Events that might not matter elsewhere in the world matter quite a lot in the South Caucasus. Given a recent history of conflict, with all the bad feelings that generates, plus outside powers playing geostrategic games, and its growing importance as an energy corridor between Europe and Central Asia, the region is vulnerable.
This has been worsened by the two-year-long Western absence of engagement. In 2020, Europe and the U.S. were barely involved as the second Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, leaving about 7,000 dead. With tensions now on the rise between Azerbaijan and Iran, Western uninterest is again evident, even though this might have wider ramifications for future re-alignment in the South Caucasus.
The drumbeat of Iranian activity against Azerbaijan has been consistent in recent months. Iran is getting increasingly edgy about Israel’s presence in the South Caucasus — hardly surprising given Israel’s painfully well-targeted assassination and computer hacking campaigns against nuclear staff and facilities — and especially its growing security and military ties with Azerbaijan, with whom Iran shares a 765km (430 mile) border. Iran has also voiced concern about the presence in the region of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, who were used as Azeri assault troops last year.
Much of the anger has been played out in military exercises. The Azeri military has been busy since its victory, exercising near the strategic Lachin corridor which connects the separatist region to Armenia, and in the Caspian Sea, where it has jointly exercised with Turkish personnel. Iran, in turn, sent units to the border region this month for drills of an unstated scale.
This week, the Azeri and Iranian foreign ministers agreed to dial down the rhetoric amid much talk of mutual understanding. Whether that involved promises regarding the Israeli presence or a pledge by Iran to abandon a newly promised road to Armenia was not stated.
Iran’s behavior is a recognition of the long-term strategic changes caused by the Armenian defeat last year. Iran has been sidelined. Its diplomatic initiatives have failed, and it has been unwelcome in post-conflict discussions.
It is true that Iran was never a dominant power in the South Caucasus. Unlike Russia or Turkey, the traditional power brokers, it has not had a true ally. Iran was certainly part of the calculus for states in the region, but it was not feared, like Russia or Turkey. And yet, the South Caucasus represents an area of key influence, based on millennia of close political and cultural contacts.
Seen in this light, it is unsurprising that Iran ratcheted up tensions with Azerbaijan. Firstly, this reasserted the involvement of the Islamic Republic in the geopolitics of the South Caucasus. It was also a thinly-veiled warning to Turkey that its growing ambitions and presence in the region are seen as a threat. In Iran’s view, Turkey’s key role as an enabler of Azeri irridentism is unmistakable.
Turkish involvement has disrupted the foundations of the South Caucasian status quo established in the 1990s. To expect Turkey to become a major power there is an overstretch, but it nevertheless worries Iran. For example, the recent Caspian Sea exercises between Azerbaijan and Turkey appear to run counter to a 2018 agreement among the sea’s littoral states stipulating no external military involvement.
The Caspian Sea has always been regarded by Iranians as an exclusive zone shared first with the Russian Empire, later the Soviets, and presently the Russian Federation. Other littoral states play a minor role. This makes Turkish moves in the basin and the recent improvement of ties between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan an unpleasant development for Iran — fewer barriers to the Trans-Caspian Pipeline threatens the Islamic Republic’s ability to block the project.
This is where Iranian views align almost squarely with the Kremlin’s. Both fear Turkish progress and new energy routes. The new Iranian leadership might now lean strongly toward Russia. With Russia’s backing, opposition to Turkey would become more serious; Iran’s foreign minister said this month that his country was seeking a “big jump” in relations with Russia.
The fact is that the region is increasingly fractured and is being pulled in different directions by the greater powers around it. This state of affairs essentially dooms the prospects of pan-regional peace and cooperation initiatives. Take the latest effort by Russia and Turkey to introduce a 3+3 platform with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as Iran. Beyond excluding the West, disagreements will eventually preclude any meaningful progress. There is no unity of purpose between the six states and there are profound disagreements.
Thus, trouble will at some point recur between Iran and Azerbaijan, and by extension Turkey. Given the current situation, and Iran’s visible discontent, it is likely it will take some kind of initiative lest it loses completely its position to Turkey and Russia.
Author’s note: first published in cepa
Azerbaijan is to open an embassy in Israel: timely or little late?
“Time to open that bottle!” tweeted with joy George Deek, Israel`s Ambassador in Azerbaijan on November 18, by posting a photo of wine flanked by the flags of the two countries. What lit him up was the decision of the Azerbaijani parliament to (finally) open an embassy in Israel.
The joy was shared by Israeli officials and media outlets: for instance, Prime Minister Yair Lapid praised the decision, calling Azerbaijan “an important partner of Israel and home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the Muslim world”. The Jerusalem Post, in its turn, referred to Azerbaijan as the first Shiite country to open an embassy in Israel.
The two countries have established and been successfully leading one of the unique, if not strange, case of partnership since the early 1990s: a Shiite Azerbaijan plays an incredible role in the energy security of the Jewish state surrounded usually by antagonistic states: according to some estimates, Israel receives 40-50% of its oil imports from Azerbaijan.
Another, no less important, director of the bilater relations is security-oriented. Israel has managed to become the largest supplier of weapons to Azerbaijan. SIPRI estimates that some 60% of Azerbaijan’s defense imports in 2015-2019 originated in Israel, while in 2020, that number jumped to almost 70%. This partnership benefited Azerbaijan, who successfully used the Israeli-manufactured state-of-the-art military technology during the 2020 Karabakh war to defeat its arch-nemesis Armenia and liberate the formerly occupied territories. The contribution of Israel to the historic triumph was acknowledged both by political elite and general society in Azerbaijan: seeing Israel flags, along with Azerbaijani and Turkish ones, across the entire country is therefore not uncommon nowadays.
Last May, amid regional tensions with Iran, reports emerged on Azerbaijan buying Iron Dome missile defense batteries. Then in October 2021, Azerbaijan reportedly considered buying Israel’s Arrow-3 missile defense system. Neither Israeli authorities nor Israeli defense firms commented on the news.
Another sign of deepening ties and mutual trust came to light lately when the Israeli government approved an emergency plan to receive Jews fleeing from Russia. The plan involves possible transition camps for Russian Jews in Finland and in Azerbaijan ahead of their arrival to Israel.
Add to this, Azerbaijani-Jewish diaspora who naturally forges the warm relations between the two countries. While the Jews were persecuted, oppressed and driven out both in Christian and Muslim worlds in the Middle Ages, Azerbaijan always served as a safe haven for them: an all-Jewish town just outside of Baku, Azerbaijan`s capitol city, Red Town is home to at least 4,000 people and is sometimes referred to as Jerusalem of the Caucasus. This fact also boosts the image of Azerbaijan as a reliable and amicable land in the Jewish perception. According to historians, the indigenous Mountain Jews have been living in geography for at least 2,000 years. A unique sub-group of the Jews, they now protect the interests of both Azerbaijan and Israel.
Despite the nearly perfect ties between the two countries, Azerbaijan had for decades avoided opening an embassy in Israel, although the latter has been diplomatically represented in Azerbaijan since 1993. The reason could be related to the assumption that such a move could alienate the huge Muslim world, most of whose members had been quite hostile towards Israel. However, things started changing with the signing of the Abraham Accords. The thaw between some Gulf countries and Israel heralded a new era in the Middle Eastern geopolitics and Azerbaijan had to rethink its relevant policies.
The signs of Azerbaijan`s intention to finally set up a mission in Israel had been observed for some years until when Baku opened Trade and Tourism Representative Offices in Tel Aviv in the summer of 2021.
While elevating its diplomatic presence in the Jewish state, Azerbaijan, known for its skillful balancing, did not forget Palestine and passed a parliamentary resolution on opening a representative office in Ramallah as well.
Yet, Azerbaijan`s historic decision amid its tensions with Iran and the comeback of Netanyahu, who is expected to resume Israel`s assertive policy especially in the Iran direction could not be only a coincidence. Intriguingly, in early October Israel`s Defense Minister Benny Gantz paid a visit to Azerbaijan, where he met not only his counterpart but also Azerbaijan`s president Ilham Aliyev. This visit overlapped with the attempts of Israel and Turkey to finally overcome their past disagreements and open a new chapter in the relations, something the Azerbaijani side had for years desired for and worked on.
It can be predicted that Azerbaijan`s foreign policy priority for the next period will be focusing not only on cementing bilateral ties with the Jewish state, but helping to establish what some Azerbaijani experts see as Azerbaijani-Israeli-Turkish triangle, a geopolitical constellation, which would also determine the regional picture in the coming years.
Kiev is not interested in preventing war crimes
The video of the execution of Russian prisoners of war by Ukrainian troops, which circulated in the media and social networks, is far from the only video recording of war crimes by Ukrainian army. Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, videos of beaten and stripped prisoners of war and civilians suspected of collaborating with the Russians have appeared on the network. Records of torture also circulated widely.
At the same time, experts admit that there is a lot of cruelty on both sides, during the clashes almost no prisoners are taken, only Moscow does not promote violence, and Kyiv does not care about the promotion of war crimes. What are the reasons for such “public violence”, which can greatly compromise both the Ukrainian military and President Zelensky himself?
We could assume that the Russians commit many more war crimes, but due to the large number of military police and counterintelligence officers, they simply do not film them. It would seem that the answer lies on the surface – Russia is an authoritarian state, where phones are taken away from soldiers, and Ukraine is democratic. However, the reality is different, there is no democracy in the war, smartphones of military personnel in the conflict zone are trying to remove both sides. Moreover, as we have already pointed out, it is precisely in “totalitarian” Russia in the war zone that there are dozens of war correspondents who freely visit military units and could shoot such videos. It is true that a significant part of those journalists is under the control of the Russian army, however, they cannot control all of them. This is evidenced by the fact that more than once, due to journalists filming and revealing the positions of the Russian army, there have been losses of men and equipment in the Russian army.
But Russians are not characterized by cruelty. The main difference between Ukrainian nationalists and Russian fighters is different cultural traditions. In the 80th brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, formed in Lviv from the natives of Western Ukraine, the personnel were brought up in the spirit of the traditions of the Ukrainian underground during the Second World War. Recall that then the supporters of Stepan Bandera shot back pro-Soviet and pro-Polish activists, including doctors and teachers sent to western Ukraine, and also massacred entire Jewish and Polish villages.
In the Russian mentality, mockery and mistreatment of prisoners is unacceptable. You can kill the enemy, but not torture. Russians in their ideology have always opposed themselves to the German Nazis with their concentration camps and gas chambers. So, if someone posted a video of the torture and murder of captured soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Russian audience would explode with indignation, recognizing the perpetrators of such acts as war criminals.
However, the true reason for the appearance of such videos lies not even in the different mentality of Ukrainian nationalists and Russians. In fact, Kyiv propagandists deliberately give the green light to such videos. This is primarily done to scare Russian soldiers and reservists. And official Kiev does not pay much attention to these crimes.
Take for example the recent Ukrainian war crime in Makiivka. The Ukrainian army immediately began to claim that the video was staged and fake. However, it was the Western experts who confirmed the authenticity of the video and the Western media exerted pressure to launch an investigation.
However, such video propaganda of cruelty actually has a much more serious purpose. Its main task is to form a stable feeling of hatred between Russians and residents of Ukraine. EU residents have little idea of the mentality of the average Russian. The fact is that many in Russia sincerely consider the current war to be a civil one. Almost all Russians treat Ukrainians either as a very close people or as southwestern Russians. Half of the inhabitants of Ukraine have Russian surnames, relatives in Russia and use Russian as their main language. However, each such video should, according to the plan of Kiev radical propagandists, change the mentality of Russians more and more. They must hate all the inhabitants of Ukraine, stop treating them as “their own” and recognize that reconciliation with Ukraine and a new reunification with it is impossible. Peace will come sooner or later, but a steel wave of hatred will fall between the future Ukraine and Russia. At the same time, Russia’s desire to punish the killers of defenseless prisoners of war and civilians will also prevent the settlement of relations between Moscow and Kyiv for many decades.
The line of military contact between Russia and Ukraine is lengthening, fresh troops and new weapons are coming to the front from both sides. Obviously, the execution in Makiivka will not be the last video demonstrating the complete disregard of Kyiv, for “democratic values”, the Geneva Convention and human rights. The question involuntarily begs itself, does a united Europe need such a Ukraine, proud of the massacres?
The Lying Propaganda-Phrase “Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine”
Here is why Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 was actually legal under international law:
No one maintains that U.S. President John F. Kennedy lacked international legal authorization to invade the Soviet Union if the Soviet Union were to place American nuclear-warheaded missiles in Cuba 1,131 miles from Washington DC. Everyone recognized that if the Soviet Union and Cuba were to do that, it would constitute an act of aggression against the United States, because those missiles would be so close to America’s command-center in DC as to enable a blitz nuclear attack by the Soviet Union so fast as to possibly prohibit America’s strategic command to recognize the attack in time to launch its own, retaliatory, missiles.
This is the principle, that any major world power possesses the national self-defense right to prohibit any bordering nation from allowing weaponry and forces of a major world power that is hostile to this major world power to be placed in that bordering nation.
Whereas Cuba is 1,131 miles away from DC, Ukraine is only 300 miles away from The Kremlin.
JFK demanded from both Cuba and the Soviet Union that there will NEVER be Soviet missiles placed in Cuba, and the Soviet Union then promised that they would comply with that national-security demand by the U.S.; thus, WW III was averted.
This time around, the aggressors were America and Ukraine; and Russia imposed the same demand as JFK did, but its enemies were/are determined and clear aggressor nations — refused to comply.
Why does ANYONE allege that allowing the United States to place its missiles only 300 miles (a 5-minute missile-flight away) from The Kremlin would not constitute aggression by the U.S. and Ukraine against Russia? Allowing Ukraine into NATO would grant the Governments of U.S. and Ukraine a right to place U.S. missiles 300 miles from The Kremlin — something that no rational Government of Russia would ever allow to happen.
The Cuban-Missile-Crisis precedent acknowledged that Russia now has a national-defense right to demand that Ukraine NEVER be allowed into NATO.
On 17 December 2021, Russia demanded from both the U.S. and its anti-Russian military alliance NATO, promises in writing that Ukraine WILL NOT BE ALLOWED INTO NATO. On 7 January 2022, America and its NATO aggression-alliance both said no.
That left Russia either to capitulate to America and its NATO, or else to invade Ukraine in order to prevent that aggressor — America — from doing essentially what JFK had gotten the Soviet Union to do: to agree to the defending major world power’s extremely reasonable (actually necessary) demand and so promise NEVER to allow Ukraine into NATO.
America (and its NATO) forced Russia to invade Ukraine, in order to prevent nuclear “Checkmate!” by the U.S. regime.
All of the U.S.-and-allied propaganda organs (including academic ones) that use the lying phrase “Russia’s illegal invasion of ukraine” must therefore be recognized as being the liars that they actually are. (Otherwise: they must declare JFK to have been violating international law by threatening Khrushchev with an American invasion if Soviet missiles would be placed in Cuba.)
What the Cuban-Missile-Crisis example displays is a more detailed statement of the Westphalian Principle or “Westphalian State System” as Oxford Reference defines that:
Westphalian state system
Term used in international relations, supposedly arising from the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648 which ended the Thirty Years War. It is generally held to mean a system of states or international society comprising sovereign state entities possessing the monopoly of force within their mutually recognized territories. Relations between states are conducted by means of formal diplomatic ties between heads of state and governments, and international law consists of treaties made (and broken) by those sovereign entities. The term implies a separation of the domestic and international spheres, such that states may not legitimately intervene in the domestic affairs of another, whether in the pursuit of self‐interest or by appeal to a higher notion of sovereignty, be it religion, ideology, or other supranational ideal. In this sense the term differentiates the ‘modern’ state system from earlier models, such as the Holy Roman Empire or the Ottoman Empire.
From: Westphalian state system in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics
That cites two “Empires” — Holy Roman, and Ottoman — but actually ALL empires violate Westphalianism. That includes today’s American empire.
During WW II, the advocates of Westphalianism were FDR and Stalin, and the opponents of Westphalianism were Churchill, Hirohito, Mussolini, and Hitler. Truman and his personal hero Eisenhower became FDR’s successors, and both of them were opponents iof Westphalianism. This was the reason why the Cold War started: both of the first two American Presidents after FDR were imperialists. They created today’s military-industrial-complex-controlled America, the international American dictatorship that now exists and which has replaced FDR’s democracy.
An interesting sidelight to this is that whereas Sunni Islam, and the passion that some of them have for establishing an international “Caliphate,” accept imperialism or even advocate it (as Caliphate-proponents do), Shiite Islam opposes imperialism, and this has been one of the major reasons why Shiite Iran is rejected by all imperialistic Governments. Here is how Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei phrased this in his 21 October 2006 “Leader’s Speech in Meeting with Soldiers and Commanders of the Sacred Defense Era”:
There are two major differences between a defensive and an offensive war in terms of meaning and content. One difference is that an offensive war is based on transgression and aggression, but this is not the case with a defensive war. The second difference is that a defensive war is a place where zeal, courage and deep loyalty to ideals emerge. These ideals may be related to one’s country or … one’s religion. …. This does not exist in an offensive war. For example, when America attacks Iraq, an American soldier cannot claim that he is doing it for the love of his country. What does Iraq have to do with his country? This war is at the service of other goals, but if an Iraqi person resists this military invasion and presence inside his country, this means showing resistance and defending one’s country, national identity and those values that one believes in. …
Since the day the regime of Saddam attacked Tehran and struck the airport until the day Imam (r.a.) accepted the resolution – was a glorious era. And it continued to be a glorious era until Saddam attacked again and our revolutionary and mujahid people took over the entire desert. Basiji youth from throughout the country participated in the war and they put in an astonishing performance. This time – the second time that Iraq had attacked – they managed to make it retreat.
Between 1953 and 1979, Iran had been part of (i.e., a vassal of) the then-growing American empire, and Khamenei in that speech made a principled repudiation of THAT America. But that America is now bipartisan in both of America’s political Parties, and is at war against the anti-imperialist nations of today, mainly Russia, China, and Iran — but also against any nation that is friendly toward any of those three. The anti-imperialist nations are pro-Westphalian; the imperialist nations are (and always have been) anti-Westphalian.
Today’s international law doesn’t mention the Westphalian Principle, because FDR had died and the U.N. (which he invented and named) became created in Truman’s image, not in FDR’s; and so it accepts imperialism (which FDR passionately despised and loathed). That’s part of the gutting of FDR’s envisioned U.N., which has resulted.
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