Russian, Iranian defence chief meet in Tehran to discuss the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh

Russian, Iranian defence chief meet in Tehran to discuss the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh
Russia's top general has flown to Tehran as Azerbaijan continues its assault in a breakaway region. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews September 19, 2023

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, in Tehran on September 19 to continue building on the increasingly close ties between Russia and Iran as well as to discuss the rapidly deteriorating situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced.

Russian peacekeepers have evacuated roughly 470 individuals from high-risk areas in the Azerbaijani enclave, including 185 children. More than dozen people have been killed as Azerbaijan relaunched an onslaught on the breakaway self-declared region of Artsakh Republic, as it is known to Armenians.

Tensions in the South Caucasus have been high for months around the breakaway mountainous enclave, recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan, but populated by Armenians.

However, the ties between Armenia and Iran are also close. Tehran has been one of the main suppliers of weapons to Yerevan since the short war fought between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020.

Azerbaijani troops have launched renewed operations against the Armenian community in the enclave, which has also been increasingly relying on Tehran not Yerevan for help recently.

Azerbaijan launched the so-called "anti-terrorist" military campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh on the same day as Russian troops struggled to man their positions supporting the Armenians.

Since midday on 19th September, the Russian Ministry of Defence reported multiple ceasefire violations by Azerbaijan. While Tehran issued a warning that if Baku were to cross into the narrow Syunik region of Armenia which connects to Iran it would mobilise to counter Azerbaijan.

In response to the situation, the remaining Russian peacekeepers have been assisting civilians and providing medical care in the breakaway Karabakh region while being massively undermanned from its fight in Ukraine. Azerbaijan understands this potential weakness and, with Israeli and Turkish support, has begun its latest offensive to finish the job of the war two years ago and reclaim full control of the region that it lost following the fall of he Soviet Union.

If Azerbaijan were to cross the Syunik region and close the gap which it has been pushing for several years, Iran said it would respond with equal force — the consequences of such a conflagration could, in theory, flare-up along the border of both countries and Nato member Turkey.

There were also indirect suggestions on twitter accounts linked to the foreign ministry and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Forces (IRGC) that suggested Iran could create a union with Armenia to protect its interests.

However, officially the Iranian government has not been so bold. The government’s line differs from that of the military, where the IRGF  has openly mocked Azerbaijan for the past few years threatening to retake “the Republic of Baku”.

Relations between Tehran and Baku have been bad for a long time, following a shooting, believed to be by Iranian security agents, inside the Azerbaijan Embassy. Iran repeatedly denied it was a government-orchestrated attack.

Iran has its own large Azeri population, some 20mn strong, with even the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei being part of the clan. Baku has run an ongoing campaign to stir up ethnic tensions inside Iran using its large and wealthy Azeri clans.

Understanding his limited position, Moscow’s defence chief has reportedly discussed on the ground operations in the Karabakh area. Meanwhile, concurrently, in New York, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met with his Armenian counterpart at the UN General Assembly.

The Armenian authorities have urged Azerbaijan to halt military actions and proposed negotiations. In reply, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's office set conditions for stopping their operations.

Both the Russian Foreign Ministry and Dmitry Peskov, Press Secretary of the Russian President, have advocated for diplomacy. France has requested an urgent UN Security Council meeting on the matter.