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Russia’s Strategic Calculus

Russia's Strategic Calculus

Dr. Muhammad Akram Zaheer

Currently, Russia is paying a lot of attention to its western side, particularly Ukraine and nearby countries. But Russia is also worried about its southern border, which stretches through the Caucasus Mountains. To the south of these mountains are Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

These mountains protect a crucial part of Russia. The area to the northwest of these mountains leads to the Sea of Azov and the border with Ukraine, near the Donbass region, which has seen a lot of conflicts over the years. To the northeast is the Volga River and the city of Stalingrad, now called Volgograd. North of the mountains, the land is flat, and it’s about 550 miles from Astrakhan to Crimea.

If Russia were attacked from the south, it would greatly affect its ability to fight in Ukraine. In the long term, it could also block key rivers like the Volga and Don. So, protecting the Caucasus from any hostile power is vital for Russia. It’s almost as important as Ukraine. In the past, Russia fought wars with Chechnya and Georgia, and these experiences influenced Vladimir Putin’s thinking about border areas. Recently, Azerbaijan sent troops to occupy land between itself and Armenia, which has caused tensions.

Armenia is not as wealthy as Azerbaijan, and they have had issues, especially regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, a region with an Armenian population but officially part of Azerbaijan. Historically, Russia supported Armenia, even when trying to mediate conflicts. But things changed. The United States got involved, initially supporting Georgia and later keeping cautious relations with Azerbaijan, while distancing itself from Armenia. However, when a new Armenian government was elected and didn’t trust Russia, the United States started getting closer to Armenia. This prompted Azerbaijan to take control of Nagorno-Karabakh. This situation has led to increased tension and possible conflict. Russia has a significant peacekeeping presence in the region, and although things are calm now, they could act against Armenia or revive the Georgia conflict.

Armenia must either make a deal with Russia or turn to the United States, but neither choice will fully satisfy them. The United States wants to have some influence in the region to potentially threaten the North Caucasus, although this is a risky and unlikely move. Russia is not opposed to the idea of the United States taking such risks. With the ongoing war in Ukraine, the United States might use this as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Russia. It sounds good on paper but is quite risky in reality.

So, the question now is whether Georgia will reach out to the United States in exchange for military support and whether Azerbaijan will do the same. However, since Azerbaijan and Russia seem to be closely connected now, this is unlikely. Russia seems to have secured the Caucasus region, making it very difficult for the United States to get involved. The United States has Armenia as an ally, but Armenia doesn’t have much leverage.

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