Nagorno-Karabakh: first anniversary of the end of hostilities

Date of publication: 22 November 2021
Russian peacekeepers are the most important factor of relative stability in the conflict zone

Andrey Areshev, political scientist

November 9, 2021 marks one year since the signing by the Presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia of the Statement on a ceasefire and all hostilities in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This step made it possible to put an end to the bloodshed and launch the process of establishing a peaceful life in the region, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement dedicated to the anniversary of the cessation of active hostilities in the Transcaucasus.

Baku and Yerevan remain committed to further implementation and strict adherence to all of its provisions. Deployed in accordance with the Statement of November 9, 2020, the Russian peacekeeping contingent is making a significant contribution to stabilizing the situation and ensuring security in the region, which is highly valued by both sides. Russian servicemen deliver humanitarian aid to the region, participate in the restoration of civilian infrastructure, and carry out humanitarian demining.

In a broader context, Moscow intends to continue working on unblocking “all economic and transport links in the South Caucasus”, advocates “the earliest possible launch of specific projects based on a balance of interests,” which will help to unlock the economic and transport potential of the region. The beginning of its early delimitation with subsequent demarcation would facilitate decrease of tension on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

Mentioned in the statement of the Russian foreign ministry and the activities of the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as international organizations, whose contribution (we add on our behalf) in the efforts for post-conflict reconstruction is hardly sufficient? The Russian side is also ready “to facilitate dialogue between representatives of the public of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia … in order to create an atmosphere of trust between the Azerbaijani and Armenian peoples.”

The fact that the path to peace in the region will be long and thorny is fully evidenced by the intrigue around the information thrown in by one of the pro-Pashinyan journalists regarding the meeting of the leaders of the three countries scheduled for November 9 to sign certain documents, including an agreement on the delimitation and demarcation of borders. The fact that the event was being prepared (and is being prepared) could be judged with a sufficient degree of certainty – including the report by Dmitry Peskov on November 7 that communication between Vladimir Putin, Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan is planned in the format of a videoconference. At the time of preparation of this material, nothing is known about the meeting, and therefore, disagreements persist.

Baku, accusing Yerevan of trying to delay the opening of the so-called “Zangezur Corridor”, began to unilaterally carry out customs and border control on the section of the road between Goris and Kapan in the Syunik region of Armenia, which departed to Azerbaijan in December 2020. This provoked another wave of protests in Yerevan and an inadequate reaction from the leaders of the victorious “Velvet Revolution”. Thus, Prime Minister Pashinyan again demonstratively used Azerbaijani toponyms, and the Secretary of the Security Council, a prominent “Soros member” Armen Grigoryan promised to set up a customs post on the Armenian side, which led to legitimate questions about who, in fact, he was going to check there. Armenian mainly uses this road and Iranian drivers, who now, in order to avoid additional extortions and other problems, will have to use an alternative road through the Tatev Gorge, which has a difficult terrain. Trying to at least partially solve the problem, in Yerevan they announced the opening from January 2022 of air communication with Kapan, the runway of which is in line of sight of the Azerbaijani military …

There is no doubt that Baku’s next demand will be the placement of border and customs posts of Azerbaijan in the “Lachin corridor” connecting Armenia with the “Armenian” part of Nagorno-Karabakh guarded by Russian peacekeepers. By the way, despite the initial promises, the mandate of the peacekeeping mission has not yet been spelled out.

Despite the partial return of refugees and active construction work for citizens who left the areas occupied by the Azerbaijani army (however, they are no less intensively carried out on the opposite side, where the Fizuli airport was opened on October 26 with the participation of Aliyev and Erdogan), it is difficult to call the situation calm. Thus, as a result of the autumn hostilities and the subsequent “creeping” adjustment of the borders, the Azerbaijanis received both an operational-tactical and a strategic advantage, which they use to the full.

The killing of a tractor driver by a sniper on September 9 near Mardakert and the shooting a month later of four workers of the Stepanakert water utility under the Shusha rock are just some of the most resonant incidents designed to intimidate the Armenian population, increase the feeling of hopelessness and permanent fear, and stimulate migration sentiments. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic David Babayan, the killed and wounded citizens were laying water pipes for the peacekeeping posts when an Azerbaijani soldier approached them and suddenly opened fire. By coincidence or not, but exactly on this day, November 8, festive events were held in Shusha on the occasion of the first anniversary of the “victory”, in which the Aliyev couple and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akara took part.

While in Azerbaijan they invariably remind of the temporary nature of the stay of the Russian military in the country, the Russophobic screamers, who have become noticeably more active in Yerevan, are trying to discredit the activities of Russian peacekeepers, taking into account the peculiarity of the perception of regional processes by part of the Armenian society. One of the goals of the terrorist attack in Shushi is precisely the deterioration of Armenian-Russian relations, Babayan is sure – after each such incident, certain groups in Armenia use this as an excuse to incite anti-Russian propaganda. At the same time, the same forces and structures do not comment on, for example, the visit by the ambassadors of Western countries to Baku occupied by Azerbaijan territories of Nagorno-Karabakh. It must be – do not have the go-ahead from the Western embassies.

And although the gatherings of the notorious “National Democratic Pole” recruit no more than a few hundred people, the media and organizational support provided to them by pupils of Western foundations from Pashinyan’s entourage should not be discounted. It seems that the Armenian observers who believe that the ultimate goal of the organizers of the “negotiated” war in the fall of 2020 was “the final solution of the Karabakh issue” with the capture of the capital of the region, Stepanakert (in Azerbaijan, this city is called Khankendi), are not so wrong.

However, the implementation of such a scenario, taking into account the massive involvement of Turkey, Syrian mercenaries in the conflict, as well as (through the supply of high-precision weapons to Azerbaijan) Israel, the closest US ally, would hardly correspond to Russia’s long-term goals in the Caucasus. In particular, the economic significance of the aforementioned “Zangezur Corridor” between “mainland” Azerbaijan, the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and Turkey is clearly overblown, but the military-strategic (especially for Ankara) is beyond doubt.

The deployment of a Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh following the results of hostilities in 2020, some observers rushed to declare Moscow a victory. At the same time, Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, rightly, in our opinion, notes “the conditionality of the Russian peacekeeping presence in Karabakh … , will not be easy, let alone automatic. Together with its ally Ankara, Baku is already trying to put pressure on Moscow in favor of the full return of the region under Azerbaijani control”.

Thus, four years before the end of the first five-year term of the Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh, further prospects beyond the horizon of 2025 lie in a fog of uncertainty. As is often the case in the history and political practice of settling regional conflicts like the Karabakh conflict, in words everyone speaks for peace, but everyone understands it in their own way. In this difficult situation, Russian diplomacy (both civil and military) still has to solve the difficult everyday task of finding mutually acceptable balances, including in cooperation with Turkey and Iran, which are increasingly declaring their participation in Caucasian affairs.



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