Erdogan Approaches Washington and Brussels, Shuns Moscow

Taştekin: Turkish President Seeks to Corner Russia in South Caucasus
Fehim Taştekin, the well-known analyst and journalist who is an expert on Turkish foreign affairs. (Supplied)

Since the beginning of this year, Turkey has been attempting to approach the United States particularly after the arrival of the incumbent President Joe Biden to the White House. This practically means that Ankara is shunning Russia to an extent, especially since the Turkish side is seeking closer relations with the European Union in exchange for distancing itself from Moscow.

Coinciding with these Turkish attempts, Ankara entered the area south of Caucasus, further angering Moscow which was already annoyed by Turkish support of Azerbaijan and its help which enabled Baku last Fall to reclaim five cities which were under Armenian control in Nagorno-Karabakh regions (also known as the Republic of Artsakh, which is not internationally recognized).

Turkish-Russian tensions raise many questions, most important of which is the Turkish President’s visit to the city of Shusha which was reclaimed by Baku since last November.

In the light of these developments, Majalla held an interview with Fehim Taştekin, the well-known analyst and journalist who is an expert on Turkish foreign affairs.

Q: What does the Turkish President's visit to Shusha mean? Is this visit a challenge for Russia?

A: The Shusha visit can't exactly be read as a challenge to Russia, but it may be aimed at cornering Russia. In general, Erdogan will inevitably come face-to-face with Russia as he pursues a policy of increasing his influence in the Caucasus. In other words, there is always a positioning against Russia on the side of Turkish foreign policy towards the Caucasus. The Shusha visit can be considered the continuation of Turkey's intervention in Karabakh. The war is over and now he wants to cash it out. Erdogan has two main goals. The first is to get Turkey's maximum share in the reconstruction of the cities that came under the control of Azerbaijan during the latest war. Many Turkish companies have undertaken road construction, mines and other projects. The second is a more strategic goal, namely, opening of the corridor envisaged in the ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan. This corridor will pass through the territory of Armenia. Russia will play a guarantor role in the opening of this corridor. With his visit to Shusha, Erdogan not only weighs in favor of Azerbaijan, but also sends a message to Russia not to resort to delaying tactics regarding this ceasefire condition. If this corridor is set up then Turkey will have a passage to Asia via Nakhichevan, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Caspian Sea.

Q: What does Erdogan intend to do by opening a Turkish consulate in this city?

The opening of the Turkish consulate will increase Turkey's influence in the areas taken from the Armenians. While targeting economic investments in the region, a diplomatic representation can make things easier. In addition, Turkey wants to closely monitor critical processes such as the reconstruction of the region and the return of (Azerbaijani, not Armenian) immigrants to the region. The consulate is also of symbolic importance. In a sense, this is also a way for Turkey to feel its power.

Q: Russia denied establishing a Turkish military base in Shushi. But did Erdogan say he would establish it? What do you think of these contradictory statements?

A: Since the ceasefire was declared, there is a claim that a Turkish military base will be established. This is a matter of manipulation. The ceasefire agreement does not foresee the establishment of a Turkish military base in the region. But there is a military cooperation agreement between Turkey and Azerbaijan. According to this understanding, Turkey can establish a base on the territory of Azerbaijan. It is enough for Baku to give permission for this. But even if the lands taken from the Armenians came under the control of Azerbaijan, a Turkish base cannot be established. The ceasefire agreement stipulates that Turkey, together with Russia, will only have soldiers in a military observation center. This does not mean base.

Q: It seems clear that Erdogan is trying to expand further in the South Caucasus. How do you think Russia will react?

A: While Russia is acting in a way to block Turkey's path, it does not want a conflict with Ankara. The ceasefire in Karabakh confirmed the defeat of the Armenians, but did not guarantee the military deployment that Turkey wanted. Here we see the preventive role of Russia. On the contrary, Russia returned to Azerbaijan militarily as a result of a war planned by Turkey. Russia's guaranty gained importance for the Armenians as well. Now Russia has more influence over both Armenia and Azerbaijan. In other words, Erdogan's move strengthened Russia's hand in the Caucasus. However, his aim was to regress Russia in the Caucasus. If permanent stability is sought in the region after the war, what Turkey should do is normalize relations with Armenia. Then the Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan corridor can be opened. With the participation of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, Iran and Georgia, transportation lines can be opened and strategic partnerships can be developed. It serves peace and stability in the Caucasus. But Erdogan still continues to follow a shrewd policy in favor of Azerbaijan against Armenia. As a contradiction, he hopes that Russia will use its weight on Armenia to further Turkish economic interests.