Interesse der externen Akteure – Eröffnung der Transportwege im Südkaukasus: Möglichkeiten und Herausforderungen

The opening of transportation routes in the Southern Caucasus attracts the attention of various actors such as Russia, Iran, Turkey, the USA, and the EU. However, they pursue individual goals that sometimes differ from each other and even conflict with each other.

Abschnitt I: Die Rolle und Hauptinteressen der Russischen Föderation

The opening of transportation routes through the territory of Armenia has played and continues to play a crucial role in Russia’s strategy. This measure aims to create reliable trade routes for the transportation of goods and strengthen Russia’s geopolitical presence in the region. The associated trade routes have promising goals for the Russian Federation, including ensuring continuous trade with Turkey through the Azerbaijan-Armenia route and building important political and economic relationships with Iran.

On February 13, 2008, Armenia transferred the administration of approximately 1,250 km of railway lines to the „South Caucasus Railways“ for a period of 30 years. This company is a subsidiary of the state-owned company „Russian Railways“. This agreement was a significant step as Armenia’s railway infrastructure was facing serious challenges at that time and was not fully operational.

A few days later, on February 19, 2008, the election for the third President of Armenia took place.

In 1899, the first train from Tbilisi arrived in Gyumri, 109 years before the events of 2008. This demonstrates that Armenia’s railways were established during the time of the Russian Empire, indicating deep historical connections between Armenia’s railway infrastructure and Russia. In recent years, Russia has reportedly invested approximately $600 million in restoring and modernizing the Armenian railway, aiming to strengthen and optimize connections, make regional trade more profitable, and boost economic growth. This highlights Moscow’s pursuit of not only economic benefits but also a geopolitical strategy in these investments.

Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the utilization of the „Armenian Railway“ is limited to the territory of Armenia from an economic and political perspective. It seems unlikely that Russia has invested in this venture solely for passenger transportation from one point to another within Armenia. The name of the company, established in 2008, namely „South Caucasus Railways,“ provides clear indications of Russia’s geographical ambitions.

Vermutlich erwartete die russische Seite, dass dieses Projekt die geopolitische Dynamik in der Region zugunsten Russlands verändern würde. Gleichzeitig sollte es die Position der armenischen Diplomatie stärken, insbesondere in den Verhandlungen zur Lösung der Berg-Karabach-Frage.

Challenges arose during the implementation of projects, such as the reopening of the railway route from Armenia to Russia via Abkhazia, which sparked protests in Tbilisi. However, Armenia should have fully utilized its own strong interest in a railway connection with its strategic ally to persuade partners and interest groups. This was particularly important for those with whom Moscow could not negotiate directly. Moscow may have expected Armenia to convince Tbilisi to agree to the reopening of the border with Abkhazia. In this context, the Armenian diaspora in Georgia and Abkhazia, as well as in the United States, who had significant experience in political activism, could have been valuable and supportive, especially considering Georgia’s alignment at that time.

Unfortunately, such initiatives were not implemented. With Russia’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the summer of 2008, the situation was further exacerbated. At the same time, the strategic importance of the region for Moscow was once again emphasized, and attention was increasingly focused on the potential for cooperation between Russia and the countries of the South Caucasus.

Im Rahmen der sogenannten südlichen Ausrichtung sollten die „Südkaukasischen Eisenbahnen“ eine Verbindung von Armenien nach Iran schaffen und somit zur Schaffung von Verkehrswegen beitragen, darunter auch der „Nord-Süd“-Route (Russland-Georgien-Armenien-Iran) und anderen Projekten. Geografisch gesehen war diese Route aufgrund ihrer Lage nur über Nachitschewan möglich, doch Baku lehnte diese Idee vor allem aufgrund der schwierigen Beziehungen zu Jerewan, bedingt durch den ungelösten Konflikt um Berg-Karabach, ab.

To defuse the situation and create a favorable atmosphere for resolving all regional disputes, the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed the Maindorf Agreement in November 2008 under the auspices of Russia. This document obligated the parties to promote stability and security in the region through political unity. This step emphasizes the importance of a peaceful conflict resolution and Moscow’s intention to further develop political and economic relations with the countries of the South Caucasus. It is noteworthy that until November 9, 2020, the Maindorf Agreement was the only published document signed by the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In dieser Angelegenheit gelang es Jerewan jedoch nicht, die Zustimmung von Baku zu gewinnen. Dagegen eröffnete Baku am 30. Oktober 2017 die Eisenbahnstrecke Baku-Tiflis-Kars, was einen harten Wettbewerb in der Region zwischen den „Nord-Süd“- und „Ost-West“-Formaten verdeutlichte.

Although many years have passed since Russia’s investments in the Armenian railway network, the region is still undergoing changes, and its geopolitical dynamics continue to evolve. The reopening of the region’s transportation lines and the consistent expansion of the South Caucasus railway connections remain crucial for Russia’s strategic interests in the southwest direction of its country. This can be explained by the following factors:

Strengthening control and expanding influence: In the initial stage, the development of these transportation routes contributes to Moscow’s ability to enhance its control over Armenia and Azerbaijan. This allows Russia to improve the efficiency of its relations with Iran and Turkey by facilitating the transportation of goods and resources. These routes bolster Russia’s position in the region and facilitate reliable partnerships.

B. Verringerung der Bedeutung Georgiens:The next step of the strategy for developing transportation routes aims to significantly reduce Georgia’s geopolitical significance in an „East-West“ format. As Georgia serves as a kind of „bridge“ between the collective West and the region, Russia is trying to weaken this connection and diminish Georgia’s influence on regional dynamics. This also paves the way for Russia to exert a stronger influence on Georgia in the future. By limiting or even reducing Georgia’s East-West transportation capacity, Russia will also be able to minimize both the political and economic influences of Azerbaijan on the collective West.

However, the significance of the so-called „Baku-Tbilisi route“ as a mediator has exponentially increased since the events of February 24, 2022. On one hand, the current Western sanctions against Russia are likely to have an impact on Russian gas deliveries to Europe via Azerbaijan and Georgia, potentially delaying the implementation of these plans as the gas pipeline from Azerbaijan to Europe runs through Georgia. On the other hand, this situation is supported by the realization that Azerbaijan’s importance to the West goes far beyond its energy resources; Azerbaijan plays a key role as a transit partner, facilitating the transportation of energy resources from Central Asia to Europe.

From a geopolitical security perspective, it is crucial for Moscow to maintain control over these routes, especially those that pass through Armenian territory, through Russian state authorities, including border control agencies. Therefore, it is of great importance to enhance Russia’s presence in the South Caucasus.

Since September 30, 1992, Russia has been obligated by a treaty to ensure the external security of Armenia and protect its borders with Turkey and Iran. These obligations are based on interstate agreements concluded during the USSR era, as well as the law „On the State Border of the USSR.“ Armenia was responsible for ensuring the security of its own borders with Georgia and Azerbaijan. However, since the end of 2020, Armenia has had difficulties in securing its border with Azerbaijan, leading to the deployment of additional Russian border troops. However, these troops were unable to fulfill their own tasks from the perspective of the Armenian government, so since mid-October 2022, the Armenian-Azerbaijani border line has been monitored by the EU Police Civil Mission.

According to the ceasefire agreement of November 2020, Russia has also committed to ensuring the safety of the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh. It should be emphasized that while official Yerevan should ensure the security of the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh until the conflict is finally resolved, Russia only guarantees the continued existence of the Armenian population in the region. However, the question of international recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh is not currently a priority for Moscow.

All diese Maßnahmen Russlands unterstreichen weiterhin die tiefgehenden strategischen Interessen des Kremls im Südkaukasus, die sowohl rein wirtschaftliche als auch sicherheitspolitische Aspekte der Region umfassen.

It is important to mention that Armenia’s persistent diplomatic failures regarding regional projects and initiatives since 2008, and especially the country’s newly reshaped Western-oriented foreign policy since 2018 and the clear defeat in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, have significantly strengthened Russia’s position in the region, while Armenia has simultaneously lost considerable influence in this region. This creates additional challenges for the implementation of Russian projects.

Section II: The main tasks and interests of the collective West in the South Caucasus.

The establishment of a land transportation connection between Turkey and Azerbaijan through the territory of Armenia directly arises from the geopolitical strategies of the West. This is because Turkey, as a NATO member, gains direct access to Armenia, a strategic ally of Russia in this region. This, in turn, strengthens NATO’s position in the South Caucasus. This scenario not only contradicts the interests of Russia but also Iran.

The presence of Russian troops in Armenia and since 2020 also in Nagorno-Karabakh poses a challenge to the implementation of Western plans. In the next phase, the collective West will undoubtedly attempt to displace the Russian South Caucasus railways and the Russian military from Armenia. This approach aims to exclude Russian control over regional roads and the borders between Armenia and Iran, as well as Armenia and Turkey.

This will trigger a race between Moscow and the West for the reconciliation of Yerevan and Baku, with the West being able to offer Yerevan better short-term prospects than Russia. However, it is important to emphasize that only the short-term prospects of the West pose significant dangers for Armenia, while in the medium and long term, these prospects can be extremely risky for Armenia.

Der Westen wird auf vielfältige Weise versuchen, Jerewan zu überzeugen:

  1. zunächst einen Friedensvertrag mit Aserbaidschan zu unterzeichnen und dann
  2. Abkommen mit der Türkei über die armenisch-türkischen Beziehungen zu treffen.

The vital national interests of the Armenian people do not play a crucial role for the West.

Ihre endgültige Lösung entspricht jedoch nicht nur den Interessen Jerewans, sondern auch Russlands. Moskau plant, sein militärischer Präsenz im Südkaukasus zu verstärken, was sich als strategische Herausforderung für den kollektiven Westen in dieser Region erweisen könnte.

In the current historical and political phase, the relations between Yerevan, Turkey, and Baku can be considered „forced“ and are based on financial and ideological support from the West. The artificially accelerated so-called improvements in these relations will not only contradict the interests of Yerevan but also Russia.

Abschnitt III: Iran – Geopolitische Risiken und Überlegungen

Die Aktivitäten westlicher Länder zur „Entsperrung“ der Verkehrswege in der Region und zur deren weiteren Integration in westliche Strukturen, insbesondere in Armenien, bringen zusätzliche Risiken für Teheran mit sich. Dies führt zu einer vorsichtigen, aber aktiven Politik seitens der iranischen Führung in Bezug auf die Region. Der Iran wird versuchen, seine nördlichen Nachbarn, insbesondere Jerewan, dazu zu ermutigen, behutsam vorzugehen, wenn es darum geht, dem kollektiven Westen zusätzlichen politischen Einfluss in der Region zu gewähren. Sollten diese Bemühungen nicht ausreichen, um die Lage zugunsten Irans zu beeinflussen, könnte das Land als letztes Mittel auf militärische Maßnahmen zurückgreifen.

However, it is important to emphasize that Iran will always consider the interests of Moscow and Ankara in its decisions because in the event of further escalation or escalation of Western measures, it will need at least the political support of one or both of these parties. In this context, the role of Moscow in Tehran is gaining importance, and likewise, the role of Tehran is playing a crucial role for Moscow. Both capitals are becoming natural allies, both in the region and beyond. The benefits of this cooperation can also be seen in relation to the war in Ukraine. However, this topic requires a separate consideration outside of this article.

Abschnitt IV. Wichtigste Erkenntnisse und Perspektiven

In the current historical stage, it is evident that the Armenian people are facing an extremely challenging situation, which is based on several crucial factors.

Firstly: Despite the armed conflict with Azerbaijan in 2020, Armenia has not recognized the territories of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent entity, which limits the possibility of referring to the territories captured by Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh as „occupied.“ Furthermore, in the post-war period, Armenia initially reduced its territorial claims regarding Nagorno-Karabakh and has repeatedly expressed its willingness since October 2022 to recognize the entire territory of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.

Zweitens: Das Fehlen einer militärpolitischen Präsenz Armeniens in Berg-Karabach nach dem Krieg von 2020 hat zu einer Diskrepanz zwischen der langjährigen Verhandlungsdauer zur Lösung des Konflikts um Berg-Karabach und den raschen – für armenische Seite äußert negativen – Veränderungen geführt.

Thirdly: The willingness of Yerevan to open its roads to hostile states with which it has no diplomatic relations poses additional challenges or dangers. On one hand, there is Turkey, which, as the successor of the empire that committed the Armenian genocide and has not yet recognized it, participated in the 2020 war. On the other hand, there is Azerbaijan, which is at war with Armenia and pursues a policy of antagonism towards the Armenian people. All of this calls into question the security and stability of the region and could potentially bring deadly risks to the Armenian state.

The fourth factor concerns the collective West’s desire to assign the role of „regional sheriff“ in the South Caucasus to Turkey. Despite the complex relationships between Western countries and Turkey, Turkey remains the most likely or even the only candidate for this role. A stronger involvement of Ankara as the „sheriff“ of the West would contradict Moscow’s interests in the region and be perceived as a threat by Tehran.

In summary, it can be concluded that there is no country willing to support Armenia in implementing projects that arise from Armenian national interests. The proposals presented by international partners after November 9, 2020, vary depending on the geopolitical situation and may not necessarily align with Armenia’s interests.

Infolgedessen steht das armenische Volk vor großen Herausforderungen und muss in einer instabilen Region für seine Interessen kämpfen. In diesem unsicheren Umfeld sollte Jerewan:

Stay vigilant and avoid written agreements, especially regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, during negotiations.

b) interne Ressourcen mobilisieren, um ihre Interessen möglichst auf diplomatischem Wege durchzusetzen, da Baku und Ankara erneut auf den Einsatz militärischer Gewalt zurückgreifen könnten, wie es im Herbst 2020 der Fall war.

Für die Erhöhung der Effizienz eigener Außenpolitik sollte Jerewan auch die Ressourcen der armenischen Diaspora mobilisieren, insbesondere in Ländern wie den USA, Frankreich und Russland.

Baku and Ankara are aware that this unstable and unpredictable situation, which began on February 24, 2022 in the areas north of the Black Sea, may change. With active diplomatic support from the West, primarily fighting against Russia’s influence, they could further advance their interests in this region. Considering the at least somewhat successful conclusion of the war in Ukraine, Moscow could strengthen its presence in the region and act more confidently and decisively in close cooperation with Tehran.