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For Members Only: The Consequences of the Caspian Summit’s Foreign Military Ban

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Last September brought with it major changes to the hotly contested Caspian Sea region. These changes were revealed at the IV Caspian Summit held on September 29th in Astrakhan, Russia.

Of the greatest significance was the unanimous vote by the “Caspian 5” (Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan) to no longer allow foreign military presence in the Caspian region and that all issues that were to arise would be solved between the littoral states only. The political declaration, according to an announcement by Vladimir Putin and signed by all five presidents “sets out a fundamental principle for guaranteeing stability and security, namely, that only the Caspian littoral states have the right to have their armed forces present on the Caspian.” [1]

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani echoed this sentiment stating “there is consensus among all the Caspian Sea littoral states that they are capable of maintaining the security of the Caspian Sea and military forces of no foreign country must enter the sea.” [2]The five further agreed to expand cooperation on the Caspian Sea in terms of meteorology, natural disasters, and environmental protection. [3] The declaration also revealed clear formulations on the delimitation of the seabed with each country having exclusive sovereign rights to a 15 mile area. [4] This puts to rest an issue that had been contested since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the new independent states. [5]Apart from being a unique body of water in terms of its bio and ecological resources, the Caspian Sea comes with a massive amount of oil and gas reserves, an estimated 18 billion tons with proved reserves of four billion tons. These numbers put the Caspian Sea directly behind the Persian Gulf in terms of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves. [6]

This declaration also outlined many other projects in the works for this region – a major one being the joint construction of a railroad that would encircle the Caspian Sea, connecting key Caspian ports and cutting transportation time in half. The five states also signed an emergency prevention and response agreement which called for joint efforts in responding to emergencies in the region. [7] Additionally, plans were revealed for a joint emergency response exercise to take place in 2016 that will test the capabilities and partnerships between the nations and develop procedures of notifying and coordinating rescue units. [8]

Disguised underneath these projects, exercises, cooperation, and initiatives is a very real threat to the United States and NATO. Russia and Iran have long felt threatened by the possibility of a foreign military presence in the Caspian Sea and Moscow was determined to find a way to ensure it would not lose any more influence in the global energy sector (this in light of Europe slowly but surely diversifying away from Russian gas after the Ukrainian crisis began). The best way to do this was to bring these nations into the fold of Kremlin interests, while making them feel their own interests were also being served. By strengthening relations in their own backyard Russia has been able to increase influence and gain back power in the region. Shutting NATO out of the region also significantly increases Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan’s dependence on Moscow in many different aspects. [9] Another added bonus is that a clear alliance made up of Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan, Ukraine (absent any ‘outsider presence’) would be comparatively easy to control. [10]

The effects of this agreement have already resulted in major changes to relations between Caspian nations and the United States. For years Azerbaijan has welcomed American-Azeri relations by stepping up logistical support for NATO operations in Afghanistan and even serving in Afghanistan as part of the ISAF, but relations have clearly cooled between the two nations. There were also serious talks between Kazakhstan and the United States for building a base on the border in Aktau that would cater to the needs of the United States and NATO troops, but since the signing of this declaration the project has been halted. Finally, the geopolitical shift in the region has resulted in the closing of the North route for NATO military equipment being sent to Afghanistan. [11]Prior to this Caspian Summit agreement the United States had played an active role in helping Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan bolster their military defenses and develop their own navies. [12] The maintaining of close relations in this region was of great political and strategic importance to the United States, not only due to its vast oil and gas riches (originally outside of Russia’s control) but its strategic location that connects it with many regions of Western interest.

Other ways that Russia has benefited from this deal include: the creation of a rapid response force unfurling along the Caspian Sea coast as a means to extend influence over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and its troops in the Armenian Gyumri base; jumpstarting cooperation with Giorgi Margvelashvili, the new Georgian Prime Minister; maintaining the ability to block Georgian and Azerbaijan pipelines; improving relations with Turkmenistan; beginning plans for building a pipeline with Turkey (named the Turkish Stream) out to Europe, which will compete with the Trans-Anatolia Gas Pipeline project (sponsored not coincidentally by the US, EU, and Azerbaijan). [13]

The United States has another reason to worry about being blocked from the region – Chechnya. In Azerbaijan, jihadists from the Jamaat (Community) Group are already operating and maintaining connections with Chechen Islamists, the Caucasus Emirate, and Syria’s Islamic State: the attack on Eurovision in 2012 and the murder of several Shiite clerics all carry their hallmarks. This insurgency is threatening to turn the region into one of the most ungovernable locations in the world where neither aggressive use of military/intelligence force (counterterrorism operations courtesy of Russia) nor engaged economic assistance has helped the situation. With the United States not being able to join together with forces in the region this threat will not just remain present but will likely only continue to grow. [14]

Arguably, the signing of this agreement to ban foreign militaries has been the biggest game-changer to take place in the Caspian over the last 20 years. The West not being able to be involved in the region not only decreases energy development and security in the oil and gas-rich Caspian sea basin, but also wounds in several other respects: it reduces the ability to deter adversaries in the region against attacks; it weakens what were growing U.S. alliances; it allows Moscow to project its power over the other Caspian nations with little interference; it cuts off access to ports for deployments to the Middle East; it does not allow for responses to humanitarian crises in the region; and it does not allow for the U.S. to project its own power and reach as easily as it once did. All of these make the United States and NATO much weaker than before the Summit began. Round One in this heavyweight prize fight has clearly gone to the Russian bear.

 


[1]Dettoni, J. (2014). “Russia and Iran Lock NATO Out of Caspian Sea.” The Diplomat. Retrieved from http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/russia-and-iran-lock-nato-out-of-caspian-sea/

[2]Ibid.

[3]PressTV. (2014). “No foreign military force must enter Caspian region: Rouhani.” PressTV.ir. Retrieved from http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2014/09/29/380453/no-foreign-force-in-caspian-region/

[4]Belinksi,S. (2014). “Caspian Sea Could Be Key To Russian Control Of Eurasian Energy Markets.” Oilprice.com. Retrieved from http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Caspian-Sea-Could-Be-Key-To-Russian-Control-Of-Eurasian-Energy-Markets.html

[5]PressTV. (2014). “No foreign military force must enter Caspian region: Rouhani.” PressTV.ir. Retrieved from http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2014/09/29/380453/no-foreign-force-in-caspian-region/

[6]TASS, (2014) “Real breakthrough reached at 4th Caspian Summit – Putin.” TASS Russian News Agency. Retrieved from http://tass.ru/en/russia/751856

[7]Ibid.

[8]Sputniknews. (2014). “Countries bordering the Caspian Sea will hold joint emergency exercises in 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday.”   Sputniknews.com Retrieved from http://sputniknews.com/military/20140929/193422433.html

[9]Belinksi, S. (2014). “Caspian Sea Could Be Key To Russian Control Of Eurasian Energy Markets.” Oilprice.com. Retrieved from http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Caspian-Sea-Could-Be-Key-To-Russian-Control-Of-Eurasian-Energy-Markets.html

[10]Ibid.

[11]Armanian, N. (2015). “Turning point in Eurasia: Azerbaijan distances itself from the USA and the EU.” TheFifthColumnews.com. Retrieved from http://thefifthcolumnnews.com/2015/06/turning-point-in-eurasia-azerbaijan-distances-itself-from-the-usa-and-the-eu/

[12]Ibid.

[13]Ibid.

[14]Cohen, A. (2012). “Anti-Terrorism Operation in North Caucuses Exposes Russia’s Vulnerabilities.” TheDailySignal.com. Retrieved from http://dailysignal.com/2012/10/23/anti-terrorism-operation-in-north-caucasus-exposes-russias-vulnerabilities/

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Surprise signing of “Steinmeier formula”: Causes and consequences

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The news about the so-called “Steinmeier formula” having been signed by all members of the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) came as a big surprise. All the more so, since the September 4 agreement by the political advisers to the presidents of the Normandy Four countries to endorse the proposal made a big buzz in the world media, and set off a storm of angry outrage in the Ukrainian press with a number of political and public figures, as well as representatives of nationalists all but calling President Vladimir Zelensky a traitor. Former President Leonid Kuchma, who represents Ukraine at the Contact Group, refused to sign the formula during a group meeting on September 18. In a bid to rectify the situation, they started talking about the existence of some alleged “Zelensky formula, whose contents was never made public.

Until the “formula” was actually signed at the October 1 meeting by the Contact Group, there had been neither announcements of, nor preparations for this. What happened between September 18 and October 1, which eventually prompted President Zelensky’s decision to sign the “formula”?

The UN General Assembly, during which Vladimir President Zelensky finally met with President Donald Trump, advised him to establish closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and settle differences together. Shortly afterwards, the White House published, without securing any prior agreement from Kiev, the transcript of a telephone linkup between Trump and Zelensky. This was followed by the resignation of the US Special Envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker.

These two important developments are a clear sign of Washington’s utilitarian attitude towards Kiev. However, even if they did influence Kiev’s further actions, they only served as a catalyst. Finding himself on the brink of a diplomatic scandal with France and Germany, Zelensky needed to make good his campaign promises and move fast to maintain his lead over his political opponents (presidential elections – parliamentary elections – government formation – exchange of prisoners – signing of the “Steinmeier formula”- a meeting of the “Normandy Four”).

The signing of the “Steinmeier formula” at the Contact Group opened the way for a summit of the heads of state of the “Normandy Four” is open, and this is the most significant and, maybe, the only result of the October 1 signing. 

The signing of the “Steinmeier formula” is seen by Ukrainian media as an act of treason. Why? Because they are afraid. Of what?

“Do you know what the sense of this document (Minsk agreements – D.B.) was? That it will not be implemented. The sides had different interpretations of the text of the agreements, which gave Ukraine time to contain Russia, which faced additional Western sanctions. (…) Decentralization will be interpreted as federalization, local elections will be held, which the OSCE, being financially dependent on Russia, will formally recognize. At the same time, the constitution will be changed and the law on special status implemented, this time in full. Only after this (according to the Minsk agreements), will Ukraine restore control over its border. After all, it is clear that Moscow will only implement the first part of the agreement. (…) The authorities there will be formed by the Kremlin. Next up is a nationwide election in Ukraine. And the key to parliament is in the hands of the Russian authorities,” the Ukrainian website lb.ua news writes. 

In this logic, even the OSCE plays on Russia’s side. The main thing for Kiev, however, is that the documents will never be implemented.

Moreover, according to Russian experts, Kiev has ample opportunities to sabotage the Minsk agreements even after they have been signed. 

Andrei Kortunov gives his own picture of how the situation may develop further:

1. The Ukrainian law on the special status of Donbass will soon expire. A new law will be adopted, and what it will look like we do not know.

2. Kiev’s formal consent to the “Steinmeier formula” is not entirely obvious.   It says that it endorsed only the general principle of the formula. Moreover, given the strong efforts being made to undermine the Ukrainian position, just how the preparations for the summit will go depends on the political will of the Ukrainian leadership.

3. Disagreements remain, in particular, concerning the special status of Donbass.

That being said, the process has still moved forward. I do hope that all participants in this process will show maximum flexibility, so that it keeps moving on, which would probably provide some tangible results in the next three to four months.”

In a sober assessment of what happened, the OSCE Special Representative Martin Sajdik, noted that the signatures are not under one common document, but under separate letters. This means that theoretically, each side could stick to its own interpretation of the formula. As for the local elections in Donbass, Sajdik continues, there are many questions that need to be answered before the elections:

“There is still much work to be done on this issue within the contact group and in the ‘Normandy format,’” he told reporters. “A lot of work remains in the political subgroup of the contact group. It is in it that it will be necessary to talk about the holding of elections.”

He added that many questions remain open, including the security of the upcoming procedure; and that the “Normandy format” summit could be the first step in this direction.

As for the “Steinmeier formula,” it is only a mechanism which, as part of diplomatic cooperation in the “Normandy Four” format, symbolizes the participants’ readiness to resolve the conflict in southeastern Ukraine and determine the future status of the republics of Donbass. It does not guarantee the implementation of the Minsk accords though. 

Moreover, a statement issued by representatives of the unrecognized republics demands a step-by-step roadmap of what needs to be done now.  They believe that the signing of the “Steinmeier formula” should be viewed as recognition of the right of the people of Donbass to determine their own fate. This is the bottom line of the joint statement made by the leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR), Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik.

“Yesterday, thanks to Russia, Germany and France, Ukraine finally signed the Steinmeier formula, which guarantees Donbass a special status. Thus, it   recognizes the special right of the people of Donbass to independently determine their fate. It is up to us to decide what language to speak, what kind of an economy we need, how our judicial system will be formed, how our people’s militia will protect our citizens, and how we will integrate with Russia. This is our business and our goal, and we will continue negotiations in Minsk in order to ultimately achieve self-rule and self-determination,” the statement says.”

The signing of the “formula” provoked fierce resistance on the part of the advocates of the so-called “Poroshenko’s course,” as the “party of war” considers the signing as a sign of surrender. Meanwhile, the European Union and its leading members welcomed Zelensky’s move. Paradoxically, Ukrainian parties, which support European integration, such as European Solidarity, Golos and Batkivshchyna, took an anti-European position. The nationalists brought about 2,000 people to the streets of Kiev and in many other cities (200-300 people in each city), who chanted “No surrender!” and called for the impeachment of President Zelensky.

In an October 2 appeal to Ukrainians protesting against the signing of the “Steinmeier formula,” President Zelensky said: “Today there is only one platform where these issues can be discussed at the highest level. This is a meeting in the Normandy format … This formula says only one thing – namely, exactly when the so-called law on the special status of the Donbass should work. It will after local elections have been held there according to the Constitution of Ukraine, the laws of Ukraine, and after the publication of the OSCE report that the elections were held in line with internationally recognized democratic standards.”

Political advisers to the leaders of the “Normandy Four” can confirm the signing of the “Steinmeier formula.” At their meeting, the heads of state of the “Normandy Four” can agree the “formula” as the initial mechanism for the implementation of the Minsk accords.

However, it is Kiev, who holds the key to the implementation of the “formula,” or rather, the Minsk agreements as a whole. Political decisions taken on the international level need to be followed up by the Ukrainian parliament, which should pass laws on the special status of the unrecognized republics, and an election law, after which local elections should be held.  President Zelensky has a majority in the Verkhovna Rada and can amend the constitution in such a way that it outlines the special status of the unrecognized republics of Donbass.

Depending on the intentions of the Ukrainian leadership, the situation may develop according to several scenarios:

1) Zelensky uses his majority in parliament to push through laws, necessary for the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

2) Zelensky fails to muster parliamentary support, since his majority is not solid enough. 

3) Zelensky receives parliamentary support, the laws are passed, but the Minsk agreements are interpreted in such a way that only Kiev can arrange. For example, “special status” is interpreted as part of a decentralization policy. The implementation of the Minsk accords is put on hold again. 

In the first scenario, the adopted laws will need to be implemented, which could prove extremely difficult.

In the second scenario, President Zelensky could say: “The elected representatives of the Ukrainian people failed to support the implementation of the Minsk agreements. I did all I could, but ‘everything is possible.’ Therefore, it is necessary to amend the Minsk agreements and look for a new formula of their implementation. And this is the third scenario.

Kiev’s intention to implement exactly the third scenario became very much evident during Vladimir Zelensky’s press conference, which he convened to clarify his position regarding the signing of the “Steinmeier formula.” Following are the main points of Zelensky’s address:

The “Steinmeier formula” is agreed upon, but not signed.

“Red lines” regarding Donbass Ukraine will not be crossed.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces will not surrender.

Nobody can influence the president’s decisions.

There will be no local elections in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in the presence of any armed forces on their territories.

Elections are possible only after the border between the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and the Russian Federation goes under Ukraine’s control.

The exact date of the meeting in the “Normandy format” will be agreed shortly.

The signing of the “Steinmeier formula” has created more questions, which could be answered during the summit of the heads of state of the “Normandy Four.”  

From our partner International Affairs

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Two-faced Lithuanian politics

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Lithuania continues attempts to support the image of a democratic state and at the same time not to lose foreign military support.

On September 26, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda made his first address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In his speech he said that threat to Russia’s neighbouring countries remains strong and Moscow is attempting to further destabilise neighbouring states.

Such statement can be regarded as a call for further support in developing Lithuania’s military capabilities to oppose Russia in the Baltic Region.

In order to look “nice” in the eyes of the world community, Gitanas Nausėda added that Russia could change and inspire confidence.

As we know, it could be done only by political means and only through negotiations. The Lithuanian president underlined also that “determination to adhere to international law is often the last barrier separating our countries from unpredictable and therefore dangerous disorder”.

From the very beginning it sounded as if Lithuania would like Russia to change its position on the international arena. But later Lithuanian president contradicted himself. He called not to create any international platforms with Russia’s participation designed to resolve existing political and military problems. Thus, he strongly rejected the idea of some political leaders to create a new geopolitical space from the Atlantic Ocean to Vladivostok, drawing Russia in.

It turns out that Lithuania is not interested in changing Russia’s position.

The recent events in Lithuania illustrated such two-faced position on contemporary politics. Lithuanian authorities are not going to change their plans. According to Ministry of National Defence Rotational U.S. force, a battalion-sized unit of over 500 U.S. Army soldiers, will deploy in Lithuania to ensure deterrence and train in exercises shortly in October. The unit is part of the U.S. Army Europe Operation Atlantic Resolve.

“We have sought for a larger long-term U.S. military involvement in Lithuania and the region consistently and patiently. Therefore the deployment of the U.S. Army battalion for a longer period of time is good and awaited news and a result of our efforts and investment,” Minister of National Defence Raimundas Karoblis said.

He also underscores that Lithuania has already hosted many U.S. battalions, however, that used to be in the framework of concrete exercises. This time the U.S. forces are arriving for a long-term deployment, not for an international exercise.

The troops will bring heavy equipment 30 Abrams tanks, 25 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, 70 wheeled vehicles and will deploy at Gen S.Žukauskas Training Area in Pabradė.

The U.S. battalion is planned to stay in Lithuania until spring 2020.

The more so, on September 26 the Lithuanian Armed Forces accepted 110 Unimog U5000 trucks of 5t payload manufactured by Germany’s Daimler AG as it is updating its truck fleet with vehicles of the same make as there already are in the fleet.

The trucks are delivered on the basis of a contract signed back in 2015 though continuing successful cooperation of the Ministry of National Defence and the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA). 88 such trucks have already been delivered to the Lithuanian Armed Forces; the contract covers acquisition of the total of 340 new Unimog trucks.

The 110 have been delivered to the Lithuanian Armed Forces on the basis of the contract on the Unimog truck acquisition between the Defence Materiel Agency under the MoD and the NATO Support and Procurement Agency updated in 2018. Daimler AG is committed to delivering the remaining 142 trucks in 2020-2021.

In other words, Lithuania does not really want Russia to change its position and behaviour. it is profitable for Lithuania to show its political concern, arm itself and get help. Lithuanian authorities do not care of escalating tension in Europe and it ignores attempts to resolve crisis of political confidence in Europe by political means.

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Foreign Affairs of the Absurd: The Strange Case of Abkhazia 2019

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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While very few Americans (and Western Europeans for that matter) would be hard pressed to successfully locate the Republic of Abkhazia on a map (it’s the northwest corner sandwiched in between the Russian Federation and Georgia, its western shores lapped by the Black Sea), even fewer (de facto, no one) would be able to tell you that for the last month a very curious and potentially tense international situation has been brewing there over the holding of presidential elections. There has already been plenty of local and regional coverage over just how the first two rounds have gone for President of Abkhazia. In short, no one won a commanding victory in the first round, which automatically triggered a second round run-off between incumbent local leader Raul Khajimba and head of the opposition party, Alkhaz Kvitsiniya. In that second round, which just took place last week, Raul Khajimba was declared the winner in an extremely close race (39,793 votes for Khajimba vs. 38,766 for Kvitsiniya). Kvitsiniya has subsequently spent the past week declaring the illegitimacy of the election, even going so far as to take the decision to court with the Central Electoral Commission, which reviewed the complaint and ultimately decided unanimously to uphold election results. Kvitsiniya is still hoping to garner enough local, regional, and international support to nullify the elections, claiming illegitimacy basically on two principles:

Khajimba did not garner a 50% majority share of the votes in the second round run-off (his percentage was 47.39%).

The overall amount of ‘against all’ in the election was 3,155. This amount, combined with the amount of votes received by Kvitsiniya, exceeds the amount tallied by the declared winner and thus it is illegitimate that Khajimba should be President.

There are two immediate problems at the local level with this logic. Firstly, there does not seem to be a provision in Abkhazian electoral legal documents that demands a second round run-off winner has to receive more than 50% of the votes cast. It seems as if people who favor Kvitsiniya are taking the first round rules (in which any candidate that received more than 50% of the overall vote would have automatically won the presidency and no second round run-off would be necessary) and applying them arbitrarily to the second round. But again, it is not clear that Abkhazian electoral law stipulates this and there is some documentary evidence to show the opposite is true: in the second round, you simply need to win a simple majority against the main opponent. Secondly, the idea of combining the losing candidate’s votes together with the ‘against all’ tally is simply absurd and ludicrous. Those in support of Kvitsiniya seem to be very conveniently arguing that a vote ‘against all’ is obviously a vote against Khajimba. Even more conveniently, they are also forgetting that a vote ‘against all’ is without doubt a vote against Kvitsiniya as well. So, the idea that his supporters have an exclusive right to take the ‘against all’ vote for their own favor is ridiculous. After all, if you add the ‘against all’ votes on the same principle and give them to Khajimba, his overall total now becomes 42,948, which is actually 52.55% of the overall vote, which would make null and void Kvitsiniya’s first complaint of illegitimacy. Not surprisingly, supporters of Kvitsiniya strive to keep these numbers out of the media.

The idea of local elections, even at the ‘presidential’ level, across areas of the former Soviet Union being hotly contested, with claims of corruption, chicanery, and unfair double-dealing, is not exactly surprising. This type of controversy has happened all over the Post-Soviet space since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. And there are plenty of extremely talented political analysts and electoral observers all over Russia and Georgia fully capable of covering this race. The race itself does not explain why I am so interested suddenly in Abkhazian affairs. What intrigues me most is how much foreign affairs, Russian-American relations, and global power competition are embedded within these elections while Western observers try to claim innocence and pretend that the current tense state between Russia and America does not play a role. Note that at the very beginning of this article I mentioned the declared winner of the Abkhazian Presidency was the local leader Khajimba. Most western media outlets are using the term ‘separatist’ to describe him but conveniently NOT explaining what this ‘separatism’ means. Khajimba is a local resident of Abkhazia who in the past has been a member of Parliament in Georgia and has previously participated in presdiential elections in Abkhazia in 2004, 2009, 2011, and 2014. This was all before there was ever any formal conflict or tension with Georgia and Russia. Khajimba simply believes the best future fate of his native region lies with more sovereignty and independent governance for Abkhazia by Abkhazia. For him the issue is not about whether Russia or Georgia should control Abkhazia at all. He has even put in his own case in court to push for this, but through the proper legal process and with respect to the rule of law. It has been the opposition opponent and his group that have tried to block, postpone, and delay this court petition, subverting the rule of law de facto. This subtlety is missed in the West and instead Khajimba is painted with the broad and negative brush, ‘separatist.’ That record should be corrected.

So when more than a dozen western countries come out against not just the election results but actually against the very holding of elections at all (calling them a ‘sham’ and ‘fake’), it is not so much about legal precedents as it is about America fearing the Russian bogeyman, seeing Abkhazia destined to go the way of Crimea – back into the territorial fold of the Russian Federation – regardless that Khajimba has never uttered any desire for that to happen. Russian readers can be forgiven if they do not know that since Crimea rejoined the Russian Federation, every single western media outlet, bar none, has addressed that event as the ‘annexation’ of Crimea. To date, I am the only Western scholar I know on record as using the term ‘secession’ instead. What’s in a word? Quite a bit, actually. The use of the term ‘annexation’ implies forced compliance and non-voluntary action. ‘Secession’, on the other hand, means the opposite. Since Western analysis of Russia today is incredibly biased in portraying Russian interests as always heavy-handed and manipulative, Crimea will always be ‘stolen’ rather than a willful vote of the majority of the local population to decide their own future political status. Abkhazia, to me, is very much in a similar position with the election of Khajimba as President. Perhaps more cynically, it is highly doubtful the United States really cares so intensely about the ‘territorial integrity’ of Georgia. It is also highly doubtful that it truly believes hard data and factual evidence shows that Abkhazia would be better off under Georgian rule rather than under its own management.

The only real reason the United States voices such staunch opposition is simply because it is an American cardinal interest to keep Russian dominance within its own regional neighborhood tamed. At the time, many in the West warned that Crimea was going to be a ‘stepping stone’ to Russia taking over other parts of Eastern Ukraine, and then Poland, and after that the Baltics. Of course, none of that has even come close to happening, with Russia not really showing that much interest in causing so much regional disruption. Not surprisingly, no one in the West has recanted those dire predictions and or admitted to being wrong about declaring the ‘rebirth of a violent new Russian empire.’ So people should be forgiven if they are not willing to listen now to similar American claims about how allowing Abkhazia to become closer in diplomatic and economic terms with Russia will signal a new cascade of annexations, where soon enough there will be no more Caucasus at all but a new Russian empire in its place. The American boy who cried about the Russian power wolf. Again.

The greater philosophical questions worth debating deal with power. Who has the right to secede? Who does not? What reasons are legitimate to change territorial allegiance or membership status in a given country? What reasons are illegitimate? Should such considerations be a strictly local issue, based on the true and fair political will of the local people expressed through elections? Or are these considerations at the mercy of greater international powers, rendering regions like Abkhazia nothing but pawns in a greater chess game taking place on the international stage? It is beyond the scope of this article to answer those questions. But this article does warn all readers from believing anyone who would give easy and trite answers to such complex, profoundly problematic questions, with Russia always conveniently being placed in the role of villain.

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