Every time Russia comes to play war in the Caucasus, a sense of alert spreads in the neighborhood. And it does not help if the Russians are running around with guns for two separate war games at the same time.
Azerbaijan is keeping a wary eye on its sworn enemy, Armenia, as it hosts drills for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Moscow's response to NATO), while Georgia has its vision trained on the Caucasus-2012 training to the north.
Tbilisi is particularly uneasy to see Moscow mobilize 8,000 troops, 200 military vehicles, artillery and military vessels in the Black and Caspian Seas and Russia's southern Krasnodar region just as Georgia is approaching a critical parliamentary election on October 1.
“We all remember the consequences of the 2008 drills, which were much smaller in scale [than Caucasus 2012],” commented Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze. He claimed that the operations threaten the sovereignty of the three Caucasus countries, and, at least in part, are meant to affect their domestic politics.
Russian commanders said that both drills are not directed at any country in particular, but, rather, are a routine event meant to prepare against a theoretical enemy. Commenting on the ongoing CSTO drills, Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said training in Armenia, which brought together troops from Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, is designed to create a “regional force to neutralize a potential threat,” RFE/RL reported.
But everyone in the Caucasus knows who is whose “potential” enemy. Azerbaijan and Armenia are now closer to renewed hostilities than ever over Azerbaijan's highly controversial pardon of the axe-murderer of an Armenian soldier. And Georgia and Russia, still smarting from their 2008 encounter, see each other in the lifetime role of neighborhood bully.
Given that most of the participants in these games have a recent history of armed conflict, might there be a better way to “neutralize” potential threats than doing dry runs for war?