Vienna, December 4 – One of the fundamental assumptions about Russia and the Southern Caucasus is no longer true in the wake of the August 2008 Georgian war, an Baku commentator says, and consequently Moscow can develop a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan “without losing its old ally,” Armenia.
In an essay in the current issue of “Vestnik Kavkaza,” Emma Tariverdiyeva argues that it is no longer the case that Moscow would have to sacrifice its relations with Armenia in order to achieve a warming of ties with Azerbaijan. Instead, she says, the Russian government can achieve good relations with both (www.vestikavkaza.ru/analytics/politika/12374.html).
That geopolitical change has its roots in the August 2008 war, as a result of which the Russian-Georgian frontier was closed. That means that for the first time, the three longest borders in the South Caucasus were shut – the Armenian-Azerbaijani and Armenian-Turkish borders were already closed – and that all of the players needed to take some radical steps.
Over the last 15 months, the Trend News writer says, three of those have occurred – the development of relations between Armenia and Turkey, the intensification of talks on Nagorno-Karabakh, and new energy projects, all of which both reflect and further transform changed geopolitical assumptions in that region.
For the first time since the Cold War, she continues, Russia has been able to “reacquire the status of one of the key regional players.” It has expanded its contacts with Turkey, “by supporting Ankara’s plans for a ‘Stability and Cooperation Platform in the South Caucasus’” and by backing the normalization of relations between Yerevan and Ankara.
Many observers were surprised by Russia’s rapprochement with Turkey in this regard given that Ankara has its own agenda in the South Caucasus, one that challenges Moscow’s position there. But Tariverdiyeva says that the new ties are turning out to be “profitable” for both sides.
On the one hand, Turkey has “a multitude of problems in its relations with Armenia,” given that the latter remains “an ally and partner of Moscow in the Caucasus.” But on the other, “Russia has interests in Azerbaijan,” which can be promoted only by a certain shift in Moscow’s position on Armenia.
But precisely because the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement has contributed to a certain “cooling” in relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey, Tariverdiyeva says, “Russia is right to use the situation in order to improve its relations with Baku,” which has both energy resources and transportation routes in which Moscow is vitally interested.
“The only way toward a genuine change in the situation in the South Caucasus,” however, is “the regulation of the oldest frozen conflict in the Caucasus” – Nagorno-Karabakh. In the past, because of its ties with Armenia, Moscow was not prepared to push hard for this, seeing the continuation of the status quo as bringing Russia benefits.
Now, however, two things have changed in that calculus. After the Georgian war, Russia very much wants to win for itself “the image of a peacemaker,” and because Turkey won’t ratify the protocols if Yerevan does not begin to withdraw from the occupied territories, Moscow has an additional reason to press Armenia.
By pushing Armenia to withdraw then, the Russian government will win friends in Baku, which Moscow ultimately wants because “Azerbaijan is the most strategically important country in the Southern Caucasus, the geopolitical center of the region and a territory rich with energy resources.”
Indeed, the Trend commentator notes, Gazprom has already declared that “it intends to purchase gas from Baku at a price three times larger than the 120 US dollars per 1,000 cubic meters that Azerbaijan had been selling natural gas to Turkey,” something that will also solidify Russia’s position there.
While doing this, she argues, Moscow can be confident that it will not lose its influence in Armenia. Yerevan “will never trust Turkey as much as it trusts Moscow,” she points out. There is simply too much history – including the events of 1915 and Armenian actions against Turkish diplomats – for that to change anytime soon.
As a result, Tariverdiyeva says, “Russia will be able to acquire a strategic partner in the region [Azerbaijan] without losing its longtime ally [Armenia].” Her conclusion may be overly optimistic, as she herself implies, but the appearance of such arguments shows how changes since the Georgian war are calling into question the assumptions many still make.