BACKGROUND: Throughout 2002, Russia has threatened to invade and even fence off a section of Georgia's Pankisi and Kodori Gorges because Chechen forces operate there with impunity. Admittedly, Georgia has clearly lost control of these regions and have had little stomach for cleansing them. However, Russian leaders claim that Georgian authorities actively cooperate with Chechen terrorist operations and duly invoke the UN resolutions on terrorism of September, 2001 and Article 51 of the UN charter to defend against "aggression". Yet clearly the Russian military could not, even if it tried, hold on to these territories and would simply be widening an already futile and brutal war. The international security ramifications of this new issue have been widely discussed. But what has been overlooked is the relationship between the Russian armed forces and the Russian government in this crisis. Nor has the impact of those relationships on Russian security, let alone that of the Caucasus and CIS, been fully explicated. Russian pressure on Georgia to make its territory available for operations against the Chechens started in 1999 when Boris Yeltsin urged President Eduard Shevardnadze to permit this, and was rebuffed. Since then, the enormous vindictiveness of the Russian armed forces toward Gorbachev and Shevardnadze and their equally intense search for vindication in a Chechen war that ended originally in defeat and whose second iteration is likewise bogged down, has inflamed Russo-Georgian relations. This hatred for Shevardnadze has expressed itself in economic warfare, support for separatist movements in Georgia, repeated Russian intelligence plots to assassinate Shevardnadze or promote pro-Russian alternatives to him, and systematic exploitation of Georgia's many weaknesses. To be sure, Georgia's own inability to organize decent governance at home have created conditions that are ripe for exploitation. But one critical factor is the fact that democratic reform of Russia's armed forces has been systematically obstructed by the Army since 1985. Today the public and the Duma are shut out of military policy and the government's leaders either do not know enough about it or lack the political will to break through this barrier. So the military has a free hand to incite trouble with Georgia in the belief that only this sanctuary keeps the Chechens going and entering Georgia will lead to victory. Russian generals, who, like the Bourbons, seem to have "learned nothing and forgotten nothing", remain unreconciled to the status quo in the CIS, and especially in Georgia. They openly state that they have not put enough pressure on Georgia even though Georgia can do little about the Chechens, and although the responsibility for the crisis and the war in Chechnya lies exclusively in Moscow. These generals obstruct civilian and democratic control at home in order to have a free hand to conduct this war which they believe must be prosecuted to the end in order to vindicate their professional and politico-economic standing in Russia. They have not learned from the U.S.' disaster in Cambodia or Israel's problems in Lebanon that widening the front in a losing war is no palliative but rather a prescription for further and deeper disaster. As a result they aim to threaten, intimidate, and perhaps actually conduct operations inside Georgia in the vain delusion that by doing so they will destroy the Chechens' "privileged sanctuary". Meanwhile their own cupidity, brutality, and incompetence has been repeatedly exposed this year as is the fact that the war is stalemated to the point where even Yevgeny Primakov now urges a political settlement.
IMPLICATIONS: Consequently these generals and the intelligence agencies who share their outlook and modus operandi clamor for widening the front against Georgia for their own factional benefit and perhaps also to undermine Putin's partnership with the United States, which they oppose. They have clearly not considered the strategic or political repercussions of such attacks within the Caucasus, for Central Asia, or in terms of relations with the United States, or that by doing so they will galvanize all of Georgia to fight a protracted war against Moscow and its forces. Despite Georgia's weakness, its people can likely sustain that kind of war for a long time since Russia's army is in a dysfunctional state. The Russian military's policies hence flirt with disaster. This crisis drives home the point that the unreformed and undemocratic nature of the Russian military and defense policy constitutes a permanent potential threat to both Russian and CIS security and a constant incentive for Russian military adventurism. It also shows, that, as many warned in 1999, launching a new war against Chechnya risks not only stalemate but the possibility of a wider war in the Caucasus. As the self-interested adventurism of the Russian military is a constant given its unreformed nature, the crisis points to the need for democratization of Russian national security policy if Russia and its neighbors are to have any security at all.
CONCLUSIONS: It is not enough to vanquish terrorism in the CIS. In the final analysis democratization is the only way to make the CIS safe for each of its states. Indeed, many of the crises in the Caucasus and the CIS as a whole since 1991 are traceable, at least in part, to the failure to build viable democratic national security structures, including the armed forces. If we conquer terrorism but neglect this task, the war on terrorism will have counted for little. Without reform the permanent temptation of adventurism or what Tsarist Minister Count Petr Valuev called "The lure of something erotic on the frontier" will continue to disfigure CIS politics and breed endless prolonged post-colonial wars. In those wars, the center of gravity, as is now the case in Chechnya, will be Moscow. And if there is one thing Russia cannot sustain, that is protracted war. Putin may advocate a great Russia but as long as his generals want great upheavals, both will fail. Moving into Georgia will only hasten and intensify the consequences of that failure.
AUTHOR BIO: Professor Stephen Blank, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA 17013. The views expressed here do not represent those of the US Army, Defense Department, or the US Government.
Copyright 2001 The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst. All rights reserved.