How the South Caucasus Breaks Free from Russian Influence

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Large-scale energy Memorandum signed by the European Union with Azerbaijan; visits of the CIA Director to Yerevan and Russian spy chief; negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which are taking place for the first time without mediators.

This news unites one thing - the South Caucasus has once again become an arena for wrangling between Russia and the West, and where they oppose each other.

Baku has already called historic the Memorandum signed on Monday. It includes a commitment to double the capacity of the Southern Gas Corridor to deliver at least 20 billion cubic metres to the EU annually by 2027. Azerbaijan is already now increasing deliveries of natural gas to the EU, from 8.1 billion cubic metres in 2021 to an expected 12 bcm in 2022.

The Memorandum has already made Russia furious. And Azerbaijan deliberately clashes with the Russian Federation. Not only in the economy.

Last week, Baku was dissatisfied with the Russian "peacekeepers" in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In such a situation, the Memorandum with the EU gives Azerbaijan confidence, letting it increase pressure on Russia.

Events in Armenia are also interesting. Even though the country generally remains pro-Russian, over the past two years, the positive attitude towards Russia has significantly decreased there. For Armenians, it has become obvious the security guarantees provided by Russia are very selective and largely depend on Yerevan's readiness to support all the Kremlin decisions.

Instead, the recent weeks show a real reversal in the US attitude towards Armenia. In late June, US President Joe Biden nominated Kristina Kvien, the former chargé d'affaires in Ukraine, as the new US Ambassador to Armenia. The Russian Foreign Ministry perceived this as a challenge to its influence in Armenia and switched to a hysterical tone.

Another crucial point was the unannounced visit to Yerevan by the CIA director, William Burns. He met with the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, and the Armenian Security Council secretary.

It is possible the CIA was to establish a communication channel with Russia. Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, arrived in Yerevan after just three days. It doesn't look like a coincidence.

On July 16, an unusual event occurred in Tbilisi - negotiations between the heads of foreign affairs ministries of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

These are the first negotiations between the warring countries without mediators. Both parties understand that if Russia loses in Ukraine, it will not have any strength to control the Caucasus.

Armenia tries to minimize this risk and conducts peace talks with Turkey.

However, achieving a similar improvement in relations with Azerbaijan will be much more difficult. Baku is not ready to discuss any autonomous status for Nagorno-Karabakh.

Meanwhile, Russia is not successful as a mediator. The EU, on the contrary, is always ready to offer its mediation services.

The West's support gives a real chance to reach a peace agreement. And both Azerbaijan and Armenia are interested in this.

Only Moscow is not interested in this. Such an agreement will literally "squeeze" Russia out of the region. However, we can already see a gradual decrease in its influence in the South Caucasus.

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