Things that are taking place in the region that most often is known worldwide as the Russsified Nagorno-Karabakh is not just a little fight between two small countries. A much deeper and nowadays very relevant geopolitical context lies behind it.
I will not tell the history of that region now, which is long, complicated and significant to political academicians. I will just remind that the war is not a great political pleasure and usually starts because no other measures help in the fight for the truth.
If we just consider that this is a conflict between two parties, it would not be difficult to understand what truth the fight in this case is for.
We can call justice of Azerbaijanians – the geographic justice. The territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, whatever way you might turn it, has been recognized as a part of Azerbaijan by the international community and the state has a right to manage this territory. Thus, all military actions taking place there, in a formal point of view, are taking place in the territory of Azerbaijan. Actually, this is a solid argument (as I will tell later) even to Russia. Karabakh has become a matter of honour for credibility of the of the state to every Azerbaijanian.
I would call justice of Armenians as the ethnic one. Most inhabitants of this region call themselves Armenians. Actually, according to one-hundred years old George Wilson doctrine, the nation has a collective right to its state or at least to the decision what state they want to belong to. “Recapture” of Karabakh (Artsakh) was an important achievement to Armenia, which has reduced within the last several centuries, so it was the matter of honour to Armenia, maybe a little less than ‘owing’ of Mount Ararat, however still very relevant.
A war for the honour of the nation is not a national evil, thus both countries are actually ready to fight.
Russia that has declared a collapse of the USR as a geopolitical catastrophe, also has its own “matters of honour”. Southern Caucasus is the former USSR; thus, it wants to keep it under its control. The interest of Russia can be very nicely demonstrated by the joke of the “Armenian radio”: the question: Which side does Russia support in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan? The answer is – the conflict side. The wish of Russia was (maybe still is) to have both countries under its control. It needs the near-abroad countries. The Baltic States are already very far abroad. Ukraine is going away, and Middle East has been taken over by China little by little. Caucasus… Caucasus?
In the “case” of the Nagorno-Karabakh Russia succeeded to become a weighty participant in events. The “focus” of the Armenian strategy was to win the war and de facto the territory in their hands. This allowed Armenians to say that there was no problem with Karabakh, to be exact – there is no more problem, it has been solved. Armenia has established its life in the way it almost has no friends in the neighbour countries – only enemies or temporary buddies. Thus, it has no other way only to rely on Russia, hoping that Russians have in mind something similar to inscription on one memorial board in Vilnius by rephrasing whoever is the enemy of Armenia, is the enemy of Russia.
Such a choice seemed a fair and efficient choice even up to the last conflict. No matter how strong Azerbaijan can become (although it is not probable, it would become) it will never decide upon to start a war with Russia. However, friendship with Russia was not just for nothing. It had to let Russian military bases settle. No matter what government was in Yerevan, it used to understand that relations with Russia could not be disrupted no matter what was going on in Moscow.
Strategic choice of Azerbaijan was no way to refuse its wish to recapture Karabakh and even make it the key geopolitical task. This country actually needed two things. Firstly, military power that enabled feeling stronger than Armenia. Azerbaijan could create its power by itself (especially when petroleum prices were not so low). At the same time it made an argument – “we can win the war, but we want to settle the matter in a peaceful way!“ Secondly, it needed to do something to avoid fighting against Russia, only against Armenia. Azerbaijan has been getting ready for a war for almost thirty years and found a confederate that was not afraid of Russia. This was Turkey. Now ‘whoever is the enemy of Azerbaijan, is the enemy of Turkey!“
This actually destroyed the Armenian strategy, which used fear aroused by the same Russia for protection of its interests. When it turned out that somebody was not afraid of Russia, it turned out that Russia was not so fast with assistance to Armenians, especially since the current government of Armenia is not the one that Moscow loves.
More generally, Azerbaijanians are winning back Karabakh, however another thing is more important. If this happens, it will mean that Turkey will win a war against Russia.
Armenia was not ready for the war in the sense that it was still hoping that Azerbaijanians would not decide upon and Turks would actually not assist them. However, Turks helped (and are still helping) and Azerbaijanians made up their minds. Actually, no matter who fired first. Russia turned out to be not ready, either and even did not expect Azerbaijanians to get rid of fear one day. Actually, they are not afraid already.
Thus, Russia has no great freedom of manoeuvre. Now to take openly the side of Armenia and moreover, enter the officially recognized territory of Azerbaijan, is a too costly ‘pleasure’. To let Azerbaijan win would mean to let the conflict be solved somehow and this is also not useful to Russia.
To stay away from participation would mean to demonstrate its weakness. Nothing else is left – just offer negotiations and to lead them hoping to maintain its power, maybe even to finalize negotiations by some international settlement. However, this is not a victory, either.
Assistance of Turkey to Azerbaijan splits off a part of the so-called near-abroad. It seems this is not the end yet. Recently President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky visited Turkey. What was he looking for there? It seems, assistance in fighting against Russian (or separatists supported by it) aggression[AA1] . Somehow it reminds of Karabakh. Only Ukraine has less fear… Does the war between Russia and Turkey continue? Declarations of Russia that Crimea will always belong to Russians and Donbas does not belong to Ukrainians, might be not for ever. Finally, nothing else is left for both of them – Ukraine and Turkey. If the Western Europe refuses to accept them, they have to settle all matter by themselves.
What about Western Europe? The reaction is strongly…. neutral. Traditional Armenian lobbyists keep silent. The ones, who support Azerbaijanians, have no courage to say it outload. Maybe just because of Turkey. Now they are either afraid or have no courage to tell that they admire it because it is not afraid of Russia. Maybe the geopolitical patriarch George Friedman was right when he predicted that the New Ottomans will have a bright geopolitical future.