Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, territories of its former empire that were immediately declared independent sovereign nations as well as those whose status is yet to be determined have fallen prey to foreign and internal interests seeking to separate them from Russia. One such major area is the Caucasus land bridge sandwiched between the Black and Caspian Seas that since antiquity has been the interface between Europe and Asia. Some of the predominantly Turkic peoples have formed separatist parties seeking independence from Russia. International oil and gas interests want access and rights to exploit the mineral wealth and strategic position of the Caucasus. Indeed, the very geographic location of the Caucasus makes it a vital trans-Eurasian energy-transit route, delivering energy to the West.
The Caucasus itself is laterally divided into the South Caucasus (Transcaucasia), which includes the sovereign states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and the North Caucasus (Ciscaucasia) under Russian control that comprises the autonomous republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, North Ossetia, and other small entities. Armenia and Georgia are ancient Christian states with equally venerable Caucasian Jewish communities coexisting over the centuries amidst a sea of Muslims. Conflicts have already erupted in Chechnya, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Ingushetia, and a major war has just been concluded between Russia and Georgia.
As M. Raphael Johnson has ably shown, the geopolitical and oil-gas interests of the outside powers have further distorted and aggravated the already complicated situation in the Caucasus. (“Israel, Oil and Death: The War for Ossetia.” Culture Wars, October 2008). The United States and Israel, supported by native Georgians, Christians and Jews, have aligned militarily against Russia, further alienating Christian Armenia from its Georgian Christian neighbor. Ever since the First World War and its aftermath Armenia has been especially indebted to Russia for having protected her against Turkic attacks. Today the Armenians see Israel and America supporting the Azeris in the Nagorno-Karabakh fighting. Independent Azerbaijan, with its famed capital Baku astride the Caspian Sea and one of the earliest oil cities, has a border contiguous with Armenia. Russia stations troops in the Armenian Gyumri military base and controls the air space over Armenia.
History buffs will recall that the German Army had reached the gates of Baku and Grozny in August 1942 in the hope of linking up with General Rommel’s army coming up from Egypt. But before the pincers could close the battles of El Alamein and Stalingrad intervened, and the Germans began a three-year retreat.
Rivka Cohen, the Israeli Ambassador to Georgia, is credited with coordinating Israeli and Caucasian Jewish activities as well as for making Tbilisi (Georgia’s capital) the base for Mossad operations in the Caucasus. As a consequence, an Armenian-Russian-Iranian alignment opposes what it sees as American and Israeli intervention in the area aimed not just at stifling pro-Russian sentiment in the smaller autonomous countries but at separating the Caucasus entirely from Russia.
The still simmering Russo-Georgian War over the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the continuing Russo-Chechen ethnic conflicts have been and remain the most violent confrontations in the Caucasus to date. Israel and the United States have supported Georgian claims to Abkhazia and Ossetia with arms shipments and military advice while a group of Anglo-Jews in London, presumably with the tacit approval of the British government, has also been fanning the flames of war in Chechnya. Britain, after all, has been a leading player in the “Great Game” since the early 20th Century. The United States only began to intervene in the affairs of Georgia in earnest in about 1989 when U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, under President Bush, developed a close relationship with Eduard Shevarnadze, who at that time was Minister of Foreign Affairs under Mikhail Gorbachev. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union Shevarnadze first converted to the Georgian Orthodox Church and then went on to become president of the newly independent Georgian state, where he established a solidly pro-American policy.
One of Shevarnadze’s protégées in the Georgian government while he was president was Mikheil Saakashvili, who was to become president. In the mid 1990s, Saakashvili received the best grooming America had to offer. He received a fellowship from the U.S. State Department, studied at neocon stronghold George Washington University, obtained a degree from Columbia University, and a diploma from the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. One year after serving as Minister of Justice under President Shevarnadze, he overthrew his erstwhile mentor in the so-called Rose Revolution and assumed the presidency.
However, not all the rough edges had been smoothed over in the United States. Saakashvili has been criticized at home for his occasional vulgarity. He has publicly made insulting comments about Russian women, and has labeled the Russians his “Mongoloid enemy.” He has also publicly referred to Blacks as savages and by the n-word, using the vulgar Georgian word ‘zangi’.
In 2004 Saakashvili made his first visit to Israel where he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa and hailed as the Nelson Mandela of the 21st century. A Georgian-Jewish Friendship Week was established. In 2007 Saakashvili reorganized his cabinet. He retained Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, who is a dual UK-Georgian citizen, but appointed a new defense minister, David Kererashvili, a Georgian Jew with friendly connections in Israel. Israel has a special interest in Georgia because of the flight distance and overflight rights en route to Iran, should Iran develop and deploy nuclear weapons.
His recent appointment to his cabinet of Vera Kobalia as Minister of the Economy and Sustainable Development has evoked considerable criticism because of her age (29) and lack of experience. Before joining Saakashvili’s cabinet, the young lady had lived in Canada until 2009, where she had worked in her father’s company, the European Breads Bakery. The current Georgian Ambassador to the United States is Temuri Yakobashvili, a proud Hebrew-speaking Zionist youth activist. He is co-founder of the Atlantic Council of Georgia and headed the Georgian Department for the United States, Canada, and Latin America.
After years of mutual recriminations, aerial and ground incursions into and over each other’s territory, a major war broke out on 7 August 2008 when Georgian forces attempted to reconquer areas in South Ossetia and Abkhazia that had attempted to escape Georgian control by seeking independence and Russian protection. The Georgians failed to take Tskhinvali, their initial target, and were eventually thrown back on all fronts. President Sarkozy of France mediated a ceasefire. The loss of Abkhazia, which occupies a long stretch along the Black Sea coast, will particularly handicap the U.S. Navy in any future attempts to supply our allies and our own forces in the Middle East. The ports it might have used will now be at the disposal of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Since only a ceasefire exists and since the United States, Israel, Ukraine, and other states have hastened to resupply and rearm Georgia, and since Russia has done the same for its forces and allies in the area, the world can expect further bad news from the Caucasus.
Concurrently with the Russo-Georgian War, Russia and the original Turkic and Iranic indigenous peoples of Chechnya, Dagestan, the Crimea, and other areas in the south of Russia proper, which were forcibly incorporated in the Russian Empire in the early 18th century, have continued their long-standing conflicts. Ongoing strife between the Russians and the Muslim native peoples in the south peaked in the mid 20th century when Stalin ruthlessly deported these peoples to Siberia for collaborating with the German invaders. After the dictator’s death, however, the exiled peoples were permitted to return to their ancestral homelands nursing an even greater hatred of the Russians and determined more than ever to resist Russian imperialism.
In retaliation, Chechen opponents of Russian encroachments and domination have on occasion launched terrorist attacks against Russia as, for example, the Moscow Theater Seizure in October 2002 in which more than a hundred hostages were killed, and the Beslan School Seizure and Massacre in September 2004 in which some 300 hostages, including many children, were killed.
Aiding the Chechens in their endeavor to resist Russian control is the London Circle of exiled Russians headed by the Russo-Israeli dual citizen, Boris Berezovsky. Among others, the Circle includes or at one time included: Akhmed Zakayev, former Prime Minister (1997–2007) of the earlier unrecognized secessionist Chechen Republic; Aleksandr Litvinenko, former KGB and FSB operative who accused his superiors of wanting to assassinate Berezovsky and whose death by polonium radiation poisoning has directed world attention to the activities of the London Circle in opposing Putin’s policies and fanning the flames of rebellion in Chechnya; and Alex Goldfarb, dissident microbiologist, manager of the Soros Foundation in Russia and a friend of Litvinenko.
Berezovsky, who once was second in power only to Yeltsin in the transitional period from communism to capitalism, has a special interest in the mineral resources and prospective oil pipelines in Chechnya, disdains Putin for having exiled him and for having vigorously pursued the war against the Chechens. Berezovsky argued that a military solution was not possible and openly called for peace talks. It is well known that Berezovsky had and still has a special interest in the area and has been well informed about it by Badri Patarkatsishvili, his closest friend and most important business partner, now deceased. Patarkatsishvili is a Georgian Jew with Israeli connections who helped engineer the Rose Revolution that installed Saakashvili in the presidency.
Berezovsky also fell out with General Aleksandr Lebed, Yeltsin’s National Security Advisor at the time and himself a candidate for the presidency, because Lebed had successfully put an end to the first Chechen War (1994–1996)—Berezovsky preferring to keep the war going until a more favorable solution could be found. In September 1997 General Lebed announced that Soviet-made suitcase-sized nuclear weapons designed for sabotage “are not under the control of the Soviet Armed Forces.” Although the government of the Russian Federation denied Lebed’s contention, GRU defector Stanislav Lunev confirmed the allegation and believed that the deadly suitcases might already have been deployed. Just a few years later, before the question could be resolved, General Lebed, still a strong contender for the presidency of the Russian Federation, died in a helicopter crash, said to have been accidental.
In January 1999 Pravda indirectly accused oligarch Berezovsky of attempting to supply Chechen rebels with bacteriological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. In a public statement Berezovsky said that indeed he had been approached by an individual named Zakhar who offered to purchase a compact nuclear device for three million dollars, but that he, Berezovsky, had immediately reported the incident to both the CIA and to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), and he accused Chechen separatists of being involved. Zakhar in turn appealed to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg to file a lawsuit against Berezovsky. Zakhar: “I am sure that Boris Berezovsky is capable of giving a command to use an A-bomb and then lay the blame for the attack on the Chechens. He can do it when he and his companions need it.”
When in November 2006 Litvinenko, a Muslim convert, was afflicted with and eventually died of polonium radiation poisoning, Berezovsky’s London Circle accused the Putin government of deliberately trying to murder him. Goldfarb, the microbiologist, helped diagnose the cause of death. Putin’s government quickly denied any involvement in the death. Astute observers also noted that polonium was an especially unlikely means of carrying out a hit and suggested instead that Litvinenko’s contact with the extremely rare element might very well have resulted from his involvement in a smuggling operation.
Readers of Frederick Forsyth’s 1984 novel The Fourth Protocol already know how the components of a nuclear device may be stealthfully brought into another country and assembled there. The readers also understand how polonium, when combined with lithium, can be used to make the initiator, or trigger, of the nuclear device. Was the Litvinenko case somehow related to the import or export of polonium for such a nefarious purpose?
Regardless of the validity of that possibility, both Russia and the current Chechen government believe that the border between the Russian Federation inclusive of Chechnya and the other Turkic peoples in the North Caucasus must be kept sealed. Were the border to be opened or become porous, all of Russia’s underbelly of Muslim states would be tempted to join with their brethren in the south and Middle East to free themselves from Russian control.
The current President of the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation, Ramzan Kadyrov, is the son of the first president, Akhmat Khadji who was assassinated in 2004. He is a member of a clan that turned pro-Russian in 1999 at the beginning of the Second Chechen War.. In Ramzan, Russia and Putin have found a firm ally. Responding to a question on how he would avenge the murder of his father, Ramzan said:
I’ve already killed him, whom I was obliged to kill. And I will kill to the very last one those who remain behind him, until I am myself killed or jailed. I will be killing them for as long as I live… When my father was murdered, Putin came and went to the cemetery in person. Putin stopped the war; he should be made president for life. Strong leadership is needed. Democracy is an American fabrication.…Everyone was stealing then and only [Jewish oligarch] Khodorkovsky went to jail.
Ramzan blames the first Chechen War on the Yeltsin-Berezovsky cabal. He attributes current incidents of insurgency to the CIA, the UK’s MI6, and Mossad infiltrators who bribe local bandits who know little or nothing about Islam with money and narcotics. President Ramzan writes:
They give narcotics to those who are responsible for the bloodshed; they then go out and bomb and blow themselves up…All of this is manipulated by Western hands. The Muslim world does not help them in this…The West wants to chop the Caucasus off from Russia. The Caucasus are Russia’s southern strategic border. If they sever the Caucasus from Russia, they are taking half of Russia. It was the Americans who created bin Laden and taught him the art of terrorism. Now they are sending groups of such foreigners to us. They are not “freedom fighters”; they are trained terrorists. We are fighting American and British Special Forces in the mountains. They are not just fighting Kadyrov. They are warring against traditional Islam. They are warring against the sovereign Russian State. Putin united Russia and saved her from chaos. He got rid of [Jewish oligarchs] Berezovsky, Gusinsky, and Khodorkovsky. You don’t really think they have forgiven him for that. They have launched a new attack on Putin, on Russia. They see Chechnya and Dagestan as weak links in the Russian State. Even some Russians do not understand. They say that Chechens are all terrorists. Putin has said clearly that the terrorists have no religion and no nationality. Many Chechens live in Europe, Turkey, and Georgia. It is from these that the West recruits terrorists and ships them to us.…We will not turn our country over to the Americans. We must live under a single roof. It is called Russia.…Let everyone know this: The Chechens will be the first to defend the Caucasus and Russia. [The Caucasus: Russia’s Strategic Border. Zavtra.No. 39(827), 23 September 2009. Interview with Ramzan Kadyrov; my emphasis]
Kadyrov is confident that the Kremlin recognizes Chechnya as the permanent and unchangeable southern border of Russia. He believes firmly that Putin, Medveyev, and Vladislav Surkov understand this. Surkov, Putin’s top aide and ideologue, was himself born in the Checheno-Ingush SSR. He is also presumably aware that his clan benefits greatly by establishing close relations with the Russians.
By geographic chance Chechnya, Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan are some of the countries over which vital oil lines must pass. The United States holds no special animus against Muslims, and would definitely prefer not to war with the peoples of Islam. The United States has supported Albanian Muslims in Yugoslavia and now supports some Turkic and Iranic Muslims in the Caucasus. In doing so, the US has antagonized Christians in Serbia, Russia, Armenia and Georgia.
However, America, like the other great industrial countries, needs oil to survive in an increasingly competitive world and would much rather deal with obliging governments in the countries sitting on the mineral wealth. Indirectly, the indigenous peoples of the Middle East have become innocent victims of the Great Game simply because the “black gold” of the Game happens to be in their homeland. Add to that America and NATO have used dissident elements in the Caucasus, as in Ukraine, to further provoke, disrupt and possibly remove Russian control in those regions. The US builds military bases in East Europe and Georgia that it claims will protect us from the Iranians, which of course is nonsense and can only irritate the Russians. In reality, the Cold War never really ended. Indeed, the temperatures are heating up again. Just as the United States is sensitive to and finds unacceptable a potentially hostile power establishing military bases in America’s soft underbelly — the Caribbean — as the Cuba Crisis showed, Russia under present circumstances is justified in having the same concern in its own backyard.
The presence of Israel among the major world powers (UK, USA, Russia, China, India) contending for a stake in the Game may surprise some, but is easily understood. Israel is an important Near Eastern power. Her military power and monopoly on nuclear weaponry in the immediate area make her a regional power to be reckoned with. Moreover, Caucasian Jews have been in the area for centuries and have a long-standing familiarity with the region. Finally, since the Yeltsin Administration, Jews have become oligarchs by controlling much of Russia’s mineral wealth and, as noted above, there is continuing cooperation between Berezovsky and well-placed Georgian Jews aimed at controlling mineral wealth. In general, Jews are most likely to profit as middlemen in mineral-resources transactions between the major powers rather than act as producers, refiners, or even major consumers of oil.
Finally, although Israel is not a member of NATO, the United States maintains a special relationship with her economically, militarily, and financially. Because of this, other members of NATO fear being dragged into other Middle Eastern adventures against countries with whom they have had good relations.
Whether the United States can have it both ways in the Near East—enjoying peaceful, mutual beneficial relations with the Muslim world while at the same time maintaining its special relationship with Israel—is highly problematic but possible. Whether peace can settle in over the Caspian Basin and the Caucasian land bridge, where the treasure of the “black gold” is of such importance and of such a magnitude, is probably impossible.