In 2021 the Russian Federation, ever seeking to grow its influence and counter Western ‘aggression’, proposed a ‘3+3 Format’ that could be used to bind the region closer together. The 3+3 Format would consist of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Armenia, Russia and Iran. There were concerns that it was a return to the days of spheres of influence, where larger nations would be in a position to determine the actions of smaller nations. In a new briefing, ‘A Weaker Russia and the West’s Opportunity in the South Caucasus’, Dr Taras Kuzio and Nicholas Chkhaidze have analysed the effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region and where there may be opportunities for the West.
The 3+3 format benefits the 3 larger nations, giving them greater influence and say in their smaller neighbours. Russia had 4 goals in proposing the format:
- To cement the South Caucasus as a Russian-led sphere of influence.
- Draw Turkey closer, and away from NATO and the US. Turkey is currently both arming Kyiv, and refraining from sanctioning Russia.
- Reduce Azerbaijan and Georgia’s freedom to act independently. Including ensuring their military security by holding military exercises with the partner of their choice. Georgia would also become more dependent on Russian energy resources.
- Ultimately exclude NATO and the EU from the region through written security guarantees. Similar to those they sought over Ukraine.
However, Russia’s actions in Ukraine have harmed their goals in the Caucasus. Not only the initial invasion but also the underperformance of Russia’s military has undermined the threat that Russia poses to previous USSR states. There are even doubts over whether Belarus would be able to muster a fighting force to send to Ukraine, as Minsk has concerns that many soldiers would defect to the Ukrainian side.
This provides an opening for the West to engage with the region and strengthen ties. We should take this opportunity to counter the investment and influence that Russia, Iran, and China are all seeking.
- To support the influence of Turkey in the region, the West work with pro-Western Georgia and Azerbaijan. This would lead to a stronger position in the Black Sea, and thwart Russian attempts to deny Ukraine’s access to it.
- Georgia has already declared its aspirations to join NATO and the EU. The West should encourage these aspirations.
- The West must also publicly support the Turkish-Azerbaijani security partnership, this is key to countering Iranian influences.
- To help diversify Europe’s energy supply away from Russian oil and gas, the West should support the proposed pipelines crossing the Caucasus. These pipelines could transport oil from the South Caucasus and Caspian Sea through Georgia, Turkey, and the Black Sea.
There is currently an opportunity for the West to build closer ties and counter Russian influence. It should be seized and show that we support those who abide by international norms.