Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire cements Turkey’s power in Caucasus region - analysts

The ceasefire signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan this week to end the fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh has cemented Turkey’s newfound influence in the Caucasus region, in which Russia was once a dominant player, the Financial Times said on Thursday, citing various analysts.

Turkey declared its firm support of Azerbaijan shortly after clashes erupted on Sept. 27, saying it was ready to do whatever is necessary to eject Armenian separatists from the enclave located within Azerbaijan’s borders.

The ceasefire, signed early on Tuesday, allows Azerbaijan to keep the territory it captured in Nagorno-Karabakh, including the region’s second city of Shusha, a historical and cultural centre. It also envisages the deployment of Russian peacekeeping troops in the region as observers.

Russia, Armenia’s close ally, and the United States had previously brokered three failed truces to help end the clashes, with a death toll feared to be in the thousands.

Map locating the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh with zones of control. (Source: AFP)

Ruslan Pukhov, director of Russian defence think tank the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told FT that the scale of Azerbaijan’s success on the ground with Turkish military and political support was a geopolitical win for the Turkish government at Russia’s expense.

“The geopolitical consequences are disastrous not only for Armenia, but also for Russia,” Pukhov said. “The Russians’ client and ally was the loser. The Turkish ally won convincingly.”

He added: “Behind the thin veil of a deceptive foreign policy triumph, namely successful mediation and bringing peacekeepers to the region, the harsh reality is that Moscow’s influence in the trans-Caucasus region has sharply decreased, while the prestige of a successful and pugnacious Turkey, on the contrary, has grown incredibly.”

Onur İşçi, assistant professor of international relations at Bilkent University in Ankara, told FT that Turkey, which “is trying to stake out an autonomous path for itself” from NATO, and Russia would not lock horns over the regional shift in power.

Moscow and Ankara “will have political conflicts here and there” and may not agree on geopolitical issues, but they are “trying to manage it”, he said.

“I don’t think that we will ever see, in Syria or the Caucasus, a full-blown … military alliance,” İşçi said.

Turkey’s foreign policy initiatives have not been limited to the South Caucasus this year. Turkish forces have launched major offensives against Kurdish armed groups in Syria and Iraq, supplied hardware, fighters and know-how for a military confrontation with the United Arab Emirates-backed opposition in Libya and confronted Greece and Cyprus over territories in the eastern Mediterranean.

“The south Caucasus looks to Ankara like a comfortable zone without potential risks,” said Stanislav Pritchin, senior research fellow at the Centre for Post-Soviet Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told FT. “But Turkey can count only on Azerbaijan and doesn’t have a good understanding of the regional complexities that have limited space for manoeuvre.”