Thursday, August 13, 2015

New Polish President Makes Baltic–Black Sea Alliance a Centerpiece of His Foreign Policy

By Paul Goble

Since the time of Marshal Józef Piłsudski, Polish foreign policy thinkers have periodically sought the creation of an alliance of states in between Germany and Russia—from Estonia (and perhaps even Finland and Scandinavia) in the north, to Ukraine (and potentially down to the Balkans) in the south—as a way of promoting Poland’s interests and security. But except in times of heightened East-West tension (such as during the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war), Warsaw has had little success in creating what some might call a buffer zone or cordon sanitaire, but which the Poles and their supporters have always labeled the “Intermarium” (“Międzymorze”) or “land between the seas” (for detailed background on this idea, see Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas, Transaction, 2012).

On August 5, one day before his inauguration, Polish president-elect Andrzej Duda said that he would make the creation of such an alliance among the states between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas the centerpiece of his foreign policy efforts. Over time, he suggested, this regional bloc could lead to deeper economic, military and even political integration (Forsal.pl, August 5). Duda then alluded again to this proposal in more generalized terms on his inauguration day (Prezydent.pl, August 6). In doing so, he resuscitated an idea that had been pushed by his predecessor and mentor, the former president Lech Kaczyński, who passionately supported this brainchild of Piłsudski (Natemat.pl, August 5). Kaczyński died in a tragic aircraft accident over western Russia in April 2010—an accident that a small but vocal minority inside Poland remains convinced was caused by Moscow. For its part, Moscow has always been against any type of cooperation among the states of Central-Eastern Europe, viewing it as a kind of wall blocking Russia off from the rest of Europe (Rusjev.net, August 6).

The new Polish head of state clearly sees the time as being ripe for such a push: East-West tensions are at their highest levels since the dark days of the Cold War; Ukraine needs help, and cooperation of this kind with its Central-Eastern European neighbors would open the way for more assistance; the United Kingdom and France are not against an arrangement that might counterbalance growing German power in the East; and Poland itself  is interested in creating an alliance or buffer zone to protect itself against the aggressive designs of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The United States has not taken a position on this notion, but would likely oppose it if the Intermarium is directed—as it almost certainly would be—against Moscow.

As Viktor Shevchuk writes for Rusjev.net, if Poland and Ukraine were able to unite in this way, they would become, within a decade or so, an economic, and potentially, a military power on the same level as Germany, Britain or France, far surpassing Russia, at least economically.  Moreover, he argues, from a geopolitical perspective, an Intermarium alliance would throw Russia back “to the position it occupied in pre-Petrine times”—that is, largely depriving it of access to Europe except through third countries (Rusjev.net, August 6).

What are the prospects for the formation of an Intermarium alliance or even more? Some in Poland and elsewhere are dismissing this as Duda repaying a debt to his late mentor. They believe his foreign policy promises will have no further consequence beyond empty rhetoric or energizing the Law and Justice’s (the political party of both Duda and Kaczyński) electorate ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections. Moreover, these same commentators note that under the Polish constitution, President Duda cannot act unilaterally; and they expect Polish parliamentarians to be suspicious of any assumption of such a geopolitical burden, even for possible enormous geopolitical gains (Rusjev.net, August 6).

But the biggest obstacle is Russia: Moscow will do whatever it takes to prevent the formation of such a bloc, not only because of what the Intermarium would mean directly but because the Kremlin would assume that such a grouping or unity would be used by the West as a Trojan horse against Russian interests. Consequently, the prospects for this idea are not great, but its attractions to many in the region are substantial, indeed.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Armenia’s Perspectives on the Iranian Nuclear Deal

By Erik Davtyan

On July 14, after a long period of tense and complicated negotiations, the “P5+1” group—the United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom and Germany—reached a historical deal with Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. The nuclear deal will have both global and regional consequences, especially for Iran’s neighboring states. In this context, the agreement is of crucial importance for Iran’s landlocked northern neighbor Armenia. For the past 20 years, Armenia has lived under a dual blockade imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan. Thus, the country’s cooperation with Iran serves crucially as one of Armenia’s two remaining possible routes (the other being across Georgia) to access the global market. Consequently, the long-term hostility in Iran’s relations with the West and rigorous international restrictions on Iran had provoked a deep anxiety in Armenia.

Armenia announce its official position on the Iranian de-nuclearization accord immediately after the deal was reached. On July 14, the minister of foreign affairs of Armenia, Edward Nalbandian, stated: “Armenia welcomes the agreement reached over the Iranian nuclear program as a result of constructive and goal-oriented efforts by Iran and the international mediators. This long-expected agreement is an important achievement in favor of strengthening international, regional stability and cooperation. We [Armenia] hope that it will be an additional impetus to the enhancement of trade and economic cooperation between Armenia and friendly Iran, the realization of joint projects” (Mfa.am, July 14).

The possible implications of the Iran deal for Armenia will have political, economic and geopolitical consequences. From a political point of view, Armenia will no longer be bound by the United States’ and the European Union’s sanctions as obstacles to wider and deeper political dialogue with Iranian authorities. Previously, the US aimed at isolating Iran from almost all of its neighbors. But after the détente in US-Iranian relations, new conditions may now be able to emerge for further political dialogue between the governments of Yerevan and Tehran.

The economic aspect of the deal is perhaps the most important dividend for Armenia. As Foreign Minister Nalbandian mentioned in his statement, the nuclear deal has opened new perspectives for bolstering bilateral economic relations and joint projects. According to the Custom Service of Armenia, in 2014 Armenia-Georgia trade turnover reached nearly $150 million, whereas the trade with Iran reached $290 million (Customs.am, accessed July 23). Nevertheless, the majority of Armenian exports presently reach global markets via Georgian transit. For now, overland travel between Armenia and Iran is limited to one bridge across the Arax River. But once on the Armenian side of the border, this road then becomes the country’s major “North-South” highway, which is currently under renewed construction for the purpose of “expanding and facilitating [Armenia’s] access to foreign markets toward Central Asia and Europe” (Northsouth.am, accessed July 23).

Both the Armenian government and the domestic expert community believes that the new situation brought about by the Iran deal will have a positive impact on economic cooperation between Armenia and the Islamic Republic. While delivering a speech at the joint summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), in Ufa last month, President Sargsyan expressed hope that “success would crown negotiations on the Iranian nuclear file, which in turn will strengthen both international and regional security and stability, as well as open up new opportunities for economic cooperation” (President.am, July 9).

The discussion over the future construction of the Armenia-Iran railway is a top issue in the two countries’ bilateral economic agenda. At the July Ufa summit and during his earlier state visit to China (March 24–28), President Sargsyan stressed the importance of the railway and invited all interested parties to contribute to this project. The nuclear deal, if it is successfully implemented, is expected to open Iran up to significant flows of foreign direct investment, thus increasing the possible interest of foreign companies in the railway project. This fact attracted even the Chinese official news agency, “Xinhua” (Russian.news.cn, July 15).

Along with the railway program, the two states will now have the opportunity to initiate cooperation in other spheres of mutual interest, especially in agriculture and cattle breeding. Expert Sevak Sarukhanyan mentions that some investment in Armenian farm industry are focused on export to Iran, however the heretofore instability of the Iranian currency (which was directly connected with sanctions) until now halted all goods exchanges in this sphere (Media-center.am, July 17).

The geopolitical consequences will have long-term effect on Armenia’s foreign and economic policy. Armenia is the only member of the EEU that neighbors Iran and the wider Middle East. Therefore, if economic cooperation between the Eurasian Union and Iran grows in the coming years, Armenia will inevitably gain transit status, connecting the transport routes of the EEU members with those of Iran. Armenian ambassador to Iran, Artashes Tumanyan, states that Iran will have the opportunity to enter the 200-milion-person market of the EEU, and considers Armenia “a gate to the EEU” for Iranian exporters (Armenia.irib.ir, July 15). Moreover, at the Ufa summit, President Sargsyan declared that “interaction at the junction of the BRICS-EEU-SCO lies in our [Armenian] interests in ensuring complementarity and mutually beneficial development of those integration processes” and that “construction of the railroad connecting Armenia to Iran might be such a project that would provide the EEU nations with direct access to the Indian Ocean through the Persian Gulf” (President.am, July 9).

The obstacle to Armenia’s ability to take on a large-scale transit role is the lack of a common border with the EEU. Goods from Armenia to the rest of the EEU—and vice-versa—are, therefore, mainly limited to passing overland through Georgia. But although Georgia is pursuing European integration, Georgian officials have always underlined that the difference in Georgian versus Armenian integration models will not affect bilateral relations and that this “might set a good example for the international community” (Gov.am, August 21, 2014).

 In order to make the road connection with Armenia stronger, Russia plans to repair the Avar-Kakheti road that passes from Dagestan southward to the border with Georgia (Georgianjournal.ge, October 23, 2014). Despite warnings from experts about the negative implications of the Russian Avar-Kakheti road to Georgia’s security (Gcssi.org, July 31; see EDM, October 2, 2014; December 15, 2014), the Georgian government does not seem opposed: The secretary of the Security Council of Georgia, Irine Imerlishvili, said late last year that “the Avar-Kakheti road,” which would be linked up with the strategically important east-west Georgian Military Road, “does not threaten the security of Georgia” (Vestikavkaza.ru, December 14, 2014). So, in case of successful reconstruction of the road, Armenia and Iran would have easier access to the EEU.

Though, currently, Armenia and Iran lack sufficient resources to realize all their proposed bilateral projects, nevertheless, the Iranian nuclear deal promises to improve the political atmosphere around Armenia’s neighborhood, at least minimizing the tense situation beyond Armenia’s southern border.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Russia’s Border Marking in Georgia Is Part of Broader Strategy

By George Tsereteli

Over the past two weeks the issue of Georgia’s so-called “border” with the Russian-occupied breakaway region of South Ossetia has again garnered attention. As reported by multiple sources and eyewitnesses, on July 10, Russian troops placed border markers even further into Georgian territory, again violating the country’s sovereignty (Civil Georgia, July 11). Reactions to this provocation have varied both nationally and internationally, but one thing is clear: these activities are a part of a broader Russian strategy of destabilizing Georgia from within.

The fact that the border markers have been moved is not a new development. Since the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, there have been frequent reports of similar activities, though they have not always caught the attention of the media. A section of the Baku-Supsa pipeline falling under the Russian-occupied territory is likewise not a novel development; since the 2008 war, it was approximated that about a 1.4-kilometer section of the pipeline fell under occupied territory, while the outcome of the recent border marking has resulted in around 1.6 kilometers of the pipeline becoming inaccessible to Tbilisi. For now, Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze has stated that the pipeline has not had any disruptions and continues to operate as usual. If any problems were to arise, according to Kaladze, there is an alternative plan that could be put in place immediately, which would bypass that section of the pipeline (Civil Georgia, July 12).

Yet another cause of outrage, understandably, has been that the “border” is now within eyesight of Georgia’s highly important East-West highway, which currently passes less than a kilometer from the Russian checkpoints. This, indeed, has truly daunting implications (see EDM, July 20). But even before the most recent border-marking activities, if Russian troops had wanted to cut off the highway, they could have done it with about as much ease as they can now. According to eyewitness accounts including this author’s, the administrative “border” could have been seen with the naked eye from the East-West highway even before the most recent changes; the de facto boundary is now about half a kilometer closer to the highway than it was before (The Fifth Column, July 22).

The negative strategic, economic and psychological impact of the recent events on Georgia are undeniable. According to some estimates, as much as 53 hectares (130 acres) of Georgian territory has been newly swallowed up in recent weeks, with devastating effects on those living in the area (Pirveli Arkhi/1TV, July 21). However, perhaps even more significant in a long-term context is the internal strife that has come about as a result. In the week that followed the Russian actions, a group of Georgian activists and journalists from Tbilisi tore down a border sign and staged a small protest near the new administrative border, which led to minor clashes with Georgian police and the subsequent banning of access to non-locals to nearby towns in the name of security (Regional Dialogue, July 21).

While on a July 21 visit to Tbilisi and the administrative border region, European Council President Donald Tusk reaffirmed the European Union’s commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity and praised Tbilisi’s “responsible” reaction to the recent “provocations.” However, many Georgians have disapproved of their government’s lackluster response (Interpressnews, July 21). Just three days before Tusk’s visit, this disapproval was demonstrated as thousands of protesters gathered in downtown Tbilisi. The protest was mostly aimed against Russia’s actions, but those present were also highly critical of the Georgian government, claiming that the government’s reactions were inadequate and “cowardly” (Civil Georgia, July 18). These reactions, indeed, have consisted of little more than countless hollow-sounding statements.

Clearly, the recent border-marking activities of Russian occupying troops have led to frustration and internal divisiveness in Georgia. This is no accident on the part of the large belligerent northern neighbor. One need not look further than contemporary Russian military theory to see that the latest actions are a part of Moscow’s broader war-making strategy. According to the concept of sixth generation warfare, war does not stop, it occurs continuously in the form of preparation for war with varying intensity and centers of gravity (V. A. Vinogradov, “Trends in the Conduct of Operations in a Major War,” Military Thought, 2013 via Baltic Defence College Journal on Baltic Security, 2015, p. 62). More specifically, in his book General Theory of War, Russian Major General Alexander Vladimirov describes the evolution from the formerly clear distinction between peace and war, to the new, permanent war, where the boundary between peace and war becomes a hazy transitional state of fear and insecurity. He goes on to explain three aspects of the new eternal war: A shift from war about territory to a war of an existential nature; a transition from war to destroy and annihilate to the exertion of political, economic and cultural influence; and the transition from a war of direct military engagements to a contactless war (Alexander Vladimirov, “General Theory of War,” 2013 via Baltic Defence College Journal on Baltic Security, 2015, p. 66). These features can all be seen through Russia’s actions in Georgia prior to the outbreak of the 2008 war and ever since, as well as in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The strategy, according to Vladimirov, becomes the use of indirect action with the goals to create organized chaos, direct influence over an opponent, and eventually, internal collapse.

The Georgian public’s deep frustration with Russian actions and with the inability of the Georgian government and international community to prevent the loss of more Georgian territories is certainly understandable. However, protestors, members of the media, and opposition party members have a vital responsibility to voice their displeasure in a productive way, and not to engage in destructive behavior that will cause internal divisiveness and disunity. The government, in turn, is overdue in reviewing its strategy for how it approaches the issue. It would be beneficial for the authorities, together with opposition parties, to work energetically to form a comprehensive and cohesive plan on how to avoid any further territorial losses. Above all, Georgians will have to keep in mind that the Russian strategy is to destabilize their country from the inside out, and this must be avoided at all costs.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Russia Bets on China: Picking the Wrong Horse in the Short Term and Long

By Paul Goble

Russians are waking up to the fact that Vladimir Putin’s much-ballyhooed “turn” to China is not bringing Russia the benefits he promised or that they expected. Not only has Beijing refused to tow Moscow’s line on a variety of international issues at the United Nations and elsewhere, but Chinese direct investment in the Russian economy fell by 25 percent over the last year, a reflection of problems in the Chinese economy as well as in the Russian one (Kommersant, July 21).

Some Russian analysts are dismissing these trends as short-term issues and argue that Russia will ultimately benefit both politically and economically from its rapprochement with China. But other Moscow analysts suggest that China’s economic prospects are not nearly as rosy as many in Russia assume and that that country’s rapidly aging population faces a period of ever-slower growth. This negative trend will affect Beijing’s ability to invest in other countries, including the Russian Federation. And their conclusions suggest that Moscow under Vladimir Putin has picked the wrong horse on which to try to ride into the future.

In a detailed two-part, 40-page study published in Moscow’s “Demoscope Weekly,” Yevgeny Andreyev, a senior scholar at the Institute of Demography of Russia’s Higher School of Economics, says that “the economy of China depends on demography.” His report points out, in particular, that Beijing’s “one child” policy” is leading to a rapid aging of the population and that the expenses of dealing with an ever older population will suppress that country’s economic growth in the decades to come (Demoscope.ru, April 6–19, April 20–May 3; summarized at Opec.ru, July 13).

Indeed, Andreyev says, despite China’s lack of natural resources, this East Asian giant has vaulted to the status of the world’s second-largest economy (after the United States). But by the beginning of the 2030s, China may find its growth slowing significantly because of the burdens imposed on its workforce by an aging population and the demands for higher wages by its increasingly educated workforce. The combination of those two trends undercuts the low-wage, high workforce participation that have been the source of China’s growth in recent times.

Over the next 15 years, the aging of the Chinese population means that the number of pensioners that those working must support will approach the levels prevalent in Western Europe and the United States. And at the same time, the costs of supporting the elderly will continue to rise with advances in medicine. As a result, the Moscow scholar concludes, China will lose the demographic advantages it has enjoyed for decades—and its economic advantages will be at risk as well.


Beyond any doubt, Andreyev continues, Beijing will have to devote more attention to and spend more money on this demographic shift. But related to it are two other demographic problems with a likely negative economic impact: China’s one-child policy has not only reduced the rate of population growth but created a serious gender imbalance, and it has undermined the traditional relationship between children and their parents. The first of these means that Beijing will be under pressure to find wives for these extra men; and the second means that the state has to assume burdens that families had assumed earlier.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Estonians of Kabardino-Balkaria Maintain Close Ties With Tallinn

By Paul Goble

Given Vladimir Putin’s aggressive rhetoric about the Baltic countries, Moscow and Tallinn do not maintain warm relations. Despite that, Estonia has close and growing ties with the 70 Estonians of Kabardino-Balkaria, a community that descends from ethnic Estonians who came to the North Caucasus in pre-Soviet times and that has maintained its language and ethnic identity.

Indeed, an increasing number of the members of that community are taking Estonian citizenship, either to be able to more easily visit the graves of their ancestors in their homeland or to travel abroad—Estonia, as a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has visa-free travel with more than 130 countries, far more than the Russian Federation does. They are sending their children to camps and universities in Estonia. And they maintain a cultural center where many work to both recover or improve their Estonian and display their cultural heritage to other nations.

Such small diaspora communities exist in many parts of Russia, although the Estonian ones in the North Caucasus are among the most active. They seldom attract much attention—the only exception to the media silence about the Estonians in that region was in the early 1990s, when 170 Estonians were evacuated from Abkhazia during the fighting there. That makes any report on them especially valuable, particularly if it is as detailed as the article by Yuliya Bernikovskaya in the current issue of “Sovershenno-Sekretno” (Sovsekretno.ru, July 9).

The Russian journalist attributes the vitality of this small community to five things: 1) the importance of the Estonian language for Estonians, 2) the programs Estonia has put in place for its compatriots abroad, 3) the efforts of the Estonian embassy in Moscow, 4) the tolerance, even support, of officials in Kabardino-Balkaria who have not opposed all these activities as their counterparts in other republics and regions of the Russian Federation might have done, and 5) the passionate commitment of a single Estonian woman:

·         Compared to other nations, Estonians ascribe particular importance to their language, and they work to maintain it even when, as in the North Caucasus, there are no schools or other government institutions that support it. Former Estonian President Lennart Meri used to refer to his national language as “a secret code,” which had allowed Estonians to survive.

·         The Estonian Republic has responded to this ethnic imperative with programs that offer summer language camps and free tuition to Estonians from Russia and other countries. It pays many travel expenses. And since the 1990s, it has offered dual citizenship to Estonians in Russia so that they can travel more freely to Estonia and the wider world.

·         These efforts have been promoted by officers of the Estonian embassy in Moscow who regularly travel to Kabardino-Balkaria to make sure Estonians, citizens and non-citizens alike, know about these programs and can take advantage of them.

·         Because the community is small, all this activity has been tolerated, even welcomed, by the Kabardino-Balkaria leadership as well as other peoples who view efforts by a small nation to maintain itself as something they can only benefit from.

·         But none of these factors might have mattered had it not been for the remarkable efforts of one ethnic Estonian woman, Bernikovskaya suggests. Maret Romani, on her own, used newspaper advertisements to convince Estonians living there to declare themselves, create a cultural center, and link up with Estonia.

As a result, a group that might have been expected to assimilate is now a proud diaspora community—although given its size, Tallinn’s welcoming attitude and opportunities, and Moscow’s hostility, ever more of its members may choose not only to take Estonian citizenship but to move back to their homeland.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Will Threat of Islamic State Push Georgia Closer to Russia?


By Paul Goble

As it has done in Central Asia, Moscow is urging Georgia and other countries in the South Caucasus to return to closer cooperation with Russia in order to counter the threat from the Islamic State (IS). And some defense officials in Tbilisi seem receptive to the idea that, as one Georgian journalist put it, “Georgia must deepen its cooperation with the Russian Federation as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran, both of which have no small experience in opposing terrorist groups” (Kavpolit.com, July 1).

If Moscow succeeds in using the Islamic State threat to restore some of its dominance over these countries, it will indicate, at a minimum, that the Russian authorities are cleverly making use of IS attacks in the Middle East and Europe while assuring everyone that no such attacks are imminent in Russia. And it may indicate that the Russian security services are playing a role in structuring IS operations, at least with regard to the post-Soviet space (see EDM, June 30). But regardless of which of these interpretations is correct, it points to the ugly possibility that the Kremlin plans to use the threat of terrorism to achieve its goals across the post-Soviet space just as Vladimir Putin has done within the Russian Federation itself.

According to Vasily Papava, who identifies himself as “an independent Georgian journalist,” Tbilisi has become more worried about the IS threat to its national security since leaders of the Islamic State declared that they had founded a new administrative unit in the North Caucasus and leaders of Islamic fighters in that region declared their loyalty to it. Major General Vakhtang Kapanadze, the chief of the Georgian General Staff, and Tina Khidasheli, the country’s defense minister, both said that IS was now a threat that Tbilisi would work to counter. At the same time, however, Khidasheli said that Russia should be more focused on this threat in the North Caucasus than in assuming it has a right to intervene in neighboring countries on whatever pretext (Kavpolit.com, July 1).

But Georgians have been worried about this for more than a year, Papava says, noting that the statement by Matthew Bryza, a former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, that “if no one stops ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—former name for IS], it in the end will launch a strike through Georgia,” had attracted a great deal of attention.

Now things are coming to a head, the journalist says, and Tbilisi is considering what it must do and what resources it can bring to bear. Obviously, many in the Georgian capital would like to rely on their own resources or those from the West; but increasingly, he suggests, they recognize that neither of these is going to be sufficient. As a result, he projects, “in the near future, there will arise among the Georgian leadership the necessity of revising its former stereotypes in thinking on issues of its foreign policy preferences.”

Papava argues that “while preserving partnership relations with Western countries, Georgia should deepen its cooperation with those regional states that have a great deal of experience in opposing terrorist groups. In the first instance, these are the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Given that Georgia has virtually no security ties with Tehran, that means, he implies, the only choice is to turn to Russia (Kavpolit.com, July 1)—something Moscow would very much like.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lezgin Areas in Southern Dagestan Seem on a Path Toward Radicalization

By Valery Dzutsev

Until recently, the Lezgin-populated areas of Dagestan—the most violent republic of the North Caucasus—were relatively quiet. However, the situation has recently reached greater volatility. For the past month, a special operation has been ongoing in previously calm Kurakhsky and Suleiman-Stalsky districts of southern Dagestan. In May, a large concentration of heavy military equipment and servicemen (estimated at 1,500) in Kurakhsky district was reported. The population of the affected area is about 60,000. The counter-terrorism operation regime was introduced there and the Suleiman-Stalsky district—both Lezgin-populated areas—immediately after the killing of a forester in southern Dagestan on May 17 (Kavkazsky Uzel, May 18). During the course of the counter-terrorism regime, several suspected rebels have reportedly been killed and a number of hidden workshops for manufacturing of explosives have been found (Onkavkaz.com, June 15).

Lezgins are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the most ethnically diverse region of Russia, Dagestan. The majority of Lezgins reside in southern areas of the republic, in and around the city of Derbent. Northern Azerbaijan is adjacent to Lezgin areas in Dagestan and this Azerbaijani territory is another traditional place of residence for Lezgins. So, if the population of Lezgins in Dagestan were to radicalize, this could have a spillover effect in neighboring Azerbaijan.

To many Lezgins, the counter-terrorism operation in the Lezgin heartland came as a shock. People in the area are now debating “what kind of Islam do we, Lezgins, need?” It appears that similarly to the situation in the Northwest Caucasus, Lezgin activists are now divided into nationalists and supporters of radical Islam. Some Lezgins, for example say, “We should support those religious activists who preach Islam native to Lezgin soil, not the one that is indifferent or even hostile to it.” But some Lezgin Salafis respond: “Why do you only bring up your customs when the conversation is about religion?” The Salafis say that Islam only contests ethnic customs that are incompatible with the religion, and so the Muslim faith does not undermine the ethnic identity of the Lezgins, as such (Onkavkaz.com, June 15).

In the absence of robust political mechanisms for resolving inevitable social conflicts, the land of the Lezgins, called informally Lezgistan, is likely to continue on a path toward radicalization. Along with Islamists, Lezgin nationalists are likely to become more active. But unlike the radicalization present in other areas of Dagestan, southern Dagestan’s growing extremism may have regional implications because of its proximity to Azerbaijan, the Lezgins’ cross-border ties, as well as the substantial population of ethnic Azerbaijanis in the area.