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Consequences of the "One-Day War" for Karabakh

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Photo: The Armed Forces of Azerbaijan conducted an operation in separatist-controlled Karabakh. Source: Collage The Gaze.
Photo: The Armed Forces of Azerbaijan conducted an operation in separatist-controlled Karabakh. Source: Collage The Gaze.

On September 19-20, the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan conducted an operation in separatist-controlled Karabakh, which resulted in the actual surrender of the unrecognized "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic," the laying down of arms by its military units, and the beginning of the reintegration of this territory into Azerbaijan.

The story that began in 1991 is coming to its logical conclusion, and Azerbaijan is restoring its territorial integrity and sovereignty in full, which means the end of one of the longest "frozen conflicts" in the former Soviet Union. 

Azerbaijan's path to achieving this goal was long and difficult. After being defeated in the first half of the 1990s in the "First Karabakh War," Azerbaijan managed to inflict a decisive defeat on the separatists and Armenia, which supported them, in 2020. It ended with another ceasefire and the transfer of the vast majority of the territories previously controlled by the separatists to Azerbaijani control. 

The "authorities" of the unrecognized "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic" retained control over only a part of the "Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast" that existed in the Soviet era. Although the ceasefire was guaranteed by Russia and its President Vladimir Putin, and Russian peacekeepers were to be deployed in the region, it was clear to everyone that this was not the end of the story.

And so, in 2023, Azerbaijan inflicted a decisive defeat on the separatists, resolving the long-running conflict by force and restoring its territorial integrity in full. Now, the issue of ethnic Armenians in the territory of the former separatist entity will be resolved. Official Baku promises guarantees of all rights to those who stay and take Azerbaijani citizenship, and this will obviously now be a matter of complex negotiations involving various actors. But now we can only talk about the civil rights of local residents, not about any independent political entities.

Russia is Losing Influence in the Caucasus

One of the unobvious but significant results of the "one-day war" is the continued loss of Russia's influence in the Caucasus region. For a long time, Armenia remained Russia's main partner in the region, even as a member of the CSTO, a security alliance organized by Russia, a kind of counterweight to NATO. It was with Russia's support that Armenia was able to support the Karabakh separatists and successfully confront Azerbaijan, but everything changed after Nikol Pashinyan came to power in Yerevan. 

This happened as a result of popular protests and after the removal of the pro-Russian clan from power, which was very painful for the Kremlin. From that moment on, relations between official Yerevan and Moscow began to cool. Although Russia continued to be perceived by many Armenians as a guarantor of the status quo in Karabakh. 

However, during the 2020 war, Russia did not want to stop Azerbaijan in the initial stages and intervened only when the Armenian side was defeated. And in 2023, Russia completely abstracted itself from the events. Russian peacekeepers did not put up any resistance to the fighting, thus completely discrediting their mission.

Obviously, in 2023, it was not only Putin's antipathy to Pashinyan that played an important role, but also the fact that Russia simply had no strength left for an active foreign policy. Russia's main military resources were either destroyed during the invasion of Ukraine or simply continue to be involved in hostilities. 

This was felt in Yerevan. Therefore, since 2023, Pashinyan has been trying to reverse Armenian foreign policy. He is looking for security guarantees from Western countries, in particular the United States and NATO, as symbolized by the joint exercises of the Armenian and American armies that took place this year and caused serious dissatisfaction in Moscow. Obviously, Russia will try to use the defeat in Karabakh as a pretext to overthrow the Pashinyan government, so it is too early to talk about Armenia's geopolitical reversal. However, it is already clear that the vast majority of Armenians accuse Russia of treason. And this is something that will influence public opinion in Armenia for a long time to come.

As for Azerbaijan, it is fully focused on its natural ally, Turkey, which has rather complicated relations with Russia. Although Russia receives a lot of necessary goods through Turkey, these relations can hardly be called allied, but rather competitive. And now Russia has in the Caucasus Azerbaijan, which is oriented toward Turkey, strengthened by military victories, and increasingly linked economically to the European Union, as well as Armenia, which wants to reorient its strategic ally from Russia to the United States.

This leaves Georgia, where the government of the Georgian Dream party is trying to pursue a moderately pro-Russian policy that is causing discontent in its own society, and therefore the prospects for the current Georgian government look ambiguous.

The End of the Story of Another "Frozen Conflict"

Another important outcome of the history of the "one-day war" in Karabakh is the demonstration of the end of one of the longest frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space by force. For a long time, it looked like all these conflicts could remain "frozen" for a long time, but Azerbaijan has shown a specific algorithm for resolving it militarily, and this cannot but have consequences for all similar cases.

Frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union were either initiated or supported by Russia. Now that Russia is rapidly weakening, it is time to think about how to resolve the old problems once and for all. It is possible that in the near future, Chisinau will think about regaining control over Transnistria. 

And there, perhaps, the Georgian authorities will begin to think about options for regaining control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia's weakening primarily affects its ability to control those regions where its power was questionable from the very beginning, and this could mean the rapid collapse of numerous pro-Russian separatist regimes in the near future.

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