State Department official sees “opportunity” to win over countries of the South Caucasus region, which Russia has historically seen as its backyard. A leading Russian politician has accused the United States of using the ongoing dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan to establish a “foothold” in the South Caucasus region. “Washington is ready to ‘help’ Yerevan in hopes of gaining a new anti-Russian foothold in the South Caucasus,” Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian State Duma’s international affairs committee, said on Sept. 14. The Epoch Times has requested comment from the U.S. State Department regarding Mr. Slutsky’s assertions. For decades, the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh has remained a source of instability. Most of Nagorno-Karabakh’s 120,000 inhabitants are ethnic Armenians, but the region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. In 2020, the two countries fought a six-week war that ended with a Moscow-brokered ceasefire agreement that left Azerbaijan in control of the region. Since then, Russian peacekeepers have remained deployed along the fraught Armenia-Azerbaijan border, although violence still erupts intermittently. Yerevan, for its part, accuses Azerbaijan of blocking the so-called “Lachin Corridor,” Armenia’s only land route into Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Armenian officials, the route’s closure has led to a severe humanitarian crisis among Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population. Baku, however, denies the claim accusing Armenia of using the corridor to funnel arms and equipment into the region. Following a deadly border clash on Sept. 1, Armenia also began accusing Moscow of failing to ensure its security in the face of Azerbaijani “aggression.” Since 1991, Armenia has been a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a six-nation military alliance led by Russia. While Azerbaijan is not a CSTO member, it enjoys close relations with Moscow. On Sept. 14, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing devoted to “assessing the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh.” At the hearing, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the committee chairman, accused Azerbaijan of preventing aid from reaching Nagorno-Karabakh and “ethnically cleansing” its Armenian inhabitants. He also accused Russian peacekeepers of standing “idly by” in the face of alleged aggression toward Armenia by Azerbaijan. Russia, Mr. Menendez asserted, is “not only an unreliable and incapable partner [of Armenia] but … an obstacle to peace and security.” Yuri Kim, U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, demanded that the Lachin Corridor be “opened immediately.” “We’ve made clear that the rights and security of the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh must be protected,” she said at the hearing. The next day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was holding talks with both Baku and Yerevan in hopes of resolving the impasse. “Various options are being discussed and worked out with the parties concerned,” he told reporters. He went on to assert that the first shipment of humanitarian aid had just arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh—a claim confirmed by Ms. Kim. “The [aid] delivery was organized thanks to efforts by the Russian side,” Mr. Peskov noted. “We will continue these efforts.” Speaking at the Senate committee hearing, Ms. Kim said Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine had created an “opportunity” for the United States to “develop relationships” with states of the South Caucasus. She drew attention to joint U.S.-Armenia military exercises that kicked off earlier this week near Yerevan. “Our military is out there … to conduct our first-ever bilateral military exercise with Armenia,” she said. “And we’re going to continue to take advantage of these openings.” Dubbed “Eagle Partner,” the drills are ostensibly aimed at training Armenia’s military to take part in international peacekeeping operations. The exercises have irked Moscow, which sees Armenia—a CSTO member—as a regional ally and views the South Caucasus as its backyard. Ms. Kim also called for stepped-up U.S. assistance to Armenia, “whether it’s developmental assistance, defense partnerships, or security activities.” Mr. Slutsky, for his part, appeared to warn Yerevan against what he described as “sponsorship” by foreign powers. “This has never benefited any country and brings only misery, grief, and destruction,” he wrote on Telegram. “That’s what American-style ‘partnerships’ and ‘development assistance’ leads to,” added Mr. Slutsky, who leads Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party. He drew a comparison with Ukraine, where, he claimed, U.S. “support” had served to bankrupt the country and deprive it of its sovereignty. “Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have given their lives for someone else’s interests and ambitions,” the lawmaker said.