NATO-Russia relations: two "geopolitical dead ends" in the South Caucasus

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Baku, 24 March 2019 –

Experts highlight recent intensification by the United States and Russia of their policies in relation to the South Caucasus. In particular, they stress the significance of NATO`s holding military drills in Georgia. In this context, experts try to make forecasts on the geopolitical situation in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. They point to the emerging "geopolitical dead end” in the South Caucasus caused by Armenia`s and Georgia`s foreign policy and geopolitical choice. NATO`s military drills in Georgia are evaluated in this context. A comparison of different parameters shows that there is now quite a tense geopolitical situation in the region. The South Caucasian countries` foreign policies are particularly topical in this regard. This article will look at the essence of the geopolitical situation in the region.

North Atlantic Alliance ramping up efforts: military drills and geopolitical picture

Experts say that NATO is ramping up efforts in the South Caucasus, highlighting the situation`s relevance for the region from geopolitical and security points of view. They in particular draw attention to the uncertainty caused by Armenia`s foreign policy. The military drills conducted by the North Atlantic Alliance in Georgia from March 18 to 29 are of special interest in this regard. NATO-Georgia Exercise 2019 was designed to train a Georgian-led multinational brigade headquarters staff to plan, coordinate and execute scenario-based military responses to humanitarian crises. The exercise involved 350 soldiers and delegates from 24 Allied Member States and partner countries, including Azerbaijan. Armenian did not join.

However, in parallel with the military exercise in Georgia, Armenia hosed NATO week, which the Armenian government tried to present as a "declarative event''.

Armenia refused to participate the NATO exercise in Georgia on the grounds that it was not of any benefit to its national interests and aimed solely to increase Georgia`s defense and military capacity. But one of the goals of the military drills was to practice response to crises I non-member countries. Armenia is probably so much afraid from Moscow that it does not even want to think of NATO interference in case of a military crisis. May be there are other reasons.

In fact, experts focus on these "other reasons''. The point is that with its artificial and confusing geopolitical policy Yerevan has now found itself in a dead end. Armenia`s any move in the military area causes controversy. And this was the reason behind its refusal to join the exercise in Georgia.

Experts say that as a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Union, Yerevan`s defense and security is in Moscow`s hands and it cannot make any move beyond CSTO`s will. Armenia`s armed forces use Russia-made weapons and military equipment, which Moscow loans to Yerevan on preferential terms. In addition, Russia and Armenian set up a joint military group, and Russian troops are guarding the largest part of Armenian`s border.

Moreover, Armenian officials and military leadership call NATO "an important ally'' and regard Russia as "a strategic partner''. So they claim to treat two global powers, which are hostile to each other, as "a strategic partner'' and "an important partner''. Of course, everybody knows that this is just the game of words. It is simply illogical to treat America and Russia, which are locked in a serious confrontation over influence in the South Caucasus, like this.

How can Russia allow its strategic ally to be an important partner of the United States? It is an absurd idea. Or how can Russia`s strategic ally consider the U.S. as an important partner? What kind of partnership can we talk about if Yerevan dispatched its military to Syria to meet Moscow`s interests?

Armenia`s hosting NATO week in parallel with NATO`s military exercise in Georgia is a traditional show. This was confirmed by Moscow`s reaction to both events.

Prior to the military exercise in Georgia, chiefs of general staff of V.Gerasimov of Russia and A.Davtyan of Armenia held a meeting, which was preceded by Russian deputy foreign minister G.Karasin and defense minister S.Shoygu warning Georgia of "unpleasant surprises” and of Russia`s "adequate response'' the NATO military drills.

Yerevan and Tbilisi: one fault of two policies

The situation is clear: Armenians are afraid to participate in an event that irritates Russia. However, Georgia held the exercises despite warnings, claiming the military drills aimed at increasing its defense capacity and improving crisis response. In addition, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary A.Woodward visited Tbilisi to discuss prospects for expansion of cooperation in a variety of areas. On March 24, NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg visited Georgia.

This shows that the expansion of NATO`s cooperation with Georgia is linked with the development of West-Georgia relationship in a broader sense. NATO only makes a security and defense bloc of the issue. Tbilisi is also interested in developing the cooperation in this direction. Georgia is eager to join NATO, with Russia constantly warning Tbilisi against this.

NATO`s holding military exercises in Georgia may therefore deepen Washington-Moscow standoff. The United States is seeking to ensure security of Georgia, which causes Russia`s dislike. It is not ruled out that one of these two superpowers may take an effective step against Georgia. Anyway such a move would only increase tension in the region.

These scenarios encourage experts to draw interesting conclusion regarding the foreign policies of the South Caucasus countries. They believe that Azerbaijan has managed to effectively ensure its own security by maintaining a good balance between the two geopolitical superpowers. Baku does not face big risks. Azerbaijan has built an effective defense system, which is hard to be passed through. In fact, those whose who want to break this defense line may face serious threats themselves. (see: Ирина Джорбенадзе. Альянс атакует Южный Кавказ / "Росбалт", 25 March, 2019).

Against this background, Georgia`s and Armenia`s position is characterized as follows: "Neither Yerevan, nor Tbilisi has followed Azerbaijan`s example, throwing themselves into a dead end. The first is Moscow dead end, while the second is both Washington and Moscow dead end''. 

Interestingly, for Armenia the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is of particular significance in the dead end issue. That is official Yerevan has thrown itself into a dead end in the settlement of the conflict. In addition, Turkey`s growing influence in the region increases the possibility of risks for Armenia. Moscow says Washington is unable to help with the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Washington cannot solve this problem for Armenia. This means that Russia enjoys serious advantage over the United States although both countries are co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has now become more topical for regional security. Yerevan`s non-constructive position has been a major reason behind the failure of the negotiations to solve the conflict. Naturally, superpowers can and do use this in their own interests. So Armenia`s policy opens up wide opportunities for external forces to maneuver.

This situation encourages certain conclusions. It is clear that geopolitical superpowers have now become more active in the South Caucasus. They are ramping up efforts to ensure their own interests. This raises the importance of the policies of regional countries. The analysis of the situation shows that Azerbaijan has taken the most constructive approach. Armenia has thrown itself into a dead end in both directions. Georgia has taken a one-sided attitude. There is a little possibility that Armenia and Georgia adjust their positions to that of Azerbaijan. The geopolitical struggle of superpowers in the South Caucasus will therefore continue.

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