Divide and Conquer Separatism in Transcaucasia and Russian Intervention

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James Monroe


“The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” This quote from thefamous ancient historian Thucydides may come off as rather harsh, but it describes well theattitude that many historical Great Powers have had towards weaker states. In the modern day,one can find a similar (albeit more nuanced) attitude with the Russian Federation’s own affairswith its neighbors. None of these neighbors can hold a candle to the geopolitical might thatRussia is able to project, including those based in the South Caucasus. The South Caucasus(Transcaucasia) was part of the Russian Empire since the early 19th century. Control continuedwith the establishment of the Soviet Union, but ended with its collapse in 1991. In the wake ofRussia’s retreat from the region came the birth of three new Transcaucasian republics: Georgia,Armenia, and Azerbaijan. However, independence was never straightforward for these newcountries and political instability has remained in them ever since. Independence was neverstraightforward for these countries, and political instability has haunted them ever since -instability which Russia has noticed. This paper discusses and analyzes Russian intervention inthe South Caucasus. While Russian policy towards each Transcaucasian country differssomewhat, Russia commonly exploits the separatist movements and violence in these states -namely those of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan- within the hope of leveraging influence.

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