Russian Leadership's Backyard Troubles

From Adallo's perspective, when someone armed with a submachine gun forces his way into your apartment, you should be allowed to defend yourself with an ax. The apartment, in his metaphor, is the Caucasus, and Russia the intruder. He mentions former French President Charles de Gaulle, who he says was his favorite Western politician, because he gave Algeria its independence, but only after his country had waged a brutal colonial war. "Here in the Caucasus, the train has also left the station for the Russians."

A Tinderbox in the EU's Backyard

It has been a year since Moscow waged a war in the region -- against Georgia. The conflict focused the world's attention on the volatile Caucasus region once again. It was a war over South Ossetia, a small separatist republic that declared its independence in 1991 and over which Tbilisi was attempting to regain control. Russia crushed the Georgian army in the five-day war. But what does the victory mean for the rest of the region?

For Russia, it has meant dealing with pressure coming from two sides. In Russia's Caucasus republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya, Moscow is now under more pressure than ever to prove itself as a peacekeeping power that can guarantee security, create prosperity and rein in Islamists. But it must also increase its attractiveness for the countries south of the Caucasus range, so that Armenia, currently its most loyal ally in the region, and oil-rich Azerbaijan, which has managed to walk a fine line between Moscow and Washington, do not follow in Georgia's footsteps and fall under American influence.

Nowhere in the world are so many conflicts raging in such a small region than in the Caucasus, where roughly 40 ethnic groups speaking 50 different languages come together in an area about the size of Sweden. The region is home to only 26 million people, and yet they are separated by a total of 3,500 kilometers (2,180 miles) of borders, some of them contested.

Six wars have raged in the Caucasus since the collapse of the Soviet Union, making it the most dangerous region in proximity to the European Union.

It is precisely through the Caucasus that gas coming from Central Asia and Azerbaijan is expected to flow to Europe one day, bypassing Russia. The pipeline is less than 100 kilometers from the border of South Ossetia, the bone of contention in the most recent war, in a region where Moscow's tanks are now stationed.

All of these factors contribute to a general sense of nervousness among the major powers when it comes to the Caucasus. Russian President Medvedev had hardly finished meeting with US President Barack Obama in Moscow in early July before he demonstratively hurried off to South Ossetia. A short time later, US Vice President Joe Biden met with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi to assure him of Washington's support. At the same time, the United States sent the USS Stout, a destroyer, to the Georgian coast, while Russia amassed 8,500 troops for a military exercise dubbed "Caucasus 2009."

"No One Can Sleep Soundly Here Anymore"

This raises the question of who will control the Caucasus in the future. The West? The Russians? Islam?

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...