A new Caucasus war?

Azerbaijan and local Armenian separatists have announced a ceasefire in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a day after Azerbaijan mounted a surprise attack.

The two sides have contested the Nagorno-Karabakh region for decades. It’s widely recognised as part of Azerbaijan but the ethnic Armenian majority there, backed by neighbouring Armenia, has self-governed since 1994.

A brief but bloody 2020 war saw Azerbaijan make gains before accepting a ceasefire, but tensions have lingered and diplomacy has faltered.

Which brings us to Tuesday, when Azerbaijan suddenly launched what it called an “anti-terrorist” offensive, quickly overwhelming local forces.

And the local ethnic Armenians weren’t the only ones caught out:

  • 🇷🇺 Russia, which runs a peacekeeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh under the terms of the 2020 ceasefire, was unable or unwilling to step in, and several Russian peacekeepers died during the assault
  • 🇺🇸-🇪🇺The US and EU called on Azerbaijan to cease all hostilities and engage in “respectful” dialogue, drawing criticism from those hoping for something firmer, while on the other hand…
  • 🇹🇷 Turkey backed its long-time ally Azerbaijan, with President Erdoğan expressing “support for the steps” taken by Baku.

Under the new ceasefire terms, the Armenian separatists have agreed to completely disband and enter “talks” on the future of the enclave.

Intrigue’s take: Two things come to mind here. First, the word “talks” implies dialogue, but the sheer (im)balance of hard power at play means realistically, Azerbaijan will dictate what happens next. So the dissolution of the ethnic Armenians’ self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh seems inevitable.

And second, history suggests when you take centuries of strife, decades of border disputes, and multiple bloody wars, all culminating in the rule of one group over the other, it’s a recipe for disaster.

So if the world wasn’t watching Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, it might want to start watching now.

Also worth noting:

  • Luis Moreno Ocampo, the first International Criminal Court prosecutor, has labelled Azerbaijani’s actions “genocide”. Armenia’s foreign ministry has described the events as “ethnic cleansing”.
  • At the request of France, the UN Security Council will today (Thursday) convene for a briefing on the situation.
  • Last week, Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan said Armenia could no longer rely on Russia (which has a base in Armenia) for security. Armenia sent aid to Ukraine for the first time earlier this month.
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