Wednesday, 13 April 2016 23:58

Vladimir Putin’s Next European Front

sc-nk-wsjApril 6, 2016

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Vladimir Putin's Next European Front

By Svante Cornell

Clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia this week claimed at least 60 lives in the most intense fighting between the neighbors since a 1994 cease-fire “froze” their conflict. Tensions seemed to de-escalate by Wednesday, but clearly the war between Azeris and Armenians is no longer frozen. At stake is the future of a sensitive region dominated by the Kremlin and crisscrossed by Eurasia’s larger political and ideological faultlines.

The Obama administration apparently believes the Armenian-Azeri conflict exists in a vacuum, isolated from regional tensions and the destructive role played by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It’s time for Washington to see that Moscow is a part of the problem, not the solution, and take the lead in putting the conflict on the path to peace.

This is an old conflict over a province in Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, whose population is majority ethnic Armenian. War broke out in the early 1990s as the two sides came to blows over the region during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Since the 1994 cease-fire, the “line of contact” between the province and the rest of Azberbaijan’s territory saw only intermittent violence. That has changed in the past two years. In the summer of 2014, serious fighting erupted, killing at least 19 soldiers. Azerbaijan downed an Armenian helicopter that November, and 2015 saw new bouts of fighting in which more than two dozen soldiers were killed. This year the fighting appears to have begun as soon as the snow on the mountains melted.

The conflict is escalating now for a reason: The Caucasus is increasingly shaky. Since the early 1990s, the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict has been at the center of a political divide in the region. Moscow backed Armenia, and the unresolved conflict kept Armenia tightly in Moscow’s camp. That alienated Azerbaijan, which allied with Turkey and the West in response. Iran, fearful of a secular and oil-rich Azerbaijan courting the U.S., aligned with Armenia and Russia.

Then came President Obama’s “reset” with Russia, which seemed to reward Moscow’s aggression against Georgia in 2008. More recently, Mr. Obama resisted the advice of members of his cabinet and only halfheartedly opposed Russia’s dismemberment of Ukraine and propping up of the Assad regime in Syria.

When Russian cruise missiles started hitting Syria from warships in the Caspian Sea last year, the politics of the former Soviet space and the Middle East began to merge. The Turkish-Russian confrontation hastened the process, since Azerbaijan is aligned with the former and Armenia is allied with the latter.

Adding to Mr. Putin’s problem in the region, Azerbaijan is the only country bordering both Russia and Iran, and so is crucial to any East-West corridor linking Europe to Central Asia and beyond. Controlling that artery is essential to Mr. Putin’s imperial project. Relations between Azerbaijan and the U.S. were cold for years, since Azerbaijan resented America’s lack of engagement in the region’s security and Washington focused on Azerbaijan’s human-rights defects. But last year they began to thaw.

Several high-level U.S. delegations have passed through Azerbaijan to discuss political and military ties, and the country’s talks with the European Union on strategic partnership are back on. In a gesture of goodwill, Azerbaijan has released dozens of political prisoners, and the Obama administration reciprocated by inviting Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev—along with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan—to Washington.

Little wonder, then, that Mr. Putin would use an unresolved conflict to try to undermine this neighboring government, as he has done in Ukraine. Few doubt Moscow’s covert ability to do so. It’s notable, for example, that the 2014 escalation of the conflict coincided with Mr. Putin’s efforts to elbow France and the U.S. out of the peace process through a unilateral summit he convened in Sochi. This year, the renewed fighting coincided with Mr. Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit and Mr. Aliyev’s first visit to Washington in 10 years. Mr. Putin benefits from reminding both parties (and the West) of his ability to wreak further havoc in a region already marred by conflict, lest they toe his line.

For the first time in 20 years, Azerbaijan managed to recapture control over territory in the recent fighting. It could itch for more, while Armenia might want to hit back to erase those gains. Thus, in the last year of the Obama administration, we could easily witness a growing escalation of conflict in the Caucasus. Yet through all this, the Obama administration is sticking to the urban legend that it “sees eye to eye” with Russia on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, in the words of Amb. James Warlick, the U.S. representative at the peace process. 

The current U.S. policy of denial only indicates that Washington doesn’t take the region seriously. If America wants to avoid a major war in the Caucasus, it needs to take the lead in a serious diplomatic initiative to engage both Armenia and Azerbaijan. That can only happen if Washington accepts that the Caucasus is part of the long arc of conflict ranging from Ukraine to Syria, and that America’s interests are fundamentally opposed to Mr. Putin’s.

Svante E. Cornell is Director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Center affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy.

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News

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    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:53

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  • CACI Initiative on Religion and the Secular State in Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Sunday, 24 January 2021 13:53

    In 2016, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program launched an initiative on documenting the interrelationship of religion and the secular state in the region. This initiative departed from the fact that little systematic reserch had been undertaken on the subject thus far. While there was and remains much commentary and criticism of religious policy in the region, there was no comprehensive analysis available on the interrelationship of religion and the state in any regional state, let alone the region as a whole. The result of this initiative has been the publication of six Silk Road Papers studying the matter in regional states, with more to come. In addition, work is ongoing on a volume putting the regional situation in the context of the Muslim world as a whole.

     

    Case Studies

    Each study below can be freely downloaded in PDF format.

    az-formula-SRSP

    Azerbaijan's Formula: Secular Governance and Civil Nationhood
    By Svante E. Cornell, Halil Karaveli, and Boris Ajeganov
    November 2016   




    2018-04-Kazakhstan-SecularismReligion and the Secular State in Kazakhstan
    By Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr and Julian Tucker
    April 2018

     

     

     

    1806-UZ-coverReligion and the Secular State in Uzbekistan
    Svante E. Cornell and Jacob Zenn
    June 2018

     

     

     

    2006-Engvall-coverReligion and the Secular State in Kyrgyzstan
    Johan Engvall
    June 2020

     Event video online

     

    2006-Clement-coverReligion and the Secular State in Turkmenistan
    Victoria Clement
    June 2020

    Event video online

     

     

     

    Articles and Analyses

    Svante E. Cornell, "Religion and the State in Central Asia," in Ilan Berman, ed., Wars of Ideas: Theology, Interpretation and Power in the Muslim World, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021.

    Svante E. Cornell, "Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?" in Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

  • Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories
    Wednesday, 07 October 2020 09:01

    Rehab-coverIn 2010, the CACI-SRSP Joint Center cooperated with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus to produce a study of the methodology and process for the rehabilitation of the occupied territories in Azerbaijan. The study was written in the hope that it would prove useful in the aftermath of a negotiated solution to the conflict.

    Such a resolution nevertheless did not materialize. At present, however, it appears that some of these territories are returning to Azerbaijani control as a result of the military conflict that began in late September, 2020. While it is regrettable that this did not come to pass as a result of negotiations, it is clear that the challenge of rehabilitating territories is as pressing today as it would be in the event of a peaceful resolution - if not more, given the likelihood that such a solution would have included a time-table and provided the Government of Azerbaijan and international institutions time for planning.

    It is clear that the study is a product of a different time, as much has changed since 2010. We fully expcect many updates and revisions to be needed should the recommendations in this study be implemented today. That said, we believe the methodoloy of the study and its conclusions remain relevant and would therefore like to call attention to this important study, published in English, Russian and Azerbaijani versions.

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    BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR THE REHABILITATION OF AZERBAIJAN’S POST-CONFLICT TERRITORIES

     

  • Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict
    Monday, 05 October 2020 08:19

    Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

     

    The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program have a long track record of covering the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict. This page presents the key resources and most recent analysis. 

    In 2017, Palgrave published the first book-length study of the International Politics of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, edited by Svante Cornell. The book concluded by arguing that if international efforts to resolve the conflict are not stepped up, “the ‘four-day’ war of April 2016 will appear a minor skirmish compared to what is sure to follow”.

    In 2015, CACI & SRSP released the Silk Road Paper  “A Western Strategy for the South Caucasus”, which included a full page of recommendations for the U.S. and EU on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. These are reproduced below:

    ------------------

    Develop a substantial and prolonged Western initiative on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

    o This initiative must be led by the United States, in close consultation with its European partners – primarily the EU Commission and External Action Service, and France. Barring some process to reinvigorate the Minsk Process – a doubtful proposition given Western-Russian relations in the foreseeable future – Western leaders must be prepared to bypass that process, utilizing it where appropriate but focusing their initiative on developing direct negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

    o The U.S. and its European partners must abandon the practice of relying solely on the Minsk Group co-chairs to resolve the Karabakh conflict. These diplomats have contributed greatly to formulating a workable framework agreement. However, strong and sustained U.S. Government leadership from the top level is needed to complement or, failing that, to replace the Minsk Process. In practice, this means the expressed support of the President, involvement of the White House, and leadership manifested in the appointment of a distinguished citizen as Special Envoy for the resolution of the conflict.

    o The EU must take a more clearly defined and substantial role in the process, by integrating to the highest degree possible the French co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group with EU institutions. While Washington will need to take the lead on the political side, it would be natural for the EU to take the lead in organizing an international development program for the currently occupied Azerbaijani provinces and Karabakh itself. That effort, too, would need to be led by a senior EU figure.

    --------------------------------------------

    In 2011, CACI & SRSP helped launch an extensive study of the steps needed for the post-conflict rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's occupied territories, in cooperation with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus. The monograph "Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories" can be accessed here

     

    More background resources:

    Svante E. Cornell, "Can America Stop a Wider War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?", The National Interest, October 2020

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, Occupied Elsewhere: Selective Policies on Occupation, Foundation For Defense of Democracies, January 2020. 

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, "The U.S. Needs to Declare War on Proxies", Foreign Policy, January 27, 2020

    Svante E. Cornell, “The Raucous Caucasus”, American Interest, May 2017

    Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, RoutledgeCurzon, 2001.

    Svante E. Cornell, The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Uppsala University, 1999

    More recent analysis:

    Turkey Seeks to Counter Russia in the Black Sea-Caucasus Region,” Turkey Analyst, 10/5/20, Emil Avdaliani

    Turkey’s Commitment to Azerbaijan’s Defense Shows the Limits of Ankara’s Tilt to Moscow,” Turkey Analyst, 9/25/20, Turan Suleymanov & Bahruz Babayev

     “Cross-Border Escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 9/25/20, Natalia Konarzewska

    Russia and Turkey: Behind the Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 8/31/20, Avinoam Idan

    Armenia and the U.S.: Time for New Thinking?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 10/2/19, Eduard Abrahamyan.

    Why Washington Must Re-Engage the CaucasusCentral Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 7/8/19, Stephen Blank

    Azerbaijan’s Defense Industry Reform”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 5/7/19, Tamerlan Vahabov.

    Military Procurements on Armenia's and Azerbaijan's Defense Agendas”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/27/19, Ilgar Gurbanov

    Armenia's New Government Struggles with Domestic and External Opposition,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/20/19, Armen Grigorian.

    Bolton's Caucasian Tour and Russia's Reaction”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 12/17/18, Eduard Abrahamyan.