Am 16. November kam es erneut zu Schießereien im Grenzgebiet zwischen Armenien und Aserbaidschan. Beobachter befürchten eine weitere Eskalation in einen Krieg. Narek Sukiasyan von der FES in Yerevan sieht die jüngsten Ereignisse als Höhepunkt der seit Mai verstärkten Interventionsversuche Aserbaidschans. Russland vermittelte und beendete vorläufig die Eskalation. Prävention sollte jetzt für die EU, die internationale Gemeinschaft und den Westen von hoher Bedeutung sein.
Deadliest clashes since the end of the Second-Nagorno Karabakh war took place on the south-eastern border of Armenia starting afternoon of November 16, with multiple footages confirming Azerbaijani incursion into Armenia’s sovereign territory. While the sides are not clear about the numerical losses, juxtaposition of open sources shows at least of dozens of losses and detainees, destruction of armored vehicles and artillery, while Armenia also reported loss of two military positions.
The situation comes as a culmination of recent escalations in recent days on the new border between the countries that emerged after the transfer of regions surrounding Karabakh to Azerbaijan as a result of Second Karabakh war. Since May 2021, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces capitalizing on the victorious momentum, domestic political turmoil in Armenia and its unrecovered military have been mostly successfully attempting incursions along the entire perimeter of the yet-un-demarcated border with the aims of a) pressuring Armenia into more concessions, b) forcing it provide a sovereign land corridor on the territory of Armenia that will connect mainland Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan exclave, c) improving its tactical positions by creating fait accompli, d) intensifying political turmoil in Armenia. In recent days, Azerbaijan has also installed checkpoints on the Armenian roads it has advanced into cutting the communication between borderland villages and nearby cities, effectively creating a humanitarian crisis.
While upping its militaristic rhetoric, Azerbaijan has been keen to push for what it calls a “peace treaty” with Armenia, which for Armenia is nothing less than giving up solution of issues regarding Karabakh that left unsolved after the war and gaining the above-mentioned corridor. Meanwhile, in a trilateral format with Russia, the two South Caucasian countries have been negotiating the opening of regional communication lines based on the agreement reached on 11 January 2021. From official statements, it seems that the sides have reached consensus in most issues, except for the corridor. There were media rumors partly confirmed by officials that a trilateral meeting between the heads of states was expected take place on or near the 1 year anniversary of the war. The fact that such meeting did not take place may hint that Armenia and Azerbaijan failed to come to a mutually acceptable deal and the recent flare-up may be a show of power by Azerbaijan or even an attempt to gain the corridor by force. To be clear, the most intense incursions are now taking place in the narrowest part of the Southern Armenia separating Azerbaijan from its exclave – a 26km-wide territory. The simple and cynical reason behind Azerbaijan’s motivation is – because it can, and no one seems too eager or able to stop it.
Armenia announced that it will apply to Russia for help in restoring its territorial integrity according to the 1997 treaty on mutual defense. But also hinted at applying to the UN Security Council if the Russian-Armenian bilateral mechanism does not yield desirable results. The ambiguity or doubts regarding the extent of expectations and the mixed mode of communication with Russia demonstrates the incoherence of Armenian leadership’s self-damaging Russia policy.
By the evening, the clashes were relatively ceased by the mediation of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu displaying Russia’s preference of political over military solutions. In his address at the Security Council, Armenian Prime Minister did not mention Armenia’s application to Russia for mutual defense as had been done earlier by the secretary of the Security Council, which could mean satisfaction with the Russian efforts. However, it still remains unclear what exactly was the political agreement behind the decision to cease violence, which will clarify in discourses of foreign policy makers of the countries in coming weeks. Even though, Pashinyan reiterated Armenia’s readiness for “mutually acceptable solutions”, the events of November 16 will negatively affect the negotiation atmosphere.
Armenia’s on ground response and deterrence against these activities has been mixed since the last years’ defeat. In some cases, it preferred small scale retaliation, in others retreated without fight, but most cases of such incursions have been addressed by the mediation of Russian peacekeeping contingents. As a result Azerbaijan has occupied 41 sqm of Armenian territory since May. In the political response, Armenia appealed to the CSTO and the co-chairing countries of the OSCE Minsk Group to boost monitoring and incident verification mechanisms, demilitarization of the border and assistance in delimitation and demarcation of the border. Russia, interested in stability and deblocking of regional communications, has until now appealed to politico-diplomatic means of settling the disputes. Since Russia’s regional dominance has been challenged and weakened (mostly by Turkish backing of Azerbaijan) after the last year’s war, Moscow’s options of regional maneuvering in the triangle with Yerevan and Baku have lessened, thus, the last thing it desires is new instability that might require its military involvement to live up to its allied obligations to Armenia and peacekeeping role in Nagorno-Karabakh, the mandate of which has not yet been agreed by Azerbaijan.
The response of the OSCE Minsk Group has mostly been limited to diplomatically formulated calls of de-escalation and resumption of talks. The talks have, indeed, resumed, even though Azerbaijan in its victorious euphoria had claimed the issue solved and Minsk Group without an object of negotiation. Thus far, two meetings of the foreign ministers have taken place by mediation of the co-chairs, however the recent flare-up demonstrates the lack of good-will and Azerbaijan’s maximalist approach that torpedo any hope of substantial and optimistic talks.
The role of other international actors will matter vastly. Turkey has unequivocally been an ardent supporter of Azerbaijani activities and a kye destabilizing actor that aims at regional Turkic dominance. In the immediate neighborhood, Iran has long declared that will not tolerate change of regional borders and spoke in strong favor of country’s territorial integrity, possibly placing it, in this situation in the side of Armenian interests. Even though Iran and Azerbaijan have had a diplomatic flare-up last month, the recent announcement that it has all been settled may possibly show that the timing chosen by Azerbaijan for the military activities was not incidental.
The role of the EU, US, or the collective West will also matter not only for regional stability but also for its own role in the making of South Caucasus. After last year’s war the West was largely sidelined due to dominance of other actors such as Russia and Turkey but also due to its own inability to address massive human right abuses and violence which has been read in Armenian public perception as a practice of hypocritical double-standards when it comes to human rights in Belarus or Russia in contract to areas where the geopolitical rival is not Russia.
While Armenia’s diplomatic, military, societal and quite frankly psychological downfall continues, it looks outside for constraining Azerbaijan’s maximalist ambitions, and inside in a yet unsuccessful attempt to consolidate its statehood, institutions, and society.
The article was first published in the ipg-journal (in Russian language): https://www.ipg-journal.io/rubriki/vneshnjaja-politika-i-bezopasnost/udary-po-akhillesovoi-pjate-1408/