Agendas and New Algorithms of Policies in the South Caucasus – 2023: Greece

Greece's Support for Armenia Appears to Be Limited to the Development of Bilateral Relations and Distant Diplomatic Rhetoric

Evangelos Kokkinos, journalist covering the Balkans and the South Caucasus 

- How exactly do the Armenian-Azerbaijani post-war processes and Russia's war against Ukraine affect Greece's foreign policy interests? Are there more threats or opportunities for Greece today? How are these threats and opportunities manifested?

Those conflicts have very strong implications for Greece's foreign policy interests, mainly in its relationships with neighboring countries and Greece's role in regional stability, as well as its increasing geopolitical influence in the wider region. Regarding the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, historical and cultural connections led Greece and Armenia to traditionally form strong ties. These ties are constantly strengthened with shared concerns about Turkey's regional influence. We know that Azerbaijan is aligned with Turkey in its policy everywhere. However, Greece seeks to maintain a constructive relationship with Azerbaijan as well, especially in the post-Ukraine era, given its prospects as an energy supplier and potential partner in infrastructure projects with Greece and the European Union. Greece expresses support for Armenia's territorial integrity at any given time and condemns the use of violence while advocating for a peaceful resolution. At the same time, it avoids taking sides or getting involved in the conflict directly in order to maintain balanced relations with Baku. Although Baku's policy is aligned with that of Turkey against Greece and Armenia, of course.

In the case of Russia's war against Ukraine, Greece tried to maintain a neutral stand and not take sides in the conflict. Although Greece, given its membership in the European Union and NATO, has also expressed support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and provided military material support, is for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Although Greece sought to maintain a constructive relationship with Russia, given its historical ties and economic relations, Greek and Russian relations are very strained in the aftermath of the Ukraine war. This poses a challenge to Greece's foreign policy interests as it seeks to balance its relationship with both Russia and Ukraine. And Greece tries to be mindful of relationships with all European Union members and NATO state members and of course the United States. The United States tries to have a bigger footprint in the South Caucasus and the wider region also because of Russia and China. Greece has expressed concerns about the impact of the conflict on regional stability, particularly in terms of energy security and migration flows. In terms of threats and opportunities, the Armenian and Azerbaijani conflict and Russia's war against Ukraine as well, present both risks and opportunities for Greece. The risks include the potential for instability and conflict in the wider region, even the risk of being drawn into the conflict directly. We see the diffusion of those conflicts in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, those conflicts present opportunities for Greece to play a constructive role in promoting regional stability and building bridges between different actors in order to increase its regional and international influence and its geopolitical footprint.

- Can we say that today new algorithms of relations are being shaped in the South Caucasus? How exactly are these algorithms manifested? Which countries (Russia, Western Countries, Greece, Turkey, Iran) are the most active in promoting them?

The conflict has heightened security concerns for all countries in the region, particularly in terms of border security and the risk of wider armed conflict. The region is very rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, and minerals, which makes it a very attractive target for foreign investment and trade. The region is located at a strategic crossroads between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and is therefore subject to competing interests and influence from various external powers from Europe, the United States, Iran, and of course, China. In terms of which countries are most active in the region, it is very difficult to make a definitive statement, as the situation is evolving by the day. Russia historically played a significant role in the South Caucasus region and continues to be a major player in the region today. Although Ukraine keeps its focus on its western border, Russia traditionally had close ties with Armenia and has sought to maintain its influence in the region through various means, mainly military and economic support in the past at least. The United States and European Union, the collective West, have expressed huge interest in the South Caucasus, particularly in promoting regional stability, security, and democratic reform. Western countries have also been involved in mediation efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully and have provided aid and support to various countries in the region, but they failed to force Azerbaijan to remove the ongoing blockade of the Lachin Corridor, an act of terror and genocide for the people of Artsakh. Turkey has very close and historical ties with Azerbaijan and has provided significant military and economic support to the country, things that were critical for Azerbaijan's win in the 2020 war and its aggressiveness and expansionist policies since then.

Turkey also has a strategic interest in the region, given its proximity to the Middle East and its ambition to expand its influence in the wider region and become the leader of the Islamic and Turkish worlds. Iran is also a significant player in the region and historically had close ties with Armenia, while in the past it sought to maintain good relations with Azerbaijan as well. This is changing rapidly as Yerevan and Tehran are working closer and closer together since no other countries are providing actual support to Armenia. I said before, Greece historically had close ties with Armenia based on certain cultural and historical connections, but, unfortunately, Athens, while it condemns Azerbaijan's aggression and hideous war crimes against Armenians, fails to become a leader in imposing sanctions for such acts, although Greeks and Cypriots were also victims of terror and genocide not so long ago. Overall, new algorithms of relations are being shaped constantly in the South Caucasus and are very complex and evolving by the day. And they are subject to competing interests and influence from various powers, both internal, regional, and international. I believe that the coming years will be a period of rapid geopolitical changes and developments, but it remains to be seen.

- What is Greece’s agenda regarding the post-war Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation, and the agendas of which countries is it most aligned with?

Greece's agenda is primarily focused on promoting regional stability and security and advocating for a peaceful resolution to the conflict 100% aligned with European Union. In the aftermath of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict in 2020, Greece has called for an immediate ceasefire and has urged all parties to engage in diplomatic negotiations to resolve the conflict peacefully. Greece has also expressed concern over reports of Azerbaijan's human rights abuses and war crimes committed during this conflict and has called for a thorough investigation of these allegations. In terms of which countries Greece is most aligned with on this issue, it is difficult to say that it is aligned with any of both countries. Greece is generally aligned with Western Countries in advocating for peace and diplomacy. Also, being a member of the European Union, it has a stake in promoting European Union interests in the region, including supporting democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law. The rule of law as it is understood in the West. In this context, Greece is likely to remain aligned with EU member states in promoting these values, not with Armenia nor Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, this includes tolerance of the authoritarian state of Azerbaijan due to the latter’s energy plans with the European Union. Greece's support for Armenia appears to be limited to the development of bilateral relations and distant diplomatic rhetoric.

- Is there any prospect for establishing a cooperation regime in the South Caucasus region, given the Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation and higher levels of conflict between Russia and western countries due to the Russian-Ukrainian war?

Well, the broader geopolitical dynamics in the region forbid us to make any accurate predictions, but Azerbaijan's goal seems to be the complete extinction of the Armenian ethnic, cultural, and religious element in the whole region. A sustainable cooperation regime is not possible, at least in the foreseeable future, unless Baku, complies with international law, opens the Lachin Corridor immediately, and renounces its claims against the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia itself. Overall, the prospect of establishing a cooperation regime in the South Caucasus region is uncertain, but there are some recent developments that suggest that progress could be possible sometime in the future. However, it will likely require a sustained and concentrated effort by all parties involved, mainly the aggressors, Turkey and Azerbaijan, to address the underlying issues and build trust and cooperation. The 2020 war, when Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey and Islamic mercenaries, attacked Artskakh. And then in September 2022, when the territorial integrity was violated by Azerbaijan with an ongoing occupation of Armenian territories in the South and Southeastern parts, followed by the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, all that are acts to assure the genocide of the Armenians, an ideological remnant of imperialist, authoritarian and corrupt regimes of a very dark past.

Russian-Ukrainian war complicates the prospects of establishing cooperation regimes in the South Caucasus because Russia is now focused primarily on Ukraine. It sees Ukraine as a war against the collective West and against what Russia is all about religiously, and ideologically in every aspect. And that led Russia to lose influence in many regions including South Caucasus and the Middle East. This is Russia's place, but I think that is a question mainly for international relations experts.

- How do you feel (and how do they feel in Greece at the official level) about the lengthy blockade of the Nagorno-Karabakh residents by Azerbaijan? To what extent can this and other forms of pressure from Azerbaijan affect the conclusion of a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the unblocking of communication routes?

I was glad to see the International Court of Justice in the service of truth call on Azerbaijan's government to stop the blockade in Artsakh and to do everything to ensure the unhindered movement of citizens and goods in the Lachin corridor with Armenia. I believe that Armenia and Greece's cooperation must be raised to a significantly higher level, the level of strategic cooperation. Since we share common history, values, and ideas. This could be a trilateral form with Cyprus as well. What Athens and the West must do is defend Greece, Armenia, and Cyprus. So they sealed themselves from authoritarian and expansionist actors such as Turkey and Azerbaijan. At the official level, Greece has expressed concern about the ongoing blockade of Nagano Karabakh by Azerbaijan, which has caused significant hardship for the residents of the region. In a statement issued in December 2022, the Greek Foreign Ministry called on Azerbaijan to ensure free movement in the Lachin Corridor and emphasized the need for the local population to be protected from difficulties and dangers. Greece has consistently advocated for a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and has called for the unblocking of communication routes and the reopening of economic ties between both countries. Greece has expressed support for efforts by the international community to facilitate negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and has called for all parties to work towards a durable and peaceful settlement of the conflict. The lengthy blockade of Nagorno Karabakh by Azerbaijan, along with other forms of pressure, violence, and psychological oppression, are what make a peace treaty between the two countries impossible. These burdens Azerbaijan alone, as it undermines the trust necessary for a durable settlement. I personally hope, though, that peace will be possible and the region will finally prosper and become a pillar of peace, development, and prosperity at the crossroads between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Series of interviews "Agendas and New Algorithms of Policies in the South Caucasus - 2023" has been organized within the framework of the Region Research Center's project "New Agendas for Peace and Stability in the South Caucasus after the Karabakh 2020 War". The project is being implemented with the support of the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation. The opinions expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions and positions of the Black See Trust for Regional Cooperation or its partners.


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