October 7, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8957

Russian Commentator Akopov: The Alarmists Are Wrong, Russia's Position In Transcaucasia Is Impregnable, Turkey Can Become A Player There Only With Russia's Assent

October 7, 2020
Russia, Turkey, South Caucasus | Special Dispatch No. 8957

Petr Akopov, the lead commentator for the Novosti news agency, responds to the alarmists among Russian opinion leaders, who have criticized Russia's current hands-off policy to the war in Nagorno Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The critics, who include supporters of Vladimir Putin, fear that Erdogan can parlay his support for Azerbaijan to eject Russia from the Transcaucasia and even imperil Russia's very existence.[1]

These fears are groundless, retorts Akopov. Russia is too heavily entrenched in the area, and it was not dislodged from Transcaucasia, even when the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia was at its weakest. Akopov, although a fervent supporter of closer Russian-Turkish relations[2], warns Turkey not to spoil the mutually beneficial relationship that has developed between Erdogan and Putin. Turkey, in any case, cannot impose a military solution in Nagorno Karabakh. If Turkey seeks a greater role in Transcaucasia, it will achieve this only with Russia's consent and not by attempts to weaken Russia.

Akopov, a staunch defender of Kremlin policy, and a scourge of Kremlin critics, may be reflecting official thinking that would like Armenia to see what its fate will be if it distances itself from Russia and seeks greener pastures in the West. The influential Russian Senator Alexei Pushkov wrote in his Telegram channel: "This [attack on Nagorno Karabakh] is not a coincidence, but an informed calculation. Inter alia due to the new Armenian government's inclination to place relations with Russia in doubt. And Ankara knows very well that the countries of the West, to which Yerevan has been so drawn to lately, will not come to [Prime Minister Nikol] Pashinyan's aid in a critical situation. It is one thing to pull Armenia away from Russia; this is a favorite thing [for the West]. And it is quite another to stand up for her. As they say in Odessa, there are two major differences."[3] Akopov may also be echoing Kremlin thinking that it would a waste to put Putin's carefully constructed relationship with Erdogan in jeopardy, as long as the conflict is confined to Nagorno Karabakh.

Akopov's analysis follows below:[4]

Petr Akopov (Image: Kavpolit)

Despite All The Bellicose Rhetoric, Turkey Does Not Want To Risk Its Relations With Russia

"The war in Karabakh may lead to the loss of our [Russian] influence in Transcaucasia - this topic is being increasingly discussed in Russia. Some talk about the issue with concern, others (eternal fighters against Russian imperialism) - with hope. And if Russia will lose the influence, then Turkey, of course, will gain it, therefore, they say, it is necessary to decisively support one of the parties to the conflict, and warn the Turks about the inadmissibility of interference. Otherwise, we [Russia] will lose everything: Armenia will lose [the war] and become disillusioned with Russia (and will reorient itself towards the West), and Azerbaijan will become convinced of the effectiveness of Turkish support and will also turn colder towards Moscow. Turkey, on the other hand, will become the most influential force in the South Caucasus and will more actively obstruct Russia in other areas, primarily in Syria and Libya. In general, the times of the Russian-Turkish wars will return.

"This concept, as a whole, is flawed and wrong - Russia will not support anyone in this senseless war and will be able to stop it early, without losing its influence in the region. However, all such fears [shared by part] of our public are actively nourished by the loud statements of the Turkish leaders. These, unlike the Russian ones, do not call for a ceasefire, fully support Baku, while reproaching Russia in the process. That same Erdogan said that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must be resolved once and for all, and the great powers should not give him advice on this issue: 'The United States, Russia and France have not been able to resolve this issue for about 30 years.

... A group called 'The Minsk Three' [The OSCE Minsk Group] did not solve this problem. Moreover, it did everything possible to avoid solving this problem. Now they are just being clever and at times threatening. It's payback time. Azerbaijan itself must cut its umbilical cord.'

"Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared that 'we are together with Azerbaijan both at the negotiating table and on the battlefield. These are not mere words. Whatever assistance Azerbaijan needs, we are ready to provide it.' And at the same time, he addressed 'the entire world community, in particular the OSCE', with a protest against double standards: 'Today we jointly support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Georgia. This is a reasonable and correct position. However, Azerbaijan, whose lands were occupied, is put on the same scale with the occupying country – Armenia. This position is fundamentally wrong and unfair.'

"That is, Turkey reminds Russia that it didn't recognize [Russia's annexation of] Crimea, that it does not support Russia in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia issue, and now it also ignores Moscow's calls to stop adding fuel to the fire. Has Erdogan decided to cross the line in relations with Putin, [and] to jeopardize Russian-Turkish relations? Back in November 2015 after the Turks shot down our Su-25 in, the relations, which were frozen for nine months, were later restored, but now they may not withstand a new quarrel.

"No, despite all the bellicose rhetoric, Turkey does not want to risk its relations with Russia and will not interfere in the Armenian-Azerbaijani war. Reports about deployed militants from Syria, as well as about the Armenian Su-25 downed by a Turkish F-16, are all disinformation. However, there is, of course, Turkey's political interference - and it has already acquired impressive proportions. Why does Ankara act this way and what does it hope to achieve?"

The Trans Caucasus Remains Firmly Within Russia's Zone Of Interests

"Does Turkey want to oust Russia from the South Caucasus? But this is unrealistic - the Caucasus has been a zone of rivalry and clashes between Russia and Turkey for several centuries, as a result of which it ended up as a part of our country. The collapse of the USSR did not mean that Transcaucasia would disappear from the Russian zone of influence: even difficult relations, and the war with Georgia (which failed to accept the fact that its own collapse was the result of the USSR's collapse, which it actively sought) did not deprive Moscow of its controlling interest in terms of regional influence.

"Yes, Turkey has long ago purchased half of Georgia; yes, Turkey and Azerbaijan are 'two states and one people' - but historically, economically and humanly, all three republics are very tightly tied to Russia. Even Georgia, which does not have diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation, needs Russia: Georgians living in Russia, including those who own big business, arriving Russian tourists, impressive Russian property in the republic... Yes, Georgia is trying to play with NATO, but one cannot fool geography, and Russia is categorically against the entry of the failed state into the North Atlantic Alliance. At the same time, Moscow has little concerns about the creeping Turkification of the Georgian economy."

Turkey Can Become A Player In The Transcaucasus Only With Russian Acquiescence

"Turkey can further increase its influence in the Transcaucasus, but only without wagering on Russia's ouster from the region, or playing at weakening Russian positions. And it is precisely the latter that Erdogan is attempting to do now. He needs support for the Karabakh war in order to compel Russia to agree to work jointly with Turkey on the resolution of the Karabakh issue. In fact, this is exactly what Cavusoglu said:

"'There were proposals from our president to Putin, discussions were also held with Lavrov, but this conflict has not been resolved. As we acted together in Syria, so we tried here as well but unsuccessfully. They [the Kremlin] say: the war must be stopped. True, it must be stopped, a ceasefire must be introduced, but at the same time Armenia must withdraw from the occupied territories. Is this being said too? - No. Then how can the issue be resolved? ... These negotiations have been going on for thirty years, and didn't bring results. And they do not offer anything concrete for the resolution of this problem. We are trying to convey this information to our partners in a calm manner. But saying this only at the negotiating table is not enough. It's like addressing a deaf person. Therefore, it is important to conduct such processes both at the negotiating table and on the battlefield. And this is exactly what we are doing. We have frequently observed the benefit of this approach.'

It Would Be Absolute Madness To Jeopardize The Entire Complex Of Russian-Turkish Relations Because Of The Karabakh Issue

"The head of the Turkish Foreign Ministry does not see any contradictions: he said in Syria we managed to come to an agreement with Russia, why can't we do the same here [in Karabakh]? It is impossible - because in Syria (by the time Russia entered the war), the conflict had been going on for four years, and in Karabakh - it ended in 1994. It is impossible - because although Syria belongs to Turkey's zone of vital interests (in the same manner as Armenia and Azerbaijan belong to the Russian zone of interests), Turkey did not have a decisive influence in Syria. Turkey could not achieve anything alone there: there was a civil war, ISIS fighters were multiplying, many other external players were present (including the United States). Cooperation with Russia, which strengthened Bashar al-Assad, was ultimately beneficial to Turkey, because it helped Turkey protect its interests in northern Syria. But why should Moscow cooperate with Ankara in Karabakh? To unleash a war in which Russia is categorically disinterested?

"[Should Russia cooperate with Turkey] to help resolve the Karabakh issue at the negotiating table? However, the appearance of Turkey in the role of mediator or as representative of Azerbaijan will only frighten the Armenians. And most importantly: why should Russia help strengthen Turkey's position in the zone of our vital interests? Because Turks and Azerbaijanis are practically one nation? But Russians and Ukrainians are also united, but Turkey supports the West's bet on the Atlanticization of Ukraine. With all the positive dynamics of the growing Turkish independence under Erdogan (which led both to a weakening of its orientation towards the West and to a strengthening of relations with Russia (the purchase of the S-400 was the most prominent event here), Turkey is still a NATO member. The alliance is clearly aimed not only at containing Russia, but also at ousting our country from the entire post-Soviet space. Does Turkey want to be an influential force in the Caucasus as a national state, not a NATO member? Well, this is so now, but what will happen in ten years, or if Erdogan would be replaced by loyal Atlanticists?

"When Turkey leaves NATO and joins, say, the Eurasian Union, then it will find itself in a single space with the Turkic nations of the former USSR: the very same Kazakhstan for example (and then Azerbaijan will certainly follow Turkey too).

"Now, Turkey can participate in the Transcaucasian politics in only one way: by stopping to urge Azerbaijan to cut the 'Karabakh knot' by force. The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict still has no military solution, not to mention the fact that the Russian presence and influence makes the war meaningless. Russia and Turkey have already achieved a lot together - and they can do even more if they continue to coordinate their efforts on the world stage.

"It would be absolute madness to jeopardize the entire complex of Russian-Turkish relations because of the very difficult Karabakh issue, which does not require an immediate solution (and does not have one), and one can be sure that Recep Erdogan is definitely incapable of resolving it. [It was not] big talk, but a strategic vision (primarily of Turkey's national interests), rational actions and the ability to negotiate with Vladimir Putin: this is what distinguished 17 years of Russo-Turkish relationship, which became the time of an unprecedented expansion in cooperation between the two countries. This cooperation was future oriented, rather than attempts to replay the results of the Russian-Turkish wars for the Caucasus."

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