Tuesday

4th Oct 2022

Opinion

Russia shows its hand on Karabakh

If Moscow is hoping that the Caucasus will stay stable ahead of the February Winter Olympics in Sochi, its commanders on the ground do not seem to have gotten the memo.

In an interview with the Russian Defense Ministry’s newspaper late last month, Col. Andrey Ruzinsky, commander of the 102nd Military Base at Gyumri in Armenia affirmed Russia’s preparedness and intention to “join the armed conflict” against Azerbaijan if it “decides to restore jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh by force."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Nagorno-Karabakh graves: Putin is simultaneously threatening war and preaching peace (Photo: www.nkr.am)

Ruzinsky added that his officers had recently toured “areas of combat engagement” and plan to increase joint military exercises with Armenian forces in the coming year.

It is of course an open secret to all in the region as well as to Eurasianists in the EU that the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is a Russian proxy conflict, maintained in simmering stasis by Russian arms sales to both sides so that Moscow can sustain leverage over Armenia, Azerbaijan and by its geographic proximity Georgia.

It is still however striking to see a pivotal Russian military figure in the conflict underlining his country's intent to use massive force to maintain this destructive status quo or even tip the balance should Armenia and Azerbaijan come to major blows again.

The statement is highly illustrative of regional dynamics in that it lays bare Armenia's utter dependence on Russia for its security and the de facto abrogation of Armenian sovereignty - made final by President Serzh Sargsyan's recent obsequious pleas to join Moscow's Neo-Soviet Customs Union instead of moving forward with an EU Association Agreement.

It also underscores the gradual tipping of the balance of power between Baku and Yerevan towards Azerbaijan, given its ballooning military budget made possible by its oil and gas bonanza.

Apart from the close relationship between decision makers in Russia and Armenia, it is Azerbaijan that Moscow feels it has to contain, because of its energy wealth, but also because of the Azerbaijani leadership's adamant Western orientation for the past decade and a half.

In the run up to the Vilnius Summit, Russian decision makers seek to send a message that choosing the EU over Russia - a false choice incidentally - is a risky move. Col. Ruzinsky’s remarks smack of similar Russian threats to Georgia before the 2008 war.

In fact, Russia is much better prepared to ignite the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict than it was to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The 102nd Military Base maintains 5000 troops at Gyumri, armed with tanks, artillery, helicopters, MiG-29 aircraft and Iskender-M tactical ballistic missiles.

Unlike with Georgia's separatist territories where Russian leaders had to concoct the bizarre pretext that their armed forces were defending two minuscule independent statelets, over Nagorno-Karabakh, Moscow can just invoke its mutual defense pact with Armenia and its CSTO obligations.

In the eyes of the international community, Russian forces supposedly defending Armenia - even though a conflict would probably be centered on the internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory of Karabakh - would be seen as much more legitimate than an intervention in Georgia.

Russia's revealing its bias on the Karabakh conflict also draws into serious question its role as a co-chair of the so-called Minsk Group, the OSCE conflict negotiation mechanism also chaired by France and the United States.

Again, anyone that has watched the conflict closely for the past two decades knows well that Russia is not just a mediator but also a party to the conflict. But, until now, all participants have at least acted on the pretense that Russia is somehow objective. Col. Ruzinsky's unvarnished statement will make it difficult for French and American diplomats to continue a strategy towards conflict settlement that relies on Russia.

Russia's active role as a party to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not news.

However, Moscow's shot over the bow to Azerbaijan and the region is an ominous reminder of the catastrophe that can befall the Caucasus if conflict settlement is not soon achieved.

The first step is convening comprehensive negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But the lead in doing so will almost certainly have to come from France (and the EU) or the United States as honest brokers.

Russia cannot simultaneously preach peace and threaten war.

The writer is the author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West and co-editor ofwww.chinaincentralasia.com.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU leaders have until Friday for refugee resettlement pledges

EU commissioner Ylva Johansson's words on refugee protection were welcome. But, worryingly, the commitments made by EU leaders at the forum have not translated into action. There is still time for them to save face — but it's running out.

How US tech giants play EU states off against each other

Some have tried to justify Big Tech's meagre tax payments in EU states with heavier tax burdens by emphasising the fact that these companies create jobs and invest in next-generation technologies. However, their market dominance comes at a steep cost.

Can King Charles III reset the broken Brexit relationship?

The Queen's funeral was an impressive demonstration of solidarity from the EU towards a country that left the Union in 2020, and with whom the EU's relations have never recovered. Can the new King Charles III build bridges to Brussels?

EU leaders have until Friday for refugee resettlement pledges

EU commissioner Ylva Johansson's words on refugee protection were welcome. But, worryingly, the commitments made by EU leaders at the forum have not translated into action. There is still time for them to save face — but it's running out.

News in Brief

  1. Czechs warn joint-nationality citizens in Russia on mobilisation
  2. Greece to unveil proposal for capping EU gas prices
  3. Four dead, 29 missing, after dinghy found off Canary Islands
  4. Orbán: German €200bn shield is start of 'cannibalism in EU'
  5. Lithuania expels top Russian diplomat
  6. Poland insists on German WW2 reparations
  7. Russia halts gas supplies to Italy
  8. Bulgaria risks hung parliament after inconclusive vote

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Last-minute legal changes to Bosnian election law stir controversy
  2. EU wants probe into alleged Nagorno-Karabakh war crimes
  3. EU officials were warned of risk over issuing financial warning
  4. EU debates national energy plans amid calls for more coordination
  5. What Modi and Putin’s ‘unbreakable friendship’ means for the EU
  6. EU leaders have until Friday for refugee resettlement pledges
  7. Cities and regions stand with citizens and SMEs ahead of difficult winter
  8. Editor's weekly digest: A week of leaks

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us