© Sputnik . Vladimir Pesnya

© Sputnik . Vladimir Pesnya


- What does Moscow offer in the Karabakh context to Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020?

- Moscow once again seeks to offer Armenia and Azerbaijan a phased mechanism for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This mechanism includes strict adherence to the Madrid principles, taking into account the Azerbaijani formula, which consists of six points. The beginning of this process was laid back in 1997, when, with the active mediation of the CSTO, the President of Armenia was forced to resign. The peculiarity of this round of negotiations is that Yerevan should withdraw its troops from about half of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh; deploy a peacekeeping contingent into the conflict zone; organize a referendum for the Karabakh population in order to determine their further status either as part of Armenia, or as part of Azerbaijan, or respecting independence from all sides of the confrontation. However, taking into account that the proposed program of action still has no specifics, one should not expect any breakthrough solutions. As a result, the content of the conflict is unlikely to change significantly.

The Madrid principles finally lost their relevance back in June 2011, when Yerevan and Baku were unable to define clearly the terms of consensus, which led to another escalation on the front line. Subsequently, because of the “four-day war” of April 2016, certain changes occurred in the negotiation process. Then the militaristic rhetoric turned out to be unclaimed, which brought to the fore the demands of regional security and stability. This was followed by rounds of negotiations in Vienna and St. Petersburg, where Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan agreed to develop a single mechanism under the auspices of the OSCE to investigate ceasefire violations.

However, no major changes on the front line occurred. Despite this, Moscow again attempted to bring Baku and Yerevan at a common negotiating table. In particular, on April 21, 2020, the head of the Russian foreign ministry, Sergey Lavrov, announced that he had sent a draft resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia. At the same time, Sergey Lavrov did not specify the content of this project, but experts are inclined to believe that it contains the same provisions that were proposed to the parties back in 2004. It is, first, about the liberation of the seven regions adjacent to Karabakh and the holding of a referendum on determining the status of a self-proclaimed republic.

An important aspect of the ongoing conflict is that Armenia, in fact, controls not only Nagorno-Karabakh, but also the neighboring Azerbaijani regions, which make up about 20 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan. The status of these areas is the main obstacle between Baku and Yerevan. This state of affairs, in fact, was one of the incentives for the “four-day war” in April 2016.

- Armenia hopes to protect its interests from the neighboring Iran, other countries.

 - Iran is also not able to be very active in Nagorno-Karabakh because the ayatollah regime is involved in a conflict with Israel and Saudi Arabia. In addition, the systematic pressure on Tehran from the US does not allow diverting human and material resources to the South Caucasus, where the situation is extremely unstable and cannot lead to an unconditional victory for either side in the near future.

In this regard, in addition to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey can play the main role in Nagorno-Karabakh. Moreover, it is hardly necessary to assert that the South Caucasus may constitute the foundation for Russian-Turkish rapprochement by analogy with Syria. In this case, if the conflict between Baku and Yerevan develops into a stage of a large-scale war, then the situation may resemble the Libyan scenario, where Russia and Turkey occupy diametrically opposite sides.

A distinctive feature of the confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the active involvement of external players in it: Russia, the USA and the European Union. Meanwhile, their policy is causing serious complaints. So, the main claims against Moscow come down to the fact that it equally supports both Baku and Yerevan, Washington is in no hurry to introduce peacekeeping contingents to Nagorno-Karabakh, and the European Union is equally removed from all sides of the conflict. Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic probably puts the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute on the agenda again and creates the basis for a new stage in the escalation of hostilities.

It is usually beneficial for external players to keep the conflict between Baku and Yerevan frozen. On the one hand, this is dictated by the desire of Moscow to weaken the influence of Ankara and Tehran in the South and North Caucasus, and, on the other hand, it creates the prospect of international bargaining, in which Nagorno-Karabakh appears as a "bargaining chip." In addition, Washington and Brussels are not ready to intervene actively in the affairs of the Caucasus region, realizing that such interference will significantly weaken their positions in the international arena, and may pose a threat to Iran, Turkey and Russia involved in the conflict.

Currently, regional players, as a rule, try to adhere to a common line in Karabakh - minimizing direct clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which eliminates the attention of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which, if the conflict escalates, may decide to protect Armenia from a military attack.

Recently, it has become widely believed that Moscow has given its consent to send a peacekeeping contingent to the conflict zone, which will have to start patrolling the territory after the withdrawal of the Karabakh security forces. This would allow Russia to gain additional advantage in the South Caucasus and ensure a permanent military presence in the region. Meanwhile, the risk of deploying peacekeepers lies in the fact that they not only do not contribute to the neutralization of the conflict, but also will create an extra reason for escalation. In addition, Russia is now extremely busy in Syria and Libya. For this reason, taking an active part in the new hotbed of tension is an undue burden for it.

- What has changed in the process after the coming of Nikol Pashinyan?

- The change of political leader in Armenia because of the “velvet revolution” of 2018 led to a significant restructuring of official Yerevan’s attitude to the process of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The fact is that Nikol Pashinyan has extremely weak ties with the so-called "Karabakh clan", and therefore the conflict is of secondary importance for him. Meanwhile, the newly elected head of the Armenian government understands that changing the status of Nagorno-Karabakh could lead to his loss of power within the country, since the Karabakh issue is still a system-forming element of the national ideology of Armenia.

A new window of opportunity for negotiations appeared on March 29, 2019 in Vienna, where Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev organized a public discussion on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and ways to resolve the conflict as part of the international summit. The leader of Azerbaijan guaranteed the withdrawal of troops from the front line in case Yerevan takes similar actions. Another attempt to establish dialogue was made on February 15, 2020 in Munich during a conference on collective security. The parties to the conflict agreed to attract the leadership of the self-proclaimed republic to participate in the negotiation process.

However, the window of opportunity was closed after the administration of Nagorno-Karabakh on April 14, 2020 was headed by Araik Harutyunyan, a supporter of the hard line and protégé of Nikol Pashinyan. The head of the self-proclaimed republic, following the results of his inauguration, began a sharp anti-Azerbaijani information campaign and even publicly insulted Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Official Baku found this behavior outrageous, because of which the situation on the front line again became extremely tense.

- How did the coronavirus pandemic affect events?

- The Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation was significantly strengthened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The political elites of both countries began to actively talk about the need to "distract the population through a small war" in order to provoke a patriotic upsurge of the local population and neutralize the foci of social protest associated with the unpopular measures of national governments to combat coronavirus. At least, the war for both Armenia and Azerbaijan in these conditions is considered as the main motive for popular mobilization and a guarantee of the security of their own political regimes.

Based on the foregoing, the Moscow-proposed version of the negotiation process is unlikely to succeed. At least, the implementation of the Madrid principles, even on a limited scale, can strengthen the position of Turkey, which will upset the balance of forces in the conflict zone in the direction of strengthening the position of Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Moscow is not ready for such a development of events. In addition, Armenia is likely to insist on continuing allied relations with Russia, which casts doubt on any negotiations on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas.


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