Oxu.Az interviews Cory Welt, Associate Research Professor of International Affairs; Associate Director, Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies.
The United States Congress passed a Russian Aggression Prevention Act (RAPA) of 2014, which granted Ukraine together with Moldova, and Georgia major non-NATO ally status. It was also proposed to enhance military cooperation with Azerbaijan. How would you comment on that? What kind of help can the US provide to Azerbaijan in this regard?
The Russian Aggression Prevention Act (RAPA) is a Republican initiative introduced in the Senate in May. It has not been passed; it is currently sitting in the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and may or may not emerge for consideration. If passed, RAPA would, among other things, require that Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia be treated as if they were major non-NATO allies (MNNA) for the purpose of supplying defensive arms and equipment. It is thus a practical and symbolic initiative – but it would not mean that the United States has a military obligation to defend these countries. Also, since it is the responsibility of the executive branch to give MNNA status, it is not clear that such a provision could even become law.
Given the difficulties in enhancing military cooperation even with Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, I wouldn’t say that there are great opportunities for increasing military cooperation with Azerbaijan beyond the level that exists at this time.
Isn’t there a threat that Armenian lobby in Congress will create obstacles for this military cooperation?
If there was a serious discussion about increasing U.S. military cooperation with Azerbaijan, it would undoubtedly meet with opposition, and not just by the pro-Armenia lobby. The human rights lobby would likely oppose it as well, in the absence of a compelling justification to pursue such cooperation.
Should Azerbaijan go towards non-NATO ally status as well?
At the moment, it is premature. If Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia were indeed granted MNNA status, then inevitably the question of Azerbaijan’s options would also arise. But if these three states were granted this status, it would be because the United States resolved to assist them not only to defend against Russia but to support their pro-European and democratic orientations. The Azerbaijani government would have to make decisive moves toward a European and democratic orientation before a serious discussion of MNNA status would arise.
What kind of influence may Ukrainian events have on the South Caucasus?
As seems to be the case so far, events in Ukraine are continuing to widen the divides that already exist among the three states. I expect events to continue pushing Georgia toward European integration, leaving Armenia vulnerable to Russian pressure to remain within its orbit, and Azerbaijan seeking to balance between Russia and the West while preserving its own style of rule. Of course, recent developments in Nagorno-Karabakh also give rise to some concern that as the war in Ukraine escalates, it provides an incentive for stepped-up conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, as Baku might think it can or should use the diversion to change the status quo.
May we hope that the US be more active in the Karabakh settlement after the events happening in Ukraine? And how fruitful this engagement could be?
It is too early to say, but I’m not terribly optimistic. If Ukraine is able to defeat the rebels, then the focus of U.S. efforts is likely to remain more on assisting those countries that are opting for a Western orientation. If Russia chooses to escalate war in Ukraine and seeks to roll back pro-European advances, then the U.S. instinct is likely to be more about containing Russia in its existing sphere of influence (including Karabakh) rather than rolling it back.
How would you estimate a place of the US in the South Caucasus in the near future?
Largely the same as it has been. Core U.S. interests in the South Caucasus haven’t changed all that much in recent years.
It’s interesting to know also your views on the US-Azerbaijan cooperation with the new US ambassador to Baku, who should be Mr. Robert Cekuta?
I admired Amb. Morningstar’s willingness to address all aspects of U.S.-Azerbaijan cooperation and was disappointed, but not surprised, at the reaction his comments on domestic policy provoked. To be honest, I’m not sure why ambassadorial nominees to Azerbaijan need to have an energy background these days, but Robert Cekuta will surely continue in the footsteps of his predecessors to cultivate all facets of U.S.-Azerbaijani relations.