Given the excitement over domestic politics in Turkey, and the concentration on developments concerning Iran and Israel abroad, few Turks have had a chance to consider the meaning of some of the steps Moscow has been taking in the southern Caucasus. One such development was the protocol Moscow signed recently with Armenia, extending the bilateral defense treaty the two countries signed in 1995 through 2044.
Experts tell us that while the defense alliance between Armenia and Moscow is nothing new, the protocols signed by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian have important new features. We are told, for example, that with the new arrangement Russia undertakes to guarantee Armenia’s territorial integrity in its entirety, and not just its borders with Turkey and Iran, as before.
This amounts to leaving Armenia’s overall defense to Moscow, and also enhances further the partnership the two countries have within the context of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. Analysts who indicate that the CSTO is a NATO-like formation, underline that this alliance is rapidly gaining significance in the area covering the former Soviet Union, where Russia is increasing its military hold from Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan.
There is also some suggestion that Washington is not as averse to these developments as some may think, given that it shares some elemental concerns with Moscow, mostly to do with Afghanistan and the rise in Islamic terrorism. It is indicated in this context that the U.S. has a stake in seeing the republics of the former Soviet Union stabilized, something which clearly only Russia, if anyone, can do.
It is a fact that for all the angry noise out of Washington over Russia effectively invading and dividing Georgia two years ago, little was actually done to retaliate. Russia’s consolidation of its military position in the southern Caucasus appears to be accepted as a “fait accompli.”
It is also noticeable that there is more convergence on Iran between Russia and the U.S., as exemplified by Moscow’s support of the sanctions imposed on Iran by the Security Council.
One country where the latest development between Moscow and Yerevan has caused deep frustration and anger, however, is Azerbaijan. The main reason is that Moscow has effectively told Baku, by means of the protocol it signed with Yerevan, that it will not stand for any attempt by the Azeri military to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue by military means.
This is a blow to Azeri prestige because the administration in Baku has been rattling its saber for quite some time now, indicating its readiness to use military force to regain lands occupied by Armenian forces, not just in Nagorno-Karabakh, but also in Azerbaijan proper. Baku has also been using its oil money to purchase advanced military systems and shore up its armed forces in order to give more credence to its saber rattling.
Moscow’s indirect notice to Baku, however, makes it more or less impossible for Azerbaijan to unleash a military campaign against Armenia and attain its objectives.
In the first instance Azerbaijan is not a member of the CSTO, while Armenia is and now has an even stronger protective umbrella as a result of this alliance.
The current situation also makes it very likely that if Baku should try, against all odds, to go for a military option, it will find itself isolated internationally. NATO member Turkey will also find it very difficult to get openly embroiled in such a war, even if Ankara will instinctively be on Baku’s side, and try to help Azerbaijan in covert ways.
It is also clear that in the event of such a war the Armenian military will have the freedom to concentrate exclusively on the Azeri onslaught given that Moscow has now guaranteed the safety of its other borders.
This overall situation perhaps explains why there is increasing frustration and nervousness in Baku, which also issued two high-level warnings to Turkey recently spelling out in so many words that if the Erdoğan government decides to open the closed Turkish-Armenian border for even a day and for any purpose, relations will be poisoned.
These warnings come on the heels of news reports in Turkey that the border closed by Ankara, in solidarity with Baku after Armenians overran Azeri territory outside Nagorno-Karabakh, may be opened for a day within the context of an international military exercise.
As matters stand the Azeri administration was livid with anger when news of the Turkish-Armenian normalization protocols broke last year, forcing the Erdoğan government to shelve these protocols because of domestic pressure Baku was able to generate among the Turkish public.
Since then it is an open secret that there is a crisis of confidence between Turkey and Azerbaijan, with the Azeri side overly alert to any suggestion that Turkey might embark on some gesture, such as the opening of the border with Armenia even if for a day, to reactivate its normalization efforts with Yerevan.
Baku knows of course there is significant pressure on Ankara from the West to actually start implementing the ”Geneva Protocols” with Armenia, as they have come to be known, and worries that the Erdoğan government may not be able to withstand this pressure in the long run.
But Foreign Minsiter Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was asked about reports concerning the border, said last week that there was no such plan and that the border would remain closed. Thus if there was any preparation on Ankara’s part for a mini-gesture to Armenia, one can say that Baku put a spanner in the works again.
What must also be frustrating for Azeri diplomats is that Russia provided a counter point to Turkey when Ankara announced its protocols with Armenian last year. Azeri President Ilham Aliev immediately went to Moscow, after the protocols were signed in Geneva, and made statements while there – especially in terms of energy cooperation with Russia – that were clearly aimed at ruffling feathers in Ankara.
But it was always an unrealistic expectation on the Azeri side that Russia would provide any advantage for Baku as it pursues its policies against Yerevan, especially those based on the military option. Now with the latest Russian-Armenian protocols, Baku seems to have painted itself even tighter into the corner.
We maintained at the time, and still do so today, that if Baku had not spoiled the implementation of the Turkish-Armenian protocols, it would have more options today vis-à-vis Nagorno-Karabakh. For one thing Turkey would also be playing an active role in the settlement of this seemingly intractable problem.
Today, however, there is no potential role for Turkey to play here, given that normalization with Armenia is at a standstill, and Azerbaijan’s zero sum game has landed Ankara in a situation that it cannot extract itself from.
As for the real power broker in the region, this is increasingly seen to be Russia, and it is more than likely that Azerbaijan will have to eventually settle for a “Pax Russicana” arrangement over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Whether that arrangement will provide Azerbaijan with what it wants today is highly questionable. Therefore one can say that the latest show of solidarity between Russia and Armenia, which has now been consummated by means of a security arrangement that will last till 2044, is more bad news for Azerbaijan.