CAUCASUS THE POWDER BARELL OF EUROPE?
Caucasus: the place for the next war ?
In the XIX century it was usual to say about the Balkan Peninsula that here is the powder barrel of Europe where all the wars are starting. In XX century the Russian and German ambitions where making the Eastern Europe the powder barrel of Europe. The XXI century seems to have (besides Middle East) his own soft spot: the Caucasus region. Here an explosive mixture of dictatorship, military ambitions, Islamic fundamentalism and rich natural resources is threatening the Europe stability.
Georgia`s open wounds.
Off course the first thing that is crossing our minds in relation with Caucasus region is the Russian-Georgian war of 2008. The war left the region in tatters : Georgia has seen disappearing all his chances to join NATO or European Union in the forcible future, the Georgian army was crushed by a rudimentary Russian forced proving that Georgia is far from a position of strength in the region. Not at least Georgia has seen amputation of his territory by the independence proclamation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both newly appeared countries are supported militarily and economically by Russia which is making any transgression against these two countries a casus belli. If Georgia does not relinquish his claims to this two regions will never be accepted to NATO and European Union, both organization requiring a prior settlement of frontiers as a part of any pre-joining negotiation. Now an isolated Georgia, a war ravage country confronted with street demonstration and an unpopular president with authoritarian tendencies is ready to embark at least in a war of words with Russia. In august 2009 a war of tension brooked out one more time between Russia and Georgia both trying to win a PR confrontation this time, war is a continuation of politics by other means used to say Clausewitz and Russian and Georgia are ready to continue their confrontation.
The Georgian-Russian war is not the only conflict that is casting a shadow over the region prospects on a normal development. The north of Caucasus seemed to be one more time engulf in the flames of radical Islam. In 1999 then Prime-Minister Putin has build his career on crushing the Chechen rebellion. Now ten year after the story is again on the front page of newspapers; Chechnya is burning. In Ingushetia, a neighboring republic of Chechnya has seen in the last months his president badly wounded and two ministers assassinated and a radical increase in terrorist activity. In the old wound of Chechnya the Kremlin prodigy Ramzan Kadyrov is confronted with an Islamic revival, a chain of assassination and attacks plague the country and make even the Prime minister reloaded Vladimir Putin visiting the region in a desperate effort to prevent a new war in Chechnya that could be fatal to his political stature. Let`s not forget that Chechnya war has destroyed Boris Eltin popularity and toppled two Russians prime ministers.
The conflict has spelt into Dagestan and North Ossetia menacing the pro-Russian leaders and the stability of a difficult region. A new war in Caucasus in a crumbling economy with a Russian unreformed army could spell disaster for Russian renewed imperial ambitious.
Azerbaijan on the frontline.
Azerbaijan is not enjoying a comfortable position on power struggle on Caucasus. With a large part of the population of Shia confession (the same as Iran) the Azerbaijan is observing with increasing worry the rise in isolation of Iran. If a war is to broke up in the region Azerbaijan is crucial: first his air space must be used for aerial attacks on targets on Iran, the country radar system must be used to control Iran air space and any missile interception system to prevent attacks on Europe and Israel must be position here. Already the Israel president Shimon Peres made a landmark visit to Azerbaijan (June 2009), described by Israel Minister of Foreign Affairs as: „to reaffirms the strategic relationship between the two countries”.
Azerbaijan is sharing a long border with Iran, an important Shia population and a common history and is having important internal issues that make the country fragile, economic crisis seriously crippled the economy; corruption is endemic and democracy inexistent. In this difficult portrait the Iran threat made public by Iranian Chief of Staff , Hasan Firudabadi, that said that is regarding Azerbaijan movement as inimical and the Iran ambassador in Baku was recalled for consultation .An attack on Iran could be fatal for Azerbaijan in the present diplomatically and economical construction.
Caucasus: oil and gas battle.
As if the geopolitical confrontation in the region is not enough the resources battle is at an age here. The oil and gas resources of Caspic Sea are poring from this region either to Russia, or to Europe, also the reach wealth of Iran in gas and oil could be exported to Europe only by this region. Russia is trying to secure his control on energy route on Caucasus by building South Stream pipeline, by dismantling independent pipeline and exploit the military victory over Georgia as an incentive to control the region resources. European Union is trying to find alternative routes and reserves of gases, independent of Russian influence by building Nabucco bypassing Russia as main supplier. But the Nabucco pipeline must go by Caucasus region and the gas and oil reserves are also in the region so economic date are making the future of the region even more cloudy then it seems.
Caucasus is looking like a fragile region, with authoritarian regimes, economic corruption and under an ongoing battle for influence and power between Russia, United States, European Union, Israel and Iran. Will be Caucasus the new powder barrel of Europe?
Professor Anton Caragea PhD, MA, FINS