Washington should pay more attention to South Caucasus

(Interview with a senior fellow at the American Research Institute for Foreign Policy (FPRI), expert on the Caucasus, Central Asia and Turkey Gerald Robins)

– The United States Congress passed a Russian Aggression Prevention Act (RAPA) of 2014, which granted Ukraine together with Moldova, and Georgia major non-NATO ally status. It was also proposed to enhance military cooperation with Azerbaijan. How would you comment on that? What kind of help can the US provide to Azerbaijan in this regard?

“It’s a step in the right direction, but means little if RAPA isn’t backed up with substantive measures. By substantive, I mean defense-oriented weaponry specifically geared to deter future aggression. The resolution would be further enhanced by establishing military advisory missions in these nations. This may sound provocative, but the recent policy of “resetting” relations with Putin’s Russia has failed to dissuade the Kremlin. In the current environment, any nation bordering Russia is susceptible to ethnic and territorial unrest. Azerbaijan’s location particularly exemplifies this. Not only does it border Russia’s restive Northern Caucasus, but Azerbaijan’s southern frontier with Iran should also be taken into account.

Another factor to consider is Baku’s burgeoning role as an energy producer. It’s oil and gas potential poses a threat to Russia’s near monopoly of European markets. If the West wants to end its dependency on Russian production, actively supporting Azerbaijan seems a logical alternative. Closer strategic ties would also benefit Baku, especially in light of Russia’s recent behavior.”

-What kind of influence may Ukrainian events have on the South Caucasus?

“ The Ukrainian situation should serve as a warning throughout the former Soviet sphere. What has occurred in Crimea and the Donetsk region equally impacts the independence and territorial sovereignty of the Baltic Republics, Eastern Europe as well as the South Caucasus. Regarding the South Caucasus, it’s worth remembering what happened to Georgia when it defied Putin several years ago. Western resolve was noticeably lacking then, perhaps that will change in the aftermath of the Malaysian Airline Flight 17 disaster.”

-May we hope that the US be more active in the Karabakh settlement after the events happening in Ukraine? And how fruitful this engagement could be?

“I don’t see any serious change in Karabakh’s status at this time. US diplomacy has a growing list of emerging hot spots which relegate this issue to a secondary status. Furthermore Russia’s input would be needed and that seems remote in light of present circumstances.”

-How would you estimate a place of the US in the South Caucasus in the near future?

“Given the region’s strategic and growing economic importance, Washington should pay closer attention to the South Caucasus. Perceptions slowly change however, especially within governmental circles. This can change however if a specific incident occurred which had regional implications and beyond.”

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