Analyst Eugene Chausovsky examines Russia's dominant position surrounding the territorial dispute of Nagorno-Karabakh near the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy. A cease-fire was broken between Armenia and Azerbaijan on Tuesday after an exchange of gunfire occurred between the two countries on the line of contact. These skirmishes occurred after the latest round of negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a disputed region between the two countries, failed to produce a settlement on Friday. While negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh have been going on for several years, there are significant geopolitical realities that serve as obstacles to any sort of agreement over this issue. The primary actor when considering the prospects for a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement is not Azerbaijan or Armenia but, rather, Russia. Russia's primary goal in the former Soviet Union is to advance its interests in these countries while blocking the interests of foreign powers and particularly the West. This is especially the case in the Caucasus region, which is made up of Armenia, Azerbaijan as well as Georgia, and these three countries are heavily pursued by the West. Within these pursuits, Azerbaijan is the key as it has the largest population in the region, it borders both Russia and Iran in strategic points, and perhaps most importantly, it has significant quantities of oil and natural gas. These energy resources allow Azerbaijan to be a significant exporter of energy to the West and therefore serve as a threat to Russia's energy relationship and political relationship with Europe. This then explains Russia's relationship with Armenia, which Russia supports politically, economically and has a troop presence within Armenia. This also explains Russia's position on Nagorno-Karabakh, which is to appear that Russia is trying to do everything it can as a negotiator to reach a settlement while in reality do everything it can to prevent such a settlement. As long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains an issue, then Azerbaijan's access to the west via Turkey is blocked through this corridor. And while Azerbaijan has been increasing its military expenditures on the back of its growing energy exports, the fact remains that Russia's military presence in Armenia will serve as a significant blocking force to Azerbaijan. In addition, Russia also has a military presence in two breakaway territories of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, giving Russia even more leverage over Azerbaijan. Therefore, it ultimately boils down to Russia's position when assessing the prospects for any meaningful change to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.