Kavkaz 2020: Less War, More Geopolitics

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By Associate Professor Vasilios Grammatikas

Kavkaz is the Russian language name for the Caucasus mountain range and also the region in which this year’s large-scale multinational military drills will take place. Exercises with the same name took place in 2012 and 2016 while several others were organized by Russia in recent years.

What makes Kavkaz 2020 noteworthy and, perhaps, unique is its scale and the number and type of participants. About 15,000 troops 500 tanks and 300 aircraft from 16 countries[1] engage in military exercises that will take place in southern Caucasus, but also in the Black Sea, Crimea and South Ossetia. Historically, in terms of participant states, we can observe the presence of rather interesting “couples” such as the deadly enemies Armenia & Azerbaijan, Turkey – Syria and China – Pakistan – India.[2] While the military dimension of Kavkaz 2020 cannot be underestimated, it would seem that every participant is mainly interested to secure or promote geopolitical aims.

Russia portrays itself as a regional diplomatic power, while displaying its military capabilities to an impressive gathering of states, sending a message to NATO forces in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea. The inclusion of Crimea and South Ossetia makes abundantly clear Russia’s perception of the region.

China is systematically trying to appear as an evolving global superpower and these military exercises provide an opportunity to exhibit military might to potential rivals. Pakistan is also taking advantage of the exercise to develop closer ties with Russia. The breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia also have the opportunity to pose as states.

The downside this year was India’s withdrawal, possibly justified by CoVid19 concerns as there was no appetite to cooperate with Pakistan and China.[3]

It remains to be seen whether the outcome of the war games will have any significant political or geopolitical impact in the wider Eurasian region and how the actors will try to benefit from it.


[1] Apart from Russia the countries participating are China, Pakistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Syria, Belarus, Turkey, South Ossetia, Mongolia, and all 5 Central Asian states, but the composition also includes Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two unrecognized breakaway regions of Georgia.

[2] India was also scheduled to participate, but withdrew in late August, thus frustrating Russia.

[3] In the last few months there is ongoing tension, including military standoff, with China in the disputed Ladakh region, while Pakistan is always the historic enemy of India.


*photo from TASS

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