A Dangerous Precedent: How Russia Provokes and Settles Conflicts in the Post-Soviet Countries.

  • Vitalii Omelchenko
  • 8.12.2020 15:51

Recent conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region has proved once again how Russia can carry out insidious and complex politics, as well as to efficiently influence and manage crises on its periphery. It is difficult to overestimate the role Moscow played in settling this conflict. In the broader context of Russia's politics over the post-Soviet countries, this particular situation leaves more questions than answers.

Tactical Outcomes of the Clash

The 44-day conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan for control over the Nagorno-Karabakh region has finished with the conclusion of an armistice agreement. The Presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan, and the Prime Minister of Armenia announced on Tuesday night (10.11.2020) the agreement on a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh region. Text of the respective statement was published on the official web-page of the Kremlin.

Despite the reached arrangement, the situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is far from being settled and this agreement is unlikely to bring peace and stability over a long-term horizon. On the contrary, the outcomes of the peace agreement, especially paying attention to the reaction of Armenian society, seem to predetermine future confrontation.

 

“Armenia both in accordance with the above-mentioned agreement and because of a new, less advantageous situation has become more dependent on Russia”

 

In the regional context the agreement suggests the establishment of a new balance of power, and zones of influence in the South Caucasus region, primarily between Russia and Turkey. Azerbaijan has strengthened its connections with Turkey, becoming a part of its sphere of influence. At the same time, Armenia both in accordance with the above-mentioned agreement and because of a new, less advantageous situation has become more dependent on Russia.

However, such developments are more complex in the broader context of Russia's politics across the post-Soviet territories, as well as from the viewpoint of the international order, since they threaten the security and interests of several countries.

 

Russia - Peacebuilder or Peacebreaker?

First, ceasefire and peace agreement through the mediation of Russia creates a case, proving that Moscow can efficiently solve crises in the post-Soviet countries and is still a very influential actor in the region. This can be presented as a success story for foreign partners in other negotiation formats or crisis-management platforms concerning situations in neighboring countries, for example Ukraine, where Russia is actively involved, or Belarus, where Moscow tends to preserve its status as the most influential external power.  

This is an alarming precedent, since the Kremlin is often responsible for initiating and sparking such conflicts all over the post-Soviet region, either by direct engagement or by backing pro-Russian political powers. Some examples of the violations of international law by Moscow include supporting of separatist activity in Transnistria, waging war against Georgia, occupation of Ukrainian Crimea and supporting pro-Russian separatists in the east of Ukraine.

Aggression against Ukraine is worth deeper examination. Apart from violating international law, which is alone a real problem for current international order, Russia also broke its own obligations towards Ukraine. In accordance with the Budapest memorandum, Russia undertook an obligation towards Ukraine, among other issues, “to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence”. As it has been revealed later, this obligation was brutally infringed. This fact shows that nowadays obligations and international law in general mean nothing for Russia when it comes down to key national interests. The reaction of the international community with sanctions that Russia seems to have adapted to prove once again that there are huge problems in the system of existing rules and regulations.

Moreover, the above mentioned agreement was meant to provide Ukraine security guarantees in exchange for nuclear arms – definitely the ultimate argument and the last resort in any conflict. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine used to possess the third most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world. Reassuring its commitment to peace and disarmament, Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenals in exchange for expected security guarantees. Nonetheless, Ukraine became a subject to aggression from the much more powerful, nuclear-armed state. 

This is another reason for concern for the whole world. Not only can this fact make political leaders all over the world think that only military strength can guarantee security and independence, and consequently foster militarization even among poor countries which might be afraid of assertive politics of their powerful neighbors, but also give the idea that nuclear weapons are just the instrument that assures your interests will be respected. This is also important with regard to attempts of several countries and the ability of the other to acquire nuclear arms, especially paying attention to ever increasing tensions in different corners of the globe, as well as often disproportion between the possible and real role some countries (may) play in the world.

All these facts, if put together, create a logic chain that threatens to boost arms race, since it undermines the confidence in existing instruments of deterring the aggressive activities of several states. 

 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a meeting with Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, Yerevan, November 21, 2020. Copyright: MFA Russia, Flickr. No changes made. 

 

“Under the guise of good intentions there is a simple desire to expand Russia's military presence, in the strategically important South Caucasus region”

 

The second point of concern is paragraph 3 of the agreement: “Along the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor there will be a peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation with 1960 military personnel with small arms, 90 armored personnel carriers, 380 military vehicles and other special equipment”. This paragraph allows Moscow to both increase its control over Armenia, as well as to gain influence in Azerbaijan's politics, since these troops will be deployed to internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory. 

This sets Russia up not only as an efficient mediator, but also as a peacebuilder. Under the guise of good intentions there is a simple desire to expand Russia's military presence, in the strategically important South Caucasus region.

Moreover, together with “peacekeeping” forces in Georgia and Moldova as well as an illegal military presence in Ukraine, Belarus (43rd Communications Center of the Russian Navy), Kazakhstan (Balkhash Radar Station), Kyrgyzstan (Kant Air Base), Tajikistan (Russian 201st Military Base), Armenia (Russian 102nd Military Base) Russia has deployed its military contingents in the most territories of the former USSR and in this way make these states dependent on Moscow's politics through possible military pressure.

Furthermore, such state of affairs intimidates those post-Soviet states, where there is no Russia's military presence so far, since Moscow may use any developments as pretense to interfere with further deployment of peacekeepers. The last but not least, this case may once again be presented to the western counterparts in order to promote Russia's direct involvement in the possible peacekeeping mission in the Donbass region in Ukraine.

 

Impaction Against Multilateral Negotiation Formats

Finally, the settlement of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh region transferred from the multilateral format under the auspices of an impartial international organization - OSCE (OSCE Minsk Group) to the de facto bilateral deal between Russia and Turkey, both having own interests in the outcomes of the conflict. Under the conditions of growing regionalism, and the further withdrawal of the United States as a global leader this transition affirmed once again the ever decreasing role of international organizations, international negotiation formats as well as international law in general.

Consequently, all states, primarily weak, which benefit from the existing system of rules and regulations may more often become subjects of such agreements. Russia, while frequently ignoring international law remains its important and influential part, as well as of the international order in general, since Moscow once contributed to its emergence. 

 

“Under the conditions of growing regionalism, and the further withdrawal of the USA as a global leader this transition affirmed once again the ever decreasing role of international organizations, international negotiation formats as well as international law in general”

 

The brightest example is the permanent membership in the Security Council of the United Nations, where Moscow, using its veto right, blocks unfavorable or anti-Russian resolutions, playing a twice destructive role. Not to mention the violation of at least 1st, 2nd, 24th, 34th and 39th articles of the UN Charter

Thus, settling the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh region allows Russia to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, Moscow reaches its tactical goals: expands its military presence in the South Caucasus region and gains additional tools to influence Armenia and Azerbaijan basically without spending resources and without direct involvement in the conflict. On the other hand, such pace of developments promotes Russia's prestige on the international arena and provides Moscow advantages in competition with the West, especially over the Eastern Europe and post-Soviet region. 

Finally, Russia managed to resolve the situation on a more acceptable and favorable bilateral level without appealing to international mechanisms, where Moscow faces various obstacles. This case is quite an alarming precedent for those countries, which are affected by Russia's assertive politics.

About author: Vitalii Omelchenko

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