Regional processes without taking into account Armenian interests? Opinion
The interests of major players in the region
The South Caucasus continues to experience political turbulence. Events are unfolding around Armenia in which, according to local analysts, Armenian interests are not being taken into account, while the interests of major players in the region carry the day.
The main players meet, discuss regional problems, agree on redistribution of zones of influence, and assume control over the situation forthwith. According to some Armenian political scientists, from Armenia itself only the fulfillment of decisions already made can be expected, and disagreement is haunted by the specter military escalation.
The opinion of an Armenian commentator on the regional situation, the interests of major players and their expectations of Armenia, the ever-present risk of war, and the country’s relations with the West and Russia.
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Hakob Badalyan, political commentator
Turkey claims to be a mediator for Western interests
“In general, the region continues to be affected by a great global refshuffling. Of course, both regional actors (Turkey, Russia, Iran) and the US as global actor are fighting for maximum influence in the South Caucasus.
“Each has its own approach, but Iran, Russia and Turkey, despite significant differences and strategic competition on various issues, still find enough common ground in order to resolve issues themselves. Thus they attempt to limit Western interference and direct influence.
“At the same time, Turkey wants to become a mediator for Western interests, which will lead to cooperation West on issues related to the Caucasus.
“The US does not intend to influence the region directly. It wants to influence the situation through different players to solve two important issues for themselves:
- Iran’s nuclear program
- weakening Russia’s position in order to achieve more cooperation
“To this end, Turkey is considered as a possible main instrument. Turkey also understands that if it does not position itself in this dynamic, it will lose Western support and thus regional clout. Then Russia and Iran will approach Turkey differently, more confidently.”
War as a tool for settling issues
“It is very important that regional developments do not reach military escalation, i.e. when states come to a consensus that war is the only tool for settling issues. This is the main risk for Armenia — today and in the future.
“Many different factors can lead to war. The issue is that Armenia does not have a significant influence on them. The main issues do not depend on Armenia.
“Yet any decision that leads to the violation of territorial integrity and the inviolability of borders is unacceptable to Armenia. So the issue of sovereignty, including political sovereignty, is a priority for us. This is a very difficult issue, but it ought to be a strategic consideration of our state.”
Expectations from Armenia
“Each major actor in the region (Iran, Russia, Turkey, USA) has its own expectations of Armenia. And Armenia should work with everyone, striving to ensure a balance of relations so as not to depend on a single country, and to neutralize the impact of any single state as much as possible.
“Iran, Russia and Turkey are all jockeying to take priority in the region. It is important to consider this reality and develop our own plan of action. We cannot allow confrontation; the cost will be too high for us.
“The priority for us is that we do everything in our power to preserve and deepen relations with the West.
“For the most part, these states do not require anything from us. They coordinate all issues among themselves, then decide how to impose these decisions on us. They just have different expectations.
“Russia expects us to follow its playbook and submit to all its scenarios. It is important Russia that Armenia not take any steps with other players without it.
“Against the backdrop of confrontation with the West and sanctions imposed upon it, Russia sees the Caucasus as a vital logistics hub where it wants to have a dominant role. And Armenia is expected to play along. There are both opportunities and risks for Armenia here, because Turkey and Azerbaijan may take advantage of the situation and suggest Russia make further concessions regarding Armenia in exchange for loyalty to Russian interests.
“On one hand, it’s good for us that Russia is trying to open up communications in the region, but on the other it’s bad, inasmuch as this could lead to collusion between the Russian Federation and Turkey and Azerbaijan. And here Armenia’s task, both with Iran and the United States, is to ensure balance.
“Iran expects Armenia not to disrupt transport routes from Iran-Armenia, Iran-Russia, and Iran-Georgia-Black Sea, when regional roads are unblocked.
“But at the same time, we don’t know which way Iran will go even tomorrow, which can turn the border issue into a bargaining process. Iran’s position on this issue is not guaranteed given the complexities surrounding it.
“The same is true of the USA. It doesn’t want Russia to have much too say in transport routes. But we cannot predict tomorrow.
- whether the US will consider the strengthening of Turkey and Azerbaijan as a means of countering Russian influence,
- how they manage to negotiate with Iran.
Turkey, on the other hand, wants there to be no control of the roads when they are unblocked, so that it may reach Azerbaijan through Nakhichevan and increase its influence in the region.
“Turkey and Azerbaijan are not interested in any control over this route per se, otherwise many issues would have been resolved long ago. They want instead a corridor similar to Lachin, linking Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Aliyev clearly stated that if he does not control the Lachin corridor, then no one should control the Zangezur corridor, which will connect Azerbaijan with its Nakhichevan exclave. This is what they are after.
Armenia agrees to unblock roads, but categorically refuses to provide roads for the purpose of “corridors”, which effectively means a loss of sovereignty over terrorities through which they pass.
“Naturally, there is a lot of bargaining going on around this, and if the big players manage to agree among themselves on some issues, they will put pressure on Armenia using various methods. Perhaps militarily, if Armenia does not play along.”
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War delayed by regional players’ inconsistency
“At this stage I see no actual risk of war, since state strategies vary widely, and they can’t reach an agreement on our region. As a whole, the issues are treated as a package deal — Syria, Ukraine, new geopolitical realities. The process of negotiation in this case becomes more and more complicated, but a possible means of progress is opened up.
“It seems to me that Yerevan is trying to make use of that. There is active communication with the USA, Europe, India.
“In particular the Indian Ambassador to Iran, Khaddam Jarmendra, said that India plans to “connect the western part of Chabahar and the Indian Ocean with Eurasia through Armenia.” And the DnaIndia edition published information about the possible sale of drones and other types of Indian-made weapons to Armenia. Of course, the Armenian Ministry of Defense did not confirm this information.
“India can afford to speak confidently, it has nothing to lose. But the question is how much influence India has on Caucasian issues. In any case, we need to work with all countries on the same page as Armenia, but not rely only on statements and wishes.”
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“Azerbaijan will always try to interfere in our relations with Europe, so we need to utilize effective diplomacy and political thought. We must find political ideas that could be of interest to the West and work in this direction with them.
“At the same time, we must understand that Azerbaijan and Turkey will never be less significant for Europe and the United States than Armenia.
“Therefore it is very important that we be able to maintain a balanced relationship with both the Russians and Europeans. We cannot work with Russia alone, but also cannot work only with the West against Russia.
“Of course, Russia is very vigilant of even the smallest steps taken by Armenia toward the West. But we do that, or we declare to Russia that we completely abandon relations with the West, which would of course be disastrous for us. We can instead explain that these relations are not being sought in order to turn away from Russia, but in order to protect ourselves from certain risks that the Russian Federation cannot cope with. We should say: We understand that Russia has it’s own affairs with Turkey and Azerbaijan, but they create serious risks for us, to offset which we need relations with the West.”
The interests of major players in the region