A resolute Turkey is teetering in Russia’s backyard

Istanbul – When Russia Was Alone Mediate an agreement Last month to stop fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the two former Soviet republics, the Kremlin granted a significant concession to Turkey, which allowed Ankara to monitor its implementation.

The Russian President said that Turkey’s strong military support for Azerbaijan was a fact that the Kremlin could not ignore

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“What can I tell you,” he said on Russian television, when asked about Turkey’s broader role in the Caucasus, days after the fighting stopped last month. “It is a geopolitical fallout from the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

Turkey’s entry into a region that the Kremlin has traditionally viewed as its exclusive sphere of influence is a symbol of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to reshape the previously compliant NATO member and US ally into a powerful player at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. .

Turkey played a decisive role in Azerbaijan’s victory over the Armenian forces in The fight for control of Nagorno-KarabakhIt is a separatist region allied with Armenia but entrenched within the internationally recognized Azerbaijani borders since the early 1990s.

This week, Mr. Erdogan was the guest of honor at a military parade in Azerbaijan showing Turkish attack drones that supported the successful campaign of Azerbaijani forces to recapture vast areas of Nagorno-Karabakh. That process Tens of thousands of Armenians expelled Who have lived there for a long time.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said during the military parade on Thursday, “Since the first days of the national war, or rather, since the early hours, we have felt the support of Turkey.”

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The Turkey-Azerbaijan alliance was also on display in Turkey, with the two countries’ flags glittering at the top of the 720-foot Istanbul TV Tower over the past month.

Turkish analysts say that Russia is still the pre-eminent power in the region and that recent developments reinforce this position, given the 2,000 Russian soldiers deployed on Azeri soil as part of the peace agreement.

They also acknowledge that Mr. Putin may have allowed Ankara to become a power broker in the Caucasus as part of a broader calculation: to continue driving a wedge between Turkey and other members of NATO.

Russian armored personnel carrier in the town of Lachin, Azerbaijan.


Karen Minassian / AFP / Getty Images

But they say the idea that Moscow would remain idle while the Armenian-equipped Russian forces were being defeated by the Turkish-backed Azerbaijani forces was unthinkable, even a few months ago.

They indicated that Russia had to meet some of Turkey’s demands, notably by providing for the establishment of a 30-mile travel corridor through Armenia linking Azerbaijan with its Nakhchivan homeland. The corridor will allow direct road transport from Ankara to Baku.

“It is a great victory for Turkey,” said Bahloul Ozcan, professor of international relations at Marmara University in Istanbul. It may be Turkey’s only foreign policy victory in the past five or six years.

Today, Ankara’s role in the Nagorno-Karabakh war and its principled settlement contrast sharply with the absence of the United States and France from the peace talks. Besides Russia, the two countries co-lead the Minsk Group, which was established in 1994 to help solve the ethnic conflict. Washington and Paris brokered ceasefires in October, but they collapsed immediately.

Ozcan said that it is surprising that Turkey’s push in the Caucasus was devoid of the neo-Ottoman undertones and Islamic nationalism with which Mr. Erdogan introduced most foreign policy initiatives in recent years, from Military interventions in Syria and Libya For maritime challenges against Greece and Cyprus.

“It was a purely pragmatic and well calculated approach,” said Mr. Ozcan.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Turkey sought to exploit the sudden vacuum to deepen relations with Azerbaijan and the newly independent states of Central Asia, emphasizing their common religion, Islam, and a shared ethnic and linguistic heritage.

Armenian police officers arrested a protester in Yerevan, Armenia, on November 10.


Karen Minassian / AFP / Getty Images

But within months, the Kremlin drew red lines to counter the growing aspirations of the former Soviet republics.

In 1992, Armenia and Azerbaijan entered four years in their first war for control of the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region when Armenian forces raided and captured Shusha, a strategic town controlling access to the region’s capital, Stepanakert. In Turkey, pressure increased on the then Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel to support Azerbaijan, but he quickly halted plans for a military mission after Russian military commander Yevgeny Shaposhnikov warned that any intervention could push the planet “to the brink of a third world war.”

In 1993, Turkey closed its borders with Armenia in support of Azerbaijan, but it took a more cautious approach, such as focusing on joint energy projects, to deepen its relations with Baku without provoking Moscow. Turkey has also quietly started providing training for Azerbaijani officers and soldiers.

That strategy was afoot in 2003 when Mr. Erdogan took over the leadership of Turkey, and Mr. Aliyev succeeded his late father as President of Azerbaijan.

Erdogan’s more powerful strategy bore risks because, under Mr. Putin’s leadership, Russia showed little reluctance to intervene militarily if it felt that its hegemony over the former Soviet republics was being challenged. But after graduating from MGIMO in Moscow, the prestigious university that has long prepared the country’s diplomats, Aliyev went a thin line, launching the construction of a natural gas pipeline through Turkey, but also providing ample room for Russian investors in the energy sector in Azerbaijan.

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Aliyev at the military parade in Baku.


Murat cetinmuhurdar / AFP / Getty Images

“Mr. Aydin Sezer, a Turkish columnist who worked as a trade attache in Moscow, said,“ Aliyev is a very smart man. ”“ He knows the Russian code. ”

While Ankara was gaining influence in Baku, Mr. Aliyev showed in 2009 that he is also able to influence Turkish politics. That year, Mr. Erdogan considered reopening his country’s borders with Armenia and resuming diplomatic relations with the government there, but abandoned the plan when the Azerbaijani leader threatened to restrict energy supplies to Turkey.

With the influx of petrodollars – and with the support of Turkey, Israel, and Ukraine – Azerbaijan gradually built up a mighty army capable of overtaking miles of trenches dug by the Armenians around Nagorno Karabakh in an effort to make the enclave fortified.

“Then Azerbaijan waited patiently for the opportunity,” said Hasan Onal, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Maltepe University.

The inauguration came last year when David Tonoyan, Armenia’s defense minister at the time, said that instead of sticking to Nagorno Karabakh, his country should attack and prepare “a new war for new territories.”

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When skirmishes broke out along the front line between Armenian and Azeri forces on 27 September, Baku indicated Mr. Tunoyan’s aggressive stance to justify its decision to launch a large-scale offensive to regain control of the region.

The battle allowed Turkey to demonstrate the effectiveness of its attack drones, which penetrated the Armenian defense lines and shocked its forces, according to Armenian accounts. Shortly after the peace agreement was signed with Putin and Aliyev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that his country would face a military disaster if the fighting continued.

Under the peace agreement, the Armenians retained control of Stepanakert and a few surrounding towns, but abandoned all neighboring areas, whose occupation prompted Turkey in the early 1990s to close its border with Armenia.

Mr Onal said this new situation created fertile ground for Turkey to resume talks with Armenia, which could help pacify the powerful Armenian diaspora.

He said, “He will send a message, including to the incoming Biden administration, that Turkey is not abroad to destroy Armenia.” “Only Azerbaijan has regained its lands.”

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Azerbaijani counterpart after the military parade on Thursday, Erdogan said that reopening the borders would be possible if Armenia took steps towards regional peace.

He said, “We have no grudge against the people of Armenia.” “The problem with the Armenian administration.”

Write to David Gauthier Villars at [email protected]

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