Many are concerned that a cycle of border clashes, usually spread by international diplomacy, may continue unabated and ignite a longer and worse war.
Control over the mountainous area of Nagorno-Karabakh. Populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians, and aided by the Armenian diaspora, it is located within the Azerbaijani territory, connected to Armenia proper by an expensive highway. It is heavily militarized and its forces have been supported by Armenia, which has a security alliance with Russia. Azerbaijan has long claimed it will take back the territory, which is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani. Control of the area has become a point of nationalist – almost existential ̵
Is it likely to degenerate into a full-scale war?
The normal pace of this conflict is for diplomacy to rush to calm their weapons after 48 hours of bloodshed. But this hasn’t happened yet and the opposite is fast becoming true. Armenia declared martial law on Sunday and mobilized all its forces. Azerbaijan followed martial law Sunday and partial mobilization Monday.
Baku has long claimed that it would retake the area and have oil riches to spend in force to achieve those same ends. The conflict is so neglected and little known to the outside world that some speculate that the fighting may spiral out of control, with Washington too distracted and turned inward to muster all its diplomatic force to stop it. The United States had a deputy secretary of state who called both sides to “urge both sides to cease hostilities immediately” and President Donald Trump said “we’ll see if we can stop them.”
Why are Russia and Turkey facing it?
Once again, Turkey and Russia find themselves on opposite sides of a fevered front. As in Syria and Libya, their delegates – mercenaries or allied armies – are fighting for control of parts of a Middle East, or Caucasus, where a lighter US footprint has unbalanced the delicate distribution of power. Turkey has been particularly expansive in encouraging Azerbaijan, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying on Twitter that Armenia has “proven once again to be the greatest threat to peace and serenity in the region. The nation Turca continues to support her Azerbaijani brothers and sisters with all her means, as she always has “.
The Kremlin has been a calmer force, with President Vladimir Putin calling Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and remarking that “it is important now to make all necessary efforts to prevent a military escalation of the confrontation and, more importantly,” stop military operations “. But Moscow is a long-term supporter of Armenia, in arms and diplomacy, and is unlikely to tolerate Turkey imposing its will in its former Soviet area of influence. Putin also has a good relationship with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
But enmity is growing given the ongoing violence in Syria, where Turkish-backed Syrian fighters are pushing against Moscow’s ally, the Syrian regime. Similar tensions are mounting in Libya, where Turkey is backing the Tripoli government with Syrian mercenaries, and Russia has sent Wagner mercenaries, according to US officials, to assist rival forces that control the East. Both Moscow and Ankara seem to be spying on an opening in Washington’s disinterest in being the regional superpower, and Nagorny-Karabakh is the latest, the most contested and least anticipated place for this confrontation.
What does the rest of the world say?
Everyone wants calm, but no one at the Iines front is still listening. NATO said both sides “should cease hostilities immediately” and added “there is no military solution to this conflict”. The EU called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities, a reduction in escalation and strict compliance with the ceasefire” which had been coordinated by the OSCE’s Minsk Group.
Yet four years of Trump’s disengagement, the pandemic, Russia’s increased confidence, and Turkey’s bold regional stance have created a new dynamic in which old rules can be discarded and destructive opportunities sought. Although diplomacy will suddenly stop fighting in the next few hours, the renewed vigor of rhetoric on both sides means this could be reignited soon.