The big lesson of the Azerbaijan-Armenia peace settlement is that military power rules. In a matter of weeks, the use of force has achieved what decades of diplomacy failed to deliver. The only two relevant international players in the South Caucasus region are Russia and Turkey. The United States has taken leave, while the European Union is a paper tiger without troops.Essentially, Azerbaijan has retaken the territories it lost in 1994, and it has captured a corner of Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition, the agreement promises Azerbaijan a transportation link through Armenia to the Azerbaijani district of Nakhichevan, which lies beyond southern Armenia. In territorial terms, this settlement makes sense and may prove durable.
Putin has promised to deploy a peacekeeping contingent of “1,960 soldiers with small arms, 90 armored personnel carriers, and 380 vehicles and other special equipment,” which will serve along the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh and guard the Lachin Corridor for an initial period of five years. Meanwhile, the Armenian armed forces will withdraw.Russian special forces, many of whom fought in eastern Ukraine, began arriving in Armenia in IL-76 transportation planes on November 10. By sending these special forces as peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh, Putin has made tiny Armenia even more dependent on Russia, leaving it looking less like an independent nation and increasingly like a Russian protectorate.
The United States seems to have withdrawn from global affairs; the EU has no military muscle; and the West in general has grown alienated from Turkey. This has left the way open for authoritarian rulers like Putin and Erdogan to seize the geopolitical initiative.
In geopolitical terms, the most important outcome of the conflict is the appearance of a significant Russian military presence in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian “peacekeeping” missions already exist in three other “frozen” post-Soviet conflicts. They are present in Moldova’s Transnistria region, along with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. A similar Russian military force is now firmly established in the heart of the Southern Caucasus region, fulfilling one of Moscow’s long-term objectives in the region.