Over the past several weeks geopolitical experts have been talking a lot about what the surprise U.S. drone attack on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – Quds Force, on Jan. 3 means for the Middle East and relations between the major powers. What has received considerably less attention, however, is what Soleimani’s killing means for the South Caucasus, a region whose small size belies its strategic importance.
Located at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, the South Caucasus is a major energy supplier and an increasingly important arena for competition between regional powers, like Turkey and Iran, and great powers, like the U.S. and Russia.
Washington believed that taking out Soleimani would restore the leverage it had lost to Iran and Russia’s growing role in the region. Although U.S. sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy, sparking anti-government demonstrations, Russia, China, much of Europe, and even many American political leaders have railed against the Soleimani strike.
The assassination was more than just a bid to eliminate a military leader who had planned attacks that killed thousands of American troops in Iraq and Syria. It was also aimed at weakening the “Axis of Resistance” — comprising Iran, Russia, Syria, and groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon — and undermining Iran’s broader geopolitical strategy, under which Tehran has increased its stature in the Middle East at Washington’s expense. Oxumağa davam et US-Iran escalation and its implications for the South Caucasus→
On January 3, the US Armed Forces carried out a surprise drone attack in Baghdad airport, which eventually killed the iconic Iranian general and Commander-in-Chief of the elite Quds Forces Qasem Soleimani. Following the general’s assassination, tensions between Washington and Tehran reached the highest point in years. While the Iranian authorities promised “harsh revenge” for brutal assassination, US President Donald Trump vowed to destroy 52 cultural sites in Iran.
On October 3, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev paid an official visit to Russia to attend the 16th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Sochi (President.az, October 3). Aliyev’s speech at the high-level event touched on multiple topics, including Azerbaijan’s partnership with Russia, the unresolved issue of Karabakh, and regional security in the South Caucasus region, to name a few. Notably, during his remarks, Aliyev declared, “Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan—exclamation point!” which sparked heated discussions in both Azerbaijani and Armenian mass media and online (Turan Agency, October 4). But Russian officials kept conspicuously silent regarding President Aliyev’s statement, leading some local observers to claim that this signified the Russian-Azerbaijani strategic partnership had entered a new phase. Allegedly, the muted reaction reflected Russia’s pursuit of a more pro-Azerbaijani policy in light of deteriorating relations with its long-time partner, Armenia. Oxumağa davam et Russia Proposes to Build Nuclear Power Plant in Azerbaijan→
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)→
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→
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 surprisethree-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 outletcancelled the Turkish show. Oxumağa davam et Can Erdogan’s Former Key Allies Challenge Turkey’s Ruling AK Party?→
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→