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The Armenian-Azerbaijan Conflict: Russia’s Rising Role in the Artsakh and the Caucasus

Pratik Dutta,

Junior Research Analyst,

Internationalism.

The importance of the Caucasus has never been downplayed in the annals of political history. Adolf Hitler during his army’s invasion of the USSR choose to divert a million of his troops in the summer of 1942 towards the Caucasus (the military operation was codenamed Operation Blue), Hitler’s aim was to economically cripple the USSR by taking over the economically and strategic Caucasus region that was filled with mineral and natural resources in the form of copper, gold, iron ore, manganese, lead, uranium and most importantly oil which is abundant in the region.

The Caucasus (being the door to Central Asia) have always been culturally diverse and where there is diversity there is bound to be some conflict. The Artsakh and the region around it have always been inhabited by ethnically Armenian Christians and after the dissolution of the USSR the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh (also known as Artsakh) region wanting to join Armenia fought a war against Muslim majority Azerbaijan supported by Christian majority Armenia, the war ended with an uneasy ceasefire in 1994. Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh has remained part of Azerbaijani government. Putin’s risky strategic decision to divert the Russian sphere of influence and resources from Central Asia to the Crimea, Donbas and the Caucasus now seems understandable as it has paid off in an ingenious way, as with the recent Artsakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia finds itself in a solidified stance in the region, in the form of a mediator between these two warring nations. Russia not only craves hegemony in this precarious region but it seems to seek continuous stabilisation within their own volatile territories of Dagestan and Chechnya that have had a history of Islamic separatism and insurgency and which borders Georgia and Azerbaijan. Such is a worry that ought not to be ignored as Armenian intelligence reports have confirmed that Azerbaijan’s long-term ally and Armenia’s historical nemesis Turkey has smuggled radical Syrian militants into the Artsakh to fight the Armenian forces stationed there.

Taking cognizance of International law the UN Security Council according to the powers allotted to them by the UN charter issued UNSC resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 so as to bring peace in the Artsakh region; the former two resolutions ordered Armenia to vacate the districts of Kelbajar and Agdam that they had wrested from Azerbaijan during the conflict, Armenia chose to ignore the binding UNSC order clearly setting a negative precedent, but did Armenia really ignore a UNSC order? UNSC resolution 822 clearly mentions ‘local Armenian forces’, but did the UNSC mean the separatist ethnic Armenian forces or the regular Armenian army? If it meant the former then can a region governed by a separatist government be bound by UNSC resolutions? A common argument often used to counteract the former opinion is that the pro-Armenia fighters in Nagorno-Karabakh take their orders from Yerevan directly. However, it’s also common knowledge that regular Armenian soldiers fight side by side with the separatist Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

For Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh is a matter of national pride and for this fact, the State of Armenia defines retention of Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh by all possible means as the most important national goal. For this purpose, Armenia has become the most important ally of Russia in the South Caucasus and Russia for this purpose maintains an army base in Gyumri, Armenia. Russia is also aware of the fierce anti-Russian feeling in Georgia which directs Georgia’s foreign policy in wanting NATO membership that is wholeheartedly supported by the US, Vladimir Putin must find his country’s alliance with Yerevan to be most beneficial as he has the chance to stop Georgian nationalism and rising Turkish influence in the South Caucasus. The Russian provinces of Dagestan and Chechnya (inhabited by a majority of Muslims) may be affected by an Azeri victory in the Artsakh due to Erdogan’s indirect support for the Islamization of the Caucasus that stems from his direct support for Baku; this is something Putin will try to avoid, failure in which may cause another uprising in these volatile Russian regions. Putin has no interest to see a full-blown war in the South Caucasus which may become a reality due to the recent full-fledged fighting between Yerevan and Baku over the Artsakh that started on the 27th of September. Armenia and Russia are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) i.e. a Russia-led military alliance of seven former Soviet states that was created in 2002. Therefore, Russia is bound to militarily help Armenia in times of military aggression, Armenia depends on Russian help in the form of military aid, but Moscow is of the opinion that the CSTO guidelines clearly dictate that Russian military intervention is only possible when Armenia proper is under threat and jurisdiction of Russian troops lie outside Nagorno-Karabakh i.e. only in mainland Armenia. Such decision may be Putin’s desire to avoid a full-blown war but if push comes to shove Moscow will surely do everything to root out the involvement of Turkish military and Georgian ambitions in the region, the fall of the government in Yerevan or any damage to Armenian sovereignty will not be acceptable to Vladimir Putin and neither will the annihilation of the status quo by Turkish backed Syrian militants and the Azeri regular army in the Artsakh but Moscow will surely be cautious as Azerbaijan supplies and imports most of the energy and oil resources into Europe and Eurasia.

The mediation efforts by Russia will be directed towards a ceasefire which most probably be temporary as Putin wants a ceasefire to exchange prisoners and collect the bodies of the dead soldiers martyred in the conflict. Such action will surely elevate Russia’s standing as a stabilising global power much to the chagrin of the US anti-Russian lobby in Washington but Azeri determination over their ‘rightful’ occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh the mediation efforts by Russia may be in vain.



 
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