Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Who hit the Jackpot in the Azerbaijani-Armenian war around Nagorno-Karabakh? Lessons for Ukraine and the EU

A truce between Armenia and Azerbaijan came into force on November 10, after 44 days of fierce fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The peace agreement was reached with the involvement of external players, including Republic of Turkey and Russian Federation, which is a signatory to the agreement. The participation of two regional powers in this military conflict is not a surprise. Over recent years, Turkey has been increasing its geopolitical influence around its borders. It is worth noting the country is a strategic partner of Azerbaijan. In the early 1990s, Turkey closed its border with Armenia due to the Karabakh conflict (and it is still closed), did not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia, although it recognized the new Armenian state, and defended the Nakhichevan Autonomy, an Azerbaijani exclave between Armenia, Iran and Turkey. «In the field of defense and security, we see how Turkey has helped the Azerbaijani army to improve its capabilities in recent years. That is why we call the cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan strategic in the last ten years», concludes Turkish BBC columnist Oleksandr Iskandaryan.[1]

The Russian Federation and Armenia, in turn, are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and have joint defence obligations under Article 7 of the organization's charter. As this conflict has shown, CSTO commitments are not a priority for the member states and will be treated in a favourable way if necessary. The priority of Russia's participation in this conflict is rather determined by pragmatic interests, since the border states, the former republics of the USSR, are considered as a traditional sphere of influence by the Kremlin. Although Armenia is a military ally of Moscow, Russia has been coldly repeating for weeks that it will intervene in the conflict only when the war spills over into Armenian territory. Only when the circumstance became favourable, from the Russian point of view, the Kremlin intervened.[2]

The hostilities between the Azerbaijani and Armenian armed forces were accompanied by Russian misinformation campaign. At the beginning of the conflict, the Russian media covered the events from a neutral position, but after Putin's meeting with Pashinyan, Russian media resources started a vigorous anti-Azerbaijani and anti-Turkish propaganda and even accused Ukraine of interfering. In particular, it was noted that Azerbaijan, through representatives of its diaspora in Ukraine, is recruiting members of Ukrainian volunteer battalions, primarily the Azov Regiment and the Right Sector Corps to participate in the conflict in Karabakh. Also, «Radio Liberty» reported on the dissemination of provocative information about allegedly phosphorus bombs from Ukraine in the information space of Armenia.

Russian media have blamed Turkey for aiding Azerbaijan with military equipment. At the beginning of the conflict, the Turkish leader, Erdogan, expressed his determination to directly intervene in the conflict on the side of his ally, if Russian Federation uses armed forces against Azerbaijan. From time to time, information about militants from terrorist organizations, which Turkey allegedly hired to bring them into hostilities against Armenians, appeared in the information space.

Most European countries and many MEPs during the conflict spoke in support of Armenia and condemned the actions of Aliyev and Erdogan. During the briefing in Brussels, European Commission spokesman Peter Stano stated the EU is ready to effectively contribute in the shaping of a durable and comprehensive settlement of the conflict, but in fact, relied primarily on the OSCE Minsk Group. The Minsk Group was established in 1992. The co-chairs of the group are Russia, France and the United States. In addition, the group includes Belarus, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland and Turkey, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan.[3] In practice, the appeals of the European Union member states and the Minsk Group did not affect the actions of Azerbaijan, whose leadership continued hostilities until the intervention of the Russian Federation. This situation is an indicator of the crisis of the modern international system as a whole, characterized by the inability to resolve conflicts through multilateral formats. Within less than a month and a half of hostilities, Azerbaijan has achieved more than for the previous thirty years of diplomatic efforts to return its territories, and the fate of the conflict itself has been decided by major regional players guided by their own strategic objectives.

The South Caucasus, like the rest of the former Soviet Union, is considered by the Kremlin to be its own traditional sphere of influence. In this Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh, Vladimir Putin tried, on the one hand, to weaken Armenian Prime Minister Nikolai Pashinyan. Pashinyan's path to power was through a street revolution, which Russia accepted only biting the bullet. On the other hand, Russia saw a good opportunity to finally deploy its troops in the region, in addition to the existing military base in Armenia. For years, Yerevan opposed Russian peacekeepers and had to agree with them given the danger of defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh. The West has ceded the battlefield to Putin once again, as they did it in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, writes Deutsche Welle columnist Roman Goncharenko.[4] European Union, which can be considered today's normative superpower, can influence third countries when it comes to cooperation. The EU can impose conditions in exchange for membership, or reward collectively for compliance with certain norms and standards, and thus stimulate the actions of other governments in accordance with the institutional rules of the European Commission. However, when it comes to crisis resolution, European countries often show their inability to influence the behavior of aggressor states. Although the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh will promote a ceasefire, it will not promote strengthening of the security in the Baltic-Black Sea region as a whole. From now on, Russia has its forces on the territories of each Eastern Partnership countries. The Kremlin's policy of obstructing Euro-Atlantic processes in the «near abroad countries», maintaining and spreading its influence in those countries, is quite effective as time has shown.

According to the peace agreement, Russian peacekeepers are deployed along the touchline for a five-year period, with an automatic extension for another five years, unless any side declares its intention to terminate this provision six months before the end of the period. The Russian contingent will consist of 1960 servicemen with small arms, 90 armored personnel carriers, 380 units of automobiles and special equipment.

In fact, after the deployment of peacekeepers, Russian Federation has expanded its military presence to a third country in the South Caucasus, in addition to a military base in Armenia and the occupied parts of Georgia. As practice has shown, if Russia brings peacekeepers into some territory, it never withdraws them.