Russian Strategy towards the Caucasus and Central Asia: A Dominant Power on Defense?
By: Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
In the thirty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has sought to reassert its regional dominance over its neighbors through both direct confrontation and soft power. Despite the country’s progress with consolidating its sphere of influence, which includes the January 2022 CSTO deployment in Kazakhstan, Moscow’s goal of regional hegemony is far from assured. The rise of China, radical trans-national Islam, the potential spill-over of Taliban ascendancy in Afghanistan, and maturing of post-Soviet nation-states present roadblocks to Russian ambitions. Moscow must carefully manage its interactions with Beijing, keep Turkey, Islamism and Taliban in check, and respect nationhood in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is a tall order.
Since the dissolution of the USSR and the birth of the modern-day Russian Federation, Russia has gone to great lengths to reassert its post-imperial influence in the now independent post-Soviet Republics of Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus. The years immediately following the collapse of the Soviet system were defined by ethnic conflicts in Abkhazia, Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Tajikistan, with Russian leadership seeking to play the role of either suppressor, mediator, or agitator – whichever suited its interests – to become the region’s hegemon, at times in the guise of the guarantor of stability and security.
A Steadily Tightening Embrace: China’s Ascent in Central Asia and the Caucasus
By: Raffaello Pantucci
Chinese engagement with Central Asia and the Caucasus has been on a steady ascent.China accords considerably more importance to Central Asia than to the Caucasus, and theabsolutely central aspect of Chinese engagement is Xinjiang. Still, the economic push intoCentral Asia has continued, in spite of a slowdown in investment lately. Among outsidepowers, Russia is the only power that Beijing considers a genuine competitor, and even then that relationship is seen through the lens of cooperation at the larger, strategic level. China does faces challenges in Central Asia: one is the refocusing by various militant groups that now treat China as an adversary. Another is the risk that Beijing may inadvertently clash with Moscow’s interests in the region.
By Fuad Shahbazov
June 1, 2020, the CACI Analyst
On March 1, 2020, India outperformed Russia and Poland in a US$ 40 million defense deal with Armenia to supply it with four domestically made SWATHI counter-battery radars. The system is developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). It provides accurate information on enemy artillery firing positions weapons up to 75 kilometers away. The decision came amid India’s growing efforts to boost its national “Make in India” brand in the defense industry sector, which could make new inroads into European, Middle Eastern and Asian defense markets. However, the new Indian – Armenian defense deal could undermine Delhi’s relations with Russia on the one hand, and Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan on the other.
By Stephen Blank
July 8, 2019, the CACI Analyst
In late 2018, National Security Council Director John Bolton signaled a revived U.S. interest in the South Caucasus by visiting all three states of the region. While the outcome remains unclear, the visit itself clearly signaled a U.S. interest in reviving a robust presence in the Caucasus. Indeed, U.S. interest should not only stem from the Caucasus’ proximity to Iran and Russia, or considerations relating to energy flows to Europe. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has seen repeated recent outbreaks of violence and the issues and alignments growing out of this conflict spill over into all the other issues pertaining to the Caucasus that justify a renewed U.S. presence. Regenerated U.S. action to help terminate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict peacefully is necessary because of the visibly mounting frustration and despair in the war zone.
By Neil Hauer
March 13, 2019, the CACI Analyst
Georgia’s final presidential elections in October and November 2018 served as a microcosm of the current uninspired state of Georgian politics. Although the incumbent Georgian Dream (GD) party and its leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili, were able to triumph over their opponents, the trials they faced in doing so underscored the degree to which they have lost public confidence. Exiled former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who played a major role in campaigning for the candidate of his United National Movement (UNM) party, also appears to be a largely spent force. Georgia seems to be in need of a new political movement that can mobilize enthusiasm, but it is unclear when, or from where, this will emerge.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.