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A South Caucasus knot: multi pass "geopolitical game"

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Baku, 6 May 2015 – Newtimes.az

Geopolitical rivalry of the West and Russia for energy resources in the Caspian region, indirectly manifested in the South Caucasus that erupted since the end of the 80s of the last century in the form of ethno-territorial conflicts since the mid 90s switched from land to sea, and acquired after a more visible outline after Contract of the Century signed in Baku in September 20, 1994. The process to involve South Caucasus and the Caspian countries in the region into their "geopolitical game" at "Caspian chessboard has been started by world and regional powers.

Azerbaijan appeared in the center of direct geopolitical interests of world and regional powers, as it was in the previous century, because of its extremely important geographical position in the Caspian region. As a well-known specialist in geo-strategy Brzezinski said: "despite the limited territorial size and small populace, Azerbaijan, with its vast energy resources remains as geopolitically crucial player. This is a plug in basin which contains wealth of the Caspian Sea and Central Asia." In addition, geo-economically, the choice of routes for the transportation of oil and gas produced in the Caspian Sea by mainly Russian and Western multinational companies is one of the most pressing issues for Azerbaijan and for neighboring countries as Russia, Iran, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Armenia. "Independent Azerbaijan - says Zbigniew Brzezinski - connected with Western markets via pipelines that do not pass through Russian-controlled territory, is also becoming a major access of advanced and energy-consuming economies to the energy-rich Central Asian republics." Moreover, according to the American policy, "the independence of the Central Asian states can be regarded as virtually meaningless concept if Azerbaijan is fully subordinated to Moscow control."

Located at the crossroads of major European and Asian regional powers, Azerbaijan due to its favorable geographical location in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea has reasonable prospects of becoming a "country-Gate" (S. Cohen) facing the East and the West.

In general, aiming at modernization and intensively developing political, economic and humanitarian ties with the European Union, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and NATO, enhancing relations with the US and the leading West European countries, Azerbaijan sees its geopolitical future in the family of European countries. At the same time, Azerbaijan is trying to build mutually beneficial relationships with CIS countries CIS, and in particular, with Russia, its northern neighbor.

Thus, Azerbaijan continues to remain in the current realities as the midpoint of geostrategic rivalry in the Caspian region, which was the case in the course of centuries as key component in the geopolitical system of relations in Central Eurasia.

According to Russian analyst Heydar Jemal "Azerbaijan is the natural leader of the Caucasus region, which is a bastion of the far east of Europe ... It is a very rich center, which is a very strong foundation for the European future." Concerning the problem of involvement of the Republic of Azerbaijan in modern globalization processes, then there is a tendency in this country to derive all positive things that globalization has to offer for further economic development and prosperity in the new era of high technology and communications systems.

Armenia plays a vital strategic role in South Caucasus for Russia, which is a traditional "outpost" in the region. In addition, this country is the main base of opposition to NATO and Turkey penetration into the region.

Armenia hosts largest Russian military base 102 in Gumri in the South Caucasus, air defense, border, missile forces and other mobile means of rapid response. Russia took over the main role of protecting the land borders of Armenia and its air space as well as supplies the country with all necessary weapons.

On the other hand, Armenia, completely deprived from oil and gas reserves, satisfies its energy demand mainly from Iran.

In general, the Armenian-Russian relations are of military-strategic ally. Playing a special strategic role in the light of Russia's policy in the region, Armenia continues to be a traditional ally of Russia in the South Caucasus. According to Russian analysts, Armenia simply "doomed to be the eternal ally of Russia" and "geopolitical code of Armenia is dominated by traditional Russian vector."

At the same time, the country is trying to pursue a foreign policy that is balanced between cooperation with Russia and integration with the West.

In recent years, Armenia, like Turkey, is attempting to develop its relations with this country and trying to open a path to the West. This is vividly confirmed by Armenian-Turkish protocols signed in Zurich on October 11, 2009. These documents also reflected the wish of Turkey to further strengthen its policy in the South Caucasus. At the same time, Armenia is the strategic link isolating Turkey from in land Central Asian issues in this geostrategic chain of Moscow-Yerevan-Tehran.

Georgia is the only South Caucasus country with access to Black Sea holds an important strategic position in the region also. The Transcaucasian transport lines including rail and road ways are in this country’s territory. New oil and gas pipeline routes have been added recently.

Georgian territory provides littoral countries of Central Asia and Azerbaijan with the shortest way to the Black and Mediterranean seas.

This country, especially after the "Rose Revolution" in 2003 openly adheres to the pro-Western orientation and its membership in CIS up to the autumn of 2008 (i.e before the formal exit of this country from the CIS) was virtually symbolic.

Russia clearly knew that Georgia, which sees its future with the West, especially with NATO, is an important link in the chain that spreads the West, first and foremost, NATO’s influence through Turkey and Azerbaijan in Central Asia. At a time when Georgia's accession to NATO has become quite realistic prospect, Russia took advantage of short-sighted military and political moves of the Georgian leadership in august 2008 and applied direct military measures that led, eventually, to the exclusion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia and resulted in withdrew from CIS in autumn of the same year. This allowed Russia to attempt expanding its influence in the Black Sea first of all and take control of oil and gas pipelines and other communication infrastructure of the South Caucasus. Secondly, Russia has drawn a forbidden line indicating the limits to NATOs enlargement to the East towards "Caucasus-Caspian direction." Thirdly, these events demonstrated the weakness of the West's position in the South Caucasus, revealing differences among European countries and between "old Europe" and the United States, which was limited mainly to various "resolutions of concern" and very ineffective diplomatic demarches. And finally, fourthly, other post-Soviet states, both members and non members of NATO received an unambiguous tough signal, above all, a "warning" that their persistent aspiration to enter North Atlantic Alliance can end with a war and dismemberment of their territories.

On the other hand, the August crisis in Georgia objectively opened up new opportunities to enhance Turkey in the South Caucasus, which initiated the creation of a regional security system ("Platform for peace and stability in the Caucasus"), which includes five Caucasian countries: Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, and proceeded to establish interrupted relations with Armenian in 1993. All this testifies to the fact that Turkey clearly intends to use the crisis in the Caucasus to strengthen its influence in the region and its status as a regional power center. Russia, however, given the current situation in the Caucasus, is inclined to support Turkey initiatives to create a "platform of peace and stability in the Caucasus", along with the indispensable condition of engaging Iran, which would significantly limit the US and UE influence in the region.

In general, Russian foreign policy in the "South Caucasus direction" is multi directional which is associated with different levels of its relations with countries of this region - the rigidity with respect to Georgia, the alliance with Armenia and stability in relations with Azerbaijan. And all this is happening in the context of the West activity in this important region of the world in geostrategic meaning.

Geostrategically, the anti Eurasian axis of US (NATO) i.e. Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan has begun to form itself in the beginning of 21 century. Certain Central Eurasian states could join the list in the future which would imply disastrous consequences for Russia that have already lost a number of its important position in the region in 90s due to a failure Yeltsin foreign policy.

As for GUAM, the presence of this international organization, which includes Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova (and Uzbekistan until 2005) has been a serious concern in the Russian military and political circles. According to Russian analysts, "the territory of the Member States of this anti-Russian geopolitical vector ... in their current context creates a direct corridor to NATO from Europe to Afghanistan."

However, spatial isolation of the member countries from each other, as well as multi-vector attitude of their strategic interests at this stage makes geopolitical prospects of this international organization a quite problematic matter.

Parvin Darabadi,

Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor

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