EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Bringing Peace to the South Caucasus: Is There a Role for the UK?
DATE: 24th March, 3pm-4pm BST
VENUE: Zoom meeting, Henry Jackson Society
SPEAKERS: Ambassador Matthew Bryza, Yusuf Erim, Dr Shota Kakabadze, Nona Shahnazarian
MODERATOR: Dr Taras Kuzio
Dr Taras Kuzio 00:00
Thank you, everybody. Thank you everybody for joining our latest webinar dealing with the South Caucuses, a region that we haven’t really looked at very much at the Henry Jackson society, but certainly, a region that I’ve written about and all the speakers on our panel today have also studied for many years. It’s a region that has tremendous geopolitical importance, with a lot of different countries vying for influence Russia, Iran, China, Turkey, and maybe one day the United States and others, but certainly, there are a lot of things now in flux with the invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s position seems to be weaker, visibly, than its neighbours in Eurasia. There’s a bit of, shall we say, rebelling amongst the amongst the countries that Russia has included always within its sphere of influence. And it’s interesting that at recent UN votes on the invasion of Ukraine, the only Eurasian country to support Russia was Belarus. None of the other members of either the CSTO, or the Eurasian Economic Union supported Russia, they abstained. So, Armenia, for example, unlike in the past, on the invasion has begun to abstain. So, they’re a portent of new changes. Let’s start first of all with Ambassador Bryza talking about where is America? Why is the US so absent from the region? And possibly why relations between Turkey and the US are so have become so poor, unfortunately, but certainly talk about the US position or lack of a position in that whole region. Thank you very much.
Ambassador Matthew Bryza 02:02
Well, to answer that question about today, we got to go back a little way. And I would argue, maybe with self-interest, that the US was extremely present in the South Caucasus during the administration of George W. Bush. On my first day of work in the White House, I served on the National Security Council staff there for four years, on my very first day, my first task I was in the office until 1 AM, preparing the meeting papers for President Bush’s meeting with the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, hoping in at the time of the famous meeting in Key West Florida, to forge a breakthrough in the Nagorno Karabakh mediation process. So, we had a US presidential level engagement. On Nagorno Karabakh, that meeting failed, and President Bush didn’t spend much more personal time on it, but his Secretary of State showed it. And then when it comes to Georgia, I mean, President Bush famously, or infamously, visited Georgia called it a beacon of democracy and was quite vocal during the Russian invasion of Georgia. The United States sent a naval ship a warship, into the Black Sea, to deliver humanitarian assistance in Georgia during the invasion. And at that time, there was discussion of whether or not the United States would support Georgia’s NATO membership. So let me just sum it up with this. I was at the tip of that spear. And I got a call one day from the Secretary of State saying, well, you know, we should maybe quiet things down because our push for both Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO, it’s not really enjoying the support among our allies. And we don’t, you know, we want to maintain solidarity with our allies. And so, this was in the lead up to the meeting, the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania in April 2018. And I got a call a day later from I had now shifted to the State Department from the White House and my White House sort of successor said, “I think the President’s gonna overrule everybody. And he’s gonna make a big push at Bucharest, for NATO membership for Georgia.” And he did. And as he told me that afternoon, just before the dinner where the decision was taken by NATO, basically to say Georgia and Ukraine will become members of NATO, but not now. No Membership Action Plan. So just before that President Bush, I just happened to be located somewhere when he gave a speech where he saw me, he grabbed my arm. He said, “I’m going to fight like hell tonight to get that Membership Action Plan for Georgia, but I fear I might not win.” And maybe because the German Chancellor was going to veto it. And that’s what happened. So, the US was very active then, to a fault, maybe to the point that people like me personally were criticised for somehow trying to persuade then Georgian president Saakashvili to go to war with Russia. We’re doing totally the opposite. But we were overly active. And then the Obama administration came in and was happens to you believe in her Galleon sense of history or in general, in politics reacted. And so, Russia reset policies, your recall can happen early in the Obama administration. And the idea there was let’s not be pushing on the South Caucasus issues or other issues that create irritation with Russia. Let’s back off. Let’s not do anything the Bush administration was doing, let’s not even use their language. Literally, they’re my colleagues and they told me they were given orders not to do X, because previously in the administration, we would use that formulation x. So, we stepped way back. And then we had the administration of President Trump and there was nothing strategic going on, I think, in his mind, and certainly not in the South Caucasus. Plus, he had that strange affinity for Vladimir Putin. And so now we are where we are. And we’ve got the Biden administration, you know, trying to pick up the pieces focus before this horrendous invasion of Ukraine, getting back in the Iran nuclear deal, and managing China relations first and foremost, and the pandemic and trade disputes and re-stimulating the global economy after the pandemic, not to mention climate change. And so, we lost the focus on the south caucuses, and it hasn’t been able to climb back up the ladder. But it used to be at the very top of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Now, I’ll wrap up on the South Caucasus and go to Turkey just for a moment. So, I also wonder how we got in such a bad place with Turkey. Sometimes I think, first of all, you know, the Obama administration thought that the Bush administration had messed up relations with Turkey. So, Obama’s first overseas visit was to Turkey. And he was all about getting the relations back on track. But there were huge misunderstandings that crept up, especially to me. The breaking point was the coup attempt back in July of 2016 when the US administration said nothing positive for several days. What should have been said immediately was a NATO members democratically elected government faced a coup threat. It would have been bad if it succeeded. We may have our dislikes about the way the Turkish Government is operating. But the overthrow of a democratically elected government that works in all in a NATO member state is bad. We didn’t. The Secretary of State at the time John Kerry came out and suggested maybe it was a fake coup made up by Erdogan. That was his first statement. And a second one was a suggestion that, well, no one is going to crack down on the coup plotters and his political opposition and if he goes too far maybe NATO will expel Turkey from the Alliance. On the other side, what we had going on was looking at Putin called Erdogan; the first person to call him as I recall, Yusef will correct me, the first foreign leader and said, you know, I’m with you. And it was the Americans that are behind the coup attempt, because the coup leader Fethullah Gulen as we all know, lives in the United States.
I think that because of that debacle, the US and Turkey were completely on different tracks with regard to the coup attempt. You had top US leaders thinking that maybe it wasn’t a real coup, or even suggesting it would have been good at a fix succeeded. And then you have the Turkish Government thinking maybe the US plan this. And after that, then we got the Turkish decision to buy ES 400 Russian air defence system, and then that got us down into the action-reaction cycle where the US then condemn that. So how could you partner with our foe and then banish Turkey from the F-5 programme after Turkey had paid a billion-plus dollars for its jets? And there were many other than nasty issues that popped up after that. But I sense, my last comment is that there is a new mood, certainly in the executive branch in Washington, of appreciating very much the critical importance of Turkey strategically, not just because of Syria, or Iraq, but because of Ukraine, and what Turkey has been doing in the defence sector with Ukraine. Not just selling drones, but CO production now of UAVs. In Ukraine, stealth Corvettes that Turkey is going to produce and provide or sell to Ukraine, also a military jet engine that Ukraine and Turkey are developing together not to mention the fact that consistently Turkey has condemned the invasion has condemned the violation, Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. And, to bring it back to the beginning of the South caucuses, is perhaps the staunchest NATO member state in support of NATO membership of both Georgia and Ukraine. I’ll stop there.
Dr Taras Kuzio 09:44
Thanks very much, Matthew. I mean, I think that was very, very interesting. It’s especially interesting actually, before we go on to the next speaker, just to point out the difference between Turkey and Israel here because both countries want to, as it were, play both sides, you know. Russia and The West because of Syria in the case of Russia. Turkey for other reasons. But at the same time, Israel refuses to sell weapons to Ukraine. Turkey does. And yet the US has good relations with Israel, but bad relations with Turkey. So, it’s very confusing to a lot of people, including even ourselves, you know, why that is the case? Because it can’t be just that Russia’s in Syria that Israel has been that cautious because Turkey also borders Syria. And Turkey has been involved inside. And Turkeys actually had firefights with Russian forces inside Syria.
Ambassador Matthew Bryza 10:40
Absolutely. And my last point taught us is almost a firefight with the United States in Syria because the other huge issue is the question about its partnership with PYGJ, because the Kurdish question, the infamous Kurdish question.
Dr Taras Kuzio 10:48
I was thinking that this will be a good opportunity to bring a country that we don’t hear much about in the West. Unfortunately, Armenia. Nona Shahnazarian; I met her for the first time 10 years ago. Was it 10 years ago? Yes, 10 years ago in Japan, in Sapporo, in the Slavic Research Centre. And here we are talking about the South Caucasus, Russia, and other things. Where is Armenia and all of this? We’re all surprised that Armenia seems to be changing. You know, we were surprised that Armenia sent join troops as part of the CSTO operation in Kazakhstan, even though it’s a very small number.100 Troops. But at the same time, now, Armenia is abstaining from votes in the United Nations about the invasion. What’s going on? Please tell us
Nona Shahnazarian 11:52
Hi everyone. I’m Nona Shahnazarian and I’m invited to talk about the Armenian-Turkish normalisation of relationships. And I choose normalisation rather than rapprochement or reconciliation because back in 2009, exactly rapprochement and reconciliation are the voiding of that process. And actually, what happened is that the news about the possible establishment of diplomatic relations with Turkey caused a sharply negative reaction in Armenia and in Armenian society, and accusations of the ruling party have been the facts that established diplomatic relations and the restoration of a charter flights into 2009. I was speaking on this on December 13, the Turkish parliament come in both sides will appoint special representatives to normalise relations. Previously, attempts to normalise relations or to reconciliation for the constellations failed through the fault of Ankara which put forward preconditions whereas, for Armenia, it is acceptable at this time to establish relations without any preconditions. And in the first time, it was also like that, about last moment, usually, Ankara brings this kind of, they call it preconditions, but this is actually conditions for giving way for relationships. So, relations took a painful turn during the genocide of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and assistance to Azerbaijan since the collapse of the US is the land border between Armenia and Turkey, which is guarded nine that Turkey and Armenia made serious efforts to restore ties through the mediation of the United States and Switzerland, but these attempts failed due to growing pressure from Azerbaijan. As a result of last year’s war, Armenia lost control over the territories around now Nagorno Karabakh, which served as an EU impetus for the restoration of relations between Ankara and Armenia. At the same time, Turkey provided direct military assistance to Azerbaijan, which defeated Armenia in the war. And according to Russian analysts, the establishment of diplomatic relations with Turkey despite the expected objections of the opposition is quite realistic. This time. And since I just want to talk about how, during the horrible resistance, was security somehow becomes equal to identity in this region since the Golden Era of conflict began, both the independent states of Armenia and Azerbaijan have taken a black and white stance on the conflict and those positions have grown stronger over the years. There are many grey areas while discussing prospective peace, and negotiation problems, and some of the questions are really hard to discuss. Some are heavily manipulated by both sides and any compromise on the issue looks like abandonment, or betrayal of a sacred code with Azerbaijan looking at her above as occupied territory and Armenia viewing the struggle as her above Armenian’s desire for self. They also believe that negotiations already pass because you start to score after 2020. So, let me say that at some point, and especially after April 2016, we could see the radicalization that reveals itself in the change of rhetoric, the notions of security and the political elite were silent on this for many reasons. This can be dichotomized as security dilemmas in Armenia and Azerbaijan are profoundly fuelled by historical events, and the construction of conflict is one of the results of that. The Karabakh conflict is embedded into an ambiguous legal cortex that knows what is known and highlights territorial integrity which gained Western support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity versus termination and analysis. And as an analyst characterising this geopolitical conflict in rather gloomy terms, some problems of math are unresolvable, and the water bottle issue is one. However, what is undividable can become dividable via time. Time fades memory, but the 2020 Lara Bajo and April massacre of transport relation, as well as young conscripts certainly plan the ruling elites from both sides instrumentalized the external enemy as insecurity dilemma discourses, that is to say that they strategically relocated the public attention from interim state group conflict to interstate conflict, inner problems such as poverty, social inequality, and all types of out-migration were pushed to the margins of public discussion. Rather regretfully, 2020 horrible war previous sniper war ex-mother, Hero isation and April war, as well as pogroms exiles and, as brutality is in the past, push negative dynamics and undermine this process, aggravating strategic discharge 2012 opinion polls in Armenia and Azerbaijan showed that 63% and 97% of respondents think that respectively as journalists and Armenians are enemies, and this is according to focus on tickle digest research. The February 2009 opinion poll found that says 80% of respondents in Azerbaijan opposed any kind of compromise in this ambience of distrust, the problem of confidence-building come to the fore and the stance of women in both societies obtain added values, identifying problems of peacekeeping capacity in the region, one can speculate on confidence building and its limits, the main purpose of the confidence-building measures is managing uncertainty, the most significant obstacle to peace-building, that is to say, to believes that promises will be honoured. So, peacekeeping capacity and peace process contain some puzzling issues, such as how to design post-conflict settlement in Armenia, and especially in Karabakh, one of the hindering factors is the fact that in many dimensions, this society is more conservative thinking that their respective governments, this can be explained by security issues and protracted uncertain. Key to the extent that security becomes time for us, shall I say.
Dr Taras Kuzio 21:27
I think we need to close up because we have two more speakers.
Nona Shahnazarian 21:44
Just come to conclusion, we have new factors in the region, which is Turkey, and this Russian factor. I just want to say that in this I mean, in the Turkish normalisation process, Armenia and Turkey view this process in a different way. Armenians think that there should be only Turkey and Armenia negotiating how and which way to normalise the relationships and establish diplomatic relations and open the closed borders. And Turkey wants to have these six platforms and to bring all regions including Russia into this negotiation process. I think the Armenian side, take its lessons after 2020 war, understanding that this conflict is actually manipulated by Russia to keep Azerbaijan and Armenia under, I mean, in bad relationships, and keep Turkey away from the region, but some new developments. For some reason, Russia changed its position. And now we have really very small but still military representatives of the Turkish army near to them in Azerbaijan. And now I am in suspense, waiting. And Armenian society is thinking that last moment, the Turkish side will again speak about preconditions and, and trying to take more, more kind of privileges for Azerbaijan, and trying to close the issue of Armenian Genocide and its recognition, international recognition at all. Yeah, thank you very much.
Dr Taras Kuzio 24:11
Thank you. Just to say, Armenia has had far more success in getting international recognition of the Armenian Genocide than Ukraine has for the Holodomor. So, you know, you shouldn’t be so shut down about that. But Yusuf, I was thinking, could you now give us a Turkish/Azerbaijani viewpoint, which I think would nicely follow on from this, and I’m particularly intrigued, which is also to Nona and to Youssef, as to why it is that there seems to be some movement. Yes, of course shaky, but still some movement on Turkish, Armenian normalisation, shall we say not reconciliation, normalisation, but Azerbaijani/ Armenian that is more complicated. I would have thought it would be the opposite way around. But that maybe Yusuf, you could talk about this as well. Thank you. All the floor is yours.
Yusuf Erim 25:11
Well, one of the reasons why I think it’s a little more complicated with Azerbaijan is there are still a lot of details of the Nagorno Karabakh War, and the outcome of the war to be discussed before both parties can sit down at the table and talk about a full normalization. But the Turkey/Armenia relationship is a little more settled with the dynamics, a little more settled than a previous reconciliation process about a decade ago. So, there is some groundwork. There is some framework for that reconciliation process. But I want to, I want to slowly start from the beginning. Actually, a quick round-up. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkey was one of the first countries to recognise many of the former Soviet republics, especially the Turkic republics, said Azerbaijan being one of them. Turkey very quickly recognised Azerbaijan, created relationships with it. And after the fall of the Soviet Union in Washington, there was an expectation that Turkey would rally Central Asian countries, including Azerbaijan to create some type of counter Russia block in that region. But unfortunately, Turkey was not either militarily ready, didn’t have enough stability in its own government, or economically ready to be able to put up with such a task. So, there was that expectation, I think there was a little disappointment on the behalf of the Americans that Turkey could not rally these, this group of Turkic nations against Russia. So, there was that disappointment. But fast-forwarding about a decade, decade, and a half, two major developments happened, I think, especially in the Turkey/Azerbaijan relationship that had a resounding impact on Central Asia as well. I think one of them is the Baku pipeline, which was incredibly important because it created an economic independence for the first time for the post-Soviet space in that region in the Caucasus or in Central Asia. And you now had Azerbaijan not as dependent on Russian markets, Russian financing, the Russian economy anymore, and they had an outlet where they can sell their gas to Turkey and later on to European markets as well. So that was a very important step in Turkey, Azerbaijan relations, and a very important step for Azerbaijan, getting more protecting its sovereignty, building its sovereignty building its independent economy. And obviously, the second very important step was the Karabakh War. Karabakh has always been a bottleneck in any type of peace process, whether it be Turkey, Armenia, or Azerbaijan, Armenia. So, the lifting of that bottleneck, unfortunately, was in military implementation of a diplomatic solution that couldn’t be implemented by certain international groups. But regardless, when we look at the military outcome on the ground, it reflects the diplomatic solutions, then the resolutions that were reached at international institutions. So that being said, from a Turkey-Turkish perspective, right now, the geopolitical realities right now of the region, the economy, whether it be the leadership, the Democrat, demographic change of the region, I mean, the demographic change in the age group of now a majority being born in the post-Soviet period versus the Soviet period, the change of thinking, the desire of Azerbaijan could be more in the Western camp and part of the Western camp, the desire of Armenia to diversify more, this is all favourable for regional normalisation right now. All arrows are now more in favour of a regional normalisation now more than ever over the past 30 years. So, I do think that right now is a great opportunity. I think that pushing Yan in Armenia, the Armenian Prime Minister; I think he’s a great opportunity. I think he’s expressed the diplomatic will to be able to keep up the nationalists in Armenia and plug his ears to the DS Bora and show that he’s willing to sit down and normalise. And when we look at the region right now, the importance of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, geographically, we’re in an era where the logistic lines are being redrawn. We’re seeing the Belt and Road coming through the East-West trends casting for that corridor that runs from China through Kazakhstan, beyond the Caspian Sea into Azerbaijan, Georgia Turkey. And when we look at these very important routes, the routes and a potential Xinglong corridor, possibly directly linking natural on to Azerbaijan and also turkey into Central Asia. We normally see that Azerbaijan has been omitted or left out of these corridors. There is no reason for Armenia it’d be left out of these corridors. It can take part in this prosperity; it can take part in this piece together. And I do believe that Armenia, the leadership in Armenia, does understand that there needs to be a normalisation for it to take part in this economic prosperity. And it’s very, very important because these trade routes going on right now in this era are going to determine the supply lines for the next 20/30 years, are going to determine the important ports are going to determine the important economic players of the region, are going to determine the flows of the gas pipeline route. So, right now is a very important moment for the caucuses and if normalisation can take place, Armenia is going to get a very nice piece of that pie. Now, our meeting, yes, said that Turkey wants a five plus one format for normalization. Normalisation between Armenia and Turkey is a bilateral issue. Normalisation between Azerbaijan and Armenia is a bilateral issue. This is not a five plus one format for normalisation between these countries bilaterally. The five plus one format is more for the broader region and projects for the broader region, and a security stability mechanism for the broader region. Now, again, I want to broaden the topic out and actually talk about it from a British perspective or an American perspective. What type of opportunities that I know the theme is, including Britain, and I see a lot of opportunities for the UK and for the United States in this region. Now, when we look at this region, especially Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan is a stable country. It has a stable leadership right now, it’s very important to Black Sea security. And under the backdrop right now of the Ukraine war, a win at a time when European Europe’s energy security and its energy security architecture is in question. Where is it going to go? I think Azerbaijan’s importance has become very important. The South gas corridor, the Baku pipeline. Again, as I said, these are all incredibly important to the energy security of the European continent going forward. Again, I think there are tremendous opportunities in rebuilding Karabakh. I was just in Karabakh, about three and a half weeks ago, and we’re talking about a tremendous geographic space that is right now just continues to lay in ruins after 30 years of desolation. And it’s a tremendous rebuilding project. I’ve seen that Azerbaijan has already started with building industrial parks and renovating. But that’s not enough. They need more partners, not just Turkey they need to invest in that region. They need to know how in that region. And that’s something that the United States can provide. That’s something that Britain can provide. And by providing this, they are guaranteeing that Azerbaijan will be more part of the Western camp going forward. So, any type of investment creates a safety net in that relationship going forward. I think it’s important to create safety nets and build confidence between Azerbaijan because it is not only important part of the caucuses, it’s also the gateway to Central Asia as well when we look at it. So, I know we’re talking about the caucuses, but from a US and UK strategic perspective, it’s also a gateway to geography where it’s relatively minimal presence of Western countries. NATO countries and Azerbaijan can play a very important role in that aspect as well. I think there are also tremendous opportunities for the US and UK, to help Azerbaijan in the future transition to a green economy. Again, I say said rebuilding, I think it’s a great location for a hub, for corporate hubs, especially those seeking to do business in Central Asia, as the legislation is much more suitable for corporations in Azerbaijan. And via Azerbaijan, easier, easier regulations going into Central Asia as well. And I think also, there’s a tremendous potential for US and British soft power in the region. But both countries need to be patient when working in that geography. They need to be patient; they need to remember how important soft power is. I think the West has abandoned its competitive advantage of soft power over the past 30 years and has shifted more to hard power, especially more namely the United States. But when I’m talking about hard power, I’m not talking about the caucuses. Just a general overview of strategy with the US abandoning it when soft power has a tremendous amount of tremendous impact still. So generally, these are the understandings, my understanding of this region, my understanding of developments. And one more thing I want to talk about was when I started there was this expectation that Turkey would rally these Central Asian states. There has always been a romantic ideology inside of Turkey as well, that it would this to thinking that we like to call Turanism. It’s always been a romantic ideology and of late, especially after the Karabakh war, we’ve seen, finally, the geopolitics and the strategy, and the bilateral interest catch up to the romanticism of the ideology. And now it’s become much more feasible. And I think that this is a very, very important geography to be able to contain Russia going forward. And I think Armenia is quite a turning point as well, I think Armenia sees more of a future with the West, it just needs the competence built, that countries are going to stand with it, and that it’s not going to turn into another Georgia, it’s not going to turn into a Crimea. It’s not going to turn into Ukraine. Unfortunately, the posturing from the West has not shown any type of confidence for any of these countries that are facing this dilemma in the post-Soviet space. I think Turkey can play an important role. But I think, more importantly, we need to see more than just rhetoric coming from Brussels, from London, and Washington, we need to see some type of action to build that confidence.
Dr Taras Kuzio 36:04
Thanks very much, Yusuf, that was excellent. We now have not last in the literal sense. But Georgia. Just a quick point, it is incredibly surprising, looking from looking at this from Kiev, that Georgia seems to be not very supportive of Ukraine, at this very moment. In fact, of the three South Caucasian nation-states, Azerbaijan is the strongest supporter of Ukraine during this war. What’s going on in Georgia, please, shorter please, please let us know. Why is the world going crazy?
Dr Shota Kakabadze 36:46
Thanks. First of all, let me say that it’s my pleasure to be part of this distinguished panel. And these distinguished panellists always briefly tried to, you know, take a small historical detour, but not too far, just two years historical detour. Because in these two years, there were so many events,
Dr Taras Kuzio 37:04
We can’t discuss the South Caucasus without history.
Dr Shota Kakabadze 37:10
I mean, the 2020s just started, and we already had, you know, global pandemics, two wars, and it’s crazy. But there are two wars, I mean, the second Karabakh war and what’s going on at the Ukraine moment, the Russian invasion into Ukraine. They have a tremendous implication for the region and for Georgia. We saw Turkey and Russia taking the lead in the region, which was concerning for countries like Georgia, which has Atlantic aspirations, and if looking towards integrating more into your Atlantic family, and suddenly you see this emergence of illiberal actors like Russia and Turkey and taking the leading role and the rich, but it was slightly concerning. And also, because there was this three plus three formats, which was actively discussed in the region. And Georgia was, at least there was an attempted person to join this week plus b format, which was totally unacceptable, unacceptable for the Georgian government, considering there was no Western presence in this format. And it was mostly not Russia, Turkey, and other Caucasian republics. In that sense, there was a fear that that might happen. And we might be dragged into this three plus three formats. But then, you know, the Russian invasion into Ukraine happened. And that totally changed the situation in the region, because now we see that the West is waking up. It’s, you know, united as never before, and that, in a way created a glimpse of hope for Georgia that no like at least also to be somehow part of this western reengagement restoration. And that sense, I mean, of course, considering the huge tragedy we’re serving in Ukraine, but it also has this positive or a glimpse of hope for countries, at least a neighbourhood of European Union, that, you know, it is going to bring a change and more Western involvement and direction, considering but there’s also one very important issue that unfortunately, Georgia has been involved in a very long political crisis for last three, four years, and they had a tremendous impact also on where Georgia stands in terms of this major geopolitical shift. And these internal political debates, you know, like, discussions and crisis are obviously affecting, whether to the Georgian authorities or to the society realises changes, which is happening in the world at the moment, and they’re struggling to actually find their place in this geopolitical shifts. And that, in a way, responds to your comment regarding, you know, Georgia government support Ukraine, that I mean, you’re totally right that we see there’s more expected from Georgia than what they do is to put it in this way. And, of course, because the rationale to Madden that was given to the west prior to the invasion that, you know, NATO should not enlarge more to the east also included Georgia. And obviously what happened, what’s happening in Ukraine right now directly concerns towards this future as well. And therefore, it is surprising, you know, that Georgian foreign policy is relatively low key in this sense. And to be honest, at least my impression of this is that it has to do a lot with the domestic situation intuitive at the moment, you know, this polarisation of, and polarization is very much a buzzword at the moment in Georgia because this is a problem in Georgia, this political polarisation in this radical discourse, which also affects foreign policymaking and also affects how effective it is when it comes to foreign policy. Very briefly, to the key or the main topic of today’s panel, your case involvement in the role in the region, I think from where I started that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has re-evaluated Western approach, at least I hope it has, and it also creates this window of opportunity for countries like UK or Poland, for instance, to get involved or in the region. And why I’m saying this is because enlargement probably is a long-time perspective. It’s not going to happen anytime soon. But more other the small agents are like, you know, the UK, Poland, Ukraine, for instance, or Baltic countries getting involved there has more potential at the moment in the region than you know, major airlines like NATO, for instance. I think that will be very briefly my take on this. And then I’m looking forward to the discussion.
Dr Taras Kuzio 41:43
Thank you very much. I think we- do you see that there? Is this the internal politics of Georgia as affecting the foreign policy? I think I’ll just make a few comments. And then I’ll ask all the speakers to respond, as it were. I mean, we’ve had the history, which we can’t ignore, of course, and tried to bring things as they were up to the present because as, as, as Youssef was saying, a lot of things are in flux at the moment. It seems that there’s a lot of self-reflection going on at the moment. You know, what, why the hell did the West not wake up, as you said, as short as said, you know, why the West did not wake up until now? Why is it taking the invasion of Ukraine for the West as it were to come back from its hot, extended vacation? And certainly, Georgia 2008 is an aspect of that. And if you think about it, too, in Georgia after 2008. There were no Western sanctions in 2014, the Western sanctions because of Crimea and, and military aggression in Eastern Ukraine were pathetic. And because they were pathetic. That’s one of the reasons why Russia invaded in 2022. Because they, as Lavrov said, a few days ago, they expected weak sanctions again, with this invasion. We sent the wrong signals always in the past. And so, I think there is a direct kind of connection between those events. This I’ve written in the past about the connection before the invasion. Now, the connection between Georgia and 2014 was because Putin thought he got away with Georgia in 2008. And he thought again, he’d get away with 2014. Now he was wrong, but he wasn’t completely wrong. I mean, it was, you know, these weren’t Iranian style sanctions in 2014. The Iranian sell sanctions have come now. And Russia’s flabbergasted by them. So, I wanted to ask you, I mean, I mean, the EU for the first time in its history, is now a security actor in the EU is financing the sending of arms to Ukraine. Can you believe it? So there seems to be a need for a UN security dimension to the EU’s Eastern Partnership, something that a lot of us have been talking about for years. So finally, the policymakers are catching up with the think-tankers and the academics. And what do you think of that idea? That’s one thing to throw out. The second I second interesting factor, which I think relates to something Yusef was saying, was the whole question of oil and gas. There is tremendous pressure on Germany, in particular now, for a total boycott total sanctioning of Russian oil and gas exports to Europe. That would be the knockout blow for Russia. Oil and gas exports accounted for 40 to 50% of Russia’s budget. And we were all already the hearing problem areas in Russia like, for example, I read today those Russian embassies are running out of money to pay their staff. I mean, that’s how bad is becoming. Total, total sanctioning of Russian oil and gas exports to Europe would be a death blow. Now the alternate. There needs to be alternative oil and gas. The South Caucasus and Central Asia coming through the South Caucasus could be one of those alternatives, as well as Algeria, Morocco, coming in through Spain, Italy. So that’s another area that, again, increases the strategic dimension, the strategic importance of the South caucuses. A final just a final thing to throw in. I was thinking that maybe if you could all answer as well Robert. The Chinese factor. In just the South Caucus do not really see China as a security threat, they did not really care. You know, I mean, there’s a lot of ambivalence in Europe about all they want. Sorry, there’s less today than they used to be. Compared to the United States, Europe has gotten closer to the United States’ position on China. But how does the South Caucasus see China? Just as a source of money? Sources of economic investment? Or is it something more sinister? More security? Let’s start with Ambassador Bryza. What do you think about these various issues? And then we’ll go through all the four speakers, I think, if they could comment.
Ambassador Matthew Bryza, 46:31
Sorry, I muted myself. Thank you. For the sake of time, I’m just going to focus on the first thing about how our weak responses were red meat for Putin because we are running out of time, and I-I’ve got a hard stop coming up myself. So, I completely agree with you that Putin drew the only lessons that he could from our tepid responses to his invasion of Georgia and then of Ukraine. And so, it’s easy to say that why do I say that? Um, so I was the point person for us. Georgia-US Caucasus relations, South Central Asia, Turkey as well for a while. But Georgia, I was really in the centre of. And there was a point in 2000 and late 2007 when the US made a decision to recognise Kosovo. And my assignment was to figure out a plan to dissuade Russia from recognising the separatists’ regions of Georgia and causing problems. And I beat my head on the wall for a couple of weeks and went back to my boss and I said it’s impossible. Russia is going to use our president and Kosovo to go after Georgia. I was extremely unpopular. And my bosses were constantly telling me my job is to calm down Georgia’s democratically elected president Mikhail Saakashvili, one of whose campaign platforms was to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity, which I would argue to my bosses is his responsibility. It’s not like something he wanted to do. That is his responsibility as the sovereign head of state. And again, I was very unpopular. But my bosses were always my allies. I mean, I was part of the UN Working Group. My French, German and British colleagues, were always asking me to calm down Saakashvili, rather than seeing that he was being manoeuvred into a corner by Putin, either acquiesce to the separatism and the taking over of the separate regions by Russia or go to war with Russia. And I’ll never forget, I was having a meeting in the National Security Advisor’s office, in the lead up in the summer of 08, and our national security adviser said, you know, I see the point. Saakashvili is left with this impossible dilemma, and then we got active, but by then it was too late. Russia invaded most of you. During the invasion, Saakashvili said it’s Georgia today, it’s Crimea. Next, he saw it. And then President Sarkozy of France, he published an op-ed in The Washington Post a few days afterwards, he said is terrible that what Russia did in Georgia now, but you know, essentially it happened. The problem will be if Russia goes after Ukraine. And still those sanctions were soft and were weak. And why because of dirty money. In London, let’s call a spade a spade. It’s ridiculous what these Russians get away with in London. And the energy, as you said to us. So on energy, the same thing, I couldn’t figure out why our German allies were so soft on Georgia, this was in about 2005. And then I asked the CIA to do a map that shows the pipeline infrastructure, gas pipeline infrastructure, and it was clear, there’s an enormous Northern Corridor bringing gas from Siberia to Northern Europe. And then there was no southern corridor at the time. There’s a little South Caucasus gas pipeline four to 10 DCM from Azerbaijan to Georgia and Turkey. And that’s how we started working on the southern corridor. But in one of my first trips with the US taking the lead, trying to persuade the EU to jump on board and pursue the southern corridor, my first visit to Berlin. Meeting with the Deputy Minister of Economy, he very politely showed me the door and said, “this is none of your business. This is German business, don’t rock the boat. We have good economic relations with Russia.” And so Putin was banking on that continuing and God bless all of Schultz, because he turned everything around two and a half weeks ago on Saturday, not only with Germany, suspending Nord Stream two, but really German Foreign Policy all these decades. And making it clear is shameful the way Germany was behaving, including under America, allowing business interests to sweep everything else that Russia was doing in the South Caucasus under the rug. Thanks very much. You’re muted?
Dr Taras Kuzio 50:55
Yeah, no, no, maybe you are next then Yusef. And then and then shorter. Briefly, though, everybody, because we haven’t got much time.
Yusuf Erim 51:05
I was just trying to understand if this is a matter of gas, and I don’t know, oil, actually? Any relation to our democratic principles or moral issues? And if you see that Azerbaijan is really very attractive. And what it does as an insensitive institution, is that this is really the most terrible dictatorship I’ve ever seen. And it has nothing to suggest to this de facto Nagorno-Karabakh, who did a lot creating institutions, really functioning institutions. So, my question to all of the panellists would be, you see, right now, Azerbaijan is- Azerbaijan shut down the gas for Nagorno-Karabakh for its own citizens, and how on earth you can imagine, peacebuilding or peace capacity of peace-making in the region after that because this is the history of intimidation through the whole history of religion. So, yes, I would like any of you to ask my question, if possible. Thank you.
Dr Taras Kuzio 52:35
Okay, Yusuf, could you go quickly, next, talk about these various issues. You’re the one that said that. Everything’s in flux. I agree with you. Where are we heading?
Yusuf Erim 52:55
Everything is in flux that you have a very, very anxious Kremlin right now, especially when it’s looking at what’s going on. Now. You asked about the changing security dynamic. And does Europe need a new security Architecture? It doesn’t. You already have NATO; you already have NATO. It’s a very viable security architecture that had proven itself during the Cold War. You just need these countries to meet their spending requirements. You need the political will in place. Not a, not a man like Biden, who goes out on stage and makes a comment saying that you know, if NATO actors want to go ahead unilaterally and send troops to Ukraine, we’ll support them but we’re not going to do anything about it ourselves. Now, that’s not leadership. That’s not America’s back. That’s, that’s passing the buck. That’s passing the buck along and hoping- that’s basically greenlighting the Kremlin. Now, when we look at what NATO has done, NATO has Rapid Trident exercises, Rapid Trident exercises are in Ukraine, this was preparation for what happened over the last month. Rapid Trident joint exercises were preparation for this. And while NATO prepared for this, there wasn’t the political will in place, nor the risk appetite to counter Russia. And I can understand that maybe NATO does not want direct engagement with Russia. That’s very understandable. But a no-fly zone could have been incorporated in Ukraine. There are those who will disagree and say, well, a no-fly zone is a declaration of war. We need to take out air defence assets that are on Russian soil to institute that no-fly zone. It could have been a partial no-fly zone where you did not have to take out air defence assets on Russian soil. Something could have been done if it wanted to. Now, I think the Kremlin is very, very concerned about what’s going on not just in Ukraine, not just in Armenia, not just in Azerbaijan, but I think the whole post-Soviet space. There’s a tremendous demographic charge in this area, the age of people who have been born after the Soviet Union who had a turn now and have a tremendous Western influence, a different way of thinking, a different upbringing, is slowly becoming the majority in these areas that Russia sees this as a threat to its way of life as a threat to its values because these people hold values that are more Western. So, I think that’s what Russia is very, very concerned about right now. And you can see what’s going on from its interference in the Kazakhstan protests in the new year, its interference in Belarus in 2020. Again, the invasion of Ukraine a month ago, 2014 Crimea are set to Bosnia in 2008. It sees a post-Soviet spring, slowly building in this region where this region wants more democracy, more freedom, and wants to embrace a Western way of thinking. So, I think Russia is on edge. And right now, NATO, and especially Western countries need a very hard stance because they have completely lost the confidence in any of much of Eastern Europe and much of the post-Soviet space, especially with America’s actions in Afghanistan, a lack of risk appetite and political commitment to Ukraine. Yes, sending weapons is great, but sending weapons is not the same as a no-fly zone. As for China very quickly, I don’t think that the actors in the Caucasus have the luxury to pick and choose who to work with yet. I think if China is willing to invest that they will embrace China, they will embrace any actor that is willing to invest, that will give them a diverse economic portfolio and allow them more economic independence than just having Russia as their only backer. Anyone willing to share technology, to bring know-how, build infrastructure is more than welcome. I think that’s a decision that they’ll kick down the line to future governments, what to really do with China in the region. So again, I don’t think they have the luxury to pick and choose. Anything that allows more independence is welcome in the region, I think by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and then the other actors in Central Asia. And as for gas, one line about gas, we shouldn’t look at gas just as Azerbaijan. I think we should look at gas as a future pipeline that connects the Caspian, that can bring online Turkmenistan’s gas and oil because it gets tonnes of gas and oil. Turkmenistan has tremendous gas reserves that are untapped still, so we can view Azerbaijan as a very important line that can bring the rest of Central Asia and that tremendous resources into Europe as well.
Dr Taras Kuzio 57:49
One final speaker, just a quick comment that to me is fascinating, watching the second Karabakh war, and the current invasion of Ukraine is that there’s obviously a correlation. If your officers are trained by NATO standards, i.e., Azerbaijan, and Ukraine, you’re going to win. I mean, I think there’s certainly a case to be made that if your officers in the case of Armenia and Russia are trained in Russian military schools, you’re not going to do very well in this modern type of warfare. And the fact is Ukraine officers like Azerbaijan officers are doing did well. Did well and are doing well now. Because of NATO officer training. Shota, please, could you?
Dr Shota Kakabadze 58:36
Thanks, I’ll, with your permission, pick up to pick up on two points. First, is regarding China, which I think is very important, and somehow overlooked whenever there is discussion because China has been investing a lot in the South Caucasus. And I don’t have that much information about Armenia, Azerbaijan, to be honest, but I do have information in terms of Georgia, inserting this is the country I’m coming from, and I know that China is investing a lot in infrastructure. Whether it’s railroads, whether it’s, you know, roads, investing a lot in infrastructure, and obviously, it is leading to somewhere and probably it’s just, you know, increasing George’s vulnerability towards China in the future. And a very good example of this was when there was a discussion of building an angular deep seaport. The US Secretary -General, sorry, US state secretary, back then during the previous administration made it clear to the Georgian Prime Minister that the Chinese should not invest in this port. Like he had to make this statement publicly. So, it was heard, you know that the Chinese shouldn’t invest in this. So that means there was a danger that probably the Chinese would also get into this project. So, in that sense of things, there is an increasing influence of China in the region at something which we need to keep an eye on. And the second point which I want to pick up with, you mentioned, this is, you know, the EU military capability I think a very important point here is, you know, Eastern Partnership countries and what to do with them because they are in limbo. On the one hand, they’re not part of NATO, they’re not part of the security architecture, which is in the West. But at the same time, they don’t want to be a part of Russian security architecture. And then they’re stuck in this limbo that, on the one hand, they’re sacrificing their own security, serenity, stability, but on the other hand, they don’t get the, you know, this protection or the umbrella from the Western countries. So, in that sense, the thing with Ukraine war is illustrating at the moment is that if there is enough money to support that even Ukraine, you know, managed to withstand invasion of such a large country as Russia is. So in that sense, the thing up Eastern Partnership doesn’t need that military component there. And the security guarantees, the very briefly about the oil and gas pipelines. Obviously, that once again, illustrates the importance of the Caucasus, you know, in a geographical location and effect that Russia and Germany need to be counterbalanced in the region in order not to have Russia dominating all the routes of the oil and gas coming from the east to the west. I think that’s very briefly in my sense.
Dr Taras Kuzio 1:01:12
Okay. Well, we’ll just wrap up. That was very, very good. Just a quick final point to, in comparison, again, Russia does not provide economic investment for anything. Russia does not pour money into roads and bridges and infrastructure. China does. And that’s already a major contrast between the Russian approach and the Chinese approach. Russia just brings in troops. It destroys, it doesn’t produce, it doesn’t build anything. So, I think that already that hat on we send that image of Russia is, I think, stuck in people’s minds after what they’ve seen Russia do in Ukraine today. Thank you all for all the panellists. If there are a number of questions that have been sent to me, I’ll reply separately by email. Nona, I’ll write to you separately. Thanks again to everybody. And I’m sure we will be returning to all these topics. Okay, bye for now. Great.