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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

The United States recognized the independence of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia when the former Soviet Union broke up at the end of 1991. The United States has fostered these states’ ties with the West in part to end the dependence of these states on Russia for trade, security, and other relations. The United States has pursued close ties with Armenia to encourage its democratization and because of concerns by Armenian-Americans and others over its fate. Close ties with Georgia have evolved from U.S. contacts with its pro-Western leadership. The former Bush Administration supported U.S. private investment in Azerbaijan’s energy sector as a means of increasing the diversity of world energy suppliers. The United States has been active in diplomatic efforts to resolve regional conflicts in the region. As part of the U.S. global war on terror, the U.S. military in 2002 began providing equipment and training for Georgia’s military and security forces. Azerbaijani troops participated in stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Armenian and Georgian personnel served in Iraq. The South Caucasian troops serving in Iraq had departed by the end of 2008.

On August 7, 2008, Russia and Georgia went to war involving Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian troops quickly swept into Georgia, destroyed infrastructure, and tightened their de facto control over the breakaway regions before a ceasefire was agreed to on August 15. The conflict has had long-term effects on security dynamics in the region and beyond. Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but the United States and nearly all other nations refused to follow suit. Russia established bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that buttress its long-time military presence in Armenia. Georgia’s military capabilities were degraded by the conflict, and Georgia has requested military assistance to rebuild its forces. The conflict temporarily disrupted railway transport of Azerbaijani oil to Black Sea ports and some oil and gas pipeline shipments, but no major pipelines were damaged. Although there were some concerns that the South Caucasus had become less stable as a source and transit area for oil and gas, Kazakhstan later began to barge oil across theCaspian Sea for transit westward, and the European Union still planned eventually to build the so-called Nabucco gas pipeline from Azerbaijan to Austria.

Key issues in the second session of the 111th Congress regarding the South Caucasus are likely to focus on supporting Georgia’s integration into Western institutions, including NATO; Azerbaijan’s energy development; and Armenia’s independence and economic development. At the same time, concerns might include the status of human rights and democratization in the countries; the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the breakaway Nagorno Karabakh region; and threats posed to Georgia and the region by Russia’s August 2008 military incursion and its diplomatic recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Congress will continue to scrutinize Armenia’s and Georgia’s reform progress as recipients of Millennium Challenge Account grants. Some Members of Congress believe that the United States should provide greater attention to the region’s increasing role as an east-west trade and security corridor linking the Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions, and to Armenia’s inclusion in such links. They urge greater U.S. aid and conflict resolution efforts to contain warfare, crime, smuggling, and Islamic extremism and to bolster the independence of the states. Others urge caution in adopting policies that will heavily involve the United States in a region beset by ethnic and civil conflicts.

Date of Report: December 22, 2009
Number of Pages: 39
Order Number: RL33453
Price: $29.95

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