Syria, Iran and the South Caucasus

Alexander KRYLOV

Doctor of History


 Syria is a new example of the “Arab spring.” If compared with the earlier events in Tunisia and Egypt, it is obvious that the extent of interference of foreign powers into the processes is gradually more and more intensifying. In Tunisia and Egypt, the change of power partly resembled the “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet space, but in Libya the opposition forces (even with the foreign assistance) apparently were unable to topple the Gaddafi regime. So the events developed differently, and the result was achieved only with the foreign military interference, although formally the war was not declared.

The Libyan scenario is repeated in Syria: the opposition forces, enjoying the external support, are obviously unable to topple Bashar al-Asad by themselves, so they call for the foreign military intervention. The United States and the EU countries have refrained from interfering that way for the present: two permanent members of the UN Security Council, i.e. Russia and China, are against such a scenario. The Syrian example is important for the South Caucasus for two reasons:

1. Syria shows that at present even the politically stable and quite successfully developing countries, not having mutual treaties for the military assistance with influential states or military blocks, can become a target for an external interference and quite soon they find themselves in the state of anarchy and civil war. In case of the massive external interference, the “Arab spring” gets high chances to win.

2. The area of the political and socio-economic instability in the vast region of the North Africa and Greater Middle East is continuously enlarging, which becomes one of the most pressing problems for the whole contemporary world. If the process goes on that way, the South Caucasus and Central Asia, immediately neighboring the mentioned zone of instability, will be exposed to the increasingly negative impact from the south. Very probably, the post-Soviet states, situated here, can be another phase of enlargement of the available area of instability, just as that instability from the North Africa started to spread in the southern direction (the  revolt, followed the toppling of Gaddafi, and the collapse of the Central African state of Mali, is an apparent example of all that).

If the United States and its allies succeed in ousting Bashar al-Asad from power and solve the Syrian problem on their own, it would raise the chances for suppressing Israel’s enemies close to its borders as well (Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups, supported by Syria and Iran). In this case Iran will lose all its allies in the region, and the military option for the solution of the Iranian problem will become much more probable. The actions of Iran’s enemies may repeat the Libyan scenario with the preliminary preparation of the external intervention by means of the comprehensive support of the opposition, the intensified propagandist attack against the ruling regime, toughening economic sanctions, arresting the bank accounts, etc.

Azerbaijan can play an important part in the operation against Iran. The discussion of the problem of the Southern Azerbaijan and the possibility of changing the Constitution of the country with renaming it as the Northern Azerbaijan, which was held in the Azerbaijani Milli Mejlis (parliament), the recent frequent disclosures of the subversive activities of the Iran special services on the Azerbaijani territory, etc., show that there are political forces in the country, expecting dividends from Azerbaijan’s participation in the anti-Iranian campaign.  Probably, such hopes are attributed to the long-discussed plans for reshaping the borders of the Greater Middle East, envisaging dismemberment of Iraq and Iran, as well as the change of the most of states in the region.

One of the first advocates of the idea to solve the U.S. problems in this region just the way that have been mentioned above, is Ralf Peters, the regular officer of the U.S. special services[2], who published an article “How a Better Middle East Would Look”[3] in the U.S. “Armed Forces Journal”.  The article raised quite an intense interest in the United States and was named as “Ralf Peters’s plan.” According to this plan, Iraq should be disintegrated into three parts, just as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In addition, plan envisages cutting off the eastern part of Turkey for the benefit of the newly created state of Kurdistan, handing over the Syrian seaside area to Lebanon, a part of the Iranian territory to Azerbaijan and the sacred mount of Ararat to Armenia, etc.

Some time ago the article by Ralf Peters and the map of the new “Greater Middle East,” published by him, aroused an extremely negative reaction in the region. The Muslim states were all upset as one, unlike the peoples, lacking statehood (first of all, the Kurds), displaying absolutely different attitude. No wonder that after the publication in “Armed Forces Journal” the Kurds, inspired with a real perspective of getting their own independent statehood, carried out a series of terrorist acts at the resorts of the Turkish Antalya.

The desire to change the “dubious” American allies for new ones, loyal to Washington, has its reasons. Turkey criticized the military operation in Iraq, now displays the same negative attitude toward the possible strike against Iran; Ankara has increasingly strained relations with Israel, is against the enlargement of the military presence of non-regional states on the Black sea, etc. The situation in Pakistan, possessor of the nuclear weapon, is getting more and more unpredictable, and the United States has actually lost the possibility for the transit of goods for its troops in Afghanistan.

The reduction of the American military presence and the declared intentions of the U.S. authorities to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq make the perspective of a new series of wars with unpredictable results real. In that situation, newly created states, first of all Kurdistan, may become new U.S. allies. The states that might enlarge their borders at the expense of the American geo-political plans also will become the U.S. allies. However, some problems have already appeared in the process of discussion of the project aimed at reshaping the borders. For example, as early as in 2006 the Azerbaijani public was upset seeing on the new map of the “Greater Middle East” that the “truly Azerbaijani town of Tebriz” was handed over to the “so called Kurdish state,” instead of being included into Azerbaijan’s territory. Apparently, the large-scale reshaping of the borders of the Greater Middle East will be inevitably accompanied with wars and anarchy. The same Ralf Peters understands its very well, pointing out that “correction of the borders” would lead “inevitable accompanying bloodshed.”

The instability of the Greater Middle East has already been reality for a long time: the available acute contradictions  and  conflicts, caused by external forces (or aggravated by them) will not disappear even if the United States gives up geopolitical experiments in reshaping the borders and refrains from  the military solution of the Syrian and Iranian problems. In quite a near future the situation to the south of the Central Asia and South Caucasus can drastically change. It means that the post-Soviet states, located here, should be prepared to react to the principally new challenges and threats to their national security.

[1] Alexander KRYLOV  – President of the Society of Caucasian studies experts, leading research scientist of  the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations  of the Russian Academy of Sciences


[2] Now he is retired, but as it is well-known, there are no former intelligence agents.

[3] Peters R. Blood borders. How a Better Middle East Would Look. // Armed Forces Journal. 2006. №6, June.


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