The Caucasus cauldron
special to the daily
Most Americans probably never heard of the Caucasus until Aug. 8. It’s a region Summit County’s Russian populace is sadly familiar with.
Words such as Chechnya, Ingushetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh are meaningless among many Americans, but arouse bitter memories between Russians.
This started changing when Russia invaded Georgia.
Several questions require examining: Why should Americans care about the Caucasus or Georgia?
How should the United States respond to Russia’s intervention?
And what policies can Washington adopt to prevent a re-emergence of Moscow’s aggressive tendencies?
The Caucasus is a secondary priority in American foreign policy. It lacks the Middle East, Korea’s, or Taiwan Strait’s strategic vitality.
Most U.S. policymakers worry the Caucasus serves as a transit point for WMD proliferators and Al Qaeda/militant Islamist activity.
Georgia occupies a special place in U.S. international affairs circles. Tbilisi participates in the Millennium Challenge program.
The program furnishes recipients economic aid in exchange for implementing political reforms ” Georgia is considered one of the program’s success stories.
Tbilisi is the third largest contributor of troops in Iraq. America is finally Georgia’s principle advocate of NATO Membership.
Washington’s interests in the region are influenced by the Caucasus impact on the European Union.
The area is a strategic chokepoint for Europe’s energy needs.
Two major oil and natural gas pipelines transit Georgia. Both furnish Europe with access to Central Asia’s energy supplies ” both also avoid Russia. Moscow dreams of changing this situation.
Russia’s ideal scenario entails monopolizing Europe’s access to Eurasia’s energy resources.
Europe’s other concern is a resurgent Russian Bear. Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania especially share this anxiety. Each belonged to the Warsaw Pact or Soviet Union.
Russia’s invasion of Georgia sent chills through their countries. It compelled Warsaw to finalize an agreement with Washington regarding basing-rights of a U.S. Anti-Ballistic Missile system.
Those same countries also voiced support of, or sent their leaders to meet with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili shortly after Russia’s attack.
How then can the U.S. and EU influence Russia’s actions in Georgia ” and deter its reemergence as a strategic threat?
Diplomacy is the only viable instrument available. Both parties are instituting diplomatic pressure via UN Resolutions.
The Europeans and Americans are considering adverse consequences on NATO-Russian relations.
A final alternative ” an option not reported in Media circles ” entails severing diplomatic relations with Moscow.
Economic sanctions are ineffective.
Washington lacks any monetary instruments which could affect Moscow.
The Europeans are in a similar position, but are vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
A majority of EU members are reliant on Moscow for natural gas and oil.
Russia used this reliance as a weapon during Putin’s Presidency.
The most notable examples occurred against Ukraine, Lithuania and Estonia.
The Russians reduced and/or cut off their natural gas/oil deliveries during several diplomatic disputes ” the EU could experience a similar fate, if Russia is antagonized by Europe’s response to its Georgia invasion.
American and EU military options are limited.
Both lack the operational or logistical abilities to drive Russia out of Georgia.
Washington can’t directly confront Moscow under present circumstances.
This is especially true considering America’s military forces are thinly stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The only potential instrument is covert military assistance to Georgia.
Tbilisi’s armed forces could utilize the training they received for counter-terrorism operations by the United States in a guerrilla war against Russian forces.
The United States is not anxious about reigniting another Cold War with Russia;
Moscow must accept that a return to its Soviet-era Sphere of Influence is unacceptable. The EU and U.S. need to acknowledge Moscow’s security angst.
Russia’s anxieties are historical ” and who can blame them?
The Russians lost more than 20 million people during World War Two; a conflict originating in Western Europe.
Moscow also perceives the Caucasus as Russia’s Achilles’ Heel.
U.S. abandonment of NATO membership for Georgia will address Russia’s apprehension.
EU integration of Tbilisi will send a message to Moscow, however, that Georgia is a European country. The United States and EU must also ensure that Russia understands a future Georgia-like attack against any EU member will be met with punitive measures.
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