Conflict Flares Between Azerbaijan and Armenia as Russia's Attention and Military Are Consumed by Putin's War in Ukraine

On Wednesday, fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in the separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh threaten to spread into a larger war.


Nagorno-Karabakh is a region inside the country of Azerbaijan. Where Azerbaijan is ethnic Azerbaijani and Muslim, most of Nagorno-Karabakh is ethnic Armenian and Christian. The roots of the conflict are deep and were barely tamped down when the USSR existed. When Azerbaijan and Armenia were “Soviet Socialist Republics,” the Azerbaijan government was accused of attempting to eradicate Armenian identity. The Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh repeatedly petitioned Moscow to be joined to Armenia.


As the Soviet Union wound down, war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, resulting in a sweeping victory by Armenia in 1994 after a six-year war. Nagorno-Karabakh gained autonomy in 1994 as the “Republic of Artsakh.” The Lachlin Corridor corridor was created, allowing overland travel from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

Since that time, no one has been happy with the results. The government of Nagorno-Karabakh has been accused of a below-the-radar ethnic cleansing, allegedly expelling several hundred thousand ethnic Azerbaijanis.

The area has also been the scene of the third-rate knock-off of great power completion. The Azerbaijan government is supported by Turkey probably because of pique over not solving the “Armenian problem” in 1915. Russia and Iran support Armenia. Iran has a very real stake in the struggle as Azerbaijan shares a long border with Iran, and the area is overwhelmingly Azerbaijani. Russia, naturally, imagines it has special authority because of the “sphere of influence” bullsh** we’re supposed to nod our heads to when it is mentioned.

In 2020, Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a six-week war called the September War. Azerbaijan won a victory that stopped just short of annihilating the Republic of Artsakh. As you can see on the below map, yellow represents the area that Artsakh ceded to Azerbaijan. The bluish area is territory captured by Azerbaijan but still claimed by Artsakh. The orange area is what remains of Artsakh. The Russians have about 2,000 troops inside Artsakh as a “peacekeeping” force.



Credit: Emreculha, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s Crisis

The current iteration of this ongoing conflict kicked off on Wednesday when Azerbaijan claimed that one of its soldiers had been killed. It retaliated with a drone strike killing two Armenians. Below you can see an Azerbaijani drone, probably a Turkish Bayraktar, striking Armenian troops.

The president of Artsakh has called for “full mobilization.” Iran is sending troops to the border.

I don’t think anyone is really sure how this plays out. Azerbaijan has shown it can overmatch the Russian-backed separatists of Artsakh. Fourteen hundred Russian “peacekeepers” is not a lot of men to stop a war. Moreover, Azerbaijan is rightfully not worried about Russian intervention. The Russian armed forces have discredited themselves in Ukraine to the point where no one fears them. If Azerbaijan is determined to press the issue, the Russian peacekeeping force is meaningless. While Iran moving equipment to the border might be an ego boost for regime supporters, the Iranian military is barely competent to fight ISIS. It definitely is not in the same league as either Azerbaijan or Armenia. Azerbaijan has spent the past few years building closer ties to the West. In 2019, Azerbaijan sent a delegation to the Warsaw Conference, where it voted to label Iran as a sponsor of terrorism. It has also signed an agreement with the EU to supplant Russia as a source of natural gas.


In short, if war breaks, Armenia and the separatist state of Artsakh will find themselves completely isolated. By hitching its wagon to a Russia-Iran coalition, Armenia has deprived itself of anyone who will support it. The EU is not taking sides in this flare up as you can see by the butthurt from this pro-Armenia account:

Turkey, Israel, and the US have military aid agreements with Azerbaijan. Armenia has 1,400 Russian peacekeepers and jacksh** otherwise. Armenia is keenly aware of this as it is trying to open negotiations with Turkey to reestablish diplomatic recognition and open the Armenia-Turkey border; both were severed after the first war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turkey, however, has linked any movement in that direction with face-to-face negotiations by Armenia with Azerbaijan.


As Russia becomes more and more bogged down in Ukraine, look for more of this on Russia’s periphery. As Russia recedes from world power status, its ability to control the actions of neighboring states will be reduced, and more regional actors will step up to intervene in those conflicts without regard to Moscow’s desires.



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