Vilnius Summit of the European Union and Russia’s reinvigorated diplomatic performance on the post-Soviet space had accelerated geopolitical processes. Struggle for geopolitical influence, waged among the big powers, reached the new heights. Features of that rivalry appear more articulated in the South Caucasus. The process is abundant with contradictions notwithstanding. Changes to entail their impact upon the geopolitical landscape are worthy of contemplation.
New rules of the game
Activity of geopolitical processes is clearly evident in the South Caucasus. Events related to the regional states demonstrate that a new landscape, in terms of content, is emerging. Its potential consequences for Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia need to be addressed. One of the fascinating aspects is that geopolitical controversy observed in the region persists.
There are two tiers of factors that have to be evaluated. First, interests of the global powers towards the South Caucasus have grown which leads to deepening rift between them. The struggle is characterized by more resolute, practical actions over the region. Second, differences in the geopolitical positions of the South Caucasus states became more pronounced. Armenia has totally succumbed to Russia’s control, Georgia fancies of becoming a geopolitical and democratic leader of the region while Azerbaijan is stepping up its independent policy. It is by citing concrete examples that accuracy of these claims can be verified.
Once Armenia announced its decision to join the Customs Union, Moscow’s policy regarding the country came into the spotlight. Lately, we also see Turkey’s diplomatic activity on the Yerevan front. Assessments by the Armenian experts in the local media attest to the pessimistic view they share on this issue. They are skeptical about anything positive Ankara has to offer. Interestingly, similar conclusions are made concerning Erdogan’s visit to Turkey and Putin’s voyage to Armenia.
It seems to Armenians that Armenia’s interests are not dully considered in the arrangements between Russia and Turkey. The sense of Armenians’ mistrust towards Moscow is felt here. They feel that historically, in critical geopolitical moments, Russians have sacrificed Armenia’s interests, namely citing Gulustan and Kars Treaties.
It means that Armenian politicians and analysts are still living in the world of illusions. They are blind to see geopolitical realities. Their biggest mistake is a denial of natural interests of any nation in the South Caucasus, other than theirs. They are claiming to have significant historical rights and an extensive territory that was lost in the wake of the events of the past. Amazingly, Armenia continues the attempts to use both the West and Russia for achieving its sordid objectives.
Such a posture drags Armenia into the whirlpool of geopolitical hesitations. Country fails to normally position itself with respect to its neighbors. And global powers are skillfully capitalizing on this aspect. It’s not incidental that even Armenian experts are highlighting the fact that neither during the EU’s Vilnius Summit nor throughout Putin’s visit to Armenia the former was able to demonstrate an independent position.
EU no longer views Armenia as a reliable partner, while Moscow explicitly treats it as an outpost. Apparently, as regional geopolitical processes are escalating, Armenia’s prominence is eroding. Its treatment of big powers as patrons and attempts to use that against Turkey and Azerbaijan is rendering its negative impact. Official Yerevan fails to recognize the incongruity of such a policy with the demands of the modern world.
Azerbaijan’s pragmatism and “Georgian dream”
Unlike Armenia, Georgia has succumbed to euphoria. Georgian experts are convinced that association membership with the EU automatically provides enormous benefits. Tbilisi believes to eventually “take its legitimate place” among the European nations and indulges itself with this sweet illusion (see Лейла Нароушвили. Грузия на пороге”истинной демократии” и “золотой эры” / “Грузия Online”, 20 November2013).
However, Georgia’s leadership needs to reckon with Russia and Armenia factors. Due to the Customs Union issue, Moscow is demanding that Tbilisi reopens Abkhazia railroad. Moreover, given that Georgia will implement European standard customs regulations, it is unclear how they are going to accommodate arrangements with Armenia. On the other hand, there are no total guarantees of the country’s security. Prospects of resolution of Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts are vague as Moscow continues to build up its military presence there.
According to Georgian experts, “Russia’s leadership is maintaining a constant pretext to attack Georgia militarily” (see Зураб Бежанишвили. Идея Евразийского Пространства – рабство для народов или новое равноправное сотрудничество? / “Грузия Online”, 17 September 2013). Association membership with the EU is therefore suggested as a “golden age” for Georgia. On the contrary, Tbilisi needs to be mindful of the threats and conduct more comprehensive policy. This is why Russia factor has to be seriously considered and normalizing relations with the former emerges as imperative. Intentions of the official Tbilisi in this connection are not clear yet.
Georgia surely may count on Turkey’s support. Cooperation with Azerbaijan is equally very promising because Baku occupies a solid geopolitical position in the region and enjoys vast energy and economic resources. Official Tbilisi recognizes that Turkey-Azerbaijan military cooperation is one of the backbones of security landscape of the region (see previous article). Nevertheless, there is one internal threat for Georgia.
It is region of Javakhetiya, densely populated by the Armenian minority. According to Georgian experts, Russia can always play this card against the official Tbilisi. In that event, akin of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Javakhetiya can also be barb-wired from the central government (see Лейла Нароушвили. Россия продолжает укрепляться га постсоветском пространстве / “Грузия Online”, 6 December 2013). The idea of Georgia’s becomes a highly contested issue then.
Azerbaijan’s position on the other hand appears quite promising with these developments on the backdrop. Azerbaijan’s pursuit of independent policy was once revealed during the Vilnius Summit.”Different projections and analyses were made prior to this summit. However, eventually, it became clear that Azerbaijan’s leadership faces no dilemma or hesitation in the relations with the EU” (see Azərbaycan müstəqil siyasət yürüdür (Azerbaijan conducts an independent policy) / “Azərbaycan” newspaper, 5 December 2013).
Western experts are already emphasizing that Azerbaijan is capable of impacting geopolitical processes in a profound fashion. Successful energy policy solidified country position. According to media, Russian experts believe that pressure on Azerbaijan is futile. Moscow-Baku relations therefore can be described as good.
Azerbaijan’s relations with Iran are progressing based on equal-footing partnership principle. Tehran’s efforts to normalize ties with the West will open up new prospects ahead. Unlike Armenia however, Azerbaijan does not use its national interests as a bargaining chip. Official Baku has been consistent in upholding independent position under any circumstances. Constructive cooperation line it pursues, without affiliation with any political block, is a telling example of that.
Azerbaijan continues to play a central role in establishing regional cooperation and shaping the security system. It is evident in the process of reformation of the geopolitical landscape in the South Caucasus. Today, there is no other country in the region to compare to Azerbaijan in terms of stable society and consistent foreign policy. For now, only the time will show where the countries of the region would end up in the wake of geopolitical cyclones. In any event, Azerbaijan will continue to develop and strengthen its geopolitical posture.