Monday, December 21, 2015

Is the Islamic State a Threat to the Security of the Republic of Georgia?

By George Tsereteli

On November 29, authorities in Tbilisi, Georgia, arrested four people accused of being connected to the Islamic State (IS) organization. Weapons, explosive devices, IS flags, and Islamist literature on CDs and DVDs were found in the suspects’ apartments (Civil Georgia, December 1). The Georgian State Security Service announced an investigation into whether other individuals are involved in IS-related activities on Georgian soil. Interestingly, the four individuals were from the Guria region, and not from the Pankisi gorge, which has in the past been a source of Islamic extremism (Interpressnews, December 1). The suspects denied the charges against them, although two of them had allegedly appeared in a Georgian-language IS propaganda video released on November 23. In this video, they call on Georgian Muslims to join the “Islamic Caliphate” and issue threats against “Georgia’s infidels” (The Clarion Project, November 25). The video also mentions that Georgia has been fighting against Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, conflicts in which Georgia contributed significant troop numbers to coalition military efforts. The release of the propaganda video suggests that the Islamic State’s ideology has now spread, at least in some small part, to Georgia’s capital city.

In an interview that aired on December 7, regional expert Mamuka Areshidze contended  that various organizations—which are either affiliated with the Islamic State or wish to be—are working to build an ideological base and foundation in Georgia and thereby gain influence. Those who fall under this influence are taught Salafi-jihadist ideology and are radicalized from a young age (Maestro, December 7). This is the case not only in the Pankisi gorge, but other regions such as Adjaria and Guria, where there are sizeable Muslim populations, and even in Tbilisi. Areshidze went on to explain that according to IS ideology, Georgia is located within the self-declared Caliphate’s territory; thus, when the group decides to move into the region, it will want a loyal segment of the population already in place, ready to welcome it.

However, not everyone believes that the Islamic State poses a serious threat to Georgia at this time. A few days after the November 13 attacks on Paris, the deputy head of Georgia’s State Security Service, Levan Izoria, stated that Georgia is not among the countries with a high risk of terrorist attacks, since it is not involved in the anti-IS air strikes carried out by the United States and its coalition allies (Civil Georgia, November 17). Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli echoed this sentiment when she announced that although additional safety and confidence measures would be taken, such as heightened security at airports and along the border, this would be done as a precaution and not in response to any immediate threat (Civil Georgia, November 18).

One must remember, however, that the Islamic State’s ideology and actions are not driven solely by recent or contemporary developments; indeed, the argument that Georgia falls within the so-called “Caliphate’s” territory is based on a historical precedent dating back to the ninth century. Therefore, the fact that Georgia is not involved in international coalition airstrikes against the IS in Syria and Iraq does not preclude the possibility of future terrorist attacks on Georgian soil by this extremist militant group.
Georgia is most likely not high on the current list of priority targets for the Islamic State. And yet, the above-mentioned recent arrests, the appearance of the Georgian-language propaganda video, as well as the presence of IS recruiters in the Pankisi gorge (see Jamestown Blog, June 22) indicate that a mobilization of Georgia’s defense, security and information channels may in fact be necessary.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Armenia and Serbia Pledge Military Cooperation

By Erik Davtyan

On November 24, the Defense Minister of Serbia Bratislav Gašić arrived in Yerevan for a two-day official visit. Interestingly, as the minister himself mentioned, this was the first such trip to Armenia by a Serbian minister of defense. Minister Gašić met with Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, who stressed that “recent years’ reciprocated official visits and meetings have gone a long way toward intensifying the political dialogue between the two countries, improving the legal framework and deepening the ongoing cooperation within international organizations.” As to possible areas of defense cooperation, both officials underlined the importance of sharing their experiences in the fields of military medicine, military education and interaction within the framework of international peacekeeping forces (, November 24).

On November 25, Minister Gašić met with his Armenian counterpart, Seyran Ohanyan. After the two delegations discussed issues of bilateral, regional and international importance, the Serbian and Armenian defense ministers signed a declaration on cooperation in the field of defense (, November 25). According to the declaration, the bilateral defense cooperation treaty, when ultimately signed, will cover areas like defense and security policy, military-economic cooperation, peacekeeping missions, military scientific/technical cooperation, military education and training, military medicine, and so on (, November 25).

Though this was only the first step toward establishing Serbian-Armenian military ties, the signing of the declaration opens a new chapter in Armenia’s international military cooperation. First, the treaty will embrace a wide span of areas of defense cooperation, thus contributing to the more extensive development of bilateral relations with this key Balkan country. In a wider context, Armenia will be expanding the geographic scope of its global military partnerships. To date, Armenia has regularly cooperated with Russia, Greece, the United States, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); moreover, it actively participates in a number of international peacekeeping missions.

Armenian-Serbian defense cooperation will be an impetus for further rapprochement between the two states. On November 25, the Serbian defense minister was also received by the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan. The Armenian head of state welcomed the bilateral initiatives in the military field and said that “the Armenian people attached great importance to the presence of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić at the events dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide [on April 24, 2015],” describing Nikolić’s gesture as “a unique display of friendship and solidarity that the Armenian nation will always remember and appreciate” (, November 25).

During his visit to Yerevan, Minister Gašić also had meetings with Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian and His Holiness Garegin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, as well as the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) of Armenia Hermine Naghdalyan. The NA deputy speaker emphasized the development of inter-parliamentary relations, noting a necessity for greater cooperation in this sphere. In particular, she has highlighted the active cooperation of the Friendship Groups in the parliaments of the two countries (, November 26). It will now be up to the mid-level bureaucrats in both governments to turn these pledges and high expectations into concrete policy actions.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rising Discrimination Accelerates Ethnic Sorting out of Central Asia

By Paul Goble

None of the five republics in Central Asia were ever ethnically homogeneous. Joseph Stalin, in fact, purposefully drew their borders so that there would always be a local minority that he could use against the ethnic majority, either as his agents in place or as a target on which to shift the anger of the majority away from Moscow. Since 1991, however, all five republics have become far more ethnically homogeneous. This has largely been the result of people fleeing countries where they had, often, lived for many years due to violence or the fear of violence and moving to neighboring states where they are members of the titular nationality.

That process had slowed in the early 2000s, but now there is evidence that it is accelerating again, not because of violence or fear thereof, but rather because of increasing ethnic hostility by ethnic majorities directed against minority groups as well as discrimination against the latter in the workplace and more generally.  And what is worrisome is that xenophobic attitudes among the titular majority nationalities appear to be far stronger among young people than among their parents, who grew up in Soviet times when “internationalism” was highly valued.

The attitudes of the majorities and the experiences of the fleeing minorities will make it far more difficult for the governments in the region to deal with one another, and far more likely that at least some politicians will exploit these ethnic hostilities to the point that border conflicts in this already tense and unstable region will become ever more likely.

Recently illustrative of this wider trend has been the flight of ethnic Kyrgyz from the Dzhirgatal district of Tajikistan. Many Kyrgyz fled the region in the 1990s because of civil war. But the current exodus, which has reduced this minority’s share of the region’s population by an additional 50 percent, is reported by those Kyrgyz still living in the region to be due to “discrimination on an ethnic and racial basis.” And they add that younger ethnic Tajiks are far more likely to display anti-Kyrgyz attitudes than the older generation, which was born and grew up in Soviet times (, November 13).

Local officials play down the problem and say that the departure of anyone from their region is entirely voluntary, the result of personal social and economic problems of kinds found everywhere.  But local Kyrgyz residents dispute this, pointing to frequent discrimination against them. At least a third of them say that they hope to leave once they save up enough money to do so and find a place in Kyrgyzstan to move to.

One Kyrgyz resident of Dzhirgatal told a CentrAsia journalist that he could not find work “only because he is a Kyrgyz,” adding that his patience with the situation was running out.  Another Kyrgyz there, a taxi driver, said he and other members of his nation faced discrimination of both an open and a concealed kind; they feel they are being forced out, despite what the authorities say. And many local Kyrgyz say that “discrimination is especially developed” among young Tajiks. “The older generation,” they say, “is more loyal to one another” (, November 13).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Russia Moves to Open Six Top Secret ‘Closed Cities,’ Citing Budgetary Reasons

By Alden Wahlstrom

The Russian government recently announced a plan to open up 6 of its 42 publicly identified closed cities (officially named closed administrative-territorial formations), as of January 1, 2016 (, October 30). Closed cities, a carryover institution from the Soviet Union, are home to military installations; facilities used for the development, production, or storage and disposal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD); and other facilities considered central to Russian national security (Interfax, October 23). During the Soviet era, these cities were given code names and did not appear on official maps. In their current manifestation, many of these cities have been identified and have been permitted to resume using the historical names they held prior to their closure. However, entry into these cities is still strictly regulated, even for Russian citizens.

Making the list of cities to be opened starting next year are: Seversk (Tomsk Oblast), Zelenogorsk (Krasnoyarsk Krai), Novouralsk (Sverdlovsk Oblast), Zarechny (Penza Oblast), Zvyozdny Village (Permsky Krai), and Lokomotivny village (Chelyabinky Oblast). These cities are home to over 350,000 people and are situated across the entire expanse of Russia (Vedomosti, October 29). Russia’s state nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom, administers the first four of these cities, and the Russian Ministry of Defense administers the remaining two (Interfax, October 23). Among the strategically sensitive things located at these heretofore closed cities are facilities for the enrichment of uranium (including the facility at Novouralsk, which is the largest of its kind in the world) and military installations dealing with missile production and housing Russian missileers (Vedomosti, October 29; Kommersant, October 30; TASS, October 28;, October 30).

According to the Ministry of Economic Development, the goal of the government’s initiative to open up these cities is linked to optimizing federal budgetary spending (Kommesrant, October 30). Despite the prolonged decline in the value of the ruble and the sizable deficit in the recently announced Russian budget, the reclassification of these cities is said to be part of a development project that has been in the works since before Russia fell into an economic downturn (BBC—Russian service, October 27). Closed cities present unique challenges to economic development. The strict control over what and who is allowed to enter these cities restricts the flow of resources necessary to stimulate organic economic development. As a result, large subsidies from the federal budget have been necessarily allocated to supplement the budgets of closed cities.

What motivated the Russian government to start this process? Even if transitioning these cities had long been discussed, announcing these initiatives with only a two-month lead time before implementation is quite sudden. According to the plan, there will only be a nine-month transition period for the cities, starting on the first of the year (Interfax, October 23). Critics in the varying regional governments and within Rosatom are likely considering this when it says that the move to reclassify these cities is too fast and that more discussion is required to plan their smooth transition. To put this in perspective, Seversk, the largest of Russia’s closed cities, will instantly lose 900 million rubles of its 3.8 billion ruble ($13.9 million out of $59 million) budget, if it loses its status as a closed city at the start of the year (Kommersant, October 30). This one cut, which only saves the Russian government about $13 million, will leave the city of Seversk scrambling to find the resources necessary to continue to provide services to its 120,000 residents after losing almost one quarter of its budget, with little advanced notice.

The announcement of the plan has already been met with broad pushback. Many residents prefer that their city remains closed to the rest of Russia. In their measure, the positive externalities of living in closed cities outweigh the negative ones. The tight control over movement in and out of these cities provides residents with an increased sense of security. One city official from a closed city not slated for this round of status changes described closed cities as places where residents do not lock there doors and children can safely walk to school unaccompanied (, October 30). Moreover, government subsidies allows these cities to provide a level of benefits to the residents of these cities that would otherwise not be possible. Residents speaking out against the government’s plan are motivated by the fear of losing these subsidies and the standard of living they provide (Kommersant,, October 30). Given the nature of what is located within these cities, however, domestic political challenges are unlikely to either drive or redirect this process.

Russia was able to maintain its closed cities through all of the economic troubles of the 1990s. And the Russian government’s decision to maintain its current level of defense spending in its shrunken 2016 federal budget is a testament to the Kremlin’s commitment to spending on issues related to national security. For this reason, the transitioning of these cities from closed to open is particularly intriguing. In some cases, it is quite possible that the city in question may no longer be home to activities considered core to national security, or facilities in that city could perhaps easily be converted into lower-risk establishments. From a logistical standpoint, the two cities administered by the Ministry of Defense will have an easier time redistributing any top-secret resources located there. As for the cities with nuclear research activities, there is some talk of adapting these facilities to expand production into other areas—likely part of the much talked about, but thus far largely unsuccessful, plan to develop dual-use military technologies. Potential development opportunities aside, the heavy-handed decision by Russian officials to transition these cities on such a short timeline presents an opening for possible breaches of Russian national security.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Armenia and Iran After the Nuclear Deal: The Quest for Broader Cooperation

By Erik Davtyan

The agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran reached with the P5+1 powers (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany) on July 14, has provided new perspectives for Iran’s wider engagement in the South Caucasus—especially with Armenia, the only state in the region that actively promotes a close partnership with the Islamic Republic.

In August 2015, Iran and Armenia had already signed an agreement on the construction of the third high-voltage electricity transmission line connecting the two countries. This new planned electricity link will cost an estimated $120 million (, August 13). The Iranian nuclear agreement and the promised gradual lifting of sanctions apparently increased mutual interest in maintaining a more active political dialogue and reinforcing economic cooperation between Iran and Armenia. These issues were discussed during last month’s (September 17) meeting between Armenian Ambassador to Tehran Artashes Tumanyan and Iranian Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh (, September 18). The energy aspect of bilateral relations was discussed on October 3–5, when the Armenian delegation, headed by Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Ervand Zakharyan, visited Iran and held talks with the co-chair of the Armenian-Iranian Intergovernmental Commission, Hamid Chitchian, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangane, and the chairman of Iran’s Export Development Bank, Ali Salehabadi (, October 5).

The next and, in fact, the most important recent event (after the nuclear deal) for bilateral Iranian-Armenian relations was the official visit to Yerevan of the First Vice President of Iran Eshaq Jahangiri (October 14–15). After Iranian then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit in 2011, this is the highest-level visit to Armenia by an Iranian official. At the airport, Jahangiri was welcomed by Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, along with the ministers of energy and natural resources, culture, and transport and communications, as well as the deputy minister of foreign affairs. Clearly, the Armenian authorities attached great importance to this official visit and expect positive developments in bilateral relations (, October 14).

On October 15, Jahangiri and Abrahamyan took part in the Armenia-Iran Business Forum, which was attended by nearly 300 Armenian and 80 Iranian businessmen. Commenting on the importance of boosting trade relations, the Iranian vice president stated that “it is important for us to sign a number of memorandums of understanding, including a preferential tariff agreement” (, October 15). As to Armenia’s transit role in Iran’s foreign policy, he underlined that “Armenia is the only country to provide a gateway for exporting Iranian goods toward the Eurasian Economic Union. Besides, Armenia has an important role to play as a transit zone. We have the North–South Transport Corridor; we should settle the railroad issue, which is of regional significance”. Vice Presdent Jahangiri also held meetings with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and the president of the Armenian National Assembly (parliament), Galust Sahakyan.

Certainly, the realization of joint economic plans highly depends on completing large-scale transport projects to more fully connect the two states. The North–South Road Corridor is already under construction; but the Iran-Armenia railway project faces financial challenges. In his interview to Azatutyun, Iranian Minister of Transport Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi said that Iran is ready to start the construction of the Iranian part of the railroad as soon as Armenia covers at least one third of the estimated cost of $3 billion for this project (, October 15). Indeed, the railway may have regional and even interregional importance; therefore, Armenia aims to attract large investments from abroad. Back in June 2015, the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) had expressed interest in this project. During the Armenian prime minister’s recent visit to China (in September), the issue of the possible engagement of Chinese companies was discussed with the premier of China’s State Council, Li Keqiang, and the chairman of the CCECC, Wu Wanliang (, September 22).

So far, no practical agreement has been reached on the Iran-Armenia railway project. Yet, following the breakthrough of the Iranian nuclear program accord, the chances of realizing this project have increased, at least in the political realm. Thus, the appeal of large-scale investments in bilateral projects will continue to grow over the coming months for both Armenia and Iran.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Estonia to Help Crimean Tatars Tell the World About the Occupation

By Paul Goble

The victims of almost 50 years of Soviet occupation themselves, Estonians are now preparing to help the Crimean Tatars, who have again come under Russian occupation. At a press conference in Kyiv, Mart Nutt, a member of the Estonian parliament, and Oliver Loode, the Estonian vice president of the United Nations forum on indigenous peoples, outline what they hope to do in cooperation with Mustafa Cemilev, the longtime leader of the Crimean Tatar national movement, Serhi Kostinsky, a Verkhovna Rada deputy who oversees television and radio policy, and the project’s Crimean Tatar producer Emine Dzheppar (, October 6).

The Estonians, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars said that the project was being launched because the international community is too little informed about the problems of the Crimean Tatars under occupation and is not focused on the important reality that the Crimean Tatars are the indigenous population of the Ukrainian peninsula, a status which under international law gives them certain exclusive rights. They added that the three sides had agreed over the course of the next several months to develop a media strategy, one that will involve both several members of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (de facto representative body of the Crimean Tatars), representatives of the media, and Estonian experts.

Emine Dzheppar said that “the goal of this group is the formulation of a strategy on the basis of which the project will be carried out over the next two years, one that will become a so-called road map for its realization.” The project will organize photographic exhibits in various countries around the world and at the United Nations. In addition, it will produce video materials, including both films and clips, about key problems that the Crimean Tatars now face.

The Estonians have one key advantage over the Crimean Tatars, and it may prove to be something from which the Crimean Tatars can profit from. Estonia was an independent state at the time of the beginning of the Soviet occupation, and the West, led by the United States, came up with its non-recognition policy based on the Stimson Doctrine that the international community cannot recognize any border changes achieved by force alone. As a result, the Estonians, like their two Baltic neighbors, have insisted that their states continued de jure throughout the occupation and that in 1991, they recovered their independence de facto rather than creating new states.

Unfortunately, the international community has not articulated the same policy with regard to Russian-occupied Crimea. While Western governments have said they will not end sanctions until Russia gives Crimea back, the reality is that at some point the sanctions regime will be lifted and Crimea will not have any legal support. Western non-recognition policy by articulating a principle allowed for variations in Western relations with Moscow but did not allow for any change concerning the West’s view of the continuing legal status of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

It is extremely likely that the Estonian involvement in this joint project will lead the Crimean Tatars to appreciate the importance of a Western declaration of non-recognition of the Russian occupation of Crimea and press their friends and supporters to take a step equal in its legal standing to the 1940 declaration by Sumner Welles. If that happens, this small joint project will have a profound impact on international relations for years to come.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Estonia’s Proposed Border Improvements Could Derail Estonia-Russia Border Agreement

By Alden Wahlstrom

Last week, on the sidelines of the 70th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Estonian counterpart, Marina Kaljurand, at her request. Among other topics, the two discussed the outlook for Russia and Estonia reaching a political settlement on a border dispute that has persisted since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unlike Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia has, thus far, been unable to settle an official border agreement with Russia since gaining its independence in 1991.

During their meeting, Kaljurand told Lavrov that the Estonian Parliament is prepared to review and ratify an agreement officially recognizing the borders that has de facto been used since Estonian independence. Lavrov, in turn, said that the Russian State Duma is prepared to consider the agreement for ratification (, September 28). The resolution of this border dispute would no doubt be welcomed by Estonians, who, like the citizens of many of Russia’s neighboring states, have been anxious about preserving their territorial integrity since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 (see, February 26).

However, what are the chances that this dispute will be resolved in the near future? While Estonia may be keen on formalizing its borders with Russia vis-à-vis a bilateral agreement, Estonia’s other efforts to secure its borders could actually serve as an excuse for Moscow to stymie this process.

In late August, Estonia announced a plan to completely seal off its land border with Russia using fencing, high-tech surveillance systems and aerial drones (Kommersant, September 1). This project, estimated to cost €71 million ($80 million) and set to begin construction in 2018 (, August 25), has largely been interpreted as a response to the fear of Russian incursions into Estonian territory. Estonians’ territorial insecurities were accentuated last year by the highly publicized case of Estonian security officer Eston Kohver. According to Estonian officials, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) abducted Kohver on September 5, 2014, while on Estonian territory, and imprisoned him in Russia on false charges. Kohver was convicted of espionage in early September 2015, and Estonian officials were able to secure his return home in a spy swap with the Russians by the end of the month.

Russian officials have been vocal in their responses to Estonia’s announced border strengthening plan. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement labeling Estonia’s plan as “politicized” and declared that unilateral action to enforce the border between Estonia and Russia is legally unfounded, as Russia and Estonia have yet to ratify an agreement defining their shared border (Kommersant, September 1). Meanwhile, Irina Yarovaya, Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for Security and Anti-Corruption, has mocked the plan, stating that it looked as though Estonia was trying to build an “Indian reservation” for its citizens (, August 25).

Of most concern, however, are comments by Alexei Pushkov, the head of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs. Pushkov claimed that poor bilateral relations with Estonia, undoubtedly shaken by Estonia’s announced plan to fence off its border with Russia, promise to slow the Russian ratification process of any border agreement (, September 1). In an effort to quell the Russian reaction, Estonian Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand gave a statement emphasizing that the Estonian government is only discussing possible future options for securing its border (Kommersant, September 6).

The effectiveness of Estonian efforts to assuage Russian officials’ stated anxiety about Estonia’s proposed border security plan will be seen when the Russian Duma formally discusses the ratification of the proposed border agreement. Although Foreign Minister Lavrov indicated that the Duma is prepared do discuss and ratify the agreement, Pushkov’s statements raise doubts concerning the likelihood of this happening.

Beyond poor bilateral relations, it is conceivable that Russian officials may not view ratifying a border agreement with Estonia as in their strategic interest. Estonia is not the only EU member state with concerns about its border with Russia. Latvian officials have echoed their Estonian neighbors, saying that Latvia may also need to consider erecting a fence along its shared border with Russia (Baltic Course, August 28); and Finland’s Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö has publicly considered laying new landmines along the Finnish-Russian frontier (EER, September 3).

Whether or not these statements result in concrete actions, they are obviously an expression of the tense security situation across the region. Meanwhile, judging by their vocal criticism, Russian officials may fear that Russia will be unable to easily defeat these increased security measures taken by all of the countries on its border. Therefore it is entirely probable that Moscow will view not ratifying a border agreement with Estonia as strategically advantageous: giving it the grounds to further oppose Estonian border reinforcements and maintaining a legal gray area in which Russia prefers to operate.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Buryats, a Large Nation in Russia, Fear They Are on Verge of Extinction

By Paul Goble

Not surprisingly, many of the very smallest nations now within the borders of the Russian Federation fear that they will not survive for more than a few decades. Numbering only a few thousand or even less, they feel on their own skin, as it were, the predictions of international experts that they cannot hope to survive as separate nations given the lack of support from the Russian government and the pressures of globalization.

But disturbingly, this sense of doom is infecting ever larger nations there, peoples whose numbers and institutions would seem to make them good candidates to survive well into the future. Indeed, all but the largest nations in the Russian Federation—the seven who number more than a million each—now appear to be at risk of losing first their language and then their identities in this generation or the next. This has been mainly due to Moscow’s Russification policies (see EDM, November 5, 2012; March 17, 2015; see also, November 27, 2013; January 23, 2014) as well as the impact of international media and economic change.

According to Bato Ochirov of the ARD portal, for cultural and historical reasons, Buryats are not capable of either evolutionary or revolutionary change. The first is precluded by the nature of the state in which they find themselves at present, and the second is impossible because of the nomadic past and individualistic nature of their 500,000-strong nation. Consequently, those Buryats who are most accomplished will seek their fortunes elsewhere and be assimilated; and those who remain will increasingly degrade, he suggests (ARD, September 16).

“Therefore,” he argues, “if one reflects on the prospects of the contemporary Buryat nation” and tries to study the fates of other peoples that the Buryats are “most likely to repeat,” the most obvious candidate is the Evenks. A numerically small people of the Russian North, the Evenks arose as the result of the intermixture of “several aboriginal tribes of Eastern Siberia.” Like the Buryats, the Evenks reflect three anthropological types and are involved in three distinct economic activities: reindeer herding, cattle herding and fishing.

Also like the Buryats, he continues, “the Evenks live in China and in Mongolia. At the time of their inclusion into Russia (the 17th century), the Evenks numbered approximately 36,135.” They had increased to 64,500 by the time of the 1897 imperial census, but declined to 35,527 in the 2002 Russian census. In short, they are on their way to exhaustion and extinction.

About half of the Evenks live in the Republic of Sakha, but the rest are widely spread around the country, again like the Buryats. Indeed, the dispersal of the population accelerates the rates of loss of language, assimilation, and loss of historical identity, Ochirov says. “All peoples who lose ‘their own’ are on a common path, that of slow withering away and dying. The conditions of life of the representatives of such a dying people, as a rule, are not enviable.”

That a leading intellectual of the Buryats—a nation that, after all, has important co-ethnic groups in Mongolia and in China—should be saying this now is a mark of despair. Ochirov clearly hopes to provoke his fellow Buryats to respond by changing the situation. But his words suggest that he has little confidence they will be able to do so.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Non-Russians Are Following Ethnic Russians Out of the North Caucasus

By Paul Goble

The flight of ethnic-Russians from the republics of the North Caucasus over the last two decades has not only attracted widespread attention but also generated concern among officials in Moscow (see EDM, November 10, 2011; October 30, 2012; April 22, 2015). Federal authorities view ethnic Russians as guaranteeing Russian control over the other ethnic groups in the North Caucasus and anchoring the non-Russian republics to the Russian Federation. But in the wake of the departure of the ethnic Russians, members of other nationalities are leaving as well, the result of population pressure, conflicts of various kinds, the absence of jobs, and hopes for a better future. And unlike guest workers from Central Asia or the South Caucasus, few of these people have “gone home,” even during the current economic crisis.

The departure of the Russians has been well documented, but that of the non-Russians much less so. In part this is because local officials routinely falsify census returns in order to claim larger populations and thus greater assistance from Moscow. Not only are individuals who live and work elsewhere sometimes still counted as residents of their republics, but various categories of “dead souls” are also added to the census lists. Nonetheless, the flight of non-Russians is beginning to attract more attention as the phenomenon expands in size.

In a Kavkazskaya Politika article, Anton Chablin describes what is happening in the Nogay steppe, on the frontier between Stavropol and Dagestan. Chablin’s article, provocatively titled “The Russians have already left, and the non-Russians are leaving,” examines the situation in one aul (a fortified village in the Caucasus) (, September 15). Earlier, he discussed this process in somewhat less dramatic terms for two other locations in that region (, October 29, 2014; September 14, 2015).

Twenty years ago, the village (aul) of Novkus-Artesian, which Chablin cites in his recent article, had approximately 3,500 residents, of whom 1,500 were ethnic Russians. Now, half of Novkus-Artesian’s Russians have left; and despite high birthrates among the Nogay and other non-Russian groups, the total population today is less than 2,500. That means that not only ethnic Russians have left but that non-Russians are also leaving in increasing numbers. Assuming Novkus-Artesian is fairly typical, then extrapolating these figures to the North Caucasus as a whole leads to the conclusions that hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians and an equal or perhaps now even greater number of non-Russians have migrated out of the region.

On the one hand, that means that changes in the ethnic balance caused by the departure of the ethnic Russians may not be as great as many have assumed, given the departures of non-Russians. And on the other hand, it highlights a potentially serious problem for other predominantly ethnic-Russian regions to which non-Russians from the Caucasus are likely to continue to move, especially as non-Russian fertility rates remain high and infant mortality rates across the region fall dramatically, pushing up overall population figures.

According to Lev Kuznetsov, the Russian minister for the North Caucasus, not only are birthrates still high among non-Russians there but infant mortality has been cut by 20 percent. As a result, he suggests, there will soon be even more non-Russian outmigration from the region. He suggests setting up a program to distribute those leaving there across the Russian Federation (, September 15).

That is a typical Russian bureaucratic response, but lying behind it is the real fear that non-Russians from the North Caucasus are going to be showing up in more places in Russia and that their arrival will sow the needs of a new round of interethnic conflicts in Russian cities.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Turkish-Kurdish Clashes Raise Security Concerns in the South Caucasus

By Erik Davtyan

The governmental crisis and military operations of the Turkish Army against Kurdish forces has not only threatened the internal situation in Turkey, but is increasingly having a destabilizing effect on neighboring countries as well. Considering the wide geographic extent inhabited by the region’s Kurdish population, developments pertaining to the Kurdish question have clearly always interested Syria, Iraq and Iran. But as the conflict spreads eastward, security concerns are rising in Armenia and, to some extent, Azerbaijan.

On September 8, a minibus carrying Turkish police officers to the interstate border with Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic was destroyed by a bomb attack (, September 8). This blast killed at least 14 Turkish officers and is, in fact, one of the most serious attacks by Kurdish forces in recent years. The attack took place near the Diludju border check point in Igdir province, an area that connects Turkey with Azerbaijan and separates Armenia from Iran. Thus, this attack’s location provoked deep anxiety in nearby Armenian villages, especially Ranchpar.

Considering the possibility of unexpected scenarios in Turkey-PKK relations spinning out of control, the national security threats to the rest of the region should not be underestimated. Armenian Turkologist Levon Hovsepyan explains that “military actions in regions close to the border with Armenia, indirectly (if not directly) influence the security environment” (, September 15).

Meanwhile, with Turkey preoccupied with its domestic political and military turbulence, Armenian authorities launched a four-day (September 3–6) “Shant 2015” (Lightning 2015) command and staff military strategic exercise. As the deputy chief of the General Staff of Armenia’s Armed Forces, Movses Hakobyan, said, the “exercises aim to reveal the capabilities of the state in case of possible war” and added that “this is the first time Armenia is holding exercises of such scale, involving all state agencies” (, September 4). As part of this training, Armenian authorities simulated a situation whereby a camp for migrants crossing Armenia’s borders is opened in the district of Nubarashen, Yerevan. Though this simulation does not mean that there is a real threat of penetration by Kurdish migrants, it is obvious that, when planning the schedule of the trainings, Armenian authorities were weighing the possibility of such developments, including instability in Turkey’s bordering Igdir province. Indeed, the camp that was “opened” in the Armenian capital, as part of the Shant 2015 exercise, is quite close to the Armenian-Turkish border, which means that Armenia is primarily concerned about the possibility of uncontrolled migrant flows coming into the country from Turkey.

The latest armed Kurdish activity against Turkey has also provoked anxiety in Azerbaijan. Igdir province is the only passage through which Azerbaijan neighbors Turkey. Therefore the possible emergence of a chaotic situation in this part of Turkey would undermine the border security of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. In the wider context, the escalation of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict weakens Turkey’s position in the Middle East, which is not welcomed in Baku. Azerbaijan’s large ally plays a key role in the South Caucasus, especially by supporting Azerbaijan on a myriad of issues, including the Karabakh conflict. A member of the Azerbaijani parliament, Fasil Mustafa, said that “Azerbaijan should minimize the threats coming from Turkey” (, September 8). The deputy believes that Azerbaijan should mobilize the Azerbaijani the population in Igdir and strive for a victory of the representative of the local Azerbaijani community in the upcoming elections in Turkey (scheduled for November 1).

In other words, as Kurdish forces extend their area of military operations, they directly or indirectly engage more states in the existing crisis, raising some security concerns in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Moscow Losing Siberia to China, Commentator Says

By Paul Goble

The willingness of Russian officials to rent land in the Transbaikal region to China (see EDM, June 24) gives Beijing control over a choke point that it could use to block Moscow’s access to the Russian Far East. And as Russian commentator Oleg Lusenko further argues, given the decay and depopulation of the region, this situation can lead to Beijing taking control over a territory equal in size to that of China itself. Lusenko has examined both the rental deal and the ways in which China can exploit it—including by potentially provocative ways, such as the setting of forest fires—to prevent the Russian government from maintaining control there (, September 3).

According to Lusenko, “the first thing that comes to [his] head when he meets Siberian soldiers fighting in [the eastern Ukrainian region] of Donbas, camouflaged as ‘militiamen of Novorossiya,’ [he] wants to ask: guys, do you not know that they [presumably the Russian government] are selling you and your land at home while you are here fighting in an alien land and will be buried under a stone reading ‘soldier number such and such’?” Moreover, Lusenko says, these Siberian men were sold down the river by Moscow and its agents in the Transbaikal not yesterday but “already in 2010.”

Many Russians have complained about the very idea of renting or selling territory to China, but most of them have reacted entirely emotionally, talking about a flood of Chinese into underpopulated Siberia or about the tendency of Russian women to marry Chinese men and assimilate on their return to China. Lusenko, however, focuses on the details of the controversial deal, which may ultimately not go through because of protests. He particularly calls attention to two aspects: the strategic choice China has made in seeking to rent land in the Transbaikal and the corruption of Russian elites that, even more than Chinese aspirations, appears to be driving the deal.

According to Lusenko, “China is renting land in the Transbaikal not by chance. Control of that region for China is the key to control of all of Siberia. Namely, through here pass the two most important transportation arteries that feed all of Western Siberia, the Far East and Kamchatka. By controlling them,” he writes, “China completely controls a region whose area is comparable with its own territory. And this will happen already quite quickly, when Russia in still more unfavorable conditions than now” goes ahead with the deal.

China’s political aspirations are suggested by the suspicious forest fires that have swept the region. It is quite obvious that these could have been set by “diversionary groups” interested in frightening or even driving out the population in order to make the Chinese deal easier for Russians to swallow. Nikolay Rogozhkin, the presidential plenipotentiary in the Siberian Federal District even suggested this in public, only to be told to shut up by Moscow, which has also restricted coverage of the fires by Russian media.

The timing and manner of Moscow’s decision to pursue this deal is telling, Luzenko says. Rumors about it appeared in 2009, but things really took off during the anti-government protests, when members of the elite began to think about how they could maintain their wealth without changing course. A corrupt deal with China offered a way out, and that is what has happened. Given how much Moscow elites are counting on obtaining money from this deal, their recent opposition to this should not be taken at face value, Lusenko suggests.

That means that Siberia may soon be lost to China, perhaps in a decade or two. To be sure, the commentator says, “Siberia is not as important as Ukraine and the Caucasus, but they are already lost.” Now, apparently, the Russian Far East’s turn has come.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Moscow Massively Funding Pro-Russian NGOs in Baltic Countries

By Paul Goble

The Kremlin’s sweeping crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGO) in the Russian Federation reflects its belief that such entities inevitably work for foreign governments if they receive foreign funding. And that belief is underscored by its own behavior: At the present time, the Russian government is massively funding NGOs in the Baltic countries to influence the political discussions there by pushing Moscow’s political line and, in some cases, encouraging what can only be described as sedition.

That Moscow has been funding ethnic-Russian and other non-governmental organizations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has long been the subject of discussion in the Baltic media and in the West. Yet, much of this debate has been speculative, allowing the defenders of Russia’s behavior to dismiss such suggestions out of hand. But now, the organization Re:Baltica has conducted a major study of Russian involvement in this sector, a study that documents some of what Moscow has been doing and makes it absolutely impossible for anyone to ignore the ways in which Russia is using this technique to subvert the three countries.

Re:Baltica is a non-profit based in Riga, which has conducted in-depth investigative journalism reports on a variety of issues since its founding in August 2011. It promotes transparency and reform. Its report on Moscow’s hidden funding of NGOs is, thus, completely consistent with its skill set and intentions (, accessed September 10).

The study, entitled “Kremlin’s Millions: How Russia Funds NGOs in Baltics,” was published last week and shows that “there are more than 40 such organizations in the Baltic states.” Those in Estonia and Latvia “have received at least 1.5 million euros [$1.8 million] through legal means in the last three years, according to the most conservative calculations.” Critically, even this figure “excludes cash transactions [the preferred means of providing untraceable money] and financing through Russia-friendly enterprises and individuals.” Figures for Lithuania are not as easily available, because Vilnius does not have income reporting requirements for NGOs (, September 4).

Pro-Moscow NGOs in all three Baltic countries have “some key features” in common. First and foremost, “they do not have significant alternative sources of funding, relying heavily on Moscow,” the report says. In addition, approximately two thirds of them are directly or indirectly connected to pro-Moscow political parties in the Baltic countries and may, Re:Baltica notes, even be a means for Moscow to funnel money to those parties. They frequently present themselves as “anti-fascist” groups committed to what they claim is the rise of fascism in the Baltic States. And in every case, these groups are seeking “to influence the public debate and society” against the West and in favor of Moscow.

A portion of the Re:Baltica report is devoted to each of the countries. In Estonia, nine Russian-linked NGOs and one individual focus on niche media. For the public record, they said they received 710,000 euros [$850,000] over the last three years, but they “do not report the sources of the grants on their annual reports.” The largest recipient was the Legal Information Center for Human Rights, a group the Estonian security services have classified as a Russian agent. That group also receives money from the Tallinn city government, headed by the pro-Russian mayor Edgar Savisaar. A second group is Estonia Without Nazism, and a third is the Integration Media Group, which prepares materials for the Estonian media on Russian themes. Yet another NGO is involved in supporting Paldiski Radio, which broadcasts to ethnic Russians in that northern port city.

In Latvia, there are seven major pro-Moscow NGOs receiving Russian funds, although only “four have acknowledged” doing so in their annual reports, Re:Baltica says. The public declarations total 680,000 euros ($830,000) over the last three years, but the real figure is almost certainly far higher. People involved with these groups do not want to talk about it. Aleksandr Gaponenko, who is active in several, angrily rebuked investigators by saying: “Is that a crime that I received money from Russia? It’s my right. You get money from America and I am not judging you.” The Russian activist continued: “I don’t want to talk to you about the financial matters, because I’m afraid you are from the CIA. You can get all the information at the American embassy; why are you asking me?”

But Latvia’s foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, has a different take on the situation. He told the researchers that “the goal of these organizations is not to build cultural ties and public diplomacy in the best sense, but rather to serve as a conduit for Russian foreign policy through the local Russian community as well as via the instruments of political influence.”

And in Lithuania, Russia is also actively involved, although information about the three NGOs and one individual thought to be funded by Moscow is far more difficult to track down as there are no reporting requirements. But the pattern is the same as in the other two countries: the four present themselves first and foremost as “anti-Nazi” and have close links with the Russian media and with pro-Moscow politicians.

It is clear that Re:Baltica has surveyed only the tip of the iceberg. Moscow’s involvement in this sector in the three Baltic countries is much greater than even its report suggests. That is troubling not only in and of itself but as an indication of what Moscow may do next. After all, the same pattern occurred in Ukraine before the Crimean annexation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Resignation of Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s Government Signals Rising Ethnic Tensions in Republic

By Valery Dzutsev

In August, the prime minister of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Murad Kardanov, unexpectedly resigned after three years in office. The governor of the republic, Rashid Temrezov, proposed Ruslan Kazanokov’s candidacy for the prime minister’s position (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, August 27). The change in government came soon after the Circassians of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, also known as the Cherkess, rallied against the republican authorities. The Cherkess demanded the resumption of the work of the so-called Extraordinary Conference of the Cherkess People. One of the primary demands of the conference is for the Cherkess to secede from Karachaevo-Cherkessia to form their own republic (, July 10).

Karachaevo-Cherkessia is a small, but highly diverse republic in the Northwestern Caucasus. The Turkic-speaking Karachays make up the plurality in the republic (about 42 percent), but the other titular ethnicity, the Cherkess (about 12 percent of the republican population), regularly contest the Karachays’ dominance.

Both, the previous and the current prime ministers of Karachaevo-Cherkessia are ethnic Cherkess. The governor of the republic, Temrezov, who is a Karachay, has apparently tried to appease the Cherkess people by replacing one Cherkess with another. Kazanokov used to be the prime minister of Karachaevo-Cherkessia under republican president Mustafa Batdyev (2003–2004), and is considered to be close to the influential Cherkess Derevs clan. Hence, the appointment of Kazanokov appears to be a signal of “peace” to the Derevs family, whose members are now likely to reconsider their decision to fuel discontent among the Cherkess of the republic (Kavkazskaya Politika, September 2).

However, another influential and disgruntled Cherkess leader, former head of Khabez district Rauf Arashukov, is unhappy about Kazanokov’s appointment and the deal that Temrezov may have reached with the Derevs clan. Moreover, Arashukov declared that the authorities could not “buy” his support by offering him another government position. Some analysts suggested that Arashukov could be offered the position of the head of the tax collection agency of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Arashukov claimed he was not going to amend his principles and “betray his people for the sake of career or personal wealth” (Kavkazskaya Politika, September 3).

If Temrezov were to satisfy both the Derevs, by appointing their man as the prime minister, and Arashukov, by appointing him as the head of the tax collection agency, then the Karachays could be the next to revolt; together, these two positions are considered too important to be centralized under a single faction. As Temrezov paves the way for his reappointment as the governor of the republic next year, the challenges before him appear to be quite formidable, and more political tensions are likely to surface.

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 (, August 5). Duda then alluded again to this proposal in more generalized terms on his inauguration day (, 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 (, 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 (, 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, 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 (, 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 (, 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” (, 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 (, 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” (, 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” (, 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” (, 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 (, 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 (, 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” (, 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” (, 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 (, October 23, 2014). Despite warnings from experts about the negative implications of the Russian Avar-Kakheti road to Georgia’s security (, 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” (, 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.