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In Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia is expanding its influence, but is taking risks in the volatile region



The inventory also brings another new element: how Russian President Vladimir Putin has become a key mediator in the more than 30-year Soviet-era conflict. As part of the ceasefire, nearly 2,000 peacekeepers are stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist enclave controlled by an ethnic Armenian government within Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders.

Russia’s military presence reinforces the Kremlin’s view that its sphere of influence includes Azerbaijan and Armenia, both former Soviet countries. It is also another counterweight to its geopolitical rival, Turkey, a close Azerbaijani ally and key customer for Caspian Sea oil and gas.

Turkey̵

7;s support for Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh war proved crucial, but Putin managed to block Turkey’s ambitions to send peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh. Instead, Turkey will send peacekeepers to Azerbaijan to participate in a monitoring center with Russia.

“What Russia did was codify victories on the ground,” said Michael McFaul, director of the Freeman Spogley Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.

“Whether you like it or not, this agreement is a real diplomatic victory for Vladimir Putin and allows him to play the role of a peacemaker,” McFaul said. “This is a confirmation of what Putin and the people around him have dreamed of for 20 years to be a regional hegemon.”

A shaken truce

But the deal does not resolve the issue that sparked the war in the 1990s: the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Without a comprehensive peace pact, the truce may not last long, analysts warn.

Russia is no stranger to conflict zones with military forces in Syria and support for pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. In Libya, Russian mercenaries fought alongside a retreating Libyan commander, Khalifa Hifter.

But Nagorno-Karabakh and its potentially volatile truce pose particular dangers. Maintaining peacekeepers for years is a potentially costly and risky endeavor – underscoring Russia’s bonus to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“I would hesitate to call it a peace agreement,” said Lawrence Broers, an expert on the Caucasus region at the London-based think tank Chatham House, citing Putin’s meager nine-point agreement. “The Nagorno-Karabakh issue, the original issue that is being disputed between the parties, is not even mentioned in the document. So, in fact, this is not the basis for a long-term resolution of the conflict. Rather, it is something like a model of detention. “

The decades-long peace process collapsed in September when Turkey, backed by Turkey, regained territory it had lost in a humiliating defeat by Armenia in the 1988-94 war.

The final deal on November 10th secured Azerbaijan’s military gains, including about 40 per cent from Nagorno-Karabakh and several regions to the enclave, and saw Armenia agree to withdraw from other neighboring regions. On Friday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said his country’s forces had taken control of key parts of the former Armenian-controlled territory.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s security relies solely on the presence of Russian peacekeepers, but remains uncertain, as Azerbaijan may veto their presence in five years. (Armenia also has a veto.)

Russian state television reported that its peacekeepers were heroically coming to the aid of ethnic Armenians in Karabakh. But it also sent a chilling message about Armenia’s 2018 velvet revolution, which set Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in power. Pashinyan removed several pro-Moscow security leaders and tried to balance Russia’s influence by promoting closer ties with Europe.

This is exactly the type of “color revolution” in the former Soviet sphere – like the Orange Revolution in Ukraine 15 years ago, followed by its revolution on the Maidan in 2014 – that worries authoritarian Moscow. Moscow saw Pashinyan as a reckless jumper.

“Armenians are playing, especially after the 2018 revolution, this very careful game of thinking that both the Russians and the Americans are on their side,” McFaul said. “And when it came to pushing, they had neither.”

The not-so-subtle message on Russian state television is that Pashinyan has brought his nation to a catastrophe by playing with the West.

“This is what happens when an unsystematic oppositionist, backed by the US embassy, ​​gains power,” military analyst Igor Korotchenko said on Russian state television. “The color revolution never benefits anywhere in any country. Color revolutions lead to the collapse of the state. And this is a lesson for all post-Soviet territories. “

He added that “everything will be fine” for neighbors who maintain close political and military relations with Moscow, not the West. The announcement was repeated by several state television presenters.

“The United States was AWOL”

The six-week war changed Armenia’s 1994 military victory over Azerbaijan – and now leaves Armenia weakened in any future talks on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijani President Aliyev says the military action has won what the peace process launched in 1992, led by Russia, the United States and France (known as the Minsk Group), has failed to achieve.

But outrage and resentment in Armenia will flare up in the coming years, a source of further instability. Armenian opposition parties have threatened to try to withdraw from the deal, albeit unrealistically.

Putin told state television Russia-24 on Tuesday that he would be “suicidal.”

He said Nagorno-Karabakh’s status could be settled “if relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan are restored, including between nations at the social level”, something that is unlikely to happen without intensive peace talks.

Aliyev ruled out the enclave’s autonomous status, stressing the potential for future conflicts. Armenia faces high infrastructure recovery costs in Nagorno-Karabakh and is unlikely to catch up with the recent military superiority nurtured by Caspian Azerbaijan.

“Russia’s long-term goal is to maintain influence over both Armenia and Azerbaijan,” said Brohers of Chatham House. But he said Russia must juggle its relationship with the two – a delicate job with high support – if Moscow is to prevent future conflicts.

Putin’s rapid diplomacy and rapid deployment also blocked the Minsk Group co-chairs in Washington and Paris.

“What impressed me was that the Minsk Group was completely AWOL. There was nothing there, “said McFaul, who was the US ambassador to Moscow under President Barack Obama. “And that means to me, first and foremost, the United States was AWOL.”

“If you look at Central Asia, if you look at the Caucasus, if you look at Belarus, there’s just not much of an American presence,” he continued. “We don’t have a lot of leverage in any of these places, but what leverage do we have, the Trump administration has chosen not to use.”

Recent days have highlighted the bitterness between the parties. Armenians leaving their homes in territories that will soon return to Azerbaijani control have burned their homes and cut down trees in an attempt to leave nothing behind.

Azerbaijanis returning to their former homes find destroyed houses and cemeteries.

“And that shows how difficult it is to implement that kind of agreement when you have absolutely zero trust between the parties,” Broers said.


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