Greece And Turkey To Resume Talks In Late January

News of the decision by Greece and Turkey to resume exploratory talks in Istanbul later this month has been met with optimism by the European Union, NATO  and individual nations around Europe. Earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that Turkey was inviting Greece to attend the discussions being hosted in Turkey on 25 January. This will mark the 61st round of exploratory talks which came into being back in 2002. The last round was held in Athens back in March, 2016. Energy rights, economic exclusion zones, and maritime rights are expected to be the main topics for the upcoming round.

Since 2016 relations between Greece and Turkey have deteriorated. There has been no shortage of issues fueling the flames between these two rival states. Refugee treatment, energy exploration, and dueling economic exclusion zones have all played significant roles in bringing Greece and Turkey to the state they’re currently at. The EU expressed hope that the upcoming discussions between the two nations will bring about deeper talks and resolutions in the future.  “We were discussing already how important it is for Turkey to behave constructively towards the EU member states because the EU has on numerous occasions stressed its solidarity with Greece, with Cyprus (the Greek Cypriot administration), and stressed also the need to solve all the bilateral issues,” European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano told a recent daily press briefing in Brussels.

Turkey has been softening its tone in recent days. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that his country is prepared to repair the damaged relations between Turkey and the EU. The decision to do this could come from the recent setbacks Turkey has endured on the foreign front. Russia has managed to push Turkey out of the post-war picture in the aftermath of the latest Azeri-Armenian conflict in October and November. Despite supporting Azerbaijan with military hardware and mercenaries, Turkish assistance in the peacekeeping process and beyond was politely declined, or in some instances minimized by Moscow. Add to that the continuing difficulties in Libya, blowback from increasingly aggressive energy exploration in the Eastern Med, and the economic exclusion zone issue, and it becomes clear why Turkey could be looking for a breather.

Trump Administration To Bring Sanctions Upon Turkey

The Trump administration is reportedly moving forward with sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of the SA-21 Growler (S-400 to amateurs. Professionals use the NATO designation) SAM systems. According to a US official the announcement will be made later today. Sanctions have long been threatened for the Turkish decision to buy the Russian air defense system, but the US was reluctant to pull the trigger. Instead, Turkey’s part in the F-35 Lightning II program was minimized. Further, it was prohibited from purchasing the advanced warplane as a further penalty instead.

Now the Trump administration is apparently ready to pull the trigger on sanctions, a move that will almost assuredly add more pressure to US-Turkey relations and affect the floundering Turkish economy.  The coming set of sanctions, according to administration sources, will be specific in its targeting. Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries, and its head are expected to bear the brunt. When news of possible sanctions started to circulate, the Turkish lira felt the effect and weakened by 1.4%. Turkey’s economy is already on the ropes now. The COVID-19 related slowdown, inflation, and depleted foreign reserves.

This move also puts the Biden administration in a position where it will almost certainly have to keep the pressure on Turkey through the coming months. That might not be an issue for the incoming president since he has spoke in the past about adopting a harder line with regards to Turkey and its leadership.

Peace Deal Takes Effect In Nagorno-Karabakh

Russia’s motivation behind its brokering of a Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal was, simply put, to prevent Turkey from establishing a stronger presence in an area Russia has long considered to be its vulnerable southern flank. The six week-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia brought Turkish and Russian material, and diplomatic support to their respective allies. Turkey backed Azerbaijan’s military offensive and was active in undermining mediation efforts throughout the conflict. Russia supported Armenia with similar determination. It even sponsored two of the three temporary ceasefires that had been agreed upon during the conflict, only to be broken and disregarded hours later.

The deal went into effect Monday at 1600 hours Eastern Standard Time. Under the terms of the deal, Azerbaijan will hold onto the areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that it captured during the conflict. Armenia will vacate these areas, as well as adjacent ones over the next 2-3 weeks.  1,900 Russian peacekeepers will be deployed along the new boundaries, and to patrol the Lachin Corridor, which connects the Karabakh capital city of Stepanakert to Armenia. Turkey will also take part in the peacekeeping process, but in a limited role that will not include combat soldiers being deployed on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh. The terms of the agreement will also include an exchange of war prisoners, and the resumption of economic and transportation ties between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The peace deal is a clear victory for Azerbaijan, and a defeat for Armenia. In Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, there is a mood of celebration and relief. The signing of the deal marks a successful conclusion to a decades-long fight. In Armenia, the mood was quite different. Unrest has broken out in Yerveran, the Armenian capital. Throngs of protesters stormed government offices, and the parliament building on Monday night. But on Tuesday morning, the frustration and anger seemed to have passed. The streets were quiet and calm. The crowds that took part in the unrest believed the fighting should’ve continued on in spite of the circumstances. Armenian leaders believed otherwise.

For better or worse, the fighting has ended and peace has returned to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Escalation In the Caucasus?

After a week of fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh which has seen considerable casualties, gains by Azerbaijani forces, and international calls for a ceasefire, the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia appears on the verge of escalating. The two nations have become increasingly dependent upon ballistic missiles, and artillery to reach each other. Saturday’s Azeri attacks on separatist forces in the Karabakh included ballistic missiles. The Armenians responded with a missile attack on the Azeri city of Ganja. This marks the first time that Armenia has directly targeted Azerbaijan. Until this weekend the fighting has been limited to Nagorno-Karabakh. “Azerbaijan will destroy military targets directly inside Armenia from which shelling of its population centers is taking place,” presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev stated, even though Armenia denies having launched any sort of attack on Azerbaijan. The Armenian and Azeri governments have traded accusations and claims which are difficult for third-party sources outside of the region to confirm or deny.

As the conflict now seems to be escalating, it remains uncertain what the next phase will be. Armenia and Azerbaijan might find value in targeting strategic targets of the other side with ballistic missiles. Both nations possess respectable amounts of missiles able to strike targets hundreds of kilometers away. The Armenian inventory of ballistic missiles is made up almost entirely of Russian models, while the Azerbaijani stockpiles includes an eclectic mixture of earlier model Russian, and more modern Western weapons.

Another direction the conflict could now take is, ironically enough, one of mediation and ceasefire. Now that the two nations have lashed out at the other with missile strikes, it might be a signal that they are willing to explore an end to the fighting. Armenia has  reportedly considered requesting Russian peacekeepers, an act which could see the creation of yet another Russia-Turkey proxy conflict similar to Libya; Turkish-supplied Syrian mercenaries on the Azerbaijani side, and Russian troops under the guise of peacekeepers with the Armenians. This would inevitably chipping away at Azeri, and Armenian sovereignty much the same as we have seen happen in Libya, and to a lesser degree Syria in recent years.  

Azerbaijan-Armenia Update: 28 September, 2020

Apologies for not getting the update published sooner but today grew busier than expected.

Fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces continued into its second day, feeding worries about the conflict escalating to a full-blown war that will draw in a number of regional powers. Casualties have been reported by both sides, and according to various third-party sources a high number of civilians have been killed or wounded so far. Azerbaijani defense officials have released video purportedly showing Azerbaijani drone strikes on Armenian air defense vehicles. The Armenians released their own video yesterday supposedly of Azerbaijani tanks and other armored vehicles coming under fire and exploding. There is no way right now to confirm the authenticity of either side’s videos, but it would not be outside the realm of possibility for some, or even all of them to be less than authentic.

The increasing concern about this conflict touching off a regional war is not hyperbole. Russia has maintained close economic ties with Azerbaijan and Armenia since the breakup of the Soviet Union. But Armenia is deeper inside of the Russian sphere, holding membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization. Azerbaijan is a member of neither. Azerbaijan’s closest ally is Turkey. Having these two major powers on opposing sides has raised some eyebrows. There is a possibility that an expanded conflict could bring Russia and Turkey into the fighting, however, at this point the chance of that happening is minimal.

Unconfirmed reports have been circulating about Syrian mercenaries in Azerbaijan preparing to join the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. Earlier reports claim that Turkey has brought the Syrians to Azerbaijan.