|Eurasia Daily Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation - September 4, 2008, Volume 5, Issue 169|
|September 04, 2008|
IN THIS ISSUE:
* The Kremlin sees EU response as meek
FURTHER RUSSIAN MILITARY ACTION IS POSSIBLE
After the EU summit on September 1 in Brussels, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a press conference, "All of Europe is united" against Moscow's behavior in Georgia. "We can't go back to the age of spheres of influence; Yalta is behind us," stated Sarkozy, referring to the post-World War II conference that divided the world and created new borders throughout Europe (AFP, September 1). Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in turn claimed victory, after the EU stepped back from imposing sanctions over Russia's partial occupation of Georgia.
Medvedev in a TV interview acknowledged that not all EU member nations understood Russia's "good intentions" in Georgia, but "the majority want a constructive relationship and do not want to spoil relations." Medvedev accused the United States of arming Georgia and inspiring it to attack South Ossetia. He claimed that the G8 group of industrial democracies would be "dysfunctional without Russia, so we are not afraid someone might exclude us." Medvedev stated that Russia was ready to discuss the normalization of the situation, but not with "the present bankrupt Georgian regime," adding "President Mikheil Saakashvili for us does not exist--he is a political corpse" (www.kremlin.ru, September 2).
Speaking in Uzbekistan, Putin praised EU leaders for trying to find common ground with Russia. Putin singled out Sarkozy’s use at the press conference of the expression "the Saakashvili regime," saying that in his opinion this demonstrated a convergence of views between Moscow and Paris about the present Georgian government being undemocratic and "a regime of personal power" (www.government.ru, September 2). Apparently, Putin wanted very much to hear what was not, in fact, said and was misled by the translation. In Russian "regime" has a strong negative meaning (for instance, fascist regime), while in French it is rather neutral (www.newsru.com, September 2).
This week Medvedev revealed his new personal Russian foreign policy doctrine in an interview to Russian national TV channels. It states, "The world must be multi-polar," while U.S. domination "is unacceptable." Russia will defend its citizens abroad and claims to have "regions of privileged interests"--its close neighboring states, "with which we have historically special relations" (www.kremlin.ru, August 31).
It is clear the Kremlin is openly claiming as its "privileged" sphere of influence the territory of the former Soviet Republics that became independent in 1991 and have sizable minorities of Russian passport-holders. The invasion of Georgia is apparently the first move to enforce this sphere to keep the West and NATO out.
Putin announced, "There are no Russian troops left in Georgia, only peacekeepers." He claimed that "There are no Russian troops in the Georgian port city of Poti, only peacekeepers nearby." He insisted that "Russian peacekeepers" would stay in the "security zones" in Georgia and, moreover, that Russia retained the right to impose "additional security measures" that it has not yet used. Putin blasted the United States for sending humanitarian aid to the port city of Batumi in southern Georgia on the Turkish border using armed naval ships. "We will surely answer,” he said, “but in a way you will know later" (www.government.ru, September 2).
The United States has repeatedly denied that it is sending Georgia military supplies under the guise of humanitarian aid, but the Russian Defense Ministry has declared that the U.S. military is shipping thousands of tons of supplies "including military ones" by sea to Batumi and by air to Tbilisi. Emboldened by this support, Georgia is massing troops and preparing "terrorist-guerrilla" attacks in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Interfax, September 2). Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called for an arms embargo on Georgia "while the Saakashvili regime exists" (Interfax, September 1).
It is possible that Moscow is ready to begin to enforce such an embargo, by invoking the "additional security measures" as part of Putin’s mysterious answer. Russian warships and tanks may be moved to Batumi and other forces to the capital of Tbilisi under the pretext of checking U.S. aid shipments. Such a move would effectively choke off Georgia's connections with the outside world.
By invading Batumi, the capital of the autonomous Ajara Republic, Russia may hope to encourage a local separatist movement to break up Georgia further. Aslan Abashidze, the warlord who ruled Ajara from 1992 to 2004, is at present in exile in Moscow. By taking over Tbilisi International Airport and causing a panic in the capital, Moscow may hope finally to topple the "Saakashvili regime" and at the same time embarrass the hated Americans.
Winter bad weather and snow in the mountains are coming soon. The Russian military has only until the end of October to finish off the job in Georgia this year. The EU summit may be seen as a green light to go ahead, while the West is ready to use only hot words that are watered down anyway by "our friends in Europe"--Italy, France, and Germany, which Putin specifically praised for their "understanding" (www.government.ru, September 2).
THE STATE OF THE UKRAINIAN MILITARY
During the August 2008 commemoration of the 17th anniversary of Ukrainian independence, armored units of Ukraine’s ground forces paraded down Kyiv’s Khreschatyk Boulevard, while air force planes flew overhead in a show of Ukrainian military might and preparedness.
The decision to include a full-scale military parade was made by President Viktor Yushchenko at the last moment. His decision was directly linked to his support for Georgia in the August Russian-Georgian war and was intended to demonstrate to the world that Ukraine had the means to defend itself if Russia decided to invade the country.
Mr. Yushchenko told the gathered crowd: “No one will ever tell us what road to follow. No one will ever measure our borders, islands, and peninsulas…. I express the deepest condolences from everyone, without exception, to the victimized people of the undivided Georgian lands.… Your pain is in our hearts” (Ukrainian Weekly, August 31).
The main question many Ukrainians are asking, however, is how ready and capable is the Ukrainian military to withstand a sustained Russian air, ground, and sea attack and defend Ukraine’s independence? A recent poll by the Ukrainian Strategic Studies Institute found that 57 percent of those polled did not believe that Ukraine was capable of defending its territorial integrity and independence by itself (Ukrayinska Pravda, September 1).
Ukraine’s largely conscript armed forces consist of 191,000 military personnel and 43,000 civilian employees. They are generally considered to be underfunded and lacking in training.
According to a 2007 study by Marybeth Peterson Ulrich of the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, “The Ukrainian armed forces have been on a starvation diet, recently receiving only 1.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). [If Ukraine were in NATO, it would rank] third among NATO’s 26 countries in terms of size, but 127th out of 150 countries worldwide in expenditure per serviceman.”
Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov has said that “The MOD [Ministry of Defense] has a very long way to go in the area of defense, because a systematic transformation of the UAF [Ukrainian Armed Forces] requires enormous efforts, clear coherence in actions, and heavy daily routine” (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense website www.mil.gov.ua/index.php?part=white_book&lang=en, April 17).
On a more optimistic note, the Defense Ministry’s “White Paper” for 2007 made the following assertion: “In general, in 2006 and 2007 the measures stipulated in the State Program of Development of the Armed Forces were mainly fulfilled. The amount of fulfillment affirms that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are approaching the standards set for 2011. Combat organization of the forces and their level of combat readiness indicated during military exercises, including international ones, as well as during peacekeeping missions, affirm that the armed forces are ready and capable of adequately reacting to potential threats and completing the reform to acquire the characteristics of a modern, professional, mobile European force.”
Despite this overly positive assessment, many specialists are asking if the Ukrainian leadership will be forced to resort to developing nuclear weapons as an answer to Ukraine’s military woes.
In January 1994, after considerable international pressure, Ukraine agreed with Russia and the United States to turn over its nuclear arsenal to Russia. At that time it adopted a military doctrine that declared the country’s intention to be a non-nuclear state and stated that Ukraine had no enemies, although the doctrine did stipulate that any state “whose consistent policy constitutes a military danger for Ukraine, leads to interference in internal matters, and encroaches on its territorial integrity or national interests" is an enemy (Stephen Blank, Proliferation and Nonproliferation in Ukraine: Implications for European and U.S. Security, U.S. Army War College, 1994)
On January 14, 1994, the Presidents of the United States, Russia, and Ukraine signed a trilateral statement detailing the procedures for the transfer of Ukrainian nuclear warheads to Russia and gave the Ukrainians the security assurances they demanded.
Stephen Blank of the U.S. Army War College wrote in July 1994 that with the conclusion of the tripartite accord “the United States has committed itself to involvement in all aspects of the Russo-Ukrainian relationship that are crucial to the security of the CIS and Europe. Perhaps without realizing it, the United States has become a permanent factor in the regional security equation. The United States is seen by Kiev, whatever U.S. policy is in actuality, as being able to guarantee Ukraine against Moscow's pressures.”
The issue of nuclear weapons reappeared in the Ukrainian-Russian war of words in February 2007, when Russia’s then-president Vladimir Putin warned Yushchenko that nuclear weapons would be aimed at Ukraine if they cooperated with America’s missile defense program. A similar threat was made by the former chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, Yuriy Baluyevsky last April.
Reacting to these and earlier Russian threats, Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov has said a number of times that Ukraine made a “foolish” decision to give up all its nuclear weapons. In 2003 Yekhanurov stressed the importance of having a strong army and said that Ukraine “could easily resume nuclear weapons production if necessary” (Stolichnyye Novosti, October 28, 2003).
In late August, in a move designed to calm Ukrainian and Western concerns over Russia’s intentions, Putin said that Russia was not interested in annexing the Crimean Peninsula; but many in the Ukrainian defense establishment take little comfort from these words. The conflict over the Crimea is only one facet of the much larger picture, and the prospect of Russia targeting Ukrainian cities with nuclear weapons along with the lack of any meaningful Western security guarantees might push Ukraine to heed Yekhanurov’s concerns and begin a program to arm its military with a nuclear arsenal.
GUL ACCEPTS INVITATION TO ARMENIA
On September 3 Turkish President Abdullah Gul announced that he had accepted an invitation from Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian to attend the soccer match between the two countries in the Armenian capital of Yerevan on September 6 as part of the qualifying group stages for the 2008 World Cup. It will be the first time a Turkish head of state has ever visited Armenia.
The announcement followed weeks of speculation and has proved to be highly controversial inside Turkey. Opposition parties had called on Gul to decline the invitation in protest over Armenian support for the breakaway region of Karabakh in Azerbaijan and the continuing campaign by the Armenian diaspora for the massacres and deportations of ethnic Armenians during the final years of the Ottoman Empire to be recognized as genocide.
Turkey was among the first countries to recognize the Republic of Armenia following its declaration of independence in 1991. Ironically, at the time, one of the leading advocates of closer ties between the two countries was Alparslan Turkes (1917-1997), the founder of the Turkish ultranationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP). Relations soured, however, when Yerevan supported an armed uprising by ethnic Armenians in Karabakh against the Azerbaijani government in Baku. In addition to religious and linguistic ties, Ankara has been eager to maintain a close relationship with Baku in order to fulfill its ambition of making Turkey an energy hub for exports of oil and natural gas from the Caspian basin and Central Asia. In 1993 Turkey severed all diplomatic ties with Armenia and closed their shared land border. There are now regular flights between Yerevan and Istanbul; but, despite pressure from both the international community and local business organizations in eastern Turkey, the land border remains closed.
In recent months, however, there have been signs of a possible rapprochement. On July 18 Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan confirmed rumors in the Turkish media that diplomats from Turkey and Armenia had met in Switzerland for several days of informal talks about ways of improving ties (see EDM, July 25). Hopes were further raised by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s proposal of a “Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform,” following the outbreak of fighting between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia in early August. Erdogan’s plan envisages creating a regional framework that would enable the countries of the Caucasus to resolve their differences without recourse to violence.
Erdogan’s proposal appears to have been motivated by the combination of a genuine desire to stop the bloodshed in South Ossetia and his ambition for Turkey to prove itself as a regional superpower, which includes being recognized as a major player in the Caucasus. Erdogan appears to have failed to understand that Russia’s policies toward both South Ossetia and Abkhazia were motivated by a desire not to avoid conflict but simply to assert its preeminence in its “near abroad.” Nevertheless, Turkey could hardly propose dialogue and closer regional cooperation and then reject Sarkisian’s invitation to Gul to attend a soccer match.
In a statement posted on its website in the ponderous opacity of formal Turkish, the office of the Turkish presidency acknowledged that the visit would be concerned with more than the game itself.
“The match offers important opportunities in addition to being a sporting event,” noted the statement. “It is believed that this opportunity that has arisen should be evaluated in the best possible manner by all sides, particularly at a time when the peoples of the Caucasus are experiencing worrying developments. It is thought that the visit that will be made in relation to this match can contribute to the development of a new friendship in the region. It is with this understanding that the president has accepted the invitation” (website of the Turkish presidency, www.tccb.gov.tr)
What the statement goes on to describe as “the opportunity provided by this visit for the two peoples to understand each other better” (www.tccb.gov.tr) is likely to be fairly fleeting. According to reports in the Turkish media, Gul will spend only five to six hours in Armenia. Accompanied by Babacan, he will fly from Ankara to Yerevan on the Airbus 319 known as Ana, which was bought by Erdogan for his official use, and which, as the Turkish media have proudly noted, has a large Turkish flag painted on its tail (Hurriyet, Milliyet, September 4). Gul will arrive in Yerevan about two hours before the match and have an approximately one hour meeting with Sarkisian at the Armenian presidential palace. The two will then travel to the stadium to watch the match together. As soon as the match is over, Gul will be driven to the airport and fly straight back to Turkey (Milliyet, Radikal, Hurriyet, September 4).
Nobody seriously expects the visit to result in any breakthrough in the longstanding disputes between Turkey and Armenia. Opponents of the visit have criticized Gul for making what they regard as a meaningless gesture and warned that he is likely to face vociferous protests from Armenian ultranationalists in the stadium.
“Will Armenia completely abandon the genocide claims of the diaspora? Will they withdraw from the Azerbaijani territory they have occupied?” asked columnist Altemur Kilic in the Turkish ultranationalist daily Yeni Cag (Yeni Cag, September 4).
Fatih Terim, the coach of the Turkish national soccer team, has expressed concern that all the talk of the symbolic value of Gul’s visit is distracting attention from the game itself. It is a match that Turkey should and must win in order to boost its chances of qualification for the finals.
“This is just a game of soccer for us, not a war,” said Terim. “We can’t carry the burden of history on our shoulders” (Milliyet, Hurriyet, Zaman, NTV, September 4).
But, on Saturday evening, when the populations of Turkey and Armenia tune in to watch the game on television, undoubtedly most will not only be remembering history but wondering whether the time has now come for relations between the countries to have a future.
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