America’s Allies in Eurasia Face a Common Foe in Russia

Image by Asitimes

By Eugen Iladi

It’s no secret that Russia is using military means and disinformation to try to reassemble its Soviet Union footprint. Ukraine has drawn the most headlines in this effort. But the Kremlin has long been working its land-grab plan in Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan.

Russia’s economic failure and social challenges in the 21st century have forced it to look backward. The Kremlin has engaged in territory seizure, proxy wars and propaganda campaigns all around its borders designed to return Russia to its former glory as a superpower.

This has forced Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan to fight back in common cause.

In Ukraine, the government of President Petro Poroshenko has been working since its election in 2014 to break the country’s culture of corruption and implement wide-ranging reforms. Progress is being made despite the constant onslaught of the Kremlin’s two-front war on Ukraine – in Crimea, now annexed after the Russian covert military intervention of 2014, and in Eastern Ukraine, which has turned into a major battlefield between Russian-backed local militias and Ukrainian armed forces.

Similarly, Georgia is being punished for its pro-Western policies. Its territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been annexed by Russia and separatist forces have been integrated into the Russian military. Another former Soviet state, Moldova, is struggling with Russia’s control of its Trans-Dniestr region.

Azerbaijan is dealing with its own loss of territory – its western region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was illegally seized by Armenia, a close Russian ally, during the 1991-94 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The legacy of the Soviet meddling in its member republics, and the arbitrary granting of autonomy and territorial swaps to various ethnic groups in an attempt to curry favors and rule, are at the root of the problem dating back to 1988. While the majority of the population in this enclave is of Armenian origin and about 230,000 Armenians were displaced during the height of the conflict, the level of ethnic cleansing and land grab against Azerbaijan surpassed that by far: more than 800,000 Azeris became internal refugees and large portions of Azerbaijan’s territory remain even now under the de facto control of Armenian forces.

Russia continues to back the Armenian aggression. Armenia hosts several Russian bases and has become the Kremlin’s launching pad against Western interests in the region. Over the past several months, Russia has supplied Armenia with military jets, moving several MiG-29 fighters to its base in Armenia. In addition, Russia and Armenia established a joint air defense pact.

Most troubling, Russia gave Armenia an Iskander missile system. The Iskanders are short-range ballistic missiles capable of being fitted with either conventional or nuclear warheads. Armenia is the only nation that has received permission from Moscow to get the Russian missiles, which can reach as far as the Azerbaijan capital of Baku. Notably, while selling arms to other nations, Russia supplies Armenia essentially for free through loan financing, cementing its proxy status and fueling Armenia’s bellicose stance and refusal to return to negotiations seeking a diplomatic solution to the long standing territorial dispute with Azerbaijan.

The multi-front Russian-backed aggression has strengthened ties between Ukraine and Azerbaijan. Ukrainian ambassador to Azerbaijan Alexander Mischchenko said his nation supports Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, noting that the Armenian-seized region of Nagorno-Karabakh amounts to 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory.

“It is impossible to completely understand the difficulties Azerbaijan faced until one gets in a similar situation,” Mischchenko said, referencing Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea.

Azerbaijan President Ilhan Aliyev met with Poroshenko earlier this year and the two leaders underscored their commitment to each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and agreed to work together in several international bodies. “We will continue to deepen our cooperation in these organizations, in particular the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other organizations,” President Aliyev has said. Azerbaijan and Ukraine also cooperate in a key pro-Western endeavor: Supplying Caspian Sea oil and gas to Europe to increase the West’s energy security and reduce overreliance on Russia’s Gazprom supplies, often used as leverage in Kremlin’s geopolitical chess with Europe and the West.

Ukraine and Georgia have refused to recognize the illegal and so-called “constitutional referendum” that took place in Nagorno-Karabakh earlier this year, which would have the effect of further sucking the region into Armenia’s, and Russia’s, control. It’s also worth remembering that, as the world condemned Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea, predictably, Armenia supported it, cynically calling the military takeover a Crimean exercise in “self-determination.”

At the same time, Azerbaijan has agreed not to import any goods made in the Donbass region or any other Russian-occupied part of Ukraine and Georgia, and Ukraine has agreed to block imports from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine are the front lines in the resistance against restoring the USSR. The Soviet Union, like all autocracies, was a bad idea doomed to fail. But that hasn’t stopped Moscow from trying again. Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine’s Western allies should work together to make certain the horrors of the Soviet era are not repeated.

Image courtesy of Asitimes

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About Eugen Iladi

Eugen Iladi is a freelance reporter based in Virginia who covers politics, conflict and development in emerging markets. He holds a journalism degree and wrote for several news agencies. As a freelances he has contributed to numerous publications, including the Gulf News, AlArab Online, Iraqi Business News, Taipei Times, Prime-Tass, Business New Europe, iAfrica, Cape Times, the Foreign Policy Journal, Real Clear Politics and many more.

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