EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN:MEPs have adopted an amendment calling on the European Council to impose sanctions on Turkey, after they unanimously voted to condemn its recent “unilateral and illegal” behavior in Cyprus and the surrounding territorial waters.
EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN:Greece has rejected new calls by Turkey to start exploratory talks to settle their maritime differences, feeding into a long-running and dangerous energy standoff in the eastern Mediterranean. The snub comes as Greece tries to increase pressure on its European allies to impose sanctions on Turkey during a summit next week.
Russia’s Red Sea Base In Sudan Is A Recalibration Of Its Intra-Ummah Balancing Act
16 NOVEMBER 2020
Russia’s draft deal to open up a Red Sea naval base in Sudan amounts to a strategic recalibration of its careful “balancing” act between the GCC and Turkey after moving more closely to the latter following the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War, which in turn shows how important Moscow regards its “Ummah Pivot” as being by seeking to maintain equally excellent relations with all majority-Muslim countries without any of its bilateral relations being misperceived as directed against any third country in this civilizational sphere.
A Deal Three Years In The Making
Some observers were surprised byreportslate last week that a Russian government website published details of a draft deal pertaining to Moscow’s plans to open up a Red Sea naval base in Sudan, but this was actually something that’s been openly discussed for the past three years already. The author wrote about former President Bashir’s public invitation for Russia to do exactly just that during his visit to the Eurasian Great Power in November 2017 in his piece titled “Here’s Why Russia Might Set Up A Red Sea Base In Sudan”. The geopolitical situation has considerably changed since then following his overthrow last year, which the author also recently analyzed at length in an article about how “The Sudanese-‘Israeli’ Peace Deal Required Lots Of Behind-The-Scenes Maneuvering”, but some of his insight from that time is still relevant.
For instance, Russia indeed hopes to gain influence along China’s prospectiveSahelian-Saharan Silk Roadthat he first identified in early 2017 and which is expected to terminate precisely in Port Sudan, which is where Moscow plans to open up its naval base. There are still domestic military dimensions to this draft deal which could be taken advantage of by Sudan, though not necessarily in terms of preventing the country’s further Balkanization considering therecent peace dealbetween its warring sides. More specifically, they likely relate to the “Democratic Security” strategies that the author summarized in his October 2019 piece written during the first-ever Russia-Africa Summit about how “Africa Needs Russia More Than Ever, And This Week’s Sochi Summit Proves It”, in which some hyperlinks are now broken but can still be accessed viaothersites.
The “Ummah Pivot”
The most pertinent point made in his prior topical analysis, however, relates to Russia’s “balancing” act. The hyperlinked piece from the preceding sentence introduced the author’s concept of the “Ummah Pivot”, which he describes as the recent prioritization of Russia’s relations with majority-Muslim countries stimulated by the West’s anti-Russian sanctions of the past six and a half years. Many observers predicted Russia to “pivot eastward” in the face of that economic warfare campaign, but in reality, the country ended up pivoting southward towards the international Muslim community (“Ummah”) in order to optimize its continental “balancing” strategy by incorporating a third element (the Ummah) into this supposedly binary choice between East (China) and West (EU).
The Unofficial Russian-Turkish Alliance
In the present geostrategic conditions, there’s little doubt after the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War that Russia and Turkey are the new power duo in the “Greater Mideast”, which the author coined “Putogan” in his latest analysis on the topic titled “Analytical Reflections: Learning From The Nagorno-Karabakh Fiasco”. Less than a week prior, he noted that “Russia & Turkey Stand To Lose The Most From A Biden Presidency”, predicting that the simultaneous pressure that might likely be placed upon them in that scenario could result in them being pushed into an unofficial alliance out of pragmatic necessity. That potential outcome would risk giving off the optics that Russia is a partisan player in the cold war between Turkey and the GCC, however, hence the need to preemptively recalibrate that aspect of its “balancing” act within its larger “Ummah Pivot”.
The Unofficial Russian-Emirati Alliance
Post-coup Sudan is practically a GCC protectorate nowadays, and it wouldn’t have been possible for Russia to clinch its draft deal for a Red Sea naval base in Port Sudan without the approval of the North African state’s new Gulf overlords. They seemingly understand the importance of improving military interoperability with Russia through the joint naval drills that they’ll likely carry out in the Red Sea upon this agreement’s conclusion. The UAE in particular is the most important extra-regional player in this strategic waterway as a result of its newly established bases in Eritrea and the de-facto independent Somali and Yemeni regions of Somaliland and South Yemen, as well as its hegemonic influence over Ethiopia afterbrokeringits historic peace deal with Eritrea two years back. Russia has also been seeking to cultivatecloserstate-to-statemilitaryties with the UAE as well.
The Syrian Convergence
Unofficially allying with the UAE in this trans-regional space could “balance” its unofficial alliance with Turkey elsewhere in the “Greater Mideast”, thus reinforcing the impression that Russia is indeed the neutral partner that it presents itself as being in the Ummah. This in turn preemptively thwarts any misperception about the grand strategic motives behind its “Ummah Pivot”, thus helping it to maintain its careful “balancing” act in thiscivilizational space. The two halves of its intra-Ummah “balancing” act might ultimately converge inSyriawhere Turkey and the GCC are intensely competing in this geostrategic state where Russian influence undoubtedly predominates. It would be a diplomatic masterstroke if Moscow was able to leverage its “balancing” act in pursuit of a lasting political solution there, though it’ll still take lots of time and skill to achieve, if ever.
TURKEY:As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, Turkey will build a transit-loan based main container port in the Eastern Mediterranean, which will operate as a gateway to the Middle East and Central Asia.
EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN:Greece and Egypt -that signed a maritime deal setting out respective exclusive economic zones- expect US President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration to play a more active role in attempting to calm growing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. Greece and Egypt are at odds with Turkey in a tense maritime boundary dispute in the eastern Mediterranean about rights to search for and exploit natural gas deposits.
Russia & Turkey Stand To Lose The Most From A Biden Presidency
9 NOVEMBER 2020
In the event that Biden’s “projected” presidency become a reality, Russia and Turkey would stand to lose the most during America’s new era of engagement with the world due to the former Vice President’s intense dislike of the Eurasian Great Power and the regional consequences that his possible return to the Iranian nuclear deal could have for Ankara’s grand strategy.
Multilateralism Doesn’t Mean That Everyone Wins
Analysts are scrambling to predict what American foreign policy might look like under a possible Biden presidency in the event that his “projected” (but crucially, not yet legally certified) victory becomes a reality. It’s already known that he intends to return to the Obama-era strategy of multilateral engagement and will probably appoint many officials from that former administration or at the very least those who’ve been tremendously influenced by them. There’s also little doubt that the US’ de-facto military alliance with India will remain intact considering the bipartisan consensusregarding its grannd strategic importance. Nevertheless, although it’s still a bit early to make any confident predictions, it can be argued that Russia and Turkey will probably stand to lose the most from a Biden presidency for reasons that will now be explained.
Political Russophobes Return To The White House
Regarding the Eurasian Great Power, it has legitimate concerns about the political Russophobia of former Obama-era officials. The (soon-to-be-former?) opposition spent the past four years concocting one of the craziest conspiracy theories in modern history by imagining that Trump was secretly an agent — or at the very least, an asset — of none other than President Putin himself. These dangerous allegations have since been officially debunked, but their destructive impact on bilateral relations will persist for the indefinite future. The anti-Russian members of the US’ permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”) which literally conspired with theirDemocratand Mainstream Media proxies to delegitimize and subsequently subvert Trump’s presidency have no interest in a rapprochement with Russia.
A Strategically Convenient “New Detente” With China?
To the contrary, they’ve signaled every interest in clinching a “New Detente” with China instead through a series of pragmatic compromises on a slew of issues such as trade, military, and technological ones for instance. This isn’t just for pragmatic reasons, but clever geostrategic ones related to freeing up the US’ full potential to more assertively “contain” Russia for the ideological reasons that drive Obama-era officials and those influenced by them. Should this scenario come to pass, then Russia would come under unprecedented pressure along its western flank, building upon the military advances along its borders that were overseen by Trump but aggressively solidifying and possibly even expanding them. Being in the midst of a systemic economic transition away from its disproportionate budgetary dependence on resource revenue, Russia is presently real vulnerable.
Russia’s Most Vulnerable Moment
The next year or two is therefore the best possible time for the US to put maximum pressure upon it for the purpose of compelling it to agree to a lopsided “New Detente” which could foreseeably result in a so-called “new normal” of relations between the West and Russia. The intent, however, is to subjugate Russia to America’s military will, which is understandably more difficult to pull off than the political Russophobes might imagine considering Moscow’s recent advances inhypersonic missile technologywhich restored the nuclear balance between the former superpowers. Still, all that Russia has done was buy itself some more time while it sought to domestically restructure all aspects of its society while the US was distracted with “containing” China under Trump, but now the pendulum might swing back against Russia with a vengeance under Biden.
Strengthening The Regional Anti-Turkish “Containment” Coalition
On the topic of Turkey, it’s also expected that this country will stand to lose from a possible Biden presidency. The US’ strategy of assembling a regional anti-Turkish “containment” coalition between itself, Armenia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, the GCC, Greece, “Israel”, and even Syria to an extent will likely remain in place, as will its use of more subversive measures such as economic warfare and even coup plotting in order to “finish the job” that Obama failed to do during thesummer 2016 coup attemptagainst President Erdogan. Just as importantly, however, are the regional consequences that the US’ possible return to the Iranian nuclear deal could have for Ankara’s grand strategy since they could result in it and Tehran drifting apart after their recent rapprochement.
The Turkish-Iranian Strategic Partnership
About that, these neighboring Islamic civilizations are presently enjoying some of their best-ever relations after the failed summer 2016 coup attempt saw Iranbecome the first countryto publicly support Turkey’s legitimate government against the plotters. This wasn’t only for pragmatic reasons regarding the rule of law and international norms, but also ideological ones as well since Turkish society has been gradually Islamifying under President Erdogan’s rule in ways which align with Iran’s ideal vision for the region’s societies. Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran saw the Islamic Republic move much closer to Turkey for the purpose of much-needed sanctions relief, which in turn resulted in them agreeing onAzerbaijanandLibyadespite Iran’s Syrian ally having a different position towards those two conflicts to the surprise of theAlt-Media Community.
As Iran began to rely more on Turkey, so too did Turkey began to rely on Iran, thus establishing a relationship of mutual strategic interdependence. Where Iran sees Turkey as a pressure valve from sanctions, Turkey regards Iran as an indispensably influential regional partner which helps hold back the emerging US-led anti-Turkish “containment” coalition. Nevertheless, if a breakthrough is reached on the US returning to the Iranian nuclear deal, then there’s a credible chance that their mutual strategic interdependence might eventually weaken and the two countries could gradually “decouple” with time. That would place Turkey in a very disadvantageous regional position, but one which could interestingly improve its already solid relations with Russia so long as both have the political will to do so.
Could The Russian-Turkish Strategic Partnership Transform Into An Unofficial Alliance?
The analysis has thus far argued that Russia and Turkey will lose the most from a Biden presidency, but the proverbial silver lining is that they’d have more of a reason than ever to strengthen their cooperation with one another in response. In fact, should similar pressure be placed upon them in a semi-coordinated manner, they might naturally move a lot closer together. Issues of occasional discord such as differences of vision over certain conflicts might remain, but they wouldn’t be insurmountable and in fact might be more easily resolved in the event that they enter into a stronger relationship of mutual strategic interdependence which might even eventually become an unofficial alliance. The exact contours of such a scenario are difficult to forecast at this point, but the possibility itself shouldn’t be discounted for the earlier mentioned reasons.
While many across the world are celebrating what they’ve been (mis?)led to believe is Trump’s impending ouster from the White House, it’s all but certain that Russia and Turkey are fretting over what might come next if Biden is able to execute on his regional vision of repairing relations with China, doubling down on the US’ anti-Russian and -Turkish pressure campaigns, and returning to the Iranian nuclear deal. Taken together, these variables could prove extremely troublesome for their grand strategies, but might also present an opportunity for these two Great Powers to work more closely together in the future. Having said all of that, nothing’s set in stone of course and a Biden presidency might end up surprising a lot of observers just like the Trump one did in some respects, but it’ll still likely be difficult for either Russia or Turkey to secure their interests during this time.
TURKEY:Turkey is planning to increase the volume of cooperation with the BRI-related countries in terms of enabling the Middle Corridor, which lies at the heart of the BRI linking Turkey to Georgia and Azerbaijan via rail, crossing the Caspian Sea and reaches China through Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Turkey is set to become an important center for the BRI. The country will build a transit-loan based main container port in the Eastern Mediterranean, which will be operating as a gateway to the Middle East and Central Asia.
Scenario Forecasting: What Could A Russian Intervention In Nagorno-Karabakh Look Like?
14 OCTOBER 2020
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s suggestion to deploy Russian peacekeepers and military observers into the universally recognized Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and its seven surrounding districts under Armenian occupation pending both sides’ agreement raises the prospect of Moscow’s military intervention in this conflict, which is worthwhile examining since this scenario isn’t as far-fetched as some might think.
Wednesday saw two dramatic developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh Continuation War which suggest that it’s either spiraling further out of control or might almost counterintuitively be on the brink of being brought back under control depending on which direction events proceed in the coming days. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov suggested that his country could deploy peacekeepers and military observers into the universally recognized Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and its seven surrounding districts under Armenian occupation pending both sides’ agreement in order to monitor the ceasefire. This was proposed after reports that Azerbaijan struck several missile launchers inside Armenia earlier that day which were allegedly preparing to hit targets in its territory and possibly repeat last weekend’s Ganja attack or some similar crime against civilians.
In theory, any external attack against the territory of Russia’s CSTO Armenia ally could trigger Moscow’s conventional military intervention on Yerevan’s side, but the legal dilemma that the Eurasian Great Power would face (apart from already being wary of Armenia’s attempts to draw it into the war) is that Azerbaijan can argue that it was preemptively defending itself from unprovoked acts of aggression and therefore enforcing the ceasefire in its own way. Nevertheless, as the saying goes for better or for worse, “might makes right” so Russia could always act first and then make its legal case after having already changed the facts on the ground. That scenario is unlikely though for the earlier mentioned reason that Russia wants to avoid being dragged into this conflict, let alone potentially squaring off against Azerbaijan’s Turkish NATO ally.
It might be for that reason why the peacekeeper and military observer proposals were openly floated by the Russian Foreign Minister since they represent a “middle ground” of sorts for Moscow. The emerging narrative that Syrian and Libyan militants are entering the conflict zone to fight on Azerbaijan’s side with Turkey’s support — which is vehemently denied by both Baku and Ankara — adds a sense of urgency to this proposal from the perspective of Russian domestic politics. Even so, however, it wouldn’t at this moment be a plausible enough pretext since the potential deployment of those Russian forces there pending all sides’ agreement wouldn’t stop any speculative spread of foreign militants into the North Caucasus. After all, it wouldn’t make sense for such fighters — if they’re actually even there — to travel to Russia via Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.
The “Dark Scenario”
The likelihood therefore exists that the emerging militant narrative might be refined, perhaps with forthcoming reports from the Russian side, in order to make it more convincing, though that would presumably entail suggesting that those fighters might enter Russia via its border with Azerbaijan or even outright make an accusation to that effect. It’s unclear whether Russia would be willing to proverbially “cross the Rubicon” in such a way which would reverse the past decade of progress on bilateral relations just to create the pretext for the unilateral military intervention that would probably follow in that instance, which it hasn’t shown any signs of seriously considering contrary to some “wishful thinking” narratives. Still, since the purpose of this piece is to forecast scenarios, it can’t be outright dismissed even though it’s very unlikely.
In the event that any progress is made on that aforementioned front, then it would amount to the rupturing of relations with Azerbaijan and probably also Turkey, the latter consequence of which might be felt most immediately in Syria. This scenario would also suggest that either some lobbying efforts were successful in Russia and/or that Moscow decided to intervene in advance of its own currently unclear reasons but felt uncomfortable doing so under the pretext of supporting Armenia’s American- and Soros-backed leader, hence the focus on foreign militants. That said, the author feels obligated to state that he doesn’t believe that this scenario is plausible at the moment because no credible indications have been observed. Russia’s impressive restraint in resisting the pressure of some interest groups to intervene shows its commitment to neutrality.
Armenian & Azerbaijani Concerns
Having dismissed the “dark scenario” of a unilateral Russian military intervention under the anti-militant pretext which could quickly spark a CSTO-NATO crisis, it’s now time to explore the ways in which an intervention could be managed by most or all of the concerned stakeholders in order to advance the long-overdue political solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenia is increasingly operating as a “rogue state” through its attacks on Azerbaijani targets outside the conflict zone, to say nothing of those against civilians, but if Russia can rein in its wayward ally, then it might be able to convince it to accept the deployment of peacekeepers and military observers in order to prevent its total loss in the war. Both sides trust Russia, yet there are also some reservations about what its ultimate role would be following any possible intervention.
For example, some Azerbaijanis are concerned that Russia might simply seek to formalize the status quo and thus prevent the implementation of the four UNSC Resolutions (822, 853, 874, 884) that Russia itself voted for demanding the Armenian military’s full, immediate, and unconditional withdrawal from universally recognized Azerbaijani territory. Likewise, some Armenians might fear that Russia would “betray” them (as they might misleadingly frame it) by pressuring them to abide by the same international legal demands that Moscow itself reiterated on four separate occasions in 1993 through the UNSC. Sputnik’s live update feed from Wednesday reported that “Armenian PM Says Azerbaijan Demanded That Yerevan Surrender 7 Regions Around Karabakh in Exchange for Peace”, which Pashinyan rejected, meaning that he openly flaunts his defiance of international law.
The Speculative Scenario
Since Russia never misses the chance to publicly reiterate its commitment to international law, it can be safely assumed that Moscow disagrees with Yerevan’s illegal stance. Still, Russia might leverage its world-class diplomatic skill to convince Armenia that it won’t seek to implement the relevant UNSC Resolutions if all sides agree to its military intervention, at least not right away that is, though that might then make Baku balk at supporting this for the above-mentioned reason related to its suspicion that this scenario would just formalize the pro-separatist status quo. That might be avoided if Russia secretly coordinates its diplomatic outreaches to Armenia with Azerbaijan, which could lead to Baku not objecting to this scenario as long as it was assured that Moscow would indeed seek to implement those UNSC Resolutions (even if not right away).
Taking Turkish Interests Into Account
The so-called “elephant in the room” is Turkey, which Azerbaijan previously said must be involved in the peace process in one way or another. Armenia is obviously against that so it wouldn’t agree to anything that could result in its hated foe’s military intervention in the conflict. This rules out any bilateral agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan to allow a joint Russian-Turkish peacekeeping and military observer force to operate in the occupied territories, except of course if Russia pressures Armenia to accept it or the Turkish force follows the Russian one per a secret agreement between Moscow, Ankara, and Baku sometime after the Russian forces are deployed. This is of course speculative and there aren’t any indications suggesting that it’s being considered at the moment, but it might be the “surprise twist” needed to peacefully end the conflict once and for all.
To explain, replicating the Russian-Turkish Syrian scenario of joint patrols and diplomatic coordination might result in a much-needed breakthrough for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This hasn’t happened in Syria for a variety of reasons related to that conflict’s uniqueness, but in the unexpected event that Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a joint Russian-Turkish mission or a comparatively more likely Russian peacekeeping and military observer deployment that was eventually followed by a Turkish one after the separatists were under Russia’s control (per a secret agreement between Moscow, Ankara, and Baku), then the facts on the ground could theoretically be changed in favor of advancing a political solution in according with the Madrid Principles. Russia might operate in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey in five of the seven surrounding occupied districts, and joint patrols in the two remaining ones linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.
Can Russian Diplomacy Save The Day?
The reader must remember that Armenia is extremely unlikely to ever agree to this and that the speculated scenario could probably occur only if it and Azerbaijan reach an initial agreement solely allowing for the deployment of Russian forces, but if Moscow has the political will to cut a secret pragmatic deal with Baku and Ankara to the end that the author wrote about, then it could truly be a game-changer for reining in the “rogue state” of Armenia and finally implementing the four UNSC Resolutions. It would first and foremost require trust between Russia and Azerbaijan since Baku would need to have absolute faith that Moscow would keep its word in any secret trilateral arrangement with Ankara, and then Russia would need to convince Armenia that its proposed deployment wouldn’t ever involve any Turkish component. This would be a herculean task for Russian diplomats.
If they can pull it off, though, then it might eventually end the war by non-military means. Specifically, it provides a formula for implementing the Madrid Principles related to the “return of the seven surrounding districts to Azerbaijani control” (five of which would have a Russian-facilitated Turkish peacekeeper and military observer presence); “an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance” (which would be the responsibility of Russian forces); and “a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh (under the joint control of Russian-Turkish forces). In theory, Russian and Turkish forces would “keep each other in check” to prevent either from too openly siding with the warring party that they’re most closely associated with, and joint control of the corridor would ensure that neither side exploits it for their own purposes.
What the author aimed to do in this analysis was forecast the most likely scenarios in which a Russian military intervention into the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict might occur. The “dark scenario” of a unilateral one risking a dual war with Azerbaijan and Turkey (perhaps even with NATO too) was discounted since it’s not at all in Russia’s interests, but the pragmatic one of having Russian forces there later open the door for Turkish ones to join them might present the breakthrough that’s needed to finally implement the four UNSC Resolutions on peacefully resolving this long-standing issue. To be absolutely clear, the author is not predicting that any of this will definitely happen nor is he imposing any plan onto anyone, but all that he’s doing is provoking out-of-the-box thinking by all sides in order to hopefully inspire a creative solution that could pave the way for peace.