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BELARUS REPORTEDLY COMPILES LISTS OF RESTRICTED AREAS FOR FOREIGNERS. The Belarusian government has made a list of areas and facilities that foreign citizens may visit only with a special pass, Interfax reported on 9 February, quoting an unidentified source at the Belarusian Interior Ministry. "The list includes the premises of all military units, border zones, the frontier line, administrative buildings of military units, and restricted areas of the Chornobyl zone," the source said. Foreigners will also need permission to visit institutions and organizations that hold state secrets. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT BANS PRIVATIZATION OF METALLURGICAL GIANT... The Verkhovna Rada on 9 February voted to include the Nikopol Ferroalloys Plant on a list of enterprises that cannot be privatized, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. The measure was supported by 287 deputies. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the 2003 sale of a 25 percent stake in Nikopol for some $80 million to Viktor Pinchuk, the son-in-law of former President Leonid Kuchma, was illegal and returned it to the state. The government intended to sell a 50 percent stake plus one share in Nikopol at an open auction later this year. JM

...AND FOREIGN TROOP EXERCISES IN 2006. The Verkhovna Rada on 9 February rejected President Viktor Yushchenko's motion to allow foreign troops to practice on military training grounds in Ukraine in 2006, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Only 215 deputies voted in support of the measure, which required 226 votes to pass. Under Ukrainian law, parliament must review each year whether to allow foreign troops on Ukrainian soil. "It is advantageous for Ukraine because the matter concerns creating combat-like conditions [for our troops]," Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko commented on military exercises in Ukraine with the participation of foreign troops. "It is economically advantageous for us because the lion's share of expenses on holding such exercises is covered by other states." JM

UKRAINIAN OFFICIAL SAYS DELAY OF NEW CUSTOMS REGULATIONS IN TRANSDNIESTER WILL CONTINUE. Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Deputy Secretary Serhiy Pyrozhkov said on 9 February that the delay in implementing new customs regulations on the Transdniester section of the Moldovan border will continue, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. "In the 21st century, confrontational methods yield no result," Pyrozhkov said after visiting Tiraspol with his Russian counterpart Yury Zubakov. "We consider it to be very important to remove all obstacles to a normal life for people in the Dniester region," he added. In December, Kyiv and Chisinau signed an agreement stipulating that goods imported and exported from Transdniester will be required to clear Moldovan customs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2006). The regulations were scheduled to go into effect on 25 January, but Ukraine has delayed their implementation. Stefan Secareanu, a lawmaker in Moldova's parliament from the Christian Democratic People's Party (PPCD), said Kyiv's decision can be "explained by certain interests, related particularly to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Ukraine," Flux reported on 9 February. BW

As the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia prepare for a summit meeting on 10-11 February that could yield a historic breakthrough in the Karabakh peace process, the challenge of securing any peace agreement will undoubtedly depend on the military situation on the ground. And with the necessary considerations of withdrawal, demilitarization, and peacekeeping, the American military presence in the region may hold the key to any hopes for durable and lasting security.

As the region has been subject to the post-11 September 2001 global shift in the geopolitical landscape, one of the most dynamic aspects of this shift has been the direct engagement, and presence, of the U.S. military. For the first time in history, the United States is now operationally active in each of the three countries of the South Caucasus. As with a number of other distant regions and countries, geographic isolation no longer meant strategic marginalization in terms of post-11 September U.S. military policy and planning.

Although the establishment of a cease-fire agreement in May 1994 effectively "fixed and froze" the conflict sides, the U.S. military presence may actually be a dynamic force of its own in "defrosting" the frozen conflict into an intensified jockeying for position by both sides. Yet there is a backdrop of undeclared war and the unresolved conflict remains the core obstacle to long-term development and integration due to longstanding regional trade, transport, and energy blockades and embargos. Even more disruptive, however, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue still serves to define and deform the political parameters in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. Thus, the U.S. military and security mission in Azerbaijan may emerge as a pivotal starting point for lasting regional stabilization.

Although Georgia is in many ways the "center of gravity" for the U.S. military in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan offers unique considerations for America's war on terrorism. Specifically, Azerbaijan's strategic security has been redefined, far surpassing Washington's earlier overemphasis on oil and gas pipelines to reflect a much more sophisticated agenda. It may also include greater American responsibility, however, as any progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh talks will most likely bring new demands and expectations by both sides.

The military architecture of the U.S. presence in Azerbaijan is also rooted in the new, post-11 September strategy of moving away from a large "footprint," relying on formal military bases, to smaller forward operating locations, or "lily pads."

In Azerbaijan, the U.S. military favored the establishment of even smaller and less visible "cooperative security locations," tactical facilities with pre-positioned stock that provide contingency access. By establishing these locations, U.S forces can leverage greater mobility and facilitate faster and, hence, more effective counterproliferation missions along Azerbaijan's southern border with Iran and northern borders with Georgia and Daghestan.

The U.S. military also expanded bilateral relations with Azerbaijan. However, this military-to-military relationship only blossomed after the U.S. Congress altered its prohibition on most U.S. government-to-government aid to Azerbaijan until it ends "blockades and other offensive use of force against Armenia." That prohibition, enacted into law in 1992 as Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, was modified in 2002 to allow for an annual presidential waiver to allow for a significant expansion of U.S. military and security assistance.

Currently, there are four essential pillars of U.S. military interests in Azerbaijan, comprising broad areas of security driven by the new demands of waging a global war on terror. The first two focus on the general goals of fostering regional stability and security, and forging cooperative assistance in countering terrorism. The third and fourth pillars, more specific in nature, include countering the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons, and maintaining access to the Caucasus air corridor (essential for projecting power into Central Asia and Afghanistan).

To accomplish these goals, the U.S. military's European Command (EUCOM) has launched several different initiatives, focusing both on the region as a whole and in Azerbaijan specifically. The regional-based initiative, the South Caucasus Clearinghouse, emulates the Baltic model of establishing a new forum "to serve as a multinational forum for interested countries to share information on their security assistance programs for Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan; to de-conflict those programs; and to determine areas in which to collaborate or cooperate."

A second initiative, tailored to reflect both Azerbaijan's unique security needs and its linkage to Central Asia, consists of a four-prong effort of counterproliferation, counterterrorism, and hydrocarbon security. This effort, the so-called Caspian Guard, was launched in 2003 and involves both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and focuses on maritime and border security in the Caspian Sea.

The Caspian Guard incorporates integrated airspace and maritime surveillance and control, command and control, and encourages greater coordination and cooperation in crisis response efforts by the Azerbaijani and Kazakh naval forces. The effort was further bolstered in July 2004 by a $20 million program to provide training and equipment for Azerbaijan's Maritime Border Guard. Specialized tactical training and combined exercises are also provided by U.S. Special Operations Forces.

This U.S. Caspian initiative has also sparked a Russian reaction, demonstrated by Russian Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov's proposal last month for the creation of a Russian-centered Caspian naval force. This Russian initiative, although mimicking the well-established U.S. effort, seeks to outflank the Caspian Guard by inviting Iran and Turkmenistan. But the real significance of this Russian proposal is its clear challenge of U.S. military ties with Baku. And this challenge may yet prove effective, as the Azerbaijani response is still unclear, suggesting an attempt to pressure the Americans, please the Russians, or even a tactical play to exploit both.

But overall, in light of the opportunities inherent in these sophisticated initiatives, not to mention the assistance from membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, how has the Azerbaijani military benefited from the U.S. military engagement?

Ironically, the Azerbaijani armed forces have seen little in return, with a limited set of meager results. Despite a massive increase in defense spending and an even mightier chorus of bellicose threats by the Azerbaijani leadership, the military as a whole remains subject to serious neglect. Increased Western and U.S. training and military education for Azerbaijani officers is stymied by a system of promotion and assignment governed more by personal ties than by professional merit. Even impressive experience in overseas peacekeeping deployments in Kosova, Afghanistan, and Iraq go unrecognized upon return to Azerbaijan. And in terms of military policy, any deepening of ties with the United States or NATO is also seen as secondary to the more strategic need to expand military relations with Russia, both to respond to Armenia's position as a key Russian ally and to reinforce Azerbaijan's arsenal of Soviet-era weapons.

There are, moreover, two entrenched obstacles to harnessing military reform in Azerbaijan. First, the Azerbaijani armed forces have faced an unseen enemy: institutionalized corruption. With a combination of the Defense Ministry itself as a long-serving center of state corruption and the Defense Minster himself as the longest serving defense minister in all of the former Soviet Union, real reform has never been allowed to take hold. This is a legacy of President Ilham Aliyev's father, the cunning former KGB General and late President Heydar Aliyev, who saw the military as the only true threat to his power.

Yet the second obstacle, which has become increasingly visible in recent months, is perhaps the most challenging, namely the politization of the military. Despite its repeated threats of renewed war to retake Nagorno-Karabakh militarily, the Azerbaijani leadership, whose lack of legitimacy in the eyes of the population constitutes a dangerous vulnerability, still fears a strong military. This vulnerability has been exacerbated by the regime's fearful observation of political change in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. In this way, the Azerbaijani perspective sees the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a political, not a military issue, and a source of nationalist credentials deemed essential as the most effective way to ensure regime survival.