Vienna, June 29 – Nearly a year after the Russian Federation violated the longstanding assumption that no post-Soviet state would use military force against another, “the scent of war” is spreading across the Commonwealth of Independent States, according to a leading Moscow commentator.
In an essay in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” today, Yuri Simonian, who regularly comments on events in the former Soviet republics, says that perhaps one should “consult an astrological calendar for the past week” because wherever one looks the situation seems to have fallen under the influence of Mars, the god of war (www.ng.ru/week/2009-06-29/8_sng.html).
Across the CIS, tensions appear to be growing, in some cases perhaps only at the level of rhetoric – Belarus and the Russian Federation are engaged in what many call “a milk war” – but in many others, Simonian suggests, the language being used represents a threat of military action or perhaps even points to that sad outcome.
Moldova’s communists are talking about military confrontation and the loss of sovereignty if the July 28 parliamentary elections go the wrong way, Simonian says, and he could have added but didn’t that many in Ukraine are fearful of a possible Russian move in Crimea.
More serious, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” writer says, are developments in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. In the former, “Armenia and Azerbaijan are again accusing one another of being unwilling to find a compromise on Nagorno-Karabakh, and they have passed over to militant rhetoric.”
“Baku,” he writes, has declined its ability to resolve the situation by force, [and] Yerevan has parried” by saying just try and you’ll get what’s coming to you. And Georgia has been filled with rumors and predictions about a new Russian attack, especially given the maneuvers of the Russian military in the North Caucasus.
As both Georgians and others recall, it was precisely after similar maneuvers a year ago, that Moscow ordered its military to move into Georgia nominally to provide protection to the Abkhazians and the South Ossetians but in fact to punish Tbilisi and underscore Moscow’s new sense that it is free to act in this way (www.polit.ru/event/2009/06/29/peace.html).
In Central Asia, meanwhile, Simonian continues, there have been “mysterious explosions in Andijan and Khanabad and clashes between Uzbek and Kyrgyz forces at various points along their borders. And in Tajikistan, at the end of the week, the authorities arrested a group of activists who have been involved in violent resistance to Dushanbe.
Because it is not his subject, Simonian does not mention the militant rhetoric within the Russian Federation in the wake of the assassination of Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, but that has been in some respects even more hyperbolic than the comments he cites, with the Russian and Chechen leaders promising the application of overwhelming force.
Obviously, such rhetoric may not lead to a real war, but its spread is troubling. On the one hand, such language by itself makes conflicts more likely: At least some of those using it will not be sure that such words do not presage action, will prepare to react, and, by taking that action, make a conflict more rather than less likely.
And on the other hand, this militant language, seldom used in the CIS region until Russia invaded Georgia, is as the anniversary of that conflict approaches just one more tragic consequence of that event -- and of the subsequent willingness of many around the world to act as if Moscow did not violate international law by its actions then.