Moscow and Washington trade accusations over South Caucasus destabilization

Moscow and Washington trade accusations over South Caucasus destabilization
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Tensions escalate as Moscow and Washington accuse each other of destabilizing the South Caucasus, while ethnic Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh over ethnic cleansing fears, straining Russia-Armenia relations.

Moscow and Washington have accused each other of destabilising the South Caucasus region, as thousands of ethnic Armenians fled their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh over fears of ethnic cleansing.

Armenia, historically relying on a security partnership with Russia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, finds its relations with Moscow in severe disarray, primarily due to President Vladimir Putin's controversial invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Russian Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, voiced concerns, stating, "We urge Washington to refrain from extremely dangerous words and actions that lead to an artificial increase in anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia." His remarks on Tuesday followed the U.S. State Department's comments a day earlier, in which Armenia blamed Moscow for failing to intervene in the capture of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijani forces.

Matthew Miller, the State Department's spokesman, noted, "I do think that Russia has shown that it is not a security partner that can be relied on," during a press briefing.

The rapid exodus of thousands of ethnic Armenians from the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh began on Monday after Azerbaijani forces swiftly defeated Armenian fighters in a lightning military operation.

Azerbaijan has vowed to protect the rights of the roughly 120,000 Armenians who call Nagorno-Karabakh home. However, few in the Armenian community accept these assurances. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan blamed Russia for failing to ensure Armenian security.

The mass evacuation unfolded amid confusion and fear, with more than 200 people reported injured in a gas storage depot blast outside the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Stepanakert by Armenia and Khankendi by Azerbaijan, according to domestic media reports on Monday. The exact location was identified as the region of Berkadzor, approximately 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) outside Stepanakert, based on satellite images of the incident. The timing, however, could not be verified.

Western nations, including the United States, have condemned Azerbaijan's hostilities, which have dramatically altered the geopolitical landscape of the South Caucasus. This region, a mosaic of ethnicities, is intertwined with vital oil and gas pipelines, where Russia, the United States, Turkey, and Iran vie for influence.

Moscow has placed blame on Armenia for its defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh, asserting that Armenia had flirted with the West instead of collaborating with Moscow and Baku for a peaceful resolution.

In a significant development, senior U.S. officials made their way to Armenia on Monday, marking the first such visit since a ceasefire was imposed on Karabakh Armenians last week.

The South Caucasus region has witnessed significant conflict in the past, with the First Karabakh War from 1988 to 1994 resulting in around 30,000 casualties and the displacement of over a million people, mostly ethnic Azeris. During this period, Armenians managed to wrest nominal Azerbaijani control in what is now known as the First Karabakh War.

Azerbaijan regained territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh during a second war in 2020, which concluded with a peace agreement brokered by Moscow and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers.

Turkey, which provided military support to Azerbaijan during the 2020 conflict, asserted last week that it supported the aims of Azerbaijan's latest military operation but played no direct role in it.