Below are two interesting news articles that appeared recently. The first one is Paul Goble's commentary concerning an article written by an Azeri journalist. In her article, the Azeri journalist (see the article here - Москва может приобрести стратегического партнера на Кавказе, не теряя там давнего союзника: http://www.vestikavkaza.ru/analytics/politika/12374.html) is essentially attempting to convince Moscow that with its political and economic influence increasing in the region it can help Baku regain Nagorno Karabakh without fearing the loss of Armenia as a strategic ally. Incidentally, Paul Goble, a former senior US State Department official (perhaps a CIA operative as well as a so-called post-Soviet specialist) was the mastermind of the infamous Paul Goble Plan. The 1990s plan envisioned turning a strip of land along Armenia's border with Iran into an "international zone" where Azeris could freely transport their oil/gas westward. This plan may have also been somehow linked to the 1999 parliamentary killings in Armenia. Paul Goble was recently assigned to Baku on a "diplomatic" capacity. The second article is a related piece appearing in ArmeniaNow, Yerevan's very own CIA sponsored news media outlet. The issue at hand here is Baku reentering the CSTO and the impact this may have on Armenian-Russian relations.
Moscow Can Gain Azerbaijan as a Strategic Partner without Sacrificing Its Ties to Armenia
One of the fundamental assumptions about Russia and the Southern Caucasus is no longer true in the wake of the August 2008 Georgian war, an Baku commentator says, and consequently Moscow can develop a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan “without losing its old ally,” Armenia. In an essay in the current issue of “Vestnik Kavkaza,” Emma Tariverdiyeva argues that it is no longer the case that Moscow would have to sacrifice its relations with Armenia in order to achieve a warming of ties with Azerbaijan. Instead, she says, the Russian government can achieve good relations with both (www.vestikavkaza.ru/analytics/politika/12374.html).
That geopolitical change has its roots in the August 2008 war, as a result of which the Russian-Georgian frontier was closed. That means that for the first time, the three longest borders in the South Caucasus were shut – the Armenian-Azerbaijani and Armenian-Turkish borders were already closed – and that all of the players needed to take some radical steps. Over the last 15 months, the Trend News writer says, three of those have occurred – the development of relations between Armenia and Turkey, the intensification of talks on Nagorno-Karabakh, and new energy projects, all of which both reflect and further transform changed geopolitical assumptions in that region.
For the first time since the Cold War, she continues, Russia has been able to “reacquire the status of one of the key regional players.” It has expanded its contacts with Turkey, “by supporting Ankara’s plans for a ‘Stability and Cooperation Platform in the South Caucasus’” and by backing the normalization of relations between Yerevan and Ankara. Many observers were surprised by Russia’s rapprochement with Turkey in this regard given that Ankara has its own agenda in the South Caucasus, one that challenges Moscow’s position there. But Tariverdiyeva says that the new ties are turning out to be “profitable” for both sides. On the one hand, Turkey has “a multitude of problems in its relations with Armenia,” given that the latter remains “an ally and partner of Moscow in the Caucasus.” But on the other, “Russia has interests in Azerbaijan,” which can be promoted only by a certain shift in Moscow’s position on Armenia.
But precisely because the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement has contributed to a certain “cooling” in relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey, Tariverdiyeva says, “Russia is right to use the situation in order to improve its relations with Baku,” which has both energy resources and transportation routes in which Moscow is vitally interested. “The only way toward a genuine change in the situation in the South Caucasus,” however, is “the regulation of the oldest frozen conflict in the Caucasus” – Nagorno-Karabakh. In the past, because of its ties with Armenia, Moscow was not prepared to push hard for this, seeing the continuation of the status quo as bringing Russia benefits.
Now, however, two things have changed in that calculus. After the Georgian war, Russia very much wants to win for itself “the image of a peacemaker,” and because Turkey won’t ratify the protocols if Yerevan does not begin to withdraw from the occupied territories, Moscow has an additional reason to press Armenia. By pushing Armenia to withdraw then, the Russian government will win friends in Baku, which Moscow ultimately wants because “Azerbaijan is the most strategically important country in the Southern Caucasus, the geopolitical center of the region and a territory rich with energy resources.”
Indeed, the Trend commentator notes, Gazprom has already declared that “it intends to purchase gas from Baku at a price three times larger than the 120 US dollars per 1,000 cubic meters that Azerbaijan had been selling natural gas to Turkey,” something that will also solidify Russia’s position there. While doing this, she argues, Moscow can be confident that it will not lose its influence in Armenia. Yerevan “will never trust Turkey as much as it trusts Moscow,” she points out. There is simply too much history – including the events of 1915 and Armenian actions against Turkish diplomats – for that to change anytime soon.
As a result, Tariverdiyeva says, “Russia will be able to acquire a strategic partner in the region [Azerbaijan] without losing its longtime ally [Armenia].” Her conclusion may be overly optimistic, as she herself implies, but the appearance of such arguments shows how changes since the Georgian war are calling into question the assumptions many still make.
CSTO Perspectives: Will Azerbaijan re-enter Russia’s military-strategic block?
Bordiuzha says Armenia and Azerbaijan can be part of CSTO despite the Karabakh issue.
Armenia’s Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan, at a press conference recently disproved the rumors about Azerbaijan’s possible return to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). There is no indication on the part of official Baku that it has made such a decision, but apparently the issue of Azerbaijan’s possible return to CSTO has started appearing in different analytical studies, and might even be a subject of discussion on certain levels between Moscow and Baku.
The scenario of Azerbaijan re-entering CSTO seems appealing to Moscow, as, in that case, 70 percent of the South Caucasus automatically becomes the zone of CSTO responsibility. Such a layout is valuable for Moscow especially after the Georgian war and even more so because of NATO’s pursuit of stronger positions in the South Caucasus.
The military-strategic block of CSTO, founded in 1992, currently consists of seven member-countries: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia. (Azerbaijan joined in 1993, however, in 1999, withdrew its membership).
The area under CSTO responsibility is vast, with a total of 20 million square kilometers: 90 percent of that area belongs to Russia and Kazakhstan, which are among the top ten of the biggest states in the world. Azerbaijan’s decision to re-enter this military-political block would create a solid chain uniting all the CSTO links, without exception, into two lines with their final closing points being in Russia.
1) Tajikistan- Uzbekistan- Kyrgyzstan- Kazakhstan- Russia-Belarus
2) Tajikistan-Uzbekistan- Kyrgyzstan- Kazakhstan- Russia-Azerbaijan-Armenia (Armenia is currently in isolation since it does not possess a land border with any of the CSTO member-countries.)
On top of all, CSTO would gain a direct exit to Iran and the Indian ocean. This scenario holds points of concern for Armenia. For example, it can indefinitely freeze certain ‘Armenian projects’ of great strategic importance (namely, the construction of the Armenia-Iran railroad might be replaced by Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran project which would stretch from Derbent through Baku-Astara-Rasht to Kazvin). When Azerbaijan withdrew from CSTO it brought various reasons, the most important among them being the fact that ‘one of CSTO members, namely Armenia, had occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory’.
There, naturally, were other considerations, for example, according to the head of the Federation Council on CIS issues Vadim Gustav, Azerbaijan’s withdrawal from CSTO in 1999, was conditioned by an economic factor – “high prices for oil, hence an opportunity to lead an independent fuel policy” – rather than by the Karabakh issue. There is also another viewpoint, according to which the main reason of Azerbaijan’s withdrawal from CSTO was Baku’s seeking to settle the Karabakh issue by force, as CSTO rules out hostilities among its member-states. The given viewpoint is enriched by numerous statements on the part of the Azerbaijani president on the issue of resuming hostilities.
On the other hand, during the past year, Russia repeatedly stated that CSTO is an open organization interested in attracting new political entities as its members. One such example is CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordiuzha’s statement made in one of his interviews to an Azeri news agency Day.az, that the presence of two conflicting entities (Armenia and Azerbaijan) in one and the same military block did not hinder the organization’s harmonious development.
“In turn, the rest of the CSTO member-states would seek to assist to the utmost in settling the existing conflicts and would do that with not less success than NATO in case with Greece and Turkey,” said Bordiuzha. “For about six years Azerbaijan was the member of our organization, which can serve as a precedent of Armenia and Azerbaijan being members of the same military-political structure.”