Global Review

War in the Caucasus. Neo-Ottoman Empire, Eurasia, Asian NATO and Kavzak 2020

October 12, 2020
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Erdogan is igniting new conflicts an wars in his pursuit for a Neo-Ottoman Empire. This time in the Caucasus. While Turkey held several joint maneuvres with Azerbaijan and there were talks about a Turkish military base in Azerbaijan, we now face a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Erdogan wants to send 4000 Turkish fighters from Syria in support of Azerbaijan. Here is the full story.

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Azerbaijan and Amernia have a conflict about Nagorno-Karabakh, a region which is the lifeline for oil- and gas pipelines and a transit hub. It seems that the Caucasus region beyomnd Syria and Libya becomes another hot spot between Russia and Turkey. On July 29, Azerbaijan and Turkey launched a two-week-long round of joint military exercises with the participation of ground and air forces from both countries. The military drills involving land forces were held from August 1 to 5, in Baku and Nakhchivan; while the exercises with the participation of military aviation occurred between July 29 and August 10, in Baku, Nakhchivan, Ganja, Kurdamir and Yevlakh The Azerbaijani-Turkish drills caused considerable anxiety in Armenia. Meeting with the ambassadors of France and Russia as well as Iran’s newly appointed envoy to Yerevan, Armenia’s Defense Minister David Tonoyan said that his government would be monitoring the scheduled military drills by Turkey and Azerbaijan (Asbarez, July 29). While praising the military partnership between Armenia and Russia and organizing joint military exercises with the Russian army, Tonoyan described Azerbaijan’s military drills with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member Turkey as “destabilizing”for the region

In an article for Daily Sabah and RIAC Basel Haj Jasem already asked: “Will Turkey establish a military base in Azerbaijan?”:

“The political and media circles in the former Soviet countries continually discuss the issue of establishing a Turkish military base in the Republic of Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus. The discussion of the Turkish military presence in Azerbaijan is always linked to the coldness or warmth of relations between Moscow and Ankara, especially when the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict flares up.”

Azerbaijani political expert Gabel Husayn Ali said that during the return visit of the high Turkish military delegation, issues of establishing a Turkish military base in Nakhchivan (likely to have reached a joint conclusion), and of establishing another military base in Absheron Peninsula were discussed in detail(…).

Whether Turkey will establish a base in Azerbaijan or not, it should be noted that, even a few years ago, Turkey did not have military bases outside its territory, except for its military presence in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in 1974, and today Turkey has military bases in Somalia, Qatar, Iraq and Syria.

Not to forget: Turkey also wants to build a military base in Sudan. Erdogan is pushing his neo-Ottoman Empire in Northern Syria, Lybia, Sudan, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Erdogan advances in establishing his Neo-Ottoman Empire. The list is long: after supporting the Muslim Brothers everywhere in the Greater Middle East, equipping Islamist homicide militias from Syria to Libya, he becomes partly responsible for these civil wars and refugee flows, now portrays himself hypocritically as saviors of refugees and human rights, and is silencing the EU through the refugee deal, which he now wants to expand to Libya. After establishing a military base in Sudan, now marching into northern Syria and moving Turkish troops to Libya and also seeing his claims to gas deposits in the Mediterranean and the latter as his Mare Nostrum, building a second Bosporus Canal, refusing NATO ships to pass through the Bosporus to the Black Sea, procuring S 400 rockets from Russia despite all NATO protests, as well as Russian nuclear power plants and, with Putin, sees itself as a new regulatory force in the MENA region, he is now reaching out to Pakistan and Central Asia. We probably could have two Islamist belts: one from Somalia to the Sahel to Nigeria with the Islamic State, Boko Haram and Al Shaabab and a second from North Africa to Syria with Erdogan-backed Muslim Brothers and the FIS in Algeria. The best thing would be if they fought over each other. Whether Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan would remain stable remains to be seen The whole thing is also fueled by Palestine and Jerusalem. And there is also the US- Iranian conflict on the top, and it remains to be seen whether the PLO can still hold power and is not taken over by Hamas or even more radical forces.

Professor Rahr however thinks that Russia and Erdogan in the midterm would become tactical partners and great powers:

“I may be wrong, but in the medium-term – unlike most Western experts – I see Russia and Turkey as two neo-great powers that are more tactical allies than opponents. Russia does not have to fear any military pressure on its borders from Turkey. Turkey does not support Tatar separatism in Crimea. Like his predecessors, Erdogan still supports Islamist rebels in the North Caucasus. On the issue of control over the Black Sea region, Moscow and Ankara are close. Both do not want a strategic presence of NATO in their “inland sea Turkey does not participate in Western sanctions against Russia. Ankara has de facto recognized Abkhazia as a state because it invests there. Turkey is part of a tactical alliance Moscow-Ankara-Tehran in the Near and Middle East. Turkey falls out on many issues with the US and the EU – and since NATO is Russia’s main adversary today, this brings strategic advantages for Russia. Russia and Turkey are united in a gas alliance in the Black Sea region, which is currently suspended because Turkey is demanding lower gas prices from Russia. Moscow and Ankara will come to an agreement in Syria, and in the end Putin will persuade the Syrian ruler Assad to accept a Turkish protectorate in the north of the country. In Libya, too, the Russians prefer Turkey to be an active creative power than NATO. Putin and Erdogan have a close relationship, they are talking to each other in order to prevent another incident, such as the shooting down of a Russian fighter plane in Syria, which put both countries in the face of a military conflict.”

However, it remains to be seen if Russia´s and Turkey´s interests won´t collide in other regions if the Muslimbrothers want to topple General Al Sissi in Egypt, Assad in Syria or King Hussein in Jordan or now in the Caucasus.

In view of the human rights violations in Turkey, the authoritarian regime that has imprisoned over 200,000 political prisoners, Erdogan’s expansionism, which is now also directed against NATO partners Greece and Europe, demands for sanctions are being considered by both the US and the EU. The goal, however, remains unclear: to sanction Erdogan on occasion so that he is not directed against Western interests, regime change to end the neo-Ottoman adventure, with opponents of the sanction pointing out that Erdogan could join Russia and China and the SCO and then one could had a bigger problem. Especially about regime change: who could topple Erdogan domestically and replace him? Is there still a perspective on the part of the remaining secular parties or, as Daniel Pipes suspects, a moderate Islamist such as Davotoglu with a new zero-problem foreign policy or an Islamic US-exiled Gülen movement that could defuse the matter, especially in terms of Gulen’s foreign policythat has so far only announced that he would mobilize a Gülen Turkey, especially against Iran, or are there any remnants in the Turkish military that could produce a Neo-Attaturk who would end the Sultan and his neo-Ottoman ambitions? Or from an alliance of these forces?

Until then, Erdogan is playing with the West, which has already become fragile due to Trump, and Russia all the time. Wouldn’t it be better to approach Russia more to end this divide et impera and strategic balancing? It is also interesting that parts of the Putin administration think that NATO is letting Erdogan advance as an ally in the Caucasus. It would be tough for value-oriented transatlanticists to consider the option of a joint NATO-Russia containment against Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman Empire, but Erdogan might be a greater danger than Putin. In Egypt, Erdogan’s Muslim Brotherhood has now started anti-Al-Sissi protests, as well as in Jordan against King Hussein, in order to destabilize and overthrow both. It is still unclear whether this will lead to further unrest, instability and a strengthening of Islamist groups. But beyond the direct military conflict, both sides are now destabilizing internally as well, which can encourage further state collapse.

Like many Western strategists, Putin hopes to be able to steer Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman Empire against the West or vice versa against Russia. Like Germany, which was neutral at the time in the middle of Europe, Erdogan is now in the middle of the Greater Middle East, plays both sides against each other and is expanding all the time. Like Germany at the time, its own expansion efforts made it an objective disruptive factor and continued to pull both sides into the conflict – a sleepwalker between both worlds. However, Putin hopes to be able to weaken the West through Erdogan and he would like to see a war between NATO members Greece and Turkey very much, while several forces in the West hope to be able to use Erdogan’s expansionism against Russia. Both sides make this calculation and are brought into position against each other by Erdogan. It is also significant that German chancellor candidate Norbert Röttgen sees Putin primarily as an enemy, allegedly also because of human rights violations and Putin’s actions to secure the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea and the Russian military bases in Syria, but speaks out against sanctions against Erdogan, since Turkey would be a regulatory and too important power in the Greater Middle East. If Putin-Russia and the EU or even NATO were to take sanctions and measures against Erdogan-Turkey together, the neo-Ottoman sultan would be history within a month. But that will in all probability not happen because Putin and most western politicians have different geopolitical calculations and hopes. And as Trump is withdrawing from the Greater Middle East, allowing the MENA region to be divided between Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Putin and Iran and wants to let them fight it out and experience their own imperial overstretch, he only wants to take action against Iran. He doesn’t care whether Putin or Erdogan fills the power vacuum. Should they fight it out and then the USA should make an alliance with the stronger, insofar as he does not support Iran too openly.However, ther Azerbajianis think beccase of Turkrey`s support as NATO member, they had the support of the West. That is definitely wrong. Trump, Putin and Macron together called for a peace fire in the Caucasus, but Erdogan offensivly and loud rejected this idea and told the three great powerst hey should keep out of the conflicht. This would have been a good opportunity to make a joint action of the USA, France and Russia against Erdogan and send him to oblivion, but it didn´t happen.Russia still believes it could appease Erdogan and Azerbaijian by an Asthana format with Russia, Turkey and Iran as key players in the Cauacsus as they tried to do in Syria and Libya.

It was also interesting to see, that Russia was holding big maneuvres in the Caucasus Kavkaz 2020 with China, Pakistan, Iran, Belarus and other countries together as well as holding joint naval drills with the Iranian navy while NATO had military drills at the same time in the Baltic states and NATO-Turkey was holding drills in Azerbaijan. China now wants to set up military bases in Cambodia and Myanmar, Thailand will soon be importing more weapons from China than from the USA and Vietnam, on the other hand, is well on the way to becoming a US outpost in Asia. It is also interesting that Myanmar is now to the Russian-Chinese -Pakistani-Iranian Caucasus maneuvers 2020, while India will not and will have talks with the Quad and the USA in Delhi in the fall, whether military relations should not even be formalized in the form of an Asian NATO. However these drills have also multifactoral ambitions to diversify its Eurasian relations and also to improve the relations between Russia and Pakistan as also Turkey tries to have better contacts with Pakistan and some observer see this also as a golden opportunity for Pakistan as India didn´t join the drills this time: Shahid Hussain writes in The Diplomat on September 2nd, 2020: “Kavkaz 2020: Why Russia´s Latest Drills Are a Golden Opportunity for Pakistan: Beyond a chance to deepen ties with Russia, Pakistan hopes to build bridges with Central Asian countries through the Kavkaz 2020 exercises”

In Russia, be it Russian President Putin, be it former Soviet Prime minister Primakov and his advisor Dr. Kulikov (Russia-India-China model/RIC), be it Karaganov, be it even Dr. Kortunov (RIAC), or the Russian Orientalists, Eurasianism is quite en vogue and not only by its former avangardist Alexander Dugin. Especially Dr. Kortunov in his article “Heartland Reunion: Geopolitical Chimera or Historical Chance?“revitalized the idea of Mackinder’s paradigm, according to which who controls the Eurasian Heartland, controls The World-Island. He sees this formula as very modern. In his opinion, Sino-Indian cooperation beyond the RIC, BRICS and SCO framework would mean the control of the Eurasian Heartland at present and in the future. In his article, the author highlights how such cooperation could work, as well as how, serving as a tandem, China and India could attract both authoritarian states (China) and liberal democratic countries (India). Furthermore, in the article “Pakistan’s Role in the Great Eurasian Partnership“from June 2020, Mr. Morozov and Mr. Korybko present Putin’s concept of Great Eurasian Partnership (GEP), covering topics such as further cooperation between the BRI and the Eurasian Economic Union, the deepening of the SCO, as well as the incorporation of other Eurasian states like Pakistan.

However, if one looks at the present Sino-Indian border conflict and the rising assertiveness and nationalism on both sides, it is hard to imagine, at least for the foreseeable future, such a harmonious Eurasian Heartland cooperation to exist. Even if Russia tried to mediate for and support India’s membership in the permanent UNSC, with China blocking all these efforts, raising doubts about a possible Eurasian world, cooperation remains quite unlikely. And while Russia has also good contacts with India beyond the BRICS and the SCO, it also didn´t like the idea that Modi accepted the invitation to Trump´s anti-Chinese G 11 idea which wanted to split the Euraisansin by the formation of an anti-China bloc including Russian, India, South Korea and Australia. While Putin didn´t react to Trump´s offer, India wants to see what Trump can offer against China and Pakistan and also intensifies the cooperation within the Quad. While the Trump- USA offers India a G 11 participation, it also seems to propose more formal military ties. In his article “US seeks formal alliance similar to Nato with India, Japan and Australia, State Department official say “published 1 Sep, 2020 in the South Chjina Morning Post Robert Delaney writes:

“Washington’s goal is to get countries in the Indo-Pacific region to work together as a bulwark against ‘a potential challenge from China’, says the US official. He says the four nations are expected to meet in Delhi sometime this autumn.

As the world is in a transition period to a more multipolar world and a struggle between the weakened USA and the rising China, strategic balancing becomes the new normal as Indian General Asthana once claimed.

As long as Putin and some transatlanists hope that they could use Erdogan-Turkey against the other side, the Sultan in Istanbul will expand his neo-Ottoman Empire and threatens to draw Russia and the West into a conflict. What could be a solution? Prof. Rahr proposes a Confederation between Armenia, Azerbaijan and. Nagorno-Karabakh however, this like the Astanhan solution sounds not reasonable. Such a Confederation could only be possible if Russia abolishes ist military base in Armenia what Putin doesn´t want. It is also very vague how such a Condferderation Council could be structured in a stable framework and if Azerbaijan would tolerate more autonomy fort he disputed region. Before discussing or even negotiating such farreaching ideas, Putin could use the joint call by Trump, Macron and himself for a ceasefire to come to a united front against Erdogan. First, Putin should demand, that the USA, France will make efforts to stop any Turkish plantst o set up a military base in Azerbaijan, North Syria and Libya as this would only militarise these regions even more and harden the opposing positions. Putin should appeal to Trump and Macron for sanctions within NAO and the EU against Erdogan if he doesn´t stop his neo-Ottoman expansion and warmongering. Putin should use this historic opportunity to get clarification if the West or NATO is further tolerating Edogan´s expansionism. Loud and openly and also at the UNO. This could also be a door-opener for a rapprochement between the West and Russia at a minimum consensus.

After Russia got in contact with the USA and France, it invited Azerbaijian and Armenian diplomats to come to ceasefire and peace talks to Moscow.While commentators in the Western media had doubts that Putin will reach a ceasefire, it happened. Hopefully it remains stable. But beyond the fact that the ceasefire stops the men slaughter in the Caucasus, it also sends the signal that Putin-Russia can cooperate with the WEest and be a responsible stakeholder and also a force of peace.

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