The Azeri Victory is an Opportunity for America

Azerbaijan’s victory last year, was indeed a catalyst for the United States to further engrain its hegemony in Central Asia, broaching an upsurge of security concerns for Russia. With over 30 years of Russian backed Armenian occupation coupled with numerous failed bids by the international community, primarily European and American, to reverse the occupation of the enclave, has finally materialised. Turkey’s immense military and political support for Azerbaijan against Armenia finally gave rise to a Russian sponsored ceasefire. This intimated a sign of political impotence from the Russian side, as they could not afford to lose any more territory or continue to face the domestic political crisis within Armenia, which may have culminate in losing all its political influence in Armenia to the West. However, public opinion in Armenia is categorized with intense anger and disgust which has placed Russia in both a difficult and compromised position. The Azeri victory awarded Turkey with a military presence in the Caucasus and a transit corridor through Nakhichevan enclave that will directly link Turkey to Azerbaijan and the Central Asian Republics.

Historical conflicts and the geopolitical setting

Baku possesses colossal geopolitical gravity besides, the Caspian riches. The Central Asian landmass is a geopolitical pivot which if controlled, such power is able to dominate the rest of the Eurasian continent, owing to the power projection of the powers that have emerged over the centuries within this region. The former region consists of the Forests of Siberia in the north and the Eurasian Steppes of the south, bounded by the deserts and subarid grasslands of Turkestan. Azerbaijan is the doorway to the rest of the Central Asian states, as from the western side, it is a doorway to the rest of the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. Since the advent of railways the geopolitician, Sir Halford Mackinder asserted the fact that the rule of the heartland could become the basis for world domination owing to the superiority of rail over ships in terms of time and reach. Any Eurasian land power (be it Russia, Germany, or even China, and particularly an alliance of the first two) that gained control of the pivot area would outflank the maritime world.[1]

This became the basis for his dictum,

“Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world” [2]

The warning to Western statesmen was clear — the key to world domination lay in the middle tier of German and Slavic states, or Mitteleuropa (Central Europe) — a region as accessible to Germans as it was to Russia. Hence, it is not a surprise, why both Russia and Germany fought over this region in both World Wars, or why America and the Soviet Union divided Germany.

The Caspian Sea is renowned as one of the richest oil fields in the world. Since the First World War, Great powers vehemently contested one another to gain access to the oil fields in Baku. During the Russian Revolution in 1917, when the peasants and working class people of Russia revolted against the government of Tsar Nicholas II, Russia was ensconced in huge unrest which provided Germany with a golden opportunity to gain a grip on Caspian oil. Through the Soviet-German financial agreement known as the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, which ended the hostilities between Russia and Germany, providing Berlin with access to Baku petroleum wealth. The Turks, who were allies of Germany at that time, also began to advance for Baku clashing with Germany. During the Second World War, Nazi Germany was battling the Soviets to gain control of Baku and the Caucasus, as it was the main source of oil for the USSR. As Germany was marching to the South of the Caucasus to capture Baku, the Soviet Union divided the axis-Germany and its ally Romania-between North and South of Caucasus resulting in victory for the Soviets.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, turmoil once again erupted within the heartland. A bitter conflict ensued between the Russian-backed Armenians and a pro-Western Azerbaijan. Russia is attempting to reclaim its supremacy within the region but until now its efforts have been ineffectual in realising its objective. A new struggle emerged in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave where Armenia sought to make the region a part of the Soviet Republic owing to the majority of the Armenian population within the enclave. Azerbaijan strongly resisted as it would create a security concern for the country and impact its oil exports from the Caspian Sea. However, after the collapse of the USSR, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue turned into a brutal conflict.

At its impetus, in the late 1990s, the United States helped build a pipeline that would carry energy from Baku to Tbilisi in Georgia and to Ceyhan in Turkey, from where the energy flows to the rest of Europe. Consequently, Russia utilized the complicated situation between the Azeris and the Armenians to disrupt gas supplies from Baku to the European markets by supplying aid and training to the Armenians to cause secure spills, making energy from the Caspian expensive. In return, Russia exported its own gas and oil to Europe for better prices, and at the same time using it as political leverage over European nations.

Four main geostrategic players have keen interests in the region with two of them being semi-geostrategic actors, namely Iran and Turkey. Russia without a doubt maintains its objectives of reasserting its influence of the Soviet era and imperial Russia in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and the Southern Caucasus. The other Central Asian states alongside the former are also important but not critical to the Kremlin. Moscow has been clear with respect to the exclusion of outside political and economic influence within the region. Turkey desires to reassert its influence amongst the Central Asian states chiefly Azerbaijan and in the Caucasus, which is owing to the historical Ottoman pre-eminence which reached most of the heartland in 1600. For Iran, it is the whole of Central Asia, as it was at the apex of the Persian power in 500 BCE. Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Southern Caucusus are key to Iran’s geopolitical interests, however, till now Iran still remains vague in its foreign policy since the beginning of the so-called Islamic revolution in 1979.

Viewing the former players and their interests within such a compact and complex region, it is without a doubt that collision and conflict are inevitable. Lastly, the United States is the most important comprehensive incidental player in the region alongside the other powers. America not only prefers to destabilize Moscow’s interests in the region but also wants to manage the rivalry between the other three players for its own self-interests.

The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline has been strategically vital to the West. America was the main proponent of the former pipeline’s construction in the 1990s. In 2008, Zbigniew Brzezinski told the US Senate that Russia’s clash with the former Soviet republic of Georgia is a move to control the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. He further added,

“If the Georgian government is destabilized, Western access to Baku, the Caspian Sea and further will be limited.”

At that time President Biden was a Senator in Delaware and Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Relations, who said, there are opportunities for Western countries to diversify their energy resources in the region, but only if governments pressure Russia.

Erdoğan’s Neo-Ottomanism is a Tool to aid America.

Besides, the current animosity between America and Turkey, on strategic matters much collusion as taken place between the two, proving the rhetoric between the two nations as a mere theatre show. In Syria and Libya, Turkey has aided the United States on multiple occasions, henceforth, acting under America’s orbit, it is just an uncompromising fact. The Financial Times stated in October 2019, that

“Just a week after Turkey launched a blistering military offensive into north-east Syria, the Assad regime Ankara tried to help topple is emerging as one of the biggest winners. On Monday, President Bashar al-Assad’s troops were rolling back into a region the regime quite seven years ago, after the Kurdish militants being targeted by the Turkish air and land assault was forced to strike a deal with Damascus.”

It is clear that the U.S needs Turkey to enter the arena and preserve the Assad regime by thwarting their own allies, the Kurds. James Jeffery, a former American ambassador to Turkey and Iraq said: “the Kurds were a temporary tactical manoeuvre and no longer necessary for the US.” Turkish actions in Syria illustrate that the relationship between Ankara and Washington is not strained. On the contrary, there has been open cooperation between the two in Syria. When the Turkish incursion occurred in 2019, the U.S. applied sanctions on Ankara; however, three days later, those restrictions were laughably lifted demonstrating how serious the U.S. was in berating Turkey for its actions.

Similarly, within Libya, the Turks have also conducted manoeuvres under America’s orbit. Last year, Erdoğan stated that he had reached favourable conditions regarding Libya with his counterpart Donald Trump. Erdoğan stated, “After our talks on the transition process in Libya, a new era can begin between Turkey and the U.S”. Recently, Turkey last month, agreed to provide America with the Pantsir air defence systems captured by Turkey which Haftar forces used and received via Russia. Turkey, keen to study the Pantsir in detail, insisted it should usurp them, but later agreed to surrender them to America and conduct a joint study of the Russian hardware.

Moving to Central Asia, Turkey’s geographical location is key for America not to just exploit Central Asian states, but most importantly to roll back Russian influence and create a destabilising effect. The Nagorno-Karabakh victory for the Azeris is opportunity for the United States to increase and influence Turkey’s historical Ottoman footprint to safeguard American interests. Turkey being the second largest military power within NATO would certainly aid US objectives in the region. Zbigniew Brzezinski, America’s grand strategist. stated,

“Turkey’s commitments to peaceful cooperation with its Middle East neighbours, a region of Turkey’s historic pre-eminence, is consistent with the security matters of the West in that region. Third, an increasingly secular Turkey, yet also Islamic — and that exploits its territorial and cultural connection with the peoples of the Ottoman Empire and the post-Soviet and Central Asian states- could be a Turkey that undermines the appeal of Islamic extremism and enhances regional stability…”

Regardless of the Armenian lobby, America has continued to show support for Azerbaijan where President George Bush (Snr) in 2002 waived Section 907 of the United States Freedom Support Act bans any kind of direct United States aid to the Azerbaijani government. Under Obama Section 907 remained waived which illustrated that the US did not consider Armenian concerns with any seriousness where the U.S tenaciously continued to support Azerbaijan.

During the Obama administration, Turkey was urged to normalize ties with Armenia. Furthermore, in 2016 Obama declined to label the 1915 atrocity as “genocide” since its counterpart Turkey was helping the U.S. carrying out efforts to normalize relations with the Armenians and sway the country away from the Russian sphere of influence to the American domain. However, U.S efforts failed once Armenia annulled the Zurich Protocols in 2018.

Last year, Turkey supporting Azerbaijan and demanding the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which Erdoğan did not require when Turkey initially agreed with Armenia, shows that the U.S is playing with both sides — Armenia and Azerbaijan, through Turkey to defuse Russian influence from the region. More importantly, Turkey never sought to physically intervene in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict over the past 20 years, even though the occurrence of skirmishes between Armenia and Azerbaijan was nothing new.

Post-Victory

It was reported in the Azeri Newspaper, that the US companies are interested in participating in the reconstruction works in Azerbaijan’s liberated territories, U.S. Ambassador Lee Litzenberger said during the meeting with Azerbaijan Energy Minister Parviz Shahbazov on March 11. During the meeting, both parties discussed investing and constructing the energy sector.

A day before, on March 10, the US portrayed interest in cooperating with Azerbaijan on railways and attracting new companies in railway infrastructure, U.S. Deputy Ambassador Michael Dickerson said during the meeting with Azerbaijan’s Railways Chairman Javid Gurbanov on March 10. The Azeri Newspaper reported,

“Gurbanov emphasized that the active participation in important projects such as the East-West, North-South and North-West transport corridors, makes Azerbaijan one of the reliable transports and logistics centres of Eurasia.”

Further adding,

“Moreover, it was noted that work is underway to make full use of the potential of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which is the shortest route connecting Europe and Asia. In 2021, for the first-time transportation of export cargo through the BTK was launched”.

From the news reports it seems America is already planning to exploit the Turkish-backed Azeri victory. If America is successful, it would result in guarantying secure oil flows to Europe, which would result in weakening Russia’s political oil leverage on the European states. In the foreseeable future, America can utilize Russia’s situation to gain leverage upon the Kremlin to box China. Due the Kremlin’s political and economic weakness in the region, Russia would most probably result in complying with the America regarding the containment of China. In recent years, Chinese interests have grown drastically in regards to the Central Asia, owing to its energy needs and its pre-eminent Belt Road project. Since China can become both a Eurasian maritime and land power it is a geopolitical imperative for the United States to bolster its presence in the Eurasian heartland. If not, America would result in losing its Eurasian primacy, and forever the United States would be excluded from the vital Eurasian continent. If not soon, verily in the future.

References:

  1. James Fairgrieve, Geography and World Power (London: University of London Press, 1915), 329–46
  2. Halford Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality (London: Constable, 1919; repr., New York: Norton, 1962), 104–14,

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