The US is reducing its military presence in the Middle East, it has withdrawn from Afghanistan. Now the question is whether the Americans will be able to build or use the existing power in Transcaucasia. And will it work?
Erica Olson, who replaced Philip Riker as US Undersecretary of State for Europe and Asia, has begun her tour of the Transcaucasian countries.Now he is in Yerevan, where, in addition to negotiations with the country’s leadership, he participates in the forum of heads of U.S. missions in Transcaucasia with the participation of U.S. ambassadors to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The previous forums of the heads of American missions in the region were held in Tbilisi in 2018, and in Baku in 2019. But the Forum in Yerevan can be considered a turning point, since the situation in Transcaucasia, as well as its geopolitical landscape, has undergone noticeable changes.
“We are glad that we can restore the tradition of meetings with Washington and regional partners, exchange opinions, ideas, and information that will allow us to better coordinate work with all three countries,” the website of the US Embassy in Armenia says.
After the administration of US President Joe Biden came to power, Washington’s curators, diplomatic and other representatives working in Transcaucasia were tasked to analyze the previous experience of American policy in the Caucasus, assessing its main achievements, shortcomings and presenting proposals for the future. This is what Olson is doing now. His predecessor Riker was tasked with strengthening NATO’s position in the region, and he succeeded in Georgia. And what kind of problems are solved by the trusted Olson, who once worked at the US Embassy in Turkey as an economic adviser? First of all, we will touch upon the general problems of American policy in Transcaucasia. The fact is that, as many experts have noted, “Washington has other Caucasian points of view” compared to Moscow. Russia still maintains the “Transcaucasian Portal”, which creates a kind of continuation of a certain part of Russia’s political agenda in the region. The United States, however, sees the region as an extension of the Middle East, a bridge connecting the Caucasus with Central Asia and having access to the Black and Caspian Seas.
The paradox is that Washington, as the Entente in the 1918-1920s, does not have a separate well-developed Azerbaijani, Armenian or Georgian policy. According to the well-known Carnegie Foundation expert Paul Stronsky, Transcaucasia in Washington “was perceived not as a valuable foreign policy plot, but only as an integral part of the game on several boards (Russian, Turkish, Iranian, Chinese and European).The Americans were not very interested in the problem of the emergence of any new geopolitical configuration in the region. Only recently, after the Second Karabakh War, the United States began to talk about Georgia as “its main and only reference point in the region.”
Another paradox. If the issue of Moscow’s victory or defeat in the second Karabakh war in November 2020 is being discussed inside Russia, then Washington is confident in two facts: reaching a truce with the Russian diplomatic leader and restoring the negotiation process and deploying Russian peacekeepers. Previously, the Russian military was not there, but now they are there.
Moreover, the Russian military, previously stationed only in Armenia, now found themselves in Azerbaijan, which in the United States is considered part of the Russian territorial expansion. Another important point: Contours of a Russian-Turkish alliance with a potential projection of the Middle East appear in Transcaucasia. In this regard, the Biden administration’s assessment of the undesirability of Ankara’s intervention in the Karabakh conflict, as well as concern about Turkey’s possible withdrawal from the Western alliance, is an indicator. Events in the region are perceived by Washington in two contexts: Moscow’s influence in Transcaucasia and the growth of Turkish independence.After the end of the Second Karabakh War, Turkey and Azerbaijan initiated a 3 + 3 format of regional cooperation consisting of six countries: Russia, Turkey, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. As you see, Americans are not included in this system in any way. That is why the United States has activated the Georgian direction in Transcaucasia. But, since Georgia has found itself in a political crisis, consequently, its political elite cannot mobilize forces to strengthen the Euro-Atlantic vector.
According to the American edition of Foreign Affairs, the United States “needs to create tools to keep Russia and Turkey in two directions-Transcaucasia and the Middle East,” however, according to some estimates, “it may take a lot of time.” But Washington is also reducing its military presence in the Middle East, so that the Americans have left Afghanistan. Now the question is whether the United States will be able to build or use the existing power in Transcaucasia. Thus, Biden has yet to formulate his political view in the region. Perhaps he will keep the current vision, acting by inertia and reacting to events in case of their development. Or maybe he will decide to develop an active approach to Transcaucasia? Olson, as one of the curators of this direction, should identify a number of political tools that will allow Washington to improve its position in the region, which has remained quite static over the past few years. But the question is: will it work?