With Nagorno Karabakh’s worst violence in two decades having abated, Armenia and Azerbaijan are taking stock of how loyally their allies and partners responded to the crisis. And in most cases, both sides have found the responses wanting.
The major outside player in the conflict remains Russia, but its actions and the subsequent reactions followed a well-worn path: Armenia complained that its ostensible ally was providing weapons to its enemy, Russia justified that policy in terms of a balance of power, and nothing concrete changed.
While Armenia is a treaty ally of Russia, hosts a Russian military base, and gets discounted Russian weaponry in return, oil-rich Azerbaijan has rearmed itself, with the aim of retaking its lost territory, buying most of its arms from the very same Russia.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin visited the region at the end of last week, part of a Russian diplomatic blitz that seems to have succeeded in tamping down the violence for the time being. And both officials made it clear that Russia did not intend to change its policy of supplying both sides.
“If we consider for a moment that Russia gave up that role, we all will see clearly that such place won’t remain vacant. Weapons will be bought from other countries, and that won’t make weapons less deadly. However, it could ruin the current balance to some extent,” Medvedev said. “Everything is done in compliance with the contracts. Both these countries are our strategic partners,” Rogozin said.
That prompted yet another round of lamentation from Yerevan. “Russia is our strategic partner, and our people take it with pain that Russia sells weapons to aggressor Azerbaijan,” Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan said on Saturday. “After all of this, the sale of arms [to Azerbaijan] is amoral,” added Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan.
Nevertheless, nothing is likely to change — at least in the short term — said analyst Sergey Minasyan. “There’s nothing new in this. I think that sooner or later this will lead to something like the Russia losing both Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he said. “The format of Russian-Armenian cooperation in recent years is based on the principles of security, and if Russia takes steps that create problems for Armenia’s security, sooner or later the question will be raised of how appropriate are relations in the security sphere with Russia.”
While other regional countries are bit players compared to Russia, their reactions tended to be a bit more noteworthy or dramatic.
Turkey, while often portrayed as playing for Azerbaijan the same role that Russia plays for Armenia, is nevertheless far less involved in the conflict. Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan is mostly limited to the rhetorical, though from that perspective it must be unimpeachable from Baku’s point of view. Nevertheless, there have been remarkably few appeals from Azerbaijan to Turkey since the fighting began, possibly in consideration of Russian sensitivities.
Baku was somewhat more public with its reaction to Israel, which hassupplied Azerbaijan with a lot of its newer weaponry. “We view Israel as a strategic partner, and expect it to comment,” he said. “Azerbaijan asks its strategic partner – the State of Israel – to express its attitude toward the latest developments related to the military provocation committed by Armenia in the border of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” senior presidential adviser Ali Hasanov complained to the Jerusalem Post. The Post added that “Israel, however, is in no hurry to get involved in a fight pitting Azerbaijan against Armenia.”
Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and while in Armenia’s case this is effectively a multilateral fig leaf for bilateral relations with Russia, it at least nominally means that Armenia is also allied with CSTO members Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. But Yerevan took issue with how some of these allies responded to the outbreak of fighting.
Belarus issued a statement emphasizing “territorial integrity and the inviolability of borders,” principles that favor Azerbaijan’s position. And Kazakhstan abruptly canceled a summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (a sort of economic analog to the CSTO) that was to have been held in Yerevan last week, apparently not wanting to appear as if it were supporting Armenia in the conflict.
“As for the CSTO, the statements of several of the member states undermine its authority. The expectations we had were not met,” saidBagram Bagdasaryan, a senior Armenian MP. “Our partners need to make their positions clear.”
Particularly intriguing was the question of Turkmenistan’s involvement in the conflict. Several Azerbaijani media outlets reported that Ashgabat was ready to fully support Azerbaijan, including sending troops. This would be out of character for Turkmenistan, avowedly neutral and strongly isolationist. Central Asia expert Arkady Dubnovsuggested that the rumors were “a disinformation campaign on the part of some Azerbaijani structures.”