The Geopolitics of the Caucasus

Article excerpt

STUDENTS AND SCHOLARS OF INTERNATIONAL relations should regularly call to mind the city of Gori. They should remember this city not only as the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, but also as a reminder of the centrality of geography to international politics and security. Gori was the center of the August 2008 war in the Caucasus. However, the city is not a historical symbol, nor the location of some important monastery or mosque. It does not hold any great meaning in the identity of Russians, Ossetians, or Georgians. Gori was central to the 2008 war simply because it is located at the center of the Caucasus. Russian control of Gori meant that Tbilisi, as well as all land-locked states of Central Asia and the Caucasus, had no access to Georgia's Black Sea ports. These ports have become, in recent years, an important trade outlet for the land-locked Caspian region. Once Moscow had control of Gori, there was no need to conquer Tbilisi, or to apply pressure on the states of the Caspian region in order to get its way on a variety of economic and security issues on its policy agenda.

A look at a map illustrates the strategic importance of the Caucasus region for Russia and other powers. Not only is the Caucasus adjacent to Russia's southern border, but it is the essential outlet of the landlocked Caspian region to open seas. Control of Georgia determines the flow of trade patterns and venues of infrastructures for all of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Caucasus is also the physical meeting ground of a number of powers: Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Moreover, it serves as an important air corridor from the United States and Europe to destinations in the Middle East and Asia, including Afghanistan.

In addition to external powers such as Russia, the unique geographic locations of the three states of the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) have had considerable impact on their own foreign policy constraints and opportunities - Armenia and Azerbaijan as land-locked states, and Georgia as a key transit state for the Caucasus and Central Asia. In the post-Soviet period, the three independent states of the Caucasus adopted different foreign policy orientations. Armenia chose close cooperation with Russia, as well as good ties with Iran. Azerbaijan attempted a balanced policy of cooperation with the United States and Russia while maintaining stable and cooperative relations with Turkey and Iran. Georgia, especially after President Saak'ashvili's rise to power in 2003, chose to ally with the United States and its NATO partners. Other former Soviet states located adJacent to the open seas have aspired to join European and U.S.-oriented eco. nomic and security structures, while landlocked states have given larger consideration to Russia in their foreign policy orientations.1 Geography also impacts the policy options of the global and regional powers involved in the region. Despite its immense global power, the United States as a sea-based power has a limited ability to determine the security outcomes in the Caucasus and greater Caspian region, which is land-locked except for Georgia. At the same time, demographic considerations have had decisive influence on Iran's policy choices in the region, with Iran acting to prevent spillover of Azerbaijani nationalism into its own Azerbaijani minority.

The August 2008 war and other events in the Caucasus region demonstrate a number of lessons. First, geographic factors have significant influence on the emergence of conflict and the determination of political and security developments in the Caucasus and greater Caspian region. Second, alliances in the region and interventions are not formed on the basis of common identities, but are based on strategic material-based calculations. This principle is also applicable to the foreign policies of the Muslim powers Turkey and Iran. Third, external support for secessionists has been essential to their cause in the region, and this too has been determined mostly on the basis of geopolitical considerations. Finally, Russia's ability to use power in its bordering regions is still immensely effective and should be taken into consideration. In the global arena, although Moscow may not possess relative power, it nevertheless possesses relevant power in certain regions.

This article will analyze the impact of geographic factors on current politics in the Caucasus. It will open with an examination of the conflicts in the Caucasus that emerged in the post-Soviet period. It will present the policies of the major powers surrounding the Caucasus states: Russia, Iran, and Turkey. It will conclude with the lessons to be drawn from politics in the Caucasus.


Despite the immense incongruity between political and ethnic borders in and between the political entities that emerged following Soviet breakup, only five secessionist conflicts emerged in the former Soviet Union. These conflicts include the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia; Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia; the Trandsniestria conflict in Moldova; and Chechnya in Russia. While frequently referred to as ethnic conflicts, identity differences are not a strong explanation for the emergence of the conflicts since die Soviet space was distinguished by hundreds of ethnic and historical differences. Yet, despite the vast number of identity disjunctures, secessionist conflicts emerged only in a very limited number of locations. In all of the secessionist conflicts, Russia's support for the secessionists was vital to their cause, with the obvious exception of Chechnya. Moscow's intervention on behalf of potential secessionist groups was not motivated by common ethnic sentiments, but rather pragmatic policy calculations, including where Russia could act and where it could gain something strategically vital. Thus, with the exception of Trandsniestria, Russia intervened in these conflicts on behalf of non-Russian groups and supported their secessionist drives.

On the eve of the Soviet breakup, the new states in the Caucasus possessed many ethnic and regional minorities that harbored incentives for secession, both to retain privileges and power that they had received under the Soviet federative system and for fear of the consequences of transferring central rule from Moscow to the local capitals of the new states. Yet, the only groups that actually pushed militarily for self-rule were those that received Moscow's active support. Georgia was an especially important target for Russian intervention since its location makes it a geographical lever for control of all of Central Asia and the Caucasus. In Georgia, Moscow's choice of which groups to support was dictated primarily by geographical considerations, as both the South Ossetians and Abkhazians were located adjacent to Russian territory and both sat on lucrative geographic locations. Abkhazia, on the Black Sea, provided Moscow with an opportunity to expand its sea access after its reduction in Black Sea coastal border following the Soviet breakup, and South Ossetia is located on the major highway between the North and South Caucasus.

The geographic continuity of Abkhazia and South Ossetia also provided Moscow with the logistical capability to provide support to these two groups. Thus, the Abkhazian and South Ossetian secessionists were able to sustain their conflict with Tbilisi, despite the fact that ethnic Abkhazians themselves formed only about 20 percent of the population of the Abkhazian breakaway region and the Ossetians numbered only 70,000 in their secessionist region.2

With Moscow's assistance, Abkhazia and South Ossetia succeeded in the early 1990s to break away from Georgia. De jure, these regions remained internationally recognized as part of Georgia, but de facto they have been governed by local Russianbacked strong men for close to 20 years. While Russia refrained from formally annexing these territories or recognizing them as independent until September 2008, they were over die years integrated into Russia. For instance, there were no border impediments between Russia and these territories; Russian transportation infrastructures were extended into the breakaway regions; the residents of the region were granted Russian passports; further, in the months running up to the conflict, Moscow engineered die appointment of a number of non-local Russian citizens as ministers in the breakaway regions.3

In addition to the secessionist conflicts in Georgia, an inter-state war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabagh region emerged in the Caucasus in the post-Soviet period between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabagh War left over 30,000 dead and created over a million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP); over 800,000 of the refugees and IDPs were Azerbaijanis.4 Nagorno-Karabagh is a region that is legally part of Azerbaijan, but on the eve of the Soviet breakup was populated by an ethnic Armenian majority. Armenia supported co-ethnics in the Nagorno-Karabagh region in their attempt to break away from Azerbaijan. Following the military campaigns, Armenia had occupied not only the disputed region but close to 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory. Russia's intervention was also crucial to the emergence of this war. Moscow alternated its support for the sides in order to facilitate the emergence of the conflict, including by providing ammunition on the eve of the war. Most outstanding was Moscow's supply of a billion dollars worth of military equipment to Armenia.5 Moscow used the vulnerability of the two states created by the war to obtain from them a number of demands in die security realm, such as retaining Russian troops in Armenia, and control of the Qabala radar installation in Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabagh has not been recognized by any foreign state as independent, including Armenia, which has refrained from formally recognizing Nagorno-Karabagh despite its de facto support of the local government there.

Like Moscow's calculations in the various conflicts in the Caucasus, Armenia's support of the secessionist drive of the Karabagh Armenians was not determined by ethnic solidarity alone. Armenia shared ethnic ties and solidarity with a number of diaspora communities but only intervened on behalf of the Karabagh Armenians. For example, Armenia refrained from delivering support to the Armenian minority in Javakhetia, a region within Georgia. The Armenian leadership understood that if this community would rebel from Tbilisi, landlocked Armenia would lose its lifeline through Georgia to the Black Sea and trade with Russia. Thus, material considerations superseded ethnic solidarity in Armenia's calculations toward Georgia. In contrast, Armenia intervened in Karabagh as opposed to other places not only because it shared ethnic ties with the community there, but also because it possessed the capability to succeed in the conflict, especially given the weak Azerbaijani state in the initial independence period and Moscow's support for the conflict.

After the wars in the early 1990s, the three conflicts in the South Caucasus remained unresolved, but they were not active military conflicts. Although border skirmishes and other incidents took place, a no-war, no-peace status quo prevailed for almost two decades. Up until the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war, the disputes were often referred to as "frozen conflicts." In the case of all four of the secessionist conflicts in the post-Soviet states (South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabagh, and Trandsniestria conflicts), Moscow's policies and actions have been and are the key to resolving these conflicts, as it retains the most relevant means of influence over the sides. However, over the past decade and a half, Moscow has refrained from taking concrete steps to resolve these conflicts so as to retain the vulnerability of the states that endows Moscow with an important policy lever to influence and coerce them on the southern border. At the same time, Moscow has preferred that these conflicts do not re-flare into actual wars.

Following the wars in the early 1 990s, it seems that Moscow came to understand that secessionist conflict is a double-edged sword. Instability in the South Caucasus contributed to the emergence of conflict in Russia's territories - in the neighboring North Caucasus - and hence from the mid-1990s until 2008, Moscow refrained from taking steps that could reignite the conflicts. The August 2008 war marked a departure from Russia's no-war, no-peace policy into the more interventionist stance toward conflicts in the Caucasus. Instead of keeping the conflicts at a level of low-intensity as a lever for influence, Moscow encouraged the emergence of an all-out war in Georgia. The war joined a string of Russian actions over the past two years intended to weaken and ultimately eliminate the government of Georgian president Mikheil Saak'ashvili. At the same time, President Saak'ashvili miscalculated the anticipated extent of external support if Georgia were to be attacked by Russia.


Situated at the meeting point of two continents and the border region of three powers Russia, Iran, and Turkey - and serving as an important global air corridor, the Caucasus has been a focal point of geopolitical activity in the post-Soviet period. In addition, the oil and gas riches of Azerbaijan and the region's potential role as a transit venue for the energy exports of Central Asia have augmented the regions geopolitical significance. Most importantly, Georgia is the only state Central Asia and the Caucasus that abuts the open sea, serving as the key to unlocking the land-locked region: a central geopolitical prize. Following the Soviet breakup, many surmised that the states of the Caucasus and greater Caspian region would be influenced by Iran or Turkey due to the Muslim entity of most of the residents in the region, thereby stimulating a confrontation between Tehran and Ankara for regional dominance, in reality, the United States' and Russia's power and rivalry proved to be more influential in the region. In fact, common culture played no discernable role in the determination of alliance and cooperation partners for the majority of the external powers active in the region, especially in the cases of the active Muslim-populated powers, Turkey and Iran.

The Caucasus is an excellent laboratory for testing the influence of religious and cultural differences on the emergence of alliances and rivalries. This is due to the fact that a number of groups and states possessing differing cultural and religious identities reside in the region. Moreover, the active regional and global powers in the region - the United States, Russia, Turkey, and Iran - belong to different identity camps. Accordingly, the conflicts that emerged in the region put to test the concrete orientation of a variety of states in the region. The resulting alliances built around the conflicts in the Caucasus produced interesting and multi-cultural bedfellows. The choice of sides with regard to regional conflicts did not run along cultural or historical lines but rather were set by contemporary geopolitical considerations.


Since the Soviet breakup, Russia has consistently acted to insure that it possesses major influence in the Caucasus and the greater Caspian region. It attained this influence primarily by keeping a heavy hand on Georgia, which in turn echoed its power throughout the region.

The August 2008 war strongly demonstrated that Moscow enjoys significant means of influence in the post-Soviet space. While Russia may be deterred in a number of geographic regions, Moscow can easily materialize its power and deter rivals in the Caucasus and other neighboring areas. As the war illustrated, Russia was not daunted by directly invading a neighboring state, and the United States had no ability to either deter Russia or offer an effective military response to its close ally, Georgia. While globally, Russia's relative power might have waned since the Soviet period, it still possesses significant control over its bordering regions.

As stated above, in the early 1990s, Russia supported a number of secessionist groups in the region in order to create for itself a lever of continued influence in this vital region. Moscow chose to activate this lever in summer 2008 to achieve a number of goals. After a string of U.S. policy stances in which Moscow perceived that its interests were being ignored, it chose to assault a close ally of the United States in a location of high geopolitical significance to both sides to force the United States to change its policies. The issues of contention are U.S. recognition of Kosovo's independence, the United States' intention to deploy missile shields in Eastern Europe, and support for NATO's expansion to include Ukraine and Georgia. The April 2008 NATO summit decision to advance NATO membership for these two states inadvertently signaled to Moscow that a limited window of opportunity was created to thwart this development. The timing of Moscow's actions was also facilitated by revenues from high oil prices that endowed Russia with the means and encouragement to conduct the military operation.

Strengthening its military presence in the South Caucasus also served Russia's strategic goal of continued control over the export of Central Asia's natural gas resources. Russia is dependent on these volumes to meet its future export commitments to Europe. In addition, Russia buys Central Asian gas at a significantly lower price than that at which it resells the gas to Europe. Moreover, control of die export of its natural gas prevents the Central Asian states from conducting policies contrary to those of Russia in major spheres. In recent years, the governments of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan (the holders of the main natural gas volumes in Central Asia) have been entertaining the idea of exporting their gas independently to markets abroad by linking to the natural gas export line from Azerbaijan to Turkey (through Georgia), thereby building a trans-Caspian pipeline. Central Asia could then export natural gas to Europe and other markets directly instead of through Russia. This would endow Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan with much higher revenues from the gas sales, stronger international influence, and reduce their dependence on Moscow. In recent years, Kazakhstan has been investing large sums of money in Georgia, especially in its Black Sea ports, in order to promote its export access via that state.6

Moscow views being the dominant supplier to the European natural gas market as a strategic state goal in both the political and economic realms. Russia is adamant in maintaining this position by preserving its access to the Central Asian supply by preventing major alternative natural gas suppliers from getting an inroad into the European market. Accordingly, Moscow, in the past, has undertaken important policy moves in order to prevent Iran, an additional potential supplier, from potentially gaining access to the European natural gas market. In order to block Iran's entry into the market, the Russian natural gas company Gazprom paid exorbitant prices for infrastructure in Armenia that could provide Iran with a potential link to European markets.7 Russia and Iran, while cooperative in a number of spheres, are long-term strategic competitors as suppliers to the European natural gas market.

Lastly, Moscow had strongly opposed international recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, not out of deference to their fellow Slavs in Serbia, but simply due to Russia's vulnerability as an ethno-federation and to the precedent of Kosovo's independence. Following the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Soviet breakup, the United States, Russia, and Europe agreed to recognize the former constituent republics of the USSR and the Republic of Yugoslavia as independent states, while not recognizing the regions or political structures below the republic level. Recognition of Kosovo serves as a dangerous first diversion from this policy that could reopen the status of some of Russia's disputed ethno-concentrated regions, such as Chechnya. Prior to Washington's recognition of Kosovo's independence, Moscow had warned that if the United States would take this move, it would recognize the independence of the secessionist regions of the Caucasus. However, Russia's subsequent recognition of the independence of the breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008 was, in reality, a self-defeating policy for Moscow that aimed to prevent international support for independence of ethno-concentrations in its own territory. It is interesting to note that even close allies of Russia, such as Armenia, Belarus, Cuba, and many others - which understand the potential consequences of this action that could serve as a precedent for a large string of potential secessions - did not follow Moscow's lead and refused to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.


In contrast to its Islamic-based rhetoric, Iran's policies toward the Caucasus have been guided primarily by material interests. Tehran's primary goals in die region are to prevent destabilization in the northwest provinces of Iran that border the Caucasus and a rise in ethnically-based activity among the Azerbaijanis in Iran, limiting U.S. influence and power in the Caucasus, expanding its trade and influence in the region, and linking to the region in energy export and transportation infrastructures. Tehran maintains clandestine ties to a number of Islamic ethnic and regional groups in die Caucasus that could serve as levers of influence over the states in the region. However, Iran prefers to promote its ties with the ruling regimes in the region and activates these groups primarily as a tool when it wants to influence the regimes' policies.

Among the three states of the Caucasus, Tehran enjoys its closest ties and greatest cooperation with Armenia. Iran maintains extensive trade and its most intensive security cooperation with Armenia, in spite of the fact that Armenia is embroiled in a conflict with Shiite Azerbaijan. In 2007, Tehran even opened a natural gas supply line to Armenia, further cementing long-term cooperation between the sides.8 Iran's relations with Georgia are tumultuous due to Tbilisi's close cooperation with the United States and Israel, including with regard to non-proliferation and other issues related to Iran. Iran's relations with Azerbaijan are the most convoluted, due to Tehran's concerns that Azerbaijan could serve as a source of attraction to its own ethnic Azerbaijani minority and to the state's close ties with the United States.

In all of the conflicts in the Caucasus and greater Caspian region in the post-Soviet period, Tehran declined to support the Muslim side, including in conflicts where Muslims were pitted against non-Muslim groups, such as the Chechens in the struggle with Moscow, or die Azerbaijanis in their conflict with Armenia. Moreover, Iran's choice of primary security cooperation partners in the region and its primary security concerns contradict its official designation as an Islamic Republic dedicated to the promotion of the rights of Muslims and the spread of Islam.

Iran is a multi-ethnic state, and its domestic security can potentially be affected by developments in neighboring Republic of Azerbaijan. Half of Iran's population is comprised of non-Persian ethnic minorities with the Azerbaijanis being the largest, representing almost a third of the total population.9 The majority of the residents of the nordiwest provinces of Iran, contiguous to the border with the Republic of Azerbaijan, are Azerbaijanis. Aiming to preclude a rise in ethnically-based demands among Iranian Azerbaijanis, Tehran has declined to support the Republic of Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia. Iran prefers Azerbaijan to be embroiled in a conflict and unable to serve as a source of attraction for the ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran. In addition, despite the shared cultural affinities, Iran assessed, early after the Soviet breakup, that Azerbaijan's independence had not created an opportunity for Iranian influence because of Azerbaijan's Western orientation, while Armenia was signaling for strong cooperation with Tehran and cooi relations with the united States in terms of security.10 Moreover, Tehran has promulgated the conflict with Azerbaijan over Caspian Sea delimitation in an effort to stall Azerbaijan's development of its energy resources and thus halt its economic development.


Similar to Iran, Turkey promotes its material based-interests in the South Caucasus region, often at the expense of its cultural ties. In contrast to Iran, however, domestic politics in Turkey at times force it to adopt policies that are in line with public sentiments, thus allowing influence for some cultural and historical-based attitudes.

Following the Soviet breakup, Turkey attached higher priority to its relations with Russia and subordinated many of its policy goals in the Caucasus and Central Asia to this agenda. Throughout most of the post-Soviet period, Ankara and Moscow have enjoyed excellent relations. Trade between Russia and Turkey is significant. Turkey is also linked to Moscow in a long-term energy supply relationship, with Russia's Blue Stream pipeline serving as Turkey's most important source of natural gas. Ankara and Moscow have bowed to each other's wishes on a variety of security issues: Russia eliminated its support for the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) movement and closed the party's office in Moscow; Ankara, in defiance of public sentiment, curtailed support for North Caucasian movements and limited their activities in Turkey. Russia and Turkey have also developed a stable modus vivendi for Russian transit through Turkey's Bosporus Straits.

Following the Soviet breakup, Ankara was not against establishing diplomatic relations and trade with neighboring Armenia, despite their fundamental differences over Armenia's genocide claims against Turkey. Lack of diplomatic relations between the sides is less impacted by historical events than by contemporary ones. In fact, Turkey served as the physical conduit of U.S. aid to Armenia, including crucial wheat shipments during the initial independence period. Moreover, Turkey opened its air space to Armenian flights, and despite the lack of diplomatic relations between the sides, regular flights have continued between Istanbul and Armenia for close to two decades. However, following the intensification of the ferocity of the Nagorno-Karabagh War and the extensive Armenian conquests in 1 993, public sentiments in Turkey created obstacles to the establishment of diplomatic relations with Armenia, and opposition parties in Ankara championed the issue of support for Azerbaijan, making the establishment of diplomatic relations with Armenia potentially costly in the domestic political arena

Following the August 2008 war, efforts to establish diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia received a new impetus. Inadvertently, the war had important consequences for Armenia, as Georgia also served as a lifeline for land-locked Armenia. Instability in Georgia limits Armenia's transport and transit options, and most importantly, obstructs trade with Russia. The war was also a watershed for Ankara's relations with Moscow. Russia's invasion of Georgia was preceded by an attack in Turkey on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which Turkish policy circles believe was perpetrated by Moscow in order to obstruct oil exports during the war. These events, coupled with the potential shakiness of the Moscow-centric policies, impelled Ankara to expand its policy options in the neighboring Caucasus and thereby encouraged Turkey to renew efforts in expanding ties with Armenia.

In its activities in the Caucasus, Turkey's private sector often took the lead, outflanking in some spheres the modest activities of the Turkish governmental sector. The Turkish private sector promoted its own sectarian agendas that did not necessarily overlap with the state's goals in the region; however, this inadvertently aggravated at times its own government agenda in the region. This was especially true in the case of the activities of Turkish businessmen who, understandably, set profit as their goal. Non-governmental Turkish groups have been the most successful of the foreign elements active in the dissemination of Islam in Azerbaijan and the Caspian region, even more so than Saudi Arabian and other Gulf state- sponsored organizations. Thus, despite the official policies of the Republic of Turkey, the states of the region often view active Turkish groups in the region with caution.


Up until the last quarter of the 20th century, international relations theory has conferred serious consideration to geographic factors. Then analysis of the Soviet and Yugoslav breakup - and the ensuing conflicts - rested on such factors as history and identity, thereby undermining the interest in permanent material factors like geography. However, the Caucasus, like other post-Soviet locations, exemplified the dictates of long-standing factors like geography on foreign relations. To understand events in the Caucasus, and perhaps in a variety of regions, the discipline should renew its study of the influence of geographic factors.

Developments in the Caucasus also address a number of questions related to the impact of regime type and the contribution of elite and public sentiments on foreign policy outcomes. Since the rise to power of the Saak'ashvili government at the end of 2003, Georgia has succeeded in establishing a democratic government and has made tremendous strides in its struggle against corruption. Saak'ashvili and his Westerntrained and educated governing elite charmed the hearts and minds of the public and governments in the United States and Europe. Yet, when the country came under attack, the implications of confronting Russian power led to a paucity of concrete support for Georgia in its hour of need. The meager response of friends in Washington, Brussels, and Ankara - to name a few - displayed that in international security, the meaning of "friendship" does not seem to be significant. Moreover, the democratic characteristics of the regime in Tbilisi failed to garner any special support from Europe or the United states. Geography and Russia's power in the Caucasus hindered the ability of the United States and Europe to support its co-democrats, despite their good intentions.

The 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia may have led to a reshuffling of the deck concerning the conflicts in the Caucasus. It is clear that so-called "frozen conflicts" can be defrosted quite easily. This may create an impetus for international efforts to resolve these conflicts and not wait for the next thaw. The key to resolving these conflicts is in the hands of Moscow and Washington. The good news is that when looking at the issues that are in contention between the sides, highest on Moscow's wish list are those issues that are lowest on Washington's list. Moscow's top goals in its agenda with the United States are preventing the development and deployment of U.S. strategic missile shields, retaining control over the route of Central Asia natural gas export and removing impediments of transit states, and preventing the emergence of Kosovo as an independent state. On the U.S. priority list is Moscow's cooperation in preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons and allowing the states of the former Soviet Union, such as Ukraine and Georgia, to retain de facto independence from Moscow. Given that the top goals do not coincide, there is an opportunity for Moscow and Washington to mutually achieve a number of their interests, and this cooperation could create opportunities for resolution of the not exactly frozen conflicts in the Caucasus.


Despite its immense global power, the United States as a sea-based power has a limited ability to determine the security outcomes in the Caucasus and greater Caspian region, which is land-locked except for Georgia.


The August 2008 War marked a departure from Russia's "no war, no peace" policy into the more interventionist stance toward conflicts in the Caucasus.


The Caucasus is an excellent laboratory for testing the influence of religious and cultural differences on the emergence of alliances and rivalries.


Iran's choice of primary security cooperation partners in the region and its primary security concerns contradict its official designation as an Islamic Republic dedicated to the promotion of the rights of Muslim and the spread of Islam.


1. For more on rhe impact of the land-lock factor on the foreign policy of the former Soviet states, see Avinoam Idan, unpublished dissertation, University of Haifa.

2. 1989 Soviet Census.

3. Svante E. Cornell, "War in Georgia, Jitters All Around," Current History 107, no. 711 (October 2008): 309-310.

4. See United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,

5. For more information on the Russian arms shipments during the Nagorno-Karabagh War, see John Berryman, "Russia and the Illicit Arms Trade," Crime, Law, and Social Change 33, nos. 1-2 (March 2000): 85-104.

6. H. E. Karim Massimov, address at the University of Haifa, 31 October 2006.

7. One of the most evident examples of this policy is Gazprom's April 2006 purchase of a natural gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia that opened in March 2007, and which might have provided a route from Iran to European gas markets. In order to block the Armenian route for Iranian gas, Gazprom forced Armenia to reduce the pipeline's circumference from the originally designed diameter of major gas export pipeline to almost half of its planned size, preventing the opportunity for significant expansion of the volumes it carries. Armenia also granted Gazprom and its partner Itera controlling stakes of the segment of the new pipeline that runs through in Armenian territory. See also, "Non-Diversified Energy Security," Hetq online, 20 October 2008; "Armenia Sells Russia Crucial Gas Link in Deal for Cheap Fuel," New York Times, 6 April 2008.

8. BBC News, 19 March 2007.

9. For more on ethnicity in Iran, see Brenda Shaffer, Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity (Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press, 2002).

10. See for example, Jomhuri-ye Islami, 4 March 1992, 4. For more on Iran's relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan, see Brenda Shaffer, "The Islamic Republic of Iran: is it really?" in ed. Brenda Shaffer, Limits of Culture. Islam and Foreign Policy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006): 219-239.

[Author Affiliation]


School of Political Science

University of Haifa

[Author Affiliation]

DR. BRENDA SHAFFER is a faculty member at the University of Haifa, and she is currently the President of the American Political Science Association's Foreign Policy Section. She is the author of Energy Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).