US Neocons Accidentally Act as Great Uniter in Caucasus

As expected, countries surrounding Armenia are moving to implement regional trade corridors and partnerships that exclude Yerevan after its government moved closer to the US. Yerevan poisoned its relationship with longstanding ally Russia and allowed itself to be used by Washington to the detriment of Armenian interest. It’s unclear what, if anything, Armenia got from the West, but its increasing isolation in its region is now becoming clear.

Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev recently declined to attend a meeting of European leaders in the Spanish city of Granada. It was previously thought that Aliyev might meet his Armenian counterpart there in some attempt for a wide-ranging peace agreement.

“We believe in diplomacy. We believe in political dialogue,” European Council President Charles Michel waxed on in Aliyev’s absence at the summit of the European Political Community as he called for Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan and Aliyev to meet with him in Brussels later in October.

Well, that meeting was just canceled too. It would appear Aliyev, and the rest of the region are moving on regardless of how the West wants to interfere in Armenia. In reality, the West’s meddling in Armenia has actually accelerated cooperation among other countries in the region, especially Azerbaijan, Turkiye and Iran.

That is playing out with the recent announcement from Tehran that it will allow a corridor through its territory to connect Azerbaijan to its Nakhchivan exclave wedged between Armenia, Turkiye, and Iran. That means that the path between the Caspian and the Mediterranean Seas on increasingly globally-connected trade routes will now do a small curve in order to completely avoid Armenia. Details on this development from Asia Times:

On October 6, Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev and Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mehrdad Bazrpash attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a highway bridge, with customs and border infrastructure, in Aghband, located in Azerbaijan’s Zangilan district.

The bridge will span the Araz River to connect to the Iranian province of Eastern Azerbaijan. A bridge for rail traffic and construction of railroad links are also foreseen.

This might not seem like much, but Azerbaijan and Turkiye had for years been pushing for a corridor through southern Armenia. Here is what that plan looked like:

Ankara and Baku were increasingly talking about bringing about the corridor through Armenia by force. This caused tensions with Iran, which didn’t want to see a Turkish-Azerbaijani line cutting through the region. Tehran and Baku previously discussed a solution that included more direct transportation routes through Iran back in 2022, but all progress on that deal came to a halt when a gunman launched a deadly attack against the embassy of Azerbaijan in Tehran earlier this year.

Ties between the two countries were in a downward spiral ever since, giving hope to neocons in Washington that they could play the two sides against one another to destabilize Iran and derail integration projects in the region. The US overplayed its hand by leading Armenia down the primrose path, however. In September, just after the US and Armenia completed joint military drills, Azerbaijan launched its takeover of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh – presumably with the green light from Iran and the Caucasus main power broker Russia.

And not only did Azerbaijan and Iran restart talks on corridor cooperation, but they began sealing deals in quick succession. With the agreement to construct a corridor through Iranian territory, Tehran-Baku relations are on the upswing. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian recently stated that Iran is “determined to expand relations” with Azerbaijan “in all areas.”

This is the exact opposite to how relations were between the two before the US made its play in Armenia and is the end result of Americans trying to muscle into the South Caucasus via Yerevan. All the other regional actors are now more motivated to work through their issues and unite in order to isolate Armenia and keep the Americans out.

It remains to be seen how, aside from new transportation infrastructure, this corridor through Iran will be different from the current setup that had Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkiye at odds. Details on that arrangement from Al-Monitor:

For years, Iran has served as an alternative land link between Nakhchivan and Azerbaijan, making profits and gaining influence over Baku. Iran is now wary of losing that leverage.

According to the Iranian online journal Mashreq, Iran earns a 15% commission from Azerbaijan’s gas supplies to Nakhchivan. It serves also as a route for Turkish exports to Central Asia. An average of about 12,000 Turkish trucks use the route monthly, with Iran charging passage fees of up to $800 for their 1,800-kilometer (1,120-mile) journey to the Turkmenistan border.

Whatever arrangement Iran, Turkiye and Azerbaijan work out, it will be a major missed opportunity for Armenia, which could have used a corridor through its territory as a bargaining chip to secure other concessions from its neighbors. It likewise could have profited from being an integral part of East-West and North-South trade routes through the Caucasus. Instead, it is now more isolated than ever in its region where it is surrounded by more powerful neighbors.

This is the result of American heavy handedness we’re now witnessing around the globe. Wherever Washington tries to play divide and rule, the end result is closer cooperation between US foes and isolation (or worse) for the American proxy. Washington, as it unintentionally does, acts as the great uniter.

Both the International North South Transport Corridor and the East West Corridor move through the Caucuses. Armenia will play no role in either with both bypassing the country entirely. More from Silk Road Briefing:

Iran’s Roads and Urban Development Minister Mehrdad Bazrpash met with Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minster Shahin Mustafayev on Friday (October 6) to discuss bilateral coordination and the development of transport routes, water and energy programmes. The meetings are significant as it means that the controversial Azerbaijan annexation of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenia is effectively over, and that redevelopment of the region will now take place. Doing so opens up an eastern trade corridor that will stretch from Russia to Iran.

The [International North-South Transport Corridor] route links north-south between Russia and Iran, and east-west between China and Europe. Azerbaijan is the focal point where the two intersect.

The Iranian connection facilitates trade south across Iran to the Persian Gulf and further distribution to the Middle East, East Africa, and South Asia, including India’s west coast ports.

And other countries in the region continue to advance their cooperation while Armenia is left out in the cold. Railfreight describes the first Middle Corridor joint venture:

What has been in the pipeline since early 2022 is now a reality. Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgian railways just sealed a deal to establish a joint venture on a parity basis. The new company will be named ‘Middle Corridor Multimodal Ltd.’ and will provide “services on a one-stop-shop principle, guarantee delivery times, and pursue a coordinated policy for developing multimodal service in the direction of China – Europe and Turkey – China.”

Again, Armenia could have played a role in these ambitious infrastructure projects attempting to further integrate Eurasia; instead the paths of development will simply be routed around Armenia.

As fas as I’ve seen, Armenia has received no reward or commitment from the West for poisoning its relationship with Russia. The European Investment Bank just announced a grant for 10 million euros to improve education in Armenia. And at the recent Granada summit European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU will provide $5.53m in emergency aid on top of a similar amount previously announced. Maybe Armenia got a secret promise to join the EU in about 15 years? If not, the EU simply said, “Here’s a cool 20 million for mortgaging your future and making your former allies hate you. Keep up the good work.”

The EU and Armenia are now practically begging Aliyev to meet with them. Pashinyan even just started pushing his plan for regional cooperation called Crossroads of Peace, which would see Azerbaijan and Turkiye reopen their land borders with Armenia and connect through several routes passing through the country. The problem is no one is listening. Aliyev has said Azerbaijan no longer needs Armenia; they’ll just work with Iran instead. Azerbaijan took control of Nagorno-Karabakh, it will soon have its corridor to its exclave and more direct route to Turkiye, and it plays a central role in burgeoning north-south and east-west trade routes.

Azerbaijan also knows that the EU is afraid to do anything in defense of Armenia because it has fired all its bullets at Russia. There is no appetite among European leaders to sanction Azerbaijan, which is increasingly an important source of oil and natural gas for the EU. According to Al Jazeera, French President Emmanuel Macron said that while Azerbaijan seemed to have “a problem with international law”, steps such as sanctions would not be productive.

Unfortunately for the inept EU leaders, due to Russian companies’ large investments in the Azerbaijani oil and gas sector, it is one of the bigger beneficiaries of Brussels’ efforts to increase energy imports from Azerbaijan in order to replace Russian supplies. Azerbaijan is also importing more Russian gas itself in order to meet its obligations to Europe.

Meanwhile, despite depending on Russian energy supplies, including gas, oil, and nuclear energy, Armenia continues to torpedo relations with Russia. Earlier in October it joined the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The ICC, which much of the world views as no more than a political tool of the West, has an outstanding arrest warrant for Putin for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. That now means that if Putin were to visit Armenia he should face arrest there. Moscow called the ratification by Yerevan a “hostile act.” It’s certainly interesting timing on Armenia’s part considering the statute came into effect all the way back in 2002.

What will be Armenia’s next move? It could try to force Moscow to vacate its ​​102nd Russian military base, which is located in Gyumri, Armenia. The problem there is that the agreement between the two countries stipulates that Russia can remain there until 2044. If Pashinyan has neocons in his ear, though, that agreement means nothing.

Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union remains, at least for now, but it will likely be isolated there as well. And it could be one of Armenian PM Pashinyan’s next losing chess moves.

During the 2018 Velvet Revolution in Armenia that brought Pashinyan to power, he made statements about the need to leave the Russia-led EEU, which also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This would be another blow to the small Armenian economy.

While Armenia is losing so much and the West offering so little, you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s the West’s main objective: to destroy Armenia.

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  1. Sam Owen

    I was surprised when you said Iran and Azerbaijan are cooperating now. The US sure is good at creating alliances between enemies XD

    1. Altandmain

      Between Iran entering into a peace deal with Saudi Arabia and now improving relations with the Azerbaijan government, the US is the one that is getting isolated from the Middle East.

      Everything the neocons have done in the past few years has done has backfired. The war in Ukraine, the trade war with China, and now the Middle East Wars (and Iraq in 2003 if you go back further).

      The irony of this situation is that they did all of this to increase US hegemony, but all they ended up doing was accelerating its decline.

      1. digi_owl

        Because the hegemony was built on being the factory of the world after WW2.

        Who is the factory of the world these days?

    2. digi_owl

      There may be an off chance that China has put forward some sweet incentives.

      After all, they care F all about the old spat of “honor” going on between USA and Iran.

    3. B

      I was so relieved to read this article. I really do not want a war there and if this cooperation continues, so much the better. The more kept out Washington and Brussels are of countries throughout the world, the better. The only thing I’m worried about remaining is that Armenia’s preserved. I don’t want the Azeris to attack Armenia proper and some statements Aliyev has made are pretty concerning. As for Pashinyan, I’ve seen some of the comments that Armenians are writing on Twitter and to say they are hostile would be an understatement.

  2. Fazal Majid

    I think you are inverting cause and effect, even a formal treaty alliance with Russia proved to be worthless for Armenia, so they are branching out, but a poor, landlocked country with a tragic history in a rough neighborhood has precious few options (yet somehow Mongolia manages).

    Tehran hosted a peace conference involving Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia (and of course Iran itself).

    The Armenians were concerned Azerbaijan would attack Armenia proper to establish that corridor to Nakhichevan through seized Armenian territory, that it goes through Iranian territory is good news for peace in the region. Oddly enough Iran has warmer relations with Christian Armenia than with their nominal Shia Muslim coreligionists in Azerbaijan (and despite Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei being half-Azeri himself), so they will be trusted to be neutral by all parties. For centuries Armenia had been a vassal state of alternatively Persia, Rome, Turkey or more recently Russia. This also reduces Azerbaijan’s dependence on Turkey, gratitude has a tendency to wear thin after all.

    It’s still a terrible outcome for Armenia to have lost Karabakh, but they were happy to stall negotiations with Azerbaijan for 30 years while they had the upper hand, and could still have negotiated a favorable settlement. The ethnic self-cleansing of 120,000 Armenians from Karabakh is a tragedy, but has to be tempered by the fact they themselves had ethnically cleansed 700,000 Azeris and Kurds from a buffer zone around Karabakh in their victorious mid-90s war. Funnily, even Armenia itself had not recognized Karabakh’s self-proclaimed independence (which was not covered by Russian protection), and arguably warlords from Karabakh had a malign influence on the politics of Armenia proper.

    In terms of diplomatic fiascos, the US was not that involved, it’s more of a humiliation for France, involved due to its large Armenian diaspora of 500,000, and to a lesser extent the EU.

    1. Conor Gallagher Post author

      Agree the EU was humiliated, as is their wont.
      I’d have to disagree that alliances with Russia “proved to be worthless” for Armenia.
      Moscow, as the main power broker in the region, was trying to help Armenia despite it being at a disadvantage in nearly every way. By burning Russia, Armenia is risking that things get much worse.

      “…that it goes through Iranian territory is good news for peace in the region.” Yes, it is good for the region – except Armenia. It is not good for Armenia, which is being cut out. It could have been Armenia benefitting economically from increasing Eurasian traffic flowing north and south and east and west through the country. Now it is being completely sidelined.

      And the US was certainly involved in this fiasco for Armenia. Nancy Pelosi parachuted in last year making all kinds of promises, Blinken too had been holding talks and making promises, and the military exercises the US held with Armenia were likely the final straw for other countries in the region.

      Recent post goes into more detail on this:

      1. Fazal Majid

        It’s better for for Armenia for that corridor to be running through Iran than for it to be running through Armenian territory captured militarily by Azerbaijan, and thus also cutting Armenia off from its land border with Iran.

        As for the Azaerbaijan road, rail and pipeline link to Nakhichevan and onward to Turkey and the EU, given the historic bad blood between Armenia and Azerbaijan (and Turkey!), it would be highly unlikely Azerbaijan would accept such a vital link running through sovereign Armenian territory, even if a cold peace were negotiated, so it’s not as if your counterfactual was a serious possibility. Armenia squandered the opportunity decades ago by refusing to negotiate in good faith with Aliev senior, something purely due to its internal politics, not any outsiders.

  3. The Rev Kev

    Great post this Conor but wow, I never saw this coming nor so fast. Armenia’s Yerevan really screwed the pooch here and now he has left his country spinning in the wind for what exactly? US and EU promises? They would say that it was all Yerevan’s fault anyway. Why? Because he trusted them. For years now the Neocons have been talking and planning on setting the countries in the Caucasus on fire in order to have a bleeding wound in Russia’s southern border. Tough luck if you live in this region. Certainly they were p***** that Georgia did not want to once more challenge Russia militarily on their behalf. But having Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkiye and Iran all come together and give their whole plan a miss and instead develop commercial ties and settling any personal differences is massive. I would guess that they can see the possibilities of linking up with China and the commercial opportunities that would open up for them. Could it be that when the countries in this part of the world saw Iran and Saudi Arabia put aside their differences and make peace, that it made them wonder about their own regions? I would not betting that when Yerevan eventually goes, that perhaps Armenia will be given the opportunity to join in.

    1. susan

      I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Yerevan is the capital of Armenia. It isn’t a “he.”

      1. The Rev Kev

        My mistake, I was thinking of it’s leader Nikol Pashinyan who is responsible for the mess that Armenia is in right now. I should have checked before posting. Thanks for the correction.

  4. John R Moffett

    At this point I think we would get much better leadership in the US if we picked presidents the way we pick people for jury duty. Only letting rich spoiled brats run things has not turned out well at all.

    1. Keith Newman

      @John R Moffett, 8:59 am
      “letting rich spoiled brats run things has not turned out well at all”… I don’t agree. It’s worked out very well for our overlords: Big Oil, Wall Street, the military industrial complex+.

      1. digi_owl

        Do wonder how well it will work for them going forward, now that USA can’t match Russia, never mind Russia and China, in munitions output.

        I suspect that in the present day USA could not pull a Rolling Thunder.

        1. Polar Socialist

          It’s not just the munitions… with the price of one F-35 you’d get three F-105Ds and six A-4E Skyhawks (inflation corrected). Bombs and missiles are useless if your delivery platform gets attrited in a few days of operations.

          1. digi_owl

            And by contrast Russia puts canards and improved ECM pods on an airframe design dating from the 1980s. And that is seemingly enough to get the jump in a F-35.

  5. Expat2uruguay

    Mr Gallagher, thank you for this reporting and also your previous reporting. I am a bit confused by this paragraph, which seems to be missing a word:

    During the 2018 Velvet Revolution in Armenia that brought Pashinyan to power, he made statements about the need to leave the Russia-led EEU, which also includes . Then everyone remembered that the leader of the movement, opposition politician Pashinyan, made statements about the need to leave the Eurasian Economic Union. This would be another blow to the small Armenian economy.

  6. James T.

    Yeah this really caught me by surprise as well. The move away from the US due to their bullying tactics is accelerating which is a surprise as well. Due to the debacle in Ukraine countries seem to understand that promises from the US are unreliable and are toxic for their future. We better get ourselves together and start working with the world or we are going to be left behind. We will never be poor but certainly could see a significant decline in wealth and standard of living. Thank you so much for the updates.

  7. flora

    Thanks very much for this post. Important geopolitical news the US MSM does not cover, (nor will ever cover unless pushed,imo). Ru and Chn must be delighted with the US fp bungling that pushes more countries toward the BRICs.

    When will sober adults take back the reins of US foreign policy from the tunnel-vision neocons? The sooner the better, imo.

    Meanwhile, in the South China Sea:

    The US may lose influence in the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia much to the unhappiness of those countries.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      Why would these countries be ‘unhappy’? Surely if the US loses influence it will be by the free choice of each country. And if US influence is replaced by Chinese, then it is very likely that they will benefit rather than lose.

        1. hk

          One funny thing is that many of these claims are made jointly by the “two China’s”: Taiwan, as “Republic if China,” also claims the Spratleys and the Paracells, for example. Curious if the “friends of Taiwan” would also help Taiwan assert claims over these islands against, say, Vietnam.

    2. flora

      adding about Armenia: it is a small country positioned between Turkey to the west and Azerbaijan to the east; between Turkey and its near Turkic country.* Given the historical relations between Armenia and Turkey it maked sense for Armenia to align itself with Ru from a survival point of view. It made no sense to scrap the Ru alignment , imo, even though Turkey is also aligned with the West (nominally) and a member of NATO. Armenia could have remained in alliance with Ru and negotiated oil transit with its neighbors. That’s water under the bridge now. And, as you point out, Armenia serves as an instructive point for the other Central Asia countries.

      *per wiki:
      Relations have always been strong between Azerbaijan and Turkey, the only two predominantly Turkic countries located west of the Caspian Sea. Former Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev often described the two as being “one nation, two states.”[a][1]

      That small gap in the Wiki map between the orange and green is the country of Armenia.

  8. John k

    Very informative post, thanks.
    When did multipolarity switch from one or two to three? Imo when the west finished jamming Russia and China together in 2022, a union that strengthens each other. The Asian poles are initiating unimaginable relationships at lightning speed throughout Asia, and this is stirring imagination throughout the global south, witness those lining up to join BRICS, an option that is only possible with poles outside the west.
    For 500 years the west has squabbled over who gets to dominate the west and row. These centuries of dominance makes some in row wonder if the present is just a momentary weakness, plus the west has unlimited funds for various forms of persuasion. But examples such as Armenia soiling it’s nest may be instructive to those sitting on the fence.
    India and Argentina might be paying attention. But the whole row must be watching the ME with varying levels of disbelief, imo that is likely to accelerate deals with the Asian poles as the west accelerates its isolation.

  9. Laura Palmer Eldritch

    REPOST (apparently mangled while waiting for moderation)

    I find the tone of the Gallagher posts touching Armenia increasingly bizarre. Specifically, the thesis centers on how neocons are supposed to have screwed up handling Iran, Russia, or Turkey, which seems to be the actual topic rather than Armenia proper, which merits little discussion other than how foolish Armenian leadership is for believing anything “the West” has to say. That may be true, but also demonstrable is the treatment by Russia of Armenia as a vassal – or more accurately, a chattel – used for the betterment of Russian interests, like laundering natural gas via Azerbaijan. Armenian objections to the corridor center on the implication given by Baku that Armenia would have reduced sovereignty – or none at all, in the worst case.

    Also absent is any mention of India’s interest (shared to some extent by Iran) in preserving Armenia as an alternative route to the whims of Turkey and Azerbaijan, or the fact that Armenia’s economy, while hardly a powerhouse, continues to grow faster than its immediate neighbors. I do understand the main area of interest is the possibly accurate depiction of the US and European governments as ham-handed fools, but this tone struck by disregard of and borderline contempt for a relatively powerless nation strikes me as out of character for Naked Capitalism.

  10. Willow

    > “recent announcement from Tehran that it will allow a corridor through its territory to connect Azerbaijan to its Nakhchivan exclave”.

    A monumental change in relations between Azerbaijan and Iran. Quite the contrary to all bullshit coming out of Washington & London that Azerbaijan and Iran were heading towards conflict. WTF is happening with US & UK intelligence services that they didn’t see the change in the wind coming? Same as Israel, too much reliance on high tech and not enough old trade craft? Or too much incompetence at the top stifling the flow of critical insights from specialists lower down? Or both? Anyone with a modicum of skill and observation could see this coming. ffs.

    1. Willow

      Along these same lines, what happens to all those expensive air defence systems newly deployed to Jordan & SA if these countries end up flipping?

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