December 9, 2003
Ugly turn in the Caucasus
The specter of strong-arm intervention was hovering over the Caucasus region for a long time. It became an ugly and ominous reality as the demi-god of war, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, marched into Azerbaijan and Georgia, skirting Armenia. That was a demonstrative gesture to signal that the first two countries had fallen under U.S. sway, while Armenia wavered in the Russian camp.
This move by war planners in Washington was long in coming. First the U.S. broke apart Yugoslavia and humiliated the Slavic cousins of the Russians by drawing the line in the sand in Europe. The next move was in Central Asia, when the U.S. established military presence without much fanfare and with only a symbolic gesture by Mr. Putin to reinforce the Russian presence in the region.
Recent admission by the Russian military hierarchy, that their armed forces have been degraded to such a degree that they can hardly fight a defensive war, was not lost at the Pentagon, which was quick to send the messenger of "neocons" to the Caucasus.
For a long time pundits had warned the leaders in Armenia that if we don't resolve the Karabagh issue expeditiously, someone else will step in and solve it for us. Today that danger is imminent as the U.S. makes a bold move in the Caucasus and sets its agenda in no nonsense manner. This move renders Armenia's reliance on Russian military base very questionable. When Russia unceremoniously acquiesced to Yugoslavia's dismemberment, and surrendered its Central Asian spheres of influence, what course can she choose in the Caucasus?
Those who failed to predict the sequence of events and the political developments in the region, it is time for them to ask whether Armenia once again falls on the wrong side of this power play.
Edward Shevardnadze was successful in destroying the Soviet Union, in cooperation with Mr. Gorbachev, then he was equally successful in destroying his own country, namely Georgia, and the last thing left to be destroyed was his political career. As a long-time Kremlin underling, he wavered too long between his allegiance to the West and the fear of the North. While he provided lip service to the West, demanding the removal of Russian military bases on Georgian territory, he counted on Russian good will to restore his rule over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia, Southern Ossatia, and Ajaria, so much so that Washington's patience ran out and it engineered his ouster. After his forced resignation he publicly questioned the U.S. reliability, in view of his long and valuable services to the West.
Those who have any doubts about the role of the American involvement in the Georgian takeover need to read Hugh Pope's in-depth article in the November 24, 2003 issue of the Wall Street Journal. The forces which overthrew Shevardnadze were trained and founded by different U.S. agencies, some operating as NGOs in Georgia: "Chief among these is the Liberty Institute, which has received funds from the U.S. government and financier George Soros "says Mr. Pope, and continues "It became the organizing juggernaut behind the move to push Mr. Shevardnadze out of office." Then he goes on to describe how Rustavi-2 TV station, also funded by the U.S., mounted a media campaign. Last, but not least, the role played by two agents, euphemistically called "friends of the West", Bokeria and Ramishvili, who "took Soros Foundation-funded tour of Serbia to see how the Optor, or "Resistance", the student opposition had ousted President Slobodan Milosevic".
All these activities have been undertaken brazenly, in broad daylight, in the name of supplanting "democracy" in that country.
Adding insult to injury Secretary Colin Powell, in a three-way conference call with UN General Secretary Kofi Anan and Eduard Shevardnadze, has asked the Georgian President in no subtle
way, to "do the right thing", meaning to resign.
While Secretary Powell was touring North Africa, proselytizing democracy to the Arab countries, Mr. Rumsfeld marched in Azerbaijan to shake the bloody hands of Ilham Aliyev, who had shot his way to his father's presidential office in a fraudulent election. It seems that Mr. Rumsfeld does not realize how ludicrous is his embrace of a medieval despot, when the State Department issues a scathing criticism of the sham elections and when Azerbaijan is listed as the 95th most corrupt country out of 102 surveyed recently by Transparency International.
It looks like "democracy" has a new meaning now unfamiliar to the Founding Fathers of America.
The Washington Post (December 4, 2003) reports that "greeting Aliyev at the start of the meeting in the presidential building, Rumsfeld congratulated him on the election victory, but asked at a news conference afterward about whether the vote met international standards for free and fair elections, he offered no opinion". It is indeed a rare virtue of the Secretary of Defense not to respond to that charged question. He could have also looked right into the camera and declared Ilham Aliyev as a model of democracy!
Irony aside, Mr. Rumsfeld's cowboy appearance in the Caucasus and his demand, next to the Georgian President pro-tem Burdzanadze, that Russia has to pull its military bases out of Georgia has created a new dynamics and very explosive situation in the region.
The crisis is compounded by the news that the U.S. has supplied Azerbaijan five naval vessels, including an 82-foot point class patrol boat, to provoke an incident with Iran over the Caspian. Iran, of course, is next on the list of "axis of evil" provided to the administration by the unelected "neocons" operating behind closed doors in Washington.
These bold moves change the political landscape entirely in the Caucasus. Bolstered by the U.S. support, Armenia's two neighbors have already taken a different, bellicose tone. Saakashvili, the front runner in the Georgian Presidential bid has already expressed confidence, even before being elected, that the government in Tbilisi will bring break-away regions, which enjoy Russian support, under its sway. That does not bode well to Javakhk region, home for a Russian military base and large Armenian population. Saakashvili, the charismatic candidate, is educated and trained in the U.S. with very solid Western credentials.
On the eve of Rumsfled's visit to Azerbaijan, that country's foreign minister has made a very tough and uncompromising statement in Maastricht at a meeting of OSCE councils. Vilayat Quiliyev, with a newly acquired arrogance, has made the following announcement: "The Azerbaijani Republic states that the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict can be resolved only on the basis of full respect for Azerbaijan's territorial integrity". According to Turan news agency he further underlined that Armenia should unequivocally recognize Azerbaijan's territorial integrity together with its integral part, the Nagorny-Karabagh region. Moreover, the Armenian occupying forces should immediately and unconditionally withdraw from all the Azerbaijani territories. Quiliyev also has stated that all favorable conditions should be created for the safe return of Azerbaijan displaced persons on their land.
In view of sudden deterioration of the situation, Armenia is left with very few weak options.
A) It remains to be seen how Russia will react to this onslaught and how far is Moscow ready to retreat in front of American thrust. If the recent past is any indication, Russia does not have the will and the means to resist. Thus far, the Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov has reacted mildly, stating that the issue of Russian bases in Georgia will be settled during the negotiations of the two parties concerned.
B) Should A
rmenia jump on the bandwagon and surrender completely to the U.S. camp, abandoning the Russian military protection, the policies of the U.S. administration are too obvious: the Karabagh issues will be settled exclusively on the terms set by the Turks and Azeris.
C) The U.S. Armenian community can mobilize its lobbying resources to counter, as much as possible, the administration's one-sided and insensitive policies. No division of forces or competition needs to be exercised to make an impact. Given the forthcoming election year we stand a better chance to be heard. Those Armenians raising funds or supporting the Bush campaign have to realize that in their shortsighted or dogmatic approach, they are contributing to a potential bloodshed in the Caucasus, where Armenia can be victimized. President George W. Bush reneged on his written commitment to support the recognition of the Armenian genocide, and thus far he has not yet indicated that he gives any consideration to Armenian concerns and issues.
This period is the moment of gathering of storms in the Caucasus. Next Yugoslavia, Afghanistan or Iraq may shift to that volatile region. Prudence, quiet diplomacy, unity of purpose and political expediency may pay off and save a new bloodbath for Armenia.