In this article, I will present the best and worst possible scenarios for developments in the South Caucasus region and based on this, the reader will be able to independently analyze forthcoming developments.
The South Caucasus has always been at the crossroads of conflicting interests. The region itself is tense because Iran, Turkey, Russia, Israel, U.S. and other players have interests to serve. As a result of the Artsakh war in 2020, a type of intermediate situation has formed here, which does not fully benefit any party involved. Turkey is not satisfied with the results of the 2020 war, because it was not able to be fully (including militarily) involved or deployed in the South Caucasus, as in Syria, Libya and other places. At the same time, it has not yet been able to implement its long-standing plan, the so-called “Zangezur Corridor.”
Russia is not satisfied, because its presence in the region as a peacekeeping mission is temporary with very unclear prospects. Only an incomplete part of Artsakh has appeared in Russia’s sphere of responsibility as Azerbaijan has occupied Shushi, Hadrut and Lachin Corridor. Apart from that, serious complaints arose in Armenia regarding Russia’s strategic partnership, undermining the reliability of its role as a strategic ally, which could lead to serious consequences.
Azerbaijan is not satisfied because it could not achieve the depopulation (dearmenification) and total occupation of Artsakh. Moreover, the presence of Russian peacekeepers in Artsakh has further complicated Azerbaijan’s plans. The interests of the anti-Iranian coalition are not satisfied, because there is no “Zangezur Corridor” that would cut off Iran from the external border with Armenia, and at the same time, it is not known who will ensure the security of that corridor if it ever become a reality. It is natural that Armenia is not satisfied either, because it lost not only Artsakh, but also a part of its sovereign territory. All this suggests that tensions in the region have not calmed down and there are still developments to come.
The best scenario for Armenia would naturally be the establishment of peace in the neighborhood, but this has its price. In Armenia, there was the idea that Armenia would be able to develop in peaceful conditions after giving up Artsakh, which did not happen. Azerbaijan and Turkey put forth new preconditions and continued their aggressive policy towards Armenia. A definitely good scenarios for Armenia would be the settlement of relations between the West and Russia, which would also relieve the South Caucasus from high tensions. However, taking into account the events in Ukraine and the scale of anti-Russian sanctions, such a prospect is not expected in the near future.
Another positive development scenario would be the regulation of tUS-Iranian relations, which would give the opportunity to Armenia to develop economically and establish allied strategic relations with Iran, in order to face the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem with joint efforts. In general, the Armenian-Iranian strategic partnership could balance the Turkish-Azerbaijani strategic partnership if the relations between Iran and the West were regulated. There are too many “if’s in these scenarios which means they are not realistic at this moment and developments are going in the opposite direction for now.
Challenges and Opportunities
In recent days, we have been following the tension between Azerbaijan and Iran, which was mainly aggravated by Baku’s actions and statements. It is obvious that Israel and Turkey will demand anti-Iranian measures from Azerbaijan, because it was with their undisguised help that Azerbaijan won the war in 2020. It is quite clear that in the case of such developments, Russia will have to get involved in the developments of the South Caucasus, having to open a new frontline in addition to the one with Ukraine. Russia is in a very difficult situation, and it will be extremely hard to fight on two fronts, so most probably Russia will try its best to relieve tension.
The same goes for Iran. Iran will do its best to solve the problem diplomatically, skillfully delaying its own unavoidable war. At the same time, it is necessary to mention that the strategy of Iran is to push the possible military campaign out of its territory to the neighboring country. It is a doctrinal principle for Iran. Turkey also has the same doctrine, to carry out possible military campaigns in the territory of another state. The best proof of this is Syria, Libya and other places where Turkey is involved.
These days, we see a more aggressive Azerbaijan and Turkey and a more cautious Iran. It is not difficult to understand where the military clashes will take place if they happen. But Iran’s caution and diplomacy, as well as Russia’s avoidance of opening a new frontline, will create a positive opportunity for Armenia to at least prepare for the worst possible scenarios.