More evidence that Ankara's proposal for a Caucasus union was done without Washington's knowledge or approval. The proposal in question may have actually been a Russian initiative.
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. While Babacan emphasized the importance of Georgia’s territorial integrity, his Russian counterpart said the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is the only way to secure the existence of the people in these two regions. “We need to respect our differences,” said Lavrov when asked about the divergence of view between Russia and Turkey. “The difference of view between Russia and Turkey is that, this does not create hysteria. This does not pose a threat to our relations. We take it as a matter of fact,” he said recalling how Turkey recognized the independence of Kosovo. “Russia is loyal to the principle of territorial integrity. But there are commitments to the security of the people too,” he said. Voicing support for the Turkish proposal for a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact, Lavrov said Russia appreciates Turkey’s efforts to defuse the tension. Lavrov added that the two countries officials will cooperate to set the framework of the new mechanism. “This initiative is based on common sense,” he said, adding that countries of the region should deal with their problems rather than wait for others to impose their own solutions.
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.
Kremlin: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met with President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan
They discussed issues of bilateral cooperation and the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. They paid particular attention to establishing new transport routes between the two countries, given that a significant portion of trade and transit between Russia and Armenia involves crossing Georgian territory. They discussed extensively ways of intensifying cooperation between Russia and Armenia in the field of energy, gas exports and infrastructure development in Armenia. The talks concluded with a number of instructions to ministries and departments in both countries. In light of the forthcoming presidency of Armenia of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation), the two Presidents discussed preparations for the forthcoming meeting of the Collective Security Council of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. The meeting touched on the problem of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. The President of Russia said that he favours the continuation of direct dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
In other regional developments:
Turkey, Iran: Ankara's Priorities Shift
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.
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. The Turks also struck a blow to Iran by holding back from giving Ahmadinejad the satisfaction of sealing a key energy agreement for Iran to provide Turkey with natural gas, preferring instead to preserve its close relationship with the United States and Israel. Turkey simply is not compelled to give Iran the attention that it is seeking at the moment.
The one thing that Turkey can look to Iran for, however, is keeping the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict under control. Iran’s support for Armenia has naturally put Tehran on a collision course with Ankara when dealing with the Caucasus in the past. But when faced with a common threat of a resurgent Russia, both Turkey and Iran can agree to disagree on their conflicting interests in this region and use their leverage to keep Armenia or Azerbaijan from firing off a shot and pulling the surrounding powers into a broader conflict. In light of the recent BTC explosion claimed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkey can also look to Iran to play its part in cracking down on PKK rebels in the region, many of whom have spent the past year fleeing a Turkish crackdown in northern Iraq by traversing through Iran to reach the southern Caucasus. While Iran and Turkey can cooperate in fending off the Russians, it will primarily be up to Turkey to fight the battle in the Caucasus. Russia has thus far responded positively to Turkey’s diplomatic engagements, but in a region with so many conflicting interests, the situation could change in a heartbeat.
And in related news:
Saakashvili a 'Political Corpse'
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has described his Georgian counterpart as a "political corpse", saying Moscow does not recognise him as president. "President Saakashvili no longer exists in our eyes. He is a political corpse," he told Italy's Rai television. He said US support for Mr Saakashvili had helped provoke the crisis, which has seen Russian troops invade Georgia. He said Russia did not fear isolation by Western countries that have condemned the Russian intervention. Fighting between Russia and Georgia began on 7 August after the Georgian military tried to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia by force. Russian forces launched a counter-attack and the conflict ended with the ejection of Georgian troops from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia has since recognised the independence of both regions, though no other country has.
The Russian president blamed the US for helping provoke the crisis by supporting Mr Saakashvili. "Unfortunately, at a certain point they gave Saakashvili carte blanche for any actions, including military," said Mr Medvedev in the Rai interview. In a broadside aimed at international calls for Russia's isolation, he said Moscow did not fear being expelled from the G8 group of rich nations nor did it fear Nato cutting ties with his country. He said Nato had more to lose than Russia by a severing of relations. Earlier, Mr Medvedev had mixed praise for the European Union, which on Monday decided to suspend talks on a strategic pact with Russia until its troops were withdrawn from Georgia, but declined to impose sanctions. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who stepped down as president earlier this year, praised the European Union's "common sense". But he warned that Moscow would respond to the growing presence of Nato warships in the Black Sea, where Russia's navy fleet has a huge presence. He did not give any details.