Armenia And Azerbaijan Adapt To A New Geopolitical Reality In The Near East

Alexander Murinson Senior Expert, Wikistrat
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With the conflict in Ukraine as the background, where Russia is flexing its muscles again in attempt to prevent the Ukrainian people from making free choices and a move toward Euro-Atlantic integration, Armenia is out of step with the West again. While the Euro-Atlantic community is increasingly concerned about a new Cold War brewing in Europe and while Russia experiences growing isolation under Western sanctions, the leadership of Armenia has publicly reaffirmed its commitment to strengthen collaboration and coordination of its foreign and economic policies with Moscow.

In the meantime, Azerbaijan, once at nation that could be depended upon to support U.S. foreign policies, is faced with the Obama administration’s profound weakness, lack of a coherent foreign policy and feckless actions. Thus, Azerbaijan’s new reality is that of assessing and hedging its bets by re-aligning its foreign policy positions. Azerbaijan, through the its various energy projects geared to alleviate Europe’s profound dependence on Russian energy is establishing closer bilateral relations with a number of European nations. In addition, Azerbaijan is seeking closer ties with existing neighbors and allies, including Israel, Turkey and the lion’s share of European nations.

The U.S. commander of NATO expressed the West’s position on the looming military crisis with Russia. He commented that Russia and pro-Russia separatist forces exploited the recent cease-fire in eastern Ukraine to “reset and reposition themselves” and appear now to be preparing for a fresh offensive against Ukraine’s military. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, in his testimony to Congress on April 30, told lawmakers that he generally supports their call to provide Ukraine with offensive military hardware to deter a Russian advance — but he stopped short of offering specifics. As the Washington Times reported, he emphasized an emerging NATO consensus that Russia is not considered to be a partner but a major threat. Breedlove clarified that “The challenge posed by a resurgent Russia is global, not regional, and enduring, not temporary.”

Gen. Breedlove called on Washington to carefully weigh whether to begin providing offensive military hardware to help Ukrainian forces fight back against Russian troops and Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, something President Obama and other Western leaders have resisted as too provocative.

With the background of a solidifying Western resolve, Armenia, oddly as one of NATO’s Partners for Peace nations, recently sounded a discordant note by edging closer to Russia in its foreign policy. According to Rossiya 24 TV news channel, Armenian President Serzh Sargysan indicated that Armenia is seeking coordinate its foreign policy with Russia. In the interview, Sargysan confirmed that Russia could rely on Armenia’s support in international affairs. He added: “If we are joining unions, we are naturally taking on obligations.”

The Armenian president emphasized the importance Armenia attached to both bilateral Russian-Armenian agreements and Armenia’s participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia’s NATO opposition organization). This confirmation of Armenia’s foreign policy course shows that Armenia is firmly committed to support Russia in international fora and in Moscow’s growing distance from with the West. Armenia expects that Russia will support it in its frozen conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh, a self-proclaimed and unrecognized (even by Armenia) entity, that is a part of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory.

What is even more threatening to international peace and stability is the President Vladimir Putin’s recent decision to rescind a ban on sale of a Russian air defense system S-300 to Iran. The pending delivery of Russian SS-300s will unleash a nuclear arms race in the Near East region. Colonel Clint Hinote, U.S. Air Force in his April 20, 2015 National Interest article concluded that the Russian sale “represents a fundamental shift in military power for the region”:

“For over a decade, the United States and its allies have been able to take freedom of action in the Middle Eastern skies for granted. Friendly forces could count on air support and freedom of maneuver. Adversaries could assume they were vulnerable to observation and attack from the air, limiting their options and convincing some of them that they could not achieve their objectives through military force (often called deterrence by denial). This was especially true of Iran, whose air defenses have suffered greatly due to sanctions. The arrival of the S-300 changes this.”

In the context of rapidly shifting geopolitical reality in the Near East, the position of Azerbaijan becomes critical for the West as the main reliable conduit of energy resources for Europe. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Azerbaijan has been, since its independence from the Soviet Union, an emerging democracy and a reliable partner to the West.

Though the desire to stay away from a global confrontation on the part of small countries such Armenia and Azerbaijan is understandable, both countries would be compelled by the logic of the new East-West confrontation to choose their sides.

Leaders in the U.S. as well as throughout Europe must focus on solutions vis a vis Russia, like Azerbaijan, while simultaneously take a giant step back from Russia’s growing cadre of aggressive supporters and vassals like Armenia. The calculus is clear.

Alexander Murinson, PhD of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University also serves on the International Advisory Board of Outre-Terre. He is the author of many articles and books including, the European Journal of Geopolitics’s, Turkey’s Entente with Israel and Azerbaijan: State Identity and Security in the Middle East and Caucasus.