Conflict in Karabakh: What Role Does Moscow Play?

Russia: Moscow expects UN bodies to play active humanitarian role in Nagorno-Karabakh – Lavrov

Russia and Turkey remain two regional heavyweights and key players capable of influencing the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh

The scale of the escalation of the conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh, which began on September 27, is increasing, going beyond the line of contact. The sides continue to exchange artillery and missile strikes, accusing each other of deliberate shelling of populated areas. In particular, it was reported about the shelling of Stepanakert, the de facto capital of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan, as well as an escalation in the south, on the border with Iran..

At the same time, both sides exchange statements of military success. According to the Armenian side, Azerbaijan is retreating in the southern direction, while Baku declares a successful counteroffensive in this region and superiority over the enemy.

The intensification of hostilities is taking place despite calls from the international community for de-escalation. Last week, the presidents of Russia, the United States and France – of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Settlement – jointly condemned the escalation, calling on the parties for an immediate ceasefire and the resumption of negotiations.

On Thursday, October 8, the first stage of negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh was held in Geneva with the participation of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs and representatives of Azerbaijan. Armenia did not send its foreign minister for negotiations, but stated that it is in close contact with representatives of the mediation group..

Today’s meeting was held behind closed doors and in a secret location outside the UN compound. The second stage of the Minsk Group talks with the head of the Armenian Foreign Ministry is to take place in Moscow next Monday – 12 october.

On the eve of the talks, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that his country’s goal is to return the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and an attempt to achieve a ceasefire can be made only after Yerevan provides a schedule for the withdrawal of troops from Nagorno-Karabakh. Prior to that, the head of Azerbaijan said that a precondition for a ceasefire is the complete withdrawal of Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh. In turn, if the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan had previously said that Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh were ready to make concessions in the event of similar steps from Azerbaijan, then in an interview with the Russian RBK he noted that after the shelling of settlements «Nagorno-Karabakh cannot and will never be a part of Azerbaijan».

Baku also advocates that Turkey, which openly supports Azerbaijan in its desire to return Nagorno-Karabakh, should take part in a mediation mission, since the OSCE Minsk Group has not achieved results. The current composition of the mediation mission was formed in 1997.

The Armenian side declares that Ankara supports Baku not only diplomatically, but also by increasing the supply of military equipment to Azerbaijan, including unmanned aerial vehicles, and attracting Syrian mercenaries to participate in the hostilities. The latter was covered in international media, but Ankara and Baku deny these accusations..

Despite Turkey’s increased role in the escalation around Nagorno-Karabakh, and even if Ankara becomes one of the parties to the mediation mission, experts following the development of events believe that Russia is playing a key role in the development of the situation today. It is unlikely that a conflict can be resolved without a mediation mission.

«The issue will be resolved not so much at the bilateral level as at the multilateral level. And here the key player is Russia», – speaks in an interview with the Russian Service «Voices of America» senior director of the Turkey program for the Washington Democracy Defense Fund and former member of the Turkish parliament Aykan Erdemir (Aykan Erdemir, FDD). He adds that while the ongoing hostilities are a challenge for Russia, they also open up a number of opportunities.. – This gives Russia a unique moment to weaken the Pashinyan government, which Moscow sees as anti-Russian. And this gives the Kremlin the opportunity to steer Armenia more towards Russia and weaken the ongoing, shall we say, slow turn of Armenia to the West.».

The expert also notes that the recent statement by President Putin that the hostilities are not being conducted on the territory of Armenia suggests that Russia «there is still the patience and space to allow the fighting to continue, even if it comes at the expense of Moscow’s CSTO ally».

Earlier, Moscow noted that Russia has certain obligations to Armenia under the Collective Security Treaty (CSTO), and it will fulfill them, but the obligations under the CSTO do not apply to Karabakh..

At the same time, Russia has a potential chance to weaken Azerbaijan, which is a major energy partner for the West, adds Haykan Erdemir.

As for Turkey, despite its firm position in supporting Azerbaijan’s positions, Ankara’s actions largely depend on the development of relations with Russia, in particular in Syria and Libya, where the parties support opposing forces.. «Turkey’s relations with Azerbaijan are largely shaped by the overwhelming Turkish public support for Azerbaijan, but at the same time, Turkish President Erdogan will always have detailed calculations on how to build a complex tangle of relations with Vladimir Putin.».

Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment Paul Stronski (Paul Stronski, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) emphasizes that Russia does not want to get involved in the conflict and relies on the resolution of the situation through the Minsk Group. The role of Moscow itself in the mediation mission raises questions.

«Here Russia plays a twofold, inconsistent role. Russia traditionally arms both sides. She is an ally of Armenia in the CSTO. And at the same time as a mediator. So it is very difficult for Russia to close this circle., – Carnegie Endowment expert notes in an interview with the Azerbaijan Service «Voices of America». – And I think Russia is probably not too interested in military intervention».

He adds that when clashes broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the internationally recognized territory of Armenia in July this year, neither Yerevan nor Moscow resorted to using the provisions of the CSTO..

Conflict in Karabakh: What Role Does Moscow Play?

Moscow’s reluctance to get involved in the conflict is due to the fact that Russia faces many problems throughout the post-Soviet region – from Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan, adds Paul Stronski. At the same time, its influence on the former republics is limited, the expert said. This is evidenced by the fact that so far Moscow has not been able to reach an agreement between the parties on a ceasefire during the current escalation around Nagorno-Karabakh..

«They are definitely trying. And I think this underlines the fact that Russia’s power in the region is limited. Previously, Russia has always tried to be considered the main broker, – he says. – But now they are definitely trying to operate within the broader Minsk Group, involving the United States and France.».

«The Armenians expected the Russians to side with them very quickly. That did not happen. Instead, Moscow joined the French and Americans and called for a ceasefire.», –notes in an interview with the Azerbaijan Service «Voices of America» former employee of the US State Department, formerly one of the leaders «Radio Liberty / Free Europe», and now the author of the blog «Window to Eurasia» Paul Goble (Paul Goble). According to him, the restrained reaction of Russia is explained by the fact that Moscow wants to keep the conflict frozen in order to further manipulate both sides and maintain its positions: «I think Putin is glad to see Armenia – the current government of Armenia – with small losses, because this government is not very disposed towards Moscow. But he doesn’t want things to go too far, because if that happens, Moscow will lose leverage in both Yerevan and Baku.».

However, Russia’s calculation could change if Baku is too close to victory, he adds..

With regard to international mediation and, in particular, the reaction of the West, in the short term, Western countries are calling for a ceasefire, but in the long term they do not see a solution, says Paul Goble: «I do not think that the West today has a better idea than before about what it wants the result, because it is still not ready to be completely on one side. He is not ready to say that national boundaries do not matter and that national self-determination has a higher status, but he is also not ready to say the exact opposite.».

Experts agree that Washington’s role in the current situation is limited. The United States will continue to act as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, but the main focus in Washington is on the upcoming presidential elections. President Trump’s foreign policy is also aimed at reducing the political and military presence of the United States in foreign conflicts, emphasizes Aykan Erdemir.

«Until the presidential elections are over, and there is no presidential oath and the next presidential term, I do not expect any significant American intervention in this conflict. I think Russia and Turkey will remain the two regional heavyweights pulling strings in the region», – he concludes.

Paul Stronski, in turn, does not exclude that through NATO – of which Turkey is a member – The United States may exert some influence, but it will be rather limited, given the rather complicated relations between the allies of the alliance and Ankara. If the use of the F-16 in the conflict zone – the American fighter, which Turkey has, will be confirmed, then perhaps this could change Washington’s calculations, the expert believes.

  • Valeria Jegisman

    Voice of America journalist. Prior to that, she worked for international non-governmental organizations in Washington and London, in the Russian-language version of the Estonian daily newspaper “Postimees” and as a spokesman for the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Interests – international relations, politics, economics

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