Russia Gained from the Caucasus Conflict, but Now Faces an Emboldened Turkey

Nov. 23 2020

Thanks to the Kremlin’s mediation, Azerbaijan and Armenia reached a ceasefire earlier this month, ending a six-week war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh to Armenians), which Armenia seized from Azerbaijan during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Amir Taheri analyzes the current situation:

[S]uccessive Armenian governments, thinking that Russia will always . . . protect Armenia. as it had done since the 18th century, had neglected the new nation’s defense needs. Just over a month of fighting drove the Armenians onto the defensive, and then to defeat, on various fronts. But when the Azeris and their Turkish allies were about to swoop in for the kill, Russia intervened by calling the leaders of Baku and Yerevan to Moscow to agree to a confused ceasefire that, while stopping the fighting, left the deep causes of the conflict untouched.

In typical fashion, . . . Russia used the occasion to extend its military presence, already significant in Armenia, to Azerbaijan as well. Under the Moscow accord, a Russian “peacekeeping” force will seize control of the ceasefire line plus the borders of Azerbaijan and Armenia with Iran.

On balance, the Azeris didn’t gain much. Most of the disputed enclave . . . remains beyond their control while a good chunk of their own territory, notably the land route between Azerbaijan proper and its “autonomous” enclave of Nakhichevan, fall under Russian control. [For its part]. Yerevan will now have to consult—read obey—Moscow before attempting any revenge in the future. The message is clear: Transcaucasia was a Russian protectorate for two centuries and is again becoming a Russian glacis.

And, yet, Putin may turn out to be one of the losers in this deadly game. To start with, the mini-victory [over] Armenia may have whetted Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appetite for further conquests. . . . Forty-eight hours after the ceasefire, Erdogan asked the Turkish parliament to let him send an expeditionary force to Azerbaijan. A Turkish military presence in Transcaucasia could entail the risk of direct confrontation between Moscow and Ankara which are already in conflict in a number of other places—notably Syria, Libya, and Kosovo.

Read more at Asharq al-Awsat

More about: Armenians, Azerbaijan, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia