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Azerbaijanskie Izvestia
October 14, 2004
Between Good and Bad Separatists
A dialogue with Nikolai Zlobin and Vladislav Inozemtsev
Two prominent American and Russian political scientists reflect on why Russia isnt working harder to bring stability to the Caucasus region.

Recent events have again sparked discussion about what needs to be done to ensure peace and stability in the greater Caucasus region. A combination of approaches has been proposed and debate has focused on what the countries of the region need to do. In Germany, for example, support has again been voiced for concluding the so-called Stability Pact. The idea of the pact was advanced five years ago, first by Geydar Aliev, president of Azerbaijan, and later by the former president of Turkey, Suleyman Demirel. However, observers sense that Russia is in no hurry to negotiate a comprehensive peace in the region and is declining to act accordingly with other key players. These issues were the topic of discussion at a round table organized by Azerbaijanskie Izvestias Moscow bureau. Nikolai Zlobin, senior fellow and director of Russian and Eurasian Programs at the Center for Defense Information, and Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Center for Research of Post-Industrial Society and editor-in-chief of the Russian magazine Svobodnaya Mysl XXII, answered questions put to them by Yevgenia Verlina.

Do you agree with the assertion that Russia has been given a carte blanche in the Caucasus; in the sense that without its participation, no system for securing the regions stability and security is realizable?

Zlobin: A very advantageous situation has developed externally in the Caucasus for Russia, in the sense that Moscow truly has the deciding voice. It decides whom to invite or not to invite to resolve the smoldering conflicts there. Without Russias permission no one may enter the region. And no one in the world knows how to overcome Russias veto, how to obtain Moscows approval for the entry of NATO, America or any other players. On the other hand, no one is willing to risk compromising good relations with Russia over the Caucasus. In contrast to the Balkans, where at the signing of the Dayton Agreement in 1999 a group of more or less equal participants in the peace process gathered, such is not the case in the Caucasus. Regardless which country you consider, Russia is the leading player. And it isnt willing to give up its role as principal operator in the region to anyone. So, I dont see any possibility of internationalizing the settlement of the Caucasus issues, if Russia doesnt want this.

How did such a situation come about?

Zlobin: I believe you have to look to the USSRs final days for the answer. At the beginning of the 1990s, an informal pact was concluded between Moscow and the West. This agreement established Russia as the dominant power in the Caucasus region, provided that it maintain stability, peace and security there. Now, however, this pact is subjected to ever mounting skepticism in the West, because there is a growing sense that Russia has failed to meet its obligations. First, as a result of Russias sole presence the Caucasus has not remained stable. Second, Russia seems to be interested in somehow maintaining the status quo. By declaring loyalty to the territorial integrity and unity of the region, Russia, in my view, is indeed interested in keeping these nations divided. This, after all, allows for a policy of playing on contradictions to persist, and I consider this rather primitive and short-sighted.

Are good and bad separatists the pawns in this game?

Zlobin: Yes, it turns out that they are. The good ones are welcomed, while the bad ones are engaged in battle. And here we face the main reason why Russia will never accept a multilateral guarantee of stability in the region. Russia is willing to settle conflict in the Caucasus on its own terms and no one elses.

The erosion of established international standards is hurting Russia

Mr. Inozemtsev, with respect to this, as an economist, do you think that Moscows control over the region if this control does indeed exist is in some way useful for Russia in economic terms?

Inozemtsev: As Nikolai has correctly stated, it is more of a political rather than economic problem. The fact is that ideologues of Russian politics have in contrast to, say, their American counterparts demonstrated ineptitude over the past decade at finding new approaches. With this, I dont want to justify Americas invasion of Iraq or evaluate how successful Europes integration has been. But, one way or another, these approaches highlight the Wests consistency, its determination to refuse doctrinaire approaches to the inviolability of a nations sovereignty, to the issues of integration, etc. Russia is currently experiencing a condition of duality. On the one hand, it is making clear that it doesnt really recognize Georgias sovereignty in the Caucasus or Azerbaijans sovereignty over the Karabakh region. At the same time, however, Russia is seeking to remain within the bounds of decorum. That is, these new bodies are recognized de-facto, but simultaneously Russia is reluctant to do this openly. Going by purely pragmatic reasoning, holding a direct referendum on Abkhazias accession to Russia, for instance, and Moscow straightforwardly addressing this issue would be a much more honest approach than the current situation. Yes, it may possibly lead to conflict, but it would, in any event, stimulate some kind of movement forward. If Russia wants Bush to speak with Tbilisi with Moscows permission, then logically Moscow should speak with Sukhimi with Tbilisis approval. That is, the approaches should mirror one another. You have to always remain consistent. If you dont recognize Georgias sovereignty over Abkhazia, then unite it with Russia; make Abkhazia the 90th subject of the Federation and on its behalf, negotiate with the Georgians for a settlement of the conflict. Or dont do this, but also dont support the Abkhazians. The ambiguity today is very dangerous.

Why is this so?

Inozemtsev: The fact is that in the end established international standards and norms in Russia are being eroded, which consequently hurts Russia itself.

Zlobin: The situation is really somewhat peculiar. After all, for a long time there was talk that Abkhazia wanted independence from Georgia. Both the Abkhazian and the Russian sides periodically speak about this. Now you get the feeling that it is no longer a matter of Abkhazias sovereignty, but its becoming a part of Russia. But this is a fundamentally different issue. Abkhazians have started to receive Russian passports, that is, they have begun getting Russian citizenship. U.S. policy, Americans reason, should be corrected accordingly. That is, relevant U.S. authorities now must take into consideration that some people holding Russian passports are almost certainly not Russian citizens. The question then arises: in such conditions, how do you control the sale of weapons, the creation of terrorist networks, people traveling with Russian passports? And then questions arise for the Russian authorities, too. What authority will these citizens pay their taxes to? Who will represent them in public office? And, in the end, what is Abkhazias status anyway? Is it a formation moving toward Russia but still a part of Georgia? Or is it something else? And the distribution of Russian passports appears to be happening in South Ossetia as well. But even if all Abkhazias leaders obtained Russian passports, then what? Would you consider the transfer of arms by Russia to Abkhazia a kind of expansion of the Russian armys defense forces? These issues seriously concern Americans. Its not an issue of who will influence the region, The United States or Russia. Its an issue of dangers arising from the emergence of disorderly regions. Hence, I dont think the United States will leave Russia alone in this matter.

Stubbornly saying no, leads you down a dead end

And if these self-made governing entities decided to join non-proliferation regimes and other international treaties, would the global communitys concerns then be mollified?

Zlobin: From an international legal perspective, Abkhazia, for instance, could do this only if it were part of Georgia. After all, only nation-states can administer certain non-proliferation regimes. Thats the problem.

What if nation-states are not allowed to do this?

Zlobin: Then they should be helped. For example, if Pakistan is not able to monitor one of its provinces where terrorists are hiding, then of course the world community should be interested in helping it gain control over this province. In the Caucasus we see a different situation developing. From a formal international legal viewpoint, Russia is hindering Georgia from maintaining control over Abkhazia. In general, the whole non-proliferation monitoring system has collapsed, and in the wake of the Cold War we are not prepared even conceptually to put forward a new monitoring system. Heres one example. An agreement concluded between the US and the USSR exists that prohibits the production of intermediate-range missiles, which Russia still observes today. But no one else signed this agreement. Who ever can produce such missiles does so actively. But, according to their agreement, Moscow and Washington cannot do this. So the question now arises who will be the first to breech the agreement. I believe Moscow could likely be the first one, and by doing so would be viewed positively by Washington. Russia may deploy its missiles in Europe to Asia and the Caucasus region. Im citing this as an example that again illustrates the fact that the non-proliferation monitoring system no longer works.

What do you think about the Russian leaderships recently announced intentions to carry out preventive strikes against terrorist networks in any part of the world?

Inozemtsev: My answer is emphatic: Russia is impotent in terms of military strength. So, there can be no talk of carrying out strikes. But I want to address something different here, namely the art of diplomacy. Russia has certain economic interests in Abkhazia; for example, properties owned by large financial and industrial conglomerates. But from a legal point of view, its obvious that the privatization that took place in Abkhazia had no legal basis, including the sale of these properties. In other words, if Georgia regains full sovereignty over Abkhazia, all this will be deemed unlawful and Russian business will suffer considerable losses. From here you can assume that certain business circles will push for measures by the Russian leadership to ensure that a rollback of privatization doesnt happen. But why dont the Russians use diplomacy to address this problem and start a dialogue with Tbilisi? You recognize the results of Abkhazias privatization and we will recognize your sovereignty over the region. At the same time, Russians should make clear that they will help establish Georgias sovereignty, but only provided that this happens peacefully. This is a normal scenario, if you want to settle something in a peaceful manner. If you stubbornly shake your head and say no, then the path will lead to a dead end, similar to the strong arm method.

Going back to my previous question, what do you think about the potential effect of Russias preventative strikes?

Zlobin: If in this case you are speaking about Georgia for example, the Pankissky George then this would be a highly irresponsible decision.

And if it were an attack with precision-guided weapons targeting Georgian territory?

Zlobin: I dont see any reason to assume that events will develop in that direction. Its impossible. In contrast to Bin Laden, who assailed the United States, Georgia did not attack Russia.

Russias biggest misfortune is its tendency to hold grudges

Lets turn once again to the economy. Why would it be so bad for Russia if the West strengthened its presence in the Caucasus?

Inozemtsev: For Moscow, it isnt so important whether the region is stable or not, rather who stabilizes it. If this is done by, say, the Americans, Russia will perceive this as extremely humiliating, a reason for feeling inadequate, proof of our governments complete failure to get something accomplished. By leaving the region, we loose nothing in terms of national security. However, we do loose in terms of self-esteem and experience. After all, Russias biggest misfortune is that it has a tendency to hold a grudge because when the countrys borders shrink, so too does its influence.

Zlobin: I would pose the question differently. Except for Russia, no one is rushing in to stabilize this region. Who needs to? After all, if something happens there, Russia will be stung most severely, not America or Western Europe. Therefore, no one can understand why Russia doesnt work more seriously toward stability in the region. Yes, the U.S. will enter the Caucasus if it becomes critically necessary to do so. But why on earth would you go in with the sole purpose of clashing with Russia? After all, another issue is Americas miniscule understanding of the region. There is no other country in the world that knows as much about the region as Russia. The Americans entered Iraq and most of the mistakes they made came from their lack of knowledge of the region. So, if the Americans were to arrive suddenly in the Caucasus, they would destabilize the region due to their ignorance of the local customs, history and mentality. Thus, you have to ask not only what will happen if Russia leaves the region but also, who is capable of entering the region? For the most part, there are no takers. Thus, a more logical expectation is that, Russia, recognizing this vital necessity, will finally engage the region; not for the sake of trivial interests, or to come to the rescue of the local elite thats loyal to Moscow, or because of any property interests; but to do so as a matter of course in global politics. If in the end Russia really is unable to do this, if she finally discredits herself as a participant in the stabilization process, then someone will of course enter the region. And Russia will loose out, which is something the Kremlin should be concerned about.

In your view, why doesnt Russia want to cooperate with the West in the Caucasus?

Zlobin: Moscow is very mistrustful of westerners intentions. Russians think that if you allow western friends to enter the region, they will never leave. In fact, Russia stands to gain the most if any combination of countries is able to provide assistance for establishing stability in the Caucasus. All other scenarios promise nothing but failure for Russia.

Inozemtsev: Russia is responsible for the curious position it has gotten itself into in the North Caucasus. This is due not only to its policies, but also its rhetoric. Everyone in Moscow is talking about Chechnya as if it were a breading ground for international terrorism. We should note, however, that Russia is the only one being attacked, not Azerbaijan, Ukraine or Armenia. But as soon as someone in the West brings this fact up, Moscow announces: Chechnya is a domestic issue. But if its a domestic issue, dont blame it all on international terrorism! If international terrorism is at the root of the issue, then everyone needs to work toward solving this problem together. Russians understand little about the reasons for the instability in the Caucasus, but they are interested in taking advantage of it. They perpetuate this powder keg to stir up fear in others and, if necessary, to ignite it sometime in the future. Russians reason that they may be able to scare the West with something even more horrible. And as far as their domestic agenda is concerned, this works to create a kind of sense of security: yes, its bad here, but its worse in the Caucasus. So, westerners, you neednt get involved

Translated by Scott Stephens, CDI research assistant.