Residents of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave have been facing shortages of food and medicine for weeks due to a blockade of the Lacin Corridor. This is the only road connecting the region of the South Caucasus with an ethnic Armenian population to Armenia.
The road has been under the control of a Russian peacekeeping force since 2020 to ensure the supply of food to the enclave. Nevertheless, Azerbaijani protesters – who call themselves environmentalists – managed to block the corridor on 12 December. As a result, the store shelves in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the surrounding villages are becoming empty.
“First they ran out of fresh fruits and vegetables. Now there is only alcohol left on store shelves, not much more than that,” one resident told news site Politico. “In the morning, some milk and yogurt comes in from local farms, but it ends quickly.”
Armenia holds the Azerbaijani government responsible for blocking the road and calls on the neighboring country to immediately release the corridor.
Russia, acting as a mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan, is responsible for the security of the corridor. The Russian role was established in 2020 in the trilateral ceasefire between Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The ceasefire followed a six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh that killed more than 6,500 people.
After that war, the enclave found itself completely surrounded by Azerbaijani territory, the Lacin Corridor being the only link with Armenia
Nagorno-Karabakh after the trilateral ceasefire concluded in 2020:
It is not clear why Russia is not securing the Lacin Corridor. According to Bob Deen, Eastern Europe expert at the Clingendael Institute, two explanations are possible. “The first is that Russia is failing. Partly because the best Russian soldiers have been taken from Nagorno-Karabakh and sent to the Ukrainian front, and partly because Russia has lost influence on Azerbaijan since the war,” he says.
The second explanation, according to Deen, is “a bit more cynical”. “It may also be that Russia will put pressure on Armenia with the blockade,” he explains. Armenia is part of the CSTO, a military alliance led by Russia. “But Russia did not come to Armenia’s aid in recent years when the conflict with Azerbaijan flared up. Now Armenia is therefore turning a little more to the west, to Putin’s horror.”
There is also another geopolitical issue between Armenia and Azerbaijan. “The 2020 trilateral ceasefire states that Armenia must open a road and rail link between the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhichevan and the rest of Azerbaijan,” he says. “But Armenia won’t because of national security concerns.”
The blockade of the Lacin Corridor can therefore be a way for Azerbaijan to put pressure on Armenia, and thus get the connecting road completed.
Russian peacekeepers at the blocked corridor:
The Armenian government warns of an imminent famine. “The humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh is getting worse every day,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The European Union and the United States are calling on Azerbaijan to secure the corridor again for the free and safe movement of people and goods.
Azerbaijan denies that the road is blocked because vehicles from the Red Cross and the Russian peacekeeping force are allowed to pass. The activists on the road are “peaceful” protesters protesting Armenia’s “illegal economic activities”, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said.