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A frozen conflict in the Caucasus reaches a boiling point

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]s most of the industrial world and major powers focus on the conflicts in the Middle East, the obstinate behavior of North Korea, and the deterioration in the relationship between Russia and the West, there exists a “frozen conflict” that has the possibility of affecting the Middle East, Europe, and every nation within the Caspian periphery.

It is the current crisis between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and if it is not resolved or successfully mediated soon then the possibility is high that armed conflict between the two nations will occur; an action that serves the interests of no one on the geopolitical stage outside of the jingoistic goals of the two belligerents. The territorial dispute has gone on for decades and has cost tens of thousands of lives with charges of ethnic cleansing levelled by both sides.

The Caucasus was the ancient crossroads between former empires and their heirs: Russian (tsarist and modern), Ottoman (Turkey), Persian (Iran) and Armenia, the first country in history to recognize Christianity as the official religion of the state, decades before Theodosius did so in Byzantine empire. All four, whose control of the area waxed and waned over the centuries, believe they have historical precedent in controlling the area.

The beginning of the dispute can be traced to Stalin’s decision to carve out a large district, the Nakhichevan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, and put it under the control of Soviet Azerbaijan, both to divide and rule and to placate Turkey, whose close ties with Azerbaijan convinced Stalin that the maneuver could be used to forge closer ties with the Turks. What Stalin could not foresee was the simmering discontent the region would foster over the next half century, the result being that most of those in the region were Armenian under Azerbaijani control.

Soviet control maintained a somewhat firm hand over the region until the first signs of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. The discontent assumed organized form from 1988 to 1992 as the Karabakh movement, a nationalist movement that began in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast that advocated for the transfer of the majority Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh region of neighboring Azerbaijan to the jurisdiction of Armenia. In 1988, the autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh region, comprised of a majority Armenian population, passed a referendum to join Soviet Armenia. This created enormous tension as Azerbaijan fiercely decried the legitimacy of the vote. This led to the intervention of Soviet troops in response to heavy interethnic conflict in the region between Azerbaijani troops and Armenian secessionists. On November 26, 1991, the Azerbaijan parliament revoked the autonomous status of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and attempted to divide the region and incorporate it piecemeal into five Azerbaijani districts, Shusha, Khojavend, Tartar, Goranboy, and Kalbajar. Because of this action, the Armenian population in the disputed region immediately declared their independence under the banner of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic two weeks later on December 10th. Full scale fighting intensified in late 1992, and the conflict quickly escalated into a full-scale war in which 30,000 people were killed and over one million Azerbaijani refugees were displaced. Over a two-year period, a succession of Armenian victories put the disputed region firmly under Armenian control before a ceasefire was brokered by the Russians and successfully implemented in 1994. At the signing of the ceasefire, Armenian forces controlled almost 20% of Azerbaijani territory.

As a result of the war, most of the former autonomous oblast has since remained under the control of the ethnic Armenian forces of Nagorno-Karabakh. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United Nations passed several resolutions recognizing the Nagorno-Karabakh region as part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. To this day, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is not officially recognized by any government outside of its own. Armenia does not recognize it because of the volatility in doing so would limit their flexibility in diplomatic negotiations; in addition, Russia, a key ally of Armenia, is resolute in not granting the area official recognition.

The ceasefire was violated hundreds of times over the last two decades until April of 2016, when heavy fighting took place along the Armenian-Azeri contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh resulting in hundreds of deaths. The clashes lasted four days and a larger conflict was avoided via the implementation of another ceasefire; however, the events highlighted the incendiary risk of a full-fledged war that has been omni-present for decades.

Compounding this problem is the labyrinthic array of alliances that rival the Byzantine foreign policy that was present in the area millennia ago. Azerbaijan has strengthened ties with Israel over the past few years. Trade exchanges, security agreements, and increased cooperation from agricultural projects to telecommunications have led to a symbiotic relationship between the two countries. Azerbaijan is Israel’s top partner in trade within the Muslim world, supplying Israel with millions of tons of oil every year, amounting to 40% of Israel’s oil being directly provided by Azerbaijan. Exports from both countries increased from a paltry $2M in the late nineties to almost half a billion at present time. In 2012, both countries signed an arms agreement totaling 1.6 billion dollars, in which the Israeli-run Aerospace Industries would provide drones, anti-aircraft and missile defense systems. After last year’s skirmish in April, Israeli media reported that Azerbaijan bought five billion dollars of Israeli weaponry, including advanced intelligence equipment. The Azerbaijanis have reportedly already put their newly acquired weapon systems to use, as the Armenians have protested to the Israeli government on the use of Israeli-bought suicide drones (the Israeli Harop) being used to seek and destroy Armenian targets.

But why this odd coupling? What are the reasons that these two countries, a Jewish state and the other being primarily dominated by Shia Muslims? There are shared mutual security concerns. Both nations view Iran as a existential threat, Israel for obvious reasons and Azerbaijan because of Iranian support for Armenia. Secondly, for Israel, the deterioration of its relationship with Turkey have forced the state to strengthen ties elsewhere within the geo-graphical vicinity. Azerbaijan shares a border with Iran, making it ideal for Israeli covert operations to have a point of access. Indeed, Iran has not failed to recognize this and has accused the Israelis of using Azerbaijan as a corridor to allow their operatives to kill their nuclear scientists, as well as provide continual ground-level Israeli spying. Additionally, most intelligence analysts have speculated that the Israelis could use Azerbaijani airfields to launch possible airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, eliminating the need for long re-fueling endeavors and other logistical obstacles. Increased cooperation and shared security concerns over oil also addresses a continual worry for Azerbaijan, countering Iranian and Russian attempts to control oil export routes, especially considering the volatility of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in destabilizing their energy industries. Minor concerns for both countries are their cooperation against smaller threats such as the Hizb ut-Tahrir, whose pan-Islamic ideology threatens both states.

Both countries try to keep their relationship discreet; this was evident in a leaked 2009 cable in which Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev was quoted as saying that his country’s relationship with Israel was as like an iceberg: “nine-tenths of it below the surface.”

Outside of the aforementioned security concerns, within the political arena Baku hopes that allying itself with a democratic nation will remove or diminish western criticism of its one-party state over which President Ilham Aliyev presides. Attention from human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, and a ranking near the bottom on the Democracy Index have plagued his government for years, with continual accusations of harassing or killing dissenting journalists, restricting opposition parties, as well as vote tampering comprising the bulk of international criticism. Armenia is subject to much of the same criticisms – the recent Armenian election, won by President Serzh Sarksyan’s ruling Republican Party, was also tainted by vote-buying according to OSCE monitors; though not to a degree previously feared by international third party observers. Both countries have modified their constitutions to allow for long term rule, solidifying inherent power structures that allow both countries to continue their militant policies toward each other.

Turkey, whose relationship with Israel is rocky, nevertheless is the other member in the trifecta opposing Armenia. They are united by economic trade and a shared defense pact ratified by both countries seven years ago, promising military and political aid against an outside aggressor. Erdogan has made the Turkish position clear concerning their support for Azerbaijan in any conflict with Armenia, telling an Azerbaijani reporter that “we will support Azerbaijan to the end.” As Turkey is also a member of NATO, there is added incentive to Azerbaijan in signing the pact, certainly cognizant of NATO’s defense policy concerning its member states, indirectly linking certain military actions that might possibly be evoked in case of Armenian aggression in response to Turkish aid to Azerbaijan. In addition, Armenian insistence that Turkey recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915 is an ongoing issue that divides the two even further.

Georgia, while having somewhat cordial relations with Armenia, clearly supports Baku’s stance, so much so that previous Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili commented in 2001 that “whoever opposes Azerbaijan” is Georgia’s “enemy.”

For Armenia, the options are limited but they include Russia, which has no desire to see their orthodox brethren subjected to Shia aggression. Ties between both countries run deep; both countries signed a defense pact in Yerevan, and there are several Russian staging bases within Armenia. Russia has also supplied Armenia with over one billion dollars in arms sales. Within Armenian infrastructure, Russian involvement has deep roots, with Russian companies controlling or owning almost all of Armenia’s railways and gas pipelines.

For Moscow, Azerbaijan is the prize and Armenia is the tool for achieving that. Azerbaijan’s geopolitical location and rich oil resources are what interest the Kremlin in addition to their suspicion of a Shia Muslim country on their periphery. While sympathetic to the Armenian cause concerning the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, the Russians have stated, however, that their mutual defense pact does not cover the disputed area and that it falls on Armenia alone to defend it if it is attacked. While the pact guarantees protective military aid for the sovereignty of Armenian territory, the Armenians know that they are alone in defending their interests in the disputed region as Russia does not recognize it as part of Armenia proper. Adding intractability to the situation is the fact that Russia has been selling arms to both Armenia (over one billion dollars’ worth) and Azerbaijani (four billion dollars) under the supposed justification that controlled parity ensures peace. In the previous conflicts that have flared up over the last year, casualties on both sides were primarily inflicted by purchased Russian weapons. Azerbaijan’s defense budget greatly exceeds Armenia’s entire national budget, and previous Armenian successes on the battlefield can no longer be taken for granted, with recent Azerbaijani spending on weapons that dwarfs Armenian expenditures in the same area. To counter this imbalance, a disturbing scenario has developed with the Armenian acquisition of the Iskander ballistic-missile systems from Russia last year. Armenia is the only foreign country to allowed to acquire the advanced Russian missile system, despite bids from much wealthier nations, indicating Russian interests in assisting Armenia to achieve parity in the face of increased Azerbaijani military spending. This was later echoed by the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who argued the missiles were necessary to address the growing surplus of offensive weapons procured by Azerbaijan, a strategic argument that has the backing of Moscow (a paradoxical position as Moscow has sold Tos-1A Buratino thermobaric heavy rocket artillery systems, a weapon that can reduce a city block to rubble) to Azerbaijan. The Iskander-M missile has a range of five hundred kilometers (putting it well within reach of Azerbaijani oil facilities) and is considered highly accurate. Outside of being equipped with conventional warheads, it can also be adapted to carry nuclear warheads. While this nuclear capability may seem at first glance to be an improbable scenario, there is enough circumstantial evidence to be of concern, suggesting that the Armenians are more interested in acquiring tactical superiority that will make the increases of Azerbaijani conventional weaponry redundant. At a press conference on April 29 in Armenia, MP Hrant Bagratyan, a former prime minister, claimed that Armenia has nuclear weapons, later adding that they also “have the ability to create nuclear weapons” when asked to clarify his original comment. While most of the intelligence community considers his comment to be nothing but bluster, recent arrests of Armenians in Georgia trying to sell enriched uranium, as well as recent comments by both military and civilian leaders in Armenia either claiming to have a nuclear weapon or the capability in developing them, have not put their neighbors at ease.

Iran has cordial, friendly relations with Armenia, to the extent that Iran tolerates and bestows special recognition to the Christian Armenian population present in northern Iran. The ties between the two countries run deep, during the Iran-Iraq war, a significant number of Armenians died fighting for Iran. Iran even allows them to be represented by choosing their own delegates in parliamentary elections. The coinciding interests of both Armenia and Iran result in a rarely observed phenomena within the arena of international relations, an Islamic Republic working with a Christian orthodox Armenia concerning shared geo-political interests as well as economic endeavors, such as the construction of a hydro-electric plant on their shared border. In addition, Armenia is providing Iran with electricity in exchange for natural gas imports; with the lessening of international sanctions, Iran also views Armenia as an outlet to Eurasian markets, as Armenia is the sole Eurasian Economic Union member that borders Iran.

There are large numbers of Iranians of Azerbaijani descent (more so than the entire population of Azerbaijan); as Iran has conflicting interests with Azerbaijan, there is always an ever-present Iranian fear of a possible Azeri insurrectionist movement within Iran. While not problematic to the degree that some speculate, there have been problems in the past with separatist movements, and Iran casts a watchful eye on its second largest minority. Iran considers the working relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan to be a major security threat on its Northern border. It serves Iranian interests to have a weakened Azerbaijan and supporting Armenian expansionist aims over the conflicted Nagorno-Karabakh strengthens their hand. Azeri off-shore operations have been subject to harassment by Iranian naval vessels, which have tried to disrupt Azeri attempts to mine the Caspian for oil; and the Azeri’s have accused Iran of training operatives, arresting several within the Azerbaijan border on charges of terrorism. Disagreement with Turkey over its strategic initiatives in both war-torn Syria and Iraq has led to disputes between Ankara and Tehran, which adds even more baggage to the labyrinthic relations between all the aforementioned countries.

Armenia also has strong ties with Greece, both in their historical past within their shared Eastern Orthodox faith, as well as mutual co-existence throughout the centuries under both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. They have signed bilateral treaties of cooperation, and Greece is one of Armenia’s military partners; Greece trains much of the Armenian officer corps. The fact that Greece has had a historically difficult relationship with Turkey certainly isn’t lost on Armenia and like most multi partner alliances, this relationship is useful leverage to Yerevan.

Internal turmoil in both countries, fueled by economic woes, can also accelerate the path to conflict. Azerbaijan’s currency has plummeted for several years (though it has shown recent signs of strengthening through an enlarging tourist trade); Baku is heavily dependent on petroleum and natural gas exports and falling prices have continued unabated for several years. Azeri’s have been keeping most of their savings in foreign currency, exasperating the situation. Armenia isn’t much better. Dire economic conditions in both countries could tempt the leadership on either side to engage in small scale military endeavors to shift attention away from criticism of the government’s record on repressive measures taken on dissent (opposition parties, the press, etc.), as well as shift attention away from their struggling economies. Patriotism is strong in both countries among the general populace, and serves as a ready distraction by the governments of both countries to keep internal criticism low.

The repercussions that could result from an emerging conflict could be devastating not only to the surrounding area, but could deeply affect Europe as well. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry releases almost daily reports of Armenian violations of the current ceasefire, for example: On March 23rd the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed that Armenia violated the current ceasefire along the line of contact between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops 126 times in a 24 hour period; on March 30th, there were 146 violations, April 3rd 110 violations, etc. Armenia makes similar claims against Azerbaijan violations, stating similar numbers.

There are two major export routes that the Caspian region uses to export oil/gas to Europe and it is primarily Azerbaijan, which some analysts state sits on a potentially exploitable two trillion cubic meters of gas, which can provide a substantial European need. It is a symbiotic relationship for both Europe, which desires to move away from dependence on Russian gas, and Baku, where a substantial part of its revenue (20%) is derived from its energy sector. In addition to the established routes in existence, Baku is currently building what is referred to as the Southern Gas Corridor, a proposed 3,500-kilometre-long network of three gas pipelines from Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea basin that will enable Europe to offset Russian price fixing and using its supply of gas to Europe as a foreign policy tool. Russia supplies over one-third of the EU’s crude oil needs and Russian pipeline dominance is expected to continue for at least two full decades if measures are not taken to diversify the EU’s energy needs. European hope that existing and proposed Caspian oil/gas pipelines will alleviate them from relying on fickle Russian gas policy to meet their crucial energy needs could be dashed by a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, even more so considering previous statements out of Yerevan that said pipelines would be a legitimate military target if a conflict ensues. The best-case scenario in such a conflict is that Azerbaijan would likely shut down the pipelines down to avoid spillage due to leaks caused by targeting. This would be devastating, as the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline ships over one billion barrels of oil per day, supplying Turkey as well as Israel. In addition, the ongoing construction of the Southern Gas Corridor, in which a predicted ten billion cubic meters of gas could be shipped into European markets, could also be targeted in a conflict between the two countries. The economic repercussions that would happen if an emerging conflict would arise are enormous; just the mere possibility of such a conflict make emerging pipeline projects risky financial endeavors, and damaging hostility can cause a spike in the global oil market. With long term plans to add more pipelines reducing European need for Russian gas, the greater the impact if conflict arises in the future. It should be noted that it would be against Russian economic interests if the Azerbaijani-supplied Southern Gas Corridor is completed, further complicating the issue, given Russian support for Armenia.

Russian interests are best explained by Maksim Shevchenko, who has on two separate occasions been a member of the Public Chamber, a group of advisors under Putin: “If a new war erupts between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia, Georgia and Turkey will be involved in it.” The Russians fear that a war between the two countries (or an emerging civil war in either country) could descend into chaos and will provide the right fertilization for radical terrorism as an emerging vacuum would result from chaotic instability, citing examples in both Syria and Iraq as a horrifying template. Claiming that the West has little interest on the region, it is up to Russia, Turkey, and Iran to put pressure on both Armenia and Azerbaijan to reconcile their differences over the disputed region. Shevchenko stressed that the Russia-Turkey-Iran format, consisting of three countries with a shared disdain for Western influence in the region, is ideal for a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. Criticizing Armenian support for joining the EU, Shevchenko, echoing Russian political sentiment, believes that such aspirations only make the problem worse, and will create more conflict with the addition of other countries who do not understand the instability of the Caucus region to begin with.

For the United States, their decade-long support for nations in the Caspian region Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to achieve autonomy and provide a bulwark against Russian expansion could be thwarted. Reducing reliance on Russian gas delivery weakens Russian leverage, so it serves Western interests to foster Caspian energy resource distribution to Western markets. Conflict could destabilize the entire area and lead to Russian intervention and an increased military presence within the Southern Caucus region. A protracted conflict could also lead to millions of refugees, straining the capabilities of surrounding countries like Georgia to handle the sudden influx. Of secondary concern would be the alliance entanglements that would involve both Turkey (a NATO member) and Russia.

According to the International Energy Agency, 95% of the global economy is affected by the actions of half a dozen states in the Middle East which are facing internal crisis, terrorism, corruption and a host of destabilizing scenarios; adding more convoluted problem scenarios inherent within the Caspian region and surrounding countries is problematic at best and catastrophic at worse, especially considering the close relationships that Israel, Iran, and Turkey have with Azerbaijan and Armenia.

So what can be done? What can bring peace to the region or at least a sustainable stability?

Past attempts have only been moderately successful. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) created the Minsk group in an attempt to create a peaceful resolution to the frozen conflict through negotiation, but, like the Russian attempts, nothing permanent has resulted in anything other than ceasefires. Neither the Russians nor the Minsk group have been able to de-escalate the tension between the two countries whose hatred of each other displays a depth past their respective leaderships all the way down to the community level.

The United States is limited both by geography and currently poor relationship with Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Its diplomatic initiatives would be limited to coercion, economic packaging which includes assistance and financial investments, etc., and in the same economic stratus could curtail those activities in order to exert direct pressure on either Baku or Yerevan by withdrawing economic assistance or establishing sanctions. In this regard, the United States could be joined by the EU in discouraging economic assistance and halting projects that both countries (especially Azerbaijan) need to boost their economies if there is no collective push by bother countries to mediate their differences peacefully. Putting a halt to outside projects that benefit both nations could certainly be used as substantial leverage to bring both parties back to the table.

Both the United States and the EU should encourage Russian mediation, as past experiences have shown some success in Moscow’s attempts to broker peace by dealing directly with the military leadership of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, Russia’s options are limited as well as both Baku and Yerevan express deep hesitation in accepting any semblance of Russian peace-keeping forces in the disputed region, as it would insinuate a return to the subservient roles that both countries played within the Soviet Union.

All of the major powers that are influential in this region – Russia, Turkey, Iran, the EU, and the United States – must work directly together to produce a clear schematic of how disastrous a conflict would be to both nations. Ideas that would defuse the situation must include how to deal with the sole main issue that divides the two nations so deeply, the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Various solutions have been discussed, from the obvious return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control to awarding a limited autonomy that will allow for self-governance to a degree while still allowing for an Azerbaijani influence, somewhat like the status of Hong Kong in China. International security guarantees by Russia and the EU in addition to international peacekeeping forces along any disputed borders are also another option.

There are two specific actions that the United States could enact that will affect the two countries separately. The U.S. could threaten to pull out of the Minsk peace process and take the matter to the United Nations. Armenia would fear such an action because of past rulings where the Security Council has expressed support for Azerbaijan’s territorial claim to the disputed region. In turn, however, Azerbaijan would likely dissuade the Americans from doing this, as the Azeri’s use American involvement as a counter to Russian influence in the region, specifically in regards to the close relationship between Yerevan and Moscow. Both proposed actions come with large risks as a diminished American role in mediation in the Caucus region will be seized by Moscow as legitimately ceding the area to the Russian sphere of control.

Recent joint Russian and Turkish cooperation concerning their respective roles in the Syrian conflict gives both countries a progressive familiarity with each other and this current working relationship may yet be successful in brokering a lasting peace between their secondary allies in Baku and Yerevan. Additionally, Moscow must stop their practice of selling weapons to both sides under the bizarre notion that it achieves “parity.”

Certain steps must be taken as a resolution is being worked on. International observers must be allowed in greater numbers as well as increased and better communication on a tactical level between the military leadership of both countries, not only to minimize the chances of an incendiary spark that could ignite a conflict, but also as a step toward working to a solution by adhering to third party observation as a common denominator in solving almost daily disputes. A proposed UN Security Council resolution condemning any future substantial military action could also be used to award coveted legitimacy to the nation pressing its case.

The OSCE must realize that simply managing the current dispute between the two countries isn’t acceptable and that a resolution and the long-term commitments that come with it must be the primary goal. This includes everything from daily mediation to post-settlement security issues as well as addressing the multiple issues that come with such a resolution, such as community displacement from the previous fighting and the possibility of their eventual return. The alternative to failure would be an additional conflict (the other being the Ukrainian crisis) that the OSCE would have to manage.

In the past both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been malleable when international attention has been acutely focused on their disputes; and their belligerency toward each other manifests itself physically when international attention wanes. Vigorous attention by the major powers affecting both countries should be sharp and focused. Both countries must be convinced that their future lies in economic integration within the Caspian periphery and that open conflict will achieve nothing beneficial to either country. Armenia must understand that they stand alone in lacking international allies concerning their claim; their worsening economy and a lack of energy-producing integration projects that their Caspian neighbors have begun in their own countries only highlight their isolation. Azerbaijan must understand that procuring offensive weapons at great expense in anticipation of achieving their goals militarily will not remove the problem and in turn, will destroy the economic projects both recently created and planned to bring prosperity to their nation. There will always be violence unless both sides procure a peace agreeable to both. There is everything to gain and everything to lose.

Years ago, the late Meir Dagan, former Director of the Mossad, visited Azerbaijan. Knowing his love for chess, his Azeri hosts took him to a local high school chess club where he lost every game. His hosts were embarrassed that their honored guest was humiliated and were not expecting this outcome as Dagan fancied himself a good player. While unsettling within the narrow confines of diplomatic protocol, the current chess game being played over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region is far, far riskier.

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Eastern Europe

Dismantling Yalta system, or Ukraine as an instrument of destroying the world order

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Ukraine’s recent provocation in the Black Sea has become another pretext for unraveling the Yalta system of international institutions and legal accords, which has been actively and openly done since 2014. Before that, it was Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, a bungled attempt to do the same in Syria, as well as a series of “color revolutions,” orchestrated in close vicinity of the Russian borders, including the so-called “Revolution of Dignity” in Ukraine.

In Ukraine, however, these attempts hit another snag after Crimea reunited with Russia, southwestern Ukraine rebelled against Kiev’s nationalist ideology and the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics were declared as a culmination of the disintegration processes set forth by Maidan. These attempts have equally failed in Syria after President Bashar Assad asked for military assistance from Russia and, in August 2015, signed an agreement to deploy Russian military aircraft in Syria in line with the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation that the Soviet Union and the Syrian Arab Republic inked in October 8, 1980.

Fully aware of the failure of previous attempts to use limited troop contingents in different parts of the globe, the West in general and the US in particular, were very skeptical about the success of the Russian military mission in Syria. Still, backed by the Russian Air Force group, quickly deployed in the country, the Syrian army took a mere two years to turn the course of the war all around.

Since 2004, the Ukrainian leadership has been diligently kowtowing to some Western powers’ attempts to dismantle the system of international agreements and the balance of forces existing since the end of World War II and, therefore, has ceased to be an independent one. Kiev is trying hard to put its self-serving interests in the context of the general political line of its Western patrons. To this end, Kiev is doing everything possible to give the West a reason to impose sanctions on Russia and to further exacerbate tensions between Moscow and the West. One of the results of the recent provocation in the Black Sea was the cancellation of President Vladimir Putin’s planned meeting with US President Donald Trump in Argentina, and the introduction of martial law in some Ukrainian regions.

Speaking of recent history, squeezing the Russian Black Sea fleet from Sevastopol and the creation of a NATO naval base there was one of the much anticipated and planned outcomes the “Revolution of Dignity.” Ukraine’s plans to join NATO alienated the country’s mutinous southeast, and Crimea’s rejoining Russia put “paid” to Brussels’ dreams of setting up a base on the peninsula.

However, even though the “Ukrainian project” in its original sense fell flat, the strategic goals haven’t gone anywhere. It’s been decided to keep up pressure on Russia with a plan dubbed “Azov tension,” whose implementation very curiously coincided with the completion of the construction of the automobile section of the Crimean Bridge.

Did the provocation in the Black Sea come as a surprise for the Russian military and diplomats? By no means, because the Western actions being taken as part of Operation “Azov tension” were too obvious to ignore. In an interview given on November 23, on the eve of the provocation, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said that “… the Azov [incident] was intentionally injected into the information space. The Kiev regime, in coordination with its foreign mentors and patrons, has found another anti-Russian theme created from scratch. Moscow has recently been facing a series of unwarranted accusations of allegedly engaging in some illegal actions in the Sea of Azov. This should have been expected though, because now that the issue of Crimea as an instrument of pressure on Russia has lost its acuteness, they need a new pretext, and the Azov [incident] has been chosen as exactly such a pretext.”

The November 25 provocation in the Black Sea unfolded against the backcloth of frequent flights by US reconnaissance aircraft, and served as an excuse for increasing the number of NATO military observers in the Black Sea region. This is evidenced by the following chronology:

  • On October 8, US Air Force and Navy planes flew many hours of reconnaissance flights off the coast of Crimea and Krasnodar Region (the RQ-4A Global Hawk strategic drone cruised from Crimea’s westernmost tip along its southwestern and southern coasts, near the Kerch Strait and further along the entire length of Krasnodar Region, all the way to Sochi). Almost simultaneously, a P-8A Poseidon US Navy anti-submarine patrol plane flew along the Russian coast from Sevastopol to Novorossiisk in close vicinity of Russia’s sea border on the Black Sea.
  • On November 5, it was reported that a Russian Su-27 fighter jet had intercepted and escorted a US EP-3 Aries reconnaissance plane in international airspace over the Black Sea.
  • On December 2, a US Air Force RQ-4B Global Hawk strategic UAV flew a second, eight-hour, reconnaissance mission off Russia’s Black Sea coast, cruising near Crimea, the Kerch Strait and Kuban Region.
  • On December 4, two American reconnaissance aircraft, an RC-135V strategic reconnaissance plane and an EP-3E Aries II long-range electronic reconnaissance aircraft, flew for many hours off the coast of Crimea, near the Kerch Strait and Krasnodar Region.

This may not be the most detailed chronology, but it is still enough to understand the amount of attention paid to the region ahead of and after the November 25 Ukrainian provocation in order to gauge the reaction of the Russian Navy.

The following statements further clarify the US strategy in the Black Sea region:

  • Speaking during the International Conference on Maritime Security in Kiev on November 29, Ukraine’s top naval commander, Igor Voronchenko, said that “due to the Russian ships’ aggression against Ukrainian vessels in the Sea of Azov, Ukraine will insist that passage through the Bosphorus in Turkey be closed to Russia.”
  • On December 3, US Senator John Barrasso proposed sending US ships  to the Black Sea and “have NATO do it as well” to present “a forceful response” to Russia. He also called “to give [Ukraine]anti-aircraft [weapons] and give them weapons also in terms of anti-ship.”

To better understand the situation in the region, one should consider Turkey’s position on this issue. Ankara claims regional leadership, is actively involved in the Syrian conflict, is a member of NATO, has been included the US program of supplying the latest F-35 fighter jets, is building the Turkish Stream pipeline and a nuclear power station with Russia and is buying the latest S-400 missile systems from Moscow. Diverse and multidirectional as Ankara’s interests are, its close cooperation with Russia still makes Turkey a stabilizing factor in the Black Sea region. This is evidenced by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s offer made on November 29 to act as a go-between in resolving the incident in the Black Sea. He also discussed the initiative with the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and the United States.

It seems, however, that neither Erdogan’ proposal, nor his independent position on arms purchases resonate with the US strategy in this region. In view of Turkey’s decision to buy the S-400 air defense missile system from Russia and the planned supplies of F-35 fighter jets from the US, Washington has told Ankara that it must make a choice whether it stays with the West or sides with Russia. In response, Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Janikli dismissed as unacceptable the US demand that his country should not go ahead with the purchase of S-400 missiles as a condition for getting F-35 fighters.

Ukraine’s call to close the Bosphorus to Russian ships is also an attempt to make Turkey decide whose side it is on. This proves once again that executing foreign instructions to the detriment of their own country’s long-term interests, is now topmost on the minds of the big shots in Kiev, who have neither a development strategy or any vision of their country’s future. By subordinating itself to the will of others, Kiev stays the course of breaking off ties with Russia and setting the stage for new anti-Russian sanctions. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin has already announced the cancellation of 40 bilateral agreements with Russia. On November 30, Ukraine lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights about the incident in the Black Sea. On December 3, President Petro Poroshenko submitted for parliamentary approval a proposal to terminate a treaty of friendship with Russia. The Ukrainian president also said that Kiev was going to lodge a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice to make Russia liable for the “recent act of aggression” in the Black Sea.

Well, a provocateur’s place in history has never been an enviable one. People usually forget his name the very moment his mission is over.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Eastern Europe

Rethinking Armenian North-South Road Corridor: Internal and External Factors

Mher D. Sahakyan

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In contemporary Eurasian mainland there are three main integration developments: European Union (EU), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and One Belt, One Road (OBOR). The one of the main aims of these 2 programs and 1 initiative, which coincide with each other, is to develop transportation infrastructures. If we pay attention to this triangle, we will see that through its entire territory leading attendees are building land and maritime connections between Asia and Europe. The priority is given to developments of roads, railroads, ports, pipelines, digital interconnection, etc. As a result, the infrastructures of the states which are actively participating in these integration developments are emerging and they are strengthening their ties with the leading centers of these projects and initiative such as Germany, France (EU), Russia (EAEU), China (OBOR).

The other emerging Eurasian project “International North-South transport corridor”, which was initiated by Russia, India and Iran also strengthens its role in connecting Asia with the Europe, which through developing transportation infrastructure connects Indian Mumbai to Russian Moscow. These kinds of transport integration developments provide great opportunity to states, which are located in the center of Eurasian continent to connect their transportation infrastructures with the main corridors which are bridging East with the West and North with the South.

In one hand, Armenia is a member of the EAEU and in the other hand it strengthens its cooperation with the EU. Yerevan speaks also about its commitment to strengthen cooperation in the field of transportation with China in the framework of China’s OBOR initiative. It is worth mentioning, that for standing transit country in transportation corridors which unites different regions of the Eurasian continent, Armenia, at first must develop and modernize its poor developed transportation infrastructure. For this reason, Armenia is building 556 km North-South Road Corridor, which will start from Armenian-Iranian border and reach to Armenian-Georgian border.

In sum, Armenia will be able to be involved in the transport corridors which are connecting East to West, if it successfully finishes construction of its North-South road corridor. Building of the North-South Corridor will provide an opportunity to Armenia to strengthen its economy, security and geopolitical role. It is also worth mentioning, that the main aims of Armenian North-South program are fully correspondent with interests and philosophies of the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East’s “Asian land infrastructure development program, ”China’s OBOR initiative, EU’s TRACECA, Russia’s lead EAEU, International North-South Transport Corridor (India, Russia, Iran, etc.).

The Internal and External Factors of the Armenian North-South Road Corridor

The Internal Factors      

Armenian North-South Road Corridor on both in internal and external levels will affect on further development of Armenia’s economic development. At first let’s discuss what kind of influence can have the implementation of this program on inner Armenian developments? It is worth mentioning that in the 21-st century, which is the era of globalization, free trade and movement, it is impossible to develop the economy of any country without constructing and modernizing transportation infrastructures of that state, which in turn must be connected with the international transport networks. Well developed, high-speed road networks play a crucial role in economic growth of every country, as they conduce to harmonize interconnected cooperation between different spheres (industry, agriculture, etc.) of economy. Meanwhile, the absence or bad condition of the roads increases transportation charges, rises unnecessary loss of time. These circumstances, in turn, have a negative impact on the final formation of the product price. Thus the final construction and  exploitation of the North-South road corridor will make it’s important contribution on Armenia’s economic growth, as Armenian business companies, which are spread from South to North will be able to use this transport corridor and improve cooperation with each other, they will be able to easily transport their goods to the markets of the other cities and villages, the prices of the transportation will go down  and the movement of people will also stand easy, in turn it will simulate the development of internal tourism. The above-mentioned conditions will foster the development of Armenian economy, as a result new working places will be opened. Armenia will stand more attractive for the foreign investors.

The implementation of the North-South road corridor will also increase security of Armenia. It is worth mentioning, that for the victory in the contemporary wars, one of the main important factors is the fast movement of military units and equipment and in this context North-South will strengthen Armenia’s security and combat readiness of the Armenian Armed Forces. Thus, taking into consideration aforementioned facts it is very important to support to implement this project, increase confidence in Armenian society and among the members of the International society.

The External Factors

It is true, that some transport infrastructures are being built in the neighboring regions of Armenia, but it is worth mentioning, that because of the policies of some regional powers, Armenia is not involved in some of these projects (for instance Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway), they are bypassing Armenia. This is a challenge against Armenian national security and Armenia must take appropriate steps for not being isolated. Thus, Armenia must finish construction of the North-South road corridor and through it to join the international road networks.

As we have mentioned in Eurasian mainland there are two integration projects-EU and EAEU and one integration initiative-OBOR. Every, has its own component for development of the transportation communications. Due to the aims of these integration developments, the economies of Asian states will be connected to Europeans. If Armenia to finish its North-South road corridor, it will get an opportunity to be involved in OBOR’s Silk Road Economic Belt’s China-Central Asia-West Asia economic corridor, it will strengthen its role in the EU’s TRACECA and in the other international transportation networks. It is also worth mentioning, that the implementation of Armenian project coincides with the aims of the main players of the Eurasian mainland-EU, EAEU and China, as it will stand the other bridge, which will connect Europe with Asia. I do believe that implementation of the Armenian North South transport corridor is fully correspondent with the interests of the EU, EAEU and China as well. If we also consider the International North-South Transport Corridor which aims to connect Mumbai with Moscow, we can come to conclusion that Armenia can integrate its North-South road corridor in it, as one of the main players in this program is Russia, I do believe that Yerevan’s strategic ally-Moscow will be also very interested in involvement of Armenian infrastructure in this program, additionally, it is worth mentioning, that Armenia has also normal relations with India and Iran.

It is true, that for now Armenia has not good relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan, but sooner or latter the problems between neighboring states must be solved. If Armenia builds its North-South Road Corridor it will get an opportunity to increase its role in the region and offer its transport infrastructure to regional and non-regional players, also connecting its roads with the international transport network.

Conclusion

In sum, the North-South road corridor is very important project for Armenia as it will help to grow Armenian economy, will strengthen its security and will increase geopolitical role of Armenia in the region. Thus, Armenians in Armenia and Diaspora must be interested in building this road corridor with united efforts.

The construction of the North-South Corridor will have its spillover on developing different spheres of the science in Armenia affiliated with road construction, as this corridor is being built with the modern technologies and many international leading companies from different countries are participating in the implementation of this project, thus Armenian specialists and companies work with them getting great opportunity to improve their knowledge and experience, which further they can already use in construction of other roads in  Armenia and abroad.

Armenian North-South road corridor, which is being constructing under the leadership of “Transport Project Implementation Organization” State Non-Commercial Organization,  will stand the other bridge which will connect Asia with Europe and it will strengthen security of transportation networks and interconnection between Europe-South Caucasus-Middle East-Far East, as a result it will have great impact on the economy of the South Caucasus and will have its own contribution on peacebuilding. It is worth mentioning that Armenian North-South Road Corridor has a cooperative character and it is open for every representative of the International society. The Construction of the Armenian North-South road corridor is the best example of multilateral cooperation between different nations, as in the building of this important regional corridor companies from China, Spain, France, Italy, Iran and several international institutions as Asian Development Bank, World bank, European Investment Bank, European Bank of Reconstruction are attending. It is also open for the new partners as the construction of the 4-th tranche of the road will start soon.

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Eastern Europe

Bleak See on the Black Sea

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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Following the latest events in and around the Black Sea, two old questions are reappearing. Both are inviting us for a repeated elaboration:

If a Monroe doctrine (about the hemispheric security exclusivity) is recognised at one corner of the globe, do we have a moral right or legal ground to negate it at the other corner? This irrespectively from the fact that Gorbachev-Yeltsin Russia unilaterally renounced the similar doctrine – the Brezhnev doctrine about irreversibility of communist gains.

Clearly, the ‘might-makes-right’ as a conduct in international relations cannot be selectively accepted. Either it is acknowledged to all who can effectively self-prescribe and maintain such a monopoly of coercion, or it is absolutely (revoked and) condemned as contrary to behaviour among the civilised nations.

Next to the first question is a right of pre-emption.

It is apparent that within the Black Sea theatre, Russia acts in an unwilling, pre-emptive and rather defensive mode. That is not a regime change action on the other continent following the rational of extra security demand by exclusive few. Fairly, it is an equalising reactive attempt within the near abroad. For the last 25 years, all the NATO military interventions were outside its membership zone; none of the few Russian interventions over the same period was outside the parameter of former USSR.

Before closing, let us take a closer look on the problem from a larger historical perspective.

Una hysteria Importante

Historically speaking, the process of Christianization of Europe that was used as the justification tool to (either intimidate or corrupt, so to say to) pacify the invading tribes, which demolished the Roman Empire and brought to an end the Antique age, was running parallel on two tracks. The Roman Curia/Vatican conducted one of them by its hammer: the Holy Roman Empire. The second was run by the cluster of Rusophone Slavic Kaganates, who receiving (the orthodox or true/authentic, so-called Eastern version of) Christianity from Byzantium, and past its collapse, have taken over a mission of Christianization, while forming its first state of Kiev Russia (and thereafter, its first historic empire). Thus, to the eastern edge of Europe, Russophones have lived in an intact, nearly a hermetic world of universalism for centuries: one empire, one Tsar, one religion and one language.

Everything in between Central Europe and Russia is Eastern Europe, rather a historic novelty on the political map of Europe. Very formation of the Atlantic Europe’s present shape dates back to 14th–15th century, of Central Europe to the mid-late 19th century, while a contemporary Eastern Europe only started emerging between the end of WWI and the collapse of the Soviet Union – meaning, less than 100 years at best, slightly over two decades in the most cases. No wonder that the dominant political culture of the Eastern Europeans resonates residual fears and reflects deeply insecure small nations. Captive and restive, they are short in territorial depth, in demographic projection, in natural resources and in a direct access to open (warm) seas. After all, these are short in historio-cultural verticals, and in the bigger picture-driven long-term policies. Eastern Europeans are exercising the nationhood and sovereignty from quite a recently, thus, too often uncertain over the side and page of history. Therefore, they are often dismissive, hectic and suspectful, nearly neuralgic and xenophobic, with frequent overtones.

Years of Useful Idiot

The latest loss of Russophone Europe in its geopolitical and ideological confrontation with the West meant colossal changes in Eastern Europe. One may look into geopolitical surrounding of at the-time largest eastern European state, Poland, as an illustration of how dramatic was it.  All three land neighbors of Poland; Eastern Germany (as the only country to join the EU without any accession procedure, but by pure act of Anschluss), Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union have disappeared overnight. At present, Polish border countries are a two-decade-old novelty on the European political map. Further on, if we wish to compare the number of dissolutions of states worldwide over the last 50 years, the Old continent suffered as many as all other continents combined: American continent – none, Asia – one (Indonesia/  East Timor), Africa – two (Sudan/South Sudan and Ethiopia/Eritrea), and Europe – three.

Interestingly, each and every dissolution in Europe was primarily related to Slavs (Slavic peo-ples) living in multiethnic and multi-linguistic (not in the Atlantic Europe’s conscripted pure single-nation) state. Additionally, all three European fragmentations – meaning, every second dissolution in the world – were situated exclusively and only in Eastern Europe. That region has witnessed a total dissolution of Czechoslovakia (western Slavs) and Yugoslavia (southern Slavs, in 3 waves), while one state disappeared from Eastern Europe (DDR) as to strengthen and enlarge the front of Central Europe (Western Germany). Finally, countless centripetal turbulences severely affected Eastern Europe following the dissolution of the Soviet Union (eastern Slavs) on its frontiers.

Irredentism in the UK, Spain, Belgium, France and Italy, or Denmark (over Faroe Islands and Greenland) is far elder, stronger and deeper. However, all dissolutions in Eastern Europe took place irreversibly and overnight, while Atlantic Europe remained intact, with Central Europe even enlarging territorially and expanding economically.

Deindustrialized, incapacitated, demoralized, over-indebted, re-feudalized, rarified and de-Slavicized

Finally, East is sharply aged and depopulated –the worst of its kind ever– which in return will make any future prospect of a full and decisive generational interval simply impossible. Honduras-ization of Eastern Europe is full and complete. Hence, is it safe to say that if the post-WWII Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe was overt and brutal, this one is subtle but subversive and deeply corrosive?

The key (nonintentional) consequence of the Soviet occupation was that the Eastern European states –as a sort of their tacit, firm but low-tempered rebellion – preserved their sense of nationhood. However, they had essential means at disposal to do so: the right to work was highly illuminated in and protected by the national constitutions, so were other socio-economic rights such as the right to culture, language, arts and similar segments of collective nation’s memory. Today’s East, deprived and deceived, silently witnesses the progressive metastasis of its national tissue.

Ergo, euphemisms such as countries in transition or new Europe cannot hide a disconsolate fact that Eastern Europe has been treated for 25 years as defeated belligerent, as spoils of war which the West won in its war against communist Russia.

It concludes that (self-)fragmented, deindustrialized and re-feudalized, rapidly aged rarified and depopulated, (and de-Slavicized) Eastern Europe is probably the least influential region of the world – one of the very few underachievers. Obediently submissive and therefore, rigid in dynamic environment of the promising 21st century, Eastern Europeans are among last remaining passive downloaders and slow-receivers on the otherwise blossoming stage of the world’s creativity, politics and economy. Seems, Europe still despises its own victims…

Terra nullius

Admittedly, by the early 1990s, the ‘security hole’– Eastern Europe, has been approached in multifold fashion: Besides the (pre-Maastricht EC and post-Maastricht) EU and NATO, there was the Council of Europe, the CSCE (after the 1993 Budapest summit, OSCE), the EBRD and EIB. All of them were sending the political, economic, human dimension, commercial signals, assistance and expertise. These moves were making both sides very nervous; Russia becoming assertive (on its former peripheries) and Eastern Europe defiantly dismissive.  Until this very day, each of them is portraying the NATO enterprise as the central security consideration: One as a must-go, and another as a no-go.

No wonder that the absolute pivot of Eastern Europe, and the second largest of all Slavic states – Ukraine, is a grand hostage of that very dilemma: Between the eastern pan-Slavic hegemony and western ‘imperialism of free market’.  Additionally, the country suffers from the consolidated Klepto-corporate takeover as well as the rapid re-Nazification.

For Ukraine, Russia is a geographic, socio-historic, cultural and linguistic reality. Presently, this reality is far less reflected upon than the seducing, but rather distant Euro-Atlantic club. Ukraine for Russia; it represents more than a lame western-flank’ geopolitical pivot, or to say, the first collateral in the infamous policy of containment that the West had continuously pursued against Russia ever since the 18th century.

For Moscow, Kiev is an emotional place – an indispensable bond of historio-civilizational attachment – something that makes and sustains Russia both Christian and European. Putin clearly redlined it: Sudden annexation of Crimea (return to its pre-1954 status) was an unpleasant and humiliating surprise that brought a lot of foreign policy hangover for both the NATO and EU.

Nevertheless, for the Atlantist alarmists (incl. the Partition studies participants and those working for the Hate industry), military lobbyists and other cold-war mentality ‘deep-state’ structures on all sides, this situation offers a perfect raison d’etre.

Thus drifting chopped off and away, a failed state beyond rehabilitation,  Ukraine itself is a prisoner of this domesticated security drama. Yet again, the false dilemma so tragically imploded within this blue state, of a 50:50 polarized and deterritorialized population, over the question where the country belongs – in space, time and side of history. Conclusively, Eastern Europe is further twisting, while gradually combusted between Ukrainization and Pakistanization.  The rest of Europe is already shifting the costs of its own foreign policy journey by ‘fracking’ its households with a considerably (politically) higher energy bills.

Earlier version of the text was published by the Vision & Global Trends

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