What’s driving Turkey and Ukraine’s growing alliance?

President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy (L), attend a signing ceremony ahead of press conference in Istanbul, Turkey on October 16, 2020. (Murat Cetinmuhurdar / AA)

President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R), and President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy (L), attend a signing ceremony ahead of a press conference in Istanbul, Turkey on October 16, 2020. (Murat Cetinmuhurdar / AA)

In the past few years, Turkey has been gradually increasing its influence in Ukraine amid escalating tensions with Russia, challenging Moscow’s standing in the Black Sea region. The strategic cooperation between Ankara and Kyiv is not limited to political statements but encompasses other important fields, such as the economy, security, and, in particular, defence industries.

Relations between the two countries gained further impetus with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and reached their peak during the administration of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who assumed office in 2019. The conflict in eastern Ukraine and the growing military activity of Russia in Donbas have made the Ankara-Kyiv axis a top priority for both states. In recent years, high-ranking figures have made several official visits. Continue reading

The Second Karabakh War and Caspian Energy

Trans-Caspian Pipeline (Photo-Credit: IENE)

Trans-Caspian Pipeline (Photo-Credit: IENE)

On November 10, the second war in Nagorno-Karabakh ended with a Russia-brokered ceasefire agreement signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia. While the 44-day war caused severe damages to frontline settlements and civilian casualties on both sides, frequent missile attacks carried out by Armenia towards Azerbaijani cities and infrastructure beyond the frontline raised concerns not only in Baku but also in the EU regarding the security of vitally important energy infrastructure. The possibility of damages to energy infrastructure, particularly the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, would explicitly put the role of these pipelines in European energy security under question.

BACKGROUND: The Tovuz/Tavush incidents on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan in July 2020 became a prelude to the second war between Baku and Yerevan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. On September 27, 2020, fighting escalated beyond the established “meeting point” (Line of Contact) with the involvement of a significant number of military personnel, artillery units, and long-range missiles, threatening the geopolitical stability in the Black Sea-Caspian region. Continue reading

Beijing’s Long Road to the Gulf Region (Baku Dialogues; Spring 2021)

Baku Dialogues; Issue: 4. Spring 2021

Baku Dialogues; Issue: 4. Spring 2021

Energy cooperation has been a key aspect of growing bilateral cooper­ation between China and the Arab states of the Gulf region for the past several years. Since 1996, China has become a net importer of crude oil and, as the second‑largest en­ergy consumer in the world after the United States, is now the third‑largest importer of oil after the United States and Japan. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that China is eying a deep and strategic partnership with the states of a re­gion that sits on top of the world’s largest proven crude oil and natural gas reserves.

The deepening political and economic cooperation between China and the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has received increasing atten­tion from the region’s more estab­lished strategic players: foremost the United States, but also the UK as well as the EU and some of its member states. Indeed, the region’s apparent geopolitical challenges— such as the American withdrawal from the Middle East, the escalation of sectarian wars in the region, the outbreak and development of the Syrian conflict followed by the spread of Islamic radicalism and similar threats—have encouraged the Arab states in the Gulf (as well as Iran) to look more to the East for new reliable partners. This has pro­vided China with an opportunity to obtain a foothold in the region, which sits adjacent to the Silk Road region and is therefore of signifi­cant and lasting interest to readers of Baku Dialogues. Continue reading

Searching for the right formula for South Caucasus regional co-operation

President Erdogan’s initiative for a 3 + 3 regional co-operation format in the South Caucasus offers the possibility of opening up the region through an extensive network of land corridors. Not everyone has welcomed the initiative, but the prospect of turning a fragile region into a beacon of stability after a long period of instability and violence is a worthy aspiration, argues Fuad Shahbazov in this op-ed for KarabakhSpace.eu.

The second Karabakh war has shifted the geopolitical and geo-economic realities in the South Caucasus region, particularly heightening the possibility of competition over the region’s transport corridors. The Moscow-brokered ceasefire agreement signed on 10 November brings with it the possibility of opening a number of transit routes, which have been closed for almost 30 years. In the aftermath of the Armenian forces’ devastating defeat in the 44-day war, the idea of regional co-operation becomes increasingly important. Continue reading

The Revival of Islam: How Do External Factors Shape the Potential Islamist Threat in Azerbaijan?

International Counter-Terrorism Review (ICTR)

International Counter-Terrorism Review (ICTR)

Abstract

Considerable scholarly work on the post-Soviet region has focused on the various regional conflicts and security challenges, but rarely on the roots of the growing Islamism factor as a new source of threat. Following the demise of the Soviet Union, with its forcibly imposed atheist agenda, the majority of Muslim countries in Central Asia and the North Caucasus witnessed growing Islamic sentiments that led to a long-term, violent Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus and, to some extent, in Central Asia. However, unlike other Muslim countries in the post-Soviet space, Islam plays a minimal role in Azerbaijan. 

The country has maintained its unique secular model mainly due to the firm “secular nationalism” ideas put forward by local intellectuals since the 19th century. Nevertheless, it is necessary to understand the historical evolution process of Islamic thought in Azerbaijan, underline the role of certain external actors in promoting radical Islamic ideology, and understand how they pose an existential threat to national security and identity. Continue reading

Why is Azerbaijan trying to rekindle Israeli-Turkish ties?

An image from a pro-Azerbaijani community protest in Washington DC (Photo credit: Jerusalem Post)

An image from a pro-Azerbaijani community protest in Washington DC (Photo credit: Jerusalem Post)

The recent normalisation deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan signify substantial changes in the Middle East. The new agreements were signed following substantive negotiations on several security-related issues, including Iran and Turkey’s growing influence.

However, unlike their Arab counterparts, both Ankara and Tehran denounced the Abraham Accords, labeling them as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and a “dagger in the back of Muslims.” Nevertheless, media reports in December 2020 revealed that Turkey and Israel had established a secret channel for negotiations to prepare a roadmap to further bilateral relations. The fact that Tel Aviv and Ankara’s reconciliation process emerged just weeks before newly elected US President Joe Biden was to assume office suggests that Ankara was keen to send a positive signal and prevent any possible political isolation under the new administration. Continue reading

Turkey’s rise and Iran’s decline in the South Caucasus

Azeri Artillery shelling Armenian positions (Photo: BBC)

Azeri Artillery shelling Armenian positions (Photo: BBC)

Following the deadliest large-scale violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region for nearly three decades, the active phase of the conflict ended in November with a signed ceasefire agreement. But while the conflict asserted Turkey’s influence in the South Caucasus region, it also contributed to increased tensions between Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran.

The Turkish-Russian confrontation in the South Caucasus can be seen as a logical continuation of the rivalry in Syria and Libya, which resulted in shifting the regional balance of power along the southern borders of Russia. The active political involvement of Ankara in the conflict caused deep outrage not only in Moscow but also in Tehran, another important regional actor.

When fighting began, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey would continue to support Azerbaijan “with all its resources and heart.” During the war, Ankara provided Baku with active political and military support by exporting at least six armed Bayraktar TB2 type attack drones and supplying smart munitions (MAM-L), including precision-guided missiles. Continue reading

Turkey is the new major power in the South Caucasus

Turkish soldier greets an Azerbaijani colleague during recent military exercises between the two countries (photo TRT Istanbul)

Turkish soldier greets an Azerbaijani colleague during recent military exercises between the two countries (photo TRT Istanbul)

The bloody six-week conflict erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia on September 27 in the Nagorno-Karabakh region resulted in significant territorial gains for Azerbaijani forces. It was no secret that since the early 2000s Azerbaijan had been steadily building up its armed forces. The defeat of the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, an unrecognized Armenian populated territory within Azerbaijan’s borders, revealed serious military-technical problems on the Armenian side, which triggered mass anti-government riots in Armenia itself.   The recent Russia-brokered ceasefire agreement between Baku and Yerevan halted the ongoing bloodshed and enabled the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone. It also marked a significant shift in regional geopolitics. Continue reading

RFE/Liberty: Technology, Tactics, And Turkish Advice Lead Azerbaijan To Victory In Nagorno-Karabakh

A policeman walks past blood-stained stretchers at a morgue in Stepanakert, the main city in Nagorno-Karabakh, on November 6.

A policeman walks past blood-stained stretchers at a morgue in Stepanakert, the main city in Nagorno-Karabakh, on November 6.

It took Azerbaijan just 43 days to win back its territory around the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh — seven districts of mountains and foothills that had been occupied by Armenian separatists since Baku’s humiliating battlefield failures of the early 1990s. Analysts say three factors explain why Azerbaijan was so successful in the battlefield this time: technology, tactics, and Turkey.

Alex Melikishvili, a research analyst at IHS Markit Country Risk, says it was Turkish support for Azerbaijan that made the war “qualitatively different from all previous conflagrations.” Melikishvili says the presence of Turkish F-16 fighter jets at a military airfield in Ganca, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, was “tangible confirmation” that the geopolitical balance in the South Caucasus had shifted in Azerbaijan’s favor. Continue reading

RFE/Liberty: Azerbaijan Celebrates ‘Victory,’ Armenia In Crisis After Nagorno-Karabakh Deal

People wave the national flag and hold portraits of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his father and predecessor Heydar as they celebrate in the streets of Baku on November 10.

People wave the national flag and hold portraits of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his father and predecessor Heydar as they celebrate in the streets of Baku on November 10.

Still euphoric over the capture of a vital city from Armenian forces, Azerbaijanis celebrated on the streets of Baku after a Russian-brokered deal was signed late on November 9 aimed at ending the war over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Meanwhile, Yerevan, the Armenian capital, was plunged into a political crisis over the truce. Angry crowds stormed the Armenian parliament and ransacked government buildings after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian announced the deal on his Facebook page. As demonstrators also broke into Pashinian’s official residence, there was speculation the Armenian leader would be toppled and that the truce, along with the huge battlefield losses in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, could bring pro-Moscow Armenian nationalists back into power. Continue reading