CPC - Caspian Policy Center


cpc commentary: support the endangered caspian-region independent nations – now!


Image source: U.S. Embassy Bishkek

If there ever was a time for the U.S. government to show support for the independent countries of the Caspian region, that time is now. 

As I write this, Putin’s War – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s all-out war against peaceful and independent Ukraine – is grinding into its second week.  Already, perhaps one million refugees have fled Ukraine.  Hundreds on both sides have already died.  How many?  We don’t really know, because in the fog of war, initial information and truth-trampling disinformation vie to capture the world’s attention.

In one way, what Putin has done this time is no different from what he has done before, although the scale now is radically vaster.  He violated international law and, with covert military force, annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.  He invaded independent Georgia in 2008 to support the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and now continues to support them with Russian boots on the ground of a sovereign and independent nation.  He bombed apartment houses in 1999 – in Russia! – to justify his war in Chechnya.  All along, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, he has refused to allow full resolution to the “prolonged conflicts” in Moldova, in Azerbaijan, and, yes, in Georgia and Ukraine.  But never before has Putin gone all the way with a full-scale war like this one in Ukraine.  If August 1914 ended the 19th century, February 2022 has now ended the 20th century.  The world has entered uncharted territory and will not return to the status quo ante.

At the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States was among the first in the world to recognize the independence of the new states that awoke one morning to find that they were no longer Soviet Socialist Republics.  And since that time, with unwavering consistency, Washington’s policy for those countries has been grounded in supporting their independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.

But the world is complicated.  Crises come and go.  And because these newly independent countries didn’t quickly become free-market economies, as Washington had hoped they would, U.S. interest in them waxed and waned over the years.  This is especially true of the countries of the South Caucasus – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia – and of Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  Despite full-scale U.S. embassies in every single capital, and despite extensive civilian and military assistance programs for every one of these countries, in recent years, Washington has settled into a sort of arm’s-length finger-wagging and naming-and-shaming of these countries because of their undeniably real problems with human rights and good governance. 

Never would anyone in the United States suggest that Washington should not promote its values.  Never!  But there are times and places to do so that can lead to real results rather than facile check-the-box, in-your-face, public criticisms that only rile these countries’ governments and make them less likely to get down to the basic work that is necessary to improve the lives of their citizens.

What is truly needed now is for the United States to be visible in the region, to put action behind our words of support for the countries’ independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s telephone call to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili on March 3 to thank her for Georgia’s courageous vote against Russia the day before in the United Nations General Assembly was a welcome step. 

But more needs to be done – not just in the future, but now.  Washington needs to invite the leaders of the Caspian region countries to the White House.  Senior U.S. officials need to travel to the capitals of every one of these countries.  None of this should happen just once.  There needs to be a continuing drum beat of visible U.S. support.

There would be no better way to show American support for these nations that are currently more threatened than they’ve been since their independence 30 years ago.  We cannot allow Putin to trap them behind the New Iron Curtain he seems hell-bent on drawing closed once again.

DOC:  CPC – Russia Commentary – 03-03-22

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