Crisis awaits in Russia’s ‘backyard’ !!!
Russia was once a peacemaker between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, but Moscow’s declining influence due to the Ukraine conflict makes the crisis at risk of outbreak.
When tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalated into a bloody armed conflict that killed thousands of people in 2020, the US and the European Union (EU) did not take any action to intervene, ceding the central role. mediator for Russia in the Caucasus, which is considered Moscow’s “backyard”.
After more than a month of waiting, Russia finally intervened, pressuring Armenia and Azerbaijan to sign the ceasefire declaration. Under this agreement, Armenia returned the four territories under its control to Azerbaijan, while Russia deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeepers into the 5-kilometer-wide corridor of control separating the Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenian regions for five years. .
Since then, Russia has played the role of controlling and monitoring the situation, preventing the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict from escalating into a conflict. However, as Russia focuses on the war in Ukraine, Moscow no longer seems to be an effective “arbitrator” between the two Caucasus nations, according to Lara Setrakian, a CNN analyst.
Thanks to its rich oil and gas resources, Azerbaijan has been promoting maximum advantage on the ground, relative to the rest that Armenia controls in the Nagorno-Karabakh territory.
Since December 2022, thousands of Azerbaijani protesters have gathered to blockade the Lachin Corridor, the main route connecting about 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh with the outside world. According to experts, the protests in Azerbaijan would not have taken place without the backing of the government.
Due to the protests, food supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh have been severely limited. Local residents late last month said that shops and supermarkets are having to limit the amount of food sold per person and medical supplies are also in serious shortage.
Azerbaijan said the protest to block the Lachin corridor was a response to accusations that Armenians were “illegal mining” in Nagorno-Karabakh. But instead of taking the matter to international arbitration, Baku decided to block the supply of necessities through the Lachin corridor until their conditions were met.
Dr Biayna Sukhudyan, who is stranded in Nagorno-Karabakh, late last month told CBS News that children in the territory are showing signs of stress and nervous breakdowns. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warns children are lacking basic food items and essential services, and some are separated from their parents or guardians stranded on the other side of the Lachin corridor. .
The US, EU, UN Secretary-General and more than a dozen countries have called on Azerbaijan to lift the blockade of the Lachin corridor to Nagorno-Karabakh, but to no avail. Armenia sees it as Azerbaijan’s strategy to push them out of the disputed territory.
During that tense period, Russia did not take any action to defuse the situation or pressure Azerbaijan to lift the blockade, given that Moscow has many concerns to be resolved in Ukraine, causing Their influence in the Caucasus gradually waned.
At the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Conference at the end of November 2022, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan expressed his displeasure, arguing that his country did not receive adequate support. of the CSTO in its conflict with Azerbaijan. Mr. Pashinyan also appeared to be trying to distance himself from Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a joint photo session at the conference.
Russia also seems to see its influence waning in the Caucasus, but it also does not want the West to intervene to resolve tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“Moscow still wants to maintain its position as the main power in the region, thereby promoting its interests in the Caucasus,” commented commentator Setrakian.
Since the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict, Russia has become increasingly economically and strategically engaged with Turkey, an important ally of Azerbaijan. In the face of a series of sanctions from the West, Moscow is increasingly dependent on Ankara for a way out.
Turkey has also become an important supporter for Russia’s oil and gas exports and strategic technology imports. As Russian-Turkish relations grow closer, Moscow is more reluctant to oppose Azerbaijan’s actions. That leaves tensions in the Caucasus unchecked and risks a serious escalation that could lead to a crisis.
It also sets a dangerous precedent for future conflicts, with one side strangling the other by blocking supplies, forcing civilians to leave or accept negotiated terms, Setrakian said. .
Michael Rubin, an expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said that he is worried about the risk of ethnic conflicts breaking out in Nagorno-Karabakh if Russia does not have enough influence to mediate and manage tensions, while the international community There is also no intervention.
“The number one question is how do we get military or diplomatic observers into Nagorno-Karabakh,” Rubin said. “If we can control the regional situation, we can proactively prevent the worst-case scenario from happening.”
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