Armenian President Sarkissian told Kommersant in an exclusive interview that Turkey’s interest in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is related to energy geopolitics. According to him, “Turkey will manage the oil and gas pipelines that are laid to Europe” if Azerbaijan wins the war. This is a factually incorrect assessment of Turkish strategic goals since Ankara already plays such a role even without Azerbaijan having yet fully regained its sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding districts under occupation. Furthermore, Turkey partially does this with Russian support, so Sarkissian’s fearmongering will fall on deaf ears in Moscow.
To explain, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline opened in 2005, while just earlier this month it was announced that the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP) is ready to begin supplying gas to Europe. Both projects don’t have anything to do with Nagorno-Karabakh although they transit somewhat close to the current conflict zone. These pipelines helped Azerbaijan diversify its energy exports while simultaneously assisting Turkey with its goal of becoming a regional energy manager which in turn elevates its global strategic status. They aren’t, however, aimed against Russian interests.
The EU and other energy customers have the sovereign right to decide who they purchase such resources from. No customer ever wants to be dependent on a single supplier so diversification is a natural development in principle, not anything inherently anti-Russian. In addition, the Russian government has been working hard to diversify its disproportionate budgetary dependence on resource revenue over the past decade, which means that its traditional customers’ energy diversification policies will have less of a negative impact on Moscow than some observers might have thought.
Russia facilitating Turkey’s energy goals?
One of the most important points to bring up in this context is that Russia is actively facilitating Turkey’s regional energy management goals through Turkish Stream. This project is intended to replace the former South Stream pipeline and envisions the export of Russian gas to Southeast and Central Europe via the Black Sea and Turkey. It was due to the deep trust established through their Blue Stream gas pipeline that’s been in operation since 2003 that Russia knew that it could rely on Turkey much more than South Stream’s former Bulgarian partner to secure the transit of its gas to Europe through the Southern direction.
The reader should be reminded that all of these plans have proceeded apace prior to the change of the Nagorno-Karabakh status quo that resulted from the onset of Azerbaijan’s counteroffensive late last month. It’s for this reason why it’s ridiculous for Sarkissian to allege that Turkey’s strategic interests in that conflict are driven by energy geopolitics and hint that such a goal might be against Russian interests. In reality, however, it’s Armenia which might have energy-related interests in this war. Earlier reports alleged that one of its missiles fell dangerously close to the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline. If true, this would mark a dangerous escalation.
It can’t be known for certain if that would have just been a mistake resulting from faulty equipment or a lack of training, or if it was intentional, but either way, it’s sure to raise Russia’s concerns. This would especially be the case if Armenia’s targeting of the pipeline was a deliberate attempt to prompt Russia into conventionally intervening in the war on its side. In that scenario, Armenia might blame Azerbaijan if anything happens to the pipeline, or it might request Russian support if Azerbaijan responds by attacking targets inside of Armenia. This is all of course speculative since the pipeline wasn’t damaged, but it’s still worthwhile considering.
For these possible reasons, it can’t be discounted that Sarkissian’s false claims about Turkey’s energy interests in the conflict might have been intended to distract from Armenia’s related interests. In any case, his claim isn’t credible as was explained in this article, which raises suspicions about why he made it in the first place. One possible reason might have been simply to try and smear Turkey out of desperation as part of the ongoing information war between the two. Whatever his motivation might have been, it would have arguably been better had he not discredited himself with such a claim since it prompts questions about his motives.
Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, radio host, and regular contributor to several online outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.