At the heart of the regional security problem in the South Caucasus region lies the fact that geopolitical stability in the region is shaped by the confrontation between Russia and the United States (NATO and the EU) and Iran and the United States.
This process is conditioned by two factors: first, the geopolitical situation around Iran has entered a new stage, which implies complete isolation of Tehran. Secondly, the signing of the Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea has led to an increase in the geopolitical influence of Moscow in the South Caucasus region, which is especially emphasized by the paragraph of the Convention, which prohibits the presence of military navies not Caspian states in the Caspian Sea.
therefore The United States strives to develop a new configuration of its Caucasus policy in order to neutralize the Iran-Russia alliance, both in the Caucasus-Caspian region and in the Middle East. In addition, Washington takes into account that Moscow is seeking to expand the free economic zone within the CIS, paying more attention to regional security issues, and therefore seeks to strengthen the CSTO against the backdrop of well-known events in Syria and Ukraine. Obviously, in the plans of Moscow one of the main tasks is the inclusion of an increasing number of post-Soviet countries, both in the UES and in the CSTO. And the West can not leave these processes without its attention.
South Caucasian space
South Caucasian space is disintegrated. But it can not remain outside the integration process. In order to understand the essence of the integration processes in the South Caucasus and identify the integration organizations, we must understand what functions they must fulfill.
The proposed integration processes should create a free trade area, a common market, a customs union, a monetary union, a transport union, an energy union and an effective regional security system. In this regard, the GUAM project is rather promising, the fact that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as well as Poland and Romania, can join it. In this case, the space of 4-seams will emerge: the Caspian, the Black, the Mediterranean and the Baltic. By the way, the format "3 + 3 + 1", which involves the cooperation of the three South Caucasus countries with the countries of the Baltic and Turkey, is capable of modernizing GUAM.
The shortest route to Europe for Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia lies through regional cooperation. This is our common task. But for this it is necessary to resolve the Karabakh conflict in the shortest possible time, which is not possible.
However, in the relations between the countries of the South Caucasus, European standards should be tested today. Turkey, wishing to join the EU, as well as Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia - the participants of the Eastern Partnership program, it is expedient to continue institutional democratic reforms related to key issues such as legal norms, freedom of speech, treatment of ethnic minorities and the fight against corruption and organized crime. crime
It's time to stop pragmatic talks on a topic closer to Europe: Azerbaijan, Armenia or Georgia? Considering the prospects of partnership between the EU and the South Caucasus states, it should be based not only on the energy potential of Azerbaijan, but also on Georgia's transport potential, or on the geopolitical and geoeconomic conditions that have emerged today. The emphasis should be put on the real vision of the problems facing the European community and its partners in the coming decades. And the most important thing is to take into account the readiness of the three South Caucasus countries to participate in their solution.
Geopolitically and geo-strategic, Georgia can be considered a key state in the South Caucasus region. The status of Georgia as the key state of the region is determined by the geographical situation, wide external contacts of the current Georgian leadership in the United States and the EU. According to the American political scientist A.Koen, Georgia is the gateway to the Silk Road. While controlling the strategic area of the Black Sea coast, which borders on Turkey, and closing the output of Armenia from the West to the Black Sea, Georgia holds the key of the gateway to the Caucasus, and is the base for US, NATO and EU withdrawal to the Caspian Sea and the Silk Road. According to American politicians and experts, Georgia is the border between NATO and the New Silk Road. The New Silk Road is a project that will unite all pipelines, motorways and railways, airports and communication systems all the way from Central Europe to China.
However, the present and future of Georgia is inseparable from the successes or failures in the geoeconomic and geopolitical development of the South Caucasus region, and ensuring its safe and stable development.
In the three countries of the South Caucasus, the desire of Moscow to take control of the Caspian energy resources is perceived as a control over all countries and the region as a whole. Although, Armenia could successfully compete with Georgia, the unresolved Karabakh conflict blocks the participation of official Yerevan in regional energy transport projects in the medium term. In particular, the Karabakh conflict blocks Azerbaijani-Armenian cooperation in the direction of development of the energy transport project Southern Corridor. Baku, in general, is not against the laying of a corridor through Armenia, because this would give Azerbaijan the opportunity to provide the energy needs of Nakhichevan without the help of Iran. At the moment, Baku does not approve the transportation of goods through Georgia to Armenia, and although Yerevan gets goods through the Georgian ports of Batumi and Poti, Tbilisi is forced to count on this. After all Georgia's role is a reliable accomplishment of the transit function in the South Caucasus within the framework of the project "New Silk Road".
The North-South International Transport Corridor (MTK) and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) Railroad Route
MTK North-South and BTK do not compete with each other because crossing Baku, allowing all participants of the above projects to take advantage of two transport corridors. Moreover, Washington's agreement with Astana on the provision of Kuryk and Aktau ports for the supply of US and NATO troops to Afghanistan leads to the strengthening of the positions of the expanded format of the railways and the participants of the BTC. Indeed, the basis of the expanded format of the railway BTC will be the "North Sea Supply Networks" (SSP) to be restored by Washington to the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, which involves the use of the ports of Aktau and Kuryk in the Caspian Sea and Uzbekistan's rail network. Azerbaijan and Georgia, whose ports, respectively, on the Caspian and Black Sea coasts, as well as the railway network will also be involved in the transportation infrastructure for Afghanistan, will also be involved in the SSP project. Therefore, the importance of the expanded format of the railways and its participants will increase with the use of the infrastructure and logistics chain of the rehabilitated MTP for the transportation of various goods from Central Asia and Afghanistan to Europe.
In case of implementation of the above-mentioned scenario, the expanded format of the railway BTC can enter into competition with the Silk Road Economic Belt (ESSP) project. Although, most likely, Beijing will come to an agreement with Washington and the expanded format of the railways BTC will become one of the elements of the EPHS. This will prevent the escalation of tension between the countries of the Caspian region and geopolitical actors with all the ensuing positive political and economic consequences. Moreover, the implementation of the "New Silk Road" strategy with the 2011 of the United States, designed to integrate such two regions as Central and South Asia, does not meet the long-term interests of Beijing. Indeed, an integral part of the American strategy is the formation of a single regional energy market, which involves the supply of energy from the CAR to South Asian countries through Afghanistan. The project also includes plans for the construction of high-voltage transmission lines from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The expanded format of the railway BTC plus MTK North-South reinforces the status of the regional hub in the port of Alyat, which somewhat minimizes the status of the growing regional hub in the face of the Iranian port of Chabahar. Washington is trying to neutralize Tehran's efforts to create an Iranian regional hub in the port of Chabahar.
Obviously, the expanded format of the railways BTC strengthens the geostrategic position of the US in the Caspian region, Central and South Asia, which will be negatively perceived in Moscow. After all, the project of the Association "Trans-Caspian International Transport Route" (TMTM), which involves China, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Turkey and Ukraine, as well as Baku-initiated rail transport project within the framework of the South-West MTC, which, in addition to Azerbaijan, participates. Iran, Georgia, Ukraine and Poland do not pass on the Russian territory. The danger for Moscow is that TMTM and MTK "South-West" can subsequently connect with the expanded format of railways BTC.
Today Russia and Iran are making efforts to change the situation in the trade and economic sphere to the best. The intergovernmental Iranian-Russian commission is active. The commission facilitates the development of trade and economic relations with Iran and Russia, promoting the interests of Russian and Iranian business.
Russia and Iran signed a roadmap for cooperation in the field of trade and industry up to 2020 year. The 5-year Iranian-Russian "road map" for the development of industry implies the implementation of more than 70 projects in the field of mechanical engineering and supply of high-tech equipment. In order to facilitate mutual settlements between the subjects of trade and economic cooperation between Iran and Russia, it is planned to establish a joint banking committee. The matter is that, despite the refusal of the official authorities of Iran and Russia to use US dollar in mutual settlements and in multilateral operations, the issue of acceleration of these mutual settlements through national currencies has not yet been fully resolved. This is largely due to the interest of Russia's banking institutions in operations in dollars and euros. Therefore, with the interconverting of national currencies, there are delays with mutual payments, and as a consequence - the goods of mutual trade sometimes accumulate in ports or railroad warehouses. As a result, business communities Iran and Russia do not always agree on new trade contracts or joint projects.
It can be stated that the transport sector is especially significant for Iran and Russia. After all, Iran's territory is the shortest transit route for Russia to South Asia and Southeast Asia (SEA). And Russia is a transit territory in this direction for central and north-western Europe (Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Benelux countries, Scandinavia and the Baltics).
Therefore, the Iranian side is interested in creating a transit corridor through the territory of North Ossetia: first, the project of the transit railway for multimodal transport "Alagir - Tskhinval - Gori - Tbilisi" (RSO - Alania - South Ossetia - Georgia) and then in RA with access to Iran Secondly, increasing the capacity of the eastern participant in the main North Caucasian railway (Mozdok - Chervlennaya - Kizlyar - Makhachkala - Derbent - the border with the AR). The last project is implemented with 2016 year.
It should be noted that the transit of Iranian cargo through the ports and railways of the North Caucasus has risen for 2015-2017 for a total of almost a quarter. But, this growth could be at the level of 30-35%, if there were not persistent problems in the rail network of the North Caucasus (especially at its buttocks with the Volga region and Georgia). This circumstance increases the transit range, and sometimes it has to be bypassed by the North Caucasus, which in turn reduces the competitiveness of the North-South MTC (Eastern Europe - Belarus - Russia - Azerbaijan - Iran with the parallel route Georgia - Armenia - Iran) .
According to the Iranian side, the ports of Lagan (Kalmykia), Derbent, Makhachkala, Caucasus and Tuapse, in view of the geography of their location, could well become the largest transit and logistic hubs in the Nizhnevolzhsk-North Caucasus region. But, this is not due to a shortage of Russian investments in the corresponding port and related projects, as well as the presence of problems in the adjacent railway network. According to the Iranian side, comprehensive development of the transport and economic potential of the North Caucasus is also of great geopolitical significance for Iran.
The objectives of the US strategy in the Greater Caucasus region were conceptually formulated in a special statement by the US State Department, circulated in November 1999 on the day the Istanbul Declaration and other documents of the Istanbul OSCE Summit were signed. In particular, it pointed to the need to: ensure the independence and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia; to restrain Iran until the official Tehran begins to pursue a pro-Western policy or another regime will not be established in the country; to prevent destabilization in the Caucasus, especially in the North Caucasus; provide access to the energy resources of the countries located on the Silk Road.
The United States is seeking to form an anti-Russian coalition, including those from the post-Soviet countries, for an effective and long-term struggle with the Kremlin. Especially since the application of Western political and economic sanctions against Russia begins to produce serious results.
In other words, the United States is implementing a new regional policy of the United States in the South Caucasus within the framework of the realpolitik, which implies an increase in US diplomatic and commercial contacts with Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. The fact is that Washington considers that Moscow considers the region of the South Caucasus as a sphere of its geopolitical, geoeconomic and geocultural influence, and if necessary, is ready to demonstrate its influence in the region by military force. Therefore, Russia's strategic goal in the South Caucasus region is to shelter countries that once were under the control of Russia or the Soviet Union from the geopolitical influence of the West.
Washington will exercise caution in promoting American values. True, the United States will support democratic transformations in the countries of the South Caucasus. However, Washington will not conduct a united regional approach to the three countries in the South Caucasus. The most perspective is the differentiated approach taking into account the specifics of the development of each country in the South Caucasus.
The US will not exceed their expectations, because have much less favorable geopolitical positions in the region of the South Caucasus as compared to Russia. At the same time, Washington will not refuse Georgia's military-political assistance in confronting Tbilisi with Russia because of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. After all, the success of the new American regional policy in the South Caucasus depends, on the one hand, on a balanced approach to commitments and real opportunities, and, on the other, sober assessment of the limits of structural transformations in the countries of the South Caucasus, which Washington can contribute to.
Consequently, the United States will contribute to Georgia's earliest membership in NATO without providing Tbilisi's MAP by temporarily changing the North Atlantic Treaty 6 article, which determines which territories fall under the scope of the 5 article. For example, Tbilisi may be asked to become a NATO member subject to amendments to temporarily exclude Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the 5 article, as was the case in the 1951 year when Turkey and Greece joined the Alliance. Moreover, this will only be a temporary measure - until the internationally recognized territorial integrity of Georgia is restored peacefully.
It is in US's interest to strengthen bilateral relations with Georgia, to help Tbilis improve its military capabilities and to keep Georgia on the path to NATO membership.
To promote US-Georgian relations, the United States intends to continue to exert pressure on Russia to comply with the 6 clause of the Ceasefire Agreement of 2008 year.
Washington intends to increase US involvement in the Karabakh settlement process in current geopolitical conditions, combining two different approaches. On the one hand, the United States will intensify its activities within the framework of the OSCE MG and, on the other hand, will actively use the economic instruments that will allow the process of settlement of the Karabakh conflict to be transformed into an economic cooperation line along the lines of Azerbaijan-Armenia-US. Washington believes that Azerbaijan and Armenia should themselves find a solution to the conflict by working with each other. At the same time, the US is of the opinion that the coercion of Azerbaijan and Armenia over Karabakh will increase their dependence on Russia and will strengthen the position of the pro-Russian forces in the republics.
Obviously that Washington seeks to neutralize Moscow's traditional moves in the South Caucasus region aimed at preserving Russian hegemony in Armenia and strengthening Russia's positions in Azerbaijan and Georgia. For example, George Bolton's statement on arms supplies to the United States of America and Azerbaijan can be seen as Washington's intention to knock out the armory factor from the hands of the Kremlin.
In other words, the United States seeks to remove the traditional political myth and stereotype: "There is nowhere to go to Baku and Yerevan from Russia." It is symbolic that Yerevan is currently demonstrating greater foreign political independence than during the days of the ex-presidents of Armenia Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sargsyan. In turn, the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said that the solution to the Karabakh conflict is not a bargaining issue in the matter of the Republic's entry into the UAES and the TC.
In the context of the new US regional policy in the South Caucasus, the Black Sea should be considered. It can be assumed that, within the framework of US interests in the Black Sea region, Washington will lobby for the opening in Georgia of a Certified Center for Advanced Safety in the Black Sea. Indeed, the significant reason why the United States seeks to strengthen its geostrategic positions in the South Caucasus is its position as a "isthmus" between the Caspian and the Black Seas, which provides domination in the western part of the Caspian region and in the eastern part of the Black Sea. The purpose of the US military policy in Georgia is to achieve dominance throughout the Black Sea Basin, control over the North Caucasus and most of southern Russia.
Probably the US will use NATO to implement its new regional policy in the South Caucasus. In the framework of the new US regional policy in the South Caucasus, American interests in principle can coincide with the interests of Russia. For example, if Moscow proposes a political solution acceptable to Azerbaijan and Armenia and will actually take appropriate efforts, the United States will be forced to support the Russian initiative and take the most active part in it. Indeed, the settlement of the Karabakh conflict is in the interests of both Azerbaijan and Armenia and the South Caucasus, and US involvement in this process will not allow Moscow to demonstrate the exclusive influence of Russia in the region.
Therefore, Moscow exerts strong military and political pressure on all the states of the South Caucasus, but the Kremlin is not capable of securing Russian hegemony in this region.
The success of the administration of President D. Trump will depend on the exact balance between US interests and resources, a realistic assessment of the situation, both in and around the South Caucasus region, and the understanding that changes in Azerbaijan and Armenia will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary nature.
First, the Washington will use "soft" and "rigid" foreign policy methods in relation to Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia in the framework of the new regional policy of the United States in the South Caucasus. In parallel, Washington will try to isolate Russia from the internal political processes taking place in the South Caucasus region.
Second, the the launch of MTK North-South in full force can lead to an increase in the positions of Russian ports in the Caspian Sea. Moscow 11 November 2017 adopted a strategy for the development of Russian seaports in the Caspian Basin, as well as rail and road approaches to them by 2030 year. In particular, the implementation of the strategy involves the modernization of the ports of Makhachkala and Astrakhan, the port of Olha in the Astrakhan region, as well as the creation of a new port in the Dagestan Caspian. The Russian side intends to establish competitive tariffs, create free ports attractive for investment, develop shipbuilding, and resume fishing and processing.
In other words, Moscow must create a permanent Caspian cargo base that will serve trade between Russian ports (for example, Makhachkala and Astrakhan) and Iran. But, it should be borne in mind that Tehran subsidizes the Iranian navy. Thus, in Iranian ports, the fees for vessels under the national flag are lower, bunker fuel is subsidized, which is why Iranian shipowners on the Caspian Sea are more competitive.
Third, In connection with the concept "New Silk Road", Tehran is interested in creating a North-South transit highway passing through Armenia, Georgia to Russia, then to Finland. That is why one of the important vectors in the Caucasian policy of Tehran is a close relationship with Georgia. Georgia is an important part of this corridor and its connection to this project is important for Iran. Georgia's withdrawal to the Black Sea is necessary in Iran-European trade relations.
Fourth, in Tehran, it is believed that the high cost of transit transportation to Armenia is a significant obstacle to the development of bilateral trade between Iran and Armenia. Entrance to Armenia for Iranian cargo vehicles costs 300 US dollars. Neighboring countries have the advantage - they apply other tariffs. The cost of entry to the territory of Georgia does not exceed 80 US dollars. In this regard, Iranian drivers choose a long way to follow, but less costly - for example, they travel to Georgia through Turkey.
In this regard, it should also be taken into account that in Iran there are PSTs of strategic importance (for example, FEZ "Aras") which greet investors from neighboring countries. Under these sites, entrepreneurs are in no way limited in their activities, they are granted the right to reside and the right to own land and office areas in the territory of the FEZ. Simultaneously, the company operating in the territory of the FEZ, during the 20 years, is exempted from payment of taxes, including income tax. However, in Armenia, companies registered in local FEZs can only lease the territory.
The project signed in Yerevan stipulates that Iranian exports to the EAEC countries will either be completely exempted from customs duties, or they will be reduced to 80% (for example, for building materials, tiles and ceramics). It is anticipated that petrochemicals, cables and pipes, metal and glass products will be exported with a lower duty. The same applies to some types of Iranian food (biscuits and chocolate).
In turn, Iran is ready to go for tariff preferences for a wide range of agricultural products, with the exception of wheat and petroleum products, as well as mineral water and cigarettes. The latter circumstance is not very comfortable with Yerevan, promoting the FEZ YeAp-Iran in its territory, in the border region of Meghri. The fact is that cigarettes and mineral water are one of the most important positions of Armenia's exports to the countries of the Middle East, in particular to Iraq. However, in general, this in no way affects Yerevan's position on the formation of the Free Economic Zone between the UAE and Iran.
However, Yerevan must provide 100% transit through Georgia to exit the IRI, and this is a rather difficult task, given the vulnerability of the Russian-Georgian border. Thus, the border closes due to landslides that have landed, which creates real problems during the agricultural season. Due to these problems Yerevan has consistently stated in recent years about the need to provide alternative routes, including the opening of the Abkhaz railway. Obviously, until the political side of the problem concerning the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is resolved, Tbilisi is unlikely to make concessions in this matter.
Rauf Radzhabov Orientalist, Head of Analytical Center 3RD VIEW, Baku, Azerbaijan