Russia has started to strengthen its position in the eastern and northern part of the Black Sea, after becoming neighbors with NATO forces in the west and southern part of the region as a result of eastern expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance. In fact, Russia gained some privileges in 1990s, thanks to the emerging conflicts and its psychological influence or structural superiority on Newly Independent States. Before these privileges coming to an end Russia has taken decisive steps that will shape the balances in the region in the upcoming 25 years.
Russian fleet in Crimea has a strategic importance in terms of preserving Moscows dominance in the Black Sea and being able to reach to the Mediterranean when necessary. Accordingly, the very essence of the existence of the fleet is one of the main reasons behind Russias aggressive reflexes recently. In this sense, causing a great concern in the Kremlin, the debate on Russian fleets existence -which was guaranteed until 2017 by an agreement that goes back to 1997- acted as a catalyst that gave a big blow to Yushchenkoss political career in Ukrainian politics. As can be recalled Yushchenko started a new rhetoric just after the Russo-Georgian war, which is based on the arguments that Russian fleet should leave Crimea and Russia should not use its navy in Ukraine for its irredentist policies.
Consequently, Russia had to face the fact that it had to deal with a similar scenario in Ukraine, which is perceived as a natural part of fatherland, like in Baltic region that it encountered after Estonia, Lithuania and Latvias membership to NATO. To tame this kind of twisted ideas, Russia started to use energy instrument more efficiently on Ukraine to weaken Yushchenko administration and the existing system, and also stimulated its relations with the opponents of the pro-Western leader. This aggressive change in Russias policies created a favorable environment for Yanukovich to come to the power in 2010 presidential elections. As a result, pro-NATO discourse eliminated from Ukrainian political sphere and Russia gained the privilege of keeping its fleet in Crimea up until 2042 with the signed agreement with Kiev in April 2010.
In fact, Ukraine only represents a small portion of the latest change of balances in the region. In this respect, the dynamics that emerged after August 2010 can be examined to be able to understand how important the balances of the Black Sea for Russias strategic concerns. According to some experts, having well-founded concerns regarding its existence in Crimea, Russia did not hesitate to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetias independence in spite of having a fragile-federal structure back at home. Recognizing Abkhazias independence, Russia would extend its coastline in the Black Sea, and would guarantee the existence of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea. Thus, Russia could use Ochamchira port efficiently and Plan B would be ready when necessary.
In this respect, Russian Federation does not hesitate to enlarge its presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the expense of violating the ceasefire treaty with Georgia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia agreed to host Russian military bases for a period of 49 years. Currently there are 1700 Russian troops in Guduata town of Abhkazia and this number is expected to reach 3000 with the new agreement. By the way, Ochamchira port is being rehabilitated for the efficient use of Russian Navy. Moscow also deployed S300 air defense systems in Abkhazia, but according to Georgian authorities this is an open violation of the ceasefire. Yet, it should be emphasized here the deployment of powerful systems like S300 missiles, does not feel like a measure taken against Georgia, rather a message to NATO and the US.
Ariel Cohen argues that Russias next step would be rehabilitation of the biggest airbase in the South Caucasus, which is located in Bomboro near Guduata. This is the largest military airfield in the Southern Caucasus, boasting a 4-kilometer long runway, thus making it a strategically coveted facility. The runway ends less than 100 meters from the sea, allowing aircraft to take off at very low altitudes over the sea and proceed undetected by enemy radar in the initial phases of flight.  When all these restorations and deployment of troops completed it is assumed that there will be 4000-5000 Russian troops in Abkhazia. Thus, Russian dominance will strengthen not only in the Black Sea, but also in the Caucasus.
Moscow also increases its grip in South Ossetia as well. Signing a similar agreement with the de facto government of Tskhinvali, Moscow aims to deploy 1700 troops, T-62 tanks, light armored vehicles, air defense units and aircrafts in the seperatist region. Not hesitating to flex its muscles, Moscow also guarantees the security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by taking some efficient defensive measures.
Where does Armenia Stand in the Big Picture?
Armenia could not avoid becoming a satellite of Moscow, in spite of rising nationalism against Russian chauvinism that created a national awareness among Armenians. Being a landlocked country, having limited resources that cannot keep up Armenian economy without foreign transfers, and having a security deficit, Yerevan has become an outpost of Moscow in the post-Cold War period. Russian dominance in Armenian politics is not limited in hard politics but also in economic sphere. In time, Russia has become a monopoly in energy, mining, and petro-chemical sectors of the country and holds a certain share in telecommunication.  This creates an asymmetric interdependence in favor of Moscow and makes it difficult for Yerevan to pursue an independent foreign policy.
Non-resolved Karabagh problem, which poses security risks, is one of the main reasons for Armenias seek for Russias support in the region. Unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan has succeeded to find new funds after the independence thanks to energy resources of the country. This creates an unbalanced situation between Yerevan and Baku in terms of military expenditure. Azerbaijans military budget rose to $1.1 billion in 2007, whereas Armenias is assumed to be around $280 million. Apart from having better weapons than 1990s, Azeri army has gained a well-disciplined character thanks to the reforms implemented in the last decade. Relying more on its economy and army, from time to time Baku does not hesitate to give messages to Armenia that the military solution to the problem still remains on the table. Furthermore, Azeri Parliament recently approved a new Military Doctrine. This document officially puts forward the reasons of casus belli and underlines the fact that Armenias uncompromising attitude for a political solution of the problem can cause emerge of a new war in the region (Article 43).
A war between Azerbaijan and Armenia will have severe consequences than the Russo-Georgian War in 2008. Neither Russia, nor the US desires de facto stability to turn into a war and cause deeper crises in the region. In this sense, Kremlin is trying to play a balancing role in the South Caucasus to be able to preserve its control over Armenia, while developing its relations with Azerbaijan, which has gained momentum recently. Russias balancing role has a vital importance for the faith of North Caucasian Republics of the Federation, as well as Moscows hegemony that it has started to rebuild in the South Caucasus.
Under these circumstances, timing of the agreement between Russia and Armenia to extent the right of keeping a military base in Armenias second biggest city Gyumri until
Two reasons can be proposed for this interpretation. Firstly, the extension was done so early. 1995 agreement expires in 2020 and there is almost 10 years more to discuss the faith of the base. Secondly, Armenia is a member of Common Security Treaty Organization, and it enjoys the protection of Russia against a possible attack. Thus, the military base in Gyumri is not necessary to protect Armenian territory and people.. Yet, it has a deterring impact on Azerbaijan.
On the other side of the coin Russia also mitigates the messages coming from Yerevan that emphasizes Russia will be protecting Armenia better than before with the new agreement. Sergey Lavrov indicates that after the agreement the role of Gyumri base did not change, and also added that he believes that no state in the region plans to launch new military operations, because it would be catastrophic.
Even though the government seems to be satisfied with the agreement, Armenian opposition criticizes the decision of extension. They argue that the new agreement makes Armenia more dependent on Russia. Raffi Hovanissian says that the base is also a burden for Armenia. It is a Russian base abroad that Russia does not pay any rent or reimbursement.
Russia is playing the role of balancing in the region without changing its position radically. In other words, it is telling Azerbaijan that the developing relations between Baku and Moscow are not at the level of ignoring a war against Armenia. On the other hand, it scratches Yerevans back.
In conclusion, Russia aims to decrease the tension in the region with the new agreement. However, Moscow also strengthens its position in the Black Sea and the Caucasus by taking another complimentary step to build up a stronghold in the post-Soviet space after its maneuvers in Ukraine and separatist regions of Georgia. The new agreements shape the next 20-30 years and creates new barriers for those who intend to challenge Russias position in the region, while building wave breakers in front of Russias fragile region, the North Caucasus.
Hasan Selim Ozertem
USAK - Center for Eurasian Studies
 Russia Gains Military Base in Abkhazia, RFERL, 17 February 2010.
 Russian S-300 Systems in Abkhazia Threaten Regional Balance of Forces Georgia, RIA Novosti, 11 August 2010.
 Ariel Cohen, Georgia: Russia Plans Three Military Bases in Abkhazia, Eurasianet, 5 February 2009; http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insightb/articles/eav020609g.shtml.
 Marianna Girgoryan, Armenia: Opposition Blasts Russias 49-Year Lease on Military Base, Eurasianet.org, 12 February 2010; http://www.eurasianet.org/node/61730.
 Jean-Cristophe Peuch, Armenia Azerbaijan Mull CFE Treaty Withdrawal in Year of Many Uncertainties for OSCE, Eurasianet. Org, 6 January 2008; http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav010708a.shtml.
 For the full text of the article please refer to http://meclis.gov.az/?/az/law/183#comment.
 According to the previous agreement signed in 1995, Russia would be keeping its troops in Gyumri until 2020.
 Maria Kiselyova, Four Armenian and One Azeri Killed in Karabakh Clash, Reuters, 19 June 2010.
 Daisy Sindelar, Deal Signed on Extending Russian Military Presence in Armenia, RFERL, 20 August 2010.
Russian FM Downplays Importance of Armenian Defense Pact, RFERL, 19 August 2010.
 Raffi K. Hovanissian, Whither CSTO: Russian Power, Armenian Sovereignty, and a Region at Risk, Times.am, 14 August 2010; http://times.am/2010/08/14/whither-csto-russian-power-armenian-sovereignty-and-a-region-at-risk/.
Wednesday, 25 August 2010