Daily Intrigue: August 22, 2014 ‘Curiosities in the Caucasus’

Interestingly, curiosities in the Caucasus continue to avoid international attention, specifically in the case of Georgian breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The aforementioned series of intriguing events in southeastern Europe has not been reported on by many mainstream international media outlets and has only raised eyebrows among more regionally-focused independent writers.

On August 6, I began a series on what I have termed fracture points. I have operationalized the term fracture points as geographical areas and regions that occupy space along important lines of demarcation or fissure points between the two belligerents and represent geostrategically important terrain straddling the two competing sides of the conflict.

Recently, I noted a series of events in both regions, especially intriguing in the wake of the escalating conflict in Eastern Ukraine.  In Abkhazia, the president was deposed on June 1 and a national bank head killed in a car crash on August 1. Snap presidential elections have been called for and international observers are noting the likelihood that they will be tumultuous.

I first noted the strategic importance of these regions on July 23 in ‘Ukraine, Russia, and the West: Ahead and Beyond’.

Both The West and Russia will apply pressure and influence upon geostrategically valuable territories. Regions such as AbkhaziaGăgăuziathe former Yugoslavia, and the Caucasus will once again be the subject of debate and prognostication. The Kremlin has also rekindled its historical ties with the government of Cuba in an effort to galvanize support in the western hemisphere and seeks a strategic balance to the encroachment of NATO into the Russian near abroad. In the near-term, it is likely that these points, which in many ways signify lines of demarcation both culturally and geopolitically between the West and Russia, will receive political and diplomatic pressure by both sides. Both the West and Russia will seek to take advantage of public opinion, de-legitimize unfriendly political regimes, and attempt to co-opt local economies. Important areas to watch include the aforementioned Caucasus (Abkhazia and Ossetia), the Baltics, the Balkans (especially Serbia), and Moldova (with special attention paid to the pro-Russian autonomous region of Găgăuzia. (Foreign Intrigue, July 23)

In my August 10th article at SOFREP.com, ‘Russia and the West: Fracture Points (South Ossetia)’, I note:

‘South Ossetia is a breakaway region of Georgia, having split from the control of the Tbilisi government following the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. It is recognized as an independent state by only five countries, most notable of which is Russia. Yesterday, Sky News media reported on the construction of a fence along the border separating South Ossetia from Georgia:

As the crisis in Ukraine continues, Russia has been accused of attempting to exert pressure elsewhere in its former sphere of influence.

Stallard further explores the recent intensifying of the construction effort and places the event in the context of wider geopolitical and economic competitiveness between the West and Russian President Vladamir Putin’s government in Moscow. (Jones, SOFREP. August 10)

The border I referenced, the one separating Georgia from breakaway South Ossetia, has now been officially closed:

In South Ossetia, August 25-26, will be terminated citizens pass through the points of intersection of the simplified border with Georgia 

This was reported by “Interfax” on Friday, the press service of the State Security Committee of the Republic. 

As explained in the KGB, this is due to enhanced security measures at the time of the republic in commemoration ofRussia’s recognition of the independence of SouthOssetia. 

The ban on crossing the state border with Georgia will bein effect until August 27, he added. (News Week 24, August 22)

Yesterday, I received links to reports on an important meeting between military leaders in the South Caucasus. Both of these events provide essential context to understand the importance of the tectonic shifts now occurring in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Kalitor found a report detailing a meeting between the defense ministers of Georgia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. The three leaders agreed to carry out a joint military exercise:

While the specific results of the meeting may have had to do with protecting joint infrastructure like the pipelines and railroad projects that the three countries work on together, the geopolitical import of the meeting was undeniable. With Russia’s new assertiveness and the recent spike in tensions in Nagorno Karabakh, Georgia and Azerbaijan are keen to get support wherever they can. “Georgia is very fortunate to have such great neighbors and strategic allies like Azerbaijan and Turkey,” said Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania. “And these challenging times from the security standpoint in the wider region we need to cooperate more closely and we need to be very tightly in touch with each other to defend the critical infrastructure that is very integral to our development.”

Alasania also took pains to emphasize that the alliance is not directed at anyone in particular: “I would like to underline that the only purpose of our meeting is to regulate security and defence issues and it is not directed against anyone. Moreover such meetings provided additional basis for regional security.” (Eurasianet.org, August 21)

This agreement is especially important given the significant escalation in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia and Azerbaijan have repeatedly exchanged fire over the past month and the rising death toll on both sides inspired a Russian attempt at mediation. There is great risk for widespread instability of the entire Caucasus region. The simmering war over Nagorno-Karabakh has the potential to engulf the entire region and include the states of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia. Iran and Turkey, also with significant interest in the region, could also be enveloped in wake of spreading violent conflict.

Another associate, AJ, provided me word of the mobilization of military forces in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria, which I previously reported on both here and at SOFREP, stating that Russian intervention was likely in the event of a move to secede from Moldova. Moldova.org reports:

Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria is mobilizing its army after self-appointed president Evgheny Shevchuk has signed Wednesday a “decree” calling on its de facto ministry of defense to train the soldiers.

The training will last one month, according to the “act” signed by Mr. Shevchuk.

Among those called to be trained are the persons on the reserve list as well as all representatives of force structures. They will be prepared within the Russia-backed peacekeeping forces stationed in the region.

Unconfirmed media reports from the separatist region said that a violent conflict might break out on August 26, with Moldovan forces attacking the region. However, officials in Chisinau rejected any allegations about a possible attack, saying that “Chisinau-based authorities do not intend and do not prepare any kind of activities that could generate tensions.” (Moldova.org, August 21)

For its part, Russia has pledged to “…preserve the peace…’ in the region:

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Friday Russia would fulfill its obligations to preserve peace in the self-proclaimed republic ofTransnistria, a narrow strip of land between Moldova and Ukraine that has been in a conflict with Moldova since the 1990s.

“Russia will fulfill all its obligations to their full extent and until the end as a guarantor of peace in this land,” Rogozin said at an event near the republic’s capital city Tiraspol commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Soviet attack on Axis forces in Moldova.

The senior Russian official stressed that Ukraine and Moldova were both seeking to isolate the breakaway republic and have barred its citizens from traveling abroad, but said that Russia would not abandon its nationals living in Transnistria. (RiaNovosit, August 22)

Even more intriguing is that the leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria recently shared a phone call in which they discussed their respective issues. As the regional fracture points continue to observe intensification of conflict and the threat of intervention by Russian forces, we will be publishing a series of articles identifying and analyzing the conflict.  Watch for our upcoming articles on Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Moldova (Transnistria and Găgăuzia), Nagorno-Karabakh, Ukraine, and Georgia both here at Foreign Intrigue and at SOFREP.

Thanks to Kalitor and AJ for links and analysis.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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Eric Jones

Eric Jones

Director, Co-founder, and Editor in Chief at Foreign Intrigue. Eric researches and writes about international affairs and US foreign policy, particularly Europe, Russia, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. You can email Eric at Eric.Jones@Foreign-Intrigue.com. Follow Eric on Twitter via @Intrigue_Jones. Follow Foreign Intrigue on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/ForeignIntrigue.