Why does the “confusing, heterogeneous, endlessly demanding” Caucasus matter?
Because these are the “lands in between … between the Black and Caspian seas, Europe and Asia, Russia and the Middle East and, more recently, democracy and dictatorship”, according to Thomas De Waal, author of the recently-published The Caucasus: An Introduction.
The region is also host to several ongoing and latent conflicts that have demonstrated the limitations of international institutions and the futility of Russia’s policies, not least in the North Caucasus.
“The policies of the last decade – waging a war, co-opting local elites, public works, manipulating the boundaries of federal districts, replacing governors, and killing extremists – have not worked,” says Miriam Lanskoy, the National Endowment for Democracy‘s senior program officer for Central Asia and the Caucasus.
“If you compare 1999 to today it is by far worse,” she told a recent Washington meeting on the region.
“Could it be that a moment has arrived for a discussion about governance, transparency, accountability?” she reflected. “Reforms that can satisfy the legitimate public demand for justice, security, good governance – -and thereby marginalize the extremists?”
Only reform can stabilize the situation for the long term, said Lanskoy, co-author of the forthcoming book, The Chechen Struggle: Independence Won and Lost. “Once the Chechens recover demographically they will again seek independence,” she believes.
Observers should also pay closer attention to Georgia’s emerging foreign policy through which President Mikheil Saakashvili plans to promote a “dream of a free, stable, united Caucasus.”