The Republic of Turkey has never been so involved militarily in other countries as it is at this point in time. Ankara’s military operations in the past years in Libya, Syria, Iraq and, most recently, Azerbaijan, are telling signs of its hegemonic aspirations.
Today, the Turkish Armed Forces hold bases and facilities in all the aforementioned countries, as well as in Cyprus, Qatar and Somalia, and Ankara’s involvement in Arab countries wracked by years of war has plainly revealed Turkish President Recep Erdogan dramatic geopolitical ambitions.
After successfully tipping the balance in Libya by pushing back Khalifa Haftar’s offensive against Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) — mainly to safeguard a maritime delimitation agreement between Tripoli and Ankara — Erdogan’s last maneuver takes place in the South Caucasus, ethnic Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh are engaged in renewed fighting over the disputed territory that’s legally considered part of Azerbaijan and that’s regarded by the Armenians as the Republic of Artsakh.
A Failed Ceasefire Agreement
Both the United States and Russia, who are members of the OSCE Minsk Group (along with France), see the Turkish intervention in Nagorno-Karabakh as the main cause of the continuation and aggravation of the conflict.
After a first ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia fell through this past week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Turkey blatantly and called for settling the conflict diplomatically anew.
“The resolution of that conflict ought to be done through negotiation and peaceful discussions, not through armed conflict, and certainly not with third-party countries coming in to lend their firepower to what is already a powder keg of a situation,” Pompeo said, pointing fingers at Turkey.
Ankara had already anticipated that the ceasefire agreement, which was brokered by Russia last weekend, would not last. Briefly afterward, indeed, attacks on both sides resumed and the two belligerents, Armenia and Azerbaijan, both accused each other of having first breached the agreement.
‘The Conflict Depends on Turkey’
For Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the conflict now depends on Turkey’s stance, not on Azerbaijan, which greatly depends on Ankara’s military support, and even less on Armenia, which has suffered great losses so far.
“I’m convinced that for as long as Turkey’s position remains unchanged, Azerbaijan will not stop fighting,” Pashinyan said.
Even after the brief ceasefire agreement, Azerbaijan made it clear that it aimed at recapturing more territories that it said Armenian ethnic groups had occupied. (Though falling within Azeri borders, the Nagorno Karabakh has long been home to a majority of Armenians who often voiced their aspiration for separation from Azerbaijan and self-determination.)
For so doing, however, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev heavily relies on the support his Turkish counterpart —as well as the backing of other countries that provide military support, such as Israel.
Turkey’s Ever-growing Support
So far, Turkey’s military exports to Azerbaijan have increased by six times compared to last year. Some reports even suggested that Turkey’s weapon exports to Azerbaijan knew a significant surge weeks before the Nagorno Karabakh conflict broke out last September.
Russia, which has long had almost equidistant ties with both Azerbaijan and Armenia, was compelled by Turkey’s intervention to take an abrupt decision. In contrast to its relation with Azerbaijan, Russia has military deals with Armenia.
Analysts are expecting that the conflict would not come to resolution so long as Turkey stands out as the only foreign actor — particularly as Ankara proved unwilling to back away.
Turkey also stirred unfavorable reactions this week as it deployed its maritime research ship Oruç Reis in energy-rich waters already disputed by Greece and Cyprus, despite sanction warnings from France and Germany. Erdogan also announced that another prospecting ship called the Yavuz would soon resume its mission near Cypriot shores.
What Next for Russia?
While the United States is preoccupied with upcoming elections, Russia has been reticent with regards Turkey’s patent zeal for regional hegemony, despite many standoffs already in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
But could the situation at the Nagorno Karabakh enclave bring Moscow’s patience to a breaking point?
Last Friday, on October 16, Russia’s state-run news agency RIA reported that the Russian navy had started planned military exercises in the Caspian Sea, which borders Azerbaijan from the east. Russia already holds a military base in Armenia, and Yerevan is a member of both the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union, which are both led by Moscow.