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

Russian-Turkish Rapprochement Is Also Beneficial for Western Countries

Kerim Has, analyst

- In the context of Turkey's current interests, what is the significance of the post-war Armenian-Azerbaijani developments? What prospects and potential threats lie for Turkey in this context?

The Armenian-Azerbaijani contradictions in the post-war period hold significant importance for Turkish foreign policy. However, now, due to the upcoming elections of May 14 (2023 - ed.) in Turkey, the Armenian-Azerbaijani topic, temporarily, is not being discussed so widely. I think R. Erdogan may not win the elections, but retain power - he has quite a lot of tools for partially manipulating the voting results. If he remains in power, then in the coming years we may observe a more active Turkey in military-political terms and the continuation of the same course. I mean that R. Erdogan has already linked the entire Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict to the issue of a peace treaty on Baku's terms. It seems more likely to me that if Erdogan continues to hold power, Azerbaijan's pressure on Armenia and Karabakh, and on the Armenian territories will intensify - in coordination with Turkey. It is necessary to take into consideration the main point - how the situation in Ukraine will unfold. Both Azerbaijan and Turkey will have to consider a possible response from Russia. If Russia, as it is now, continues to be busy with the Ukrainian issue, then Azerbaijan, with the support of Turkey, will intensify pressure after the elections.
I don’t think that Turkey sees any threat coming from Armenia or the South Caucasus - this is not serious. But the main concern for Ankara is how Russia would react if Turkey boosts, for example, military cooperation with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan, aided by Turkey, in recent years has turned into a South Caucasian version of Sweden - in terms of military capability rather than democratic values. Relations between Azerbaijan and NATO are also intensively developing. If Azerbaijan launches an attack on Karabakh, considering the presence of Russian peacekeepers, or if it tries to occupy new territories within Armenia, Russia will have to take some measures. If Turkey perceives a threat, it will only be from Russia, especially if Azerbaijan attacks Armenia or Karabakh. Speaking of prospects, the trilateral statement of November 9-10, 2020 has the potential to be beneficial for all parties. Everyone will be able to use the open communication channels in the region. There are a number of opportunities, but only if all parties involved, including indirect players like Turkey, Russia, Western countries, collaborate systematically and sincerely.

- How does the Russian-Turkish rapprochement of recent years affect the agendas of various countries and international organizations involved in the South Caucasus, as well as the agendas of the parties to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict? Which countries benefit the most from this rapprochement?

There are objective reasons for this cooperation such as their roles as major players in the region, important neighbors, and the history of contentious relations with the West... Turkish and Russian economies complement each other. Turkey produces what Russia needs - textiles, food, etc., while Russia supplies Turkey with energy resources. The tourism factor cannot be neglected either. Turkey cannot afford the luxury of ruining relations with Russia, and I think Russia does not have the luxury of risking relations with Ankara during the ongoing Ukrainian conflict either.
Along with objective reasons, the region’s situation is influenced also by geopolitical realities. In many regions, the interests of Turkey and Russia sometimes clash, sometimes they intersect, while sometimes there is a need to balance these relationships. In this regard, Turkey’s military-strategic alignment with the Western bloc is evident: in Syria and in the South Caucasus, and in Ukraine, where Turkey, on the one hand, is trying to maintain a dialogue with Russia or abstains from Western sanctions, but on the other hand, is supplying weapons, drones to the Ukrainian side. In all places of geopolitical confrontation, including Libya, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Central Asia, Turkey’s military-strategic approach aligns with that of the Western bloc. If Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to sign a peace treaty on Baku's terms, this would actually mean that Russia should withdraw its peacekeepers from Karabakh and, potentially, even from Armenia in the future (the issue of Armenia's exit from the CSTO is even being discussed now). But Turkey will have to take into account the objective mutually beneficial interests with Russia I highlighted earlier and maintain strategic cooperation with her. Cutting ties with Russia due to geostrategic issues is unprofitable for Ankara, therefore, the Turkish-Russian rapprochement is partly pragmatic, partly a forced partnership. Overall, this rapprochement is also supported by the leading countries of the West, since amidst the Ukrainian conflict, having at least one open channel with Russia is beneficial for the West. The grain deal was signed with the mediation of Turkey, a joint Russian-Turkish center was established in Aghdam, the heads of intelligence of the United States and Russia meet in Ankara, prisoner exchanges take place through Turkish mediation, this list goes on. Hence, I don’t think that the current policy towards Russia pursued by the Turkish leadership runs contrary to the interests of the West, the United States, or Great Britain. Therefore, the Turkish-Russian rapprochement will not lead to a reorientation of Turkey in its relationships with the West, NATO and, above all, Washington. Of course, this gives Erdogan a lot of room for maneuver in relations with both Russia and the West. As a political figure, Erdogan is the main beneficiary of this positioning of Turkey in relations between Russia and the West.

- Do you consider the Armenian-Azerbaijani contradictions to be the main obstacle to establishing long-term stability in the South Caucasus region? What are the circumstances for such a prospect to become a reality?

Of course, the Armenian-Azerbaijani contradictions to a large extent create an obstacle to stability in the South Caucasus. This problem, in my view, can be solved by taking steps in domestic and foreign policy to overcome mutual hostility and rejection. I cannot understand why the Azerbaijani side does not accept the possibility of autonomy for the Karabakh Armenians after the war. Before the war, Baku had always intended to establish some level of autonomy: why did they change their mind? I. Aliyev says that there is no Karabakh issue, and there will be no autonomy. It is not clear why the Azerbaijani side does not consider decentralization, at least in Karabakh, why Azerbaijan with a population of 10 million is afraid of 150 thousand Karabakh Armenians. Of course, contradictions can be eliminated, but changing mentality is essential, especially for Azerbaijan. The winning side should be more modest, and take some measures, while being more self-confident. The personal relationship between I. Aliyev and R. Erdogan, of course, also plays a role. Both Turkey and Azerbaijan are authoritarian countries, so for me it’s quite understandable why the Armenian population of Karabakh would be reluctant to integrate into today's Azerbaijan as citizens. There are no democratic principles, rule of law in Azerbaijan, and if Azerbaijan resorts to pressure, this will not only harm the Karabakh Armenians, but also Azerbaijan itself. Turkey is an excellent example. After the well-known events during the First World War, the Armenians suffered greatly, and Turkey refused to admit its mistakes or crimes, which eventually led to the emergence of the Kurdish question. I am not a Kurd myself - I consider myself a Turk, but ethnic origin is not important. Failing to recognize one's crimes or historical mistakes can have severe consequences for any country’s future. Currently, Turkey is suffering due to an authoritarian regime, and ethno-confessional groups in the country are suffering as well. If Azerbaijan were, for example, more like Switzerland, most Karabakh Armenians would probably want to become Azerbaijani citizens, citizens of a normal country. Another issue to be noted is that all parties must abandon the confrontational approach, recognize the realities on the ground and avoid positioning themselves as anti-Russian, anti-Turkish, anti-Western, or any other side. It is possible to develop relationships with Russia, the West or Turkey, while still taking into account the geopolitical realities and maintaining contacts with all countries. The Armenian side, I believe, will have to recognize the realities and not fall into the trap of some Western countries’ confrontational approach.

- Officially, Turkey always voices its support for Azerbaijan's actions against Armenia and the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Are there alternative viewpoints in Turkey now regarding, for instance, the lengthy blockade of the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, and other methods of pressure used by Azerbaijan? Could the forthcoming presidential elections in Turkey, along with the potential shift of power, alter this situation?

In today's Turkey, there is no alternative approach to the issue of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, if the opposition wins, it may adopt a more European approach to the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The opposition will, in any case, have to take into consideration Turkey's economic problems and develop ties with the EU. Azerbaijan may reduce the military-political pressure on Armenia. If Erdogan is currently fully supporting Baku, the opposition may support, say, 99%. If the Turkish opposition wins in the elections, it will have to coordinate its efforts more closely with the EU and other Western states, which could lead to a decrease in Azerbaijan's confrontational approach and pressure. But they will not be entirely removed from the agenda. In any case, Turkey will continue its synchronized policy with Baku with regards to the Karabakh issue and the general context of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

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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