When Azerbaijani forces launched their offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh at the end of September, Baku received strong support from Turkey and at least implicit acquiescence from the Kremlin.
In retrospect, it is easy to say that a resumption of the conflict was inevitable. However, the power balance has been shifting for several years in favor of Azerbaijan, their finances swollen with oil proceeds and their arsenal modernized by purchasing sophisticated military equipment, including drones, mainly from Turkey but also from Russia. The poorly governed Armenians did not seem to appreciate that it was in their interests to make concessions, as long as the outcome was overall favorable to them.
Perhaps overly confident of Russian protection, they failed to see that Putin’s regime had more in common with the autocratic Baku government than with an Armenian leadership who had, after all, emerged from one of the "color revolutions."
When it comes to timing, one can well imagine that Azerbaijan and its sponsor states were fully aware of how unlikely it would be for the West to get involved in this old Caucasian quarrel. This is particularly true during a divisive election campaign in the United States and as Europe struggles with many issues of its own.
The November 10 agreement that concluded the six-week war - more than an armistice but less than a peace deal - confirms Russia’s role as the primary arbiter. A 2,000-strong Russian force will ensure that the lines of contact are respected. The agreement enshrines Azerbaijan’s status as the undisputed victor, as it recovers more than half of Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the adjacent "seven districts" that Armenia had occupied since 1994. Baku also gained the creation of a corridor between the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan (in Armenian territory) and Azerbaijan itself.
Armenians have had to give up almost all of their gains from the 1990s, leaving behind the uncertainty of whether Pashinyan’s government can survive such a loss. Armenia considers itself betrayed by Russia, but now relies more than ever on Russian protection for its survival. It appears that a true existential crisis lies ahead for the Armenians.
Turkey may not officially appear in the agreement but is certainly one of the major beneficiaries. Unlike Russia, it will not be able to deploy troops on the ground, as its Azeri allies would have wanted. But Turkey’s prestige in the region is growing from the operation, along with the reputation of its weaponry. What’s more, Moscow has also recognized Turkey as having de facto influence over these former Ottoman lands.
Incidentally, the creation of the corridor between Nakhichevan, on Turkey’s border, and Azerbaijan provides a "Turkish-speaking corridor" linking Turkey to the Caspian Sea – and therefore, amongst other things, to China’s Belt and Road initiative.
A new management arrangement for Russia’s sphere of influence
As seen from Europe or the West more generally, two sets of interpretations are possible.