Fighting resumes in the Caucasus, Armenia and Azerbaijan fighting over Nagorno Karabakh. The current conflict dates back to the end of the Soviet Union. At the time, the inhabitants of the region declared themselves independent of Azerbaijan, in accordance with the Soviet constitution.
Russia, as the legal successor to the Soviet Union, sees itself as a regulatory power in the Caucasus, but the Kremlin is apparently seen less and less as such. For three decades, an unresolved conflict was more beneficial to Moscow than a resolved one. Both sides threatened and fought with Russian weapons. Moscow could play the referee if the combatants were too bad. It is possible that the tours in Baku and Yerevan again expect Vladimir Putin to intervene as an arbitrator. But can he? It’s hard for him.
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For politicians on both sides, hate speech against neighbors is a matter of state. It has gotten worse since the summer as it is used to distract those in power from internal problems. Russia currently has no free hand in the face of its enormous foreign policy problems: the sanctions of the West, the attempt to bring about a change of power without revolution in Belarus, the never-ending military operation in Syria , the war in Ukraine – just to name a few. Russia has made powerful speeches about its role in the world, but it’s bogged down and losing control.
Turkey is a new player on the front line
Perhaps that’s exactly what prompted the tours in Yerevan and Baku to look for a solution on their own. But the conflict has changed. Two new actors have appeared on the front lines: on the one hand, Turkey, which openly takes the side of Azerbaijan. Even regular Turkish troops would have intervened, the Armenians claim. On the other hand, there is talk of “Syrian fighters” on both sides.
For Western Europeans, Karabakh is a conflict behind the mountains of the Caucasus. Realistically, the EU will continue to play a small role in the region. But the situation points to another conflict in which Europeans have interests to defend and push for real peace. It’s about the Donbas, the east of Ukraine. Karabakh makes it clear that “freezing” a conflict is not an option. For decades fighting flared up again and again and more and more deaths had to be mourned. That is unacceptable. The EU must increase pressure on Moscow. In fact, given the many other problems, the Kremlin should have an interest in a compromise right now.