Russian Irredentism after the Georgian Blitzkrieg

By Rasizade, Alec | Contemporary Review, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Russian Irredentism after the Georgian Blitzkrieg


Rasizade, Alec, Contemporary Review


RUSSIA has emerged from the war with Georgia in August 2008 with considerable strategic challenges: it is becoming clear that the rule of force is relapsing in the post-Soviet area. Having withdrawn from the Armed Forces in Europe Treaty in 2007, Russia is militarizing its Caucasus and European frontiers, disregarding Western efforts to bring it back to the treaty regime. Whilst gloating over the failure of Georgia and Ukraine to secure a NATO membership in December 2008, Russia herself is facing an economic downturn caused by the global financial crisis and the continuing slide in world oil prices. Moscow has to reconcile this economic impact with Russia's resurgence as a great power. Nevertheless, after the incursion into Georgia, Russia is building airbases along the border with Ukraine, modernizing its nuclear submarine fleet, and placing long-range missiles in the Caucasus. Belarus and Kaliningrad (Konigsberg) on the Baltic Sea.

Ramifications of this Russian revanchism caught many in the West by surprise. But one has to understand that Moscow is not simply falling back into its 'unpredictable' and 'traditionally aggressive' international behaviour, let alone the 'imperial ambitions': there are essential reasons for Russia's revanchism. This is just the beginning of Russia's inevitable drive to regather its historic parts severed during the 1991 collapse and sudden disintegration of the USSR. I have predicted and explained the inevitability of this irredentist process three years ago in my study 'The Historic Significance of Putin's Revanchism' published in Contemporary Review (Summer 2006).

Instead of reiterating my assessment of the 'Russian Question' in this essay for lack of space, allow me to quote then-President Putin, who famously professed in 2005: 'First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory'. This is a quintessential explanation of the contemporary Russian stance. I can only add to his assertion that it was not the last word of history, as the reader can deduce for himself from the facts expounded below.

Blitzkrieg in Georgia and Contingencies for the Caucasus

The Kremlin has a concept of a Greater Caucasus (comprising Russia's North Caucasus and the three independent republics of South Caucasus) as an interconnected region. Historically, the Russian Empire established its dominion over Transcaucasia in order to pacify the restless tribes of North Caucasus. Russia's ability to control Transcaucasia has always been perceived as a key element for maintaining stability in its restive Caucasian provinces on both sides of the Caucasus Range. The establishment of NATO's foothold in Georgia could spark a domino effect across the Caucasus with particularly grave consequences for Russia's volatile North Caucasus autonomies. The two Chechen wars of 1994-1996 and 1999-2000 gave us a perfect example (see Contemporary Review. April-June 2005).

The Ossetians are an Iranic-speaking people whose ethnogenesis lies in the steppes of the Don River [Alania] to the north of the Caucasus. In the thirteenth century they were driven by the Mongolo-Tartar invaders out of their original homeland into the Caucasus mountains and settled in the territories known today as North Ossetia-Alania (part of Russia) and South Ossetia (part of Georgia) on both sides of the Greater Caucasus Range. Georgians (as well as the Abkhaz) are an autochthonous Caucasian nation and have always lived beyond these mountains in the valleys between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus ranges.

Ossetians and Georgians have a long and complex history of coexistence interspersed with violence. During the Russian Civil War after the 1917 October Revolution hostilities continued from 1918- 1920 between the Georgians and Ossetians, along with other Caucasian conflicts. …

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