Armenia and Azerbaijan reported nearly 100 combined deaths Tuesday, in the latest flare-up of violence between the two South Caucasus countries. For decades, tensions have simmered over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is controlled by ethnic Armenians and claims independence but is internationally recognized as Azerbaijan’s territory. There are fears that these tensions could boil over into a larger conflagration, like the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan war that resulted in over 1,000 casualties. In 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin negotiated a cease-fire to end the fighting. Today, with Russia bogged down in Ukraine, it is unclear if the Russian leader will be able to achieve a similar result, as regional stability hangs in the balance.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world’s attention has been justly focused on the war and the devastation inflicted on Ukrainian civilians. However, as the war drags on — and becomes ever more costly to Russia — policymakers in the United States and Europe must pay increasing attention to other areas where the diminution of Russia’s military reputation may upset local balances of power.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have tried in different ways to balance the need for good relations with Moscow with a desire to support Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty. Each has reason to be cautious: Moscow has exploited ongoing conflicts in all three countries to dominate its self-defined sphere of vital interests. While these conflicts persist, Moscow will maintain significant leverage over Yerevan, Baku and Tbilisi. Working with them to resolve these conflicts and preserve their sovereignty should be a priority for the United States and Europe.