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Russia’s Influence in the Caucasus

Writing in the Financial Times, Thomas de Waal takes a look at Russia-Georgia relations two years after the war. He argues that the conflict ended up weakening Russia’s position in the region and that Russia is now moving away from trying to use military prowess to control the near aborad. Interesting. I’d be curious to read a debate between de Waal and Leland R. Miller. Here’s an excerpt from the FT piece:

The recognition policy for Abkhazia and South Ossetia damaged Moscow internationally and no other post-Soviet state followed its example. In the North Caucasus, the policy stirred up more trouble among would-be Islamic separatists. On the south side of the mountains, Russia has few levers and must work with local elites to retain any influence.

Focused on economic recovery and political consolidation, Russia is also accepting that it must use economic instruments, not coercion, to maintain a presence in its near-abroad. The recent quarrel with Belarus over gas supplies, the decision not to intervene in Kyrgyzstan and the decision to cut Russian tank numbers by 90 per cent all form part of this picture…

…Could Russia make Georgia part of the “reset” in relations with thewest? Realistically, progress is unlikely at the moment as PresidentMikheil Saakashvili, the sworn enemy of Moscow, serves out his secondterm and while the wounds of 2008 are fresh. But Russia has goodreasons to want to share this problem in the long term. In themeantime, the situation needs more effective conflict management -preventing incidents on the ground from getting out of control – andmore nuanced language. The current western policy of strong rhetoricalsupport for the Georgian position substitutes easy words for hard work.