Agendas and New Algorithms of Policies in the South Caucasus - 2023: Germany

Germany Wants to Assert Its Leadership Position Within Europe

Alexander Rahr, Senior Research Fellow at WeltTrends Institute for International Politics

- How do the Armenian-Azerbaijani post-war processes affect Germany's foreign policy interests? Are these processes viewed in Germany separately from the Russian-Ukrainian war?

Let's be quite frank: there are no geopolitical interests for Germany in the South Caucasus region. There might arise economic reasons in the future - in terms of cooperation within the frames of green technologies, which the current German government gladly talks about with all partners. But, actually, Germany has quite a small influence in the region. In recent years, decades, the EU has been absent as a force in the South Caucasus. Instead, the region has seen more of an American presence, if we speak about the West. What interest does Germany have? Its interest lies in containing the Russian Federation, so that its influence in the region decreases, so that the Eurasian Economic Union is sharply weakened, and the position of those countries that would to some extent counteract Russia strengthens. This is the plan of the European Union, the plan of Germany. And besides, of course, so that there is no war, because Europe cannot afford new flows of refugees, and, furthermore, Europe is so preoccupied with the Ukraine war that it will make every effort to prevent a second war in the post-Soviet space.

- Then, what did German Chancellor O. Scholz mean when at the meeting with N. Pashinyan he stated that the issue of self-determination of nations should be taken into consideration, and at the meeting with I. Aliyev he mentioned that a complete solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue should also encompass the question of the rights and security of its population?

These are the standard phrases of Western diplomacy, so to speak, “to be on both sides of the fence”. What is O. Scholz to do? He wants to be an arbiter on behalf of the EU in the region, he understands that international law today is twofold - on the one hand, he stands for the territorial integrity of states, which is an argument in Azerbaijan’s favor that “owned” Nagorno-Karabakh in the Soviet era, and on the other hand - and this is also highlighted in international law - it is necessary to talk about the self-determination of minorities, nations that live in these territories, which in this respect, is an argument in Armenia’s favor. As Chancellor of Germany, Scholz has to take into account both aspects, speak about them in order to clearly show the position of the European Union.

- Can we say that today new algorithms of relations in the South Caucasus region are being shaped? How are they manifested, and what is the role of the EU in this context?

You forgot about an additional factor in this geopolitical game that should not be overlooked: it’s China. China will continue to build its “Silk Road” to the middle of Europe, and in this respect, China is following very closely the developments in the South Caucasus. You also forgot the Americans, who, in my view, are a key driver pushing the EU to pursue certain foreign policy, diplomacy in the South Caucasus. The Americans themselves do not seem to be quite willing to go there - they have their own problems with China, in Asia, etc. They want to support the EU or compel it to act in their, excuse my phrasing, “periphery.” The EU, of course, is ready to enter the region in order to reduce the role and influence of Russia. But apart from that, in the case of the EU, the first steps of diplomacy are always followed by economy, the EU wants to open up new markets for itself. If the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan stops or calms down, then German business - I spoke with several people here - sees a great chance for investment. These investments go to the RF, but should go to the post-Soviet space. German business played an important role in the negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders with the German leadership in Berlin.

- What is Germany’s agenda specifically in matters of the post-war Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation? Is this agenda different from those of other EU member states? Are there more threats or opportunities for Germany and the EU?

We know that France clearly endorses Armenia’s position. Тhere is a strong Armenian diaspora in France, which should provide support to E. Macron, who has domestic political difficulties. Therefore, France will play on the side of Armenia. But in Germany, the priorities are set a little differently - we should not forget the rather commonplace fact that there is no strong Armenian diaspora in Germany, while there is a very strong Turkish one, which, after all, also influences the big politics of Berlin. The cooperation with Turkey, despite all the problems, is becoming a top priority for Germany, and you are aware of Turkey's position regarding the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Added to that, the primary objective of German policy is to gain a foothold as the leader of the EU amid the weakening of France, to prevent the emergence of new alliances in the east of Europe against Germany and France in the face of Poland and, perhaps, Great Britain, which has left the EU but is trying to do some things within Europe. Germany wants to assert its leadership position within Europe and must formulate a European foreign policy towards the near abroad so that it is supported, if possible, by all the EU countries. I am not saying that Germany will pursue a critical policy towards Armenians, and that if it did, France would not support it. But the Eastern European countries - Poland, Baltic states, Romania, the Czech Republic - after the exit of Great Britain are becoming stronger and stronger. This must not be forgotten. What do they want? First of all, to punish and contain Russia. Therefore, any means aimed at weakening Russia are welcome, they are all for such means, and they will demand that Germany pursue such a policy, including in the South Caucasus.

- Do you see any prospects for establishing a regime of peace and stability between Armenia and Azerbaijan in light of the strained Russian-Western relations due to the Russian-Ukrainian war?

This is more visible to those forces that are now trying to carry out a settlement in the region. I am always for peace, it’s good that initiatives are being launched for a peaceful settlement. The Russian factor is indeed weakening. Just 2-3 years ago, the Russian Federation was the dominant country in preventing further war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and put its authority and influence on the scales to stop it, brokering an agreement with Turkey. Today, the situation is the following: I myself didn’t expect the EU to try to become, with the support of the Americans, the third in a big attempt to resolve the conflict. Russia and Turkey are also engaged in the settlement, and somewhere, behind the brackets, there is China, which we also mentioned. Look at how China is now acting in Africa, in the Middle East - it will probably act in the South Caucasus in a similar way, we all understand this. The EU is also determined to find a peaceful solution, and eventually it will be forced to talk with Russia and give greater weight to the Russian and Turkish standpoints. I believe that there will be peace - I am now speaking as a German political scientist - when economic instruments are put in place. In a similar way Germany was united at one time, and the conflicts of the Cold War ended - through trade, through economic relations.

If that happens between Armenia and Azerbaijan - this is evidenced by the possible partial opening of the Turkish border, which will allow the Armenian economy access to the Western world and the EU - this may lead to some positive outcome. But a lot depends on how the massive conflict in Ukraine will unfold. The future of the European security is being decided there. It is quite hard to predict what it will be like in a year or two, but Armenia and Azerbaijan will be dragged indirectly - not by military means - into these problems of building a new structure and architecture of European security, which will be explored in detail in the coming years.

- What could really motivate Azerbaijan to lift the lengthy blockade of the Nagorno-Karabakh residents and not exert other forms of pressure?

Let's see what the result will be after the meeting of the leaders of the two countries with O. Scholz. I cannot look far into the future, but I think that in the short and medium term, all the blockades we are talking about will be lifted.

- How efficient can the policy of equidistance from the parties to the Armenian-Azerbaijani and Russian-Ukrainian conflicts be?  

I would like to remind you that in resolving the conflict in the east of Ukraine, the West did not act quite decently. According to Mrs. Merkel and former French President F. Hollande, the West, despite the development of the Minsk agreements, which were supposed to somehow stop the war and give the region autonomy, as acknowledged by Western leaders, played 100% on the side of Ukraine. This must never happen again. I believe that the West should be an impartial arbiter and not take sides. The West must somehow fix its reputation and mistakes made in Ukraine, so that others would believe in the West and the EU in the future.

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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