Staunton, July 28 – The new fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan presents Moscow not only with a foreign policy challenge – see jamestown.org/program/moscow-has-compelling-new-reasons-for-neutrality-in-armenian-azerbaijani-conflict/ -- but also with a domestic one because ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis are now clashing on the streets of Russian cities.
The two problems are coming together both because the initial clashes in Moscow and St. Petersburg are seen by the FSB as extending to other Russian cities which have both communities (rusplt.ru/society/fsb-boitsya-armyanoazerbaidzhanskogo-konflikta-5f201.html) and because both Baku and Yerevan see Moscow’s domestic response as signaling its position.
Armenian officials from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan down have suggested that Moscow could prevent these clashes if it wanted to, implicitly suggesting that some in the Russian capital don’t want to (rbc.ru/politics/25/07/2020/5f1c17059a7947dd733982e9) while Baku has issued a call for Azerbaijanis to obey the law (svpressa.ru/society/article/271752/).
Ruissian police have come down hard on both sides in Moscow, arresting 15 of those involved in what the authorities have sought to portray as the work of provocateurs or the result of ordinary problems rather than ethnic ones (rusplt.ru/society/fsb-boitsya-armyanoazerbaidzhanskogo-konflikta-5f201.html and echo.msk.ru/news/2683525-echo.html).
But the fights have now spread to St. Petersburg and threaten other cities as well (interfax-russia.ru/northwest/news/armyane-i-azerbaydzhancy-peterburga-osuzhdayut-razzhiganie-vrazhdy-sereznyh-konfliktov-net-smolnyy). Experts say more clashes are likely, noting that they are comparably easy to stop but very hard to prevent (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/352464/ and pravda.ru/world/1516501-armenia_azerbaidjan/).
In the hopes of preventing a further spillover of the conflict in the Caucasus, Russia’s FSB has introduced special control in two Urals regions, Kurgan Oblast and Perm Kray, where the two diasporas have clashed in the past. Sources in regional governments say that the authorities are also on alert in Khanty-Mansiisk (ura.news/news/1052442500).
As the conflict in the southern Caucasus intensifies, fights between representatives of the two large diasporas in Russia – there are more than a million of each of these two ethnic communities there – present the Kremlin with a serious challenge: maintaining or restoring the peace without appearing to favor one side or the other.