As the war in Ukraine continues and Russia faces a strong counterattack from Ukrainian forces, Russian President Vladimir Putin is focused on his own war and a border dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan and Armenia began fighting on their border on Tuesday and are trading blame for who is responsible for starting the dispute. The conflict puts Putin in a difficult position, as he is unable to send military assistance to Armenia, a military ally, and it has the potential to expose the weakness of the NATO-style coalition that the Russia has formed.
“Azerbaijan’s attack on Armenia is a nightmare scenario for Putin”, author and journalist Mark MacKinnon tweeted. “His forces are already overstretched and retreating to Ukraine, now he must find troops to send to Armenia’s aid – or the CSTO, Russia’s answer to NATO, will be exposed like a tiger of paper.”
Dozens of soldiers have died on each side since the fighting began. The conflict is the worst the two countries have engaged in since a 2020 war that killed thousands of soldiers.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan sought help from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as he invoked Article 4 of the CSTO after the fighting began. Article 4 states that any “aggression against CSTO member states shall be considered by other participants as aggression against everyone else,” according to GlobalSecurity.org. Russia has long been known as the go-between for the CSTO, which looks like a mini-version of the National Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Russia is not a member.
Russia has been unceremoniously silent in response to the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Earlier this year, Russia was quick to deploy peacekeepers to CSTO member Kazakhstan to quell violent protests. In 2020, when Azerbaijan last targeted Armenia to reclaim the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the subject of a decades-long conflict between the two nations, Russia declared a ceasefire. Russia then deployed thousands of peacekeepers to broker the deal after Azerbaijan forced Armenia to hand over significant parts of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The CSTO met Tuesday in response to Pashinyan invoking Article 4. The treaty organization has declared a ceasefire, but Armenia reports fighting continues. A CSTO-led fact-finding mission is expected to arrive in the Armenian capital today according to Bloomberg reports, but neither Putin nor the CSTO has agreed to send troops to help defend Armenia .
The situation has turned into a major headache for Putin, who risks losing respect as an eminence in the region if he does not intervene. Russia poured its resources into the war in Ukraine and faced a substantial counterattack that weakened Russian forces and forced them to retreat. ABC News reported that Azerbaijan may have planned to use the Russian-Ukrainian war as a distraction to force Armenia to concede as Russia resists intervening.
Amid the pressure of calls for help from Armenia, the United States and the European Union (EU) have encouraged Russia to help resolve the dispute. On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price blamed Azerbaijan for the conflict and urged Russia to help end the fighting.
“We saw significant evidence of Azerbaijani shelling inside Armenia and significant damage to Armenian infrastructure,” Price said during the briefing.
France also urged Russia to act. According to a Reuters article, France plans to take the issue to the United Nations Security Council. French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev to end hostilities and follow ceasefire orders.
The EU has asked both sides to resume negotiations peacefully, according to Bloomberg. Ophelia Coutts, Russia and former Soviet Union analyst at venture intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, told Bloomberg that with Russia distracted by the war in Ukraine, the EU may be the best option to help with peacekeeping initiatives. maintain the peace.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was working hard to resolve the conflict and Putin was involved in the talks.
However, Russia probably does not have the troops to spare to intervene in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Russian troops are significantly outnumbered on the Ukrainian battlefield, according to Aleksandr Borodai, who serves in Russia’s State Duma. Borodai advocated for a project to help replenish diminished military units during an interview with The New York Times.
Despite Article 4, other CSTO members are also reluctant to get involved. Aydos Sarym, member of the Defense and Security Committee of the Majilis of Kazakhstan, told Govorit Moskva radio station that Kazakhstan refuses to help Armenia because it does not want to harm its relations with Azerbaijan , even though Azerbaijan is not a member of the treaty organization.
“It is clear that in a conflict situation with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan is in no way interested in sending troops there, somehow supporting Armenia to the detriment of our relations with Azerbaijan,” said Sarym. “Azerbaijan is a people very close to us, with whom there is a huge trade turnover, very big projects. Public opinion is more favorable to Azerbaijan.”
As CSTO members waver, Azerbaijan’s allies declare their support. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey would “support” Azerbaijan’s “just causes” in a Reuters report.
Newsweek contacted the Russian Ministry of Defense and the CSTO for comments.