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Russia's Policies in the Caucasus: Crisis of Post-Soviet Identity
by Leila Alieva

Republished from OpenDemocracy.Net
Section: Europe's World

Russia's recent war with the small neighboring Georgia testified once more unpredictability of the Northern power. This cruelty and decisiveness in violating long lasting status quo can yet find some usual explanation at the level of security and politics. Russia's both real interests and the driven by post imperial ambitions sentiments have been touched by the consistent drift of the former colonies in the South Caucasus, Moldova and Ukraine towards the West, as the way of consolidation of their independence.

While real interests such as control over pipe-lines, markets, access to the seas – Caspian and the Black Seas- and a strategic South North and East West intersection may seem legitimate, this legitimacy is clearly limited by the interests of the independent states of Georgia,
The stability on her borders is another legitimate interest, which may drive Russia to act more assertively in the neighboring states, but paradoxically the recent intervention in Georgia does not seem to promote stability. Her response was indeed to promote sustainability, but not that of stability, but of the status quo, which allowed her in quite competition with Georgian authorities to take over control in the autonomies through the so called peacekeepers and by supporting loyal regimes, distributing Russian citizenships, and sabotaging conflict resolution.

At the political level, Putin's and now Medvedev's
Russia has to assert both internally and in the neighboring states her authoritarian power, proving advantage of the chosen model of statehood. The model, based on coercion and hard power, accompanied by economic growth, based on natural resources, was supposed to raise Russia's authority and reputation in the world affairs, and in particular in the "near abroad", but contrary to expectations - it did not.

Three republics of the
South Caucasus have chosen different diplomatic language and mode of relationship with Russia, besides their different foreign policies. While Georgia and Azerbaijan are united by their security concerns and perception of Russia's role in the region, their individual ways of dealing with Russia differ. Azerbaijan takes into account Russian sensitivities in the post-Soviet period and chooses soft and respectful language in bilateral relations. It prefers not "to trouble trouble", while not sacrificing its general course- that of integration in the West. This prevents Russia from openly aggressive steps towards Azerbaijan, but this does not promote resolution of the NK conflict or the progress in the state or regional security.

Georgia is a special issue for Russia. In fact, a bolder Georgian stand towards Russia is not justified from Russia's point of view at all. Small and poor country, led by the young president, should have chosen different -more respectful language in dealing with former metropolis and be more sensitive toward Russia's post-imperial needs. While over reacting to Georgia's attempt to restore its control over part of its territory by bombing and occupying territories beyond the resurgent autonomy, Russia was not only punishing an "arrogant leader", but revealed its long hidden impatience to the perceived "American creation" in its underbelly – right on her borders.

The explanations of paradoxes of Russia's behavior – while trying to re-assert herself both regionally and internationally, she acts rather in the counterproductive way towards isolation- lie in the sphere of identity and self-respect.

As with every state in transition her external behavior is not driven only by economic or hard security needs. Russia is going through an identity crisis –searches for her new role and mission in the post
Russia's attempts of leadership in the region or elsewhere in the world is predestined to failure, while she is trying to do it without liberating and reforming herself internally-somethin g which would allow to realize the best potential of Russian people, which in turn will shape her role in the world affairs. So far, while asserting her difference from the West,
Russia was unable to offer "the third solution", or get out to the different level of problem solving or leadership, using her potential and actual or anticipated advantages other than hard power. As a result, Russia has found herself in an exceedingly limited group of followers like Nicaragua or Venezuela. The old solutions proved not to be working.

Russia needed this military victory over small and poor with resources Georgia to re-assert herself, but she obviously did it in a wrong and counterproductive way. Not only she moved farther away from finding her best advantage, but she pushed herself in further isolation, when even strategic allies, as the recent events show, decline to side with her policies.

Only free and liberating
Russia may offer a creative and nation specific solutions and thus define her role and mission in the international relations. The role of international community then is not just to remind Russia of norms of international relations but to help to identify together with Russia this unique contribution which she can make to the peaceful, free and prosperous world.

Leila Alieva is a President of the Centre for National and International Studies (CNIS).

Dr.Leila Alieva
for National and International Studies
Baku, Azerbaijan

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