Mohsen Pakaeen

Tensions between The US and Russia in the Caucasus

Date of publication : August 20, 2017 20:14 pm
US Vice President Mike Pence addresses servicemen of US and Georgian troops participating in the joint multinational military exercise
US Vice President Mike Pence addresses servicemen of US and Georgian troops participating in the joint multinational military exercise 'Noble Partner 2017' at an airbase outside Tbilisi on August 1, 2017

The consequences of successive tensions in the relationship between the US and Russia can also be seen in the Caucasus region. US Vice President Mike Pence visited Georgia first of August, 2017 to participate in the NATO exercise. The exercise was held in Georgia with the presence of the NATO members and their allies. In his visit to Tbilisi, providing a strong support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and its membership in NATO, Mike Pence supported Georgia against Russia in terms of security. The anti-Russian statements of Mike Pence in Tbilisi were seen as a threat to Russia by the world’s media and political circles.
Armenia’s participation in the NATO exercise also led to Moscow’s dissatisfaction. In response to Armenia’s action, Sergei Markov, a political figure close to President Putin, said: “The expansion of cooperation between Armenia and NATO shows that this country is seeking to play a two-way game. Armenia, on the one hand, considers itself as Russia’s ally, and on the other hand, it participates in the NATO exercise, and Moscow has noticed this ambivalent policy. Armenia is accused of using its ally, Russia, to weaken the Republic of Azerbaijan, while cooperating with the West as well.
One week after US Vice President Pence visited Georgia, and at the same time that the NATO exercise was held, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, visited Abkhazia, the occupied territory of Georgia. The visit, which was carried out on August 8, the anniversary of the five-day Russian-Georgian war, was a serious response to the US Vice President Michael Pence’s visit to Georgia.
Although Mike Pence’s visit to Georgia had raised hopes in Tbilisi officials for US support, their hopes faded away with President Putin’s visit to Abkhazia. Western officials, including the EU officials, only expressed their regret for the visit, and stated that the trip should have been carried out with the permission of the Georgian government. This stance shows that Georgia cannot seriously count on the support of the US and Europe. On his visit to Abkhazia, President Putin showed that this self-proclaimed republic is under the influence of Russia, and using this leverage, Moscow seeks to limit the presence of NATO in the peripheral countries.
The historical evidence from the time of Peter the Great to today suggests that the Soviet Union/ Russia has never been willing to ignore its surrounding territories. Although during some periods of history, such as the Cold War, this policy had been faced with barriers, it was resumed. Today, Russia’s sensitivity to strengthening its influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) can be also felt in Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia. Russia’s geopolitical policy has historically been taken based on linking it to the Black Sea to prevent the NATO influence, maintain the energy transfer security, and create an opportunity for its navy, and this policy is still in place under President Putin.
Vladimir Putin’s visit to Abkhazia was not only a disagreement expressed to the presence of Georgia and Armenia in the NATO exercise, but also a response to the American effort to isolate Russia in the Caucasus region. Of course, the anti-Russian statements of Mike Pence, and that the NATO exercise was held in Georgia both have increased Moscow’s drive to show its power in the Caucasus. Moscow is well aware that in the current period, the anti-Russian movement has been more active in America than before, and various scenarios have been put forward to deal with Russia. Taking into account its economic and military dependence, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington accepted the Moscow leadership in the Caucasus, and reduced the US involvement and presence in the region. But as President Bill Clinton came to power, the policy of containment against Russia was taken, and this policy is continued under President Trump.
America is also interested in bringing the European Union along itself against Russia - an action which seems difficult now. Europe will not join a consensus against Russia with America for two main reasons: first, much of the EU economic interactions are carried out with Russia, especially the EU imports its energy from Russia, and second, Russia is considered as the largest consumer market for the EU.
The Caucasus region seems to be one of the regions creating tensions between America and Russia in the future. Not being able to comprehensively influence the republics of the former Soviet Union, America intends to keep cases such as Ukraine, Georgia, Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia open in order to put pressure on Russia.
© Jam-e-Jam Daily

Mohsen Pakaeen, Former Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Republic of Azerbaijan, is the senior fellow at IRAS.

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