Politics

Turkey-Russia Conflict Divides South Caucasus

Turkey-Russia Conflict Divides South Caucasus by Giorgi Lomsadze, EurasiaNet

Sandwiched between Turkey and Russia, and for centuries a battleground for the erstwhile empires, the South Caucasus is bracing for fallout from the geopolitical furor sparked by the Turkish downing of a Russian fighter jet.

Memories of multiple Ottoman-Tsarist wars that ravaged the South Caucasus from the 17th to the 20th centuries still exert influence over public opinion in the region. But modern-day issues wield the most influence in shaping loyalties, splitting the region into pro-Turkey and pro-Russia camps. The three states in the region – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – are coming under growing pressure to choose sides following Turkey’s November 24 shoot-down of the Su-24 fighter.

Armenia, Russia’s main, if only, committed ally in the South Caucasus, has been quick in unequivocally backing the Kremlin. With no diplomatic ties with Turkey to worry about, Yerevan essentially has echoed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “stab-in-the-back” line about Turkey’s conduct.

Armenian public opinion backs Moscow’s military objectives in Syria, according to policy analyst Vahram Ter-Matevosian, a lecturer at the American University of Armenia. Prior to the outbreak of the civil war, Syria had been home to a large ethnic Armenian Diaspora. Meanwhile, Russia has long been a guarantor of Armenia’s security, a status underscored by the presence of a Russian military base in the northern Armenian town of Gyumri, not far from the Turkish border.

With Russia’s actions in Syria possibly set to expand, Moscow might look to use Gyumri as a “lily pad” facility that supports its Syrian campaign.

The “increasing military engagement of the Russian armed forces in this war [in Syria] will require huge resources,” said Ter-Matevosian. “Armenia is the closest [place] to the Syrian front where Russia has military bases. Hence, Armenia, as Russia’s strategic ally and a CSTO [Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization] member, may be asked to contribute.”

The possibility of Gyumri becoming as a Russian staging area is a source of some trepidation in Yerevan. With memories of the Soviet Union’s 1979-1989 failed intervention in Afghanistan still fresh, “Armenia is not interested in becoming the second Tajikistan,” Ter-Matevosian said. Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic bordering on Afghanistan, provisioned many of the Soviet troops fighting there.

To the north of Armenia, the public reaction in Georgia to the Su-24 incident has largely been shaped by the country’s 2008 war with Russia. Frustrated with what they see as the West’s spineless reactions to Russia’s harassment of its neighbors, many Georgians applauded Ankara for standing up to Moscow.

At the same time, the Georgian government, a Turkish energy ally which recently has tried to normalize its post-war ties with Russia, took a more careful stance.

“Nobody needs another conflict and with a NATO member,” said Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli in a televised statement. Khidasheli expressed confidence that Turkey, as a responsible player, would take diplomatic steps to keep tensions with Russia in check.

While the Turkish-Russian spat is expected to stir up tension in the Caucasus over the short term, some observers in Tbilisi hope the Su-24 shoot-down could reinvigorate the country’s efforts to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“Russia violated Georgian airspace on multiple counts … so the fact that Turkey did not tolerate this unlawful act should send a signal to the Georgian population about the benefit of closer integration with the North Atlantic Alliance,” said Giorgi Mchedlishvili, a professor of international relations at Tbilisi’s International Black Sea University, a Turkish-co-founded institution.

Turkish-Russian rancor poses a deep dilemma for Azerbaijan, Turkey’s ethnic kin and its closest ally, analysts say. “The number one question is how far Russia will take its aggression against Turkey, and will it extend to Turkey’s partners?” said Zaur Shiriyev, an independent foreign policy analyst in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

While the Azerbaijani government has developed an authoritarian bond with the Kremlin in resisting Western criticism on civil-rights issues, Turkey provides the gateway for Azerbaijan’s oil and gas exports to the West. Despite plans for joint oil production with Iran, Azerbaijan, as yet, has no substitute for Turkey.

“It is clear that Russia can’t be an alternative to Turkey in the broad perspective. But also Azerbaijan cannot risk poor relations with Moscow,” noted Shiriyev.

Azerbaijani leaders are concerned that Moscow might “retaliate on the Karabakh front” for any potential wrong move Baku makes, said Altay Goyushov, a political commentator and former professor of Turkic history at Baku State University. Russia serves as a mediator in Azerbaijan’s decades-long conflict with Armenia over the breakaway territory of Nagorno Karabakh.

Helping to heighten concern in Baku, Russian media outlets have framed Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu’s November 26 comment that Ankara will do “everything possible to free the occupied lands of Azerbaijan” as a challenge to Moscow.

President Ilham Aliyev and other top officials have refrained from commenting on the Su-24 incident, other than to extend an offer to mediate between Turkey and Russia.

“It is a very delicate situation for Aliyev,” noted Goyushov. “He does not want to choose sides, but the public is firmly on the side of Turkey. If Turkey builds up pressure, Aliyev will not have a choice.”

All three countries may see some short-term economic benefit from the situation. Exports of fruit and vegetables could fill the void left by Russian restrictions on trade with Turkey. Georgia, in particular, could benefit from increased numbers of tourists after Moscow reduced air links to Turkey and warned against tours there, Mchedlishvili predicted.

But regional observers tend to agree that the countries of the Caucasus have far more to lose than gain from an ongoing Turkish-Russian confrontation. The “rivalry will bring no benefit to the volatile region of [the] South Caucasus,” said Ter-Matevosian. It never did, he added.

Editor’s note: Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi. He is a frequent contributor to EurasiaNet.org’s Tamada Tales blog.

Turkey-Russia Conflict Divides South Caucasus

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  • Kevin

    “u r an ordinary brainwashed american”
    LOLOL. I have personally spent much time in all those countries. I am personal friends with all those people. Close personal friends with many. I am even married to one of them. But everyone I have met and known has been “stirred by west and persuaded Russians are monsters.”. Does that also include the Russians I’ve met?
    And you are suggesting it is I that has been brainwashed? LOLOLOLOL.

  • Lusine Geghamyan

    U have apparently met only people who have been stirred by west and persuaded Russians are monsters. I have seen many times what happens when U.S. Pokes it’s nose into other countries . U think what? U.S. Cares for them? Never, it only cares of its own interests which includes weakening Russia but never for people of those countries. I don’t care what u think of my comment. I just see u r an ordinary brainwashed american

  • OCGOKTAS

    Lusine. Asad is a tyrant just like Saddam, Kaddafi or Mubarek. He has killed 400.000 of his own people. As of his father before him. Saying that he has invited Russia means nothing. In any decent and fair heart, it is an act of shame to be behind of that man.

  • Kevin

    Lusine – my wife is Ukrainian. I have spent a LOT of time in Ukraine. I’ve spent time in Russia, Belarus, and Poland. I have close personal friends from the Baltics, Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia. The Ukrainians, and Poles, and Estonians, and Lithuanians, and Latvians, and Czechs, and Georgians, and on and on and on, are begging the U.S. to protect them from Russia. They are begging the U.S. and the West to welcome them in to the western world of democracy and capitalism. I personally have had that conversation with people from all over Eastern Europe. So I cal bu11$h1t on your comment, Lusine.

  • Kevin

    I’m a “big penis pea brained type of guy with an IQ of 70”, but yet your comment contains NOTHING of substance. Just ad hominem attacks. LOLOL. Thank you. I take pride in knowing vacuous idiots like you have a low opinion of me.

  • Lusine Geghamyan

    I live in one of those countries Kevin. The US HAS NO RIGHT to poke its nose into other countries’ business, though it always does. I agree that neutrality is best. And Turkey is number one supporter of ISIS, open you eyes finally and dont let US mainstream media wash your brains entirely

  • Lusine Geghamyan

    Russia does not violate Syria. The Syrian government invited them in. This is a very pro-turkish article presenting only the views of one side

  • Lusine Geghamyan

    well said, Azeris always murder, so do the turks. A sincere
    confession

  • Dav Selm

    putin is a crazy maniac . you can’t go around & Invade small tine Nationd becoz minority russian are treated bad, so russian Terorist in Ukraina supported by putin Babu killer shoot down Malesian Air Lines with 299 innocent civilians,,this man is same low life bom like obama .

  • Dav Selm

    100% agree.

  • John Aziz Kent Kent

    Russ?a wants to be a supper power but she has not acted properly to the rest of the world
    D?sp?te to some ach?vements Russ?a made under MRPutt?n they havent developed the art of
    Tolerance to other Cultures or Releg?ons now here ?s the?r best chance to Show matur?ty and
    A solut?on w?th the?r ne?ghbor and had been good trad?ng partner Turkey after all they both have a lot to loose by the?r not cooperat?ng w?th each other the?r fore wake up to real?tes both
    Focas on the future of your Countr?es dont start l?v?ng the past ?t could set you back to those dark years becouse you became the pr?soners of your EGOS PRIDE at the expence of your people
    Both leaders should start TOLERATING each other

  • OCGOKTAS

    Europeans are used to hate each other and more Portugueses too.

  • OCGOKTAS

    What sort of foreign policy is this. Ukraine, Baltic Republics, Poland, Georgia, Azerbaijan and now Turkey do not have any thrust for Russia or virtually hate Russia. For what, Russia’s love for Asad who will disappear soon for sure. If Russia was a slightest free and democratic country, people would crucify Putin for such foreign policy. But there is not a weaker voice of criticism Putin. You all fear from him and think this is normal.

  • Jerry

    jerry, Kevin, You will see over time, whether you believe what you see is doubtful. No further comment.

  • sraysr

    NATO stands behind its NATO member Turkey.
    Russians hate Turkey, the rest of the world are sure turkey was right defending their territory.

  • Kevin

    You are right. China has not started any wars with U.S. allies in that region. Simply because they are U.S. allies. But China is full of threats and intimidation. But you casually overlook that.
    No, the US plane was in international airspace. Unless you support China’s expanded definition of that term, contrary to international law and agreement.

  • Jerry

    jerry, Kevin, If Russia didn’t allow that option Georgia would be under their control, & the are not.
    The list of your greivances against China are not fights, nobody was killed, no war declared, Japan is a very big trading partner with China, & Abe has visited China lately to keep friendly relations going. The U.S. spy plane came down in China, because it was over Chinese territory, when the two planes collided, & both crashed. All of the rest of the stuff you list are minor incidents, not fights or war, which the U.S. propaganda uses in their attempt to stop China’s economic growth, China is a model for minding your business & staying out of fights, & the rest of the world (outside of the U.S.) knows that.

  • vmikid

    Ocgoktas, and Georgia had all this respect for South Ossetia and Abkahazia ethnic people or Western Ukrainians for Eastern Ukrainians or Baltic countries for Russian Minorities. Those countries have violated minority rights and found some one to protect them. Armenia has some serious problems with Azerbaijani and for now they have a big brother to protect them, that comes with a price.

  • vmikid

    As soon as Azerbaijans start murdering Armenians again, Russia will be their new best friend.

  • Jerome Von Phifer

    Putin can arm the PKK and support a free Kurdistan, and that will be the end of Erdogan and Turkey period.

  • OCGOKTAS

    For Turkey, it is pretty useless to have a conflict with Russia. But there are times in life you need to do what need to be done. Russia violates Georgia, Ukraine, Baltic countries and now Syria. Have no respect for any neighbour of it. And seems to think can get away with it. Those violations are not first degree issues for Turkey. But coming to south and trying to bomb people who are ethnic Turks is first degree arrogancy which Turkey impossible to turn his beck. Russian people need to understand this.

  • Bilal

    THE GUEST HOUSE

    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    Some momentary awareness comes
    As an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
    Who violently sweep your house
    Empty of its furniture,
    Still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    For some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
    Meet them at the door laughing,
    And invite them in.

    Be grateful for whoever comes,
    Because each has been sent
    As a guide from beyond.

    Mevlana Celalettini Rumi

  • Igor

    I think religious identity is playing a significant role in these countries. Georgia and Armenia are strong Christian countries. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country with 85% of Shia. Turkey is Sunni country. Make your guess.

  • Kevin

    “I suggested it should stay neutral & out of the fight. ”
    Sorry pal, Russia doesn’t allow that option.

    “China has not been in or started any fights”
    LOL. Have you been in a coma the last 15 years? Terrorizing Japan over an island claim that hasn’t been an issue for decades. Intentionally bumping a US military photography/spy plane in international airspace, downing the plane, and holding the crew captive. Declaring international airspace to be under the control of China and trying to require planes to identify themselves and seek permission to fly thru. Terrorizing all of Southeast Asia over maritime territorial claims that have always been well settled under international law. Building islands in Philippine territorial waters. Ongoing terrorizing the Republic of China. Threatening US Navy ships navigating international waters. If it wasn’t for the patience and desire for true peace by the United States, China would be rebuilding their militarily destroyed infrastructure AGAIN.

    “how would you know about the size of Chinese penis’s, perhaps you are an expert on them?”

    Your girlfriend and mother were both laughing to me about the size of yours.

  • Jerry

    jerry, Kevin, You cannot deny the U.S. influence in Georgia’s color revolution, the U.S. even claims it. But I didn’t suggest Georgia should submit to Russian domination, I suggested it should stay neutral & out of the fight.
    China has not been in or started any fights, how would you know about the size of Chinese penis’s, perhaps you are an expert on them?

  • Portugues

    Turkey should be expulsed from Nato.Europeans hate Turkey

  • stephen koludrovic

    Kevin, you seem to be the big penis pea brained type of guy with an IQ of 70..

  • Kevin

    Stupid statement #1. “Georgia, a country, that the U.S. holds in its sway, by its financing one of its many “color revolutions”
    Oh, a country is against Russian domination. A tiny country wants to get away from Putin style, Putin dominated totalitarian authoritarian rule. MUST be financed by the U.S.

    Stupid statement #2. “Follow the Chinese model, tend to business & stay out of fights”

    Since when does China “stay out of fights”? China is constantly creating fights because of it’s tiny peni$ syndrom.

  • Jerry

    jerry, Article is slanted favoring the U.S. point of view, as author is based in Tbilisi, Georgia, a country, that the U.S. holds in its sway, by its financing one of its many “color revolutions” . The governments of the region would be best advised to stay neutral, & let Russia & Turkey resolve their own squabble. Follow the Chinese model, tend to business & stay out of fights, they are unprofitable.