Ever since, Azerbaijan has made significant progress in the reconstruction of Nagorno-Karabakh, and according to the country’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, Baku is making steps in normalization of relations with Armenia.
“The 44-day war was Azerbaijan’s great victory, but it also opened new opportunities for the entire region,” said Bayramov at a conference dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre.
Indeed, over the past two years Baku has built new infrastructure in the region—namely roads and airports—and the country’s authorities also plan to invest in the development of renewable energy on the mountainous territory. At the same time, Baku expects Armenia to fully implement the 2020 ceasefire deal, signed in Moscow between Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to the document, Yerevan undertook to “guarantee safety” of transport links between mainland Azerbaijan and its Nakhchivan exclave passing through Armenia’s territory. More importantly, Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Border Troops would exercise control over the transport connections, which suggests that Russia intends to remain one of the major foreign powers operating in the region.
Once completed, the Nakhchivan corridor (also known as Zangazur corridor) could potentially be beneficial for all actors in the Caucasus. The corridor requires the restoration and creation of a new railway which would connect Azerbaijan with its ally Turkey, through southern Armenia, but at the same time it would link Russia with its ally Armenia, through Azerbaijan’s mainland.
In November 2021 leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia agreed to unblock all economic and transport links in the region, but at this point it remains uncertain how soon the agreement will be implemented. The war in Ukraine is expected to slow down the process of normalization of ties between Baku and Yerevan, given that Moscow as the mediator is currently preoccupied. That, however, could leave room for Turkey to increase its influence in the region.
Ankara and Yerevan have already started normalizing their relations. Despite being neighbors, the two nations did not have any diplomatic or commercial ties since the 1990s. On February 3, Armenia and Turkey established direct flights between Yerevan and Istanbul, and in the foreseeable future they are expected to establish full diplomatic relations. Such a move will likely pave the way for Yerevan and Baku to start a reconciliation process, although it is Armenia that will likely have to make some concessions to Azerbaijan.
Hikmet Hajiyev, aide to Azerbaijan’s President, insists that Armenia must be held legally responsible for the murder of people in Khojaly, which is something that Yerevan is unlikely to accept. However, given Russia’s isolation in the international arena following Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, Yerevan could soon be left to deal with Azerbaijan and Turkey on its own. Such a new geopolitical reality could put Armenia in a very difficult position. Moreover, a recent “allied cooperation” agreement signed between Putin and Aliyev suggests that the Kremlin will likely continue balancing between its nominal ally Armenia, and its strategic partner Azerbaijan, although recent developments could force Moscow to get even closer to Baku.
As a result of the 44-day war, around 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh. The Kremlin is unlikely willing to risk deteriorating its relations with Azerbaijan, given that the Russian troops are located on its territory. Therefore, closer ties between Russia and Azerbaijan could help Moscow preserve the role of a major actor in the Caucasus, unless the European Union and the United States eventually pressure Baku to join anti-Russian sanctions.
At this point, Azerbaijan seems to be attempting to preserve good ties with Ukraine, by supporting its territorial integrity, and also with Russia—one of Baku’s major trade partners. Given that the European countries remain dependent on Russian energy, and are eyeing more Azerbaijan’s gas, if Moscow gets banned from SWIFT, at this point it does not seem very probable that the West will demand Azerbaijan to pick a side in the Russo-Ukrainian war.
Such a position could allow the energy-rich Caucasus nation to increase its gas exports, and at the same time to avoid being involved in a new Cold War game between Russia and the West.
Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist, researcher and analyst based in Serbia covering foreign policy in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.