by Nathan Hamm on 7/1/2004

The big stories out of the Istanbul NATO summit have primarily been the alliance’s role in Afghanistan and training Iraqi security forces.

There were, however, a number of developments related to Central Asia and the Caucasus.

EurasiaNet has the wide view of NATO’s renewed commitment to the region.

The NATO declaration to expand cooperation with the Caucasus and Central Asia is likely a US-led attempt to help prevent the further erosion of Western influence in the regions, regional analysts say. “NATO has agreed on improved liaison arrangements, including the assignment of two liaison officers, as well as special representatives for the two regions from within the International Staff,” the NATO summit communiqué said. “We welcome the decision by Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan to develop Individual Partnership Action Plans with NATO.”

Among those leaders attending the Istanbul gathering were Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan, and Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili. In addition, Nursultan Nazarbayev and Askar Akayev, respectively the presidents of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, participated in the NATO summit. The regional leaders held numerous meetings on the sidelines with representatives of Western governments. Following a June 28 meeting between Saakashvili and Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, for example, Georgian officials indicated that Tbilisi would be willing to dispatch troops to Afghanistan to bolster the ISAF force there.

The NATO communiqué devoted special attention to Georgia, where an ardently pro-Western government under President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in January. NATO praised the Saakashvili administration’s efforts to curb corruption and promote economic reform. The communiqué called for the “swift resolution” of the issue of Russia’s continuing military presence in Georgia. Tbilisi and Moscow have haggled for years over a timetable for the closure of the two remaining Russian bases in Georgia. [All emphasis my own]

This has, evidently, already resulted in a reaction from Russia. reports that Russia is ready to cooperate with NATO in the Caucasus.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news briefing on June 30 that NATO’s special focus on Caucasus is “a reality” and Russia “is ready for open and transparent cooperation.”

The major issue facing NATO in the Caucasus and Central Asia is Russia. As the CSM puts it, Russia’s “pocket empire” is cause for concern.

Moscow’s ambition is to make it seem normal for Russian troops to guard European borders and serve as outposts of imperial control in independent nations, without their consent.

In the absence of treaties legitimizing Russia’s illegal military presence on its neighbors’ territory, Russia will keep these conflicts “frozen” – ensuring that secessionist leaders who answer to Moscow remain in control.

As Mr. Rumsfeld said clearly last weekend, Russia’s troop presence violates the revised Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and post-Soviet guarantees Russia made to withdraw military forces from the territories of its neighbors.

It is primarily in the Caucasus and Moldova that such Russian behavior is a concern.

NATO took the bull by the horns and made clear that the CFE Treaty is of great concern.At least in one area, the NATO summit was a success for Georgia. The final communiqué of the Summit has made ratification of the Amended Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty by the allies conditional on the implementation of Russia’s Istanbul commitments (that is, withdrawal of the military forces and hardware from Georgia and Moldova).

In a simple language this means that unless Russia withdraws from Moldova and Georgia, NATO would consider itself free to increase military presence in the Baltic countries – a scenario dreaded by the Russian generals, and bad for President Vladimir Putin’s public image.The passage from which this interpretation seems to come is from this part of the communique.

We reiterate our commitment to the CFE Treaty as a cornerstone of European security, and reaffirm our attachment to the early entry into force of the Adapted Treaty. We recall that fulfilment of the remaining Istanbul commitments on the Republic of Georgia and the Republic of Moldova will create the conditions for Allies and other States Parties to move forward on ratification of the Adapted CFE Treaty. We note the progress that was made in 2003 on withdrawal of Russian military forces from the Republic of Moldova. We regret that this progress has not continued in 2004 and that the extended 31 December 2003 views this as good news for Georgia.

This legal linkage was long refuted by the Russian authorities, who see the Istanbul commitments, made at the margins of the OSCE summit only as a political, rather than legally binding statement. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made this point in Istanbul again, but it apparently fell on deaf ears.

This is good news in Georgia. As NATO keeps heat on Russia, it Tbilisi’s hand in negotiations on military base withdrawal with Moscow improves. Georgia, which is seeking the way which would reconcile its push towards Euro-Atlantic integration with the new mode of cohabitation with Russia, has a room for the political maneuver.

Other news to come out of the summit is that President Saakashvili says that Georgia should become a full member of NATO within four years. Also, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia (and maybe Georgia) will hold trilateral talks in New York in September. I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to this process, but I’m assuming that this is part of the on-going Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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