MOSCOW – After weeks of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh mountain region, Armenians have almost stopped hoping for any help from their ally Russia.
Under the Mutual Defense Pact, known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Russian equivalent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Moscow has pledged to send troops to protect member states like Armenia if they are attacked. But Armenians do not hold their breath, even as the death toll rises and Azerbaijan imposes itself on the disputed region thanks to its superior drone force.
“Every Armenian around the world feels an existential threat to our nation,”
Instead of sending troops, Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to reach a ceasefire in Moscow in early October. But the peace deal quickly fell apart, and Putin acknowledged in a recent speech that the war in Nagorno-Karabakh has become more deadly than the two sides admit. Putin said 5,000 people on both sides had been killed in the fighting. “We have a conflict in its worst form,” he said.
However, Putin did not recognize Russia’s obligation to intervene despite the mutual defense pact with Armenia. The agreement covers risks to the Russian ally’s territory, and although most of the fighting is in the Nagorno-Karabakh region – which is internationally recognized as belonging to Azerbaijan – some artillery strikes have in fact hit mainland Armenia. Russia’s cautious stance signals that confidence in Russia’s defense pact is becoming another victim of the war.
Paronyan said Russia could still intervene secretly, as it had done in Ukraine with uniformed soldiers known as the “green men”, although this would not formally fulfill the treaty obligations. “There are hopes that Russia has other ways to help, such as sending green men,” he said. “We are not picky.” So far, Russia has not deployed troops to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh, but there are Russian boots in Armenia. Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan said earlier this week that there were Russian border guards on Armenia’s border with Nagorno-Karabakh.
If 5,000 people were indeed killed in a month of fighting, the war would obviously be the deadliest in the former Soviet Union, an area in which Russia has presented itself as a defender of stability. That death toll is about a third of the deaths reported by the UN in six years of fighting in eastern Ukraine. This week, the parties continued to fight through another ceasefire, as agreed and announced by the Trump administration. Azerbaijan said Armenia fired rockets at a civilian target, while the Armenian Defense Ministry said the missiles hit a city in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“I do not think that Russia wants to intervene and go to war with Azerbaijan. Inaction is the lesser of two evils for them.”
The countries clashed over territory in the mountains, the self-proclaimed Artsakh Republic, for three decades after the brutal war in the 1990s, which killed 30,000 and displaced one million – but the escalation that began in September is the worst since the previous end of the war. fire in 1994. Armenia is a member of the CSTO, the military alliance of seven of the 15 former Soviet republics, where Russia plays a key role. Azerbaijan left its membership in 1999.
Fuad Akhundov, head of the public and political affairs department in Azerbaijan’s presidential administration, told The Daily Beast that the CSTO treaty should not apply to the current conflict. “This is a war on the territory of Azerbaijan – we are pushing the Armenian military away from the territory of Azerbaijan,” he said. “No one has attacked the CSTO; on the contrary, as a member of this organization, Armenia violates a UN resolution recognized by the CSTO, “Akhundov said, referring to a 2008 UN resolution declaring Nagorno-Karabakh territory of Azerbaijan and calling for” the withdrawal of all Armenian forces. from all occupied territories. “
Russia’s position – it has sold arms to both sides despite trying to mediate the conflict – risks alienating not only Armenians near the home, but also members of the large Armenian diaspora who are watching the conflict closely. “Together, we continue to pray during this difficult time for the many men, women and children affected by the war. We are one global Armenian nation, “wrote Kim Kardashian, an Armenian from America, in one of her latest posts on social media.
“There are hopes that Russia has other ways to help, such as sending green men. We are not picky.”
The war in the South Caucasus is not the only hot spot for the Kremlin among CSTO member states. Political crises and security crises erupted one after another this year. Russia’s key ally, Belarus, has been gripped by civil unrest following elections that are believed to be fraudulent. In the capital, Minsk, police fired rubber bullets and threw stunning grenades at protesters on Sunday. “We are disarmed! We are disarmed! “Peaceful protesters called the police for riots during the People’s Ultimatum march, which called for the resignation of the country’s authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Hundreds of thousands have joined rallies across Belarus since early August. Human rights groups say police are beating and torturing hundreds of Belarusian opposition activists.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also noted what he called “mess and chaos” in Kyrgyzstan, a post-Soviet state in Central Asia, and a member of the CSTO, which is experiencing its third revolution since the fall of the Soviet Union.
“The whole security system that Putin has been trying to build over the last two decades is collapsing, cracking and failing,” Vladimir Ryzhkov, a professor at the National Research University’s School of Economics, told The Daily Beast. “Putin’s dream of restoring the authority and loyalty of the post-Soviet countries would only work if Russia could afford to pay constantly by donating aid to its partners. But it is clear that even money cannot regain Russia’s prestige. “
Earlier this year, residents of Russia’s neighboring countries criticized the Russian president for his clumsy calls for the reintegration of Soviet states to his advantage. In a show called “Moscow. The Kremlin. Putin, which aired on Russia’s Channel Channel, Putin, speaking in his own way to a student lecturer, called on post-Soviet countries to “overcome some phobias of the past, to overcome fears of a resurgence of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union empire. He added: “Joining forces is for the benefit of all, [and] makes this way inevitable. “
But Putin’s comments about the “benefits” of reunifying former Soviet states were not welcomed by all. Following the broadcast, the Baku think tank, the Institute for Strategic Analysis, reminded the Russian president of “decades of shameless colonial plunder, repression, including against the national intelligentsia, mass deportations,” hungry genocide “, redrawing of borders. “
Moscow’s latest alternative to reunifying former Soviet countries, the Eurasian Economic Union, emerged several years ago. Russia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed an agreement with Russia in 2014-15, at the start of regional economic crises, shortly before the Kremlin annexed Crimea and faced economic sanctions from both the European Union and the United States. But even Russian public opinion about the new union seems confused: 28 percent of Russians believe it is a new version of the USSR, while 39 percent of people would like to see a completely new union different from the original Soviet model.
With Kyrgyzstan in chaos, Belarus in constant political unrest and Armenia at war, the Eurasian Economic Union is a rather unstable entity. According to Moscow analyst Yuri Krupnov, this is entirely due to Russia’s reluctance to allocate real economic resources to the project. “There is only one solution to the key issues in our allied countries: to create a strong allied state, not some simple form of civilized divorce, otherwise the cost of the consequences will be more dramatic than many imagine today.” said Krupnov.
For now, the former Soviet states may be on their own when it comes to war and peace. Tom Deual, author of Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through peace and war, says it is up to Baku and Yerevan to prevent a bigger and even bloodier endless war. “I do not think that Russia wants to intervene and go to war with Azerbaijan. Inaction is the lesser of two evils for them, “Dewal told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “They help discreetly.” Dewaal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, believes that if Russia ends up at war with Azerbaijan, it would be bad on many levels, including for Dagestan, Russia’s troubled region on Azerbaijan’s border.