Russia’s Influence On South Caucasus Declining Toward ‘Point Of No Return’ – OpEd
By Paul Goble
Sergey Melkonyan and Leonid Nersisyan, two scholars at Yerevan’s Applied Policy Research Institute, says that the Ukrainian conflict has shown Moscow that “the best guarantee of maintaining its influence is a military presence” in the regions of its interest such as the Southern Caucasus.
Compared to that, they argue, the use of soft power about which there is so much took “looks significantly less important” as at best it can ensure public support for policies put in place as a result of the presence of Russian forces (profile.ru/abroad/chto-ugrozhaet-rossijskomu-vliyaniju-na-juzhnom-kavkaze-1255818/).
“From Moscow’s point of view,” Melkonyan and Nersisyan say, “the South Caucasus is part of its exclusive zone of interests,” something that is maintained by the presence of military bases in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Armenia “and the peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
There are no problems in this regard in Abkhazia or South Ossetia, but there are questions about the Russian military presence in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh where “bogged down” in Ukraine and under pressure by the West, Moscow is all too often making tactical decisions that undermine its strategic goal.
According to the two Armenian writers, “the strategic goal of Russia is to support the status quo both by preserving its military presence in the region and also its status as the chief mediator between Baku and Yerevan. But today in fact, things are moving in exactly the opposite direction – the status quo is collapsing.”
“Representatives of the West are seizing the initiative in the mediation process and the Russian military presence is discrediting itself because Moscow is not carrying out the obligation sit undertook after the Second Karabakh War [in 2020].” That is all too clear in the case of the Lachin corridor crisis now.
Moscow’s failure to have its peacekeeping contingent keep the corridor open is costing it influence in Armenia where ever more officials and ordinary people are asking why Yerevan should rely on Russia when Russia can’t perform as it promised. But it is not only in Armenia that this shift in position is taking place.
Baku officials and media outlets outlets are increasingly given to declaring that “Russian peacekeepers are in Nagorno-Karabakh only temporarily and that Baku is not interested in the extension of the mandate of the peacekeeping mission after 2025,” Melkonyan and Nersisyan continue.
As a result of these shifts, the two say, there is ever more talk about the possibility of dispatching an international peacekeeping force in place of the Russian one. And while “this scenario now looks quite improbable, even its discussion shows how much the situation” has changed and against Moscow’s interests.
And that in turn means, the two scholars say that Moscow’s current approach of reacting to events rather than pursuing its strategic goals “could very soon bring Russian influence in the South Caucasus to the point of no return.”