"Azerbaijan-Iran relations not to take military direction"
    Caliber.Az interview with Dr. Diana Galeeva

    INTERVIEWS  09 June 2023 - 17:07

    In an interview with Caliber.Az, Dr. Diana Galeeva, a Non-Resident Fellow of the US-based Gulf International Forum, spoke about the Azerbaijani-Iranian relations after the Karabakh war, cooperation among Turkic states and the Russia-Ukraine war.

    - Thank you so much for your consent to give an interview. My first question is, in your opinion, what makes Iran dissatisfied with the geopolitical configuration formed after the 44-day war in South Caucasus?

    - First of all, I would like to sincerely thank you for your interest, and the opportunity to share my views on the recent and quite transformative dynamics in the South Caucasus.

    I believe it is more complex than, for example, to argue that it is related to the growing Turkish influence as a result of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.

    The geopolitical transformations resulting from the Ukraine war include Russia-Iran relations being further strengthened: the two countries are enjoying partnerships in military, defence, and security. As the “two most sanctioned countries”, they are working closely on overcoming Western economic sanctions including collaborations in banking systems, and building new alternative infrastructure, such as the North-South international corridor. At the same time, this has made Russia more dependent on Iran. Despite Russia’s continuing important role in the South Caucasus, the fact that Russia’s main strategic priorities relate to the Ukraine war has made Armenia also consider the diversification of its military partners, relying on Iran.

    At the same time, it seems the Middle Eastern dynamics of the normalization of relations, including the recent Saudi-Iran deal mediated by China (even remaining still very general), are arguably indicators of a shift in Iranian policies towards the South Caucasus, where new opportunities for influence have emerged. At the same time, the growing strategic partnership between Israel and Azerbaijan (considering the Iran-Israel proxy conflict) is another reason to focus on the South Caucasus and its actors. In short, Iran’s recent view on the Caucasus involves a number of factors: the outcomes of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, the transformations resulting from the Ukraine war, and Middle Eastern dynamics, along with growing partnerships between the Middle Eastern actors and the South Caucasus (Israel-Azerbaijan).

    - How far can Iran go in confrontation with Azerbaijan?

    - I believe relations between Azerbaijan and Iran will not take a military direction, indeed a more alarming possibility is a war between Iran or its proxies (particularly Hezbollah) and Israel.

    - Russia, Turkey and China in the post-Soviet area - geopolitical rivals or occasional partners?

    - In my opinion, these countries take a pragmatic approach, following their own national interests. In general, I believe that the Ukraine war and the responses of many countries showed that the world is moving toward nationalist policies.

    - Armenia is not happy with the position of Moscow and the CSTO on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Is Armenia's withdrawal from the EEU and the CSTO possible? But what to expect next?

    - Armenia has effectively balanced its relations with all actors, including Russia and the West. I believe it will further diversify its strategic partners, including stronger and closer ties with Iran.

    - What do you think of the recent development of cooperation between the Turkic states? As you are from Tatarstan, I would like to know how strong is the Turkic identity in the Tatarstan community?

    - Yes, historically Turkic sentiment has played an essential role in Tatar identity. Relations between Tatarstan and Turkey rely on their shared Turkic identity, similarities in culture and language, and it is not surprising perhaps that Turkey is Tatarstan’s leading economic partner. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that Tatarstan is part of the Russian Federation, and must follow the federal government agenda. Second, Tatarstan is limited in economic activities, as it is able only to conduct paradiplomacy. Finally, since the 1990s, Tatarstan’s policies have followed a pragmatic approach, and especially since 2015 when a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 was shot down by Turkey. Tatarstan’s leadership played an important mediating role between the federal government and Turkey after this incident; at the same time, perhaps that incident showed the importance of diversifying the actors that Tatarstan should work with; as a result, Tatarstan is also actively building relations based on Turkic and Muslim identities, including with the GCC states and Iran.

    - Let me also ask a question about the Russia-Ukraine war. What are your estimates and position on this issue?

    - Since the start of the Ukraine war, there have been a number of diplomatic solutions: China proposed its own solution, followed by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s mooted “peace coalition”, in addition to the peace initiative launched by six African nations and the spiritual diplomacy of Pope Francis. I believe that small states especially can be active in finding diplomatic solutions and serving as mediators in the conflict. To me the example of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states is very interesting, as for example, Oman played a successful role in mediating the JCPOA deal, the successful mediation between Qatar and Quartet followed by the Al-Ula Summit in 2021; Qatar has also proven an active mediator in many regional conflicts (in Darfur, Djibouti, Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan). Small countries can gain politically by using the soft power generated by successfully ending the war.


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