This article originates in a presentation at Harvard University Black Sea Security Program’s Regional Workshop, Baku, September 2003.

The Western world has long regarded the South Caucasus as the wall separating Europe from Asia, and the Black Sea and Caspian Sea as belonging to different worlds. This perception was even starker on the Black Sea’s western shore, where the Romanian and Bulgarian nation-states’ strong identification with Europe meant that they displayed no interest in the lands just across the Black Sea. When Communist rule extended over the entire region, it precluded any forms of regional integration or even cooperation, other than those centered in Moscow -- a model now recurring in Russia’s approach to the CIS.

From a backwater of international politics, this region has become a strategic centerstage as a result of three processes: first, the recession of Russian power and consequent chance for the region’s states to pursue a Western orientation; second, the discovery of the real potential of Caspian oil and gas in the 1990s, and its importance to Europe; and, third, the operational requirements of anti-terrorism coalitions post-9/11. This means that the Black Sea and Caspian basins, with the South Caucasus uniting them, must now be seen as comprising together a functional aggregate in the near abroad of an enlarging West.

This region forms the hub of an evolving geostrategic and geo-economic system that stretches from core Europe to Central Asia and Afghanistan. It provides unique access corridors for Caspian energy reserves and Central Asian commodities to Europe, and for American-led coalition forces to theaters of operations and bases in the Greater Middle East and Central Asia. Most of the Black Sea-South Caucasus countries have chosen to participate in one form or another in the Western alliance system. This term is used here to encompass membership in NATO, declared aspirations to membership (or de-facto-ally behavior), and direct participation in the antiterrorism coalitions.


NATO invitees Romania and Bulgaria have both provided base installations and overflight suppport for the U.S.-led Operations Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Iraqi Freedom; troop contributions to OEF and OIF; and now also troops for the NATO-led stabilization force in Afghanistan.

Georgia and Azerbaijan both provided crucial overflight suppport for Operation Enduring Freedom, offered troop units for the post-conflict phase in Afghanistan, and have deployed units to Iraq where they serve under U.S. command.

Ukraine, a declared aspirant to NATO, authorized some 6,000 overflights of coalition forces, primarily U.S. ones, in OEF and OIF to date, under what amounts to blanket authorization. European NATO allies lease Ukrainian AN-124 Ruslan planes for airlifting coalition forces, under a program that Ukraine hopes to extend to 2010. Ukraine deployed a 500-strong battalion for chemical-biological decontamination to Kuwait, ready for action in Iraq. A 1,600-strong Ukrainian mechanized brigade serves in Iraq with the Polish-led forces.

Moldova, Europe’s poorest and by all measurements also weakest state, has deployed a demining squad to Iraq under an agreement with the U.S.

Turkey provided major overflight support for OEF in Afghanistan, and troops to the international stabilization force there (ISAF); and it commanded ISAF in the second phase of that operation. In OIF, however, Turkey’s internal political situation--as well as its reading of the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan--caused Ankara to restrict its overflight support and to deny overland acccess for U.S. forces to Iraq, even after the U.S. and other allies had prevailed in a difficult political battle within NATO to deploy defensive assets to Turkey under Article Four of the North Atlantic Treaty (see IASPS Policy Briefings, no. 14, February 20, 2003). On October 7, 2003, the Turkish parliament approved in principle a deployment of troops to Iraq, at U.S. request and on terms to be negotiated with the U.S.

While Turkey is second to none in its sensitivity to threats of Islamist terrorism, it is in a more immediate sense concerned with preventing a reemergence of the radical-leftist secular terrorism of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), organized remnants of which subsist in northern Iraq militarily and in Western Europe politically.

Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia are more directly exposed than other regional countries to risks and threats of terrorism. Accordingly, they regard participation in the antiterror coalition as synonymous with their national interest. For other countries in the region, such participation--while also corresponding to their national interests--is subsumed to the larger goals of maintaining close relations with the U.S., modernizing their security sectors, and strengthening their credentials for NATO membership.


Twelve years after the Soviet Union’s dissolution, Russian troops continue to be stationed in Moldova and Georgia against those countries’ will and in breach of international law. Meanwhile, Armenian troops occupy six Azeri districts situated beyond Upper Karabakh, a decade after the largest forced ethnic exodus of the post-Soviet era (that of Georgians from Abkhazia being the second largest forced exodus). The U.N. and OSCE, incapable to ensure observance of their own norms and principles, have merely conserved these unresolved conflicts, and conceded to Russia a de facto monopoly on "peacekeeping" in the entire region.

The "managed conflicts" in Georgia and Moldova were used from the outset to justify the open-ended stationing of Russian troops, to provide Moscow with permanent leverage over Georgia and Moldova through the breakaway enclaves, and to ensure Armenia’s dependence on Russia by freezing the situation not only in the Upper but also in Lower Karabakh. The overall goal is to prevent or slow down the region’s integration with the West in economic and security terms. Goals in specific sectors include: preserving a Russian-controlled outpost in Moldova on the soon-to-be border of NATO and the EU, and also between these and Ukraine; consolidating a land bridge via the South Caucasus from Russia to Iran; drawing Georgia--the sole westbound exit for Caspian oil and gas--into the CIS Collective Security Treaty and Eurasian Economic Union under the threat of de facto annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; and cutting off the overland corridors from the Caspian basin from Europe.

In Moldova, President Vladimir Putin of Russia--through personal letters and high-level special envoys--is pressuring President Vladimir Voronin to legalize the Russian military presence and secessionist authorities in Trans-Dniester. The scenario envisages three elements: handing to the Tiraspol authorities a share of power in the central government in Chisinau under a federal formula; maintaining Russian troops in place, some as peacekeepers and some as part of Trans-Dniester’s authorized army; and guaranteeing such a settlement through a nominally international, practically Russian-dominated forum.

Moscow has recently handed out Russian citizenship to most Abkhaz and South Ossetian residents, and controls the Georgian side of the Georgia-Russia border in both of those secessionist regions. Russia also maintains direct trade relations and transportation links with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is transferring Georgian state properties to Russian state and private entitities, and is stationing Russian troops in those breakaway areas. The Russian army holds two more bases deep inside Georgia, defying Georgian and OSCE calls for closure and withdrawal of the troops. In many ways, then, Kremlin policy toward Georgia seems no longer restrained by international law. None of these Russian moves have anything to do with antiterrorism.

American economic and security assistance to Georgia has been crucial in keeping the country afloat and basically stable. The U.S. Train-and-Equip Program for Georgia's internal security forces is proving successful and ought to be extended, and the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline will (despite Moscow's opposition) by next year be laid via a Georgian corridor. But these common Western and Georgian interests will be at risk if the Kremlin's tactics succeed in changing Georgia's internal political configuration and Western orientation.

The West has yet to devise a coherent answer to peacekeeping and conflict resolution in this region. It is high time to move this issue from the back burner of Western diplomacy and security policy to the front burner. An attempt in that direction was seen at the U.S.-Russia and NATO-Russia summits in May 2002. The communiques of both summits included stipulations--evidently initiated and pushed through successfully by the Western signatories--that the U.S. and, respectively, NATO would jointly with Russia undertake peacekeeping operations and conflict-resolution efforts, specifically in Moldova, Georgia, and the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Those joint communiques, however, came to nought and fell into oblivion almost immediately. One reason for this may have had to do with the fact that the NATO-Russia Council was to have been empowered to authorize and plan such operations. This gave rise to justifiable objections on both sides of the Atlantic that it would be premature to vest the the newly-created NRC with any meaningful authority, lest Russia use the NRC to impinge on NATO’s internal decision-making processes.

Peacekeeping and conflict settlement efforts in the South Caucasus are closely tied to implementation of the adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). The challenge to implementation is threefold: Russian heavy weaponry in excess of CFE regional limits, verification loopholes, and noncompliance with base closure and troop withdrawal obligations.

The U.S. is constantly reminding Moscow of its unfulfilled "commitment to reduce its treaty-limited equipment in the flank region to the levels set in the adapted CFE Treaty" -- an almost decade-old reminder, restated most recently in those words by Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones in Congressional hearings (State Department release, September 9, 2003). There is no sign of Russian willingness to comply with the regional ceilings, however. During the years since the signing of the treaty, Russia has increased its own treaty-limited weaponry in Armenia, and supplied some treaty-limited equipment to Armenian forces.

Azerbaijan alone does not have Russian forces stationed on its territory. The Russian bases in Georgia and Armenia are not accessible to inspection, even though the CFE Treaty provides for on-site inspection by OSCE teams to count the treaty-limited equipment and verify treaty implementation. Armenian forces in Karabakh are also out of bounds to international verification.

In mid-2003, Russia vehemently objected to American U-2 and AWACS reconnaissance flights over Georgia. Possible uses of such flights include spotting some types of heavy military equipment on the ground. Although Moscow did not make a case that those flights had violated Russian airspace, it described reconnaissance flights over the neighboring country as an unfriendly gesture toward Russia. This thesis bodes ill for verification of CFE Treaty implementation.

At the OSCE's Istanbul summit in 1999, Russia accepted obligations to: close the Gudauta base in Georgia by July 2001; agree with Georgia on a timeline for closing the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases and withdrawing those troops to Russia; scrap and/or withdraw the combat hardware from Moldova in accordance with the CFE Treaty by December 2001, and withdraw the troops from Moldova to Russia by December 2002. Notably, Russia agreed at Istanbul 1999 that the closure of bases and withdrawal of its troops from Georgia and Moldova form part of a package with the CFE Treaty implementation.

More than two years after the deadline for closing Gudauta, however, Russia retains the base--including some CFE treaty-limited heavy weaponry there, as well as the nearby Bombori military airfield--and frustrates the treaty-mandated OSCE inspections. Moscow has merely transferred Gudauta from the jurisdiction of its army and airborne forces to that of the nominally "CIS peacekeeping troops"--a fully Russian force--in Abkhazia, where the base is located.

Four years after committing to close the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases, Moscow now demands eleven more years (counting from the signing and, presumably, ratification of any agreement); wants preposterously high financial "compensation" for closure and withdrawal; and has made a practice of unilaterally suspending for many months at a time the talks with Georgia. The goal is to maintain a permanent military presence in that country.

In Moldova, the Russian military completed the scrapping and/or withdrawal of CFE treaty-limited weaponry--principally, in this case, 40-year-old tanks and other armor--under OSCE inspection and on deadline (see above). But Russia has explicitly reneged on the obligation to withdraw the troops from Trans-Dniester. Four years after committing to do so, and almost one year after the expiry of that deadline, Moscow seeks international and Moldovan consent to legalizing the Russian troops as "peacekeepers."

The Russian military also underwrites Trans-Dniester's unlawful forces, which consequently are larger and better-armed and -trained than Moldova's, and into which thousands of Russian military personnel have been transferred. A Russian-originated, OSCE- and U.S.-promoted plan to turn Moldova into a "federation" authorizes Trans-Dniester to retain its own army, which is mainly a non-local Russian force in all but name.

The U.S. and the NATO alliance continue as before to take the position that the CFE Treaty will only be ratified if Russia fulfills its obligations in Georgia and Moldova. By the same token, the U.S. and NATO have said all along that, once the adapted treaty is ratified, it would be joined by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the territories of which were not covered by the original CFE Treaty. The three Baltic states are now NATO invitees and will officially become members in 2004. Russia, aiming to restrict the stationing of NATO forces in the Baltic states, wants them included in the CFE treaty. The alliance offers that prospect as an incentive for Russia to comply with the treaty and associated obligations in Moldova and Georgia. For now, however, Moscow aims to obtain satisfaction on both flanks.

It is an unfortunate fact that the OSCE's Istanbul 1999 terms are eroding, not without the organization's own contribution, as could be seen at the 2002 year-end meeting in Porto (see IASPS Policy Briefings, nos. 8, 12, 13, of December 5, 2002, January 23 and 27, 2003, respectively). To avoid a further setback at the OSCE's 2003 year-end meeting in Maastricht, the countries directly affected--Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan--as well as the U.S. and the European Union ought to learn from their Porto failure to present a common front, and should form one ahead of the Maastricht conference.


Romania and Bulgaria received membership invitations at the alliance's Prague summit in November 2002, and are slated to become NATO members at the Istanbul summit in May 2004. Georgia is a declared aspirant since 2000; Azerbaijan, unofficially since 2000, officially declared since April 2003; and Ukraine, a declared aspirant since May 2002. These three countries seek--as Romania and Bulgaria had done--to earn NATO recognition of their candidacy through security sector reform and participation in allied operations.

All these five countries have provided transit passage, staging areas, and troops in the field for NATO- and U.S.-led operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq (see Part One). Their participation in operations Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Iraqi Freedom responded to those specific contingencies. The lesson is that the U.S. and NATO must establish a long-term presence in this region, in anticipation of contingencies in the Greater Middle East.

Such a presence around the Black Sea and in the South Caucasus would be a natural corolary of NATO's recent decisions to prepare for possible operations in the Greater Middle East and beyond. The transformation goals of the U.S. European Command similarly require a long-term presence around the Black Sea and in the South Caucasus. Those goals include establishing support infrastructures throughout the area of responsibility, assisting in the development of allied and friendly forces for self-defense and coalition operations, and securing peacetime and contingency access for U.S. forces.

Turkey has seconded the U.S. in assisting security sector reform in Georgia and Azerbaijan, facilitating those countries' participation in NATO-led peacekeeping operations, and (in tandem with Greece) promoting the Romanian and Bulgarian candidacies for NATO membership.


NATO's upcoming summit in Istanbul can initiate the adoption of a security strategy for the South Caucasus. With respect to Georgia and Azerbaijan, such a strategy can address: traditional and nontraditional threats to security, peacekeeping and conflict resolution, protection of pipelines, the broadening of security sector reform (e.g., continuing a train-and-equip-type program in Georgia and initiating one in Azerbaijan, focused on internal security and peacekeeping troops and border guards of both countries), and selective development of niche capabilities for participation in coalition operations.

To promote these goals, and to create and protect strategic access corridors, NATO will need to develop a security framework for Georgia and Azerbaijan. The U.S. and other allies will seek also to devise an attractive security option for Armenia. This would require taking the lead in promoting a resolution of the Karabakh conflict on the basis of tradeoffs, e.g. land-for-peace (return of Azeri lands, determination of Upper Karabakh's status, and security guarantees), or land swaps, or a combination of those two approaches, and borders open for trade between Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. The effort will be arduous, and its possible success will not necessarily persuade or enable Armenia to abandon Russia's security and economic orbit anytime soon.

Thus, progress on NATO-Azerbaijan and U.S.-Azerbaijan security ties should not depend on progress of such ties with Armenia. Nor should the development of security ties with Georgia be slowed down by Russian objections. On the contrary, such ties will add to American and NATO ability to address Russia-Georgia problems in a tripartite framework. The security of Georgia and Azerbaijan is indivisible owing to their common Western orientation, the geography of Caspian energy transit, and that of U.S. and NATO strategic access.

The alliance's upcoming summit will almost certainly assess progress on Ukraine's Action Plan--which was adopted at NATO's Prague summit in November 2002--and the annual Target Plans for that country. The framework and annual plans focus on Ukraine's security sector reform and on developing interoperability of Ukrainian forces with those of NATO allies (see Part One).

One idea under unofficial consideration is for Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan jointly to promote their aspirations to NATO membership, using the successful experience of two groups that paved the way for NATO's second enlargement round (which will be consummated at the Istanbul summit). The Vilnius-Ten Group included the three Baltic states, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria, all of which are now about to join NATO, as well as the western Balkan aspirant countries of Croatia, Albania and Macedonia (which are still several years away from membership). The other group included Romania and Bulgaria as candidate countries, and Turkey and Greece as NATO members promoting that double candidacy. At present, Romania and Bulgaria as incoming members are interested in a role as NATO "anchors"--alongside Turkey and Greece--for Georgia and Azerbaijan, and alongside Greece for Armenia. With Poland as an advocate for Ukraine, and Turkey and Bulgaria interested in the western Balkan candidacies, a constellation of old member countries, incoming ones, and aspirant countries may emerge to promote a follow-up round of the alliance's enlargement, albeit not a mirror image of the first two rounds.

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