Our Analytics 26 july — 12:08

Intimidation with Russian tanks and Abbas Abbasov (Our comment)

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BY LEONID SHVETS

Seven-day military exercises of the 58th Russian Army's units in the North Caucasus, including in the occupied South Ossetia, did cause quite a substantiated alarm in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran.

16 thousand soldiers with the support of modern military equipment is a powerful force. Actually, everything was started to demonstrate strength and to cause alarm. Recognising these fears as groundless is not allowed by the fact of the advance of the Russian military in the direction of the Karapila village of the Caspi region of Georgia and the transfer of part of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline under its control.

Obviously, the Russian troops decided to combine, as they say, pleasant and useful: to move part of the border to its Soviet level and to scare the neighbours. To frighten is, for some time now, the mission of the Russian army.

A similar story is developing in Belarus, where Russian-Belarussian exercises 'West-2017' are scheduled for September. Many politicians and military men both in Ukraine and in the Baltic countries spoke about their potential danger. Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, Commander of the US ground forces in Europe, and General Curtis Scaparotti, Supreme Commander of the NATO armed forces in Europe, asked Russia for transparency of the exercises.

While NATO, possessing a huge aggregate potential, has far less reasons to fear Russia than, for example, Georgia or Azerbaijan. It was not without assumptions about a possible soft occupation of Belarus. It's impossible to say that the Belarusian side did not have doubts about this either. It is not without reason that Belarus invited representatives of NATO countries and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as observers.

Nevertheless, the questions still remain: in particular, few people believe that the number of servicemen, who will take part in the exercise, will be the officially announced 13 thousand people. They say that 100 thousand may not be the limit. And while the authorities of Belarus strongly assure that 'West-2017' will not turn into a real clash with the West, will not be a preparation for a strike against Ukraine from the north and will not lead to the appearance of Russian military bases on the territory of the country, there is a share of attempts to calm oneself here.

Unpredictability is now the main commodity of Russia in the international arena. To successfully trade it, one must always and everywhere create a situation of uncertainty, rich in unexpected turns. One cannot assuredly say that the Kremlin is already ready for some kind of harsh actions in the Caucasus or in the same Belarus, but one should not doubt that there is a plan at hand that can be launched if need be.

History with the Crimea taught this. It also taught that Russia prefers hybrid attacks, when an important preparatory work is done by direct or indirect agents in the territory that will be subjected to aggression.

In Georgia, they consider the 'Alliance of Patriots' to be such a force, which is allegedly financed from Russia. It is difficult to judge how much ground such fears have, and how much can the party, which barely gained 5% in the parliamentary elections, seriously influence the internal situation in Georgia.

Abbas Abbasov

But in Azerbaijan such force seems to be preparing to become one of the opponents of official Baku: former Deputy PM Abbas Abbasov, whom the Kremlin unexpectedly and without any reason congratulated on successful entrepreneurial activity.

Pro-Russian Georgia or Georgia, occupied by Russia, means for Azerbaijan a sharp deterioration of the strategic position and a direct threat, especially given the emerging alliance of Russia with Iran. For now this danger looks very speculative, Russian exercises do look more like genuine exercises, although very serious ones. But the Ukrainian experience teaches: it is better to overestimate the danger than to underestimate it.

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