The geopolitical game in South Caucasus

This report aims at presenting the current situation in the South Caucasus after recent meetings occurred in Moscow between the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, as well as in Baku between the Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and the Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev.

The importance of these meetings is given by the current situation in the region: at the moment Azerbaijan is facing an economic crisis due to the drop of oil prices and the President Ilham Aliyev has announced the new economic policy concentrated on non-oil sectors. Georgia is still pondering is foreign policy trying to become part of the Europian Union while maintaining its political relations with Russia, with whom is discussing further deals and agreements relating to the energy market, whereas Armenia is de facto dependent on Russian economic, energy and military support and aids.

The South Caucasus has been part of the geopolitical game between Moscow and the West since the Cold War and continues after the collapse of the Soviet Union; since their independence the Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have been influenced by regional key players, i.e. Turkey and Iran, and international powers, Russia, the United States and later the European Union.

 Strategic partnership between Armenia and Russia promoted during the meeting of Sargsyan and Putin

On March 10, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan met the Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss mutual cooperation and strategic partnership in different fields. During their meeting the two presidents focused their attention on the perspectives of the integration’s development in the Eurasia region sharing their views and opinions regarding the regional and international problems and threats.

Putin and Sargsyan evaluated the current situation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and its negotiation and peace process; both of them agreed that the region needs stabilisation and security and that the peace process should register a step forward in order to avoid an escalation of the conflict.
Putin stated that Armenia is one of Russia’s strategic partners and there is no need to characterise the bilateral relations. Moreover, he added that during the last year the two countries have achieved important goals and success but there are still some unresolved problems in economic cooperation. The Kremlin leader underlined that this cooperation has to register a progress and both parties should jointly work to reach future goals and further development.

Given the fact that Armenia has the presidency of CSTO, the Russian Federation needs to improve its dialogue and relations with Erevan, enhancing dialogue regarding security, counter-terrorism and the fight against organised crime. Sargsyan stated that Armenia will try to improve the decisions taken during the previous sessions in September and December during its CSTO’s presidency; in addition, particular attention will be given on what is happening along the border zones of the organisation.

As stated by Sargsyan, Armenia has continued to support the Russian position over Syria and pleasantly welcome dialogue between the Kremlin and the White House about a possible truce and peace dialogue in Syria.

The Armenian president underlined that Erevan still wants to achieve a peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which has been affecting the region for years and posing a serious threat to the regional stability. Regarding the conflict, Dmitry Peskov, press spokesman for the President of Russia, stated the day after the presidential meeting that the solution and the peace process are in the hands of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Although the Kremlin will continue to support and work on the negotiations, the conflict resolution will depend only on Baku and Erevan.

During Sargsyan’s visit in Moscow, Armenian Foreign Affairs Minister Edward Nalbandian met the Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and signed the 2016-2017 programme of bilateral consultations regarding international and regional issues.

Margvelashvili strengthens Georgia – Azerbaijan relations in energy and security fields

On March 10, Georgian president Giorgi Margvelashvili participated in the Fourth Global Baku Forum, met the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and released an interview published by Trend.az regarding the relations and future projects between Baku and Tbilisi. The two presidents discussed the regional stability and mutual cooperation in different fields including security, economy, energy, tourism, and transport.

Margvelashvili affirmed that it was a pleasure to “see again my good friend Ilham Aliyev” underlying the strong relations between Georgia and Azerbaijan and declaring the partnership as strategic and fundamental for the future of the two states, Europe and Asia.

The two leaders put great emphasis on the regional stability and describing the Azeri-Georgian cooperation as crucial for the New Silk Road project promoted by Beijing, which aims to connect Asia and Europe, exploiting the Black and the Caspian Sea regions and the old Silk Road routes. The Silk Road can become the natural way to export energy resources and goods. Thus, in order to promote Azerbaijan and Georgia as commercial partners and countries where foreign companies can invest and start their business activities, the two countries have to guarantee security and stability in the region.

According to Margvelashvili’s interview, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project will be finished at the end of the year and will represent a great opportunity for Georgians, Azerbaijanis and Turks because it will connect the region and create a “linking bridge” in South Caucasus and between Europe and Asia.

The Georgian leader particularly thanked the dynamism and the activity of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) and welcomed Azerbaijani investors in his country. Tbilisi is seeking to promote its development through foreign direct investments (FDI) and Azerbaijan, as well as Turkey, can become a leader investor in the country.

Conclusion

The recent meetings in Moscow and Baku outline the regional assets and underline a status quo which has been characterising the South Caucasus for years: on one hand there is the strong strategic partnership between Russia and Armenia, with Erevan completely dependent on Russia money and gas and Moscow increasingly willing to transform the Armenian Republic in one of its outpost in the former Soviet space thanks to the 102nd Military Base in Gyumri. On the other hands, Azerbaijan and Georgia are trying to decrease the Russian influence through mutual cooperation and partnership with the regional players Iran and Turkey and winking at the European Union.

At the moment Turkey is managing the difficult situation in Syria, country with whom it shares borders, and the emergence of terrorist attacks led by the PKK (Kurdish Worker Party). Iran, after the lifting of the sanctions, seems interested in playing an important role in South Caucasus energy market and business field and promoting its figure as a mediator in the regional conflicts. Regarding Iran, only Azerbaijan appears to have significantly improved the relations with Iran after the visit on February 23 paid by Rohani in Baku and the signing of 11 agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoU) to improve and speed up cooperation in different fields.

Citing the words of Sergey Markedonov, Director of the Department of Problems of Ethnic Relations at the Institute for Political and Military Analysis in Moscow, the current status quo that South Caucasus has tried to reach over the last years is the same as that in August 2008 when Moscow defeated Georgian and proclaimed the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia affirming its regional power despite the efforts perpetrated by the West and local government to change the situation.


AUTORE

Giuliano Bifolchi. Analista geopolitico specializzato nel settore Sicurezza, Conflitti e Relazioni Internazionali. Laureato in Scienze Storiche presso l’Università Tor Vergata di Roma, ha conseguito un Master in Peace Building Management presso l’Università Pontificia San Bonaventura specializzandosi in Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) applicata al fenomeno terroristico della regione mediorientale e caucasica. Ha collaborato e continua a collaborare periodicamente con diverse testate giornalistiche e centri studi.