Russia’s threat of military intervention in the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is a message directed at Turkey to stop stoking the conflict, Washington Examiner columnist Tom Rogan wrote in an opinion piece on Monday.
Russia is the dominant player in the Caucasus region and maintains a security pact with Armenia, a close ally. But the agreement does not cover the disputed region, which is located within Azerbaijan’s borders but controlled by ethnic Armenians.
After a series of failed ceasefire initiatives in October, Russia said on Saturday it would provide Armenia with military assistance should the conflict spill onto Armenian territory – land that is outside Nagorno-Karabakh.
Russia’s announcement was designed to alter the pattern of violated ceasefires, with particular focus on Turkey, Rogan said.
Turkey has thrown its firm support behind Azerbaijan, an ally it shares strong historical and cultural ties with, in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, saying it is ready to do whatever is necessary to eject Armenian forces from the region.
Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied allegations by Armenia, France and Russia that they have deployed hardened Syrian mercenaries in support of Azeri troops. Armenia has also repeatedly accused Turkey of providing Azerbaijan with air support, another accusation Ankara denies.
Rogan said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has pressured Azerbaijan to continue fighting despite ceasefire talks, which has “prevented the stabilisation of conditions on the ground and led to growing civilian suffering”.
“This Turkish obstinacy has aggravated (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” he said.
The commentator drew attention to Russian air strikes late last month on Turkey-backed rebels in Syria, where both countries support opposite sides of the long-standing Middle Eastern conflict. The attack was the deadliest breach of a Syrian ceasefire deal agreed between Putin and Erdoğan.
“Putin is saying that unless Turkey backs off from fuelling the conflict (over Nagorno-Karabakh), Russia will pummel Erdoğan into an embarrassing climb down,” Rogan said.
“Putin is gambling, likely correctly based on prior experience, that Erdoğan will take note of his anger and back down. When it comes to the crunch point, the Turkish leader has shown a reluctance to go eyeball-to-eyeball with the ex-KGB man.”