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On the Road to “Strategic Depth” in the Black Sea Region

Ruslan Mamedov

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Authors: Ruslan Mamedov and Olga Pylova*

For many years, the Black Sea has been a platform for the military exercises of Black Sea region countries and their partners. For instance, in September 2018, the strategic command staff exercise Cossack Freedom — 2018 was held and involved Ukrainian troops. A few months prior, in July 2018, the joint Ukraine–US Navy exercise Sea Breeze 2018 was held in the Black Sea. In 2018, Georgia, Ukraine, France, and the US held joint exercises controlled by Romania’s Navy. The press service of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet also reports about regular exercises: on January 29, 2019, a planned drill involved the ASW corvette Kasimov entering a combat training sea range to perform training missions.

Certainly, these events have a special significance for their participants, who exchange information and expand cooperation. The Blackseafor was established for this purpose in 2001 and had Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and Georgia participate. Today, we can hardly say that the states of the Black Sea region have a complete understanding on security matters: joint exercises with the participation of all states have not been held since 2014. The Blackseafor has essentially become defunct after Ukraine refused to take part in the group’s events. Therefore, close cooperation between the states of the Black Sea region on security matters has been suspended since 2014, but they continue to cooperate in other formats.

Georgia’s policy regarding the Black Sea region has been laid out in several documents, primarily the National Security Concept of Georgia adopted in 2011. The Black Sea region and security therein are mentioned in the introduction to the document referring to the desire of Georgia’s people to become fully integrated into NATO and the EU and to contribute to maintaining security in the Black Sea region. Additionally, other parts of the Concept state that Georgia supports the integration of all Black Sea states into the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance. According to the document, such measures will give a significant boost to the security of the Black Sea region as Europe’s south-eastern border. In particular, the Concept states that NATO is capable of providing aid in the fight against illegal trafficking of arms and drugs as well as combatting slave trade and terrorism in the Black Sea region.

It should be noted that cooperation with the Black Sea region is considered separately in conjunction with collaboration with Ukraine and Turkey, but other regional states are not mentioned. Russia is mentioned in conjunction with cooperation in order to preserve and deepen good-neighbourly relations.

In June 2014, the government of Georgia adopted a new National Military Strategy. It was a revised version of the 2005 Strategy and is largely based on the National Security Concept. It mentions the Black Sea region only once in conjunction with discussing the need to cooperate with other regional states to maintain security. It is noteworthy that the Strategy primarily emphasizes the need to cooperate with NATO member states. Thus, Georgia’s authorities link security cooperation in the Black Sea region primarily with NATO and the EU. Military documents rarely refer to immediate cooperation with neighbours within specialized regional alliances.

Ukraine’s Navy has currently set several objectives at once such as defence of the coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, ensuring the inviolability of the state border, protecting the state’s sovereign rights in its exclusive (maritime) economic zone, participating in international (joint) operations under the auspices of NATO and the EU and developing deployment infrastructure.

As of today, Ukraine’s naval surface forces comprise two surface ship brigades, two defence and supply battalions and a search and rescue battalion. The Hetman Sahaidachny frigate (U130) is considered to be the Navy’s flagship. According to official data, the US has proposed providing deliveries to Ukraine’s defence property and new navigation complexes by 2020.

The principal mission of Ukraine’s Navy is to provide joint duty with NATO’s Response Force and the EU’s HelBRoC Battlegroup, to systematically hold drills of the PASSEX type in the north-western part of the Black Sea, to comply with the Plan for Achieving Partnership Objectives through the Forces and Means of the Ukrainian Navy Assigned to Participate in the NATO’s Process of Force Planning and Assessment (PFPA) and Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC), to practically apply state-of-the-art experience in preparing for and participating in multinational forces conducting peacekeeping missions, to coordinate Sea Breeze international exercises in Ukraine and to participate in NATO’s anti-terror Operation Active Endeavour and Turkish Navy’s Operation Black Sea Harmony. Additionally, the official objectives and goals of Ukraine’s Navy are most frequently connected with “containing the Russian threat.”

As for Ukraine’s Military Doctrine (as amended in 2015), it gives scant treatment to the issues of security in the Black Sea region and when it does so, it goes in the context of countering Russia’s actions in the region. In particular, the document speaks about the unresolved issue of delimitating Ukraine’s state border in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov; it states that the unfinished legal framework concerning Ukraine’s state border with the Russian Federation, the Republic of Belarus and the Republic of Moldova is a military and political challenge that might grow into a threat of using military force against Ukraine. Additionally, the Doctrine mentions the Black Sea region as one of the crucial operational and strategic frontiers and areas. Reviving the country’s naval potential, developing Ukraine’s Navy for it to be ready to defend the coastline of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, taking part in international operations of the EU and NATO is listed as one of the objectives on the path toward achieving the goals of Ukraine’s military policy.

Ukraine has recently been striving for closer cooperation with the US, NATO, and the EU in the Black Sea, explaining its stance by the need to counter the “Russian aggression” in the region. All the drills Ukraine’s military take part in are held without Russia’s participation, but with the involvement of external actors such as the US, member states of the European Union, and NATO. It should be noted that Ukraine’s Military Doctrine does not treat the Black Sea region extensively: regional security and the region in general are mentioned solely in conjunction with more global issues.

Romania addressed security issues in the Black Sea region in several official documents, including the 2016 Military Strategy of Romania compiled by the Ministry of National Defence, the governmental 2017 White Paper on Defence and the National Defence Strategy 2015–2019 by the administration of the President of Romania. The introduction to the National Defence Strategy 2015–2019 stipulates that Romania supports the collective security principle. However, Bucharest adjusts its priorities in matters concerning Euro-Atlantic interests proceeding from the premise that the priority means of ensuring the country’s security is its NATO and EU membership.

According to the White Paper, Romania has recently been facing increased comprehensive risks and threats, such as “the annexation of Crimea, the growing instability and the escalation of terrorism in the Middle East and Northern Africa, the impact of Islamic State activities on European states and the humanitarian crisis generated by the massive flow of refugees in Europe.” Bucharest believes that preserving frozen conflicts in the Black Sea region negatively affects security, while inter-ethnic frictions and the regional and local imbalances may result in new manifestations of instability. The White Paper proposes significantly increasing the profile of the Black Sea issue within NATO and interacting with individual NATO members in order “to ensure a visible Allied maritime presence in this maritime basin” while emphasizing the region’s importance for Euro-Atlantic security. It is worth mentioning that, according to the document, Turkey is Romania’s strategic partner in NATO. Bucharest’s dialogue with Ankara appears important in conjunction with stabilizing the situation and maintaining security in the Black Sea.

Romania’s Military Strategy mentions the Black Sea region several times, but it is interesting that the Russian Federation is mentioned here twice. In the first instance, Russia is mentioned in connection with European security threats for Romania: it appears necessary to find “a coherent solution to respond to Russian Federation and the effect of hybrid threats.” In the second instance, Bucharest notes regional security destabilization in the Black Sea Extended Region (BSER) “against the background of actions undertaken by the Russian Federation to strengthen its areas of influence.” The National Defence Strategy 2015–2019 also mentions Russia as an important actor in Euro-Atlantic security, and its actions in the Black Sea “have once again raised NATO’s awareness upon fulfilling its fundamental mission that is collective defence.” Moreover, there is a separate reference to “the validity of the security arrangements agreed upon with Russia at the end of the 20th century.”

The Republic of Bulgaria’s report on defence and the armed forces was published in 2010. Among other things, it describes Bulgaria’s vision of the Black Sea region’s development prospects. According to the Report, the geostrategic situation in the region affects the country significantly. In this connection, the Report makes separate mention of frozen conflicts, the activities of terrorist groups, ethnic and religious disputes, organized crime, the illegal sales of arms and drugs and human trafficking. The government of Bulgaria believes the Black Sea region is a generally favourable environment that allows the Republic to conduct a stable defence policy in the interests of national security with due consideration given to Bulgaria’s commitments to NATO and the EU. Even though there are no immediate military threats and threats to its territorial integrity, Bulgaria, according to the document, plans to maintain a defined potential that is commensurate with the aforementioned risks and threats.

The National Security Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria (2011) that followed the Report describes the state’s interests in the Black Sea region among “external security concepts.” The document states that Bulgaria considers the region in the European and Euro-Atlantic context promoting state-to-state cooperation in economy, trade and security. Particular attention is given to the importance of cooperation in transporting oil through the countries of the Black Sea region. The government of the Republic also believes that Bulgaria should protect “international peace” and the outer borders of NATO and the EU.

The Bulgarian government pays relatively little attention to matters concerning security in the Black Sea region. As a rule, the region is mentioned in conjunction with cooperation with the EU and NATO. It is noteworthy that the document does not mention the state’s bilateral or multilateral ties with its neighbours in the region in order to maintain security or counter emerging threats.

Tracing Turkey’s doctrine on the Black Sea region is extremely difficult. There is no programmatic document on the matter in open access for Turkish citizens and outside observers. The Defence White Paper 2000 was the last document published by the Turkish authorities. Therein, Turkey stresses its leading role in founding the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), its commitment to building confidence measures and security in the Black Sea region, its support for the Blackseafor activities and its desire to make the Black Sea a region of stability and prosperity. Apparently, the principles and strategies of Turkey’s foreign policy are set forth in classified documents.

Since 2000, many factors that specified threats to security and responses thereto have changed for Turkey. The Kurdish question and the crisis in Iraq and Syria, the neighbouring states on Turkey’s southern borders and the crisis that generated a million-strong flow of migrants into Turkey became the principal causes of concern for the Turkish authorities. Following the 2008 events in Georgia and the 2014 events in Ukraine, the Black Sea region still did not become a point of major tensions in Russia–Turkey relations, even though Ankara’s stance on those issues was diametrically opposed to that of Moscow.

Since 2015, Russia has moved beyond its traditional sphere of influence and sharply increased its maritime presence in the Eastern Mediterranean to conduct a military operation in Syria. It was the Bosporus that served as a venue for the so-called “Syrian express.” Turkey found Russia as its neighbour not only to the north and east, but also to the south of its borders. With its involvement in the Syrian affairs, building up military forces and deploying various weapons systems, including S-400, on Latakia’s coast, Moscow has radically changed the balance of power in the region. Ankara–Moscow relations became tense and even went through a crisis following the incident with the Russian plane over the Syria–Turkey border on November 24, 2015. The situation affected Turkey’s approach to security in the Black Sea region. There were calls to bolster NATO in the Black Sea to neutralize Russia’s influence, which, in turn, resulted in suggestions that a joint Bulgaria–Romania–Turkey fleet be established. Nevertheless, it never happened due, among other reasons, to Bulgaria’s refusal to participate.

At the same time, Turkey’s relations with other NATO countries deteriorated. The process was chronic. Back in 2003, Ankara was opposed to the US invasion of Iraq. The key discord factor within NATO was the support the US and its allies gave to the Kurds’ forces in Syria including providing them with weapons to fight the ISIS threat that was spreading in 2014. This is why Turkey’s NATO allies supported the People’s Protection Units (YPG) that were infiltrated by fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Ankara considered them to be terrorist organizations that threatened Turkey’s territorial integrity. At the same time, Turkey saw itself as the gatekeeper of European security.

The 2016 coup d’état attempt had a special impact on foreign policy and the perception of threats. The Turkish authorities accused the preacher Fethullah Gülen, who lived in Philadelphia (US), of instigating the coup. Shortly before that, Turkey–Russia relations had been restored, and following the military coup attempt, Turkey initiated closer collaboration with Russia on various issues, primarily in Syria. In April 2017, Turkey’s navy ships paid an unofficial visit to the Russian port of Novorossiysk and held joint exercises with their Russian counterparts. Moreover, Ankara and Russia reached an agreement on selling S-400 missile defence system to Turkey, which was an additional irritant in Turkey’s relations with the US, NATO’s leading state. However, it stresses the fact that the Republic of Turkey has its own agenda in ensuring its security since Turkey did not cease drills with NATO members or receiving NATO ships in its ports.

Even though Turkey is considered the largest actor in the Black Sea, the balance of power has been invariably shifting in favour of Russia since the late 2000s. To preserve its status, Turkey not only needs the support of NATO states, but also mobility to redeploy some of its navy from its eastern and southern borders in the Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean Sea.

No matter how much NATO states wish to build up their potential in the Black Sea region, Russia and Turkey are finding points of contact on regional issues. This is largely due to the commitment to the principles of the Montreux Convention signed in 1936 in Switzerland. A special regime is in effect for non-Black-sea states. The regime does not allow for the deployment of aircraft carriers and warships in the Black Sea with tonnage of over 30,000 for a term exceeding 21 days. This undermines US efforts to maintain a permanent presence in the basin. Attempts to advance US interests via Black Sea states that are NATO members (Bulgaria and Romania) have failed, while Turkey’s concessions would automatically result in violating the Convention and, consequently, in the need to revise the status of the straits. Such an outcome would result in additional risks and increase conflict potential in the Black Sea region. The understanding of escalation risks force the countries with the first and second largest fleets in the Black Sea (Turkey and Russia, respectively) to neutralize them and to maintain the proper level of cooperation.

Russia’s strategy for the Black Sea region is set forth in several documents. The most important are the Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation of 2015, the 2030 Framework of the Naval State Policy of the Russian Federation of 2017 (Framework 2030), the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation and the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation.

According to the Maritime Doctrine, “the national maritime policy in the Black Sea and in the Sea of Azov is based on expedited restoration and comprehensive strengthening of the strategic positions of the Russian Federation as well as maintaining peace and stability in the region.” At the same time, Moscow considers the advancement of NATO’s military infrastructure towards Russia’s borders as unacceptable. Moscow’s paradigm proceeds from the premise that the international legal regulation in the Atlantic region is imperfect and the need for improvement in various areas, including the Black Sea (the Kerch Strait is mentioned, for instance). The document pays significant attention to Crimea, which is considered in conjunction with the issues of Russia’s sovereignty over its territories and economic development plans. In addition to developing infrastructure, special attention is paid to the issue of “including ports of Crimea and the basin of the Black and Azov seas into Mediterranean cruise routes and developing multipurpose international-scale recreational complexes.” This idea is repeated twice in the text since it is also part of the National Maritime Policy for the Mediterranean.

In conjunction with challenges to international security and threats to Russia’s military security, Framework 2030 notes the “global strike” concept developed by the US. Russia views its Navy with its strategic nuclear capabilities and general-purpose naval forces as an instrument for containing and neutralizing the “global strike.” To maintain the second most powerful navy in the world, Russia will, after 2025, equip its submarine and surface forces with hypersonic missiles and various-purpose robotic equipment. Additionally, Russia plans to create a maritime aircraft carrying complex. Various estimates specifically attribute Russia’s regional supremacy to the aviation component of its forces in the Black Sea region. An overall analysis of the document shows that the Black Sea region and related issues are not given special attention therein. Russia’s goals and objectives formulated in this Presidential Executive Order are global and aimed at preventing immediate threats to Russia as it increases its influence throughout the world ocean in compliance with international law.

More general documents pay relatively little attention to the Black Sea region. The 2015 National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation does not mention the Black Sea region with the exception of the Ukrainian issues cited in conjunction with the West opposing integration processes in Eurasia. Regarding Russia’s principal tasks in containing and preventing conflicts, the 2014 Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation has a paragraph on bolstering the collective security system (CSTO, OSCE, CIS and SCO). It addresses, among other matters, interaction with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in order to ensure joint defence and security. Some positive element is added by the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation of 2018. As far as individual issues related to the Black Sea, Russia is in favour of the political and diplomatic settlement of conflicts. Moscow calls for the settlement of the Transnistria issue while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova and the special status of Transnistria and normalizing relations with Georgia while further assisting Abkhazia and South Ossetia in their development. According to the Foreign Policy Concept, “Russia’s approaches to working with partners in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions will be formulated so as to reaffirm the commitment to the goals and principles of the Charter of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and take into account the need to strengthen the mechanism of cooperation among the five Caspian States based on collective decision-making.”

Today, we can also say that Russia does not pay sufficient attention to cooperation in the Black Sea region. As a result, joint exercises of regional states and NATO member states without Russia’s participation have become increasingly frequent precedents. The trend for rapprochement between the North Atlantic Alliance and Black Sea region states in their efforts to maintain security is further confirmed by the latter’s official documents. They speak with increasing frequency about the need for rapprochement with NATO and the EU (as do the documents, for instance, of Bulgaria and Romania) and taking a stand against Russia (as do the documents of Ukraine).

Ignoring the recent challenges in the Black Sea region, Russia is increasingly losing out to NATO in matters of influencing the region. To expand its cooperation with Bucharest, Sofia, Kiev and Tbilisi, Russia needs to add “strategic depth” to inter-country relations. That is, despite the political situation, work should be launched on strategic elements of the relations that would buttress security in the region. Pre-emptive measures are required to prevent the situation from deteriorating into a severe escalation and the existing conflicts from unfreezing. Working along the lines of track 2 diplomacy can offer opportunities for achieving greater understanding between parties.

For NATO members that are also countries of the Black Sea region, maintaining special relations with Russia appears important. Despite the desire of several Black Sea region states to demonstrate NATO’s expanded role in the region, it appears it would be appropriate for Black Sea region countries to approve such steps.

*Olga Pylova, Program Assistant at the Russian International Affairs Council

First published in our partner RIAC

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Nagorno-Karabakh: Will the Landscape Change following the Latest Unrest?

Nana Gegelashvili

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EPA-EFE/ARMENIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY/Vostock Photi

The situation surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, which has deteriorated dramatically in recent days, has clearly demonstrated that it is becoming increasingly impossible to maintain the status quo. An urgent solution to the conflict is needed in order to avert a serious crisis.

External factors that have contributed to the escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh include: 1) Russia finding itself hemmed in from all sides by the seemingly unbreakable transatlantic coalition which has given the West considerable room for manoeuvre with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue; 2) Turkey’s exponentially growing ambitions to build a new Islamic Empire, which are bolstered by the country’s strong alliance with the United States; and 3) the complete ineptitude of the OSCE Minsk Group (Russia, the United States and France), which has been working towards the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for three decades now without a single major breakthrough.

One thing is clear — the conflict needs to be resolved, and now is the time to do it. One thing is clear — the conflict needs to be resolved, and now is the time to do it. Meanwhile, the entire world is calling for the two sides to abandon the hostilities and sit down at the negotiating table. The conflict needs to end now.

All the attempts to resolve the conflict — the Madrid Principles, the Zurich Protocols, the renewed Madrid Principles and the talks in Kazan on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — have looked more like possible ways out of the crisis than roadmaps for concrete actions. This is why they have all remained on paper, as none of the sides has been prepared to make even the smallest of compromises.

While the two central players in this geopolitical puzzle, Turkey and the United States (which is keen to see a settlement), may disagree profoundly on a number of issues, Ankara has always been viewed by Washington as a country of indisputable geostrategic importance and its key partner in the region, and this will not change. It is thus no coincidence that the “Turkey–U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges” report for the United States Congress notes that “Turkey is a more significant ally for the United States at present than during the Cold War” given U.S. interests in the region. Turkey’s attitude towards NATO will not undergo any major changes either. According to President of Turkey Recep Erdogan, Ankara “has no intention of giving up its NATO membership or its allies.” This is something that Russia must keep in mind when developing its South Caucasus policy.

Turkey and the United States have a number of common interests in the South Caucasus that allow the two countries to work together. These interests include joint projects in the Black Sea region and call for strengthening security cooperation there, an issue that is becoming increasingly important. This state of affairs can be partly explained by the fact that the signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea effectively blocked access to the Caspian Sea for non-regional players, at least for the time being, which only makes their desire to be involved in the Black Sea region even stronger.

Both the warring sides and the United States and Turkey have long expressed the desire to find a way out of this impasse, and Washington and Ankara will work together to try and ensure a quick settlement to the conflict.

As far as the strategists in Washington see it, Azerbaijan is far more invested in finding a solution than Armenia is. This is why we have seen significant changes in the U.S. policy towards Yerevan, including insisting that the latter make certain concessions in order to bring the conflict to an end. The arrival of Nikol Pashinyan as Prime Minister of Armenia brought with it a noticeable shift in Armenia’s foreign policy towards the United States, which should make this strategy successful.

Consequently, Washington’s policy in this area will focus, first of all, on normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenia, and then on opening the border between the two countries. After all, it is of strategic importance for Washington to find a solution to this problem, especially when U.S.–Iran relations are likely to deteriorate even further moving forward. This could also help speed up the settlement process, as well as promote cooperation not only between Baku and Yerevan, but also with Ankara, which should lead to Turkey and Azerbaijan lifting the land blockade against Armenia that was established during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

What is more, Washington has started to openly demonstrate its intention over the past few years to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict independently in the context of implementing its policy in the South Caucasus.

This was initially reflected in a statement given by former U.S. ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills, where he claimed that the status quo is unacceptable and cannot last forever, adding that “any settlement of the Karabakh conflict is going to require the return of some portion of the occupied territories,” although events like the 2016 April War make this even more difficult for the Armenian people. And things have gone from bad to worse since then. A series of resolutions passed by the 115th United States Congress — Resolution 573 “calling on the President to work toward equitable, constructive, stable and durable Armenian–Turkish relations,” and Resolution 190 of the 116th United States Congress “supporting visits and communication between the United States and the Republic of Artsakh” (the new name of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh following a 2017 referendum) — prove that Washington intends to change the situation in the conflict zone and become the main moderator in the disagreement. In this regard, it is worth paying special attention to the main areas of Washington’s policy towards Armenia, which has been thought-out particularly well, taking into account both the need to repair relations between Turkey and Armenia, giving Yerevan access to the rest of the world, and to improve relations with the Republic of Artsakh, which could become the main stumbling block in the way of Armenia’s drift towards the West.

The U.S. approach to Armenia could thus change completely as it develops its new policy in the South Caucasus. This state of affairs also meets the interests of Turkey, which, as a key player in the South Caucasus, will welcome any positive change in Yerevan’s foreign policy towards the West. With this being the case, it could be argued that Ankara not only pursues its own geopolitical interests in the region, but also acts as an instrument through which the United States can further its policies there. This could lead to a change in the configuration of the South Caucasus as a whole, which is unacceptable for Moscow in terms of preserving and promoting its interests in the region given the fact that Armenia is key to Russia’s plans for maintaining its strategic interests in the Caucasus, as well as in the context of the “Iranian problem.”

Right now, Armenia is Russia’s only strategic ally in the South Caucasus, and ensuring the country’s security is its number one problem. Russia has always played an important role in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process, and this will not change. It thus needs to take stock of the opportunities it has to influence the resolution of the problem, which, it would seem, neither Baku nor Yerevan, nor indeed the West, fully appreciate. Moscow believes that the only way to put an end to the confrontation, which has been going on for some 30 years or so, is through political means. It would thus be fair to assume that military intervention “from the outside” is extremely unlikely, because Moscow’s main task here is to maintain at least a shaky balance between Yerevan and Baku. In other words, Moscow believes that “freezing” the conflict is more acceptable in the current climate, where neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia, which are involved in an intense ethnopolitical confrontation, have any intention of making compromises or concessions, than actually working for a final resolution to the long-standing conflict — although this approach has not yet led to peace.

However, given the escalation of the conflict, it would seem that Moscow, for which the two warring sides are of great importance, is in a position to launch the renewed Madrid Principles, which be the first step towards resolving the conflict. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia were prepared to negotiate under these principles and saw it as a blueprint for achieving a peaceful solution. However, the renewed Madrid Principles touch upon issues that are extremely sensitive for Armenia, primarily regarding the international legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan has stood firm on its position that a settlement can only be reached if its territorial integrity is preserved, which means restoring its jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh. This condition has been the main obstacle to the settlement of the conflict. Another important issue is the return by Yerevan of seven regions that neighbour Nagorno-Karabakh and are controlled by Armenian forces. Nevertheless, the renewed Madrid Principles project needs to be launched as soon as possible — after all, the main obstacle is the unwillingness of the parties to make concessions. Beyond that, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

From our partner RIAC

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Could a maritime chain hub between US-Japan-Viet Nam-India to tackle China?

Gitanjali Sinha Roy

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The rise of China in the last few years has been a cause of concern and as China grew economically, it strengthened its claws in the realm of defense and has been expanding its paws into the territories of other countries which is a violation of a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Chinese aggressiveness has become the bone of contention and this is a serious matter of concern for all the countries who are facing the China threat. China’s need to dominant certain trade routes; sea-lanes of navigation and communication jeopardizes the concept of a free and open navigable sea route which is unacceptable as no one country completely owns any sea-lanes and routes of trade and communication. Therefore, in order to protect the national interest and freedom of navigation of many countries, this article tries to build an argument on could there be a possibility for a formation of a maritime chain hub consisting of Guam, Okinawa, Cam Ranh Bay and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which could tackle China’s maritime aggressiveness.

Guam, a former Spanish colony and now one of the 17 non-self-governing territories of the United States of America. Guam has been a military asset since the World War II as the U.S. moved its military aircraft.  Also, during the Viet Nam War, Guam was a major asset in the Pacific as it was a base used by the Americans. Presently, it serves as a major military base for America and has the U.S. Air Force and Navy installations and is also a major hub for the submarine communications cables between the western United States of America, Hawaii, Australia and Asia. There is a huge military presence in Guam and the United States of America moves its military assets and personnel to Okinawa, the Japanese island.  Guam as a naval base port plays a rather important part as it is home to the four nuclear-powered fast attack submarines and two submarine tenders. Also, Guam has the Andersen Air Force Base which hosts the Navy helicopter squadron and Air Force bombers and along with this has two-three kilometers runways and also caters as a storage facility for fueling purposes.

In June 2020, the U.S. Naval Base Guam has been designated as a ‘safe haven liberty port’ and the U.S 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge(LCC 19) and the USS Bunker Hill(CG 52) have been placed here and eventually, on 24 June 2020, the Nimitz Carrier Strike group which consists of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN68), Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Sterett (DDG 104) and the USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) all placed in the safe haven liberty port in Guam. This move to make Guam a safe heaven liberty port should be seen from the perspective of a potential logistical re-supply, possible repairs and a safe place where the sailors could rest and rejuvenate themselves amidst the global Coronavirus pandemic. One needs to understand that Guam needs to be militarized to ensure that North Korea doesn’t attempt any form of attack on Japan which is under the Security umbrella of the U.S. and also, Guam which is an American territory needs to protect itself from North Korea it is in a feasible striking distance and so, this military buildup in Guam by the United States of America is justified.

Japan’s Okinawa is strategically very important for the United States of America as it is a vital component in America’s grand strategy towards the region of East Asia.  Also, the geographical location of Okinawa has a greater meaning as Okinawa is placed between the Philippines, East China Sea and the South China Sea and also the neighbourhood consists of China, Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula and of course the mainland Japan which is a sure game-changer. Okinawa makes an important military outpost, protects the freedom of navigation and the American national cum security interests which inevitably help in the stability of this region. The bases at Okinawa are of geostrategic value as it deals with a fairly flexible range of positions to counter any potential threat and so, help keep interests of Japan safe especially with regard to the Senkaku Islands and the presence of America at Okinawa is a clear deterrent for China incase it tries to create any provocation. Also, South Korea is in an alliance with the United States of America and so, Okinawa also acts as a critical component in dealing with North Korea and in order to maintain peace in this region, the American marines plays a vital role as protectors. Also, for Taiwan, the presence of American forces at Okinawa helps Taiwan from China’s threats. Therefore, Okinawa plays the role of a major game-changer in the region of East Asia.

Viet Nam’s Cam Ranh Bay has always been a melting point of strategic interest since the 19th century as it was a hub of continuous positing of countries like France, Russia, Japan and the United States of America where their navies were stationed well as the Cam Ranh Bay acted as an excellent protected natural harbour along with being a refueling station. The geostrategic location of Cam Ranh Bay is near the South China Sea and this is therefore called the ‘Apple of the Eye of the East’ as it can help contain Chinese aggressiveness in the region. Also, the Japan-Guam-Australia Fiber-Optic Submarine Cable System Project is being developed with the help of Japan and the United States of America. Cam Ranh Bay if redeveloped could the most valuable asset that Viet Nam has.

India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands is as of today one of the most sort after strategic hub of islands as it is being developed into a maritime and startup hub and the recent inauguration of the submarine optic fiber cable between Chennai and these islands would change the face of digital connectivity. India has also proposed transhipment hub in the Andamans helping these group of islands become a major centre for blue economy and maritime cum startup hub. Also since 2019, the Indian Naval Air Station-INS Kohassa has been developing the island in full swing and this could well become a vital strategic outpost for India  and can easier watch and monitor the rival navies activities along with set an integrated surveillance network.

The question is how does Guam-Okinawa-Cam Ranh Bay-Andaman and Nicobar Islands form a strategic maritime chain hub?

First, Guam is an American territory, Okinawa, a Japanese territory, Cam Ranh Bay, a Vietnamese port and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian group of islands and so, all these countries are a part of the Quad and this Quad grouping is believed to tackle China’s aggressiveness.

Second, all these countries have excellent relations with another and aim for stronger strategic relations. Japan is in a Security Alliance with the United States of America and Japan is India’s all-weather friend. Due to Japan as a common friend between India and the U.S, they too have excellent strategic partnership with one another. Viet Nam and the United States have been developing relations and are working towards becoming strategic partner. Japan’s relations with Viet Nam has been a major part of their ASEAN relations and separately too, Japan has been working on strengthening stronger relations with Viet Nam and in fact, the first visit of Prime Minister Suga is to Viet Nam which highlights Viet Nam’s importance for Japan. India also has wonderful relations with Viet Nam and Viet Nam being the ASEAN Chair in the times of pandemic has played a vital role in medicine, rice and mask diplomacy and has created its niche as a vital and understanding partner in the ASEAN along with evolving as a regional and a global partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

Third, all these four countries are facing security concerns with China.  China has off late made several advances in the East China Sea, South China Sea and the Indian Ocean and all this has impacted the United States of America, Japan, India and Viet Nam as their geostrategic locations are of prime importance to these countries. China has been making aggressive claims in these waters is a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the US, Japan, India and Viet Nam.

Fourth, Japan has been the pioneer of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific region aiming for a rules-based order so as to have the freedom of navigation and access to sea-lanes and routes to all the nations. After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy at the 196thSession of the Diet in January 2018, this strategy was soon adopted by the United States of America and India. ASEAN too adopted this strategy which meant that Viet Nam too has accepted this strategy. Many believe that this Indo-Pacific Strategy is to tackle China’s aggressiveness.

Fifth, Japan’s initiative of the Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure is aimed to promote infrastructure and development cooperation among the countries could also pave the way for port infrastructural development among thee US, India and Viet Nam.

Therefore, keeping in mind, the above-mentioned arguments could well pave the way for a possible formation of a maritime chain hub consisting of Guam, Okinawa, Cam Ranh Bay and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which could tackle China’s maritime aggressiveness.

The views expressed are personal

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Defense

Hidden Traces in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Сonflict

Dr.Basel Haj Jasem

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From a geographical perspective, the location of the Azerbaijani city of Tovuz, which witnessed penultimate clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia in July, proves that the recent clashes had nothing to do with the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, as it is far from the Azerbaijani territories occupied by Armenia.

The city of Tovuz is located near the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline, both of which are gates for Azerbaijan to transport its oil and natural gas, the so-called “Caspian Sea wealth,” to Turkey, Europe and other global markets.

A Blow to Russian Interests

The location of the attack or the clashes indicates that they were against Turkish-Western and Turkish-Azerbaijani interests. Nonetheless, they are also a blow against Russia’s interests and role in a region of great geopolitical importance for Moscow and other international and regional players who are worried by the state of consensus emerging Between Ankara and Moscow in Syria. Attempts are being made to repeat such consensus in Libya, with foreign media having reported headlines addressing the new “front” between Moscow and Ankara in this context.

Paris believes that the missile attack (in the first months of 2018) launched by the U.S., Britain and France in Syria created a rift between Russia and Turkey, who have different views on some issues, especially in Syria. French President Emmanuel Macron said this in a televised interview.

It is no secret that the Western attacks in Syria at that time sought, among other things, to cause a rift in relations between Russia and Turkey. Thus any disagreement between Moscow and Ankara is in the interest of the West, so the West will continue to exert pressure on the points of difference between them.

Barely hours after Moscow and Ankara announced the beginning of a Russian-Turkish agreement regarding Libya weeks ago, Macron told reporters on July 23 that “in this part of the Mediterranean, which is vital for our countries, energy and security issues are essential…The issue is related to a struggle for influence, especially by Turkey and Russia, which are asserting their presence more and more, and in the face of this, the European Union has so far done little.” He continued, “It would be a grave mistake to leave our security in the Mediterranean in the hands of other parties. This is not an option for Europe, and this is something France will not let happen.”

Russian-Turkish Rapprochement

The rapprochement with Turkey was a positive event for Russia, especially in light of the sanctions imposed by the West on Moscow after the Ukraine crisis. The Astana process was a kind of compromise, a success for both Moscow and Ankara, and Syria turned into a stage for an exciting reconciliation between the two. This coincided with the coldness of their relationship with the West.

The increased economic cooperation and growth of trade volume are beneficial for both Ankara and Moscow, which both need it. The deals signed, including a nuclear plant and a gas pipeline that will allow Moscow to gain independence from Ukraine and export its gas to Europe via the Black Sea and Turkey, all are steps of good cooperation.

The handover of the Russian S-400 system to Turkey is also a matter of pride and sovereignty for the latter, which feels the West’s betrayal of it on several issues. This includes membership in the European Union, Washington’s support for the Syrian extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) (classified on NATO’s terrorist lists), and the extradition of Gulen.

However, all of the above does not mean Ankara has turned its back on the West, as the strategic partnership continues, despite the current rapprochement with Russia imposed by geopolitics and economy.

Trying to Feel For a Pulse

Amid the exchange of accusations between Baku and Yerevan about igniting the recent clashes, whoever started it is targeting Moscow first, and secondly, torpedoing the rapprochement that is likely to develop between Russia and Turkey. It may be in the context of an attempt to feel for a pulse, see if Moscow will adopt a new position on this conflict that has extended since the end of the last century. This is especially after the recent political developments, with the new government taking office in Armenia maintaining a Western policy.

Moscow is aware that Armenia needs Russia more than Russia needs Armenia, yet a fallout would mean losing one of its back gardens in the former Soviet yard. This may affect Russia’s long-term influence and ability to manoeuvre, imposing its opinion as an international power in the global arena in general, and in the former Soviet space in particular.

Russia needs Armenia, a traditional ally, in the Collective Security Organization and other regional economic alliances, as well as in light of the Georgia-Russia conflict. Moscow also needs Azerbaijan, a country that occupies an important geopolitical position.

Moscow and Baku are linked in many areas of joint cooperation, from cross-border security and energy to the exploitation of Caspian Sea resources and transport projects. The Kremlin does not want to turn Azerbaijan or Armenia into Georgia or Ukraine again, so Moscow will not push Baku away, thus allowing foreign powers to push Russia out of the region.

In fact, one would find that Russia is allied with Armenia, and there is a state of partnership with Azerbaijan, with Moscow playing a mediating role (acceptable to both sides) in settling the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

From our partner RIAC

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