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Western Diplomatic Action in the Caucasus

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Otto von Bismarck famously said, “Politics is the art of benefiting from everything, even from one who spews hate.” In recent years, great geopolitical powers are increasingly more interested in the Caucasus. They are all taking steps to ensure their interests in the area. Diplomatic vitality in the South Caucasus specifically draws much astonishment. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Azerbaijan has come to an end. Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu’s visit with a large group of delegates has also ended. Eamon Gilmore, Chair of OSCE and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, will also be holding a visit to Azerbaijan on June 13-14. President of the EU, Herman von Rumpuy will be visiting Azerbaijan on July 5th.

Russian diplomacy’s special attention to the South Caucasus is quite obvious. The Russian president is currently visiting China and various countries in Central Asia. Yet the Caucasus is Moscow’s most valuable regions. In fact, in the next Western diplomatic rush in the region, we believe it is rather serious that the CIS countries are being presented as the key direction “In the course of Russia's realization of its foreign policy program.”

The Caucasus tour of the “Big Three”

Successive political landing operations in Azerbaijan by the US, OSCE and the EU prove that a common interest in the Caucasus exists in the triad. Simultaneously, these processes guarantee that Caucasian geopolitics enters a new path. We are currently expecting topics on security and resolution to conflicts. These two issues will determine a formation of geopolitical balance under certain conditions.

Two factors will determine the process. First, progress needs to be made in political and diplomatic processes around Iran. Experienced diplomat Dale Hershing has directly associated Clinton’s visit to the region with tensions in Iran and Syria. He considered the visit as a support gesture to South Caucasian countries.

Information about Iran’s support of Assad’s regime has detonated a diplomatic bomb. The information had been leaked around the same time that China and Russia were rejecting a plan of action for Syria in UN’s Security Council. The issues in Syria and Iran are being closely linked together. A lack of result in Tehran’s meeting with the “big six” also draws concern.

The West now holds two perspectives on the issues in Iran. One of them is about the importance of resolving issues in Syria. Several months ago, western analysts had stressed the importance of resolving the issues by July.

The second perspective lies on Russia way of giving new meaning to security and conflict resolution by breathing new air into CIS countries.  Russia has openly expressed a “certain distance” and “equal partnership” principle in relations with Europe and the US. In real terms this means that Russia has began strategies to become the strongest power in the CIS region. This will then lead the West to replenish its attention to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. In his article in the New York Times, Denis Corboy has described the situation as the following: “Caucasus holds risk of confrontation.” Another analyst, Michael Bishku notes that Clinton is now most interested in security in South Caucasus.

High ranked EU and OSCE officials should be discussion regional security matters in during their visits. Opinions must be exchanged on resolution of conflicts. And when it comes to energy, partnership discussions are to be held. The role of OSCE’s Minsk group must therefore be increased, and its sphere be widened. Russia’s role in the South Caucasus will solely depend on its take on the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict.

It is important to recognize that the West treats every country in the S. Caucasus differently. Prevention of Russian tension in Georgia is considered an important goal. Clinton has expressed that Russia will someday have to retreat from Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This has gained the West “points” for Georgia’s upcoming parliament elections. Political scientist Sakvarelidze has mentioned that Clinton’s visit to the region was mainly due to the upcoming elections. The Secretary really did have long discussions with Georgian political parties.

All ways lead to Baku

It seems that the West has chosen a careful objective in Azerbaijan. The West knows that Azerbaijan has an independent policy and that it needs to settle politics with it. In addition, developments in Azerbaijan’s partnership with Russia are considered a fact. Western politicians therefore consider all of these factors when handling any matters with Azerbaijan. In Yerevan, Clinton emphasized that the Nagorno Karabagh conflict must be resolved according to Madrid principles. That is, Washington will prefer the plan that recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

OIC chair Ihsanoglu’s visit to Azerbaijan with a large group of delegates brought these issues to the surface. Ihsanoglu has emphasized that OIC will always support a Azerbaijan’s fair ambitions. OIC has thus declared that it will not be indifferent to the geopolitical action in the South Caucasus and that it will support a state with an independent foreign policy.

This much attention from Western diplomats proves that our country’s geopolitical status is high. This is not surprising, especially due to the energy security matters. In international projects in the region, Azerbaijan is one of the main actors. In prose style, let’s just say that all paths to energy partnerships “lead to Baku.” No international project can be launched without Azerbaijan’s permission.

Increasing tensions in and around Iran also led to increased interest in Azerbaijan. If a war to break out, energy reserves in the Caspian shores will fuel major states. Therefore it is important that Azerbaijan stays clear of issues in Iran and Syria. We must discuss these methods in detail.

Recently, Russian action has increased in Eurasia. Moscow is diligently working to expand free trade among CIS countries. Uzbekistan has already joined. Russia has also begun to pay more attention to collective security in the region. Moscow has openly expressed its intentions of strengthening the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The Kremlin will clearly prioritize expanding the range of the Customs Union. Undoubtedly, Russia is also paying special attention to South Caucasus. Our northern neighbor has always had a close relationship with Armenia. Currently, Russia is trying to keep Armenia under its sight. It is therefore not surprising that Putin will be visiting Armenia this coming fall. It is obvious that Russia will be facing obstacles in Georgia. We can rightly predict that Moscow has different plans for Georgia. When it comes to Azerbaijan, Moscow knows that Azerbaijan is geographically, geopolitically and economically the most important actor in the South Caucasus.

It seems clear that the diplomatic action in South Caucasus stems from a clash of interests in the region of the West and Russia. Both powers are now trying to “feel the rock underneath their feet as they are crossing the river” (Dan Syoapin). They are thinking about possible obstacles and a way to avoid them for their interests.

Is the South Caucasus really a battleground for active geo-political battles? It might be. But attention in Azerbaijan is different from previous periods. Every politician in Baku is aware that he is speaking in a country with an independent foreign policy. Several months ago, however, neither the Western nor the Armenian press was aware of how ineffective bashing Azerbaijan would be. But Armenia did not halt its bashing when Clinton visited; in fact, it got worse. Azerbaijan is able to ensure its special interests and run fair politics in the region. It is therefore normal that it did not fall into the influence of such fiasco. It chose to ignore their criticism. We can expect that Azerbaijan will have a lot of say in diplomatic affairs in the S Caucasus. This will then enable Azerbaijan to catch the attention of Western diplomacy. As a geopolitical actor, Azerbaijan is determined to realize its plans.

Kamal Adigozalov

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