around Alma-Ata. Under condition of the traditionally
conflict relations of Kazakhstan with Uzbekistan this will inevitably
result in spontaneous military actions along the border. Actual
capitulation of Kyrgyzstan as a sovereign state in the project of
the Central-Asian Union to the political and economic expansion of
Kazakhstan, which despite its economic difficulties openly pretends
for an actual annexation of Kyrgyzstan, nears the territorial split
into two parts — the South, in which Uzbekistan will be dominating
politically and economically, and the North, which will become
Kazakhstan’s protectorate. Here, one must expect increase of the
level of terror threat from Afghanistan and specific expansion of
China. In prospect of a conflict, say, in Fergana Valley, this will
bring about its growing interference into the military security system.

A close to capitulation strategy of Tajikistan as a junior partner of
the "Persian Bloc" (Iran-Tajikistan-Afghanistan) doe not guarantee it
from harsh clashes with Uzbekistan and growing danger of infiltration
of Afghanistan in its domestic processes, which makes more than real
future split of the country by external players as well as a long
period of military instability.

5. Potential armed conflicts in Transcaucasia and Central Asia

High probability and intensity:

Kodori Gorge — Gali District — Ochamchira: Georgia — Abkhazia
(with participation of Russia)

Tskhinval — Java: Georgia — South Ossetia (with participation
of Russia)

Nagorno Karabakh — Nakhichevan: Azerbaijan (with participation of
Turkey) — Armenia

Osh: Kyrgyzstan — Afghanistan

Fergana Valley: Afghanistan — Uzbekistan — Kyrgyzstan — Tajikistan

Khodjent: Uzbekistan — Tajikistan

Medium probability and intensity:

Vakhsh — Pamir: Afghanistan — Tajikistan

Jalalabad — Osh: Uzbekistan — Kyrgyzstan

Derbent: Azerbaijan — Russia

Lenkoran: Azerbaijan — Iran

Shymkent: Uzbekistan — Kazakhstan

Low probability and intensity:

Akhalkalaki: Georgia — Armenia

Astrakhan: Russia — Kazakhstan

Altai: Russia — Kazakhstan

Chui Valley — Issyk Kul: Kazakhstan — Kyrgyzstan