Friday, October 9, 2020

Navalny Poisoning Played a Role in Timing of Outbreak of Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Arutyunov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 8 – Sergey Arutyunov, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that the poisoning of Aleksey Navalny, uncertainties in the US and the EU, and the coronavirus pandemic combine to explain why the latest round of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan began when it did.

            The academician, one of Russia’s most distinguished specialists on the Caucasus, says because these events were distracting the world’s attention, Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev decided that few would pay attention if he moved to make “Karabakh part of Azerbaijani territory” and that by the time they did, he would have achieved much of that goal.

            That is just one of the noteworthy observations about the situation in the Caucasus Arutyunov made in an interview he gave to Elena Khrustalyeva of Prague’s Caucasus Times  (

            According to Arutyunov, “the Western world as a whole and Russia in particular should be closer to Armenia” in this conflict and more generally. But in it predominate neo-liberal and post-modern views,” and Armenians are viewed “under formal and abstract justice” as “occupiers of Azerbaijani territory.”

            Russia is in a difficult position. It would like to help Armenia because nothing could be worse than the formation of a Turkic belt except the rise of a new khalifate. “Nevertheless, Russia cannot do so openly because formally no one recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh, just as no one recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which de facto has existed 35 years.”

            “From the point of view of the West,” Arutyunov says, “the Azerbaijanis are right: they are trying to free their own territory from Armenian occupation.” Russia will thus try to position itself as a defender of international law and an arbiter between the two sides in this war, he continues.

            On another issue, the Moscow scholar says that the events in the south Caucasus will not influence the north Caucasus for two reasons: First, the Azerbaijanis are Shiites while the North Caucasians are Sunni Muslims; and second, the power vertical in the Russian portion of the Caucasus is much stronger than it was.

            Even if the Muslims of the north sympathize with Azerbaijan more than Armenia, that doesn’t change anything, Arutyunov says. People there have no interest in shifting from being under Russian dominance to being under Turkish.

            Arutyunov adds that on May 10, 1988, he and a group of colleagues working with Tatyana Zaslavskaya and Igor Krupnik proposed to the CPSU Central Committee that Karabakh be placed under joint Armenian and Azerbaijani control. Such arrangements exist elsewhere, and he says he still believes this is the only way out.

            “Unfortunately,” in this situation, such a form of administration of Karabakh is impossible because both sides declare that we are everything and you are nothing.”

            At the same time, there are limits to how far the fighting can go. If Azerbaijani shells or bombs land in Armenia, Russia be under some pressure to come to the defense of Yerevan given the provisions of the Organization for the Collective Security Treaty. Failure to do so would be a shame for Russia and “a bestial loss of face for Putin.”

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