Day 5 of a new Armenian-Azerbaijani War: Where is Russia? I’m trying to figure out Russia’s role/strategy + set out some thoughts here; would be interested to hear other’s (constructive) thoughts on this (thread). 1/19
Russia quick to call for restraint 27/9; Lavrov talking to NP + IA, Putin talked to Macron 30/9, calls for ceasefire + offers mediation. But by day 5 in 2016 Russia had convened ARM + AZ military chiefs in Moscow + brokered ceasefire. In 2020 is Russia “hanging back”: why? 2/19
“Putin-as-strategist” school suggests hanging back is calculated: Moscow is allowing Azerbaijan + Turkey room for military action to undermine the Minsk Group, remind Armenia it needs Russia + indebt Erdogan, who benefits domestically if Azerbaijan takes back territories 3/19
Problems with this analysis: Does Putin need to discipline Pashinyan? Armenia’s geopolitical loyalty is not in doubt. Reports of mercenaries, if confirmed, likely seen by Kremlin as v provocative. Competing with Turkey in Syria/Libya is one thing, in “near abroad” another. 5/19
And does Russia really want to undermine the Minsk Group, where Russia makes nice with internationalist multilateralism + sees self as informal leader? Russian co-Chairs serve much longer terms than US/French CCs + symbolic cooperation on a secondary issue suits Putin. 6/19
Opposite school suggests Russia taken by surprise: Pavel Baev argues that Moscow was complacent abt its capacities in the NK conflict + extent of energy leverage over Turkey, plus distracted with Belarus, and now cannot come up with a meaningful initiative. 7/19
But even if Russia taken by surprise, scale of hostilities far beyond April 2016; for Azerbaijan too much invested to quickly agree to Moscow’s mediation + revert to a fruitless peace process without significant results? 9/19
And unlike in 2016 Turkey's backing (and putative Putin-Pashinyan antipathy) gives Baku confidence to resist what it sees as self-serving Russian conflict management. 10/19
My take? New war exposes the incoherence of Russia’s “pivotal deterrence” policy, which I argued in my book Anatomy of a Rivalry has been Moscow’s strategy for the last 15 years or so; this sees Russia as a “pivot” seeking to prevent war between ARM + AZ. 11/19
Pivotal deterrence requires manufacturing of uncertainty through diverse tactics (asymmetric alliance-making, arms transfers to both, mediation initiatives), keeping both ARM+ AZ uncertain, inducing caution in AZ + concessions from ARM. It pretty much worked for 15 years. 12/19
But pivotal deterrence works best when its targets don’t have other alliance options. Turkey’s entry has changed that and pivotal deterrence has failed. Russia’s “hanging back” represents policy failure + scrabbling to think through a new one/what to keep of the old policy. 13/19
But to do that Moscow has to navigate straddling two sets of “rules of the game”. As I argued for OC-Media, the new ARM-AZ war is symptomatic of global shifts from multilateralism to multipolarity. 14/19
Multilateral diplomacy is in crisis and vulnerable to rising regional powers + entrepreneurs of authoritarian conflict management (as theorised by the brilliant @david_g_lewis). Russia straddles both. 15/19
Russia’s dominance in the NK context has depended on its accommodation of the framework on which the Minsk Group, a quintessential product of post-Cold War multilateralism, is founded. 16/19
Without it, Russia look like a classic post-imperial power throwing its weight around in its “backyard” (a view I’ve heard many times from Azerbaijanis). Thus Minsk Group multilateralism has been shallow, but symbolically significant for Russia. 17/19
But with multilateralism in general + OSCE in particular in crisis + US absent, a question for Russia is whether to jump ship and fully adopt the multipolar playbook. That, however, means choosing who to back, which Russia has meticulously avoided in NK context for years. 18/19
Thus, does Russian hesitancy and hanging back represent having to think through coherence + strategy, when incoherence + tactics served Russian interests so well for so long? 19/19
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