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What to expect if Bulgaria expels Lukoil

COMMENT: What to expect if Bulgaria expels Lukoil

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 had unpredictable repercussions in the global energy market. Although EU countries significantly decreased reliance on Russian oil and, to some extent, Russian gas, the Kremlin still maintains limited influence in some EU countries, including Bulgaria. Since the EU imposed an energy sanctions package on Russia, Bulgaria was granted a two-year exemption from Europe’s embargo on Russian oil until December 2024. Continue reading

Turkey’s Pivot West Disrupts Relations With Russia

Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 124

On July 9, Turkey freed the commanders of the well-known Ukrainian Azov regiment after months of hosting them as a part of a deal with Russia (Ukrinform, July 31). The fighters surrendered to Russian forces after weeks of brutal siege and resistance at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol, even after the rest of the city had fallen following Russia’s devastating and relentless assaults (Kyivpost, May 17). Ankara’s surprise move came during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s first official visit to Turkey since the Russian invasion in February 2022 to meet his counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and discuss the possibilities of deepening their strategic partnership. Amid rhetoric on expanding the two countries’ cooperation in defense and security, Erdogan also declared, “Ukraine deserves to be a NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] member” (Al-Monitor, July 7). Continue reading

How Did Wagner Become Russia’s Most Popular Hybrid Warfare Strategy Tool?

A week after an armed rebellion rattled Russia, key details about it are  still shrouded in mystery - The San Diego Union-Tribune

Private military contractors (PMCs) re-emerged as a popular phenomenon in the post-Cold War era, particularly in the early 2000s, when the exodus of war veterans from Western militaries expanded the pool of PMCs. As of today, PMCs operate in most (about 110) countries. Among the top 30 PMCs in terms of financial resources and recruited mercenaries, most were established or have their headquarters in the US (13) or the UK (6).[i] Traditionally, PMCs operate mainly in active armed conflict zones or areas where the political and social situations are unstable. In this vein, their activities are usually coordinated with the foreign policy aims of the countries where they are headquartered.

Unlike the Western countries possessing solid experience in establishing and managing PMCs, this phenomenon has long been a tabu in the post-Soviet region due to those countries’ fragile political situations and the nature of their internal power dynamics. However, the situation changed when the Russian government gave the green light to establish its first PMC – Wagner – in 2011, which would be headed by the Kremlin-linked businessman and former criminal convict Yevgeni Prigozhin. In the beginning, Wagner’s main activities were limited to Syria, the Central African Republic, Mali, Libya, Mozambique, and Sudan, with the aim of providing “security and paramilitary services” to local governments struggling with armed rebellion and frequent terrorist attacks in exchange for resource concessions and diplomatic support.[ii] Hence, Wagner’s services vary based on the needs of client countries. Continue reading

How Will Hakan Fidan’s Appointment Shift Turkish Diplomacy in Its Neighborhood?

Hakan Fidan Appointed as Turkey's New Minister of Foreign Affairs

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 108

After winning re-election, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan significantly reshuffled his ministerial cabinet. Unlike in previous terms, this time, Erdogan decided to make significant changes to his cabinet while signalling upcoming reforms amid economic difficulties at home and political disputes abroad. In addressing domestic needs, the Turkish president appointed internationally respected ex-banker Mehmet Şimşek as the new minister of finance and Cevdet Yilmaz, former minister of development and deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, as vice president (Al Jazeera, June 3). Although the cabinet members are newly appointed bureaucrats, they are not completely “new faces” as they were heavily engaged in Turkish politics before their appointments.

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China’s Yemen Diplomacy and a Multipolar Gulf

Since it first emerged as an economic powerhouse in the 1990s and early 2000s, China has consistently adhered to the principle of neutrality and non-interference in other nations’ internal affairs. As it gained economic clout and a growing market share throughout the Middle East, Beijing preserved its reputation as a neutral market, conducting trade with all nations and remaining aloof from regional politics. Given this background, the announcement in March of a China-mediated diplomatic normalization between Saudi Arabia and Iran—the Gulf’s two primary geopolitical foes—after years of the rivalry came as a shock both to Middle Eastern and Western experts. The Saudi-Iran détente could contribute to the de-escalation of deadly tensions, particularly in the Gulf region. Riyadh and Tehran are engaged in prolonged and bloody proxy wars in the Middle East—most notably in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition against the country’s northern Houthi rebels for eight years without success. Continue reading

Azerbaijan’s energy diplomacy pivots to the Balkans

OPINION: Azerbaijan’s energy diplomacy pivots to the Balkans

Azerbaijan has adjusted its foreign policy agenda to target the Balkan region, that is more vulnerable to the energy crisis than the states of Central and Western Europe.

Energy has long been the core element of Azerbaijan’s pragmatic foreign policy, and recently it gained more impetus as European nations sought additional energy suppliers to replace Russian fossil fuel exports. Although the EU’s leading member countries are able to compensate for energy shortages by using energy reserves, employing alternative energy sources and importing additional gas volumes from alternative suppliers, the less developed Balkan states are struggling to adapt to the energy deficit.

More gas for the Balkans

On April 26, a signing ceremony for the memorandum of understanding on encouraging cooperation among Bulgartransgaz (Bulgaria), Transgaz (Romania), FGSZ (Hungary), Eustream (Slovakia) and the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) was held in Sofia. The memorandum paves the way for additional Azeri gas volumes to flow to the Balkans amid the unprecedented energy crisis in Europe caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, the document highlighting Azerbaijan’s strategic partnership with the Balkan nations will ease the cooperation between the local authorities and the transmission and distribution system operators. Continue reading

Azerbaijani-Iranian Tensions Disrupt the South Caucasus

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 63

On March 30, Azerbaijan officially inaugurated its first embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, after avoiding the move for three decades. Although the decision highlighted the importance of Azerbaijani-Israeli relations, it quickly became a catalyst behind the renewed war of words between Iran and Azerbaijan (Themedialine.org, March 30). Since 2021, diplomatic relations between Tehran and Baku have steadily become embittered. Iran is primarily concerned with the decline of its influence in the South Caucasus, which has suffered since the end of the Second Karabakh War in 2020. As such, in an attempt by Tehran to flex its muscles and intimidate Azerbaijan, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps conducted large-scale military drills on the border with Azerbaijan in October 2022 (Eurasianet, October 20, 2022). Unlike previous years, the exercises provoked an uneasy reaction within Azerbaijan and triggered anti-Iranian sentiments throughout the country. Continue reading

Is war between Iran and Azerbaijan out of the question?

bne IntelliNews - TEHRAN BLOG: Iran takes aim at 'gambler' and 'political  dwarf' Aliyev as Azerbaijan tensions simmer

Tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran have grown rather raw recently in the wake of Baku’s inauguration of its first-ever embassy in Israel. Of course, diplomatic relations between the neighbours have steadily become more and more inflamed and embittered for several years now, with Iran concerned at the declining influence in the South Caucasus it has suffered since the second Karabakh war between Azerbaijan, urged on by Turkey, and Armenia in late 2020. And with the normalisation of diplomatic ties between Tehran and Baku unlikely in the near future, the big question remains unanswered: Is it possible that the tensions could escalate into a large-scale regional conflict? Continue reading

The History and Evolution of Iran’s National Drone Program

A military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) on a runway during a two-day drone exercise at an undisclosed location in Iran, August 24, 2022.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, launched in early 2022, has fundamentally changed the international security architecture that had existed for many years, but it has also caused global political and economic cataclysms. Although Russian forces made significant gains thanks to heavy artillery fire, including missile strikes on cities all over Ukraine in the first weeks of combat, Ukrainian defenders quickly rebuffed attempts by consolidating its military power, exercising diplomatic connections, and launching counterattacks at Russian positions.

The failures of continuous artillery and missile strikes in the following months prompted Russia to make some changes in its military tactics. As a result, Russia was forced to seek help from its traditional allies, China and Iran, through unofficial channels.[1] Although China has refrained from overtly providing military support to Russia in order not to further complicate relations with Western countries, particularly with the United States, Iran began supplying locally produced long-range attack (suicide) drones to Russia. The effective use of Iranian-made Shahed and Mohajer drones by the Russian army to conduct attacks against Ukraine’s critical civilian infrastructure in the first days has revived interest in the Iranian drone industry internationally and has brought to light the real threat of Iran’s long-standing national drone program to security across the Middle East region.[2]  Continue reading