New geopolitical prospects of Transcaucasia and old players

5:46, 05 августа 2021

МОСКВА, 05 августа 2021, Институт РУССТРАТ.

Despite the fact that the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict has again left the front pages of the media, the geopolitical processes in the region themselves continue to develop. During June–July 2021, Armenian diplomatic workers sharply intensified the number of meetings with French diplomats in Yerevan, Paris and at the UN headquarters in New York.

The purpose of the contact is to find a way to delegitimise the ceasefire agreement in Nagorno-Karabakh signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on November 9, 2020.

The political establishment and Armenian society consider the war in Karabakh not just lost, but also interpret its result as a direct betrayal of the allied obligations on the part of Russia and other CSTO members. Although, according to Kremlin press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, Yerevan has not addressed either Russia or the CSTO with an official request for military assistance, the Armenian population is not interested in the objective reality.

In the media, in society, and even among the opponents of Nikol Pashinyan, the position is gaining popularity that, since “Russia has abandoned the Armenians, and the country has not received any practical benefit from membership in the CSTO”, it is necessary to achieve the replacement of the Russian military with some others. Best of all – with European ones, since attracting American ones isn’t working out.

All Yerevan’s attempts to get support from Washington ended only with a very amorphous speech by State Department representative Jalina Porter: “the movement of troops in the disputed territories is an irresponsible and unjustifiably provocative step.” And that they are not able to influence the situation in any way at all.

At the same time, Paris, which is interested in gaining any significant evidence of its global geopolitical significance outside the formats of NATO and the EU, allegedly demonstrates more substantial support. French President Emmanuel Macron stated the need for the immediate withdrawal of Azerbaijani troops “from the disputed territories” and the introduction of a European peacekeeping contingent there. “Not excluding” its formation on the basis of the armed forces of the Fifth Republic.

Although the practical implementation of such a step looks doubtful, in general, it activates two serious processes that can have far-reaching geopolitical consequences.

Firstly, these statements made by French politicians are enough to form a belief in Armenian society and the political establishment in the style of “The West is with us, the West supports us, the West is about to come to the rescue, it is enough just to strain a little more in the field of formal procedures, and agree a little on the sidelines.”

This serves as a rich breeding ground for media activity, especially on social networks, aimed at whipping up a kind of “righteous” hysteria in society in the form of the validity of resentment towards Russia “for the vile betrayal of its Armenian ally and friend.”

To respond to which the “most correct” thing is supposed to be in the form of ending friendship and reorienting as quickly as possible to an accelerated rapprochement with Europe, first of all, with France, in order to review the terms of the ceasefire agreement, and ideally cancel it, with the obligation of Azerbaijan to withdraw its troops beyond the line of demarcation as “before the conflict”.

Secondly, the internal political processes that followed after the defeat in the war clearly showed the monstrous degradation of the Armenian statehood itself. The outraged people blamed the loss in the war on Prime Minister Pashinyan, who “failed”, “did not provide” and “did not justify”, and according to some statements even directly “betrayed national interests”, but in the subsequent early parliamentary election, the nation again chose the same Nikol Pashinyan as prime minister.

This directly indicates an extremely high degree of mixing of populism in public perceptions of oneself and the world with a narrow clan structure of the ruling elite of society. They simply do not understand the essence and meaning of the state as a global social mechanism. And they don’t want to understand it.

This includes the fact that Paris’ interest in events “in the disputed Armenian territories” is not caused by its sympathy for the problems of the Armenian people, but is determined by its own interests within the framework of the Franco-Turkish confrontation in the Mediterranean Sea, in which Armenia is simply a convenient excuse or a way of putting pressure on Ankara and a consumable material of this process.

This creates the fundamental problem of the formation of a deep geopolitical vacuum in the entire Transcaucasia. The inter-state documents signed by Yerevan are openly discredited by it. Take, for example, the new agreement on the demarcation of the border with Azerbaijan in the area of the disputed lake on the border of the Lachin region of Azerbaijan and the Syunik region of Armenia.

On the one hand, Pashinyan presents it as his great geopolitical success, on the other hand, he also points to the right of the Armenian Defense Ministry to independently “correct” politicians on the ground, including even by force, “if a peaceful solution is not found, or the military considers it insufficiently fair.”

There is a serious doubt about the general contractual capacity of the Armenian state authorities in general, and the society forming them in particular.

It should be noted that Turkey is actively trying to use the emerging geopolitical vacuum in the region for its own purposes, demonstrating an increasing desire to gain a firm foothold in Transcaucasia, and even take it under its protectorate. The so-called “Second War in Karabakh” is called not just victorious for Azerbaijan (which is true, Baku has solved the problem that has existed since 1990), its results are declared a huge success directly for Turkey, “which has gained access to the entire Turkic world”.

This refers to a two-stage process. On the one hand, the proven usefulness of rapprochement with Turkey for Azerbaijan, the format of interstate interaction with which will now be seriously revised in the direction of deepening all-round integration, primarily the military. In February 2021, the Azerbaijani army took part in the joint military exercises “Winter 2021” with the Turks held in the Turkish province of Kars.

On the other hand, the strengthening of Azerbaijani-Turkish ties allows Ankara to use Azerbaijan as a springboard for expanding Turkish expansion into Central Asia, which is also in an ambiguous situation due to the events in Afghanistan.

Turkey is trying to offer itself there as a potential alternative to the “expansion of Russian influence”, which the local ruling elites perceive as more dangerous for themselves. And although, if this happens, the Turks are not eager to fight the Taliban directly, they consider it not only possible, but also expedient to try to “fish in muddy water”, as they did in Syria during the heyday of the power of the Islamic State.

Thus, Armenia is gaining key importance not only in the Transcaucasia region, but also begins to influence the prospects of the entire southern direction of Russia, from the future of the CSTO in the post-Soviet space to Central Asia and Russian relations with Turkey, which automatically also covers the entire Black Sea region, as well as the Eastern Mediterranean.

Hence, the problem of the construction of a promising system of inter-state relations arises. The ruling elite of Azerbaijan is not too happy with the growth of Turkish activity. The former expresses a clear desire to find a counterbalance to the latter and is ready to use relations with Russia in this capacity. We have a fairly broad overlap of interests in the Caspian Sea and a convergence of views regarding the uselessness of military escalation in the region on an ethnic basis. Up to the recognition of Russia’s right to the status of the supreme arbitration judge on all disputed issues.

Logically, Moscow benefits from expanding and strengthening interstate ties with Baku to a much greater extent than maintaining relations with Yerevan. Especially now, when the degree of adequacy of the Armenian foreign and domestic policy has fallen sharply, and the level of Russophobia in the Armenian society shows a tendency to increase.

In this regard, it seems appropriate to use the influence of the “Afghan crisis” on the CSTO as a tool for re-forming the relations of all Members of the Organization with Russia, as a convenient reason for reviewing their specific composition and content with Armenia. Right up to “starting from scratch”.

To restore sanity, it will be useful for the Armenian elites to step on the rake of the “big European policy”, really facing its economic consequences. As practice has shown, it is not possible to explain the impossibility of Armenia’s further survival independently, acting only on the mind. So we need to allow objective economic and geopolitical processes to work.

It is not difficult to block attempts to penetrate into Transcaucasia by France and any other European countries, or by NATO as a military-political organisation today. Under any prospects and conditions, we should not forget that Transcaucasia was and will always remain an integral zone of Russian geopolitical interests, so Russia cannot and should not leave here under any circumstances. But at any cost, it should not hold on to inadequate allies there either.

They should be allowed to “live by themselves”, strictly ensuring that the process happens exclusively at their own expense. Any economic preferences must necessarily be associated with the fulfillment of specific political obligations. Only in this way will the local elites be able to realize the importance of maintaining a strong friendship with Russia in order to ensure their own survival, including physical survival. But this should be preceded by a period of significant deterioration of material life in Armenia. There are things that any nation can understand only on its own.