The fuse was lit again. Azerbaijani and Armenian forces clashed once again in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. As a balance, according to official figures, there were about 200 deaths between both sides. Informally, other sources assure that the figure could be higher. The conflict puts more pressure on an already tense region and raises a question mark over Russia’s actions.
Both countries were part of the Soviet republics and the South Caucasus, where the disputed territory is located, is still the backyard of the Kremlin. Russia’s influence in that area and in Central Asia is so great that maintains various military basesas is the case, for example, in Armenia.
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Without going any further, Moscow officiated guarantor in the ceasefire agreements between Azerbaijan and Armenia in both 1994 and 2020, the years in which the first two wars between the two countries ended. Nowadays there are about 2000 Russian soldiers in Karabakh to “guarantee” peace. However, many affirm that this escalation is the most serious since the end of the last armed conflict.
The accusations are crossed and each country blames the rival for having started with the last confrontation. Armenia assures that there were direct attacks against civilian points in Karabakh and in response it shot down helicopters. While Azerbaijan accuses Yerevan of entering what they consider recovered territory and attacking Azeri families.
Historical conflict since the Soviet era
The so-called Upper Karabakh enclave has been a focus of tension since Armenia and Azerbaijan joined the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922. The following year, the Soviet central committee handed over control of those territories to the Baku authoritiesAzerbaijani capital, a situation that continued until the first war between the two countries in 1988.
It happens that in the Karabakh region there is an Armenian and Christian majority, while in Azerbaijan there is a vast Shia Muslim religious superiority. “Many borders were not well defined and Moscow made decisions without taking into account the reality of the area”, he explained to TN the specialist in the region Paulo Botta.
When the USSR began to decline in the late 1980s, the Armenian majority in Karabakh formed a pro-independence group that sought to free itself from Azerbaijan’s control. Armenia supported this move and won. That first war lasted just over 6 years, left a balance of almost 40,000 dead and territorial control that passed into the hands of Yerevan.
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Since that victory, Armenia wields that the autonomous province exercised the right of secession at the end of the Soviet period and that is why it is in control of the territory. Azerbaijan rejects this position and ensures that the referendum held in the early 1990s was driven by force in the midst of the war.
“In those years Azerbaijan had not yet discovered its energy reserves and Armenia had a vast superiority over its neighbor,” explains the analyst. Juan Negri to this medium, to later add that “the situation today is very different because Baku was able to exploit its resources and generate much greater economic progress.”
The biggest climb since 2020
The clashes that took place in recent days they were not precisely in the Karabakh area, but in the natural territorial border of Armenia. According to journalists from the BBCresponds to the biggest escalation seen in the last two years and stirs up the ghosts of war again. In the last few hours there was a beginning of a ceasefire that was under scrutiny.
These clashes rthey broke the mutual non-aggression agreement which both countries had reached on November 10, 2020, with the end of the second war in this turbulent enclave of the Caucasus. Also after cross accusations, in that year a fierce battle was launched that ended with the retreat of Armenia in some territories bordering Azerbaijan.
Once again, economic and military capabilities had changed substantially in those 30 years that separated each conflict. The one who also came into play in 2020 was Vladimir Putin, when he proposed Russia as mediator of the historic conflict and deployed nearly 2,000 soldiers to the disputed area as peacekeepers.
It is not the only Kremlin military presence in the region. Russia has a base in the Armenian city of Gyumri., near the border with Turkey. At the same time, like a geopolitical puzzle, Ankara always maintained strong support for Azerbaijanamong other things, for its historical confrontation with Armenia since the Ottoman Empire, when the Armenian genocide occurred.
The weakening of Putin that impacts the conflict
The reasons for the new confrontation are not clear, but they hide a strategic move by Turkey, Putin’s isolation from the world and the blows that Russia suffered in the last week in Ukraine. “No conflict in this area can be analyzed without the regional context, where russia is central”, explained Paulo Botta to TN.
The clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan takes place in the backyard of the Kremlin, but, above all, at the gate of its southwestern border. Both Botta and Negri coincide: “Moscow is busy with its war in Ukraine and it does not have many capacities to really mediate or act between both countries”.
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Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, is aware of this situation and could be acting on it. Because of the immense political and military support, Azerbaijan it would be difficult for him to make a movement of these characteristics without the permission of Ankara. Once again, the geopolitical board.
“It is not a secret that Turkey wants to be more present in the Caucasus and Central Asia”, added Paulo Botta. In other words, Erdogan could be speculating that Russia has no leeway and is not sufficiently prepared to support its partner Armenia. The Turkish president maintains the forms and even yesterday met with Putin in Uzbekistan.
Future wrapped in military movements and doubts
Taking into account the weight of both countries, a question quickly arises: Could Russia and Turkey get involved in a possible war between Armenia and Azerbaijan? Botta believes that not “directly”, but possibly with “diplomatic support and low-level military dispatch.” Iran is also watching closely moves for Azerbaijan’s alliance with Israel.
The one who definitely wants another war not to break out is Europe. Beyond the human, there is a simple underlying economic reason: given the reduction in Russia’s shipment of gas and oil, Azerbaijan emerged as a surrogate country. Gas shipments to the European continent have increased by nearly 30% so far this year.
That gas was the one helped the European Union to load the necessary reserves to survive the winter and not “freeze”, as Putin proposes in his strategy against the West. Today Europe imports some 8 billion cubic meters of gas a year and reached an agreement to increase supply to 12 billion in 2023 and 20 billion by 2027.
The new clashes between these two countries over the historical enclave in conflict raised the alarms of a new war in what was the Soviet zone. The European Council, Emmanuel Macron and many other leaders called for peace in the region. The military movements maintain the alarms.