“The South Caucasus – it is the heartland of conflict and always candidate to the war, ethnic chaos and frozen-conflicts”. (c) South Caucasus witnessed numerous of wars and separation agreements (Turkmenchai, Gulustan etc.), including collapse of USSR.
Notwithstanding, South Caucasus region is always deemed by dozens of people as a common region of three independent countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) combining itself common culture and history, these three countries are not only different due to above mentioned factors, as well as due to their foreign policy courses in and around region.
First of all, Armenia is famous with its Russian-oriented foreign policy, which still remain as a “satellite” of Russian Federation in the region and fully serves to his geopolitical and economic interests and he must. Because, Armenian Government has a hug debt to Russian Government and strongly depends on Russian export (arm, natural gas and etc). In turn, Armenia bowed to Russian-Armenian agreement on the 25 year extension of Russian military base in Armenia or to presence of Russian military base in Gumri (No.102), Erebuni (No.426) and Megri. Another example is most of the Armenian infrastructures’ shares (industry, telecommunication, service, airways and railways infrastructure, electric stations and research institutes) owned by Russia, including 80% of ArmRusGazrom. Therefore, integration desire and policy of Armenia remains unilateral.
Secondly, Georgia, unlike Armenia, carries out western-oriented foreign policy and opposes Russia dominance in the region. “Western-oriented integration love” of Georgia, which mostly includes itself membership into NATO and EU, caused/resulted with Russian-Georgian five days war in the August of 2008. The interesting point is military fan of Georgia — NATO did not reacted (but EU did) appropriately to the war, as it always keeps silence toward the conflicts in the region stating that conflicts in the South Caucasus are not inclusive to the competences of NATO. This fact, of course, frustrated Georgia, but did not keep him away from its “western-oriented integration policy”. Consequently, unilateral foreign policy again resulted with defeat.
Thirdly, Azerbaijan differs from other two Caucasian countries with its balanced foreign policy. It is something like, “it says neither YES, nor NO to western bloc and its powerful neighbours (such as Russia and Iran)”. Although to western pressure to attract Azerbaijan to their side, Azerbaijan is not eager to spoil its balanced relations both with Russia and Iran. However, balanced foreign policy can contribute to the only economic integration of country, while prevent security attempts. Mountainous-Karabakh conflict and tensional relations with Russia and Iran is the crucial security priority in front of Azerbaijan.
Besides that, Western Bloc, European Union and NATO consider and want to see the South Caucasus as a “common identity” without paying to the foreign policy directions of three South Caucasian countries. They try to combine the foreign policy vision of these three countries, but, in vain. Because, foreign policy priorities mostly depend on the geographical location, economic potential, military capacity, foreign policy vision of state and stability in their territories. All these factors are different in three South Caucasian countries, and there are still frozen and unresolved conflicts and there is still no reconciliation between conflict parties.
It needs to mention some crucial factors which deserve an intention from my opinion. One of the basic obstacles in front of the provision of security of region is uncertainty and differences in the national and foreign policy interests of South Caucasian states. Because, these three countries try to provide (and think about) only the security of their territories and borders, but not the security of entire region. However, of course this obstacle emanates from the frozen-conflicts and hatred among ethnicities.
Notwithstanding, there are initiatives of international and regional organization to provide the security of the region and to intensify integration process of those three countries under their own program and projects, there is still no signal in terms of common integration course of South Caucasian states in regional and international level. It is possible to state some noteworthy facts that make the integration process difficult:
1. Geopolitics and geopolitical interests of these three countries — Although all of these three countries located in the same region and bordered almost with the same countries, their relations with those border countries are not at the same level.
2. Geo-economic factors – Azerbaijan is an energy rich country, while Armenia (from Russia and Iran) and Georgia (from Azerbaijan) is fully dependent on their allies. Therefore, Azerbaijan can conquer in the region as an energy baron without any dependence.
3. Energy and Pipeline Diplomacy — in this policy only Azerbaijan can shine with its huge oil and gas reserves. Its integration into European market met by Russia with a great political jealousy as he felt during the implementation of BTC, BTE, Baku-Supsa, and TANAP. Therefore, Russia tries to hamper the independent energy diplomacy of Azerbaijan, as well as realization of Trans-Caspian pipeline through different ways (e.g. Legal Status of Caspian Sea, Mountainous Karabakh issue).
4. Internal issues, such as corruption, human rights issues, and lack of good governance. Any country can suffer from these factors. Georgia and Azerbaijan are stepping successfully toward reforms, while Armenia suffers from reluctance of its Government.
5. Regional (frozen) conflicts such as Mountainous-Karabakh, Abhaziya and South Ossetia. Those conflicts cannot be resolved because of unconstructive position of Armenia and dominance of Russia in the region. Notably, Russian military drills in the region demonstrate that Russian willingness to announce its hard power in the region.
6. “Foreign Policy Ego” of some regional powers such as Russia and Iran, which tries to hamper the security provision and integration process, as Russia deems the South Caucasus region as its backyard and area of influence.
7. Lack of international support for the solution of regional conflicts. As, OSCE Minsk Group, European Union and United Nations cannot do much to contribute to the solution of Mountainous-Karabakh. They close their eyes in front of the insolent behaviours of Armenia, while she violates the current cease-fire and norms of international law. Another example, notwithstanding NATO and EU highly supported and welcomed the membership of Georgia to NATO and EU, during Georgian-Russian five days war NATO satisfied with the political statements only. As they stated that, we support territorial integrity of Georgia and condemn the war.
Conflict (occupied) regions poses the greatest threat to the security and integration of region. Since the Mountainous Karabakh region remain out of control, Azerbaijani government cannot control its occupied territories and consequently, cannot monitor what is going on in the occupied territories. Now Azerbaijan’s occupied territories turned to centre of narcotic plantation and drug trafficking. Occupied territories now full of underground mines. Needs huge investment to clean up the mined territories and restore the infrastructure and historical places damaged and destroyed by Armenian armed forces.
Azerbaijan is not only country suffers because of its occupied territories. Separatist regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are the main obstacles in front of integration initiatives and country in order to get membership to NATO. Besides it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia also remain out of control of Georgia. Currently, Russian military bases (Java and Tskhinvali, South Ossetia and in shores of Guduata, Abkhazia) operated in separatist regions and Georgia cannot fully provide its electricity from the Enguri Hydroelectric Station which located in Abkhazia. Five days Russian-Georgian war damaged the numerous of social, transport (bridges, electric cables, railways, and airports), industrial and military (radar stations, military bases in Vaziani, Marneuli, Bolnisi, Zugdidi, Poti and Senaki) infrastructures in Georgia. The main aim of August war was to create a tampon zone in the South Caucasus.
Another crucial problem is Metsamor Nuclear Station, which poses threat to the environment of South Caucasus. Metsamor is located in the most active seismic zones with a magnitude of 11 earthquake risk where lacks enough water resources to cool its reactors. As well as, less financial capability of the country makes it obvious that the Armenian government will not be able to tackle with the outcomes of any possible accident.
Lastly, and the most important challenge in the South Caucasus is the presence of terrorist groups and organized attacks to the targeted people and places. For example, a few month ago, some suspended terrorist groups were detained and numerous of terrorist activities which targeted officials of US Embassy and Israeli Government in Azerbaijan, disarmed by the officers of Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan.
To sum up, in order to avoid these challenges South Caucasian countries must push forward for regional cooperation in order to provide the security and facilitate the integration process. All these three South Caucasian states must strengthen their relations and cooperation with International Organizations, as well as with each other; must go for reforms in the country; must solve the regional conflicts in order to pave a way toward cooperation. Current experience shows that neither fully western-oriented, nor fully eastern-oriented policy cannot do much for the future foreign policy of these countries. In a nutshell, without reconciliation and solution of conflicts in the region, and avoidance of other above-mentioned challenges it is impossible to reach maximum security, as well as integration in the South Caucasus region.
Ilgar Gurbanov, analyst of Strategic Outlook, for newcaucasus.com
Photo from author’s personal archive