Azerbaijan International

Spring 2000 (8.1)
Page 24

Geopolitically Speaking
Russia's "Sphere of Influence" - Chechnya and Beyond

by Zbigniew Brzezinski

Other articles related to
Zbigniew Brzezinski published in Azerbaijan International:

1) The Caucasus and New Geo-Political Realities: How the West Can Support the Region- Betty Blair
(2) Analysis - War On Terrorism: Failing to Grapple with the Political Dimension - Zbigniew Brzezinski
(3) Geopolitically Speaking: Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski - Betty Blair
(4) Russia as Empire - Quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski
(5) Freedom is Fragile - Quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski
(6) Honorary Doctorate Bestowed on Brzezinski - Zbigniew Brzezinski

The following article is an edited version of the speech that Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski made in Washington, DC at a dinner organized by the USACC (U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce) on February 15, 2000 to honor President Heydar Aliyev's visit to the U.S.

A little more than five years ago I went to Baku and delivered a letter to President Aliyev on behalf of President Clinton. We had a late-night discussion that lasted several hours. It resulted in an historic decision being made that weekend by President Aliyev. The decision was that Azerbaijan - in reaching out to the world - would not allow itself to be dependent on any single line of access to the rest of the world. Specifically, it meant that Azerbaijan would develop other pipeline routes and not be dependent only on the pipeline north via Russia to the Black Sea port at Novorossiysk. Azerbaijan would develop multiple access to the rest of the world, including a Western route through Georgia, to the Black Sea at Supsa. That was an historic decision. It was significant to the future of Azerbaijan and to the future of the region.

Conflicting Strategies
It is important to emphasize the significance of that decision, especially today, a little more than five years later. Given the recent developments in Chechnya, what we see developing in the Southern and Northern Caucasus are two alternative concepts of that region's relationship to the rest of the world. One concept involves the notion of open access, multiple participation, and the involvement of many nations in the development of future prosperity of the Caspian Sea region and beyond - which includes Central Asia.

The other concept emphasizes that one power - Russia - should control access to the region, and failure to exercise such monopoly control over access to the region represents a significant geopolitical defeat for them, since they once held it. These are two fundamentally opposing concepts about the development of the future of that region.

Since about 1995, American policy in this region has been committed to the idea of geopolitical pluralism, which means that there should be multiple access to the region, which will result in prosperity that will benefit all concerned, including immediate neighbors of the region and Russia. This has been the policy of the United States and it has resulted in America's strong support for the independence of Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan as well as other States.

In fact, I think it's accurate to say that this major strategic shift in American policy took place in 1994. Up until then, the United States had been inclined to place primary emphasis on its own relationship with Russia and to define that relationship as the central and most important strategic relationship, thus assigning a lower priority to the independence of the new post-Soviet States.

That policy was altered and the U.S., since then, has not only remained committed to the idea of state independence for the post-Soviet states, but has also been actively engaged in promoting initiatives designed to facilitate and advance such an important strategic objective.

Baku-Supsa [the pipeline west from Baku to Georgia's Black Sea port of Supsa] has become reality [in 1999]. Baku-Jeyhan is a shared objective [Baku-Jeyhan is the route designated for the major export of oil from Baku through Georgia and then south to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Jeyhan]. This route reflects the shared strategic commitment to a concept of openness, pluralism and multiple participation in the promotion of prosperity and stability in the region.

What Chechnya Is All About
In many respects, the conflict between these two basic concepts of which I have spoken provides insight into the real significance of the tragic events that have been transpiring in Chechnya. The issue in Chechnya is not about the unity of Russia as was argued by some analysts five years ago. Nor is it about terrorism, as has been echoed by some proponents recently.

The issue is whether or not a region can develop on the basis of its own diversity - on the basis of its own identity. I sense that the U.S. is now at a very sensitive and difficult stage in our relations concerning the region. These alternative concepts of the region's development are, indeed, imbalanced and contradictory. Therefore, I think there is a danger that the new Russian President, Mr. Putin, will interpret the American public's passivity towards Chechnya as meaning that Russia has a free hand to do as it pleases, not only in the Northern Caucasus, but in the Southern Caucasus as well.

Putin's Priorities
In my view, Mr. Putin has three basic priorities. The first is to establish order within Russia itself. But establishing order is not necessarily the same thing as being a democrat or even, to some extent, being a reformer.

Being a reformer does not necessarily mean that one is a democrat. I think we have been somewhat hasty in so quickly defining Mr. Putin as a great reformer and, by implication, a democrat. One can, as they say, "make the trains run on time" without being a democrat.

Secondly, I think Mr. Putin does, indeed, want to improve relations with the West. This goal is not in conflict with his other priorities. On the contrary, it is quite consistent because Russia is far too weak and far too troubled to afford a major conflict with the West. Moreover, stabilization of relations with the West, built precisely on the premise that the present Russian government is a reform-minded government, may give that government a greater opportunity to pursue its third objective.

Russia's Sphere of Influence
The present Russian leadership is clearly attempting to re-establish a Russian sphere of influence throughout most of the space of the former Soviet Union. Note that I emphasize a "sphere of influence" - not re-establishment of the old Soviet Union - but a "sphere of influence". Unfortunately, this priority of establishing a "sphere of influence" interprets the presence and access between the outside world and that region as a threat to its own interests. These goals have been explicitly stated by a number of contemporary Russian leaders.

This is why, Mr. President, I think your visit here to the United States is especially timely. It is important that we, in the United States, be conscious of the fact that our interests and our commitments are at stake. This should be explicit and clear to all concerned parties. It is important that initiatives be undertaken to promote regional stability such as that proposed by the Turkish President Demirel in response to what has happened in Chechnya. Your visit, Mr. President, here to the United States, therefore, has strategic - even historical - significance.

I have been asked to make a toast. You, Mr. President, have already been toasted together with the President of the United States. So let me, instead, raise my glass to the joint recognition that Azerbaijan, under your leadership, and Georgia are both vital as independent States to regional stability. And that the United States has a direct national interest in your security and independence. Therefore, join me in this toast - "To the security and independence of Azerbaijan!"

Dr. Brzezinski was head of the National Security Council under U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Currently he is a Counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS] and Professor of American Foreign Policy at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies [SAIS] at Johns Hopkins University.

Azerbaijan International (8.1) Spring 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.

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