Nagorno-Karabakh Deal In Terms of Energy Geopolitics - Can Arıhan


The Nagorno-Karabakh (or Dağlık Karabağ in Azerbaijani Turkish) Armistice, which was brokered by Russia, came after six weeks of bloody fighting between belligerent parties, namely Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armenia, which de facto controlled the region since the war in the early 90s, was benefiting from the status quo ante because ethnic Armenians were ruling a region that was internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory. On the other hand, since the loss of the Nagorno-Karabakh region to Armenians after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the liberation of Karabakh was a national cause in Azerbaijan.


The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is heavily intertwined with energy geopolitics. With natural resources of the Caspian Sea transmitted through giant projects like Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline (BTC) to Turkey and also Europe, the wider Caucasus region and the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh that separated two neighbors for almost three decades came into prominence in terms of energy geopolitics. The numbers also easily prove this claim: BTC carried above 600.000 barrels per day (bpd) last year, and TANAP can carry 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

Knowing very well that Azerbaijan's main strength came from its natural resources and its ability to sell the oil and natural gas in the world energy markets, Armenia targeted Tovuz in July 2020. Tovuz is not within the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. However, it is at the crossroads of the above-mentioned energy pipelines and also the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. This incident did not lead to an all-out conflict but further complicated an already strained relationship.

The main clashes came after September 27, 2020. Both sides blame each other for the escalation; the two neighbors clashed with all their military strength, one to keep Nagorno-Karabakh, others to regain it. Having strengthened their military capabilities with the revenues from the sales of the energy resources, Azerbaijani forces swiftly overwhelmed the Armenian forces. Unmanned drones that were bought from Turkey significantly sustained the Azerbaijani superiority. Although it is seen from its name (Nagorno means mountainous in Russian and Dağlık means the same in Azerbaijani Turkish), the terrain was not perfect for a military campaign. Azerbaijani soldiers steadily marched into the heart of the occupied territories at a rapid pace.

The armistice came after the liberation of Shusha on November 8, 2020. (This day will be celebrated as Victory Day in Azerbaijan.) Russia, the main power that controlled the whole Caucasus region in the Soviet era, brokered the deal and brought together the belligerent parties to form a ceasefire agreement. The agreement gave Azerbaijan the authority to keep the lands it had liberated in its campaign that took six weeks and obliged Armenia to cede large swathes of territory in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

This ceasefire agreement of November 9, 2020, is highly significant in terms of energy geopolitics. As was mentioned above, Azerbaijan exports a considerable amount of natural gas and oil via pipelines (e.g., South Caucasus Pipeline, which carries natural gas first to Turkey, then TANAP transmits the gas Europe and BTC pipeline) that lie near the Armenian border. If the main dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia (that is to say, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict) is to be settled following this agreement, energy markets (especially Turkish and European markets) will certainly benefit from this result. Given that it has proved its military superiority over Armenia, Azerbaijan can securely supply Turkey and Europe with energy resources without the fear of attacks like the attack on Tovuz last July.

Of course, the main supplier of natural gas to Europe and Turkey (i.e., Russia) does not benefit from the guaranteed presence of competing Azerbaijani gas in Turkish and European energy markets. But certainly, Russia made huge gains from the ceasefire agreement of November 9, 2020. In a scene that resembles the Soviet era, Russian boots (approximately 2000 soldiers as a peacekeeping force) will be on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh to monitor the agreement's implementation. Although this gain of Russia does little to overshadow the Azerbaijani gains and the secured transmission of natural resources, Russian soldiers' presence will give Russia important leverage that could be used in later negotiations regarding the energy issues.

Turkey will also send its forces to the region to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. Still, there are opposing claims about the size and the position of these Turkish peacekeeping forces. Regardless of their size or place of positioning, these Turkish forces will certainly strengthen Turkey's position where vital Turkish energy interests are at stake. We shall wait and see what the time will bring regarding this minor complication and the wider geopolitical dispute, which is of high importance for the secure supply of energy to Europe and Turkey.


Bibliography

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