Op-Ed: who’s really competing in the South Caucasus: Armenia and Azerbaijan or Putin and Erdogan?
Nobody needs Russian oil and gas at this point. For the first eight months of 2020, Russian gas and oil exports decreased by 40% and 23%, respectively, compared to the same period in 2019.
Sales of hydrocarbon raw material abroad is the foundation of the Russian budget. About 60 percent of Russia’s revenue comes from oil and gas.
Does this development have the potential to negatively affect neighboring countries?
In 2020, Russian oil and gas is losing not only the European markets, where they are being squeezed out by Saudi Arabia and the United States, but also the vitally important Turkish market. There, they compete against the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan.
As a result, gas pipelines from Russia to Turkey operate at a third of their planned capacity.
The latest news is that Turkey’s largest oil refinery is refusing to buy Russian oil. The owner of this plant is SOCAR, the state oil and gas corporation of Azerbaijan.
The drop in oil and gas revenues, as well as other factors – primarily, the already existing international sanctions for the annexation of Crimea and the upcoming ones for the downed Malaysian Boeing and the poisoning of Navalny – puts the Russian economy in a catastrophic position.
Russian and Turkish Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan during talks in Moscow, March 2020 Pavel Golovkin / Pool via REUTERS
Putin and Erdogan: a long-standing rivalry
The presidents of Russia and Turkey have been fighting for influence in the region, which includes the Middle East and South Caucasus, for several years.
On several occasions, this has lead to direct conflict. The Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian bomber near the Syrian-Turkish border. Russian mercenaries and Turkish soldiers take part in hostilities in Libya, where they fight on opposing sides.
The height of these conflicts was the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey in Istanbul.
The deteriorating Russian economic performance, as well as the difficulties that the Turkish economy is experiencing due to the coronavirus pandemic, have only exacerbated this long-standing rivalry.
Contention over the gas pipeline
It is impossible to consider the military conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in September 2020 in isolation from the smaller-scale events that took place in July this year.
At that time, many drew attention to the fact that the Armenian military took drastic actions in an area far from the traditional local “hot” spots. However, this area is as close as possible to the route of the gas pipeline connecting Azerbaijan and Turkey.
It seems that two months later, Erdogan is making it clear to Vladimir Putin that his message has been heard and that this is the response.
But neither take into account the price paid by the peoples of Armenia and Azerbaijan for the rivalry between the two authoritarian leaders.