Russia occupation strategy in Armenia part of larger foreign regional control strategy

By | Rachel Brooks

November 13, 2020 

Pictured above, Baku, Azerbaijan, CC BY 2.0. After the war for the Nagorno-Karabakh, a changing geopolitical structure may see more influence from Baku, and a challenge to the Russian dominance strategy.

In the days that followed the surrender of the Armenian forces to Baku, speculation has surmounted over the future of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the normalization process. Both nations fear Russian exploitation. Professor Dr. Ifran Kaya Ulger, a faculty member of Kojaeli University, spoke in a November 10 interview with Eurasia Diary News, expressing his concerns that Russia invisions a peacekeeping intervention in Azerbaijan at the border of Armenian, in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, as an occupation. 


The Russian motive, the researcher states, is to transform the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan into a new version of Abkhazia. Dr. Ulger was not convinced that the war launched on September 27 by Armenian forces was carried out solely by Armenian volition. The researcher believed, based on his assessments, that Russian among the Armenian forces launched the attacks. The purpose, stated the researcher, was to overthrow the presence of a pro-Western Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan. It was this researcher’s belief that Pashinyan, for his humiliating public failure to successfully win the Nagorno-Karabakh war, will soon be overthrown. He will likely then be replaced with a pro-Russian prime minister. As the Russian forces have, as per the agreement, been placed in the region for five years, to secure the Russian influence over the region. 


Azerbaijani President Aliyev stressed the importance of bringing Turkey to the table in the OSCE Minsk Group talks. It was Aliyev who pushed for a Turkish presence at the OSCE Minsk Group talks. Turkey and Russia contradict one another in other foreign policy fronts. The researcher noted specifically Syria and Libya issues. Turkey is also keenly aware of the activity in the Nagorno-Karabakh and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Region. As Russia places a stronger influence on the Armenian nation, to the researchers estimation, Turkey tends to support Azerbaijan to defend it against Russian growing interest. 


Estimations of a Russia versus Turkey proxy relationship in the region have circulated around the westernized media. In New Europe, analysts alleged that Russia and Turkey were forming “an insidious relationship” over the Caucasus. This belief stemmed from the statement that Russian peacekeepers were deployed to one side of the current Armenian enclave after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and Turkey would deploy to the other. Analysts such as Politico’s Ben Judah conferred that Armenia’s losses were historically disastrous, and fellow researchers have inferred that Armenia’s survival continues in a Russian subordinate status. 


The estimations of western analysts regarding Caucasus politics are, however, from the western point of view. Taking into account the historic rivalries in the region an “insidious relationship” between Russia and Turkey is not as cut and dry as it appears. Likewise, there is the southern neighbor of Iran to consider as well. The more likely scenario, estimated by surveillance of foreign military activity in the region during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict 2020 era, is that Russia and Turkey are seeking military advantage in the region in the apparent positions of the two remaining Minsk Group members. 


The United States appears, to the eyes of its foreign counterparts, withdrawn from the issues in the region.  Whereas, France stressed the Armenian interests in the region. With the French siding with the Armenian sovereign interest, and also currently facing a bitter rivalry with Turkey, France would likely challenge the presence of an autocratic Russian influence in Armenia, as well as a strong Turkish presence on the Azerbaijani side of the line. 


Foreign powers appear to take the position of a strategic tug of war for the parcels of land that Armenia and Azerbaijan have vied for control over. The land legitimately belongs to Azerbaijan, but Armenia’s desire for the region has opened it up to the power struggle it could not have foreseen. This wide reading power struggle is a change of regional rhetoric as the future is forced to contend with changes brought on by the war’s outcome. 


Geopolitical expert and consultant with Republic Underground News Irina Tsukerman described the situation, and its international impact. 


“Azerbaijan achieved an important diplomatic victory in managing to bring these opponents together towards a common mission. On the one hand, Russia and Turkey are forced to work together to keep the region stable and peaceful. Whatever their individual ambitions of influence, what we are seeing here is the opposite of the Syria and Libya scenario, and the combat has de-escalated to the level of peacekeeping,” said Tsukerman. 


 “Azerbaijan is the clear winner here and has been able to drive the point home in the sense of moving forward with integrating Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas, securing strategically important territories contiguous to Iran, and getting the various parties with conflicting interests to get along to the extent possible.”


The regional peace achieved at the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is one that Tsukerman described as in need of constant maintenance to succeed.

“It has resolved the conflict in a brief period of time, and now Azerbaijan is forcing two of the major regional players to contend with a future-focused on business, trade, investment, and assorted joint ventures rather than military action and takeovers. This can change at any moment, as anything in life, but the more all the parties feel invested in a sense of economic prosperity, the less incentive they will have to try to get a slice of the pie by other means,” also said Tsukerman. 


The United States appears withdrawn to the eyes of foreign powers, but it is present in a remote access way. The U.S. would not want a Russian or an Iranian advantage in the region, because it would not want to risk Russian or Iranian access to the region’s natural wealth and strategic location for access between Far Asia and Eastern Europe, the Gulf. The region is a crossroads of sorts. The United States may risk opening a pandora’s box of geopolitical complexity if it were to directly engage any one party on the region’s soil. Instead, the United States opts for indirect mediation. It continues likewise to sanction its rivals, adopting a Reagan era economic warfare strategy, see more from Oxford Academic. 


The United States has continued to use this strategy on some fronts  in the years to follow Reagan. It has taken a direct sanction approach to Iran which borders the Nagorno-Karabakh, Nakhchivan, and Iraq. These areas are vitally risky to the United States foreign strategy. Likewise, United States sanction of Iran limits the access that the Islamic Republic would have to regions outside of its borders, which puts a strain on its capacity to mobilize in the region that has now because the scene of a great international “parting of the vesture.” Refer to comments made by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on November 11 for more. 


Likewise on November 11,  as was reported by Reuters wire agency, the United States imposed a sanction on Russia that could heavily affect the important oil project Nord Stream 2. The sanctions were added in the compromise of the National Defense Authorization Act between U.S. lawmakers. The sanctions would penalize companies facilitating the construction of the pipeline, as well as those who trafficked ships and other equipment for the purpose of the project. This was not addressed via the State Department’s public relations on social media in the same way that the Iran sanction was. It speaks to a deeper strategy. The United States has been actively engaged in the Russian advance of regional power, from a position of strategic safety, and uses its economic influence to bar it from reaching a position of dominance in critical Trans-Eurasia regions.  


The United States has also recently sanctioned Russia and Russian-linked actors for alleged interference in the U.S. election process. This was stated by the United States Treasury on September 10. On September 10, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control had designated four Russian-linked actors for their attempt to influence the U.S. electoral process. Among the four actors sanctioned were three Russian nationals, and a member of the Ukrainian parliament. The United States has likewise imposed sanctions on those financiers who seek to evade U.S. sanctions, see State Department. 

The above  likewise highlights the watchful eye of the U.S. on actors that represent the Russian state by proxy. This same strategy can be expected to impact Russian authoritarian presence in Armenia in the post-formal conflict era.