Russian peacekeepers stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh were killed during shelling, the Kremlin said Wednesday. This has dealt a blow to the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as Azerbaijan claimed control of the breakaway region following a brief military offensive.
Russia’s Defense Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday saying that a car carrying Russian peacekeepers came under fire and that all of the servicemen died. The announcement came shortly after Azerbaijan launched attacks on the region, and ethnic Armenians in control of Nagorno-Karabakh agreed to a Moscow-proposed ceasefire.
The news comes as the CSTO, founded in 2002, appears to be peril against the backdrop of flaring violence in the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh. This is led by ethnic Armenians in the region, and is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan. The CSTO is a military alliance of six post-Soviet states—Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan—that has been likened to a smaller version of NATO.
Tension has mounted between Armenia and Russia, which have long been close allies. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Russian leader Vladimir Putin has failed to support his country amid clashes with neighboring Azerbaijan.
Newsweek reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry and the CSTO for comment via email.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have gone to war twice over Nagorno-Karabakh since the collapse of the Soviet Union—in the 1990s and in 2020. Azerbaijan escalated the decades-long dispute on Tuesday after its defense ministry issued a statement saying “local anti-terrorist activities” had been launched to “suppress large-scale provocations” in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinyan has decried CSTO inaction and a tepid response from Russia after triggering the security bloc’s Article 4 in September 2022. This declares that any “aggression against CSTO member states is considered by other participants as aggression against everyone.”
This week, videos published on social media show protesters calling for Armenia to withdraw from CSTO, while another appears to show Armenians tearing up Russian passports and calling Russia the enemy.
Observers say Moscow’s lack of response could be due to the country pouring its troops and military resources into Ukraine amid a counteroffensive by Kyiv to reclaim its territory in the war, now in its 19th month.
Meanwhile, CSTO members Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan issued a joint statement on Tuesday, voicing “serious concern regarding the Armenian provocations against Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“Two members of OTS [the Organization of Turkic States] are also in CSTO (Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan). Yet they agreed to this strongly worded statement about fellow CSTO member Armenia,” Luke Coffey, senior fellow at U.S. think tank the Hudson Institute, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday.
Coffey added that the move shows Russia is weak and losing influence.
Mark Temnycky of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) said in analysis on September 6 that, two decades after it was founded, CSTO is “fracturing, emphasizing the Kremlin’s weakening hold on its neighbors.”
And Pashinyan told POLITICO last week that the CSTO peacekeeping mission had failed. “As a result of the events in Ukraine, the capabilities of Russia have changed,” he said.
Russia has said that it is investigating the deaths of its peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh.