Aliyev and Erdogan see eye to eye on regional threats

February 17, 2016

On February 18, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will arrive for a working visit in Azerbaijan. Given a dramatic deterioration in relations between Russia and Turkey as the result of the Russian penetration of Turkish airspace and the downing of Su-24’s, there is a heightened possibility of a direct military confrontation between Turkey and Russian troops in Syria. In this context, the Turkish President's visit to Azerbaijan has acquired a special poignancy and is fundamentally different from previous visits.

Background

After the downing of the Russian Su-24, the relationship between Russia and Turkey reached its lowest point since the Second World War, exacerbating the situation not only in the Middle East region, but also in the South Caucasus. It's no secret that the main ally of Turkey in the South Caucasus is Azerbaijan, and the main Russian ally - Armenia (official Yerevan chose the path of integration with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, and has joined the Collective Security Treaty Organization).

On the other hand, Baku, despite its alliance with Ankara, maintains good relations with Moscow, and has not joined the Western sanctions regime against Russia. On the contrary, Azerbaijan is increasing its trade with the Russian Federation, and also participates in the construction of railway corridor "North - South", which joins a transportation corridor via Iran from Russia to India.

It should be noted that from the outset, the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and a number of Baku officials stated: Azerbaijan can mediate between Moscow and Ankara, which again suggests that this conflict is not favorable to Azerbaijan from any point of view.

The Turkish-Russian political and military confrontation was not without opposition from the business sector in Turkey; both Russia and Turkey quickly realized a serious negative impact on their countries’ economies, as business in both countries began to suffer economic consequences. Thus, the Russian side has closed the border for Turkish truckers thus blocking the transportations routes connecting Turkey with Central Asia. The only alternative for Turkey is using Azerbaijan, as its main transit route. This opened the corridor for goods from Turkey to Central Asia via the Caspian Sea. This geopolitical shift led to strengthening of the role of Caspian ports in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan as transport hubs. 

Strategic Partnership in the Black Sea-Caspian region

Azerbaijan and Turkey will make an informed choice in favor of a strategic partnership in the Black Sea-Caspian region. During the upcoming visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Azerbaijan, both leaders will chair the Strategic Cooperation Council. By the way, Erdogan will meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is not in Baku, but Ganja.

According to Turkish diplomatic sources, Erdogan will arrive in Ganja on Thursday, and on the same day, the two presidents will hold a meeting of the Strategic Cooperation Council. The Turkish delegation will include 10 ministers and senior officials.
The city of Ganja possesses a great historical significance for both Azerbaijani and Turkish people - in May 1918, the leadership of the future Azerbaijani Democratic Republic arrived in Ganja with the troops of the Turkish General Nuri Pasha, and announced the establishment of the first democratic republic in the East. So Erdogan's visit to Ganja has a symbolic value, showing that Turkey, as a hundred years ago, is willing to stand up for the independence of Azerbaijan.

The political confrontation between Turkey and Russia, is contrary to the interests of Baku, as both countries are politically and economically important for Azerbaijan. So Azerbaijan is making outmost in pursuing diplomatic efforts to decrease mutual hostile rhetoric and restore a modicum in the Russian-Turkish relations. It is particularly relevant that the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus explicitly stated that both sides - the Russians and the Turks - " should cool down" and that long-term cooperation with Russia is very much in Turkey’s interest, and that Turkish nation will endeavor to keep warm and trusting relationship with Russia.

This is undoubtedly a wise suggestion - is not in the interest of Turkey to break off such mutually beneficial relationship. It is hoped that it will be followed by the Turkish leadership and, most likely, Ankara wants to use mediation efforts by Baku.
Another issue that will be high on the agenda of the summit meeting- is the Karabakh conflict. And according the US intelligence chief James Clapper’s assessment of February 9, the tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia will continue to be extremely high in 2016, that will keep the situation in the region far from stable.

According to Clapper, the growing military power of Azerbaijan and internal economic problems increases the risk of the renewed hostilities. Azerbaijan is not ready to give up Karabakh and Armenia is in no hurry to release the occupied territories, making it difficult to reach a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

As for the Turkish angle to this problem, it is in Ankara’s in the interest of that the Karabakh conflict was resolved in favor – Baku, its key regional ally. In this regard, Turkey presents a clear competition to Russia, and was quite successful in recent years.

So the agenda of this visit will be very important for future prospects and security in the region. Turkish MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party Veysel Eroglu tressed in an interview to haqqin.az, that Azerbaijan is an important country for Turkey.

"We consider Azerbaijan as our homeland, and any threat against Baku is a threat to us. Armenia has occupied Karabakh, and it should withdraw its troops from these territories. While [Yerevan] continues its occupation, there can be no discussion of normalization with Armenia. While Armenia persist in being a hostile state, and with respect to Turkey, and in its relations with Azerbaijan, our goal in the region is to counter Armenia’s aggressive policy.

Moreover, Baku and Ankara cooperate in many other fields. And our alliance is a stabilizing factor in the region ", - said the Turkish deputy.

To sum up, the Ganja summit will re-affirm reaffirmed the policy of bilateral strategic partnership, its development and expansion between Baku and Ankara. It might serve as the final mediation effort, before Turkey and Saudi Arabia will open its ground campaign in support of the Syrian opposition.

Alexander Murinson