Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Chechen Conflict Inspires South Caucasus Links
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
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
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
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.
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