ISTANBUL: Military Exercises In The Caucasus: Political Anxieties Re


Today’s Zaman
Sept 25 2012

It has been said that “weapons speak to the wise — but in general
they need interpreters.” Last week, several military exercises were
conducted in the Caucasus. What political messages do these weapons
and these exercises hold?

Russia’s “Kavkaz-2012” military exercise sparked discussions around
the region. Held Sept. 17-23 in the North Caucasus and adjacent
sectors of the Black and the Caspian Seas, the exercises involved
8,000 military personnel. The participation of President Vladimir
Putin added additional impetus to speculation among experts,
many of whom also recalled that the last time Moscow held such a
large-scale military exercise was in advance of the 2008 August
Russian-Georgian war. Thus official Tbilisi along with independent
experts in Azerbaijan declared that this seems to be an attempt
by Moscow to show off its military muscle to the South Caucasus
countries. Several months ago, Georgian officials stated their worry
that Moscow would stage a provocation during the run up to the Oct. 1
Parliamentary election. This speculation is based on a scheduling
change: The Kavkaz-2012 military exercise was unexpectedly moved to
end of the September, which Tbilisi interpreted as a threat.

Following the conclusion of the exercises, it seems an opportune
moment for analysis. It does seem clear that one of aim was to
demonstrate Moscow’s military prowess to the Western-oriented
post-Soviet countries, notably Georgia and Azerbaijan; but there are
other dynamics at play here too — first to test out the “Iranian
scenario.” If there is a Western/Israel military engagement in Iran,
Moscow wants to demonstrate its military capability. This would be a
message for the West and NATO, rather than Georgia. For Moscow, a US
and Israeli strike on Iran is not a question of if, but when. Russia is
not interested because of its plans to intervene in Iran, but because
Western/Israel actions could provide the Kremlin with an excellent
pretext to intervene elsewhere. Second, Russia wants to consolidate
its military capabilities before the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. On
a number of occasions Russian special services have indicated their
fear of some provocation by Georgia, as Sochi, of course, is very
close to the occupied Georgian territories. Speaking as a president,
current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev explicitly warned of threats to
the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games and actually mentioned Georgia in
this context during a meeting of Russia’s National Security Council
in Sochi on Feb. 18, 2011. In response, Georgian President Mikheil
Saakashvili told a local television channel a few days later that
“creating a physical threat” to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games
“is neither in our plans, nor our capability.”

However, on May 20, 2011, the Georgian Parliament passed a resolution
whereby Georgia became the first country to recognize the 19th
century massacres and deportations of Circassians by Tsarist Russia
in the northwest Caucasus as “genocide.” Georgia’s recognition of
the Circassian massacre as genocide seems like an anti-Russian policy
move with regard to the Sochi Olympic Games, given that the Olympic
Charter states that the Olympic Games cannot be held in a territory
where genocide has taken place.

The third reason for holding the military exercise is to test the
reforms within the Russian army. President Putin’s appearance at
the first day of the exercise was likely designed to emphasize his
personal role: Putin, father of military reform.

Indeed, Russia will increase its defense spending by 53 percent
between 2011 and 2014, which means a clear militarization of the
Russian state budget.

Although NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s statement
that Russia had failed to officially notify the alliance about the
aims or terms of the exercise, there are clear grounds that disprove
Rasmussen’s allegation.

Firstly, in December 2011, the chief of the General Staff of the
Russian Armed Forces, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, convened a briefing
of foreign military attaches in Moscow, which was attended by NATO

Secondly, the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and
Security between NATO and the Russian Federation of 1997 states that
the parties must be notified officially if the numerical strength
exceeds more than 10,000 servicemen (in the Kavkaz-2012 maneuvers,
8,000 military personnel were involved), and the maneuvers were
conducted not only at a distance from the borders of any NATO
countries, but also more than a hundred kilometers from the Georgian

It should also be noted that before Kavkaz-2012, the Russian-backed
Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) held a military
exercise in Armenia called “Interaction-2012” (Sept. 15-19), which
was designed to test the organization’s 20,000-strong Collective
Rapid Reaction Forces. Although less important than Kavkaz-2012, the
CSTO exercise in Armenia is arguably more significant, on the grounds
that after Uzbekistan’s exodus (or in the words of Uzbek officials,
“suspension of membership”), CSTO wants to demonstrate its strength.

Even more importantly, while the scale of the CSTO exercises operation
was much smaller than last year’s, the political messages to Azerbaijan
and Georgia were more significant. The question of CSTO’s right to
intervene if Azerbaijan starts a military liberation operation in
Karabakh has long been a matter of debate. In this small exercise,
Moscow sought to underline its support to the Armenian leadership.

In the meantime, the “Eternity-2012” staff headquarters trainings
for Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia began on Sept. 24 and will end Sept.

28. This annual computer-supported training focuses on the protection
of oil and gas pipelines. Despite the timeline of other military
training in the region, this is genuinely designed for pipelines.

The recent military exercises in the region are another step in a
carefully articulated political dance on the part of the governments
involved, with demonstrations of military ambition, territorial
anxiety and political showmanship. The conclusion of this “dance” seems
open-ended, and certainly the history of such interaction is long.

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