Russia’s Strategy in Nagorno-Karabakh: Part II

Updated: Aug 28, 2019

Part 2: This policy paper suggests a two-fold strategy for the Russian Federation concerning Nagorno-Karabakh, one for the short-term, another one for the long-term.

Article Source: Young Diplomats

By Antonio Schiavano

In the short-run, a “wait and see” policy maintaining the “frozen” status quo might be a preferred option given the unpredictability of the Trump administration. On the other hand, Russia needs a long-term policy to settle the issue definitively, because this conflict is inherently unstable.

A full-fledged war in Nagorno-Karabakh would be a threat not only for the stability in the South Caucasus, but also for the stability of regions within Russian borders.

Long-term policy: settle the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh definitively

The most important issue in the long-term will be how Russia can maintain its leverage on both Armenia and Azerbaijan once the Nagorno Karabakh dispute is settled.

This means that Russia should deter other countries from increasing their influence in the regions, in particular Turkey and USA. The current situation in the international arena offers a window of opportunity for Russia to settle the conflict under circumstances favourable to Russia.

In April 2017, Nagorno-Karabakh witnessed the worst skirmishes between Azerbaijan and Armenia since the ceasefire was signed in 1994. The international scenario looked very different at that moment:Russia-Turkey relation had worsened because of the incident with the Russian Su-24 jet in September 2015. Russian relations with the US and EU were weak due to the economic sanctions imposed after the Ukrainian crisis.

Since then, the circumstances concerning Russia’s relations with the two major “rivals” in the Caucasus region – Turkey and the USA – have dramatically changed: Turkey now has an interest in improving relations with Russia for the following reasons: The current deterioration of relations with EU undermines Turkey’s hope and will for an accession to the European Union.

On the contrary, Ankara might consider joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization given the growing importance of Eurasia for the country. In the ongoing war in Syria, Turkey needs support to limit Kurdish expansion in Syria and support for its ongoing military campaign. Russia could be the only ally in this sense, given that Kurdish factions have been supported by the USA.

In regards to the USA, there are several reasons that could make Russia hopeful about a drop in Washington’s interest in the South Caucasus region.

It seems that Trump is more interested in the relationship with major powers rather than with minor ones, and therefore the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is of less interest. In addition, Trump’s will to develop the United States’ shale oil industry could lessen Washington’s interest in South Caucasus’ resources as well.

This more peaceful and comfortable international scenario will increase Russia’s capability to settle this conflict without risking to lose its own influence on these territories. Consequently, Russia should pursue the following policies:

Russia should become a direct mediator between the two countries.


Russia should, as soon as possible, initiate new negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Russian government should try to restore confidence in the Madrid Principle as a useful starting point for a final settlement of the conflict.

Another option is to resolve the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status: autonomous, but not independent.

The future status of Nagorno-Karabakh is the first problem that needs to be addressed. Indeed, it will not be possible to settle the conflict until this issue will be resolved.

The Madrid Principles already provided for a referendum. The task of this plebiscite would have been “allowing the free and genuine expression of the will of the population of NK”. However, the independence of Nagorno Karabakh will not be easily accepted by Azerbaijan, which has already declared that the status of Nagorno Karabakh to not be a topic of discussion.

Furthermore, such a secession would violate several UNSC resolutions, which have recognized the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and moreover could also be a dangerous precedent for autonomous regions in Russia itself.

However, a more comfortable solution could be found. To this end, I am suggesting:A more autonomous, but not independent Nagorno-Karabakh.

That way, it will still be a region of Azerbaijan, but it will have a stronger degree of autonomy, a solution that could fit both states.

Lachin corridor demilitarized and under international control:

The issue of the Lachin corridor has been one of the most important problems in the settlement of the conflict. De-militarization and international control will be important in order to stabilize this piece of land and in order to secure the access to this territory to everyone.

At the same time, Russia should try to improve economic and political ties between these two states because it could be a useful tactic to make Armenia and Azerbaijan more willing to cooperate.

Russia should encourage Azerbaijan to become a member of the Eurasian Economic Union.

Strengthening economic ties between Armenia and Azerbaijan through mutual membership in the EEU can be an important tool to prevent a future war between them. Indeed, close economic ties reduce the risk of the break out of war in the future.

A way to convince Baku to become a member of this organization is to make it more appealing. Until now, the Eurasian Union has not worked as well as it could. Russia should work to broaden the Eurasian Union membership, as a wider Eurasian Union could increase its own appeal as a major trade area.

However, the Eurasian Union should remain just a free trade association, due to the fact that political integration could discourage Azerbaijan from becoming a member of Eurasian Union, given the membership of Armenia.

To convince Azerbaijan to become a member of the Eurasian Union, Russia should also use some leverage such as the possible denial of access to Russian oil resources if Azerbaijan refuses to become a member of the union.

Russia should also encourage Azerbaijan’s return in CSTO.

The participation of Azerbaijan and Armenia in a military alliance will reduce drastically the possibility that conflict could break out once it had been settled. However, this may be considered as a long-standing policy and will not be a viable option until the conflict is resolved.

Russia should make sure that Armenia remains a member of these organizations.

To avoid an Armenian withdrawal from these organizations, Russia must use the influence that it has over Yerevan, amongst others by withdrawing Russian support if necessary.

However, it will be impossible to definitively resolve the conflict if this historical rivalry will not be reduced. The best way to achieve such a result will be to strengthen political and economic ties between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Membership of Azerbaijan in the Eurasian Union and CSTO might be possible solutions to achieve this result.

By enacting all these proposed measures, Russia may be able to settle this dangerous conflict, whose perseverance is a risk for the stability of Russia's southern border.  Moreover, if Russia will be the only mediator, the resolution of the conflict will not lead towards a loosening of Russian influence in the South Caucasus. On the contrary, Russia will maintain its influence on the region, while working in a peaceful context.


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