Karabakh: what’s next
Donald Trump’s election as U.S. President has caused anticipation of changes worldwide, including in the South Caucasus. However, no one knows in which direction the policy of the world’s only superpower, as Vladimir Putin called the USA, is going to develop.
There are certain expectations with regard to the Karabakh conflict as well, though many experts admit that the conflict could be resolved only in the context of global transformations, namely, end of confrontation in the Middle East. Much will depend on whether the border in the Middle East will remain intact or a new global treaty will be concluded, which cannot circumvent the South Caucasus and Turkey.
A change of attitude to the Karabakh conflict has been expressed so far in a less significant fact – James Warlick, the U.S. Co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group for peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict, has announced about his resignation from office. He is going to become a consultant for the Washington-based huge Russian company.
Warlick’s resignation could mark a change in the conflict resolution logic. James Warlick was appointed the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chair in 2013, and since that time, the discussions have focused on the USA’s initiative on introduction of certain incident investigation mechanisms in the Karabakh conflict zone. However, no one knows for sure, what is actually meant by this.
There are talks about monitoring equipment, but the country of origin of this equipment has not been specified. Neither it is clear, whether it will be linked to a ‘center’ in any capital. In other words, it’s unclear, who is going to control Karabakh-Azerbaijan border and under whose’ ‘umbrella’ will the region find itself.
Armenia has accepted the USA’s proposal. Meanwhile, official Yerevan is further intensifying its military-technical cooperation with Russia. In particular, ratification of the agreement on setting up a combined Armenian-Russian air defense system is almost completed. Now, there are talks on establishment of the Combined Group of Land Forces, which will include Russia’s 102nd military base, deployed in Armenia, as well as one of the Armenian Army corps. There have been also reports that the Group could possibly include special service forces (on the side note, Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran are defended by the Russian FSB (Federal Security Service) border guard troops)).
Armenia has recently demonstrated the Iskander operative-tactical missile systems, that are part of the Russian air ‘umbrella.’ In addition, the Armenian side claims, it has independently carried out border fortification works and installed thermal imagers and other monitoring equipment, which, according to the Deputy Defence Minister, will allow to see enemy’s actions ‘far behind the lines.’
The aforesaid steps prove that the Armenian side isn’t going to retreat from its current borders, set after the armistice in May 1994 and adjusted on April 1-4, 2016, during the so-called ‘April war’. In April, the Armenian side admitted the loss of 800 hectares of land in the south and north. However, the Armenian army is going to defend the rest of the land at any cost.
As Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan, has recently told ‘Sputnik’ news agency, during the Kazan talks in 2011, he was ready to cede to Azerbaijan the areas around the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Republic, ‘that Azerbaijan refers to as the occupied areas’. The matter concerns 5-7 regions that fell under Karabakh’s control during the hostilities.
Serzh Sargsyan has termed them as the ‘security zones’, claiming that the Armenian side was ready to withdraw its troops from that area in exchange for recognition of Karabakh’s independence by Azerbaijan and opening of communications. However, in 2011, Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, set forth a number of new conditions and rejected the Kazan plan.
It’s not quite clear, whether Aliyev still rejects this plan, which has been actively promoted by Russia. Aliyev has recently said, he is ready to consider Karabakh’s autonomy, but only within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Aliyev has also intensified a military rhetoric, conducting large-scale military exercises and stating about the procurement of new weapons. Azerbaijan is also going to increase military spendings in 2017 by 63%.
Some experts argue that now it’s Serge Sargsyan, who gives up on the Kazan plan. It’s obvious that mediators, in particular, the USA and France, as well as Germany, the incumbent OSCE Chairman-in-office, also support the idea of maintaining the present-day status quo rather than the Kazan plan, which suggests changing the current borders and which may lead to destabilization in the region.
Azerbaijan is trying, in every possible way, to change this trend and bring the negotiations back on Kazan proposals track. For this purpose, Azerbaijan attempts to make use of Russia’s influence on Armenia. Hinting to possible joining the pro-Russian Eurasian Union, Azerbaijan demands from Moscow to pay it a ‘dowry’ in the form of at least a few Karabakh areas.
In fact, Turkey is also involved. It sets Karabakh conflict resolution as a precondition for opening the border with Armenia. This border is the only closed frontier in the Council of Europe member-states, but Turkey stubbornly refuses to open the border, claiming, it would do so only after Armenia withdraws its troops from Karabakh’s surrounding areas. Moreover, the number of regions varies from 3 up to 5, 7. One of the Turkish government officials has recently stated that Armenia refused to withdraw its troops from one region, though that was exactly what Turkey suggested.
Against such a background, it’s hard to assume, what the developments vector is going to be in the Karabakh resolution. Especially as Armenia enters a pre-election period, and any active developments are unlikely to be expected until the midst of next year.
However, some analysts don’t exclude that Barack Obama may try to use the remaining two months before completion of his term of presidency for conclusion of a big agreement in the Middle East. It could be a multi-level agreement involving Russian, Turkey and Iran. And this agreement can’t circumvent the South Caucasus, which is neighboring these countries.
If there is no such agreement, the current situation and the setup in the South Caucasus will be frozen. Azerbaijan will be trying, from time to time, to unfreeze the situation, so that status quo won’t become the internationally recognized reality. However, Armenia seems to have completely lost any motivation for conflict resolution based on ‘land for status’ or ‘land for opening of communications and rejection of military actions’ principle.
As Serzh Sargsyan told ‘Sputnik’ news agency, he was ready to meet President Aliyev any time, but only in order to sign an agreement on confidence-building measures and strengthening the ceasefire regime. Apparently, the Kazan plan has to be clean forgotten.
The opinions expressed in this article convey the author’s views and terminology and don’t necessarily reflect the position of the editorial staff.