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The Caucasus: a Puzzle of States between Two Worlds

, by Translated by Peter Matjašič, Stefania Coco

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What is the Caucasus today? Nobody can give a straightforward answer to this question, although an attempt in this direction must be carried out, considering that the Caucasus is a crossroads of regional and world interests today. With a geographical extension equal to that of Europe, it tends more and more to represent the geopolitical pivot and the fragile element of connection between Russia, Europe and the Middle East.

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In view of the enormous difficulties which in fact prevent the realization of a complex process such as the one of region-building, the first difficulty appears obvious at the time in which every attempt of regionalization of the Caucasus area has proven to be a substantial failure.

A first large obstacle is represented by the geographical definition of the borders of the area of the Black Sea. It is not by chance that the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), the only regional organization in the area, of which the primary objective is the realization of a free trade area that tackles various issues, such as for example the harmonization of the banking and finance sectors, environmental protection, the fight against organized crime and clandestine immigration, previews as the only requirement for joining the BSEC the will of adhesion of a single State and its engagement to respect the objectives of the organization. Thus no mentioning of a criterion of geographical nature.

Nonetheless, always making reference to the BSEC, the different legal status of the Member States, in comparisson with the relations within the EU, can be regarded as a higher obstacle higher to the cooperation and thus the process of regionalization itself. The BSEC is namely comprised of Member States of the European Union (Greece, Bulgaria and Romania), an EU candidate state (Turkey), states treated as potential future candidates (Albania and Serbia) and of states, which do not have, at least for the moment, any prospect of entering the EU (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine). It is obvious that the EU Member States, as well as Turkey, have more urgent international obligations to respect.

Lastly, one should not forget the obstacles of economic nature. In fact, even if on paper the Caucasian area has great possibilities, the actual enormous structural deficiencies, caused by the heavy heritage of several years of planned economy, which prevented the birth of a woven of small and medium-sized enterprises, limit economic opportunities and the interest of foreign investors.

However, the Caucasus represents a zone of great interest: the Caucasian area, in addition to being a considerable basin of energy resources, is between two security systems: the Euro-Atlantic and the Middle Eastern one. Since last May, the new pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) has entered in function. A new corridor thus opened, which increases the energy safety of Europe. Moreover, the corridor TRACECA (Central Corridor Transport Europe – Central Asia), in the course of reinforcement, is intended to reactivate a new “Silk Road”, and with it the trade and cultural exchanges with this area rich in raw materials.

The United States undertook a radical action of re-nationalisation of the countries of the zone of the Black Sea, characterized by a thin effectiveness and the fast weakening of the legitimacy of the State actor. The goal of such policies was to re-establish sovereignty in countries like Georgia and Azerbaijan. The case of Georgia and its Rose Revolution (2004) carried out by the pro-Western leader Saakashvili against the dominion of pro-Russian President Shevardnadze, offers us a brilliant example of such policy.

The Caucasian countries, for their part, are strongly favourable to the assumption of an entry in the European Union and NATO: in Georgia, for example, 80% of the population would like to enter NATO and intensify the relationship with the EU. The principal fear of these countries lies in the danger of an authoritarian decline of Russian politics. Russia would be pushed to act in this direction for a series of reasons: on the one hand to face a dangerous demographic crisis; according to one black scenario in 2050, Russia could count on the whole of its territory only one hundred million inhabitants, compared to the 140 million of today. Moreover, in an effort to maintain its influence in this zone, which once belonged to its empire and is traditionally seen as Russia’s backyard, and basically for the energy resources.

Maintain the control over the transport of hydrocarbons coming from this area would mean for Russia to be able to establish an absolute monopoly to exert against the independent Republics, Western Europe and the United States. In all probability this politics would be less effective today, since Europe is pursuing a policy of diversifying its energy supplies, by trying to obtain essential gas pipelines to import liquid gas coming from the Persian Gulf and Western Africa, in order to increasing its energy safety. However, it is advisable to act with prudence and precautions, especially to avoid a nationalist Russia, which would delay the Europeanization and the democratization of the zone. The countries of the Caucasus, with a strong legacy of Russian influence that is based on historical, economic and political ties, are seen by Russia as the key to maintain it’s already violated dignity as a super power.

This article was translated by Peter Matjašič, Editor-in-Chief of thenewfederalist.eu. The original document is the article previously published on the Italian version of our webzine on November 26th, with the French translation on December 25th

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*Upper Svaneti, part of the Caucusus mountain range, which is included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites; source: Flickr

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