Is new war looming on South Caucasus' doorstep as third parties try to intervene?
    Forecasts by Turkish expert

    INTERVIEWS  22 February 2024 - 16:57

    Vadim Mansurov

    Caliber.Az presents a big interview with Turkish political scientist Kerim Has, PhD in Political Science, which touches on many important issues at the regional and global levels. 

    - Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev made his first official visit to Türkiye after his re-election. What does it mean and how do you assess the results of the visit?

    - This visit is certainly a measure of the strength and depth of Ankara-Baku relations. It is very symbolic that Aliyev has gone to Türkiye, which clearly shows Azerbaijan's geopolitical orientation, while traditionally many CIS leaders go to Moscow after their election. At the same time, Baku traditionally has good relations with Russia. I would also like to point out that Azerbaijan is building partnership relations with some leading European countries, for example with the UK and, on the other hand, with Israel. Israel is one of the most important players in the Middle East, while Britain, for example, has the veto right in the UN Security Council. At the same time, the Turkish leadership also has a strong relationship with the UK. So we see that Azerbaijan's policy has its own, deeply thought-out logic. And if we evaluate the algorithm of Azerbaijan's diplomatic actions, we can say that Baku, both on its own and through its relations with Türkiye, is building close and partnership-based relations with the countries that play a key role in global politics and have their interests in the region.

    I also think that Ilham Aliyev's foreign policy vector is important for Moscow, namely that Azerbaijan strengthens the ties of Turkic countries in the South Caucasus and Central Asia region. Therefore, in my opinion, the Azerbaijani president's visit to Türkiye has its important configuration and clues, which will be decipherable for a long time. By the way, it is worth mentioning that Ankara also has reciprocal political traditions. The newly elected or re-elected head of the Turkish state first goes to Northern Cyprus and Azerbaijan, which clearly shows who are the main allies for Türkiye.

    Undoubtedly, considering this visit, we can talk about further strengthening the Ankara-Baku military-political partnership. There are plans for development in the economic sphere. Erdogan and Aliyev discussed this point in detail. I think we will see some progress in the field of energy cooperation shortly because Ankara wants to sell more gas to Europe.

    - Türkiye seems to have been through its period of disagreement with NATO, or is that just an impression? Or is it just an outward appearance?

    - To be honest, I don't think that Türkiye has ever turned its back on NATO, as some people think, and is leaning more towards cooperation in favour of Russia. Türkiye has never abandoned its most important allies, the USA and Great Britain. Yes, you may ask me how to interpret the dispute between Türkiye and the US over the S-400 or Türkiye's position on Sweden's NATO membership. But all these issues were predictably resolvable, and rhetorical. That is, despite the threatening statements, sooner or later Ankara would approve Sweden's entry into NATO and eventually the US would supply Türkiye with new F-16s.

    At the same time, if you look closely, Türkiye is now much more involved in NATO exercises than, say, ten years ago. Türkiye is now dealing with the crisis in Syria. Libya, too, saw the Turkish intervention stop the forces of Haftar, backed by the Wagnerites.

    As far as the South Caucasus is concerned, Türkiye also plays an important role in channelling NATO's interests. While Russia's influence in the region is clearly on the wane, the deterioration of relations between Yerevan and Moscow can lead to a variety of scenarios, up to and including the withdrawal of the Russian base from Armenia's territory. So we can say that Türkiye is a key actor for NATO, often strengthening the Alliance's influence by helping to realise its interests. And the superficial difficulties between Ankara and NATO in no way affect the deep cooperation between Türkiye and the bloс.

    As for the future, my prediction is that Türkiye will be particularly active in the post-Soviet space, for example in Moldova or Central Asia, both militarily and politically.

    - A few years ago, Türkiye announced a major rearmament programme, and now we see new Turkish warships of different classes being launched and new models of drones being developed. What are Türkiye's intentions in terms of defence? And what is your assessment of the risks of Türkiye and Azerbaijan being drawn into a new global war, which in a sense is already underway?

    - In the noughties, Türkiye invested a lot in the military industry when the country's economy was at its peak. So we can say that Türkiye is now reaping the benefits of the previous decade. At the same time, Turkish arms exports to various countries are increasing, while investment in the defence sector is decreasing. But the latter has more to do with the general decline of the Turkish economy.

    These weapons are certainly not aimed at Türkiye's Western partners. Nor are they aimed at Greece, with which Ankara has had to find a common language. Turkish weapons are used to strengthen Türkiye's position at home and abroad, not against specific targets.

    There has been a lot of talk recently about World War III as a kind of battle of all against all or a war between military blocs in which nuclear weapons will be used, but in my opinion the probability of such a turn of events is still very low. Hypothetically speaking, I think that if such a development were to occur, Türkiye would coordinate its actions primarily with its Western allies. However, it is also obvious that the global war in the Middle East will become an arena of action for both Western and Eastern bloc countries.

    As for Azerbaijan's position in such a situation, I do not dare to predict it, because Baku adheres to a balanced and neutral approach in most conflicts. In addition, Azerbaijan's geopolitical position plays an important role and all risks, advantages and disadvantages must be taken into account. However, Azerbaijan's position will be extremely important for Ankara in such a situation.

    - How do you assess the current level of dialogue between Baku and Yerevan, and the possibility of signing a peace treaty? In recent times, there has been a feeling that Yerevan is being actively used as a tool for the infiltration of the Western countries in the South Caucasus, including France with its aggressive and toxic ambitions. What is the risk of a new war in the South Caucasus?

    - I think that Baku is incomparably stronger than Yerevan. Armenia will not be able to afford to attack Azerbaijan for at least the next decade. It would be a suicidal act for the Armenians, which would lead to a complete catastrophe for the Armenian state because Azerbaijan is strong not only with its military power but also with its economic potential. Baku's friendship with London and Ankara, which has wonderful relations with the United Kingdom and good relations with the United States, is also important in terms of its foreign policy.

    Yes, France will probably continue to try to supply arms to Armenia, but Yerevan will not be a winner in the war with these weapons. At the same time, it should be taken into account that the longer the process of signing a peace treaty between Baku and Yerevan is delayed, the greater the risk of the involvement of third countries. It is only interests that matter here, not whether Azerbaijanis or Armenians want to live in peace. A more nationalist government could come to power in Armenia if Pashinyan leaves. In this case, there is a risk of another scenario that could lead Yerevan to worsen relations with Moscow, strengthen its ties with the West, and ultimately provoke Russia into active action. Russia will have its plans for the future of Armenia, and Baku will have to negotiate with Moscow rather than with politicians in Yerevan. Such a scenario is very unfavourable for Azerbaijan. That's why I think Baku and Yerevan need to agree as soon as possible, based on the "here and now" formula.

    - Baku and Ankara have been active in the development of the concept of a union of Turkic states. Many things seem to be going well for the implementation of this idea. For example, the members of the Organisation of Turkic States (OTS) are strengthening cooperation within the framework of the development of the Middle Corridor. How do you assess the prospects for the development of the OTS, what potential does this alliance have?

    - There is no doubt that Ankara and Baku are the main moderators of the logistics of the Middle Corridor, and in this sense, the OTS has an important role to play. It also provides a platform for the countries of the Turkic world to discuss these economic prospects more openly. However, the OTS formula, with its military-political perspective, is now interesting for Ankara to establish this kind of cooperation with Central Asian countries - there is an opportunity for work and rapprochement of the countries of the Turkic world. Such cooperation is also interesting for the Central Asian countries, for example, it is no secret that Turkish weapons are in great demand in the region, and these supplies are increasing. Of course, the OTS does not declare itself a military alliance. But Türkiye is strengthening its bilateral relations with the Central Asian countries. At the same time, Ankara is pursuing a cautious policy in this regard, trying not to irritate Moscow too much and building up these relations step by step. It is also noteworthy that Türkiye has recently begun to invite the delegation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to cooperate within the framework of the OTS. The President of the TCRK is also expected to attend the informal summit of the OTS in Shusha in July this year. This was mentioned during Ilham Aliyev's visit to Türkiye. So we can see that Ankara and Baku have started to coordinate their policies more closely on the Cyprus issue.

    In other words, the potential of the OTS is very great and it will certainly be developed, which will bring positive results in the future.


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