By Dhanuka Dickwella
Caucus is one of the most fascinating parts of the world, history & culture . We could only think of India as a close competitor in terms of its diversity. The region is home to hundreds of ethnicities, hundreds of languages & various different cultures. It has never missed the attention of Geopolitics due to its very location. It is surrounded by three distinctly different powers & dominant cultures. Historically it bordered the Empires of Russia , Persia & the Ottomans. In modern day terms to the Russian federation , Islamic Republic of Iran & the Republic of Turkey. Needless to say from then to now Caucus was only second to the Balkans in terms of regional conflicts.
One of the most outspoken conflicts recently was that of the war in Karabakh or the second war of Karabakh. It was fought between the unrecognized republic of Karabakh & Azerbaijan. The belligerents were historical rivals of Armenian backed as Artsakh republic & Turkey backed Azerbaijan. This war had distinct differences from many conflicts that we have seen in our lifetime. In the traditional military doctrine the artillery duals, tank fights , trench fights & special operation forces are leading battles. But the noticeable & extensive use of drones , loitering munitions & foreign mercenaries as combatants were what were different & what altered the outcome of the war to a great extent. The information warfare in particular was at a total new height.
Like any other war this war was brutal , destructive & chaotic. Like any other war it had a lasting impact on the regional politics & the geopolitics to an extent.
It is no secret that what tilted the balance to an Azari victory was none other than the role played by Turkey in the battlefield. From battle planning to , weapons to Syrian Jihadist cannon fodder was provided by Turkey. Recep Erdogan & his entire administration gave the greatest political support & managed to rally many Muslim nations under their banner. The war was rather portrayed as a Crusade of the 21st century. While the brotherly nations of Georgia famously abandoned Armenia, the generally anti Islamic Israel went even further & provided lethal weapons to kill & maim thousands of young Armenians. The Russians chose to sit back & observe the fall of the Armenian front as a way to punish the pro western choice of the newly elected Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan. Iranians did not want to antagonize the millions of Azari Iranians & chose to issue statements calling for restraint & dialogue. The French who are pro Armenians made a noise that was heard in the EU but had no muscle to stop the Turkish plans. Just as it has been the norm historically & always the Armenians were left for themselves. No allies came to help them , the strong diaspora could not rally the world to stop the onslaught.
For Turkey this was more than a war. Much more than the centuries old animosity towards the Armenians. This was the opportunity to advance their greater Turkic world project . Azerbaijan was a key piece of this game & President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was determined to turn every stone around to get the biggest leverage in the Caucuses. Turkish nostalgia with its Ottoman history is more visible under the AKP rule. To bring the Turkic world together seems to be the undertone of the AKPs nationalistic agenda. They seems to be advancing with cultural , military & political influence in the Central Asian region as well as west Asia in recent history. Caucus is one of the most strategically important land bridges for Turkey’s many ambitions. The vast oil & gas reserves in the Caspian & Central Asian regions & Turkeys own geography as a gateway to Europe give them a natural advantage to be an Energy hub. Besides, pipeline politics has become one of the most important political leverages in the century. Turkey wanted to open the access via the Azari Exclave of Nakhchivan connecting the Azari proper giving it a major role in Trading in the region. The opening of this axis will give the region a huge economic boost making the Ankara’s role ever more important.
With a successful military victory the Azaris concluded the war. Turkey wanted to solidify its gains & foothold thus enacted its further steps. The culmination of the whole episode was the Susha declaration . On June 15, 2021 the two presidents of Turkey & Azerbaijan signed this document in the Historical city of Susha which was under the Artsakh Armenians before. The essence of the declaration is as below
Quote from Daily Saba –
“both countries expressed that they are determined to take the relations forward in many fields such as military, defense industry technologies, energy, transportation, economic and humanitarian relations.
With the Shusha Declaration, Turkey and Azerbaijan expressed their determination to act jointly in the case of a threat or an attack on the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity of any of the parties or the security of their internationally recognized borders.”
Now this was a very bold move. It directly challenged the Russian influence in the region & hinted what was to expect in the future. However the Karabakh was not a victory of entirety for the Azarias or the Turks. Russians gained a military foothold bordering Azari territories which had not been the case for decades. Besides, the idea of establishing a Turkish military base was torpedoed by the Russians. In fact the Russians gained a unique status in the region that they never had.
The peacekeeping mission was not the end of the story. Although Turkey & Russia have cooperated on many issues , they are also rivals in the near east & many other regions. Russians did not take the Turkish influence in the Caucus kindly. Given the historical ties , linguistic bonds they knew that this could create a domino effect. Having a strategic rival in a volatile region with a faith that could easily unite people , Russia had to act & had to act fast.
Russia has never wasted any opportunity that was available. The riots in Kazakhstan were a blessing in disguise for Moscow. They acted swiftly & firmly. Russia sent a strong military contingent of the CSTO alliance in a matter of days. The airlift & the stance taken by the Russian president made it clear who the real master in the region. The riots were brought under control & contrary to many predictions the military contingent left Nursultan leaving a lasting political message. No one will have a free hand in the former soviet republics other than that of Russia.
Then came the Russia Ukraine conflict. Ukraine was part of GUAM. The anti-Russian coalition formed by Georgia , Ukraine , Azerbaijan & Moldova. All these states had an intention of joining the EU & NATO consecutively. That was an eternal bone of contention between those states & Russia. Russia had to check the NATO expansion once & for all & President Putin ordered his military to roll into the Ukraine proper. Ukraine had the most trained, biggest , well equipped military out of every former Soviet republic. Most importantly they were firmly backed by the West. No one thought that Moscow would dare attack Kiev. Yet the unthinkable happened. This attack had very strong regional implications in addition to that of the global.
A day prior to this war of the century the Azari president Ilham Aliyev flew to Kiev as a sign of solidarity & to showcase the possibility to maneuver independently from Russian influence. But what mattered most was his visit to Moscow & what he did there.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, signed a controversial document in Moscow called the “ Allied Interaction “ . The signatories for this piece were the Russian president Vladimir Putin & the Azari President. If you summarize the said document the below could be pointed out as the essence.
Quote from OC media
Throughout its articles, the declaration stipulates that Russia and Azerbaijan would adopt similar positions on international issues of interest to both parties, highlighting that both countries would ‘resolutely prevent’ the activities of organizations and individuals against each country’s respective sovereignty and ‘territorial integrity’.
The agreement does not specify, however, a direct recognition of Russia’s current claim on Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014 or Azerbaijan’s claim over Nagorno-Karabakh — whose status remains contested since 1991, and which has been under the auspices of a Russian peacekeeping mission since the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020.
Additionally, the document affirms the intention of both countries to co-develop modern weaponry and military equipment, while also maintaining the possibility of providing direct military assistance to each other on the basis of the UN Charter and separate international agreements. “
In essence this contradicts the bravado of being independent of Moscow’s sphere of influence. This is more of a way to accept the fact that Moscow is the key to regional stability & Baku will toe the line of Russia when the push comes to shove. When you critically look at the document it is obvious that the Azari sovereignty is in existence as long as Russia deems so. They could take part in various platforms , make public declarations , criticize powerful Russian deputies, even issue arrest warrants , hold hands with Turks , do photo shoots all over Karabakh , and go to EU forums for discussions. But they will not cross the lines. When you look at the post-Soviet space , one thing is obvious. The leaders who are shrewd politicians can blackmail Russia to gain various economic & political advantages. But there is a day the patience runs out & that day the Russians will take the gloves off their hands. This was true to Belarus , true to Georgia & will be true to Azerbaijan. The recent agreement of Caspian nations to pledge the avoidance of any non Caspian navy from sailing in the Caspian seas shows how Moscow is solidifying its hold on the region once & for all. Russia will not let the Turks build an outpost in its back yard. Turks will not be able to have a free hand or use the Susha declaration to undermine the Russian interest in the Caucus.
Once the Russia – Ukraine conflict is over , there will be a Russian reset in the post Soviet space. They will look at the possible flashpoints, analyze the threats & nullify them gradually. For now Moscow has managed to make the “Susha Declaration ” just a piece of paper & check the Turks. But if Baku decides to take a hostile stance towards Moscow, no amount of Bayraktars will be able to stop the Armenians from regaining what they have lost. Caucus will stand for what it has always been !!!