The conflict between Russia and Turkey has once again proved the strategic relations of Moscow and Yerevan and cast doubt on the alliance with Baku. What conclusion will Moscow draw from the situation? How all this will affect the future of these relations?
Moscow has never considered its relations with Baku as allied ties. The matter has always concerned strategic partnership.
The ties have either been strengthening or deteriorating to the level of partner relations. In particular, the closure of the Gabala radar station and the large-scale supply of Israeli military hardware to Azerbaijan have not only resulted in deterioration of the relations but have also made Moscow consider creation of an alternative organization for the Azerbaijani community in Russia.
Meantime, the Russia-Armenia relations, in turn, have always been considered as allied relations. The creation of a joint air defense system and protection of state borders is direct evidence of that. Russia has not got even a military facility in Azerbaijan, whereas in Gyumri it has a full-fledged military base, whose potential is constantly growing. Amid the serious deterioration of the Russian-Turkish relations, I anticipate a Moscow-Yerevan rapprochement, first of all, in the military and political field.
Eight more logistic support helicopters have been deployed at the Russian military base in Armenia. Russia considers supplying Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems and up-to-date air defense systems to Armenia, for instance, S-300 PMU-2.
Certainly, Moscow will not excessively aggravate the relations with Baku. But even its aspiration to partially replace the Azerbaijani natural gas in Georgia demonstrates that Russia's patience is not unlimited, especially given the artificial escalation by Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict zone.
2015 was a year of stalemate in the Karabakh peace process. In addition, the sides suffered new human losses. Will the current heavy social and economic situation in Armenia and, first of all, in Azerbaijan, lead to any breakthrough in the peace process in 2016 or everything depends on geopolitical factors?
The year 2015 was rather troublesome for the Karabakh conflict settlement. In the conflict zone, Azerbaijan used not only cannon artillery, but also Turkish-made 107mm multiple launch rocket systems, which killed three women from the near-border Armenian villages. Moreover, the Azerbaijani armed forces have used battle tanks for the first time since the truce in 1994. All this demonstrates that the situation in the Karabakh conflict zone is increasingly deteriorating. It is possible to stop that process by means of certain measures only. In particular, it is necessary to change the OSCE mission format in the armed conflict zone. The mission should work full time and have technical control devices, for instance, drones, which would provide high-resolution images. Secondly, it is necessary to create an international mechanism to investigate the military incidents in the conflict zone. Thirdly, both heavy and light weapons should be withdrawn from the frontline. Otherwise, we may experience a local armed conflict in Karabakh in the short-term outlook.
Last December, China with the support of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and EU launched the project of cargo shipments from Asia to Europe passing by Russia as part of the Silk Road infrastructure project. This demonstrated that the Silk Road project and the Russian-led Eurasian integration could hardly become complementary despite the assurances of Moscow and Beijing. The Silk Road extends via the territory of the post-Soviet space, which Moscow still considers as a zone of its vital interests. What are the prospects of these two projects?
China is launching a global project "One Belt - One Road" and the Silk Road Economic Belt is part of the project in the territory of Central Asia. Creation of various transport corridors under this project is not the major goal of the Chinese economy. China's shrinking export makes its focus on transfer of its industrial productions, mainly the hazardous ones, to the territory of other countries. This process was launched in Kazakhstan. Then goes Kyrgyzstan. The second important task of China is to make long-term - for at least 20-years - investments. Well, the pilot shipment of Chinese containers via the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and further to Georgia and Turkey will not impede the Eurasian integration, as the volume of these shipments is not large. Another matter how the Russian and Chinese integration projects will be linked in practice. I think there will be certain barriers that will not be formidable, however.
There is an impression that failing to press Iran in the issue of its nuclear program and actually abandoning the policy towards its isolation, the West, and U.S. particularly, decided to isolate the Islamic Republic from the East through Saudi Arabia and other Sunni partner-states. What do you think of such assumptions? Maybe things are no that simple?
I suppose Saudi Arabia undertook deliberate provocation against Iran. The goal is to try to isolate Tehran even in case of mitigation of anti-Iranian financial and economic sanctions. It is suspicious that this is necessary for the Obama Administration, for which the myth about the settlement of the Iranian nuclear crisis is one of the few foreign political achievements. Not everyone in the U.S. society supports Obama in mitigation of the anti-Iranian sanctions. In particular, the U.S. Congress has prepared several bills envisaging introduction of new sanctions against Iran for violations in the missile program, terrorism or human rights violations. The incumbent U.S. Administration will be delaying this process, but it has no serious political capital. President Barack Obama is thinking about how to leave a mark in history. Under such circumstances, it is getting obvious that the real process of mitigation of the anti-Iranian sanctions related to the nuclear program will be delayed and will not be stable while the incumbent Administration is in the office. On the other hand, the United States is interested in mutual weakening of Saudi Arabia and Iran as two regional leaders, because in that case it will be easier for the U.S. to manage the Near and Middle East.
It's another matter that there are also extra-regional leaders: China, Russia, India, which have their own interests there. Turkey is also trying to conduct its own policy in the region.
Ankara hurried to blame the “Islamic State” terrorist group for the latest terror attack in Istanbul. Does Erdogan try to avoid further blames for supporting terrorists in Syria or Turkey is a temporary partner of ISIL leadership who seeks to overthrow Erdogan’s government?
There are many reasons to slam the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey (MIT - Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı) for close cooperation with the “Islamic State.” In particular, its establishment in June 2014 was mostly connected with the cooperation of the security services of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, which helped radical Islamists seize Mosul in Iraq. Radicals captured the Turkish consulate representatives and set them free very promptly and without a reward. Now, Turkey’s leadership tries to blame the “Islamic State” for any terror attack to show that the Islamists are allegedly taking revenge on Turkey for joining anti-terrorist coalition. In fact, Ankara has helped and will further help radical Islamists, as it is using them for its own national interests in Syria and Iraq. What will Ankara do with the radical Islamists when the national army of Syria gradually ousts them to the territory of Turkey? The only way out of such situation is to send them to Europe as refugees. Yet, even this will not help Turkey avoid terror attacks inside its territory.
The December visit of Secretary of State John Kerry to Russia and his meetings with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin gave experts a reason for moderate optimism and hope for a second "reset" in the strain Russian-American relations. What do you think of the future of the two countries relations?
The Russian-American relations are too uncertain at present. It is noteworthy that Washington has understood that it needs to agree with Russia over Syria, but the incumbent administration no longer can adopt any serious decision for a second 'reset.' The confrontation, including over Ukraine, may decrease certainly. This became evident, for instance, after the recent meeting of the president's aide Vladislav Surkov and U.S. Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland in Kaliningrad region. In this light, the anti-Russia sanctions over both Crimea and the east of Ukraine will not be rescinded within 2016. Yet, the anti-Russian rhetoric of the West will reduce for a while. In addition, Washington will try to deal with Moscow in the issues related to Syria.