The fate of Azerbaijan is inextricably linked to its central position in the geopolitical triangle of Russia, Iran and Turkey (RIT). For the majority of its recent history, Azerbaijan has been under Russian control. Therefore, before Azerbaijan’s independence, the relations of the RIT triangle have had little impact on the geopolitical situation of the country.
This changed in 1991 when the USSR collapsed and Azerbaijan regained its independence which had been lost 71 years earlier.
Independent Azerbaijan had to face the burden of independence and to adroitly maneuver between its surrounding neighbors in order to preserve its new – found freedom. In the early years of the post – Soviet period, the country’s leadership demonstrated serious incapability in playing this geopolitical game.
But with the advent of Heydar Aliyev’s reign, the country entered into a stable, peaceful period. Aliyev pursued a balanced foreign policy with all members of the RIT triangle, adroitly playing the powers against one another while maintaining friendly relationships with all three players.
Although his son, Ilham Aliyev, has slid deeper into the orbit of Russia, the country has largely maintained balance between the regional great powers.
Despite the relative success of the country’s geopolitical strategy, it is often criticized by the country’s opposition forces, particularly for the fact that Azerbaiajn has, exactly because of this policy, been unable to form an alliance with any power that would be able to defend the country were it to come under threat.
The opposition forces, and in particular the Republican Alternative Movement (ReAl), have also expressed concerns over the recent rapprochement between Russia, Iran and Turkey, and have identified it as a potential threat to the national security of Azerbaijan.
For example, Erkin Qadirli, a member of the governing board of ReAL, recently stated
in a Facebook post
“I disagree with those who find the ongoing rapprochement between Russia and Turkey useful for our country. It is not about Putin or Erdogan. The problem is eternal, it has historical roots and geographical reasons. It is a geopolitical problem. Certainly, we don’t need a fight between Russia and Turkey, but we have to assess any rapprochement between them as a threat.”
programme of the movement
, in a similar vein, points out that:
“The more confrontation … [between Russia, Iran, and Turkey] there is, the more beneficial the situation for Azerbaijan is.”
However, this approach that is shared by many on the oppositional front of the country, falls short of geopolitical wisdom.
Politicians and experts who argue that the rapprochement taking place within the triangle poses a threat to Azerbaijan point out recent historical events:
also a member of the governing board of ReAl – agreed to an interview on this topic, and said that three historical events have shown that such a rapprochement and warm relations between the countries of the RIT triangle throws dark clouds over Azerbaijan:
1. The fall of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1920:
2. The return of Heydar Aliyev to the head of the Republic in 1993:
3. The transition of power to his son in 2003.
Instead, he claimed that confrontation between the three has in general lead to economic advantage for Azerbaijan.For example, in 2016, prior to the reconciliation between Russia and Turkey, 38% more tourists came to Azerbaijan from Russia compared to the previous year, as the Russian government urged its citizens not to travel to Turkey.
However, ReAl members also stress that they do not desire a fight between the two great powers, either.
Imbalance in the Triangle
However, Jafarli and like – minded thinkers fail to take into account that neither during the early years of the Soviet period, nor in the post – Soviet period has Turkey been in a capacity to challenge Russia’s dominance in the region.
In 1920, Turkey was itself pursuing a struggle to preserve its territorial integrity and independent existence. It is unreasonable to expect from such a declining state to pose a geopolitical challenge to a far stronger power.
Neither could modern Turkey face off against nuclear Russia over the South Caucasus. Despite this, in the early post-Soviet period, Azerbaijani leaders did attempt to rid the country of Russia’s hegemony and align the country with Turkey and other Turkic republics. This policy failed miserably. First and foremost because Turkey could not back up the pro-Turkish geopolitical orientation of the Azerbaijani government and had to retreat from Russia’s sphere of influence.
Potential Dangers of Any Conflict Amongst the Triangle Powers
However, those that look at discord within the triangle from an opportunistic point of view overlook the possible threat that such a situation could pose to the country. History has shown us on numerous occasions that it is the man that stands between two warring giants that suffers the most in conflict.
Currently, the South Caucasus is relatively stable because Turkey, Iran and even the
Western powers more or less recognize
the region as belonging to Russia’s sphere of influence.
With a military response to Georgia’s pro-Western drift Russia had already demonstrated that it would never accept the encroachment of a rival power into the region.
In a case of a serious conflict between the ‘triangle powers’, Turkey and Iran would seek to diminish Russia’s influence in the South Caucasus, which in turn could lead to a serious confrontation in the region.
The fact is that these two states do not have the military capacity to neutralize Russia, the second most powerful nuclear force in the world. Therefore, expecting that Turkey might help Azerbaijan to stand against Russia is not realistic. In fact, the oppositional powers also regard Turkey as the most suitable power with which to form an alliance. Due to the reasons discussed above, neither would Turkey go into such an alliance with Azerbaijan nor could it defend Azerbaijan against Russia in a serious military clash.
It is of utmost importance for every political group in Azerbaijan, including for the oppositional forces, to realistically analyze the geopolitical situation on the ground. Otherwise, should they come to power, they would do more harm to Azerbaijan than the incumbent government.