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Caucasus Triangle: Interests, Strategy, Tactics

21.12.2006 09:50


Transcaucasia is a region where the interests of Russia, Georgia and two “unrecognized” republics, Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia, intercross. What is the essence of the conflict, what is a goal of each of the parties, and how does each of the parties pursue its goal? What are the prospects of the conflict? The New Year Eve is the right time to think about it.

"Unrecognized" Republics

The interests of Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia are very simple, they need that Georgia let them live in peace. They don’t want to see again as it was 14 years ago the Georgian tanks and guns firing at their homes, people dying and blood flooding. And “recognition by the world community” is not an end in itself , but the remedy, as they hope, to avoid wars that were unleashed against them by Georgia as soon as it proclaimed itself independent as it was in 1918 and 1992.

The strategy pursued by the “unrecognized” republics is also rather obvious in the conditions of lacking peace guaranty that might be provided to them by the world community – they strive for being as close as possible to Russia as they see it as a guarantor of their security. Southern Ossetia claims for reunification of the split Ossetian nation within the Russian Federation. Abkhazia wants associated relations but its attraction to Russia is evident, understandable and justified.

Neither Abkhazia nor Southern Ossetia is going to fight against Georgia, and therefore they will never start the war. It is a determinant of their tactics. Both “unrecognized” republics (in the conditions of a permanent threat from Georgia) have to bear a burden of military expenditures and conduct military exercises. All their male population is armed and ready to defend their homes and families. Both “unrecognized” republics carefully avoid adequate responses to the Georgian provocations.

For example, a unit sent to South Ossetia by Saakashvili to violate all accords was disarmed and sent back to Georgia but not fired to death or captured as POW. Both “unrecognized” republics permanently emphasize their readiness to negotiate with Georgia and hold these talks to the bitter end. Both “unrecognized” republics permanently appeal to the world community, and attract its attention to the threats posed by Georgia.


The interests of Georgia are also understandable but hardly justified. The Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and Sothern Ossetia Autonomous Territory seceded from the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic fully in compliance with the USSR legislation valid at that time. Whereas Georgia, having proclaimed its own independence, refused to recognize independence of others, and striving for restoration of the Soviet period “territorial integrity” unleashed severe wars against its former autonomous regions that joined to it in the conditions of the USSR.

Thus, the Georgian leadership abandoned the Soviet structure of the country, but demanded to preserve privileges received by Georgia within this structure. After the defeat in the unleashed wars that were conducted with unprecedented cruelty, and which traces are still visible in the streets of Tshinvali and Sukhumi, Georgia did not surrender the idea to return them under its control. The interest of Georgia in this problem is pure imperial. Academician Sakharov was right to determine Georgia as “a small imperia”.

Of course, it is possible to speak about Georgian refugees from Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia. But, firstly, many nations suffered such tragedy, for example, Germany after WWII, and Russia lately. The number of Russian refugees from Chechnya is not less than the number of Georgian refugees from Abkhazia. And the problems were settled without the return of refugees.

Secondly, the refugees could only reinforce the economic potential of Georgia that expelled many ethnic minorities – Russians, Ukrainians, Greeks, and others under the pressure of local nationalists. Anyhow, the goal of the Georgian authorities is to join the separated autonomous regions.

What is a strategy pursued by Georgia to implement its interests? First of all, it makes its stake on force and threat of force. Georgia is permanently building up armaments, and it takes the first position worldwide in terms of the arms race (according to European experts) that looks rather paradoxically for such a small and poor country. The armament is purchased in huge amount. It is mostly an obsolete Soviet armament that fails to comply with the NATO standards. It shows that they purchase the armament not “to comply with NATO” but to use this armament in the nearest future.

Georgia pursues several goals by this demonstrative arms race. Firstly, it builds up its military potential for “Blitzkrieg” against Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia. Secondly, it makes Abkhazia and Southern Ossertia to increase their defense expenditures that come upon their small budgets very heavily. Thirdly, it tries to generate a nervousness environment in these republics, and provoke human outflow. The chess players say that the menace is stronger that the performance. And the aforesaid menace complicates situation in the “unrecognized” republics.

But this strategy has its back side. The immanent threat sets the Russian North Caucasus peoples related to Abkhazians and Ossetians against Georgia. The anger becomes stronger and may burst out in the most severe forms. Besides, Georgian creates “alternative governments” in the “unrecognized” republics provoking the dinarchy and split.

Is it possible that Georgia starts a new war? Yes, it is. Otherwise what for does it build up its military potential? And only Russian peacekeepers provide for the status quo. What may be the tactics of Georgia in this war? According to military experts, during the military operation against Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia the stake will be made on rapid capture of their capitals. The Georgian bayonets will bring pre-formed “alternative governments” there to demonstrate to the West that “the legitimate power is restored” and functioning.

In this situation, propaganda and information coverage are of the utmost importance. Tame mass media and journalist should present the situation as if “the legitimate power” is in place and governs while “the gangs of combatants and terrorists” operate in the outskirts of the cities but they are successfully suppressed by “the legitimate power”. It is clear that in future the information will be carefully filtered, and all statements of the Georgian officials threatening to kill hundred or fifteen thousand people will be “for internal use only”.

But the Iraqi experience shows that military experts may be mistaken ignoring certain factors.


The external and internal political situation in Russia today makes it be highly interested in preservation of peace in Transcaucasia. Any war entails lots of problems, which consequences are hardly predictable . This goal determined a strategy of Russia. Therefore Russia is so patient with Georgian provocations with respect to the Russian peacekeepers (and not only them).

Therefore Russia takes economic measures: on the one hand, it is a demonstration of power, on the other hand, it is an effort to canalize the irrepressible Saakashvili’s energy to solution of arising internal problems. Therefore Russia is so careful in recognition of the “unrecognized” republics and in its response to their request to be merged in Russia or establish a kind of relations with Russia.

It also determines the tactics of Russia: the support (“moderate and in compliance with the law” as quoted to Gashek) of these republics, cultural relations, provision of the Russian citizenship. All these actions should let Tbilisi see that the war or solution by force is inadmissible.

Why the war in Transcaucasia is so dangerous for Russia? It is clear that in terms of the military potential Georgia is not comparable with Russia, that the modern war may be conducted “remotely” by destroying the heavy weapons, bases, infrastructure facilities, control and communication centers. It is also clear that there will be no task to occupy the territory of Georgia, it will be enough to neutralize capabilities of Georgia to occupy its neighbors.

But Russia does not need even a victorious and “remote” war, because it would mean radical deterioration of Russia’s relations with the West, that is, first of all, absolutely needless headache. But the most important is that this war would radically complicate the situation in Caucasus, and destroy the system of checks and balances. What would be a reaction of Armenia and Azerbaijan to weakening of Georgia? They have their claims to Georgia since 1918. Many people believe that Javakh located in Georgia is an indigenous Armenian land, and Borchaly - an indigenous Azerbaijan territory. In the mountains one thrown stone may entail an avalanche.

But event this factor is not the most dangerous. At least, it is the presidents who start and seize wars. The most dangerous option is uncontrolled development of events. For example, as soon as Georgia starts war against Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia immediately comes to help Abkhazians because it understands that it is a chance to defend itself from Georgia.

Ossetians will be assisted by their brothers in Northern Ossetia. No efforts to stop them will be actually successful – it is impossible to block all mountain trails, but will evoke a grave crisis – the government of this republic will request Putin to answer: on which side he is – on the side of his own Ossetians or on the side of hostile Georgians. And not only Northern Ossetia will request to answer this question – entire Northern Caucasus will inflame. And in this situation no orders to start or seize hostilities will be effective.


So, both Russia and “unrecognized” republics need peace. They need it absolutely objectively – they have no goals that may be pursued by war. The only threat and the only source of danger is Georgia. Militarized, armed to the teeth Georgia that pursues a doctrine of “total defense”, that is “injured” and that dreams of the Imperial return match. It is only Georgia that may throw a stone that will entail an avalanche in the mountains that will finally sweep it away.

Does the Georgian leadership understand it? Yes, it does. But it relies in “Uncle Sam”. But it is excited with tremendous military parades. But getting away with provocations may play a low-down trick with it.

And it is the case when Russia in order to save itself from big problems should clearly and expressly state that it will not tolerate using any force by Georgia. Generally speaking, in the interest of Georgia itself.