Olevs Nikers on Russian FM’s visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan – What’s Lavrov’s goal?

05-05-2021 23:53:58 Analysis

In the first half of May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to visit Yerevan (May 5-6) and Baku (May 10-11).

According to President of the Baltic Security Foundation, Olevs Nikers, Lavrov’s visit may have several goals.

As he told the Accent, Lavrov intends these visits to score positive headlines that could dilute the negative exchanges Moscow has had with the West in connection with Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny and the incident in Czechia.

“The visit is intended to reaffirm the image of Russia as an indispensable regional force in achieving and maintaining peace and setting the rules. One of the practical objectives must be the identification of concrete steps to reconnect its ally Armenia to the regional transport networks. If political stability in Armenia decreases, Russia may lose it as an ally, but a more likely concern is that the alliance with Armenia may become a liability if the government, albeit friendly, descends into chaos. Therefore Russia is interested for Armenia to harness the potential economic growth that may improve the popularity of the current political elite. A stronger Armenia would also help Russia to limit the regional ambitions of Turkey. However, a potential leverage through economic interdependence may be Lavrov's long-term plan for the region, keeping in mind not only the presence of Turkey, but also that of China,” Nikers said.

China in the Caucasus

According to him, despite existing scepticism on China's interest and power projection capabilities in the region, remarkable increase of Chinese engagement in the South Caucasus in recent years has been conducted through several bilateral arrangements with Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“For instance, on their participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).” he added.

As Nikers said, China long time remained among Georgia’s top ten largest export partners, accumulating more than 5 percent of Georgia’s exports over the past few years and more than 40 percent of China’s trade within the region is conducted with Azerbaijan and trade figures are also quite impressive in China's trade relations with Armenia too.

“China has expressed its interest for broader cooperation, implementing several assistance programmes in Armenia since 2012. In prediction of China's patience and long term planning for regional engagement, regardless of current expectations of "low profile" nature of China's immediate behaviour in the region, we might expect more active engagement in the future, which is related to the eventual growth of the China's economy and subsequent variations within power projection trajectories in the coming decades,” he said.

Zangezur Corridor

According to Nikers, there are several challenges for Azerbaijan for reopening the Zangezur corridor, which would have wide regional implications for Armenia and Azerbaijan and all encompassing countries.

“Tensions in the area of prospective route and Russia's power play in this situation with Armenia and Azerbaijan of course makes this issue as one of the priority topics for discussions in Baku and this will be discussed in Yerevan as well. While already having Baku - Tbilisi - Kars railroad, direct land route would provide Azerbaijan shorter transit to Turkey and a certain growth potential for trade and development of economic relations, as well as benefit to the concept of further integration of Turkic states and it may become a sound articulation or the "Turkic World”, he added.

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