Fighting has erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the most violent clashes since the conclusion of their 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Each side placed responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities on the other. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia claims fifty of his country’s troops were killed in overnight clashes with Azeri forces. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry in turn, offered an explanation which accused Armenia of conducting ‘large-scale provocations’ that prompted retaliation. Earlier today, Pashinyan claimed the tempo of hostilities had decreased somewhat, however, Azeri attacks on Armenian positions continue.
The Russian foreign ministry has announced it brokered a ceasefire between the two nations early Tuesday, although this has yet to be independently confirmed. There is a considerable number of Russian peacekeepers to the region and Moscow has made great efforts to be viewed as the arbiter in the Caucuses, a volatile area.
Russia’s engagement in Ukraine and the recent battlefield setbacks it has suffered there might have enticed Azerbaijan and Armenia to act with less caution. This sudden escalation is leading to concern that Russia could find itself engaged in a second war near its border. It is in Moscow’s best interest to prevent a fresh conflict from breaking out now. Especially with Vladimir Putin set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday at the Shanghai Cooperative Organization meeting in Uzbekistan.
Russia’s motivation behind its brokering of a Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal was, simply put, to prevent Turkey from establishing a stronger presence in an area Russia has long considered to be its vulnerable southern flank. The six week-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia brought Turkish and Russian material, and diplomatic support to their respective allies. Turkey backed Azerbaijan’s military offensive and was active in undermining mediation efforts throughout the conflict. Russia supported Armenia with similar determination. It even sponsored two of the three temporary ceasefires that had been agreed upon during the conflict, only to be broken and disregarded hours later.
The deal went into effect Monday at 1600 hours Eastern Standard Time. Under the terms of the deal, Azerbaijan will hold onto the areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that it captured during the conflict. Armenia will vacate these areas, as well as adjacent ones over the next 2-3 weeks. 1,900 Russian peacekeepers will be deployed along the new boundaries, and to patrol the Lachin Corridor, which connects the Karabakh capital city of Stepanakert to Armenia. Turkey will also take part in the peacekeeping process, but in a limited role that will not include combat soldiers being deployed on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh. The terms of the agreement will also include an exchange of war prisoners, and the resumption of economic and transportation ties between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The peace deal is a clear victory for Azerbaijan, and a defeat for Armenia. In Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, there is a mood of celebration and relief. The signing of the deal marks a successful conclusion to a decades-long fight. In Armenia, the mood was quite different. Unrest has broken out in Yerveran, the Armenian capital. Throngs of protesters stormed government offices, and the parliament building on Monday night. But on Tuesday morning, the frustration and anger seemed to have passed. The streets were quiet and calm. The crowds that took part in the unrest believed the fighting should’ve continued on in spite of the circumstances. Armenian leaders believed otherwise.
For better or worse, the fighting has ended and peace has returned to Nagorno-Karabakh.