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Shusha declaration: a tentative sketch of geopolitical ramifications

15 June 2022 10:00 (UTC+04:00)
Shusha declaration: a tentative sketch of geopolitical ramifications

By Orkhan Amashov

The post-2020 architecture of the South Caucasus has, at its premise, the geopolitical ramifications emanating from Azerbaijan’s decisive victory in the Second Karabakh War. The Shusha Declaration, signed on 15 June 2021 and ratified by both countries in February 2022, upgraded the already strong ties between Baku and Ankara into the domain of alliance. This is now a critical element within the whole security construct that is yet to reach its ‘cementitious’ solidity.

Nonetheless, fundamental linchpins are there. The essence of the Shusha Declaration bespeaks the transformation of the ‘emotional vortex’ engendered by ethno-linguistic ties between the two countries into a formal legal framework and a more expressive form of realpolitik.

As for any comprehensive document of this kind, it consolidates the pre-existing arrangements, solidifying them into an enhanced mode. Neil Watson, for instance, a British journalist who has written extensively on Azerbaijan over the past decade and is currently on a trip to liberated Aghdam, is of the opinion that the Shusha Declaration “provides an unprecedented level of support and security guarantees” for Baku, thereby entitling Turkey to a greater role in the region and beyond.

Security and defence

In fact, the military-defence dimension of these enhanced relations looms larger than ever. In each key component that made the Azerbaijani military triumph possible in 2020, there is an indubitable Turkish trace. The systemic use of unmanned drone systems, network-centric operational hardware, and informational superiority were integral to Baku’s victory. Armenia, on the other hand, was prioritising Soviet-Russian doctrines, relying on its firepower surmounting echeloned defences.

In addition, Ankara’s political-diplomatic support for Baku neutralised the intervention of a third party. In the same spirit, Azerbaijan’s post-2020 military doctrine is heavily influenced by that which was achieved during the recent war. In this vein, the reconstruction of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces along the lines of the Turkish model, setting in motion the joint military industry and furnishing the commando units that aim to ensure security in the liberated territories are a continuation of the same pattern.

The kaleidoscope of the South Caucasus is still in the making and its fluid content has yet to acquire a crystallised shape. Irish historian Dr Patrick Walsh, who kindly shared his views on the subject, believes that the Shusha Declaration has provided an extra layer of security for Azerbaijan, which it did not possess previously.

“It will certainly make neighbouring countries and regional powers think twice before violating the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan,” stated Dr Walsh. To this effect, both Armenia or any other actor desirous of backing Yerevan are effectively neutralised.

The alliance with Azerbaijan enables Turkey to project greater power both westwards and eastwards. As a transit country, pivotal to the export of Azerbaijani energy through the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) segment of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) to Europe, Ankara is critical to the EU market.

Simultaneously, via Azerbaijan, it is evident that Turkey gains critical access to the Caspian Basin and Central Asia, empowering the Organisation of Turkic States. Many observers agree that, without the Baku-Ankara axis, the whole concept of a wider Turkic unity is neither attractive nor probable.

Geopolitical balance

It has long been understood in Baku that the augmentation of Azerbaijan’s international clout necessitates strong ties with all three South Caucasus neighbours. The Moscow Declaration, signed on 22 February, which is yet to be ratified, fits into the grand scheme of the foreign policy design pursued by Baku.

The two documents in question, despite being similar in many ways, are not quite identical. In fact, the Shusha Declaration is more of a framework, envisaging a deeper form of integration, whereas the Moscow document is about mutual obligations.

In many ways, Azerbaijan has managed to re-establish its ties with both Ankara and Moscow in such a way that the common interests of the two heavyweights largely form a certain delicate balance, giving rise to fertile ground for Baku to entrench its place as a player punching above its weight. Patrick Walsh believes that, since Russia needs for its geopolitical gains to maintain good relations with Ankara, the likelihood of any crisis between the two nations adversely affecting Baku is diminished.

Moscow views post-Soviet geography as a zone of direct interest, where it can, as the Ukrainian crisis proves, act decisively, in an interventionist manner. Turkey’s ties with Azerbaijan form one of the reasons why the situation is different from Azerbaijan. In addition to Baku’s “treading-a-tightrope’ policy in relation to its northern neighbour, the Turkish factor is of great significance.

Dr Walsh, for instance, is of the opinion that Ankara provides a two-layer shield: “If Russia chooses to act militarily against Azerbaijan in a future dispute, it would have two powerful restraining forces against such a decision: the possibility of a Turkish military response and the loss of Azerbaijan to NATO and the West.”

In the same vein, Azerbaijan is careful to maintain a healthy equilibrium with Iran. Tehran is yet to come to terms with the post-2020 geopolitics of the region, and its concerns over the Zangazur project remain palpable.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed with Baku in March 2022, envisaging a communications route connecting the Eastern Zangazur region of Azerbaijan with its Nakhchivan exclave via Iranian territory, was a calculated move that tied Iran to the new geopolitical map of the region, somewhat placating its disaffectedness.

As stated at the outset, the whole geopolitical landscape of the region is far from being a finalised domain wherein all is firmly entrenched.

In this vein, the Shusha Declaration is not the last word in Azerbaijani-Turkish relations, nor the ultimate apex beyond which no profusion could be contemplated, but a new point of departure from which an ever-closer union between the two Turkic nations is yet to emerge.

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