Highlights of the Armenia-Azerbaijan agreement and what happens next
The January 11 trilateral agreement that was signed by the heads of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia in Moscow marks the beginning of the reopening of transportation routes that will run through the South Caucasus.
The routes have been closed for more than 30 years due to the Karabakh conflict, and the mutual decision to reopen them will be beneficial to all three countries, as well as Turkey.
Below, an analysis of two main issues:
- How were the transportation dead ends in the South Caucasus formed and how can they be reopened
- The issue of prisoners of war and the possibility of Russia creating a military base in Karabakh. The latter is not included in the January 11 agreement, but could potentially have a significant impact on both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
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How transport dead ends formed in the South Caucasus, and how they can be opened
As a result of the Moscow meeting it has been agreed to create a working group that will deal with the restoration of “all economic and transportation ties in the region”. The working group will be headed by the deputy prime ministers of all three countries.
The aforementioned restoration will be focused on two main areas:
A corridor running through the main part of Azerbaijan into its exclave – Nakhichevan and further into Turkey (or Georgia). The road must pass through the territory of Armenia – the Syunik region (marked in red on the map below).
The railway from Yerevan to the Syunik region, which will pass through the territory of Azerbaijan – Nakhichevan, and further into Russia. A separate line will also connect Armenia with Iran (both lines are marked in purple on the map below).
Both routes were actively used during Soviet times, both as railways and highways. However, both have been completely closed since the early 1990s, when the Karabakh conflict flared up.
The closing of these routes did not only affect Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also Russia and Turkey.
Soon after the Karabakh conflict broke out, the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict started and the only other rail/road route to the South Caucasus was also closed. Armenia lost a convenient route to Russia – its main ally, while Russia and Turkey could no longer use the direct railway lines.
As a result, over the past 30 years, trains from Armenia can only travel to Tbilisi, and goods from Russia can only be transported to Armenia via Georgia, along the Georgian Military Highway, and further on to Vladikavkaz. This road, besides being narrow and unreliable, is often closed due to snow in winter and landslides that can occur at any time of the year.
Armenia enjoys good trade relations with Iran. But there too, the country is faced with transportation issues, as Armenia and Iran are only connected with an inconvenient mountain road.
The new agreement can solve economic problems for all four of the stakeholders.
- Azerbaijan will get a road to Nakhichevan and to Turkey.
- Convenient railway routes to Russia and Iran will open up for Armenia.
- Russia and Turkey will get a direct route via the South Caucasus region which is important for both countries.
A joint working group has already been created, and deputy prime ministers have been appointed from each of the three countries to lead it. Concrete proposals for the infrastructure development will be presented in the very near future, it was announced.
Still, this project can hardly be implemented anytime soon. It does not only require the restoration of the roads that have been badly damaged by time and wars, but also political and public support in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, neither one of those can be achieved in the near future.
Another problem is the fact that the political demands of Yerevan and Baku were left out of the new agreement, and so long as they are not satisfied, the implementation of the joint economic projects may not be possible.
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The problem of prisoners of war and the threat of the actual creation of a new Russian base in Karabakh – which is not in the new agreement
Prior to the Moscow meeting, the agenda for the upcoming negotiations was discussed extensively, both in Armenia and in Azerbaijan.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wants to reach an agreement on the safe return of Armenian prisoners of war from Azerbaijan. The issue concerns approximately 62 soldiers, that Baku treats as saboteurs who should face a trial for their actions. Another important and painful issue for Armenia is the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev would probably want to solve the issues associated with Russian peacekeepers. Experts and social media have actively criticized many of their actions as violations of their mandate.
However, when Putin summed up the talks at a briefing, he did not even mention the issue of prisoners of war or the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. In regards to the peacekeepers, Putin voiced an extremely positive assessment, which was also reaffirmed by Aliyev and Pashinyan during the same briefing.
Thus, the post-conflict development of the region will be based solely on the economic benefits from the restoration of rail and road connections. Although there is some extent of criticism voiced in Azerbaijan today, generally both Azerbaijani society and the local opposition support the President’s chosen course of action. On the other hand, in Armenia, almost the entire political establishment including the president and a large part of the Armenian public, completely disapprove of PM Pashinyan’s actions and demand his resignation.
In 2021, early parliamentary elections may be held in Armenia which, consequently, may bring other leaders to power.