A geopolitical reshuffle in the South Caucasus
One of his most important points in the trilateral declaration signed by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on November 10, 2020 — which established the ceasefire and the surrender of the armed forces of the Republic of Armenia in the Second Karabakh War — is the unblocking of transport communications in the South Caucasus region.
Although the trilateral declaration specifically mentions the reconnection of the Nakhichevan enclave with the main body of Azerbaijan (via the Zanguezur corridor) in particular, its ninth point begins with the simple and universal declaration: “All economic connections and transport in the region must be unblocked ”.
Over the past year, Armenia has found various ways to block the very implementation of the Zangezur Corridor project, even if it benefits everyone. Over the past few weeks, however, that has changed. The obstacles of Armenian domestic politics appear to be on the way to being overcome, as Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan increasingly succeeds in institutionalizing his government.
Pashinyan won early parliamentary elections in Armenia in June 2021, despite the catastrophic loss of Yerevan in the Second Karabakh War a year ago. This happened due to the complete political bankruptcy of the “Karabakh clanWhich was hegemonic on the Armenian political scene from the late 1990s to 2018. Since the elections earlier this year, Pashinyan has been able to install pragmatic and cooperation-minded staff in key ministries and reduce the influence of the Yerevan “war party”.
Former Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan, for example, whose infamous slogan “new war for new territories” characterized the aggressive view of the old regime, is now under arrest for corruption with other personalities in the defense sector of the economy. On October 15, Pashinyan traveled to Moscow and agreed to open a railway between Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan proper, through Armenia’s southern Syunik region, which borders Iran.
As the famous Russian military expert Igor Korotchenko correctly observed in a recent interview, the Zangezur corridor will help launch international transport communications throughout the region. In his assessment, pragmatic Armenian politicians understand the advantages of the Zangezur corridor for Armenia and are ready to participate, but “they are afraid of becoming victims of a witch hunt.” There are threats of terrorist attacks and assassination attempts even against Pashinyan and his family. Korotchenko is editor-in-chief of the authoritative journal National Defense and a former chairman (and current member) of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Public Council.
Moreover, according to Korotchenko, despite the “revanchism” (literally, “seeking revenge”) of “a part of the population and a part of the politicians in Armenia”, nevertheless “Yerevan has an understanding of the advantages of the corridor of Zangezur “.
The peace and development of Armenia are now incompatible with territorial claims against Azerbaijan. “I think they are [finally] ready to participate in projects to unlock communications, including work on the opening of the Zangezur corridor ”, Korotchenko said recently. It is frustrating for the militant fringes of the Armenian diaspora, particularly in the United States, which have become even more virulent and aggressive in their attacks on the “peace party” in Yerevan, Baku, and even Washington itself.
The Zangezur transport corridor is the flagship project here but not the only one. It will catalyze the development of economic ties within the so-called “3 + 3” initiative (also called “six-lane platform”) which brings together the three countries of the South Caucasus plus Iran, Russia and Turkey. . To take just one example, Armenia, which has lost its land links with Iran through the unoccupied Azerbaijani territories, will gain a rail link with Iran via Nakhichevan.
But that’s not all. Azerbaijan surprised observers with the force and determination of its efforts to develop the unoccupied territories. According to an estimation, Baku has already invested nearly $ 3 billion to promote such redevelopment. Large-scale projects include roads to improve connections with the rest of the country and airports (notably, but not only Fizuli, which has already opened) which will also promote international connections, including tourism.
The Azerbaijani government has granted tax benefits and established economic development zones to promote its initiatives. There are also initiatives to build “smart villages»And renewable energy infrastructure. More phenomenally, almost the entire region is now supplied with electricity, including parts without even before the last war. It is indeed likely that the Karabakh region will become, like Rosbalt correspondent Irina Dzhorbenadze Put the, “An investment center of Azerbaijan” for years to come.
With an oil price close to $ 100 per barrel, while the Baku state budget was planned on an expectation of $ 45 per barrel, Azerbaijan has become and will continue to be the economic engine of economic development. of the South Caucasus region for the foreseeable future. future. Past Armenian governments, led by the now politically bankrupt “Karabakh clan”, had previously rejected Turkish proposals for all-out economic cooperation and development. That was almost a generation ago, and the Armenian public is tired of mass poverty and elite corruption.
Pashinyan is not a newcomer to Armenian politics. He had long been a supporter of Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the country’s president from 1991 until his forced resignation in 1998. When Ter-Petrosyan again ran for president in 2008, ultimately losing to Serzh Sargsyan of Karabakh , Pashinyan was one of his strongest supporters. Pashinyan brought charges of vote rigging and fraud, and he was ultimately jailed for “organizing mass unrest”.
Before becoming Prime Minister during Armenia’s “velvet revolution”, Pashinyan had been noted for his criticism of the Armenian state’s dependence – in fact as a vassal – on Russia. The “history” of the current state-to-state relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan is therefore more complicated than it appears at first glance.
Russia, however, is well aware of this story, and it was a signal that they remained neutral in the early parliamentary elections of 2021. These elections were an electoral battle mainly between Pashinyan and the other dominant politician of the clan. Karabakh, Robert Kocharyan, who was president from 1998 to 2008. Today, even Russian security elites have pragmatically recognized that in some ways good relations with Baku are more important. in Moscow than is the subjection of Yerevan.
Robert M. Cutler is a fellow of the Canadian Institute of World Affairs.