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Thursday, 7 April 2016

Russia vs Turkey (5): Nagorno-Karabakh

I had not heard the name Nagorno-Karabakh for quite a while. Last time must have been 1994 when the Russians brokered a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan. A quick look at the map below reveals some interesting major parties in this conflict: Iran, Turkey and Russia.

FT 5 April 2016: "Azerbaijan and the Armenian-backed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh agreed a ceasefire on Tuesday after several dozen people were killed in the worst fighting in more than two decades when skirmishes broke out last weekend".

The major parties involved make this regional conflict a potentially dangerous one.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict also stirs up some other regional conflicts: Armenia vs Turkey, Christians vs Muslims, Kurdistan, Russia vs Turkey (part 1, 2, 3, 4), and Shiite vs Sunnite (eg, Iraq, Syria). And then I deliberately ignore a US involvement as USA largely ignored the Georgia vs Russia conflict over small regions such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Armenia is an ancient Christian country that used to be part of the Soviet Union and is still a Russian ally. On 24 April 2015, the Russian President even attended the 100th Anniversary of the genocide on the Armenian population by the Turks following WW1. Azerbaijan is a Shiite Muslim country with cultural (eg, linguistic and ethnic) ties to Turkey (Sunnite) and religious ties to Iran (Shiite). GPF: "Azerbaijan is a key partner for Turkey, although the Azerbaijanis play Americans, Russians, Iranians and Turks against each other to maintain freedom of action" .

On 4 April 2016, George Friedman wrote the following: "In terms of the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, for Azerbaijan – oil rich and therefore suddenly cash poor – a success in Armenia would be a symbol of the state’s competence in the face of economic problems. I have no evidence that the Azerbaijanis started it, but either way it gave them an opportunity. In engaging Armenia, they are engaging a Russian client and Turkish enemy. Therefore, Turkey jumped in quickly to assure Azerbaijan of its support. What form that support might take is unclear. However, Turkey is not without resources so this shouldn’t be disregarded. The Russians immediately offered to mediate. They are repositioning themselves as a stabilizing force in the world. Their offer makes sense, leading one to wonder if they had a hand in it". (GeoPolitical Futures)

The biggest geopolitical risk is the feud of many centuries between Russia and Turkey. FT 5 April 2016: "Neighbouring Turkey’s diplomatic standoff with Russia over a downed Russian jet last November could add fuel to the fire. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish president, said Ankara would back Azerbaijan — with which it has close ethnic ties — “to the end” against Armenia. Meanwhile, Russia is Armenia’s main economic sponsor, and has a military base there".

The recent idea of US Presidential candidate Donald Trump to dissolve NATO (eg, ABCFT) could have far-reaching consequences for Russia's stance towards NATO member Turkey. 

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