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Russia, Azerbaijan/Armenia: All Roads Lead to the Caucasus

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Though both have sent a few troops to Afghanistan, the very idea of warring nations joining the military bloc is nonsense, and noises about it can only be interpreted as attempts to curry favour with the world's superpower. Azerbaijan has much-covetted Caspian Sea oil and gas, but Armenia is Christian and Azerbaijan Muslim, and Armenia has a strong US domestic lobby which will not go quietly into the night. Any move by Washington to meddle in the dispute without close coordination with Moscow is fraught with danger for all concerned -- except, of course, the US.

As an ally to both countries, and with important historical and cultural traditions, Russia remains the main actor in the search for a solution. Including Turkey in negotiations can only improve the chances of finding a regional solution which is acceptable to both sides. Such a solution requires demilitarising the conflict, hardly something NATO is expert at. As both countries improve their economies, and as long as ongoing tensions do not erupt into military conflict, they can -- must -- move towards a realistic resolution that takes the concerns of both sides into consideration.

Since 1991 a new Silk Road has been opened to the West, stretching as it did a millennium ago from Italy to China and taking in at least seventeen new political entities. All roads, in this case, lead to the Caucasus, and US-NATO interest in this vital crossroads should surprise no one. US control there -- and in the Central Asian"stans" -- would mean containing Russia and Iran, the dream for American strategists since WWII.

The three major wars of the past decade -- Yugoslavia (1999), Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) -- all lie on this Silk Road. The US and the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance had no business invading any of these countries and have no business in the region today. Rather it is Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, China, India, Turkey et al that must come together to promote their regional economic well being and security.

War breaking out in any one of the Caucasus disputes would be a tragedy for all concerned, for the West (at least in the long run) as much as for Russia or any of the participants. But the forces abetting war are not rational in any meaningful sense of the word. After all, it was perfectly "rational" in Robert Gates's mind to help finance and arm Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1979. The planners in the Pentagon or NATO HQs argue "rationally" today that their current surge in Afghanistan will bring peace to the region.

And if it fails, at least the chaos is far away. Such thinking could lead them to try to unleash chaos in any of the smoldering and intractable disputes in the Caucasus out of spite or a la General Jack Ripper in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 "Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb", a film which unfortunately has lost none of its bite in the past four decades.

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Eric writes for Al-Ahram Weekly and PressTV. He specializes in Russian and Eurasian affairs. His "Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games" and "From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization" are available at (more...)
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