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You are here: Home > Publications > Obama and the Caucasus

Obama and the Caucasus

Ziba Norman, 6 November 2008

Obama seal

The incoming US administration will face a range of foreign policy challenges around the world. What changes in US policy in the Caucasus region should we expect?

In the few short hours since Obama has been President-elect, Moscow has announced it will deploy missiles in Kaliningrad. Whilst the US transitions to a new administration, Russia will seek to lock in gains made during the Russo-Georgian War. And so the next few months could prove tricky.

Obama will be just as concerned about Russia's neo-imperialist tendencies and expansionism as the Bush administration is, and if his administration is to be successful it will have to work with the Europeans to counter this very real threat. He is very well regarded by the Europeans and so this may make his task easier, though in the end he may have to look for more creative solutions than those previously explored if security is to be guaranteed in the Caucasus. Cooperation will be key, and the goodwill that he now enjoys immediately after his election victory should greatly assist.

If Obama is able to open a constructive dialogue with Iran, and there are genuine signs that both the US and Iran are ready for this -- barring any extreme and unforeseen events -- then the calculus in the region may be about to change for the better. A new understanding between the US and Iran would also diminish Russia's supremacy in the region, and re-establish balance.

As for the possibility of a breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it certainly appears as if there is movement on Karabakh, with the war in Georgia operating as a catalyst. Of course the devil will be in the detail, and it is very important that any agreement entered into is "complete" and does not sow the seeds for future conflicts. There will be pressure now to put something in place before Obama takes office, but care should be taken to ensure that Russia's long-term role is kept to a minimum. Russia should be facilitators but not guarantors.

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