Policing the near abroad: Russian foreign policy in the South Caucasus

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Harvard Library]On: 08 October 2014, At: 06:08Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Australian Journal of InternationalAffairsPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/caji20

    Policing the near abroad: Russianforeign policy in the South CaucasusKavus AbushovPublished online: 26 Jun 2009.

    To cite this article: Kavus Abushov (2009) Policing the near abroad: Russian foreign policyin the South Caucasus, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 63:2, 187-212, DOI:10.1080/10357710902895129

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  • Policing the near abroad: Russian foreign

    policy in the South Caucasus

    KAVUS ABUSHOV*

    This article tries to understand Russias policies towards the South Caucasusand answer the question of whether there is a tension between Russiasinterests and policies. An attempt is made to identify Russias strategicinterests in the region and the crucial factors that shape Russian policies.Based on the assumption that todays Russia gives de facto support to thesecessionist regimes in Georgia, the author attempts to explain what theKremlins motives are in supporting the secessionist regimes. The authorinvestigates whether Russian support for the separatist regimes in the SouthCaucasus is a reaction to the foreign policy orientation of the parent statesor a part of Russias security political interests. On the one hand, supportinginstability in the South Caucasus cannot be a part of the Kremlins strategicinterests, because that can pose a threat to the North Caucasus. On the otherhand, however, Russian policies are not designed to achieve long-termstability in the South Caucasus, and controlled instability seems to suit theKremlin. Why Russia vies for coercive hegemony and supports secessionismare the central questions of this article.

    Recent developments in the South Caucasus have raised questions over thecoherence of Russias foreign policy and strategic interests in the SouthCaucasus region. In particular, Russian support for the secessionist regionswithin Georgia, the instrumentalisation of the Mountainous Karabakh conflict,the demand of loyalty from the three South Caucasus states, Russias desire tomonopolise the energy transportation from the Caspian basin, and the use ofgas deliveries as a leverage have undermined Georgias and Azerbaijans trust ofRussia. The absence of Moscows impartiality in its military and politicalpresence in the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts has pushed Georgia toseek alternative alliances to balance Russian influence. In response to Georgiasnew alliances, the Kremlin has taken an even tougher stance against it byintroducing an economic embargo and publicly exposing its partisan policies tothe ethno-territorial conflicts in the region. Despite Russias resistance, Georgiahas managed to close down the Russian military bases in is territory and aspiresto NATO membership. Moreover, the introduction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Jeyhan

    *Kavus Abushov holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Law and International Relations

    and a Master of Science in International Relations. He is currently studying for his PhD at the

    institute of Political Science, University of Munster in Germany. Kavus is affiliated with the

    Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy in research projects. Bkavus.abushov@gmail.com.

    ISSN 1035-7718 print/ISSN 1465-332X online/09/020187-26 # 2009 Australian Institute of International Affairs

    DOI: 10.1080/10357710902895129

    Australian Journal of International Affairs Vol. 63, No. 2,

    pp. 187212, June 2009

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  • oil and gas pipelines has undermined Russias effort to monopolise energy

    resources in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). These develop-

    ments give a blurred picture of Russias objectives in the region.This article aims to determine whether there is a tension between Russian

    interests and policies in the South Caucasus, and hence whether the Russian

    policies have been well suited to its interests. Such a task firstly requires

    determining a definition of Russias foreign policy interests vis-a-vis Armenia,

    Azerbaijan and Georgia, and secondly, ascertaining what Russian interests lie

    behind its endorsement of the current status quo (which suits the secessionist

    regimes) in the South Caucasus region and desire for a military presence.

    Thirdly, it will be determined whether Russian attempts in recent years to come

    back to the international stage as a great power have had implications for the

    South Caucasus.

    Russias neo-imperialism

    Neo-imperialism is a disguised form of imperialism by which a country may

    grant independence to another country, but continue to dominate it by control

    of markets for goods or raw materials (Munkler 2005: 2137). Referringtraditionally to former colonies, neo-imperialism has been used to imply

    economic, political and cultural control by former colonial powers without

    colonialism. Critics of neo-imperialism argue that existing economic and

    political arrangements created by former colonial powers are used to maintain

    control of the former colonies. Neo-imperialisms traditional focus has been

    on the trade relations between poor countries and leading industrialised

    nations. It implies a form of contemporary economic imperialism, i.e.

    powerful countries behave like colonial powers by getting involved in the

    affairs of less powerful ones and by setting the rules of behaviour in

    international politics*/and this behavior is likened to colonialism in a post-colonial world. The term was used during the cold war by communist

    ideologues to describe capitalist nations*/primarily the USA and the UnitedKingdom*/and since the end of the cold war has been used to refer to thepolicies of the USA, the European Union (EU) and even institutions such as the

    World Bank and the International Monetary Fund vis-a-vis Third World

    countries. Neo-imperialism does not have its own theoretical definition and,

    like imperialism, it is subject to widespread debate on the delimitation of the

    term. Economic neo-imperialism was given a theoretical foundation by the

    dependency theory, arguing that there is a centre of wealthy states and a

    periphery of poor states, and resources are extracted from the periphery and

    flow towards the states at the centre in order to sustain their economic growth

    and wealth. A central concept is that the poverty of the countries in the

    periphery is the result of the manner of their integration in the world system.

    This theory is based on the Marxist analysis of inequalities within the world

    188 Kavus Abushov

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  • system, arguing that underdevelopment of the Global South is a direct result ofthe development in the Global North (Baylis and Smith 2005: 22551).Overall, neo-imperialism is based upon the premises of traditional and moderntheories of imperialism, including those developed by Cox, Doyle, Gramsci,Hobson, Lenin, Marx, Wallerstein, etc. The common variables of imperialismand neo-imperialism are the (coercive) control of the centre over the periphery,divide et impera, the export of values, and the political, military and economicpresence of the centre in the periphery. Neo-imperialism is a more profitableform of control and hegemony over the periphery, since the centre does nothave to share the burdens of the periphery or become engaged in imperialistwars. Whereas imperialism has been criticised for not being economicallyefficient (taking into consideration the underdevelopment of the periphery andthe costs of maintaining the empire), but effective, neo-imperialism faces theproblem of the states strategy not meeting its ends (Munkler 2005: 378). TheUS intervention in Vietnam, Nicaragua and, more recently, in Iraq has raisedthe question of how rational such policies can be.

    The case of Russian neo-imperialism seems problematic today, not leastbecause the centre does not have a clear strategy, and all it has is ends. Whereasa modern empire like the USA had a clear goal when intervening in Iraq (energyresources and absolute hegemony in the Middle East) or fighting in Vietnam,Moscow does not have a clear strategy when supporting the status quo in theSouth Caucasus. Russian policies towards the former Soviet republics in thepost-communist period have been considered to be of a neo-imperialist nature.Although Russia during the democratic euphoria of the Yeltsin governmentfocused more on integration into the Western system of states, this was rathershort-lived. The unsuccessful privatisation process, corruption and the Chechencrisis all raised the question of viability of the Western liberal democracy andfree-market-economy-related trend in Moscow, resulting in calls in Russianpolitical circles and society for Russias return to its previous ideologies ofcentralisation policy vis-a-vis its regions and balance of power vis-a-vis theWest. Following this, Russian policies were aimed at limited sovereignty for,and reintegration of, the former Soviet republics in the Russian sphere ofinfluence. Russias security interests in its south and threats to the Russianminorities in the relevant countries have been used to legitimise terms such asnear abroad or Russian sphere of influence. Having ruled over the geographicspace for more than 200 years, Moscow has had difficulty in acknowledgingthat these states have complete sovereignty both in their domestic and foreignaffairs. Russia has even been irritated by any shift of identity within the CISstates and regarded the colour revolutions as being US-backed. In Central Asia,the Kremlin has made an effort to tie the states into economic arrangements toensure its involvement in the energy production and transportation. Thus,Russias policies towards the South Caucasus states, Ukraine, Belarus andCentral Asia have been designed to guarantee Russias domination andhegemony over them, be it cooperative or coercive.

    Russian foreign policy in the South Caucasus 189

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  • For a better understanding of Russian neo-imperialism, its identity and the

    maxims on which it is based need to be elaborated. These maxims include

    history, the arts, literature, societal behaviour and the mission formed

    throughout history, through which the social behaviour of the state towards

    the outside world emerges; these maxims form identity and identity is expressed

    by these maxims (Berger and Luckman 1967: 623). The Russian mission isbased upon its self-perception as the last bastion and spearhead of Orthodox

    Christianity, and Moscow as a Third Rome: this was even expressed in a

    chronograph of 1512 (Dvornik 1962: 374). Russian history as written by the

    Russian historian Karamzin at the beginning of the nineteenth century

    concentrated on the achievements of Ivan III and Peter I, who had laid the

    foundations of Russian expansionist policies (Dawisha and Parrott 1994:

    2730). The aim of the work was to establish the idea of a powerful nationstate, which the ruling elites in Russia throughout the nineteenth century were

    to use for a successful power consolidation. The completion of Russian

    expansion towards the south (Caucasus) and east (Central Asia) resulted in

    the formation of an image of a multi-ethnic empire (Derzhava) in Russian ruling

    elites. The concept of Derzhava was throughout the twentieth century the

    leading ideology of the Russian ruling elites and was completed through Stalins

    centralised military empire.1

    Identity or ideology formation became a central feature of Putins govern-

    ment, when Russias identity was unambiguously defined in favour of Russias

    great power status (Derzhava). Under Putin, Russian foreign policy gained

    continuity, and the political system became internally centralised and externally

    readapted to great power politics. Proclaiming the Soviet Unions collapse as

    the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century, Putin expressed

    nostalgia for it and its values, and even chose the melody of the Soviet anthem

    for the new Russian anthem and adopted the emblem of the Russian Empire

    (BBC World Service 2005). Thus, Russias great power idea derived from its

    imperialist era and is therefore closely connected with imperialism.

    Russian policies in the South Caucasus in the aftermath of the collapse of the

    Soviet Union: Yeltsin era (19919)

    The ultimate result of the disintegration of the Soviet Union for Russia was an

    identity crisis in political circles, and the resulting inconsistency was manifest in

    the countrys foreign policy. An unclear preference formation in Moscows

    foreign policy more or less had two dimensions: the Euro-Atlantic trend, which

    saw Russias future in Europe as an equal member of Euro-Atlantic civilised

    nations, and the Eurasian trend, which was unwilling to recognise the

    independence of former Soviet republics and expressed antagonism towards

    the West, aspiring to restore Russian post-imperial rule (Donaldson and Nogee

    1998: 114, 1907). After a short period of internationalist idealism, in late 1992

    190 Kavus Abushov

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  • the Russian foreign policy strategy was determined in favou...

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