While many in Armenia seek to overcome the shock from the violent demise of the self-proclaimed Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) Republic and support around 101,000 forced displaced persons who entered Armenia in the past ten days, experts and politicians are taking steps to assess the geopolitical implications of the recent events for the South Caucasus. Some anticipate a significant weakening of Russia’s position in the region. The absence of Armenians in Artsakh may result in the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the area, if not now, then at least after November 2025. Meanwhile, the destruction of the republic triggered additional anti-Russian sentiments in Armenia, leading civil society representatives to publicly demand the withdrawal of Armenia from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), pushing out the Russian military base and border troops from Armenia. According to this logic, the destruction of Artsakh may also facilitate the signature of a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which will pave the way for normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations. Normalizing relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey will make it easier for Armenia to start moving away from Russia, as Yerevan will not fear additional Turkish and Azerbaijani attacks.
However, as some begin to imagine a peaceful South Caucasus free of the Russian presence as a result of the destruction of Artsakh, many argue that the tragic end of the 35-year struggle by Armenians to live in their homeland without intimidation and fear will only bring more conflicts and suffering to the region. Many Armenians in Armenia and abroad are fed up with the second humiliation in three years, and they will do everything to stop the continuing demise of Armenia and reverse course. Azerbaijan and Turkey will not be satisfied by the destruction of Artsakh and will put all their efforts into gaining additional concessions from Armenia. The list of Azerbaijani demands is vast – enclaves, routes to connect Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan and Turkey via Armenia, and others. According to this scenario, the next primary target of Azerbaijan will be Armenia, and Baku will consider new incursions into Armenia similar to what happened in September 2022, or even to a greater extent, to force Armenia to accept its demands.
Assessing when and how Azerbaijan will launch its next attack against Armenia is challenging. However, if and when Azerbaijan decides to attack Armenia, it will have profound implications for regional geopolitics.
Assessing when and how Azerbaijan will launch its next attack against Armenia is challenging. However, if and when Azerbaijan decides to attack Armenia, it will have profound implications for regional geopolitics. Azerbaijan will attack either the Syunik or Vayots Dzor regions, threatening to reach Nakhichevan and effectively splitting Armenia in two. In this case, only Russia and Iran will have a real possibility to take any actions on the ground. Neither the U.S. nor European countries have any troops deployed in Armenia, and they have zero political desire, will or logistical capacities to send troops to Armenia to fight against Azerbaijan. The EU has a civilian mission deployed in Armenia. However, in the event of a launch of large-scale hostilities, the observers cannot do anything and would be evacuated to Yerevan or perhaps out of Armenia. The EU and the U.S. may use extensive diplomacy, including phone calls, statements and threats of sanctions. However, the recent behavior of Azerbaijan proves that more is needed to have a tangible impact on Baku’s decision-making process.
Russian troops are in Armenia, and some are deployed in the country’s southern region. Will Russia intervene militarily to protect Armenia, which, despite a growing bilateral relations crisis, is still a de jure ally of Russia? It is challenging to provide a definite answer, but given the ongoing war in Ukraine and Azerbaijan and Turkey’s importance for Russia, Moscow probably would like to mediate diplomatically, seeking to organize another summit of leaders in Russia to send a message to everyone once again that Russia still calls the shots in the Caucasus. Russia would like to use the situation to finalize its vision of restoring communications in the region, convincing Armenia to accept the control of Russian border troops over the transportation routes passing from Azerbaijan to Nakhichevan via Armenia, as was envisaged by the November 10, 2020 statement.
In case of an Azerbaijani attack, Iran may intervene militarily, seeking to prevent the creation of the “NATO – Turan” corridor, the term Iranians use to refer to the so-called “Zangezur corridor.” Iran has the necessary military capabilities to do that. However, direct military intervention may create the danger of a military clash with Turkey, which signed a strategic alliance agreement with Azerbaijan in June 2021. It is also unlikely that Iran will launch military actions in the South Caucasus without Russia’s consent, and Russia has no interest in seeing an Iranian military presence in the South Caucasus. Iran’s most likely response would be supplying weapons to Armenia and possibly signing an Iran-Armenia agreement of defense cooperation.
Thus, the most probable outcome of a new Azerbaijani incursion against Armenia will not be more anti-Russian sentiments in Armenia, the start of the actual process of leaving CSTO, the removal of the Russian military base and border troops from Armenia and the increase of Western influence in the region. On the contrary, it will result in more Russian and, potentially, Iranian influence over Armenia and reduced Western presence.