Ankara vs. Russia: Caucasus Turns into New Battlefront
Dmitry MININ | 08.12.2015 | WORLD

Ankara vs. Russia: Caucasus Turns into New Battlefront

The NATO allies have flatly refused to side with Turkey in its conflict with Russia. Now Ankara is urgently looking for new opportunities to boost its influence in the region and divert the Russia’s attention making it face other «fronts». Turkey has no time to lose as the relations with Moscow may deteriorate further. It makes Ankara hastily take steps to enhance its energy security, establish a coalition of Turkic states it has been fostering for a long time and complicate the situation in the Caucasus to make Moscow face more problems there.

The rulers of re-emerged Ottoman Empire are trying to rekindle the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces has escalated recently. The Paris Armenia-Azerbaijan summit slated for December 1 was indefinitely postponed. Great hopes were pinned on this top level meeting, as it was expected to become a step towards peaceful management of the conflict. As one can see, the first results of Turkish intrigues are already visible. Only Allah knows what else would the insane Erdogan do to startle the world! It’s not without reason that, according to news agencies reports, Russian heavy armor and weapons systems are being deployed along the Armenia-Turkey border.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Baku on December 3-4. It was a hallmark event. He has outlined his foreign policy doctrine in several writings, most important of which is his book «Strategic Depth» – an expansionist doctrine that the current Turkish government admires so much. Speaking at the ADA University in Baku on December 4, Davutoglu said«It is necessary to completely liberate Azerbaijan’s occupied territories to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict».

He did not mention the ongoing negotiation process at all. The situation in the region is very tense. Against this background his words can be perceived as nothing else but war rhetoric. «Turkey will be by Azerbaijan’s side until a complete liberation of Azerbaijani territories. Each inch of Azerbaijan’s land is dear, and those lands should be liberated», noted PM Davutoglu. The Turkish Prime Minister did not spare flattering words as he cherished great expectations. During the December 3 expanded meeting with President Ilham Aliyev, Davutoglu said«As great leader of Azerbaijan and our great leader, your dear father Heydar Aliyev said, we are one nation in two states. In this sense, we know that our ministers are always treated like your own and yours like ours».

Taking into consideration the great difference between the potentials of the two states, one can interpret these words as an encroachment on Azerbaijan sovereignty. Baku seems to realize it well. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev does not appear to be an expandable bargain chip to please Ankara as it pursues its extravagant ambitions. He was hospitable and pointed out that «Turkey and Azerbaijan are very close to each other. We are together on all matters. We support and will continue to support each other». He did not elaborate. In his speech he did not mention the problems that made Ankara feel the sudden surge of «brotherly love» for the Azeri people.  Aliev offered quite a different picture of the bilateral relationship. He agreed it was hard to find two other nations that were as close as Turkey and Azerbaijan. In the remarks he made on December 4 during a press conference following the meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Baku, Aliev pointed out that «The two states are closely cooperating with each other. Turkey was the first country recognizing the independence of Azerbaijan. Our countries always support each other in all issues».

On November 26, deputy chief of Azerbaijan's Presidential Administration, chief of the department for external relations, Novruz Mammadov posted a statement on his Twitter page, saying, «Turkey is our closest ally and Russia is a very close and friendly country for us. We have historical ties with each of these countries. We have very good relations with both of them. Azerbaijan does not want any differences between friends».

Being a master of tricky Asian diplomacy, the Azerbaijani President resorted to another masterstroke. After the visit of Turkish Prime Minister he received Nikita Mikhalkov, a famous Russian filmmaker, actor, and the head of the Russian Cinematographers' Union close to the Kremlin. According to AzerNews«It was noted that the visit of Nikita Mikhalkov contributed to the expansion of cooperation, the strengthening of relations between the two countries and nations».

These are purely cultural contacts. There is nothing to offend Turkey. At that Baku sent an unambiguous message to Moscow.

Leaving the official language grandiloquence aside, the results of the visit could hardly be viewed as a success for Ankara in its effort to become the leader of an «anti-Russia coalition». In concrete terms, the only achievement was the announced agreement to launch the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP). «Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline – TANAP can be launched sooner than it was initially scheduled», said Mr Ahmet Davutoglu at a joint press conference with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev.

Some 6 billion cubic meters of gas of 16 billion cubic meters will go to Turkey, while some 10 billion cubic meters of gas will go to Europe. TANAP will connect the giant Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan to Europe through the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP), TANAP and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).

It is not a bed of roses. The project needs new investments. As a result of recent events, the Turkey’s rating has been heading down. With old prices staying low, Baku has not extra funds to allocate for the purpose. Foreign investors are not rushing in. 6 billion cubic meters cannot substitute about 27 billion cubic meters delivered by Russia in case Moscow decides to stop the supplies.

Besides Azerbaijan, Ankara wants to make Georgia part of the axis it is trying to create. It attempts to take advantage of Georgia’s economic dependence and interest in Turkey’s support for its NATO membership. A regular Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey trilateral meeting at the level of foreign chiefs is expected to take place very soon. Turkey is going to call on its partners to take consolidated actions. According to the Georgia’s Defense Ministry, Istanbul is expected to host a trilateral meeting of defense ministers in mid-December to address energy security issues, in particular the security of strategic oil and gas pipelines running from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia.

Experts note that, no matter Georgia is dependent on Turkey, the Georgian leaders don’t shy away from the proposals to hold negotiations. They don’t rush in to demonstrate the solidarity with Turkey as Ankara would like them to do.  Georgian officials comment on the tensions between Moscow and Ankara in a very cautious way. The President, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs just refrain from commenting. Only the Vice-Speaker of the Georgian Dream coalition, Manana Kobakhidze, said in an interview with correspondents that she hoped for «a peaceful settlement of the conflict».

Some Georgians make more explicit statements. The words pronounced by Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli against this background were a real discord. He used hard words to express doubts about the military potential of Russia. «Is it possible to make such provocative statements in such a tense situation?» the Rector of the Diplomatic Academy of Tbilisi, Joseph Tsintsadze, didn’t hide his indignation in an interview with a correspondent of Vestnik Kavkaza. «God forbid, if Russia and Turkey don’t agree on the rules of the game in the coming days. In this case, it will turn into something worse. Georgia will suffer first of all».

He warned the Georgian government about the danger of confrontational rhetoric. According to him, if a war between Russia and Turkey starts, Turkish troops will invade Adjara, an autonomous republic of Georgia, including Batumi. According to him, Georgia would face horrible consequences in case a war between Russia and Turkey were sparked.

Central Asia, the far-away part of the territory neo-Ottoman Ankara claims in an effort to re-build the empire, gives Turkey a wary glance as it digs up the hatchet of war. Local leaders call for peaceful settlement and compromises between Russia and Turkey. Nonetheless, they don’t throw their support behind Ankara, especially in view of the threat to their security coming from Afghanistan. In his annual state of the nation address, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, clearly stated Kazakhstan’s position. «As of now, all the details are not known. But the fact is that the Russian bomber was not attacking Turkey. It did not go to Turkey. It was at war with terrorists», he said.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will make an official trip to Turkmenistan from Dec. 11 to 12. Supposedly, the government of this country will promise to deliver gas in any quantities. But it’ll be a tall order to bring this promise into life. It may take many years to overcome technical obstacles.

The world is not interested in the emergence of a new hotbed in the Caucasus. This attitude should have a sobering effect on Turkey. For instance, Russia, the United States and France, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group on Nagorno-Karabakh, said in the joint statement issued by the Heads of Delegation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair Countries, «We, the Heads of Delegation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries – Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State of the United States John Kerry, State Secretary for European Affairs of France Harlem Desir – remain united in our commitment to mediating a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We welcome the upcoming meeting between President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan under the auspices of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs. In light of the recent rise in tensions, we appeal to the sides to re-commit themselves to the peaceful resolution of the conflict and dispel any misperceptions that they are not serious about reaching a negotiated settlement. The sides should continue discussions from the Sochi, Wales, and Paris Summits of 2014 on elements of a comprehensive settlement, and should intensify their dialogue in 2016 on the basis of proposals currently under discussion».

The wording of the statement is absolutely clear. But will it placate the Sublime Porte? Erdogan affirms he enjoys global support. In fact, he himself has become a problem for the whole world.

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