Staunton, November 19 – Faced with a united front in the West, Andrey Piontkovsky says, Putin may seek “to freeze the Ukrainian conflict and then to save face as a patriot of ‘the Russian world’ decide to take certain steps in the Caucasus as he is doing now,” something that threatens all three of the countries in the South Caucasus.
He told Armenian radio that “it is completely possible” that Moscow will seek to exacerbate and then exploit conflicts of all kinds in the region, in general following the policy line laid out by Konstantin Zatulin and Andrannik Migranyan almost 20 years ago.
Not only are there clear indications that Moscow is moving to undermine Georgia, he said, but the recent increase in tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan regarding the Karabakh dispute is something that Moscow is promoting to increase Yerevan’s dependence on Moscow, to put pressure on Baku, and to justify demands for a Russian corridor across Georgia.
Piontkovsky’s analysis is supported and extended by others. Georgian political scientist Lalita Tsaria and Gely Vasadze, the editor of the Georgian Svobodnaya zona portal, say that Russia is pursuing a policy of “creeping annexation” of Georgian territories beyond its earlier seizure of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Both say that Moscow’s proposed treaty with Abkhazia sets the stage for this, and Tsaria says she is “certain” that Russia is not satisfied with what it achieved in 2008 and is developing “further plans for annexation” of Georgian territory, exploiting political divisions in Tbilisi and promoting secessionist sentiment in Javakhetia, an Armenian region in Georgia’s south.
“We are hearing about the problem of Samtskhe-Javakhetia,” she says; “we are hearing that there are now arms caches there, that there is being prepared a basis for the introduction of Russian forces there” — all this in order to guarantee a land route to Armenia” for Russia at the expense of Georgia.
She adds that what is happening now points to a Crimean scenario in Georgia in the near future with the infamous “’little green men’” soon to appear in Megrelia, Ajaria, Javakhetia, and other “parts” of Georgia “where there are national minorities,” even though, as Vasadze adds, there is no separatist sentiment.
According to the Georgian editor, advancing to the Armenian border in order to support Yerevan has long been “a Kremlin dream.” But he points out that this would have far broader geopolitical consequences: it would allow Moscow to cut the land route between Central Asia and China in the east and Europe in the West.
In a comment to Armenian radio, Vitaly Portnikov, a Kyiv analyst, expands on this theme, arguing that Moscow’s goals in the South Caucasus like those in Ukraine and elsewhere in the post-Soviet space are far larger and more threatening than many now are prepared to believe.
Moscow promotes tensions in these countries and then argues that it is the only power that can resolve them, Portnikov says, thus laying the foundations for the application of its “hybrid war” approach across the region. Unfortunately, some in these countries and elsewhere accept that false logic.
Moscow’s goal is clear, he continues. “Its European and Western partners must be convinced that the post-Soviet lands are not real countries and that peace in this territory is possible only when these lands are within Russia. According to this logic, there will be peace only when Baku and Yerevan become centers of Armenia and Azerbaijan inside Russia.”
Indeed, he says, “the Kremlin is convinced that Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan must disappear from the political map of the world.” Moreover, it has the same plans for all the other post-Soviet states.
Everyone needs to understand that and especially the people living in these countries, Portnikov says. But unfortunately, not all do. Some Armenians think that Russia is “the main guarantor of the status quo” in the South Caucasus even though Moscow’s plans to change the current situation are far more dramatic than anyone else.
If Armenians and their neighbors recognize the nature and scope of the current threat emanating from Moscow, there is a chance that they can find common ground and reach the kind of agreements that will permit them to resist Russian aggression. If they don’t, he implies, that aggression will only continue.