Jan Künzl for CRIA
Six weeks ago, the war between Russia and Georgia over the
secessionist Georgian provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia
ended. What is the current situation, especially concerning the
withdrawal of the Russian troops from Georgian territory?
The current situation is quite different from the status quo
which existed in the region between 1992 and 2008. The Russian
troops will be withdrawn from the Georgian mainland, but they
will stay in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These secessionist
regions have been recognized as independent states by Russia. I
think that Abkhazia and South Ossetia will join the collective
security pact of the CIS countries in the next months. They may
even become members of the so-called Russian and Belarusian
Union State which would give Russia the legal fundament to keep
its troops in both republics. The broader picture will be like
the following: the Russian troops will leave Georgian main
territory and the former Russian peacekeeping missions in the
secessionist provinces will be recognized by observers from the
EU which will get an OSCE mandate to monitor the boarders
between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This will not
take place without conflict and harsh rhetoric on either side,
but is the most likely scenario for the upcoming weeks and
As reasons for
the massive Russian intervention - even in the Georgian
heartland- foremost two reasons are frequently stated: The
geopolitical importance of Georgia as a transit route for
resources to the West as well as the will of the Russian
Administration to stop the expansion of western interests in the
post-Soviet area. What is your explanation?
Russian intervention in Georgia served four main goals:
First: Russia wanted
to protect its peacekeepers and the inhabitants with Russian
passports. If Russia had failed to protect its interests and
safeguard its peacekeepers, the Russian Great Power status would
have been badly damaged.
clearly drew a red line to the West; much like the West did 50
years ago in the Cuba Crisis. Russia is not going to accept a
further expansion of the NATO in the heartland of the
post-Soviet territories, which are regarded as specific and
historic zones of influence of Russia.
response was very harsh, including the destruction of Georgian
infrastructure and the humiliation of Georgia and also that of
the USA and the West.
Third: another aim
was, of course, to regain its sphere of interest in the big
energy game which is conducted in the Caucasus, maybe even to
weaken Georgia as a future transit state for energy flows from
east to west. Russia sent a clear signal to western investors
that investments in Georgia are not safe and the Nabucco
Pipeline is dead.
destroyed the infrastructure of the Georgian army in order to
make the Georgian side less capable of making a new effort at a
military solution in South Ossetia in the future. This makes
clear that it was also a military task.
Caucasus crisis, Russian aggressiveness and Western cautiousness
were peculiar. What are the implications for the other hotspots
like Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria?
The Russian aggressiveness was peculiar, but the role of the
Georgian aggressiveness should not be underestimated. It
provoked the Russian response. The issue of the Georgian
intervention will be the subject of a very intense discussion
inside the Georgian elite and President Saakashvili will
probably not survive this internal debate politically.
You can compare the
Transnistrian issue with South Ossetia and Abkhazia because most
of the citizens of Transnistria have Russian passports. At the
same time we see that the situation in Moldova itself is less
tense. The President of Moldova, Voronin, is not Saakashvili -
he is not willing to solve the problem by force and he is not
presenting Moldova – like, for example, Yushchenko in Ukraine
does - as another victim of Russia. On the contrary, he is
willing to solve the Transnistrian issue in the framework of a
kind of (con)federation for Moldova in return to the Kozak-Plan.
This plan was developed by Russia in 2003 and was partly
accepted by Moldova by this time, but was fully rejected by NATO
and EU. I think it is now possible to return to the Kozak-Plan
in Moldova. Before the developments of the 8th of
August, this could have been a very interesting concept for
Georgia as well.
My feeling about
Nagorno-Karabakh is that the Russian influence over this
conflict is much smaller than that over Abkhazia, South Ossetia
and Transnistria. Nagorno-Karabakh is an issue which is being
dealt with much more seriously on an international level. There
is a strong involvement of the USA and of France, which has a
considerable Armenian diaspora. This is much more crucial in
this context than the Russian involvement. Of course Russia is
playing its game in Nagorno-Karabakh, but it is not the ultimate
force which can do what it wants in that part of the Caucasus.
The Turkish influence is an important factor as well. The
Nagorno-Karabakh issue is much more complex and much more
difficult to resolve. But anyway, I think the EU has heard the
recent wakeup call and is beginning to engage in this region.
The resolution of the frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is one
of the key tasks of the EU in the region.
The EU and the NATO have vital interests in the South Caucasus
which currently seem to clash with those of Russia. What kind of
strategy could prove successful to protect them? Isolation of
and confrontation with Russia or rather an engagement-oriented
I do not think that one can say that the interests of the EU
really clash with those of Russia. The EU has not fully
positioned itself in the Caucasus yet. So we will see whether
there will be common interests with Russia or a clash of
interests in the future. NATO is also not positioned in the
South Caucasus and it is split about the topic of its
enlargement in the Caucasus. Considering this, I do not see NATO
interests clashing with those of Russia, either. They may clash
soon, but there is still a possibility that the expansion of
NATO to Georgia will be postponed. Furthermore, a country like
Azerbaijan is not ready to join NATO not only because of its
problems with Armenia which, in turn, is a member of a different
military organisation [author’s note: The Collective
Security Treaty Organisation]. The Caucasus needs a rest after
the war. And Georgia alone in NATO is not making the region any
But that does not
mean that the West will relinquish its influence in the South
Caucasus to Russia. What I predict is a stronger development of
the EU security and defence policy in the region. Maybe the EU
soft power along with NATO power could find the political will
to do more than they have done before, including a new mission
on Nagorno-Karabakh to try to solve this conflict in an attempt
to bring Turkish and Armenian interests together. Although the
current US Administration favours a containment policy towards
Russia, I still think an engagement-oriented approach is
Russia sent a clear signal that it is willing to secure its
interests in the so called ‘near abroad’ even by military means
if needed. Ukraine is a country seeking membership in the EU
which includes with the Crimea a territory of great geopolitical
importance where the majority of the population is constituted
by ethnic Russians. What are the implications for Ukraine?
The Crimea is indeed a region with a huge population of ethnic
Russians, but according to my knowledge this fact is changing.
The ethnic group of Tatars is growing quickly and could become
the biggest minority, a fact that should not be underestimated.
Another aspect is that the Ukrainian constitution prohibits
double citizenship. Russian citizenship - if it is really
offered to Russians on a large scale, as is stated by the
Ukrainian foreign minister and disputed by the Russian Foreign
Ministry - confronts the people with a very difficult dilemma.
The situation is very different to what we have in Abkhazia and
South Ossetia, where the inhabitants had no connection to the
Georgian state, the Georgian police or the Georgian authorities.
I do not believe that the majority of the population of ethnic
Russians in Ukraine or the Crimea wants to be part of Russia as
is the case in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What could happen is
that a conflict will develop over the Black Sea Fleet. For
example in the case that the Russians want to demonstrate is
that they are not willing to leave Sevastopol in 2017, when the
agreement over the use of the naval base will expire. On the
other hand this situation could be worsened by the Ukrainian
side, when they try to push the Russians out of Sevastopol
earlier than 2017 in order to promote its ambitions for the NATO
membership. This is a dangerous moment which should be watched
In November the USA is electing a new president. What type of
policy towards the Caucasus region could be expected of the
To be honest, I do not think the Caucasus will play a major
role. The financial crisis is by far the most important issue.
In general one can say that McCain will probably be more
favourable to a containment policy towards Russia and that Obama
will be more reluctant. He will look for opportunities for
cooperation, but he will probably not
be doing it by himself, but by listening to the European
attitude towards Russia more closely.
The rhetoric in the West and Russia in the aftermath of the
conflict resembled that of the Cold War era. Is there a threat
of a new Cold War? And does Russia want to restore its empire?
It is true, the rhetoric resembled that of the Cold War. But I
do not see an upcoming confrontation like in the Cold War era.
There might be an attempt of Russia to restore its empire, but
not in a classical sense of warfare and of occupying
territories. Russia does not have the military means and is not
in the economic situation to do that. What Russia could probably
try to do is to develop mechanisms for the reintegration of
post-Soviet areas, which could under the circumstances become
neo-imperialistic. The reintegration process could go hand in
hand with pressuring states through energy policy to the
subordination to Russian influence. Russia could make attempts
to replace pro-American regimes
with more Russian friendly regimes, but the Russian capability
for such a policy is very restrained.
But it could also be
possible that this will not happen. There will be a process of
integration in the post-Soviet area, because almost everywhere
states are coming together and trying to integrate in regional
alliances in order to become economically more efficient; but
this process does not necessarily have to take place under a
Russian flag. It is also thinkable partly under a Chinese flag,
or partly under some kind of Kazakh flag. Also the idea of the
GUAM [Organization consisting of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan
and Moldova] could be revived in a certain way. With such
integration, the West could not only live with it, but it should
even support it. The EU-membership brings the promise of
prosperity and financial support. If we close the door of the EU
to countries like Ukraine or the South Caucasian states, because
we are frightened to overstretch the Union, then we should not
be alarmed if these countries will seek other forms of
integration with the Islamic world, with Asia or again with