Russia Gained from the Caucasus Conflict, but Now Faces an Emboldened Turkey

November 23, 2020 | Amir Taheri
About the author: Amir Taheri, formerly the executive editor (1972-79) of Iran’s main daily newspaper, is the author of twelve books and a columnist for the Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

Thanks to the Kremlin’s mediation, Azerbaijan and Armenia reached a ceasefire earlier this month, ending a six-week war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh to Armenians), which Armenia seized from Azerbaijan during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Amir Taheri analyzes the current situation:

[S]uccessive Armenian governments, thinking that Russia will always . . . protect Armenia. as it had done since the 18th century, had neglected the new nation’s defense needs. Just over a month of fighting drove the Armenians onto the defensive, and then to defeat, on various fronts. But when the Azeris and their Turkish allies were about to swoop in for the kill, Russia intervened by calling the leaders of Baku and Yerevan to Moscow to agree to a confused ceasefire that, while stopping the fighting, left the deep causes of the conflict untouched.

In typical fashion, . . . Russia used the occasion to extend its military presence, already significant in Armenia, to Azerbaijan as well. Under the Moscow accord, a Russian “peacekeeping” force will seize control of the ceasefire line plus the borders of Azerbaijan and Armenia with Iran.

On balance, the Azeris didn’t gain much. Most of the disputed enclave . . . remains beyond their control while a good chunk of their own territory, notably the land route between Azerbaijan proper and its “autonomous” enclave of Nakhichevan, fall under Russian control. [For its part]. Yerevan will now have to consult—read obey—Moscow before attempting any revenge in the future. The message is clear: Transcaucasia was a Russian protectorate for two centuries and is again becoming a Russian glacis.

And, yet, Putin may turn out to be one of the losers in this deadly game. To start with, the mini-victory [over] Armenia may have whetted Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appetite for further conquests. . . . Forty-eight hours after the ceasefire, Erdogan asked the Turkish parliament to let him send an expeditionary force to Azerbaijan. A Turkish military presence in Transcaucasia could entail the risk of direct confrontation between Moscow and Ankara which are already in conflict in a number of other places—notably Syria, Libya, and Kosovo.

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