BAKU: Russia May Win Out As Armenia And Turkey Restore Ties: Trend N


Nov 3 2009

Commentator of Trend News European Desk, Elmira Tariverdiyeva

The recent establishment of diplomatic ties between Armenia and Turkey
will not only affect the interests of these two countries. This process
stretches far beyond the region, as restoring these relations are
important for Ankara and Yerevan, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and also
the West.

But perhaps the international community is most curious about Russia’s
attitude about these processes, as one of the most interested regional
players in the South Caucasus.

Moscow always played the role of Yerevan’s key ally. The Russia-Armenia
strategic partnership developed due to a historic friendship between
the two Christian peoples. Moscow considers Armenia a major ally and
partner in the South Caucasus, especially after the August events in
Georgia, when Russia cut off all diplomatic relations with Tbilisi.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has always maintained political balance, sharing
congenial relations with all countries in the region, Russia and the
West, and historically preferring Turkey as an ally.

The recent history of cooperation between Russia and Armenia dates back
to 1992 when the Russian and Armenian presidents signed a treaty on the
legal status of the Russian armed forces in Armenia. In March 1995,
the two countries signed a treaty on stationing Russia’s military
base in the country. Since 1992, Armenia and Russia have also joined
the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Russia has repeatedly provided financial assistance to Yerevan.

Armenia has been in an economic blockade since 1993 when Turkey
followed Azerbaijan’s example and closed its borders with the country.

Russia also boasts one of the largest and most influential Armenian
Diasporas in the world.

However, the establishment of diplomatic ties between Armenia and
Turkey today is rapidly changing the geopolitical configuration of the
South Caucasus. Many observers believe Russia may lose its influence
in Armenia as open borders with Turkey will make the country less
economically dependent on Moscow.

Russia, though, will actually benefit from the renewed diplomatic ties.

Armenia will never trust Turkey as much as Moscow. History’s ghosts
will haunt Ankara-Yerevan bilateral relations – more specifically
centuries of Western Armenia being a part of the Ottoman Empire and
the so-called "genocide" in 1915.

Recent history is also full of unpleasant memories.

During the active military phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,
Turkey clearly sided with Azerbaijan, which was the reason why it
closed its borders with Armenia.

Russian businesses, which filled a serious gap in the Armenian economy
at the time, are now so firmly rooted in the country’s economy that
Turkish businessmen will not be able to compete. After the opening of
the borders, Turkish business in Armenia will be more entrepreneurial
in spirit than Russia’s large-scale projects.

However, on the other hand, Turkey’s large and streamlined economy
will defeat the need to keep Russia as a constant donor.

Russia’s investments in Armenia’s small and medium enterprises need
to pay off quickly as the border opens between Armenia and Turkey to
keep the local population satisfied.

Another positive outcome for Moscow is that many Armenian migrants
in Russia will relocate to their homeland or Turkey after the border

On the other hand, the normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties may cool
relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey. Russia will take advantage
of this situation to improve its relations with Baku.

On Oct. 28, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during a meeting with
members of the Turkish Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs
touched on the Ankara-Yerevan protocols. The Azerbaijani leader said
that part of Azerbaijan’s lands have been under Armenian occupation
for nearly 20 years and Armenia pursued a policy of genocide
and ethnic cleansing in these areas. Therefore, the Azerbaijani
society’s sensitive approach to relations with Armenia should be
assessed properly. A major cause of discontent in Azerbaijan is the
assumption that by opening the Turkish-Armenian border, Armenia will
no longer suffer from a severe economic crisis and be able to stiffen
its position in the Nagorno-Karabakh talks, Aliyev said.

Fearing that opening the border may negatively affect the
Nagorno-Karabakh talks, Azerbaijan may begin to see Moscow as an
important regional partner.

It is obvious that Russia needs Azerbaijan as a key strategic partner
in the South Caucasus, as the geopolitical center of the region and
a country rich in energy resources.

Russia’s Gazprom has already offered to buy Azerbaijani gas at a
price three times higher than the $120 per thousand cubic meters which
Turkey pays for the energy. Azerbaijan has also signed a contract to
supply Russia with at least 500 million cubic meters of gas per year.

The upper bracket of supply is not restricted, and their volume will
increase as gas production grows in Azerbaijan.

It seems that Russia can acquire a strategic regional partner in
the region without losing its long-standing historic ally, and will
economically gain much from the establishment of Ankara-Yerevan ties.