Wednesday

16th Jun 2021

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 must treat homeless as rights-holders, not criminals

The gap between EU resources available on the one hand, and the persistence of poverty and homelessness on the other hand, is what makes these figures more than an embarrassment: it raises them to the level of a human-rights crisis.

Biden in Brussels - what's in the 'in-tray'?

As president Joe Biden, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council president Charles Michel meet today, more than seven years have passed since the last opportunity for leaders from both sides of the Atlantic to engage face-to-face.

Column

Nato's biggest enemy hides within

Just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, intellectuals like Paul Kennedy and Francis Fukuyama warned that a democracy cannot be preserved on utilitarianism and capitalism alone. That warning has only become more urgent.

What the EU public think of EU pesticide regulation

The EU is committed to reduce "the risk and use of pesticides by 50 percent" by 2030. However, given the level of controversy and public distrust surrounding EU pesticides regulation over the last decade, which reforms could garner public support?

News in Brief

  1. China calls Nato statement 'slander'
  2. Israel bombs Gaza after Hamas responds to far-right march
  3. Kosovo and Serbia resume EU-brokered talks
  4. IKEA fined €1m for spying on French employees
  5. Markets snap up €20bn of new EU recovery bonds
  6. German court to test European Defence Fund legality
  7. Climate crisis may hit Europe's coffee and chocolate imports
  8. EU top court affirms national data watchdogs' power

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU and US make peace on trade before Russia summit
  2. Hungary passes anti-LGBTIQ bill ahead of 2022 election
  3. Prisoners, homeless, migrants, 'overlooked' in EU vaccine race
  4. EU must treat homeless as rights-holders, not criminals
  5. China officially joins Russia as a danger to Nato
  6. German Greens face reality check amid CDU gains
  7. EU Parliament wants Europe to take lead on sea-rescues
  8. MEPs urged to end gas-funding, fix cross-border projects rules

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us