Looks like hostilities have erupted once again between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the former the aggressor (this time) and the latter the defender. However, there are a number of factors that make this rather more threatening than earlier conflicts.
- Russia had been the "peacekeeper" between the two states, basically stopping Azerbaijan from taking more disputed territory from Armenia after the former's battlefield successes. That was before the Ukraine war. Now, Russian forces are bogged down in Ukraine, and there are probably none to spare to keep the peace elsewhere. Azerbaijan is probably going to take full advantage of that.
- Iran has long regarded Azerbaijan with suspicion. The Azeris are the biggest single non-Persian ethnic group in Iran, and Iran wants their loyalties firmly oriented towards Teheran. If Azerbaijan grows big enough and gets successful enough to stoke the fires of ethnic loyalties, it threatens Iranian internal unity. Furthermore, Azerbaijan's ties to Israel infuriate Iran, which has vowed to exterminate the Jewish state. Recent military exercises by Iranian forces near the border with Azerbaijan have raised tensions. What if Iran decides that it's time to stop Azerbaijan before it grows any more powerful or successful?
- Armenia is majority Christian; Azerbaijan is majority Muslim. Will this new outbreak of fighting contribute to religious instability in the region?
- Russia has been working on strengthening ties with Iran, and has been considered pro-Armenia by that country. What if its focus on those nations forces its hand, making it do something to "keep the peace" by reining in Azerbaijan? What will that mean for its ongoing war with Ukraine? Could Ukraine take advantage of the distraction?
- If all the above happen, there are several other ethnic tensions in the area of the former Soviet Union that could flare up, all taking advantage of the distraction to pursue their own interests. Russia fought a brief war with Georgia in 2008, which Georgia lost. The Muslim fundamentalist separatists in several former Soviet republics (particularly Chechnya, Dagestan and nearby areas) have been successfully suppressed by Russian military and security forces, sometimes very bloodily. Would any or all of these nations and areas take advantage of a flare-up between Armenia and Azerbaijan to pursue their own interests - to Russia's disadvantage?
As if we needed another hot spot in that part of the world . . .