John Bolton Thunders Through Caucasus

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US President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton this week paid a visit to Moscow and the Caucasus. While meeting with the Russian officialdom and in particular with President Vladimir Putin, he was uncharacteristically coy and subdued, so much so that MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow ridiculed him in one episode.

But once he arrived in the Caucasus, he was back to his old brash, bellicose and blunt self.

His objective was no secret although it was couched in a palatable package: he was in the region in pursuit of peace and stability. His words and actions, however, left no doubt that he was there to make political mischief.

His mission was two-fold: further isolating Russia and “squeezing Iran,” as he termed it.

All that turbulent region needs is more American meddling to raise the temperature further.

During his tour, Mr. Bolton visited Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and in each country, he tried to further delineate the fault lines.

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In Tbilisi, he reiterated that Georgia’s admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) structure was still under consideration, the issue being one of the components of a major policy of containing Russia. Incidentally, this policy is in violation of the agreement between President Ronald Reagan and USSR General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev which stated that NATO would not escalate any further threats to Russian’s border.

In fact, it was thought that with the demise of the Cold War, the NATO structure would become obsolete, as had the Warsaw Pact. But once the Soviet Union collapsed and Moscow was rendered powerless, the understanding between the two former superpowers fell apart and once again NATO was weaponized to wage the emerging new Cold War.

Besides encircling Russia’s borders, the structure is also maintained to trap European countries under Washington’s control. Although Russia has devolved into a second-rate country, the Russian threat is being used to justify the NATO buildup and expansion.

Mr. Bolton was very calculating in his statements. He ranked Georgia and Azerbaijan as strategic allies while Armenia was deemed to be a country of prime interest. Georgia was being rewarded for supporting the US’s policy of Russian containment and Azerbaijan for supporting American war efforts in Afghanistan and partnering with Israel. Armenia was not praised for any advantageous action, but was given the option to help with the US policy toward Iran.

Mr. Bolton addressed the issue of the settlement of the Karabakh conflict in a peaceful way. The US, as a co-chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, would push for a settlement agreeable to both parties. In the light of departing US Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills’ parting inflammatory remarks about unilateral territorial concessions, the US is dealing suspiciously in promoting a deal. Although the specifics were not spelled out by Mr. Bolton, here in Yerevan there are speculations that the Karabakh settlement could come at the price of territorial concessions.

Ordinary people and political pundits believe that at least a recommendation of that nature was discussed during private meetings between the US envoy and Nikol Pashinyan. Mr. Bolton had hardly left Yerevan before the former Minister of Defense of Armenia Vigen Sargsyan characterized Pashinyan’s foreign policy as a debacle.

Mr. Bolton dropped a bomb when he referred to a coming decision by the Trump administration to reverse the longstanding Article 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which the US Congress had adopted to ban arms sales to Azerbaijan for its aggressive posture against Armenia. But, as usual, Congress had allowed a loophole to bypass its decision. The president was given the power to waive the ban and every successive president used his power to render the congressional action as a legal fig leaf.

The US envoy further aggravated the matter when he offered to sell Armenia arms. That offer was two-pronged: to balance and justify American arms sales to Azerbaijan and to undercut one of Russia’s main sources of influence on Armenia.

He knew full well that Armenia was not in a position to buy those arms from the US for a number of reasons, the least of which was the exorbitant cost of those weapons; Armenia buys Russian arms at a domestic price because of its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Besides, the Russian base in Armenia provides the servicing center for the Russian arms. To top it all off, switching its arms procurement policy from Russia to the US would mean a political shift replete with tremendous consequences.

Mr. Bolton also touched upon the Iran issue, which has become a cornerstone of Washington’s regional policy. He repeated the usual mantra that Iran has become “the central bank of terrorism,” that it is meddling in Syria and all that rhetoric which has become so common. Iran is blamed for terrorism while US arms shipped to Saudi Arabia in turn end up in the hands of terrorists who have rendered Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen bloodbaths.

Mr. Bolton praised Pashinyan and his Velvet Revolution, adding that the prime minister will have a stronger hand in implementing his policies. There was a subtle message in that praise, meaning that Armenia must participate in implementing US sanctions against Iran, as the border between Armenia and Iran will come under severe pressure by the US. He also suggested that Armenian deal with the outside world through Georgia, knowing full well that Georgia time and again has demonstrated to be an unreliable trading partner, hampering Armenia’s relations with the outside world.

Armenia’s only two partners in the region are in the crosshairs of Washington. The Cold War agenda against Russia is intensifying and the hot war with Iran is on the radar.

President Trump raised the ante with North Korea, even threatening to wipe it off the face of the map and he was successful in bringing that country’s leader to the negotiation table. If he is using the same tactic against Iran, let’s hope it is successful. Otherwise, a catastrophe will face the US as well as the region.

 

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