Alternatives & Analyses: The Nagorno-Karabakh crisis and its ramifications

The ceasefire and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the conceded territories to Baku, followed by celebrations in the Azeri capital and protests in Yerevan, mark a potential geopolitical shift in the area with long-term fallout. Just two days after the ceasefire agreement, Moscow and Ankara are back in the wrestling ring. Foreign Minister Lavrov ruled out the presence of Turkish “peacekeepers” in the Karabakh region, while the Turkish Defense Ministry insisted there will be such. Pouring gasoline on the fire, the Turkish Parliament voted to send Turkish ‘peacekeepers” to Azerbaijan, respectively to Nagorno-Karabakh. President Erdogan aired intentions to build a direct railway link between Ankara and Baku, which is an essential part of the transport link with the Nakhichevan region, which is almost under total Turkish control. A full breakdown of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan could make their respective bonds with Karabakh and Nakhichevan difficult to impossible, despite current arrangements under the tripartite agreement between Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, triggering new hostilities and confrontation between Russia and Turkey.

Russian media is floating ideas that Turkey is ready to assist Ukraine to regain Russian-occupied territories, implying a collision between the neo-Ottoman imperial aspirations of Sultan Erdogan and the reborn Russian imperialistic devotion of Tzar Putin.

The truce in the Nagorno-Karabakh region marks a potential retreat of Moscow from the area and a dead-end in the personal diplomacy between Putin and Erdogan.

The Kremlin has invested heavily in the Collective Security Treaty Organization; reassuring member states that the CSTO is a credible alternative to NATO and Russia is ready to step in whenever their security is under threat. While the intent was to provide a shield against the West, the test came sooner than expected against a non-NATO threat. Armenians have learnt the hard way the worthiness of Kremlin’s guarantee.

Azerbaijan left the CSTO in 2009 and has turned instead to a security relationship with Turkey, that puts NATO into a challenging situation.

Formally, Nagorno-Karabakh is not part of Armenia; therefore, the legal basis for Moscow’s intervention was weak. The Kremlin chose to remain passive even when ‘Azeris’ (allegedly Turkish forces) downed a Russian combat helicopter over Armenian territory, near the Russian military base in Gyumri.

Putin swallowed his pride and avoided a showdown with his ‘friend’ Erdogan, who sent Syrian mercenaries and sophisticated military hardware, including the Bayraktar TB2 drones, to the conflict zone. It was the Azeris’ technological supremacy over the Armenian army, armed with obsolete Soviet and Russian weapons, that made the difference in the military exchange.

The Turkish President manifested his extended power reach when President Aliev complied with his demand to oust all Soviet and Russian military academy alumni from the top posts in the Azeri military. The Armenian-Azeri conflict proved beyond doubt – Turkey is building on the Southern Gas Corridor’s strategic value for the West to expand its influence into the Caucasus and Central Asia at the expense of Russia, further compromising NATO’s defense systems.

As the Armenian diaspora’s lobbying power demonstrated impressive impact both within Russia and around the world, the Kremlin found a scapegoat – the Armenian PM Pashinyan, who has already assumed all responsibility for the loss of life and territories in the Karabakh region. Moscow interpreted the Armenian colour revolution as part of the West’s ploy to encircle Russia, explaining its reluctance to help Erevan.

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The Kremlin’s lead propagandist, Margarita Simonyan, hastened to blame Armenian voters for the war:

“The citizens of Armenia cannot criticize anyone but themselves, electing a traitor, who made the war possible by antagonizing the only historical ally of the Armenian people. Where is his Soros now? The U.S. State Department? The Pentagon, Macron or someone else?”

The timing of the renewed confrontation around the Karabakh region was deliberately picked to coincide with the U.S. elections. If it had not been for President Macron’s mostly verbal intervention, the EU would have remained utterly absent from the newswires.

While it is absurd to present the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Turkey’s role as part of the rivalry between the West and Russia, it is customary for the Kremlin to turn to ideology and classic Soviet verbiage to explain Putin’s flops. Since Russia parted with Yeltsin’s legacy and adopted a hard, aggressive line towards the West, it denied itself the merit of colluding with the West to contain security risks in the Caucasus and Central Asia, including the geopolitical extremism of President Erdogan.

It was no coincidence that the Armenian-Azeri conflict strangely concurred with the commissioning of the Southern Gas Corridor and the flow of Azeri gas into Europe. Armenian and Azeri nationalists played both sides to kindle the outbreak of hostilities, and the Kremlin and Ankara did not remain passive in the process.

NATO and the EU are concerned with Turkey’s “one nation, two states” doctrine that former Prime Minister Davutoglu and President Erdogan professed in relations with former parts of the Ottoman empire, Azerbaijan included. The conflict zone around Turkey is bound to get hotter with increasing turbulence in the months and years ahead. Moscow is very much on the receiving end of all of this as are the EU and NATO.

The Kremlin’s global opposition to the West is a precursor of greater geopolitical vulnerability for Russia, which has now deprived itself of the technological edge and the synergies of cooperation with the West while balancing China and Turkey’s technological advances in building up their offensive capabilities.

Russia has no one else to blame but Putin and his obsession with the West as the ultimate Evil and the Arch-Enemy.

The new Russian Tzar overturned a long legacy dating from Peter the Great, that prioritizes relations with Europe and the West as only existential modus, allowing Russia to contain and resist challenges to its security in Asia.

Ilian Vassilev

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