A fresh disaster may be looming in Nagorny Karabakh, the majority-Armenian highland enclave within the borders of Azerbaijan. Thomas de Waal, senior fellow with Carnegie Europe, specializing in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region, writes about this in his article “A Tragic Endgame in Karabakh.”
“The Karabakhis’ fate was probably sealed in April, when Azerbaijan established a checkpoint on the Lachin Corridor. This de facto blockade deepened in the summer, and the situation became desperate for tens of thousands of people remaining in Karabakh (estimates range from 50,000 to 120,000) who began to run out of food and medicine.
There is a geopolitical game here. A small Russian peacekeeping force was established in Karabakh in 2020. Moscow, which has always wavered between and manipulated both sides, had presented itself as the protector of the Karabakhis. President Vladimir Putin publicly told them his peacekeepers would guarantee their safe return from Armenia and continued residence in their homeland. But the Russian soldiers stood by as the checkpoint was set up on the Lachin road earlier this year, fracturing trust held in the peacekeeping force,” he wrote.
In his opinion, the context is that after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Armenian government began to pivot toward the West, and Azerbaijan—with which Russia shares a land border and an authoritarian model of government—looked like a more valuable partner.
“Over the summer, the EU and United States were hopeful that a deal had been reached to reopen the Lachin road, as well as a road via the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam, to resupply Karabakh. Senior figures, notably U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and European Council President Charles Michel, sent messages to Aliyev that the use of force was unacceptable. On September 18, in a hopeful sign, two small humanitarian convoys reached Karabakh down the two roads, after a long pause.
The military offensive on September 19 caught Western officials by surprise, which became more understandable when news broke that Russian peacekeepers simply stood down and let the assault happen. The impression that there had been a side deal between Moscow and Baku deepened when Russian officials blamed Pashinyan and his pro-Western tendencies, not Azerbaijan, for the fighting,” the analyst wrote.
He added that in the darker European order of the past decade, where normative values and a multilateral framework have been devalued, Azerbaijan cares less about statements of condemnation from Western governments.
“The key thing is almost certainly the support of two regional powers and neighbors: the full backing of Türkiye and deliberate equivocation from Russia, which looks more concerned about keeping its military base on the ground in Azerbaijan and humiliating the government in Yerevan than in ensuring the rights of local Karabakh Armenians.
The only international organization on the ground in Karabakh is the International Committee of the Red Cross. Western officials have called for an international humanitarian and monitoring presence on the ground analogous to the missions deployed in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but Azerbaijan and Russia—which seeks to justify its peacekeeping force—will try to block this.
Barring an unexpected international initiative, the main question may now be whether a mass exodus of Karabakhis to Armenia will happen in an orderly fashion or with bloodshed and detentions of male residents. There are modest signs that the Azerbaijanis will allow the former, but the situation on the ground is messy and volatile—as could only be expected when combatants in a three-decade-long conflict confront one another again, face to face. The repercussions of the third Karabakh war will be long and hard,” de Waal wrote.