reviews the key priorities of President Obama’s ‘reset’ policy with Russia. The
author analyzes the impact of the ‘reset’ policy on the South Caucasus. The
region’s strategic importance is emphasized for U.S. policy towards the Great
Middle East and the post-Soviet space. The author discusses the failure of the
“Russia reset” policy in improving America’s interests particularly in the
South Caucasus. The priorities of Putin’s doctrine and the implications of the
Crimean crises for the South Caucasus are evaluated as well. The author urges
for new U.S. initiatives to enforce peace, international borders and America’s
strategic interests in the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
collapse of the USSR, the South Caucasus has become an arena for the powerful
struggle between the West and Russia. The South Caucasus is of great importance
for its geostrategic location and its access to Caspian’s energy resources.
Geographically, the region is a land bridge between the Black and Caspian Seas.
Its proximity to the Middle East increases the South Caucasus’ importance for
both the U.S. and Israelis Middle East policies. The South Caucasus is also a
sensitive region of the former Soviet Union space. The large energy resources
of the Caspian increase the South Caucasus’ role for Europe’s and Israel’s
well-known that the South Caucasus always was at the focus of U.S. foreign
policy toward the USSR. However, since the Soviet Union’s disintegration, the
first high-level contacts with leaders of all three South Caucasus states took
place when the Secretary of State, James Bakker III, embarked on a historical
trip to Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Central Asia on February 12, 1992 and to
Georgia on May 26, 1992. The trip occurred shortly after the dissolution of the
USSR in December of 1991. The visit indicated that the South Caucasus states
were of strategic importance for America’s interests in the post-Soviet space.
It also generated a clear message that the U.S. has strong intentions to launch
active diplomacy towards all three newly emerged countries of the South
Caucasus without discrimination. So, despite the strong opposition of the
Armenian-American diaspora, the United States opened its Embassy in Baku,
Azerbaijan without delay in March 1992.
after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the newly emerged states of the
South Caucasus held unbalanced influence on Capitol Hill. Unlike Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia at the time did not have influential diasporas and bold
political experiences to deal with the U.S. Congress and administration.
However, thanks to the powerful diaspora, Armenia held more advanced positions
in the United States. So Armenia widely explored diaspora’s network to shift
America’s policy to more pro-Armenian stance in the South Caucasus.
Congress has excluded Azerbaijan from receiving U.S. governmental assistance
under Section 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act (FSA). Despite strong opposition
from the George H.W. Bush administration, the language of Section 907 of the
FSA prohibited U.S. government-to-government assistance to Azerbaijan.
Capitalizing temporary advantages, the Armenian-American diaspora tried to put
Armenia at the center of America’s regional policy, while pushing Armenia as a
key promoter of American interests in the South Caucasus. Strong efforts have
also been launched to gain U.S. support for Armenia’s position in its conflict
with Azerbaijan over Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh. However, as further
political events have shown, the diaspora has miscalculated or overestimated
Armenia’s power in promoting U.S. interests in the region. Subsequently, both
the diaspora’s and Armenia’s goals began to contradict America’s strategic
interests in the South Caucasus and in the Caspian Basin.
“CONTRACT OF THE CENTURY” AND AMERICA’S REGIONAL ENGAGEMENT
20, 1994, Azerbaijan signed a production-sharing contract, or “Contract of the
Century”, with a consortium of international oil companies (British and
American oil giants) to explore oil in Azerbaijan’s sector of the Caspian Sea.
The discovery of the Azeri, Chirag, Guneshli oil fields in the Azerbaijan
sector of the Caspian has significantly energized U.S. policy and diplomacy to
transform the region into an important source of non-Middle Eastern energy.
Huge Azeri oil and gas reserves have raised an issue of energy transportation
routes to bypass Russia. In this light, some experts have emphasized the three main
drivers of U.S. foreign policy at that time: the role of energy production to
strengthen the sovereignty of the South Caucasus nations; U.S. corporate
interests; and the role of Caspian energy resources for global energy
There is no
doubt that the decision of the late Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev to
bring American and British oil giants into the South Caucasus/Caspian affairs
was a successful step in his strategy to find a delicate balance in enforcing
Azerbaijan’s security and promoting U.S. interests. He and President
Shevardnadze of Georgia also attempted to bring Azerbaijan and Georgia into
focus in the U.S. policy and while equilibrating Russia’s influence.
Soviet’s disintegration, Azerbaijan has tried to strengthen its national
independence and security while liberating lands occupied by Armenia.
Azerbaijan needed to contain strong pressure from both Iran and Russia, which
provided large-scale assistance to Azerbaijan’s regional rival – Armenia.
Trying to stabilize and strengthen Azerbaijan’s independence, the late
Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev oriented the country’s foreign policy
towards the West and Israel. Thus the “Contract of the Century” was President
Heydar Aliyev’s strategic step to anchor Azerbaijan to the West.
the Contract has changed the region’s political landscape. The Contract
confirmed Azerbaijan’s strategic characteristics in promoting U.S. interests in
the region. The Contract also became a long-term tool to project U.S. power
deep into Central Asia. In this way, the Contract opened the “gates” for the
West’s direct engagement into the South Caucasus and Caspian basin’s affairs.
As one can emphasize, the Contract was a message to Russia: the West comes
back. Given that the British withdrawal from Baku in August 1919, put an end to
the West’s presence in the South Caucasus, the West returned once more as a
strong and influential actor.
United States, the European Union (EU), as well as Turkey and Israel started to
play increasing roles in the South Caucasus’ affairs, which traditionally have
been orchestrated by Iran and Russia. The Clinton administration launched, and
the Bush administration expanded upon, a package of long-term programs
(Partnership for Pease, Silk Road Strategy Act; and later, the Caspian Watch
and the EU’s Eastern Partnership), oriented to strengthen the West’s presence,
while minimizing both Iranian and Russian influences.
tragic events of September 11, the United States significantly expanded its
political, military, and security cooperation with the South Caucasus
countries, which were enlisted by the United States in its war against terror.
All three countries agreed to allow passage through their airspace. On December
16, 2001, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited all three capitals of
the South Caucasus countries to consolidate U.S. military ties to a vital
region. In Baku, Rumsfeld also announced that “the United States Congress
appears within days of waiving sanctions imposed in 1992 under the Freedom
By early 2002,
the U.S. started a train-and-equip program for the Georgian military. There
were also some indications that the U.S. Department of Defense had intention to
establish a military presence in Azerbaijan. In December 2003, in a meeting
with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Donald Rumsfeld expressed his interest
in establishing the U.S. air base on the Apsheron peninsula ; however,
Azerbaijan denied this option, so as not to anger Iran and Russia.
Within a couple
of years, Azerbaijan and Georgia started to rank amongst NATO’s most reliable
and committed partners involved in providing support for the International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The United States has also
realized that Azerbaijan and Georgia, unlike Armenia, are crucial countries
that can promote America’s interests in the region and beyond. In this context,
the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC), a main export pipeline to pump the
Caspian oil to world markets via Georgia, was the next strategic step in
involving Azerbaijan and Georgia in strengthening America’s influence. The BTC
also became a key element for Israel’s energy security. Finally, the BTC
enforced the “Contract of the Century” strategy: to engage the West, while
balancing Russia’s influence.
and long-term international projects aimed at pumping and transporting Caspian
energy while bypassing Russia have shifted America’s policy towards the region.
The South Caucasus became an increasingly important component of U.S. foreign
policy. Azerbaijan and Georgia both aligned themselves with the United States
and sought integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, while Armenia deepened
its ties with Moscow. So, the United States began focusing on Azerbaijan and
Georgia in its regional policy and increased its direct assistance to Baku and
Tbilisi . Finally, the large energy projects pushed Washington to gain
strategic momentum in the Caspian basin, which greatly angered Moscow.
Since the BTC
started to operate in 2005, Russia has realized that the United States has been
rapidly increasing its operational abilities to limit Russia’s influence.
Moscow understood that Washington has become a powerful actor that can
seriously jeopardize Moscow’s interests in this sensitive part of the world.
RESPONSE: THE WAR WITH GEORGIA
painfully reacted to America’s rapid “advance” into the region, which Moscow’s
decision- makers traditionally considered as a part of Russia’s backyard. Some
scholars noted: “…to counter this development, one of Russia’s tactics is to
slow down Western advances… ”. In this context, the Russo-Georgian war of
2008 possibly originated from these tactics. Sources confirmed that the plan
for Georgia has been prepared by Russia’s Armed Forces General Staff, even at
the end of 2006 – to the beginning of 2007; this was quite soon after the
BTC started to operate in 2005.Moscow’s goals were clear: stop Russia’s
retreat, reverse strategic momentum, and ensure Russia’s interests were
former Georgian President Saakashvili’s miscalculations gave Russia the chance
to strengthen Moscow’s security posture in the region. Moreover, the war with
Georgia has provided a brilliant opportunity for Russia to shift the region’s
balance of power and regain strategic momentum to enforce Moscow’s influence in
its immediate neighborhood. Russia has demonstrated to global and regional
powers that the South Caucasus (like the entire CIS) is Russia’s near abroad
and Moscow has exclusive rights to use the force and manage the situation in
accordance with its strategic interests.
As a result,
the Georgian and Ukrainian movement towards NATO membership has been abandoned
from the agenda. In addition, two parts of Georgia have been recognized by
Russia as independent states. Some scholars indicated: “Western actors have in
practice been forced to recognize Russia’s military dominance in the region and
act only in areas approved by Russia and within the limits set by Russia”.
interpret that the Georgia war was a message to the West: Russia recovers with
its old imperial ambitions, and the Russian military once again serves as a
working tool in Moscow’s strategic calculations. “As the Russia-Georgia
conflict demonstrates, military force has become a major factor in Russian
foreign policy”. Moreover, Russia’s rapid advance deep into Georgia also
confirms that Russia can reach both capitals, Baku and Tbilisi (key U.S.
partners) easily, and that there is no power that can stop Russia’s forces. So,
the war has demonstrated that the Western companies’ oil and pipeline
infrastructures in the Caspian could be under threat, and that the West has no
effective tools to stop Russia’s military.
political development has indicated, the Georgia war became a turning point in
Russia’s foreign and security policy toward the former Soviet republics. There
are many indications that the Kremlin has adopted a new strategy: to expand
Russia’s military presence in the near abroad, and so as to increase Moscow’s
power to keep former Soviet republics in Russia’s orbit. Moscow has launched a
double-track policy: to intensify a military buildup in Russia’s immediate
neighborhood, and to pressure neighboring countries to join to the
Moscow-dominated Eurasian Union, which must start operating in 2015. In
parallel, Russia pushed the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a
Russia-dominated post-Soviet security block.
In fact, in
2009, soon after the Georgian war, Russia pressured Kyrgyzstan to close its
U.S. military air base Manas. A year later, Russia extended its lease for
the military base in Armenia to 2044 and offered large amounts of military
hardware to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the two Central Asian countries that
also host Russian military bases. Earlier, Russia signed a deal with
Kyrgyzstan to allow Moscow to keep a military base in the country until
2032. Russia also signed $4 billion military deal with Azerbaijan in
2010 and it negotiated plans to open military air base in Belarus in
2015. Russia increased its military personnel up to 5000 strong, and added
combat helicopters to the fighter unit in Armenia.
the Russo- Georgian war of 2008 was a milestone development in the post-Soviet
space. Russia enforced its dominance in the near abroad and increased its
efforts to launch the Moscow-dominated Eurasian Union. However, the United
States was shocked and pushed to adopt a new strategy.
Azerbaijan’s “Contract of the Century” accelerated American economic and
political penetration. Washington became a key player, which was directly
engaged in tight and complex affairs in the South Caucasus and Caspian basin.
The United States, as one can emphasize, has gained considerable momentum in
expanding its influence in the region and beyond. This tendency created a
serious concern in Moscow and Tehran because it puts Russia’s and Iran’s
historical dominance under inevitable erosion.
RESPONSE: ‘RESET’ WITH RUSSIA
Obama took office in 2009, he immediately announced a new foreign policy
strategy: to reset relations with Russia. The relations between the United
States and post-Soviet Russia were so bad at that time that some observers
characterized them as a new Cold War. However, attempts to improve
relations with Russia are not unique to the Obama administration. As Paul
J.Sanders, Executive Director of the Nixon Center, believes, “… efforts made by
previous two administrations included resets that ultimately failed to live up
to expectations”. But Dr.James M.Goldgeier of the Hoover Institution
emphasizes that the origin of America’s Russia ‘reset’ policy has a root that
runs deeps to the Clinton-Yeltsin period.
2009, the ‘reset’ policy was originated by serious disagreements between
Washington and Moscow on the Europe-based missile-defense system, Iran’s
nuclear program, post-Soviet politics, NATO’s eastward expansion, the Georgia
war of 2008, and other issues. In this context the Russo- Georgian war of 2008
was a crucial factor in the South Caucasus’ ‘frontline’ of opposition between
the United States and Russia, which pushed the Obama’s administration to reset
its relations with Russia. Political analysts even emphasized that the war in
Georgia was a proxy American- Russian war, for the Georgian forces were
supplied and trained by Washington.
It is necessary
to note that the Obama administration considered this ‘reset’ as an essential
step in improving relations and overcoming the sense of distrust. The goal was
to replace conflicts with cooperation, or “selective cooperation”, on issues
that were at the top of the United States’ priorities. Some commentators, such
as Russia specialists Thomas E. Graham of Kissinger Associates and Peter Baker
of theNew York Times, believed that Obama’s reset was a “new partnership”.
In fact, both
President Obama and Russian President Medvedev considered their personal
friendship as evidence for the reset’s success. At the 2010 APEC summit in
Japan’s Yokohama, President Obama met with Russian President Medvedev in an
informal meeting to discuss a wide range of bilateral and global issues.
President Obama made statements such as, “my friend Dmitri” and “an excellent
partner,” where as President Medvedev replied with “very pleasant for me” and
“we understand each other very well”. So within the ‘reset’ policy, as
scholars believe, the United States was able to gain Moscow’s cooperation on
some U.S. priorities like: the war in Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear-weapons
aspirations, New START and nuclear proliferation.
DOCTRINE PRACTICE IN THE REGION
There is a
well-known statement from President Putin of Russia arguing that the breakup of
the USSR was “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”. Since his
election in 2000, President Putin tried to recover Russia’s political and
geostrategic assets that were lost by the USSR in 1991. President Putin has
sought to renew Russia’s status and influence in both regional and global
politics, while making the Russian Federation a great power again. He has been
increasing Russia’s military budget and had tried to frustrate and foil U.S.
initiatives which, as he believes, can seriously damage Russian interests. He
has also been expanding Russia’s relations with countries, that share
anti-American politics, and he tries to exploit diplomatic friction between the
U.S. and its allies. President Putin’s attempt to restore Russia’s sphere of
influence and to regain its superpower status, as some analysts argue, is
Russia’s new foreign policy concept, otherwise known as the Putin Doctrine.
component of Putin’s foreign policy consensus, as Leon Aron stated in Foreign
Affairs, is to maintain Russia as a nuclear superpower. The second pillar
is to export nuclear technologies, so, as to enhance Russia’s position as a
global power. The third is to recover Russia’s close relations with its former
Soviet clients in the Middle East. Next is to ensure Russia’s regional hegemony
in near abroad and “… to strive for the political, economic, military, and
cultural reintegration of the former Soviet bloc under Russian leadership”.
Regarding Russia’s efforts to strengthen Kremlin’s position in the near abroad,
Leon Aron also emphasized the following: “Under the Putin Doctrine, the pursuit
of regional hegemony has acquired a new dimension: an attempt at the
‘Finlandization’ of the post-Soviet states, harkening back to the Soviet
Union’s control over Finland’s foreign policy during the Cold War. In such an
arrangement, Moscow would allow its neighbors to choose their own domestic
political and economic systems but maintain final say over their external
orientation. Accordingly, Moscow has taken an especially hard line against
former Soviet republics that have sought to reorient their foreign policy”.
OBAMA’S ‘RESET’ WITH RUSIA
At the same
time, political analysts from both sides of the Atlantic expressed serious
doubts about President Obama’s success in improving Russia- United States
relations. Some of them accused President Obama’s reset as being a
“capitulation” and stated it was a “dangerous bargain” they also regarded it as
a policy of “seeing no evil”. They directly criticized the Obama
administration for its wrong approach and for the possible “grand bargain”
between the United States and Russia as part of the administration’s reset
efforts with Russia.
former deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in
the George W.Bush administration, stated in the Washington Post: “… the
administration would pursue a “Russia first” policy at the expense of Russia’s
neighbors. The problem, it appears, is actually worse: the administration seems
to have moved toward a “Russia only” approach, neglecting and even abandoning
other countries in the region”.
Dr. Ariel Cohen
of the Washington, D.C. based Heritage Foundation believed that a “Russia
first” approach seriously damaged U.S. interests. He strongly argued that
Obama’s ‘reset’ policy has failed to improve bilateral relations and that Obama
conceded too much to Russia at the expense of American interests. He stated: “…
the Kremlin is exploiting Obama’s “see no evil” approach in Russia’s expansion
into former Soviet space and cooperation with anti-Western regimes. The Obama
administration’s Russia policy will inevitable produce a massive loss of
American influence in Eurasia and jeopardize the security of the U.S. and its
friends and allies east of the Order”.
Russian opposition leader and former State Duma First Deputy Vladimir A.Ryzhkov
believes that “the doctrine includes Russia’s renunciation of attributing
itself to the European and Euro-Atlantic civilization; selective recognition of
the norms of international law; selective cooperation with international
organizations; and the right to limit sovereignty of the post-soviet states, as
well as to ignore national sovereignty and territorial integrity of weaker
In fact, under
direct pressure from Moscow, Ukraine’s President Yanukovych did not sign a
political association and free trade pact with the European Union, which was
scheduled to take place at the Eastern Partnership Summit in November 28-29,
2013 in Vilnius, Lithuania.Armenia was forced to abandon the process of
signing the free trade agreement with the European Union as well. Russia
has also pressured Armenia to join the Russia-led Customs Union of Belarus,
Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which is set to transform into the Eurasian
Union by 2015.
Russia has been strengthening the Collective Security Treaty Organization of
Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, and it has
been increasing its military presence in these countries, except in Kazakhstan.
One can emphasize that the unchallenged Russian military’s superiority in
Russia’s near abroad is a crucial element of the Putin doctrine, as it can keep
former Soviet republics under Moscow’s control, while stopping NATO’s eastward
expansion. Russia uses its military installations as a tool to force the West
to avoid deploying US/NATO troops or troops of any NATO member country into
Russia’s immediate neighborhood.
In this way,
Russia’s military base in Armenia transforms this country into the so-called
Russian “fortress” to ensure Russia’s regional dominance and to prevent NATO’s
deployment in the South Caucasus, which holds geostrategic importance for
Israel, as a part of the Greater Middle East, as well as for the United States
and Europe. The base, thanks to newly deployed Fulcrum fighter jets and
attack helicopters, has a full set of strategic characteristics that render
it a key military installation in the region to project Russia’s military power
to the Persian Gulf and deep into the Middle East.
THE END OF ‘RESET’? IMPLICATION FOR THE SOUTH CAUCASUS
criticism on the Obama administration’s Russia ‘reset’ policy, the key goal of
the ‘reset’ – to replace conflicts with cooperation – was a correct and
strategic goal to try to re-normalize relations with post-Soviet Russia. Within
the ‘reset’ policy, the United States has gained Russia’s support on some of
the key priorities of America’s foreign policy, such as on Iran and
Afghanistan. However, the United States canceled the planned deployment of
missile interceptors and radars in Poland and the Czech Republic. The United States
postponed offering the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia and
Ukraine. Later, Washington started to send signals to Tbilisi to improve its
relations with Moscow, which were seriously damaged after the Russo- Georgia
war of 2008.
there are some indications that the Russian political elite interpreted
President Obama’s ‘reset’ policy as a sign of American weakness. The
decade-long American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fully exhausted the U.S.
military machine and pushed the Pentagon to abandon its two-war doctrine
requesting America’s military to fight two simultaneous conventional wars.
The Pentagon’s move to reject the concept of winning two wars has generated
serious speculation that America’s global power is in decline. Thus, the
significant shift in America’s foreign policy, presented by Obama’s ‘reset’
initiative, as well the fact that the new U.S. military doctrine focused on
China not on Russia, sent a wrong message to Moscow pushing the Kremlin to
energize its newly adopted foreign policy concept, the Putin doctrine. In
addition, President Obama’s policyof non-intervention in Syria as well as
Pentagon plans to shrink U.S. Army to pre-World War II level, probably,
reassured Moscow that the United States is not interested in serving as a
global arbiter. “The Russian elite interpreted the reset as weakness on the
part of the Obama administration and as an invitation to be more assertive in
the post-Soviet space and beyond.”. In this context, as one might interpret,
the Crimean crisis is the Kremlin’s powerful message to the world powers:
Russia has strong intention to restore its non-Red Empire and retake its
superpower status. And Russia’s Crimean ‘anschluss’ provides an example of the
Putin doctrine in practice, which is a clear sign of the threat to the
In fact, on
February 11, 2014, Russia started a large-scale military exercise in
Armenia; moreover, beginning March 15, 2014 a group of Russia’s Caspian
Flotilla ships, including landing boats have launched two week long exercises
in the Caspian Sea. In February 2014, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Vice-Chairman
of the Russian State Duma and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia
(LDPR), called for Russia to annex five entire countries – Kazakhstan,
Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan – as Russia’s
“Central Asian Federal Region”. He also called to occupy Georgia and used
offensive and humiliating words and phrases to refer toAzerbaijan and
Fedunyak, an expert at Kennan Institute, believes that “there is an increasing
risk of the use of force by Russia against its neighboring countries,
particularly, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. In the
first three cases, it may develop into hostilities of different intensity
ranging from classical war with armed forces to “hybrid wars” with a high
autonomy of soldiers and subversive small units. Georgia has already suffered
from, and Ukraine has begun to experience, Russia’s new approaches to war. In
the cases of Kazakhstan and Belarus, there may be a “mild” annexation of a part
of a territory or complete absorption that may be facilitated with populations’
psychological and military unpreparedness to resist Russian occupation”.
As one can
emphasize, Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula (Ukraine) is a failure
of President Obama’s Russia ‘reset’ policy. The failure of the ‘reset’ policy
generates long-term implications for U.S. foreign and security policy.
Dr.Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state, emphasizes: “Most
important, the United States must restore its standing in the international
community, which has been eroded by too many extended hands of friendship to
our adversaries, sometimes at the expense of our friends”.
Indeed, in the
South Caucasus, the United States and NATO have to reassure their full support
for independence, as well as for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and
Georgia. Unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are America’s allies, implementing
pro-Western foreign policy that anger Moscow. There is no doubt that Russia
will consistently follow the policy to undermine the West’s influence and to
pressure America’s friends in the region.
Putin’s annexation of Crimea, no one can exclude the idea that Moscow may
select Azerbaijan and/or Georgia as its next targets for Russia’s plan to
protect Russians and Russian-speakers. The Russians will continue its efforts
to incorporate both Azerbaijan and Georgia into the so-called “Russian world”.
If Russia regains Azerbaijan and/or Georgia, it will re-establish Russia’s full
control over the Caspian energy reserves and energy transportation routes
jeopardizing America’s interests and multi-billion dollar oil investments.
Also, it will put an end to the West’s new strategic plans to expand the
Southern Corridor to bring Caspian gas to Europe and so to decrease Europe’s
dependence from Russia’s gas.
European leaders recently agreed to step up their moves to cut energy dependency,
notably on Russia, after events in Ukraine.British Foreign Secretary William
Hague expressed an idea to increase gas exports to Europe and to support
projects such as the Southern Corridor pipeline in Baku, Azerbaijan, which will
bring Caspian natural gas to Europe, bypassing Russia.
context, the involvement of Turkmenistan into the Southern Corridor is strongly
essential for the strategy to try to reduce Europe’s dependence from Russia’s
gas. The project of a Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) between Turkmenistan and
Azerbaijan via the Caspian Sea needs to be on the table again to bring
Turkmenistan’s gas to the European Union via the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline
(TANAP) and Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) projects.Piping Turkmen gas to Europe
should be the next logic step in the development of the Southern Corridor. In
this light, the first Trilateral Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of
Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in Baku, in 26 May 2014, is an important
step in this direction. “The meeting is expected to address the opportunities
for developing cooperation at bilateral and regional levels in matters of
common interest to all three countries, especially in the fields of energy and
transportation and to enable an exchange of views on international and regional
developments”. Earlier, Ankara emphasized the importance of TANAP for the
EU’s energy security following Russia’s military intervention in Crimea.
is one problem: the West does not have an effective political or military tool
to balance Russia’s military in Armenia. Since the Crimea crisis, the
unbalanced and overwhelming Russian military presence in Armenia creates a
serious and direct threat to America’s strategic interests and generates
security problems for Western-oriented Azerbaijan and Georgia. It is also a
threat to Western oil and gas infrastructures and pipelines.
context, the triangular cooperation between Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia
offers valuable reasons for the alliance to be transformed into an effective
defense tool to enforce peace, stability, and international borders in the
South Caucasus. Today’s cooperation addresses politics, security, energy,
transportation, trade and investment, but it should have a military dimension
as well. A defense alliance could be created on the basis of the
Turkey-Azerbaijan-Georgia triangle to protect Western oil and gas
infrastructure, and to enforce Azerbaijan’s and Georgia’s independence. The
next possible option is to sign Turkey- Azerbaijan and/or Turkey-Georgia
bilateral defense agreements to strengthen both Azerbaijan’s and Georgia’s
defense capabilities. In this light, it is necessary to note that the
trilateral cooperation between Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan in the military
sphere was discussed during the Tbilisi summit of the presidents of Azerbaijan,
Georgia and Turkey which was held on May 6, 2014. In parallel, as one can
emphasize, the United States needs to support Azerbaijani- Georgian military
cooperation, which should be expanded upon and transformed into a defense
alliance in the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the formation of Azeri-
Georgian or joint Turkish-Azeri-Georgian peacekeeping battalions could be
considered as well. Thus, mentioned above approaches and close cooperation with
NATO will improve both Azerbaijan’s and Georgia’s defence capabilities.
Moreover, these measures may partially balance Russia’s military presence in
Armenia as well as to prevent Russia from taking potentially irreversible and
aggressive steps against Georgia and Azerbaijan. In fact, people in Azerbaijan
and Georgia are very concerned that Russia may move as it did in 1920-1921. At
that time, Bolshevik Russia occupied all three countries in the South Caucasus
and terminated their short-lived independences.
emphasize that Russia’s military base in Gyumri (Armenia) and its naval base in
Tartus (Syria) are key elements in Putin’s plans to expand Russia’s influence
in the Middle East and undermine America’s dominance in the region as well as
to shake America’s global role, as Soviets did. In this context, Russia is not
interested in the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. If this occurs, there is no
doubt it will erode any grounds to keep the base in Armenia.
light of Russia’s resent invasion to Crimea (Ukraine), the Russian military
base in Armenia has become a real threat for Azerbaijan’s and Georgia’s
independence. In 2008, as the Russo- Georgia war started, Georgian President
Saakashvili was seriously concerned about the possible invasion of Russian
troops from Russia’s military base in Armenia. Russia demands a corridor for
its military base in Armenia through Georgia. Russia has also pushed Tbilisi to
accept new realities and to recognize South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s
independence as a precondition for which to re-establish the diplomatic ties
that were broken after the 2008 war. So, Russia tries to kill Georgia’s NATO
and EU ambitions.
Russia has been keeping the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict ‘frozen’ and holds the
key to unfreeze the conflict at any moment. Moscow has been pressuring Baku to
formally desist from using force to return Nagorno-Karabakh under its
control.Russia tries to prolong the conflict and maintains the Azeri- Armenian
hostility as an effective tool through which to manipulate both Baku and
Yerevan to secure Russia’s interests and dominance in the South Caucasus.
Recently, Russia has introduced semi-official speculations related Abkhazia’s
and South Ossetia’s, as well as Nagorno-Karabakh’s membership in the Moscow-dominated
Eurasian Union. This approach is designed to increase the pressure on
Georgia and Azerbaijan. So, some Russian political analysts do not exclude
further cases of territorial “revisions” of both pro-Western Georgia and
Azerbaijan if they escape from Russia’s orbit.
Russia increases efforts to consolidate its influence in the Caspian basin. On
April, 22, 2014, during a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Caspian Sea’s
littoral states – Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan – in
Moscow, Russia (together with Iran) has cautioned against the military presence
of any non-littoral states in the Caspian Sea.
one negative aspect of the ‘reset’ policy was that the U.S. has decreased its
attention as well as its involvement with the South Caucasus.As a result, the
‘reset’ policy has failed to improve the political atmosphere and to solve
‘frozen’ conflicts in the South Caucasus.Thus, there is no peace along the
pipelines that are pumping Caspian energy to Europe. Moreover, there are
indications that the region’s political situation is deteriorated and America’s
strategic interests are now under threat.
has been strengthening its influence and it has considered cementing its
positions in the region of paramount importance; it has also tried to secure
its interests at any cost. Russia has pushed America to retreat; and it has
increased its pressure on Azerbaijan and Georgia, which are America’s real
friends. On March 27, 2014, only two countries – Azerbaijan and Georgia- from
the list of South Caucasus and Central Asian states openly supported the U.S.
backed UN resolution on the Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and
deemed the referendum that led to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula
what is President Putin’s next target? This is an alarming question. The
collapse of both Azerbaijan and Georgia, as independent states, will have
irreversible consequences on the whole post-Soviet space. The unstable Central
Asian states also may become the next target for Russia. Russian hardliners
like the Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Dumaand leader of the LDPR
VladimirZhirinovsky already began urging to protect Russians in Kazakhstan and
in other Central Asia states.
Putin’s statement that Russia has the rights to protect Russians and
Russian-speakers outside of Russia’s borders is a critical update for the Putin
doctrine. This update opens a ‘door’ for the Russian military to intervene in
the post-Soviet space, as well as in the Central and Eastern
Europe.Russia’s annexation of the Ukraine’s Crimea challenges the post-Cold
War order and America’s role as a global arbiter. It also provokes NATO’s
defense strategies and challenges the vision that Europe is whole and free.
States needs to abandon the ‘reset’ policy. It has been exhausted and has
failed to protect and advance U.S. interests. Moreover, President Obama’s
‘reset’ policy made America look weak, likely resulting in, President Putin’s
miscalculations of America’s global responsibility and investment in foreign
policy goals.The United States needs to reaffirm its commitments to its allies
in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as increase its own engagement in the
South Caucasus and Central Asia.
context, the United States should launch a new assistance program to replace
the old and out-of-date Freedom Support Act (FSA) of 1992, which already does
not reflect the new realities in the post-Soviet space. Unlike the FSA, which
mainly concentrates on Russia, the new strategic program must be focused on
Russia’s immediate neighbors to support their independence, territorial
integrity, defense and economic capabilities. Since the Crimean crisis, Russia
does not need America’s assistance any longer.
States and the European Union have to increase their direct assistance to the
countries of the former Soviet Union. Regarding the South Caucasus, the United
States needs to be re-engaged in the region’s affairs, and it also needs to
develop a strategy aimed at strengthening the region’s links with Europe.In
parallel, the European Union needs to update the Eastern Partnership program,
and NATO has to update and expand upon the Individual Partnership Action Plan
(IPAP) with Azerbaijan for 2015-2016. Meanwhile, Georgia should offer a NATO
Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the September 2014 NATO summit in Wales.
There is no
doubt that the doors at NATO and the EU must be open to new members. In
parallel, Dr. George Friedman (Chairman of Stratfor, a US-based geopolitical
intelligence firm) argues that containment alliances from Estonia to Azerbaijan
should be created to enforce independence of the former Soviet republics and to
stop Putin’s Russia.
President Francois Hollande’s three-day (May 11-13, 2014)visit to the South
Caucasus, as well as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s intention to visit
Azerbaijan and Georgia and announced plans related a new Southern Gas
Corridor (led by BP, which will bring Caspian gas to Europe) create an
understanding that the West and, particularly, the United States will enforce
its presence and influence. It also reassures Washington’s intention to oppose
to Russia’s imperial ambitions in this sensitive part of the world. If the
United States forgets the South Caucasus countries, particularly Azerbaijan and
Georgia (as Obama’s ‘reset’ policy creates such trend), and leaves them
face-to-face with Russia’s military machine (as Britain did in 1919), there is
no doubt Russia will “re-Sovietize” them again and the West will pay a huge
price for such a wrong policy.
2012, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the U.S. is trying to
prevent Russia from recreating a new version of the Soviet Union. Thus, now is
the time for America to abandon the ‘reset’ policy with Russia and to
demonstrate America’s global power to enforce peace, stability and
international borders. However, such a policy will likely not be established
under the President Obama’s administration, which has invested a lot of
political capital to reset its relations with Russia; rather this may be an
undertaken for the next U.S. administration.
* Dr Mahir Khalifazadeh is a political analyst
based in Toronto (Canada). He is affiliated with the Montreal-based Center for
Research on Globalization and is a member of the Canadian Political Science
Association. He is also a Professor of Political Science at the Baku-based
International Ecoenergy Academy (Azerbaijan) and regular contributor to
international journals on global politics and security. His latest article is
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