After Georgia: Russia's Anxious Neighbors
Alexander Nicoll & Sarah Johnstone | IISS | October 2008
The Georgia conflict is forcing Russia's neighbors to rethink their relationships with Russia as well as with the West. Through military action, Russia has demonstrated how far it is willing to go to protect its national interests. Western rhetorical reactions to the crisis have dashed hopes that a partnership between post-Soviet states and the US, NATO or the EU could help retain their territorial integrity.
Shortly after the end of the Soviet era, the south-Caucasian region of Nagorno-Karabkh aspired to become part of the Armenian SSR, leading to a civil war that left over 30,000 dead. A cease-fire was reached in 1994, but the conflict is still unresolved. According to international law, Nagorno-Karabkh belongs to Azerbaijan, but like South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it is a de facto state. For years, both sides of the conflict have been preparing for another confrontation and no peacekeeping forces are present on the borders. Calls are now being made, especially from Azerbaijan, for an ultimate military solution.
As a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Armenia is seeking security guarantees from the CSTO's most dominant member: Russia. It is still unclear what lessons the two parties have drawn from the war in Georgia, however, it is clear that both will try to woo Russia to their own side.
Recently, Russia's Gazprom made a lucrative offer to the government in Baku to buy national gas reserves. Despite strong opposition from the US as well as Europe, Azerbeijan seems as if it is likely to sell.
Russian-Ukrainian relations are on the rocks which is causing President Yushchenko's popularity along with general positive feelings surrounding western ties and NATO membership to dwindle. According to a poll conducted in May of 2008, only 21% of Ukrainians still support NATO membership. The fear of worsening relationships with Russia is growing, and Moscow has warned that any steps toward NATO membership will be treated as threats with various counteractions, ranging from the introduction of a visa requirement for Ukrainians to aiming missiles at Kiev. On top of that, there is always the ever-present threat to raise gas prices, which would most likely devastate the Ukrainian economy.
Most of Russia's central Asian neighboring states have so far avoided having to make a choice between Russia and the West. Only Uzbekistan has made a clear choice for Russia. In reaction to international criticism surrounding its deadly government crackdown on a public rally in 2005, Uzbekistan closed a US military base and has striven for Russian ties.
The remaining central Asian states are stuck in a strategic dilemma between a weakened West and an increasingly aggressive Russia and are, therefore, looking with new energy to China and the Gulf States in the search for future business partners.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from "Anxious neighbours: The concerns of former Soviet states" published here by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, September 2008.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Marek Swierczynski: NATO Must Strengthen Naval Power in the Baltic
- Anna Nadgrodkiewicz: Stop the Wishful Thinking about Russia
- Mark Brzezinski: Shared Interests