Armenia's isolation grows as Azerbaijan moves to secure support from regional powers

By bne IntelliNews August 12, 2016

Russia's moderation of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh will be more fruitful than that of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed on August 11.

Following a line of anti-Western rhetoric that has accentuated since a July 15 failed coup attempt in Turkey to which the EU and US were perceived to underreact, Erdogan accused the OSCE body in charge of moderating the conflict of inefficiency, and said that Russian President Vladimir Putin's mediation will be more effective, Aksam newspaper reported.

Turkey is a long-standing partner of Azerbaijan, with which it holds strong commercial and diplomatic ties. To show support for Baku, Ankara closed down its border with Armenia in the early 1990s following Yerevan's occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding territories. The Turkish head of state suggested that Yerevan would have to return five of the seven territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh that it currently occupies for "the process of normalisation to begin in the region".

Meanwhile Russia, Armenia's traditional backer, has been increasingly cooperative with Azerbaijan in recent years. Not only did the Kremlin sell Baku over $4mn worth of arms that the latter used against Armenia during a four-day open conflict in April, but its mediation efforts have increasingly favoured compromise instead of Armenia.

In response to criticism that Russia sold weapons to Azerbaijan, Putin said at a conference with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan on August 10 that Baku could have bought those weapons from anywhere. Russia and Armenia are members of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), which binds the former to defend the latter if it is attacked. However, in April, Russia chose to mediate rather than to take sides in the conflict.

Putin struck a more conciliatory note than Erdogan during the press conference, saying that Russia was interested in a settlement in the Caucasus that would not result in "winners and losers" and that it would work within the framework of the OSCE to achieve that. He added that, "for the sake of economic development and a higher standard of living", Armenia had to solve the conflict with Azerbaijan. 

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has been pulling diplomatic strings to further isolate Armenia and enhance its standing in regional politics. On August 8, Baku hosted a trilateral meeting between the Iranian, Russian and Azerbaijani presidents to discuss regional transport schemes and economic cooperation. Like Russia, Iran is a traditional backer of Armenia, but unlike Russia, it has never provided military support to Yerevan.

Earlier, Erdogan suggested that Ankara, Moscow and Baku are mulling a trilateral cooperation format at a press conference in Russia on August 9.

By tightening its ties with the three large powers in the region - Russia, Iran and Turkey - and positioning itself as a physical and diplomatic link among them, Azerbaijan is hoping to increase its leverage in the peace negotiations with Armenia and to recover the territories that the latter occupied in a war in the early 1990s.

Meanwhile, faced with domestic instability and isolation in regional politics, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan limited his reaction to Putin's visit to Azerbaijan by praising Russia's role in the region and its importance to Armenia, and thanked the Russian head of state for "his personal contributions to the peace process".

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