The Caucasus has long been one of the most important regions in the world. Many states had the desire and plan to rule this region from time to time. For centuries Russia has a great influence in the Caucasus and the main reason for the importance of the Caucasus region for Russia is its geostrategic location on important trade routes. Because by passing through this region Russia can reach the Balkans, the Black Sea and the White Sea, the Persian Gulf, as well as the Indian Ocean. The other important reason is the Caucasus is a great source of raw materials for the Russian economy. North Caucasus regions, such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Tatarstan, cover almost half of Russia’s energy needs. Also, the Caucasus region has significant strategic importance in terms of the routes that aimed to bring the Caspian Sea resources to the West and controlling these routes.
After the dissolution of the USSR, relations between Russia and Armenia intensified since 1992. There are numerous agreements have been signed between Russia and Armenia in various fields. The most important agreement was signed in Moscow a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance by Presidents Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Levon Ter-Petrosian of Armenia. The treaty also envisages consultations and mutual military support if either side is attacked or considers itself threatened by a third party. Despite Russian and Armenian officials denied this, it was one of Russia’s interference in the South Caucasus through Armenia. This agreement has made Russia’s presence stronger in the region. Russia has military bases in Armenia and the main purpose of these bases is to protect Russia’s interests and Armenia’s national security. After the recent crisis in Georgia and the withdrawal of Russian military bases, Armenia became a more important actor for Russia.
Russia has a significant impact on the processes in the region by using the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The conflict started with Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani lands and as a result of Russia’s efforts, a ceasefire was declared and negotiations started. The Kremlin supports the peaceful settlement of the conflict within the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as in bilateral meetings. Consequently, Russia provides political and military support to Armenia as an important ally in the region, as well as prevents Azerbaijan moving away from it by being as a guarantor of the peaceful settlement of the conflict. Time to time Russia uses this conflict to make political pressure on both countries which makes it another most important factor for Russia. Georgia’s attack on North Ossetia and later on Russian intervention in Georgia and recognition of North Ossetia and Abkhazia, have led to thinking whether there will be a change in the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Also, Russian intervention in Georgia has shown that the problems in the CIS region cannot be solved without Russia. Therefore, it is possible to say that resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is highly dependent on Russian presence. However, the growing interest of the West in this region and proposing new solutions to the conflict, make Azerbaijan and Armenia use this dispute card against Russia. The possibility of Western-South Caucasus rapprochement in the future may lead to not only a political, but even a serious economic impact on Russia. Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on energy resources and the European energy market is the most important, profitable, and stable market for Russia. At the same time, the EU tries to diversify its energy routes and to reduce its dependency on Russian energy exports. The South Caucasus, especially the Caspian region has rich oil and gas sources. Hence, in the light of the Western-Caucasus relations, the role of Azerbaijan becomes more significant and strategic. In addition, strengthening and developing relations between Armenia and the EU is important in terms of ensuring the security of supply. Such a significant reduction of the EU’s dependence on Russia will have a great impact on Russia’s economy. Considering the fact that there are numerous sanctions on Russia, the weakening of the Russian economy may hamper its regional power. Even more likely, this may lead to domestic riots in Russia, and Russia may face the threat of a division of the country.
The Kremlin and Moscow have a special control over the region to prevent this scenario and creates barriers to the South Caucasian countries’ integration into the European Union. For instance, abandoning the Nabucco project, Russia’s military intervention in Georgia, and being a shareholder in projects in this region (excluding TAP and TANAP) are some examples of these barriers.
Diasporas also play an important role in Russia’s Caucasus policy. They are most influential tools in key areas of government and are closely involved in political activities. Moreover, the existence of many Russian citizens in Armenia, the wider use of Russian language in the country, and the broadcasting of Russian radio and television channels are the core elements of Russian presence in Armenia. Some Russians living in Armenia also have the opportunity to participate actively political and cultural relations due to their Armenian language knowledge.
After the collapse of the USSR, Armenia became Russia’s main ally in the South Caucasus. Integration of Georgia into West, conflicts and problems with Turkey and Azerbaijan, threats to national security urge Armenia to be closer to Russia. At the same time, large-scale projects implemented by Azerbaijan and Georgia with Turkey and Western countries, integration into the Western markets, and problems with Armenia hinder Armenia’s regional, political and economic development. To ensure this development, Armenia sees Russia as its biggest ally and closely cooperates with Russia.
The basis for the national security of Armenia relies on military cooperation between Russia and Armenia, however, the dependence on Russia in the economic sphere and the fact that all the strategic enterprises are controlled by the Russians is contrary to Armenia’s interests. Therefore, Armenia is in search for ways to integrate into the West without undermining its relations with Russia. However, Armenia’s political and economic dependence on Russia and tensions with Azerbaijan and Turkey make difficult to integrate into the West. in order to get rid of isolation, it is important for Armenia to step back in disputes with Turkey and Azerbaijan and mitigate relations.
In the near future, it is impossible for Armenia to completely break the dependency on Russia and integrate into the EU and the West. The grounds for this integration, which depend on Russia’s foreign policy strategies, have not yet been established. Today, the Armenian authorities understand that it is impossible for Armenia without Russia to exist in these conditions. While the integration into the West is on the agenda, the isolation of Armenia in the region prevents the achievement of political and economic prosperity. Russia’s active involvement in the region is important for Armenia, both for internal and external stability. Armenia’s integration to the West will continue in the frame of Russia’s interests, but from now on the Armenian government will pursue a more discreet policy towards Russia. Russia, on the other hand, can take two actions; to take a step which can lead to the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia’s defeat, or to control Armenia without military intervention by making some concessions to current or future authorities. The first option is dangerous for Russia in terms of losing Armenia and reputation in South Caucasus, however, in the second variant, Russia can maintain its influence in the region by ensuring its long-term interests.
Lithuania is left in the dust
The nearly completed Nord Stream 2 is again in focus. It has become known that the U.S. Senate on January 13 failed to pass a bill to slap sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline sponsored by Republican Senator Ted Cruz. The tally was 55 in favor and 44 against the bill that needed 60 votes to pass. Those who voted against his bill said it risked breaking unity in Washington and in Europe. U.S. senators said also Cruz sanctions on Nord Stream 2 could harm relations with Germany which is very important for the U.S. foreign policy and economy.
Top Ukrainian officials, as well as Lithuanian government supported Cruz’s bill, arguing the United States should do everything in its power to halt the pipeline project.
The link is designed to export gas from Russia directly to Germany by bypassing Ukraine, through which Russia has sent gas to Europe for decades. That would deprive Ukraine of lucrative transit fees and potentially undermine its struggle against alleged Russian aggression. The decision will allow the completion of the gas pipeline to Europe without the imposition of further US sanctions. Earlier Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that the a deal between the United States and Germany on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was a “mistake”. It is interesting that the vote came as U.S. and European officials held high-level talks with their Russian counterparts. It is quite possible that the decision about Nord Stream 2 pipeline was the result of these negotiations.
This fact has sparked anger and has become great political disappointment for the Lithuanian officials who view the project as a security threat.
Lithuania, positioning itself as the main Ukraine’s patron in Europe, is confused with such U.S. decision. Lithuania promotes the U.S. interests and support all American initiatives even to the detriment of its own interests. Only this month Lithuania took a number of steps to prove its commitment to US policy. Lithuania even has dared to challenge China, one the main US strategic competitors. It continues to spend millions of dollars on military purchases from the U.S. using the narrative of “the threat from the East”. In December Lithuania signed an agreement with the U.S. to improve military interoperability.
The more so, the Lithuanian government has decided to accelerate its planned purchase of a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) amid Russia’s military buildup on its border with Ukraine. The decision to buy US’ Lockheed Martin system in 2026, two years earlier than Vilnius previously planned.
The country also regularly holds political consultations with the U.S. officials to coordinate its further actions. But the U.S. in its turn does not pay attention to Lithuania’s opinion and makes decision in its favour.
Lithuanian government should gain Lithuanians’ support and pay attention to their needs. The matter is discontent in Lithuanian society is growing every day. Thus, on January 13, the usual commemoration of Freedom Defenders saw loud booing and heckles from the crowd of protesters who called on the government (and the parliament) to resign.
It is obviously that the threat from the East is not so real as threat to be fired due to loss of confidence in near future.
Rebuilding of Karabakh: Results of 2021
The restoration work in Karabakh entered the active phase in 2021 as several projects had been completed and the foundations for new ones were laid down. The restoration process in Karabakh started right after the November 10th declaration that ended the 44-Day War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the war, Azerbaijan liberated its territories that constituted about 20% of the total territory of Azerbaijan and were occupied by Armenian forces in the early 90s.
During the occupation, about thirty years, Karabakh was subject to ruthless destruction and looting by the occupants. As a result, most of the social infrastructure, including residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, were totally destroyed, and most parts of the occupied territories were left empty. Despite the fact that the total destruction in Karabakh makes the restoration process complex and time-consuming, Azerbaijan immediately started the restoration process. For this purpose, the plan for socio-economic development of the liberated territories was prepared, and for the implementation of this plan, “Coordination Headquarters” and 17 working groups on different areas were established. In 2021, $2.2 billion was allocated from the state budget for the restoration process. The same amount of funds is planned to be directed to the restoration process in 2022 as well. The allocation of the necessary financial resources and the establishment of the state bodies for the efficient organization of the recovery process led to the rapid implementation of projects in 2021.
The most notable project that was almost completed in 2021 was the Fuzuli International Airport. The inauguration of the airport took place in Azerbaijan’s liberated city of Fuzuli in Karabakh on October 26. It was the first airport built by Azerbaijan in the liberated areas, and its construction took only eight months. It was built in accordance with the highest international standards, which enables it to accommodate any type of aircraft. A runway with a length of 3000 meters and a width of 60 meters has been put into operation at the airport. The first test flight to Fuzuli International Airport was performed on September 5, 2021, when the largest passenger aircraft of Azerbaijan Airlines, named Karabakh, landed at the airport. Because of its location, the new airport is considered as an “air gate of Karabakh”. Along with Fuzuli airport, the foundations of the other two airports in Lachin and Zangilan districts were also laid down in 2021.
The year 2021 was also marked by the establishment of the Horadiz-Jabrayil-Zangilan-Agband highway. The foundation of this road was laid on October 26, with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey. With a length of 124 km, it is part of the Zangezur Corridor, the establishment of which was envisioned in the November 10 declaration. The Zangezur Corridor is a very important project that is going to change the transportation architecture of the South Caucasus and its neighborhood. Its proximity to the Karabakh and connection to the main roads in the region will accelerate the restoration and development of the Karabakh.
Within the framework of the restoration process, another important event in 2021 was the foundation of the first “smart village” in Agali village in the Zangilan district on April 26. As of October, the construction work on more than 110 hectares in Agali village was underway. It includes the construction of 200 ecological houses, 4 non-residential buildings, a smart school for about 360 students, and a kindergarten for 60 children. Work on establishing smart agricultural infrastructure on approximately 600 hectares of land is also ongoing. According to the restoration program, it is planned to re-establish cities and villages in the liberated territories based on the “smart city” and “smart village” concepts. Thus, after the Agali village, this concept will be implemented in other areas of Karabakh.
In 2021, the highway that connects the Fuzuli and Shusha cities was also opened. As this highway passes through the territory that was used to liberate Shusha city, it has a symbolic meaning for Azerbaijan, and therefore it is named “The Road to Victory.” The Fuzuli-Shusha highway is part of the Ahmadbeyli-Fuzuli-Shusha highway, one of the main highways in Karabakh. It is 101.5 km in length and reduces the distance from the capital Baku to Shusha to about 363 km. The foundation of another important transport project, the Horadiz–Agband railway, was also laid in 2021 and its construction continues. This railway is 100 kilometers long and has strategic importance as it will connect the mainland of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan’s landlocked exclave, through the Zangezur corridor.
Along with the mentioned roads, the opening ceremony of the 28-kilometer highway that connects the city of Tartar with the villages of Sugovushan and Talish took place in 2021. The length of this road is 28 kilometers, and as planned, the extension of this project will include 22 kilometers of highway from Talish to Naftalan. Construction and planning work on various transportation projects such as the Barda–Aghdam railroad, the Fuzuli-Shusa railway, and the Toganal-Kalbacar highway were also continued.
Comprehensive works in the energy sector were also carried out within the framework of the restoration program, based on the strategy for transforming the liberated territories into “green energy” zones and connecting the energy infrastructure in those territories to Azerbaijan’s general energy system. In 2021, with a total capacity of 20 megawatts, “Gulabird”, “Sugovushan-1” and “Sugovushan-2” small hydroelectric power stations (HPS) were reconstructed and put into operation in the liberated territories. In total, nine digital substations were built in the Karabakh and East Zangezur regions. Simultaneously, in the Aghdam and Jabrail regions, the construction of “Aghdam-1,” “Aghdam-2,” and “Jabrayil” substations as well as the Karabakh Regional Digital Management Center has been completed.
The other important project in the energy sector was the foundation of the Digital Station Management Center in Fuzuli. This project, implemented for the first time in the South Caucasus, allows through automation to reduce the impact of the human factor on the operation of the network, increase reliability and reduce losses during the transmission of electricity. All these projects in the energy sector serve to maintain the energy security in liberated territories and to transform these territories into “green energy” zone.
All the mentioned projects show that Azerbaijan has actively worked for rebuilding Karabakh in 2021. It will enable Azerbaijan to fully integrate the Karabakh economy into the Azerbaijan economy and to use its economic potential in upcoming years. As the liberated territories have great potential in sectors such as agriculture and energy, it will also positively affect the development of the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan. Implementation of all projects that were started in 2021 will not only contribute to the economic development of Azerbaijan, but will also transport Azerbaijan and Karabakh to the transport and economic center of the region.
No borders to struggle against COVİD-19: Solidarity of humanity can help the situation
Just as COVID-19 does not recognize borders, it is necessary to build the struggle against it on the basis of organization, solidarity, mutual assistance, the use of positive experience, and it should not recognize borders.
2021 was a year of continued struggle against the pandemic and of the emergence of new variants of the virus. The South Caucasus also was not away from COVID-19 and its variants. Azerbaijan continued its effective fight against COVID-19, making the most of the lessons of previous years and the opportunities for rapid response. The vaccination campaign, which was conducted as well as in highly developed countries, is a real sign of performance in this sector. During the year Azerbaijan gave humanitarian and financial aid to more than 30 countries in order to fight the pandemic, made a voluntary financial contribution of 10 million US dollars to the World Health Organization and freely donated 150,000 doses of vaccine to four countries.
The newly appointed head of the EU delegation to Azerbaijan, Petr Michako, also stressed the high level of vaccination in Azerbaijan. The capital – Baku is working closely with The European Union in this direction. The European Union and the World Health Organization have supported the fight against COVID-19 in Azerbaijan with the necessary medical equipment. Medical personnel in Azerbaijan have been repeatedly provided with respirators, goggles, transparent masks and overalls for this purpose. All equipment sent for the safety of medical personnel fighting the virus on the front lines was tested for compliance with quality and safety standards. Kestutis Jankauskas, Head of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan, said that his organization, as a “Team Europe”, is helping to prevent, detect and combat the COVID-19 pandemic. “Healthcare workers are at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which increases their risk of contracting the virus,” he said. -They are our heroes and they need protection. “As part of the Team Europe initiative, the EU has launched an individual COVID-19 package with a budget of around € 32 million to support urgent needs and socio-economic recovery.
In 2021, Azerbaijan achieved major progress in combating the pandemic and the global economic crisis and in mutual cooperation. As a chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan put forward an initiative to establish a UN High-Level Panel on global restoration after COVID-19. The member states of the Non-Aligned Movement took a unanimous decision to extend Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the movement for another year, until the end of 2023.
Azerbaijan proposed a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement on equal and universal access to vaccines for all countries and the resolution was passed unanimously in March 2021. This resolution showed Azerbaijan’s stance on the increasing vaccine nationalism in the world and became an international success.
As a result of all measurements now the number of people receiving the second,third and further doses of the vaccine in Azerbaijan has exceeded 40 percent. Azerbaijan is one of the countries in the continent where the number of virus infections is rapidly declining. Azerbaijan is doing its best to observe this trend around the world. Solidarity can help the situation.
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