Today
Fri 4 December 2020

As the US remains preoccupied with the presidential elections, Nikola Mikovic reports on how Russia appears to be resolving the conflict over the Armenian enclave

Russian ‘peacekeeping forces’ were deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh hours after leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia reached an agreement to end the conflict that erupted on 27 September.

A deal that can be interpreted as an effective Armenian surrender was signed after the Azeri Army downed a Russian military helicopter over Armenia – a country that is Moscow’s only ally in the Caucasus and a member of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

Besides 1960 Russian troops, the Turkish Army will also participate in overseeing the deal that was reached between Armenian Prime Minister Nikola Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, and mediated by Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to the document, Armenia will hand over almost the entire Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, to Azerbaijan, while Russian troops will control Lachin corridor connecting the region’s capital Stepanakert to Armenia.

In addition, Azerbaijan will be able to cross to its enclave Nakhchivan through Armenian territory, and roads will be secured by the Russian Security Service, which will undermine remnants of Yerevan’s sovereignty.

The Azeri government used the United States’ preoccupation with its presidential election and captured the territory that has been under Armenian control for the past 26 years

In other words, Yerevan not only lost control over Nagorno-Karabakh, but also over a significant section of southern Armenia where the Russians will be escorting Azerbaijani military convoys from the mainland Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan.

Such a deal caused anger in the Armenian capital, where protesters stormed the parliament and the government building, demanding Prime Minister Pashinyan’s resignation.

The Armenian Prime Minister said that there was “no other option but to sign the agreement”. Given that the Armenian forces suffered heavy losses on a daily basis, and lost a significant portion of Artsakh over the past 30 days, their military defeat was a matter of time. Russia clearly said on several occasions that it would not provide any support to the Yerevan-sponsored Artsakh Defense Forces, but that it would protect Armenia in case of a potential Azeri aggression.

After Pashinyan signed a humiliating Kremlin-backed deal, anti-Russia sentiment in Armenia is expected to grow. 


The Problem for Armenia

Prior to the peace agreement, a joint statement, by 17 opposition parties in Armenia called for Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation due to his handling of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The list includes the Republican Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, who Pashinyan ousted from power in the 2018 Velvet Revolution.

There are rumours that the Kremlin is now trying to overthrow Pashinyan since he is allegedly linked with American billionaire George Soros. Still, it remains unclear why Moscow did not prevent the “colour revolution” in Yerevan that resulted in Pashinyan’s coming to power two years ago.

Indeed, since Armenia de facto lost the war, with or without Pashinyan in power the country will likely face a serious political turmoil in the coming days and weeks. Russia, on the other hand, preserved its role of a regional arbiter, although its influence in Armenia could easily start declining, as in the eyes of many Armenians Putin will be seen as someone who forced their Prime Minister to sign capitulation.

Azerbaijan, on the other hand, is a clear winner in this conflict. Backed and armed by Turkey, the Azeri Government used the United States’ preoccupation with its presidential election and captured the territory that has been under Armenian control for the past 26 years. The country on the Caspian Sea sent a strong message to Moscow by downing Russian Mi-24 gunship and killing two servicemen.

The Azeri authorities stated that it was an accident, pointing out that they were ready to pay the necessary compensation to the families of those who lost their lives.


The Problem for Moscow

It is worth noting that Russian media did not pay much attention to the incident, nor did Kremlin officials make any threats to Azerbaijan’s authorities. Instead, the Kremlin-led CSTO expressed “grave concerns” over the unpleasant event.

This could be interpreted as a sign of Russian weakness. Such a Russian reaction could seriously undermine Moscow’s positions in the Caucasus where military might is highly respected and a culture of honour dominates. The downing of a helicopter on the territory of a CSTO member without an appropriate response, will be seen as sign of the ineffectiveness of the organisation, which is often described as the Russian equivalent to NATO.

Yet this simply confirms Russia’s historic attempts to avoid any potential confrontations with NATO member states and its allies.

In November 2015 a Turkish jet shot down a Russian Sukhoi SU-24 near the Syria-Turkey border. Though Moscow was expected to retaliate, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia would not initiate a war as a result of the incident.

In May 2018, the US military killed dozens of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner private military company in Syria. Following the incident, Russian media was silent, and the Kremlin did not respond.

In October 2018, Russian officials accused the US of attacking the Russian Khmeimim airbase in Syria, but the Russian military never responded. Andrei Karlov, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, was assassinated by an off-duty Turkish police officer at an art exhibition in Ankara, in December 2016, but the Kremlin did not take any measures against Turkish officials. 

If history is any guide, it is very improbable that Russia will retaliate against Azerbaijan. Instead, Moscow will likely keep making lucrative deals with Turkey – Baku’s main sponsor. The peace deal will allow the two countries to de facto set their own zones of occupation in Nagorno-Karabakh, and to discuss the future of crucial energy corridors in the turbulent region where Turkish influence is expected to grow. 


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