Where Russia, Turkey, Iran stand in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in January, 2020. (File photo: Reuters)

The war raging between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has dragged in a complex web of foreign countries.

The neighboring former-Soviet states are fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is controlled by the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, an ethnically Armenian enclave that is internationally recognized to be a part of Azerbaijan, but has never been under Azeri rule.

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The current flare up is the most serious escalation since the early 1990s and has raised tensions between key regional actors, most notably Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Israel.

Here is where each country stands on the conflict.

Ethnic Armenians volunteer recruits gather at a center where they receive their uniforms and weapons. (AP)

Ethnic Armenians volunteer recruits gather at a center where they receive their uniforms and weapons. (AP)

Latest: Armenia, Azerbaijan will attend Moscow talks: Russia

Russia: Regional powerhouse trying to mediate

Russia is the most influential country in the South Caucasus region but has remained on the sidelines in the current flare up and called for an end to hostilities.

Russia has a military base in Armenia and sells arms to both Armenia and Azerbaijan in a balancing act that gives it considerable influence and leverage over both countries. Over the years, Moscow has used its position to play the role of a mediator.

According to Laurence Broers, Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House, Russia has a security-driven approach based on the idea of “pivotal deterrence,” a term he coined.

“[Russia] is a pivot moving between Armenia and Azerbaijan with a range of different kinds of policies, being a security guarantor to Armenia, providing weapons to both sides and mediation initiatives,” Broers told Al Arabiya English.

According to Broers, the recent escalation is a dilemma for Moscow. On the one hand, Russia is a co-chair of the main mediation entity for this conflict, the OSCE Minsk group, but on the other hand, it is a “profoundly geopolitical player and an aspiring regional and global power.”

“I think Russia’s passivity is to do with the ambiguities of its different possible roles and the unexpected extent of Turkey’s entry into this conflict,” Broers said.

An Armenian serviceman fires a cannon towards Azerbaijan positions in the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Sept. 29, 2020. (AP)

An Armenian serviceman fires a cannon towards Azerbaijan positions in the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Sept. 29, 2020. (AP)

Russia and Armenia are technically allies bound by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance that could draw in Russia to defend its ally if Armenia proper is ever attacked.

However, Moscow prefers to keep the status quo and wants to avoid both escalation or the resolution of the conflict, which could remove its leverage, according to Eugene Chausovsky, Non-resident Fellow at the Center for Global Policy.

“Ultimately Moscow’s interest is to keep its influence over both Armenia and Azerbaijan and to keep Nagorno-Karabakh a simmering conflict,” Chausovsky told Al Arabiya English.

“This whole system works because the parties [Armenia and Azerbaijan] haven’t had alternative allies,” Broers added.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (L) shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin during a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union's (EAEU) intergovernmental council in Yerevan, on October 9, 2020. (AFP)

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (L) shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin during a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union's (EAEU) intergovernmental council in Yerevan, on October 9, 2020. (AFP)

Turkey: Strong support for Azerbaijan

The second major player in the conflict is Turkey, which has announced its support for Azerbaijan.

Turkey was the first country to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence after the fall of the Soviet Union and the two countries have strong ethnic and historic ties. In contrast, Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia, partly due to the fallout of the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in the Armenian Genocide.

In reaction to the latest fighting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to support Azerbaijan “on the battlefield or the negotiating table.”

Turkey’s entry into the situation has undermined Russia’s balancing policy, according to Broers, with Turkish weaponry and support giving Azerbaijan more confidence and tipping the balance of power in its favor during the current round of fighting.

“We’re seeing the collapse of the security system through which Russia has managed the conflict under the last 15 years or so,” Broers said.

Turkey’s involvement has also been characterized by its facilitation of Syrian mercenaries to fight alongside Azerbaijan, which both Baku and Ankara deny despite reports of dead Syrians on the battlefield.

Multiple reports and accusations have also surfaced that Turkish military personnel are manning aircraft and have a presence in Azerbaijan, but have again been denied by both countries.

Broers describes Turkey’s escalatory involvement as part of Erdogan’s expansionist foreign policy aspirations, and an opportunity to showcase its products from its arms industry that have proven beneficial in other theaters such as Syria, Libya, and the eastern Mediterranean.

“This is a continuation of [Turkey’s expansionist] policy. It’s very bold in a way and unexpected in a sense that Turkey would go so far in the former Soviet space,” Broers said.

Chausovsky and Broers both agreed that Turkey and Azerbaijan’s intentions are linked to Erdogan’s desire for domestic support through claiming foreign policy victories.

Chausovsky also pointed to the wider geopolitical environment in which Turkey and Russia are competing for influence.

“There is a lot of overlapping spheres of influence or contested areas between the two countries,” he explained.

An image grab taken from a video made available by the Azeri Defense Ministry on September 28, 2020, allegedly shows Azeri troops during clashes between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. (AFP)

An image grab taken from a video made available by the Azeri Defense Ministry on September 28, 2020, allegedly shows Azeri troops during clashes between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. (AFP)

Iran: Conflicted

Iran, which borders both countries, is often described as an ally of Armenia but has a nuanced relationship with both warring parties.

“Iran’s position in this conflict and towards the conflicts of the South Caucasus altogether generally has been more pragmatic rather than ideological,” Broers explained.

Iran’s geographic proximity to the conflict and the possible mobilization of its ethnic Azerbaijani minority population have always been important factors that shape Iran’s decisions.

Broers added that Iran is in a conflicted situation, as it has always respected and acknowledged the territorial integrity of its fellow Shia nation Azerbaijan, but also shot down Azeri drones that flew over its airspace.

“Iran is generally cautious of the conflict expanding to its borders and is suspicious of growing Turkish influence in South Caucasus,” he said.

Tehran has so far called for mediation and for a ceasefire, remaining largely neutral, shooting down allegations that a truck carrying military equipment passed through its borders into Armenia.

Iran may also be influenced by its enemy, Israel, who has supplied weapons to Azerbaijan used during the current war.

Israel also imports Azerbaijani oil and could in the end be more likely to favor its relationship with Baku over Yerevan, with whom it only recently developed its ties, Broers said.

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Last Update: Friday, 09 October 2020 KSA 13:40 - GMT 10:40
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