The energy agreement signed by the European Union (EU) with Azerbaijan, followed by the visits of United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) President William Burns and Russian Foreign Intelligence Agency Head Sergey Naryshkin to Yerevan, reveals an important truth regarding the negotiation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This truth is that the Caucasus region is one of the areas of competition between the West and Russia.
The agreement signed between the EU and Azerbaijan on July 18, 2022, has already been evaluated as a historical development in Baku. The agreement envisages that Azerbaijan will increase its natural gas supply to the EU by 12 billion cubic meters. In this context, the volume of natural gas exported by Azerbaijan to the EU is expected to increase to 20 billion cubic meters by 2027.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, who came to Baku, stated that this was a mandatory step taken after Russia pulled out its natural gas card. In this context, Leyen said, “The EU has decided to leave Russia and turn to more reliable suppliers, I am happy to include Azerbaijan among these countries”. In addition, the EU plans to invest in green energy, especially hydrogen and wind energy, in Azerbaijan. This will enable Azerbaijan to transform from a “fossil fuel supplier” country to a common “renewable energy supplier” for Europe.
The signed agreement causes Russia to react. As a matter of fact, the Russian media states that Baku’s decision will harm its alliance with Moscow. On the other hand, the officials of the Azerbaijani Government made statements expressing their dissatisfaction with the actions of the Russian Peacekeeping Forces in Karabakh. Because, Russia has committed that Armenian Army elements will not remain in the region until July 1, 2022; but it is stated that Russia did not fulfill this promise. Therefore, in such an environment, the agreement signed with the EU gives confidence to Baku and increases the pressure on Moscow. Moreover, by emphasizing that the incumbency of the Russian Peacekeeping Force is five years, Azerbaijan draws attention to the fact that its incumbency should end in 2025 and that this duty cannot be extended.
In addition to all these, it is seen that the interest of the parties has shifted to the West in the negotiations regarding the peace agreement, which is expected to provide regional stability, and it is understood that Western actors are trying to be included in the process. It should be emphasized that; the main reason of this is the issue of energy. Establishment of a safe environment in the Caucasus, with the influence of the Russian-Ukrainian War, has become a part of the EU’s energy security.
On the other hand, Armenia is also witnessing interesting developments. Although the country is historically considered as an actor under Russian influence, Yerevan’s interest in Russia has decreased in the last two years. Because Armenia wishes to open to the West by turning the normalization processes into opportunities. In this context, recent developments reveal that the US wants to develop close relations with Armenia. As a reflection of this, it has been claimed that US President Joe Biden is planning to appoint Christina Quinn, one of the country’s top diplomats, as Yerevan Ambassador. Quinn is an influential figure in the White House and the State Department.
Moscow, on the other hand, perceives Washington’s interest as a challenge to its influence in Armenia. This drew the reaction of Russia. Moreover, the Moscow administration, which thinks that the West is taking an anti-Russian action in the Caucasus, as well as the United States (US, even reacted to Canada’s decision to open an embassy in Armenia. This is an indication that the Russian-Western rivalry in the region will increase.
The most remarkable development based in Armenia is the meeting between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Burns. It is no coincidence that Naryshkin went to Yerevan only three days after this meeting. The traffic of visits indicates that a serious rivalry has started between the USA and Russia regarding Armenia.
Undoubtedly, Karabakh has an important place in the Caucasus-centered influence struggle between the West and Russia. In this context, it can be said that the negotiations held in Georgia by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and Armenia on July 16, 2022, are important. The meeting in question is the first negotiations without mediator between the warring countries.
Therefore, the meeting in Tbilisi can be interpreted as a development that can prevent the process from being sabotaged by tertiary actors, as well as demonstrating the determination of the parties to speak and negotiate. The fact that the process started to emerge from Russia’s initiative is pleasing for the EU.
From the Baku’s point of view, the meeting means that Azerbaijan is not willing to make war, which means it is very important in terms of showing that Baku is ready for dialogue. In this context, it can be argued that the meeting had a positive impact on the energy agreement signed between the EU and Azerbaijan. Armenia’s direct approach to dialogue reveals it has a will to act independently from Russia. In addition to all these, the parties saw that Russia’s mediation efforts did not yield any results. Possibly, Moscow wants to leave the region in the status of a frozen conflict zone. Baku and Yerevan are looking for ways to reach lasting peace. Therefore, the parties may think that the Kremlin is not interested in resolving the conflict, yet in maintaining its mediator status, which exerts political influence on both countries. Current developments indicate that the parties want to resolve this issue without the need for a mediator; however, it reveals that they are more friendly towards the EU compared to Russia at the point of mediation.
As it can be expected that, the developments in the region and the influence of the West worry Russia. Because the Moscow administration is faced with the possibility of being pushed out
from the equation in the Caucasus dimension of the post-Soviet space, which it managed to maintain its influence after the Cold War. For this reason, Russia tries to pre-emptive actions, as seen in Naryshkin’s visit to Yerevan.
As a result, a period of increased the rivalry between the West and Russia has begun in the Caucasus. Both Armenia’s desire to open to the West and Azerbaijan’s agreement with the EU indicate that the influence of the Moscow administration in the region will decrease. Moreover, the speed of recent contacts shows that the US and its allies want to turn Russia’s busyness with Ukraine into an opportunity. Therefore, it seems possible that the equations in the region will change rapidly in line with the expectations of the West. However, it can be argued that Moscow is trying to keep the balances in the region under its own control by making various initiatives.
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