Several conflicts in former Soviet republics will measure the decline of Russia’s power abroad
Tension has returned to the Caucasus. Armenia and Azerbaijan have again resorted to arms and are accusing each other of reopening the conflict. Unlike the last war fought in 2020, Baku is attacking internationally recognized Armenian territory this time, not the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. A potential problem for Russia, which has arrogated to itself the role of guarantor of peace in the South Caucasus and could be forced to intervene in the region, either directly or indirectly.
Armenia and Azerbaijan
This past Monday on the Armenian-Azeri front there were the first exchanges of shells and at least 105 military personnel have been killed (49 Azeris and 54 Armenians). Armenia has already officially requested assistance from Moscow and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance in which Russia is the major power. The conflict is unequal between the two Transcaucasian countries. Azerbaijan, in addition to having abundant natural resources to supplement its military muscle, has the support of Turkey, while Armenia is heavily dependent on Russia, which is fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Yerevan has far fewer resources – it relies in part on its large diaspora – and outdated military equipment. Already in 2020 it suffered a painful defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Nearly 5,000 soldiers died during that war, 2,425 of them Armenians. The Turkish-built Bayraktar drones were a real burden on the Armenian ranks. Samuel, for example, who fought on the Armenian side, explains: “I lost one of my legs in a drone attack that killed 17 people”.
On that occasion Moscow did not intervene directly although it did take part in the peace talks. Failure to support Armenia this time could undermine relations between the two countries and Moscow’s role as a guarantor of stability in the South Caucasus. The Armenian Diaspora, with a prominent weight within the Eurasian country, could take a dim view if Russia does not intervene in this new outbreak of the Armenian-Azeri conflict.
Georgia and South Ossetia
Meanwhile, in Tbilisi, there is talk of opening another front to Russia. This was put forward by the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Giorgi Kobakhidze. “Let the people say whether they want to open a second front in Georgia against Russia,” said Kobakhidze, who promised that the authorities “will do what the people say.” Tbilisi already fought against its northern neighbor in 2008 in a brief but painful war in which Moscow came to the support of its South Ossetian and Abkhazian allies.
Both territories are states without recognition by the international community, which considers them a legitimate part of Georgia. This is one of the many “frozen conflicts” in the post-Soviet space, such as Transnistria (Moldova) and Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan).
In the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the Georgian people mostly support Kiev, because of the background with Russia. Georgian citizens have protested on multiple occasions asking their rulers for tougher sanctions against Moscow, as well as openly showing their support in the streets with flags and even playing the Ukrainian anthem on the country’s radios.
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan
This Wednesday at 7.30 local time on the border between the Central Asian countries of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan there was a skirmish between border guards of the two countries. On the Tajik side there was one killed and six wounded by machine gun fire. The Dushanbe security services have reported that “they unreasonably fired at Tajik border guards with machine guns, automatic rifles and other weapons.”
From the Kyrgyz side, the intelligence services have claimed that the shooting started when a Tajik border guard was found to have overstepped the demarcation line previously agreed upon by the two countries. When he refused, the Kyrgyz guards opened fire. International organizations are concerned that Central Asian countries are deploying more lethal weapons on their borders.