Originally Published 2005-12-12 07:19:04 Published on Dec 12, 2005
There is a preponderance of storms around the Black Sea. Its ancient beaches are littered with shipwrecks from the classical world. Some American geologists insist the great Biblical flood occurred there.
U.S. policies in the Eurasian region
There is a preponderance of storms around the Black Sea. Its ancient beaches are littered with shipwrecks from the classical world. Some American geologists insist the great Biblical flood occurred there. 

The storms in the geopolitics of the region may not be apocalyptic, but could cause turbulence in Eurasia. Two events highlight this. First, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Bucharest on December 6 for signing "a historic military access agreement," reportedly establishing four American military bases near the Black Sea. Ms. Rice promptly hailed Romania as "one of our strongest friends, a friend with whom we share common values ... not just friends ... our forces are brothers and sisters in arms in Iraq, Afghanistan, in the Balkans." 

The Americans are wading into the Black Sea for the first time. It is a defining moment for Russia's tryst with the Black Sea - a region embedded in the Russian consciousness, its literature, folklore, customs, and culture. 

Secondly, a new regional grouping with the ambitious title Community of Democratic Choice (CDC) took form at a conclave in Kiev on December 2. It comprised nine countries from the Balkan, Baltic, and Black Sea regions. The Presidents of Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Moldova, Slovenia, and Macedonia attended the conclave, apart from government delegations from Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, and observers from the United States. The CDC's stated objectives are promotion of democratic values, regional stability, and economic prosperity. 

But Georgia's State Minister Giorgi Baramidze claimed the CDC would confront Russia, or at least counterbalance Russian influence in Eurasia. The CDC member-countries are to meet again in March 2006 in Bucharest, and in Vilnius and Tbilisi later in the year. 

Curiously, these developments bypassed two major regional powers - Turkey and Germany. Considering that Turkey, a major NATO power, is stretched along the Black Sea's southern shores, besides "controlling" the Bosphorous, there was no real need of American military bases. Also, as the region's oldest democracy, Turkey ought to have been mentoring the CDC. 

This calls attention to the phenomenal transformation of Russo-Turkish relations. Never before in their tumultuous history have the two countries found themselves at ease with each other as today. Their growing importance for each other is underlined by the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Turkey twice in the past 11 months. Russia and Turkey have become friendly competitors and stakeholders. 

The `German question' is even more glaring. For, minus Germany, what is Central Europe and the Balkans worth? But Germany does not fit into the CDC's anti-Russia bias. Germany supports a rapprochement between Russia and the Central and Eastern European states. It would prefer a unified and constructive European Union agenda for Russia so that Russia's future relations with the West would be predictable. The noted scholar, Alexander Rahr, Director of the Russia/CIS Koerber Centre at the German Council of Foreign Relations, wrote recently: "The Christian Democrats will do more to dismantle Central and Eastern European fears of a `German-Russian axis'... the Russia policy of a new government will be guided by practical considerations. The German economy will not want to give up the chance to conquer one of the biggest growth markets of the 21st century, and will not wait until Russia has adopted Western values before becoming active on the Russian market." 

American strategic thinkers have been arguing for the projection of U.S. power into Eurasia on a permanent, long-term footing. A report, "Regional Security in the South Caucasus: The role of NATO," by a task force of prominent American specialists, under the auspices of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, last year stressed: "The Western world has long regarded the Black Sea as a boundary separating Europe from Asia ... Today's strategic imperatives have consigned that perception to history ... The Caucasus forms the hub of an evolving geo-strategic and geo-economic system that stretches from NATO Europe to Central Asia and Afghanistan. It provides unique transit corridors for Caspian energy supplies and Central Asian commodities to the Euro-Atlantic community, as well as direct access for allied forces to bases and operational theatres in the Greater Middle East and Central Asia. Thus the Black Sea and Caspian basins ... comprise a functional aggregate, now linked directly to the enlarged Euro-Atlantic Alliance ... This region has already begun functioning as a rear area or staging ground in terms of projecting Western power and values along with security into Central Asia and the Greater Middle East. This function is likely to increase in significance as part of U.S. and NATO strategic initiatives." 

The CDC provides a fig leaf without which American power projection would look a brazen attempt to establish hegemony. What emerges is that though Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan brought discredit to the dogma of "colour revolutions," Washington, after some quick rethink, is going ahead with a schematic programme of regime changes in the former Soviet republics. A confrontation may arise in Belarus during the presidential elections in July. To the disbelief of those who believed history ended with the Cold War, ideology is returning with a vengeance. 

But Washington will be pragmatic. The litmus test of the "colour revolution" will be how U.S. business interests are affected by political instability. As a Xinhua commentary noted on the elections in Kazakhstan last week, "The U.S. has invested 10 billion dollars in Kazakhstan's booming energy sector. Besides, the 4-billion dollar Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, a major American-backed energy initiative, needs pumping Kazakh oil reserves. So the U.S. rhetoric became more moderate." The same pragmatism characterised the U.S. approach toward parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan recently. 

Wherever possible, the ideology of democracy, freedom, human rights and so on that "colour revolutions" tirelessly invoke will be pitted against a perceived spiritual and economic devastation and bankruptcy, and a total absence of the institutions, traditions, and political culture of liberal capitalism and democracy that allegedly prevails in the Eurasian heartlands, including Russia. 

Of course, the U.S. strategic community understands that there are no signs of an economic crisis and the consequent political upheaval that could change the power constellation in Moscow as had happened in Ukraine and Georgia. But a Helsinki Declaration-like mechanism will be useful for internationalising Eurasia's "frozen conflicts" such as Chechnya or Transdniester or Ossetia. Besides, the dream of Western integration must be fostered in Eurasia despite the uncertainties about the European Union's further expansion. 

Americans' reasoning  
Senior American officials have laboured to rationalise the geopolitical and security context of these far-reaching U.S. foreign policy moves to get embedded in the vast region enjoining four major powers - Russia, China, India, and Iran. They say the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus constitute the front line vis-à-vis extremism, drug trafficking, and terrorism. And, countering authoritarianism, unresolved ethnic and nationalist conflicts, human rights violations and economic stagnation, which fuel domestic unrest, extremism of various kinds and international terrorism, is the key to protecting U.S. interests. 

Secondly, the region's tremendous oil and gas reserves alone add to its importance to the U.S. (To quote from a Congressional testimony in September focussing on U.S. foreign policy towards Eurasia, "The proven oil reserves of just two states in the Caspian Sea basin, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, are only slightly less than those of the United States.") 

Thirdly, extremism threatens to destabilise several areas within Eurasia. In particular, therefore, the U.S. must monitor the role of political and radical Islam and the conditions that permit Islamic extremism to flourish. Fourthly, the U.S. cannot ignore the countries of the post-Soviet space struggling to escape the debilitating legacy of communism, as a failing or failed state anywhere in the world can pose dangers to the security of the U.S. 

Fifthly, the U.S. and its NATO allies have demonstrated their capacity to successfully intervene with military, diplomatic, humanitarian, and technical assistance in somewhat comparable circumstances in the Balkans (accompanying the collapse of the former Yugoslavia), to protect human rights, establish peace and lay the foundation for sustainable democracies and open market economies. But there are simply no matching assets available for stabilising Eurasia. Finally, U.S. officials acknowledge that the U.S.' most important foreign policy and security interest in Eurasia is its complex relationship with Russia itself. 

The central issue here is Russia's unquestioned emergence as the 21st century's energy superpower. Does the U.S. indeed have vested interests in Russia's renaissance, as it claims, or does realpolitik demand the annihilation of Russia's status as an independent centre so as to incorporate it into the periphery of the Western community? The alacrity with which the bar of eligibility of NATO membership is being lowered for accommodating countries in Russia's neighbourhood appears to signify a structured expression of U.S. strategy. 

The establishment of U.S. military bases in the Black Sea effectively makes the Caucasus a direct neighbour to the institutionalised West. As the task force report of Johns Hopkins University summed up, "with the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalitions projecting power into Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iraq, the South Caucasus has de facto been drawn into the perimeter of Euro-Atlantic strategic security interests ... Thus, while remaining a permanent neighbour of Russia, the South Caucasus has in effect become a Euro-Atlantic borderland. This American-spearheaded development is so recent that its full implications have not yet sunk in." 

The writer is a former Indian Ambassador. He is presently Visiting Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Hindu, December 12, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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