The Europeans and Americans may groan about this faraway conflict in the hills of the Caucasus, but they will ultimately have to engage with it more seriously—and in partnership with Russia, whatever their differences on other issues.
The most likely scenario amid renewed clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a battle for small and not particularly important pockets of land, allowing for the symbolic declaration of a victory. But raising the bar in a conflict makes it very difficult to stop as planned.
It’s in neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan’s interests for Russia to pick a side in their conflict: Nagorno-Karabakh would go from being a unique place where Russia and the West cooperate to yet another theater for their rivalry, with all the ensuing risks and dangers.
The rich history of law enforcement in the family of Ingushetia’s new head, Makhmud-Ali Kalimatov, contains some hints as to the Kremlin’s new political logic on the North Caucasus. What’s important is that the heightened influence of the Chechen leadership in other parts of the North Caucasus does not figure in the interests of the security services, though when the previous head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov resigned, there was much talk of that growing influence: specifically, that relations between Yevkurov and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov had been strained.
The beleaguered former presidents of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are both typical clan leaders with notable numbers of supporters. Both cases illustrate clearly how complex and risky the process of handing over power remains in the post-Soviet arena.
In post-revolutionary Armenia, the old ruling elite has had to come to terms with new realities. Chief among these is the power of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, whose electoral bloc and allies now control parliament. Those who deny or challenge Pashinyan’s dominance risk having their companies audited and their homes searched, and even being arrested; not even former presidents are safe. Hence the decision of many Republican Party figures to acquiesce to or join Pashinyan, whose measured approach has so far allowed him to avoid conflict with either the public or the old ruling elite.
Unexpectedly, Baku has begun to debate joining the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). However, Azeri rhetoric aside, until Baku comes to see accession to the “Eurasian NATO” as critical to regaining control over Nagorno-Karabakh—its top political priority—it is unlikely to pursue CSTO membership, just as it has declined to participate in other multilateral initiatives in which Yerevan is involved.
The case against ex-president Robert Kocharyan has become the most explosive episode in Armenian politics since this past spring’s Velvet Revolution. It has unnerved Moscow, as well as Kocharyan’s allies in Yerevan, with the former fearing that Armenia is pivoting to the West and the latter accusing the Nikol Pashinyan government of political persecution. But the case against Kocharyan is neither geopolitical nor the beginning of a campaign of terror—it is all about the March 1 affair, Armenia’s Bloody Sunday.
It’s hard to call Pashinyan left- or right-wing, pro-Western or pro-Russian. He has two images: one of a charismatic revolutionary, capable of getting people on the streets to rally behind him, and the other as a pragmatic politician ready to make compromises and form tactical unions.