Letter From the Editors

After a month and a half of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia grudgingly signed a ceasefire with Azerbaijan. The decision came almost immediately after Baku said that it had seized the strategically important town of Shusha, thus putting Stepanakert directly in the crosshairs of Azerbaijan’s troops. Armenian military commanders had virtually no other option but to raise the white flag.

Armenians were not happy with their leaders’ decision, and took to the streets of Yerevan to show their discontent, storming government buildings and beating parliamentary speaker Ararat Mirzoyan unconscious. Political analyst Stanislav Pritchin writes that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan “signed his own death warrant” by accepting the ceasefire agreement, which returns to Azerbaijan a significant amount of territory that Armenia had seized in the previous Nagorno-Karabakh war. The humiliated Pashinyan did not even join the virtual livestream of the signing of the ceasefire.

If Armenia was a sore loser, Azerbaijan was not exactly a gracious winner, writes analyst Arkady Dubnov. Azerbaijani President Ilkham Aliyev, in a victory speech delivered after the ceasefire was signed, gloated over Armenia’s defeat. More significant than Baku’s victory over Yerevan is the fact that Azerbaijan is gaining even more independence from Moscow, the analyst says. Baku’s victory also strengthens the global Islamic Ummah and fuels Turkey’s neo-imperialist ambitions, Dubnov claims. Sovetskaya Rossia columnist Anatoly Tarasov says that the conflict showcased Russia’s decline as a global power and Turkey’s rise as a regional force. He even obliquely suggests that Azerbaijan may have deliberately downed a Russian military helicopter shortly before the ceasefire was signed so that Turkey could be brought in as a peacekeeper, thus giving Ankara a greater toehold in the region.

On the other side of the world, US President Donald Trump is acting like a sore loser after his defeat in the presidential election: He is not ready to concede without a fight, promising legal battles to contest election results he considers suspect. Russian media outlets and political analysts are largely accepting of Joe Biden’s victory but despairing of the prospects for US-Russian relations under a Democratic administration. Izvestia columnist Aleksei Zabrodin writes that the world had been waiting for Trump’s “ouster” with bated breath, viewing his tenure in the White House as something of a train wreck. He says that despite the narrative of Trump’s political opponents that Trump was Putin’s pal, Trump was actually inconvenient for Russia and took relations with Moscow to their worst level ever. So Russia, like many other countries unnerved by Trump, is probably somewhat relieved that a conventional and predictable politician will now take the helm in America.

But the clear consensus in the Russian press is that the new American president will put even more frost in the air with Moscow. Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, thinks Biden won’t even have time for Russia until the late spring of 2021. Vladimir Frolov agrees, believing that Biden will take Obama’s stance that Russia is a “regional power in decline” and thus not worthy of attention. Frolov says that Biden, who is in many respects the polar opposite of Trump, being well versed and well read on policy issues, will not fall for personal flattery the way Trump did, and will take Putin to task if need be.

Arguably more important than what Biden’s election means for Russia is what it means for the US, which is experiencing a moment of reckoning, says Ivan Kurilla. America is in an existential crisis, with two opposing, almost numerically equal camps fighting for what they believe is the soul of America. “In any case, we should not expect the United States of America to calm down after the turmoil of the past four years,” Kurilla writes. As the top stories in this week’s issue of the Current Digest show, although ceasefires and elections create new realities, they don’t necessarily resolve tension.