The phrase ‘Cold War’ typically brings about thoughts of a worldwide geopolitical struggle. However there is a new ‘Cold War’ brewing in the Caucasus with Turkey’s growing relations in the region.
Through the new establishment of close military ties with Georgia and Azerbaijan, Turkey is showing its geostrategic goal of dominating the Caucasus region. Georgia and Azerbaijan’s individual interests that are adversarial to Russia align with Turkey’s goal of being the dominant player in the region thus beginning the Caucasian Cold War between Russia and Turkey.
Ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Turkey has been seeking to expand its influence in the former Soviet Republics in the Eurasian region. This has typically come through economic ventures and cultural exchanges due to many of these states having Turkish backgrounds or minorities. These moves have been of great importance to the growing Turkish economy and for the expansion of Turkish soft power within the region. However forging large scale military ties in this region highlights Turkey’s desire to secure these interests.
Turkey has much to gain economically from solidifying its relationships with Georgia and Azerbaijan. The elephant in the room of this relationship pertains to the involvement in the pipeline system from the Caspian Sea onward. In addition to this access to the pipeline there are other economic incentives that can be built upon such as the free trade agreement with Georgia. Azerbaijan also does significant trade with Turkey as well. Ensuring the security of the pipelines through these alliances will benefit Turkey most of all.
Through establishing these closer relationships with Georgia and Azerbaijan, Turkey will grow its soft power in the Caucasus region. There are few cultural links with Georgia to build upon, but keeping the Russians out is a shared interest which Turkey can build upon through this defense cooperation. Azerbaijan is a majority Muslim state, though it is Shia and Turkey is Sunni, but this and shared cultural backgrounds have already paved the way for Turkish influence in Azerbaijan. Like in Georgia, keeping the Russians out will cement Turkey’s stance in the region. Therefore Turkey is seeking to continue steering these states away from Russian and into its umbrella of influence through this defense cooperation.
Georgia has perhaps the most to gain from this defense cooperation. Having suffered a defeat from the massive Russian military in the 2008 war, with Russian forces occupying Georgian claimed lands, Georgia has been seeking further security guarantees. Before that war and after it has sought NATO membership to no avail thus far. This defense cooperation could get Georgia what it wants though.
Turkey has one of the best militaries in the world. Having a security guarantee from Turkey would ease the Georgian stress concerning their neighbor to the north. This defense cooperation accomplishes their shared goal. Turkey will increase its power in the Caucasus region through keeping Russia out. Georgia will keep Russia out through teaming up with Turkey. Although Turkey and Georgia have this shared goal, Georgia has other motives as well.
Before and after the 2008 war, Georgia has sought NATO membership to no avail. By increasing their ties with Turkey, a NATO member, Georgia will also build its rapport with the alliance. NATO’s unofficial strategy of moving into former Soviet States to deny Russian influence is in alignment with Turkey’s strategy to gain influence in the Caucasus. Therefore in addition to securing itself through Turkey, Georgia may make headway with getting its NATO membership.
Azerbaijan is set to benefit from the new defense cooperation with Turkey as well. Since its independence it has moved closer and closer to Turkey, much to Moscow’s chagrin. This has been due to the cultural links between these states. The defense cooperation will ensure the integrity of Azerbaijan’s economy and will ensure their security against Russia.
Although Azerbaijan hasn’t come into direct conflict with Russia as Georgia has, it still remains threatened. Moves away from Russia by former Soviet states such as in the Georgian or Ukrainian case have been met with aggression from Russia. This necessitates the need for Azerbaijan to ensure its security through an external backer which works for Turkey since it wants to increase its own influence in the region.
The main security concern for Azerbaijan comes from Armenia. Conflicts in the 1990s and recent border clashes still are fresh wounds in Azerbaijan. Having a defense relationship with a regional power like Turkey will act as a deterrent for Azerbaijan. This deterrent is particularly in regards to Armenia’s relationship with Russia that involves large amounts of Russian troops being stationed in Armenia. Therefore similarly to the Georgian case, Azerbaijan and Turkey both want to keep the Russians out to ensure security and influence in the Caucasus respectively.
Ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia has sought to retain influence in the former Soviet republics. This has been done through attempts at forging economic ties and alliances. This has also been done through shows of force and aggression. Being that this has been the Russian modus operandi since the end of the Soviet Union, this behavior has set the stage for this Caucasian Cold War.
Russia has been linked to both Georgia and Azerbaijan since Soviet times. As time has passed, like other former Soviet states, Georgia and Azerbaijan have moved further and further away. Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008 in part due to Georgian movement away from Russia which has created a permanent strain upon their relationship. In 2014 this occurred in Ukraine as well. Both of these cases still have unresolved grievances though the guns have fallen silent in Georgia and not Ukraine. Being that Russia is willing to use force to get what it wants, it only makes sense for former Soviet states to seek external security guarantees.
Russia has been seeking to be the preeminent power in the Caucasus region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This has been done through courting Georgia and Azerbaijan economically, but to no avail. It has also been done militarily through the 2008 war with Georgia and the military ties with Azerbaijan’s rival Armenia. Also since the end of the Soviet Union, Turkey has been seeking to increase its influence in the Caucasus. Up until now this influence was restricted to economic and some cultural links. However since Turkey now has a defense agreement with Georgia and Azerbaijan, the wheels are in motion for a Caucasian Cold War. Only time will tell how Russia reacts to the growing Turkish influence in the region. At a minimum this Caucasian Cold War will pit Russia against Turkey through these states, despite their Turkish leaning, but Russia has shown recently that it is willing to use force to retain influence in its former Soviet territories.
Unhappy Iran Battles for Lost Influence in South Caucasus
Events that might not matter elsewhere in the world matter quite a lot in the South Caucasus. Given a recent history of conflict, with all the bad feelings that generates, plus outside powers playing geostrategic games, and its growing importance as an energy corridor between Europe and Central Asia, the region is vulnerable.
This has been worsened by the two-year-long Western absence of engagement. In 2020, Europe and the U.S. were barely involved as the second Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, leaving about 7,000 dead. With tensions now on the rise between Azerbaijan and Iran, Western uninterest is again evident, even though this might have wider ramifications for future re-alignment in the South Caucasus.
The drumbeat of Iranian activity against Azerbaijan has been consistent in recent months. Iran is getting increasingly edgy about Israel’s presence in the South Caucasus — hardly surprising given Israel’s painfully well-targeted assassination and computer hacking campaigns against nuclear staff and facilities — and especially its growing security and military ties with Azerbaijan, with whom Iran shares a 765km (430 mile) border. Iran has also voiced concern about the presence in the region of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, who were used as Azeri assault troops last year.
Much of the anger has been played out in military exercises. The Azeri military has been busy since its victory, exercising near the strategic Lachin corridor which connects the separatist region to Armenia, and in the Caspian Sea, where it has jointly exercised with Turkish personnel. Iran, in turn, sent units to the border region this month for drills of an unstated scale.
This week, the Azeri and Iranian foreign ministers agreed to dial down the rhetoric amid much talk of mutual understanding. Whether that involved promises regarding the Israeli presence or a pledge by Iran to abandon a newly promised road to Armenia was not stated.
Iran’s behavior is a recognition of the long-term strategic changes caused by the Armenian defeat last year. Iran has been sidelined. Its diplomatic initiatives have failed, and it has been unwelcome in post-conflict discussions.
It is true that Iran was never a dominant power in the South Caucasus. Unlike Russia or Turkey, the traditional power brokers, it has not had a true ally. Iran was certainly part of the calculus for states in the region, but it was not feared, like Russia or Turkey. And yet, the South Caucasus represents an area of key influence, based on millennia of close political and cultural contacts.
Seen in this light, it is unsurprising that Iran ratcheted up tensions with Azerbaijan. Firstly, this reasserted the involvement of the Islamic Republic in the geopolitics of the South Caucasus. It was also a thinly-veiled warning to Turkey that its growing ambitions and presence in the region are seen as a threat. In Iran’s view, Turkey’s key role as an enabler of Azeri irridentism is unmistakable.
Turkish involvement has disrupted the foundations of the South Caucasian status quo established in the 1990s. To expect Turkey to become a major power there is an overstretch, but it nevertheless worries Iran. For example, the recent Caspian Sea exercises between Azerbaijan and Turkey appear to run counter to a 2018 agreement among the sea’s littoral states stipulating no external military involvement.
The Caspian Sea has always been regarded by Iranians as an exclusive zone shared first with the Russian Empire, later the Soviets, and presently the Russian Federation. Other littoral states play a minor role. This makes Turkish moves in the basin and the recent improvement of ties between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan an unpleasant development for Iran — fewer barriers to the Trans-Caspian Pipeline threatens the Islamic Republic’s ability to block the project.
This is where Iranian views align almost squarely with the Kremlin’s. Both fear Turkish progress and new energy routes. The new Iranian leadership might now lean strongly toward Russia. With Russia’s backing, opposition to Turkey would become more serious; Iran’s foreign minister said this month that his country was seeking a “big jump” in relations with Russia.
The fact is that the region is increasingly fractured and is being pulled in different directions by the greater powers around it. This state of affairs essentially dooms the prospects of pan-regional peace and cooperation initiatives. Take the latest effort by Russia and Turkey to introduce a 3+3 platform with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as Iran. Beyond excluding the West, disagreements will eventually preclude any meaningful progress. There is no unity of purpose between the six states and there are profound disagreements.
Thus, trouble will at some point recur between Iran and Azerbaijan, and by extension Turkey. Given the current situation, and Iran’s visible discontent, it is likely it will take some kind of initiative lest it loses completely its position to Turkey and Russia.
Author’s note: first published in cepa
Right-wing extremist soldiers pose threat to Lithuania
It is no secret that Lithuania has become a victim of German army’s radicalization. Could this country count on its partners further or foreign military criminals threaten locals?
It is well known that Germany is one of the largest provider of troops in NATO. There are about 600 German troops in Lithuania, leading a Nato battlegroup. According to Lithuanian authorities, Lithuania needs their support to train national military and to protect NATO’s Central and Northern European member states on NATO’s eastern flank.
Two sides of the same coin should be mentioned when we look at foreign troops in Lithuania.
Though Russian threat fortunately remains hypothetical, foreign soldiers deployed in the country cause serious trouble. Thus, the German defence minister admitted that reported this year cases of racist and sexual abuse in a German platoon based in Lithuania was unacceptable.
Members of the platoon allegedly filmed an incident of sexual assault against another soldier and sang anti-Semitic songs. Later more allegations emerged of sexual and racial abuse in the platoon, including soldiers singing a song to mark Adolf Hitler’s birthday on 20 April this year.
It turned out that German media report that far-right abuses among the Lithuania-based troops had already surfaced last year. In one case, a soldier allegedly racially abused a non-white fellow soldier. In another case, four German soldiers smoking outside a Lithuanian barracks made animal noises when a black soldier walked past.
Lithuania’s Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said later that the investigation was carried out by Germany and that Lithuania was not privy to its details. The more so, Lithuania is not privy to its details even now. “We are not being informed about the details of the investigation. […] The Lithuanian military is not involved in the investigation, nor can it be,” Anušauskas told reporters, stressing that Germany was in charge of the matter.
Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, German defence minister, said that these misdeeds would be severely prosecuted and punished. Time has passed, and the details are not still known.
It should be said Germany has for years struggled to modernize its military as it becomes more involved in Nato operations. Nevertheless problems existed and have not been solved yet. According to the annual report on the state of the Bundeswehr made in 2020 by Hans-Peter Bartel, then armed forces commissioner for the German Bundestag, Germany’s army “has too little materiel, too few personnel and too much bureaucracy despite a big budget increase.” Mr Bartels’ report made clear that the Bundeswehr continues to be plagued by deep-seated problems. Recruitment remains a key problem. Mr Bartels said 20,000 army posts remained unfilled, and last year the number of newly recruited soldiers stood at just over 20,000, 3,000 fewer than in 2017. The other problem is radicalization of the armed forces.
Apparently, moral requirements for those wishing to serve in the German army have been reduced. Federal Volunteer Military Service Candidate must be subjected to a thorough medical examination. Desirable to play sports, have a driver’s license and be able to eliminate minor malfunctions in the motor, to speak at least one foreign language, have experience of communicating with representatives of other nationalities, be initiative and independent. After the general the interview follows the establishment of the candidate’s suitability for service in certain types of armed forces, taking into account his wishes. Further candidate passes a test on a computer. He will be asked if he wants study a foreign language and attend courses, then serve in German French, German-Dutch formations or institutions NATO.
So, any strong and healthy person could be admitted, even though he or she could adhere to far-right views or even belong to neo-Nazi groups. Such persons served in Lithuania and, probably, serve now and pose a real threat to Lithuanian military, local population. Neo-Nazism leads to cultivating racial inequalities. The main goal of the neo-Nazis is to cause disorder and chaos in the country, as well as to take over the army and security organs. Lithuanian authorities should fully realize this threat and do not turn a blind eye to the criminal behaviour of foreign military in Lithuania. There is no room to excessive loyalty in this case.
Lithuanian foreign policy: Image is everything
It seems as if Lithuanian government takes care of its image in the eyes of EU and NATO partners much more than of its population. Over the past year Lithuania managed to quarrel with such important for its economy states like China and Belarus, condemned Hungary for the ban on the distribution of images of LGBT relationships among minors, Latvia and Estonia for refusing to completely cut energy from Belarus. Judging by the actions of the authorities, Lithuania has few tools to achieve its political goals. So, it failed to find a compromise and to maintain mutually beneficial relations with economic partners and neighbours. The authorities decided to achieve the desired results by demanding from EU and NATO member states various sanctions for those countries that, in their opinion, are misbehaving.
Calling for sanctions and demonstrating its “enduring political will”, Lithuania exposed the welfare of its own population. Thus, district heating prices will surge by around 30 percent on average across Lithuania.
The more so, prices for biofuels, which make up 70 percent of heat production on average, are now about 40 higher than last year, Taparauskas, a member of the National Energy Regulatory Council (VERT) said.
“Such a huge jump in prices at such a tense time could threaten a social crisis and an even greater increase in tensions in society. We believe that the state must take responsibility for managing rising prices, especially given the situation of the most vulnerable members of society and the potential consequences for them. All the more so as companies such as Ignitis or Vilnius heating networks “has not only financial resources, but also a certain duty again,” sums up Lukas Tamulynas, the chairman of the LSDP Momentum Vilnius movement.
It should be said, that according to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, prices for consumer goods and services have been rising for the eighth month in a row. According to the latest figures, the annual inflation rate is five percent.
Earlier it became known that in 2020 every fifth inhabitant of Lithuania was below the poverty risk line.
Pensioners are considered one of the most vulnerable groups in Lithuania. In 2019, Lithuania was included in the top five EU anti-leaders in terms of poverty risk for pensioners. The share of people over 65 at risk of poverty was 18.7 percent.
In such situation sanctions imposed on neighbouring countries which tightly connected to Lithuanian economy and directly influence the welfare of people in Lithuania are at least damaging. The more so, according Vladimir Andreichenko, the speaker of the House of Representatives of the Belarus parliament, “the unification of the economic potentials of Minsk and Moscow would be a good response to sanctions.” It turned out that Lithuania itself makes its opponents stronger. Such counter-productiveness is obvious to everyone in Lithuania except for its authorities.
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