18 May 2022


Russian Interest in Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict


Narmin Novruzova




After the Second World War, the leading countries of the world started coordination works on the establishment of an organization, which would bring together countries and play a leading role in resolving conflicts and disputes among states, and contribute to tackling many issues of common global interests. For the same reason, representatives of 50 countries joined the conference in San Francisco, on 24 October 1945, where the UN Charter was ratified, and the United Nations was officially declared. Today, the UN has 193 member states. The United Nations has 6 main parts: The General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, and the Secretariat located in New York, US, and the International Court of Justice located in The Hague, the Netherlands.

UN has 5 permanent members and 10 non-permanent members, which are supposed to comply with the decisions of the Security Council. The non-permanent members of the UN are elected for a term of 2 years. The United Nations neither has governing authority over the states nor independent economic and military power. Therefore, to make a decision and carry out operations, the UN depends on the political decision of its Member States and their contributions in the forms of funding and military.

The General Assembly is the main decision-making body of the UN, which consists of all Member States, which has one vote each. The UN Security Council is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. It has 15 members, out of which 5 countries – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States are permanent, and 10 – non-permanent members. Non-permanent members are elected for the 2 years’ term. Under the Charter, all Member States are obliged to comply with the decisions of the Security Council.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia started back in 1988 when Armenia started claiming that Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Armenians as ethnic Armenians have been living there for a very long time. This resulted in the illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other adjacent regions by the military forces of the Republic of Armenia. After collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has declared its independence on 18 October 1991. On 2 March 1992, Azerbaijan has become a member of UN. It was a time when the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh has become fiercer and due to internal political instability in Azerbaijan, it was resulted with occupation of almost 20% of internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan, including Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions of Azerbaijan. On 24 March 1992, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chaired by France, Russia and USA was created to mediate Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In 1993, the UN Security Council passed four resolutions which condemned the illegal occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenia and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijan’s territories. After the ceasefire agreement proposed by Russia in 1994, Armenia violated it many times, the most notable ones being on 1-4 April 2016, on 12-17 July 2020, and last and the most crucial one on 27 September – 10 November 2020, which resulted with complete defeat of Armenian military forces and signing on trilateral cease-fire agreement between Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia on 10 November 2020.


Historical Background of Azerbaijan – Russia Relations:

On 28 May 1918, the first Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was declared, which ceased to exist after 23 months, after the occupation by Soviet Red Army on 28 April 1920. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and restoration of independence of Azerbaijan on 18 October 1991, Azerbaijan and Russia have preserved close political and economic relations, which have been further improved since then. The positive change in relations between the two nations not only affects the destiny of the two countries but also that of the Caucasus and Central Asia. For Azerbaijan, relations with Russia have most frequently been defined by an effort to secure its independence. Russia on the other hand instrumentalizes Azerbaijan in its foreign policy towards Russia’s regional and global targets.

Since Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Russia bears certain responsibilities regarding Armenia’s security. This organization binds Armenia and Russia together and makes Russia to have the upper hand in the Caucasus region. However, since Turkey is slowly becoming a powerful regional power, it sides with Azerbaijan and has stated that it would always be ready to provide political and moral support to Azerbaijan in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh war. However, the clash national interests of Turkey and Russia in South Caucasus does not benefit neither of them as well as Azerbaijan and Armenia, considering US economic sanctions on Russia due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea of Ukraine, as well as US and EU political and economic pressure on Turkey, due to territorial dispute between Turkey and Greece in the East Mediterranean Sea, provide both Turkey and Russia no other way, but to find mutually beneficial common ground for streamlining their clashing national interests.


Outcomes of Russo-Persian Wars:

The historical territories of Azerbaijan have been three times larger than the territory of current Republic of Azerbaijan. The forth Russo-Persian war that took place from 1804-1813, resulted with defeat of Persian Empire and signing of the Treaty of Gulustan, that was the first peace treaty signed by Russian and Persian Empires in October 24, 1813, which confirmed the northern part of Azerbaijan to become under the rule of Russian Empire, while the Southern part of Azerbaijan under the rule of Persian Empire.

The treaty of Gulustan was actually the Gajars giving up on the Caucasus which was beneficial to Russia. This treaty did not only end Iran-Russia war, it also ended Persian-Ottoman war and from then on, the Tsarist Russia gained power in the South Caucasus region. The right to keep naval forces in the Caspian Sea was only given to Russian Empire.

After the signing of Gulustan Treaty, Russian Empire started settling ethnic Armenians from territories of Iran and Ottoman Empire, in the territories of Azerbaijan, including territories of Ganja, Baku and Karabakh Khanates.

After the last Russio-Persian war from 1826-1828, Iranian Gajar’s troops were heavily defeated and the war resulted with signing of Turkmenchay Treaty, in accordance of which, apart from the lands passed to Russia, Iravan, Nakhchivan Khanates and part of Talish Khanate became part of Russian Empire. The border between the two empires was the Araz River. The Armenians were very much satisfied with the conditions of the treaty of Turkmenchay. Because the Armenians living in Iran started settling into Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan, Iravan and Karabakh regions, under the 15th paragraph of the treaty. Even some historians refer to Armenians as “Turkmenchay’s children”, because before this treaty, Armenians did not have a homeland. It was because of his special contribution that Armenians living in Iran starts migrating to North Azerbaijan. Later, Russian diplomat Alexander Griboyedov was assigned as the new ambassador of Russia in Iran. After signing the treaty, riots and demonstrations against Russia increased in Iran. On 11 February 1829, more than 100 thousand people attacked Russia’s embassy in Tehran and killed almost all of the embassy staff, including the Ambassador A. Griboyedov.


Russia’s Secret Policy:

As a powerful empire in the region, one of Russia’s major objectives was to create a buffer zone of Christian population between Azerbaijan and Ottoman Empire, in order to prevent direct relations between Turkic speaking population of Azerbaijan and Ottoman Empire. This process started when Griboyedov offered the idea of the migration of the Armenians to North Azerbaijan instead of 80,000 Russian Cossacks. This process was taken place under the leadership of an ethnic Armenian colonel Lazarev. In a short time, 8,000 Armenian families (40,000 people) were placed in the territories of current Azerbaijan.

The project of the resettlement of Armenians to North Azerbaijan was already made in the diplomatic office of South Caucasus lands back in 1827 under the leadership of Griboyedov.

The settlement of ethnic Armenians to Azerbaijani lands, later could be described as Russia’s secret policy towards modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan and Republic of Turkey.


The First World War:

In 1914, the First World War broke out, which started between two blocks, on one side were the Allies: France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Serbia, Belgium and others and on the other side were the Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey) and Bulgaria.

After the 1917, Russian Revolution, the Russian Empire collapsed and transformed into the communist state. As a result of weakened control over the formerly annexed territories, peoples of the South Caucasus region, have seen golden opportunity for exercising their self-determination rights and declaration of independence. As a result, three states in South Caucasus: Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia declared their independence in 1918.

And, on 28 May 1918, Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, the first democratic republic in Muslim World, was declared. Unfortunately, at that time, Armenian and Bolshevik forces carried out the ethnic cleansing and genocide policy against ethnic Azerbaijanis in the South Caucasus region, which resulted in the killings of more than 50,000 Azerbaijanis during February and March of 1918. In order to prevent these atrocities carried out by Armenian Bolshevik forces, government of Azerbaijan Republic has requested military support from Ottoman Empire, which was responded by sending Ottoman troops stationed in Tabriz to help newly established Azerbaijan government in restoring control over the territories of Azerbaijan. As a result of joint military campaign, Armenian Bolshevik forces were eliminated and Baku city was liberated from occupation and declared as the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan democratic Republic could preserve its sovereignty only 23 months, until occupation of Azerbaijan by Red Soviet Army. As a result, on 28th April 1920, independence of Azerbaijan was abolished and the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan was declared.

Unfortunately, before disintegration of Soviet Union, Azerbaijan once again became victim of Armenian state terrorism starting from 1988.

In continuation of groundless territorial claims towards Azerbaijan and other neighboring countries, Armenia, with support of foreign troops and direct participation of international mercenaries and terrorist groups, had unleashed a terrorist attacks and later with full-scale war on Azerbaijan, which didn’t have regular Army until 1991.

Taking advantage of this situation, Armenian terrorist groups carried out number of terrorist attacks in the territories of Azerbaijan on public transportations, passenger trains, and subway stations, Armenian criminal groups supported by outside forces started ethnic cleansings of Azerbaijani civilians of Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, including perpetration of Khojaly Genocide. All these atrocities resulted with deaths and injuries of thousands of civilians and more than 1 million Azerbaijanis becoming IDPs and refugees.

Azerbaijan restored its independence on 18th October 1991, which coincided with the similar state-sponsored aggression and groundless territorial claims carried out by Armenia towards Azerbaijan. During this aggression policy of Armenia, Russia provided direct and indirect support to Armenia in the form of military equipment, weapon systems, as well as indirect manpower assistance that was sourced from former Soviet troops stationed in the territories of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, which eventually resulted with occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territories from 1988 – 1993.


Russian Political Interest in the South Caucasus Region:

Russia foreign policy is focused on keeping former Soviet Union republics, with which Russia has common borders, under its political influence and not to allow them to initiate political and military alliance with the West, NATO, mainly with USA and the European Union. That pressure makes neighboring countries of Russia to feel more vulnerable and therefore involuntarily apply bandwagoning strategy in regard to Russia. Armenia, due to its groundless territorial claims against its neighbors, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia, but mainly with Turkey and Azerbaijan, has isolated itself, has developed national security threats and limited itself from regional cooperation projects. Such irrational, hostile policy of Armenia has made it too much dependent on Russia, politically, militarily and economically and has become forpost of Russia in South Caucasus. Armenia’s dependence on import of natural gas from Russia has reached 90% and due accumulated unpaid depths Russia has got ownership rights over the major energy infrastructures in Armenia. Armenia is the only country in South Caucasus, where Russia has its military base where Armenia keeps around 3000 troops. Due to demographic crises and lack of required manpower, Armenia cannot secure its international borders, therefore Russian border security forces guard Armenian borders.  All these factors make Armenia fully dependent on Russia and limit its freedom in carrying out their state policy.

On the other hand, Azerbaijan has the strongest economy in the South Caucasus, strong military power and carries out policy that meets its national, political and economic interests. Despite 30-year long Armenian aggression and occupation of 20% of its territories, Azerbaijan has given priority to its independence and balanced policy in order to achieve desired objectives in the fields of economy and foreign policy, that would later play a facilitating role in restoration of its territorial integrity. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Azerbaijan was worth 48.05 billion US dollars in 2019, according to official data from the World Bank.

Azerbaijan’s strategy is based on mutually beneficial regional cooperation in the field of economy, humanitarian, security and etc. with all countries, particularly with its neighbors. Azerbaijan has achieved the role of alternative provider of energy resources, mainly natural gas to the European countries, thus becoming contributing country to the European energy security. These qualities of Azerbaijan have made it the most relevant country of the South Caucasus region, not because of its dependence factors, but rather for its strong economy, independent policy and regional and global contributions. Due to fact that some of Azerbaijan’s political and economic objectives contradict with Russia’s interests, especially in the field of energy. For example, Azerbaijan has been main initiator of major regional connectivity projects, such as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan major oil pipeline connecting Caspian Sea with the Mediterranean Sea port terminal of Jeyhan in Turkey. Azerbaijan has been one of the main initiators and active participants of Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) and Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) projects that will provide transportation of natural gas from Caspian Sea to South and South-Eastern European countries. Considering the fact that Russia has long been major oil and especially natural gas provider of European countries, and Russia has used this advantage as a political leverage and mean of pressure in its foreign policy on many Eastern European countries, Azerbaijan’s activities in this field are considered as an open attempt to weaken the Russian monopoly power in the European energy sector. Therefore, Russia is interested to have certain tools to limit Azerbaijan’s activities that contradict Russian interests in the energy sector. Preserving status-quo in Keeping Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and preserving it unresolved, is considered one of the major strategy of Russia to control countries of the region, including to some extend also Azerbaijan.


Russian Stance on 2nd Karabakh War:

Despite the fact that UN Security Council has adopted 4 resolutions in 1993, all of which demand unconditional withdrawal of Armenian occupational forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, including Nagorno-Karabakh, none of the co-chair countries of OSCE Minsk Group: France, Russia and USA, have ever applied any pressure on Armenia in order to force it to comply with UN resolutions and end the fact of occupation. Besides to this, although all co-chair countries of OSCE Minsk Group have been confirming recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, they all denied that application of military solution to be a possible option for resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, therefore were indirectly helping Armenia to preserve status-quo, which was occupation of 20% of internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan.

After the 2018 Armenian Revolution and change of government in Armenia, pro-western and Soros Foundation funded opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan has become the Prime Minister of Armenia, which was against the will and plans of Russia on Armenia. This move of Armenia has forced Russia to take curtain steps to punish Pashinyan government and not to allow it to carry out pro-western policy which contradicts Russian political interests.

Considering abovementioned geopolitical environment, Armenian ceasefire violations and military hostilities at the areas close to the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact, growing power of Turkey, that has very close historical and cultural ties with Azerbaijan, last but not least good Turkish-Russian relations, Azerbaijan decided to apply military power to restore its territorial integrity. Thus, Azerbaijan conducted 44-Day Military Campaign, which was called the Patriotic War by Azerbaijan, from 27 September to 10 November 2020, and was about to be completed with capitulation of Armenia, if Russia had not interfered. Russia has brokered ceasefire and achieved its objective of sending nearly 2000 Russian peacekeepers into Nagorno-Karabakh for the duration of 5 years, extendable for consecutive 5 years, if either side of the conflict doesn’t object 6 months before expiration of the particular term of the agreement. Even though, Armenia has accepted to withdraw from remaining occupied Kalbajar, Lachin and Aghdam regions of Azerbaijan, adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh, as per the terms of trilateral ceasefire agreement, Azerbaijan could not completely restore its territorial integrity, as the remaining 80% of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which makes about 2500 sq. km land still remains under the control of illegal Armenian regime. Later, with the insistence of Azerbaijan and Turkey, it has been agreed to deploy exactly the same number of Turkish peacekeepers in the Nagorno-Karabakh, in order to counterbalance security environment in the region.





The history of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has clearly demonstrated that Russia has always directly and indirectly supported its strategic ally of Armenia, while trying to preserve good political and economic strategic partnership relations with Azerbaijan, considering the lessons learnt from Georgia and Ukraine cases of 2008 and 2016 respectively.

Russia has once again proved that Russia has more interest in preserving status-quo in Nagorno-Karabakh, rather than allowing complete resolution of the conflict, which gives more political power and leverage to Moscow to apply political pressure on both Armenia and Azerbaijan. By doing this, Russia wants Azerbaijan and Armenia to turn towards it regarding political assistance, especially trying to prevent the improving brotherly relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan. This can be seen when the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov openly stated that there is no need for Turkish peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh.


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