The criticism is mild, but it could not be otherwise. Because the future of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh is at stake and perhaps even more. The great fear underlying those words is that the Armenians will be sacrificed on the altar of a pact for the division of areas of influence in the Caucasus between the Tsar of Moscow (Vladimir Putin) and the Sultan of Ankara (Recep Tayyp Erdogan) .
“No one denies that Russian peacekeepers today ensure the safety of residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, but we also know of incidents where Azerbaijanis violated agreements in the area of responsibility of peacekeepers, for example in Parukh, but no one has seen no reaction from them”: said Armenian premier Nikol Pashinyan, quoted by the tax “We are not criticizing the Russian peacekeepers, but we do express our concern about their activities and these concerns have deep roots,” Pashinyan said according to Russia’s state news agency. The Armenian government accuses Azerbaijan of blocking a road linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.
But outside the “diplomaticese” it is increasingly clear that relations between the Russian Federation and Armenia are, if not in crisis, certainly in a tumultuous phase. Armenia considers it “inappropriate” to carry out exercises of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on its territory this year. Pashinyan himself announced it, picked up by the Moscow media. The Russian Defense Ministry had previously stated that its units would participate in maneuvers planned for the end of 2023. The decision comes amid tensions, after Yerevan criticized Russian forces for not guaranteeing free transit along a corridor that connects Armenia to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
In the fall of 2020 there was bloody fighting between Armenians and Azeris in Nagorno-Karabakh, where more than 6,500 people were estimated to have lost their lives. A ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan was signed in November 2020 with the mediation of Moscow. According to the document, Azerbaijan retained the conquered territories and Armenia also ceded to it other parts of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh and neighboring territories. Furthermore, also on the basis of the agreement, Russia has sent about 2,000 soldiers to Nagorno-Karabakh, with the official aim of enforcing the truce. In mid-September, there was further fighting on the border, in which it is estimated that over 280 people died and that the two states accuse each other of having provoked the conflict.
Game for two
For Tigrane Yégavian, an expert in geopolitics, Azerbaijan and its Turkish ally want to disintegrate the Armenian state. He writes the Figaro (30/12). In Italy the interview was translated and published by The paper.
Le Figaro – The blockade by the Azerbaijanis of the road corridor linking Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia showed that the conflict, frozen since 2020, was not resolved. What do Azerbaijanis and Armenians of Artsakh respectively want?
Tigranes Yegavian : The priority of the Azerbaijanis is to end the Armenian presence in Artsakh. The blockade of the Lachin corridor and the temporary interruption of gas supplies aim to push the inhabitants of Artsakh to abandon those lands, and, consequently, to put an end to the Russian presence, whose mandate is justified by maintaining a Armenian presence in that territory. Baku is not satisfied with the situation inherited from the November 2020 ceasefire, because both objectives have not been achieved. Artsakh has not yet been annihilated and Armenia refuses to cede an extraterritorial corridor passing through the city of Meghri, which would complete the pan-Turkist junction between Azerbaijan, its enclave of Nakhchivan and by extension Turkey. Nagorno-Karabakh has certainly been subject to great erosion (about 2900 square kilometers), but it still remains around the Stepanakert-Martakert axis. Furthermore, most of the populations that moved to Armenia during the war have returned to Artsakh causing a construction boom in new buildings. There is still a government of Nagorno-Karabakh with an uncertain status, but in fact under a Russian protectorate, a presence that the Azeris consider as an occupying force. Finally, the Azeris take advantage of the new balance of forces which is favorable to them and of the weakening of Russia to force Armenia to cede this famous corridor in the south. For their part, the Armenians of Artsakh have not given up on their dream of one day being reunited with their mother country: but their main battle remains that of the right to exist on a land where they have inhabited without discontinuity for three thousand years now. . By blocking the Lachin Corridor, the Aliyev regime is exercising a form of state terrorism and testing the international community again by drawing a parallel with the Meghri Corridor, as if Nakhchivan connected to Turkey by land and Azerbaijan by air (through Armenian airspace!) was in the same situation as Artsakh. Ilham Aliyev is not afraid of ridicule by sending a contingent of hitmen disguised as environmental activists when we know that Azerbaijani society has virtually no means left to speak up. And what about the environmental damage caused by the forest fires of Nagorno-Karabakh caused by white phosphorus bombing during the last war of 2020?
You have repeatedly said that it is not only Artsakh that is under threat, but also Armenia. Isn’t that a bit exaggerated? Do you really think that Armenia can “disappear”?
When taking into account their small population numbers, Armenia and Artsakh are already facing an existential threat. The events that have taken place since 2020 are there to remind us that the 1915 genocide continues at a slow fire, following different modus operandi: demographic engineering, energy blockade, terrorist acts, daily provocations… Azerbaijan and its Turkish ally are doing everything to put an end to the Armenian presence in Artsakh, which some regard as Armenia’s shield. The vast military offensive unleashed by Baku last September demonstrated that without Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia lacks strategic depth and is unable to defend its jagged borders inherited from erosion under Stalin. The narrow mountain strip of Syunik is too vulnerable and subjected to daily provocations. Its people are known for their tenacity and indomitable character, they don’t give in to panic, but they feel abandoned by everyone. If the Syunik youth leave, there is a strong chance that Armenia will be cut off from Iran and totally asphyxiated.
So far the interview.
A history of conflicts
Fabrizio Vielmini writes about it on The poster of 16 December 2022:
“After the collapse of the USSR, the region remained de facto separated from Baku for 26 years. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has emerged as an oil powerhouse capable of exerting increasing military pressure on its neighbors, eventually effectively eradicating them following a 44-day war in autumn 2020.
The ethnic cleansing of the Armenians of Karabakh was avoided by the intervention of Russia which deployed an interposition force of 2,000 men in Karabakh. For thirty years, Moscow has taken advantage of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict to make Armenia its main base for the Middle East. After the 2020 deployment, Russian positions looked set to strengthen. However, the conflict in Ukraine has reshuffled the cards.
With Russia in trouble, Azerbaijan has regained the initiative. After a steady stream of fighting, the Azeris unleashed an offensive in mid-September that led them to conquer parts of Armenian territory by mowing down over 200 enemy soldiers. This week the new tactic of “civil protests” has been added to block the umbilical cord that connects the Armenians of Karabakh to the motherland, the so-called Lachin Corridor.
Evidently, Baku wants to end the Karabakh game by forcing the Armenians to sign a peace agreement which sanctions the definitive renunciation of any claim on the reconquered lands. Secondly, Azerbaijan wants Armenia to agree to the opening of a second corridor on its territory linking it to the Nakichevan exclave and through this to Turkey, an ally and tutelary deity of the Azeri regime of the Aliev family.
All of this creates an extremely dangerous situation for Russian strategic interests in the Caucasus. Here, as in the other borders of the defunct Soviet empire, Russia sees its power eroded following the reckless invasion of Ukraine.
The presence of Erdogan’s Turkey behind the Azeris forces the Russians to suffer the moves of the tandem of the two Turkic-speaking countries. The behavior of the Russian contingent in Karabakh, lacking precise rules of engagement and therefore so far unable to react to Azerbaijani civilian groups and lift the blockade, exemplifies the impasse in which Moscow has found itself in the region.
Without guarantees and with water at its throat (the Armenian population is less than a third of that of Azerbaijan, its GDP, a tenth), Yerevan is engaged in a frantic search for alternatives to the Russians. In this situation, the Americans and Europeans are trying to insert themselves, whose tug of war with Moscow extends to all the ex-Soviet republics.
Brussels, which had experienced the accession of Yerevan to the Eurasian Union of Moscow in 2013 as a setback, is multiplying dialogue initiatives between the two warring parties and has deployed a mission of 40 observers from the Armenian side of the front line. However, Europe is also more interested than ever in Azerbaijan’s gas and oil and therefore it is unlikely that it will be able to make a difference in this theater, like all the other EU initiatives in the post-Soviet space.
Even the Iranians, worried like the Russians by the consolidation of the Turkish axis between Turkey and Azerbaijan, are trying to strengthen their positions on Armenian uncertainties. At the November summit of Turkic-speaking countries in Samarkand, President Aliev accused Iran of oppressing its Azerbaijani population (20 percent of Iranian citizens).
For its part, Baku is prosecuting the pro-Iranian Shiite clergy, a confession to which 85% of Azerbaijan’s population refers. A further element of tension derives from the fact that, in addition to the Turks, Azerbaijan has also allowed the Israelis to deploy military infrastructures on its territory.
The multiplicity of lines of friction – concludes Vielmini – continues to make the Caucasus a geopolitical minefield”.
Notes Aldo Ferrari, Ispi Head, Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia:
“If what the Kremlin defines as a ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine had been managed better and more successfully by Russian troops now perhaps we would not find ourselves observing the rekindling of a potentially destabilizing conflict throughout the central Caucasus. Instead, the evident difficulty of the Russians on the north-western front of Ukraine has ended up undermining the hegemonic role of Russia in the southern Caucasus: Moscow, in all probability, will not be able to intervene in defense of Armenia and Azerbaijan has seized the ‘moment”.
“The good-naturedness that distinguishes relations between Putin and Erdoğan has not changed despite the wars in Syria, the Caucasus and Libya, in which Turkey and Russia have managed to collaborate despite supporting opposing sides. This dynamic has also been maintained in Ukraine.[…] Turkey’s policy towards Russia would not radically change even if Erdoğan loses power. In fact, no Turkish political party would like a clash with Moscow. Yet Putin is well aware that it will not be easy to recreate a relationship like the one he has forged with Erdoğan over the past twenty years. “He knows his weaknesses and his way of doing politics,” explains Mitat Çelikpala, a professor at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. For this reason, Putin could decide to lend a hand to his friend, perhaps with a discount on gas, an injection of cash or the green light for a new Turkish offensive against the Kurdish rebels in Syria ”.
These are some passages from a long article-analysis by The Economist (translated and published in Italy by International) on relations between Putin and Erdogan. A hand that could now also be extended to the southern Caucasus.
Armenia now distrusts Russia: fear for the “Caucasian pact” between Putin and Erdogan