By Hashim Abid
ONGOING clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia have started to raise concerns for Russia and Vladimir Putin.
Last weekend Moscow accused Azerbaijan of violating the ceasefire agreement for a second time by entering the Russian peacekeeping mission’s zone in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The timing raises eyebrows given that it has occurred in midst of the Ukrainian crisis.
Turkey’s intimate relationship with Azerbaijan and furthermore, America’s deep strategic relationship with Turkey, raises the possibility of Russia becoming further isolated.
The history behind this explains why.
In late 2020, Azerbaijan delivered a jarring blow to Armenia within the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave via Turkish military backing.
The Azeri victory ensued a dramatic reversal of fortunes for Armenia, who, with Russian help, had occupied most of the enclave and its surrounding areas for three decades.
In the aftermath of the war, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s position of leadership faced severe opposition from the Armenian public in respect to the signing of the ceasefire deal brokered by Russia.
The victory not only opened up the Caspian riches to the West, but it also undermined Russia’s capability to defend Armenia and its influence within the country. Nevertheless, Nikol Pashinyan was able to win the post-war poll, but the public remains dissatisfied with Pashinyan’s achievements in relation to the enclave.
For the first time in 30 years, Baku retains a postion of much strength concerning the enclave and its future, in contrast, to its rival Armenia.
Rhetoric aside, Azerbaijan has always received an extensive amount of support from the West, especially the United States due to its geographical positioning.
Since the 1990s, the United States has always remained keen in its support for Azerbaijan and its rich energy resources, which would aid in marginalising Russia’s energy leverage on Europe.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline has continuously maintained strategic vitalness to the West. America was the main proponent of the former pipeline’s construction during the 1990s.
In 2008, Zbigniew Brzezinski told the US Senate that Russia’s clash with the former Soviet republic of Georgia is a move to control the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. He added: “If the Georgian government is destabilized, Western access to Baku, the Caspian Sea and further will be limited.”
Furthermore, in 2002, President Bush waived Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which cleared the way for the United States to deepen its cooperation with Azerbaijan under the pretext of “fighting terrorism”.
Despite the Armenian lobby’s dismissal, the United States government went ahead with its decision to prioritise Azerbaijan. The section remains waived to this day.
Since the dawn of the Cold war, Turkey has remained a de facto informal extension of the US and the larger West. Thus, America’s objective of utilising its NATO member for the expansion of Western influence within Central Asia is also aligned with Turkey’s aspiration of attaining regional pre-eminence, which is reminiscent of its Ottoman legacy.
Since Russia aims to monopolise the energy-rich resources of the former Soviet states in Central Asia, Turkey’s increasing regional power can facilitate-in combined collaboration with Azerbaijan and Georgia-European access to the energy rich Caspian Sea and consequently, in becoming independent of Russia’s energy blackmail.
Over the years, America’s contradictory stance towards the Armenian genocide affirms the former. During the Obama administration, Turkey was urged to normalise ties with Armenia.
Nonetheless, in 2016 Obama declined to label the 1915 atrocity as a “genocide” since its counterpart Turkey was helping the US carrying out efforts to normalize relations with the Armenians in order to sway the country away from the Russian sphere of influence to an American Western domain.
However, US efforts failed once Armenia annulled the Zurich Protocols -a deal intended to normalise relations with Turkey – in 2018.
The failed efforts then led America-under the Trump administration-to increasing its support for Turkey and Azerbaijan by tacitly consenting to Baku’s military gains against Armenia during the Nagorno-Karabakh war.
Now that Armenia is severely weakened due to the war with Azerbaijan, the US has once more started to provide a higher preference to Armenia over Turkey, which also results in limiting Azerbaijan ability to manoeuvre freely.
Joe Biden became the first US president to formally equate the violence against Armenians with atrocities on the scale of those committed under Nazi-occupied Europe.
In return, Turkey’s response to Biden’s statement was weak as it simply denied the claims and portrayed dissatisfaction towards Biden’s official position. Nonetheless, the former statement did not effectively constrain US-Turkish relations instead, Turkey’s role became less significant for the benefit of US policy, which is to sway Armenia away from Russia’ orbit.
Owing to the Turkish backed-victory of Azerbaijan, Armenia became increasingly insecure and furthermore, was pushed towards the West to search for an appropriate solution.
The recent skirmishes by Azerbaijan towards Armenia have once again pushed Armenia towards the West for a solution to its grieving territorial situation.
Though, the current peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan are being mediated by the European Council President Charles Michel, it perfectly falls in line with US policy.
This is because America has been able to firmly unite Europe against Russia in the midst of the Ukraine crisis, and it is in the interest of both sides of the Atlantic to marginalise Russia’s energy monopoly and to further isolate the Kremlin by breaking its relations with Armenia.
Interestingly, Armenia has illustrated much willingness to cede control over the Karabakh region.
In March, Azerbaijan offered a new framework for resolving the conflict, which included a mutual recognition of the territorial integrity of both countries-which would in effect mean Armenia recognising Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh. In response, Armenia did not object to such proposals adding only that it also expected some “guarantee of the rights and freedoms” of the Armenians living there.
In sum, Turkey provided support to Azerbaijan to achieve an Armenian defeat, which also showcased Russian defeat in backing Armenia to the corner.
Moreover, the Azeri victory also helped secure a steady stream of energy to the western markets without ever having to face any Russian-backed Armenian interferences within the enclave. And due to Armenia’s destitute situation the West-in particular the United States-has exploited the fragile situation to hinder Russian influence within the country.
Due to the Ukraine crisis, achieving the former objective for America and the larger West is more important now, than ever before. Lastly, it is ultimately America that has been constantly manipulating all three parties-Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia. All this acheives its policy of diminishing Russia’s energy monopoly and power within the Caucasus.
Given that Putin is already struggling in Ukraine, the chances of the former objectives is likely to come to fruition. If talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan fail to progress forward, it is likely that Azerbaijan-alongside Ankara’s unequivocal support – will increase its escalation within the enclave.
Not to mention, the US will tacitly consent to the Azeri-Turkish military operations against Armenia. Not only would this lead to Armenia’s further deterioration but would also open up a second font in the midst of the war in Ukraine against Russia.
Regardless, if the talks are successful or not, the Western prospects remain high.
Hashim Abid is an analyst and researcher of global affairs with BSc in International Relations from LSE.
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