After six days of open hostilities, the fighting for control of Nagorno-Karabakh has not abated. In the morning, Friday 2 October, Stepanakert, the main town of this mountainous enclave claimed by Azerbaijan but populated mostly by Armenians, was the target of bombardments by Azerbaijani forces, causing “Many wounded among the civilian population” and material damage, according to the Armenian defense ministry.
In the aftermath of the joint declaration of the Minsk Group (France, United States, Russia) calling for a ceasefire, Armenia opened the door to mediation, saying it was ready to embark on this path under their sponsorship. Azerbaijan, for its part, has indicated that it sees only one outcome: the withdrawal of its opponent. “If Armenia wants to see an end to this escalation of the situation, (…) Armenia must end the occupation “, said Hikmet Hajiyev, adviser to the Azerbaijani presidency.
Moscow positioned itself as a referee
The conflict between these two former Soviet republics around this self-proclaimed independent territory places the Kremlin in a delicate situation. Despite the regular resurgence of clashes between the two neighboring states, which have a stubborn hatred, Moscow has so far managed to contain the situation. The stagnation of the conflict for twenty-six years allowed him to position himself as arbiter, selling arms to both sides to maintain a balance of power, but also for the greater good of the affairs of the Russian military-industrial complex. This prompted Baku to reproach Russia from time to time for delivering more sophisticated weapons to Yerevan, without compromising their relations.
But the arrival of a new player in the game, with Turkey alongside Azerbaijan, marks a turning point. Not only the head of the Turkish state, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, multiplies the declarations in support of his ally, but Ankara is strongly suspected of helping him on the military level with, among other things, the deployment of Syrian militiamen in support of his army, with the Azerbaijani forces. Baku and Yerevan’s trench warfare has also changed in nature, with the use of kamikaze drones helping to give Azerbaijan air superiority.
If the situation worsens further between the belligerents, Russian President Vladimir Putin may therefore be forced to choose, which he has clearly been reluctant to do so far. Supporting Yerevan against Baku indeed presents the risk of losing ground in Azerbaijan and of consolidating Turkish influence in its political backyard. Doing nothing would be interpreted across the highly flammable South Caucasus region as a sign of Moscow’s weakness, as Russia and Armenia are bound by a defense deal – albeit one does not concern the enclave separatist from Nagorno-Karabakh.
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