Trump's election leaves the South Caucasus perplexed and somewhat concerned
10 November 2016

This dossier about the reaction in the South Caucasus to the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States was collated by the editorial team of Caucasus Concise.

Donald Trump's election as president of the United States has left the world stunned. In the South Caucasus the governments of the three countries were extremely cautious in commenting on Trump, both before and after his election. But it is fair to assume that leaders in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia were no less surprised with a Trump victory, than others in the rest of Europe and the world. Like in other parts of the world too, it is the unpredictability that worries leaders in the region most. Hilary Clinton was the devil they knew, even if they did not like her much. Donald Trump could be either a risk or an opportunity for the three countries. Few can decided which it is going to be.

Of the three countries Georgia is the one for who relations with the United States are of existential importance. The Georgian leadership, and most of the political elite on both government and opposition, see the United States as being the ultimate guarantor of their nation's existence, even though this perception is based on generic political statements more than on any tangible contractual arrangement. Georgia see the US as being the main thing that stands between it and Russian bad intentions. It is therefore not surprising that Georgian leaders quickly sought to hail Trump's victory and engage with the President-elect.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili led the chorus of congratulatory messages. "I am looking forward to our future cooperation that will further intensify the strategic partnership between our countries," President Margvelashvili said in his message. "I am confident that through our joint efforts, strong ties and long-lasting Georgian-American friendship will further enhance and become ever stronger for the mutual benefit of our nations," Margvelashvili said. 

 "As the role of the United States in ensuring stability and security worldwide had always been unique, I am confident that through strong American leadership we will witness a safer, more secured and more prosperous world."

Margvelashvili emphasised that shared values are the basis of the historically friendly relations between the two countries.  Giorgi Kvirikashvili echoed these feelings, adding,  "We are committed to continue working with the U.S. under the new leadership and administration for ensuring peace, security, development and freedom in our countries, region and beyond."

Unusually, in Georgia messages were also sent to Trump from both the governing party, Georgian Dream, and the opposition United National Movement

Georgian Dream said in a statement that it is confident that under the leadership of President Trump, Georgia and U.S. will continue the existing cooperation with new energy to ensure peace, security, freedom and economic development.

"Georgia has 25 years of stable strategic partnership with the United States. Our relations have developed under different governments and in different strategic directions. We are confident that under the leadership of President Trump, Georgia-U.S. will continue the existing cooperation with renewed energy, to ensure peace, security, freedom and economic development. We reiterate our readiness to work closely with the new Administration and Congress and deepen the successful strategic partnership and friendship that already exists between our countries", the Georgian Dream stated.

A somewhat more cryptic statement from the United National Movement congratulated the American people on the election of the 45th President.

"It is extremely important to strengthen the strategic relationship between Georgia and the U.S. for the security of our country and the entire region. We hope that US-Georgia relations will be intense under the new President and Administration and Georgia will remain on the foreign policy agenda of our strategic partner", the UNM statement said.

For Armenia and Azerbaijan the election of the new US president is important first and foremost in terms of US position and engagement with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Though both countries recognise the primacy of Russia overall in the region, and in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, both, even if they do not often say it, highly appreciate US involvement that acts as a restraining factor on Russian intentions in the region. The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan were quick in sending congratulatory messages to Trump, but remained largely silent in terms of how they perceive the new president.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said "the American people have enthusiastically voted in support of your outstanding leadership qualities, your experience and vision, thus entrusting you with the honorable responsibility to lead the nation. I have no doubt, that under your able leadership the United States will achieve further progress and advancement in the years to come. I am confident that under your presidency, the Armenia-US close partnership would continue to develop dynamically - expanding and reaching new heights in diverse areas. I also believe that we can continue to count on the active engagement of the Armenian-American community - a strong bridge between our nations.

In his message, Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliev told Trump, "your victory in the election testifies to the friendly American people's confidence in and support for you.  Aliev reminded Trump"we are actively cooperating in political, economic, energy, security areas, including global anti-terror war and NATO's peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan".

The Azerbaijani President said that he hope that under Trump's leadership,  "the U.S., as co-chair of the Minsk Group, will contribute to a fair settlement of [the Nagorno-Karabakh] conflict in accordance with the norms of international law, and within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

If one was looking for more insightful comments on how the region is thinking on the incoming trump presidency one had to look at journalists and activists on social media.

Armenian journalist Mikael Zolyan wrote on his facebook page, " Some fear that Trump presidency will be the Apocalypse, others think that it will be the beginning of a glorious new era. Most probably, it will be neither. I expect him to be a, more or less, regular conservative Republican president. OK, probably more weirdness than usually, especially in foreign policy, but nothing extraordinary. Zolyan adds that "Trump is a demagogue, a liar, and, to put it in a politically correct way, not a very good person" but says he is not the new Hitler. And even if he was, the US is not the Weimar republic".

Azerbaijani journalist Vugar Seidov looks at Trump from the experience of Azerbaijan's relations with the US in recent years, He said on his facebook page "the Democratic Administration was not very friendly towards Azerbaijan during the last two presidential terms and it encouraged the EU, especially Germany, to follow suit.  Turkey didn't see the support from its formal western allies either, to the extent of surviving a clearly West-masterminded military coup and seeing the US and EU armament of the Syrian colleagues of the terrorist PKK, namely YPG/PYD.

No rejoice, but still, very hopeful that with the new air in the White House, this unfriendly attitude will change too.  As an Azeri, I don't feel sorry for the democrats' departure."

An Armenian activist in Nagorno-Karabakh was much more saddened by the trump victory. Karen Ohanjanian wrote on his facebook page, "during Hilary Clinton campaign I was very active in all kind activities for making propaganda of Hilary's ideas.... For me this campaign was a great privilege to serve such a fantastic woman and human being like Hilary Clinton. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to stand next to you being in Nagorno-Karabakh Republic".

Yerevan based American-Armenian analyst Richard Giragosian, wiritng in the Asian, said that" the implications of a substantially new U.S. foreign policy under a Trump Administration has already sparked serious concerns in many countries, Trump will likely seek to ease if not lift U.S. sanctions on Russia, forging a new policy based not on contentious containment but rather, modeled on concerted consideration of Moscow". Giragosian said that "for the South Caucasus, such a new U.S. accommodation of Russia will inherently endanger the region by a new period of U.S. benign neglect, marking the region as a strategic afterthought at best. And for the region's frozen conflicts, it seems likely that Trump's narrower definition of American national interests will seriously degrade any U.S. involvement or engagement".

 All in all, it is difficult to understand what trump thinks about the South Caucasus - most likely he has not thought about it at all - but it is as yet equally difficult to say how his presidency will be perceived in the region. For the moment it is safe to say that most people, like in the rest of the world, are simply stunned.

This dossier about the reaction in the South Caucasus to the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States was collated by the editorial team of Caucasus Concise.