By Hrachya Arzumanian
The existing strategic context of the South Caucasus makes it possible to speak about the tactical victory of Russia and the strategic victory of Turkey and Azerbaijan in the Artsakh war. Moreover, in this conflict Russia operated as a regional center of power while Turkey sought to increase its weight, claiming to be an actor in the geopolitical arena (1). Considering Russia’s experience of operating in the geopolitical arena a question arises-what could have been Russia’s ideological and strategic calculations when it made the decision to invite Turkey to solve the problems of the South Caucasus ?
It is safe to say that the top military-political leadership of Russia was driven by the logic of building a hybrid empire of the USSR 2.0 / Russian Empire. However, it is necessary to outline, at least in general terms, the strategy of Russia, and why Turkey was allowed to take strategic positions in the South Caucasus having achieved a military, political and diplomatic presence in the region. What does Russia hope to gain in the strategic arena apart from achieving a Russian military presence in Artsakh and building it up in Armenia? This is an interesting question if one remembers that the plan of the Artsakh war and its results in general terms were developed by Russia in the framework of the so-called “Lavrov Plan”. It would be incorrect to assume that Russia allowed Turkey to operate with a military tool in the South Caucasus without trying to achieve not only tactical but also a strategic success. This assumption challenges Russia’s very presence in the geopolitical arena as an actor and does not correspond to the international security environment.
A possible answer lies in the framework of Russia’s construction of the USSR 2.0 / Russian Empire project, an element of which is the integration processes within the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union). Although the viability of the initiative is questionable, this does not mean that the Russian president will abandon attempts to implement a historically doomed project. Such efforts make sense not only and not so much within the framework of socio-economic or military-political logic, but also within the ideology and logic of retention of power. The President of Russia needs positive news and results that can consolidate Russian society against the backdrop of a deepening global crisis and tougher sanctions against Russia.
This assumption suggests that Russia’s decision to resolve the Artsakh problem solely within the framework of the desires, goals, and objectives of Azerbaijan and Turkey, through forcing the unconditional surrender of its military ally Armenia and dismantling the Republic of Artsakh, was made under obligations not reflected in the published text. Moreover, as a result of the Russian-Turkish agreement in 2020, Turkey and Azerbaijan managed to gain a geostrategic advantage and create a continuous communication space between Azerbaijan and Turkey through the Megri corridor and Nakhichevan. What does Russia get in the strategic arena in return for such concessions?
The logic of building the USSR 2.0 / Russian Empire requires that Ilham Aliyev and Azerbaijan express their readiness to join the Eurasian integration processes and join the EAEU. This commitment is nothing new, and direct parallels can be drawn with the creation of the USSR in the early 20th century. Then, under the promise of Ataturk and Turkey to promote the “communist dawn in the East”, the leaders of the USSR, represented by Lenin and Stalin, handed over Western Armenia to Turkey, and Artsakh and Nakhichevan to Azerbaijan. Within the framework of the Moscow Treaty of 1921, a Russian-Turkish answer was given to the Armenian question with the formation of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem of the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. At the beginning of the 20th century, the USSR transferred quite specific assets of the Russian Empire to Turkey and Azerbaijan under the geopolitical “futures” of the Turkish state.
Within the framework of the logic of the construction of the USSR 2.0 / Russian Empire in the 21st century, the processes unfold in the same pattern when in order to obtain probable strategic advantages in the future the national interests of the Armenian people are again surrendered in favor of Turkey and its satellite Azerbaijan. Such a result is undoubtedly a great achievement for the Turkish side which today is gaining a qualitative advantage in a dynamically developing security environment.
Moreover, we can talk about a kind of inversion. If a hundred years ago two states unrecognized by the international community divided between themselves de facto and de jure recognized the Republic of Armenia, nowadays Russia and Turkey, already recognized by the world community, divided unrecognized Republic of Artsakh between themselves, forcing Armenia to sign the document in order to avoid the century-old diplomatic problem.
If it is possible to talk about the differences in the implementation of the two construction projects of the USSR and the USSR 2.0 / Russian Empire, then they do not relate to the pattern itself but to the time factor and the speed of processes that are developing rapidly in the 21st century compared to the “slow” 20th century. As a result, if after the signing of the Moscow Treaty and the creation of the USSR the Russian-Turkish conspiracy existed for almost a century until the collapse of the USSR and the end of the post-Soviet period, the process of the collapse of the USSR 2.0 will unfold not in decades but in years.
Thus, it can be assumed that Russia provided Turkey/Azerbaijan with the Eurasian choice which was accepted by Ilham Aliyev. With the end of the Artsakh war, he will have to make a decision on joining the EAEU. Moreover, although the decision will be made by Ilham Aliyev it will not be so much about his future as about the political fate of the presidents of Russia and Turkey. The conditions and demands of Turkey/Azerbaijan in the Artsakh war were fulfilled by Vladimir Putin and Russia. Moreover, as a result, Artsakh is essentially transferred to Turkey which occupies a dominant position in Azerbaijan and dictates its foreign policy. For example, one can recall a recent incident when the day of victory in this war got postponed from the original date to November 8 at the request of Turkey’s Erdogan.
In the framework of the ongoing analysis of the processes taking place in the South Caucasus only the relations between Russia and Turkey are considered based on the fact that they are the main two actors that formalized the November 9the agreement. However, the dynamics of the processes will be increasingly influenced by the interests and steps of other actors, first of all-Iran and the western centers of power that have regional and geopolitical interests in the region.
First option. Turkey and Erdogan do not give their consent to Azerbaijan’s entry into the integration project of Russia. In this case, it is Turkey that becomes the main winner of the war and an actor that received a strategic advantage while Russia becomes the country that agreed to the war and took part in inflicting a crushing defeat upon its only military ally in the South Caucasus. Among other things, the reputational losses from this step are difficult to assess. Under such a scenario, Russia loses its right to act as an arbiter and an actor that is capable of taking on the protection of small countries and people of Eurasia and the Middle East, showing itself to be a partner capable of acting against the interests of its military allies in a large-scale war.
As a result of Turkey gaining a strategic advantage in the South Caucasus and establishing its presence on the Russian borders Russia is forced to deploy in Artsakh a clearly non-peacekeeping contingent in terms of military power and to hastily build up its military presence in Armenia amid deep global and Russian crises. Moreover, Russia will have to take part in the elimination of the humanitarian catastrophe in Artsakh which has turned into a gray zone as a result of the war. Attempts to implement the policy of distributing Russian passports to Artsakh Armenians, as is the case in other gray zones of Eurasia, will only exacerbate the situation and lead to rising costs. Ideological goals for the creation of the USSR 2.0 / The Russian Empire requires resources, not only military but also financial, economic, diplomatic, etc.
Russia, having suffered losses would be unable to achieve its strategic goal of restoring control over another part of the former USSR territory. The personal reputational losses of Vladimir Putin, who is once again outplayed by Erdogan in the framework of the conflict that unfolded directly on the Russian borders and the region dominated by Russian interests for centuries, would be significant also. Possible Russian reaction to the policy of Turkey/Azerbaijan in the framework of this scenario requires a separate analysis.
Second option. Erdogan allows Azerbaijan to enter the EEС while retaining Turkish control over Azerbaijan, which in essence becomes the “Eastern Turkey”. Based on the decisions made by the Turkish General Staff additional regular units of the Turkish armed forces and irregular units of jihadists receive Azerbaijani passports and get deployed in the country. As a result, Turkey gets the opportunity to conduct hybrid military operations on a regional scale not only in the South Caucasus, which is becoming a part of the Middle East but also in Russia and other EEС countries.
A separate analysis will be required to assess in detail the consequences of this option for Russia. There is no doubt that if this option is implemented Russia will be required to formulate a different type of response that is more in line with the security environment reminiscent of those found in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Africa, but not Eurasia. Specifically, Russia will be forced to tighten its border controls or deploy such controls on its borders with the countries of Central Asia to address security issues that are inherently found in such security environments. It will also need to deploy additional forces on its southern borders to counter the increased military threat emanating from the Black Sea-Caspian region.
Additionally, we should expect an increase in inter-confessional tension in Russia which will be used by Turkey to achieve its ideological and geopolitical goals in Eurasia. The union of the Turkic and Slavic people upon which the Russian ideologist Dugin built the concept of Eurasianism, in this case, would acquire a different meaning that clearly will not be in favor of the Russian people already facing serious demographic problems. From a strategic perspective, such a breakthrough by Turkey into Eurasia would lead to its strengthening and even domination of Eurasia.
Undoubtedly, the Russian Security Council apparatus has informed the president of the emerging risks and threats, the inevitability of a serious strain that would be put upon its forces, and the need for significant expenditures at a time of a crisis that will arise if this scenario is realized. In this context, we can talk about the personal decision and responsibility of Vladimir Putin for unleashing the Artsakh war and its results that led to the strengthening of Turkey in Eurasia.
The implementation of this option, which is more stringent in its consequences for Russia, would require state wisdom from Erdogan to sacrifice his personal ambitions and ideological weight, and the image of the leader of the Islamic and Turkic world, the builder of the neo-Ottoman imperial project, to achieve a strategic breakthrough for truly better future for Turkey.
As a result of Azerbaijan’s entry into the Russian integration project and the transfer of the victory won in the Artsakh war to Putin and Russia, Erdogan may lose in tactics and the upcoming elections in Turkey but he will acquire a geo-strategic advantage at the next stage. By sacrificing a piece (himself) on the geopolitical chessboard, Erdogan would allow Turkey to gain a strategic advantage that ultimately would lead to taking control of much of Eurasia.
Thus, given the craving of the Russian leadership for surrogate esotericism and mysticism and, as a result, symbolism and dates, Azerbaijan and Ilham Aliyev will most likely need to decide on the choice of the options discussed above in December of 2020. Most likely, the Russian president plans to inform the Russian people about Azerbaijan’s return to the Eurasian project by the date of the creation of the USSR on December 30. There is no opportunity for Turkey and Azerbaijan to postpone the decision-making moment for several years due to the great dynamics in the geopolitical arena and the global crisis, forcing the Russian president to achieve, if not economic, then geopolitical, pseudo-ideological, and reputational successes.
Additionally, although we are talking about the all-powerful president of Russia, he will also need to be responsible for the consequences of the decisions made in the South Caucasus, since today the only unconditional beneficiary of the war is Turkey and the geopolitical centers of power behind it. As a result of the Artsakh war and the reformatting of the South Caucasus, Russia is now facing new military threats to its national security that extend directly to its territory and southern borders. It is not yet clear what response may be formulated in the face of growing resource shortages and wars in several theaters of military operations.
Under the prevailing conditions, Armenia has to wait for Turkey/Azerbaijan to make a choice which largely will determine the steps that will be taken by Armenian diplomacy. Due to the inertia of the past 30 years, Armenia’s policy and strategy continue to remain reactive as there is no opportunity to move to a proactive stage of creating policy and strategy. In any case, there is no doubt that the formation of a response to existential threats will require a radical revision and transformation of the national security system of Armenia, first of all in the sphere of military security.
In general, it is necessary to talk about the need to build a new state against the background of the growing paralysis of the Third Republic, the top political leadership of which is unable to admit the defeat of the current political course and close the page of surrender in the Artsakh war to give the Armenian statehood an opportunity to begin to form responses to new challenges and threats … By virtue of already subjective factors, Armenia still remains within the framework of the ended post-Soviet period which should be considered as the main threat to the national security of the Armenian people at this stage.
1. Arzumanian, Hrachya. “Strategic Context of 2020 Artsakh War,” Ararat Institute for Near Eastern Studies, 30 November 2020. On-line access 6 December 2020 https://araratinstitute.org/2020/11/30/strategic-context-of-2020- artsakh-war
Author’s Bio: Hrachya Arzumanian, Doctor of Political Science, PhD in Computer Sciences. Academic Fields: Complexity thinking in Policy, Strategy, National Security and Military sphere. The author of ten books and more than 300 papers, articles and reports. Former Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh (2006 to 2020). The chief of branch on preparation of work of Security Council of Artsakh (2006-2008). The Chief of IT Service of Artsakh Defense Army from 1995-2001.