The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict presents a diplomatic challenge for Ukraine as it seeks to balance its interests with its foreign policy priorities. Ukraine views conflicts in the post-Soviet space as remnants of the Soviet era, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is no exception. However, the conflict also serves as a reminder of Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russia due to Russia’s repeated attempts to attack Ukraine’s sovereignty and borders. Therefore, Ukraine has been interested in supporting the preservation of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders since 1991.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Artsakh conflict, arose after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnic Armenian-majority region located within the borders of Azerbaijan. Ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan in 1991, leading to a full-scale war between the two sides. A ceasefire was signed in 1994, but the conflict was never fully resolved, and tensions have remained high between the two sides.
The 2020 fighting saw Azerbaijan launch a military offensive to retake control of Nagorno-Karabakh with Turkish support. Ethnic Armenian forces could not hold off the Azerbaijan military, and Azerbaijan made significant gains in the region. A Russia-brokered ceasefire was signed in November 2020, but Azerbaijan had already secured control of much of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh resulted in significant casualties on both sides and displaced thousands of ethnic Armenians from the region. The conflict has also had broader regional implications, with Turkey’s involvement raising tensions with Russia. The resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains an ongoing issue, with ongoing negotiations and efforts to find a lasting peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russia, and the annexation of Crimea, has made Kyiv’s position on preserving the territorial integrity of neighboring states even more crucial. For over two decades, Ukraine has firmly stood by Azerbaijan in support of its territorial integrity and sovereignty. This unwavering stance, which has become more robust and consistent since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, is a reflection of Ukraine’s understanding of the importance of preserving internationally recognized borders in the post-Soviet space.
Furthermore, Ukraine’s refusal to recognize self-proclaimed states, such as Kosovo, is a strategic move aimed at protecting its own sovereignty and territorial integrity, given Russia’s repeated attempts to invade Ukraine’s borders.
Regarding any international conflict, Ukraine abides by the principle of territorial integrity. Most Ukrainian politicians and experts support this approach, which is reflected in Ukraine’s 2020 national security strategy, which declared Azerbaijan a strategic partner on par with Poland, Lithuania, and Georgia. Turkey, which is actively participating in the current conflict on Azerbaijan’s side, also has a strategic partnership with Ukraine.
In contrast, Armenia, a member of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), has traditionally supported Russia in all votes on issues related to Crimea and Donbas. On the other hand, Azerbaijan has consistently voted in favor of Ukraine.
Given its foreign policy priorities and ongoing conflict with Russia, Ukraine has expressed support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia and highlighted the “privileged dialogue” between the two countries in recent years. Zelenskyy has emphasized the importance of preventing the crisis from turning into a “frozen” conflict and urged for a swift resolution to the problems back in 2020.
Since 2014, the UN General Assembly has adopted nine resolutions related to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the human rights situation in Crimea, and the region’s militarization. But, Armenia has voted against all nine resolutions on Crimea. Armenia has used this support for the concept of “self-determination” in Crimea as a justification for a similar process in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, this approach has moved further away from a peaceful settlement and has drawn Armenia closer to its main ally, Russia.
While Russia has long been Armenia’s main military and political ally, Armenia’s dependence on Moscow for defense and security deepened further following the 2020 war with Azerbaijan. Armenia is heavily reliant on Russia for military equipment and officer training. In addition, Russia is Armenia’s leading trading partner, and in 2019, nearly half of all money transfers to Armenia came from the two million Armenians living and working in Russia. As a result, Armenia is constrained in its foreign policy choices and is obligated to align its voting behavior with Russia in international organizations.
For over two decades, Ukraine has stood as a steadfast ally of Azerbaijan, consistently supporting its territorial integrity since the first ceasefire in 1994. This unwavering stance, which has become more robust and consistent in the face of Russia’s aggression, speaks to the strategic importance of preserving internationally recognized borders in the post-Soviet space. Armenia’s dependence on the Russian state as an ally has put it at odds with Ukraine, making it unlikely that relations between both countries improve until Armenia distances itself from Russia.
David Kirichenko is a freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and an editor at Euromaidan Press. He tweets @DVKirichenko.
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