Famine, gas and Russia: the forgotten war in Azerbaijan

International16 Jan ’23 14:46Author: Mark VanHarreveld

The Armenian ethnic enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan has been cut off from the outside world for a month now, with Azerbaijani activists blocking the only access route from Armenia. Thousands of people are deprived of food, medicine and fuel, and geopolitical interests over Russian gas play a role in the background.

Protesters backed by Azerbaijan have blocked this road for a month now.  While Azerbaijan claims the protests are spontaneous, Armenia says the Aliev government in Baku orchestrated them.  As a result, the ethnic Armenians in the enclave are deprived of food, medicine and fuel, so much so that some Armenian sources call it ethnic cleansing.
Protesters backed by Azerbaijan have blocked this road for a month now. While Azerbaijan claims the protests are spontaneous, Armenia says the Aliev government in Baku orchestrated them. As a result, the ethnic Armenians in the enclave are deprived of food, medicine and fuel, so much so that some Armenian sources call it ethnic cleansing. (ANP / AFP / Tofik Babayev)

Nagorno-Karabakh is a predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan that has been claimed by both Caucasus states since the breakup of the Soviet Union and has been the subject of several wars, the most recent in 2020. A Russian peacekeeping force monitors warehouses and guards the corridor to the state connecting with Armenia and the outside world, the Lachin Corridor.

Also read | Armenia and Azerbaijan clash again: dozens dead

Protesters backed by Azerbaijan have now blocked this road for a month. While Azerbaijan claims the protests are spontaneous, Armenia says the Aliev government in Baku orchestrated them. As a result, the ethnic Armenians in the enclave are deprived of food, medicine and fuel, so much so that some Armenian sources call it ethnic cleansing.

Armenia warns of imminent famine in a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The protesters are demanding that Azerbaijani environmental officials be allowed to visit the mines in Karabakh, where they say Azerbaijani resources are being illegally extracted.

Geopolitics

However, Azerbaijan has other motives, writes The Economist. And thereby it benefits from the geopolitical wind that is now blowing. Russia is the major regional power and traditionally Armenia’s patron, while Turkey supports Azerbaijan. While Russia sinks further and further into the Ukrainian quagmire, Azerbaijan is unmistakably in the Western camp. Azerbaijan is an important energy producer, Europe is also trying to become less dependent on Russian gas through Azerbaijan.

Also read | Ministers to Moscow for Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks

Although the Armenian Prime Minister is sharply critical of the Russians, the de facto ruler of Nagorno-Karabakh, Ruben Vardanyanont, is far from criticizing the Kremlin. Not entirely illogically, this Russian-Armenian billionaire used to be an advisor to Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry warns against “public attacks” on its peacekeepers. According to the ministry, Pashinyan’s criticism threatens to cause “tangible damage to the process of Armenian-Azerbaijani normalization”.

Silent witness

According to Prime Minister Pashinyan, the Russian peacekeepers are “a silent witness (…) to the depopulation of Nagorno-Karabakh”, “Russian peacekeepers are doing everything to improve the situation on the ground,” says the Russian Foreign Ministry. Pashinyan says that if Russian troops fail to bring stability and security to the disputed region, they should make way for a UN peacekeeping mission.

Eastern Europe expert Bob Deen of the Clingendael Institute says there are three possible reasons for Russia’s failure to keep the corridor open: Russia has withdrawn its best troops to fight in Ukraine, Russia has influenced Azerbaijan to surrender , and Russia might want to put pressure on Armenia.

Although Armenia is part of the CSTO, a military alliance led by Russia, Russia has not come to Armenia’s aid in recent years when the conflict with Azerbaijan flared up. To the Kremlin’s horror, Armenia is therefore turning more towards the West.

Also read | Putin works as a mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan

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