Sunday evening kick-started a clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan that quickly transitioned into a full-blown war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Naturally, other states and international actors got involved. At least 39 troops and civilians have been killed over the past two days in the worst clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 2016.
War escalates between Armenia and Azerbaijan
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been engaged in clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh since 1988. It was in 1988 when the mountainous region of fewer than 150,000 people declared independence from Azerbaijan. The war that followed the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh killed 30,000 and displaced hundreds of thousands before ending in a ceasefire in 1994. Violent outbreaks between Armenian and Azeri forces have continued ever since.
Fighting between the ex-Soviet republics over a decades-long territorial dispute threatens to engage regional players; Russia and Turkey. The United States, Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the UN secretary-general have all called for an end to hostilities. Political scientists all over the globe speculate that this war that initially started between Armenia and Azerbaijan might transition into a war of Turkey vs Russia.
The conflict might turn into a Turkey vs Russia war
Russia is a major superpower in the region. Russia has maintained close economic ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan over the years. In the recent clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia has maintained a cautious stance. However, Armenia is deeper within Moscow’s orbit as a member of Russia-led regional military and economic blocs CSTO and EEU, while Azerbaijan is not.
Russian support in terms of military guarantees is critical to Armenia. Armenia’s defense budget is overshadowed by Azerbaijan’s arms spending. Additionally, Armenia hosts a Russian military base near its second-largest city.
Meanwhile, Muslim-majority Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan is openly backed by its influential ally Turkey. Ankara is at odds with Yerevan over the Armenian Genocide during World War I and has kept its border with Armenia closed since 1993. Turks and Azeris share ethnic and linguistic kinship, but ties between neighbors Turkey and Armenia have been suspended because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Azerbaijan has also tried to pitch itself to European countries as an alternative energy supplier to Russia. Therefore, Russia’s support for Armenia and Turkey’s backing for Azerbaijan is clear. “Turkey continues to stand with the friendly and brotherly Azerbaijan with all its facilities and heart,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday. The Armenian Foreign Affairs Ministry has claimed that Azerbaijan is receiving “large-scale military-political support from Turkey” in the form of advisers and weapons, including drones.
Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat said, “If we see this conflict spill over into other parts of the geography, in particular Nakhchivan, that will trigger a much more difficult episode between Turkey and Russia which will come on top of the existing theatres of conflict in Syria and Libya.”