An April 2 meeting between the defense ministers of Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan might have easily passed as routine. Yet in a region like the Caucasus, fraught with deeply entrenched interstate rivalries, this summit could hardly be described as inconsequential. At the meeting, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov identified Armenia as a regional threat, remarking that it “is the only state in the region which lays territorial claims to our countries.” The same day, Russian fighter jets stationed in Armenia began three-day drills. Though these two events probably coincided by chance, they illustrate two distinct – potentially competing – regional orders in the South Caucasus: a deepening Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan coordination and a historic Russian presence represented by the Kremlin’s close alliance with Armenia.
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, conflicts ranging from Chechnya’s fight for independence to the ‘frozen’ Nagorno-Karabakh dispute have attracted the attention of scholars to the Caucasus region. Indeed, Russia’s rekindled presence in the region, Georgia’s disputes with the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the latest status of Nagorno-Karabakh provided the basis for the latest “Evening Talk” staged by our parent organization, the Center for Security Studies. The event, which was entitled Conflicts and Conflict Resolution in the Caucasus, brought together different experts to discuss the future trajectory of security in the region. In the following podcast, Oxford University’s Professor Neil Macfarlane explains, among other things, why Georgia will not be reclaiming the breakaway republics any time soon, and lays out the prospects for improved dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
In June and July Russia held several military exercises with its regional partners. There are more to come in August and September. Of course, none of the planned events are quite as extensive as the one that an Iranian news agency falsely reported on June 19th, in a bit of wishful thinking. There won’t be joint war games involving 90,000 troops held in Syria by Russia, China and Iran.
Even then, the exercises are numerous and heavily concentrated in Central Asia. In June there was Peaceful Mission-2012 [ru], held by five Shanghai Group countries (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) in Tajikistan. There were 2000 troops involved in the antiterrorist themed war game, of which Russia contributed 350.
This week, the ISN focuses on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over this de facto independent territory has been running since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Mediation efforts by the ‘Minsk Group’, a group of OSCE member states, haven’t brought any substantial success. Some even argue that they’ve been counterproductive.
As other disputes stuck in a ‘no peace, no war’ situation for so long, Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to the ‘frozen conflicts’ species. But the dramatic meltdown of the South Ossetia conflict last summer showed that frozen conflicts should be taken very seriously indeed.
- Check out this ISN Special Report on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by our senior correspondent in the South Caucasus, Karl Rahder.
- For information on current peace and stabilization efforts, check out this OSCE link and this ICBSS Policy Brief.
- And here are two papers pulled out of our Digital Library: one by the Elcano Royal Institute on foreign mujahedin in Nagorno-Karabakh and one by Swisspeace on ‘no war, no peace’ societies.