Connect with us

Eastern Europe

Russia Derails South Caucasus Path to Peace

Published

on

Russia has a railroad plan for the South Caucasus and it is not working. The main cause? Russia.

The end of last year’s Second Nagorno-Karabakh war brought fresh proposals for the restoration of old Soviet railroad routes, which could open up the region to greater trade and development while giving both Armenia and Azerbaijan an incentive to keep the peace.

The railroad plan would have created winners and losers across the region, and are of acute interest to countries including Georgia, Iran, and Turkey. Rail and roads carry enormous political and strategic importance, and for now, this is more important in the minds of policymakers, especially those in the Kremlin, than more benign aspects like wealth creation.

For Armenia, the borders with Azerbaijan to the east and its ally Turkey to the west are closed. While relations with its southern neighbor Iran are cordial, the only significant transportation links run north to Russia through Georgia. The transport map underlines Armenia’s perilous security status and its reliance on Russia for as long as it remains at loggerheads with Azerbaijan. If hostilities were ever renewed between Russia and Georgia, Armenia would be in an extremely difficult situation. But any plan to ease this reliance would probably either require a railroad to Iran (cost at $3.5bn-plus) or a route through Azerbaijan. Both seem unrealistic at the moment.

The old Soviet system had two railroad lines running from Azerbaijan to Armenia and both allow a connection to Turkey via Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave.

Armenia is keener to open up the northern route, as most are in working condition, while Azerbaijan supports the southern alternative. From the Azeri perspective, the latter corridor passes through the reclaimed territories in Nagorno-Karabakh and only a narrow swath of Armenian land before reaching Nakhchivan.

For Iran, the post-2020 conflict resulted in a less favorable outcome than for other regional powers. Ever since the First Karabakh War ended in 1994, Iran has enjoyed a potential stranglehold on Azerbaijan, with Iranian heavy goods transit routes critical for Azerbaijan proper to connect to Nakhchivan. Anything that ended this reliance, like railway reopenings, would weaken Iran’s hand.

Turkey has emerged in a much stronger position. Both proposed railway lines would connect it to Azerbaijan and the country has already announced a plan to build a new railway link to Nakhchivan.

But it is Russia’s view that is decisive. For Vladimir Putin, the military calculus is a real motivator. Penetrating the South Caucasus at will has been a major driver behind Russian foreign policy since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Neutralizing the blocking potential of the Caucasus mountains is at the heart of Russia’s military efforts.

That is one reason why the railway plans have failed to materialize, but there are others. Constructing a long-term peace requires genuine political willingness, prestige, and a record of untarnished leadership. When Russia negotiated a ceasefire agreement in November 2020 following the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, optimism rose that a revival of former transportation links and economic cooperation might decrease tensions and ultimately lead to sustainable peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This in turn should have led to a more prosperous South Caucasus. However, continual skirmishes along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, which kill and wound soldiers on both sides, defy this expectation. Harsh rhetoric prevails and limits the space for diplomatic solutions.

This further lessens the declining level of trust between the two warring sides and creates a more chaotic security environment in the region overall. The net result is the indefinite postponement of the railroad revival project.

And this underlies deeper deficiencies related to the attempted conflict resolution. Russia’s illiberal peacebuilding methods fail to produce real security, largely because the Kremlin has no genuine interest in peace and prioritizes its own interests come what may.

The simmering tensions between the two countries make Russia the winner. For instance, unable to resist the Azerbaijani army, the Armenian government is now seriously considering the extension of Russian military activities along the entire Armenia-Azerbaijan border. There are already reports on Russian soldiers working on some sections of the border.

Russian influence also worries Azerbaijan. Although victorious in the war, its political elites genuinely, albeit silently, fear a continuous Russian military presence on Azeri soil beyond 2025 when the first term of the peacekeeping mission officially ends.

The downside for Russia’s geopolitical strategy is that it is pushing Azerbaijan further into Turkey’s embrace. Both countries have been allies for decades, but this reached a qualitatively new level with the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war when Turkish military assistance was considered key. To offset Russian influence, Azerbaijan and Turkey signed the Shusha Declaration in June where both sides pledged to defend each other in case of an attack on either party. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even mooted a possible future Turkish base in the country, which brought an agitated response from Russia.

The more Russia increases its influence, the greater will be Turkish willingness to support Azerbaijan. The age of exclusive Russian geopolitical domination in the South Caucasus is coming to an end and this could explain why the revival of the railways has failed so far and is likely to in the future. Opening the region up does not really advance Russian geopolitical goals, which are better served with Armenia solely connected to Russia via Georgia, while Azerbaijan is denied a direct line with Turkey.

Author’s note: first published at cepa.org

Emil Avdaliani specializes on former Soviet space and wider Eurasia with particular focus on Russia's internal and foreign policy, relations with Iran, China, the EU and the US. He teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University (Georgia).

Continue Reading
Comments

Eastern Europe

The Stewards of Hate

Published

on

A big bear is rattling the open door of his cage.  He cannot abide a NATO spear in his belly.  Hence Valdimir Putin’s demand for Ukraine to remain out of it, and for the military alliance to stop its advance into eastern Europe.

For 72 years until 1991, Ukraine was a republic of the Soviet Union, and before that for centuries an oblast of the Imperial Russian empire.  In 1939, parts belonging to Poland were annexed.

It was during the breakup of Russia following an independence referendum that Ukraine opted to separate.  But NATO is another story.  After the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact (NATO’s eastern counterpart), Russia had expected the West to do the same.  Instead, NATO became a US fig leaf for its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Apparently, everyone in the world saw through this — except the US — as it embroiled itself in both countries, and the bill for the misadventures rocketed from $80 billion to an estimated $5 trillion.

The EU, a path to riches for East Europeans, is a Ukrainian dream, and Russian troops the reality when they wake up.  Such are the facts, no matter how much the Ukrainians are trying to ignore them. 

If the powerful Russian bear is the Ukrainian bete noire, its polar opposite is the case in India.  A powerful Hindutva movement abhors the Muslim minority.  It blames them for India’s problems, very much akin to the situation for Jews in pre-WW2 Germany.  Not unsurprisingly given the roots of the RSS, which modeled itself after the Nazis, instituting uniforms and drills.  A former member assassinated Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims.  Post independence, the RSS was banned by India’s first government which was led by Jawaharlal Nehru, a secular socialist.

The current prime minister, Narendra Modi, is a former RSS pracharak —  that is an active member who devotes himself full time to promoting RSS doctrine and, like a missionary, in seeking new members.  As an ambitious politician, he shed RSS ties when he entered politics and as leader expresses the wish for unity — sentiments not shared by his BHP colleagues.

There is the yogi elected chief minister of India’s largest state, and his undisguised derogatory opinions of Muslims.  Worse, at a political event at the end of December, leaders called openly for the killing of Muslims, and India’s leaders kept silent.  After general social media outrage at the speeches, the police  finally registered a case against some of the speakers for ‘promoting hatred between religious groups.’

Videos show many of the speakers are prominent religious leaders often present with senior ministers in the BJP government.  Imagine, calling for genocide in 2021.  The world reacted to the effort to eliminate Tutsis in Rwanda where it also began with reviling and dehumanization.  Genocide and even incitement to genocide is a crime.  Hence the prosecutions.  Incitement to genocide is recognized as a separate crime under international law and an inchoate crime which does not require genocide to have taken place to be prosecutable.

The founders of post-independence India, Gandhi and Nehru who took pride in being secular, must be in agony over international outlaws wanting to become the stewards of their child.

Continue Reading

Eastern Europe

Lithuania is left in the dust

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Eastern Europe

Rebuilding of Karabakh: Results of 2021

Published

on

Image source: azerfocus.com

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.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

china bicycle china bicycle
East Asia43 mins ago

“Post-Communism Era”, “Post-Democracy Era”, in the face of “authoritarian liberalism”

According to my understanding and analysis of the current appropriate Chinese confrontation mechanisms in the face of American boycott of...

Eastern Europe3 hours ago

The Stewards of Hate

A big bear is rattling the open door of his cage.  He cannot abide a NATO spear in his belly. ...

International Law5 hours ago

Psychology of Political Power : Does Power Corrupt or is Magnetic to the Most Corruptible?

Last week I attended a conference on ‘Political Power, Morality and Corruption’. A Socratic dialogue with fellow scholars led me...

china india pakistan china india pakistan
East Asia11 hours ago

Shi Maxian’s trap vs Thucydides’ trap

Many political theories and international interpretations have emerged to explain the form of the conflict between the United States and...

East Asia18 hours ago

China and Indo-Pacific democracies in the face of American boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

Despite the US administration’s announcement of a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, with the “American Olympic Committee allowing...

New Social Compact21 hours ago

E-resilience readiness for an inclusive digital society by 2030

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the link between digitalization and development, both by showing the potential of digital solutions...

Tech News22 hours ago

Maintenance Tips for Second-Hand Cars

With a shortage of semiconductors continuing to plague the automotive industry, many are instead turning to the second-hand market to...

Trending