Russia pulling troops out of Caucasus to uphold regional clout – Turkish expert

News.Az presents an exclusive interview with Mehmet Fatih Oztarsu, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of EU Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

- Why is Russia simultaneously withdrawing its military forces from Azerbaijan and Armenia ? Russia recently announced the withdrawal of its peacekeepers from Karabakh and some border guards from Armenia. What could be the reasons behind these actions, and do they indicate the military weakening of Russia?

- The decline of Russia's influence in the region began with the Ukraine war. With a focus on Ukraine and evolving dynamics in the region, Russia is strategically making decisions. This includes the withdrawal of its troops from Karabakh and a portion of its military personnel from Armenia, signalling a shift in policy. Several factors contribute to this development: prioritizing attention on Ukraine, grappling with military losses in the conflict, shifting focus from military to political considerations in the Caucasus, and acknowledging Azerbaijan's emergence as a reliable partner. However, Russia aims to orchestrate this transition meticulously to uphold its regional influence and strength. Consequently, these actions are portrayed as deliberate choices. Moreover, Russia wants to demonstrate compliance with the Karabakh ceasefire agreement, adhering to the predetermined duration of its troop deployment and opting against an extension. Nevertheless, amidst evolving geopolitical realities, the landscape continues to transform.

-How has the Turkish military-political establishment reacted to the withdrawal of Russian troops from Azerbaijan and Armenia? Can this be interpreted as an opportunity or a threat to Turkey?

- Turkey has consistently advocated the de-escalation of tensions in the region. Following the Karabakh war and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers, there was a request from Turkey for the presence of the Turkish army in the area. Despite being in competition with Russia, Turkey has demonstrated support for the establishment of a balanced geopolitical landscape. This scenario does not inherently threaten Turkey, as there is no power vacuum; both Azerbaijan and Armenia are sovereign states capable of autonomous decision-making. However, the absence of Russian forces guarding the border between Turkey and Armenia is viewed positively by Turkey.

- What scenarios for the political situation in Armenia are possible after the recent mass protests? Armenia is witnessing indefinite acts of civil disobedience , led by the church, in response to the demarcation of the border with Azerbaijan. Could this lead to political changes or even to the overthrow of Prime Minister Pashinyan?

- Armenia remains sensitive to various developments, as evidenced by recent events. Historical instances such as the 1999 parliamentary shooting, complete alignment with Russia in 2013, the 2018 protests to change the government, and the 2020 loss in the Karabakh war highlight this volatility. Presently, Prime Minister Pashinyan's reformist policies provoke discontent among certain segments of Armenian society. Consequently, initiatives backed by both the diaspora and Russia may emerge. Given past occurrences, it's prudent not to rule out similar events. The church plays a pivotal role in shaping public sentiment, being integral to Armenian identity. Dissatisfaction with the Pashinyan government, stemming from the Karabakh defeat and normalization efforts with perceived "enemy" nations, intensifies this dynamic. This struggle is likely to persist until Pashinyan's departure. As history has shown, any scenario remains conceivable.

- What consequences could the suspension of mutual trade have for Turkey and Israel? What do they lose economically and politically from such changes in trade relations?

- After closely monitoring the increasing anti-Israel sentiment in society for several months, Turkey has opted to suspend direct trade with the country. This decision implies that trade will persist via intermediary countries, with continued engagement on critical matters, especially energy. Notably, Nihat Zeybekçi, a member of the ruling party, recently underscored that "Israel is a country where we sell 6 and buy 1." Consequently, the ramifications of this decision and its impact on various stakeholders will unfold in the near future.

- What are the prospects for developments on the Russian-Ukrainian front? What are the key points and possible changes that could occur in the near future?

- The war has inflicted significant economic and military strain on Russia. However, it's evident that the level of support for Ukraine has waned over time. The prolonged conflict has fostered complacency in Western nations. Moreover, with Finland and Sweden's NATO accession, there's a prevailing sentiment that the threat from Russia has diminished. Ukraine crucially relies on continued Western support to navigate this challenging period. It's imperative for Ukraine to avoid a fate similar to that of Georgia. Failure to do so could tip the security balance in Europe in favour of Russia.


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