Russia Table of Contents
Azerbaijan, whose location adjacent to the rich oil resources of the Caspian Sea makes it strategically more vital to Russia than Armenia, is the only one of the three Caucasus states to refuse any deployment of Russian troops on its soil. Russia fears the increasing influence of Turkey in Azerbaijan, which, according to national security planners, is a likely bridge for Turkish influence into Central Asia and Russia's Muslim republics to the north and east of Azerbaijan. Because of these factors, Russia has exerted substantial diplomatic and economic pressure on Azerbaijan to reappraise its independent policy. However, former Soviet Politburo member Heydar Aliyev, now president of Azerbaijan, has proven much more independent than Russia expected when it assisted him in becoming head of state in 1993.
The Russian (formerly Soviet) 14th Army has been based on Moldovan (formerly Moldavian) territory since 1956. In September 1990, Slavs on the east bank of the Nistru (Dnestr) River in the Moldavian Republic declared an independent Dnestr Moldavian Republic, or Transnistria. After armed conflict began between forces of the new republic and Moldovan troops in the spring of 1992, part of the 14th Army became a peacekeeping force following an agreement between Russia and the government of newly independent Moldova. The original Russian force included six battalions (2,400 troops), which occupied a security zone together with troops of Moldova and Transnistria. Subsequently, Transnistrian units began replacing units of the 14th Army, taking advantage of what observers called a decided bias by the army in favor of its fellow Slavs.
By the end of 1994, about 3,500 Transnistrian troops were in the security zone with the tacit approval of the Russian forces, enabling the separatists to consolidate their state. At the same time, Russia violated the agreement with Moldova by withdrawing all but 630 of its peacekeepers, citing the Russian military's funding problems. However, in 1996 the bulk of the 14th Army remained in Moldova, subject to the outcome of long-inconclusive negotiations, under the title Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova. (A bilateral 1994 agreement to withdraw the 14th Army entirely never was ratified by the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament.) In mid-1996 some 6,400 Russian troops of the 14th Army and two "peacekeeping" battalions remained. Russia has opposed participation by the OSCE in the withdrawal negotiations. Some experts have described Moldova as a potential staging point for Russian operations in Central Europe.
In 1994 Moldova also was the scene of a divisive struggle in the military command. In midyear Minister of Defense Grachev attempted to remove the popular General Aleksandr Lebed' from command of the 14th Army after Lebed' voiced increasingly sharp criticism of the Yeltsin administration. But Yeltsin refused to remove Lebed', magnifying the open struggle between two top military commanders and polarizing the military. Lebed' resigned his command in May 1995 to begin a political career.
Data as of July 1996