November 9, 2020, the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a joint statement announcing a complete ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh (Naka) region from the 10th. The signing of the statement temporarily ended the 44-day conflict between the two sides of Asia. Although the war is over, the game of regional powers behind the Naqqa conflict has never stopped, and the game is bound to affect the geopolitical pattern of Transcaucasia and even the whole Central Asian region to a certain extent.
Political considerations behind regional powers
Since the Naqqa conflict, Russia, Iran, Turkey and other countries have made statements, but the depth of their involvement in the dispute varies.
In this Nagorn Karabakh conflict, Russia has played an active mediator role. On the one hand, as the co-chairman of the Minsk Group established by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the predecessor of the OSCE), Russia already has the obligation to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; on the other hand, Russia, as the most influential country in the region, will not The conflict in its “backyard” is out of control, especially Nagorno-Karabakh issue, which is related to the security problem in southern Russia and affects its strategic interests.
It is worth noting that in the mediation process, Russia has not significantly tilted towards Armenia at present. In the past, Armenia is Russia’s traditional ally, and has been included in the CIS Bloc security treaty.
It has been helped by Russia many times. It can even be said that Armenia’s long-term control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region cannot be separated from Russia’s “acquiescence”, but this time, Russia has not “biased”.
The analysis of the reason is that after the current Prime Minister of Armenia, Paschinyan, took office, he preferred to develop relations with Western countries to get rid of his dependence on Russia. On sensitive issues such as joining NATO, Paschinyan ignored Russia’s opposition to start dialogue with the United States.
This has aroused Russia’s dissatisfaction to a certain extent, so this time Russia has not “given face”. On the other hand, although Russia and Turkey have geopolitical interests, there are also interests in energy and arms sales, and the cooperation between the two countries has gradually increased. This neutral mediation by Russia seems to be showing goodwill to Turkey and providing the possibility for Russia-Turkey in-depth cooperation in Syria and other issues.
But with the signing of the Armistice Agreement, Turkey and Azerbaijan have taken the absolute upper hand, and Russia’s geopolitical interests have been relatively affected.
Looking at the dozens of military exercises of the Iranian armed forces in recent years, nine out of ten have been opened in the Strait of Hormuz, which shows the importance Iran attaches to national security in the south. In contrast, in the northwestern border of Iran, there has been no war except to fight against small-scale terrorists. Iran does not want chaos in the north.
In addition, from the perspective of civil exchanges, there are a large number of Azerbaijanis in Iran, accounting for 17% of the total population of Iran, and Armenians also have their own independent communities and even churches in Iran’s big cities.
Statistics show that under severe sanctions imposed by the United States, Azerbaijan is one of the top five countries that are the most important for Iran to import and export, and the two sides have always made friends.
The reporter also learned locally that due to a series of negative factors such as banking sanctions, trade obstruction, and the sharp depreciation of Iran’s local currency rials, many Iranian economic and commercial activities have turned to relatively safe and calm Armenia, Azerbaijan and other countries in the north.
In summary, Iran acted more as a “mediator” during the Naqqa conflict, and hoped that the two sides would reach a reconciliation as soon as possible. Before this ceasefire, due to multiple factors, Iran announced its support for Azerbaijan’s recovery of its territory, but it has always played a political mediation role.
Compared with Iran’s “calm”, Turkey, which is also a regional power, is extremely high-profile and different. As early as October this year, just as NATO, the United States, Russia and Iran all called for a ceasefire, Turkish President Erdoğan counter-ed the tone, praising Azerbaijan for a “great operation” that “defended its own territory and liberated the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region”.
At the same time, he said that Turkey will do everything possible to support the friendly and fraternal countries of Turkey.
Although some analysis indicates that on the one hand, Turkey and Armenia have historically disagreed, on the other hand, Erdoğan’s statement is quoted as “the same people, two countries”, and the two sides have extensive political, economic, military and even cultural links and foundations. There is no denying that Turkey’s strong support for Azerbaijan during Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which lasted for more than a month, the impact of the war was significant.
If choosing which side to support during the conflict is based on historical “love and hate”, the deeds after the joint signing of the ceasefire agreement increasingly expose Turkey’s “strategic ambitions”. The day after the signing of the ceasefire agreement, Turkey and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding that Turkey and Russia will establish a joint center in the “liberate territories of Azerbaijan” to supervise the ceasefire process of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. On November 17th local time, the Turkish Grand National Assembly approved the bill submitted by the presidential palace to send peacekeeping forces to Azerbaijan. Soon after, Turkish Defense Minister Akar revealed that the relevant preparations were ready and that “Turkish soldiers will be deployed in Azerbaijan soon”.
The deployment of forces after the ceasefire agreement has caused widespread concern in Iranian public opinion.
First of all, let’s look at the most important element proposed by Turkey after the ceasefire: to establish a “corridor” between Azerbaijan and the enclave of Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan.
As soon as the news came out, it caused an uproar in Iranian public opinion. According to Iranian media reports, the energy supply of the Nakhichevan enclave is mainly from Azerbaijan and depends on Iran for transshipment.
If the above-mentioned “corridor” is built, it means that Azerbaijan’s energy can be transported directly from Armenia’s territory to Nakhichevan, thus relying on Turkey to reach European countries. Some Iranian public opinion said that “Iran is losing its border with Armenia”.
From the picture, we can clearly see that once the “corridor” is built, it not only reduces the energy dependence of Turkey and European countries on Iran, but also provides the possibility for European countries to get rid of their dependence on Russia for natural gas.
Therefore, Ahmed, an Iranian Eurasian expert, directly pointed out that behind the Naqqah conflict is the strategic consideration of energy supply diversification in European countries such as the United Kingdom and Turkey.
Secondly, another important move of the Turkish side is that the Turkish Parliament approved President Erdoğan’s decree to send troops to Azerbaijan, and the troops sent will be stationed for one year.
The agreement reached between Turkey and Russia is to establish a joint ceasefire monitoring center, which, although located in the mainland of Azerbaijan, will try to keep Turkish observers from entering the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Iranian analysis said that this was Russia’s move to prevent Turkey from further infiltration into the Transcaucasia as much as possible after it entered its sphere of influence.
There is no doubt that with the gradual weakening of Russia’s power in the region in recent years, Turkey’s direct support for Azerbaijan will take Turkey-Arab relations to the next level. Iranian public opinion has expressed two concerns about this:
1. Northern Iran may no longer be safe. Since the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Iran has repeatedly warned that if the terrorists who infiltrate the region dare to harass Iran, they will receive a tough counterattack from the Iranian military, and Iran’s term “terrorists” are likely to refer to pro-Turkish Syrian mercenaries.
In addition, if the above agreement comes true, it means that in addition to the part of western Iran bordering Turkey, northern Iran will also face Turkish troops, which can be seen from Turkey’s strategic suppression.
2. Iran’s influence in the outer high regions has been further excluded. Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan are the three major gas suppliers in the region, and Transcaucasia is also the only way for multiple energy pipelines. If Turkey had to detour Iran or Georgia further north in terms of energy and economic and trade exchanges due to the existence of Armenia before the conflict, which partly buffered its strategic ambitions to the eastward, the future “corridor” connecting Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan will greatly enhance Turkey once established. Its regional influence.
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict may expose Turkey’s “strategic ambitions”
Before the Naqqa conflict, Turkey had gradually increased its influence on the Transcaucasia and even Central Asia. In terms of energy cooperation, in 2005, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was officially opened, starting from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, passing through Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and finally to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan in Turkey. This pipeline has become a key export for regional energy transportation.
In 2018, the Tanap Gas Pipeline was completed, starting from Azerbaijan, across Turkey, to Greece and Italy. The project is regarded as a reflection of the deep friendship between Turkey and Azerbaijan. In addition, after years of operation, Turkey has also become one of the largest economic and trade partners of Central Asian countries, and Turkey has extensive investment in Central Asia. Some analysts believe that Turkey’s expansion in the Caucasus was carried out with Russia’s acquiescence, but on the other hand, Russia will not hope to weaken its traditional position in the region because of Turkey’s deep involvement in the Naqqa issue. In the future, Turkey and Russia will continue to show a coexisting relationship of competition and cooperation. .
After Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement was reached, Iranian public opinion generally believed that the ceasefire agreement advocated by Russia should ensure permanent and sustainable peace and stability in the region.
Turkey, Europe and other countries are trying to use the Naqqa conflict to change the geopolitical pattern, thus connecting the Black Sea with Central Asia.
This is mainly related to energy issues. By installing the energy pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and then through southern Armenia to Europe, they want to define the energy development of the region according to their own interests.
Ahmad, an Iranian expert on Asia-Europe issues, said bluntly that the root of the problem is that if the geopolitical pattern of the region is changed based on the offensive strategic intentions that Turkey is seeking, it will become an effective tool to control Iran, contain Russia and limit the development of regional countries in the next decade.