Turkey’s role in the growing clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan—two countries Moscow regards as within its sphere of influence—is adding a new element to a string of proxy fights pitting Turkey and Russia against each other and challenging Russia’s longstanding policy of neutrality over the simmering conflict.
Roughly the size of Delaware, the province of Nagorno-Karabakh—a disputed enclave within Azerbaijan—has been a flashpoint between Azerbaijan and Armenia since the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan but controlled by pro-Armenian rebels.
About 30,000 people were killed in fighting over a six-year period before a cease-fire in 1994. But hostilities resumed last week, with each side blaming the other for a series of surprise attacks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has long worked to keep former Soviet republics bound tightly to Moscow, and has sought to stay on good terms with both Azerbaijan and Armenia, due to their strategic location along an important energy corridor coveted by the West.
Now, a more assertive Turkey is testing that stance. Hours after fighting broke out, Turkey announced its unconditional support for Azerbaijan, with which it shares ethnic and cultural ties. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that support on Friday.