How can Turkey and Russia Resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared that he is ready to collaborate with Russian President Vladimir Putin concerning a possible peaceful solution to the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, stressing that Ankara has as much right to be in the solution as Moscow.

Erdoğan told reporters that he did not hear any negative approach from Russia on the suggestion, adding that there had not been any negative comments that Moscow made against Ankara.

Erdoğan is vulnerable to Putin in many ways

It is in neither nation’s best interests to ally with competing sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Erdoğan confirmed recent reports on tests carried out for the Russian-made S-400 defense systems that Turkey had acquired while answering a question about the U.S.’s approach to the S-400 tests, which shows how closely integrated Ankara and Moscow are in many ways. A war with Russia is something that Turkey cannot afford right now.

Equally, the Turkish President’s dependence upon his Russian counterpart for S-400 defense systems makes him vulnerable to Moscow’s influence, and Putin will not make the negotiations to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict easy for many other reasons.

Russia has many advantages in Nagorno-Karabakh

As Eleonora Di Franco wrote for My Country? Europe, the Russian President has the upper hand in this crisis. Putin does not offer financial or moral support to the region and he has no military forces stationed there either. The Russian President may try to portray himself as an honest broker in future discussions, but it would go against his strategic interests to actively pick a side. Such a move would jeopardize Russia’s reputation as a security guarantor.

Also, Moscow does not particularly want to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as the status quo works to its advantage. Putin’s interventions help increase his clout in the region and he will want to preserve the economic gains the Russian President has made through trade deals with both Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Russia has been an active participant in the OSCE Minsk Group since 1992, which has responsibility for ensuring that the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute ends peacefully, and the Minsk Group has still failed to find a permanent solution to stop the war there.

By offering the Russian President with an opportunity to end the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, Erdoğan has immediately surrendered Azerbaijan to Putin. Azerbaijan would have been able to recover territories that it lost to Armenia during the 1992-1994 disputes if it continued to receive Turkish support, but maybe that is why Erdoğan supports a peaceful conclusion to the conflict as he knows that Putin would side with Armenia in such a situation. This would have resulted in a war between Ankara and Moscow.

The peace process is doomed without U.S. support

However, as Nick Paton Walsh explains for CNN, inserting Russian power into Nagorno-Karabakh would not be easy. It has bases in Yerevan and Gyumri, Armenia, but would have to fly additional men and materiel in. The Azerbaijanis have also had the upper hand due to Syrian mercenaries being used by Turkey to bolster Azerbijan’s military strength.

Putin is also facing domestic issues. His poll ratings have suffered due to the coronavirus and domestic political discontent. The Russian economy is also facing deep trouble. This is not the time for the Russian President to distract people’s attention with a military intervention that he may not win.

The only honest power-broker that could end this conflict peacefully would be the U.S., but they are distracted with an upcoming election and normalization deals in the Middle East. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already said he intends to stay out of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Ultimately, Turkey and Russia cannot resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict without it escalating further or without U.S. support. The status quo gives Putin an advantage and Erdoğan is vulnerable to his Russian counterpart in many ways. This situation only works to the Russian President’s advantage.