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Washington`s South Caucasus scenario: risky forecasts for 2019

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Baku, 29 November 2018 – Newtimes.az

The U.S.-based Stratfor`s recent assessment of key developments in 2019 has raised concerns. According to its forecasts, the standoff between the U.S., Iran and Russia in the South Caucasus is going to increase next year, affecting Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. But Washington has different approaches to each of these states. Stratfor forecasts that the U.S. will try to exploit Armenia and Georgia against Russia, while Azerbaijan will attract its attention for pressuring Iran. Washington will offer weapons sales to Armenia and also increase security support and conduct more military exercises with Georgia. As regards Azerbaijan, the U.S. may offer it decrease its economic and energy ties with Iran. All this is likely to increase geopolitical risks in the region. In this article, we will elaborate on Stratfor`s assessments of key geopolitical developments in the South Caucasus in 2019.

To its own benefit: theU.S.` dangerous goals

Stratfor`s 2019 Annual Forecast puts special emphasis on the South Caucasus and Central Asia regions. Stratfor considers the South Caucasus as a key element of the U.S.-Russia standoff. What is the main reason that lies behind this approach? Why this geopolitically important region is forecast to become an increasingly central theater for the competition between the United States and Russia?

Stratfor believes that Washington will try to ramp up the pressure on Moscow next year. To this end, the United States will use former Soviet republics on Russia's periphery, with an emphasis on political, economic, energy and military areas. Washington will try to cultivate security ties with states in Russia's borderlands through weapons sales and military exercises.

According to media reports, U.S. officials promised weapons sales to Armenia and security support to Georgia. Reports also allege that the U.S. plans to offer weapons sales to Azerbaijan too.

Washington also considers strengthening security and military cooperation with the South Caucasus states (see: The U.S. Zeroes in on Russia's Borderlands / Stratfor, 15 November, 2018). Economic incentives will also be key elements here. America is expected to wean countries that are more firmly in Moscow's orbit off Russia. "Russia will respond with its own hybrid warfare tactics in the region as a means of resisting the United States and the West and spreading its own influence,” Stratfor forecasts.

A closer look at the issue reveals more interesting points. In order to achieve its own geopolitical interests, the United States will take different approaches to each of the South Caucasus countries. Stratfor analysts believe that in the Caucasus, Washington will focus its attention on strengthening ties with the Armenian government (see: previous source). The U.S. will try to exploit tensions, which have emerged between Armenia and Russia in recent months, by driving a wedge between the two countries.

Washington has already tried to do it, as evidenced by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton's visit to Armenia last month, when he expressed the United States' interest in selling weapons to Armenia. "While Armenia is ultimately unlikely to abandon its strategic alignment with Russia, political frictions between the two could offer the United States an opportunity to chip away at a key ally on Moscow's periphery,” Stratfor says. (see: previous source).

So it means that Armenia is expected to be a key element of U.S.-Russian intrigue in the South-Caucasus. The fact of Georgia`s being the U.S.` main partner in the South Caucasus should be taken into account here. Washington will not let its ally play with fire. Stratfor predicts that the United States will also increase security support and conduct more military exercises with Georgia, the only country in the region that is actively pursuing European Union and NATO integration.

The Abkhazia and South Ossetia problems may be exacerbated. Russia has military contingent in both regions. NATO seems unlikely to intervene in these regions directly, but the organization`s military exercises in the Russian borderlands will irritate Moscow. How will the Kremlin respond? Stratfor does not comment on this.

Double standards still in effect: the aggressor is offered weapons, while its victim faces pressure

Stratfor`s 2019 Annual Forecast also provides assessmentsof the U.S.` plans in relation to Azerbaijan. Stratfor analysts believe that Washington will try to exploit Azerbaijan against Iran, rather than Russia (see: previous source). They describe Azerbaijan as Armenia`s major adversary, which "will also attract U.S. attention, particularly when it comes to pressuring Iran”. "Azerbaijan's relationship with its southern neighbor will come under strain as the government (the Azerbaijani government) seeks to maintain its foreign policy balancing act by switching gears to participate in the U.S. containment strategy against Tehran,” Stratfor writes. (see: previous source).

We think that these forecasts relating to Azerbaijan do not reflect the reality. Azerbaijan is pursuing an independent policy and no one can dictate Baku its own interests. In addition, Azerbaijan and Iran have close ties and there is no information that Baku is going to make changes to its policy. On the contrary, the two countries seem committed to maintaining cooperation along North-South and South-West corridors under One Belt, One Road initiative. Claims that Azerbaijan can be exploited against Iran are therefore part of propaganda. However, these claims reveal a very interesting feature of the United States` South Caucasus policy.

The aforementioned assessments point to Washington`s intention to exploit Armenia against Russia and Azerbaijan against Iran, by offering Yerevan sovereignty and security incentives, and promising Azerbaijan stability and protection from radicalism.

Armenia`s situation is obvious: it is looking for a new, more powerful patron. But such tricks will not work with Azerbaijan. Any effort to undermine Azerbaijan-Iran relationship is doomed to failure.

On the other hand, there is one serious fault in Washington`s South Caucasus policy in the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (if Stratfor`s assessment is right). Armenia is an aggressor state and continues to occupy 20 percent of Azerbaijan`s territory helped by its patrons. How can the U.S., a Minsk Group co-chair, protect such a state and portray it asa democracy? By doing so, Washington is making the aggressor more powerful and justifying its aggression, isn’t it?

Of course, it is. In addition, this situation aggravates regional conflicts and impedes their solution, encouraging more tension. Under these circumstances, neither Russia nor Iran will be interested in solving regional conflicts. They will only try to ramp up their containment strategy against the United States. Provocations in conflict zones are not ruled out.

So Washington`s South Caucasus policy, as described in Stratfor`s 2019 Annual Forecast, may bring a new wave of tension to the region. In order to ensure its leadership, the U.S. is throwing the South Caucasus states into the abyss of new controversies, with Russia and Iran being its main rivals. In fact, two major regional powers will have to lock horns with the United States in the South Caucasus. This may deteriorate into a full-fledged war.

Stratfor`s forecasts show that Washington is not going to make any positive changes to its South Caucasus policy. The 2019 Annual Forecast does not provide any prospects for confliction resolution. This means that the West`s main goal is to spread its own influence to the South Caucasus and increase pressure on Russia. But will the West quit its double-standard policy and make attempts to ensure fair settlement of conflicts afterwards?

It does not sound convincing because Washington`s current standing is far from fair. And it does not seem interested in changing it. What is pretty convincing is that the geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus will only worsen if the U.S. dominates the region. Suffice it to recall who Washington supports in Iraq and Syria.

If Stratfor`s forecasts become a reality, then ongoing problems in the South Caucasus will just be replaced with new ones. Given the uncertainty in the geopolitical and military essence of these problems, the situation in the region will deteriorate and regional countries will face a new unenviable challenge.

Newtimes.az

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