Russia’s New Territory

In November Russia won part of someone else's country. This was not done through unidentified troops moving across a border, nor through hybrid warfare. Instead, she negotiated her capture in full sight and without asking a single question from the United States or the rest of the world.
The fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh preceded the annexation. The mountainous region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but since 1994 a ceasefire between the two nations has been controlled by ethnic Armenians. The conflict flared up again in September. Two months later, a peace agreement with Russia came out victorious: it brokered a ceasefire that put the Kremlin's supposedly peacekeeping boots on the ground. America stood idly by as this happened.
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As the traditional protector of Armenia, Russia had the only leverage to convince Armenia to sign this ceasefire. By signing, Yerevan surrendered claims to the territories it had occupied in Azerbaijan since 1994 and won nothing - apart from a ceasefire instead of a forced surrender. In return for ensuring slightly less humiliation for its ally, Moscow received a gift and a presence.
The reality is that Nagorno-Karabakh, unless America is fully committed to the peace process, is now Russia indefinitely. The Kremlin allegedly controls the territory for five years, with an automatic rollover for an additional five years if none of the three parties to the ceasefire object six months before the mandate expires.
Russia certainly won't. It is now the gatekeeper of a region that is central to the diversification of energy supplies in Europe (reducing the role of Russian imports). If the region is of strategic importance to NATO, it is of strategic importance to the Kremlin.
Out of distrust of Azerbaijan, Armenia wants the peacekeepers to stay. The brief but brutal conflict has clearly shown that Armenia cannot win militarily and that ethnic Armenians must therefore accept either the governance of Azerbaijan or the protectorate of Russia. Weak and broken, Yerevan finds it less humiliating to accept Russian tutelage in Nagorno-Karabakh, if only to deny an archenemy a complete victory. However, this is a longer-term disaster for the Armenians. It means that they are effectively trapped in a Russian embrace. You can't go west or east - diplomatically or for investment - because the Russians are in command now.
Although Azerbaijan is traditionally viewed by Moscow as "on the other side", it has steadily deepened diplomatic and economic ties with Russia in recent years due to the lukewarm support from the United States and the EU, in part due to the need and lack of it Seriousness alternatives. With the Russian military boots on Azerbaijani territory for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow's leverage has now also become an economic leverage: By militarily guaranteeing a transport corridor through Armenia to the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan, Russia now controls Azerbaijan, which was closed before the armistice direct overland route from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean and Europe.
The West could certainly have seen it coming. It always starts like this: A household soon turns into a footprint. Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, South Ossetia, Abkhazia - the list of examples goes on. Russian presence becomes Russian control: the only logic of Putin's neozarist ambitions.
In fact, the Kremlin is maneuvering just a few weeks after the troops deployed: the lines on the maps have started to bend and bend. On the website of the Russian Defense Ministry, a map is displayed on one side showing the area where Russian peacekeeping forces are to be stationed and responsible for their operation, according to the provisions of the agreement. On December 13th, the land they control had miraculously expanded. This was reverted to the original the next day after diplomatic pressure from Azerbaijan. However, this activity shows that Kremlin cartographers are getting creative - and very early on in this intervention.
Rumors of a Russian "passport" in Nagorno-Karabakh are increasing. The creation of new demographic realities on the ground through the granting of citizenship was used to maintain influence on internal affairs in other post-Soviet countries. As soon as the Russians occupy the area, the Russian state must intervene.
It is a classic of the Kremlin repertoire. It preceded the invasion of Crimea. This happened in two regions of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, again before the outbreak of wars, with Russia emerging as the main beneficiary. More recently, passporting has been aggressively used in eastern Ukraine through a helpful streamlined process. The Kremlin predicts that by the end of the year there will be over a million Russian citizens carrying newly minted documents. In all of these situations, Russia's grip is secure.
Passporting would mean that a negotiated solution on the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh - which should be a form of autonomy in Azerbaijan as in Soviet days - will never come about. Instead, it will turn into a Russian passport protectorate, giving Russia the excuse - or the legal right in the Moscow lexicon - to jump into the region if an imaginary threat to its “citizens” arises.
Given the US-led aid that flowed to Ukraine following the destabilization of Russia, it is surprising that no more precautionary measures are being taken in the South Caucasus.
However, there is still time for America to step in: the ceasefire will give way to negotiations for a definitive peace deal, with much to be decided. The US must fully and comprehensively speak out against passporting. American companies should invest in infrastructure and energy projects in the region to restrict Russia's room for maneuver. And US-led joint investment initiatives between Armenia and Azerbaijan would help reduce their dependence on Russia.
It is time for America to step up diplomatic and economic efforts and get back on track in this process. Otherwise, the Russian Empire will continue to expand unhindered.
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