Russia scrambles as EU surges in Caucasus

Indian Punchline

Armenia no longer disputes that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan. The prospect of peaceful resolution of a regional conflict ought to be good news, but this is an incredibly complex situation with an external environment where a brutal war is raging with no end in sight, and the protagonists pursue contrarian interests. 

A settlement over Nagorno-Karabakh conflict leading to peace and reconciliation might open the pathway to Armenia’s (and, Azerbaijan’s) induction into the EU and NATO in a foreseeable future. The Armenian lobbies in European capitals and Washington wield much political influence. Oil-rich Azerbaijan eyes European market. 

The Armenian lobbies in European capitals and Washington wield much political influence. Oil-rich Azerbaijan eyes European market. 

That said, Russia will resist the EU and NATO’s expansion into Transcaucasia, a highly strategic geographical region on the border of Eastern Europe and West Asia, straddling the southern Caucasus Mountains and bridges the Black Sea and the Caspian. Armenia is in a military alliance with Russia but Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has increasingly appealed to the West, including the EU.

Earlier this year, the EU set up a civilian mission in Armenia in response to a request from Yerevan, including operations at several points along the border with Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, the EU also signed a gas supply deal with Baku last year. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised Azerbaijan as a “crucial partner” in mitigating Europe’s energy crisis.

The EU’s strategic interest is for Armenia and Azerbaijan to minimise Russian influence in Transcaucasia. With so many powerful geopolitical players involved in the Caucasus region, the situation is delicate. The Spanish city of Granada is the place to watch where in two weeks, close to 50 European countries are expected for talks in the European Political Community format — including Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Russia will fear for the security and stability of its Muslim republics in the Caucasus if Western intelligence sets up shop in that volatile region with a violent history. It is no secret that the US fuelled Moscow’s two Chechen Wars (1994-2000.) 

It’s no secret that the US fuelled the two Chechen wars- Absolutely!

Taking advantage of Russia’s preoccupations in Ukraine, the US and the EU have inserted themselves aggressively into the Black Sea region and the Caucasus. Armenia is a low hanging fruit. The 2018 colour revolution (“Velvet Revolution’’) presented itself as an opportunity for Armenia to realign its foreign policy in the European direction without any overt belligerent anti-Russian or pronounced pro-Western geopolitical orientation. 

The readout cited three initiatives: USAID will convene a C5+1 Regional Connectivity Ministerial in Central Asia in October “to discuss concrete actions”; launch of a C5+1 Critical Minerals Dialogue “to develop Central Asia’s vast mineral wealth and advance critical minerals security”; and, US support for investment to develop a Trans-Caspian Trade Route (so-called “Middle Corridor”) through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (a collaborative effort by Group of Seven to fund infrastructure projects in developing countries.) 

On a parallel track, curiously enough, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was invited as an “honoured guest” to the recent Central Asian summit in Dushanbe on September 14-15. This is the first time that the forum known as the Consultative Meeting Of the Heads of States of Central Asia invited a leader from outside Central Asia to their annual conclave. Indeed, regionalism is on the march in the steppes against the backdrop of the geopolitical shock of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is now reaching an attrition dimension.

Good piece to read entirely. In case you’re one of the regulars wondering why I’d focused on NK. It’s a subject I’d written about for a number of years. And what happened there did not occur in a vacuum.

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