Geopolitical Diary: Turkey's Options - September, 2008

Yerevan should not be afraid of approaching Ankara. There has been a major geopolitical shift in the region and Armenia needs to adjust to it, lest it ends up last in the line again. Had the recent warming in relations between Yerevan and Ankara been attempted before the recent crisis in the region, I would have been against it for many reasons. Recent political developments between Ankara and Yerevan would not have occurred had there not been a major crisis between the West and the Russian Federation and had Moscow not been able to crush the West's political agenda in Georgia. Let's make no mistake about it, this is the dawning of a new era in regional politics. As a result, Ankara is finally realizing that it needs better relations with Yerevan despite strong complaints from Turkish nationalists and Baku. Yerevan is also realizing that it has to at least be open to Ankara and seriously discuss issues at hand. None of this means that all issues are solved and that there are no problems anymore. This is just an initial, or preliminary, trial stage. Moreover, and more importantly, none of this means that our Hai Dat or the status of Nagorno Karabakh will have to be compromised. There is no talk about abandoning Armenian Genocide recognition and there is no talk about pulling the Armenian military out of Nagorno Karabakh and there won't be.

I want to mention here that the Hai Dat, in particular, needs to be looked upon by all Armenians as a 'political tool' which must used for the benefit of the Armenian Republic. Nonetheless, we need to better understand ourselves (better understand Armenia's strengths and weaknesses) as much as we need to better understand the enemy. Let's never underestimate the enemy and let's never overestimate ourselves. Doing so, as we have experienced in the past, is suicidal. For small fledgling nations like Armenia, there is a time to fight and there is a time to back down from a fight. We need to pick our fights wisely. These are very complicated times in politics. We need to approach these matters in an unemotional manner, we need to approach them in a pragmatic manner and with Armenia's future in mind. I personally had a hard time watching the Turkish national anthem being sung in Yerevan, not to mention losing the game to them, but in the big geopolitical picture I am willing to swallow my pride (for Armenia's sake) and hope that our politicians in Yerevan don't screw this one up in the long-term...

Nonetheless, Moscow is behind (or actively supporting) the warming of relations between Yerevan and Ankara, in my opinion. President Sargsyan first reached his hand out to Ankara soon after his meeting with President Medvedev and during a public speech while in Moscow. Moreover, Turkey proposed the so-called Caucasus Pact in the immediate aftermath of the war in Georgia, a war during which Ankara, a long time ally of Georgia, indirectly supported Russia's actions. Moreover, Turkish nationalists and Azeris are signaling their strong displeasure about this proposal. Moreover, Moscow has been clearly signaling that it is in favor of the proposal and is now in fact all for the opening of the Armenian-Turkey border - this after years of remaining silent about it. The fact of the matter is, Moscow and Turkey want to continue their very lucrative trade. Due to the war in Georgia and due to the high degree of tension in the Black Sea region, Moscow and Ankara have found that Armenia would be a good/logical alternative route for this trade. This is a long-term plan, or an alternative plan, for the two capitols. Eventually Azerbaijan would be dragged into this as well.

Nonetheless, they are currently trying to prepare the playing field in Armenia. This is not something that will happen overnight, this will take some time to manifest itself. Nonetheless, nothing of this significance could have occurred in Yerevan without Moscow being behind it. What does all this mean for Armenia? I don't know. These are those types of situations where there is not much a small, dependent, landlocked and impoverished nation like Armenia can do but to hope and pray. The following are additional geopolitical perspectives undermining Abrahamyan's stance regarding Ankara.


Arevordi

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Geopolitical Diary: Turkey's Options


September, 2008

With Cold War tensions building in the Black Sea, the Turks have gone into a diplomatic frenzy. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan had his phone glued to his ear on Thursday speaking to his U.S., British, German, French, Swedish and Finnish counterparts, as well as to the NATO secretary-general and various EU representatives. The Turks are also expecting Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili to arrive in Istanbul on Aug. 31. And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to arrive for a separate meeting with Turkish leaders early next week. The Turks have a reason to be such busy diplomatic bees. A group of nine NATO warships are currently in the Black Sea ostensibly on routine and humanitarian missions. Russia has wasted no time in sounding the alarm at the sight of this NATO buildup, calling on Turkey — as the gatekeeper to the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits between the Black and Mediterranean seas — to remember its commitment to the Montreux Convention, which places limits on the number of warships in the Black Sea. As a weak naval power with few assets to defend itself in this crucial frontier, Russia has every interest in keeping the NATO presence in the Black Sea as limited and distant as possible.

Turkey is in an extremely tight spot. As a NATO member in control of Russia’s warm-water naval access to the Black Sea, Turkey is a crucial link in the West’s pressure campaign against Russia. But the Turks have little interest in seeing the Black Sea become a flashpoint between Russia and the United States. Turkey has a strategic foothold in the Caucasus through Azerbaijan that it does not want to see threatened by Moscow. The Turks also simply do not have the military appetite or the internal political consolidation to be pushed by the United States into a potential conflict — naval or otherwise — with the Russians. In addition, the Turks have to worry about their economic health. Russia is Turkey’s biggest trading partner, supplying more than 60 percent of Turkey’s energy needs through two natural gas pipelines, as well as more than half of Turkey’s thermal coal — a factor that has major consequences in the approach of winter. Turkey has other options to meet its energy needs, but there is no denying that it has intertwined itself into a potentially economically precarious relationship with the Russians. And the Russians have already begun using this economic lever to twist Ankara’s arm. A large amount of Turkish goods reportedly have been held up at the Russian Black Sea ports of Novorossiysk, Sochi and Taganrog over the past 20 days ostensibly over narcotics issues. Turkish officials claim that Turkish trucks carrying mostly consumer goods have been singled out for “extensive checks and searches,” putting about $3 billion worth of Turkish trade in jeopardy. The Turks have already filed an official complaint with Moscow over the trade row — with speculation naturally brewing over Russia’s intent to punish Turkey for its participation in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and to push Ankara to limit NATO access to the Black Sea.

[...]

Source: http://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical...urkeys_options

Turkey, Iran: Ankara's Priorities Shift


Summary

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s two-day trip to Ankara ended Aug. 15. While the Iranian government and state media have touted his trip as proof that Iran and Turkey are close allies, the Turkish government is far more concerned with containing the current situation in the Caucasus, which could have major implications for Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan.

Analysis

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrapped up a two-day trip to Ankara on Aug. 15. The Iranian government and state media have been hyping Ahmadinejad’s visit to Turkey for days in an attempt to showcase to the world the Iranian belief that Iran and Turkey, as the two principle non-Arab regional powerhouses, are close and natural allies. But while Iran is eager to forge closer ties with Turkey, the Turks do not have much time for Ahmadinejad right now. Ankara has bigger things on its mind, namely the Russians. Turkey is heir to the Ottoman Empire, which once extended deep into the southern Caucasus region where Russia just wrapped up an aggressive military campaign against Georgia. Turkey’s geopolitical interests in the Caucasus have primarily been defensive in nature, focused on keeping the Russians and Persians at bay. Now that Russia is resurging in the Caucasus, the Turks have no choice but to get involved. The Turks primarily rely on their deep ethnic, historical and linguistic ties to Azerbaijan to extend their influence into the Caucasus. Azerbaijan was alarmed, to say the least, when it saw Russian tanks crossing into Georgia. As far as Azerbaijan was concerned, Baku could have been the next target in Russia’s military campaign.

However, Armenia — Azerbaijan’s primary rival — remembers well the 1915 Armenian genocide by the Turks, and looks to Iran and especially Orthodox Christian Russia for its protection. Now that Russia has shown it is willing to act on behalf of allies like South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the Caucasus, the Armenians, while militarily outmatched by the Azerbaijanis, are now feeling bolder and could see this as their chance to preempt Azerbaijan in yet another battle for the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region— especially if it thinks it can look to Russia to militarily intervene on its behalf. The Turks and their ethnic kin in Azerbaijan are extremely wary of Russia’s intentions for the southern Caucasus beyond Georgia. Sources told Stratfor that Azerbaijan has learned that the Russian military jets that bombed Gori and Poti were based out of Armenia. This development not only signaled a significant expansion of Russia’s military presence in the southern Caucasus, but it also implied that Armenia had actually signed off on the Russian foray into Georgia, knowing that Russian dominance over Georgia would guarantee Armenian security and impose a geographic split between Turkey and Azerbaijan. If the Armenians became overly confident and made a move against Azerbaijan for Nagorno-Karabakh, expecting Russian support, the resulting war would have a high potential of drawing the Turks into a confrontation with the Russians — something that both NATO member Turkey and Russia have every interest in avoiding.


The Turks also have a precarious economic relationship with Russia. The two countries have expanded their trade with each other significantly in recent years. In the first half of 2008, trade between Russia and Turkey amounted to $19.9 billion, making Russia Turkey’s biggest trading partner. Much of this trade is concentrated in the energy sphere. The Turks currently import approximately 64 percent of the natural gas they consume from the Russians. Though Turkey’s geographic position enables it to pursue energy links in the Middle East and the Caucasus that can bypass Russian territory, the Russians have made it abundantly clear over the past few days that the region’s energy security will still depend on Moscow’s good graces. Turkey’s economic standing also largely depends on its ability to act as a major energy transit hub for the West through pipelines such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which was recently forced offline due to a purported Kurdish militant attack and the war in Georgia. Turkey simply cannot afford to see the Russians continue their surge into the Caucasus and threaten its energy supply.

For these reasons, Turkey is on a mission to keep this tinderbox in the Caucasus contained. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spent the last couple of days meeting with top Russian leaders in Moscow and then with the Georgian president in Tbilisi. During his meetings with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitri Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Erdogan pushed the idea of creating a Caucasus union that would include both Russia and Georgia. Though this organization would likely be little more than a talk shop, it is a sign of Turkey’s interest in reaching a mutual understanding with Russia that would allow both sides to maintain a comfortable level of influence in the region without coming to blows. The Iranians, meanwhile, are sitting in the backseat. Though Iran has a foothold in the Caucasus through its support for Armenia, the Iranians lack the level of political, military and economic gravitas that Turkey and Russia currently hold in this region. Indeed, Erdogan did not even include Iran in his list of proposed members for the Caucasus union, even though Iran is one of the three major powers bordering the region.

[...]

Source: http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/tur...iorities_shift

Russia supports Turkey’s Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday accused NATO countries of arming Georgia, while at the same time praising the stance of Turkey - itself a member of the alliance, the Turkish Daily News reports. Although Lavrov admitted that Turkey and Russia have different approaches with regards to Georgia’s territorial integrity, he nevertheless voiced support for the Turkish proposal for a regional cooperation mechanism. On a one day visit to Istanbul, Lavrov offered concrete proposals to solve the problems facing Turkish exporters by Russian customs. In a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan, Lavrov denied that stricter Russian controls on Turkish imports are politically motivated. The checks resulted in hundreds of Turkish trucks being stranded at Russian border posts over the past few weeks. They raised questions about whether Russia was punishing NATO member Turkey for allowing U.S. warships carrying aid to Georgia to pass through the Bosporus. Lavrov said some countries had breached customs regulations, prompting Russian authorities to take more stringent measures. “We are not discriminating against Turkey,” assured Lavrov. “We offered a more simplified method for Turkish goods,” he said, adding that the custom authorities will meet soon to discuss the issue. Despite his criticism of NATO countries arming Georgia, Lavrov said Turkey’s alliance commitments were not an obstacle for Turkish-Russian relations. “Turkey never used its NATO membership at the expense of violating international principles. While being loyal to its NATO commitments it does not forget its commitments to the UN or OSCE,” said Lavrov, also expressing satisfaction with Turkey’s position on the maritime regime in the Bosporus and the Black Sea.

[...]

Source: http://www.panarmenian.net/news/eng/?nid=26899

U.S. cold to Ankara's Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform

The United States is cold to the idea, saying it had not been informed in advance and that the approach does not include a major Western component, the Turkish Daily News reports. "I was surprised by this announcement of a Caucasus stability pact by the Turkish government," said Matt Bryza, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. "I hadn’t been briefed that that was going to happen. We have a partnership with Turkey on the Caucasus, and I presume that we’ll be able to work together very closely now with our allies in Turkey since we do have clearly shared interests, not to mention values, throughout the Caucasus with our Turkish ally." Another U.S. diplomat said later, "We don’t think that the effort is realistic, plus our strategic partnership [with Turkey] should normally require closer consultations with us." Following the hostilities in South Ossetia, Ankara offered a Caucasus stability pact that could unite Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey and Georgia.

Source: http://www.panarmenian.net/news/eng/?nid=26901

In related news:

Georgia-Russian war devalued international law and territorial integrity, Baku says

The point is that the defeat of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on the South-Ossetian and Abkhazian fronts reduced to mere theory Azerbaijan’s plans to re-take the lands by use of force,” Rasim Aghayev said. “Georgia has compromised the very strategic formula of Azerbaijan in the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict based on international law. After the Georgian-Russian war, international law and territorial integrity seem to be neglected.” “Serzh Sargsyan, who demonstrates self-assertion after the events in Georgia, takes into account these nuances and even so more he sees the amenability of the Turkish leadership, which is making open steps for unblocking the border with Armenia and establishing normal relations with it. As result, we see that Armenia’s policy, which stakes on ignoring the international law and openly demonstrates territorial claims to all neighbor states, is more suitable in conditions of the established geopolitical realities in our region. This allows Serzh Sargsyan to put pressure on Azerbaijan,” he said, adding that if political and economic rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey takes place, Azerbaijan should create a new bloc to deal with the resolution of territorial disputes. “Moreover in exchange for Armenia’s disavowal of territorial claims to Azerbaijan, official Baku may start unblocking borders with Armenia,” Aghayev resumed, Day.az reported

Source: http://www.panarmenian.net/news/eng/?nid=26945

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