Sunday, 4 June, 2023

Russia says West undermines Caucasus security

Russia on Monday accused the United States and European Union of undermining regional security in the South Caucasus amid the growing Western engagement in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process.

Distracted by its war with Ukraine and the confrontation with the West, Russia has been visibly losing influence in the region, which it sees as its traditional sphere of influence.

The US and EU have taken lead role in peace talks between arch-foes Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have fought two wars over Azerbaijan's Armenian-majority region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow alongside his Armenian counterpart, Ararat Mirzoyan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out at Brussels and Washington for "imposing their supervision" on the peace talks between Yerevan and Baku.

He accused the West of "undisguised attempts... to undermine the region's security architecture".

"We see what goals the West pursues in the South Caucasus. It doesn't hide them -- to tear Russia away" from the region, he said.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have held several rounds of peace talks with mediation from Brussels and Washington.

On February 20, the EU deployed an expanded monitoring mission to Armenia's volatile border with Azerbaijan.

Lavrov's remarks came days after Pashinyan said he had complained to Russian President Vladimir Putin about "problems" with Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh, warning of an escalation in the restive Caucasus region.

Yerevan, which relies on Russia as a security guarantor, is growing frustrated over the Kremlin's failure to prevent Baku's months-long blockade of the sole land link between Karabakh and Armenia.

It has claimed that the blockade has led to a humanitarian crisis and is aimed at driving Armenians from Karabakh, which Baku has denied.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, ethnic Armenian separatists in Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.

The latest Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Karabakh in 2020 ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire and the deployment of Moscow's forces.