After intense power show in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region between the Armenian and Azeri military forces, both sides have charged each other of opening fires on the Nagorno-Karabakh region on 29th September 2020. They blamed each other of violating the civilian populations of their respective territories. After six weeks of unpredictability, Russia brokered the peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The deal came after Armenia lost control of a tactical city in Nagorno-Karabakh known as “Shusha” to Azerbaijan and “Shushi” to Armenians, and after the accidental downing of a Russian plane by Azeri forces. Moscow and Ankara is the main card movers who brokered the peace deal resulting in the players of Western theatre; Misc group left out in cosmos. Both; Russia and Turkey oscillate local players to boost influence.
Ankara is the main actor that could have competed with Moscow in the region. Both countries have a history of rivalry during the Ottoman Empire and Cold war eras. Moscow and Ankara have different interests from Crimea, from Eastern Mediterranean to Libya and the Caucasus. Even with the vying of power scuffle, both countries want to increase cooperation in bilateral relations, from defense to economic. Maybe, Moscow and Ankara brokered the deal to reduce the tension in the backyard of Syria. Turkey must have not forgotten the history of backstabbing, but cooperation and competition are immanent in international affairs. Of course, one political theatre leads to another.
Russia has a military base in Armenia, and the two countries are members of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The treaty envisages Russia’s military support if Armenia is attacked, but it does not include Nagorno-Karabakh or the other Azerbaijani regions around it seized by Armenian forces. At the same time, Moscow also has strong ties to Azerbaijan, which is being openly backed by Turkey who happen to be a NATO member too. Russia has been selling weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a conflicted region that lies between Armenia and Azerbaijan and it came under Azerbaijan’s rule after Soviet disintegration in 1991. But the massive ethnic Armenian population residing in this area completely rejected Azeri rule on them and they control this area which has made it problematic ever since. According to Al-Jazeera, hundreds of people have been killed among which both civilian and military men from Armenia were included whereas Azerbaijan does not release any data from their side.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan seemed to drag this conflict with emotions and military hardware for a long period of time since the premiers of both the countries have refused any possibility of mediations offered by Russian president Vladimir Putin. In a secretive United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting, enormous concerns were expressed about these military standoffs and they supported the call from UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez to immediately stop firings on each other. They also highlighted the importance of the Minsk Group consisting of Russia, France and the United States of America in providing mediation tables to Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The political attitude of the great powers and regional actors in the conflict is remarkable. Moscow having two military bases in Armenia and has organized a large-scale military drill in Armenia brokered the deal by using local influence on both sides. Ankara appeared as another main player.
On the other hand, Moscow officially called for a cease-fire, making a joint statement with the other two co-chair countries of the Minsk Group. Russia did not force Yerevan to stop the clashes. But Russia took a more active role and tries to protect the status quo in the region.
France, which along with the U.S. is a co-chair of the Minsk Group, is currently using a hard-discourse in its foreign policy after touching the religious tap line of Muslims; the incident of Cartoon of Prophet Muhammad (SAAW). French President; Emmanuel Macron’s administration wanted to play an active role in the Caucasus. Paris aimed to increase cooperation against Ankara and limit Turkey in the negotiations with local influencers alongside Moscow.
On the other hand, Washington’s agenda was different from previous years. According to the outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump, regional countries should find solutions to regional problems. Despite this policy being described as political uncertainty by various scholars and think tanks in Washington, Trump believed regional nations should pay the cost of crises in their neighborhoods. After conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh started, the White House did nothing except called for a cease-fire between the parties. The situation opened up new opportunities for rival actors and raises regional power competition. This result in Russia expanding its horizons over the Caucasus when U.S didn’t enter the ring to give Moscow a fight.
As a matter of fact, Moscow started to focus on expanding its power following Washington’s withdrawal. After increasing its hold in Syria, Vladimir Putin started to be active in Libya. Now Putin became a playmaker in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ankara is one of the greatest players to stand in front of Moscow’s desire to expand its regional influence. After the Syrian episode, the regional contest of being the king between the two countries has been reflected in Libya, Ukraine, Georgia and now finally in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Although both Armenia and Azerbaijan were not steadily equipped with advanced or extremely dangerous military hardware, their adamancy on not withdrawing from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and continuous firing on the shared border could’ve lead to major regional instability in the South Caucasus. Time will tell what further consequences this conflict will bring.
So far, many chances have been wasted to find a realistic, constructive and permanent solution to the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and to establish sustainable peace in the region. The interests of the sides remain diametrically opposite and nothing has improved since the beginning of the conflict, despite the peace deal between both countries. A deal has been brokered but not on will of both countries but pressure exerted through local influencers by strategic players who may have their own interest in the region.