Azerbaijan's checkpoint on the Lachin road: what's next?
Azerbaijan has set up a checkpoint on its border with Armenia at the entrance to the Lachin road. Almost all Western countries and international organizations called this step “unacceptable” and urged Azerbaijan not to aggravate the situation in the region. Baku is not responding to these calls. What will happen next?
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According to political scientist Farhad Mammadov, the installation of a checkpoint on the conditional border affects both the process of normalizing relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the process of reintegration of the Armenian-speaking population of Karabakh.
Mammadov notes that the ambiguity in reading the points of the tripartite statement creates problems that cannot be resolved.
“Russia took advantage of this, acting as an arbiter, each time interpreting the points of the statement in its own way.
Now, it is not possible to make any manipulations along the Lachin road:
- the reduced subjectivity of Armenia in the fate of the Armenians of Karabakh is physically reduced to zero. This allows Pashinyan to spread his hands and declare to his society that “he did everything he could” and there is an opportunity to install a checkpoint on the border in the Zangezur corridor.
- The Zangezur corridor is becoming the subject of active discussions. Russia will seek to use the checkpoint on the Lachin road in order to get Pashinyan’s consent to the Zangezur corridor with Armenian checkpoints. The main thing for Russia is to get consent to an additional function of Russia in Armenia and leave the process within the framework of the trilateral.
- the US/EU does not have a priority in the Zangezur corridor, since there is Russian participation there. Therefore the West will demand from Pashinyan to resist this project as much as possible, and go for the signing of a peace treaty and agree on unblocking with Azerbaijan without Russia’s participation.
- The US / EU and Russia will clash in earnest in the process of putting pressure on Pashinyan. Iran will also be active. What Azerbaijani political scientists warned the leadership of Armenia about is becoming a reality. As Rasim Musabekov said, Pashinyan himself will install his own checkpoint on the conditional border in order to control people from Karabakh, the transport of weapons. It will become increasingly difficult to manage the situation in Armenia.
- the peace treaty process receives a new impetus, since all participants in the process received a more than clear message from Baku about the impossibility of somehow mentioning the topic of the Armenian-speaking population of Karabakh in the peace treaty.”
Stimulation of reintegration
Mammadov commented on his view of further developments around the part of Karabakh where the Armenian population lives:
- “The main processes will begin among the Armenians of Karabakh. The split on further steps will only grow.
- the mousetrap has slammed shut, and the remaining war criminals in Karabakh cannot give an answer to the population, who is the guarantor of their security. By installing the checkpoint, the last hopes for the pro-Russian group collapsed. Fermentation can lead to armed incidents, as well as to targeted provocations: they can shoot the civilian population and blame it on Azerbaijan. The military dictatorship will only get tougher.
- in the near future we can expect a third invitation to Baku of representatives of the Armenians of Karabakh to discuss reintegration. By the way, they can come accompanied by the command of the RCC
- after the establishment of the regulations for the operation of the checkpoint from Karabakh, the outflow of contract soldiers from Armenia will begin. This process can also be stimulated by actions to block the activity of bank transfers. Mechanisms should be considered. And no one canceled the instinct of self-preservation … it worked for 11,000 deserters during the 44-day war.
- the Armenian-speaking population of Karabakh is coming to the realization that there are no options left … Everyone who calls for a fight to the end should say that this is the end. The choice is simple: to go to Armenia; continue to be held hostage by the military junta; or accept citizenship of Azerbaijan and continue to live as part of Azerbaijan.”
The Azerbaijani political scientist believes that the installation of the checkpoint is also important in the regional context:
“The leadership of Armenia is leading its country towards “Syrianization”, and Azerbaijan needs to isolate itself as much as possible from the potential conflict space. At this stage, any decisions of Pashinyan will lead to contradictions with the patrons of Armenia.”
What will change with the arrival of the new RCC commander?
According to the latest data, Colonel-General Alexander Lentsov has been appointed commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh. He replaced Andrei Volkov in this post.
Mammadov considers two theories behind the appointment of a high-ranking officer:
“Lentsov is 67 years old, that is, the decline of his career … there is nowhere to take off, at this age they do not become army generals. He will command 2,000 troops in a limited area. In this context, it should be noted that the military-political leadership of Russia needs a man who would coordinate activities with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the military base of the Russian Federation (Southern Military District) in an operational manner, as the processes in the region are gaining speed.
The appointment of such a high-ranking officer is Russia’s reaction to the emerging reality after the installation of the checkpoint. That is, the negligent activities of Volkov, who completely discredited himself and his position, are being compensated. The goal is to restore the confidence of the Armenian-speaking population of Karabakh, increase the level of resistance, and change the nature of relations with Baku.
But what can Lentsov change on the ground? Almost nothing.
The main issue is the functionality of the checkpoint, how will it work, what will be the distribution of functionality between the RCC and the border guards of Azerbaijan? I think that tactically Lentsov’s goal is to take the maximum of functionality, and strategically to prevent the exodus of Armenians and stop the unrest among the Armenians of Karabakh, in particular, to strengthen the military dictatorship and react harshly to the adoption of citizenship by the Armenians of Karabakh. Also the commander of the RMK, this position, the participation of which in the dialogue between Baku and representatives of the Armenians of Karabakh is offered in Khankendi.
Azerbaijan has strengthened its position on the ground and the presence of Lentsov will change little. Of course, the newly appointed colonel general will be active at first, but will face limited resources and will be forced to accept this reality.
The process has gained momentum and is under the control of the leadership of Azerbaijan, at the right time Baku can use any mechanisms to establish a new reality.”