Renewed military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is causing more headaches for Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, in a further destabilized region, according to experts who have analyzed the territory’s history.

On Tuesday, the militaries of both countries engaged in a firefight that left countless dead, as each side blamed the other for initiating, then escalating the border firefight that reportedly began north of the Village of Tegh, near the Lachin Corridor in Eastern Armenia.

It was the most recent example of both countries exhibiting military aggression as part of a combative history that included the six-week war in 2020 over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. The Lachin Corridor essentially provides the only access to that territory.

A Kremlin report stated that on Friday, prior to the combat on the border, Putin had a telephone conversation with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan at the Armenians’ directive.

The parties reportedly discussed the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and “reaffirmed the importance of the consistent implementation of the fundamental agreements” reached by the three countries’ leaders between 2020 and 2022.

Discussed among that agreement was the ensured security and stability of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, in addition to laying the groundwork for a peace treaty between the two nations.

Ian Kelly, ambassador in residence at Northwestern University and U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) from 2010 to 2013, told Newsweek via phone that it’s a region Russia has declared to be part of its own sphere of influence.

“I think that the problem for Russia is they’re perceived by the Armenian side in particular as really being pretty ineffective in guaranteeing the security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Kelly said. “For Armenia, that is the most important thing. They see any takeover by Azerbaijan as potentially at best wholesale ethnical cleansing, or at worst genocide. This is the way they think about it.”

Bad News for Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin, already preoccupied with his war on Ukraine that has surpassed 13 months, also faces renewed military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Sasha Mordovets/Getty

Atter the Russian peacekeeping force went in after the 2020 ceasefire between both nations, Kelly said it was essentially unable to open the main route—the Lachin Corridor—and has “brought Russia’s value way down.”

“[Armenians] see Russia basically as a security guarantor,” he added, saying Russia’s stock as it pertains to its relationship with Armenia is “probably the lowest it’s been since independence.”

“Russia’s real advantage was deep and long connections with the region, as part of the czarist empire and the Soviet Union,” he said. “I think their biggest advantage was, they had top-level attention. Putin was really involved in negotiating directly with the two presidents, from Baku [capital of Azerbaijan] and Yerevan [capital of Armenia]. But for understandable reasons, he’s not able to give that kind of attention.”

Ronald Grigor Suny, professor of history and political science at the University of Michigan, told Newsweek via phone that the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan never really ended—even after the 2020 ceasefire.

“But once war with Ukraine started in February 2022, the Russians obviously were occupied elsewhere,” Suny said. “They were not as friendly toward Armenia as they might have been, even though Armenia is probably their best and closest ally in the region … because Armenia is a popular democratic state and Armenia had a popular democratic revolution in 2018. People literally rose up against a ruling mafia and overthrew it, made several changes and reforms.”

Those democratic norms are at odds with Russia’s governmental philosophy, Suny added, while Azerbaijan is “a repressive, autocratic state … with no open civil society.”

Now, Suny says, Russia “is knee-deep in mud in Ukraine” and has its own security interests and priorities while remaining heavily isolated.

“[Russia] also does see itself periodically as the arbiter in other conflicts through the former Soviet Union. It would like to be their hegemonic power in the former Soviet space, and so it has regulated and manipulated relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan—supplying arms, by the way, to both sides.

“So it does play that role and it did settle the first Karabakh war in 1994 and also ended the second Karabakh war with an armistice. But now, given the involvement in Ukraine, Russia is clearly preoccupied somewhere else and it’s not particularly favorable for Armenia, even though Armenia is literally its closest ally in the region.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is part Armenian, may have a bigger role now in dealing with both countries as Putin “has his hands tied with Ukraine,” Kelly said.

In turn, it may further alienate both nations in a diplomatic sense.

“If Putin is not involved, they’re not going to take Russia as seriously, particularly when they haven’t shown by their actions that they’re willing to really lean forward and open the Lachin Corridor, take stronger action against these ceasefire violations,” Kelly said. “Ukraine is a huge factor because [Putin] can’t hop on a plane down there, and he can’t invite them up to Moscow because he’s fully engaged in the tragic war in Ukraine.”

Newsweek has reached out to the Kremlin via email for comment.

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