Georgia was traditionally considered the closest ally of Ukraine out of all three countries in the South Caucasus. The Ukraine provided anti-aircraft equipment, and President Viktor Yushchenko visited Tbilisi. Taras Kuzio writes that Ukraine has become closer to Azerbaijan, not Georgia, since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of 24 February.
Armenia has been a traditional pro-Russian country and has joined all Russian-led Eurasian organisations. Russia is expanding its military base in Armenia. Since 2014, Armenia has supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea believing – wrongly – it provides justification for Karabakh’s “self-determination”. International law does NOT give countries or regions the right to self-determination. This right is reserved to countries only.
Georgia is ruled over by Bidzina, a pro-Russian oligarch who made his billions during Russia’s Wild West in the 1990s. It is not possible for him to be sitting in FSB files. Ivanshili, just like everyone else in the 1990s, had to have violated the law to become billionaire, and to have done so with Russian partners.
Before Russia invaded, relations between Georgia and Ukraine had been difficult. In Ukraine and the West, Mikhail Saakashvili’s imprisonment was seen as political repression and selective application of justice by Ivanshili’s regime. Saakashvili was arrested and imprisoned in late 2021. He had been a senior advisor to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President. Petro Poroshenko, the former President of Ukraine had stripped Saakashvili’s Ukrainian citizenship and expelled him from Ukraine.
Russia has not been sanctioned by any South Caucasian country. Because Armenia is a close Russian ally, this was not expected. It was expected from Georgia, and the Ukrainians are shocked that this has not happened. Georgia’s proRussian authorities make excuses for appeasing Russia in the face of overwhelming public support for Ukraine. Russia has de facto annexed Georgia’s South Ossetia, Abkhazia provinces in 2008, and now seeks to annexe south-eastern Ukraine.
Oligarch Ivanshili, who is de facto the ruler of Ukraine, has caused a lack of support for Ukraine. The Georgian opposition is closer to the pro-Ukrainian mood in the country. The largest foreign force fighting for Ukraine is the International Legion’s 1,000-strong Georgian National Legion. Its volunteers are supportive of the Georgian opposition.
The Russian imperialism in Georgia was always condemned by the Ukrainians. Like in Georgia, Azerbaijani public sentiment supports Ukraine. Ukrainians also supported Azerbaijan’s liberation from occupied territories during 2020 Second Karabakh War.
Azerbaijani’s as well as Georgians will recall how Ukraine denounced Russian support for separatism, territorial revanchism, and violence in Georgia’s South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Azerbaijan’s Karabakh areas. Former state officials, NGO’s and opposition parties from Azerbaijan regularly make comments condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Murad Muradov is the topchubashov Centre’s deputy director in Baku. He stated that “Azerbaijani public opinions have long been conscious of the threat from Russian imperialism.” In the early 1990s, Armenia won the First Karabakh War. This was due to Russian geopolitical interests. In the Karabakh region, Russia has insisted on establishing a substantial military presence.
Muradov said: “Azerbaijani’s will always remember the support that a number Ukrainian organizations provided during the First Karabakh War, when the majority of the world was against Armenia. Azerbaijani diaspora also has more positive experiences living in Ukraine than Russia. They feel more integrated, respected, and less subject to racism. It is therefore not surprising that Azerbaijan’s predominant mood is one of support and compassion for Ukraine’s struggle against Russia.
Azerbaijan’s ability maintain good relations with Russia and support Ukraine is similar to that of Turkey or Kazakhstan. Turkey continues to militarily co-operate with Ukraine and sells Ukraine Bayraktar drones. The executive director of Baykar Makina, a Turkish company that produces these drones, Haluk Bayraktar told CNN this month: “We won’t sell TB2 unmanned vehicle to Russia because it supports Ukraine’s sovereignty, resistance and independence.” Turkey has always supported Ukraine and the Crimean Tatars. Many of these people have been living in Turkey since the 19th century.
Azerbaijan’s foreign policy is balanced in order to avoid a similar Russian attack on Georgia and Ukraine. Kazakhstan is tired of Russian nationalists who claim that their northern region was incorrectly included within their country by Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. Russian leaders use the same false argument to claim south-east Ukraine.
Azerbaijan and Turkey back international law and sovereignty. Kazakhstan and Turkey reject Russia’s annexation Crimea and deny the “independence” of the DNR/LNR, Russia’s proxy entities in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas. Turkey and Kazakhstan, like Azerbaijan have not placed sanctions against Russia for its invasion. Only Russia and Belarus recognize the DNR/LNR in the ex-Soviet space.
Strategically, Azerbaijan will gain from the invasion. It is also supporting Ukraine as the largest of the three South Caucasian countries. Strategically, Azerbaijan can gain three things.
First, the EU desperately seeks ways to get its top members out of dependence on Russian gas. Azerbaijani gas supplies to Europe can be increased from the 2021 level (8.2 billion cubic meters) to achieve this goal. North Africa and the USA are increasing their gas exports to the EU.
A second reason is that Russia’s isolation has given Azerbaijan more leverage to negotiate a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan with the help of the EU, who acts as an honest broker. Russia has supported Armenia in the conflict over Karabakh, and prefers to keep the frozen conflicts in Eurasia simmering instead of having them resolved. Russian peacekeepers would be forced to leave Russia if conflicts were resolved. Azerbaijan is disillusioned by the inaction of OSCE Minsk Group and has turned to the EU, which is more likely to succeed. Azerbaijan’s frustrations regarding the OSCE Minsk Group mirror the frustrations of Ukraine with the Minsk agreements.
Third, the US is getting tougher with Armenia because it is a supplier of arms and other mercenaries for the Kremlin’s illegal invasion in Ukraine. Washington also criticizes Armenia’s close ties with Iran as a long-term existential risk to Israel and the US. Washington and the EU are increasingly recognizing Azerbaijan’s strategic significance, along with Turkey’s, as an independent pro Western actor, supplier to Europe of energy to wean it from its dependence on Russian gas, and strategic partner to Israel.
Azerbaijan is the only country that borders Iran and Russia. It actively seeks to improve its relations with the West as an abalancing factor.
Anthony B. Kimof the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC highlighted Azerbaijan’s strategic importance as an alternative energy supplier for Russia. He stated: “Indeed it’s in America and Europe’s clear, pragmatic interests to prioritize and promote relations with Baku, as the crucial trade, energy and economic link between east and west Eurasian landmassss. Kim said that the United States has supported Azerbaijan’s efforts in developing and exporting its energy resources to Western countries for a long time. There have been US companies involved in offshore oil drilling projects.
Azerbaijan provides assistance to Ukraine in the amount of fifteen million euros. Georgia, however, provides only EUR315,000. The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic is providing 100 tonnes of fuel free of charge at its 57 Ukrainian petrol stations. This fuel can be used by ambulances, humanitarian vehicles and the sowing of crops as well as the Ukrainian military. Azerbaijan has donated 170 tonnes of food and medical aid to Ukrainian refugees fleeing to Moldova.
Armenia is Russia’s main ally, alongside Georgian proRussian leader Ivanshili. Russia is appeasing Russia by denying it military or diplomatic support. Azerbaijan’s strategic alliance with Turkey is clearly in Ukraine’s geopolitical interest. Kazakhstan is also moving away from Russia and aligning itself with them. Azerbaijan, in contrast to Georgia and Armenia, is supporting Kyiv with strong diplomatic support and condemning Russia’s territorial infringements. It also sends large amounts of humanitarian aid.
Russia’s invasion and genocide in Ukraine has revealed who Ukraine’s true strategic allies are. These include Azerbaijan, Turkey, Poland and the three Baltic States, Romania, Scandinavia and the UK. Washington and Brussels should recognize Azerbaijan’s support of Ukraine in the ongoing Russian invasion.
Taras Kuzio, a professor of political sciences at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, and an Associate Research Fellow at Henry Jackson Society in London.
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