The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: A Bilateral Canvas For Moscow And Ankara

After agreeing to a ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, both Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of transgressing the agreement brokered by the Kremlin, almost immediately after it was supposed to take effect. After lengthy talks in Moscow, strongly advocated for by Russian President Vladimir Putin, both parties reached an agreement designed to allow forces aligned to either party to trade prisoners and retrieve fallen fighters. The accord emphasised that the ceasefire should precipitate longer talks on permanently ending the worst outbreak in hostilities in the separatist region for over twenty-five years.

Moments after the ceasefire took force, the Azerbaijani military accused their opposition of shelling the Agdam and Terter regions of Azerbaijan, with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov claiming that the “conditions for implementing the humanitarian ceasefire are currently missing.” That was quickly denied by Armenia’s defence ministry which claimed that the temporary truce was “largely holding” despite Azerbaijani “provocations.” The Armenian’s counter-accused that the Azerbaijani military had shelled an Armenian town which it labelled a “heinous aggression.” Following the accord, the Kremlin’s top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov stated that “the specific terms of the ceasefire still need to be agreed,” and that the bitter rivals had given undertakings to enter into what he labelled “substantive peace talks,” to be mediated by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group.

The escalating conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who are ostensibly backed by Moscow and Ankara respectively, has far reaching ramifications for the regional order. The shifting framework for the conflict indicates that neither Russia nor Turkey view the West as a stakeholder of relevance in the Caucasus. Since the early 1990s, negotiations for resolving the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have been firmly rooted in the Minsk Process, a Euro-Atlantic framework, which has been essentially unable to provide a palpable resolution to the conflict that dates back to the latter years of the Cold War. Official reactions from both Russia and Turkey indicate how the most recent surge in violence may be a prelude to a shift in that framework – away from Euro-Atlantic centricity. Turkey’s unwavering support for Azerbaijan has been met largely with passivity from the Kremlin, who has called for restraint from both sides in the conflict, but little else, which calls into question Moscow’s resolve in defending Armenia, with whom it maintains a security pact.

Turkey’s tacit participation in the conflict, in a region on Russia’s doorstep may be viewed through the lens of Moscow and Ankara’s recent gravitation toward synchronicity in certain aspects of their foreign policy. Despite being situated on either side of the table in the Syrian and Libyan civil wars, both Moscow and Ankara are finding some common ground in their mutual departure from Western political paradigms. Whilst some pundits may take the view that the age-old proxy war between Moscow and Ankara is thawing, it seems that both regional stakeholders are working in unison to exclude Western powers from the region.

With Europe preoccupied with domestic public health concerns, and U.S. foreign policy gradually reverting to isolationism, it is unlikely that Ankara or Moscow will  encounter much opposition in their hijacking of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The two regional powers stand ready to redefine the regional-order, with their own security strategies in the Caucasus firmly in-sight. If the West is to remain relevant in the region, much more than mere calls for peace will be necessary.