It was hard to imagine any of Russia’s neighbors deciding this was a good time to start a war, given the bloody spectacle of Vladimir Putin’s "special military operation” in Ukraine. Yet Azerbaijan did exactly that on Tuesday, launching a "local anti-terrorist operation’’ against the separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. And it may already have won. Fighters in the predominantly ethnic Armenian region within Azerbaijan in essence surrendered on Wednesday, agreeing to lay down their arms in a deal that was brokered by Russian peacekeepers. Handled right, this could be positive, ending more than three decades of often bloody conflict. But given the dispute’s brutal history, that will demand uncommon self-restraint on the part of the Azeris.
The struggle over Karabakh has been under way on and off since before the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991. There have been two wars, near constant skirmishes, tens of thousands of deaths and bouts of ethnic cleansing by both sides.
With Putin both preoccupied in Ukraine and hostile to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and the West struggling to cope with another ex-Soviet conflict, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev saw an opportunity to seize victory.