Clinton's Visit: More Than Meets the Eye
WASHINGTON, JUNE 13, ARMENPRESS: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to the South Caucasus was primarily aimed at shoring up American geopolitical interests in the region in order to further strengthen its hand in the Middle East and Central Asia. The Caucasus is the linchpin that connects those two strategic and natural resource rich areas, therefore it has been in contention for the past 20 years. Although, Clinton had differing messages for each Caucasian leader, the goal is to block and eventually rollback the rising Russian influence, which has been the dominant factor since the August 2008 war between Russia/South Ossetia, and Georgia. Secretary Clinton began her trip inYerevan, where she met with high ranking Armenian officials, most notably, President Sargsyan, with whom she discussed the recent parliamentary elections, and the conflict with Azerbaijan. While many analysts have focused on Clinton’s remarks about the Karabakh conflict, and the Azeri provocations, the story behind the story was Iran, and Russia. American policymakers know that Armenia is in no position to help in any future attacks against Iran, even if it wanted to help. However, Washington is interested in finding out what the Armenian leadership reactions will be to an attack, and more importantly how Russia will react. In the past few months, high ranking Russian generals have dropped hints that should Iran be attacked, Russia holds the right to move into Georgia proper. Russia’s 102nd base in Gyumri has been on high alert since Fall 2011. Moscow may ask the Armenian leadership to allow the Russian soldiers in Gyumri to open up a southern front in Georgia. It is likely that Clinton warned Armenian officials to be careful in case such a scenario unfolds. Reminding the leaders in Yerevan of how much political clout the U.S. still wields in the South Caucasus. Turning to Tbilisi, Clinton made remarks concerning future Georgian membership in NATO, however, by adding that Georgia still has many issues to solve before that can occur, she allowed room for the offer of NATO membership to be revoked without losing face. It is well known that a number of European members of NATO do not wish to see Georgia in the organization, namely, Germany. The U.S. Secretary also mentioned that Georgia will continue to receive military equipment, training, and financial aid from Washington. This served to emphasize the close ties between the two nations, and reassure the Georgian government of American support. Of the three capitals visited, her stay in Tbilisiwas the least important in the sense that it is well known that Georgia is the closest ally the U.S. has in the South Caucasus, and that Saakashvilli’s only option after August 2008 is to remain allied withWashington. Ending the last leg of the tour in Baku, Clinton had three issues to cover: energy, Artsakh, and Iran. It is not a secret that the U.S. backed Nabucco pipeline project is in serious trouble. Nabucco has always been a more political rather than economic project aimed at lessoning Russian dominance of the natural gas market in Europe. Over the past decade Baku has seen Moscow threaten and bribe them into delaying or quitting the Nabucco project altogether. Clinton on the other hand came to offer incentives to keep Azerbaijan committed to the deal. What does Azerbaijan want? One thing is to change the format of peace talks, from the OSCE Minsk Group to the U.N. Something, a committedU.S. can help achieve, in the unlikely case that Russia agreed. What Secretary Clinton may have promised to the dictator of Azerbaijan, Aliyev Jr., will be seen in the coming weeks and months. She did drop a small hint though, when she mentioned that in two weeks time a meeting between Armenian and Azeri foreign ministers will be a chance for the mediators to present ‘some new approaches’ to solving the conflict. It should be noted here that many of the Azeri snipers who fire upon and sometimes kill Armenian soldiers are trained by NATO, mainly American officers. Finally, with tensions between Tehran and Baku on the rise, and the West’s dispute with Iran over its nuclear program still ongoing, Clinton was dispatched to assess how devoted Azeri policymakers are to a potential strike on Iran. As was reported in April, Israel may have been given permission to use Azeri airfields should it decide to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, in return for $1.6 billion worth of weaponry. On the surface level Secretary Clinton’s visit to the South Caucasus may have been about democracy, human rights, and the conflict over Artsakh, however the real intentions were of a much more strategic nature, re-claiming lost influence, and fighting another battle in the larger conflict known as the ‘New Great Game’.
Vice-Chairman Political Developments Research Center