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The Transcaucasian Region

 

The countries of the Transcaucasian region – Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan – represent the second big group of states that have emerged from the ruins of the Communist state. This is the most troublesome region for Russia and a hotbed of political, ethnic, and religious conflicts fraught with unpredictable consequences. The Transcaucasian region is characterized by an extremely diverse ethnic mix of population cemented by the two dominant religions of Christianity and Islam. The Greater Caucasus range that cuts the region from west to east is Russia’s natural boundary in the south, serving as a geostrategic barrier that curbs the expansion of pan-Islamism. 

Historically, Russia and the Christian peoples of Armenia and Georgia have enjoyed mutually beneficial and friendly relations with one another. Armenia and Georgia’s voluntary accession to the tsarist empire preserved their ancient national cultures from forcible assimilation by the Islamic states of Turkey and Persia.

In the late 1980s the nationalist movements in Armenia and Georgia actively pushed for secession from the USSR. Following the collapse of the union and in the initial euphoria of their newly found independence, the two republics have distanced themselves from Russia. However, economic, cultural, geostrategic, and religious pressures will almost certainly propel them back into Russia’s orbit.

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Georgia and Armenia became entangled in bitter political and military confrontations with their Islamic neighbors. Armenia was drawn into an all-out war with neighboring Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Georgian troops tried unsuccessfully to pacify two of Georgia’s constituent parts, the autonomous republics of Abkhaziya and South Ossetia, which want independence from Georgia. The difficulty of the situation for Russia in its efforts to contain or arbitrate these discords is that it cannot be seen as taking sides in the Armenian-Azerbaijani or Georgian-Abkhaziyan and Georgian-South Ossetian conflicts.

Another issue that spoils the relations between Russia and Georgia is the Georgian leadership’s inability or unwillingness to put an end to Chechen fighters using its territory as a safe haven and resting place between their incursions in Chechnya. Chechen separatists have used as their base the Pankisi Gorge, a largely lawless area of Georgia just south of Chechnya. There were rumors in 2002 that some al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan joined Chechen fighters in Pankisi.

In 2003, the so-called "Revolution of Roses" in Georgia brought to power pro-American Mikhail Saakashvili. Since then the relations between Russia and Georgia have been strained.

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