By Sotiris Roussos, Associate Professor, University of Peloponnese & Head of the Centre for Mediterranean, Middle East and Islamic Studies (www.cemmis.edu.gr) – Source: ENA Institute for Alternative Policies (www.enainstitute.org/en/)
The agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia is a clear victory for Azerbaijan and Turkey and a bitter defeat for the Armenians.
Both sides acknowledge this. Armenians are losing much of their territory outside the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave they occupied in 1994 and the corridor connecting them to Armenia, except for a narrow strip around the highway, which will be controlled by Russian peacekeepers. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, secures a corridor to Nakhichevan and thus acquires a border with Turkey.
First the Armenians did not understand the changes in international and regional level. The Armenians have underestimated the resilience of Russia’s relationship with Azerbaijan and Turkey. As a result, it seems that the Armenian strategic thinking has remained in the first post-Cold War period and did not properly assess the changes in the balance of power in the region. In addition, Washington and Tehran, once active players in the region, remained mere observers. The first because it was in the middle of a critical and divisive election campaign and the second because it faces many and problematic fronts both abroad and at home.
Second, domestic balances are very important in foreign policy. The current Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, a leading figure of the 2018 uprising, took initiatives for a compromise solution in December 2019 but he found neither a positive response from the Azerbaijani side nor strong support for a compromise inside his country. The question remains whether the 2018 uprising was conducive to a new national strategy on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
Third, Russia remains the hegemonic power in the Caucasus and succeeds in excluding any other world power from its near abroad. To do so Russia breaks down deceptive stereotypes about Christian protection or anti-Muslim alliance. Russia did not side with Armenia, risking to alienate Baku from its sphere of influence. Its relationship with Turkey seems to be resilient even when their interests do not coincide, following the method of “micro-management” conflict by conflict and region by region (Syria, Libya).
Last, Turkey is the big winner οf this conflict. It has demonstrated, as in Libya, that it can successfully fulfill the security expectations of its allies in the Caucasus and Libya. It is also important that it achieves this with minimal involvement of Turkish troops and the creation of an Islamist task force, which can operate from the Caucasus to Libya and the Horn of Africa. With its “peacekeeping” forces at the points of contact between Armenians and Azeris and its military presence in Syria and Libya, it becomes an integral and important part of the future settlement in these countries. At the same time, it tests and “advertises” Turkish-made weapon systems and the capabilities of its executives. In other words, it demonstrates many of the features of the hegemonic regional power. Here in Athens we should be prepared.