Featured image: Russian and Armenian presidents after talks in Moscow, March 2017
While there are a host of differences between the two states, the one that Russia is beginning to care the most about nowadays is how Armenia is standing in the way of Moscow’s Great Power engagement with the “Ummah” while Azerbaijan is doing everything it can to facilitate it.
Analyzing Armenian-Azerbaijani relations is a lot like talking about those between India & Pakistan and “Israel” & Palestine, in that they’re extraordinarily complex, deeply rooted in history, and involve very passionate arguments about land, religion, and geopolitics, among many other factors. There’s no “easy way” to address them without risking the ire of one or the other side, though there’s also no avoiding that such seemingly intractable conflicts exist as a fact in today’s world. That being said, it’s worthwhile to discuss how a Great Power such as Russia understands its developing role in the emerging Multipolar World Order vis-à-vis these disputes, and the most pertinent one to look at is over Nagorno-Karabakh, seeing as how Moscow was a direct – if albeit unofficial – participant in it and is also a party to the OSCE Minsk Group which aims to bring about a resolution to this long-standing problem.
A Geopolitical Thaw
In fact, it’s actually the last point which is the most important to dwell on for the moment, since it had long been assumed by outside observers – whether rightly or wrongly – that Moscow had an interest in indefinitely “freezing” the conflict, but that’s no longer the case. The old and debunked argument goes that Russia, due to the Orthodox Christian roots that it shares with its fellow Armenian co-confessionals, was always tacitly on Yerevan’s side and will forever remain that way no matter what, which is what many Armenians had assumed. Passively allowing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to remain “frozen” was supposedly a signal from Russia that it approved of Armenia’s position on the issue, which implied that Moscow didn’t believe that disputed territory should ever return to Baku’s control. That may have been the case for the past two decades, but in recent years Russia’s attitude has remarkably changed as it began a pronounced rapprochement with Azerbaijan.