About the «Mecca» of energy resources – with Prof. Dr. Pawel Olszewski (I)

Varianta in limba romana a interviului poate fi citita aici.

In the series of Power & Politics World interviews, propose you an interesting and detailed X-ray picture of the Caucasus region, an area with high stakes because big energy resources, hence the multitude of geopolitical strategies, security challenges and  political and economic visible or discreet moves that can to escape sometimes even an carefully eye. Interlocutor in this pilgrimage were analytical Prof. Dr. Pawel Olszewski from Jan Kochanovski University (Poland), historian, specialist in the history of Caucasus – XIX-XX century , author of two books [The Caucasus in the international relations. Past, present, future – Ed Piotrków Trybunalski 2009] and numerous articles on the Caucasus and the Middle East.

PPW: – Could you briefly elaborate the dynamics of the bilateral relations of the states of the Caucasus area (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and what are the main priorities in relations now ?

Dr. Pawel Olszewsky: – After the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, the most important element that threaten the stability of the South Caucasus region was (and still is!) conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia regarding enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Taking a look at the chronology of the historical events: in 1992-1994 was an armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Karabakh Armenians in the region supported by the Armenia. Consequently, followed secession and independence of region Nagorno-Karabah from Azerbaijan. In addition, the Karabakh Armenians have occupied 10% of Azerbaijan’s territory, in an area known to not be  part of Nagorno-Karabakh. At the end of the armed phase of the conflict came under OSCE auspices a long period of negotiations on the settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh state, but the solutions have not been found and probably will perpetuate the conflict for a long time.

When we speak of relations between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, we can see that two of them are in better relationships, and I mean the relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia. This is because Georgia uses the pipes for oil and gas transportation from Azerbaijan to Turkey, so it is directly concerned to maintain a constructive relationship.   Instead, the relationship between Georgia and Armenia is adversely affected by the fact that Armenia is almost completely dependent, particularly economic, from Russia. Let us not forget that after “Rose Revolution” in Tbilisi in 2003, and especially after the 2008 conflict with Russia, Georgia was – at least until October 1, 2012 (n.r. – when the opposition won the parliamentary elections) – official, at least in bad relations with the Russian Federation, including the cessation of diplomatic relations. Important elements in shaping relations in the South Caucasus in the last two decades, with reverberations far have been in Georgia – Civil War 1990-199, which led to the secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 1990 -1994, “Rose Revolution ” 2003 – removal from power of Eduard Shevardnadze and the coming to power of pro-Westerner Mikhail Saakashvili, and the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. In their last conflict was clearly a huge impact on Russia’s Southern Caucasus relationship.

Georgia’s relations with its neighbors have had a negative trend, especially during the reign of Zwiad Gamsachurdia (1990-1991) and the first period after taking power by Mikhail Saakashvili, who has had a policy priority for imposing Georgian interests against the interests other nationalities and ethnic groups which live in the same space. This policy caused the emigration of a large number of Armenians from Tbilisi in the country of origin. Speeches on the urgent need to protect national interests (which sometimes have emphasized the nationalist political trends shaping and even xenophobia towards other nationalities) was often used in all three countries – Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, for to justify the need an authoritarian centralized executive power in these countries.

 PPW: – What coordinates mean the main security-challenges in this region (because talk of a essential space – energy corridor East-West)?

PO: – Over the time, the most important issue was / is generated by oil and gas pipelines to Europe from Azerbaijan, Iran and Central Asia (Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan). If “all roads lead to Mecca”, the Caucasus region is a kind of “Mecca” of energy resources. After construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum (BTE), which crosses Russian territory, but have a limited capacity transport, was conceived the “Nabucco” project. With it was expected to reach a capacity of 60 billion cubic meters per year of natural gas extracted from the depths of the Caspian Sea and transported to Europe in several countries: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, to Austria.Although,since 2002 Turkey, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Austria have reached an agreement on the construction of the pipeline, yet fleshing it was regularly postponed for lack of funds, certain suppliers for fuel flow and mainly due to Russian opposition, which aimed to build its own pipeline (South Stream) to not lose control of fuel sources provided in the Western Europe. In fact, according to some experts, the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 would not be mainly due tothe  political affiliation of South Ossetia, but rather to an  international project of diversification for the gas transport network for the European Union. Specifically, Russia wanted to show the EU and the U.S. military weakness and political instability of Georgia (where “happening” the conflict in South Ossetia would be led to overthrow President M. Saakashvili). In addition, a role in delaying, the Nabucco project would be due and attitude of the U.S. State Department, which in turn opposed to the  strategies that aim to supply Europe with gas from Iran (which has the largest natural  gas reserves in the world). Nabucco pipeline construction led to a new approach practiced by the Azerbaijan authorities regarding oil and gas resources, authorities using it as “ace in the hole” in its relations with other countries, including Turkey. By 2008-2009, when it seemed that he would achieve a normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia, Baku authorities began to send signals suggesting that they are ready to proceed to a closer energy cooperation with Russia at the expense of good relations with Turkey. In October 2009, the government in Baku has agreed to sell 0.5 billion cubic meters of gas to Gazprom,  signal that Europe Azeri gas can be sold not only in Turkey but also with Gazprom and Russian pipe. As a result of the actions of Azerbaijan, Turkey has become more reluctant with the relations with Armenia, and thereafter they deteriorated significantly when Turkey supported Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

At the same time, an important role in the construction of the Nabucco pipeline strategy ,was  associated with Armenia, which had that hope for a possible role in the construction of the pipeline on its territory, which would have meant a lower cost of the project because the pipeline would have a length of less than if they had crossed the Georgian territory. However, the pipeline would be built on Armenian territory and  become an instrument of pressure in the gas supply to stopping in Azerbaijan, Turkey and the EU – Nabucco. Even speculated wheather ,the pipeline would be a solution to the conflict in Karabakh, Yerevan and those has a serious argument to demand recognition of the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, followed by recognition of the region as part of the territory of Armenia. In addition, Armenia could have  become independent of Russia’s fossil for its economy using gas from the Nabucco pipeline. Instead, Azerbaijan has agreed with the construction of the Nabucco pipeline on the  Armenian territory if Armenia accepted a solution on Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan’s interests, recognizing it as part of the Azeri enclave. All these factors playing an equally important role both politically and economically in shaping the status of the South Caucasus countries in international relations and influences of these policies on relations with other major players such as Russia, the U.S., Europe, Iran, Turkey etc.. It is this dynamic relations in the Caucasus (and therefore differing interests of stakeholders and interest due to lower Turkey’s EU integration) that led in 2011 to the abandon of the idea of ​​Nabucco.

Now it is discussed a new project called “Southern Gas Corridor”. The basis of this project is a new agreement in October 2011 on the transit of Azerbaijani gas through Turkey, and an understanding of 26 June 2012 concerning Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP). It seeks to increase from 16 to 30 billion cubic meters per year to transport Azeri gas through Turkey to the border with Bulgaria, then gas will be exported to Western Europe via pipeline southeast of the Turkish-Bulgarian border to Baumgarten in Austria or Trans-Adriatic pipeline (TAP) which would go from Turkey through Greece, Albania, the Adriatic to Italy. Canceling the initial plans for the Nabucco project and support the new project TANAP means that Turkey and Azerbaijan have gained the influence over how the fuel delivery in Balkans and Western Europewill be done. As a resultant, it seems likely that the new pipeline will not be an instrument of European policies directed by Azerbaijan and Turkey, but rather a tool to influence the two countries to the EU. TANAP pipeline construction could allow a diversification of natural gas for the benefit of the EU and at least partialy reducing Western Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. But a clarification of the “Southern Gas Corridor” is also dependent not only on stabilizing the situation in the South Caucasus, but also in Northern Caucasus. A safe and stable progress of fuel flow, not one planned, on the existing distribution network is only possible if there is internal stability of the regions concerned.

However, the instability in the region is not only due to unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but strained relations between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway republics amid political status (independent!?) Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The tense situation in general, becomes more complicated due to the situation in the North Caucasus gas pipelines through which held Russia. Or here we have virtually permanent civil war that Russian authorities have shown that they are unable to manage it. Activities of extremist groups – I would say rather groups of bandits, might cause fuel flow problems and this would affect the interests of Russian giant Gazprom. A very important aspect that deserves noticed: the internal situation in the North Caucasus and the independent states of the southern part of the region is closely linked to local elites associated clans in turn associated with corruption and lack of clear rules of operation of the economy, government, etc. . It is widely recognized that corruption is extremely intense especially in the North Caucasus under political and economic control of local elites, with a powerful lobby at governmental level, so hard to remove. This phenomenon is also found in southern Caucasus and is caused by a severe apathy of the local community leadership changes, which under certain favorable conditions can turn into serious turmoil to destabilize the internal situation in those countries. Another important negative factor is the high percentage of unemployment in both the North and South Caucasus. The lack of jobs and prospects for the future, especially for theyoung people of the region increase the number of supporters (especially in the North Caucasus) militias radical Islamist groups. To accredit the idea that fighting not only against governmental representatives of Russia in the region but also against the local mafia corruption.

 PPW: – Given beeing the ethnic and religious composition of the Caucasian area and current policy choices regional states that are external players with the best chance to win a decisive influence here: the duo Europe-US or the trio  Russia-Turkey- Iran?

P.O.: – Analyzing the ethnic composition and political options already outlined in the region and geopolitical scenarios, existing economic and political, it seems that the chance of getting some benefit larger or smaller influence zonal, regional returns to the neighbors (Russia, Turkey and Iran) than the European Union, and sometimes its cooperation with the United States. This is due to the fact that Iran and Turkey have a pretty big influence in Azerbaijan.

In Turkey’s case, it refers to the historical associations, cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious (to a lesser extent) between Turks and Azeris. Moreover, Turkey has been an important partner in foreign policy in Baku, Azerbaijan especially during President, AbulfazElczibeja, in 1992-1993, period. On the importance of Azerbaijan-Iran relations, I think it’s enough to mention the fact that Azerbaijan is a community of about 17 million Azeris in Iran (the so-called Iranian Azerbaijan).Between the two communities, even if they live separately, differences in the historical and political experiences of the countries mentioned, there are still strong ties mainly linguistic and ethno-cultural. Moreover, the link is even stronger than the azero-Turkish relations, since both Azerbaijan and Iran are predominantly Shia country. At the same time, despite their close cultural ties, political and economic relations are much worse than those of Iran-Armenia (where differences in ethnic and religious lines, cultural roots are much older). There is a concern that the 17 million Azeris in Iran may seek to unite with Azerbaijan. Although this situation is unlikely, on the  strategistsboard  it cannot be completely ruled out, for example, where the collapse of the political regime in Tehran as a result of a state of war with Israel, the United States (and perhaps NATO ).

In addition, during the first half of the twentieth century, in the 90s, there was a conflict between Azerbaijan and Iran on the distribution of natural gas and crude oil resources, namely the delimitation of the maritime border between the two countries at the bottom of Caspian Sea. Tehran has always opposed orientation projects in Azerbaijan to Turkey, because Turkey is a NATO member and was seen, especially in the middle 90s as a close ally of the U.S. Army. Therefore, Iranian politicians feared that with the influence of Turkey in Azerbaijan will also increase the U.S.’s influence, especially by the U.S. companies involved in oil and gas extraction in Azerbaijan.

Then Tehran was also reluctant to any pipeline linking Azerbaijan to Europe, because he feared that this will strengthen the economic position of the neighboring states. In addition, if there had been an influx of Azerbaijani oil in Europe, European countries would not have been interested in buying Iranian oil and gas, which are the most important export product of the country internationally, even in the economic sanctions decided by the international community. Under these conditions, the Iranian government decided to conduct closer economic relations with Armenia, which has become a “bargaining card” in talks between Tehran and Baku. In turn, the Iranian oil supplies, Armenia might come out of economic isolation and, at least partially, reduce Russia’s monopoly power in the country. Therefore, in 2007 it was opened the oil pipeline, supplied by Iran to Armenia. However,the close economic relations with Iran-Yerevan is the rapid release of energy dependence on Russia, because in recent years Russian companies have monopolized the Armenian energy market. Meanwhile, the decoupling between Armenia and Russia is not conducive to that Russia was (and still is) a political relationship, very close economic and military with Tehran, which opposes U.S. influence in the Persian Gulf. Russia’s close relations with Iran are consistent with Kremlin policy to reduce U.S.’s  influence in the South Caucasus and the Middle East. In turn, Russia has such an influence on the situation in Azerbaijan, and not only because of the trade. Pressure instrument of Moscow to Baku is sometimes underestimated by experts, labor migration. Search for jobs of Azerbaijan in the Russian Federation has a real impact on the situation in Azerbaijan and will strengthen the culture and Russian language in this area, even with the support of post-communist ruling elite in this country and that comes largely former directors and former Soviet party apparatus. In fact, some sympathy for the Russian side reveals a kind of nostalgia for the Soviet Union, and especially for “Soviet social security”. Therefore, despite the religious and cultural differences between Russia and Azerbaijan,a part of the population, especially in Baku, the Russian mentality is still understood and appreciated. But here, Russia plays a major role as “ally” of Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia due to dependence on military assistance, economic and political support from Russia. In fact, in Yerevan, pro-Russian orientation is also related to the fact that much of the ruling elite in Armenia comes from the old Soviet administrative staff. The most serious disagreement in the South Caucasus over the past nine years stood before the relationship between Russia and Georgia. However, note that such a view is shaped by official media in Georgia and less in Russian. We note that according to statistical figures, about 1 million Georgians work in Russia. In addition, it is worth noting that although there was a change, Georgia ruling elite in power after the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze, in 2003, the power being taken by relatively young people, educated in Western universities, with pro-Western views and anti-Russian, however, most of them come from the former Soviet Georgian notable families, prominent Soviet governments before 1990 and probably the pro-Western and anti-Russian is also a sign of opportunism new ruling elite of this country.

Compared the influence of  Russia, Iran or Turkey, United States and the European Union as a whole and as individual members (especially France and Germany), their influence seems to be much weaker on the current situation in Europe and South Caucasus and Foreign Policy from here. However, the impact of U.S. and EU on the situation in the region cannot be underestimated. Especially the potential is value, not necessarily true. Here, the authorities in Baku is considers its relations with the U.S. and the EU as a “bargaining chip” in relations with its neighbors. A similar situation exists in Armenia. This is due to the difficult geo-strategic position, and the potential threat from Azerbaijan, which aims to recover Nagorno-Karabakh even by military means. In addition, we must consider American interests in the region, influential Armenian diaspora, particularly in the United States and France, and U.S. assistance to Armenia. Of course, we cannot omit any complicated array of ethnic and religious relations in all countries of the South Caucasus, none of which is homogeneous as a result of many historical factors.In addition, minorities may be an intervention in Russia, but also in Turkey and Iran, but also in the internal affairs of the countries of South Caucasus such cases already have been several times in the recent past or distant region.

In addition, when it comes to the labor market, Russia is still the most important option for the people in the South Caucasus. This is why the Russian authorities through appropriate policies can open and close its borders to specific population groups, putting pressure on the governments of Azerbaijan, Armenia and even Georgia.

 PPW: – A central concern for Moscow are the consequences for the South Caucasus, where there will be a war against Iran. The concern is justified, or is a way to avoid accusations of ability to manage the insurgency in the North Caucasus republics own?

 P.O.: – Of course, where they will start the war, the United States and its allies (especially Israel) against Iran, the consequences of this conflict would have most likely a huge impact on the situation in the South Caucasus ( and extensively throughout the Caucasus region). It is not known what position, if this conflict, would Russia, seeking to reset relations with the U.S. failed, we can infer that Iran’s most valuable ally is Russia. Entering the kitchen Russian-Iranian relations, we see that Iran may be a potential ally of Russia in pressure on Azerbaijan, notably the projects for export routes for oil and gas to the European Union. Armed conflict from the U.S. (and NATO [?]) against Iran would have serious consequences especially on the attitude of the Muslim population in the South Caucasus. Nature and extent of this impact would depend on the final outcome and the parties involved in the war. Would be similar to the conflict in Afghanistan or Iraq? The latter ended with a military victory indeed, but actually installed a “stalemate” between the interests of military, political and economic aspects of U.S. and NATO allies in Iraq. The current government in Baghdad is very inefficient economic, administrative, social, political, etc.. The situation is even worse in Afghanistan, which turned into another unstable region with very weak central government and great corruption. If a similar situation were to occur in Iran, it is not clear how the Azerbaijani Azeri populationwill react. For although there is a strong central government and the opposition is almost silenced, it should be noted that profits from oil and gas export duties actually a small group of decision makers, and the company does not have the chance to enjoy great advantages, especially population living outside of the capital Baku. Or maybe President IlhamAliyev could take advantage of the war to strengthen its position among the Azeri population, citing the need to protect the national interests of Azerbaijan in Iran, which would weaken cooperation with the West (and especially foreign companies that invest in the oil and gas industry). Or those who analyze all the implications of such a campaign could ask for help from Azerbaijan to ensure the logistics of anti-Iranian coalition, offering instead support the U.S. (or NATO) for a favorable solution Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Especially since most states and international organizations in the forefront of the European Union, United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are, at least officially, believes that Nagorno-Karabakh under international law, is part of the point of Administratively of Azerbaijan. Such a situation can turn into an increased Russian support for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. For Russia, this would be a kind of “payment” for Azerbaijan’s participation in the EU’s Southern Corridor project and betraying the interests of Gazprom gas.

Of course, it can be assumed that the impact of warnings Moscow Western coalition war with Iran in the region and in this case stability in the South Caucasus, could be an attempt to silence and to minimize the information about the growth of Islamic extremist activities in the North of the Caucas. At the same time, it should be noted that a U.S. war, Israel (and other Western countries) to Iran, and especially a “afganization” of the conflict, after the overthrow of the current government in Tehran could have a significant impact radicalization of Muslim population in the North Caucasus. It is very important that, according to reliable sources, especially in Dagestan, in the first half of 2012 significantly increased the number of terrorist attacks against government forces compared to previous years.

At the same time, it cannot be totally excluded that some terrorist activity are “artificially generated” by the local centers of power, which, in this way, wanting to justify increasing control over the population in the North Caucasus, and increasing budgetary requirements (for fighting against the rebels) before central Russian authorities. Data on the growth of terrorism in the North Caucasus can “serve” as a special justification to establish and maintain discretionary regimes of most Russian republics of the North Caucasus.

interview made by Gabriela Ionita

Part II of the interview can be read here.

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