Saturday, December 12, 2020

Russian Analysts Divided on Impact of Turkey’s Expanded Role in South Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – Today, as the presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey reviewed a victory parade in Baku, Russian analysts debated the meaning of Turkey’s expanded role in the Caucasus, with some viewing it as benefiting Ankara economically and politically while others saying it gives Moscow justification for expanding its military presence in the region.

            The Kavkaz-Uzel news agency interviewed three Russian analysts, Orientalist Vladimir Sotnikov, Muslim nationalities specialist Aleksey Malashenko, and Turcologist Boris Dolgov, about what Turkey’s expanded influence means and how much of a threat it is to Armenia and Russia (

            Sotnikov says that “the main bonuses” Turkey has won from its backing of Azerbaijan against Armenia involve oil and gas. And he argues that those who see Ankara’s moves as strengthening pan-Turkist ideas are ignoring that sympathy for Turkey exists across the Turkic world but few if any countries, including Azerbaijan, want to play second fiddle to Ankara.

            Clearly, Azerbaijan’s Aliyev is in debt to Erdogan, Sotnikov continues; but the Baku leader will pay that back “in the first instance with low prices for oil.” If Ankara insists, Aliyev will allow the establishment of a Turkish military base on Azerbaijani territory, including quite possibly in an area recovered from Armenian occupation.

            “The establishment of Turkish military bases in Azerbaijan near the borders of Armenia is a threat to Armenia and Russia,” Sotnikov says. The situation in Armenia is unstable, and some in Yerevan want to restart the war. If that happens, “military cooperation between Baku and Ankara will intensify.”

            Malashenko, a researcher at the Dialogue of Civilizations Institute, says that “the alliance of Turkey with Azerbaijan is in the first instance connected with Ankara’s political ambitions.” He does not see Turkey getting any economic benefits from the deal. But Erdogan can now claim that he has more backing as “the elder brother of the Turkic peoples.”

            In that sense, Turkey has advanced pan-Turkism. But Aliyev like other leaders of Turkic countries is a pragmatist. He wants good relations with Ankara but he doesn’t want to defer to him on everything. Inviting him to military parades is one thing; following every twist and turn of Turkish policy is quite another.

            Unlike Sotnikov, Malashenko does not view the expanded ties between Azerbaijan and Turkey as constituting a threat to Russia and Armenia. “Russia is getting the chance to increase its military presence in the South Caucasus,” and if there are new problems between these countries, Moscow will be able to “double Russian military power there.”

            And Dolgov, who is a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, says that Turkey helped Azerbaijan win the war and now Azerbaijan recognizes that it must pay Turkey back. Those payments will take the form of both economic concessions on the price of oil and strategic concessions in the form of agreement to Turkish bases.

            The latter are a clear problem for Yerevan and Moscow, he says. But Dolgov adds that if the situation continues to stabilize, Turkey won’t have as many occasions to increase its military presence there. Baku has achieved most of its aims. Armenia is still weak. And “Russia will increase its military presence in Armenia to ensure a balance of forces and stability.”


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