While Armenia called on Russian peacekeepers to intervene after Azerbaijan launched “anti-terrorist” operations in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Dmitry Medvedev, the chairman of Russia’s security council, wrote cryptically on Telegram about someone from a so-called brotherly country who had flirted with NATO.
“Guess what fate awaits him …” added Russia’s former President Medvedev.
The thinly veiled verbal jab reflected Russia’s current stance as Turkey-backed Azerbaijan escalated a three-decades-old conflict with Armenia. With a military base in the ex-Soviet country, Russia has long held the role of Armenia’s security guarantor, including managing tensions around Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inside Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders and has been held by its ethnic Armenian majority since the fall of the Soviet Union.
In 2020, Russia negotiated a ceasefire agreement, monitored by Russian peacekeepers, between the two South Caucasus countries after Azerbaijan recaptured areas in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, leaving thousands dead.
But in recent months, the once-friendly relationship between Armenia and Russia has deteriorated sharply as Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan publicly questioned Moscow’s lack of attention during its invasion of Ukraine. In a further sign of Armenia’s lack of confidence in Moscow, the country hosted a joint military drill in September with the United States.
Laurence Broers, an associate fellow at Chatham House, writing on X (formerly Twitter), suggested Russia’s irritation was the “ideal backdrop” for Baku’s operation.
Now Russia remains largely silent, as Armenia’s prime minister and ethnic Armenians in the breakaway region appeal for another truce. And instead of mending the rift between Russia and Armenia, Azerbaijan’s actions on Tuesday only added fuel to the fire.
Days before Tuesday’s escalation, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in response to a journalist’s question about rising tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenia’s leadership had de-facto recognized Azerbaijan’s sovereignty. “If Armenia itself recognized Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, what do we have to do with it?” he added.
Pro-Kremlin pundits and media figures were quick to spin Tuesday’s events in Moscow’s favor, shifting the blame onto Pashinyan for cozying up to the West. Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of Russian state-controlled broadcaster RT, called the escalation “tragic, hopeless and predictable,” and compared Pashinyan to Judas.
“Pashinyan is demanding (!) Russian peacekeepers to defend Karabakh. What about NATO?” she wrote on Telegram.
Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov wrote on Telegram: “The Armenian leadership long ago betrayed Russia. Armenia’s main friends now are enemies of Russia: France, the EU and the US.”
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said at the time of the joint drills between Armenia and the U.S. that as a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) — an alliance of six post-Soviet countries headed by Russia and including Armenia — the exercises went against the “spirit” of the military partnership.
In early September, before the drills with the U.S., Armenia withdrew its representative to the CSTO after accusing the bloc of not doing enough.
Other experts attributed Moscow’s passivity to a personal dislike of Pashinyan as a leader who came to power on the wave of a revolution. “Moscow holds out hope for a swift counter-revolution in Yerevan and assumes that defeat in Karabakh will accelerate it,” said Vladimir Pastukhov from University College London.
Azerbaijan’s presidential office released a statement Tuesday evening demanding the “illegal Armenian military formations must raise the white flag, all the weapons must be handed over, and the illegal regime must be dissolved. Otherwise, the anti-terror measures will be continued until the end.”
Hinting at betrayal, Armenian officials said Tuesday they had not been warned by Moscow of Azerbaijan’s plans after Baku said it gave Russia advance notice.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said he could not confirm Baku’s claim. Russia’s foreign ministry expressed “deep concern” and called on both sides to stop fighting and return to a diplomatic solution.