Tag Archives: Azerbaijan

About the «Mecca» of energy resources – with Prof. Dr. Pawel Olszewski (II)

Varianta in limba romana a interviului poate fi citita aici.

PPW: – Because we just talked about the Russian Muslim republics in the Caucasus … tell us  if consider you that in the North Caucasus was a mistaken strategy of the Kremlin to transfer the justification religious (with global implications if we talk about the  war against the terrorism practiced by radical Islamic fundamentalist groups) to an ethnic conflict with historical roots ?

Pawel Olszewski:– Analyzing carefully the events of the past two decades that can be shown the both government policies apply – so the pretext of the fight against Islamic fundamentalists and those justified on ethnic grounds has proved wrong in terms of rebuilding and strengthening Russia’s powerin  the North Caucasus.

The fight against Islamic fanaticism was chosen as justification of Russian propaganda abroad, remember that the first ideas in this direction have appeared for the first time, since September 11- 2001, when Russia joined the U.S. coalition against terrorism. The Russian authorities clamp, then Russia several years fighting Islamic terrorists in the North Caucasus. However, in the second and half of the first decade of the XXI century, this argument has become less reliable as the people of the North Caucasus were in a state of fatigue after a long period of war and radical Islamist influence on domestic instability has becoming weak.However, it seems that the policy of transfer of power to the representatives of the local population loyal to the Kremlin, seemed to be the best way to pacify the domestic relations. This was particularly in Chechnya, Akhmed Kadyrov where he took the lead, and after his death his son, Ramzan Kadyrov.

It is true that the policy of “chechenization” from 2002, seizure of power by local leaders Chechen pro-Russian, has led to the stabilization of the situation, even for that part of the former Chechen activists with radical views were absorbed by structures of local government or police. However, due to the new elite, the new local leadership, the benefit of the agreement, Kremlin very quickly gained practically the independence from the Principles of Russia. In fact, a similar situation in Chechnya, but is less pronounced elsewhere, particularly in the North-East Caucasus. So they came to the crystallization of mafia structures, corrupt, in whose hands “gave end”, most money funds wereallocated from the central budget of the Russian Federation for the reconstruction and development of communities in the north. This led to the fact that perhaps will be a large part of central government representatives of the Russian North Caucasus is becoming more and more a distant enclave of administrative and economic structures of Russia. Some experts believe that the gradual process of consolidation peripheral status of the North Caucasus has been instrumental in turning into a sort of “black hole” for federal funds. In an attempt to stop this process, the Kremlin decided to set up in January 2010, a new administrative in the Russian Federation: District of North Caucasus was separately from South Federal District. North Caucasus district includes Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkes and Stavropol Krai installing the management of the administrative units of an effective manager in person economist Alexander Khloponin, should lead a reduction in unemployment and economic development of the region, including further the development of tourism and winter sports in the Northwest Caucasus. These latter activities are in preparation with the host of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. Kremlin is also representative and must puts an end to corruption in the region.

There has been an attempt to limit the power of local elite structures in the North Caucasus. And the answer was no activation of Islamic extremists, some of whom acted under the influence of Russian special services, designed to serve as a shield for leadership rather local republics of the North, leadership is not interested in stabilizing the situation and liquidation mafia groups, existing the system, giving them the chance of huge profits. The lack of a strong government and a weak control of administrative borders between Russia and the North Caucasus also meant that the area became a proper channel for drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and fuel from the Middle East, which is ultimately is a source of earnings for everyone, involved local authorities in the North Caucasus and federal government representatives to ensure their protection.

The Russian authorities were unsuccessfulin the attempts to disrupt a local octopus of corruption in the North Caucasus District and determined that instead of integrating all the steps to see that converge to isolate the region. Some analysts have even said something like installing a cordon around areas turbulent military. More specifically they have talked of sending its administrative borders of forces, larger than the police forces of the Ministry of the Interior to “seal” the Northern District created in 2010, and exclusion from the border region of Sochi, which should be left to the District belong to the South Caucasus. Sure, there’s nothing official, but such assumptions circulating think to the Kremlin desire to reduce the area of ​​contact with other areas in the North Caucasus.

In this situation in the region of North Caucasus with plans to integrate the Russian Federation remain far, only “paper”. In particular, the business is most affected, pragmatism combinedbusiness and social instability in the region the uncertainty of law prevents entrepreneurs from Russia and other countries to invest in major economic projects in this area.

In early 2012 there was a re-escalation of violence (media reported multiple incidents) between government forces and rebels in the North Caucasus, on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. Then at the end of august 2012, fighting between Russian troops and Islamic militants broke out again in Dagestan republic. Armed robberies, murders and frequent violent clashes between the two sides, took a place in different parts of the North Caucasus, especially in Dagestan and – after a long period of relative peace – in Chechnya.From January to July 2012 have died from violence 239 people. These attacks are the result of increased anti-Russian attitudes and hostility towards of the pro-Russian local authorities, which are padded to the growing rivalry between factions of Islamic militants in the North Caucasus, especially among fans of traditional Sufi Islam and followers of Islam the Salafism or “pure” free of local influences. In addition, fighting between Islamic factions are, according to experts, probably largely fueled by representatives of the Russian special services in order to obtain a pretext for military pacification of the situation in Dagestan and to justify the excesses of authority in the region.

The issue of peace in the North Caucasus situation becomes particularly important in the context of security organizers and participants at the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014. Especially since the terrorist activities of Islamic militants had aiming to enter in peaceful areas, and sabotaging the government investment in social objectives for the area which will host the Olympics. Then some rebel leaders made clear that they want to use the Olympics to Sochi to re-awaken the interest of the international community on the issue of independence of the North Caucasus.

PPW: – Based on your last statement, I remember that Movladi Udugova, head of information-analytical “Caucasus Emirate” in an interview with Prague Watchdog,  said that “enemy no. 1 of Muslims of the Caucasus is the Russian state.” How much truth is there and how much religious and political propaganda? Russia is in danger of losing Caucasus, as some analysts have predicted? There could instead gain (official) on Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

 P.O.: We can say that Udugova Movladi’s statement is “the Russian state is the main enemy of Muslim population in the North Caucasus” describes perhaps rather the situation in the region in the first half of the last decade of the twentieth century, when Chechen War broke out, and when they were failed attempts and other regions of the North Caucasus to become independent of Russia.Then anti-Russian resistance in the North Caucasus wasn’t so heterogeneous and divided into different factions, as it is now. But considering the fact that the Russian authorities are trying to establish themselves claim to want, according to expert assessments of non-Russian political reintegration with Russia’s North Caucasus, of course, from the point of view of militant Islamists Russia is still enemy number 1 . But Russia is not the only enemy and sometimes not the most important.

It seems equally important the enemy activitiescalled”Caucasus Emirate” is the local elite in Chechnya, Dagestan, etc.., Who took the control of the region, and sometimes apparently cooperate with the Russian authorities, although actually acts primarily for their family and clan. An important, and perhaps the main “enemy” in the current situation for pro-independence activists approaches is dividing the Caucasus between various Islamist militias from the North.They became seen not only in the West but also by natives like criminal gangs usually concerned only terrorizing the local population. They work in a similar way whether fighting with representatives of local power, claiming tribute / protection fees from local businessmen, and also make deals with corrupt local government representatives pro-Russian. The fact that a group of Islamist militants fighting treating Russia and local power structures pro-Russian North Caucasus primarily as a source of income, practicing kidnapping by “unknown assailants” to then claim huge amounts of ransom from Western activists, and even Russian temporarily living in the North Caucasus and are there for humanitarian missions, seems to justify harsh Russian government policy towards the region. It is true that some of these abductions can be organized at the initiative of local authorities in order to silence vocal critics too, but there is credible information that some of these kidnappings are purely criminal, not political connotations.

Perhaps the criminal element in the North Caucasus is not as great as indicated by official Russian propaganda. In addition, the image of “Islamic militants fighting for a” just caused “against” Russian invaders “not proven credible one. Moreover, a negative perception / positive of these “militants”by the local population is very important because the support and local assistance depends by a large extent the effectiveness of anti-Russian guerrilla North Caucasus.

Of course, the Caucasian Emirate activists statements on population in the North Caucasus is persecution by the  local authorities and is very important because it contributes to strengthening a particular point of view of international public familiar with the bad situation of the civilian population in the region. However, it seems that in some situations, the blame for this situation lies with Russia but rather the local centers of power whose representatives come mostly from the local population.Therefore, information about the persecution of the population in the North Caucasus by Russian authorities may also be part of the religious and political propaganda, both serving to obtain the necessary financing of Emirate Caucasus militant activity in many Muslim countries, as well as from centers in Europe and USA.

In addition, it seems that this kind of perfect overlapping claims over the views of conservative political and business elites in Europe and USA. They treat Russia as the direct heir of Communist Russia, which continues to operate under the old method, tried and tested, using terror communist repression. Of course, some of these statements may be correct, however, to speak of Russia as the main enemy of Muslim population in the North Caucasus creates a one-dimensional picture of the situation in the North Caucasus, pushing into the background or completely ignoring an important factor in shaping current situation in the region. Namely, cooperation between the central government and part of the national political elite North Caucasus, which has opted for cooperation for various reasons, purely economic, and also the power, influence, prestige, etc..

The problem with the cooperation of the local population in the North Caucasus and “Russian oppression” is closely related to another question: “Is Russia in danger of losing the control in the North Caucasus”? In my opinion, both short and long term, such a situation is unlikely, assuming the international agenda there will be no major conflict such as a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, or regional conflict like the Russo-Georgian or Azero-Armenian, because these events can completely change the geopolitical situation around the Caucasus region. Russia is interested in maintaining the control of the Northern Caucasus, both geo-strategic reasons and for reasons of prestige, influence, etc… North Caucasus is a natural barrier.

Its control is an important part of the south border security of the Russian Federation. Control of the South of Russia needed to protect against potential threats from the Middle East. In addition, the North Caucasus control and indirect control of at least part of the South Caucasus (through economic dependence on Russia) – Armenia, republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia) allows to extend the area of ​​influence, and integration interests economic and political life of Russia in the Middle East. An equally important role played by North Caucasus represents the transit area for the existing distribution infrastructure (and planned to be built) for fuel from Azerbaijan and Central Asia, as mentioned earlier.

Therefore, despite the lack of stability in the North Caucasus, Russia will consider the complex area as important for its strategic interests, which should be monitored. Moreover, despite the strong centrifugal aspirations in the North Caucasus is unlikely to emerge something that could threaten Russia\’s dominance in this space. Of course, a question that remains open is the degree of integrity, but none of the two decision-powers in the region: central Russian authorities and local centers of power are not interested at this time, to change the current balance of power precariously. However, from the point of view of history past twenty years the North Caucasus should note that on several occasions since the outbreak of the second Chechen war in 1999 escalated tensions in the region, and later to return to periods of relative quiet.

Of course, the situation is not encouraging, especially for the younger generations in the North Caucasus and without any job prospects has increased the number of Russian Islamic militants who embrace Islam and become members of the guerrilla groups fighting against the government security forces. In addition, a large group of Russian immigrants and other ethnic minorities in the North Caucasus are constantly forced to emigrate in search of work, often illegally.However, this makes migration between Russia and the North Caucasus to create the strong economic relations further strengthen the region’s dependence on Russian Federation. Also, it should be noted that sometimes we forget an essential aspect: the Russian economy needs the cheap labor in the North Caucasus (and Central Asia). The immigrants from these regions lower paid the positions that are rejected by the Russians, and are also important for the proper functioning of the entire economy gear.

Another issue is the annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the Russian Federation. Although the Russian authorities have formally recognized the independence of these two “states”, in practice, they are gradually “absorbed” in the administrative structure, and in particular the economic equation of the Russian Federation. This is evidenced by the phenomenon of granting Russian citizenship to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, an “incentive” very “attractive” to the citizens of these enclaves, as this can officially work in Russia. Dependence on Russia demonstrated the presence of Russian security forces and that the budgets of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are largely dependent on central government grants of the Russian Federation.

It should also be noted that North Ossetia is Russian administrative, and therefore, the Kremlin would agree with the union of the two and becoming Ossetia as part of Russia. On a separate note, it can be stated that the “right” interpretation of history for political purposes turbulent Caucasus is now necessary not only for the Ossetians, but is characteristic of almost all nations of the South Caucasus: Georgian, Armenian…

Observing the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia suggest that there already is a visible process similar to the one held earlier in Chechnya, Dagestan and other parts of the North Caucasus, ie seizure of power by local elite ‘agreed by Russia “and approved the Kremlin. In addition, their dependence on Russia, Kremlin offers the possibility of pressure on Georgia and therefore must assume that both short and long term, the Russians will not give up control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite maintenance of these enclaves that can be financially costly and problematic conceptually Russian budget political.

PPW: – Minsk Group (the OSCE-Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), which has worked hard to pacify conflict azero-armenian said Azerbaijan’s territorial the integrationis beyond question. Nagorno-Karabakh should be regarded as a territory within Azerbaijan. However, there remains the question of whether the statute mentioned enclave appropriate governance is possible?

 P.O.: – Making an assessment of the activity of the OSCE Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh the conflict can be said that the members of this group have invested a lot of dedication and work to find an acceptable solution. However, the current geopolitical situation in the North Caucasus, and considering the conflicting interests of different countries directly or indirectly involved in this conflict, it is an unnecessary activity. Organizing a number of meetings at various levels of government and experts, at least for now, does not provide a concrete result in conflict. Of course, the OSCE and the majority of international opinion taken into account in accordance with the principles of the international law, that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan.

However, it seems that at the moment (in autumn 2012) can be outlined a solution that would resolve the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. It seems that this is the “freezing” of the dispute agreed yet many countries, especially we got Russia, Turkey and Iran. These countries have the largest impact on the settlement issue, mainly because of geo-strategic settlement: direct neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan, and have strong economic and political ties with both countries. For these reasons, the impact of proposed solutions to Russia, Turkey and Iran may be more crucial to the situation in the region than a decision of the OSCE as an organization and the United States and France, both as members of the OSCE, as well as independent actors in international relations.

As I mentioned before, don’t want a solution for the conflict of Karabakh,that matters for the political future of the region. Nagorno-Karabakh is a perfect “bargaining chip” for Turkey, Iran, Russia, and especially in their relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia, but also in the relationship between Istanbul, Moscow and Tehran, as well as relations with the U.S., EU and NATO. “Karabska card” is used in particular to preserve the Russian influence on the situation in the South Caucasus. Of course, if you think about the future geopolitical structure of the South Caucasus and the Middle East, we can assume that in case of war, a coalition of Western countries versus Iran could lead to renewed the violence in Nagorno-Karabakh. Of course, there may be voluntarily or, less likely, pressure shared by all countries concerned, Armenia to decide not to support separatist tendencies in Karabakh, which will then be passed again under the authority of Azerbaijan. However, even if it reaches this highly unlikely, and despite protests from Baku to grant the large autonomy for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh issue of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be regulated out in accordance with international law standards.

Accumulation far for many “layers of hatred” between Karabakh, Armenians and ethnic Azerbaijanis who were forced to leave the area at any time could lead to renewed outbreak of the armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Presumably it could be prevented only by the presence of peacekeeping forces of the OSCE, the United Nations or another international organization. However, given the lack of effectiveness of this type of active peacekeeping missions past and present, in the South Caucasus and the former Yugoslavia, it seems that the presence of peacekeeping forces and military police in Nagorno-Karabakh is not guarantee the complete security of Karabakh Armenian population in the region.

Just as possible for re-inclusion of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan authority will have a mass exile (voluntary or involuntary) of most Armenians in Armenia, Russia and other countries because of their fear of reprisals from the government of Azerbaijan. At the same time, even if the Armenian population of Karabakh would receive some form of self-government under the authority of Azerbaijan, which theoretically can be in accordance with international legal standards in practice is suspected that the law would be respected by the authorities in Azerbaijan.

A similar situation is may also occur if the Nagorno-Karabakh remains an independent or united with Armenia in compliance with the international law and repression targeting in this case Azeri refugees.

 PPW: – As a historian specializing in this area, so who knows very well the mix of ethnicities, religions, ideologies and pragmatic interests (given the importance of fuel resources in this area), believe that it is possible to find a lasting political solution to Conflict in the Caucasus (which is considered to be acceptable for all countries in the region), or rather Caucasus will continue to be an area of ​​conflict and turmoil?

P.O.: – Most likely your last remark seems to be the answer. For a long time will be a core Caucasus generator division and destabilization of international order. If we look at the two most important conflicts, and certainly the most publicized in the South Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh and Russia-Georgia on Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it seems that none of the parties disputes that generated no currently has sufficient military capability, economic and political, to impose its own solution in the near future and its advantage without external support.

It is true that the Azerbaijani authorities to clamp repeatedly that they are ready for another war to recover Nagorno-Karabakh by force. Such a position may indicate a rapid growth over the last year spending on modernization of armament and military training in Azerbaijan. However, it seems that the more one propaganda statements and we are spoken to consumer use domestic policy in this country, because in reality, Azerbaijan has too much to lose politically and especially economically in case of a New outbreak of war in Nagorno-Karabakh, given not so sure that a new round army will be winning Baku.

Rehabilitation of the Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijani territories occupied by Armenia is one of the main goals of President Ilham Aliyev team. However, the outbreak of new armed conflict could pulverize the existing of balance relations in the South Caucasus (and indirect implications on the North Caucasus), with repercussions on economic and political dependence of neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia in May bigger and stronger. It would add delay new pipeline projects and for Azerbaijan, the main source of its revenue budget is based primarily on oil and gas exports.A renewed outbreak of the armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh could lead to the withdrawal of Western companies decided to invest here. This could be stagnated by the   modernization and economic development of Azerbaijan. Moreover, it is difficult to predict what attitude to adopt Russia in such a situation. Or, as I said, Russia’s attitude could be the key in this conflict.

It seems that a similar situation to keep the conflict in “freezing” is preferable if the dispute between Russia and Georgia regarding South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Republishing an armed conflict can be a real threat to both, Russia and Georgia state leadership. We appliedthe  analysis of the situation then, coordinated response to Saakashvili, but parliamentary elections in Georgia have brought the opposition leadership, we have a new government led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose attitude towards Russia is not yet known, despite alleged pro- Russian policy, according to analysts. If Georgia lose again the conflict with Russia, Saakashvili could accept a political compromise on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In addition, Georgia, (remember the reactions of the international community after the war in august 2008) could be considered unsafe again a partner for the West, especially in economic circles making plans to diversify supply network of oil and gas Europe. Then reopen a scandal between Russia and Georgia may also be at least embarrassing for the Kremlin. Again, it will be in the public eye with anti-Russian views of European countries and the United States, Russia is aggressively attacking monster nations fighting for their sovereignty. This would bethe confirmation of the idea preached by some political leaders and the leaders of international public opinion on authoritarian and neo-colonial policy of new Russia. Assumptions can be many, but taking into account the comments made by political analysts regarding the new pro-Russian government in Georgia, it is believed that we could see even a normalization of relations between the two countries, which could nullify the threat another violent round of  Russian-Georgian.

Given the complex web of the conflicting interests, historical animosities and even some phobias that are present in the peoples of the South Caucasus and strategies from the Russian, Turkish and Iranian apparently not expected, even in the future removed completely stabilize the situation in the South Caucasus and throughout the Caucasian region. Sure, you can find the reasons for the various countries and peoples of the region to treat civilized, at least divergent positions on various aspects of national political and economic factors. Although South Caucasus consists of three separate states because of geographic location is a geopolitical region. This situation causes, if not directly, then certainly indirectly, economic ties and strategies in the distant future may lead to a form of cooperation, if the peaceful co-existence is too much.

Perhaps the analysis of secular existence of different national groups in a relatively small area that existed until the collapse of the Soviet Union’s, could help to establish the cooperation between different communities. At the same time, we should not overlook that at this stage the governments in the South Caucasus national and nationalist politics (sometimes with radical tendencies) is a tool to stay in power. However, multi-cultural baggage of experience of people in this region can be helpful in establishing good relations NGOs, caused by direct contact between citizens of different states of the South Caucasus.

In fact, most of these communities are tired to fight, know that an armed conflict is negative consequences, such as rising unemployment, low standards of living, therefugee’s situation for much of the population in these countries. It should be noted that, unlike the official propaganda, not all citizens of Georgia have supported the war for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as not all people of Armenia and Azerbaijan have supported their government in Nagorno-Karabakh. I hope that enlightened and lucid minds of the South Caucasus countries will be a real core and strong civil society that could impact the ruling elites of these countries to normalize relations.

In fact, most of these communities are tired to fight, know that an armed conflict is negative consequences, such as rising unemployment, low standards of living, the situation of refugiees for much of the population in these countries. It should be noted that, unlike the official propaganda, not all citizens of Georgia have supported the war for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as not all people of Armenia and Azerbaijan have supported their government in Nagorno-Karabakh. I hope that enlightened and lucid minds of the South Caucasus countries will be a real core and strong civil society that could impact the ruling elites of these countries to normalize relations.

However, this process can be very lengthy because historical conditions, especially long negative experience gained during the USSR and the lack of stabilization of the situation in the past 21 years since the creation of the independent states of the South Caucasus is not yet suitable for internal and external development of democratic relations. In addition, a huge impact of this process are the cultural and historical conditions of development of the region, clearly different from those democratic countries of Western. So, perhaps, for many years Caucasus remains into tensioned and foggy situation.

interview made by Gabriela Ionita

About the «Mecca» of energy resources – with Prof. Dr. Pawel Olszewski (I)

Varianta in limba romana a interviului poate fi citita aici.

In the series of Power & Politics World interviews, propose you an interesting and detailed X-ray picture of the Caucasus region, an area with high stakes because big energy resources, hence the multitude of geopolitical strategies, security challenges and  political and economic visible or discreet moves that can to escape sometimes even an carefully eye. Interlocutor in this pilgrimage were analytical Prof. Dr. Pawel Olszewski from Jan Kochanovski University (Poland), historian, specialist in the history of Caucasus – XIX-XX century , author of two books [The Caucasus in the international relations. Past, present, future – Ed Piotrków Trybunalski 2009] and numerous articles on the Caucasus and the Middle East.

PPW: – Could you briefly elaborate the dynamics of the bilateral relations of the states of the Caucasus area (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and what are the main priorities in relations now ?

Dr. Pawel Olszewsky: – After the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, the most important element that threaten the stability of the South Caucasus region was (and still is!) conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia regarding enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Taking a look at the chronology of the historical events: in 1992-1994 was an armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Karabakh Armenians in the region supported by the Armenia. Consequently, followed secession and independence of region Nagorno-Karabah from Azerbaijan. In addition, the Karabakh Armenians have occupied 10% of Azerbaijan’s territory, in an area known to not be  part of Nagorno-Karabakh. At the end of the armed phase of the conflict came under OSCE auspices a long period of negotiations on the settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh state, but the solutions have not been found and probably will perpetuate the conflict for a long time.

When we speak of relations between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, we can see that two of them are in better relationships, and I mean the relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia. This is because Georgia uses the pipes for oil and gas transportation from Azerbaijan to Turkey, so it is directly concerned to maintain a constructive relationship.   Instead, the relationship between Georgia and Armenia is adversely affected by the fact that Armenia is almost completely dependent, particularly economic, from Russia. Let us not forget that after “Rose Revolution” in Tbilisi in 2003, and especially after the 2008 conflict with Russia, Georgia was – at least until October 1, 2012 (n.r. – when the opposition won the parliamentary elections) – official, at least in bad relations with the Russian Federation, including the cessation of diplomatic relations. Important elements in shaping relations in the South Caucasus in the last two decades, with reverberations far have been in Georgia – Civil War 1990-199, which led to the secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 1990 -1994, “Rose Revolution ” 2003 – removal from power of Eduard Shevardnadze and the coming to power of pro-Westerner Mikhail Saakashvili, and the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. In their last conflict was clearly a huge impact on Russia’s Southern Caucasus relationship.

Georgia’s relations with its neighbors have had a negative trend, especially during the reign of Zwiad Gamsachurdia (1990-1991) and the first period after taking power by Mikhail Saakashvili, who has had a policy priority for imposing Georgian interests against the interests other nationalities and ethnic groups which live in the same space. This policy caused the emigration of a large number of Armenians from Tbilisi in the country of origin. Speeches on the urgent need to protect national interests (which sometimes have emphasized the nationalist political trends shaping and even xenophobia towards other nationalities) was often used in all three countries – Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, for to justify the need an authoritarian centralized executive power in these countries.

 PPW: – What coordinates mean the main security-challenges in this region (because talk of a essential space – energy corridor East-West)?

PO: – Over the time, the most important issue was / is generated by oil and gas pipelines to Europe from Azerbaijan, Iran and Central Asia (Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan). If “all roads lead to Mecca”, the Caucasus region is a kind of “Mecca” of energy resources. After construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum (BTE), which crosses Russian territory, but have a limited capacity transport, was conceived the “Nabucco” project. With it was expected to reach a capacity of 60 billion cubic meters per year of natural gas extracted from the depths of the Caspian Sea and transported to Europe in several countries: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, to Austria.Although,since 2002 Turkey, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Austria have reached an agreement on the construction of the pipeline, yet fleshing it was regularly postponed for lack of funds, certain suppliers for fuel flow and mainly due to Russian opposition, which aimed to build its own pipeline (South Stream) to not lose control of fuel sources provided in the Western Europe. In fact, according to some experts, the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 would not be mainly due tothe  political affiliation of South Ossetia, but rather to an  international project of diversification for the gas transport network for the European Union. Specifically, Russia wanted to show the EU and the U.S. military weakness and political instability of Georgia (where “happening” the conflict in South Ossetia would be led to overthrow President M. Saakashvili). In addition, a role in delaying, the Nabucco project would be due and attitude of the U.S. State Department, which in turn opposed to the  strategies that aim to supply Europe with gas from Iran (which has the largest natural  gas reserves in the world). Nabucco pipeline construction led to a new approach practiced by the Azerbaijan authorities regarding oil and gas resources, authorities using it as “ace in the hole” in its relations with other countries, including Turkey. By 2008-2009, when it seemed that he would achieve a normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia, Baku authorities began to send signals suggesting that they are ready to proceed to a closer energy cooperation with Russia at the expense of good relations with Turkey. In October 2009, the government in Baku has agreed to sell 0.5 billion cubic meters of gas to Gazprom,  signal that Europe Azeri gas can be sold not only in Turkey but also with Gazprom and Russian pipe. As a result of the actions of Azerbaijan, Turkey has become more reluctant with the relations with Armenia, and thereafter they deteriorated significantly when Turkey supported Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

At the same time, an important role in the construction of the Nabucco pipeline strategy ,was  associated with Armenia, which had that hope for a possible role in the construction of the pipeline on its territory, which would have meant a lower cost of the project because the pipeline would have a length of less than if they had crossed the Georgian territory. However, the pipeline would be built on Armenian territory and  become an instrument of pressure in the gas supply to stopping in Azerbaijan, Turkey and the EU – Nabucco. Even speculated wheather ,the pipeline would be a solution to the conflict in Karabakh, Yerevan and those has a serious argument to demand recognition of the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, followed by recognition of the region as part of the territory of Armenia. In addition, Armenia could have  become independent of Russia’s fossil for its economy using gas from the Nabucco pipeline. Instead, Azerbaijan has agreed with the construction of the Nabucco pipeline on the  Armenian territory if Armenia accepted a solution on Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan’s interests, recognizing it as part of the Azeri enclave. All these factors playing an equally important role both politically and economically in shaping the status of the South Caucasus countries in international relations and influences of these policies on relations with other major players such as Russia, the U.S., Europe, Iran, Turkey etc.. It is this dynamic relations in the Caucasus (and therefore differing interests of stakeholders and interest due to lower Turkey’s EU integration) that led in 2011 to the abandon of the idea of ​​Nabucco.

Now it is discussed a new project called “Southern Gas Corridor”. The basis of this project is a new agreement in October 2011 on the transit of Azerbaijani gas through Turkey, and an understanding of 26 June 2012 concerning Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP). It seeks to increase from 16 to 30 billion cubic meters per year to transport Azeri gas through Turkey to the border with Bulgaria, then gas will be exported to Western Europe via pipeline southeast of the Turkish-Bulgarian border to Baumgarten in Austria or Trans-Adriatic pipeline (TAP) which would go from Turkey through Greece, Albania, the Adriatic to Italy. Canceling the initial plans for the Nabucco project and support the new project TANAP means that Turkey and Azerbaijan have gained the influence over how the fuel delivery in Balkans and Western Europewill be done. As a resultant, it seems likely that the new pipeline will not be an instrument of European policies directed by Azerbaijan and Turkey, but rather a tool to influence the two countries to the EU. TANAP pipeline construction could allow a diversification of natural gas for the benefit of the EU and at least partialy reducing Western Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. But a clarification of the “Southern Gas Corridor” is also dependent not only on stabilizing the situation in the South Caucasus, but also in Northern Caucasus. A safe and stable progress of fuel flow, not one planned, on the existing distribution network is only possible if there is internal stability of the regions concerned.

However, the instability in the region is not only due to unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but strained relations between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway republics amid political status (independent!?) Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The tense situation in general, becomes more complicated due to the situation in the North Caucasus gas pipelines through which held Russia. Or here we have virtually permanent civil war that Russian authorities have shown that they are unable to manage it. Activities of extremist groups – I would say rather groups of bandits, might cause fuel flow problems and this would affect the interests of Russian giant Gazprom. A very important aspect that deserves noticed: the internal situation in the North Caucasus and the independent states of the southern part of the region is closely linked to local elites associated clans in turn associated with corruption and lack of clear rules of operation of the economy, government, etc. . It is widely recognized that corruption is extremely intense especially in the North Caucasus under political and economic control of local elites, with a powerful lobby at governmental level, so hard to remove. This phenomenon is also found in southern Caucasus and is caused by a severe apathy of the local community leadership changes, which under certain favorable conditions can turn into serious turmoil to destabilize the internal situation in those countries. Another important negative factor is the high percentage of unemployment in both the North and South Caucasus. The lack of jobs and prospects for the future, especially for theyoung people of the region increase the number of supporters (especially in the North Caucasus) militias radical Islamist groups. To accredit the idea that fighting not only against governmental representatives of Russia in the region but also against the local mafia corruption.

 PPW: – Given beeing the ethnic and religious composition of the Caucasian area and current policy choices regional states that are external players with the best chance to win a decisive influence here: the duo Europe-US or the trio  Russia-Turkey- Iran?

P.O.: – Analyzing the ethnic composition and political options already outlined in the region and geopolitical scenarios, existing economic and political, it seems that the chance of getting some benefit larger or smaller influence zonal, regional returns to the neighbors (Russia, Turkey and Iran) than the European Union, and sometimes its cooperation with the United States. This is due to the fact that Iran and Turkey have a pretty big influence in Azerbaijan.

In Turkey’s case, it refers to the historical associations, cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious (to a lesser extent) between Turks and Azeris. Moreover, Turkey has been an important partner in foreign policy in Baku, Azerbaijan especially during President, AbulfazElczibeja, in 1992-1993, period. On the importance of Azerbaijan-Iran relations, I think it’s enough to mention the fact that Azerbaijan is a community of about 17 million Azeris in Iran (the so-called Iranian Azerbaijan).Between the two communities, even if they live separately, differences in the historical and political experiences of the countries mentioned, there are still strong ties mainly linguistic and ethno-cultural. Moreover, the link is even stronger than the azero-Turkish relations, since both Azerbaijan and Iran are predominantly Shia country. At the same time, despite their close cultural ties, political and economic relations are much worse than those of Iran-Armenia (where differences in ethnic and religious lines, cultural roots are much older). There is a concern that the 17 million Azeris in Iran may seek to unite with Azerbaijan. Although this situation is unlikely, on the  strategistsboard  it cannot be completely ruled out, for example, where the collapse of the political regime in Tehran as a result of a state of war with Israel, the United States (and perhaps NATO ).

In addition, during the first half of the twentieth century, in the 90s, there was a conflict between Azerbaijan and Iran on the distribution of natural gas and crude oil resources, namely the delimitation of the maritime border between the two countries at the bottom of Caspian Sea. Tehran has always opposed orientation projects in Azerbaijan to Turkey, because Turkey is a NATO member and was seen, especially in the middle 90s as a close ally of the U.S. Army. Therefore, Iranian politicians feared that with the influence of Turkey in Azerbaijan will also increase the U.S.’s influence, especially by the U.S. companies involved in oil and gas extraction in Azerbaijan.

Then Tehran was also reluctant to any pipeline linking Azerbaijan to Europe, because he feared that this will strengthen the economic position of the neighboring states. In addition, if there had been an influx of Azerbaijani oil in Europe, European countries would not have been interested in buying Iranian oil and gas, which are the most important export product of the country internationally, even in the economic sanctions decided by the international community. Under these conditions, the Iranian government decided to conduct closer economic relations with Armenia, which has become a “bargaining card” in talks between Tehran and Baku. In turn, the Iranian oil supplies, Armenia might come out of economic isolation and, at least partially, reduce Russia’s monopoly power in the country. Therefore, in 2007 it was opened the oil pipeline, supplied by Iran to Armenia. However,the close economic relations with Iran-Yerevan is the rapid release of energy dependence on Russia, because in recent years Russian companies have monopolized the Armenian energy market. Meanwhile, the decoupling between Armenia and Russia is not conducive to that Russia was (and still is) a political relationship, very close economic and military with Tehran, which opposes U.S. influence in the Persian Gulf. Russia’s close relations with Iran are consistent with Kremlin policy to reduce U.S.’s  influence in the South Caucasus and the Middle East. In turn, Russia has such an influence on the situation in Azerbaijan, and not only because of the trade. Pressure instrument of Moscow to Baku is sometimes underestimated by experts, labor migration. Search for jobs of Azerbaijan in the Russian Federation has a real impact on the situation in Azerbaijan and will strengthen the culture and Russian language in this area, even with the support of post-communist ruling elite in this country and that comes largely former directors and former Soviet party apparatus. In fact, some sympathy for the Russian side reveals a kind of nostalgia for the Soviet Union, and especially for “Soviet social security”. Therefore, despite the religious and cultural differences between Russia and Azerbaijan,a part of the population, especially in Baku, the Russian mentality is still understood and appreciated. But here, Russia plays a major role as “ally” of Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia due to dependence on military assistance, economic and political support from Russia. In fact, in Yerevan, pro-Russian orientation is also related to the fact that much of the ruling elite in Armenia comes from the old Soviet administrative staff. The most serious disagreement in the South Caucasus over the past nine years stood before the relationship between Russia and Georgia. However, note that such a view is shaped by official media in Georgia and less in Russian. We note that according to statistical figures, about 1 million Georgians work in Russia. In addition, it is worth noting that although there was a change, Georgia ruling elite in power after the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze, in 2003, the power being taken by relatively young people, educated in Western universities, with pro-Western views and anti-Russian, however, most of them come from the former Soviet Georgian notable families, prominent Soviet governments before 1990 and probably the pro-Western and anti-Russian is also a sign of opportunism new ruling elite of this country.

Compared the influence of  Russia, Iran or Turkey, United States and the European Union as a whole and as individual members (especially France and Germany), their influence seems to be much weaker on the current situation in Europe and South Caucasus and Foreign Policy from here. However, the impact of U.S. and EU on the situation in the region cannot be underestimated. Especially the potential is value, not necessarily true. Here, the authorities in Baku is considers its relations with the U.S. and the EU as a “bargaining chip” in relations with its neighbors. A similar situation exists in Armenia. This is due to the difficult geo-strategic position, and the potential threat from Azerbaijan, which aims to recover Nagorno-Karabakh even by military means. In addition, we must consider American interests in the region, influential Armenian diaspora, particularly in the United States and France, and U.S. assistance to Armenia. Of course, we cannot omit any complicated array of ethnic and religious relations in all countries of the South Caucasus, none of which is homogeneous as a result of many historical factors.In addition, minorities may be an intervention in Russia, but also in Turkey and Iran, but also in the internal affairs of the countries of South Caucasus such cases already have been several times in the recent past or distant region.

In addition, when it comes to the labor market, Russia is still the most important option for the people in the South Caucasus. This is why the Russian authorities through appropriate policies can open and close its borders to specific population groups, putting pressure on the governments of Azerbaijan, Armenia and even Georgia.

 PPW: – A central concern for Moscow are the consequences for the South Caucasus, where there will be a war against Iran. The concern is justified, or is a way to avoid accusations of ability to manage the insurgency in the North Caucasus republics own?

 P.O.: – Of course, where they will start the war, the United States and its allies (especially Israel) against Iran, the consequences of this conflict would have most likely a huge impact on the situation in the South Caucasus ( and extensively throughout the Caucasus region). It is not known what position, if this conflict, would Russia, seeking to reset relations with the U.S. failed, we can infer that Iran’s most valuable ally is Russia. Entering the kitchen Russian-Iranian relations, we see that Iran may be a potential ally of Russia in pressure on Azerbaijan, notably the projects for export routes for oil and gas to the European Union. Armed conflict from the U.S. (and NATO [?]) against Iran would have serious consequences especially on the attitude of the Muslim population in the South Caucasus. Nature and extent of this impact would depend on the final outcome and the parties involved in the war. Would be similar to the conflict in Afghanistan or Iraq? The latter ended with a military victory indeed, but actually installed a “stalemate” between the interests of military, political and economic aspects of U.S. and NATO allies in Iraq. The current government in Baghdad is very inefficient economic, administrative, social, political, etc.. The situation is even worse in Afghanistan, which turned into another unstable region with very weak central government and great corruption. If a similar situation were to occur in Iran, it is not clear how the Azerbaijani Azeri populationwill react. For although there is a strong central government and the opposition is almost silenced, it should be noted that profits from oil and gas export duties actually a small group of decision makers, and the company does not have the chance to enjoy great advantages, especially population living outside of the capital Baku. Or maybe President IlhamAliyev could take advantage of the war to strengthen its position among the Azeri population, citing the need to protect the national interests of Azerbaijan in Iran, which would weaken cooperation with the West (and especially foreign companies that invest in the oil and gas industry). Or those who analyze all the implications of such a campaign could ask for help from Azerbaijan to ensure the logistics of anti-Iranian coalition, offering instead support the U.S. (or NATO) for a favorable solution Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Especially since most states and international organizations in the forefront of the European Union, United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are, at least officially, believes that Nagorno-Karabakh under international law, is part of the point of Administratively of Azerbaijan. Such a situation can turn into an increased Russian support for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. For Russia, this would be a kind of “payment” for Azerbaijan’s participation in the EU’s Southern Corridor project and betraying the interests of Gazprom gas.

Of course, it can be assumed that the impact of warnings Moscow Western coalition war with Iran in the region and in this case stability in the South Caucasus, could be an attempt to silence and to minimize the information about the growth of Islamic extremist activities in the North of the Caucas. At the same time, it should be noted that a U.S. war, Israel (and other Western countries) to Iran, and especially a “afganization” of the conflict, after the overthrow of the current government in Tehran could have a significant impact radicalization of Muslim population in the North Caucasus. It is very important that, according to reliable sources, especially in Dagestan, in the first half of 2012 significantly increased the number of terrorist attacks against government forces compared to previous years.

At the same time, it cannot be totally excluded that some terrorist activity are “artificially generated” by the local centers of power, which, in this way, wanting to justify increasing control over the population in the North Caucasus, and increasing budgetary requirements (for fighting against the rebels) before central Russian authorities. Data on the growth of terrorism in the North Caucasus can “serve” as a special justification to establish and maintain discretionary regimes of most Russian republics of the North Caucasus.

interview made by Gabriela Ionita

Part II of the interview can be read here.

The European Diplomacy, Energy Security and Central Asian Stake

The events in Central Asian countries very rarely attract massive international media attention. It does not means that nothing happens here. In the last decade of May, the third annual meeting of deputy foreign ministers of Central Asian states (an event organized by the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy – UNRCCA and held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan) was focused on enhancing regional cooperation and sustainable development. In the same time, the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan Mahmudjon Sobirov received the U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Geoffrey Pyatt. Mr Pyatt expressed desire of the US side to facilitate trade between Central and South Asia. In his turn, M. Sobirov expressed hope that the US will also support the implementation of energy projects in Tajikistan that would contribute not only to the economic development of Tajikistan, but to the entire region, since these projects will allow Tajikistan to export energy to the countries of South Asia. In another part of the world, Europe – Germany announced that it will gradually close all nuclear reactors by 2020. Likewise, Switzerland. But until to this “green future”, existing energy alternatives cannot yet cover the energy needs of the European, American or Chinese. In this context, the fuel resources of the countries of Central Asia makes this space an issue for the diplomatic front where the battle is becoming increasingly fierce. Whether we speak of the European Union or China, the basic idea remains the same and was sound enough: diversify supplies in order to reduce structural dependence on Russia. In this discussion we will limit to the moves from the European side. Projects started, projects delayed and too few concrete results. Moreover, history seems again from Russia’s side. Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East increases the need of European Union to find new solutions to ensure energy needs. So no wonder there is a European Union diplomatic offensive on the all possible fronts.

Nabucco vs South Stream

When talking about the two major energy projects of European Southern Corridor, we mainly observed that Western European diplomacy has always tried, at least in public, a delicate balance by supporting both projects. Diplomats and officials from Austria, Germany or even Italy have defined open the option to support both projects. What mattered in the price of gas imported from Russia. In contrast, the countries of Eastern Europe, namely Bulgaria and Romania have tried without much success a dual approach. Berlin, for instance, was (and still is) interested in opening new pipeline routes out of Central Asia in order to diminish the European Union’s dependence on Russian energy. German diplomats also were on the lookout for ways to boost trade in ways that benefited German manufacturers. In addition, the German military was eager to retain access to a military base at Termez, near the Uzbek-Afghan border. More, the meltdown of Kazakhstan’s banking sector in early 2009 cost German firms an estimated 500 million euros in lost investments, 300 million euros of which will have to be borne by German taxpayers. But the economic debacle did nothing to diminish Merkel’s enthusiasm for engagement with Astana. But from Moscow the diplomatic offensive of Germany was overlooked, given the many economic and political projects common to both countries. In contrast, many of Romania’s diplomatic contacts in Central Asia (even though concrete results have minor) were born from the Kremlin a grumble; however, the relations between the two countries are not the happiest. Romanian diplomacy seems unable to adapt in real time to the dynamic changes in the international community. (Full text)

PublishedOriental Review, June 4, 2011