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Nagorno-Karabakh and Crimea: the curious comparison of the Ukrainian press which justifies Azerbaijan’s offensive

Both are the subject of territorial aggression, one through the Russian “special operation”, the other through the Azeri “anti-terrorist operations” carried out on September 19.

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Nagorno-Karabakh and Crimea: the curious comparison of the Ukrainian press which justifies Azerbaijan’s offensive

Both are the subject of territorial aggression, one through the Russian “special operation”, the other through the Azeri “anti-terrorist operations” carried out on September 19. Although differently, both are victims of Russia, one by a pure and simple invasion, the other by the abandonment of a supposedly historic ally. Between Ukraine and the Armenian autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which surrendered on Wednesday 24 hours after the launch of an Azerbaijani offensive, similarities could emerge. But the Ukrainian press sees things differently.

The day after a lightning victory for Baku, which congratulated itself on having “reestablished its sovereignty” over Nagorno-Karabakh, most Ukrainian media underline the legitimacy of Azerbaijan under international law, notes Courrier International. “Between Azerbaijan and Armenia, on which side is the truth?” asks the daily Gazeta, putting the aggressor and the attacked back to back. The Lviv daily Vyssoky Zamok goes further and maintains that “in accordance with all the rules of international law, Karabakh is an inseparable territory from Azerbaijan.” “Azerbaijan is within its rights, because this is its legitimate territory,” adds the daily.

While recalling that Azerbaijan is the only state in the South Caucasus “which supports Ukraine's fight against the Russian invasion” (Gazeta), several media outlets draw a parallel between the Armenian enclave and the Crimean peninsula. “Karabakh and Crimea are in a certain sense ‘twins’,” explains the daily Vyssoky Zamok before supporting the comparison. “Since Soviet times, Crimea has belonged to Ukraine and Karabakh to Azerbaijan. After the dismantling of the USSR, (...) Crimea became a region of Ukraine, and Karabakh a region of Azerbaijan. But in Crimea, as in Karabakh, part of the local population was dissatisfied and declared itself loyal to another country, namely Russia and Armenia respectively.

“Yes, a certain part of the population of Karabakh does not want to live in Azerbaijan,” admits the daily, “but look, a certain part of the population of Crimea does not want to live in Ukraine. And, therefore, we should accept the annexation of Ukrainian Crimea? Of course not".

Where does this harshness towards the Armenian cause come from? The Armenian and Ukrainian people are, however, historically linked by the presence of an ancient Armenian diaspora, explains Christian Makarian, columnist at Radio Classique and Le Point. “Right in the middle of the isthmus which connects Crimea to the mainland territory of Ukraine, as an obligatory passage, lies the city of Armyansk, which has kept its name since its founding at the beginning of the 18th century by Armenians. Proof of an ancient presence and very strong cultural links.”

This link remains after the collapse of the USSR. An Armenian even entered the government in 2014, Arsen Avakov - original name Avakian - became Minister of the Interior. He will become the target of the Russians by playing a role in financing the Azov militia, accused of being neo-Nazi by Moscow, before being caught in corruption cases.

But at the same time, Ukraine and Azerbaijan are establishing strong economic, energy and military ties. In 1991, Baku, whose army was then very weak, approached kyiv, which then had significant military potential inherited from the Soviet era. Azerbaijan needs it as much as, faced with the separatist desires of Nagorno-Karabakh, a war breaks out with Armenia, which supports the autonomous region. Many Azeris then joined Ukrainian military schools, while Ukrainian officers were sent to train the Azeri army in the use of weapons, artillery, armored vehicles and missiles, provided by kyiv.

This military cooperation continued until 2020, where, during the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, there were rumors of sales of phosphorus bombs supplied by Ukraine to Azerbaijan. The allegations of the sale of these weapons for use prohibited by international law were supported in November 2022 by the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Robert Menendez. “Unfortunately”, the white phosphorus bombs used by Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh “were supplied by Ukraine”, he declared during a committee hearing on the Caucasus.

For Ukraine, it is also a question of securing the support of Turkey, whose Bayraktar drones support Azerbaijan's war against Armenia in 2020 as much as Ukraine's defense against Russian invader since February 2022.

This military cooperation is coupled with a strong economic and energy link. In 2011, Baku and kyiv signed a memorandum on oil and gas, on the sidelines of the Davos Forum. The agreement provides for the formation of a joint company for the transport of gas between SOCAR and “Naftaqaz Ukraina”, now “SOCAR Energy Ukraine”, which manages a network of service stations and to organize the sale of gasoline and petroleum products on the territory of Ukraine.

“At this time there is an ideological conjunction between Ukraine which lost Crimea, and Azerbaijan which is courting the Ukrainian elites. This exchange of politeness between Baku and kyiv takes place on the backs of the Armenians, despite history,” indicates a fine connoisseur of the region. The parallel with Crimea is established by the ultranationalist fringe of the Ukrainian right. “The Ukrainian nationalist faction extends the case of Crimea to other foreign examples,” continues this observer. “This is how, in the same way that Ukraine supported Spain against Catalonia, the nationalists have assimilated Nagorno-Karabakh to Crimea even though that has absolutely nothing to do with it.”

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