PARIS: Russia, backed by Turkey, has brokered a ceasefire to end the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh that sees Azerbaijan keep hold of military gains made in six weeks of combat but is a major setback for Armenia.
Analysts say the deal is hugely significant and will have major repercussions in the Caucasus region and beyond.
Here are five reasons why the accord — agreed between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia — is a game-changing moment.
Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnic Armenian region of Azerbaijan that broke away from Baku’s control in a war as the Soviet Union collapsed.
President Ilham Aliyev had never hidden his desire to regain control and the deal brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin formalises key military gains made by Azerbaijan to control territory around Karabakh and the strategic town of Shusha.
“It’s a gain that is symbolic and strategically important,” said Emmanuel Dreyfus, of the Institute for Strategic Research at the Military School (IRSEM).
He noted that even if Azerbaijan did not regain control of all of Karabakh — including its main city Stepanakert — people displaced in the conflict will not be able to return to their original regions.
“The Azeris did not get everything they wanted — it is seldom the case in a war — but they took the second city (Shusha),” he said, adding the deal excluded any “resumption of the conflict in the short of medium term”.
The outcome represents a disaster for Armenia, with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who now faces growing anger at home, saying Yerevan had “no alternative” but to accept the accord after a string of setbacks.
Azerbaijan has now regained control of a substantial chunk of Karabakh, whose breakaway status was never recognised by Yerevan. Armenian hopes of any Russian military help due to Yerevan’s membership in a military alliance came to nothing.
Alexander Gabuev, senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote that the deal could “weaken or end” the rule of Pashinyan and there may be a sense of “betrayal” towards Russia. But Armenia “has few realistic alternative options”.
Analysts saw the outbreak of the fighting in late September as an unwelcome development for Moscow, as it grappled with protests in Belarus and the backlash following the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
But the fighting has ended with Russia sending peacekeepers to a region that it has long considered part of its sphere of influence going back to the Tsarist era.
“As everywhere in the post-Soviet region, it was Russia which had the upper hand on the management of the crisis,” said Dreyfus.
Russia will now deploy 2,000 soldiers as peacekeepers for a minimum of five years.
This means it can now boast of having troops in all three Caucasus ex-Soviet states. It has a military base in Armenia and soldiers in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Turkey was not officially a party to the accord but the deal came after intense telephone talks in the last few days between officials, including a call between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ankara’s support for Azerbaijan in the conflict — which included Turkish drones and the alleged deployment of Syrian mercenaries — had caused major tensions with its NATO allies.
But Erdogan can now boast of helping Baku to a victory that has also shown — as in Syria — the ability of Ankara and Moscow to resolve issues without Western help.
The deal makes no mention of the deployment of Turkish peacekeepers although officials in Ankara have suggested this is not ruled out.
“The outcome of the conflict and the constant Turkish political position in supporting Azerbaijan, not to mention the role of Ankara-made drones, show that Turkey is becoming stronger in the Caucasus,” said Ankara-based political analyst Ali Bakeer.
France and the United States are along with Russia the co-chairs of the Minsk Group that has sought a solution to the Karabakh conflict.
But with the United States hugely distracted by the presidential election and France accused by Turkey of taking Armenia’s side, Western diplomacy had no impact on the conflict.
This left the field free for Putin to score a major diplomatic success.
“What is very important for the Kremlin is the diminished role of the West, which was mainly self-inflicted by the lack of focus and regular process” under President Donald Trump, said Gabuev.