December 10, 2019
By Mamuka Tsereteli
It is in American interests to deter an increasingly assertive Russia. One way of doing this is to strengthen the independence and sovereignty of the countries around Russia, most of which face growing pressure from Moscow. The Black Sea states of Ukraine and Georgia, as well as Moldova and Belarus, are primary targets of Russian power. Other countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia also face assertive Russian policies. All these nations have suffered the collateral damage of changing ideologies of various administrations in the United States. American disengagement from different parts of the world over the last decade has created a large geopolitical vacuum now filled by Russia, China, and other adversaries.
Russia is particularly assertive in this process. After the occupation of Georgia and the annexation of Crimea, Russian leaders claim that Europe has a different map now, with some new states and new borders. Russia no longer considers itself bound by any formal international agreements, allowing its military presence almost anywhere in the world. In addition, Russia is in blatant violation of both the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which are fundamental and important for stability and security all across Europe.
In addition to direct military aggression, Russia ignited and fueled conflict in Eastern Ukraine using proxies, as it had done in Georgia and Moldova before. Russia also pushes countries into the Eurasian Economic Union, to keep them attached to its own inefficient and corrupt market system. It is increasing pressure on Belarus, which could lead to the elimination of Belarusian sovereignty. There is also constant pressure on Georgia. While moving artificially created borders and expanding occupied territories, the Russian military and its local proxies are escalating violations of basic human rights of ethnic Georgians inside the occupied territories, thus trying to humiliate the Georgian state and exacerbate existing divisions.
All of these facts and many other developments indicate that nations in the Russian neighborhood are under increased pressure on an almost daily basis. Most of them have had historical experiences with Russian military invasions, losing their sovereignty to imperial or Soviet Russia. Because of their fears of Russia, they are responding to the pressure. Meanwhile, messages from democracies in the West are baffling.
French President Emmanuel Macron says that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is brain dead. The United Kingdom is trying to leave the European Union, and prospects of the union are also in question. The United States is distracted with impeachment, and officials who need to be substantively thinking about the sovereignty of these countries are occupied with investigations. Internal political dynamics in the United States impact its credibility as a strategic ally, while leaving many of the small sovereign countries, which are loyal friends of the United States, vulnerable in times of such great need for American leadership. Russia is clearly a winner in this geopolitical struggle, at least for the time being.
For those who ask why the United States should be engaged, I would ask them to consider Ukraine. In 1994, Ukraine gave up its significant nuclear arsenal in exchange for guarantees of security and territorial principles, affirmed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia. Along with the strategic interests in supporting a country that can assist in balancing Russia, the United States has a moral obligation to support a responsible international actor that agreed to weaken its position against potential aggression to follow what appeared to be the international rule of law.
The notion that the United States should not spend its resources on the security of its allies is wrong for several reasons. Most importantly, the cost of supporting sovereign nations now will prevent higher American costs in the future. The costs of preventing major European wars and balancing an increasingly assertive Russia now will be lower than the costs of potential new military operations. There is no time to waste.
Russia is a powerful military state with large nuclear stockpiles. It is also an adversary which challenges American interests around the world. But low energy prices and Western sanctions made an impact on the Russian economy, and its economic output is smaller than the state of Texas. In this challenging environment, the Black Sea plays a critical role as an export gateway for Russian energy resources and other products. This opens the door for collaboration, but also for pushback and deterrence. What is required is American leadership, a clear strategy, and appropriate policies built on strong political will. In these times of turmoil, Congress can and must provide this international leadership before it is too late.
Mamuka Tsereteli is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute held a forum on IMF engagemtn in the CCA region. The forum discussed trade tensions, oil price volatility, and geopolitical tensions are weighing on the world economy. The speaker addressed what the region’s policy makers should do to make their economies resilient and promote higher and more inclusive growth.
Juha Kähkönen, Deputy Director, Middle East and Central Asia Department, International Monetary Fund
Moderator: Svante Cornell, Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council
Where: Middle East Institute: 1763 N Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20036
When: Wednesday, November 21, 2019 from 3:00 - 4:30 pm,
Growth remains broadly stable in the Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA), but it is still well below the long-term potential for the region — and too low if the region is to raise living standards to the level of other emerging economies in Europe and Asia. The challenge is to leverage good domestic policies, increased economic diversification, and stronger international cooperation to generate higher and more inclusive growth that lifts up the prospects of all CCA citizens. This task is complicated by global uncertainties, weaknesses in the banking sectors, and elevated public debt. This event coincides with the launch of the IMF's Departmental Paper: Promoting Inclusive Growth in the Caucasus and Central Asia presented by one of the authors, Mercedes Vera-Martin.
Juha Kähkönen, Deputy Director, Middle East and Central Asia Department, IMF
Mercedes Vera Martin, Deputy Division Chief, Middle East and Central Asia Department, IMF
Moderator: S. Frederick Starr,Chairman Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council
Where: Middle East Institute: 1319 18th Street NW, 20036
When: Wednesday, June 4, 2019 from 4:00 - 5:30 pm,
The PowerPoint Presentations from both speakers are available below.
Azerbaijan has recently embarked on a series of reforms to modernize the country’s economic and social policies. In foreign relations, Azerbaijan is in the final stages of negotiating an enhanced cooperation agreement with the European Union, and continues to work toward the realization of the Southern Gas Corridor. Increased diplomatic activity has intensified expectations surrounding the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, while U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton's visit to the South Caucasus in October also suggests growing U.S. engagement. The American Foreign Policy Council's Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Center for Strategic & International Studies held a discussion with three senior Azerbaijani parliamentarians, who provided an update on developments in Azerbaijan and the region.
Mr. Samad Seyidov – Chairman of the Committee on Foreign and Interparliamentary Relations of Parliament, Head of Azerbaijan-USA working group on interparliamentary relations
Ms. Sahiba Gafarova – Member of the Committee on Foreign and Interparliamentary Relations of Parliament
Mr. Asim Mollazada – Member of the Committee on Foreign and Interparliamentary Relations of Parliament
Introduction: Svante Cornell, Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
Moderator: Jeff Mankoff, Deputy Director, Russia & Eurasia Program, CSIS
Where: Center for Strategic and Intenational Studies: 1616 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Concourse Level, Washington, DC 20036
When: Friday, March 29, 2019 from 12:00 - 1:30 pm
The growth momentum in the Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA) is expected to stabilize in 2018 and the medium term. Still, it will take almost two decades to raise CCA living standards to the current levels of their peers. What does it take for countries in the region to move to a private-sector-led growth model? How can they build buffers, address weaknesses in the financial sector, and tackle high public debt? And how can growth be made more inclusive—so that it benefits all through job creation, higher incomes, and more opportunities?
Speaker: Juha Kähkönen, Deputy Director, Middle East and Central Asia Department, IMF
Moderator: S. Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council
Where: American Foreign Policy Council: 509 C Street NE, Washington, DC 20002
When: Friday, December 14, 2018 from 12:30 - 2:00 pm,
RSVP: Click HERE to register