Azerbaijan and the Geopolitical Chessboard

October 23, 2014 at 2:22 PM

azerbaijanWith the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly twenty five years ago, the political and strategic orientation of its former republics changed nearly overnight. As Moscow reorganized itself, and Western capital flooded into Russia leading to the economic and social disaster of the early 1990s, the formerly Soviet Republics quickly began to realign themselves in preparation for the post-Soviet period. It is within this period of realignment that Azerbaijan first began to assert itself, charting a course for an independent foreign policy that had as its main goal the formation of economic and political relations that would lead to increased cooperation with the West.

By the mid 1990s, newly discovered oil reserves in the Caspian Sea vaulted Azerbaijan to the top of the list of potential allies for the US and Europe. Western energy companies saw in Baku a new and exciting opportunity for profit, while Western capitals saw a potential partner in a volatile region, one that could become central to strategic planning both in the context of Russia and Iran. With its complex mix of Shia and Turkic peoples, combined with secularists from the Soviet era, Azerbaijan seemed a prime candidate for incorporation into the US-NATO-Israel sphere of influence. Indeed, that is precisely what happened.

Azerbaijan has become in recent years a geopolitical crossroads. While it has long-standing ties with Washington and Tel Aviv, and a somewhat tumultuous relationship with Russia (and Russian ally Armenia), Azerbaijan should not be seen as entirely in the orbit of the West. Despite having developed close working relationships with Western energy corporations and governments, Baku has attempted to maintain a somewhat independent foreign policy, one that seeks good relations with the West while keeping it at arm’s distance. Baku has showed a willingness to work with Europe and the US while remaining leery of the West’s intentions. Indeed, the growing mistrust between Azerbaijani officials and their Western counterparts marks a decided change from the previous decade when all Western officials were greeted with open arms in Baku.

And so, the questions today are numerous and multi-dimensional. While Azerbaijan is obviously interested in cultivating a multi-vector foreign policy similar to that of other former Soviet Republics, it does so with a skeptical eye trained on the West. Likewise, despite the historical animus toward Russia, Baku is increasingly becoming friendly with Moscow, seeing in it a counterweight to the West and potentially significant market for its own exports and economic development.

In order to truly assess the political and economic calculus of Azerbaijan, one must also be aware of the various organs of western “soft power” which have taken root in the country. Through a vast network of NGOs and other institutions, the West has attempted to assert influence and indirect control over the political course of the country. In so doing, the West has in many ways alienated the government of President Aliyev, and driven it closer to Russia, particularly in light of recent events in Ukraine which have been correctly interpreted as a possible preview of what might come to Azerbaijan should Washington deem it necessary. Such forms of indirect control and influence exerted by the West further complicate an already complex relationship with Azerbaijan today reassessing many of its assumptions about the West, Russia, and its place on the regional and global chessboard.

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Iran and the Proxy War in Kurdistan

October 23, 2014 at 1:39 PM

PeshmergaS-300x168In the midst of the war against ISIS (Islamic State) now taking place in both Iraq and Syria, a possible shifting of alliances that could fundamentally alter the balance of power in the region is taking place, and no one seems to have noticed. Specifically, the burgeoning relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq has the potential to remake the political landscape of the Middle East. Naturally, such a development is part of a broader geopolitical gambit by Iran, and it will have significant ramifications for all regional actors. However, it is Turkey, the gulf monarchies, and Israel that potentially have the most to lose from such a development.

While Iran has long-standing disputes with elements of its own Kurdish minority, it has demonstrably taken the lead in aiding Iraqi Kurds in their war against extremist fighters loyal to ISIS. As Kurdish President Massud Barzani explained in late August, “The Islamic Republic of Iran was the first state to help us…and it provided us with weapons and equipment.” This fact alone, coupled with the plausible, though unconfirmed, allegations of Iranian military involvement on the ground in Kurdish Iraq, demonstrates clearly the high priority Tehran has placed on cooperation with Barzani’s government and the Kurdish people in the fight against the Saudi and Qatari-backed militants of ISIS. The question is, why? What is it that Iran hopes to gain from its involvement in this fight? Who stands to lose? And how could this change the region?

The Iran Equation

While many eyebrows have been raised at Iranian involvement on the side of the Kurds in the fight against ISIS, perhaps it should not come as a much of a surprise. Tehran has steadily been shoring up its relations with Erbil, both out of a genuine desire to form an alliance, and as a counter-measure against the ouster of their close ally and partner, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Since the US war on Iraq began in 2003, and especially after US troops left in 2011, Iran had positioned itself as a key, and in some ways dominant, actor in Iraq. Not only did it have significant influence with Maliki and his government, it also saw in Iraq an opportunity to break out of the isolation imposed upon it by the US, EU and Israel over its disputed nuclear program. For Iran, Iraq under Maliki was a bridge both physically (linking Iran with its allies in Syria and Southern Lebanon) and politically (serving as an intermediary with the West in negotiations). In addition, Maliki’s Iraq was to be the linchpin of a new economic strategy which included the proposed Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, a project which would have provided Iran overland access to the European energy market, thereby allowing the Islamic Republic to overtake Qatar as the region’s dominant gas exporter to Europe.

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ISIS, Turkey, and the Propaganda of Intervention

October 23, 2014 at 12:17 PM

turkey_syria-300x225Today’s headlines are filled with reports of the imminent fall of the Syrian city of Kobani to forces of the Islamic State (ISIS). There are terrifying descriptions of an imminent massacre and the looming threat to Turkey as Islamic State forces move ever closer to the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkish President Erdogan waxes poetic about how he “warned the West” about the threat IS would pose and the dangers of inaction. It seems that everyone, including security experts and pundits, agree that the situation is critical and that US bombardment alone is powerless to protect the town or halt IS.

And yet, somehow lost amid the din of cries for intervention is the simple fact that it is US policy and the actions of the aforementioned Erdogan along with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and Israel that created ISIS, nurtured it in its infancy, promoted its development, and unleashed it on Iraq and Syria. And now, for those same leaders, along with a chorus of interventionist voices in the media establishment, to sound the alarm is not only cynical and utterly disingenuous, it is a shining example of the arrogance of empire.

Kobani and the Story Not Being Told

As fighters of the Islamic State (IS) continue their charge towards the mostly Kurdish town of Kobani on the Turkish-Syrian border, deep cracks in the edifice of the US-led coalition against IS have begun to emerge. Diplomatic infighting has shattered the illusion of a cohesive and unified coalition cobbled together by Washington. Not only have a number of countries been apprehensive about getting deeply involved in yet another unwinnable war in the Middle East led by the US, some ostensible allies have used the crisis as an opportunity to achieve political objectives. Perhaps the world leader in cynical opportunism this week is Turkish President Erdogan who has thus far refused to involve his forces in the war on Syria unless that war has as its ultimate aim the toppling of Syrian President Assad.

On October 7th, the NY Times ran a story with the headline Turkish Inaction on ISIS Advance Dismays the US which quoted a senior Obama administration official saying, “There’s growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border…After all the fulminating about Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe, they’re inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe…This isn’t how a NATO ally acts.” While the obvious implication is that Erdogan could cost the US the chance at a successful anti-terror operation, there is a subtle subtext that has gone almost entirely unnoticed; Turkey sees in ISIS an opportunity, not a threat.

And this is precisely the point. IS is in fact a creation of NATO intelligence agencies (including Turkey), and it is achieving by force and propaganda what Washington, London, Riyadh, Doha, Tel Aviv, and Ankara never could – the expansion of the war in Syria.

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Interview – Ukraine, Russia, and Western Media

August 20, 2014 at 5:03 PM


Eric Draitser appears on Voice of Russia to discuss the role of western media in shaping how Americans and Europeans understand the conflict in Ukraine, Russian perspectives, and more.  Draitser explains that the US corporate media is a propaganda mouthpiece of US foreign policy, and that the coverage of Ukraine from US and European media has merely parroted the talking points of US-NATO.  He examines how anti-Russian attitudes are deeply embedded in US public consciousness, and therefore it’s not at all surprising to see how public opinion is so easily molded to fit the interests of Washington.  Draitser also details how the long-standing policy of NATO expansion is part of a broader post-Soviet imperial agenda, one that has defined US foreign policy for more than two decades.  This and much more… Update

August 13, 2014 at 1:46 PM

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