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The Far-reaching Consequences of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict on the Caucasus

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Tuesday, August 22, 2023
The Russian-Ukrainian war has had a significant impact on the ongoing events in the Caucasus, and as time passes, this impact will become even more significant, both directly in the North Caucasus, which is part of Russia today, and in the countries of the South Caucasus as well.

By attacking Ukraine, Putin got not the quick victory he was hoping for, but a protracted war in which he has no prospect of victory, although Ukraine does not yet have the support to be able to win a quick victory over the Russian army.

According to a number of experts, if Ukraine manages to reach the coast of the Sea of Azov this year, it will be a significant success. In this case, Russia will no longer be able to communicate with Crimea by land, and if the attacks on the Kerch Bridge intensify, it will put the Russian army remaining in Crimea and the surrounding region in a very difficult situation.

The protracted war is a serious test for Ukraine, whose resources are significantly inferior to Russia's, and for the West, whose unity in supporting Ukraine influences the fate of the war. The protracted war is a test for Russia as well.

This is a war where there is no prospect of his victory and which requires a serious strain on his resources. There has been talk for a long time that the war could exacerbate Russia's internal problems and call into question the stability of the Putin regime. Prigozhin's rebellion can be considered the first visible sign of this.

The war in Ukraine had its echoes in the North Caucasus. In the search for human resources for the war, the Kremlin places special emphasis on the regions, and the number of conscripts from the national republics of the North Caucasus is large, so the casualties are also enormous.

A few months ago in Dagestan, there were protests by the mothers of those mobilized. The participation of the Chechen ruler Kadyrov's military units in the war against Ukraine should be mentioned separately. However, this is not the only concern for the republics of the North Caucasus.

These republics are subsidized and receive 60-80 percent of their budgets from Moscow. Without these funds, serious social problems will arise in these republics. In addition, if Moscow is no longer able to control the situation, frozen ethno-conflicts and territorial disputes may reappear in the North Caucasus.

First of all, it concerns the "Prygorodny" conflict between Ossetia-Alania and Ingushetia. Moscow supported the Ossetians in the 1990s and the conflict ended with their victory. Without Moscow's support, it will be difficult for them to maintain their "victory".

The Russia-Ukraine war has already caused serious changes in the South Caucasus. Before the war in Ukraine, it seems that Putin tried to win Turkey's heart, which had a painful effect on Armenia's position.

Azerbaijan was able to defeat Armenia in the war for Nagorno-Karabakh, and today the Armenians control only a part of Nagorno-Karabakh, where the Armenian population is blockaded. Russian peacekeepers cannot provide much security for them, and in case of the withdrawal of the peacekeepers, the small Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh will have to leave this area.

Armenia is facing serious security problems. Russia officially remains a strategic partner, but no longer hopes for its support. However, in Azerbaijan, they talked about Zangezuri (the "leg" of Armenia connecting Iran) as the land of Azerbaijan. Armenia is trying to get weapons from India, Greece, Cyprus, and developing relations with France, but this cannot guarantee security. The support of Iran may become decisive for him, whose interests are not in the further strengthening of Azerbaijan-Turkey in the region.

Azerbaijan took maximum advantage of the created situation. The case of the return of Nagorno-Karabakh is being brought to an end, it is likely to help Russia circumvent sanctions and provide material assistance to Ukraine while remaining an important energy partner for the West.

After the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, the government of Georgia found itself in the strangest situation. The war made it impossible to conduct Russian and pro-Western politics simultaneously. At the same time, the pro-Russian vector of its policy, which is aimed at ever-closer cooperation with Russia, has become evident.

They call their policy the policy of "not irritating Russia" and accuse the West of wanting to drag Georgia into a war against Russia. They claim that with such a policy they will maintain peace and "peacefully" be able to restore the country's territorial integrity. However, Russia is increasingly expanding the scope of occupation in the Tskhinvali region. It is assumed that by pursuing a "smart policy" towards Russia (Gharibashvili's words), the narrative about restoring the country's territorial integrity will be used by the Georgian Dream during the 2024 parliamentary elections. Just like how during the 2020 elections, they used the narrative "Gareji is Georgia", which they intended to return to Georgia through maps allegedly brought from Russia. It soon became clear to everyone that it was just an election trick.

At the same time, the Georgian Dream is trying to get the candidate status for EU membership, because the Western course, despite the powerful anti-Western campaign, is supported by a large part of the population of Georgia. Their true stance regarding this was also revealed - the supposed striving for the candidate status without the actual fulfillment of the requirements of the European Union, because the fulfillment of these requirements will make it impossible to maintain the authoritarian rule in Georgia.

The current government of Georgia was betting on Russia's victory in the Russia-Ukraine war. Even today, they probably believe that even in the case of Putin's defeat in Ukraine, Russia will not be weakened enough for it to be forced to "leave the Caucasus".