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After Azerbaijan took control of Nagorno-Karabakh without fighting, Russia lost an important tool for destabilising the region

After Azerbaijan took control of Nagorno-Karabakh without fighting, Russia lost an important tool for destabilising the region

After the failure to reach a negotiated peace agreement in the long-running conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Baku used favourable circumstances to resolve the conflict by military means. In September 2023, Azerbaijani forces took control of the whole of Nagorno-Karabakh in a 24-hour military operation. The vast majority of Armenians who used to live there have left the region. In the short term, a peace agreement and opening of transport routes through Armenia will remain key issues in the countries’ relations.

One of the factors behind Baku’s success is the heightened tension between Armenia and Russia. Relations between the two countries deteriorated after the second Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, when Moscow reneged on its commitments and allowed Azerbaijan to take control of part of Nagorno-Karabakh. Moscow’s posture led to a rise in anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia and allowed the country’s leadership to publicly state its intention to change the direction of its foreign policy. In response, Russia increased pressure on Yerevan in order to demonstrate that it was still the main guarantor of security in the region. Despite the apparent confrontation between Russia and Armenia, the latter remains largely dependent on Russia.

In the absence of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Russia’s influence in the region will diminish. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s main objective in the South Caucasus has been to keep the conflict zones frozen and thus prevent the West from gaining influence. Since the end of the conflict, Russia no longer has a key instrument of power to manipulate the interests of the parties to the conflict. However, Russian military bases in Armenia and the occupied regions of Georgia will allow Moscow to retain some leverage over the countries in the region.

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