Azerbaijan, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the New Security Paradigm

Armenia is in an increasingly difficult situation of its own making, one made worse by recent events. If not properly managed, an increasingly dangerous world will become much hotter very soon.

Since it illegally occupied the Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding Azerbaijani provinces two decades ago, Yerevan and its puppet state in the occupied territory have relied more and more on Russian arms and support to face off against Baku. The situation has become a sort of perverse death spiral, as Armenia’s nearly-last-in-the-world economy has not merely impoverished its citizens, but its military preparation and ability to acquire materiel; this in turn has led to increasing reliance on Russian aid; that in turn has pulled Armenia’s economy farther and farther from the world’s; and the cycle repeats. The situation worsened last year when Moscow demanded that Armenia put aside its first steps toward closer ties to Europe and join the Eurasian Customs Union — Armenia’s economy is now formally a mere satellite of Russia’s.

All of this puts Armenia in a fairly unpleasant position, with its only two major responsibilities to its population — military support and economic stability — now essentially a largesse from an old imperial master, and a rightfully angry, economically and militarily superior foe increasingly impatient with a peace process that seems designed to ensure Russian hegemony instead of promoting peace.

And then, in February, it got worse.

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine — and the miserable Western response — cast the world into two hazy camps: With Russia, and really, really angry but not yet ready to do something about it at Russia. Yerevan is undeniably in the former camp. Azerbaijan, while playing a delicate game with its dangerous former imperial overlord, is clearly in the latter. While Brussels and Washington continue to pretend that they have some influence in Armenia’s future development, over time, it will become increasingly apparent that Russia has rebuilt at least part of its old empire quite well.

Very soon, Armenia — having adopted Russia’s customs rules — will be functionally unable to trade with the rest of Europe. Azerbaijan experiences no such difficulty. With the Sarasang Reservoir in danger of collapse, and with the West still uncertain with how to deal with Russia (and far too insolent about Sarasang), Azerbaijan is rapidly approaching the point at which war simply will happen. When it does, Armenia will be forced to rely entirely on Russian aid.

The comparison between Nagorno-Karabakh and Crimea — sham elections, Russian annexation in all but name, displaced persons, and Russian military behind it all — will be too obvious for even international affairs reporters to miss. Of course, as there will be thousands dead and the world falling apart a bit more, they’ll have other things on their mind.

Armenians will be asking themselves whether at long last, centuries-old hatreds are worth cuddling up with Vladimir Putin.

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