America can’t afford to be AWOL in the Caucasus

As part of his trip to Georgia, Ukraine, Romania and the NATO summit in Brussels, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sign a memorandum of understanding on the Georgian initiative to strengthen defense and deterrence. Austin’s trip clearly focuses on the vitally important issues related to the security of the Black Sea, an issue of crucial importance both to all of those riparian states and to NATO in light of the Russia’s continued aggression, intimidation and subversion in Ukraine, Georgia and all other coastlines. Black Sea States. Certainly, the Black Sea is of vital importance to all of these actors and it is essential that senior US officials show and even improve NATO and our presence there.

Nonetheless, Austin’s trip raises serious and difficult questions about US policy in that part of the world. Specifically, it’s worth asking why Austin or some other high-ranking official didn’t bother to visit Armenia and / or Azerbaijan for whom the security of the Black Sea is no less important. Neither state is a member of NATO or a direct victim of Russian aggression. However, they are not only under constant pressure from Russia and only recently signed an armistice ending hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh following the September-November 2020 war. Moreover, recent events show one “peace process”In this war is nowhere in sight. Therefore, both parties must therefore find a real mediator. Russia, whose policy has always been to preserve this conflict, certainly cannot claim this role. But as long as Washington refrains from playing a role here, by default the region will be divided between Russia and Turkey whose support for Azerbaijan in the war and treaty with Azerbaijan catapulted it into a major parallel role in the Caucasus with Russia.

Even though the Armenian government has indicated Turkey’s desire for peace with Azerbaijan and Turkey alone cannot guarantee peace in the Caucasus against a hostile and jealous Russia. Nor can he ensure peace with Iran, which has now become a major threat to Azerbaijan. Indeed, Azerbaijan has become a second front for Iran, which has deployed new forces on the border with Azerbaijan and for the first time in thirty years conducted visible exercises there. Although Tehran claims to do so because of the intolerable presence “Zionist forces” and troops in Azerbaijan, he is responsible only for the Azeri-Israeli partnership himself. He has does terrorism against both states and attempted to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli personnel and its embassy in Azerbaijan. He used Armenia as illegal banking paradise and created hundreds of businesses in Armenia under false and legal pretexts to evade or circumvent sanctions. For many years it has been transfer of energy supplies in Armenia via Nagorno-Karabakh and was very embarrassed when Azerbaijan, after numerous warnings, arrested Iranian truck drivers transporting this contraband. Likewise, there is reports from Iran secretly selling arms to Armenia. For years it has also been smuggling drugs and people across Armenia. He also attempted to overthrow the Azeri government by leading ideological subversion among the Shiites of Azerbaijan, even though he officially recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan because of his fear of separatist tendencies among its sizable Azeri minority in northern Iran.

Indeed, the presence of this apparently increasingly reluctant minority is at the origin of Iranian hostility towards Azerbaijan. Now this hostility has increased due to the presence of Israel and Turkey in Azerbaijan and the end of Iran’s profitable smuggling rackets there. Thus, Iran also threatens Baku and has substantial influence in Armenia. Under the circumstances, then, one has to wonder why Austin or some other senior official did not visit either of the two countries which are within an hour’s flight from Tbilisi?

Considering the expense and logistical planning involved in such a trip, these could not be the reasons why these states were not added to Austin’s itinerary. Although we hear of Washington’s desire to play a role in mediating this conflict, there is no sign of any political initiative or strategy here. This posture of being essentially AWOL in the Caucasus is a mere extension of what has been US policy for over a decade. This position, as events have shown, excludes the United States from having significant influence in either state, leaves the field to the competing hegemons of Turkey and Russia, and does nothing. to achieve real progress towards peace.

It is also not true that mutual enmity and even hatred of Amenia and Azerbaijan prevent such an initiative, although some former diplomats have alluded to this factor in conversations with me. After all, the Arab-Israeli enmity was even more intransigent in the 1970s, but the United States, through creative craftsmanship and diplomacy, gradually succeeded in securing peace agreements with far reaching implications. has gradually spread to the point where some of these states are now allies of Israel against Iran. . So, in fact, there is no answer as to why US policy continues to neglect the Caucasus. Considering the fact that here Iran, Russia, Turkey and, to a lesser extent, Israel are all in competition, the absence of any coherent American strategy makes no sense. Last year’s war in the Caucasus shows that the neglect of the Caucasus is never trivial and that the possibility of war remains very high. But this time it may not just be a war between two small Caucasian states, but a war that will bring either the Middle East or our NATO ally Turkey against the Russia and / or Iran. Under these circumstances, we must ask Secretary Austin and other high-ranking policymakers whether the continued neglect of the Caucasus is truly beneficial to US interests. Because if “America is back,” as President Biden says, why isn’t it back here too?

Stephen Blank is Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Image: Reuters

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