World history is full of precedents where armed conflict between the two countries has spiraled into multiparty conflict; this is how the two great wars were born. It is the fear under which the world breathes. Today once again, the world finds itself amidst a conflict. Conflict in the Caucasus between two former Soviet Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region is making headlines. During the Soviet era, both countries were a part of a single federal arrangement; in 1924, the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh was created within Azerbaijan’s territory by the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, when the Soviet Union’s bickering commenced, questions were raised regarding the region’s future. Though a referendum was held in December 1991 by Karabakh, the local Azerbaijani population did not participate in that referendum and the world community did not accept that referendum’s veracity.
There is a violent side to the conflict too. Clashes between the two beleaguered nations started even before they gain independence. In 1988 clashes began between the ethnic Azerbaijanis and Armenians, and those clashes eventually snowballed into a full-blown war by 1993. The war of 1993 left more than 30,000 dead and more than 1 million displaced in both countries. An unofficial ceasefire was achieved between the two countries in 1994. Russia brokered the truce. However, peace has eluded both the countries as clashes continued between the two till day.
In the past, initiatives like the Minsk process (which comprises essential regional and international players like the USA, France and Russia) have successfully thawed the situation. However, this time around, Azerbaijan is in no mood to give in to the Minsk group’s demands. It feels that they all have been soft on Armenia as all these countries house a sizeable Armenian diaspora, which is influential too.
All this brings us to the present situation, where the situation has escalated to the level that the clashes between the two countries have the potential to turn into a total war. Keeping in mind the past trend, one cannot rule out the above possibility. Something that makes the situation more precarious is the alliances. Azerbaijan is being backed by Turkey and Israel, while Armenia has the support of Russia. Though Russia poses as neutral, it has a soft corner for Armenia; it is evident from its past actions.
Russia considers this region as its own backyard as all these countries were once its federating units and are a part of the Russian commonwealth. Other than this, the Russian involvement in the region is stimulated for another reason: Azerbaijan’s growing share in the EU’s energy market. Though currently, Azerbaijan’s share stands at nearly 5%, it has the potential to increase its market share. On the contrary, Russia’s share is around 40% (2018), but the EU is the biggest market of its energy products; losing any of its market shares would bear consequences that Russia would like to avert at all possible costs. The Azerbaijani pipelines are closely situated to the conflict zone; this makes matter and the region more strategically crucial to Azerbaijan and its adversaries and gives them another reason to be involved in the conflict.
Another dimension to this conflict that compounds its sensitivity to the region and the world is Turkey and Russia’s involvement. The equation between the two countries is not that great of late. The two countries have diverging views regarding Syria and Libya and the current Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, finding both the countries in the opposing camps. The relations between the two countries have oscillating back and forth. The shot down of the Turkish fighter jet by the Russians in 2015 left the relations between the two countries sour. Still, an upward trend was observed in 2017 when both the countries got engaged in initiatives like the Turk Stream project and procurement of the S-400 air defense system by Turkey (that too at the cost of US annoyance) from Russia. The recent developments in Syria and Libya have kind of reversed all the gains made and it is feared that the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict may turn out to be that straw that might break the well-needed restraint shown by the two countries.
The extension of war to Turkey and Russia also depends on how Armenia and Azerbaijan fare in the battleground in the next few days. If the ceasefire is achieved and successfully observed by the two warring parties, this could be the end of it. Still, if any one of the two allies will be on the back foot, their ally will intervene for sure and then the possibility of a Russia-Turkey war will be guaranteed. So, the mediating forces should work against time when the situation does not escalate to the aforementioned level. Other than that, the possibility of a war between Russia and Turkey would be a deterrent of war in itself. The destruction promised in the case of a Turkey-Russian war will also push both the countries to show self-control and give peace a well-deserved chance. Still, for that, we have to defuse the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia and settle this long due conflict on terms that are acceptable to all the stakeholders. This all may sound idealistic, but this is what has to be done to achieve peace and prosperity in the region and world over.