Is Russia deceiving Turkey?

Date: Oct. 10, 2009. At Zurich University, the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers were about to sign the two protocols that envisage the normalization of bilateral ties.

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian caused a last-minute problem: I want to deliver a speech and state that these protocols have nothing to do with the Karabakh issue, he said. When the crisis could not be solved for several hours, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stepped in: Don't be a nuisance, sign it. Then the Armenian minister immediately signed the protocols. The Russian minister was there since Russia was member of the Minsk group, but the Russian support for the protocols was not merely symbolic.
The Russian minister's presence as a witness to the signatures in Zurich and even his forcing the Armenian minister to sign the protocols had been interpreted then as an indication of Russian approval for Ankara's vision and boosted hopes. Everyone knows that Russia is the owner of the Armenian pawn in the Caucasus chess game. Whoever is at the helm of Yerevan cannot dispense with the Kremlin's influence.

Moreover, Turkish-Russian relations were improving rapidly. During the last 10 years, there has been a tremendous leap in bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey, increasing the trade volume to $40 million.

On March 1, 2003, the Turkish Parliament refused to grant permission for the occupation of Iraq via Turkey, and the Kremlin started to monitor Ankara's policies more seriously. During his visit to Ankara in 2004, Vladimir Putin had conveyed this to Turkish officials, and he praised Turkey for its "independent, brave and principled" policies when he came to Turkey again in 2009.

There was nothing more surprising than Russia's support for a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement at a time when the mention of a "strategic partnership" was being made regarding Ankara-Kremlin relations. The Kremlin, it seemed, would open up a breathing tube to its ally Armenia via Turkey. Russia was talking about peace and stability in the Caucasus.

However, Ankara's hopes and expectations about the Russian position are increasingly being converted to disappointment in the process. It appears that Russia is using the Turkey-initiated process of normalization with Armenia in order to disrupt Turkish-Azerbaijani relations.

How do we know this? We know this based on two basic indications. First, although six months have passed since the signing of the protocols, there is not the slightest indication that Armenian occupation forces intend to withdraw from the occupied Azerbaijani territories. Moreover, Russia has not made even the smallest suggestion to Armenia regarding this matter. However, all the parties know well that the protocol cannot be implemented without the clear indication of the end of the occupation.

Turkey launched these normalization efforts by taking the risk of upsetting its relations with Azerbaijan. Now, it appears that the Russians are playing with this possibility. And they have made good progress in this respect. The Russians tell the Armenians to normalize their ties with the Turks, and at the same time, they say to the Azerbaijanis, "See how your brothers are selling you out."

This is how things are seen from Ankara. If this scene is true in reality, then peace in the Caucasus is a big lie. Peace is a matter of vision, and it seems that Russians are intent on continuing with their "backyard" politics. They want to have complete control of any integration in the Caucasus.

Azerbaijan is not a country that is expendable to improve relations with Turkey's neighbors. At the time of writing, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Ambassador Ünal Çeviköz, the deputy undersecretary for the Caucasus and Central Asia, had flown to Moscow. What is the reason for such a sudden trip? Can it be that they will tell the Russians: "Do not play with us. Tell us if there will be peace in the Caucasus. Let us know if there will not be any peace"?

Dmitry Medvedev will come to Ankara in May. Will Russia tell Armenia to "stop being a jackass and withdraw your troops" before his visit? If not, there will be no Caucasian peace he can talk about in Ankara.

07 March 2010, Sunday