Russia and Iran Might Be Behind the Flare-Up in the Caucasus

August 26, 2020 | Irina Tsukerman
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Last month, one of the cold war’s so-called “frozen conflicts” grew hot when Armenia attacked border outposts in neighboring Azerbaijan, killing eleven soldiers and one civilian. Most observers have linked the attack to the two countries’ decades-long conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region—occupied by Armenia since the early 1990s—but Irina Tsukerman argues that larger geopolitical forces are at play:

[T]his most recent attack was not launched from the occupied region, but rather along the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in close proximity to geopolitically essential oil pipelines. . . . The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, [which flows from Azerbaijan, through Georgia and Turkey, to the Mediterranean], provides Israel with 40 percent of its oil, but also ensures that Russia and Iran cannot monopolize delivery to Europe and Israel from the Caspian region.

Azerbaijan, already a top competitor to Russia and Iran in supplying European energy needs, is about to bypass Armenia and Russia to become a significant supplier of [natural] gas to southern Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor, which is scheduled to be fully operational by year’s end. The diversification of Europe’s natural-gas sources undermines Russian and Iranian political power, which is premised on the threat of leaving Europe out in the cold.

Indeed, in retrospect, there were warning signs, such as Iran’s growing presence in the vicinity and more direct assistance to Armenia for weeks prior to the attack. . . . Armenia and Russia are also interested in developing joint military forces. Not only is Russia completely running the show, but it is increasingly erasing any semblance of Armenia’s independence and asserting its own military presence in the region in a manner that can only be described as menacing.

In short, the Armenian attack served the interests of Tehran and Moscow, at the expense of those of Jerusalem, Ankara, and Europe.

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