ASSESSMENTS

The Caucasus: A Formidable Barrier to Russian Expansion

Jan 13, 2016 | 09:00 GMT

In 2008, a convoy of Russian troops travels through the mountains toward an armed conflict between Georgian and South Ossetian troops.

(DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary

Russia wants to expand its transit networks – and its influence – south, but doing so will not be easy. Over the past two years, Russia has been busy expanding its road and rail networks southward, through the North Caucasus and down both sides of the Caspian Sea toward Iran. Moscow has many good reasons for its drive south: Iran's economy is poised to become more influential in the region as international sanctions are lifted, Russian troops in Syria need a reliable land route for supplies, and the Kremlin must confront the growing economic and military cooperation between Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

But pushing all the way to the Iran border is easier said than done. The region is full of difficult terrain, and few of the Caucasus transit states could be considered Russia's friends. These factors will make it harder for Russia to build infrastructure that transits the region completely, but, in the end, Moscow and Tehran will likely work together to try to overcome the significant obstacles in the Caucasus and to curb the presence of other major powers in the region.

Over the past two years, Russia has been busy expanding its road and rail networks southward, through the North Caucasus and down both sides of the Caspian Sea toward Iran. Moscow has many good reasons for its drive south: Iran's economy is poised to become more influential in the region as international sanctions are lifted, Russian troops in Syria need a reliable land route for supplies, and the Kremlin must confront the growing economic and military cooperation between Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. But pushing all the way to the Iran border is easier said than done, and, in the end, the Caucasus' obstacles will make it difficult for Moscow to achieve its goal....

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