By Hrachya Arzumanian
The summit in Moscow focused on issues of partial restoration of the region’s transport infrastructure, but not on military and political issues. The architecture of the region and the processes taking place in it are formed within the framework of two different logics: economic development and military. One can speak of the contradictory nature of the Moscow summit, when discussing the problems of economic development and infrastructure development, its participants operated with the categories of military logic. However, the formation of the future architecture of the region solely within the framework of military logic is doubtful, and the agreements reached are unstable, since they may conflict with the interests of other actors who did not participate in the summit.
The context of the Moscow Summit
The trilateral statement of the summit in Moscow on January 11, 2021 was limited to the issues of partial restoration of the transport infrastructure of the South Caucasus and does not touch upon the topical issues for Armenia and the Armenian people, the fate of prisoners of war (POW), missing and dead. However, without solving this problems, it will be extremely difficult for the Armenian society to cope with the consequences of a military defeat, overcoming which will take much longer than it could have happened if they were closed, as it was envisaged in the statement of November 9, 2020. It is not excluded that the issue with prisoners of war is deliberately used by the victor countries for pressure on the Armenian side to extract further concessions. For example, Azerbaijan is trying to reformulate the status of Armenian POW as terrorists to coerce the Armenian side to implement border demarcations immediately or face the threat of military force.
Thus, the summit in Moscow focused not on the topical military-political problems that affect the stability of the Armenian society and usually unfold on the scale of months, but on the issues of restoring the transport infrastructure, the development of which takes place on a scale of years and decades. It is not possible to say whether such outcome was preplanned. In any case, until January 10, the Armenian authorities kept the public in the dark about the very possibility of holding the summit and moreover its agenda which gave rise to a wave of rumors about the possibility of new concessions on the part of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. In the conditions of growing nervousness and tension, a number of political and public organizations were forced to turn to the Armenian authorities with a warning about the inadmissibility of signing any statement or agreements during the summit.
Russia also did not confirm plans for the summit, and then a few days before it was held, Putin’s spokesman said that there were no plans to sign any documents. Perhaps this behavior of the Russian side can be interpreted as Moscow’s doubts about the possibility of holding a summit in January and signing a document there. As a result, the joint statement concerns the intentions of Moscow and Azerbaijan (Turkey) to partially restore the transport infrastructure of the South Caucasus, but not the military-political processes.
Regional architecture: military logic or logic of economic development
It is important to understand that both the architecture of the region and the processes taking place in it are formed within the framework of two different logics: economic development and military-political. If within the framework of the first, the development of the region and its architecture are determined by economic expediency, then within the framework of the second – by war. Economic logic operates in terms of economic potential and power of competing actors, military logic – the destruction and control of the enemy’s national power. Moreover, each of the logics has its own time scale. Economic logic, especially infrastructure development, unfolds on a scale of years and decades, while the logic of large-scale military operations in the 21st century takes months, and often weeks, due to the intensity and extreme cost of modern high-tech warfare.
Yes, military logic obeys the logic of economics, and “the purpose of war is to make a better peace,” the protection of national interests and the receipt of preferences for their country. However, military logic is more dynamic and is able to radically change the economic and geo-economic alignment in the region, including through the destruction or restoration of its connectivity. From this point of view, it is important for the ruling elite and society as a whole to realize which of the logics prevails in the region at the current moment and in the emerging regional and geopolitical contexts – war or economic development. What logic will the architecture of the region be based on? What is the logic of the actors that form the regional security system?
From this point of view, one can speak of the inconsistency of the Moscow summit. On the one hand, the signed statement allows us to conclude that the problems of economic development and even infrastructure projects and solutions were discussed, however, the summit participants operated within the framework of military logic. Today Russia, as a geopolitical and regional center of power, operates mainly with a military tool for reformatting and controlling the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan also operates on the basis of military logic, building relations with Armenia as with the side that lost the war. Moreover, Azerbaijan is doing it demonstratively, with public humiliation of the Armenian Prime Minister thus forcing the Armenian society to choose military logic to form a response to national humiliation. The behavior of Russia and Azerbaijan is pushing the Armenian society to choose the option of military revenge – the path that Azerbaijan has followed.
Awareness of the dominance of military logic in the behavior of actors allows us to see the limited format of negotiations and the results achieved, since there are no key actors at the table whose influence had a decisive impact on the results of the war. First of all, this is Turkey, whose return to the Caucasus is one of the main results of the Artsakh war in 2020. It is extremely reckless to assume that Russia has decided to independently build a new architecture of the Black Sea-Caspian region without the participation of other regional and geopolitical actors.
In regards to the consideration of Turkey’s interests we can talk about two options: Turkey’s interests at the summit were expressed by Azerbaijan which in this case begins to play a subordinate role like Armenia; Russia and Turkey came to an agreement on the architecture of the region even before the summit. Azerbaijan and Armenia were simply informed of the decisions made. In both cases, the main negotiating parties that formalize the results of the war are Russia and Turkey.
However, the summit showed the limitations of attempts to operate exclusively within the framework of military logic which is trying to resolve, among other things, the problems of economic development. The format of the summit in Moscow turns out to be incomplete, and the decisions made are unstable as they come into conflict with the interests of other actors. For example, in the Black Sea-Caspian region there are interests of Iran and Georgia, which did not take part in the Artsakh war of 2020. In addition, the region is in the focus of geopolitical confrontation and the Great Game of the 21st century, and the analysis should be complemented by the interests of geopolitical centers of power.
The past summit and the plan for reformatting the South Caucasus proposed by Russia and Turkey, in fact, turns out to be the implementation of the Goble’s plan which forces one to consider two possible interpretations of this result: within the framework of the Artsakh war in 2020, Russia and Turkey, which entered into a geopolitical alliance, intercept the West’s initiative to form the architecture of the region; both Russia and Turkey have done the “dirty” military part of reformatting the region as part of the West’s geopolitical project. The choice between these options can be assessed as a kind of bifurcation point, since the answer forms two different systemic trajectories of the region’s development.
In general, attempts to assess the possible development of regional processes requires consideration of the main actors’ interests.
Understanding the intermediate nature of the results achieved in the Artsakh war of 2020 and the inevitability of further reformatting of the region forces Russia to build up its military potential within the framework of military logic. At the same time, it is critical for the countries of the region to analyze the possible plans of Russia, which may be associated with the projection of military power and further destabilization of the region, when it is necessary to talk about the Artsakh military campaign in 2020 in the ongoing war of the victor countries.
The form of the implicit presence of Turkish interests at the summit is convenient for Turkey. Without assuming any obligations, Turkey retains freedom of maneuver both in the regional and geopolitical arenas, which Russia does not have. The decisions on transport infrastructure adopted at the summit are entirely satisfactory for Turkey and Azerbaijan. Having taken strategic positions in the South Caucasus, Turkey is building up its potential and strengthening its position in the region without taking active steps, unlike Russia, which is forced to engage in active politics.
By focusing on promoting strategic interests in the Middle East, Iran has been unable to actively participate in reformatting of the region. However, in many respects, Iran’s decisions regarding the regional transport infrastructure will influence the viability of the Moscow summit’s decisions. Iran takes an active part in constructing the North-South communications linking India with Europe through the territory of Azerbaijan and Russia. Perhaps Iran will decide to build an additional meridian route to Europe, passing through Armenia and Georgia. Today, this hypothetical project will require serious efforts from the Armenian and Georgian sides to be implemented. Additionally, the policy and strategy of regional and geopolitical actors regarding Iran will play an important role in the development of the region if the military logic of resolving the “Iranian issue” is excluded.
Azerbaijan’s behavior after the Artsakh war remains triumphant and provocative. Not being limited by the victory achieved in the Artsakh war and by taking advantage of the authorities’ weakness and paralysis in Armenia, Azerbaijan seeks to get new concessions from Armenia, including territorial ones. Moreover, there are calls for the complete elimination of the Armenian statehood and the division of Armenia between Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Russia, which leads one to consider that the war campaign of 2020 has not ended yet. In other words, Azerbaijan’s policy and strategy remain unchanged and aim to destroy Armenia within the framework of military logic.
Within the framework of the region’s reformatting envisaged by the Moscow summit, Georgia is losing part of the transit flow, which will be redirected to the created transport corridor between Azerbaijan and Turkey. An analysis of the possibility of building up Georgia’s transit potential requires going beyond the region and assessing the logic of global communications and projects that ensure the flow of goods between China, India, the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, and Europe and Russia. Moreover, decisions will again be dictated not only by the logic of economic development but also by geopolitical confrontation, including the military one.
The opportunities and future of Georgia (as well as Armenia) depend on the United States and Europe’s approaches in representing their interests in the region. Today, the West has the opportunity to rely on Turkey as a NATO member. In this case, the entry of Georgia (and Azerbaijan) under the Western security umbrella may take place through Turkey with the inevitable submission to this choice of the region’s future architecture. However, a decision may be made on Georgia’s direct entry into the security system of the West with the receipt of additional geopolitical, military, and communication functions. Such a decision presupposes a revision of the functions and role of not only Georgia but also Armenia. It requires raising the Georgian-Armenian relations to a qualitatively different level that will correspond to the reformatting of the region. In this case, Georgia and Armenia will have the opportunity to deploy an ambitious project to create a hub that ensures the functioning of the communication crossroads Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey-Europe / Ukraine and Iran-Armenia-Georgia-Europe / Ukraine.
The implementation of both scenarios of reformatting the region in Georgia’s interests, which sharply reduces the Russian possibilities of operating in the region, requires an assessment of Russia’s ability to stop their implementation. Russia and Turkey, which are also not interested in increasing Georgia’s share and role in the region, may agree to resolve the Georgian issue by the methods already utilized towards Artsakh and Armenia.
In any case, the results of the Artsakh war in 2020 demonstrated the need for closer cooperation between Armenia and Georgia, which is becoming critically important for the development of these countries, regardless of the implemented scenario of reformatting the region. Whether these countries can choose the path of joint development is a topic for discussions by Armenia’s and Georgia’s expert communities.
The military defeat of Armenia and the partial paralysis of most state institutions force it to accept all decisions made by Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan in order to preserve state sovereignty, which some politicians in Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan openly speak of the need to renounce. In a sense, the current state of Armenia can be compared with the Weimar Republic and we can talk about the upcoming choice, within the framework of which the Armenian people will form a response to the military defeat and the Artsakh catastrophe.
Consideration of Armenia’s national development strategy and available options in the emerging international security environment is the topic of a separate article. So far, it can be stated that despite the statements made by the Armenian authorities about breaking the transport blockade, etc. the steps worked out in the framework of the last summit to partially restore the transport infrastructure of the South Caucasus do not provide Armenia with any serious opportunities for development. The proposed steps cover only the South Caucasus the artificiality of which as an independent region is clearly shown by the way that the transport communications are being built.
The decisions worked out in Moscow cover the interests of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Russia, and the choice of transport routes is dictated by military rather than economic logic. For Armenia today, critically important communications are not with Azerbaijan but with Georgia and Iran, which ended up outside of the summit and signed agreements. The Armenian authorities’ statements about the possibility of creating a transport hub on the territory of Armenia without considering the interests and possibilities of Iran and Georgia should be assessed as populist. Creating a hub requires an understanding of the conditions and requirements of interested actors with competing economic, military-political and geopolitical interests. For example, it would be extremely rash on the Armenian side to hope for the opening of communications with Turkey without additional conditions that are not the subject of negotiations in Moscow and require additional meetings and discussions with Turkey.
An analysis of the agreements made at the Moscow summit on the partial restoration of the South Caucasus’s transport infrastructure requires one to make a responsible decision regarding the dominant logic of elaboration and decision-making, based on which the architecture of the Black Sea-Caspian region will be built. Is it supposed to reformat the region on the basis of military logic or the logic of economic development? The answer will allow us to assess both the scale and the speed of expected changes in the region.
The use of military logic and tools allows, through rigid and quick steps, to dismantle the existing system and create a new system of regional security with the direct participation of regional and geopolitical actors new to the region. The logic of economic development unfolds on a large scale of time but allows for more sustainable results.
Today, the region’s development is dictated by the logic of military confrontation, but not economic growth, based on which the winning countries plan to implement infrastructure projects. This, in turn, leads to questions without an answer to which it is impossible to assess and make predictions about the future of the region. What is the infrastructure being built in the South Caucasus by Russia and Turkey intended for – wars or economic development? Was the Artsakh war in 2020 a challenge for Russia and Turkey or other centers of power, or is it necessary to talk about a plan for the reformation of the Greater Middle East in agreement with the West? The answers to these questions form various systemic trajectories of development, and Armenia must be ready to defend its functions and role on each of the systemic paths of the region’s development.
Author’s Bio: Hrachya Arzumanian, Doctor of Political Science, Ph.D. 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.