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About Karabakh: Broken status quo, no guarantees for stability – Vadim Mukhanov

Vadim Mukhanov, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Caucasian Studies and Regional Security, MGIMO

Azerbaijan’s military attack on the territory under control of the Defense Army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (hereafter NKR) was not a blitzkrieg that failed. It was reconnaissance. Vadim Mukhanov, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Caucasian Studies and Regional Security, MGIMO Russia, made such remarks when commenting to EADaily the upsurge of violence in the Karabakh conflict zone and the verbal ceasefire announced on April 5. According to the analyst, if Baku pursued a blitzkrieg and sought to take larger territories, it would use quite different force.

“If it were a full-scale war, there would be more shelling of populated areas, more armament would be used, and the geography of fighting would be much wider. However, we could see that Azerbaijan tried to localize its actions to some extent, choosing several targets important for it. Then, in Baku they studied how mobilization is organized in Karabakh, which were the supply channels for the frontline, what mechanisms worked and how. In addition, a real war would last much longer than 4 days,” he said.

In response to the question why Azerbaijan decided to launch such active reconnaissance just now, Vadim Mukhanov said there are many reasons. “It would be wrong saying that they lived calmly for years and suddenly someone came and forced Ilham Aliyev to escalate the situation. It would be an attempt to make the situation primitive. In fact, a series of factors – external and internal ones – were behind that escalation. In particular, I am speaking about the social-economic situation in Azerbaijan that has been dramatically deteriorating during the recent months. At first, the authorities of Azerbaijan tried to conceal the real state of affairs, to cushion the shock, but the true contours of the problems have clearly emerged eventually,” he said.

In this light, Mukhanov recalled that in the second half of 2015, there were protests in Azerbaijan. The people took the streets reaching the suburbs of Baku. “Besides, we could see that the number of political prisoners has increased dramatically in Azerbaijan, which speaks about a serious social political crisis, not collapse, of course, in that country,” he said.

As for the external factors, Mukhanov pointed at the Russian-Turkish strained relations and the interim results of the Syrian campaign that “Baku could not but take into account when decided to start operation in Karabakh.” “Let us not forget about the sharply intensified contacts of Baku and Ankara, mutual high-level visits etc. In other words, several factors at once emerged in Azerbaijan and squeezed the trigger. A crisis was ripening inside the country amid external ‘negative experience’, and the authorities of that country began searching for a lightning rod. The most affordable way out was, naturally, the stake on the external enemy as a method to make the people rally round the flag,” the expert said.

According to Vadim Mukhanov, the current situation in the conflict zone, particularly the verbal ceasefire that is violated over and over with “small-size” clashes and sporadic fire does not give cause for optimism. “I do not see any arguments that ceasefire is the very format able to guarantee any armistice in the mid-term, long-term, and even the short-term outlook. The status quo in the conflict zone is broken, and this creates a dangerously explosive situation,” Mukhanov said for conclusion.

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