The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, postponed his visit to Baku, which was planned to start on March 15th. Instead, the President of Azerbaijan visits Ankara. One of the main issues that Erdogan will discuss with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, will be the Russian-Turkish confrontation. Despite the announced withdrawal of the Russian armed forces from Syria, Russia will maintain its military presence in the country and continue to support the government in Damascus. Ankara seeks to use Baku to their advantage in the conflict with Russia.
Azerbaijan and Turkey have links in their ethnic and cultural community. In the course of the Karabakh conflict, Turkey supported Azerbaijan, and regarded them as an advocate of their interests in the South Caucasus. However, after the transfer of power to the Aliyev clan, Azerbaijan has become stuck with a multi-vectored policy that manoeuvres between Russia and the West. Pro-Western bias in the mid-2000’s has given way to relative rapprochement with Russia in the past few years.
Baku supports Russia?
Baku has tried to avoid taking a certain position in the Russian-Turkish conflict. Similar to how it regards Syria, Azerbaijan has positioned itself in order to maintain good relations with Russia, the countries of the West, and Turkey. Last month, the Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister, Araz Azimov, said that the best guarantor of security in Syria was Assad, which directly contradicts the position of Ankara. Thus, Baku has signaled that they are now more prepared to support Moscow, something that disturbs Turkey. Most likely, Turkey will try to remedy the situation and persuade Azerbaijan to adopt their stance.
Economics and geopolitics
Due to the frozen status of the Turkish-Russian project “Turkish Stream”, Turkey is interested in Azerbaijan’s energy resources: oil and gas. In addition to oil and gas projects in the region, the Turks are interested in Azerbaijan becoming a transit country, through which they can gain access to Central Asia. In the context of the fall in energy prices, which the economy of Azerbaijan is highly dependent on, Turkish and European money can become a serious instrument of pressure on the state’s position.
Turkey is ready to ignite war
In terms of a confrontation with Russia, Turkey has not abandoned its plans for a military intervention in Syria. Despite Russia’s compromises, Turkey and the West are not aiming to ease pressure on Russia. Erdogan may try to open a second front in order to divert Moscow’s attention from Syria. This could be the old frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which is in close proximity to Russia’s borders. Azerbaijan is unlikely to be willing to get involved in a conflict with Russia, whose military ally is Armenia, but Turkey may announce their possible support for Azerbaijan should there be an escalation in the conflict.
Earlier, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, declared that Russia helping Armenia jeopardizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Thus, Turkey has shown a willingness to play on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.
The possibility of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resuming is the main factor that destabilizes the situation in the region. In any case, this implies an armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, something that Russia is not interested in. In recent years, Russia has kept their allied relations with Armenia and has sought rapprochement with Azerbaijan, but the US, the EU, and Turkey are also fighting for the influence of this major oil-producing country. In the event of an armed conflict, Russia will be forced to take sides, and will most likely side with Armenia, thus, Russia will lose all relations with Azerbaijan. Russia is interested in “freezing” the conflict since it cannot be resolved peacefully in the current geopolitical situation.
During the past year, the number of provocations on the contact line in Karabakh and on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border has increased dramatically: artillery battles, raids from subversive groups, mutual attacks etc. In particular, the Azerbaijani side is the most active in violating the international agreements. A neo-Ottoman Turkey, whose Foreign Minister, Çavuşoğlu, promised to “make every effort to liberate the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”,and is pushing Azerbaijan into making aggressive provocations. The Turkish leadership is known for its denial of Armenian genocide and excuse for war criminals.
Azerbaijan as a mediator
If Turkey is prepared to try to at least partially restore relations with Russia and initiate negotiations regarding the spheres of influence in Syria, Azerbaijan could act as a mediator. In the context of militant rhetoric from both sides, such a prospect has little chance, but should also be taken into consideration.