Caucasus Diplomacy

From the June 2000 Trumpet Print Edition

In a move supportive of the European Union’s increasingly heightened interventionist mode on the world scene, a Brussels-based think tank has submitted to the EU a draft stability pact for the volatile region of the Caucasus.

Oil and gas reserves in the Caucasus have led to it becoming a center of big-power rivalry. This just adds to the region’s volatility, exacerbated as it is by extremist Islamic organizations seeing their disputes with Russia as part of the northward push of Islam’s holy war. Border wars centering around Dagestan, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Georgia and Ossetia have distracted Russia over the past decade.

The Caucasus is a crossroads of Islam and Christian Orthodoxy. The peoples of the area are an ethnic/linguistic mix of Caucasian, Armenian, Slavic, Greek, Iranian, Turk and Mongol.

The wars that have erupted in the Caucasus since the decline of the Soviet Empire have reflected ancient hatreds among these communities—particularly in relation to territorial claims. The resultant disruption to peace and stability in the region has frustrated ongoing projects by East and West to develop and exploit the extensive oil and gas reserves in the region.

Behind Russian Premier Vladimir Putin’s war with the Chechens of the Caucasus region is a three-fold effort:

1. Stem the northward rush of Islam at the Caucasian range.

2. Stabilize the Caucasus to enable Western capital to assist in developing the region’s oil and gas reserves.

3. Reassert Russia as a world power by a show of strength to the world, drawing the nations of the Caucasus region under a Russian security and defense umbrella. This is all in keeping with Russia’s aim to re-emerge as a dominant power from the Bering Strait to the Turkish border, from the Ukraine to China, from the Siberian plain to Afghanistan.

Whatever the degree of Russian blood shed, Putin views success in his Chechnya campaign as vital to consolidating Russia’s imperial aims. It is just as the West, especially the European Union, views securing the Balkan Peninsula to consolidate the EU’s eastern border with the revitalizing old Soviet Union.

In other words, the eventual outcome of both the Balkan wars and the border wars in the Caucasus will, in large part, decide where Russia, the EU and Islam eventually draw the boundaries of their respective emerging empires.