Eurasian analysts worried by Russian assertiveness and ineffective US policy

HDN | 2/4/2000 12:00:00 AM |

If Russia and China take advantage of an emerging security vacuum to extend influence into the southern Eurasian heartland, we may see the emergence of a military superpower with massive geostrategic capacity on the Eurasian landmass The United States is pursuing contradictory policies in the Caucasus, which could injure Washington's carefully cultivated relationship with Turkey Strategist Wihbey fears that Middle Eastern regional stability may be targeted by the emergence of an authoritarian,

  • If Russia and China take advantage of an emerging security vacuum to extend influence into the southern Eurasian heartland, we may see the emergence of a military superpower with massive geostrategic capacity on the Eurasian landmass
  • The United States is pursuing contradictory policies in the Caucasus, which could injure Washington's carefully cultivated relationship with Turkey
  • Strategist Wihbey fears that Middle Eastern regional stability may be targeted by the emergence of an authoritarian, anti-Western bloc with regional influence that can stretch from Asia into the Middle East
  • The US is criticized for de-emphasizing its relationship with Turkey and Israel. Critics say America should awaken to the importance of its natural allies
  • Wihbey underlines the importance of Baku-Ceyhan, which can be the anchor for a new regional economic and security system

    Washington/Istanbul- Turkish Daily News

    While the world remained indifferent to the brutal developments in the Caucasus, Turkey's President Suleyman Demirel suddenly caught world attention during his visit to Tbilisi in January. Turkey made its presence felt as a regional power when it called for the creation of a Caucasus stability pact in order to bring security to newly independent fragile states -- particularly Georgia and Azerbaijan -- which increasingly fear a spillover of the Chechen conflict.

    Although the southern Caucasus is considered one of the most geostrategically important areas of the world, serious attention by Western policymakers has been lacking. Demirel's proposal for a stability pact was an alarming call for support from the European Union, Russia, the United States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the international community. Soon after Demirel's proposal, Russia's deputy foreign minister responded that Russia would be interested in taking part in the proposed pact.

    The meeting between the Turkish and Georgian presidents on Jan. 14, in advance of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit in Moscow, demonstrated that Georgia's loyalties lie with the West. The meeting also expressed concern that the U.S commitment to the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline project may be weakening. This potentially troubling development may erode Turkey's incentives to further Western goals in the Caucasus and Middle East. Turkey's strategic partner in the region, Israel, who shares common interests, and who could alert policymakers to the deteriorating situation in the Caucasus, is currently preoccupied with peace talks.

    The Caucasus pressure cooker

    Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey are increasingly wary of Russia's growing assertiveness in the Caucasus. In the north Caucasus a devastating war is being waged in Chechnya, while in the south, newly independent states have been weakened due to ethnic tensions, surrounding cross-border conflicts and the turmoil caused by insurgencies. Tensions are also caused by Russian troops and bases in Georgia, by Abkhazian and Ossetian separatists and by Russia's insistence on sending troops to control the Georgian border in order to stop assistance to Chechen fighters. Georgia has also been hit by Russian missiles and is coping with an influx of refugees from Chechnya. Furthermore, the Azeri-Armenian conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh remains unresolved, and Armenia continues to receive support and arms from Russia.

    The various meetings last month between the presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia were intended to send Washington a message -- the vision of a stable Caucasus, integrated into Europe, with a secure energy corridor to the West is fading fast. Because of the stress the Russian drive into Chechnya has placed on the region, a need for Western involvement was demonstrated by this call for a stability pact.

    Georgia key to stability

    Most analysts agree that Georgia is key to regional stability and plays an important role in determining the orientation of the region in the 21st century. It has good relations with Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey and is a member of the Western-oriented GUUAM organization (composed of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova). Paul Michael Wihbey, strategic fellow at the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS) in Washington, D.C., stated: "Any destabilization of Georgia would act as an incentive for the extension of the Russian sphere of influence to the very borders of Turkey."

    Combined with the already large presence of Russian troops in Armenia and Russian control over the north Caucasus, Azerbaijan is also vulnerable, he says. With Russian ally-Iran to the south, Azerbaijan would find itself isolated and susceptible to pressure from Russia. A regional shift in the balance of power could also cause destabilization in southeastern Turkey and facilitate the development of an air and land corridor connecting the Russian forward deployment in the south Caucasus with northern Iraq, thereby extending Russian influence further into the Persian Gulf and Middle East.

    It was reported that the most recent display of warm and cordial relations between Russia and Iran took place in mid-January when Hassan Rowhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, convened with the secretary of Russia's security council, Sergei Ivanov, in Moscow on issues relating to the sale of three additional nuclear reactors to Iran and on a coordinated approach to regional issues, such as the Persian Gulf and the Caucasus. A few days after this meeting, President Mohammad Khatami of Iran said that the presence of foreign forces in the Persian Gulf region is a source of tension and crisis and is an insult to regional governments and nations.

    In a presentation to the Assembly of Turkish American Associations last September, Wihbey stated, "The manner in which Georgia can withstand the current stress arising from Russian geopolitical ambitions and the manner by which the West assists or does not assist Georgia, I believe, will be a determinative indicator as to what type of future we may expect in this region, along with the national security implications for regional powers like Turkey and Israel."

    The analyst also warns that a new anti-American bloc could pose a serious threat against America's strongest allies.

    He calls Turkey not only a gate for the West but also "the indispensable power." Because Turkey can be the key stabilizer in the region, Turkish-led engagement is essential, he stresses. Furthermore, Turkey is a model for states that do not want to fall under authoritarian control or become an Islamic theocracy. These regions need to be elevated to a priority status by Western policy planners, says Wihbey, who believes Turkey should be given greater diplomatic, political and financial support. Before a worst-case scenario begins to materialize and disrupt the planned East-West energy corridor, the region should be regarded with the highest strategic consideration, he stresses.

    Negotiations for the development of the energy corridor are still ongoing. The plans include the construction of the trans- Caspian pipeline, which will transport gas from Turkmenistan and nearby areas to Turkey and Europe, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline from the Caspian (negotiations on the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline are planned to resume on Feb. 7 in Ankara). Wihbey underlines the importance of the Baku-Ceyhan project, which can be the anchor for a new regional economic and security system. However, there are two alternative gas pipeline projects which have contributed to delays in the finalization of the East-West corridor. One alternative pipeline is known as the "Blue Stream," which would carry gas from Russia to Turkey via the Black Sea. The other is a gas pipeline from Iran.

    Obstacles to Baku-Ceyhan

    Russia increasingly fears that the West aims to weaken it, erode its international position, perhaps break up the Russian Federation and dominate the strategically important regions of the world. Amid these fears, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial institutions are providing Russia with assistance in the hope that Russia will use this money for developing stability and its economy. But Russia blames its economic disturbances on interference by these Western institutions. Pessimistic observers have already concluded that Western policies have failed, since assistance has not come close to creating a free-market economy and democracy. Critics claim that policies have also not enhanced U.S. and Western national security objectives.

    Russia has additionally been disturbed by the redefining of internal affairs and sovereignty; the growing importance of human rights; the intervention of the West in the Kosovo conflict; a lack of U.S. support for the United Nations and the U.S. bypassing of the U.N. Security Council during the Kosovo crisis; the enlargement eastwards of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); NATO's new strategy and expanded role from a defensive alliance; and the U.S.-desired theater defense system.

    Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia has been forced to compete with other powers in order to maintain ties with its "near abroad." As a result, it is actively seeking to regain control of the north and south Caucasus and ensure that Russia is host to valuable energy routes. During the early 1990s the West recognized the former Soviet republics (except the Baltic states) as under Russia's "sphere of influence." However, for a variety of reasons, this understanding drastically changed, causing Russia, and Western and regional powers to vie for influence. Intense competition to influence the region has resulted in making the newly independent nations very unstable.

    Revised Russian policy

    As a result of the above, Russia has revised its policy, and analysts are closely monitoring what actions Russia may take in Asia, the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Caspian region in order to counter U.S. and NATO involvement. Russian leaders have been voicing their unease about the emergence of a sole superpower and have underlined the need for a multipolar world.

    As of January a new national security concept has been adopted by Russia, which enables Russia to use its nuclear weapons if it must repel armed aggression when all other means of resolving a crisis have been exhausted or are ineffective. (Under the previous concept Russia could resort to nuclear weapons only if its very existence was threatened.)

    An official Russian publication recently asserted that the level and scale of threats in the military sphere are increasing and a number of states are trying to weaken and marginalize Russia. Russia has also announced it will increase weapons procurement for the armed forces by over 50 percent this year.

    In order to not be perceived as weak, Russia is demonstrating to the world that it will win the war in Chechnya, no matter what the cost. This has led to the escalation of tensions and alarmed ex-Soviet states who accuse Russia of conducting policies that ferment trouble to ensure that they remain dependent on it. (Accusations include attempted coups, Russian backing of separatist groups, military assistance to Armenia, causing ethnic unrest, instigating violence and plotting assassinations.)

    Domination of the Caspian region, preventing the realization of the U.S.-backed Eurasian energy corridor, and undermining U.S. superpower interests in the Middle East and Asia are said to be the objectives of Russia's new assertiveness.

    There are hopes that Russia's new aggressive geopolitical doctrine will prompt the White House to redefine its policy towards Russia, in addition to U.S. geopolitical objectives throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus. However, Wihbey does not believe that the administration, as it nears the end of its term, will initiate new approaches to curtail Russian expansionism unless significant pressure is placed on the White House via a combination of petitions from Ankara, Tbilisi and Baku "combined with sustained Congressional concern."

    He also believes that the next few months are crucial and a limit should be put on how far Russia should be allowed to assert its power. In particular, "A red line should be drawn on the Caucasus ridge separating the north-south division and ensuring that the south Caucasus region, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia are regarded as a single geopolitical entity to be treated with high priority in concert with Turkey," he explains in depth. The strategist recommends a comprehensive review of U.S. policy before the establishment of new administrations in Russia and in the U.S. after elections.

    Is an anti-Western bloc emerging?

    In "The Caspian Project," a recent analysis by Wihbey on why the United Stats needs to re-evaluate its relationship with Russia, Wihbey insists that a reassessment must take place within a framework of U.S. and Allied interests in the Caspian.

    He focuses on the strategic alliance between Iran and Russia, an alliance which aims to subvert the Baku-Ceyhan energy corridor and to maintain the dependence of the former Soviet states on Russia. The alliance also offers joint hegemony over the Persian Gulf and Caspian energy-producing regions.

    Iran, which offers Russia access to sea ports and the world, is a key to the success of the "Primakov doctrine," he explains. Although during Iran's pro-Western years, Iran offered a route into the Caspian for Western ground and air forces, this Western accessibility to the Caspian is nonexistent today.

    Wihbey points out that an Iranian rear admiral recently stated that the presence of the Americans in the Persian Gulf is meaningless, has brought nothing but unrest and insecurity and that the continued presence of U.S. forces in the Gulf will not be tolerated.

    Russia and its other allies -- Iraq, Syria and Iran -- "now have a coherent campaign to blunt and eventually eliminate Western influences throughout southern Eurasia," he says. With Chinese support Russia can also extend its influence into the southern Eurasian heartland, he predicts.

    Russia's new policy to assert regional control not only threatens the security of Georgia, Azerbaijan and other former Soviet republics but also the security of U.S. allies such as Israel and Turkey, he stated during the interview.

    He further fears that Middle Eastern regional stability may also be targeted with the emergence of an authoritarian, anti-Western bloc with regional influence that can stretch from Asia into the Middle East. Russia could eventually succeed, he explains, in putting together a new pact of oil-producing countries.

    The most recent example of this strategic approach, according to the analyst, is a recent statement by Russian scholar A. Dmetriyevskiy. At a Paris energy conference, the scholar called for a gas-exporting cartel that would include Russia, Algeria, Iran and possibly Norway.

    Is Turkey's importance being overlooked?

    According to a Stratfor Global Intelligence Update released in January, the United States is pursuing contradictory policies in the Caucasus, which could injure Washington's carefully cultivated relationship with Turkey. In order to maintain Western influence, the United States has supported Georgia and relied on its ally Turkey to extend U.S. interests into the region. "However, now that Georgia is being drawn into issues surrounding Russia's war against the Chechen rebels, the United States faces increased difficulty in retaining power in the Caucasus without risking a total break with Moscow. ... It therefore needs Turkey to intervene."

    Another issue which challenges U.S. relationships with Turkey and the Caucasus states is the revived U.S. interest to help finance and construct an oil pipeline from Bulgaria to Albania -- bypassing Turkey. After repeatedly recognizing Turkey's strategic importance for the United States, it appears that the United Stats could overlook its strategic relationship with Turkey.

    Re-emergence of a superpower

    With signs of an emerging pan-Eurasian, anti-NATO alliance between Russia and China, the world may be witnessing the creation of a multipolar balance of power aimed at countering the United Stats.

    The Bishkek Declaration of August 1999 set the preconditions for a formal alliance between Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. The alliance may also attract a third nuclear power -- India -- as well as Uzbekistan, which has been pro-NATO.

    Wihbey believes that because Turkey shares borders with the southern Caucasus, it should not be surprised if one day it is directly impacted by the deployment of Russian forces near its borders.

    If Russia and China take advantage of an emerging security vacuum to extend influence into the southern Eurasian heartland, we may see the emergence of a military superpower with massive geostrategic capacity on the Eurasian landmass, he says.

    News reports have highlighted a reemergence of the (CIS) Collective Security community (composed of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Armenia) -- a group that can undermine NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.

    The CIS summit of 12 ex-Soviet states held in Moscow on Jan. 22 demonstrated how dependent these nations still are on their former ruler, Moscow. A number of them expressed their desire for Russia's support in dealing with security problems, particularly Islamic insurgents, extremism and terrorism. During the summit Russia was unanimously elected chairman of the CIS. (The CIS was initiated by Russia in 1991 as a means to reintegrate the former republics of the Soviet Union.) It appears that dependence on Moscow and the security needs of the ex-Soviet states have taken priority over economic development and political reform.

    Wihbey stresses the fundamental assumption that needs to be incorporated into the new Western policy frame for the region -- the overarching requirement for regional security needs over economic development and political reform. Once this is accepted by Western policy planners (i.e. in the case of Georgia), then there will be evidence of a serious commitment to sustain Western regional interests, ranging from democratization to the building of the East-West energy corridors.


    *Part II will focus on the complicated triangle of Eurasia and the Middle East, Arab-Israeli peace talks and tensions over water, the creation of a new regional Mid-East architecture, Russian assertiveness and the need for Western policy reassessments.

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