Geopolitical interests of super powers in the South Caucases: political, economic and cultural situations in the region

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Abstract:

The political, economic and cultural processes taking place in the South Caucasus region have been analyzed and the interests of the Greater States in the region have been studied in this article. As a result of the surveys, political and economic outcomes of cross-cutting and clashing interests in the region have been presented and opinions on security, political stability, economic development and other issues in the South Caucasus region have been introduced.

The cultural aspects of the region were assessed by noting the historical facts within the Azerbaijan and Armenia-Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

Key words: South Caucasus, political process, Black Sea, geopolicy, Super powers, energy.

 

It is a fact that, Cacasus region is subject of political processes and investigations. In this study, we will clarify particularly on the geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus, the interests of the superpower states in the region, economic and security issues, the interaction of the Caspian Sea with  Black Sea region, and the processes taking place in this connection, as well as, processes which is happening culteral life of the South Cacasus.

The crossing and clashing interests of Super Powers in the South Caucasus are explained differently in modern political analysis, on the whole, the following factors can bind it:

- geographical location;

- military-political significance;

- geoeconomic importance;

- hydrocarbon resources of the region.

Turkey as a reliable partner of the region

As a powerful country, Turkey has a special geopolitical, geo-economic and military-strategic interests and these interests directly represent in  the region of South Caucasus and Caspian basin But experts believe that  location of Turkey in the world's most important geopolitical space, to control the trans-national geo-economic and military corridors,  as well as the sea routes reduce  Russia activity in the Caspian-Black Sea basin and the South Caucasus are based on the following factors:

  • Turkey plays an important role in order to maintain the stabil situation in the Black Sea region;
  • Keeps control the corridors from Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea;
  • to impede strengthen interest of the Russia in the Caucasus;
  • plays the role of a shield against Islamic fundamentalism;
  • to support NATO's interest on the South.1

The last point is that NATO's factor is a crucial  influnce mechanism for Turkey in the Caspian-Black Sea basin and the South Caucasus. Official Ankara is constantly striving to boost its role in the Alliance towart to this direction, and  it is expected that these factors will positive impact on Turkey reputation in the region automatically.

Ankara is sternging its transit center  position for transnational transportation of energy resources of the Caspian Basin and Central Asia. These activity will increase  chance of Turkey to join EU.

Ankara is currently trying to increase its chances to join the European Union by strengthening its transit center for the  transportation of energy carriers in the Caspian basin and Central Asia.

Outside the coordination geopolitical activity policy  within NATO and Caspian Basin and the South Caucasus, Turkey is considered an interesting country  to provide security of energy infrastructure, transport and communications and transnational export routes geopolitical, energy production and  to keep  geo-economic and military-geostrategic stability of the region.

Azerbaijan is the main ally of Turkey in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan directly supports to Turkey in all regional issues such as  a geopolitical, geo-economic and military. As the result of  the above mentoned factors, Azerbaijan strengh  competition with  other regional power centers such as Russia and Iran. It is no coincidence that when Azerbaijan realized "Contract of the Century", combined Turkey's energy interests in the region with its own interests, without hesitating the possibility of serious confrontation with Russia and with Iran. Demonstrating its will and diligence, Azerbaijan ensured Turkey's access to the rich energy resources of Central Asia and the Caspian Basin.2

In addition, the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) project was launched on 12 June, 2018  to transport Azerbaijan`s natural gas to the western border of Turkey and to provide stable transit across the country. The project will link the expanded South Caucasus pipeline from Azerbaijan to several EU pipelines. The project expected  cost is $ 7 billion US dollars over 5 years. Azerbaijan`s gas, called the "Energy Silk Road", will be handed over to Turkey-Bulgaria or Turkey-Greece border.

Turkey is also active not only in the geopolitical, geo-economic and military-geostrategic processes in the Caspian and Black Sea basin and the South Caucasus, but also demonstrates active position in many regional issues of Eurasia - in the Iran-Western confrontation, in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Israel-Palestine conflict. Although Ankara has not been able to achieve significant results in establishing stability in the region, but is gradually strengthening its leadership position in the region.

United States`s global interests in the South Caucasus

As a global power in the geopolitical conditions that emerged after the end of the Cold War, the South Caucasus has been a competitive area for the two major powers.The main geopolitical goals of the United States in this region have been to fight against Russia and Iran and to access energy resources of the Caspian region.That is, in all cases, the US strategy for the region is intended to be used not for regional countries but for global fight. In this case, the national interests of the regional countries are going to the background.The warming of relations between Iran and the West, the political turmoil in Turkey, the decline in Georgia and other processes have led to the uncertainty of US geo-strategic targets in the South Caucasus policy.

The current geopolitical position of the United States in the South Caucasus and the Caspian basin is the integral part of the geopolitical program of the "New geopolitics", which the state adopted and implemented in 1992 and began its implementation.United States presented five main thesis of new geopolitics in the region. These are:

  • not to allow Russia to return and strengthen military and strategic aspects of the South Caucasus;
  • to prevent the strengthening of Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism in the region, to support the creation and development of civil society;
  • to prevent and spread the weapons of mass destruction and unmanageable weapons;
  • To form geopolitical, geo-economic and competitive environment required for full control of Caspian oil;
  • To keep the region under geopolitical control by increasing democratic pressure on local authorities.3

Based on its superior financial and technical capabilities, the United States makes efforts to creating a stable competitive environment in the region, expanding economic cooperation between the two countries, regulate national and ethnic conflicts, and so on.

As Bjezinski pointed out, the US tries to increase its political influence in a region of geostrategic importance such as the South Caucasus.This region is rich with precious metals and oil and gas deposits.When the world's energy needs are rising, the importance of this region, rich in hydrocarbon reserves, is increasing.The demand for oil and gas is growing not only in the US and Western countries, but also in rapidly developing countries in Asia.This demand turns the Caspian Sea into a vital zone of giant states.Orientation of such an important region in world politics is undoubtedly crucial. Azerbaijan is the entrance door to the region for to gain the influence to all three states. Thus, it becomes apparent that geopolitical importance of Azerbaijan in the implementation of a global policy in the region.                       

Neighborhood relations with the region: Unchangable position  of Russia

In the early years of the collapse of the USSR, Russia's Caspian policy was more closely linked to its geopolitical and geostrategic interests based on its traditional empire approach rather than its pragmatic geo-economic intentions. From the outset of the new millennium, Russia has largely denied its geo-economic interests in the Caspian policy and has made some modifications to its previous geopolitical activity. As a result of this adjustment, Russia has initially started to compete with the Caspian states in maintaining its monopoly position in the world energy market, strengthening the fight against the using and transit of existing energy resources in the region.

According to researchers, the collapse of the USSR, the mechanism of influence in the 20th century has already set several urgent tasks ahead of Russia's foreign policy. These are:

  • to prevent the expansion of the US and Europe towards the South Caucasus by all methods;
  • To prevent strengthening of Western states by economically and politically in this area, and becoming inferior of regional states to the West;
  • To protect the integrity of the Russian Federation, to ensure its national security and state interests in all means, and so on.4

Establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the early 1990s, is primarily aimed at protecting its geopolitical, geo-economic and military-geostrategic impacts on Russia's former USSR, ensuring its state and national interests, preventing centrifugal tendencies in this area, weakening the West's growing influence over neighboring countries, and coordinating the foreign policy of newly independent neighbors (creating alliances with different organizations, protecting borders, etc.).

Although the tendencies of development of the international relations system significantly reduced the role of Russia in the world politics, the 2008 military conflict with Georgia, Ukraine's military conflict in 2014, as well as ongoing processes in Nagorno-Karabakh showed that it was a very complicated to force out Russia from the Eurasian region. Russia, which is considered to be one of the world's largest geopolitical and geostrategic characteristics, has very rich natural resources, has a huge military potential (nuclear technology, nuclear weapons and strategic missile complexes), access to Europe and any air and water connections of the world.5

As it is known, after the collapse of the USSR, Moscow lost its former position and the United States' military and economic power became one of the key factors in the world today.

Azerbaijan has a special significance for Russia in the Caspian basin and South Caucasus for some aspects:

  • Azerbaijan is important for access to the Muslim East and Turkey, as well as its impact on the processes taking place in the Middle East.
  • Azerbaijan is located in the center of East-West transport communications and corridors, and in this regard is Russia's rival.
  • There are rich hydrocarbon fields in Azerbaijan, that Russia can not remain indifferent to their exploitation, production and export. In this sphere, Azerbaijan is Russia's rival in the world market.
  • Azerbaijan is a sales market for Russian goods and plays the role of provider in agricultural products.
  • There are numerous Russian-speaking population in Azerbaijan, and many Azerbaijanians are living in Russia, which is also reflected in the interests of Russia.
  • Azerbaijan's territory is very important for Russia's security.

European Union`s interests in South Caucasus

The EU's geopolitical interests in the Caspian region and the South Caucasus have a significant impact on their governance systems, public-political circles and communities by establishing economic, political and social relations with more regional countries, finding solutions to the region's rich hydrocarbon deposits, their joint development and export to Europe to use the opportunities of the region in the West's growing energy, transport corridor and free trade security, and etc. Europe's energy and transport-corridor security issue is a priority for this policy.

As it is known, the EU has its own geopolitical and geo-economic interests in the region and the local countries have their own interests in cooperation with EU.6 For example, if the EU is looking for new sources of raw materials for the global and transnational industries, markets and export-import routes, such as the South Caucasus countries like Azerbaijan and Georgia try to involve the European Union to the of inter-state conflicts and economical development  of the region.Many experts who evaluate the regional geopolitics of the EU in the South Caucasus and Caspian Basin believe that the geopolitics of the EU, which has so far been geo-economic, have not yet yielded the expected benefits, reliable coverage, unified partnership system and could not turn into a serious ally.

 Iran- one of the interested country of the region

After the collapse of the USSR, Iran has become one of the regional centers of power that has the greatest influence and pressure on the political, economic and spiritual life of the new independent states of the region, and has created a comprehensive relationship with local countries, local religious, ethnic and social societies.Unlike Russia, the United States and Turkey, Iran has always tried to demonstrate its impartial political position in the domestic political processes in the region.The Caspian Basin and the South Caucasus are one of the most important geopolitical processes in Iran, along with the Near and Middle East Persian Gulf. According to experts, Iran is considered as the main ally in all regional geopolitical and geoeconomic issues. Iran looks to Azerbaijan and Turkey as an opponent, striving to overcome the economic isolation of the US and Western countries around the region by using regional transport and energy corridors.The major geopolitical and geo-economic tasks in this country's regional policy could be analized as follows:

  • Not to allow the expancion of Western countries and their transnational companies in Caspian region, and to suppress Turkey as their main partner in the region;
  • Alliance with Russia in regional geopolitical matters, but not to miss their own interests in areas that are competing with it;
  • Organize various religious-ideological camps for religious influences in the region;
  • To prevent economic, political, social and cultural development of rival countries such as Azerbaijan and Turkey, thereby reducing their attractiveness for the main Iranian population (Azerbaijanis).

Iran does not conceal its geostrategic goals in the South Caucasus region. These goals are:

  • to limit the possible involvement of external forces (the US, NATO and the European Union, etc.) in the South Caucasus and to prevent them from approaching the Iranian borders;
  • solving regional problems only with the joint efforts of states in the region;
  • to minimize the steps of the Caspian basin and the South Caucasian countries beyond Iran and to find a mechanism achieve joint participation in processes;
  • Establishment of relations with the countries of the region with a high level of Western-oriented policy and identifying mechanisms for their impact;
  • Strengthen military-geostrategic interests in the field of security with the countries of the region which coinciding with Iran.

Black Sea

The geographical area of the Black Sea region has historically been a place of cooperation, arising from political, economic, military or common interests. The strategic significance of the Black Sea has been rising recently. After the collapse of the USSR, Black Sea and the Caspian regions are closely coincided with the geopolitical and economically. Even more recently, the term "Caspian and Black Sea Region" is used. Indeed, from the geopolitical point, the boundaries between these two regions are relative in modern times. The states in these territories cover the same issues and problems, both economically and in terms of global powers in the region. When the analysis is carried out on the Black Sea region, both region –Caspian Sea and Black sea are studied together.

The transport corridors, regional states, strategic powers of the great powers unites the Caspian Sea with the Black Sea.Traditionally, the geopolitical processes in the Black Sea region are interpreted by the Turkish-Russian relations as it is related to the straits.Without control over Bosphorus and Dardanelles, it is impossible to take the leading position in the geopolitical processes in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean basin.7

The Straits are not only a means of having geographical superiority, but also an important geopolitical, geo-economic factor.The location of the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea between Russia, Iran and Turkey transforms the South Caucasus into the East-West and North-South Corridor. This factor shows that the Caspian region, especially the South Caucasus, has an important position on the geopolitical map of the world.

At present, the Black Sea and the Caspian region are very important geopolitical areas both in terms of rich natural resources and strategic corridors. Following the collapse of the USSR, a number of cooperation organizations were established with the participation of regional states and with the support of global power centers.

Among them are the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and Blackseafor. The main purpose of the organizations is to promote mutual economic, political cooperation among the region's states and to protect the security of the region through joint efforts. However, there are military conflicts between the region's states- Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, and the Ukraine crisis that began in 2014, have a negative impact on the development of cooperation in these organizations (especially on security) and makes a question of maintaining security in the basin with joint efforts falls underneath.8

It is important to analyze the geopolitical view of the region, and to analyze the existing and expected trends - the economic, political, security and military aspects of this view, which are closely interconnected.

Cultural aspects                             

As in other fields, Azerbaijan has a special place in the cultural aspect of the South Caucasus region. In recent years, the work done in the field of culture can be regarded as important cultural events.Thus, the Baku International Humanitarian Forums, the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, the First European Games in 2015, and Formula-1 in Azerbaijan in the past five years, have conditioned Azerbaijan to be the cultural center of the South Caucasus. Along with these global events, Azerbaijan is also a country of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is the lifestyle of the Azerbaijani people. After restoration of independence, the state support for the strengthening of multiculturalism traditions has been formed in the country.Azerbaijan is implementing a policy of ensuring the coexistence of peoples and their religious beliefs in an atmosphere of friendship and good neighborliness. The model of multiculturalism is meant to have a peaceful coexistence within the borders of one state and to express and maintain its cultural characteristics, lifestyle. Multiculturalism is a necessary tool for dialogue between cultures and civilizations.

At present, there are more than 30 and ethnic groups living in Azerbaijan except of azerbaijanians.The culture of national minorities and ethnic groups living in Azerbaijan is protected and developed as part of the culture of the country. A purposeful work is being carried out to preserve the culture, art, traditions and language of national minorities and ethnic groups living in Azerbaijan. Today Azerbaijan is one of the first countries in the South Caucasus, where minority differences are not felt.In short, the national policy pursued by the Azerbaijani state shows that peoples can live together in a friendly manner, and in this respect our country is an example not only to the South Caucasus, but also to many other countries of the world.

I would like to draw your attention regarding with the one of essential issue that is part of the cultural processes in the South Caucasus. As a result of the military aggression to Nagorno-Karabakh by Armenia, the famous Azikh and Taglar caves, Garakopek, Otarliktapa mounds, which were the first human settlements in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, have now been deliberately destroyed by military purposes. Cemeteries, tombs, monuments, mosques, temples, monuments of Caucasian Albania, shrines and temples, stone sculptures, ancient monuments in the occupied territories of Shusha, Lachin, Kalbajar, Gubadli, Zangilan, Fuzuli, occupied with mounds of Khojali, Agdam, Agdere, Fuzuli and Jabrail regions. Also many graves, burial mounds, historical monuments and other national monuments were destroyed and material cultural monuments were transported to Armenia. Nearly 400 architectural and over 200 archeological monuments, 23 gardens, parks, monumental and memorial monuments, as well as many historical and cultural monuments remained in the ancient Azerbaijani lands occupied by Armenian terrorists.9 In addition, 22 museums, more than 40,000 items 927 libraries with 4.6 million book fund, 808 clubs, 4 theaters and 2 concert halls, and other equipments were destroyed in occupied territories. The total damage to our country is 23 trillion 680 million AZN or 6 billion 71 million US dollars. (Damage was estimated approximate on the basis of evaluation documents of 1994). Destruction of historical and cultural monuments by Armenian agressors in the territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan, is against to 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the European Convention on the Protection of Archaeological Heritage and the World Cultural and the Convention of  UNESCO on the Protection of Natural Heritage.

Conclusions

The analyzing processes in the South Caucasus region, cross-cutting and clashing interests of Super Powers, as well as the positions of the region countries it becames clear that the national interests of the states are based on starting point of the processes.

This is undeniable fact that carbohydrogen deposits have become the region's headache. However, the use of alternative energy sources identifies that this tendency has been eliminated.

US uses the South Caucasus region as a means of pressure on Iran, Russia proves that it is not an interested party in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and protects its hegemony over Armenia. The European Union continues to pursue political pressure on the region under the protection of human rights and freedoms. The result of all this is that there are still remain issues in the South Caucasus, which are still unsustainable.

The interests of the great powers in the South Caucasus have always existed and have not lost their essence, though they have been partially changed on the basis of specific occassions. There are no steps taken to protect the territorial integrity of the countries (except for the Turkish-Azerbaijan friendly and fraternal relations) by the "Great Powers", which promotes their national interests and some parts of Azerbaijan and Georgia are actually under occupation today.

We hope that as a result of the unequivocal support of the world community the historical landscape and the stability in the South Caucasus region will be restored.

 

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* Head of Division of Relations with Eastern countries, Department of International Relations, Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences