Russia ‘winning Caucasus power struggle’

Russia ‘winning Caucasus power struggle’
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, is welcomed by Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, center, in Baku, Azerbaijan, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 02 February 2021

Russia ‘winning Caucasus power struggle’

Russia ‘winning Caucasus power struggle’
  • Joint center might be a repeat of previous cooperation models between Ankara and the Kremlin

ANKARA: The launch of a joint Turkish-Russian center to observe the cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh has raised questions in Turkey and among the international community regarding its effects on the Caucasus power struggle.

The joint center began operating on Jan. 30 and is tasked with supervising the cease-fire that was reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan last November following six weeks of intense fighting.
About 120 military personnel from Turkey and Russia, without unified command, will be deployed to the village of Qiyamedinli in Azerbaijan’s Aghjabadi district.
Drones will be used for the monitoring mission.
Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based expert on Russian politics, said that opening a monitoring center outside the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh does not mean that Turkey will have political leverage in the region.
“It is a ridiculous move just for domestic consumption. Ankara unintentionally gave Kremlin a new space to maneuver within Azeri territories. Turkey is not included in the official decision-making process under the ceasefire deal,” he told Arab News.
He added that it is imperative that Ankara normalizes relations with Armenia in order to be an active player in Southern Caucasus geopolitics.
“Turkish rulers might take some steps in this direction to please the new Biden administration in Turkey,” he said.
However, other experts have said that the joint center might be a repeat of previous cooperation models between Ankara and the Kremlin, with the same challenges and difficulties attached.
“Even though it seems that the Turkish-Russian joint monitoring center will not be playing a central role in Nagorno-Karabakh, it nevertheless symbolizes the fact that Russia has finally accepted Turkey as a regional partner for the resolution of conflicts in the Caucasus,” Emre Ersen, an expert on Turkey-Russia relations from Marmara University, told Arab News.
“For many years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow had been very reluctant to welcome a more active Turkish role in the region,” he added.
However, Ersen said Russian political leverage in the Caucasus has risen considerably following the cease-fire agreement, which was demonstrated in the latest meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin, his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Moscow.

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The joint center began operating on Jan. 30 and is tasked with supervising the cease-fire that was reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan last November following six weeks of intense fighting.

“The fact that the Turkish leaders were not present in that meeting could be viewed as a sign of Russia’s determination to maintain its status as the sole actor setting the rules of the game in the Caucasus,” he said.
But Ersen added that Turkey and Russia might also be attempting to implement their regional dialogue model in the Caucasus after launching similar mechanisms in Syria and Libya, which were aimed at limiting the role of the West in regional issues.
Ankara has long criticized OECD’s Minsk Group, led by Russia, the US and France, for failing to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through decades of mediation.
Rauf Mammadov, resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, said that the launch of the joint center is a “limited success” for Turkey.
“Despite Moscow’s resistance, Ankara managed to establish a military presence in the region. Although the joint center is located outside Nagorno-Karabakh, Ankara has laid the ground for a more assertive future role in the geography by co-opting its historic rival Moscow,” he told Arab News.
Mammadov added that the joint center is a compromise by Russia in the face of Turkey’s persistence to gain a more active role in the post-war settlement of the region.
“By partnering with Ankara in the region, Moscow acknowledges the former’s growing influence in the South Caucasus, especially in Azerbaijan. But at the same time, by locating the center outside Nagorno-Karabakh, the Kremlin is preserving its exclusive role as a leading judge of the warring sides’ issues within Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.
Rumors are circulating surrounding Ankara’s readiness to normalize relations with Armenia and its willingness to open border crossings. The only barrier before the border closure — for nearly three decades — was the Armenian occupation of seven Azeri regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh, an issue that was resolved in the Russia-brokered ceasefire.
Mammadov, as with Sezer, said that it is crucial that Turkey normalizes relations with Armenia in order to achieve a more prominent role in the region.
“Both countries may benefit from active diplomatic and economic ties, which would subsequently decrease Armenia’s dependence on Russia,” he said.
In 2009, the then-Turkish president Abdullah Gul and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian initiated so-called “soccer diplomacy,” by visiting matches played between their national teams, which resulted in historic protocols to re-establish diplomatic ties.
However, the novel move aimed at opening a new chapter in bilateral relations soon backfired following intense opposition among Turkish and Armenian nationalists.
Neil Hauer, an expert on Caucasus conflicts, said that Turkey has only made limited progress in its goals, since the new cease-fire monitoring center is unrelated to the tripartite agreement and provides no stipulations for Ankara to be involved in future negotiations.
“In this way, Turkey has made some progress in their regional goals — they now at least have a joint base with Russia for monitoring the cease-fire — but in the most fundamental way, they are no closer to being included in the negotiations over Karabakh and its status,” he told Arab News.
But for Russia, he added, the joint center is “certainly an achievement.”
Hauer said: “Turkey could always have opened a base in Azerbaijan by means of a bilateral agreement between Ankara and Baku, but Russia now has a military presence on both sides of the line of contact — both on the Karabakh Armenian side and on the Azeri side.
“This gives Russia even greater control over the conflict than the already dominating position they had following the entrance of 2,000 peacekeepers into Karabakh.
“The main outcome of this is that Russia now rules this conflict more than ever before.”


Arab coalition says over 100 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah

Arab coalition says over 100 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah
Updated 27 October 2021

Arab coalition says over 100 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah

Arab coalition says over 100 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah
  • 13 military vehicles had also been destroyed in the 26 strikes carried out by the coalition on Juba and Al-Kasarah
  • The coalition has reported heavy strikes around Marib in recent weeks

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Wednesday that more than 105 Houthis were killed during air strikes on two districts near the central Yemeni city of Marib.

The coalition added that 13 military vehicles had also been destroyed in the 26 strikes carried out on Juba and Al-Kasarah during the last 24 hours.

Juba is some 50 km south of Marib, whilst Al-Kasarah is 30 km northwest of the city.

The coalition has reported heavy strikes around Marib in recent weeks.


Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes
Updated 27 October 2021

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes
  • The Civil Administration’s high planning committee gave the final green light to 1,800 homes and initial approval for another 1,344
  • About 475,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law

JERUSALEM: Israel advanced plans for building more than 3,000 settler homes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, a military spokesman said, a day after the US forcefully criticized such construction.
The Civil Administration’s high planning committee gave the final green light to 1,800 homes and initial approval for another 1,344, a spokesman for the military body that oversees civilian matters in the Palestinian territories told AFP.
The approvals came a day after the United States criticized Israel for its policy of building settlements, with President Joe Biden’s administration saying it “strongly” opposed new construction on the West Bank.
His administration’s position on the matter stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor Donald Trump, whose presidency saw the US offer a green light to Israel’s activity on occupied Palestinian land.
The homes approved on Wednesday were spread across the West Bank, from the suburbs of Jerusalem to new neighborhoods of settlements deep inside the territory.
Israel’s housing ministry had separately on Sunday published tenders to build 1,355 new homes in the West Bank.
About 475,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law, on land Palestinians claim as part of their future state.
Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem has continued under every Israeli government since 1967.


World Bank suspends aid to Sudan after military coup

World Bank suspends aid to Sudan after military coup
Updated 27 October 2021

World Bank suspends aid to Sudan after military coup

World Bank suspends aid to Sudan after military coup
  • It is the latest blow to the impoverished African nation
  • The military on Monday seized Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and briefly detained him in a coup

WASHINGTON: The World Bank said Wednesday it has suspended aid to Sudan following the military takeover that deposed the prime minister.
“I am greatly concerned by recent events in Sudan, and I fear the dramatic impact this can have on the country’s social and economic recovery and development,” World Bank President David Malpass said in a statement.
It was the latest blow to the impoverished African nation that had just won its way back into good standing with major Washington-based development lenders after years in the wilderness.
The military on Monday seized Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and briefly detained him in the coup that came just over two years into a precarious power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilians after the army ousted longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019.
The World Bank “paused disbursements in all of its operations in Sudan on Monday and it has stopped processing any new operations as we closely monitor and assess the situation,” Malpass said.
The United States also suspended aid to the country.
“We hope that peace and the integrity of the transition process will be restored, so that Sudan can restart its path of economic development and can take its rightful place in the international financial community,” Malpass said.
Sudan had been emerging from decades of stringent US sanctions after Washington removed the country from its state sponsor of terrorism blacklist in December 2020, eliminating a major hurdle to much-needed aid and financial investment.
The World Bank and IMF in June granted Sudan debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, cutting the nation’s debt in half to about $28 billion, and the institutions have offered additional help if economic reforms continue.


UAE coronavirus cases below 100 for seventh day

UAE coronavirus cases below 100 for seventh day
Updated 27 October 2021

UAE coronavirus cases below 100 for seventh day

UAE coronavirus cases below 100 for seventh day
  • The Ministry of Health said the country conducted 295,380 tests in the past 24 hours
  • The country’s total caseload of recorded infections since the pandemic started now stands at 739,566

DUBAI: Daily coronavirus cases in the UAE were below 100 for the seventh straight day, with 95 new COVID-19 infections reported by health authorities.
The Ministry of Health said the country conducted 295,380 tests in the past 24 hours, state news agency WAM reported. It further reported one death and 136 recoveries.
The country’s total caseload of recorded infections since the pandemic started now stands at 739,566, with 2,135 deaths and 733,640 recoveries.
Coronavirus cases in the UAE have been falling in recent weeks with a total number of COVID-19 vaccination doses reaching 20,999,143.


Turkish motion opens door to new Syria operation

Turkish motion opens door to new Syria operation
Updated 27 October 2021

Turkish motion opens door to new Syria operation

Turkish motion opens door to new Syria operation
  • The motion justified a cross-border operation if Turkey’s national security is put under threat
  • Turkey has warned of growing threats from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, east of the Euphrates River, northern Syria

ANKARA: Turkish Parliament has ratified a motion to extend troop deployment for anti-terror operations in Iraq and Syria for another two years, raising questions over whether another cross-border operation looms on the horizon.

The move coincided with the Turkish military’s deployment of massive convoys and reinforcements to the border with Syria.

Barring the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, the governing Justice and Development Party, Nationalist Movement Party and the opposition Good Party backed the motion that emphasized the risks and rising threats posed by ongoing conflicts along the Turkey-Syria border.

The motion also stressed that Turkey places “great importance on the protection of Iraq’s territorial integrity, national unity and stability,” although “the continued existence of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Daesh in Iraq ... poses a direct threat to regional peace, stability and the security of Turkey.”

Turkey regularly targets PKK hideouts in the Qandil stronghold of northern Iraq, but the country’s government has condemned the operations, describing them as a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”

Regarding the situation in the rebel-held province of Idlib, the motion noted that “the peace and stability established via the Astana process continues to be under threat."

The motion justified a cross-border operation if Turkey’s national security is put under threat.

Since 2016, Turkey has launched three cross-border operations into northern Syria — Euphrates Shield in 2016, Olive Branch in 2018 and Peace Spring in 2019. Two were directed against Kurdish forces. The safe zone that covers Tel Abyad, Jarablus and Afrin is currently under Turkish control.

Recently, Turkey has warned of growing threats from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units in the east of Euphrates River in northern Syria, with artillery attacks targeting Turkish border towns and killing police officers. Turkish officials have begun voicing warnings about possible military action in the region.

Based on a senior source within the Syrian National Army, Arab News learned that the Turkish side advised forces to ready troops for a potential operation, but did not give details about the timing or target of the strategy.

Navvar Saban, a conflict analyst and expert at Omran Center for Strategic Studies, and a non-resident researcher at ORSAM in Ankara, said that Turkey is trying to put pressure on the Russian side by making preparations for a potential cross-border operation.

However, Saban added that Ankara will likely “wait until the regional circumstances become ripe” before engaging in military action.

“I don’t expect any immediate military operation. The Turkish side will only increase their artillery fire on the Syrian Democratic Forces positions in the north and will use the military operation as a bargaining chip against Moscow in this area,” he told Arab News.

“Turkey also ordered several army commanders to send more troops to Ras Al-Ain in northern Syria. I think that Turkey will take advantage of its proxy forces on the ground and gain more time in different active battlefronts before pushing the Russians to the negotiation table on terms that are acceptable for all,” Saban said.

Russia has not yet taken a clear position on a potential Turkish offensive, and as a security guarantor, is opting for a wait-and-watch policy to see how far Ankara is testing its boundaries in Syria within the limits of the bilateral commitments under the Astana process.

Separately, the US Senate confirmed on Monday Jeff Flake as the next US ambassador to Turkey. Ankara has long objected to the US support for the YPG, the main local partner of the US in its fight against Daesh.

Levent Kemal, a Middle East political commentator, said that Russia remains wary of giving a green light to Turkey for the launch of its next offensive in Tal Rifaat and Tal Temr.

Tal Rifaat, located in northwestern Syria, has been under the control of the YPG since 2016, and it is mostly populated by Kurds who fled Afrin following the Turkish operation in 2018. Ankara blamed the YPG for using Tal Rifaat as a “launchpad” to stage attacks.

“The US and Turkish presidents are set to meet this week. It is unlikely that Turkey launches an operation before the much-awaited meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart, Joe Biden. It would be too risky to anger both Russia and the US on the same battleground,” Kemal told Arab News.

There are reportedly negotiations between Turkish and Russian authorities over an exchange of control in Tal Rifaat and Idlib, where Ankara-backed rebels have been losing ground for several months.

If Turkey and Russia agree on the swap, it could also bring Erdogan strong support from nationalist constituencies in Turkey through the seizure of new strategic territory from Kurdish forces. However, experts said that Turkey would not totally abandon its commitments in Idlib just for control of Tal Rifaat, and would ask for more territories in return.