March 19, 2007 was a remarkable day for the South Caucasus. On that day, as if by an pre-arranged scenario, Caspian gas crossed the border of Georgia from the east and Iranian gas entered the territory of Armenia from the south. The countries of the region, in particular Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, as well as countries involved in the regional political and economic process, including Iran, Russia, Turkey, may state the ultimate formation of the strategic portrait of the region. In fact, the phenomenon of “perpendicular competition” between the centers of force and their regional allies in the energy and transport-communication spheres has been strengthened.
It is evident that the logic of the development of the South Caucasus and the formation of its geo-economic function is closely connected with political processes in this region. Moreover, it is the political context of the mutual relationships of the countries of the South Caucasus among themselves and with macro-powers competing in this region that predetermined the essence and scheme of the oil-gas and transport-communication projects of regional significance. And vice versa, the already formed infrastructure axes and those still being formed predetermine the logic of regional political strategy, give irreversible direction and pace to the integration processes in the sphere of security.
“Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, which are closely connected with mutual interests in the sphere of extraction and transportation of hydrocarbons, will continue to build up their cooperation in the military sphere,” says political analyst, deputy editor-in-chief for CIS of the REGNUM news agency Vigen Hakobyan. “It is also clear that the reference point for these three countries will become participation in the same security system, which is NATO. Thus, the regional political realities that predetermined the format of economic cooperation need strengthening today for the protection of this format. Armenia, which objectively fell out of the Azeri-Turkish infrastructure zone passing through the territory of Georgia, had to develop alternative directions of development. Iran became that alternative.”
Armenia’s participation in projects of oil and gas supply from Azerbaijan to Turkey has been impossible from the very outset. The position of some politicians and analysts who keep talking about Armenia’s regional isolation purportedly connected with Yerevan’s fundamental position on the Karabakh problem and Armenian-Turkish differences are “beneath any criticism”, according to the political analyst.
First there was confrontation, and only then, many decades after, there appeared projects of supplying oil and gas from the Caspian shelf to the Mediterranean seaports of Turkey. And that is why a long way round costing several hundred million dollars making it possible to pump oil and gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia and not directly via Armenia seems quite logical and natural, while the fears of Baku and Ankara to connect their strategic projects with Armenia are quite reasonable. The project of the construction of a railway from Turkey to Azerbaijan bypassing Armenia can be regarded in the same plane.
“Following the logic, the Armenian side should have, once and for good, given up the idea of integration into the security system expanding to the South Caucasus, including the service of economic interests alien to it, that is NATO,” Hakobyan says. “It is more so logical, considering the fact that Armenia is a member of another military-political bloc – the Organization for the Collective Security Treaty (OCST), of which Russia is a part. With all declared advantages of NATO to the OCST – these are different organizations by their functional load and no doubt they are competing organizations. And indeed, joining NATO is not among Armenia’s foreign policy priorities.”
But, nevertheless, the Armenian press abounds in articles whose point can be summarized to the following: if Georgia and Azerbaijan join NATO, official Yerevan will have no other way than to move the same way with head lowered. Regional and often also Russian analysts speak about the same. Meanwhile, it remains an open question how in that case, being part of the same security system, Armenia will oppose the policy of its isolation being carried out by Ankara and Baku with the tacit consent of Tbilisi. There is no answer also to the question of how in that case Armenia will be strengthening the alternative infrastructure axis with Iran.
Of course, the talks about the North-Atlantic tack having no alternative could be considered as fantasies unless there were too frequent mentions of this prospect by local politicians and experts.
“Armenia, which is a strategic ally of Russia, a member of the OCST, a country where a Russian military base is stationed, a country that handed the bulk of its strategic facilities to the Russian side, is a factor in the South Caucasus,” says the political analyst. “It is obvious. And the strength of this factor, in principle, will increase by far once Georgia and Azerbaijan become NATO members. In fact, in that case Armenia will become a guarantor of the regional status quo appearing at the junction of the spheres of influence of two military-political blocs.”
If Armenia gives up its membership in the OCST and joins NATO in the single stream with Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Republic of Armenia, in the expert’s opinion, will run the risk of turning into a “third-grade member of the alliance” whose position obstructs the strengthening of the bloc’s influence in the region, and so needs amending. It is still difficult to imagine the described prospect, but it is impossible to exclude it.
In this connection, despite the storm of criticism against Armenia’s incumbent authorities, the intention to hand the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline over to the Armenian-Russian “ArmRosgazprom” company seems logical. A lion’s share of this company’s shares belongs to the Russian gas holding Gazprom. The highly unstable situation in the South Caucasus, smoldering conflicts, the situation around Iran – all this does not make it possible to rule out force majeur events in the region. The key issue for Armenian statehood – security of strategic infrastructures and ensuring energy security – is thus being solved. A board interest of a Russian owner stands behind each of these projects and facilities, and damage to them should cause a backlash from Moscow. And this reaction will follow if Moscow is, indeed, a real player in the South Caucasus.