When the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States immediately moved to integrate nations forcibly under the foot of the Kremlin into their geopolitical sphere. These nations have enjoyed the security of being under the nuclear umbrella of NATO and enjoyed economic growth.
Some nations, due to their geography of being in close proximity to Russia, China, or Iran did not reap the benefits of Western integration and so, continued to live under the boot of Moscow. The South Caucasus was a major example of this, with pro-Russian oligarchs taking power in Armenia for much of its post-independence history and frequent invasions of Georgia.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, major conflicts that displaced countless people took place in the region, as years of Russian imperialism and border manipulations ultimately led to some of the most brutal wars in modern history.
Though Azerbaijan continued to have some of the worst human rights abuses under the Aliyev regime, it was the only nation in the region to fully integrate to a western partnership as the rich Caucasus oil fields and strategic location next to Iran was too much to pass up. This has led to the EU negotiating a major energy deal with Baku to digress away from Russian energy, essentially trading one tyrant for another.
Azerbaijan’s strategic location next to Iran also enticed Israel, who supported them in the 2020 War against Armenia with drones in return for using their airspace if a war with Iran comes to fruition. At the same time lukewarm American foreign policies continued to push Yerevan and Tbilisi away, which has only benefitted Moscow.
The abandonment of Georgia during Russia’s 2008 invasion and minimal sanctions only emboldened the Kremlin to continue influencing and destabilizing Georgia. Today, despite the promises of NATO integration, the country is currently ruled by a pro-Russian government, which has hampered progress in the nation.
Though Georgia’s government has turned a 180, its people remain determined for a better future. The Georgian Legion is arguably the most prominent foreign fighting force in the Russo-Ukrainian War and has engaged in tremendous philanthropic efforts for frontline forces and Ukrainian refugees.
Armenia’s conflicts have stem from being geographically sandwiched in between hostile nations with superior militaries and hold more strategic standing with the international community compared to them. Armenia’s hostilities with Turkey go back to the days of the late Ottoman Empire, especially from the Armenian Genocide, which has still not been mended between both nations today. Their problems with Azerbaijan stem from the Ottoman era, but greatly heightened due to Soviet border changes from Josef Stalin. Particularly over Karabakh—a region historically Armenian but was transferred to the Azerbaijan SSR.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and many border offices remained with new republics, Armenia successfully fought Azerbaijan in the First Karabakh War and took control of the Karabakh region, establishing a breakaway republic called Artsakh, though this came with UN resolutions stacked against it. Those resolutions and lack of international recognition for Artsakh would only benefit the Russian Federation as Armenia became internationally isolated and had to rely on Moscow for diplomatic and military support.
The Kremlin would influence Armenian politics with helping the pro-Russian oligarchs to stay in power, but the people would have enough of their corruption, leading to the Velvet Revolution. These nationwide protests saw the pro-Russian oligarchs removed from power, but the Kremlin would not forget this slight. When Azerbaijan decided to start the 2020 campaign to recapture the Karabakh region, Moscow refused to lift a finger to help Armenia, even when the Azerbaijani armed forces shot down a Russian military helicopter. The message was sent to Armenia — they could not survive without help from Russia.
It has been analyzed that Russia was the ultimate winner of the 2020 Karabakh War, more so than Azerbaijan as the Trilateral Agreement and capitulation by Armenia gave Russia a renewed military presence in the strategic region that it did not have for decades. It should be noted that the Kremlin has always eyed Karabakh and the breakaway republic of Artsakh for itself as its president has toed on the lines of Russia’s illegal annexation and war in Ukraine whereas the Armenian government has refused to help the Kremlin’s brutal war.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and suffered major casualties, Azerbaijan would take advantage of this, further invading Armenia Proper that saw hundreds of casualties and executions of Armenian POWs this past September. Though Armenia called on CSTO, the military alliance did not answer nor did anything to mitigate the conflict. Yerevan would ultimately thank the efforts of the Biden administration for the ceasefire in a direct slight towards Vladimir Putin.
One could argue Putin felt disrespected as aside from Belarus, no other CTSO member state has lifted a finger to help out his invasion and due to Armenia still having a government skeptical of Russia, the Kremlin still holds grudges. In the last CSTO meeting in Yerevan, Armenia’s PM Pashinyan openly had a diplomatic rift with Putin and Lukashenko, refusing to sign further cooperation with the autocrats as they left Armenia out for the wolves.
With the precarious situation Armenia finds itself in, this is a major opportunity for the U.S. to insert itself in the growing geopolitical rift in the region. Then House Speaker Pelosi’s visit gave some optimism for Armenians but there are issues that still arise.
Despite condemning Azerbaijan’s militarism, the State Department continues to supply Baku with military aid as their geographic location continues to be a thorn to the Iranian Mullahs. Likewise, Iran and Russia continue to use Armenia for their own purposes, hampering a potential Wartnership the country can have with the west as it is seen as a satellite of both nations.
These issues can be mitigated, particularly with a multinational peacekeeping mission along the borders’, something France has been pressing and Armenia’s PM has hinted at due to the failure of Russian forces in the region. Washington can slowly integrate Armenia into a non-NATO ally, akin to Georgia, Austria, South Korea, Japan, etc and trade with its growing IT sector, giving the nation alternative economic and diplomatic partners outside of Moscow and Tehran.
As seen with the collapse of the Soviet Union, major conflicts broke out in the wake of powder keg. Putin and the oligarchs have taken so much from the Russian Federation, it would be hard for the federation to maintain its current geopolitical sphere, let alone its own overextended borders. With the South Caucasus being a region that will be affected with waning Russian power and influence, this gives a chance for the U.S. to fill the void, before another barbaric war breaks out in the region.
[Image by Flalf, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”