10.11.2004
Wider Europe’s Horizons in the Caucasus
№4 2004 October/December

In the
first half of the 19th century the Caucasus was a source of
constant exasperation in Russia’s relations with the European
countries. Britain was trying to turn the region into a barrier
that would prevent Russia’s advance on Iran, Turkey and India,
while Paris would regularly play the Caucasian trump card in the
standoffs between Britain and Russia in a bid to attain its own
imperialist colonial goals in the Middle East. Political quarters
in St. Petersburg [Russia’s former capital] and Tiflis [the former
name of present Tbilisi] watched with suspicion the activities of
the Western powers, reckoning that developments might take any
course. International tensions over the Caucasian issue persisted
until the 1860s, and in 1837 they drove the Anglo-Russian relations
to the verge of conflict. Ultimately, they formed the necessary
ingredients which would grow into the Crimean War, a conflict that
could well compare to the later world wars in terms of its content
and consequences. The war erased the foundations of the
post-Napoleonic Viennese system of European order and ended the
period of “long peace” on the Old Continent.



 

Imam
Shamil’s defeat in Chechnya (1859) and the suppression of the
anti-Russian resistance in Cherkessia (1864) made the West realize
that staking on internal forces in the Caucasus was not rational
anymore. The Europeans de facto recognized the Caucasus as a
possession of the Russian Empire, and European policies there moved
to a primarily economic dimension. This reduced the conflict
potentiality of the Russo-West-European relations to a safe
minimum, and noticeably changed Russia’s perception of a Western
presence in the Caucasus. The confrontational model gave way to a
cooperative one. Since the Europeans no longer challenged the
international legal (i.e. political) status of the Caucasus, St.
Petersburg began extending support and patronage to the British,
French, German, Belgian, and Dutch businesses that explored the
economic space of the Caucasus. The situation remained the same
until World War I.

 

The
upheavals of 1914 through 1921 delivered the Caucasus back to the
domain of an acute geopolitical contest, and highlighted the
region’s military and strategic significance for Germany, Britain,
and France. They played on heterogeneous interests of the diverse
local social, ethnocratic, religious, and cultural elites, on the
one hand, and the equally heterogeneous aspirations of the popular
masses, on the other. Moral or ideological considerations were
wiped out by absolutely pragmatic goals of the warring states, that
is, to win whatever the cost.

 

The
October 1917 revolution in Russia, and the collapse of the Germanic
bloc, propelled international calls for dissecting Russia’s
imperial heritage in the Caucasus to the top of the agenda. The
Civil War and armed interventions plunged the Caucasus into chaos.
Eventually, the Entente ran out of the courage and resolve to tidy
up the local political situation, ridden by complex political
alliances, caricature states and self-proclaimed leaders. The truth
is that Britain, France and the U.S. did not have a clear answer
from the very beginning as to what should be done in the Caucasus
or with the Caucasian problems.

 

In the
meantime, the Bolsheviks did have an answer which finally brought
them victory over the interventionists and internal foes. The
result was that the Caucasus vanished from the list of world policy
problems for decades.

 

INDIGESTIBLE REALITY

 

In 1991,
an expanding Europe once again turned its attention to the
Caucasus. The situation at the time there was unprecedented – never
in the past had the countries of the region enjoyed so many
opportunities to formulate their national goals as full-fledged
members of the international community. Nor had Europe ever
identified itself so powerfully as an independent subject of
international policy boasting unanimous policy goals. Nor had the
concert of European nations ever expanded so fast.

 

Until
fairly recently, the European Union mostly admitted to its ranks
the countries and nations belonging to the European cultural,
historical and geographic space. The Caucasus has never been part
of the Occidental civilization, and its integration into the EU –
something that officials in the regional countries often mention
today – will be problematic even on the conditions of associated
membership, especially if the problem of European identity comes
into the limelight.

 

Yet this
is not the main problem. What is more important is the actual
capability and readiness of the Europeans to untangle the many
Gordian knots of the Caucasus – Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South
Ossetia, etc. – given the situation where no one can see exactly
which knot poses the greatest menace. Who will venture to settle
the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia – and how? What is on
the cards for Georgia’s ill-conceived mini-empire and what price or
method, or reason, is there to breathe new life into it? Can the
democratic institutions implanted from the outside take firm root
on soil that has never known democracy? And will they be
instrumental in maintaining at least a minimum of stability and
security?

 

If the
desire behind the EU’s penetration into the Caucasus is to
establish control over the energy resources of the Caspian Sea,
does it make sense then to go to such great lengths as to make the
region a part of the European community? And if oil and gas are not
the sole issue at stake, it would be worthwhile to do a thorough
political analysis of the potential gains and unavoidable
costs.

 

Whatever
the projects designed for the Caucasus, they are doomed if they
ignore Russian interests. The immediate neighborhood of the South
Caucasus is of automatic concern for Russia’s national security.
The last thing the Kremlin will be ready to part with is the right
to defend Russia’s southern borders from the variegated threats
emerging from sections across the Caucasian Range, and there are
signs that Moscow is toughening its stance on the issue. Retreating
from this stance does not seem to be a likely scenario in the
foreseeable future – such is the historic tradition and
geopolitical reality.

 

Europe is
an entirely external player in the Caucasian geopolitical theater,
and the EU in its current structural and institutional condition is
an entirely new player. It may make any declarations about its
goals, but its presence in the region that used to be part of the
Soviet Union will continue to keep Moscow on alert. As for the
possible deployment of NATO and/or EU military infrastructures
along Russia’s southern flanks, the reaction from the Kremlin would
be even more predictable. Citing the protection of pipelines and/or
the prevention of ethnic conflicts as explanations for such a
deployment would mean overstating the degree of patience,
complacency and naïveté of the Russian
leaders.

 

Presently,
it is difficult to outline the contours of a compromise that Moscow
would be ready to make with the West in Transcaucasia. Obviously,
it will not object to a mutually beneficial business partnership
and honest economic competition. But the idea of turning
Azerbaijan, Georgia or Armenia into a military and political
affiliation of the EU will inevitably encounter Russia’s resistance
with all of the negative consequences concerning peace and
stability in the South Caucasus. This, in turn, will directly
affect the guarantee of reliable deliveries of Caspian energy
resources to the West.

 

Naturally,
any discussion about a European military presence in the Caucasus
as an accomplished fact would be misleading. However, an epoch of
pleasant and unpleasant surprises continues in Transcaucasia and
elsewhere on the former Soviet territory, and the Europeans must be
prepared to face them, too. This necessitates mutual understanding,
credibility and close partnerships that are based on an a priori
recognition by the West of bare reality, namely, that Russia will
always maintain its interests in the South Caucasus and those
interests will demand tangible, and not verbal, respect.

 

“EVERYTHING HAS BEEN PAINTED NEGATIVE”

 

Meanwhile,
it is more frequently heard these days that Russia has ostensibly
lost the ability to be responsible for what is happening in the
post-Soviet South Caucasus, and that is why the West must assume
the burden of that responsibility. The West has developed a voguish
thesis that Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan need new ideas, new
teachers, and new patrons. Western experts remain faithful to the
belief that the imported “right” democracy and a self-organizing
market economy offer a panacea for all post-Soviet problems.
Moscow’s re-integration efforts, mostly quite ineffective, provoke
strong resistance; this, in turn, promotes destabilization
precisely where it should be avoided.

 

Members of
the European expert community declare the imperial phase in Russian
history a thing of the past, while stressing that the West is ready
to nip in the bud any Restoration impulses coming from Moscow. No
one seems to be dismayed anymore by the thesis that suggests: “We
don’t need a strong Russia,” or its byproduct idea that argues: “We
don’t need a united Russia.”

 

Many
analysts do not deny today that the idea of sovereignty and
territorial integrity has ceased to be axiomatic, and the West is
apparently reluctant to renounce the practice of double standards
in that area. When priority was given to breaking up the Soviet
Union and weakening Russia to the limits, the West waved the banner
of national self-determination. The need to build some sort of a
containment barrier around Russia only emerged later, and now the
West is ready to build it from anything that comes in handy,
including failed states. No consideration is being given to the
inconsistency of those countries, the low level of democracy and
political culture of their leaders, nor the problem status of their
ethnic minorities. Furthermore, encroachments on human rights, as
well as the degree to which their economies are able to conform to
market principles, fail to be brought into focus. What really
matters is their willingness to line up with other post-Soviet
malcontents in an opposition to Russia. With regard to these
countries, the West proclaims that the principles of state and
territorial integrity are sacred and supports the struggle of their
governments with de facto independent provinces, their decisions to
liquidate autonomies, and other revolutionary novelties aimed at
ousting undesirable regional leaders. This is done under the
pretext that the separatist authorities allegedly defend the
freedom of robbing their peoples, committing financial
machinations, plundering funds from the treasuries, taking bribes
from criminals, and creating administrations based on clans and
mafias. This is mostly true, and yet it is also undeniable that the
federal governments of those states live by the very same rules,
except the level of corruption and moral degeneration is much
greater due to the increased availability of opportunities. The
civilized West tolerates the outrages of the Caucasian
“democracies” in the name of its geopolitical goals.

 

The events
of 9/11 in the U.S. produced a brief lull in the ideologically
induced pressure on Moscow in connection with Chechnya, but the
West quickly recovered from the shock. Then, the “terrorists” and
“gangsters” once again turned into “rebels,” while Russia’s
domestic affairs took on international dimensions. Human rights
became absolute to the degree that the rights of the average person
paled in comparison. Finally, any move by the Kremlin triggers
criticism. Everything has been painted negative – the creation of
viable agencies of power and control in Chechnya, the intentions to
restore its economy and put peace back on track, the plans to
disarm the population by buying out its weapons, the provision of
amnesty to the militants, the system of organizing local elections,
the return of refugees, etc. One may get the impression that the
bigger the Kremlin’s achievements, the less appealing the West
finds them. The situation is bad not because the Chechens’ life is
returning to normal, but simply because this is being done by
Russia.

 

Meanwhile,
a certain kind of status quo, though not yet quite reliable, has
been preserved in Chechnya. There are tentative signs that the West
has sensed

this
development, and as a result there has become a deficit or, rather,
an absence of a positive reaction from it. And who knows – maybe
the rising wave of discontent with Russia’s activities is a
harbinger of the ultimate success of Russia’s normalization efforts
in Chechnya.

 

The
pragmatic West realizes only too well that whoever brings peace and
affluence to the post-Soviet territories will have (overtly or
covertly) the dominating positions there. This realization has
produced a demonstrative obstructionism against Russia’s
peacemaking initiatives. By way of justifying that line of conduct,
European analysts argue that the West has misgivings that Russia,
failing to become a civilized state, may succumb to the temptation
of following a neo-imperial policy. They interpret the results of
Russia’s post-Soviet development over a tiny historical period as a
total flop, arguing that it is not yet clear whether the market
system has emerged victorious, while announcing that democracy has
been defeated. Russia has preserved the culture of violence but has
not acquired the culture of administration. Its inability to find a
worthy self-identity and a self-comprehension scares the West and
compels it to grope nervously for the tools of defense. Meanwhile,
Western countries do not make the slightest hint that they also
have a share of responsibility for the situation.

 

The
rhetoric regarding the absence of alternatives to the policy of
’erasing the borderlines’ ceases when it comes to Russia’s
interests in the Caucasus. The idea of turning the Caucasian Range
into a “sanitary cordon” is given tacit recognition, and the
question of who will benefit from it has also received a clear
answer. Moscow, too, will have an answer if it delves into the
considerations concerning the importance of installing barriers in
the Caucasus against terrorist and other threats from the
South.

 

The events
are proceeding with the accompaniment of calls to build up the EU
defense capabilities since the U.S. is slashing its presence in
Europe.

 

REALPOLITIK A LA CAUCASIEN

 

Yet, it
would be a mistake to believe that the Western politicians and the
intellectuals servicing them form a monolith corporation of
fellow-partisans. Some analysts do not see any sense in wasting
effort on the risky strategy of squeezing Russia out of the
traditional zones of its influence. Since the West is unable to
substitute for the Russians for a number of reasons, it had better
leave some things the way they had been historically formed. Moscow
will always be able to come to terms with the former Soviet
provinces where Western leaders are incapable of even opening a
dialog. That is why cooperation, and not contention, with Russia
offers many more benefits – the results will be better.

 

The idea
that a power vacuum cannot be permitted to appear on the
post-Soviet territory is also met with understanding, since it will
be immediately filled with extremist ideologies and aggressive
policies. In comparison with the regional and global consequences
of such a phenomenon, the contradictions between Russia and the
West will seem little more than childish pranks then. The
probability that the vacuum will emerge is high enough if the EU
takes responsibility for the situation and security in the newly
independent states – together with the U.S. or separately – and
then pulls back from its pledges after running into problems of the
Afghan or Iraqi type (like the Americans did). Moscow has a long
historical record of making good political contacts in the South
Caucasus and Central Asia. It also has peacekeeping operations
there to its credit. Policymakers in those countries have grown
accustomed to the Russian style of conduct: it is short of elegance
and delicacy, but possibly its straightforwardness makes it
fruitful.

 

Some
Western experts continue to advise the EU and the U.S. that the
Caucasus has a sophisticated and highly flammable texture and
handling it requires much care. No one can guarantee that the
political technologies successfully tested in other parts of the
globe will be as productive there. In this sense, proposals by some
observers to comprehend the specific features of the situation in
the Caucasus, which are deeply rooted in history, are samples of
realistic thinking of the highest degree. Those observers realize
that, in essence, the elite political quarters in the region deem
Russia as a priority partner, and attempts to reorient them to
others will only add fuel to the flames in the Caucasus, as well as
on the international plane.

 

Incidentally, it is important to remember that the terrorist
organizations based in the Middle East keep a close watch on the
North Caucasus, and their activity in that region may spread far
and wide should Russia provoke them with its feeble and
inconsistent policies.

 

Other
variations on the subject occasionally surface, namely: “How should
we [the West] organize the post-Soviet area and catch the historic
chance that is now available?” The destiny of the Russian and
Soviet imperial heritage is contemplated differently, but
invariably from the perspective of Western national or
supranational interests. Whether they coincide with Russia’s own
interests is not a consideration of the first order. Naturally,
that coincidence would relieve the West of many problems, but its
absence will not make anyone there grievous. After all, the gist of
any state policy is to care for one’s own wellbeing, is it
not?

 

Nor do the
Russian intellectuals display signs of unanimity. The inertia of
their ideological servility before the West is waning, while the
Realpolitik trend, based on the esteem for the values of a strong
state, is rising up. The Western community is watching it with an
understandable alertness, although it was thanks to the West that
the Russians developed the skills of discerning the things that are
bad or good for their country.

 

Recent
events in the Caucasus have illustrated fairly well the difference
of approaches toward Russia’s policy in the Caucasian region. Some
analysts described the Kremlin’s stance on the Adzharia conflict as
a breakthrough, saying it had shown to the civilized West an
example of selflessly serving the cause of peace and stability.
However, others responded with bewilderment, asking how the Tbilisi
government had won Moscow’s disposition: by the unending efforts to
fan an anti-Russian hysteria in Georgia? Or by conducting a
pro-Western and pro-NATO course? Or by toiling to create
anti-Russian alliances all along the perimeters of Russia’s state
borders? Whatever the answer, the “young Georgian reformers” would
have hardly succeeded in staging the “revolution of roses” in
Adzharia without Moscow’s support; otherwise, the whole story could
very well have ended in disaster for them.

Expecting
gratitude tomorrow for the help you gave yesterday does not seem
rational. Therefore, is it not much better to make others realize
that Russia’s voluntary or forced pullout of the South Caucasus
will entail Moscow’s decision not to make any efforts to
“velvetize” dangerous revolutionary processes there? It will also
relieve Moscow of moral and legal obligations to keep the
territorial integrity of the regional countries. If Moscow decides
to pull out, it will – with all of the ensuing consequences. The
post-Soviet agglomerates, unable to defend their sovereignty and
national integrity, deserve what has happened to them, or is yet to
happen.

 

* *
*

 

Russia’s
top political milieu is growing restive over the amassed Western
penetration into Transcaucasia. Attempts to create an adequate
response to that challenge could be seen in the endorsement of a
legal international status of the Caucasian Quartet – Russia,
Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan – as the chief instrument for
solving regional problems and facilitating regional
integration.

 

No one can
foresee all the momentary fluctuations – the ups and downs of the
global, regional and local political situation. This is the reason
Russia and Europe must agree on the rules of the game and methods
of averting the worst possible scenarios in a region where
explosive tendencies will exist in the future.

 

Russia
does not need Europe’s default, while the Europeans do not need
Russia’s default. The EU will not receive any other proxy on the
post-Soviet territory, nor another more natural partner in settling
the post-Soviet conflicts than Russia. These two neighboring
civilizations are facing a tough challenge of destiny, the destiny
that has more than once punished both of them for their
unwillingness to walk hand in hand so as not to perish in
loneliness.