Taking into consideration China’s growing economic influence in the South Caucasus and its neighbors, the countries in the region are strongly interested in the BRI. This would seem to underscore how time is working for China and, in the near future, Beijing’s growing economic presence will also give it greater political influence.
The Turkish factor
Since regaining its independence, Georgia has built good relations with Turkey. The two countries signed a free-trade agreement, and Turkey is the main trade partner of Georgia.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkey and Azerbaijan came together to cooperate in the political, military, economic and energy spheres. Leaders in both states like to talk of “one nation, two states”, recognizing that they share a language and culture. Turkey’s influence in Azerbaijan is enormous, as Ankara provides Baku with strong support in its conflict with Armenia, unilaterally closing the Turkish-Armenian border. Turkey’s involvement in the 44-day war over Artsakh, which erupted in September 27, 2020, was decisive, as the help of Turkish military intelligence and drones helped Azerbaijan overcome the army of Artsakh, which was backed by Armenia and equipped mostly with the weapons produced in Soviet Union in 1980s.
Turkey sent jihadists from Syria to Azerbaijan to take part in military operations against Christian Armenians of Artsakh, action confirmed by French President Emanuel Macron on October 1, 2020, during the EU Council meeting and by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well. As a result of fighting, Azerbaijan occupied Artsakh’s second main city and many other settlements. Baku also took under control of seven regions, which it lost during the First Artsakh war in the 1990s. The Armenian side lost more than 4,000 soldiers and had to agree to an unfair Russian-brokered ceasefire, which allowed Russian peacekeepers to enter Artsakh. As a result, after 100 years, Turkish troops returned to Azerbaijan, where they will control energy and transportation infrastructure that connects Europe with Asia.
Ankara’s strong alliance with Baku during the war could help Turkey weaken its historical adversary, Armenia, which has become isolated and has tumbled into political turmoil. It has also shaken the strategic position of Russia in the region. For this reason, in Armenia, there are growing calls for a Russia-Armenia military alignment. In sum, Turkey has gained strong political, economic and military leverage in the South Caucasus, where it will remain embedded for a long time because of its special relations and rising influence in Azerbaijan.