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The Georgian–Azerbaijani Monastery Dispute and Implications for the South Caucasus Region (Policy Memo: 612)

Georgian Nationalists confronting Azerbaijani Border Guards (Photo credit: Agenda.ge)
Georgian Nationalists confronting Azerbaijani Border Guards (Photo credit: Agenda.ge)

Often forgotten among the many post-Soviet border disputes in the Caucasus is one pitting two strategic partners against each other, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The two states have enjoyed a bilateral partnership since the beginning of the 2000s that has shaped the geopolitical landscape of the South Caucasus region. Being at the East-West crossroads, the Baku–Tbilisi axis is of geostrategic importance not only for regional countries but also for the West, Central Asia, and now China. Nevertheless, the pair recently witnessed an escalation of border disputes and tensions over the David Gareja (Keshikchidagh) monastery complex that sprawls between Azerbaijan’s Agstafa district and Georgia’s Sagarejo district.

Earlier this year, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili discussed the problem with her Baku counterpart and later paid a visit to the complex. While the top leadership on both sides expressed restraint, there was strong clamoring in Georgia about the negative consequences of her approach—often in reference to the “Russian factor.” Indeed, Russia has increased its soft power in Azerbaijan since 2008 and Russian-Georgian tensions have risen, leading analysts to determine that only Moscow principally benefits from any diplomatic discord between Baku and Tbilisi. Friction between the two would cause immense damage to regional development, namely energy and transport projects. Fortunately, taking into account their long-term decent relationship, the two states resumed their joint commission on the border demarcation process, which requires an open, comprehensive, and mutually beneficial action plan. Local provocateurs (Georgian and Azerbaijani) should be impeded and unnecessary geopolitical interference from the Kremlin must be sidestepped in order for the inherently pragmatic—albeit stalled—settlement process to prevail. Oxumağa davam et The Georgian–Azerbaijani Monastery Dispute and Implications for the South Caucasus Region (Policy Memo: 612)

Saudi Arabia’s New Ballistic Missile Program Will Heighten Tensions with Iran

Capital city Ar-Riyadh
Capital city Ar-Riyadh

According to U.S. intelligence reports, Saudi Arabia is developing a domestic ballistic missile program with the direct support from China, despite Washington’s efforts to cease missile proliferation in the Middle East. The Trump administration did not initially disclose its knowledge of this classified development to key members of Congress. Satellite images taken last November revealed that the factory is situated at an existing missile base near the town of al-Dawadmi, 230 kilometers west of Riyadh. A military base deep inside Saudi Arabia appears to be testing and possibly manufacturing ballistic missiles.

However, it is still unclear where Saudi Arabia gained the technical know-how to build such a facility. Reportedly, Saudi Arabia has significantly escalated its ballistic missile program using Chinese technology. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia rejects all accusations of running a secret ballistic missile base on its soil. It is an undeniable argument that if a country heavily invests in manufacturing ballistic missiles, it usually correlates with an immense interest in nuclear weapons. Thus, it becomes clear that the main priority of the Saudis in developing ballistic missiles is the development of a nuclear weapons program. A nuclear armed Saudi Arabia means nuclear proliferation in one of the most unstable regions of the world. Oxumağa davam et Saudi Arabia’s New Ballistic Missile Program Will Heighten Tensions with Iran

Can Erdogan’s Former Key Allies Challenge Turkey’s Ruling AK Party?

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan 
After a decade in power, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opposition and former allies have begun to believe that he is vulnerable. Turkey’s worsening economic situation and losses in the most recent municipal elections in major metropolitan areas have fomented deep discontent among the ruling party’s elite and former key allies of Erdogan. Will he hold on? 

Former Turkish Prime Minister (PM) Ahmet Davutoglu gave a surprise three-hour interview on July 18 on the popular “BiDeBunuIzle” radio program broadcast by “Voice of Russia”—a subsidiary of the Russian media network Sputnik, the state-owned radio station which broadcasts in different languages. Shortly after the interview, however, journalists were told not to broadcast it, as the former PM’s answers had included harsh criticism of the ruling AK Party (Justice and Development Party) and President Erdogan. Though the interview was broadcast via journalist Yavuz Oghan’s personal YouTube account, the Russian outlet cancelled the Turkish show.    Oxumağa davam et Can Erdogan’s Former Key Allies Challenge Turkey’s Ruling AK Party?

Shi’a Iran and Sunni Muslim Brotherhood: Unlikely Alliance No More

Muslim Brotherhood Flag (Image credit: Middle East Eye)
Muslim Brotherhood Flag (Image credit: Middle East Eye)

The US government’s announcement to designate the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) weeks after it labeled the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards an FTO is raising major geo-political concerns and reinforcing the alliance between the two. It is also playing into the hands of the autocratic regimes of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

A decision by US President Trump to designate the Muslim Brotherhood, a popular and moderate Islamist organization, as a “terrorist organization” would result in sanctions being imposed on those who are linked with the group. While the Muslim Brotherhood itself does not meet the legal definition of a terrorist group, such a critical decision could have negative repercussions in several allied countries where the Brotherhood has huge support and political power. Oxumağa davam et Shi’a Iran and Sunni Muslim Brotherhood: Unlikely Alliance No More

How Will Uzbekistan Become A Regional Transit Hub?

President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Indian PM Modi during the first official meeting (IImage source: NDTV)
President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Indian PM Modi during the first official meeting (IImage source: NDTV)

On 5th April of 2019, a meeting of the railway authorities of Kazakhstan, China, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan took place in Almaty dedicated to advancing cargo traffic along the North-South Transit Corridor. In fact, the participation of Uzbekistan in the project will shorten the route of goods from China to Iran and forward. Being a part of the ambitious North-South Transit Corridor — a 7,200 km long multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road routes for moving freight between India and Europe —the China-Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Iran railway can shape the geopolitics of Central Asia.

The decision had been made at the time when Uzbekistan, under the leadership of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, embraced a new path for the country’s further development. Faced with a collapsing economy, international isolation, and a growing number of unemployed youth following years of Karimov’s misrule, the country had little choice but to open up. Unlike his predecessor, President Mirziyoyev adopted a clear strategy document (namely, Uzbek Development Strategy 2017-2021) with the aim of further liberalization of the economy and the development of local infrastructure and cargo routes.  Oxumağa davam et How Will Uzbekistan Become A Regional Transit Hub?

Azerbaijan Eyes More Cooperation With China Within Belt and Road Initiative

President Ilham Aliyev and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing; 2019 (Photo: Azertac)
President Ilham Aliyev and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing; 2019 (Photo: Azertac)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 62

On April 24, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev arrived in China to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (Report.az, April 24). This was Aliyev’s second official visit to the world’s most populous country, since 2015. In light of growing Chinese involvement in the South Caucasus region more generally, the Azerbaijani leader’s attendance at the summit sought to further boost bilateral cooperation.

The ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI—formerly called One Belt, One Road or OBOR), unveiled by Beijing in 2013, will link China and Europe via new or expanded overland and maritime transit corridors. The aim, the Chinese authorities proclaim, is to bolster trade and economic growth among all countries involved. Since BRI’s inception, China has invested roughly $90 billion in overseas loans for major infrastructure projects, including the construction of roads, railways and ports throughout Eurasia (Global Risk Intelligence, April 26). The South Caucasus region, with its important transit routes linking East and West, holds great geostrategic importance. Therefore, China has sought new opportunities to deepen its engagement with the South Caucasus countries, in turn providing additional impetus for the development of strategic regional transit projects like the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railway, the Trans-Caspian International Transit Route, the South–West Transit Corridor, and others (see EDM, April 12, 2017; October 16, 2017; November 6, 2018; April 3, 2019).  Oxumağa davam et Azerbaijan Eyes More Cooperation With China Within Belt and Road Initiative

Lavrov’s Gulf trip highlights Russia’s growing regional role

Photo by Alexander Shcherbak/TASS
Photo by Alexander Shcherbak/TASS

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a four-day trip to the Gulf in early March, stopping in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of a broader effort to boost Moscow’s ties with the region. Although the Gulf monarchies are traditionally considered of some of the U.S’s closest allies, relations between Russia and the Gulf have improved in recent years and there is potential for further cooperation going forward.

Russia’s interests in the Gulf are multifaceted, but key areas include energy, military affairs (especially arms sales), and investment, as well as regional conflicts, most prominently Syria. During his official meetings Foreign Minister Lavrov focused on economic cooperation, in particular Gulf investment in Russia, and negotiations over further coordination on Syria. Russian-Gulf commercial ties are especially relevant at the moment as Moscow is set to host several events next month, including the fifth ministerial session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum, Arabia-EXPO 2019, and a meeting of the Russian-Arab Business Council. Part of Lavrov’s mission was to invite the Gulf countries to attend, and he no doubt made a major effort to persuade them to send high-level delegations. As yet, however, the Gulf monarchies have not showed a willingness to take part. Oxumağa davam et Lavrov’s Gulf trip highlights Russia’s growing regional role