Russia Emerges as Winner in Arms Race Between Armenia and Azerbaijan

For four days in April, the former Soviet Union’s oldest frozen conflict erupted. For the first time since a Moscow-brokered 1994 cease-fire, Armenia and Azerbaijan used heavy weapons in the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh. It ended with Baku taking control of several strategic hills in the region, and left 200 soldiers dead. A full-on war was averted, but the violence was the worst uptick in fighting in 20 years.

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is a throwback to the death-throes of the Soviet Union. In the late 1980s, both Armenia and Azerbaijan spun loose from Moscow’s yoke. Amid the chaos of the Soviet collapse, the ethnically Armenian Karabakh region attempted to break from Azerbaijani control. The ensuing war cost 30,000 lives. Russia secured a truce, but failed to secure the peace.

Today, Nagorno-Karabakh exists as a de-facto independent state within Azerbaijan. Both sides have invested considerable domestic political capital in gaining full control over Karabakh.

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Instead, both sides have been digging in. Public opinion in both Azerbaijan and Armenia, stoked by their own governments, has radicalized on the issue of Karabakh. Neither side, it seems, has much room for compromise. Meanwhile, Russia is selling arms to both sides. And just last week, Moscow created a joint military command with Armenia – an indication that things may get much worse.

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On Nov. 12, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev praised his armed forces for liberation parts of the “occupied territories” from Armenian control, and promised to liberate Karabakh from the occupiers. More arms purchases are on the way, too.

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Last week, President Vladimir Putin ordered his armed forces to finalize plans that have been in the works for years: the creation of a joint military command with Armenia. It is an evolution of their CSTO obligations. Under the agreement, the two will create a unit of Russian and Armenian soldiers. During peacetime, Armenia commands the outfit. But during a war, Moscow takes charge.

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This could, in effect, deter Azerbaijan from any attempts to wrestle control over Karabakh from the Armenians. But it also threatens Armenian sovereignty.

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All of this would cement Moscow’s role as the key power broker in the region.

https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/russias-answer-to-nagorno-karabakh-mutually-assured-destruction-56224

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