What if we wake up one morning and Russia will have left the region?


What if we wake up one morning and Russia will have left the region?

On 4 September the Russian official news agency TASS published an article based on a conversation with an unnamed diplomat denouncing several points expressed by the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his team. “It may happen that one morning we wake up and see that Russia is no more here,” Pashinyan has said in an interview with the Italian La Repubblica, reminding that it had happened twice over the 20th century.

Text: Tigran Zakaryan
Photo: Creative Commons


This was the main point of the list of grievances the unnamed interlocutor published by the Russian state-run news agency. This topic seems to have hurt deeply the Kremlin; Russian president’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov touched on this point once again the next day, dismissing such a possibility.

Yet such a scenario is quite possible. Indeed, if we follow the general trend of developments in Nagorno-Karabakh and around since at least 24 February 2022, this may seem a most likely eventuality.

While few believed that after the 2020 ceasefire Russia would give up Karabakh which is a last but substantial tool in the Russian hands against Azerbaijan and equally important leverage on Armenia, this is precisely the case. 

Russia’s war against Ukraine launched in February 2022 has introduced tremendous geopolitical changes globally and regionally and it looks like every single day without decisive Russian success loosens Moscow’s grip on the region. The only option of reverting things back for the Kremlin is to emerge victorious from the war or at least to come to terms with Kyiv in a way that would enshrine Russia’s territorial gains in Ukraine. 

If the war ends in a Korea-style peace, which many observers consider as highly possible, an after-war Russia will retain the bulk of its armed forces and regional influence, and even in the case of a regime change it is unlikely to leave the region. Until then, however, we see a constant meltdown of the Russian influence, especially if we look at the developments in Nagorno-Karabakh following the 9 November 2020 armistice.

Following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine Azerbaijan keeps gaining ground in Karabakh, continuously marginalizing the presence and influence of the Russian peacekeepers in the region. The initially agreed 5 kilometers-wide Lachin corridor along the road which initially was under Russian exclusive control, has effectively ceased to exist since December 2022 when the road was blocked.

Azerbaijan’s chief ally Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly stated in July 2023 that the Russian troops should leave “the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan” in 2025, clearly signaling to Moscow that the prolonged presence of the Russian peacekeepers is unwanted by Ankara.

After 2025 when the Russian troops leave the region it will most probably be depopulated of its ethnic Armenian inhabitants, which apart from being a human tragedy, will also mark a turning event for the Russian presence in the region.
Russia also might leave the region suddenly and quickly as a consequence of a dramatic shift in Moscow giving rise to internal turmoil and temporary paralysis of the central authorities.

This will create a temporary power vacuum in the region leaving it open for the expansion of the most dynamic regional player, Turkey in tandem with Azerbaijan.

Whether Iran, constantly declaring on “unacceptability of changing national borders” would check the Turkish-Azerbaijan aspirations or a Western prompt and powerful reaction will avert a mortal threat to Armenia is anybody’s guess.     
To sum up, it is most likely that Russia will leave the region creating a power vacuum. In case Moscow wins the war or stops it through a deal with the West it will remain and soon be able to threaten Armenia’s independence. Armenian independence will be threatened also in the case of a Russian defeat in war and a subsequent internal destabilization.

Armenia has to develop its ties with all possible partners in the West and East equally in order to create leverage to exert pressure on players threatening Armenia’s sovereignty. Armenian diplomacy will have to face the hard task of explaining to a wide range of interlocutors that even though some of their interests might be incompatible elsewhere, in Armenia they could be synergized. 

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