Kremlin cements gains on the ground in ‘frozen conflict’ of the Soviet Union
It is obvious that Azerbaijan, with the help of Turkish President Recep Erdogan and his Syrian mercenaries, has won on the ground in the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) region of the South Caucasus. Baku’s military gains are real and long-lasting, with Azeri forces controlling almost the entire disputed region except for the capital of Stepanakert and the Lachin corridor leading back to Armenia. Former Armenian residents of NK have fled back across the border and burned their homes on the way out. Some are slowly coming back to the bombed-out capital area. Many will not return.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev is declaring to the world that he will transform NK into a ‘paradise’.
You can get a good understanding of the situation on the ground going forward here.
However, the real winner in this conflict is the Russian Federation, which has weakened Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who in Vladimir Putin’s eyes made a grave mistake by preferring outreach to the West rather than staying under Moscow’s influence. Russia, which enjoys a military base inside Armenia, could have intervened in the conflict, or prevented it from happening altogether but it did neither, perhaps to teach Pashinyan, and those that will come after him, a lesson in realpolitik.
But even more important is that Russia now has ‘peacekeepers’ on the ground in the Armenian portion of the NK ‘frozen conflict’ of the Soviet Union. Just as Russia has ‘peacekeepers’ in the Transdniester region of Moldova, the former Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and proxy armies in the Donbass region of East Ukraine. Soon, will there also be a Russian air base in Belarus?
In short, Putin is slowly but surely regaining control over Russian-controlled territories of the Soviet Union, piece by piece, bite by bite. A hallmark of Putin’s time in power will be restoring the territorial integrity of much of the former Soviet Union, or to put it another way, the sphere of influence of Tsarist Russia.
Moscow has been talking up its deployment of soldiers to the region.
“On November 18, 2020, 936 more refugees returned to Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia, as 23 buses travelled from Yerevan to Stepanakert’s main square escorted by patrols of the Russian peacekeeping contingent and military police,” declared the Russian Defense Ministry.
The residents of Stepanakert who left are returning to the city, shops are opening, infrastructure is being restored, a TASS correspondent reports. According to Russia’s Defense Ministry, 1,700 residents have returned to the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh since November 14, reported Russian state news agency TASS.
Putin denied any animosity towards the Armenian leadership.
“I haven’t noticed anything special about our relations with Armenia recently, particularly during Prime Minister Pashinyan’s term,” Putin pointed out. According to the Russian president, he has “rather trust-based and constructive” relations with Pashinyan. “This is why I don’t get these hints [at changes in Moscow’s attitude to Yerevan],” he added, wrote TASS.
“There are centuries-long relations between Russia and the Armenian people, which date back to the distant past. Our relations are based on cultural and religious affinity, as well as on strong historical, and it is even more important than relations between individuals,” the Russian president emphasized.
The return of Russian influence on the world stage is something even Putin’s skeptics inside Russia give him credit for, and it will one of the most long-lasting consequences of his decades in the Kremlin.
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