Turkey and Armenia ease tensions while Russia distracted by Ukraine war

Turkey and Armenia ease tensions while Russia distracted by Ukraine war

Turkey is improving ties with Armenia while its ally Russia is distracted by its war in Ukraine.

Turkey and Armenia agreed to a normalisation process last year and there has been consistent progress since the February invasion of Ukraine.

Foreign ministers met in March, last month cargo flights were given the all-clear albeit without a start date and now Turkey is considering an official visit to Armenia for meetings.

Emil Avdaliani of the Georgian think tank Geocase said the Ukraine war appears to have given Turkey more leeway for talks with Yerevan as a weakened Russia increasingly relies on Turkey.

Avdaliani said: “This explains the urgency with which Ankara works on improving ties with Yerevan. Much could change if Russia wins in Ukraine. It could be less tolerant of Armenia’s opening. I think we are seeing the opening of the south Caucasus. Russia will [no] longer be an exclusive leader in the region.”

A first attempt at bilateral normalisation was ditched in 1993 amid an escalation of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the late 2000s “football diplomacy” involved then Turkish president Abdullah Gül visiting Yerevan to watch a football match in 2008 and then Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan watching a 2009 game in Bursa.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to mediate since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Turkey has not yet sanctioned Russia and continues to buy Russian gas.

Russia accounted for 16 per cent of Turkey’s imports in June, Ankara’s largest source of goods, according to Turkey’s authorities.

But Russia and Turkey back opposing sides in Syria and over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The mountainous region is home to tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians but is internationally recognised as Azerbaijan’s territory. Turkey backs Azerbaijan and Russia supports Armenia with alliances following religious divides.

A 44-day war over Nagorno-Karabakh began in September 2020 and saw the first high-profile deployment of Turkish Bayraktar drones. The drones have since played a vital role in Libya, Syria, Ethiopia and, most famously, on the Ukrainian side since the February invasion.

Pressure from Azerbaijan ended earlier diplomatic efforts while its conflict with Armenia was unresolved. But since its crushing victory in 2020, Azerbaijan has retracted its objections to normalisation.

Nagorno-Karabakh has seen recent escalations in tensions with clashes breaking out. Three soldiers were reportedly killed this month.

A normalisation of economic ties with Armenia would boost Turkey’s trade with the wider region and benefit Turkey’s impoverished northeastern region.

Improved bilateral relations with Armenia could open eastern Turkey up to more tourism. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

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