Naïve in the Caucasus

It seemed like the best of times when, on a late August evening, George W. Bush shook his hips and the Georgian warriors leaped across the stage, waiving their daggers so enthusiastically that the president’s security people began to get nervous. To some extent, those were the days of naïveté. One Georgia war and one president later, the U.S. strategy for the Caucasus — to the extent there ever was one — is in shambles.

In the mid-1990s Washington lobbied successfully in Azerbaijan for BP and other western oil companies to gain access to the Caspian Sea. Later, massive financial support was given to the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the way was paved for NATO membership. Finally, almost in passing, Washington tried in 2009 to achieve reconciliation between Turks and Armenians. Only one thing came out of all these efforts: the realization of the Obama administration that it was necessary to restart relations with Russia, the former and current dominant power in the region that cannot simply be displaced.

Hilary Clinton’s visit to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia was supposed to demonstrate that Washington’s new openness to Russia is not at the expense of the Caucasus states. But it’s possible that some political partnerships are more imagined than real. There is very little evidence — especially in Azerbaijan — of the hoped-for embrace of western values.

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