Will There Be Any ‘Syunik Corridor’?

Last week, Ilham Aliyev won the presidential elections held in Azerbaijan. The victory was given to him quite easily, without any upheaval and he will continue his presidency in the following years. Now, nothing prevents Aliyev from continuing his aggressive actions against Armenia. In particular, he will try to bring to life the so-called “Syunik Corridor” (or “Zangezur Corridor”) project.

This is a project that the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem had in mind since the collapse of the USSR and, no matter what the official statements are now, it is hard to believe that the two countries have changed their geopolitical priorities. Turkey needs this corridor for its aspirations to unite and lead the Turkic world, and Azerbaijan needs to provide a direct connection with Nakhichevan. At the same time, the implementation of this project is also necessary for Russia, because the settlement of Armenian-Turkish and Armenian-Azerbaijani relations will mean that it will no longer make sense for Russia to have a military presence in Artsakh (there are no Armenians there but there are Russian troops still there) or on the territory of Armenia against Turkey (the Russian military base in Gyumri). Therefore, Russia needs this project if it is to ensure the security of the corridor, routes and communications, as well as its physical military presence on the ground. Actually, an agreement about the implementation of this project was reached with the statement of November 9, 2020 and it can be assumed that the Armenian authorities have given their consent to the project verbally, despite the fact that this statement is just a piece of paper.

When we talk about outside players, we also need to talk about those who will oppose this project. It is important to understand Iran’s position and it is unequivocally negative. Iran will not want to lose its regional transit position, and at the same time it will not want to lose or reshape its external border with Armenia which provides it an exit to Georgia, the Black Sea, etc. Yet another player is the United States, which opposes this project because Washington’s number one priority is to contain Russia, and with the implementation of this project, Washington will not be able to push Russia out of the South Caucasus region.

It is also important to understand which player is ready for what kind of actions to implement or to oppose the project. It is natural that the problem should be solved militarily so that the Armenian authorities can justify what happened in their own country and the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem will also give Russia a solid opportunity to move its troops from Nagorno-Karabakh to Syunik and deploy them right there in Syunik as the only security guarantor of Armenians.

In this scenario, everything may seem too logical. But there is also another important factor, which is adroitly chosen timing. Timing is crucial. It could happen when there is a tense pre-election or post-election processes in the USA and no one in Washington is particularly interested in what is happening in the South Caucasus – just as it happened during the 2020 elections.

Of course, this is not the only scenario for developments, but at the moment it seems the most possible one, to which Armenia cannot be an obstacle. But here, Iran and the United States, which surprisingly have common interests on this issue, can hinder Azerbaijan’s plans.