The Caucasus Mountains
Geopolitics, Military Strategy, and a Tragic History

The Caucasus Mountains are home to some of the world's oldest civilizations. Evidence of settlements, agriculture, and wine making here stretch back thousands of years. The Caucasus are also sandwiched between what eventually grew into some of the world's most powerful civilizations: the Russians, the Turks (Ottomans) and the Persians (Iranians).

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The Caucasus stretch from the Black Sea to the Caspian, creating an easily defensible barrier and, thus, the three civilizations fought for control of the mountains for centuries in order to best defend themselves from the others. Russia eventually emerged from the geopolitical conflict victorious, but has continued to pay a high price to maintain its control.

The mountains have always been populated by ethnicities distinct from those who tried to dominate them. Those peoples have traditionally used the mountains as well to defend themselves and resist the rule of others.

The lower Caucasus are now independent states, having declared independence as the USSR crumbled. Russia maintains control over the higher and more strategic upper range it has fought two wars there since the fall of the USSR to maintain its position.

Russia's maintenance of geostrategic imperatives explains several actions that Russia has taken that many in West consider counterproductive or irrational. For example, Russia maintains a large stockpile of nuclear weapons as it believes that that is the most effective deterrent to keeping large military powers such as China, the US, or the EU from invading. Conscription, costly in social terms, is needed because Russia's military victories, fought on Russia's plentiful, flat lands, have always required massive amounts of boots on the ground. Russia's very expensive wars and rebuilding projects in the Caucasus Mountains have been undertaken because the Caucasus form one of Russia's few naturally fortified borders and, furthermore, one that borders two historical rivals – the Turkic and Persian civilizations. 

Many might argue that these imperatives are outdated by decades. The Cold War is over and the current major incarnations of the Turkic and Persian civilizations (Turkey and Iran, respectively) are not likely to invade Russia anytime soon. However, Russian history has been dominated by invasions for over a millennium with either Russia pushing out or its enemies pushing in. Russia's military is not as concerned with current conditions, but rather assumes that anything is possible in the future and that if Russia does not keep its imperatives, especially its geographic imperatives, Russia will one day be no more.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol gives Russia access to the Black Sea and the ability to effectively patrol Russia's sea borders there and control potential supply lines that might be used by some future army to take the Caucasus Mountains and reduce Russia's ability to defend its southern borders. Thus, Sevastopol is another Russian geostrategic imperative and can explain Russia's strong and potentially expensive actions on the Crimean peninsula.

Thus, while the Caucasus have traditionally striven for independence, Russia sees maintaining control over them as an absolute need.

Post Soviet Conflict - a Program from SRAS
based in Kiev, Ukraine

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2010-08-05 - Central Asia and the Caucasus (Resources)