Since the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, Armenian policymakers have been convinced that China is interested in having a strong Armenia in the South Caucasus to counter pan-Turkic ideas, given the Uyghur separatist movement in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province. To Armenian political elites, China has always been a friendly nation with mutually-aligned strategic interests. They supported Armenia in constructing the North-South Highway, the largest national infrastructure project since independence, granting Armenia access to the global economy. They also provided military assistance to Armenia, opened Chinese schools and institutes, and invested in industry. The Chinese embassy in Yerevan is even their second-largest in the territory of the former Soviet Union after their embassy in Moscow. Armenia has even collaborated with Beijing on deporting Taiwanese suspects to China. All these developments would certainly point to the growing significance of Armenia for China and explain why the latter acts in favor of Armenia. But does it really? Or does it always?
Maybe that was the case historically, or in the early 1990s, when China was still a mostly rural, agriculture-based country, one of the poorest in the world by GDP per capita ($347 in 1990), which couldn’t properly handle its security threats. It would logically favor Armenia to win the war against Azerbaijan in order to prevent further expansion of Turkic elements, especially since the dissolution of the Soviet Union created a power vacuum and fertile ground to awaken Turkic nationalism.
Indeed, since the early 1990s, Uyghur separatist organizations fighting for the independence of “East Turkestan” from China took responsibility for many bombings, violent attacks and riots, seriously challenging China’s security architecture. However, one cannot compare the China of the 1990s with today’s China, the world’s second largest economy, with its rapidly-growing, technologically-advanced economy and powerful army. Besides, China has been actively pursuing a policy of sinicization in Xinjiang by encouraging the migration of ethnic Han Chinese to the area. China has established total surveillance over the Uyghur population, and keeps over a million of them in so-called “re-education” camps; other efforts to drop birth rates among the Uyghur population also serve to change the demographics of the region. In the 1953 census, the population in Xinjiang was 75% Uyghur and 6% Han. In 1990, it had shifted to 47% Uyghur and 38% Han. By 2020, the numbers were almost even; out of Xinjian’s 25.8 million people, Uyghurs make up 45% and Han Chinese 42%. The new situation makes the Uyghur issue less of a priority compared to the 1990s and thus Armenia less significant for China in that context.
Belt and Road Initiative as a Turning Point
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his intention to revitalize the historical Silk Road trade routes and create an alternative to the Western- and U.S.-led global economy by establishing transportation and trade infrastructure to connect China with Western Asia, Europe, Africa and beyond. The initiative marked a huge change in Chinese foreign policy, aiming to define a new world order. Many developing countries viewed it as a new source for economic and financial resources, technologies, political stability and security guarantees, and a way to get out of the vicious circle of endless West-Russia competition. However, through the project, China has also pursued geopolitical objectives beyond pure economic ones. One after another, many countries fell into the Chinese debt trap as they were not able to pay off their loans, without granting China the right to take control over strategic assets (like deepwater ports) and leaving them under heavy economic and therefore political dependency.
Nevertheless, the paradox here is not China’s growing ambitions, but the players and partners to which China has staked. Unlike the 1990s, China now considers Turkey as a key strategic partner under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework. Since 2013, both countries have started to strengthen their mutual relations, marking 2012 and 2013 as the “Years of China and Turkey”. In 2015, China and Turkey signed a Memorandum of Understanding within the BRI, formalizing Turkey’s participation in the Chinese initiative. China has invested heavily in the Turkish economy, mainly in logistics, energy infrastructure and mining. This includes billions of dollars of investments in ports, bridges, high-speed railways, gas storage facilities and alternative energy projects. Over these last years, the relations between the two countries have gradually qualified as a “Strategic Partnership.” Meanwhile, China also intensified its economic relations with Turkey’s smaller ally—Azerbaijan. In 2019 alone, during the visit of Ilham Aliyev to Beijing, Azerbaijani companies signed deals worth $821 million. Moreover, even though Beijing never wanted to openly engage in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, during that meeting between Ilham Aliyev and Xi Jinping, the latter publicly expressed China’s full support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. So why has China made such a sharp u-turn in its attitude toward countries that preach pan-Turkism?
Under the leadership of Erdogan, Turkey has openly expressed its desire to become an independent world power, at least a regional superpower among the top ten world economies. His autocratic neo-Ottoman, expansionist, nationalistic rhetoric and strategy, aggressive involvements in regional conflicts in Libya, Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Eastern Mediterranean, has made Turkey’s western allies take caution and incrementally punish and sanction it. Facing significant economic challenges, such as a high unemployment rate, a reduction in foreign investments, and a devaluing currency, Turkey is happy to grasp the rescuing hand of China. As a result, China is trying to flatter Turkey and change its geopolitical orientation away from the West through debt-trap diplomacy and injecting cheap money into the Turkish economy, taking advantage of the growing tensions between the West and Turkey. Turkey itself is not against the idea of changing its geopolitical course as Erdogan is the first leader of Turkey in 100 years to consider Turkey an empire, the center of the Muslim world, which has a historical right to interfere in any territory in which Muslims live. To justify such a position, Turkey must demonstrate its ability to protect the interests of Muslims anywhere in the world.
On the other hand, China has historically worried about Turkey’s pan-Turkic ambitions; thus, by deepening its ties with Turkey, China seeks to mitigate those risks—in other words, buy security. Indeed, this strategy seems to be quite successful so far. Not too long ago, Turkey openly accused China of committing genocide against its Uyghur citizens and openly supported their separatist movement. However, more recently, Turkey’s stance has been more restrained, mainly urging that Uyghurs should be treated as equal citizens of China, and that Turkey fully supports China’s territorial integrity.
Finally, the interests of both countries also converge geo-economically. China is very keen on diversifying its comercial routes of cargo delivery to Europe. It searches for the cheapest, fastest and safest routes to connect the East with the West. Currently, most of the trade between China and Europe is done by sea; whereas, a railway option could significantly decrease transportation costs and duration. The BRI’s Eurasian land bridge is composed of six trade corridors that actually compete against each other; however, there are three main routes that have the potential to integrate railway networks along the “Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB).
The first route connects the Chinese railway to the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) through Russia and Mongolia via the Northern Corridor. Even though there is ongoing work aimed at increasing the average train speed from 60 km/h to 80 km/h, the world’s longest railway still faces several challenges that impact its competitiveness compared to alternative routes, including constantly overloaded and overcrowded trains, delays, cargo damage and harsh winters. Prior to the development of alternative routes, virtually all the rail cargo going from China to Europe used to pass through Russia, a trip that could last from 18 to 30 days.
An alternative route could be to pass through the Southern Corridor, initially China’s preferred option for the SREB. It links the Trans-China Railway (TCR) to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran before reaching Turkey. The option explains the signing of the 25-year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement between Iran and China, which foresees $400 billion in investments into Iran’s economy, mainly in the critical infrastructure, transportation and energy sectors.
However, Turkey has been trying to persuade China to shift the main land route to Europe to bypass both Russia and Iran in favor of countries over which it has more influence. Turkey argues that China shouldn’t rely on Russia or Iran, as both are unpredictable partners in the long term, constantly facing Western sanctions. Therefore, Turkey came up with its own proposal, the Middle Corridor, which intends to link China with Europe through Central Asia, the South Caucasus and Turkey. Turkey wants to take advantage of its strategic geographic location to become a gateway for the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa as a hub for land, sea and air transportation, playing a key role within the BRI.
The Trans-Siberian Railway
The Southern Corridor
Thus, in 2015, Turkey signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China with the objective of linking its Middle Corridor to the BRI. In 2017, it signed another regional transportation cooperation agreement with Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, creating the Lapis Lazuli Transport Corridor. According to experts, it could potentially account for the transport of up to 80% of the goods traveling from South Asia to Europe. Also in 2017, Turkey’s active participation in the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway was inaugurated, meant to become a cornerstone for the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR) signed in April 2016 in Baku between Azerbaijan, Georgia. and Kazakhstan. It runs from China through Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and further to Europe. Turkey’s railway authority joined the project in 2018.
In addition, Turkey has invested in other projects to increase its transit potential by constructing the Eurasian Tunnel, the third Bosphorus bridge, and the new Istanbul Airport. It is still looking at additional infrastructure investments to modernize its railways and port networks in order to make the Middle Corridor the most attractive for the Chinese. Thus, it plans to construct a 2,000 km long Edirne-Kars High Speed Rail Line, connecting it to the already-launched 533 km long, 250 km/h Ankara–Istanbul High-Speed Railway Line that was completed by a Chinese company in 2014, fully funded through a $750 million Chinese loan. Meanwhile, Turkey is developing its ports in Filyos on the Black Sea, Candarli on the Aegean Sea, and Mersin container port on the Eastern Mediterranean.
The same goes for Azerbaijan. It has been heavily investing in modernizing its railways, seaports, highways and logistics centers. It does its best to benefit from its favorable geographic position by proposing its existing infrastructure to enable Chinese goods to travel from Western China to the West through the Caspian Sea. Thus, the TITR seems to be a solid alternative for China to reduce the cost and duration of transportation through the shortest railway route. Here again, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway plays a crucial role. It is a significant part of the puzzle for the Europe-Caucasus-Asia Transport Corridor (TRACECA) project. The 838.6 km railway allows cargo to get from China to Europe within two weeks, nearly 50% faster and cheaper than through Russia. Besides, Azerbaijan has other important infrastructure facilities along this corridor, such as the Alat trade port, Baku cargo terminal, six international airports, the Caspian fleet, free economic zones and sophisticated cargo ships.
If China is searching for various alternative and complementary corridors in order to diversify its options, and even if the Middle Corridor provides a number of advantages compared to others, Turkey and Azerbaijan still critically need Chinese engagement in their infrastructure projects to fill their funding gaps. Without Chinese participation, all these projects cannot realize their full potential. The integration of Chinese and Turkish projects would also allow Turkey to establish deeper economic and political relations with Turkic-populated Central Asia. The creation of the Turkic Council and the latest developments in Afghanistan should be considered not only from the geopolitical and security perspective, but also within the framework of economic corridors.
The Map of Middle Corridor Within BRI
The 2020 Artsakh War
Even though the Middle Corridor seems to be a great option for China to diversify its global trade routes and reduce transportation costs by accessing the shortest rail route for the delivery of goods to the West due to already existing infrastructure and proximity to Europe, there is one important BUT. The route includes Georgia; while Georgia is heavily influenced by Turkey, it is still seen as a Western bastion. The rest of the countries located along the route are all Turkic-populated. Georgia has an ongoing territorial conflict with Russia, which will not realistically be solved in the near future, creating additional risks and threats to the Chinese plans. The 2008 Russian-Georgian War clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of this route. Therefore, another alternative would have been to reroute the corridor through Azerbaijan, Armenia, Nakhchivan and Turkey through the so-called “Zangezur Corridor”. But this alternative has its own frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The real motives behind the latest 2020 Artsakh War may lay within this context.
Turkey sought to “overcome” the obstacle of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue once and for all by forcing a sustainable peace in the region to prove the viability and security of the Middle Corridor to China. Turkey became actively involved in the conflict, openly supporting Azerbaijan with advanced weaponry, drones, missiles, the deployment of its special forces and by supplying Syrian mercenaries to the conflict zone. Turkey needed Azerbaijan not just to win the war, but achieve an absolute victory over Armenia at any cost, that would leave Armenia so humiliated and helpless that it would agree to any terms to keep the ceasefire, ceding the “Zangezur Corridor”, demarcating and delimiting its borders beyond which it would not cross, and signing a peace agreement with Azerbaijan which would decisively close the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, they intended to neutralize Armenia’s potential to somehow affect, change the course of or block the BRI implementation in the region, sending a clear signal to China that the region is free of conflicts and that the trade route is safe and secure. By surmounting Armenia’s Syunik region, Turkey would have a direct link to the rest of the Turkic world, thus guaranteeing an uninterrupted and secure corridor for Chinese goods, where all the territories along the Middle Corridor are under major Turkish influence.
Of course, there is not enough intelligence available to assess with high confidence that China itself provoked the new armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, nor that it was directly involved. However, it can be observed that China gave a tacit green light to Turkey and Azerbaijan to act by its public disinterest as the events were unfolding. At the peak of the war on October 25, an effort at releasing a UN Security Council statement was abandoned. While rumors of what goes on behind closed doors abound, some point to China as supposedly blocking the initiative, as its main objectives of the war had not yet been reached. Russia, the U.S. and France are not likely to have blocked their own resolution. Likewise, after the war, the British Ambassador to Armenia also strongly denied allegations that the UK vetoed the resolution. Accordingly, only China stayed silent. China so far seems to be satisfied with the outcomes of the war. Moreover, on July 10, at the invitation of the Government of Azerbaijan, the Chinese Ambassador to Azerbaijan, among a dozen other ambassadors, visited Shushi, which falls within the Soviet-era Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, while the other UN Security Council permanent member states and the Minsk Group co-chair countries’ representatives declined that invitation. Most glaringly, China showed its hand when, during a meeting with the Minister of Economy of Azerbaijan, Chinese Ambassador to Azerbaijan Go Min said that the “Zangezur Corridor” would contribute to the “One Belt, One Road” transport project, which provoked concerns in Armenia. Even though this statement of the ambassador was later denied by his colleague in Armenia, it is certain that in diplomacy almost no word is pronounced unintentionally or without a context.
In addition, there is evidence that China directly supported Azerbaijan’s beyond the political sphere. During the entire 44 days of the war, Azerbaijani Boeing 747 cargo planes conducted over 100 flights to the military-industrial cities of China. What they were carrying is not publicly known, but it probably wasn’t pandas and mandarins.
Why would Russia agree to all this in a region it considers its sphere of influence? Why would it allow Turkey to significantly increase its presence in the region, allow its official ally Armenia to pay this high of a price and carry unbearable losses, as well as open a Middle Corridor beyond its reach? At first look, it seems like the outcomes of the war and the potential opening of the “Zangezur Corridor” contradict Russian interests. It would be naive to neglect the fact that, even though China and Russia are strategic adversaries and even enemies with Turkey in many areas, both being historically worried about its pan-Turkic ambitions, they both also certainly have a strategic objective to tear Turkey away from the West by supporting its goal of becoming a strategic independent player, thus undermining the NATO alliance that is a more immediate threat.
Just a few days after the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin even claimed that, from the perspective of international law, all the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh that were handed back to Azerbaijan by the ceasefire agreement are inseparable parts of the Republic of Azerbaijan, also stating that Armenia itself has not recognized the independence of Artsakh. During an interview, President Vladimir Putin reminded reporters that the security guarantees given by Russia to Armenia do not apply to Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, thereby burying Armenia’s hopes for more decisive Russian intervention. He further added that refusing to sign the ceasefire agreement would have been a huge mistake and suicidal for Armenia. These claims made many Armenians furious and disappointed. Armenians once again miscalculated Russia’s interests and intentions regarding the South Caucasus region.
It is obvious that any previous attempt to challenge Russia’s dominance in the post-Soviet area was faced with a decisive Russian reaction, such as those witnessed in Georgia in 2008, Ukraine and Moldova in 2014, in Belarus in 2020, and currently going on in Central Asia. However, Russia surprisingly behaved very calmly to Azerbaijan’s invasion into Artsakh and only marched in when Azerbaijani forces captured the second largest city and strategic heights of Shushi. The result suggests that its plan was to wait until Armenia was so weak and humiliated that it would see Russia and its peacekeepers as saviors. They took more of a neutral stance toward the sides, claiming that both are its strategic partners. They were ready to sacrifice part of their positive reputation among the Armenian public to reach their strategic objectives in the region.
In an interview given by Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to Tengrinews, the largest information portal in Kazakhstan, he publicly stated that the clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh and the established ceasefire was a very difficult joint operation by Russia and Turkey. The wording of the sentence is extremely suspect. Taking into account the technical capabilities of Russia and the level of infiltration and influence in Azerbaijan, it is highly unlikely that Russian intelligence services did not know about the upcoming Azerbaijani intentions to start the war. Moreover, Azerbaijanis started the offensive on September 27, just one day after the “Kavkaz 2020” joint military exercises between Russia and Armenia ended, and participating Russian troops left the country.
The godfather of modern “Eurasianism” Aleksander Dugin recently claimed that permission from Russia to solve the issue with force was the decisive factor in Azerbaijan’s victory in the war and that, if Russia wanted, the war could have ended with a very different outcome. Moscow strategically waited until the two sides had weakened each other enough before it intervened. The Tripartite Agreement signed by Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia does not deprive Azerbaijan of victory, but truncates it. It also makes the defeat of Armenia incomplete, by postponing the discussion of the status of the remaining part of Artsakh for an indefinite period. Russia strengthened its military presence in the region, created a sense of insecurity within the Armenian population by promoting the idea that Armenia cannot survive without Russia’s goodwill. Besides, with a defeated army and ruined security architecture, Armenia became more vulnerable to be persuaded to enter into deeper integration with Russia. So Armenia became even more dependent on Russian presence, while Azerbaijan allowed Russian troops into Artsakh.
However, the main objective of Russia was almost certainly to leave the conflict unsolved and keep its influence on all sides, to have a legal basis for its military forces to stay in the region, not only to ensure its own security on its southern borders but also to send a clear message to China and Turkey that the keys to the BRI in the South Caucasus are in Moscow. According to the ceasefire agreement, Russian FSB border guards will be in control over transport communications and the safety of transit across southern Armenia. From the Chinese perspective, this is additional protection for its shipments to Europe. To the Chinese, the Russian role was to become an inspector and a safeguard for the new alternative transport route, by deploying its military to the area. Although the so-called “Zangezur Corridor” crosses through Armenia, the Armenian national railroads are operated by the Russian-owned South Caucasus Railway Company. Accordingly, Russia will not just position itself as the security guarantor and inspector of the transit, but also directly benefit from it, restoring its railway access to the Persian Gulf, which was lost 30 years ago, as well as to connect its railway network to Turkey and benefit from the future trade flows.
Now it is certain that Russia’s behavior is mainly explained by its intention to play a more important role within the Belt and Road Initiative, and not to be excluded from the big game. Thus, it was in Russia’s interest to collaborate with its Turkish counterpart to address the “issue” of Armenia and Artsakh, and once again comfortably pursue the “Eurasian” project of deeper integration with the Chinese and Turkic worlds. Russia made its choice by again sacrificing Armenia, just like it did exactly 100 years ago when the Bolsheviks were trying to flatter Ataturk.
Meanwhile, according to the ceasefire agreement, the main costs of fulfilling the plan also fall on Moscow. That also exposes Russia’s pressure on Armenia through creating artificial tensions and fatal border incidents through Azerbaijani hands, not returning Armenian POWs, and closing its eyes toward Azerbaijan’s invasion into Armenian territories in order to scare the Armenian public and force the Armenian government to give up and start the demarcation and delimitation process, signing a peace agreement with Azerbaijan. On July 20, President Aliyev confessed that he discussed the issue of the “Zangezur Corridor” with President Putin and that their approaches coincide.
The war was a result of rivalries between international and regional superpowers, where the alignment of interests suggested that, unlike the first war, this time Armenia and Artsakh had to be the losers. The last war has radically changed the geopolitical and geo-economic configuration of the South Caucasus region. The outcomes were highly favorable not only for Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia, but for China who was granted a new opportunity to have a less expensive alternative short-cut route that will link the East and the West.
Sabotaging the Alternative North-South Route
By intervening in the regional developments of the South Caucasus, China not only intended to push forward its BRI but also block any potential alternative proposed by its main adversaries. The Middle Corridor has gained even more importance in the eyes of investors after the blockage of the Suez Canal by the Ever Given container ship, which caused significant losses to world trade and highlighted the importance of having alternative routes. The “Zangezur Corridor” is where the interests of several international and regional players intersect. That is why China has been very interested not only in peace and stability in the region to have a secured and safe transit opportunities, but also in getting the “Zangezur Corridor” instead of just opening all communications, as an actual corridor would practically cut Armenia off from Iran, therefore neutralizing any project passing through that route.
Even though there are many territorial conflicts and unstable regions along the BRI route, such as Kashmir, Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Middle East and Caucasus, as well as skepticism toward the feasibility of the project, China has so far successfully convinced all the warring parties about the benefits of integration into the BRI. Nevertheless, it is also clear that one of the main reasons for Chinese advancement is the absence of a solid alternative by the West. The new U.S. administration, backed by G7 countries, proposed an alternative global infrastructure plan to counter China’s BRI. Their initiative is called Build Back Better World or B3W and aims to fund about $40 trillion in infrastructure projects throughout the developing world. However, there is no unity among the G7; countries such as Germany and Italy have shown hesitancy over the feasibility of this project as both receive massive Chinese investments.
The EU should realize the necessity of finding alternative routes that would bypass Russia and Turkey, and that the implementation of the “Zangezur Corridor” would only further deepen their dependency on these two unreliable and unpredictable partners. However, it is obvious that the EU is interested in having cheaper and faster alternative routes connecting it with Asia as soon as possible. In 2020 alone, the trade turnover between China and the EU reached almost $700 billion.
The EU, led by Germany, has its own geopolitical calculations and wants to decrease American dominance, carry out a more independent foreign policy and be an independent geopolitical entity. Germans, seeing that the sanctions and international pressure to punish Russia didn’t give their expected outcomes, changed course by giving the green light to new Russian natural gas pipelines. After the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, the EU made Russia abandon the “South Stream” gas pipeline project that bypassed both Ukraine and Turkey. In 2020, they were “forced” to welcome the inauguration of the “Turk Stream” route by Putin and Erdogan, which made the EU even more dependent on Turkey. The logical continuation was the approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which will connect Russian pipelines directly with Germany through the Baltic Sea, further reducing the importance of Ukraine and Poland as transit countries.
The only realistic alternative to the BRI in the South Caucasus remains the Indian-led “International North-South Transport Corridor”, which currently passes through Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia. But India would prefer if it passed through Iran, Armenia, Georgia and on to Europe instead. This explains India’s huge investments in Iran’s Chabahar port, aiming to develop it into a full deep sea port that could host cargo ships larger than 100,000 tons and with a capacity of 12.5 million tons annually. India also planned to establish an international airport near Chabahar port. The port is planned to be fully operational in 2021. The port of Chabahar is not included in the U.S. sanctions against Iran, and India is the main beneficiary of a successful U.S.-Iran rapprochement that would lift sanctions.
The International North-South Transport Corridor would enable the transit of goods from India via Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. Taking into account the rivalry between India and Pakistan, India wants to bypass Pakistan’s allies as well, including Azerbaijan and Turkey, in order to prevent any risks arising from them. Just a few months after the ceasefire agreement was signed, Indian Ambassador to Iran Haddam Jarmendra said that India plans to connect the Indian Ocean with Eurasia and Europe through the territory of Armenia to create a “North-South” corridor, and that India plans to make Chabahar the most powerful port in the region. Maybe that is why the U.S. and Iranian Ambassadors to Armenia have visited the Syunik region and even go to the front lines. Maybe that is why France doubled its political support to Armenia and maybe that is why the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed an amendment that cuts U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan, referring to the ongoing aggression against Armenia, while increasing financial assistance to Yerevan. Last but not least, it is likely that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the new U.S. administration is also partly related to these new realities.
It is highly likely that the Armenian government understands the signals coming from the West and is trying to postpone the initiation of demarcation and delimitation processes, and the signature of a peace deal with Azerbaijan, while demonstrating a stubborn resistance to Russian pressure and daily Azerbaijani provocations on its borders. This can be also confirmed by President Aliyev’s recent statement that Armenia is refusing to cooperate and has started to play some games aimed at preventing the implementation of the “Zangezur Corridor”.
Things started to move after the President of the European Council Charles Michel visited Armenia and announced Europe’s willingness to provide an unprecedented €2.6 billion financial package to Armenia to support the implementation of top priority projects. It is notable that €600 million out of the €2.6 billion was dedicated toward the construction of unbuilt sections of the North-South Highway, including tunnels and bridges. The flagship infrastructure project in Armenia is part of a larger Persian Gulf-Black Sea trade corridor encompassing sea, rail and road interconnectivity. It closes the gap between Iran and Georgia, i.e. the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea, from which goods can get to the EU. Not only Israel, but several other countries would also be extremely pleased to see the talks between the U.S. and Iran fail, or even degrade into military intervention. It is highly likely to expect provocations and political instability in Georgia in the near future by the known forces who want to keep Georgia hostage and block the alternative to the BRI also from that end.
The Persian Gulf-Black Sea Corridor has the potential to counter the China-Turkey-Russia-Azerbaijan-Pakistan axis in the region. However, if the West takes a less active stance on this issue, the project may take a long time to implement. The opposite camp led by China doesn’t suffer from a lack of funds and is fully determined to build the missing railway and road sections of the “Zangezur Corridor” and the railway connecting Iran with Azerbaijan for the North-South route. In contrast, the economic feasibility and viability of constructing a new railway connecting Yerevan to Syunik’s border with Iran, the key missing part of the International North-South Transport Corridor between the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf that has the subject of negotiations over the last decade remains doubtful due to scant attention from investors, as the competing transportation infrastructure of Azerbaijan is more developed and doesn’t require huge amounts of investments to make it fully operational and connected to major transportation routes.
With the deck stacked against it, Armenia should find other security guarantees rather than Russia and the CSTO as soon as possible. Any Western support, whether it is deployment of their militaries or peacekeepers in Armenia, or the provision of advanced weaponry, would have been a strategic victory at least at the operational tactical level. Armenia shouldn’t give up that fast under pressure to carry out chaotic actions of demarcation, delimitation and signing a peace treaty. Meanwhile, it should rapidly mobilize all resources and find investments needed to complete the missing sections of the North-South Highway and the railway, but this time not involving Chinese or suspicious European companies in the construction work, so as not to have another failed attempt with corruption cases in the courts. Instead, it could potentially engage India and Iran, or other countries with whom it shares common interests within these matters. With an unpredictable future, Armenia must be ready with a modernized army, upgraded management systems and strategies. On the other hand, if the West does not seriously take measures to prevent these trends in the region and allows China, Turkey, Russia and Azerbaijan to take their desired “Zangezur Corridor” by force or by other means, if the West does not support Armenia and Georgia militarily, economically and politically, promoting their integration into the Western alternative projects, it is certain that the West will lose the battle in the strategically important South Caucasus.