Lachin Corridor Blocked: Azerbaijan Blames Russian Peacekeepers

The latest incident in the ever-tense relations between neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan occurred on Monday, December12, when groups of Azerbaijanis blocked the Lachin Road that links the recently liberated Nagorno-Karabakh region with Armenia to protest against what they term environmental degradation in the region. A day earlier, Azerbaijan had issued a diplomatic note to Russia, whose peacekeeping forces have been patrolling the corridor since late 2020, expressing concern over the rampant exploitation of its natural resources right under the nose of Russian forces.

Even though Nagorno-Karabakh has been effectively under Azerbaijani control since 2020, the region still hosts a sizable Armenian population with connections in the neighboring country. The delicate balance has been maintained by Russian peacekeeping forces that have been stationed across this 5-km wide road since a peace deal was hammered out after months of conflict 2020.

Angered at the blockade, Armenia has blamed Azerbaijani military forces of staging the blockade, disrupting civilian traffic between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia for hours, especially during the winter season. The Azerbaijani government has rejected the accusation and has clarified that the blockade is being carried out by civilians, many of whom are Azerbaijani environmentalists, over concerns that illegal gold and copper mining is being carried out in Nagorno-Karabakh and the resources are being smuggled to Armenia through the Lachin Corridor. Additionally, Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of supplying arms to Armenian groups in Nagorno-Karabakh through this corridor.

A particular target of Azerbaijani accusations is Ruben Vardanyan, a former Russian oligarch of Armenian ethnicity who adopted Armenian citizenship in 2021, gave up Russian citizenship the following year, and was appointed state minister of Artsakh—a self-proclaimed sovereign state in the Nagorno-Karabakh region that is recognized by neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani authorities blame Vardanyan of enabling the illegal smuggling of valuable mineral resources between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.  Azerbaijani officials have stated their resolve not to allow Vardanyan to succeed in his schemes to promote smuggling and environmental damage in the region.

While both sides have a history of trading accusations and holding each other responsible for disrupting peace in the region, Azerbaijan has raised the stakes by dragging Russia into the picture. Under the peacekeeping deal signed with Russian mediation in 2020, Russian forces are responsible for maintaining peace along the corridor. However, Azerbaijan has accused Russian forces of being complicit with the Armenians and turning a blind eye to their activities in the region.

Russia’s foreign ministry has rejected the Azerbaijani accusations terming them unfortunate and counterproductive, while clearly asking for the blockade to be removed at the earliest. Russia is the chief guarantor of peace between the two nations, but it seems that this recent accusation by Azerbaijan will test Russian resolve to maintain neutrality between the two nations. While Armenia and Russia are strong allies in several regional alliances, Azerbaijan has enjoyed close relations with Russia’s Black Sea rival Turkey. Hence, this move would further strain relations between Azerbaijan and Russia at a time when Azerbaijan needs as much diplomatic support as it can get.

On the part of Russia, the challenge is nothing that it has not seen before. Owing to Soviet legacy, the country has peacekeeping forces stationed in several neighboring countries, including Moldova, Georgia, and more recently Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is confident about its ability to navigate easily through the current crisis and is likely to be unsympathetic to Azerbaijan’s concerns. In fact, the recent accusations appear to be a sign of frustration over Azerbaijan’s inability to exercise absolute sovereignty over the region that it had liberated after more than two decades of Armenian opposition. Anxiety is also rising about the intentions of the Russian forces given the close relation between Russia and Armenia.

Armenia and Iran Amplify Diplomatic and Military Relations Against Common Threats

On October 21, the Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan welcomed his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian at the Foreign Ministry and was apparently pleased with the Iranian Foreign Minister’s acknowledgment of Armenia’s security interests at the same level as Iran’s own and his clear assertion that Iran would not tolerate any tampering with the current Armenia-Iran border.

Not only that, on the same day he inaugurated a new Iranian consulate in Kapan, which lies in the Syunik province lying along the Armenia-Iran border and which links Azerbaijan with the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.

Both Azerbaijan and Turkey have been pressing Armenia to allow them land transit access along Syunik, which Armenia has not accepted. Within this context, the Iranian Foreign Minister’s statement was heard clearly across Armenia’s borders in Baku, Ankara, and Moscow, as was intended.

Decoding the Armenia-Iran-Azerbaijan Triangle

Despite being an Islamic republic, having strong ethnic Armenian and Azeri communities within Iran, and having borders with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, Iran has traditionally enjoyed warmer relations with Armenia, for a variety of reasons. It alleges that Azerbaijan has irredentist aspirations towards Iran’s Azeri provinces, supports secessionist forces, and refers to the provinces as Southern Azerbaijan in the local media. Azerbaijan’s close relations with Israel and Turkey also make Iran anxious about its intentions in the region.

Azerbaijan harbors similar suspicions and complaints against Iran for running anti-Azerbaijani propaganda, sponsoring Hezbollah activities in Azerbaijan, and conducting covert operations to weaken the Azerbaijani state.

Iran has always viewed Armenia as a more reliable partner in the Caucuses and it is its only gateway into the region. Due to this, Iran is against any moves by Azerbaijan and Turkey to acquire a land corridor through Armenia that would disconnect the two allies. While it accepted Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, it is wary of Azerbaijan’s expansionist plans.

Armenia Seeks Iranian Drones to Maintain Military Parity with Azerbaijan

According to some media reports, a senior Iranian military official, Major General Yahia Rahim Safavi, has revealed that Armenia is interested in purchasing Iran’s military drones to bridge the military imbalance with Azerbaijan. Naturally, Iran would be glad to help its ally boost up its defense capabilities against an unfriendly neighbor.

Iran has supplied Russia with at least three types of drones—the Mohajer-6 which has a 200-km range, the Shahed-129 which travels up to 450 km, and the Shahed-191, which goes up to 2000 km. Despite no official word from the two countries, Ukraine claims to have shot down and captured several Mohajer-6 drones coming in from Russia to drop payloads over Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.

Can Iranian Drones Match Up to Azerbaijan’s Turkish Drones?

Both Ukraine and Azerbaijan are among the biggest buyers of Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 military drones. These drones have been credited for playing an instrumental role in Azerbaijan’s decisive victory over Armenia in the 2020 conflict and helping Ukraine resist the Russian invasion in 2022. In the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan’s fleet of TB2 drones was responsible for destroying nearly 40 percent of Armenia’s inventory of military equipment. The Ukrainian Air Force has officially confirmed only two successful attacks on Russian targets using the TB2 drones.

Given these facts, it is unlikely that the addition of Iranian drones to Armenia’s arsenal will put Azerbaijan on the back foot.

Russia will also be watching the developments closely as they affect key allies Iran and Armenia and involve Turkey—its key rival in the Black Sea—as well. Moscow is the primary guarantor of peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and has become alerted to European efforts to increase diplomatic influence in the Caucuses and tap into its vast gas reserves.

Can Timely Diplomacy Avert a Second Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict?

Azerbaijan and Armenia entered into a fresh round of violence soon after midnight on Tuesday, 13 September, each accusing the other of undue provocation and claiming to have responded ‘proportionately’.

Based on the information currently available, Azerbaijan is said to have fired mortar shells at Armenian troops stationed along the border. Azerbaijan defends this move by claiming that Armenian forces were amassing ammunition and setting up landmines along the border, and had even fired at Azerbaijani posts, bringing the Azerbaijani border districts under threat. These districts include Lachin which had until recently been under the control of Russian peacekeeping troops under the terms of the 2020 ceasefire agreement, and had been handed over to the Azerbaijani forces last month.

Losses on Both Sides

The attacks took place near three important cities on the Armenian side, Jermuk, Goris and Sotk, according to a statement issued by the Armenian Defense Ministry, resulting in a loss of 49 Armenian soldiers. Armenia’s defense ministry claims that attacks were also made against civilian infrastructure and struck near several villages and towns near the border with Azerbaijan. The losses on the Azerbaijani side have not been reported or confirmed although the Defense Ministry has acknowledged damage to its military installations.

Western Interests and Positions on the Clashes

This latest flare-up between two important countries of the South Caucuses has regional as well as international implications. At a time when the neighborhood is suffering from the fallout of the Russia-Ukraine war and tense negotiations between the US and Iran, another conflict in the region could spell disaster for peace. It is not surprising then that major world powers have been spurred to action to quell the rising tension between the two nations.

Responding to the Armenian outreach, US Secretary of State has called for both sides to end hostilities immediately, while sending a warning out to Russia to avoid any misadventures that could exacerbate the situation.

French President Macron has also requested both sides to abide by the 2020 ceasefire agreement and has stated that it will submit the matter to the UN Security Council.

The EU has recently been making diplomatic overtures towards both countries in order to replace Russia as the primary mediator in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflicts, and even offered a new peace treaty to both countries. Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU’s foreign policy chief has called upon both countries to cease hostilities immediately and go back to negotiations. Additionally, the President of the European Council Charles Michel has stated the EU’s readiness to take steps for preventing further escalation and restore peace in the region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come out in full support of ally Azerbaijan by demanding that Armenia desist all provocative actions against it.

Russia Scrambles to Mediate

As expected, Moscow has taken serious note of these developments as it cannot afford another conflict in its backyard that would distract it from the ongoing Ukraine operation, where it has suffered some setbacks recently, especially territorial losses in the Kharkiv region, when key towns in the area were retaken by Ukrainian forces.

Nonetheless, responding to Armenia’s request to intervene under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) of which Russia and Armenia are members, but Azerbaijan is not, Moscow has stepped in to bring both the parties to the negotiation table and restore the ceasefire. According to Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson of the Kremlin, President Putin is actively engaging leaders on both sides to resolve the tension at the earliest.

Implications for Russia’s Regional Involvement

If the two sides continue to escalate the violence despite regional and international efforts, the implications for Russia’s role in the region could be significant. Long regarded as the mediator of first instance in all disputes in the Caucuses, Russian supremacy both in Central Asia and the Caucuses may be challenged by Turkey, which allies itself strongly with Azerbaijan, as well as China. Not to mention the role of the EU, which has launched an aggressive charm offensive to wean away the two countries from Russian influence.

More important is the question of how long Russian can invest its energies in the Ukraine conflict at the cost of peace along the rest of its 20,241-kilometre border. For western powers desiring to divert Russia’s focus from its actions in Ukraine and ultimately bring the country down to its knees, such regional tensions could be very beneficial.

The European Political Community: Another New Front Against Russia?

With Liz Truss all but set to become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the guest list to the Prague Summit scheduled for 6 October is nearly complete. Aimed at building a new, more flexible coalition of like-minded European democracies, including not just EU members and aspirants, but also former Soviet states Armenia and Azerbaijan, the move is clearly aimed at enhancing European security against what is perceived as the threat of Russian military aggression. But the key question is, does Russia have an answer to these new developments?

UK’s Role in the New Coalition

Even though the UK is no longer part of the European Union after Brexit, it is still a key player in the European security paradigm, a member of NATO, and at the forefront of calling out the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Therefore, Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the soon-to-be UK Prime Minister’s attendance at the gathering next month, going as far as to downplay differences between the EU and UK over the Northern Ireland protocol, and the recent jibe of Ms Truss against French President Emmanuel Macron by giving an ambiguous response to a question about whether or not Macron was a friend of the UK.

Despite these awkward positions, if Mr Michel’s active diplomacy succeeds, the October 6 summit in Prague will feature an assembly of 27 EU states, 9 EU aspirants, including Turkey (provided that Greece and Cyprus can be brought on board), Norway, Switzerland, Armenia and Azerbaijan. A veritable coalition stretching from the Atlantic to the Caucuses to encircle Russia on multiple fronts.

Eurasian Diplomacy Wooing Russian Neighbors

Even though Russia has not made a formal statement on these developments, it is likely that the Kremlin is calculating its next move already. In July this year, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen visited Azerbaijan to explore energy deals to replace Russian gas. On August 31, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia met Michel in Brussels to negotiate a new peace deal that would effectively undermine the Russian-brokered 2020 peace deal after the Nagorno-Karabakh War. And if all goes as planned, these two leaders will be meeting the likes of Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, Tayyip Erdogan, and Liz Truss, all desperate to increase their influence in Russia’s backyard.

Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine is slowly reaching a stalemate as neither side has been able to make significant advancements since the fall of Mariupol to the Russian forces in April 2022. The European states have responded by sanctioning Russia, suspending Russian gas imports, and sending arms to Ukraine. None of these have succeeded in deterring Russia as it has shown its capacity to stay for the long haul in Ukraine and continue to inch further. In this context, reaching out to Armenia and Azerbaijan may be a desperate and ill-thought move on the part of the European states.

The Russian Role in the Caucuses

Russia is still the primary broker of peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It successfully mediated peace between the two countries and got them to sign a ceasefire agreement. And until 26 August, it was patrolling the Lachin strip, which connects Armenia with Stepanakert, the capital of Nagonro-Karabakh, before the Azerbaijan forces took over from them. This move might seem to have emboldened Azerbaijan to enter into strategic relations with Europe; however, Russia would still hold the key to the fragile peace between these two important countries in its neighborhood.

The Prague Protests—A Spoiler or Moscow’s Good Fortune?

A surprising development that might also play in Russia’s favor is the unexpected sparking of protests in Prague. On 4 September, an estimated 70,000 angry protestors poured into the streets of Prague against their government’s siding with the EU and NATO over the Ukraine War and demanding a resumption of Russian gas supply. Persistent inflation could lead to more people joining the protestors, raising serious concerns for the weak coalition government of Prime Minister Petr Fiala.

For Moscow, these protests could not have come at a better time, weeks before the show of European strength and unity against it. How these protests pan out will determine the discourse that takes place at the European Political Community summit and the message that it will send to Russia, if it happens at all.

Exclusive Report of The Caucasus Center – Any form of its republishing need credit of The Caucasus Center for Strategic and Int’l Studies (CCSIS). 

Will Armenia and Azerbaijan head towards another War?

The fresh skirmishes between Armenia and Azerbaijan border resulted in the casualties of soldiers according to the officials and media reports. Once again, the thick clouds of war are hovering on the South-Caucasus region.

It seems that both countries are engaged in an unending conflict. The border violence leads to the massive wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both the countries had fought two full-fledged wars. Last year’s war resulted in the loss of 6000 live.

After the second Nagorno-Karabakh war in which Azerbaijan retaken its lands terming its liberated territories, both the countries signed a ceasefire arrangement brokered by Russia. After the ceasefire agreement, the current border violence is the biggest one in recent months. However both sides still apparently stuck with the Russian brokered ceasefire deal.

The Caucasus Conflict: Why Azerbaijani Lavy Taxes from Iranian Trucks What Next?

The Caucasus Conflict: Azerbaijani Lavy Taxes from Iranian Trucks What Next?

The Caucasus Center is launching its special series of analyses on the Iran-Azerbaijan emerging border conflict. We will publish the various possible simulations in the coming weeks. We are going to closely monitor the situation and publish the objective analysis.

If you are interested to submit your Simulation, you can send us at eamil:

info AT thecaucasuscenter DOT org and we will publish it with your name and title.

Don’t forget to send your full name, email address, phone, and title.

The Caucasus Center

South Caucasus: Tension Rising between Azerbaijan and Iran borders

Iran and Azerbaijan border conflict getting international attention after the news of both countries’ military drills activities near their borders. Iran is concerned with the Azerbaijan regional emergence as a tiny oil-rich state that is heavily equipped with Israeli sophisticated weapons and Turkish drones.

Initially, Azerbaijan started its military drills with its Turkish and Pakistani counterparts. Azerbaijan also detained two Iranian drivers and blocks Trucks’ entry towards Armenia. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian on Thursday expressed disappointment over the inappropriate treatment toward Iranian truck drivers and the arrest of two of them by Azerbaijani border guards.

However more recently Azerbaijani national protest outside Iranian Embassy in Baku sparked serious concerns in Tehran.  Iranian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Abbas Mousavi on Friday strongly condemned the provocative acts by some Azerbaijani nationals against the Iranian Embassy in Baku on Thursday night.

In recent weeks series of meeting from the Ambassador level to the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan and Iran took place to resolve their difference. Both the countries are trying to downplay their internal rifts.

In South Caucasus two leading power players are Russia and Iran. Azerbaijan is a former Soviet state always been under the heavy influence of Moscow. But more recently after the Nagorno-Karabakh War-II, Baku confidence surprised regional and international players. It seems that a policy shift has been deliberately trying to implement by regional players in the South-Caucasus region.

Turkish footprints in South Caucasus are not acceptable either for Russia or Iran. So, Turkey is continuously involved in Azerbaijan and emerged as a major leading supporter and arms supplier to Baku in the Nagorno-Karabakh war-II.

Turkish direct intervention in the South Caucasus region is a serious risk and posing a threat to the other countries. It’s triggering a race of arms and ammunition competition in the region. Turkey’s intentions are clear to make a Turkish-speaking countries bloc that is not acceptable to any of the neighbors near Iran and Russia.

It’s a reality that Iran is one of the leading powers in the South Caucasus. Iran has no military comparison with Azerbaijan because Iran’s combat capacity is much more than Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is a leading buyer of Israeli weapons. For Iran to accept a country that has been heavily equipped with Israeli weapons next to its border is a major concern.

Iran sending a message to Azerbaijan through these military drills that they would not accept an “Azerbaijan” that can pose a challenge to its neighbors in near future.

Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said at a meeting with Azerbaijan’s new ambassador “We do not tolerate the presence and activity against our national security of the Zionist regime next to our borders and will take any necessary action in this regard,”.

To win a war from Armenia does not mean Azerbaijan becomes a regional player. Though Azerbaijan comes in limelight after the Nagorno-Karabakh war if there is a sense of overconfidence that means it led Baku to some very unexpected and awkward situations.

So, to become a proxy of Israel and the United States (US) in the South Caucasus would not be a wise enough move for Azerbaijan.

For Azerbaijan, any miscalculation of strength about Iran’s power could cause serious repercussions.

 

 

 

Turkic Council Emerges As A Powerful Body In The Caucasus And Central Asia

At the 7th Summit of the Turkic Council in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku the members of Turkish Speaking states increased to five after the official membership acceptance of Uzbekistan that makes this body one of the most powerful in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States, also known as the Turkic Council, was established back in 2009 with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey as the group’s founding members. Uzbekistan applied for membership of Turkic Council on September 2019. At the Turkic Council’s summit in Kyrgyzstan in September 2018, Hungary joined the group as an observer state.

Azerbaijan has taken the chair of the Turkic-Council for this year. Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev termed that the cooperation between the Turkic-Speaking states is one the priority of his country’s foreign policy. The final statements of the summit of the Cooperation Council of ​the Turkic-speaking States express support for the territorial integrity of state borders.

The Turkic-Council states have very strong cooperation that is based on common cultural values, traditions, and language. Through this platform, this cooperation further enhanced and Turkic-Council has become one of the most influential bodies in the Caucasus and Central Asian countries.