Russian Objectives and the Renewal of the Azerbaijan – Armenian Conflict

On Tuesday 13 September 2022, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced the killing of at least 49 Armenian soldiers in the bloodiest border confrontation with Azerbaijan since the 2020 war and called, through his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emanuel Macron, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for a response to Azerbaijan’s “aggression”. Meanwhile, Russia announced that she had “negotiated a ceasefire, which is expected to be implemented starting Tuesday morning, to put an end to the bloody clashes that erupted last night between Azerbaijan and Armenia.” For its part, the Azerbaijani defence ministry said in its communiqué that the “Azerbaijani army responded in kind to the sources of Armenian fire,” adding that, “despite the ceasefire being declared since 09.00 am, Armenia has violated the agreement by using artillery and heavy weapons on the borders.” The two sides have traded accusations of violating the agreement signed under Russian auspices after the end of the last war which broke out on November 9, 2020.

The agreement was engineered by Russia in a manner that perpetuated the justification for the conflict and guaranteed for Russia her intervention to orchestrate the relations between the two sides in a way that preserves her influence in the Caucasus, which has become susceptible to an ethnic and religious flareup, which could threaten the Russian federal entity itself, in addition to threatening the Russian vital and strategic space in the entire region to the advantage of the United States who is hankering after seizing the region’s resources and passageways, encircling Russia, and besieging her with a belt of hotbeds of tension. Russia also hedged herself in the agreement against the risk of Turkey entering the Caucasus as an influential and active player, and Putin was eager to gain a trump card and exert pressure on Iran regarding the demographic situation due to the extension of the Azeri race inside Iran. However, and above all, Putin had been aware of the magnitude of the region in which the southern route for energy and supply chains is located, and which stretches from Baku to Europe through Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Greece.

In the previous agreement, Russia was keen to maintain tension and disagreements over the interpretation of some of its clauses, the most important of which is the issue of the Zangezur corridor, which links Azerbaijan to the Azerbaijani “province” of Nakhchivan, which is isolated from the Azerbaijani lands within the Republic of Armenia. As it was stated in Article 9 of the ceasefire agreement, “The ban on all economic and transportation links in the region must be abolished.” This is what Azerbaijan has been adhering to and Armenia has not, with the complicity of the Russian side. It was attributed to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev that Azerbaijan would resort to using force to establish a “corridor” via southern Armenia linking western Azerbaijan with the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, while Armenia continues to impose restrictions on the mobility between the region and Azerbaijan, which serves Russia’s strategy in controlling the direct land route between Azerbaijan and Turkey, and opens the road between Central Asia and Europe without passing through Russia or Iran.

Hence, Russia has been playing on the nationalist, security, and economic contradictions between the countries of the region, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey, despite their Western inclinations, in addition to her desire to control Chinese trade routes close to her borders, and her quest to control the alternative energy routes to Europe via Azerbaijan and Turkey, since Russia has no interest at the moment in opening this corridor, which would enhance communication between Central Asia and Azerbaijan on the one hand, and Europe on the other hand via Turkey.

It is no secret that the conditions, context, and circumstances of this last clash differ from the previous Azerbaijani-Armenian war due to the Ukrainian war and the energy crisis for Europe. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed an agreement on July 18, 2022, to “double” Azerbaijani gas imports to Europe to compensate for the reduction in Russian gas supplies. Azerbaijani President Aliyev described the agreement as a “roadmap for the future”, saying that EU-Azerbaijan energy cooperation has “actually changed the European energy map”. The Azeri-European agreement provides for the expansion of the Southern Gas corridor, which crosses Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Greece.

This, without a shadow of a doubt, threatens Russia’s interests and her gamble in exerting pressure on Europe through the energy crisis and thus changing her standpoint on the sanctions and the Ukrainian crisis. This suggests that Russia was involved and behind the new Azerbaijani-Armenian clash through her harnessing of Armenia’s interest in rejecting the project of the Azerbaijani corridor through her lands without her conditions, which she considers a violation of her sovereignty. This is why Russia was eager to control the crisis and manage it singlehandedly by dispatching a delegation of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation to Armenia, which is a military alliance of former Soviet states headed by Russia. Russia aims through the crisis to divert attention away from her recent losses in Ukraine, and send a message to Azerbaijan, Turkey and Europe confirming that she has the means to influence European energy security by flaring up the Armenian-Azerbaijani crisis when necessary.

Hence, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken expressed concern during a briefing at Purdue University in Indiana, saying that Russia might exert influence over the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in order to stir up the situation and divert attention from her failures in Ukraine. While US State Department spokesman Ned Price said there was no doubt that an escalation of hostilities would not be in Moscow’s interest, adding that “it is hard for us to envision from here how another conflict on Russia’s borders would be in anyone’s interests, including the interests of those in Moscow.” It is noteworthy that America took advantage of the situation to turn the crisis into an opportunity and adopted the Armenian narrative regarding renewed clashes in order to attract the Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan, secure support for him, and extricate him from Russian hegemony.

In conclusion, Russia did not want from this event more than to divert attention away from her recent failures and to send terrifying messages to Europe, Azerbaijan and Turkey, which explains her urgent intervention to halt the conflict, especially since provoking Turkey in the Azerbaijani-Armenian crisis and threating her interests, and raising the Iranian demographic fears too far may threaten Russia’s relationship with the Turks and Iranians at this critical time, especially with France taking advantage of the situation and pushing the issue to the Security Council to prevent Turkey from taking the leading role in the crisis.

As for the US, European states, and Turkey, it would not be in their interests to aggravate the situation in light of Turkey’s endeavour to corroborate her centrality regarding the energy supply route to Europe, and amid America’s eagerness to secure alternative sources and routes to Russian supplies to the European energy market.

Copyright © LCIR 2022

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