To call the Southern Caucasus ‘problematic’ is something of an understatement; sandwiched between the Caucasus mountain chain and the Middle East, and the Caspian and Black Seas, it stands out through its politically complex and conflictual nature. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has seen armed strife and political instability in all three of its main constituent states. Two de facto statelets — Abkhazia and South Ossetia — have split off from the Republic of Georgia in armed insurrections at the beginning of the 1990s, to be recognised by Moscow in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 Russian-Georgian war. Even before the actual disintegration of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan had started a bitter armed conflict over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh; it lasted till 1994, claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and its fundamental cause — the territory’s status — remains unresolved to this day. All three states have had their share of armed insurrections, palace coups, revolutions and assassinations. Standing at the crossroads of existing and potential energy routes of hydrocarbon-rich Central Asia, the South Caucasus’ strategic importance is furthermore difficult to over-estimate: Azerbaijan’s oil and gas reserves have, in particular, attracted the attention of Western energy companies, with their governments following in their wake — provoking varyingly irritated responses from the region’s traditional hegemon, Russia.
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