Russia used Nagorno-Karabakh to further detach Turkey from NATO - former Armenian diplomat

Russia’s action in Nagorno-Karabakh may be part of a successful diplomatic drive to further detach Turkey from the United States and NATO, historian and former diplomat Gerard Libaridian told Ahval in an interview for Hot Pursuit with Yavuz Baydar.

Azerbaijan launched a military offensive to recapture Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian groups last month, reigniting a long-standing conflict over the disputed region.

Russia has historically sought to play a mediating role between the two former Soviet Republics, and Libaridian said Moscow’s decision to allow the Azeri operation to go ahead required explanation.

The move allowed Russia to bolster its relations with both Azerbaijan and Turkey, to the exclusion of NATO and the West, Libaridian said.

NATO member Turkey has provided significant military support for Azerbaijan, gaining further sway in a country traditionally seen as within Russia’s sphere of influence. But Libaridian said that Russia no longer saw Turkey as big a threat as it had done previously.

“Turkey does not represent what it used to represent 10 or 15 years ago: the second strongest army in NATO in full alignment with Western interests everywhere,” he said.

A 2000-strong Russian peacekeeping force will be deployed to the region under a ceasefire agreement brokered by Moscow earlier this month. Libaridian said Turkish troops would not be involved on the ground, but Russia could not object to Azerbaijan giving the Turkish military a role in observing the ceasefire. 

“Turkey silence when the ceasefire was signed and they were kept out leads me to think that this was a (prior) understanding between Azerbaijan and Turkey,” he said.

From Turkey’s perspective, the overall outcome was a success in gaining greater influence in the south Caucus, Libaridian said. “Turkey played its cards very well, and has gained a step beyond its relations with Azerbaijan,” he said. “If Turkey comes (into the region) with an army, no one can object.” 

Libaridian said Russia had also bolstered its position in the region, with the ceasefire giving Moscow control of the Lachin corridor, the crucial supply route to Nagorno-Karabakh. “That means you can ferment trouble and destabilise (both) Azerbaijan and Armenia,” he said.         

But much will depend on how many Armenians return to Nagorno-Karabakh, Libaridian said. “Russia will be interested in Armenians returning, because if there are no Armenians, there is no need for Russian peace-keepers.

Until the recent conflict, Nagorno-Karabakh was governed within the borders of Azerbaijan by an autonomous administration led my ethnic Armenians. But Libaridian said the status of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh was now likely to change.

“Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh will have the same rights as say Armenians in Turkey. That means no territorial definition of Armenians but an ethnoreligious definition. They can have their church, their, newspaper their language their schools. But there will be direct control and there will be not be a political or territorial dimension to that autonomy,” he said. 

Libaridian also strongly recommended that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reach out and establish contacts with his neighbours, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. The only way forward was to start discussing issues directly with Armenia’s neighbours, Libaridian added.