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One Road That Illustrates the Downfall of Russian Influence

The already fragile peace that is held in the Caucasus between two long-time bitter rivals, Armenia and Azerbaijan, has been dealt another critical blow, the blockade of the Lachin corridor. The importance of this road, you may wonder? It is the sole connection from the controversial Nagorno-Karabakh region to Armenia.

The Lachin corridor is the lynchpin of a ceasefire agreement that ended the 2020 war between the neighbours. It guarantees a safe passage for ethnic Armenians as well as a steady supply of goods to the territory. On December 12, a group of Azerbaijanis began a round-the-clock sit-in and wedged themselves among the Russian troops tasked with keeping the two ethnic rivals apart. These protestors belong to Azerbaijani environmental organisations that claim to be protesting the illegal mining in the region. Due to these demonstrations, the region has been effectively cut off from the rest of the world, leading to a shortage of medicine and food. Azerbaijan has denied there has been a blockade of the road, pointing to passages by vehicles of Russian peacekeepers and the Red Cross, while also issuing assurances that Armenian civilians can pass along the road as well.

One of the reasons why this blockade has taken so long to resolve is because of Russia’s focus on Ukraine. The Russian government under Vladimir Putin is too preoccupied with its campaign to invade Ukraine that it will not shift focus to what it has shown is a lesser priority for them, despite the fact that Russia forced itself into the position of keeping the peace between the two former Soviet states. Russia, traditionally a long-time ally of Armenia, has not moved to resolve the tension or aid its ally. This has left the ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh isolated and at the whim of the Azerbaijani government, which is backing the protestors, not so secretly.

The blockade of the Lachin corridor illustrates an important shift in the world order. Russia is no longer able to effectively contain problems within its traditional spheres of influence. This has also been evident in the deteriorating relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the two post-Soviet countries sharing a 1,000 km-long border, with over a third of it being contested. The lack of Russian influence in the region has seen hostilities rise as border clashes erupt, with over 100 people being killed in the fighting. The nation is solely focused on its failing invasion of Ukraine, which has resulted in countries in Russia’s immediate vicinity returning to old tension points now that Russia is not keeping order.

While Russia historically has never done an outstanding job of keeping the fragile peace between these two neighbours, the question is, would this blockade happen if there was no war in Ukraine and Russia focused on peacekeeping in the region? The answer is probably not. Russia most likely would have sought to hold another meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders or attempted to leverage a deal that pleases both sides to prevent this from happening. The blockade of the Lachin corridor is another example of the deterioration of Russian influence within the post-Soviet states, not only in the Caucasus.