Security Challenges in the South CaucasusEthno-territorial Conflicts, the Access to Energy Resources and the "Russian Factor"

Posted in Other | 14-May-06 | Author: Martin Malek

Old Azeri Music presentation.
Old Azeri Music presentation.
From Central Europe, the South Caucasian capitals can be reached by aircraft within about four hours, but comparing patterns of thought one could guess that he came to another planet. Western categories of democracy, human rights, civil society, integration of ethnically and religiously diverse societies, political thinking and political culture (leaving out political correctness), conflict resolution attempts, dispositions to use force for the achievement of political goals, perceptions of friend and foe and so on hardly fit for the Caucasus. This background of the following analysis has always to be kept in mind.

The South Caucasian region is, unfortunately, of only very limited interest to the Western public. However, this does not mean that events there have no supra-regional relevance. On the one hand, the ethnically and religiously highly heterogeneous South Caucasus is itself the scene of a number of crises; on the other, it is close to other trouble spots such as Chechnya, the Kurdish areas of eastern Turkey and Iraq. The South Caucasus is a kind of “hinge” between Europe and Asia, orient and occident. The zones of interest of several great powers also overlap here, not least of all due to the region’s role as a transport corridor, in particular for oil and gas.

The most important challenges for the internal and external security of the South Caucasus are: Unresolved political and ethno-territorial conflicts, refugee movements, the continuing economic and social crisis, the weakness and ineffectiveness of state institutions (especially in Georgia), crime and corruption and the modest quality of democracy. These six problem areas are so self-evidently linked that it hardly appears possible to tackle and solve them individually.

The main players

The main security policy players in the South Caucasus are:

- The independent and recognised states Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan;

- the states bordering the region – Russia, Turkey and Iran;

- the United States;

- international organisations such as the UN, OSCE, the Commonwealth of Independent States or CIS, GUAM(Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldowa) and NATO;

- international oil and gas companies.

One could also include the unrecognised, but de facto existing states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan among the players. However, Azerbaijan denies that Karabakh is an independent, i.e. separate factor from Armenia and it is a widely held belief not only in Georgia that Abkhazia and South Ossetia owe their position solely to Russian support.

Table 1: The South Caucasian republics at a glance

Source: CIA Factbook 2006

Security Policy Orientations of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan

1. Georgia between Russia and the U.S.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who was ousted during the “rose revolution” in 2003, had high hopes of bilateral cooperation with the U.S. Since April 2002, U.S. military instructors train Georgian forces in anti-terrorist operations as part of the so-called Train and Equip Program. In April 2005, the Sustainment Stability Operations Program started. It is a new U.S. military assistance programme, designed to upgrade the Georgian armed forces, in particular the 11th Brigade and two battalions of the 21st brigade, a total of some 2,060 men. The Americans will be withdrawn after completing their mission, i.e. there are no plans for a permanent military presence in Georgia. Nevertheless, Moscow viewed their deployment as a move by Washington to counter Russian influence in the South Caucasus.

Martin Malek: "Russia will remain the dominant power in the South Caucasus for the foreseeable future."
Martin Malek: "Russia will remain the dominant power in the South Caucasus for the foreseeable future."
Russia has repeatedly accused Georgia of giving shelter to Chechen rebels, especially in the Pankisi Gorge (not far from the Chechen section of the Russian-Georgian border) and even supporting them. At the height of the Pankisi crisis in summer 2002, Moscow openly threatened Georgia with war; Russian newspapers even published operational plans.1

Georgian membership in CIS is another controversial issue between Tbilisi and Moscow. Georgian legislators have suggested for a long time that their country should leave the organisation, which is widely considered as a tool in Moscow’s hands, designed to maintain and to enhance Russian influence in the so-called “post-Soviet space.” But Presidents Shevardnadze and Mikheil Saakashvili have consistently rejected that opinion – until 2 May 2006, when Saakashvili announced that he has asked his government to submit within two months an assessment of the benefits Georgia can expect from remaining CIS member, compared with probable implications if it does indeed quit.

2. Armenia: Russia's last reliable ally

A well-known Moscow newspaper described the paradoxical foreign policy situation of Armenia as follows: It “is the only country that receives weapons from Russia and money from America and cooperates with Iran.”2 However, the U.S. has little influence over Yerevan’s political course, notwithstanding the fact that it also finances some Armenian military programmes. Instead, there is much talk of an “axis” Moscow – Yerevan – Teheran. At first sight it seems astonishing that the Islamic Republic of Iran supports Armenia, the oldest Christian state in the world, against Shiite Azerbaijan. Upon closer inspection, however, the background to the congruence of interests becomes clear: like Moscow and Yerevan, Teheran wishes to keep Western (and Turkish) influence in the region as small as possible.

3. Azerbaijan's difficult neighbourhood

Azerbaijan is in a very difficult geopolitical position. Georgia is the only neighbouring country which maintains cordial relations with Baku, but Tbilisi has a lot of problems on its own. Armenians have occupied parts of Azerbaijan, the relations with Iran turned sometimes quite strained (in July 2001, an Iranian warship threatened to open fire upon two Azerbaijani ships, conducting prospecting operations for BP in an oilfield more than 100 kilometres north from the former Soviet-Iranian sea border in the Caspian Sea).

While relations between Azerbaijan and Russia were temporarily tense, cooperation – particularly in military affairs – has never broken off. Thus, the Defence Ministers of Azerbaijan and Russia have signed several agreements, which, among other things, provide for the training of Azerbaijanis in Russia.3 In 2002, the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia, Heydar Aliyev and Vladimir Putin, signed an agreement, according to which Russia would lease the “Daryal” base (near Gabala) for ten years for the comparatively small sum of 7 million dollar a year. This installation is a part of the Russian early warning system against missile attacks. According to the Russian military newspaper “Red Star”, 72 Russian serviceman and 600 citizens of Azerbaijan work at the base.4

Table 2: The armies of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan

Source: The Military Balance 2005-2006. London 2005, p. 108-111, 120-121.

* However, the Georgian Defence Ministry provided a totally different figure – 21.468 (, assessed 10.5.2006)

4. The relationship to NATO

All three states in the South Caucasus belong to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly as associate members and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). In 1994 they signed the Framework Document of the Partnership for Peace (PfP). Georgia and Azerbaijan have since 1999 small contingents in the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosovo, and Armenia in 2004 also sent a platoon (as a part of the Greek contingent). Georgia was the first South Caucasian country to sign in December 2004 an Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO, soon to be followed by Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, the similarities in relations with the alliance end here.

Armenia clearly has no intention of joining NATO,5 although it does not reject a certain degree of cooperation – undoubtedly with the intention of obtaining funds and in order not to leave the field to Azerbaijan. The first NATO exercise in Armenia, “Cooperative Best Effort 2003,” took place in the second half of June 2003. It was also remarkable because for the first time Turkish troops, albeit only three of them, set foot in independent Armenia. Another reason why the manoeuvres attracted attention is that Yerevan and Ankara have no diplomatic relations and their common border is still closed. 19 members of NATO and the PfP, including Russia, sent 400 troops in order to act out a fictitious scenario in which they provide military support for an international peacekeeping operation.

In contrast to Armenia, Azerbaijan and especially Georgia have committed themselves to join NATO. Thus, President Saakashvili predicted in his state-of-the-nation address to the Parliament on 14 February 2006 that Georgia will receive an official invitation to join NATO by the end of 2006 and be accepted into the alliance in 2008. But there is a profound disparity between the upbeat declarations of the government and the public opinion (according to opinion polls, about 70 per cent of the population supports the country’s entry into NATO) on the one hand and the desolation of the Georgian military on the other, which falls far short of the minimum NATO standards, even though reaching this standard has been made a policy goal. The level of corruption in the armed forces is high, and the state of the military reform is unsatisfactory. And NATO demands that candidates solve all their territorial problems, which will definitely not be case in Georgia and Azerbaijan in the near future. Furthermore, the “Russian factor” must not be neglected: “The Kremlin is determined to use all means available, including the issue of energy dependence, troop deployments, Russia’s de facto control over breakaway republics, immigration policy and vast intelligence resources, to keep the Caucasus states outside NATO’s reach.”6 Finally, the alliance has no desire to strain its sometimes awkward relations with Russia for the sake of Georgia and Azerbaijan.

5. The Treaty on Collective Security and GUAM

The 1992 Treaty on Collective Security (or “Tashkent Treaty”) contains an assistance clause which explicitly refers to military means. Georgia and Azerbaijan did not extend their membership of the Treaty on Collective Security in 1999, leaving Armenia as the only country in the South Caucasus to belong to the treaty. It was expanded in 2002/2003 to an “Organisation of the Treaty on Collective Security,” which was supposed to constitute a full military alliance consisting of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

In Moscow and Yerevan, GUAM (after the first letters of the member states Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) had always been regarded as an “anti-Russian” organisation and “Trojan horse” of NATO in the CIS. Despite preparations for the establishment of a joint peacekeeping unit, the security policy relevance of GUAM has so far remained insignificant. There is not even a permanent secretariat,7 let alone military assistance as provided for by the Treaty on Collective Security.

Ethno-territorial conflicts

South Ossetia already seceded violently from Georgia in 1989-92. Abkhazia followed in 1992-93. Since a ceasefire in the fighting over Karabakh in 1994, the Armenians control some 13,6 percent of the territory of the former Azerbaijani Soviet Republic. Negotiations for a solution to the conflict have now been going on for more than a decade and nothing indicates that a solution is in sight. Abkhazia and South Ossetia insist upon their independence or on becoming part of Russia, Karabakh on its independence or unification with Armenia.

Georgia has repeatedly accused Moscow of abusing its internationally recognised role as peacekeeper and of obstructing a political conflict solution in a bid to preserve its influence in the South Caucasus. Specifically, Georgian officials have blamed Russia for channelling financial and military aid to South Ossetia and Abkhazia and of abetting large-scale smuggling that helps to keep the unrecognised republics afloat. The refugee problem remains unsolved. In 1993 some 250,000 Georgians (i.e. almost half the population) were expelled from Abkhazia or had to flee, some 800,000 Azeris (from Armenia, Karabakh and other Armenian occupied territories of Azerbaijan) are refugees in Azerbaijan. The rulers in both Abkhazia and Karabakh will probably never agree to a complete return of the refugees, because they consider the Georgians respectively the Azeris as a threat to their claims to secede. From the point of view of Baku and Tbilisi, it seems to be unlikely to solve the refugee problem before Azerbaijani respectively Georgian jurisdiction has been established over Karabakh or Abkhazia. This, however, can be ruled out in the near future.

In Armenia and Russia, but also in various Western sources, fears are expressed that Azerbaijan could use its oil revenues to arm its military in order to at least threaten a violent solution of the Karabakh problem. However, this overlooks the fact that Armenia could use its ballistic missiles against Azerbaijani oil fields, pipelines and/or refineries, an action that would undoubtedly result in an inferno.8 Of course, in the event of war, Western corporations would immediately withdraw their investments from the Azerbaijani oil industry. Baku is well aware of this fact. For that reason, the current de facto independent status of Karabakh becomes safer with every dollar invested in the Azerbaijani oil industry by Western companies.

Table 3: Separatist armies

Source: The Military Balance 2004-2005. London 2004, p. 82, 88. This source does not comprise any information about Abkhazia’s air force and navy.

These figures should be treated with reserve. Some Russian sources differ significantly. For example, one Moscow-based daily estimated the number of South Ossetian tanks and armoured vehicles at 87 and 180 respectively,9 but this seems to be exaggerated. – A comparison of the figures in the tables 2 and 3 indicates that the bulk of Armenian military potential is stationed in and around Karabakh. It should, however, be pointed out that these figures come from Baku. They are firmly denied by the vast majority of Armenian and Karabakh politicians, media and other observers.10 However, they have not provided their own official data on the Karabakh separatist military.

Of course, no reference is made to the Karabakh military potential (like the forces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia) in the quotas of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Karabakh has expressed its readiness to put its military under CFE control, but this implies the international recognition of its independence – which is almost impossible in the near future.

From time to time, tensions run high in the South Georgian region Samtskhe-Javakheti which is predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians. They have at numerous occasions demanded to stop what they call a “policy of pressure” of the Georgian authorities. Moreover, many Armenians want the central government to make Armenian a state language equal to Georgian in Samtskhe-Javakheti. Reiterating the alleged threat to the rights of Armenians in Georgia, the appeal also demanded political autonomy for the region. The content and tone of some statements by certain radical Armenian organisations recall the language used by the Armenian community in Karabakh in its relations with the Azerbaijani communist leadership before violence broke out in 1988. Russia has tried to capitalize on the ethnic problems in Samtskhe-Javakheti, where it maintains the Akhalkalaki military base. The majority of the servicemen of this facility are ethnic Armenians with Russian citizenship.

Russian Policy in the Region

1. Russia and ethno-territorial conflicts

Any examination of the ethnoterritorial conflicts on the southern periphery of the USSR/CIS is incomplete without taking into account the “Russian factor.” Without military support from Moscow, Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Karabakh relied mainly on Armenia) would hardly have been able to tear free from their central governments: Moscow rendered political support and made massive deliveries of arms. The Russian army openly intervened in Abkhazia in 1992-93 (by the way, as strange at it sounds today, together with Chechen ‘volunteers’ under Shamil Basayev, now one of Russia’s most wanted terrorists). Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that so-called Russian ‘volunteers’ and Cossacks fought for the South Caucasian separatists. Russia obviously uses double standards in handling separatist movements: On the one hand, it has repeatedly warned Tbilisi against a new war against Abkhazia and/or South Ossetia. On the other hand, Moscow is trying to solve its own problem with separatism in Chechnya by solely military means, i.e. to “exterminate”, “erase” or “crush” – to use the most popular terms – the rebels there (officially referred to only as “bandits” and “terrorists”). Well-known Moscow-based political observer Andrei Piontkovsky depicted the Russian double standards as follows: “With a touching degree of intellectual naivety, the absolute majority of Russian politicians and mass media outlets view the decade-old war in Chechnya only in terms of territorial integrity, and the conflict in South Ossetia solely within the context of the Ossetian people's right to self-determination.”11

"The ethically and religiously heterogeneous South Caucasus is the scene of a number of crises."
"The ethically and religiously heterogeneous South Caucasus is the scene of a number of crises."
There are various voices in Russian media and politics not only, but especially from the nationalist hardliners in the Rodina (Motherland) party, Vladimir Zhirinovskys “Liberal-democratic Party of Russia” (LDPR) and the Communist Party (KPRF) demanding the incorporation of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and another separatist entity, the so-called Dnestr Republic (PMR) in Moldova, into Russia. Finally, these calls reached the official level: Gennady Bukayev, assistant to the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, told a joint session of North Ossetia’s and South Ossetia’s governments in Vladikavkaz on 22 March 2006 that Moscow has “decided in principle” to merge the two entities into a single republic “Alania” within Russia. This, however, would mean a gross violation of international law and the final territorial breakup of Georgia. The pro-Kremlin chief editor of the “Moskovskie novosti” (Moscow News) weekly, Vitaly Tretyakov, described the background of the Russian support for breakaway regions on the southern periphery of the CIS as follows: “The current borders of the Russian Federation are unnatural or are at least perceived as such by the majority of the political class of the country”.12

Officials from Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Karabakh, and the PMR come and go regularly in Moscow; they are received in Parliament, the Foreign Ministry and the Russian Security Council whenever they wish. Almost the entire adult population (and of course the political elite) of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has since long time held Russian citizenship. Consequently, Moscow could intervene militarily – in the event that Tbilisi was ever to attempt to solve the conflict by force – under the pretext of protecting Russian citizens. The currency in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is the rouble (Karabakh uses the Armenian Dram), Moscow pays Russian pensions, the Russian tourists have started coming back to Abkhazia, where Russian companies and ministries are renting out guest houses and sanatoria. Russian officials have always occupied top positions in the power structures of Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. For example, from 1993 on, Russian General Anatoli Zinevich was Chief of Staff of Karabakh’s highly efficient and well-organized separatist army. In 2005, several Russian citizens were appointed to high-ranking positions in South Ossetia: Anatoly Yarovoy, the former head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) branch in the Russian Autonomous Republic Mordovia, now runs the Security Service, General Anatoli Barankievich is Minister of Defence, and oil industry manager Yuri Morozov became even Prime Minister of the breakaway entity.

2. Russian Bases

Moscow used to call its troops in the South Caucasus a “stability factor” and was very reluctant to withdraw them, because it feared that Georgia could more easily join NATO or that the alliance (or the U.S.) could fill the “vacuum” after its troop withdrawal, but Georgia has assured that it has no plans to host any foreign military bases on its territory. Nevertheless, Russian media outlets already for many years predict the imminent appearance of American bases in this country (and in Azerbaijan).13

In the Final Act agreed upon at the 1999 OSCE Summit in Istanbul, Russia agreed in a joint statement with Georgia to withdraw a part of its military equipment from its bases on Georgian soil. Moscow promised to disband its military bases in Gudauta and Vaziani by 1 July 2001. While the Vaziani base was closed on time, withdrawal from the Gudauta base in Abkhazia was not completed within the agreed upon time frame. According to official Russian sources, the main hurdles are the refusal of separatist Abkhaz authorities to allow the presence of international observers as well as widespread local opposition to the operation. After years of dissensions between Moscow and Tbilisi, on 30 May 2005 Georgia's then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Salome Zourabichvili and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov signed a document on the cessation of functioning of the Russian bases and installations and withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia by 2008. The withdrawal started in early August 2005. On 31 March 2006, Georgia's First Deputy Defence Minister, Mamuka Kudava, and Russia's Ground Forces Commander-in-Chief, Colonel-General Alexei Maslov, signed agreements on the withdrawal of Russian forces from the bases and other Russian military installations in Georgia. The first military hardware left the 62nd Base in Akhalkalaki on 3 May 2006. It is to be emptied of most of its heavy equipment during 2006 and to be completely closed by 1 October 2007, with a possible extension until 31 December 2007, subject to weather conditions. The 6th Base in Batumi, the regional capital of Adjara,14 is to ship out most of its heavy equipment during 2007 and to be completely closed before the end of 2008.

In Armenia, Moscow has the 102 base (headquartered in Gyumri) with fighter aircraft (in Yerevan) and S-300 air defence complexes. Russia is currently transferring military personnel from Georgia to Armenia, which Azerbaijan – without being able to prevent it – has severely criticised with references to the unresolved Karabakh conflict.

Table 4: Russian bases

Source: The Military Balance 2005-2006. London 2005, pp. 166-167.

* Some Russian sources report even up to 5,000 servicemen, 115 tanks, 220 armoured vehicles and 170 artillery systems and mortars (Kommersant VLAST, 25 April 2005, Gazeta, 26 April 2005; p. 17; Kommersant’, 31 May 2005, p. 10; Krasnaya zvezda, 27 January 2006). A well-known pro-Kremlin newspaper quoted even 150 tanks (T-72) and some 200 armoured vehicles only at the base in Akhalkalaki (Nezavisimaya gazeta, 27 January 2006, p. 5).

** Some Russian sources contain information about “at least” 30 MiG-29 (VPK – Voenno-promyshlenny kurjer, 25 August 2004).

3. Border troops

Within the context of its integration efforts in the CIS, Moscow followed a “strategy of two borders:” It only wished to guard – with its own soldiers if possible – the so-called “external borders” of the CIS (i.e. the borders of the former USSR), while wanting borders between two CIS states to remain as open as possible. However, this strategy failed: Most CIS states (including Georgia) have long since sent the Russian border troops home. Russian soldiers are now only stationed on the Armenian border to Turkey and Iran.

4. Peacekeeping missions without UN mandate

The Russian operations in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are clearly not in line with the approved principles of UN peacekeeping missions. Thus, the peacekeeping unit in South Ossetia has Russian, Georgian and Ossetian contingents, which ignores the traditional non-inclusion of soldiers from the (former) warring parties. This force is based solely on a bilateral agreement (“Sochi agreement”) concluded in June 1992 between the Presidents Shevardnadze and Boris Yeltsin in the Black Sea village of Dagomys. In the following years, Georgian officials and mass media frequently reported that the Russian peacekeepers are supplying the separatists with weapons and ammunition in violation of demilitarizing agreements. They also accuse them of threatening the lives of Georgian citizens living in the conflict zone, carrying out sabotage raids against Georgian targets, and taking an active part in smuggling operations to and from South Ossetia. On 15 February 2006, the Georgian Parliament voted unanimously in favour to demand that the government embark on measures to secure the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force (with 530 servicemen) and its replacement by international peacekeepers. However, it is unlikely that this decision will exert influence on the further developments in the conflict zone: The resolution is nonbinding, and the Parliament gave the government no deadline. Moscow and South Ossetia are not going to even discuss the issue of the pullout. Mikhail Babich, deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma Defence Committee, stated that both Moscow and Tbilisi understand that there will be no withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force.15 And South Ossetian separatist leader Eduard Kokoity told Russian journalists that South Ossetia would react violently to the inclusion of Western forces in the conflict zone: “We will regard all other formations – under whatever aegis, except for the Russian peacekeepers – as aggressors and will eliminate them, anyone who comes here, except the Russian peacekeepers. These countries have no moral right to take any part in our peacekeeping process because, we all know very well, all of them are on Georgia’s side. They are supporting Georgia militarily, they are arming Georgia, not with defensive weapons but with offensive weapons.”16

There has never been an UN-mandated mission where a single country mustered all the personnel for a peacekeeping contingent. However, in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone on the Inguri river just this is the case: About 1,600 Russian serviceman have been stationed there since June 1994 under a CIS mandate.17 Tbilisi occasionally wished for a change to the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping troops that would allow them to escort Georgian refugees back to Abkhazia. Russia, and of course Abkhazia, always categorically rejected this as well as the replacement of the Russian contingent by Turkish and/or Ukrainian peacekeepers. Russia evidently does not wish to surrender control of the “peace mission,” arguing that without its troops the Georgian-Abkhaz war would flare up again. However, this concern for peace is hardly plausible given that Moscow is conducting a bloody war in Chechnya itself. The real reason why Moscow is determined to remain present on the Inguri is clearly geopolitical: The Russian peacekeepers act as de facto “border troops” for separatist Abkhazia. As long as they are there, a restoration of Georgian jurisdiction over Abkhazia is virtually impossible. Moreover, Moscow can act as a “referee” between Tbilisi and Abkhazia.

The importance of economic security

1. Gas pipelines

The so-called “gas war” between Russia and Ukraine in the first days of January 2006 left no doubt that Moscow is ready and capable to rise the price for energy resources due to political reasons. This was obviously a Russian “punishment” for the “orange revolution” in Kiev at the end of 2004, which brought to power allegedly “pro-Western” opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, defeating pro-Moscow candidate Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich. Furthermore, Moscow doubtless intended to convey to the Ukrainian voters that it would be reasonable to vote for pro-Russian parties – like Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions and the Communist Party – at the elections to Verkhovna Rada, or Parliament, on 26 March 2006, if they want to get prospects of a cheap and reliable gas supply. And the Party of the Regions won a convincing victory with more than 32 percent of the votes.

However, the Russian-Ukrainian “gas war” triggered a discussion about the future of energy supply of the EU. Putin’s Russia does not even hide its intention to put as many as possible countries in the CIS and in the EU in an energy dependence – firstly, in order to increase its revenues, secondly, to gain the possibility to capitalize on its position as the most important energy supplier sooner or later. It should not be ruled out that Moscow sometimes in the future threatens to cut off not only CIS member states, but also EU members if they should take unwanted initiatives.

Russia controls at least one quarter of the global gas reserves.18 It is the main energy supplier of the EU and covers about 44 percent of the gas import and 18 percent of the oil import of the EU-15.19 The following figures demonstrate the dependence of especially Central and Eastern European countries from Russian natural gas (2004): Moldova, Serbia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Finland – 100 percent, Latvia und Lithuania – 94, Azerbaijan – 89, Hungary – 85, Greece and Slovakia – 80, Austria – 70, Romania – 70, Czech Republic and Poland – 69, Ukraine – 50 (for comparison: Germany – 41, Italy – 35, France – 30 percent). Some scholars take the view that the European dependence from Russian gas would decrease in the future due to the construction of new pipelines from North Africa and the so-called “Nabucco-Pipeline;” moreover, it would be possible to make use of liquefied natural gas, which can be delivered by ship. According to EU figures, the share of gas from Africa, the Near East and the Caspian region would increase at the expense of the Russian share. The dependence of the European states (outside the CIS) from Russian gas from to 69 percent in the year 2000 would decrease until 2020 to 40 percent.20

However, it has to be taken into account that all these regions cannot be called stable. Moscow considers the Caspian region as its “area of strategic interest” and has always denounced all proposals to demilitarize the region. In August 2002, the Russian armed forces – and especially the Caspian Flotilla – conducted one of the biggest exercises in post-Soviet times which 60 vessels, some 10,000 servicemen and 30 aircraft, allegedly devoted to the “antiterrorist struggle,” although so far nothing has been heard about terrorists who tried to highjack oil rigs in the Caspian Sea. Therefore it is quite clear that the issue was not about “terrorism” but about Russian power projection and geopolitics – doubtless, not without regard to the energy resources of the region.

The “Nabucco”-Pipeline should run from the gas fields of Iran through Turkey and the Balkans to Central Europe. Though, Teheran with its weapons of mass destruction development programmes cannot be called a reliable partner: senior officials in Teheran repeatedly threatened to raise the oil price in the case of sanctions on their country. And a final decision about the construction of the “Nabucco”-pipeline has not been taken yet. But if built from 2007 or 2008 on, it should from 2010 or 2011 on carry 30 billion cubic meters gas a year.21

Assessing the future EU energy demands, it has also to be taken into account that the gas and oil production of the UK, Norway and the Netherlands will significantly decrease in the near future. In addition, EU member states will shut down much more nuclear reactors that being built in the next decades. Renewable energy resources (solar, wind and biomass energy, hydropower, geothermal power) are a factor of minor importance so far: in 2004, they covered only 6 percent of the primary energy consumption of both the EU-15 and the EU-25.22

At the same time, conditions are created for more EU gas imports from Russia. An important example is the construction of the North European gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, linking the town of Babayevo and Greifswald in Germany. Poland and the Baltic States were not even consulted prior to the signing of a treaty about this subject a few days before the general election in Germany (on 18 September 2005), when the defeat of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party already seemed to be inevitable. Poland and Baltic States now face the fact that their EU and NATO ally Germany proved its unwillingness to take into consideration their economic security interests when it came to the conclusion of economic agreements with an obvious political background with Putin’s Russia.

2. The pipeline Baku – Tbilisi – Ceyhan

 Oil field in Baku, Azerbaijan, back in 1905.
Oil field in Baku, Azerbaijan, back in 1905.
Energy policy – and specific issues concerning the production and transport of oil and gas – is of tremendous security policy importance in the South Caucasus. Today the main focus of attention is the 1,760-kilometre Baku – Tbilisi – Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, costing 3,9 billion dollars. It starts at the Sangachal Terminal near Baku in Azerbaijan, passes through Georgia and ends at a new maritime terminal at Ceyhan on the Mediterranean coast in Turkey. Construction of the pipeline began in 2002, it was officially opened on 25 May 2005. The first tanker-load of Caspian oil to flow through the BTC is scheduled to leave the Mediterranean port of Ceyan in June 2006. The pipeline should transport up to one million barrels of oil per day.

Azerbaijan was dependent upon two export routes for the sale of its oil: the Baku-Supsa pipeline through Georgia and the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline through Russia. It is a matter of common knowledge that the U.S. is also very interested in BTC – undoubtedly because it is routed to avoid both Russia and Iran. For the same reason, these states reject the pipeline. No less important for the BTC project is the question of whether there are sufficient oil deposits in Azerbaijan to fill the pipeline. It is conceivable that it will only be able to work profitably if it can carry additional oil from Kazakhstan.23

Armenia has proposed to build a section of the pipeline across its territory, but it was, of course, an illusion to expect that Azerbaijan could accept such a dependence from its archenemy. Nevertheless, the Armenians benefit from the pipeline. The Azerbaijani armed forces are still too inadequately equipped and trained to be able to successfully mount an assault on Karabakh, but in the theoretical case of a new war for the breakaway region it would quite easy for the Armenians to halt the gas transit from Baku, because the pipeline runs only several kilometres from the Armenian-occupied territories of Azerbaijan. In other words: The BTC has turned out to be a crucial factor ensuring the Status quo between Azerbaijan and Armenians with their de facto independent Karabakh. And Russia as the main ally of Armenia makes use of this state of affairs. Moreover, the BTC runs close by South Ossetia, Russian bases in Georgia as well as the Kurdish areas of eastern Turkey. For that reason, the defence of the pipeline even in peace times is one of the greatest security policy challenges facing those countries with an interest in it.

3. The fragile energy and economic security of Georgia

To date, Georgian energy security has been defined by a focus on pipeline security, with too little attention devoted to seeking energy diversification, promoting greater self-sufficiency, and pursuing alternative suppliers. Two explosions in North Ossetia near the Nizhny Lars border post between Russia and South Ossetia on 22 January 2006 seriously damaged both strands of the main gas pipeline that supplies gas to Georgia and Armenia. A third explosion in Russian Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia damaged the main power line supplying electricity from Russia to Georgia. Saakashvili and his Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili implicitly blamed Russia for the sabotage of the gas pipelines, noting that the explosions occurred in a region under Russian control. It was a widespread opinion in Tbilisi that the blasts were deliberate retaliation for Georgia’s efforts to reduce its total dependence on Russian gas supplies by securing alternative supplies from Azerbaijan and Iran. This profound energy crisis has again demonstrated the fundamental vulnerability of the Georgian state, especially in the face of Russian pressure and intimidation, raising questions about Georgian security in general and energy security in particular.

Moreover, Russia tries to damage Georgian foreign trade. Thus, since 27 March 2006 Russia, which has been by far the biggest market for Georgian wine and spirits, has blocked their imports. Six weeks later, Moscow banned imports of the very popular Borjomi mineral water from Georgia, citing again public health concerns. However, the majority of political observers outside Russia agree that Moscow only intends to “punish” a country, which has almost nothing to export than agricultural commodities, and its leadership for Saakashvili’s pro-Western course.

Conclusion and Outlook

The three South Caucasian republics are far from being the unit that many in the West wish to regard them as. The leaderships of both Georgia and Azerbaijan already at the beginning of the nineties lost any control over parts of their territories. There are still no solutions in sight for these ethno-territorial conflicts, as Moscow tries to manipulate them in its own self-interest. Western powers show only a small (or no) degree of commitment to achieve enduring and just solutions of these conflicts. But they should aim at the following goals:

- Promotion of democracy, human rights, civil society, and the struggle against corruption;

- contributions to “good governance” and the improvement of the efficiency of state institutions (especially in Georgia);

- return of all refugees to Abkhazia, South Osseetia, Karabakh, and the other now Armenian-controlled areas of Azerbaijan;

- protection of national minorities according to European standards;

- end of Russian support for the separatists;

- peaceful integration of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Karabakh into Georgia and Azerbaijan respectively, with a real and sufficient autonomy for these so far separatist state entities;

- rapprochement to EU with a membership perspective.

It is widely assumed that Russia hopes to benefit from making Georgia look like an unstable country. In Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian peacekeepers promote the preservation of a “Status quo,” which is advantageous for the separatist regimes. They equate ‘self determination’ solely with territorial separation. Not least because of that, the postulation of ethnoterritorial conflict and separatism playing a central part concerning the decay of Azerbaijan and Georgia is to be regarded legitimate. Thus they may be considered as “failed states” also due to the fact that in the foreseeable future there is no apparent chance to restore their territorial integrity.

Notwithstanding a certain US presence, Russia will remain the dominant power in the South Caucasus for the foreseeable future, thus setting the limits for its further integration in European and Euro-Atlantic organisations. Tbilisi’s and Baku’s pursuit of NATO membership may be seen more as a delusion of grandeur than a realistic goal. Senior NATO officials always denied plans to discuss any timeframe for Georgia’s and Azerbaijan’s possible admission to the alliance. – The Caspian region with its 34-billion-barrel oil potential is no formidable rival to OPEC with its proven reserves of over 800 billion barrels, and it would be unfounded to assume that the BTC pipeline is crucial in lessening Western dependence on oil from the Middle East: it will supply only one percent of global oil demand at first stage. However, the pipeline will help to diversify the global oil supply and so will insure to an extent against a failure in supply elsewhere. The problem of diversification of EU oil and gas supply will remain on the agenda in the near future.

1 See, for example, Nezavisimaya gazeta, 13 September 2002, pp. 1, 11.
2 Nezavisimaya gazeta, 18 December 1999, p. 5.
3 Azerbaijani officers at Russian military academies repeatedly run into Armenians from separatist Nagorno-Karabakh.
4 Krasnaya zvezda, 26 January 2006.
5 In an interview published in a German daily, Armenian Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian affirmed that while Armenia has good relations with Moscow, “Armenia’s future is the EU and NATO, ” and “Russia must not block our way to Europe” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 19 April 2006). This statement incurred a swift and negative response from President Robert Kocharian.
6 Alex Vatanka/Denis Trifonov, Pulled in all directions. Jane’s Defence Weekly, 6 October 2004, p. 29.
7 However, in 2005 it was agreed to create a Secretariat on the basis of the GUAM Information Office in Kiev.
8 Deliveries of Russian arms to Armenia between 1993 and 1996, said to have been worth 1 billion dollar, included SCUD-B missiles; see also Martin Malek, Armenia. Hans J. Giessmann/Gustav E. Gustenau (eds.), Security Handbook 2001. Security and Military in Central and Eastern Europe. Baden-Baden 2001, p. 56; Martin Malek, Determinanten der Sicherheitspolitik Armeniens. Berichte des Bundesinstituts für ostwissenschaftliche und internationale Studien, no. 11, 2000, p. 11.
9 Nezavisimaya gazeta, 20 February 2006, p. 3.
10 But there are some Armenian observers who make use of this data; see, for example Samvel Martirosyan in VPK – Voenno-promyshlenny kurjer, 25 August 2004. The same data uses Viken Cheteryan, Malye voyny i bolshaya igra. Yerevan 2003, p. 100.
11 Andrei Piontkovsky, Russia's Dead End in South Ossetia. IWPR'S Caucasus Reporting Service, no. 248, 25 August 2004.
12 Moskovskie novosti, 3 March 2006, p. 3.
13 See, for example, Nezavisimaya gazeta, 7 February 2006, p. 9.
14 In May 2004, Saakashvili managed to overthrow Aslan Abashidze, the pro-Russian authoritarian leader of the Autonomous Republic Ajara, who fled to Moscow. According to the Georgian Ministry of Defence, Abashidzes local Ministry of the Interior and his Security Service had Strela ground-to-air missiles, Fagot anti-tank rockets, eight Mi-8 helicopters, several patrol boats and other mainly Russian-made hardware at their disposal (The Messenger [Tbilisi], 7 March 2005, p. 9).
15 Igor Torbakov: Moscow Says Georgian Parliament's Vote on Peacekeepers Inconsequential. Eurasia Daily Monitor (The Jamestown Foundation), Volume 3, Number 34 (17 February 2006).
16 The ISCIP Analyst (Formerly The NIS Observed, An Analytical Review). Volume XII, Number 3, 20 March 2006.
17 There is an UN-mandated force in the conflict zone, the United Nations Missions of Observers in Georgia, or UNOMIG, with 134 total uniformed personnel. It was created by a Security Council resolution in August 1993, but remained a passive factor without any influence on the Russian activities in Abkhazia.
18 BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2005., assessed 19 January 2006.
19 Kirsten Westphal, Handlungsbedarf. Die Energiepolitik der Europäischen Union. Osteuropa, no. 9–10, 2004, p. 45.
20 Roland Götz, Nach dem Gaskonflikt. SWP–Aktuell, no. 3, January 2006, p. 4.
21 Interview with Otto Musilek, managing director of the Austrian OMV Gas company; <>, assessed 13 January 2006.
22 Erneuerbare Energien in Zahlen – nationale und internationale Entwicklung. Internet-Update. Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit. Berlin 2005. < dezember.pdf> (p. 24), assessed 16 January 2006.
23 Following Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's visit to Washington and U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney's visit to Kazakhstan in spring 2006, a breakthrough seems imminent on the project to connect Kazakhstan with the BTC. Officials in Kazakhstan now anticipate that Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev and Aliyev will sign a framework agreement on that project by late June 2006.