by Roman Simakov
Translated by Pavel Pushkin

Source: Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kuryer, No. 20, May 2006, p. 2
Agency WPS
What the Papers Say Part A (Russia)
June 1, 2006 Thursday

The West doesn't want a rival in Eurasia

Ill-wishers say that the CIS will soon disappear; It must be admitted
that there are serious political disputes in the framework of the
CIS. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - that is, the countries where
overtly anti-Russian political elites hold power - are saying more
and more often that they're prepared to quit the CIS.

For several years now, certain circles with an interest in the matter
have been saying that the days of the Commonwealth of Independent
States (CIS) are numbered. In the light of recent events, this issue
is once again being raised in various media outlets and some CIS
countries. But the CIS, going through a reform phase, continues to
exist and function effectively in various areas. One of the more
robust areas that links most CIS countries is military cooperation.

The latest confirmation of this is the fact that another meeting of
the CIS defense ministers' council is being held in Baku, Azerbaijan,
on May 31.

The meeting plans to consider a number of very important issues. The
defense ministers intend to confirm the basic areas of activity and
measures for the CIS Military Cooperation Concept to 2010, and discuss
the state of flight safety in the armed forces of CIS countries. They
plan to reach agreement on documents required to establish a common
(unified) military communications system for CIS countries. The
defense ministers will also consider the performance of the Joint
Peacekeeping Forces in the Abkhazian conflict zone.

The question of next year's funding for the CIS Unified Air Defense
System (UADS) will also be considered. A command-staff training
exercise involving UADS management bodies and forces was concluded
on April 25. The exercise involved air forces and air defense forces
from eight CIS countries: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.

On the whole, military contacts within the CIS framework remain active
- although not all countries are showing interest or initiative.

What would replace the CIS?

All the same, it must be admitted that there are serious political
disputes in the framework of the CIS. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine -
that is, the countries where overtly anti-Russian political elites
hold power - are saying more and more often that they're prepared to
quit the CIS.

On May 2, President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia instructed the
government to consider the expediency of Georgia's continuing
participation in the CIS and to present an accurate economic
justification within the next two months. Vladimir Ogryzko, Senior
Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine, says that Ukraine doesn't receive
real results from membership in the CIS. Similar statements are made
periodically in Chisinau.

Nonetheless, so far not a single one of these countries has dared
to undertake the final withdrawal from the CIS. Why? The answer is
obvious: political and economic losses from this action will be much
bigger than received benefits. Moscow has already demonstrated that
if necessary it can tighten up economic nuts. Russian government is
considering liquidation of various preferences for some CIS member
states because of the statements of their authorities about possible
withdrawal from the CIS.

Nonetheless, the "divorce" the strongest on people's masses who already
experience hard times. It is necessary to bear in mind that Tbilisi,
Chisinau and Kiev try to bargain and seek additional protection of
those who lobby withdrawal of these countries from the CIS. It is
clear for whom it is beneficial to finally break up what is left from
the USSR: the West doesn't need a competitor in Eurasia.

Integration could improve significantly the level of competitiveness
of each of the 12 countries. For instance, Washington has already
promised to compensate for the losses expected because of withdrawal
from the CIS.

Against this background Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova
with assistance of overseas sponsors started working more actively in
the framework of the so-called GUAM, an amorphous organization whose
main task is economic cooperation in words and dilution of the CIS in
deed. Experts state that no real economic basis has been created for
GUAM and it will hardly appear in the near future. We would also like
to say that the major part of disputes appearing in the framework of
the CIS is exaggerated and invented according to prompts of Western
puppeteers. Along with this, due to the obstacles appearing on this
path some functions of the CIS went to new international organizations
like the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Eurasian Economic
Community and Common Economic Space. Cooperation in the framework
of these organizations is gradually gaining scale in its specific
directions and is already bringing certain fruits.

Apsheron attracts

It is symbolic that meeting of CIS defense ministers will be held
in Baku. Lately, the Trans-Caucasus in general and Azerbaijan in
particular has been acquiring special importance on the international
geopolitical arena. First, this happens because the Trans-Caucasus
is a key to the Caspian region rich with hydrocarbons. It is a good
economic advantage and hence a reason for increased interest of the
"omnipresent" US. Second, the region attracts attention of the West
in the strategic aspect. Nobody has promised that sooner or later
aggravation of the American-Iranian relations will not lead to a
forceful action of Pentagon against Iran. In this case assistance of
Azerbaijan would be very valuable. It's no coincidence that the US is
already on its way to basing two radar stations in the republic. On
the one hand, these stations will track operations of the Russian
military base in Armenia. On the other hand, they will control the
Caspian region and the territory of Iran. The official version of the
radar stations construction is strengthening of border control. A year
ago, it was rumored that an American military base would be deployed
in Azerbaijan. Various sources mentioned at least three possible
locations for the base, namely the Apsheron Peninsula, Lenkoran and
military airfield Shirak not far from the Georgian-Azeri border.

Against this background reports appeared in Azeri press in March with
reference to the Institute of Radiation Problems of the National
Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan saying that due to work of the
Russian information and analytical center Daryal (Gabalinskaya radar
station) the level of electromagnetic radiation in the populated
spots neighboring the station allegedly exceeded the norm by a
few hundreds percents. When checked these stations proved to be
ungrounded. According to the press service of the Russian Space Forces,
such statements of representatives of Azeri public "unfortunately very
often ignore results of real research and are at odds with facts." It
is obvious that intentions to impose opinion about negative impact of
the Russian radar station on environmental situation on Russian and
Azeri public represent attempts to hinder development of Russian-Azeri
relations. It is remarkable that Azeri experts have not turned to
the Russian party officially with statements about any registered
breaches although there is an agreement of Russia and Azerbaijan on
joint conduction of monitoring.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said, "The fact that the
topic of ecology is often used for political goals primarily by
nongovernmental organizations is no secret to anyone."

Earlier, Baku did not support the Russian initiative about
establishment of the tactical theater group of ships of the Caspian
countries Casfor in the Caspian Sea. Along with this, Washington
already started implementation of its project in the region for
establishment of Caspian Guard for guarding of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan
oil pipeline and hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian Sea. It is
known that for the US the Caspian region remains one of the most
important lines of foreign policy as an alternative option for supply
of hydrocarbons because the Persian Gulf area is very unstable. The
Caspian region is also important for promotion of American interests
to the east.

Between Moscow and Washington

Commenting on the recent official visit of Azeri President Ilkham
Aliev to Washington, the official spokesperson for the US Department
of State said that "Azerbaijan is an important country for the US."

Along with this, Washington is prepared not only to pay money and
to create a foreign policy protection but also to shut its eyes to
breaches of democratic rights and liberties in the republic for a
time being. For the US Azerbaijan is a tasty morsel also because
political landscape in this country is diverse and unstable, which
enables the US to manage the situation in its own interests through
pressurizing of official Baku when necessary. The main factor of
instability in Azerbaijan is the problem of territorial dispute
between Baku and Yerevan. Struggle for democratic values may become
such factor in the future. Incidentally, the US is already doing the
relevant preparatory work.

Lately, Russia has been trying to raise relations with Azerbaijan to
a new level more actively. This is said in the joint statement of the
presidents of the two countries signed in February in Baku. In this
situation Azeri political elite tries to maneuver between Moscow and
Washington bargaining about certain benefits for itself. Nonetheless,
practice shows that sooner or later such "diplomacy" ends. As a rule,
this happens exactly because of excessive appetite and pressure of
overseas friends. On the contrary, cooperation with close neighbors
seems to be the most promising, mutually beneficial and long-lasting.