Russian Leadership's Backyard Troubles

It is only on the Armenian border with Turkey, in the village of Lusarat at the foot of snow-covered Mt. Ararat, that the farmers appreciate the Russians, referring to them as "brothers who protect us." Moscow's troops are protecting the Armenian border, and Russia is training Armenian officers and supplying the country with almost all of the natural gas it needs. It owns the pipelines in Armenia, most of the country's power plants, the largest mobile network operator and even the government-run savings banks.

But 80 percent of Armenia's exports pass through Georgia. Because of the Russian-Georgian war, the government in Yerevan has recognized how economically isolated the mountainous country is, prompting it to cautiously approach reconciliation with archenemy Turkey. It has also moved forward with plans to reopen the border with Azerbaijan, closed since the 1993 war between the two countries. If that happens, a new bridge could be built across the river that forms the border at Lusarat, opening up a new point of entry for tourists and trade.

A village resident sits at a table in the shade of an apple tree. Whenever he receives a call on his mobile phone, he hears a curt voice, instead of the standard ring tone, that says: "Comrade, pick up the phone. Stalin wants to talk to you." The humble outpost of Lusarat is all that is left, on the border with a NATO country, to bear witness to the empire of the former Soviet dictator, a native Georgian. Every year, on a day set aside to honor the border troops, the villagers embrace the Russian soldiers and bring them apricots and apples.

If Moscow had its way, every village in the Caucasus would be like Lusarat. But not even at the Kremlin does anyone believe that the past can repeat itself.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.

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