Opinion from Azerbaijan: how isolation of Russia affects the settlement of the Karabakh conflict
Before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia had a strong influence on the South Caucasus region in general and the settlement of the Karabakh conflict in particular. This influence had strengthened further after Ilham Aliyev, Nikol Pashinyan and Vladimir Putin signed a trilateral ceasefire statement on November 10, 2020, which put an end to the second Karabakh war, and after which Russian peacekeepers were deployed in Karabakh.
However, now, Russia has found itself in complete isolation due to Western sanctions and has discredited itself on the world political arena. On February 22, two days before the start of the war in Ukraine, Aliyev and Putin signed a declaration on allied cooperation, which was regarded by many in Azerbaijan as ‘a deal with the devil’, fraught with serious problems.
“No one can replace Russia as an intermediary”
“The isolation of Russia makes the further functioning of the OSCE Minsk Group, which was engaged in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, practically impossible. Russia is the co-chair of the Minsk Group along with the US and France, but now there are serious contradictions between these three countries”, says political scientist Ilgar Velizade.
However, the expert is convinced that Armenia and Azerbaijan will not lose Russia as a mediator. According to the current agreements, it is within the framework of the trilateral format that practical issues on post-conflict settlement, such as, for example, unblocking of communications or border demarcation, should be resolved.
“Even the EU representatives still recognize Russia’s role in this process. Perhaps in the future, some of the Western countries will take on this role, offer a more efficient model and ensure its implementation. But so far there is no one to replace Russia in this capacity”.
It would seem that right now, while Russia is completely absorbed in the war, Yerevan and Baku could try to negotiate directly with each other. But Velizade doubts that this is possible and believes that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia will not go anywhere from each other, like other countries in the region. And Azerbaijan will certainly not completely abandon relations with Russia in favor of Turkey, its main ally in the region.
“While building relations with Turkey, Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan has always sought to maintain a balance. And it will not disturb this balance now, so as not to harm its geopolitical stability. Any imbalance could have negative consequences for our country. On the other hand, Russia is also trying to maintain its influence in the countries of the region. Even with Georgia, despite all the conflicts, it maintains economic ties”.
At the same time, the political scientist stipulates that all of the above applies to the foreseeable future, but it is impossible to make long-term forecasts now. But one way or another, Azerbaijan, like many other states, is now being tested by new circumstances, which, ideally, should motivate it to strengthen its own political and economic resources in order to be less vulnerable.
“Turkey will take advantage of the situation”
Political activist and former political prisoner Giyas Ibragimov suggests that if the war in Ukraine drags on, Russia will try to increase its control in the South Caucasus.
“In the current situation, the South Caucasus remains one of the only “vents” for Russia. It is interested in maintaining the most favorable conditions for itself here. In particular, by ensuring that the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved. Now that Russia has thrown all its forces into the war with Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan seem to be talking about a truce more often. But even in this case, Russia, most likely, will not give up its control over the South Caucasus, and will try to make this truce beneficial for itself”.
According to Ibragimov, Russia has always been not so much a mediator as an interested third party, and under the guise of mediation kept the Karabakh conflict in a ‘smoldering’ state.
“Of course, there are contradictions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But the same contradictions have existed and exist between many other peoples around the world. And the fact that the Karabakh problem still remains unresolved is largely due to the fact that it is beneficial to the imperial power represented by Russia”.
According to the activist’s forecasts, if Russia loses its influence in the region, Turkey will take advantage of this to strengthen its position and intervene more actively in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict.
“Ankara is already making active attempts to improve relations with Yerevan. It strove to do it back in 2009, when the Zurich Protocol was signed [a bilateral agreement between Armenia and Turkey, which provided for the start of the process of normalizing relations and turned out to be ineffective – ed.]. Back then it failed. But now the situation is different, and Turkey was even able to play a certain role in the second Karabakh war. Given the weakening of Russia, it is likely that Ankara will get its way this time”.
As for the declaration on allied cooperation, both experts agree that at the moment Azerbaijan does not experience any impact from this document. Simply put, Russia does not seem to be forcing Baku to take its side and help fight Ukraine (which is what initially caused the greatest concern).
Ilgar Velizade believes that this will continue and Russia will not present any real demands to Azerbaijan on the basis of this document. In turn, Giyas Ibragimov does not rule out such a possibility, although he also does not speculate about what exactly these requirements may be.
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