Putin Deal to End Karabakh War Brings Turkey to His Backyard
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, speaks during his annual state of the nation address in Moscow, Russia. (Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

Putin Deal to End Karabakh War Brings Turkey to His Backyard

Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered a deal to end a 44-day war over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh after Armenians, facing defeat at the hands of the Azerbaijani army, agreed to stop fighting and withdraw their forces.

Russia began deploying nearly 2,000 troops as peacekeepers on Tuesday under the accord struck with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev that will create conditions “for a long-term and complete settlement of the crisis around Nagorno-Karabakh,” Putin said in a televised statement.

Though he’s not a signatory to the deal, the agreement also represents a strategic triumph for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose vocal support of Azerbaijan in the fighting has allowed him to muscle into Russia’s Caucasus backyard. Aliyev said Turkish troops will join the Russian peacekeeping mission in a televised address to the nation early Tuesday.

The peace accord also gives Erdogan potential land access across southern Armenia to Azerbaijan and the resource-rich republics of central Asia for the first time, even as Turkey rejects diplomatic relations with its Armenian neighbor and keeps their joint border closed.

“We got what we wanted,” Aliyev said in his TV address, in which he mocked Pashinyan for “capitulation” in the war. “You were saying you won’t give back an inch of Azerbaijani territory. What happened, Pashinyan?” he said.

It was “extremely difficult” to accept the deal, Pashinyan said on Facebook. “But we came to the point where the army set us the task of resolving the situation as soon as possible.”

Aliyev and Erdogan discussed creation of a Turkish-Russian peacekeeping center to monitor the cease-fire in a phone call Tuesday, according to the Azerbaijani leader’s website.

Putin Deal to End Karabakh War Brings Turkey to His Backyard

The accord doesn’t mention Turkey’s involvement and there are no plans to place Turkish peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh itself, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

The pact effectively sidelines the U.S. and France, enabling Putin and Erdogan to dominate talks on the terms of any future settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia, France and the U.S. tried and failed for decades as international mediators to persuade the two sides to reach a peace agreement after Moscow brokered a 1994 truce to halt a war that killed 30,000 and displaced 1 million amid the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“In this difficult moment, France stands by Armenia’s side,” according to a statement by French President Emmanuel Macron’s office, which said he’ll seek “solid guarantees” of the security of Armenian civilians as part of any lasting agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh. “France strongly calls on Turkey to put an end to its provocations” and “show restraint” over the conflict, it said.

The accord provides for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh to have secure access to Armenia across a land corridor through Azerbaijani territory that will be policed by Russian forces. It also allows people in the Azerbaijani exclave of Naxcivan bordering Turkey to travel across southern Armenia to Azerbaijan, again with Russian security on the ground.

“For Putin, it’s the best deal under the circumstances given our reluctance and inability to fight the war on Armenia’s side,” said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat who’s now a foreign policy analyst in Moscow. “It keeps a functioning relationship with Erdogan while avoiding a major fight.”

Armenian officials acknowledged on Monday that they’d ceded control of the key city of Shushi just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert, to Azerbaijan. The government there had warned that the loss of the city, which is called Shusha in Azerbaijan, would lead to the fall of the entire region.

The spread of the coronavirus among Armenian troops contributed to declining morale, Nagorno-Karabakh President Arayik Harutyunyan said on Facebook, as he defended the cease-fire. “I don’t know what assessment history will give to this decision but we were forced to take it,” with Azerbaijani troops just 2-3 kilometers from Stepanakert, he said.

Street Protests

Protests erupted in the streets of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, after news of the agreement emerged. Demonstrators broke into the parliament and angry crowds gathered outside the government building and Pashinyan’s official residence, accusing him of betraying the country.

The agreement to halt the fighting that broke out Sept. 27 sets out a timetable for Armenian withdrawal from occupied Azerbaijani districts outside Nagorno-Karabakh in stages by Dec. 1, effectively restoring Azerbaijan’s control of most of the territory it lost in the 1990s. It also provides for exchanges of prisoners and the return of refugees, while saying nothing about the final status of the disputed enclave.

Putin Deal to End Karabakh War Brings Turkey to His Backyard

The two sides have been fighting for more than six weeks over the enclave and seven surrounding regions taken by Armenians in the 1990s, which are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. More than 5,000 people have died, according to Russian officials.

Azerbaijan said it fought to restore control over its territory. Armenia said it was defending Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-determination after its Armenian majority voted for independence.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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