Nagorno-Karabakh: the main thing is not war, but negotiations

MOSCOW, 23 Nov 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.

A year has passed since the signing of the trilateral (Russia-Azerbaijan-Armenia) peace agreement on November 9, 2020, which stopped the second Karabakh war. All the signatories are united in the fact that this agreement has made it possible to put an end to the bloodshed and launch the process of establishing peaceful life in the region.

In connection with the anniversary of the trilateral agreements, the Russian Foreign Ministry in its statement states that the agreements fixed in place in the accord are generally being implemented”, and that “Baku and Yerevan remain committed to further implementation and strict compliance with all its provisions”.

Further, there is a difference in the evaluation points. For Azerbaijan, the second Karabakh war turned out to be victorious. It regained control of the territories that were lost in the early 1990s. Armenia lost this war, losing 72.3% of the territory of Karabakh controlled on September 26, 2020, and 27.7% of the territory remains under Armenian-Russian control, while Azerbaijan received 39.85% of the territory of Karabakh without a fight and another 32.55% during military actions.

If earlier Armenia had quite strong strategic positions in the region due to the so-called “security belt” of seven Azerbaijani districts, now the situation has changed radically. The Armenian society and political elites are going through the current situation with pain, be it in different ways for both of them, and are trying to understand the reasons for their defeat.

In this regard, in Yerevan there is an idea in the air of creating a commission to investigate the circumstances of the 44-day war in order to get answers to many questions and draw conclusions. As Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Alen Simonyan stated, “we cannot overlook this huge pain. We need a long and thorough analysis of everything that happened, we paid a very high price for our mistakes”.

But, in any event, the agreement of November 9, 2020 marked a new geopolitical situation in the region not only along the lines of Azerbaijan-Armenia relations. First of all, the political and military balance of power in the Transcaucasia appeared, as well as the factor of Turkey as a regional power has emerged, the real limits of Russia’s influence in the region and the degree of real interest of the United States and EU countries in this part of the post-Soviet space have become more obvious.

Moreover, by all indications, the West, which showed passivity during the Karabakh war, is trying to intensify its policy in the region in order to “modernise” some provisions of the agreement of November 9, 2020, qualifying it as “incomplete” or “temporary”, while pointing primarily to the five-year mandate of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh and to the fact that they do not consider the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict completed due to the uncertain status of Nagorno-Karabakh.

First of all, we are talking about the possibilities of resuscitation in addition to the Russia-Azerbaijan-Armenia format, which appeared as a result of the agreement on November 9, 2020, the format with the participation of the OSCE Minsk Group (MG Co-Chairs) which may to some extent neutralise the role of Russia as a mediator or arbitrator controlling the situation in the conflict zone. Especially that at this stage Russia is trying to avoid discussing the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, although this is a straw that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is clutching at.

By the way, it seems that Yerevan is trying to gain time, given that for some reason Azerbaijan and Turkey seek to jointly normalise relations with Armenia, stipulating this with the conditions for implementing economic cooperation projects and unblocking communications only according to their own scenario. Apparently, this is not a situational moment.

It becomes quite obvious that a huge tangle of problems continues to accumulate between Azerbaijan, Turkey and Armenia, and it is difficult to predict what kind of character they will acquire over time.

The existing serious differences in positions make it difficult to enter into a constructive dialogue with mutual consideration of sensitive points in the national interests. That is why, in our opinion, a sharp surge in diplomatic activity around relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia is stalling. This was clearly revealed in the case when a “leak” appeared in the media about a possible personal meeting between Aliyev and Pashinyan, which was later refuted by the Armenian side.

“Azerbaijan has offered Armenia to start working on a peace agreement. We do not want to talk about war, but about peace,” Ilham Aliyev said. “We have proposed to start work on the demarcation and delimitation of borders. But, unfortunately, no response has been received.”

However, world practice shows that territorial demarcation is usually considered precisely at the conclusion of a peace treaty or after a such, which, firstly, is a demonstration of the will and desire of the conflicting parties to calmly and peacefully resolve a wide range of issues, and not only those concerning the demarcation of borders.

Secondly, the peace treaty is broader in content than the peace agreement. In our case, there is nothing like that. Russia alone is the guarantor of stabilisation so far, against the background of confirmations by Baku and Yerevan’s commitment to the peace agreements reached in 2020, but without signing new agreements.

Thus, there is a situation when Azerbaijan and Armenia cannot agree on any of the new introductory issues. On the one hand, the possibility of solving economic issues, including unblocking communications and opening corridors, gives some hope that the parties will come closer in the long term through the development of infrastructure and logistics.

However, whether this can ensure peace is a controversial issue, especially since any corridor has not only economic, but also political and geopolitical significance. So far, both the real Moscow—Baku—Yerevan negotiation format and the potential one with the participation of the OSCE Minsk Group are “sagging” due to the lack of a clear agenda reflecting the priorities of the parties. So we can only wait for further developments.

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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