THE GEOPOLITICAL SITUATION IN THE SOUTHERN CAUCASUS: RUSSIAN INTERESTS AND THE POLICY OF THE WESTERN COUNTRIES
Sergey ZHILTSOV, Vladimir STOLL, Varvara BLISHCHENKO
Sergey Zhiltsov, D.Sc. (Political Science), Research Professor at the Department of Political Analysis and Control, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) (Moscow, Russian Federation)
Vladimir Stoll, D.Sc. (Political Science), Head of the Department of Regional Administration, Institute of Public Administration and Management, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANHiGS) (Moscow, Russian Federation)
Varvara Blishchenko, Ph.D. (Law), Associate Professor of the Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (Moscow, Russian Federation)
Historically, the Southern Caucasus has been the zone of Russia’s special interests. Here passed the trade routes and economic interests intertwined. For centuries, Russia has been conducting an active policy in the region.
The disintegration of the U.S.S.R. led to a radical change in the geopolitical situation in the Southern Caucasus. The new independent states—Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia—began to formulate and implement their own independent foreign policies, based primarily on national interests. Consequently, having obtained independence, they had to rebuild relations with Russia for whom, in turn, the Southern Caucasus continued to have great geopolitical, economic, military and political importance. The affiliations between Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, developed throughout history, continued to be a factor in their relationships.
At different stages in the recent past, Russian foreign policy in the Southern Caucasus employed a variety of approaches due to another factor: political fragmentation of the countries of the region, which does not constitute a singular, coherent geopolitical unit. The internal political processes in the South Caucasian countries developed differently. They faced complex economic and social problems, plagued by the inter-state and intra-state contradictions: the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhaz conflicts. Russia was actively involved in conflict resolutions.
Russian policy has taken into account the complexity, faced by the countries of the region in the formation of their national statehood, ensuring sovereignty of their respective territories, and the development of foreign policy. Russia had no choice but to consider the region’s complex commercial, economic and geopolitical interests, the expansion of cooperation in the energy field between the countries of the Southern Caucasus and the largest energy companies, and the increasing interest of the Western states in the region’s resource potential. These factors have fueled a clash of competing geopolitical projects in the Southern Caucasus, which has manifested itself since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The approaches of Russia to and its interaction with the countries of the Southern Caucasus were influenced to a great extent by the active policy of the United States, EU, and, in the last decade, China. They have consistently promoted their interests in the countries of the region, using available opportunities to strengthen their influence in the South Caucasian countries.
An important factor in determining Russian policy in the Southern Caucasus is the issue of energy: the questions of production and transportation of hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian region. Azerbaijan is one of the oil and gas producing states of the Caspian region, supplying Turkey and the European countries. Georgia acts as a key partner of Baku and the Western countries, delivering Azerbaijani hydrocarbons through its territory.
In recent years, the vectors of foreign policies of the South Caucasian countries vary more and more. Armenia’s joining the Eurasian Economic Union took place during increased cooperation between Georgia and NATO. The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia remains unresolved. These and other factors should be taken into account if Russia is to realize its policy in the Southern Caucasus.
Keywords: Southern Caucasus, Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, conflicts, pipelines.