Pressure on Armenia: what does Baku want and what does Russia expect? Commentary from Yerevan
After the end of the second Karabakh war in 2020, the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict transformed and expanded onto the territory of Armenia. The sides are even more detached from the possible solutions, the old format of negotiations has exhausted itself, and the new ones fail to ensure the interests of all parties involved. What’s going to happen between Armenia and Azerbaijan?
Director of the Caucasus Institute, political scientist Alexander Iskandaryan – on the situation around the Karabakh problem and the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict as a whole.
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Casting of formats
“After the autumn war of 2020, the activities of the OSCE Minsk Group have been frozen [the format in which the peace talks were held before the second Karabakh war – JAMnews]. Along with this, new formats have emerged, such as the “trilateral format” (Armenia – Russia – Azerbaijan) and the Turkish “3 + 3”.
The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries [Russia, the United States and France] have repeatedly stated the need to continue discussing the conflict. Unlike new formats, the Minsk Group has accumulated experience, traditions and technical means.
Casting is in progress now. Minsk Group is trying to restart its activities, to revive the Minsk process. There is a possibility of this and it is not insignificant, despite the position of Azerbaijan, which declares, at least at the public level, that it does not recognize the existence of the Karabakh problem as such.
By and large, the revival of MG is needed by all three co-chairs and Armenia.
Azerbaijan does not need it, but it is not able to get out of this international format either – there are still serious countries present in it.
All that Azerbaijan does is utter formidable and impolite words addressed to MG. The co-chairs arrive in Baku, Aliyev speaks in front of the cameras for a long time and angrily, then talks with them behind closed doors for several hours.
I regard this as a fairly serious argument for MG revival. There is such a prospect and it is real”.
“The co-chairs declare the need to discuss the status of Artsakh, without specifying what exactly is meant by this word. In fact, status and independence or secession from Azerbaijan are different things. Status can be understood as both the independence of Artsakh and the status of cultural autonomy, the status of linguistic rights, the status of territorial autonomy, the status of broad autonomy, etc.
Aliyev says the issue has been resolved, but to say that the issue has been resolved and that it should be resolved are different things.
The Karabakh problems remained exactly where it was before.
Today, on the territory that Azerbaijan considers its own, there is a piece of land where people live and do not obey the Baku authorities.
This territory has a different currency, people speak a different language, they have different passports, they proclaimed the Republic of Artsakh, which Baku does not recognize. And sooner or later something will have to be done about this problem.
Baku has two options: it must either kill or deport these people, as was the case happened in those territories that it managed to capture during the war, or try to talk about this topic.
Azerbaijan cannot kill people while there are Russian peacekeepers there. And it doesn’t want to talk. Accordingly, the question hangs in the air, but it cannot go on like this indefinitely”.
“Russia has many tasks in the context of the Armenian-Azerbaijani problem, not directly related to the format of the Minsk Group, which deals exclusively with the Karabakh problem.
The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict is broader than the Karabakh problem.
Russia has to deal with the problems of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border [there are disputed territories there, military clashes occur periodically], the Syunik “corridor” [the road that will connect Azerbaijan with its exclave Nakhichevan through the territory of Armenia], etc. And the Russians want such acute problems to be solved now.
There is a slightly different problem in Artsakh. There is a problem of the physical survival of citizens, supplies, communications, etc. Russia is solving these issues now in order to deal with the issue of status later, when it will be possible to approach it”.
3 + 3 format
“It will not be possible to use it, even if it is launched, some statements will be made or a memorandum will be signed. A format in which Russia and Georgia, Turkey and Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan are present simultaneously cannot work a priori.
“3 + 3” is a Turkish format. For the first time, the talks about it started immediately after the Russian-Georgian war in 2008.
This is an attempt to institutionalize Turkish influence in the South Caucasus. De facto, this has already happened.
Turkey is well represented in Azerbaijan and Georgia mainly in economic and cultural spheres (soft power). After the Karabakh war, Turkey is represented in the region and in the security sphere. The Turks want to formalize this with this format, to turn the Caucasus into a zone of their influence.
But here the interests of the parties are not just different, but absolutely opposite. From the point of view of Russia, the format should not be “3 + 3”, but “3 + 5”, since Russia recognizes five states in the South Caucasus, and not three – including Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I wonder how Turkey or Iran will approach it.
In addition, with the “3 + 3” format, the Caspian problem becomes a problem for all countries. Will Armenia also solve problems related to the Caspian shelf, relations with Turkmenistan, etc.? How can one seriously talk about this?
In addition, the Russian task is to assert its influence in this region in spite of the West. Georgia has a Western orientation. The Iranian task is to exclude the influence of external forces, mainly Israeli and American ones. In a word, there are so many discrepancies in this format that it will not be able to work”.
Armenia under pressure
“What is happening in Armenia now is called a ‘low-intensity conflict’. Azerbaijan puts pressure on Armenia as follows:
- Discursive – when Aliyev keeps repeating that there is no Karabakh and the problem is solved;
- Diplomatic – through third countries, since Azerbaijan has no diplomatic relations with Armenia;
- Communications – the blockade of Armenia has always existed, but now it is even more aggravated;
- Military pressure – it has been happening since May, when the Azerbaijani Armed Forces invaded the sovereign territory of Armenia and declared it theirs”.
What Azerbaijan is striving for
Baku wants to force Armenia to open a corridor (an extraterritorial route through the south of Armenia between Azerbaijan and Turkey), provided that security on this road will not be ensured by Armenians.
In a trilateral statement on Karabakh, the parties agreed to open communications. But does this mean that tomorrow I can get into the car and go through Baku to Derbent? Who will keep me safe along the way? Or does this mean that the Armenian businessman will be able to load his trucks and take them to Stavropol through Ganja?
This is not serious. It turns out that the opening of communications concerns only one side – Azerbaijan. And it wants its cars and trains not to stop on this road and not be searched by Armenian officials. The Armenian side insists only on opening roads, and here the sides have a serious disagreement.
This is not an economic question, but a political one. Azerbaijan has a road to Nakhichevan across Iran. There is also a railway from Azerbaijan to Turkey (Akhalkalaki – Kars), and it almost does not work, since they have nothing to transport on these rails. Everything that really comes from Azerbaijan to Turkey is oil and gas, and they are supplied through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. In principle, Azerbaijan does not need any other roads.
This demand of Azerbaijan is contrary to the spirit of the trilateral statement of November 9, 2020. Azerbaijan says “let’s open the roads” and at the same time blocks the roads on the territory of Armenia, which lead from Armenia to Armenia.
In reality, Azerbaijan does not want to open roads, it wants to open one specific extraterritorial road, which is not in the interests of Armenia but it does not have the resources to resist this.
Azerbaijan wants to force Armenia to sign a paper in recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan together with Artsakh, which Baku can present to its internal audience.
Azerbaijan wants to grab everything it can as a bonus to its victory”.
Russian ‘red line‘
“Everything that happens on the border with Armenia cannot be called a large-scale war, which is why Moscow does not intercede. In principle, due to the presence of Russia in the region, there is no such war.
What is happening on the border is the format in which Russia participates in the conflict, but one should not expect that it will defend or fight on the side of the Armenians. Russia is doing what it is doing and its actions are different from those of Turkey towards Azerbaijan.
Turkish-Azerbaijani interests are united. Armenia and Russia have different interests, in some ways they coincide, in others they do not.
It is in the interests of the Russian Federation to minimise the risks on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, to ensure that there are no escalations and that no one calls Moscow every time they happen, because Moscow must deal with these problems directly.
Armenia also needs a peaceful border. However, Russia does not care where this border will run.
There has never been an internationally recognized border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia is trying to transform this conflict from the ground to the negotiating table, but it fails to do so. Azerbaijan has a different interest, and Russia will not sacrifice its interests for the sake of Armenia.
The red line in this issue for Russia is a large-scale war, and not elements of low intensity. But even with a large-scale war, one should not expect Russia to raise its fighters and bomb Baku”.