Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Chechen Conflict Inspires South Caucasus Links

Confronted with renewed Russian aggression in Chechnya, the states of

regional cooperation and security.

By Rasim Musabekov in Baku (CRS No. 7, 19-Nov-99)

"We are all equally interested in stability and security throughout

Europe," Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared in Istanbul on

November 18, at the summit of the Organization for Security and

Cooperation in Europe (OSCE,) before abruptly marching out.

The performance by the Russian president - rejecting international

criticism over Chechnya, threatening to obstruct the charter on

European security, and cutting short a meeting with French President

Jacques Chirac - may have hampered efforts to come to broad agreement

on a common European security policy. But it also underscored the

importance of such an agreement, especially for the Caucasus.

Indeed, Russia's renewed military campaign in Chechnya has direct

implications for the South Caucasus states and has added considerable

urgency to efforts to build closer cooperation. The concentration of

Russian troops and weapons in the region is already a violation of

the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty.

The number of Russian troops in Armenia is reportedly growing. The

region is flowing with rumours of covert operations allegedly carried

out by Russian special units in different parts of the Caucasus. Some

in Georgia believe that political groups linked to Russia ware

involved in the assassination attempts on the life of Georgian

President Eduard Shevardnadze.

There is also considerable fear in the region that, in retaliation to

the refusal to cooperate with Russia's military campaign in Chechnya,

Moscow could attempt to destablise other South Caucasus regions. And

there could be much scope for Russia's meddling. Fighting continues

in Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and separatist movements are

bubbling under the surface in several Georgian regions and in

northern Azerbaijan.

Fearing that it would be dragged into the current Chechen conflict,

Georgia refused Russia's request for permission to fly sorties into

Chechnya from the Russian military base of Vaziani, located on

Georgian territory.

Now Georgia has accused Moscow of bombing its village of Shatili,

five kilometers from the Chechen border. Moscow has acknowledged that

its helicopters crossed into Georgian airspace on November 17, but

has denied the bombing. It has dismissed the Georgian charges as

malicious disinformation.

For its part, Moscow has accused Georgia and Azerbaijan of supplying

Chechen rebels with arms and military instructors. It also threatened

to impose strict visa requirements for people visiting Russia from

Georgia and Azerbaijan. It also said Georgian and Azeri residents in

Russia would be prevented from sending money home from Russia.

In the midst of these developments, South Caucasus states and their

neighbours, themselves beset with conflicts, are taking steps to

increase regional cooperation.

On November 18, on the sidelines of the OSCE Istanbul summit, the

presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey signed agreements

providing the legal framework for the construction and operation of

an oil pipeline from Baku to the Mediterranean Turkish terminal of

Ceyhan. The presidents of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan signed a

separate document with their Turkish, Azeri and Georgian

counterparts, pledging to export oil via this pipeline.

Furthermore, Georgian President Shevardnadze and Azeri President

Heydar Aliev have suggested on separate occasions to create

programmes supporting a peaceful Caucasus region. Armenian President

Robert Kocharian has articulated similar ideas for a regional

security system. There have also been calls for a regional security

sub-group within the framework of the OSCE, including the Caucasus

states plus Russia and possibly the United States.

During a meeting with Jean Jacques Gaiard, co-chairman of the OSCE

Minsk group on Nagorno-Karabakh, Kocharian suggested that a regional

security system could contribute to the resolution of conflicts and

national security problems, as well as helping establishing mutual

trust. Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian, expanding this

idea, hinted that regional organizations should also include Iran.

The sharp exchanges at the OSCE summit point up the limits of multi-

lateral institutions and diplomacy to temper Russian policy. However,

they are crucial for expressing viewpoints and developing solutions.

The effort to develop regional organizations in the South Caucasus

reflects the increasing maturity of these newly independent states,

in an attempt to resolve their own problems. If cooperation

declarations are implemented, Russian influence will inevitably


Concern over Chechnya is heightened in the Caucasus because of the

broad public and political support that Russian authorities enjoy

over their Caucasus policy. With presidential and parliamentary

elections looming in Russia, the war in the Caucasus appears to be an

electoral campaign issue and the growing popularity of Russian Prime

Minister Vladimir Putin shows he is profiting from his hard-line


This gives rise to fears in most South Caucasus states that a post-

Yeltsin Russia could face a period of potential instability, combined

with an aggressive and expansionist policy in the Caucasus. Russia's

policy on Chechnya, blaming the republic's entire population for the

actions of an extremist minority, presents a worrying precedent.

Senior US officials have expressed concern at what they see as a

possible wider regional conflict.

In such circumstances, the governments and the citizens of the South

Caucasus republics are beginning to realise the scale of the dangers

they could eventually face and the need to build closer cooperation.

For too long, Russia itself has exploited divisions and feuds between

the people of the region, in order to retain a prominent position.

This time, renewed concerns of a threat from the North may inspire

steps to ensure mutual trust and cooperation among Caucasus states

and their neighbours.

Rasim Musabekov is a political scientist in Baku.

More IWPR's Global Voices