Russian-Georgian War: A Threat to Caucasus: Research Fellow of the Heritage Foundation, Ariel Cohen

Russian-Georgian War: A Threat to  Caucasus: Research Fellow of the Heritage Foundation, Ariel Cohen

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation

Baku watched carefully as the war in the Caucasus developed. If Russia would gain hegemony over Georgia, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, and the strategic corridor from the Caspian to the Black Sea would come under Moscow's control. This is what the Kremlin wanted since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and this is what it is trying to accomplish.

Furthermore, a pro-Russian regime in Georgia would damage any future options of pro-Western orientation for both Azerbaijan and Armenia, along with any chances of resolving their conflict based on diplomacy, a regional security organization, and European-style cooperation.

As the Olympic Games opened, the tragic and ominous conflict between Georgia and Russia erupted as well. On Thursday of last week, South Ossetian separatists, supported by Moscow, escalated their machine gun and mortar fire attacks against neighboring Georgian villages and this past Thursday and Friday, Georgia attacked the separatist capital Tskhinvali with artillery to suppress fire. Tskhinvali suffered severe damage, thus providing the pretext for Moscow's long-planned invasion of Georgia.

As Russia responded with overwhelming force, Prime Minister Putin flew from the Beijing Olympics to Vladikavkaz, taking control of the military operations. Putin sidelined his successor Dmitry Medvedev, thereby leaving no doubt as to who is in charge.

The 58th Russian Army of the North Caucasus Military District rolled into South Ossetia, reinforced by the 76th Airborne " Pskov" Division. Cossacks from the neighboring Russian territories moved in to combat the Georgians as well.

Russia was engaged in a classic combined arms operation. The Black Sea Fleet blockaded Georgia from the sea and likely preparing a landing, while Russian ballistic missiles and its Air Force attacked Georgian military bases and cities. At the time of this writing, it looked as if Russian troops will not stop at the South Ossetian-Georgian border, but may press their advantage further.

Russia's goals for the war with Georgia are far-reaching and include:

- Expulsion of Georgian troops and termination of Georgian sovereignty in South Ossetia and Abkhazia;

- "Regime change" by bringing down President Mikheil Saakashvili and installing a more pro-Russian leadership in Tbilisi;

- Preventing Georgia from joining NATO and sending a strong message to Ukraine that its insistence on NATO membership may lead to war and/or its dismemberment;

- Shifting control of the Caucasus, and especially over strategic energy pipelines and transportation corridor from the Caspian to the Black Sea, by controlling Georgia; and

- Recreating a 19th century style sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union, by the use of force if necessary.

Post-Soviet Border Revisionism: the Challenge to Europe's Status Quo

Frozen conflicts reflect Moscow's desire to become a hegemonic power in the former Soviet space. The Armenian occupation of Karabakh, with support in some quarters in Moscow, is affecting Azerbaijan in an immediate way, but Russia's "siloviki" (the state power faction) using separatists on Georgian territory may bring Russia back to Georgia, chocking the principal oil, gas and rail arteries going from the East to the West.

Russian relations with Georgia were the worst among the post-Soviet states. In addition to fanning the flames of separatism in South Ossetia since 1990, Russia militarily supported separatists in Abkhazia (1992-1993), which is also a part of Georgian territory. Russia also had a cantankerous relationship with then-Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister, whom hardliners in Moscow blamed for the Soviet withdrawal from Central and Eastern Europe. In the 1990s, there were two assassination attempts against Shevardnadze, and elements of the Russian state, such as secret services or military intelligence, came under suspicion both times.

Russia has long prepared its aggression against Georgia's pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili, in order to undermine his rule and prevent Georgia from joining NATO. Despite claims about oppressed minority status, the separatist South Ossetian leadership is mostly ethnic Russians, many of whom served in the KGB, the Soviet secret police, the Russian military, or in the Soviet communist party.

In recent years, Moscow granted the majority of Abkhazs and South Ossetians Russian citizenship and moved to establish close economic and bureaucratic ties with the two separatist republics, effectively enacting a creeping annexation of both territories.

Use of Russian citizenship to create a "protected" population residing in a neighboring state to undermine its sovereignty is a slippery slope which is now leading to a redrawing of the former Soviet borders.

Chilling Language, Strategic Actions

Aggression against Georgia also sends a strong signal to Ukraine and to Europe. Russia is playing a chess game of offense and intimidation. Former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke last spring about Russia "dismembering" Ukraine, another NATO candidate, and detaching the Crimea, a peninsula which was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954, when both were integral parts of the Soviet Union.

Today, up to 50 percent of Ukrainian citizens speak Russian as their first language and ethnic Russians comprise approximately one-fifth of Ukraine's population. With encouragement from Moscow, these people may be induced to follow South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Mother Russia's bosom. Yet, Ukraine's pro-Western leaders, such as President Victor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, have expressed a desire to join NATO, while pro-Moscow Ukrainian Party of Regions effectively opposes membership. NATO opponents in Ukraine are greatly encouraged by Russia's action against Georgia.

Beyond this, Russia is demonstrating that it can sabotage American and EU declarations about integrating Commonwealth of Independent States members into Western structures such as NATO. By attempting to accomplish regime change in Georgia, Moscow is also trying to gain control of the energy and transportation corridorwhich connects Central Asia and Azerbaijan with the Black Sea and ocean routes overseas-for oil, gas and other commodities.

The West's Hour of Truth

Azerbaijan is watching Western reaction to the current war like a hawk. The United States and its European allies must take all available diplomatic measures to stop Russian aggression. The U.S. and its allies need to demand that Russia withdraw all its troops from the territory of Georgia and recognize its territorial integrity.

Furthermore, the U.S. and Europe need to internationalize the conflict. Russian desire to be viewed as upholder of international law needs to be turned against Moscow. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the EU and the UN should send other international observers to Georgia, while mediation efforts to withdraw Russian forces need to be expedited.

Talks need to start in a neutral forum, such as the EU or the OSCE, to finally settle the South Ossetian matter as well as future Abkhazian problems. This can be done by granting these territories full autonomy within the Georgian state, as Tbilisi has repeatedly suggested. Unfortunately, this is less than 50 percent likely today.

Beyond this, the United States, its allies, and other countries need to send a strong signal to Moscow that creating 19th century style spheres of influence and redrawing the borders of the former Soviet Union is a danger to world peace.

Moscow's plan cannot be accomplished without violation of international law and is likely to result in death and destruction-a price that neither the Russian people nor others should pay.

The U.S. and its European allies should communicate to Moscow that Russia has much to lose, including hosting the 2014 winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi; membership in the G-8; and access to western markets, if the Georgian aggression is not stopped.

Opinion of author may be not similar with opinion of editorial staff of Trend Agency

Subscribe to Trend in Google News! Subscribe
Sinopec gets first LNG cargo under new deal with Qatar
Sinopec gets first LNG cargo under new deal with Qatar
AFAB Cataract Campaigns on Int’l Day of Elderly in Niger (FOTO)
AFAB Cataract Campaigns on Int’l Day of Elderly in Niger (FOTO)
UAE bourses open in red after Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi
UAE bourses open in red after Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi
Loading Bars
Row house explosion in New York City leaves one dead, eight injured
Oyo Hotels targets $9-billion valuation in IPO; may get Sebi nod soon
British PM Johnson denies lying about lockdown party
Silvio Berlusconi Is Considering Dropping His Bid to Be Italy’s President
5 injured as passenger train derails after being hit by explosion in SW Pakistan
US telecom companies pause some new 5G after airlines raise alarm
N.Korea tested tactical guided missiles in fresh sign of evolving arsenal
Azerbaijani MFA commented on statement of French Minister in National Assembly of this country
Goranboy regional prosecutor's office launches investigation into resident hitting mine
Resident of Azerbaijani Goranboy region hits mine
Erdogan receives Serbia's Vucic to discuss ties, Balkans
Azerbaijan shares data on number of vaccinated citizens
Iran preparing plans on gas extraction from territory of Iranian Central Oil Fields Company
Azerbaijan confirms 930 more COVID-19 cases, 703 recoveries
Uzbekistan introduces new mechanisms to support its capital market
President Ilham Aliyev calls President Vladimir Putin
Kazakhstan launches investigative procedures against wholesalers of liquefied gas
Money transfers from Georgia up
Price indexes of construction, trade sectors at Uzbek stock exchange rise
Kazakh crude production inches up - OPEC
Uzbekistan sells number of its large enterprises as part of privatization program
Russian Economy Ministry unveils priority spheres for co-op with Azerbaijan
Kazakhstan approves operational action plan to stabilize internal socio-economic situation
Baku residents express their gratitude to President Ilham Aliyev for highly appreciating activity of Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation holds general meeting (PHOTO)
Overall index of Tehran Stock Exchange drops on Jan. 18
Uzbekistan reveals volume of mortgage loans issued in 2021
Expenses of Turkish citizens in Georgia increase
SOFAZ’s budget revenues up
ANAMA talks heavily mined Azerbaijan's territories
SOFAZ sees significant increase in revenues from oil & gas agreements
Georgia reveals its major motor oil supplying countries
Azerbaijan’s State Oil Fund sees increase in assets
Growth of Azerbaijan's non-oil sector reaches all-time high
Chief of General Staff of Azerbaijani Army meets with Bulgarian delegation (PHOTO)
Iran’s Bahar Azadi gold coin price rebounds
FAO eyes another Partnership Programme on Food and Agriculture project in Turkmenistan
Azerbaijan to see increase in asylum seekers - deputy chairman of Supreme Court
Central Bank of Azerbaijan works consistently to curb inflation
Iran unveils amount of honey gathered countrywide
Kazakhstan’s Atyrau Oil Refinery to buy gaseous nitrogen via tender
Kazakhstan's economic growth is expected to accelerate in 2022 - Renaissance Capital
New military facilities commissioned in Azerbaijani liberated territories (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Azerbaijan increases marketable oil and gas production
Russia starts manufacturing reactor for Kudankulam nuclear power plant
Number of foreigners receives labour permits in Azerbaijan - State Migration Service
Azerbaijan eyes to raise quota for issuing labor permits to foreigners this year - State Migration Service
India at UNSC: Looking forward to Sudan's successful completion of transition phase
Uzbekistan notes growth in macroeconomic indicators
Jaishankar speaks with EU counterpart, discusses Afghanistan, Myanmar
OPEC expects Azerbaijan to boost oil output in 2022
UK regulator fines Mastercard, others for prepaid cards cartel
PM Modi: Best time to invest in India, multilateral institutions need reforms
Ministry unveils number of companies with Russian capital in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijani citizens without COVID-19 passports won't be allowed to buy tickets for bus trips to liberated lands
Azerbaijan creates website for trips to liberated Karabakh
Iran strikes deal with Romania for export of technical, engineering services
No mine threat in Azerbaijan's Shusha - ANAMA
Gas transportation through South Caucasus Pipeline increases
Azerbaijan plans to demine tens of thousands of hectares of liberated territories - ANAMA
USAID’s support can increase foreign direct investment in Turkmenistan - official
UNHCR thanks Azerbaijan
Indian Prime Minister delivers ‘State of World’ special address at World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda
Largest philanthropist not only in Azerbaijan, but also in South Caucasus is Heydar Aliyev Foundation - President Ilham Aliyev
Kazakhstan discloses systematic measures to reduce inflation rate
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan's oil transportation from Azerbaijan down
I was offered few alternative locations for statue, and I chose this place, because it is place worthy of name of Zeynalabdin Taghiyev - president
Kazakhstan's President Tokayev to be elected chairman of Nur Otan party soon - First President of Kazakhstan
By sending hundreds of students to Russia and Europe, Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev clearly thought about future - President Ilham Aliyev
As result of Heydar Aliyev Foundation's activities, Azerbaijan is better known, and it was this factor that helped us during Second Karabakh War - President Ilham Aliyev
Today, Heydar Aliyev Foundation faces new tasks - President Ilham Aliyev
Sinopec gets first LNG cargo under new deal with Qatar
Brent to breach $100/bbl as demand weathers virus surge- Goldman Sachs
Azerbaijan ranks among top aviation fuel exporters to Georgia
I'm on deserved rest in capital and haven't left anywhere - first president of Kazakhstan
Iran reveals COVID-19 data for January 18
Russia documents 31,252 daily COVID-19 cases, highest number since December 6
USAID supports Turkmen government and local partners to improve securities market
Websites that will make the work of Graphic Designers easier
UNHCR discloses number of Azerbaijani refugees provided with legal assistance before Second Karabakh War (PHOTO)
Production of Iran's Khorasan Steel Company increases
National Iranian Oil Company to take steps on development of North Pars gas field
Azerbaijan fils lawsuits against Armenia to European Court of Human Rights
Non-OPEC crude oil supply to continue upward trend by 2023
Visitors from Azerbaijan to Georgia spend less in 2021 - NBG
Europe to see increase in jet fuel demand – JP Morgan
Iran’s NISOC announces date for launch of extraction from Kish gas field
Israel sticks with 4th vaccine shot, sees Omicron wave waning in a week
Uzbek Central Bank shares data on volume of reserve assets and gold reserves
Azerbaijani public representatives send appeal to French President
Iran's economic growth improves - CBI
Oil demand set to rise by 2023, says JP Morgan
Central Bank of Iran discloses amount of loans issued for agricultural sector
Azerbaijan increases wine imports from Georgia
Epsilon obtains industrial gas inflow from new well at field in Uzbekistan
AFAB Cataract Campaigns on Int’l Day of Elderly in Niger (FOTO)
JP Morgan expects Azerbaijan’s oil output to decline in 2022-2023
Amount of loans issued by Iranian banks soars
NIOC intends to extract gas from Iran-Saudi Arabia joint Farzad B gas field
Azerbaijani FM leaves for Austria on working visit
All news