Partner and ally in Armenia, but also one of the main arms suppliers to Azerbaijan, Russia has said it is ready to “mediate” between the two Caucasian neighbors, who accuse each other of launching hostilities for several days amid tensions over Nagorno. Karabakh issue.
While tensions remain high between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which accuse each other of re-emerging hostilities for several days on the border between the two Caucasus countries, Russia is active in avoiding the escalation of “a conflict that would have catastrophic consequences in its own sphere of influence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday, July 17, “extremely concerned about the current escalation”, although the two former Soviet republics had reported the same day on a calmer situation after four days of clashes in the Tovouz border area. These incidents have left at least 17 dead, according to the official report. It is one of the most violent conflicts since 2016.
This new outbreak of fever between Armenia and Azerbaijan was raised by President Putin with his Security Council, after which Moscow stressed “the urgent need to guarantee a gunman”, while saying they are willing to “mediate”.
A historical mediator
A role that the Russians already assumed during previous conflicts between Yerevan and Baku in decades of conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region of Azerbaijan supported by Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh, which in the early 1920s was annexed to Azerbaijan by the Soviet authorities, consisted mainly of Russian-speaking Armenians, without being internationally recognized.
A war broke out in the early 1990s, leaving 30,000 dead, before the situation froze after the end of a fragile arms race in 1994, with Moscow intervening. Since then, no peace agreement has been reached, and negotiations sponsored by the Minsk Group – a group of international mediators chairing Russia, France and the United States – continue to fail.
Russia, then chaired by Dmitry Medvedev, even organized a meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in Kazan in June 2011, to no avail.
The renewed tension raises fears of a fire in this part of the Caucasus, when Azerbaijani Asian President Ilham Aliev on July 7 threatened to retake the territory by force and that the last clashes took place far from Nagorno-Karabakh, indicating an expansion of the conflict beyond the original territorial dispute.
A favorable status quo?
However, Russia, a traditional ally of Armenia, where it has a military base, appears to be linked to the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh. Although linked to Yerevan within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSC), a political-military alliance led by Moscow, the Russians maintain strong ties with Azerbaijan, which has a large oil rent.
According to the latest information from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), published in March 2020Russia has accounted for almost all of Armenia’s arms imports over the past five years. At the same time, and during the same period, the Russians are Azerbaijan’s second largest arms supplier, with 31% of imports, behind Israel (60%).
A strategy that allows the Kremlin to make itself necessary and maintain its role as a judge in this area that Turkey, the other regional power, cannot play. Especially because of the total support that Ankara showed for Azerbaijan, a Turkish-speaking and Muslim country, and its damaging relations with Armenia, in light of the denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide committed by the Ottoman authorities.
The reactivation of tensions between the two Caucasian neighbors is taking place in the context of increased competition between Turks and Russians in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, in Libya and Syria, where their geostrategic interests are different.
So far, despite the complexity of relations between Moscow and Ankara, especially thanks to the cordial understanding shown by President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two powers, which have no interest in directly confronting each other, have always managed to find compromises. Information that could enable the Caucasus to avoid a major explosion.