[lg policy] Beware Russia ’s three tinderboxes

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Sep 2 14:23:19 UTC 2009

Beware Russia’s three tinderboxes
William Courtney, Denis Corboy and Kenneth Yalowitz, 1 - 09 - 2009

The West must take more account of Russia's aggressive mood , warn the
head of London's Caucasus Policy Institute  and two former US envoys
to the post-Soviet space. Crises are looming in Georgia, Ukraine, and
Muslim North Caucasus

Denis Corboy is director of the Caucasus Policy Institute at Kings
College London and was European Commission ambassador to Georgia and
Armenia. William Courtney was U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan and
Georgia. Kenneth Yalowitz is director of the Dickey Center for
International Understanding at Dartmouth College and was U.S.
ambassador to Belarus and Georgia.

The United States and Europe now face triple-barreled security
challenges from Russia - its growing pressure on Georgia and Ukraine,
and spiraling terrorism and repression in its Muslim-dominated North
Caucasus region. Russia's muscular approach could ignite sparks in any
one of the three confrontations, leading to  wider instability.  The
West cannot stop Russia from harming itself, but it needs to prepare
for and seek to avert dangerous Russian overreach.  The upcoming EU
and G20 Summits should urgently address ways to do this.

The most serious Russian challenges in the near abroad are directed at
Georgia and Ukraine, two countries which seek EU and NATO membership
and have some form of democracy. Russia continues to stoke tensions
along the cease fire line of the August 2008 war in Georgia and its
separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow refuses to
comply with the ceasefire and is slowly annexing these regions. Prime
Minister Putin recently visited Abkhazia and pledged hundreds of
millions of dollars to bolster military and border facilities.

Russia is trying to provoke Ukrainian leaders, as they did Georgian
leaders prior to the calamitous war against Georgia a year ago. On
August 11, President Medvedev wrote Ukrainian President Yushchenko and
smugly predicted that "new times will come,"a clear reference to
Ukraine's presidential elections in January. Medvedev accused
Ukraine's government of "distorting" history regarding Stalin's
artificial famine in the early 1930s, and "obstructing" Russia's Black
Sea Fleet, based in Sevastopol, in Ukraine's Crimean region. The
Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, a Kremlin favorite, recently
provoked Ukrainians by asserting that they and Russians are "one and
the same people." The Russians are also smarting over Ukraine's
policies to promote use of Ukrainian language vice Russian.

Russia's overbearing tactics are often unproductive.  Its neighbors
refuse to recognize the "independence" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Belarus and Uzbekistan have declined to join a regional "rapid
reaction" force to be based in Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus is seemingly
more open to improved ties with the US and EU.  In April, Turkmenistan
blamed Russia for a mysterious gas pipeline explosion and at long last
pledged to ship gas through the planned, Western-backed Nabucco gas
pipeline to Europe.

North Caucasus

Terrorism, repression, poverty, and clan rivalries in the Muslim North
Caucasus pose the third challenge.  The brutal subjugation of Chechnya
in two separatist wars since the early 1990s has caused widespread
alienation.  Human rights activists, journalists, and political
opponents of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov are murdered with shocking
frequency.  Attacks against police forces, known for corruption and
torture of prisoners, are steadily mounting.  Spreading violence in
Dagestan is particularly worrisome.  With two-and-one-half million
residents from thirty-odd ethnic groups, it is much more populous than
Chechnya and lies on Azerbaijan's northern border.

Moscow's appointed leader in Ingushetia, a former paratroop general,
seems unable to quell violence.  Indeed, in June he was wounded in a
terrorist attack.  After a suicide bomb attack this month in Nazran
which claimed twenty-five lives, the Kremlin dispatched a
battle-hardened KGB veteran to restore order.  Medvedev has called for
terrorists to be "liquidated without emotion," and for an end to jury
trials for them.  Yet he may recognize that force alone is not enough.
 In an implicit rebuke to former President and now Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin, who has masterminded the second war in Chechnya which
began in 1999, Medvedev lamented  that "some time ago we got the
impression" that the terrorist situation in the Caucasus "had
improved."  In fact, Russia's emplacement of local warlords in
positions of control in the North Caucasus, allied with Russian
security services, has made the region dangerously ungovernable with
potentially disastrous consequences for the Russian Federation itself.

The immediate security concern for the West is Moscow's ambition for
control over its neighbors and propensity to threaten or use force to
get its way.  US and European leaders have already conveyed frank
concerns to their Russian counterparts. Ill-considered use of force
could spark wider conflagration.   As during the second Chechen war,
Russia may charge that Georgia or Azerbaijan is aiding terrorists in
the North Caucasus by not interdicting arms flows or by offering safe
havens, and threaten to extend the hostilities into these countries.

What the West should do

A better institutional framework for security in Europe and Eurasia
could help defuse strains.  A key hindrance is that the governing
security architecture has not changed since the Yeltsin era, when
Russia was less muscular and sought equality and democratic
legitimacy. Russia is now stronger and more assertive.  It has used
its veto to impede the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe from fostering democracy in the East or criticizing official
abuses in the North Caucasus, and to force an end to its mission in
Georgia.  Moscow has also used its UN Security Council veto to oust UN
peacekeeping monitors from Abkhazia.

In its dialogue with Russian leaders, NATO must address how to help
Russia's neighbors abate threats and pressures and how to encourage
Moscow to pursue peaceful accommodation in the North Caucasus.
Especially since state-controlled media constantly portray America and
NATO as threats, the NATO-Russian Council will likely have limited
utility.  Although Moscow now allows land transit of non-lethal items
for NATO in Afghanistan, it has its own interests in defeating Islamic
extremism and enhancing NATO dependence on Russia.

In Georgia, as in Kosovo earlier, the EU is taking over former OSCE
roles which Russia has precluded.  The EU Monitoring Mission for
Abkhazia and South Ossetia ought to be expanded to include US,
Canadian and other participants.  More resources should be devoted to
observing unfolding events in the North Caucasus and assessing their
Georgia and other neighbors of Russia need to develop territorial
defense strategies, with substantial training and advisory help.
Decisions on providing defensive military equipment should depend on
military risk.

These steps could be accompanied by an offer to explore with Russia
what it means by "privileged interests" in neighboring countries, how
Russian activities accord with its OSCE obligations, and what security
assistance NATO might provide should a neighboring country come under
threat.  Transparency with Russia and its neighbors about Western
policy is fundamental to building a more secure future. To undergird a
more effective security architecture, the EU and the US should
increase programs to build democracy and promote inter-ethnic
tolerance.  The EU should expand free trade and visa-free travel with
key Eastern partners.  More international media attention should be
given to the North Caucasus, Russia's neighbors, and Russia itself.

It will be difficult to help Russia deal more effectively with its own
problems in the North Caucasus.  Russia needs new political, economic,
and social strategies to address underlying problems.  In addressing
violence in the North Caucasus, heads of state agreed in the 1999 OSCE
Summit Declaration that it was "important to alleviate the hardships
of the civilian population" and that a "political solution is
essential."  These priorities are just as compelling today.  Europe
and the US should exercise leadership in the EU and G20 meetings on
aid to NGO's and humanitarian aid in the North Caucasus.

These actions, if carried out openly, will help Russia and its
neighbors foster reform and political accommodation for a more secure
future.  Georgia and Ukraine ought to take conciliatory steps as well.
 They should exercise caution in taking actions which might provoke
sharp Russian responses, such as interdicting ships bound for ports in
Abkhazia or Russian military trucks traveling on public roads in

When Russian forces alongside Chechen irregulars invaded Abkhazia in
the early 1990s, Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze warned Russian
President Yeltsin that igniting separatism in Georgia would come back
to haunt Russia in the North Caucasus.  He was right.  The three
tinderboxes pose new risks to Western security. They deserve new
priority and a broader perspective to keep the peace.


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