Grand Eurasia – the meaning of St. Petersburg and Baku


August 10th, 2016 – Fort Russ News – – Rostislav Ishchenko – translated by J. Flores

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in St. Petersburg. However, from my point of view, the Russian president’s visit to Baku and talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, and the symbolic and practical angles of this, were no less so, and indeed much more important.

Let’s start with the fact that Russia currently maintains with Iran more than a good relationship; the countries are military allies in Syria. Iran has been providing the Russian VKS a straight corridor through its territory to Iraq. And it is extremely important not only in terms of a strike-range aviation, but also due to the need to organize an uninterrupted supply of Russian troops in Syria. The most important sea route across the straits has come under threat during the recent sharp deterioration of relations with Turkey. Given the overall instability in the Middle East, the presence of an alternative line of access dramatically increases the stability of the entire Syrian factions.

The Russian president could easily meet with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran – not fly to Baku. But if the two leaders are actively involved in global politics, and considered it necessary to meet in Baku, then there were reasons.

Traditional rivals

Let me remind you that Azerbaijan has traditionally focused on Turkey which is not least Iran’s traditional rival in the struggle for influence in the broader Middle East, including the Caucasus.

Even before the emergence of modern Turkey and Iran, Parthia and Rome, Byzantium and the Sassanids were all competing with varying success. Therefore, in the initial stages of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran, balancing the influence of Ankara in the region, did a lot to support Yerevan. Even now the Iranian border is a major corridor to break the blockade of Armenia, and in the reign of Saakashvili in Georgia, it was the only reliable way into the world.

It is worth remembering, and that more than half of the territory of historical Azerbaijan is under the sovereignty of Iran, which is also not conducive to the establishment of relations of Tehran and Baku.

In general, the complex tangle of conflicting interests in the area, from the Caucasus to the Suez, until recently appeared inextricable in principle.

It is also easy to understand that if on the eve of a crucial meeting with Erdogan, the Russian President leaves for talks in exactly the opposite direction, it is not because Aliyev and Rouhani were impossible to meet for a couple of days earlier, or a week later, but due to the fact that this format of the meeting and its timing was extremely important: this is how to determine the position of the St. Petersburg meeting, and its global context.

The positions of Moscow and Tehran aligned

Initially, it was clear that for Erdogan, for which Russia has remained virtually the only potential ally, the St. Petersburg meeting was about assisting in the stabilization of the Turkish regime, and such stabilization will be a hard bargain. Turks realize how beneficial a Turkish withdrawal from American influence and its reorientation towards Moscow actually is. Ankara also understand that for Russia, the threat of destabilization or even disintegration of Turkey is a significant threat. Therefore, even with their weak negotiating position, the arguments for a major trade are there.

What does the Baku meeting mean for Erdogan?

Before the meeting, Rouhani said that Russia and Iran may play a role in assisting Turkey in the internal stabilization and the fight against terrorism, including in Syria. This phrase was to demonstrate to the Turkish president that the positions of Moscow and Tehran, on all issues of interest Ankara, are based on their alignment. If Turkey thought it could play one against the other, and and tries to negotiate with each individually and pick up for itself the best deal, will not succeed.

In addition, the fact of the meeting in Baku shows that the Azerbaijani leadership also takes into account the change in the balance of forces in the Middle East, in general, and in the Caucasus, in particular in favor of Russia and Iran.

Ilham Aliyev, of course, will not give up its other commitments to maintain close relations with Turkey (a traditional partner and strategic ally of Azerbaijan). Most likely, he even tried to help Erdogan, probing ahead of the last talks with Putin fully understand the Russian and Iranian positions, checking their strength and consistency.

However, Ilham Heydar oglu Aliyev is one of the most realistic politicians of post-Soviet space. He understands that an alliance with Turkey is no longer able to fully meet the interests of Azerbaijan. It is necessary to enlist the support of the new dominant players in the region. Therefore, Aliyev’s aim in Baku was actually for entry the of Azerbaijan into the Russian-Iranian blueprint and not so much as a mediator in the negotiations with Turkey (Erdogan decides everything directly), but as another partner.

The US’s position will be weakened

What is the tendency of Azerbaijan to the Russian-Iranian alliance in terms of regional, and is not unrelated to Turkish interests, but geopolitical?

No more and no less, as the weakening of the US position in the Middle East.

The existence of even an informal union of Russia, Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan closes (for the current generation of politicians, forever) the question of the direct delivery of Caspian corridor energy to Europe as an alternative to the supply of “Gazprom” and “Rosneft”. Now, if they are there and will it, it is only in the framework of the joint (the Russian-Iranian-Azerbaijani-Turkish) project, in which the interests of all stakeholders are taken into account.

It closes the possibility of the US to blockade the Russian lines to Syria. 

But for Moscow this does not just open a narrow bottleneck, but all the space from the Balkans to the Caspian Sea.

This makes projects of transport corridors from the Arctic Ocean to the Indian Ocean a reality. A south (Iranian) new branch of the Silk Road is also beginning to acquire the features of reality, that is, internal connection potential to Grand Eurasia (from Lisbon to Kuala Lumpur), diversified, and there it will be more and more difficult to cut.

Even in the Middle East, the recent absolute dominance of the United States is reduced to attempts to retain control over the Arab monarchies of the Gulf, or at least keep them from being hopelessly blown away, which makes these Gulf states following in the wake of US policy to simply feud with Iran.

Of course, the negotiations in Baku and St. Petersburg just have signaled the start of long-term relations, designated the vector and dynamics of the process. But in today’s world, changes occur almost instantaneously.

In 2008, in South Ossetia, Russia defended the North Caucasus from NATO attempts at ‘Somaliazation’, maintaining its credibility in the region. In 2014, Russia blocked a US attempt to gain a foothold in the Crimea, and Kiev launched a self-destruct mode process (even by American and European standards). In 2015, Russia defended Syria against the pro-American Islamist thugs who almost forever plunged the region into chaos.

2016 is not over yet, but we are talking about the fact that Russia and its allies are preparing to restore order in the Middle East.

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