Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 98

In three separate statements, issued on May 15-16, Russia’s Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov has warned Russia’s neighbors in general, and Georgia and Azerbaijan in particular, against pursuing their rapprochement with NATO. Concurrently he sought to encourage Armenia to persist in a pro-Russian course. Ivashov, who heads the Russian General Staff’s Main Directorate for International Military Cooperation, is known for objecting to the Baltic states’ aspirations to join NATO. He is now turning his attention to the South Caucasus.

In his interviews with Armenian National Television, a news agency in Yerevan and a Moscow mass-circulation daily, Ivashov made these salient points:

–The United States and NATO, “including the U.S. embassy in Yerevan,” are attempting to drive a wedge between Armenia and Russia, specifically aiming to undermine the two countries’ military alliance by offering “economic carrots” to Yerevan. Russia’s military, however, is “profoundly interested” in maintaining close relations with Armenia and in ensuring that Armenia remains militarily stronger than her neighbors. Those [unnamed] neighbors are “common adversaries” of Armenia and Russia.

–NATO and the U.S. “have had some successes with regard to Georgia and Azerbaijan” While recognizing the right of any country to choose its allies, Russia reserves the right to take countermeasures, including military ones, in order to protect Russian interests. Russia cannot accept a presence of NATO “on the river Psou.” That river forms the Abkhaz sector of the Russia-Georgia border. Ivashov’s wording would therefore seem to imply that Moscow is prepared to continue playing an Abkhaz card against Georgia.

–Discussions on a security pact for the South Caucasus should be confined to the three countries of the region as well as Russia, Iran and Turkey. The discussions should exclude the United States, whose involvement in the region is “destabilizing” and “fraught with the risk of an explosion.” Ivashov did not seem seriously to consider the inclusion of the European Union in the proposed pact. Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Armenian president Robert Kocharian–unlike his rivals in Yerevan–support the full participation of the United States and the European Union in any regional security pact.

–Russia will “not hurry” to vacate the military bases in Georgia, will in any case seek to retain two out of the four bases and legalize their status. That part of Ivashov’s remarks challenges the recent decisions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Cumulatively, the three statements may be seen as the response of Russia’s military hierarchy to the looming political defeat of its proteges in Armenia and the consistency displayed by Georgia and Azerbaijan in their Western orientation (Armenian National Television, Respublika Armeniya, Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Trud, May 15-16).