Select one or more categories





The tension in the South Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan is characterized not only by its sustainability over time but also by its periodic escalation, taking on military dimensions. Following the latest such eruption – the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War (2020), concluded with the signing of the respective ceasefire,[1] the conflict entered its familiar course: a short-lived lull followed by a renewed escalation of tension between Yerevan and Baku. However, the duration of their conflict corresponds to the changes in the circumstances in which it unfolds.

For example, while the warring parties remain the same, the same cannot be said for the balance of power between them. Therefore, almost 20 years after the end of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988-1994), the military advantage is now on Azerbaijan’s side.[2] Baku’s positions are being reinforced this time by active military and diplomatic support from Turkey with its ambitious and resourceful foreign policy. Meanwhile, Russia’s support for Armenia is weakening, not only due to the Kremlin’s constrained capabilities resulting from the war in Ukraine but also due to the deepening lack of trust between the authorities in Yerevan and Moscow. In the meantime, France and the USA – two of the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group, are following a similar path, increasingly engaging in support for Armenia, at the expense of their roles as mediators in the ongoing discord. All of this goes to show that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan may be “old,” including its potential as a magnet for the interests of other countries, but the roles and dynamics within it are far from static.

One of the sharpest manifestations of this dynamic concerns the changes that have occurred in recent years in bilateral relations between Armenia and Russia. The two countries share mutual dissatisfaction with each other. Yerevan’s criticisms of its partner from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) are related to the fact that in 2020, during Azerbaijan’s advance towards Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding regions, Russia deliberately delayed its inhibitory reaction as a form of punishment for the policies of Nikol Pashinyan’s government, seen by the Kremlin as inconsistent with their allied relations. However, Moscow later provided further reasons for bitter disappointment in Yerevan. When border clashes erupted between the two states in 2021, Azerbaijan took Armenian territories (not ones occupied by Armenia, as was the case with Nagorno-Karabakh) and Russia refused to fulfill its commitments within the CSTO. This was one of the reasons why Nikol Pashinyan did not sign the joint declaration of the heads of the CSTO member states in 2022.[3] Following this, the Armenian Prime Minister stated that Armenia does not rule out the possibility of leaving the CSTO. However, since it is unclear whether this is a serious intention or simply political speculation seeking other effects, Yerevan left no room for broad interpretations when it recalled its ambassador from the CSTO at the beginning of September this year. Speaking to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Nikol Pashinyan stated that Armenia had made a strategic mistake of relying solely on one partner (Russia) to ensure its security.[4]

However, dissatisfaction traffic works in the opposite direction as well: Moscow also has serious concerns about Yerevan. This concerns Armenia’s desire to join the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, Nikol Pashinyan’s refusal to host CSTO military maneuvers, and the launch of a 10-day joint military exercise between Armenia and the USA.[5] To this list can be added that for the first time since the start of the war in Ukraine, Armenia decided to send humanitarian aid to Kyiv this month. This was enough reason for the authorities in Moscow to summon the Armenian ambassador to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The fluctuations in the temperature of Armenian-Russian relations, although crucial, are not the only factors shaping the change in the regional constellation of the South Caucasus. The increase in cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey is another factor influencing the nature of the developing conflict between Baku and Yerevan. The Turkish-Azerbaijani partnership operates within the familiar framework of ‘one nation, two states.’[6] However, citing a few examples will show that both countries are indeed filling this ideological statement with substance.

Ankara has been assisting in the development and training of the Azerbaijani armed forces since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, and in recent years, joint military exercises between Ankara and Baku have started. Building upon this, the volume of Turkish military hardware received by Azerbaijan has increased in recent years. Of particular note are the Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used by Baku during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, equipped with MAM-L munitions produced by the Turkish company Rokestan.[7] Particularly symbolic was the trajectory of one of the test flights of the new drone from the Turkish Bayraktar series, Akıncı: it took off from Turkish territory and landed at Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku. However, in parallel with the military dimension of the partnership between Ankara and Baku, the diplomatic aspect is not lagging behind; on the contrary, it’s thriving. As a kind of crowning achievement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to the iconic city of Shusha in 2021, located in Nagorno-Karabakh, stands out. There, he and Ilham Aliyev signed the declaration of alliance between the two countries, and subsequently, the Turkish head of state stated that his country was ready to open its consulate in the same city.

These elements of diplomatic and military partnership between Azerbaijan and Turkey represent separate pieces of the mosaic, envisioning the creation of a Turkish corridor connecting Turkey and the Central Asian states through Baku and the Caspian Sea.[8] Part of the mechanics of this project relies on the synthesis between resource-rich Azerbaijan and Turkey’s ambition to become an energy regulator in the region. Hence, the unequivocal support from Ankara to Baku for the construction of the Zangezur corridor intended to pass through the southern Armenian region of Syunik. It would represent a direct link without intermediaries: one road between Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan enclave (officially the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic), and a second road between Turkey and Azerbaijan.

To create such an artery, it must pass through the Armenian border with Iran. However, this elicits a clear critical reaction from the authorities in Tehran and is even a cause for disagreement between them and Moscow. The objections of the Islamic Republic are related to the fact that if such a corridor is built, it will cut off the country’s access to Armenia. Iran, of course, has other considerations that are not explicitly stated. Such as the fact that connecting Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan will diminish the strategic importance of the Persian side, through whose territory traffic of people and goods between Baku and the enclave has historically passed, compared to the shorter option via the alternative route through Georgia and Turkey. Alongside the Turkish corridor connecting Turkey to Central Asia, in the face of the Zangezur project, the authorities and strategic circles in Iran see something more: serving the interests of Israel and NATO.[9]

The determination with which Azerbaijan (and Turkey) pursue the creation of the Zangezur corridor occurs against the backdrop of deteriorating bilateral relations between Baku and Tehran. The latter is due to differences in interests. For example, by supporting Armenia, Iran aims to counter Ilham Aliyev’s regional ambitions, given that the ethnic composition of the Middle Eastern state is vulnerable to expansionist policies based on Azerbaijani nationalism.[10] At the same time, the closer Azerbaijan gets to Turkey and Israel, the further Tehran moves away from Baku. It is particularly critical for Iran that the South Caucasus country is arming itself with Israeli military hardware and ammunition,[11] and that it allows Israel to use its territory for intelligence and other types of operations against the Islamic Republic. The divergence of interests between Baku and Tehran sparks tensions, leading to a series of incidents between the two states.[12] This downward spiral in the degradation of their bilateral relations culminated in joint military exercises conducted along the Iran-Azerbaijan border. This was first done by the Middle Eastern state with ‘Mighty Iran’ in October 2022, and two months later, Azerbaijan and Turkey responded jointly with ‘Fraternal Fist’.

The immediate cause of the current escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, however, came from a change in the functioning of the control-pass regime of the Lachin corridor, connecting Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. Since December 2022, traffic through it has been progressively restricted by Azerbaijan, and from the middle of this year, it has practically been functioning selectively and exceptionally. According to the provisions of the ceasefire agreement signed by Nikol Pashinyan, Ilham Aliyev, and Vladimir Putin after the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, Russian peacekeeping forces stationed there were supposed to monitor control over it.[13] While Yerevan insists that this is causing a humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh, the authorities in Baku argue that the Lachin corridor is being used to supply the Armenian enclave with weapons.

Meanwhile, the European Union, showing solidarity with the Armenian side regarding the humanitarian consequences of the actions of the Azerbaijani authorities, advocated for the opening of the corridor.[14] The United States holds a similar position.[15] Moreover, it comes against the backdrop of last year’s visit to Armenia by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, which was interpreted as a sign of support for the host country.[16] Interestingly, both positions – that of the EU and the USA – also understand Azerbaijan’s request for logistical lines to Nagorno-Karabakh to be diversified through Baku’s proposed alternative Agdam-Askeran corridor. The EU’s position is that the opening of a second corridor should not come at the expense of Lachin. As Lachin serves as Armenia’s ‘umbilical cord’ to Nagorno-Karabakh, Yerevan has concerns about the potential marginalization of the corridor. However, as Russia’s attention and resources – a standard mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan – are focused on the war in Ukraine, the escalation of the conflict over the Lachin corridor provides an opportunity for the US and the EU to invest additional efforts in their mediating role between the warring parties.

Another type of diplomatic activity is also evident in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The trilateral partnership between the ‘three brothers’ Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan (in the namesake military exercise ‘Three Brothers,’ held jointly between these countries in Baku in 2021) is well-known. Of interest, however, is the attempt to create the Armenia-Iran-India triad. At its core seems to be the desire to form a comprehensive partnership between Armenia and India, supported by Iran. The following signs can be interpreted in this direction. First, in April of this year, the three states held their first trilateral meeting. Second, against the backdrop of visits by Armenian foreign and defense ministers to India, Yerevan decided to appoint a military attaché to its embassy in New Delhi. Last but not least, there have been frequent publications in the media suggesting that Armenia, through Iran’s territory, has received from India multi-purpose rocket launchers ‘Pinaka,’ anti-tank missiles, and ammunition, in addition to previously supplied SWATHI radars.

Azerbaijan’s assertiveness after the ceasefire agreement signed in 2020 can be explained by two things. One is that Baku – as a continuation of the events leading to the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War – wants to fully utilize the advantages the country has over Armenia in economic and military terms. The second, however, concerns the foreign policy dynamics in the region, which also appears to be viewed favorably by Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, Baku can count on consistent support from Turkey and Israel, take advantage of the gaps created by mutual dissatisfaction between Armenia and Russia, and harness the strategic importance of its hydrocarbons for the EU’s energy diversification.[17]

Against this backdrop, Armenia’s position appears more complex. Yerevan is in a situation where support from Russia is becoming increasingly conditional and situational, and deepening partnerships with the US and the EU risks worsening Armenia’s otherwise good relations with Iran. If Yerevan recognizes French President Emmanuel Macron’s anti-Turkish reflex and its partnership in the defense sector with India as stabilizing factors for Armenia, the question remains open as to whether they can compensate for and catch up with the dynamics of the conflict defined by Azerbaijan. The main danger for Baku is whether the policy of raising the stakes, expressed in the controlled escalation of tension around Nagorno-Karabakh, will not provoke a critical reaction simultaneously from Washington and Moscow, as neither of these two capitals has an interest in exacerbating the conflict at this moment. And its sustainability continues to fuel the volatility of the states that recognize their interests in it.

[1] “Statement by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and President of the Russian Federation”, 10.11.2020. Available here:

[2] In 2022, the military budgets of Armenia and Azerbaijan are $754 million and $2.6 billion, respectively. Although Armenia has progressively increased its military budget for 2023 in an attempt to narrow the gap, at least according to official data, it continues to be around one-third of Azerbaijan’s. Baku also maintains a clear military superiority, from the composition of its armed forces to the quantity of combat vehicles, and ground and air forces.

[3] Another reason for Nikol Pashinyan’s refusal to sign the document was that, according to the Armenian Prime Minister, the text did not condemn Azerbaijan’s aggression.

[4] La Repubblica, Luca Steinmann, 02.09.2023. Available here:

[5] The significance of these exercises should not be absolutized, as they are neither the first such exercises between Armenia and the United States nor does the participating personnel from the two states appear impressive (according to Reuters, there were 175 Armenian and 85 American military personnel).

[6] Formulation by former President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev (head of state from 10.1993 to 10.2003).

[7] The increase in military cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan, including the transfer of military hardware, should not be taken out of the context that Russia and Israel continue to be significantly larger suppliers of such to the South Caucasus state. See “Arms transfers to conflict zones: The case of Nagorno-Karabakh”, 30.04.2021. Available here:

[8] As part of the transportation artery connecting China to Europe through Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and Turkey. This is the so-called Middle Corridor, unifying Turkish and Chinese projects. See “Türkiye’s Multilateral Transportation Policy”. Available here:

[9] “Velayati Stresses Vigilance regarding NATO Plot, Future of Caucasus”, 12.07.23. Available here:

[10] Calculations regarding the percentage of Azeri descent in Iran’s population vary mainly because Tehran is not interested in providing such data. The most commonly cited estimates range from 15-25%, with most Iranian Azeris inhabiting the northwest part of the country. This motivated Tehran to consider and restrict its support for Armenia so as not to provoke dissatisfaction within Iran itself.

[11] Among the more significant hardware supplied by Israel, the Hermes 450/900 unmanned aerial vehicles, Orbiter, Harop, ground-to-ground LORA ballistic missiles, as well as the Barak-8 anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems stand out.

[12] Among the incidents contributing to the escalation of tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran are: 1) the attempt to impose tariffs on Iranian goods passing through the main road connecting Iran to Armenia through Syunik; 2) a fatal stabbing incident at the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran; 3) the arrest of individuals, according to Azerbaijani authorities, trained and infiltrated by Iran to conduct operations on the South Caucasus state’s territory, and more.

[13] Point 6 of the aforementioned agreement. The refusal or inability of the Russian peacekeeping forces to prevent Azerbaijan’s actions towards the contact line with Armenia adds to the considerations Yerevan has toward Moscow.

[14] “EU Statement on recent developments around the Lachin corridor”, 06.09.2023. Available here:

[15] “Secretary Blinken’s Call with Azerbaijani President Aliyev”, 06.09. 2023. Available here:

[16] “Armenia is of particular importance to us, as the question of security arises after Azerbaijan’s illegal and deadly attacks on Armenian territory. On behalf of the Congress and our delegation, we strongly condemn the attacks that endanger the prospects for the much-needed peace,” Nancy Pelosi, 18.09. 2022. The quoted text is part of the press conference given by the Speaker of the House. Available here:

[17] Given that Azerbaijan’s importance to the EU has increased after minimizing Russian hydrocarbons in the Union’s energy mix. During Ursula von der Leyen’s visit to Baku in mid-2022, the EU and the South Caucasus country signed a Memorandum of Understanding, according to which by 2027 Brussels must double the volume of natural gas imported from Baku in the context of expanding the Southern Gas Corridor. See “Statement by President von der Leyen with Azerbaijani President Aliyev”, 18.07.2022. Available here:

Read next

India: a Potential Western Ally but with Divergent Values

The tension in the South Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan is characterized not only by its sustainability over time but also by its periodic escalation, taking on military dimensions. Following the latest such eruption – the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War (2020), concluded with the signing of the respective ceasefire,[1] the conflict entered its familiar course: a […]