Azerbaijan – 2021 (The article two)

47 wide-regional risks and challenges of 2021 can be produced not only by each of the six states (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Turkey, Iran), but also be the result of bilateral and multilateral relations, contradictions and collisions. There are more than enough reasons for such scenarios.

Regional risks and challenges

The signing of the agreement and the creation of a base of peacekeepers in Azerbaijan, according to the plan of the Russian strategy, should restrain the withdrawal of Armenia to the West and, through Azerbaijan, tie the region closer to Russia. Russia’s ability to continue cooperating with Turkey is an important reserve for future politics in not only the South Caucasus and the Middle East, but also in Central Asia, which is turning into a new center of world politics. What promotes and what hinders this alliance? Today Turkey, along with Russia, is a country most actively involved in various wars, which has expanded its influence to Syria, Libya, the Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea, trying to become a single center for the intersection of energy and partly transport communications East-West.

This policy is fraught with many risks. The growing activity of Turkey’s participation in regional conflicts worries Western NATO partners, especially now, when Moscow and Ankara have become partners in Nagorno-Karabakh, and on a number of issues act as situational allies. In contrast to these fears, Ankara has recently emphasized that it sees its future in the EU and NATO, while pointing out which European countries are not satisfied with this prospect.

It can be argued that the absence of Ankara’s signature under the trilateral agreement will still bring political dividends to Turkey, which, unlike Russia, has not undertaken any obligations or promises. At the same time, Turkey retained a sufficient opportunity to influence the situation in the conflict region through the monitoring center.

After the end of the war, Turkey is called one of the creators of the victory, or even all the successes of the campaign are credited to this country. Turkey’s authority, at least in some regions of Russian influence, has grown sharply, as has the value of allied relations with it, which is steadily demonstrated by Ukraine and some Central Asian countries, which congratulated Azerbaijan on its victory. It is not excluded that because of certain political shifts, it is possible that Ankara will be able to squeeze Russia both in the South Caucasus and in Central Asia. It depends on how much Moscow will be forced to move away from the position of formal neutrality in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict; how successfully it will be able to reform relations, firstly, with Kazakhstan, with which Russia has had serious territorial disputes in the form of verbal skirmishes; and secondly, with Uzbekistan, which is apparently chosen by the West as an outpost of political and economic reforms in the region.

The improvement of Russian-Turkish relations is possible on the one hand, limiting the transfer of two geostrategic regions of the South Caucasus and Central Asia under Turkish control, on the other hand, preventing the strengthening of the influence of non-regional players, especially the United States, which will certainly take steps to reduce the role of Russia in these regions. In the current reality, a revision of US relations with Iran (lifting of sanctions, a new nuclear deal, energy supplies from Iran to the EU with routing through Armenia to Georgia and further by sea to Europe, etc.) can significantly increase the political and economic role of Tehran ( as opposed to Turkey) in solving regional and even extra-regional problems. Iran, for whose diplomacy the outgoing year was generally unsuccessful, also has to think about many things. The rapid defeat of Armenia on the battlefield suddenly raised the question of the rapid growth of Baku’s political, economic and military influence in the region, to which Tehran should somehow react. Regionally, Iran remained outside the Russian-Turkish alliance, thereby losing the most important levers of influence on the processes taking place in it; in addition, there are economic problems of the export of Iranian oil in the context of the sanctions, which sharply increased the influence of the Azerbaijani-Turkish tandem in the transportation of oil and gas to the EU countries.

In the new geopolitical realities, Iran, like Armenia, was among the losers, which deprived the country of many levers of influence in the region. These new realities will push Tehran to seek new allies. If this happens, the possible diversification of vectors of political activity in Moscow, which is still holding back Ankara’s ambitions with Tehran’s help, will become much more difficult. We have to admit that building (following the example of activities in Syria) a triumvirate in the South Caucasus with an eye on the Central Asian region is an almost impossible task. And yet, if for some time this tendency becomes predominant in Russian politics, then Moscow will have to be more understanding about the interests of Baku at the expense of trampling on the interests of Yerevan (as happened during the recent war), since the dilemma will again arise: Washington or Ankara?

The goals and objectives of Russia are most clearly reflected in the article by Maxim Stoletov “Russia defended its interests in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict” (13.11.20). Let us turn to the most interesting conclusions of this article. The author notes that both corridors (Lachin and Meghri) will be controlled by Russia: peacekeepers and border troops of the FSB, fixing the long-term presence of Russia in the region, which prevents the exchange of these transport corridors by Armenia and Azerbaijan. “The agreement is a content-rich model of the first stages of a political settlement aimed at the long term, at least a medium term. In the future, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh will also be decided. Russia acts, as the guarantor of the observance of the ceasefire, the position of a peacemaker is now the most advantageous for Russia. The operation will be led by the headquarters, which will be located in Stepanakert, which completely excludes the conduct of hostilities in the territory that remains under the control of the unrecognized republic, but practically falls under the control of Russia. “As they say a complete program for the implementation of Russia’s national interests in the region.

Further, the author mentioned rather awkward horror stories, which nevertheless reflect the official position: the complete surrender of Karabakh by Russia would open the way for Turkey (and then the United States) to the Caspian Sea, after which Azerbaijan would fall under the direct control of Turkey with further dissolution in the Turkish geopolitical project. Russia’s intervention contributed to the preservation of the country’s subjectivity and the physical well-being of the leader of Azerbaijan, which could face unthinkable troubles. Therefore, I. Aliyev should be grateful to Russia for maintaining power and sovereignty. “Having excluded a member of the alliance – Turkey from the trilateral negotiation process, Russia practically did not allow NATO’s invasion of the Transcaucasus and a geopolitical catastrophe in Eurasia.”

If someone believes that Ankara’s insidious plans end there, then this is a great delusion. Turkey plans to annex Nakhchivan, which is part of Azerbaijan, but does not have a common border with it. Turkey, which has such a border, together with financial investments fills this territory with streams of propaganda: “the inhabitants of the autonomy are persistently told that in fact they are ethnic Turks” (what a horror!). Thus, Ankara is preparing, if not the overthrow, then a sharp political weakening of President I. Aliyev, who, pursuing an independent policy, from time to time refuses to play on the side of R. Erdogan. Naturally, this nonsense, for obvious reasons, cannot be intended for Azerbaijanis, but even for less knowledgeable peoples such, if one may say so, “analytics” looks too exotic.

The director of the Russian Center for the Study of Contemporary Turkey, Yuri Mavashevgives more sober assessment. “Turkey has once again shown itself over the past decade as a country not only claiming the status of a regional center of power, but also as a state capable of defending and reinforcing these claims to leadership in practice” …

Control in the South Caucasus region means Turkey’s energy security, tied to existing and prospective pipelines from Central Asian countries. “Without control in the South Caucasus, Turkey cannot be a full-fledged master in the Middle East,” Mavashev emphasizes. So, with the promising interests of Russia, Turkey and partly Iran in the region, the situation is more or less clear. The only viable tandem in the region, which together has the greatest political potential, is the alliance of Turkey and Azerbaijan. Georgia, which for obvious reasons refused to join the hypothetical union of the six states of the region proposed by Ankara, in fact has been in a strategic alliance with Turkey and Azerbaijan for a long time in a political, economic and military context. The recent decision of the Georgian Parliament, which almost unanimously confirmed the strategic path of the country’s accession to the EU and NATO, unconditionally turns Tbilisi into a long-term ally of Baku and Ankara.

Oddly enough, the last Karabakh war opened another “window of opportunity” for improving the Armenian-Turkish relations, which Azerbaijan will naturally not oppose now. Moreover, the situation around the two transport corridors may turn into a starting point for the improvement of age-old hostile relations. In fact, no state, both in the region and beyond, will be able to directly object and hinder the improvement of the Armenian-Turkic relations.

It turns out that the upcoming year 2021 may become the year of the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict if new peacekeeping initiatives are supported by non-regional players who oppose the fundamental arrangement of the Russian military in the region. The entire future architecture of the Europe-South Caucasus-Central Asia link depends on when and how all economic and transport links in the region will be unblocked.

For Azerbaijan and Armenia, the “moment of truth” has come, which will advance the countries on the path to final peace, or plunge into the abyss of yet another confrontation.

It is only necessary to weigh what the potential of the extra-regional forces is, whether they are capable of promoting or holding back any of the existing scenarios for the future development of the South Caucasus.

Ali Abasov


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