The ceasefire brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin put an end to the latest round of fighting between the arch-enemies Armenia and Azerbaijan. Since 10 November 2020, there has been calm at the front in Nagorno-Karabakh. And once again, the West is left with only the role of spectator.
An old conflict
The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is old and must also be seen in the context of the mass murder of the Armenians after the end of World War I. In the 1920s, the Soviet Union pacified the region, but never managed to solve the underlying problem. Nevertheless, major violence was prevented until 1988. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the autonomous oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh immediately declared itself independent of the then Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic and could never be reconquered by the army of the newly formed Republic of Azerbaijan. On the contrary, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh ended in 1994 after large terrain gains by the troops of Armenia and the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, who were not only able to defend the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, but also conquered Azerbaijani territory around it. These now largely deserted areas subsequently served as a kind of buffer zone for the Armenians. In the war that ended on November 9, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh lost a large part of these areas.
For over 25 years a group of OSCE participating States has been trying to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh by peaceful political means. This so-called Minsk Group is co-chaired by the USA, Russia and France. This group of states developed the Madrid Principles, which provide, among other issues, for the return of the buffer zone, i.e. of those Azerbaijani areas which had never been part of the autonomous oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh and which had always been inhabited by a majority of Azerbaijanis. Madrid Principles are called these principles of conflict resolution because they were first presented to the representatives of the conflict parties at the OSCE Ministerial Council in 2007.1 However, the Madrid Principles do not provide for the return of the Laçin Corridor to Azerbaijan, which connects Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.
The UN Security Council has also dealt with the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh on several occasions and expressed concern about Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijani territory outside the heartland of Nagorno-Karabakh.2 However, this does not concern the Republic of Arzach itself.
However, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev once again showed that he is not concerned with the implementation of the Madrid Principles when he categorically ruled out a referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh on the status of the territory.3 However, such a referendum is explicitly provided for in the Madrid Principles. Based on his military successes and the alliance with Turkey, Aliyev currently seems to believe that he can afford such an arrogant attitude. This attitude was already evident in October during the Azerbaijani advance on the city of Hadrut: Hadrut is a small town inhabited entirely by Armenians on the territory of the former autonomous oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh, and has never been the subject of restitution claims in accordance with the Madrid Principles. Hadrut is part of those territories which are to determine their status in the aforementioned referendum.
For months, Azerbaijan has criticised the Minsk Group for failing to restore Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity over many years.4 Russia is Armenia’s ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation CSTO, but also maintains good relations with Azerbaijan. In September, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had already brokered a humanitarian cease-fire. And at the end of October, the US ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, clarified the US government’s position: the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh could not be resolved by military action.5 But that is exactly what Aliyev has been trying to do since September 27.
By stationing troops close to the Laçin corridor at the end of October, Russia already showed where the red line is in October. This was achieved in the first week of November with the Azerbaijani advance towards the villages of Laçin/Berdzor and Şuşi/Şuşa. Although cooperation between Moscow, Washington and Paris within the Minsk Co-Chairs apparently worked, the West proved incapable of action. Without the support of the West, Turkey was unable to seek confrontation with Russia and had to recognise its limitations. Now, Russia gave Turkey the opportunity to sit on a joint supervisory commission over the peacekeeping mission. However, Turkish troops are apparently not expected to participate in the operation.6 As in Syria, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan made a deal with Russia – and the West is once again on the sidelines. Turkey’s NATO membership has been further eroded in terms of content, and the future of the Minsk Group depends on Russia’s goodwill. The ceasefire of November 10 is a further indicator of a supra-regional trend in European security policy. The real winner of the war in which it did not participate is Russia. It can now take further advantage of it. •
1 For the Madrid Principles, see https://css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/center-for-securities-studies/pdfs/CSS-Analysis-131-EN.pdf. The Minsk Group consists of Belarus, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland and Turkey. They are joined by the members of the Troika, the leadership of the OSCE, i. e. currently Albania, Slovakia and Sweden. Turkey’s membership of the Minsk Group is highly controversial, as is Turkey’s representation in the OSCE High Level Planning Group.
2 see UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884
3 Interview with the Japanese newspaper Nikkei Asia: https://asia.nikkei.com/Editor-s-Picks/Interview/Azerbaijan-s-president-calls-on-Armenia-to-return-land-for-peace
4 see https://www.bbc.com/russian/live/news-54317944
5 see https://nato.usmission.gov/october-21-2020-press-briefing-with-kay-bailey-hutchison/?_ga=2.152498298.2130501265.1605168971-1797807319.1605168971
6 see https://www.msb.gov.tr/SlaytHaber/11112020-74373 and https://twitter.com/NKobserver/status/1326664196872790016?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Eembeddedtimeline%7Ctwterm%5Eprofile%3ANKobserver%7Ctwcon%5Etimelinechrome&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fnkobserver.com%2F
We, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, state the following:
As agreed by the Parties, new transport links shall be built to connect the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and the western regions of Azerbaijan.
Source: en.kremlin.ru/acts/news/64384 of 10 November 2020
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