on the silk road


The ticking timebomb that is the South Caucasus
April 23, 2008, 10:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

TRANSCAUCASIA (Combined Sources)–Georgia is preparing to use force to resolve the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts, South Ossetian interior minister Mikhail Mindzayev said in an interview with a REGNUM correspondent.

The minister of the unrecognized Georgian Breakway Republic said that a series of terrorist acts that took place in South Ossetia in February-March 2008 were planned and executed exactly in preparation of a larger campaign.

“The terrorist attacks are aimed at creating panic among the population and creating unfavorable conditions for the life of the people,” Mindzayev said.

According to Mindzayev, Georgia has finished deploying forces along a position in the Abkhazian direction.
“They are going to take care of South Ossetia after they finish a blitz against Abkhazia,” he said. ” 8,000 troops and reservists are going to be used in an attempt to neutralize our forces and resources.”

“As of today, 500 soldiers have been deployed to the conflict zone, allegedly to protect power lines, Mindzayev said. “According to our information, the rest of the forces are going to be transfered to our borders shortly.” He said that South Ossetian interior ministry has been put on red alert.

According to Mindzayev, Georgian forces are active in two regions–Tskhinvali and Znaur. He said that South Ossetian forces have reinforced their positions along their de-facto border with Georgia posts in preparation.

The Ossetian Minister’s statements come amid increasing regional tension as Russia and the West view for influence in what was the Soviet Unions backyard. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, along with the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, all unrecognized republics, which declared independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, have taken on a central role in regional and international power-plays as a result of a successful western backed deceleration of independence by Kosova from Russia’s ally Serbia.

The move, which came on February 18, has left Georgia and Azerbaijan scrambling. With Kosavar independence serving as a potential international precedent for the recognition of former soviet nations seeking self-determination, these two states have been working anxiously to prevent their breakaway regions from gaining international recognition.

Russia has, for its part, been flexing its military and diplomatic muscle in an unprecedented fashion in an attempt to regain a foothold in its backyard. Its former vassals, Georgia and Azerbaijan have , however, been audatiously pushing back, going toe to to with the Russian bear. With a green light from the US and NATO, Georgia has taken the iniative to challenge the kremlins power plays in its breakaway regions. Azerbaijan simalrly has been rellying on a strategic partnership with turkey and the US, intensifying its opposition to Moscow and Yerevan.

News broke in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan on April 21 that on March 29 Azerbaijani authorities had halted a shipment of Russian equipment destined for Iran’s nuclear facility at Bushehr. The Azerbaijanis say the shipment was detained because the equipment may be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions restricting international assistance in Iran’s nuclear program.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s defence ministry has released a video showing what appears to be a Russian MiG-29 shooting down the unarmed Georgian drone on Sunday. A Russian air force spokesman said the claim was “nonsense” while Abkhaz rebels said they had downed the drone.

“Russian military aircraft intruded into Georgian airspace above Abkhazia, Georgia,” said President Saakashvili on television. “This aircraft attacked and destroyed a Georgian UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle]. Once again, Georgia was exercising [its] sovereign right to monitor a situation on its own territory.”

Abkhazia’s administration has said its own forces shot down the drone because it was violating Abkhaz airspace and breaching ceasefire agreements.

According to Russian reports from Sukhumi, the Abkhaz capital, the authorities there have put on display fragments of the drone. Garry Kupalba, deputy defence minister of the unrecognised Republic of Abkhazia, told reporters the drone had been shot down by an “L-39 aircraft of the Abkhaz Air Force”. He also identified the drone as an Israeli-made Hermes 450. President Putin viewed the presence of the drone as a “destabilising factor escalating tension”, the Kremlin said.

Last week, Georgia accused Russia of trying to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia by deciding to seek closer ties with them. Russia has said its proposal is aimed at protecting the rights and legal interests of Russian citizens, who make up the majority of the population in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Earlier this month, Nato decided not to grant Georgia’s request to join its Membership Action Plan but promised it would eventually become a member of the alliance

On April 18, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev claimed that his country’s army was the most powerful in the entire region and is prepared to “liberate its lands.” His remarks came during a visit to the frontline region of Fizuli, where he spoke to army soldiers and officers about Azerbaijan’s military spending.

He told the soldiers that the government will be increasing its military spending to $2 billion, up from $175 million in 2004. The drastic rise in spending is supported by oil revenues generated by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which Western companies developed to feed oil to Europe. Since it’s complete in 2006, the pipeline has helped the country increase its defense spending and has fueled threats of renewed war with Armenia by President Aliyev.

Aliyev also precluded any notion of Karabakh independence Friday, saying that Azerbaijan will not endure the “injustice” of the international community in respect to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

With the precedent of Kosavar independence a looming threat for Azeri territorial integrity, Nagorno-Karabakh has become a serious election issue this year in Azerbaijan. Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, who will be running for re-election in October, has been toughening his already bellicose position on the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, threatening to re-ignite war and take back the Armenian territory by force.
He accused Armenia of preventing the settlement of the conflict and deceiving the international community. Armenia has repeatedly voiced its support for a compromise solution within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group

Since 1997, the peace talks over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have been conducted by the American, French and Russian co-chairmen of the Minsk Group.

At the end of last year, the Minsk Group tried to persuade the two sides to accept a statement of basic principles, as a first step towards breaking the deadlock over Nagorno Karabakh’s future–but no agreement was reached. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has been threatening war and making diplomatic steps to remove the conflict from the watchful eye of international mediators.

Aliyev said he is hopeful that the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan will be restored as his country’s army is the most powerful in the region and threatened renewed war to take Nagorno-Karabakh.

The threats follow a pattern of increasing belligerence by Azerbaijani officials and come amid increasing tensions after a string of unprecedented violations of the Karabakh ceasefire line by Azeri Armed forces in early March.

But Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian Wednesday said Azerbaijan must accept that the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is an independent republic that will never be returned to Azeri control.

“Azerbaijan must understand the simple reality that the existence of the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence is irreversible,” Sarkisian said. “It is impossible to even imagine that the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh could be subordinate in any way to Azerbaijan.

“The people of Nagorno-Karabakh have won their right to a free and independent life. And through our efforts, that right must be recognized by the international community,” he stressed.

In recent weeks Armenian authorities have been threatening recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and sign military agreements with it if Azerbaijan continues to try and remove the conflict from the Minsk Group format. With the Armenian government left greatly weakened–internally and externally–after post-election unrest spurred on by Former President Levon Ter Petrosian, the new president has begun moving Armenia closer to Russia in an attempt to balance the growing threat of greater internal instability and a renewed war between a much stronger Azerbaijan.

On April 18, Armenia’s new Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told a press conference that Armenia will continue to strengthen its special strategic partnership with the Russian Federation, building upon the traditional friendly ties between the two nations. A career diplomat of the Soviet Foreign Service, Nalbandian replaced the US trained Vartan Oskanian early April. With his close ties with the Kremlin and a Russian citizenship under his belt, Yerevan’s foreign policy is set to move Armenia closer to Russia.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Azeri Parliament Oktai Asadov met with Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan Yulus Kylci Friday to discuss bilateral relations. During the meeting, they discussed the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh and the prevention of the international recognition of the Armenian genocide.

“Through their actions, Azerbaijan and Turkey have proven that they are strategic partners,” Asadov said, citing the BTC Pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway. Both projects circumvent Armenia, which is under a dual blockade by the two countries.

It is beginning to become apparent that the short and tenuous facade of stability that has characterized the South Caucasus in recent years is beginning to unravel. Regional actors are gearing up for confrontation and world powers are exploiting the various conflicts of the region to fight their own international tug of war for power and influence. This new great game is taking place in one of the most expensive and volatile pieces of real estate the world has ever known. The Caucasus, and Armenia in particular are set to experience tumultuous times, as the old silk road, which carried the trade of the ancient world has now become a conduit carrying black gold to the Western industrialized world.

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