On the Verge of War, or Increasing Security Deficit in the South Caucasus

By Dr. Gayane Novikova

The South Caucasus proves its image of a disquieting periphery of Europe. Along with the increasing interest of some states of the European Union toward the Caspian oil and gas as an alternative source of energy resources to the Russian ones, there are growing doubts to the regional stability as it is.

As far as all three South Caucasian state are not self-sufficient either politically, or economically, any change in the external environment has its reflection on their behavior models in both external and internal levels, which, in return, increases insecurity and instability of the region as a whole, more deepening the division lines between the states and causing new ones.

The reflex policy of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia makes me regretfully point out that practically none of the external threats for any state of the region has been removed or at least minimized yet, as for the internal level – new threats have emerged since then.

On the external level, security deficit is being produced because of:

-participation of the South Caucasian states in different military and political blocks;

-the lack of consensus between Russia, Turkey and Iran in the vision of the future of the South Caucasus;

-the increased level of involvement of the United States into the processes, developing in the region and in the immediate vicinity of its borders, as well as the US direct military presence in the indicated area;

– the growing competition/ confrontation between Russia and the USA in the South Caucasus;

– cautious attitude of the European Union and its intention to delay as long as possible its own active engagement into the region of the South Caucasus;

-practically uncontrollable developments in the area of the traditional Middle East.

Each of the listed external factors differently impacts on Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, but it has also a specific effect on their internal political situation and interrelations.


So, as long as none of the problems, posing a strategic importance for Georgia, has not been solved, the security formula for this state is still aimed at restoring the territorial integrity, preventing the latent ethnic conflicts in the periphery (in the province of Samtskhe-Javakheti, predominantly populated by Armenians, and in regions of Kvemo-Kartli province, predominantly populated with Azerbaijanis) from bursting out, creating a counterbalance to the Russian policy and Russia’s presence in the region, which is considered as an immediate foreign threat to security of this South Caucasian state. For the accelerated resolution of these problems in the conditions of the slump of the post-revolutionary euphoria both in Georgia and among its foreign supporters and sponsors, Georgian authorities after the presidential election in January 2008 have started to review their model of political behavior regarding Russia and turn from an unambiguously provocative stance toward a more balanced policy; on the other hand, they try to do their best in preserving the image of a democratic state in the eyes of the West, and correspondingly, attractiveness for investors.

As far as the issue of territorial integrity is directly considered in the context of the Russian-Georgian relations, a special intrigue has appeared with recognition of Kosovo’s independence and  Russia’s warnings on the danger of creating such a precedent. Having in its hands such a mechanism of pressure against Georgia as the unresolved conflicts and closure of its markets for Georgian producers, after the proclamation of Kosovo’s independence and its recognition by some states, Russia has made some similar steps de facto aimed at recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Georgian leadership found itself “between the devil and the deep blue sea:” on the one hand, relations with the Euro-Atlantic structures are being accelerated. On the other hand, the unambiguous and, in some sense, demonstrative orientation of Georgia to get closer to them, irritates Russia.

Undoubtedly, there were high expectations that the NATO summit in Bucharest will offer MAP to Georgia, and this will allow Georgia to get an additional field for maneuvering in building up its relations with Russia, including by the projection on probable ways of settlement of the Abkhazian and South-Ossetian conflicts. However, it does not happen because of two serious reasons – political instability in the country, and existence of two unresolved conflicts. Most probably, coincidence of interests of Russia and some NATO states impacted the decision to postpone discussion of this issue to December 2008.

The appeared time-spacing that now Russia and Georgia, and also NATO have, on the one hand, provides with  some opportunity (unfortunately, quite illusionary) to settle the Georgian-Russian relations and bring the resolution of the Abkhazian and South-Ossetian conflicts to the level of compromises.

On the other hand, it may push any of the parties to both conflicts toward accelerated solution of the situation, and in this case it would be impossible to rule out a sharp aggravation of the situations in the conflict zones. It is necessary to point out, that the negotiating processes of the two conflicts has actually been interrupted:  President M.Saakashvili’s proposals to Abkhazia on “practically unlimited autonomy,” made at the GFSIS on March 28, 2008, envisaging a joint free economic zone, Abkhaz representation in the central government with an Abkhaz vice-president, the right to veto all Abkhaz-related decisions, unlimited autonomy and various security guarantees which were amongst the newly proposed initiative, do not raise any enthusiasm in Abkhazia, which has the Russian support, including even readiness to provide a military assistance.


The stable bad Georgian-Russian relations, although providing Georgia with additional area for maneuvering in building relations with the West, however, at the same time, forces it to re-direct communications toward Turkey and the Wider Black Sea states. Initiation and elaboration of the railway Kars–Akhalkalaki–Tbilisi–Baku contributes to increasing the Georgian transit capabilities, but at the same time increases its economical and political dependence from Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Thus, continuation of worsening relations with Russia and probable negative development of the situation in the area of the Abkhazian and South-Ossetian conflicts, as well as the increased economical dependence from Turkey and Azerbaijan, which in perspective will be developed into a mechanism of political pressure on Georgia in the conditions of the Russian economical blockade, can be considered as the main external challenges to Georgian security.

Into the list of external/internal challenges should be added also some latent conflicts, as long as the extremes, accompanying the state-building process in the areas of compact residence of the national minorities, can lead to provocation of grievances among them, including from abroad. The factor of repatriation of the Meskhetian Turks to Georgia, as well as  dispute with Azerbaijan on belonging of the David Garedji monastery can acquire a special acuity.

Armenia – Azerbaijan – Nagorno Karabakh

The security challenges of Azerbaijan, as well as Armenia, and Nagorno Karabakh are conditioned first of all by the unresolved the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, which should be considered as an internal and external factor for all the parties involved.

There are the following possible developments in the area of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, where status quo is extremely fragile and the sides are on the verge of resumption of the war.

Presentation of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict by Azerbaijan as an Armenian-Azerbaijani inter-state conflict, on the one hand, allows Azerbaijan to secure support of the Muslim World, to describe the conflict as a territorial dispute, meanwhile it is a conflict between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh on the issue Karabakh’s self-determination. And on the other hand, its open counteraction to the direct participation of Nagorno Karabakh in the negotiating process reduces the chances of the same Azerbaijan to settle the conflict peacefully even in the medium-term perspective.

It is necessary also to pay attention on the Kosovo factor. It is absolutely evident that whatever is said by the official representatives of some European states, the USA, as well as international organizations, this factor will be maximally used by all non-recognized states as well as all those forces, having ethno-territorial and ethno-political problems with central authorities.

Hence, against the background of the Kosovo cause, Azerbaijan continues its widespread campaign to minimize by all possible means any opportunity of recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh independence. And vice versa, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh have mentioned quite a long time that Kosovo is not a precedent, because NKR has stronger historical and legislative bases and already about 20 years de facto exists as an independent state, but they should use all possibilities opened after Kosovo.

It is necessary also to mention that after the sadly-known events on March 1-2, 2008, which followed the presidential elections in Armenia, as well as the subsequent developments in the conflict zone on March 4-5, when Azerbaijan used (for the first time since the cease-fire agreement of 1994) heavy armament in the offensive operation not far from Martakert, Nagorno Karabakh, Azerbaijan has received an additional space for manipulation by the international public opinion and exert pressure upon Armenia.

In the established situation, for Armenia it is absolutely important to keep the status quo in the zone of the conflict as long as possible, using all opportunities to restore its image of the democratic and stable state.

And vice versa, for Azerbaijan it is now the best time to try to get out of existing deadlock situation by force.

As far as Azerbaijan has became a regional power, the following facts and trends made the quite obvious:

– First, Azerbaijan makes quite productive steps for securing international support in case of resumption of military actions in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There are two international structures, where its position is supported by practically all members – the Islamic Conference Organization and GUAM. It can be seen by results of voting on the UN GA Resolution #10693 on March 14, 2008 (the Resolution was adopted by a recorded vote of 39 in favor to 7 against, among them were USA, Russia, France, with 100 abstentions, including Iran), as well as by the Joint Declaration on the issue of conflict settlement, adopted at the Summit of Heads of State of the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development-GUAM, on  May 23, 2006 in Kyiv.

Of course, regarding such kind of efforts it is possible to argue that the UN GA resolutions aren’t obliged for the member states, or the GUAM states are free to adopt any resolutions, declarations, etc. But the fact is that after quite a long period in 14 years Azerbaijan was able to put on the table a range of documents which is possible to use as a leverage against Armenia.

Second, for the West (as a whole) the option of using force in settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict is unacceptable; it is obvious that the format of the OSCE Minsk Group for consideration of possibilities for the peaceful settlement of the conflict seems acceptable to both NATO and EU, as it is confirmed by the Special Representatives of both institutions in the South Caucasus. Of course, the Minsk Group co-chairmen are trying to convince that there are some positive developments and the conflict can be resolved within the current format of the negotiations.

In its turn, Azerbaijan continues to force the international community to change the negotiations format and take it out of the existing frameworks of the Minsk Group, which should be considered as a very clear signal, that Azerbaijan has made tougher its approaches to the possible ways of the conflict resolution.

Here is necessary to mention its last statements about the common use of the Lachin corridor, but only in case if it will be an integral part of Azerbaijan; the status of Nagorno Karabakh should be decided, in the Azerbaijani point of view only according to the “Azerbaijani internal legislation and an agreement between the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities of Nagorno Karabakh”, and not through negotiations between all three sides of the conflict. At the international conference “Basic Principles for the Settlement of the Conflicts on the Territories of the GUAM States,” held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan on April 15-16, 2008 in Baku, Araz Azimov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, articulated that Azerbaijan will discuss ONLY the issue of autonomy for Nagorno Karabakh. Of course, all these approaches are completely unacceptable both for Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia.

Third. Azerbaijan declares the figures by which it intends to increase the military budget, and  they are almost equal to the defense budget of Armenia: in 2007 Azerbaijan’s budget was $1,39 billion USD, and it plans to increase it by $250-300 million USD.

Forth.  Azerbaijan and Turkey (which has its own reasons) directly impede any possible participation of Armenia in the regional economic and communicative projects. I would like also to add Georgia, which is indirectly involved into that very process.

Fifth.  Against the background of the permanent statements about the steady economic growth with parallel jumps of prices for oil, gas and consumption goods, accelerating the growing gap between the living standards of various sections of population along with the lack of positive shifts in the conflict resolution and strengthening Islamist moods (by various reasons) in the socially unprotected groups of society, the Azerbaijani leadership has to resort to the aggressive rhetoric addressed to Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia.

Militarization of the country and creation of the relevant public opinion are getting quite dangerous forms. Let me note that our Center monitors the Azerbaijani mass media: very clear trends in the Azerbaijani public opinion are obvious.

Among the factors playing on the Azerbaijani side I would like also mentioned the energy supplies from the Caspian to some European states, more or less successful isolation of Armenia from main regional energetic and communication projects, activization of Turkey in the South Caucasian direction, continuing strengthening the US-Azerbaijani military relations.


I would like to mention that the Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia have no reason to resume military actions in  the zone of the conflict.  First, the recognition of Kosovo independence  as it is  gives to Nagorno Karabakh an opportunity to insist on the change of current borders in the South Caucasus applying to the international law and the history. In addition, Nagorno Karabakh has already existed for more than 17 years as a non-recognized, but de facto state, increasing its political potential.

Second, both – Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh – have announced many times that the NKR’s independence should be achieved only by peaceful means, on the way of democratization. One of the strong arguments was comparison with the non-democratic developments in Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, the last developments in Armenia have minimized this argument.

Third, involvement into the military actions will strongly affect the economies of both Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.

Fourth, in the Armenian society there is an approach, understanding, or attitude that the conflict around Nagorno Karabakh has already been resolved.

Fifth, the current internal developments in Armenia strongly affect its international image as the only stable state in the area of the South Caucasus, with a predictable model of the political behavior and evolutionary development. It this case the newly-elected president and his newly-appointed government should try to do their best to restore the image of the country, avoiding any additional problems on the international area.

To the contrary, all the above-mentioned factors can provoke Azerbaijan to attempt restoring its territorial integrity in military way.

At first glance in this situation Armenia might recognized the independence of Nagorno Karabakh (we have some examples in the history, and the very obvious one is the Cyprus cause), which from my point of view will turn the situation into a complete deadlock, closing even the existing very narrow windows of opportunity for all the sides concerned. In case if  there is no support from other states, Azerbaijan will use this (forced from Armenia) step for creation wide-range anti-Armenian coalition. To avoid this Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh should elaborate a common strategy of cooperation in security issues, on the inter-state basis:  Nagorno Karabakh can be considered as a primary subject of the International Law, as far as according with the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Chapter of United Nations, adopted on October 24, 1970, a people struggling for liberation is a legal party.

The situation in the South Caucasus is more than dangerous: an aggravation of insecurity in the area of any of the three conflict zones will have a “domino effect” for the whole region.

April 28, 2008