MOSCOW – Heavy Russian military trucks rolled towards the border with the controversial Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, just hours after President Vladimir Putin announced a Russian-brokered peace deal to end a war of six weeks in the Caucasus. Russia planned to deploy more than 1,600 troops to keep the peace but left the military gains of Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey in place.
The evolving military situation in the South Caucasus, as the United States is distracted by the aftermath of the presidential election, has made many in Moscow and Yerevan question why Putin would tolerate Turkey’s sharing Russian influence in the region, a crossroads for the Middle East. East and Europe.
The peace that Putin insisted should be “useful to all” forced Russia’s strategic partner Armenia to return to Azerbaijan much of the so-called “territory” seatbelt “around Nagorno-Karabakh captured in the early 1990s. The United States, Putin’s spokesman said on Tuesday, had no role in the negotiations.
“The agenda totally changed overnight,” Arthur Pashinyan, an Armenian political analyst based in Moscow, told the Daily Beast. “If before the United States and France negotiated the Karabakh peace with Moscow, it is now Russia and Turkey who will control the realization of this fragile peace agreement. I cannot understand why Putin would give up Russian monopoly influence in the South Caucasus. Is this an argument against the United States? The Americans can put pressure on Russia with economic sanctions, but Turkey is building a powerful empire. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see Turkish military in Central Asia in a few years.
Russian state television channels broadcast Putin’s statement, which focused on achieving an immediate end to the fighting: “The Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia should stop at the positions they have occupied” Mr Putin said. As if to assert Russian control over a slippery area already under Turkish influence, the ceasefire specified that fighting would end at midnight in Moscow, rather than local time.
The Russian Federation would deploy a peacekeeping contingent along the corridor from Nagorno-Karabakh to the Republic of Armenia, Putin said. The peace deal was signed just hours after the Azerbaijani army shot down a Russian helicopter in what appeared to be a last-minute crash. Two pilots died in the accident. Baku apologized and Moscow accepted the apology.
For Armenians, the land cession came as a shock. To stop at the current positions meant capitulation for many, but to continue the fight without Russian support seemed suicidal. “Battles were already taking place on the outskirts of Stepanakert and if the military action had continued at the same pace, we would have lost all of Artsakh in a few days”, declared the head of the self-proclaimed republic, Araik Haratyunyan, on Tuesday, using the Armenian name of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began in the late 1980s, on the eve of the collapse of the USSR. The conflict went unresolved for more than 30 years. The latest violence began on September 27. Putin said the war has killed more than 5,000 people in six weeks, although the actual death toll may be higher. Today, many displaced people from Azerbaijan could return to their homes in areas lost at the start of the post-Soviet war.
Hundreds of vehicles, decorated with Azerbaijani national flags, filled with happy young people raced in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku on Tuesday. As Azerbaijan partied, celebrating victory, a real mess unfolded in Yerevan.
Many felt betrayed by Russia, pushed to an unfair deal. Hundreds of protesters broke into the state parliament in search of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, claiming they wanted to beat the “traitor”.
An angry mob attacked a vehicle belonging to the Speaker of Parliament, Ararat Mirzoyan; protesters pulled the official out of a car and beat him in front of his children. The Armenians continued to protest against the “abandonment of land” in Nagorno-Karabakh, under the terms of the Kremlin-backed agreement. Pashinyan, whose whereabouts are unknown, complained in a Facebook post that protesters broke into his residence and stole his property.
For longtime Kremlin watches, Putin’s game in the region was pretty clear: a concession to Turkey in exchange for control of Armenian domestic politics. Putin has hated Pashinyan since he came to power after a street demonstration two years ago.
“From Putin’s point of view, the current situation is a success all around: he strikes peace and gets rid of Pashinyan, whom he never liked”, Timur Olevsky, a political observer of the Actual hour television show, said The Daily Beast. “Putin does not think of defending Christianity against Islam. On the contrary, as we can see in the Middle East, Putin seems to deal better with Muslim rulers.
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