Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko and Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambayev (L-R) seen ahead of a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council at the Akorda Presidential Palace on May 31, 2016.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Eurasia has been constantly in turmoil. All this turmoil has its roots in the time of the Soviet Union; a government after the collapse of which all untoward consequences of its rule came to the surface and set the region ablaze. In the Caucasus region, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are autonomous regions of Georgia, have been out of the central government’s control since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under supervision of the Minsk Group, these two autonomous regions have been effectively separated from the rest of Georgia’s territory by peacekeeping forces most of whom are Russians. In August 2008, when Georgia tried to return these regions to the mainland, the conflict intensified and ended through Russia’s military intervention. Some eight years have passed since that time. during these years, a referendum was held under supervision of Russia as a result of which these two regions were announced an independent country and their independence was recognized by Russia’s legislative bodies – including the State Duma and the Federation Council, which respectively form the lower and upper houses of the Federal Assembly of Russia. Seeing itself unable to oppose its northern neighbor Russia, Georgia has decided to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As a result, Russia, which has common border with Georgia in its south and along the North Caucasus region, feels insecure and has announced accession of Georgia to NATO as a red line for Moscow.
The crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh is also a Gordian knot in Caucasus where an indeterminate state of no war and no peace governs, as a result of which, sporadic conflicts break out on the two sides of the Minsk Group’s truce line, which was enforced in May 1994, and sometimes these conflicts lead to full-fledged war. As a result, this region has turned into a playing card in the ongoing power games between regional and extra-regional powers.
At present, it seems that Karabakh is currently in its best state. Transferring it to Armenia will anger the Republic of Azerbaijan, which is superior over Armenia in all terms, while returning its sovereignty to the Republic of Azerbaijan will prompt Armenians living there to start an insurgency, which would turn the whole region into a time bomb. In that case, the government of Armenia should stand accountable not only to its own Armenian citizens and Armenians in the self-proclaimed Karabakh Republic, but also to Armenians all across the world. Therefore, Karabakh is currently in its best state and Armenians living in Karabakh are experiencing governance under such indeterminate conditions though they also have to respect the truce line.
The recent armed hostage taking at a police station in Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan was an amazing phenomenon in its own right. A police force, which is supposed to protect people’s lives, has not been able to protect its own personnel, as a result of which its efficiency has been questioned by public opinion in Armenia while drawing criticism from the country’s President Serzh Sargsyan. The hostage takers, who were affiliated with the Armenian opposition groups and called themselves the “Daredevils of Sassoun,” pursue their political demands through armed struggle and hostage taking. The Daredevils of Sassoun are opposed to current developments regarding the peace process in Karabakh and are not in line with policies of Armenia’s central government as a result of which they want to make their own decision on the fate of Karabakh.
At present, the confrontation between NATO and Russia seems to be more daunting than the confrontation between NATO and its now-defunct Eastern rival, the Warsaw Pact. Ukraine’s willingness to join Euro-Atlantic institutions followed by the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, holding of Crimea’s independence referendum and its final annexation to Russia, have set a new precedent in international environment, which may be used in the future by other big powers with the veto right at the United Nations Security Council, an example of which can be possible to annexation of Taiwan by the People’s Republic of China.
In addition to parallel and border conflicts among Eurasian republics, at present an inflammatory political atmosphere governs that region. All leaders of these republics are leftovers of the Communist Party, which wielded unrivaled power under the totalitarian government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Unfortunately, apart from Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, Armenia and Georgia in Caucasus, and Ukraine in Eastern Europe, the rest of them have remained in power following the fall of the Soviet Union and one way or another, have turned into permanent presidents of their respective countries. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin is a unique charismatic leader and since 2000, Russia has not been able to find a more charismatic figure than him in order to replace him as the president of the world’s biggest country. Totalitarian governments are generally opposed to all kinds of civil and political freedoms and suppress any opposition voice under the general label of extremism, an example of which was the ban on the legal activities of the Islamic Movement of Tajikistan by the country’s President Emomali Rahmon.
There is no doubt that under these circumstances, a crisis of succession will challenge the whole region and countries in it. Now, due to increasing power of the cyberspace and rapid expansion of such social networks as the Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and some others, the governments see their unrivalled power within their sovereign borders in great danger. At present, and under these conditions, we must expect sudden developments every once in a while.
Russia is greatly concerned about developments in Central Asia and Caucasus. Although out of all Central Asian republics, Russia has only common border with Kazakhstan, this border travels vast plains and is 6,800 kilometers long. As a result, both Kazakhstan and Russia have been facing difficulty in controlling it. This is why Russia has moved to a location much farther from this border in south into Tajikistan, of course through an agreement with the Tajik government, in order to allow for Russian border guards to protect this weak and poor country’s border with Afghanistan.
Kazakhstan, for its turn, is facing the threat of secessionism from its Russian citizens, who after Kazakhs, form the second biggest population in the country while their part in political, economic, and cultural structures of Kazakhstan is much more compared to Kazakh people themselves.
Outside the realm of politics, Eurasia is also grappling with environmental problems as well. The Aral Sea, was once the pearl of Central Asia and a hub of fishing and agriculture for former Soviet republics around it. However, mismanagement by the Soviet Union through creation of large cotton farms in Central Asian kolkhozes and sovkhozes prevented inflow of water from Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers into this big lake. At present, the Aral Sea has shrunk to one tenth of its previous area and the crisis resulting from drying of the Aral Sea, along with another crisis stemming from conditions in Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan, where the former Soviet Union conducted its nuclear tests, has led to spread of unknown diseases of which regional people currently suffer. Reviving the Aral Sea would not be possible unless through rerouting of major rivers from Siberia toward this region by Russia as the successor to the Soviet Union, but Russians will never accept the responsibility for doing this. Just in the same way that the meltdown at Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine in 1986 and under the Soviet Union was a catastrophe and Russians did nothing to make up for its damage, likewise, they will not do anything about the Aral Sea as well.
Disputes over water resources have been soaring between two poor republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, more than 90 percent of whose terrain is mountainous and is considered as the origin of waters needed for agriculture by downstream republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and to some extent, Kazakhstan. These two republics are willing to exchange water with fossil fuel reserves which are found in abundance in downstream republics.
In addition to unemployment, workforce immigration, poverty and widespread corruption, this region is facing the threats of terrorism and drug trafficking as well. These two threats are common enemies of all regional countries and, at a higher level, the entire world and humanity. Developments resulting from violent terrorist activities in Europe, which have been blamed on the Daesh terrorist group, send a serious warning to the world to take action for the eradication of terrorism, especially the enemy of all humanity and the Islamic world, that is, Daesh, in Syria, Iraq and Libya. In the absence of cooperation among regional countries and without special attention from governments in Central Asia and Caucasus, topped by the Russian Federation as a major regional power in Eurasia, achieving this goal would not be possible. Division of labor can be possible within a set framework which would include regional cooperation under the oversight of international organizations combined with a rising sense of responsibility among regional countries. According to remarks made by the Islamic Republic of Iran's officials, Iran is ready to share its valuable experiences in fighting terrorism and illicit drugs with other regional countries. Tehran is also ready to engage in certain forms of regional cooperation with regional countries under the supervision of the United Nations.
NOTE: This article first appeared in Iran Review.
Bahram Amirahmadian, an assistant professor at University of Tehran, is the senior fellow at IRAS.
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