Aggravation of long-standing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh: What interests Turkey and Russia pursue.

The current escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh is primarily related to Azerbaijan's desire to take revenge for the events of July when Baku tried to regain some of its ground lost previously, but its attempt ultimately failed.

The current escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been building up for at least several months

Also, Turkey's initiative can be traced within the framework of its regional strategy to strengthen own negotiating positions in the Caucasus. And first of all, this concerns relations with Russia. Besides, Turkey seeks to enter the processes around the Caucasus as one of the stakeholders. That is, Ankara seeks to move up from the status of just one of the regional participants, which Azerbaijan claimed, to a level of power that should be reckoned with when Cucasus issues are considered, as well as to strengthen the Turkey-Azerbaijan-Iran axis, which has existed for several years already.

The current escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been building up for at least several months. Such a full-scale offensive, which we saw on the part of Azerbaijan, could never happen ad-hoc. In addition, it is quite obvious that the information support on the part of the Turkish media had been agreed in advance: Turkish journalists arrived at the scene a few days before the start of the operation, set up their broadcasting points, prepared their stories, and started their extensive coverage from the ground.

As for Turkey's role, it supports Azerbaijan – not only verbally but also in practice.

What was the formal reason for this aggravation? Has Armenia launched a shelling as the Azeri side claims? It is now impossible to verify the claim.

As for Turkey's role, it supports Azerbaijan – not only verbally but also in practice. For example, the drones Azerbaijan has already employed in the latest escalation are Turkish-made. It is not clear exactly, who operates them – Azerbaijani or Turkish officers – but there are some reports that it's actually the Turks.

Also, there is information that Turkish aircraft may be involved, because an F-16 wing has been deployed in Nakhichevan since the Turkish-Azerbaijani exercises, held in July-August this year. The fighters, along with armored vehicles and an unlimited contingent, never left Nakhichevan. That's precisely from where rumors stem of Turkey's possible direct intervention in the conflict with its regular troops if the situation at the front line turns not too favorable for Azerbaijan.

Everything will depend on how the hostilities will develop

So far, it is difficult to say exactly what role Turkey takes up in the conflict, whether it will intervene directly or prefer to remain the main patron behind-the-scenes, providing military-technical and material assistance to Azerbaijan. Or will it actually deploy to the front line part of its spec-ops forces that engaged in Syria and Libya, playing a key role in these countries.

Everything will depend on how the hostilities will develop. It will become clear in the next couple of days, how successful the so-called Azerbaijani blitzkrieg turns out to be, or will the Azerbaijanis be stuck in the zone. If they do get stuck, it is possible that Turkey will intervene to shift the balance of power in favor of Azerbaijan until a point where they decide to consolidate the new status quo and go for negotiations.

Negotiations are inevitable. Turkey has an important goal: to change the balance of power in its favor, as well as in favor of Azerbaijan, to consolidate the new reality through negotiations, and, as far as I can judge, through direct talks with Russia.

Erdogan, in a statement made on the day of the escalation, seriously criticized the OSCE Minsk Group, which, in fact, bears on its shoulders all ceasefire agreements in Nagorno-Karabakh and, in fact, the entire format of negotiations around the region. Judging by Erdogan's statement, he is not inclined to address the OSCE Minsk Group. He intends to consolidate his political success in cooperation with Moscow in a bilateral format, as it was in Syria, as he tried to do in Libya.

Further, Russia's behavior will depend on Turkey's position

Russia is also already reacting to what is happening in Nagorno-Karabakh. For example, a rather harsh statement came yesterday, where Moscow called on the parties to cease fire and sit down at the negotiating table. Further, Russia's behavior will depend on Turkey's position. Yesterday there was a call from Lavrov to Cavusoglu in Ankara – I think it was a reconnaissance move to probe the degree of Turkey's involvement in the conflict: how directly they are engaged and what role do they take up.

Moscow is now on a stretch, and will proceed from Turkey's moves in Nagorno-Karabakh

So Russia is waiting and watching what Turkey will do. If there is a direct intervention on the part of Turkey, Russia will face a dilemma: they will either have to defend they ally Armenia, with which they are bound by the relevant treaties (which could worsen relations between Turkey and Russia), or step aside and thus spoil the modality of relations with Armenia, which has existed for over 30 years. Moscow is now on a stretch, and will proceed from Turkey's moves in Nagorno-Karabakh.

It's interesting to note that Russia is in no rush to support Armenia. For example, there were no calls to Yerevan either yesterday or today. It was Pashinyan who reached out to Putin by phone. This is a very indicative nuance confirming what many have said before: Moscow has a difficult relationship with Pashinyan. In Russia, they treat him with suspicion as they don't consider him as "their guy." After all, initially, Pashinyan was not Russia's henchman, therefore Moscow can't see him through. This demonstrative disregard ("call us yourself") is precisely the indication of this attitude. This is worth noting since it shows the peculiarities of modern Russian-Armenian relations.

Anyway, the current round of crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh may lead to a change in the status quo that has persisted in the region for years. This is the largest fighting since 2016, with hundreds already killed in action on both sides. However, it is too early to claim this is the largest exacerbation since 1994.

Both sides are now determined to win

It all depends on further developments – whether hostilities will cover new territories, whether the situation will spread from Nagorno-Karabakh to the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and whether external forces (Turkey or Russia) will be involved in conflict... If all of this happens, the conflict will drag on and will take shape as a regional international one. In this case, it will ultimately end up with an altered political modality in the Caucasus. Thus, all older mechanisms and agreements will become void.

Both sides are now determined to win. This is evidenced by the public rhetoric of both Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities. In yesterday's address to the nation by Ilham Aliyev, the president said Azerbaijan intends to regain Nagorno-Karabakh because this is primordially Azerbaijani land. That is, the task has been set to gain full control of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia voiced some quite harsh statements, too. Pashinyan said Armenia could move to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh in response to Azerbaijan's actions.

The current escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh will continue for several weeks, maybe months

All these steps, if implemented, will further prolong the conflict. Everything could boil down to the conflict becoming even more complex and uncompromising because both parties are already moving along this path: imposing martial law and declaring mobilization suggests that this won't end quickly.

I suggest the current escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh will continue for several weeks, maybe months. And then everything will depend on what will happen on the ground and on the position of external forces. It is now obvious that Turkey and Russia will be the key external players in this conflict. Perhaps, also Iran... So far, Tehran has taken its traditional stance – it has offered mediation between Baku and Yerevan. However, no one is interested in mediation now, since there is no talk of a truce at all. All other EU powers, except France, which has major interests in Armenia, took a detached position. The United States has not yet shown much interest in the latest developments. So it seems it will be Russia and Turkey who will ultimately face off.

Ilia Kusa is an expert on international politics and Middle East at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future

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