Ukrainian crisis may affect Russia’s interest in South Caucasus

Ukrainian crisis may affect Russia’s interest in South Caucasus

Ukrainian crisis may affect Russia’s interest in South Caucasus
Ukrainian main battle tanks drive on a road near Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine on Sunday, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)
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The Ukrainian crisis has prompted many initiatives in the international arena and the situation in the South Caucasus is one of them.
One chapter of the South Caucasus file is Russia’s relations with Georgia or its fait accompli to declare Georgia’s two autonomous republics — Abkhazia and South Ossetia — independent. Russia is not likely to backpedal from these initiatives unless there is a tectonic change in the region. On the contrary, it may continue to press more countries to recognize the independence of the two autonomous republics. It may be aiming at a scenario in which these two republics will seek to join the Russian Federation as it now is planning to do for Donetsk and Luhansk. Georgia is reluctant to become part of cooperation among three South Caucasus countries — Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, because of Russia’s involvement in the initiative.
The second chapter is Georgia’s interest in becoming a member of the EU and, if possible, of NATO. Russia acquiesced without much resistance to Ukraine’s EU membership, so we may conclude that it may not strongly oppose Georgia’s EU membership either. However, NATO membership is a more sensitive issue. It will probably raise stronger objections to Georgia’s NATO membership. It may do so even if it emerges weaker from the Ukrainian crisis.
Because of the Ukrainian crisis, Sweden and Finland have become uneasy about Russia’s interest in expanding its zone of influence. Moscow is already active in Transnistria and Moldova. These countries have every reason to be worried. We will see the ultimate outcome if and when a new defense architecture is worked out in Europe.
The third chapter in the South Caucasus is Nagorno-Karabakh. While Turkey is not part of the South Caucasus, it is part of the regional security architecture because of its close relations with Azerbaijan.
Russia was and still is to a large extent the game-maker in the South Caucasus, but it may have moved this question to the backburner, because most of its energy is being absorbed by the Ukrainian crisis.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan continue to work on a framework initiated by Putin. It would become a good precedent if they could continue this pattern without Putin’s supervision or intervention.

Despite goodwill on all sides, stabilization in the South Caucasus may not be expected soon.

Yasar Yakis

Azerbaijan and Armenia do not agree on all issues, but their leaders give positive signals. A contention with roots going back centuries may not be solved easily. Putin has laid the foundations for negotiations by persuading the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders. He did this to keep the situation in the Caucasus under Russia’s control. There may be pitfalls on the road, but reasonable decision-makers on both sides seem to be aware that if the present negotiations derail, they may grind to a halt. Bearing in mind the uncertainties created by the Ukrainian crisis, it would be difficult to foretell where the present Azerbaijani-Armenian efforts will lead.
The Artsakh (Karabakh) lobby is influential in Armenia’s domestic politics. It is composed of far-right nationalist Armenians who seek to annex Karabakh to Armenia, whereas if a stable administration could be established in Karabakh, Armenians may benefit from oil-rich Azerbaijan’s economic resources in their capacity as full-fledged citizens of Azerbaijan.
The fourth chapter of the South Caucasus file is the relations between Turkey and Armenia. Armenians and Turks have lived in the same geographical area for more than 1,000 years. There is a high degree of appreciation for Armenians among the Turks. They enjoyed similar fortunes and faced similar hardships. They helped each other in difficult times.
After the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, Turkey was one of the first countries to extend diplomatic recognition to Armenia — together with Azerbaijan and Georgia. It sent humanitarian assistance to Armenia and invited it to join as a founding member of the newly established Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization.
After Armenia’s occupation in 1993 of the autonomous Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, Turkey closed its borders with Armenia. There were several attempts to mend relations between the two countries. On Oct. 10, 2009, Turkey and Armenia signed a protocol to establish diplomatic relations and open the borders. The Armenian church and Armenian nationalist political parties reacted against the protocol and the Armenian government had to refrain from submitting the protocol to parliamentary approval. Therefore, the protocol remained a dead letter.
Pashinyan sees the advantages of normalization with Turkey. The 2009 attempt at reconciliation failed for emotional reasons. Turkey had not taken Azerbaijan on board before embarking on a rapprochement with Armenia. This time, Ankara is closely coordinating with Baku, but this does not mean that it may not fail again for other reasons. Irrelevant third parties may step in and spoil the process.
Despite goodwill on all sides, stabilization in the South Caucasus may not be expected soon.

• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party.
Twitter: @yakis_yasar

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