Op-ed: Why Azerbaijan risked invading Armenian territory
Tension on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border has escalated so much over the past two weeks that even the slightest development may result in a real crisis. The stagnation that had been observed during the initial stages of escalation has now been replaced with constant clashes between the two parties, shooting with casualties and the capture of six Armenian servicemen.
The two countries are offering two completely opposite interpretations of the events, while the leading political players are watching from the outside and calling for de-escalation. Meanwhile, the situation remains unchanged and the threat of further escalation is growing.
- President Macron: Azerbaijani troops must withdraw from the sovereign territory of Armenia
- Yerevan, Baku, Moscow postpone talks on reopening of regional corridors
- Armenian Foreign Minister explains his resignation
How it all started
After the defeat in the second Karabakh war, Armenia’s information security was just as damaged as the country’s armed forces. Before the war it was extremely difficult to disseminate disinformation on the Armenian segment of social media and news outlets, however, now the opposite is the case, and any news from Baku now instantly become open to the public.
This is largely due to the crisis in the work of government agencies, for which it has become a common practice to refute and then confirm information. The same approach was used when Azerbaijani troops advanced their positions into the territory of Armenia.
First, Telegram channels wrote about the penetration of Azerbaijani soldiers into the sovereign territory of Armenia. After lengthy discussions on social media, the Ministry of Defense finally confirmed that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces had violated the state border and advanced several kilometers into the territory of Armenia, in different directions.
The head of state Nikol Pashinyan said during a meeting of the National Assembly that Baku had attempted to carry out a provocation, but the armed forces of Armenia were ready to forcefully push the enemy back to its original positions.
It seemed that Yerevan’s position was firm and the situation would be resolved quickly but, as it turned out, statements alone could not solve the problem.
Yerevan’s appeal to the CSTO
As the number of Azerbaijani troops in the Syunik and Gegharkunik regions of Armenia increased, there were more frequent talks in Yerevan about turning to the allies for help, namely the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
At a certain point, it became obvious that the military-political leadership did not have the means and the resources to independently resolve the problem. As a result, the Armenian authorities officially turned to the CSTO military bloc, of which the country is a member, and asked for its assistance under the second article of the organization’s charter.
In the event of a threat to the security, stability, territorial integrity and sovereignty of a state that is a member of the CSTO bloc, this article assumes the beginning of consultations on the provision of assistance, but not the provision of military assistance at that point.
At the same time, Yerevan clearly did not hold preliminary consultations with its partners in the organization in order to be confident that it would obtain the response that it is hoping for, or, perhaps, the country’s authorities understood the outcome of this appeal well, but deliberately took such a step.
The fact remains that more than two weeks have passed since Armenia’s first contacted the organization, and there is still no official response, although according to the organization’s charter a response should be issued within three days.
It has come to the point that Armenia at the highest level expresses clear dissatisfaction with the inaction of the CSTO, which operates under the auspices of Russia. A situation like this would have been difficult to imagine before.
“International partners do not give adequate assessments and do not call things by their proper names. I call on our international partners to give a clear assessment of the actions of Azerbaijan, to express their clear position. To avoid further escalation and clashes, the security system of which Armenia is a part and those international partners who are worried about such impermissible actions in the South Caucasus against sovereign Armenia should give clear their assessments”, said Lilit Makunts, head of the ruling My Step faction.
Periodically, dissatisfaction with the pace of work of the CSTO has been expressed by the acting prime minister, however, Yerevan still counts on the CSTO. At various levels, talks have become more frequent about a possible appeal to the structure under the fourth article, which provides for immediate military assistance.
However, it is pointless to expect that “a Kazakh or Kyrgyz soldier will come to defend the Armenian border”, political scientist Alexander Iskandaryan believes:
“Accordingly, this is an appeal to Russia. It should be understood that we are now in a pre-election period [early parliamentary elections are scheduled in Armenia on June 20 – JAMnews], and this is perceived very painfully in Armenia. Accordingly, it turns to an organization that, it seems to me, can take measures to resolve the situation. But I think these will be non-military measures. These will be the measures that Russia usually takes – attempts at political influence, pressure, attempts at negotiations, and attempts to persuade Aliyev to back down a little”.
The situation is indeed developing according to this scenario. Traditionally, negotiations are mediated by Moscow. But, just like in other cases, Russia is still unable to resolve the situation rapidly.
The first casualty and captured soldiers
Videos periodically have periodically appeared on social media in which either Azerbaijani or Armenian servicemen kick each other out of their positions. Initially, everything went without the use of weapons. However, on May 25, an Armenian citizen was killed by an enemy bullet, and two days later six soldiers were taken prisoner by the Azerbaijani side. The border confrontation between Yerevan and Baku has since escalated.
The Ministry of Defense of Armenia from time to time declares its readiness to solve the problem by force. However, even within the country, such statements are perceived with great skepticism.
Azerbaijan understands that the security system of Armenia is extremely vulnerable, and therefore every day they are taking bolder steps, Hovhannes Avetisyan, an expert in the field of governance, believes:
“The logic of the existence of any state lies in its security system. If this system does not exist, then citizens feel unprotected and activities of all other spheres are paralyzed. In this situation, Baku will continue to encroach on the territory of the republic”.
Why is Azerbaijan in favor of escalation?
The Armenian authorities decided to hold elections to resolve the internal political crisis that came after the defeat in Karabakh, with the intention of winning again. But they go to the elections in conditions where only the clauses of the trilateral statement on a ceasefire that are pleasing to Baku have been fulfilled.
Armenian prisoners of war have not been returned, there is an obvious contradiction in the positions on communications in the south of Armenia. Recently it became known that Armenia, in fact, is being forced to sign a document on the demarcation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. This agreement is likely to lead to the surrender of certain territories to Baku.
All these unresolved problems have led to the fact that Azerbaijan has real leverage to interfere in the internal political agenda of Armenia.
Therefore, the elections should not have been held right now, Hovhannes Avetisyan asserts:
“The discussions on the way out of the crisis have been going on in Armenia for half a year already, and from the very beginning, the right idea was put forward: to create a transitional government, which would replace the current leadership as quickly as possible. Problems are getting worse day by day, threats are becoming more serious, and therefore the idea of an interim government is still relevant”.
How will it end?
A proposal for a way out of the current situation was made by the acting Prime Minister of Armenia. Pashinyan proposed Azerbaijan to transfer the troops of both countries to a certain position, place observers in this area from Russia or two other countries representing the OSCE Minsk Group (USA, France), and then determine who the territory should belong to.
Days go by, but there is no reaction from Baku and, most likely, there will not be.
Political analyst Sergei Melkonyan expressed his opinion on Pashinyan’s proposal:
“Before making such statements, it is necessary to obtain consent from the “ invited guests”. Judging by the fact that recently there have been no direct contacts with Paris and Washington, it can be assumed that neither the United States nor France gave their direct consent”.
The expert is also confident that Pashinyan’s statement will cause bewilderment to Moscow, which is strongly opposed to the appearance of NATO troops in a country within its zone of influence.
“In theory, I can assume that as a result of Russian pressure, it may be possible to come to some kind of compromise or non-compromise option in this issue. But this case [the penetration of the Azerbaijani military into the territory of Armenia] is not an isolated one and will not remain isolated. It seems to me that this kind of thing will happen all the time. This is not an accident, it is a strategy. I do not think that the CSTO will be able to level the tension”, says political analyst Alexander Iskandaryan.
Yerevan’s view of Paris
From the very beginning of the escalation on the border, the Armenian authorities have been trying to emphasize the exceptional role of Russia in resolving the situation. However, Moscow’s inaction caused bewilderment not only among the country’s political elite, but also in society. Many people wondered why Russia took a neutral position at a time when it was obliged to support an ally not only as a member of the CSTO but also under the existing bilateral treaties.
Armenia is confident that Ankara will continue to support Baku in every possible way, and it will be difficult to resist the Turkish tandem without the support of Russia. Meanwhile, the strategic ally does not go beyond statements about the need to de-escalate the situation.
Under these conditions, an unscheduled working visit of the acting prime minister to Paris is surprising. Nikol Pashinyan held talks with the French President and received words of support from Emmanuel Macron:
“I openly call on the parties to return to their positions of May 11 [On May 12, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces advanced their positions deep into the territory of Armenia – JAMnews]. France is ready to support negotiations between the parties. Paris stands for the territorial integrity of Armenia”.
Will Paris go further and provide real assistance to Armenia? This scenario still looks unlikely.
Moscow is unlikely to react positively to Yerevan’s actions. However, in conditions when Armenia expects Russia to fulfill its treaty obligations but does not even receive statements of support, Pashinyan’s attempts to cooperate with international partners seem logical.
Only one big question remains – can Armenia afford different scenarios in the international arena amidst a deep political crisis and unprecedented instability at its own borders?