"Sphere of Influence" - Chechnya and Beyond
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Speaking: Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski - Betty Blair
as Empire - Quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski
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Doctorate Bestowed on Brzezinski - Zbigniew Brzezinski
The following article
is an edited version of the speech that Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
made in Washington, DC at a dinner organized by the USACC (U.S.-Azerbaijan
Chamber of Commerce) on February 15, 2000 to honor President
Heydar Aliyev's visit to the U.S.
A little more than five years ago I went to Baku and delivered
a letter to President Aliyev on behalf of President Clinton.
We had a late-night discussion that lasted several hours. It
resulted in an historic decision being made that weekend by President
Aliyev. The decision was that Azerbaijan - in reaching out to
the world - would not allow itself to be dependent on any single
line of access to the rest of the world. Specifically, it meant
that Azerbaijan would develop other pipeline routes and not be
dependent only on the pipeline north via Russia to the Black
Sea port at Novorossiysk. Azerbaijan would develop multiple access
to the rest of the world, including a Western route through Georgia,
to the Black Sea at Supsa. That was an historic decision. It
was significant to the future of Azerbaijan and to the future
of the region.
It is important to emphasize the significance of that decision,
especially today, a little more than five years later. Given
the recent developments in Chechnya, what we see developing in
the Southern and Northern Caucasus are two alternative concepts
of that region's relationship to the rest of the world. One concept
involves the notion of open access, multiple participation, and
the involvement of many nations in the development of future
prosperity of the Caspian Sea region and beyond - which includes
The other concept emphasizes that one power - Russia - should
control access to the region, and failure to exercise such monopoly
control over access to the region represents a significant geopolitical
defeat for them, since they once held it. These are two fundamentally
opposing concepts about the development of the future of that
Since about 1995, American policy in this region has been committed
to the idea of geopolitical pluralism, which means that there
should be multiple access to the region, which will result in
prosperity that will benefit all concerned, including immediate
neighbors of the region and Russia. This has been the policy
of the United States and it has resulted in America's strong
support for the independence of Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan
as well as other States.
In fact, I think it's accurate to say that this major strategic
shift in American policy took place in 1994. Up until then, the
United States had been inclined to place primary emphasis on
its own relationship with Russia and to define that relationship
as the central and most important strategic relationship, thus
assigning a lower priority to the independence of the new post-Soviet
That policy was altered and the U.S., since then, has not only
remained committed to the idea of state independence for the
post-Soviet states, but has also been actively engaged in promoting
initiatives designed to facilitate and advance such an important
Baku-Supsa [the pipeline west from Baku to Georgia's Black Sea
port of Supsa] has become reality [in 1999]. Baku-Jeyhan is a
shared objective [Baku-Jeyhan is the route designated for the
major export of oil from Baku through Georgia and then south
to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Jeyhan]. This route reflects
the shared strategic commitment to a concept of openness, pluralism
and multiple participation in the promotion of prosperity and
stability in the region.
What Chechnya Is
In many respects, the conflict between these two basic concepts
of which I have spoken provides insight into the real significance
of the tragic events that have been transpiring in Chechnya.
The issue in Chechnya is not about the unity of Russia as was
argued by some analysts five years ago. Nor is it about terrorism,
as has been echoed by some proponents recently.
The issue is whether or not a region can develop on the basis
of its own diversity - on the basis of its own identity. I sense
that the U.S. is now at a very sensitive and difficult stage
in our relations concerning the region. These alternative concepts
of the region's development are, indeed, imbalanced and contradictory.
Therefore, I think there is a danger that the new Russian President,
Mr. Putin, will interpret the American public's passivity towards
Chechnya as meaning that Russia has a free hand to do as it pleases,
not only in the Northern Caucasus, but in the Southern Caucasus
In my view, Mr. Putin has three basic priorities. The first is
to establish order within Russia itself. But establishing order
is not necessarily the same thing as being a democrat or even,
to some extent, being a reformer.
Being a reformer does not necessarily mean that one is a democrat.
I think we have been somewhat hasty in so quickly defining Mr.
Putin as a great reformer and, by implication, a democrat. One
can, as they say, "make the trains run on time" without
being a democrat.
Secondly, I think Mr. Putin does, indeed, want to improve relations
with the West. This goal is not in conflict with his other priorities.
On the contrary, it is quite consistent because Russia is far
too weak and far too troubled to afford a major conflict with
the West. Moreover, stabilization of relations with the West,
built precisely on the premise that the present Russian government
is a reform-minded government, may give that government a greater
opportunity to pursue its third objective.
The present Russian leadership is clearly attempting to re-establish
a Russian sphere of influence throughout most of the space of
the former Soviet Union. Note that I emphasize a "sphere
of influence" - not re-establishment of the old Soviet Union
- but a "sphere of influence". Unfortunately, this
priority of establishing a "sphere of influence" interprets
the presence and access between the outside world and that region
as a threat to its own interests. These goals have been explicitly
stated by a number of contemporary Russian leaders.
This is why, Mr. President, I think your visit here to the United
States is especially timely. It is important that we, in the
United States, be conscious of the fact that our interests and
our commitments are at stake. This should be explicit and clear
to all concerned parties. It is important that initiatives be
undertaken to promote regional stability such as that proposed
by the Turkish President Demirel in response to what has happened
in Chechnya. Your visit, Mr. President, here to the United States,
therefore, has strategic - even historical - significance.
I have been asked to make a toast. You, Mr. President, have already
been toasted together with the President of the United States.
So let me, instead, raise my glass to the joint recognition that
Azerbaijan, under your leadership, and Georgia are both vital
as independent States to regional stability. And that the United
States has a direct national interest in your security and independence.
Therefore, join me in this toast - "To the security and
independence of Azerbaijan!"
Dr. Brzezinski was head of the National
Security Council under U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Currently
he is a Counselor at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies [CSIS] and Professor of American Foreign Policy at the
Nitze School of Advanced International Studies [SAIS] at Johns
(8.1) Spring 2000.
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