Russia has gradually shifted its position in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Development Magazine explains the potential reasons for that. Pictured: The memorial monument Susha/Sushi in Nagorno Karabakh, a landmark for Armenia's partial victory in the 1992 conflict. Photo: Istockphotos/OSTILL.

Development magazine explains

Three reasons for Russia's actions in Nagorno-Karabakh

Conflicts om Nagorno-Karabakh flared up again in September and thousands of Armenians have fled the area. While the two warring parties Armenia and Azerbaijan has acted and reacted along known lines, there is a third actor whose actions may appear more surprising: Russia. 

Russia has historically supported Armenia politically and militarily in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Russian peacekeepers have been stationed in the region since 2020, when they played a central role in the ceasefire negotiation.

In September, the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated again. After an Azeri blitzkrieg attack on the region, the separatist Armenian-led regime in Nagorno-Karabakh announced that they gives up the fight for independence. Many observers now believe that the region will be fully incorporated into Azerbaijan by the turn of the year at the latest, reports DN.

During the outbreak of war in September, Russian troops are said to have acted late - or not at all - to prevent the entry of the Azeri forces. Parts of the Russian troops instead assisted Azeri forces in disarming Armenians, according to both DN and SvD.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have historical ties to Russia. They were both part of the Soviet Union and lie in Russia's so-called 'sphere of interest' in the heart of the Caucasus. In recent decades, Russia has been Armenia's ally, although Russia has also exported weapons to Azerbaijan. Both Armenia and Russia are members of the ODKB military alliance, and several Russian military bases are scattered in Armenia.

Russia's shifting loyalties

Russia's gradually shifting loyalties in the conflict may have several explanations. Already in 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed that Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan. Some analysts believed that this was due to Russian dissatisfaction with Armenia's then-newly elected president, Nikol Pashinyan - who had previously criticized Putin. That Armenia is now politically weakened by the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh could benefit Russia, says Jakob Hedenskog, analyst at the Foreign Policy Institute (UI), in an interview with Yle.

- It potentially can create discontent with Prime Minister Pashinyan [...] and in the long run get a more pro-Kremlin government in Armenia.

Other explanations are that Russia does not have the resources to support Armenia because they focus all military capacity on the war of aggression in Ukraine, which has cost Russia billions of kroner. Additional reasons for the turnaround may be that Azerbaijan has emerged as a more important player for Russia. In the EU's endeavor to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, the Union has entered into a agreement with Azerbaijan on doubling the import of natural gas.

The Russian action in Nagorno-Karabakh can therefore, according to some observers, also be an attempt by the Kremlin to prevent Azerbaijan from becoming too friendly towards the EU, and instead to tie them closer to itself in a world where more and more people are turning their backs on them . 

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh 

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh goes back over a hundred years. The basis is ethnic tensions where an Armenian majority in the region has proclaimed independence and believes that the area belongs to the Armenian people. This is not accepted by Azerbaijan – of which the region is formally a part.  

A war over Nagorno-Karabakh raged in the 80s and 90s, leading to Armenian separatists taking control of the area. In 2020, the war resumed, escalating again in 2023 when Azeri forces regained control. The conflict has led to large flows of refugees over the years and crimes against international law have been committed against the civilian population in the area.  

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