New Security Configuration in the Caucasus

Published  on The Hindu, by Vladimir Radyuhin, Oct. 20, 2009.

… … In a joint declaration adopted at the summit, Russia and Turkey expressed support for Turkey’s CSCP initiative, noted the “identity of view” on security and stability in the Black Sea region and reaffirmed their commitment to the Montreux Convention.

There is no denying that Russia and Turkey are historical rivals in the Caucasus, having fought 11 wars lasting 44 years in the past. They are still competing for influence in the region, but shared interests make them allies too. Russia meets 80 per cent of Turkey’s natural gas needs through the Blue Stream pipe laid on the seabed across the Black Sea. Turkey has backed the Russian proposal to build a Blue Stream-2 pipeline, which, together with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, would make Turkey a major energy transit hub for Europe and Israel.  

A distinct cooling in Turkey’s relations with the U.S. over Iraq and the Kurdish problem, and with Europe over its granting EU membership to Cyprus and refusal to admit Turkey has further pushed Ankara towards Moscow.

Normalisation between Turkey and Armenia and an improving outlook for a settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan will remove the last roadblocks to a regional security set-up on the basis of the Turkish CSPC proposal. Moscow is already looking to extend its cooperation with Turkey on regional security beyond the Caucasus. On a visit to Istanbul last year, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointedly emphasised that Russia and Turkey shared similar views on “what needs to be done for a conclusive settlement in Iraq” and on “the necessity of peaceful political resolution of the situation regarding the Iranian nuclear programme.”

Chances of the new regional security configuration in the Caucasus becoming a reality will greatly depend on whether the U.S. goes along or tries to torpedo the project by encouraging its allies, Georgia and Azerbaijan, to reject the initiative.

In joint Russian-U.S. efforts to promote normalisation between Turkey and Armenia there are grounds for optimism. Mr. Medvedev hailed it as a “good example of our [Russian-American] coordination in international affairs.” The very possibility of the ongoing reset in relations between Russia and the U.S. being projected to the Caucasus will enable Moscow to play on Turkey’s fears of being left in the cold and help get the best deal from both. (full text).

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