Caucasus - When Moscow looks beyond the CIS
Moscow's use of military power in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States may have less to do with the situation within the individual member states than with Russian policies toward countries and alliances further afield.
That possibility, seldom considered in the West, was raised last month by Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev during his meeting with visiting representatives of the North Atlantic Parliamentary Assembly's Committee on NATO Expansion and Assistance to the Newly Independent States. Speaking to that group on 24 October, Aliev said that various Russians had told him Moscow is providing large-scale military assistance to Armenia both to help Yerevan in its conflict with Baku over Nagorno-Karabakh and to put pressure on Turkey and NATO's southern flank.
On the one hand, Aliev's remarks were most immediately intended to try to involve more West European countries in finding a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. By suggesting that Russia's de facto military alliance with Armenia meant that Moscow could no longer be a neutral arbiter as co- chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group charged with resolving the Karabakh dispute, Aliev clearly hoped to convince the West Europeans to play a new and larger role in securing peace in the region.
Aliev also repeated that his government is prepared to "grant a high degree of self-rule to Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan" but suggested that "we can give nothing more than that." He appealed to the West Europeans to "indicate strongly to Armenia that its additional demands are unfounded and will never be accepted." And the Azerbaijani leader responded to European concerns about human rights by noting that some international organizations focusing on the violation of human rights in Baku have done little or nothing about what he called the "mass violation" of the rights of more than 1 million Azerbaijanis forced to leave their homes because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The UNHCR estimates the number of displaced persons at 860,000.
But on the other hand, Aliev's comments call attention to a broader issue that so far has received relatively little attention either in the countries of the region or in the West: the possibility that Russian actions in what many in Moscow still call the "near abroad" are in fact directed at countries in the "far abroad."
With the exception of discussions of so-called flank modifications in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, most analysts in Russia's neighbors and the West have considered Russia's military involvement in former Soviet republics almost exclusively in terms of Moscow's interest in maintaining its influence there. Thus, Russia's military assistance to Armenia and its establishment of bases there have generally been considered only in terms of Moscow's desire to play a major role in the Caucasus. And Russian involvement in the Transdniester region of Moldova or in Tajikistan has been discussed only in terms of Russian interests in those countries or in their respective regions.
While such attention to Russian actions is entirely understandable both in these countries and in the West, it has three consequences that may prove more significant for international security.
First, focusing attention on the influence of Russian actions in the CIS states often distracts analysts from considering the ways in which these actions may have a broader impact. Sometimes they will, sometimes they will not. But Aliev's observation may help to sensitize people to this possibility.
Second, such attention inevitably increases the concerns many non-Russians feel about Moscow's intentions. To the extent they see themselves as the target, they may draw one set of conclusions. To the extent they see Moscow's aims as broader, they may draw very different conclusions, possibly leading them to seek different solutions than would otherwise have been the case.
And third, such attention inevitably deflects Western attention away from Russian moves throughout the region as a whole. To the extent that what Moscow does is seen only through the prism of the CIS or the concept of "newly independent states," many Western governments may be inclined to play down the implications of what Russia intends.
Moreover, if they view Moscow's goals more broadly, as Aliev suggests they should do, Western governments may conclude that they should pay closer attention to Russia's involvement in the former Soviet republics than they previously thought.
Clearly, Aliev hopes that Western countries will reach that conclusion about Russian involvement in Armenia and the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict. But his analytic point clearly applies across the board throughout this all too unstable region.
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