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What do “peacekeepers in Karabakh” mean for Iran?

The four days of heavy fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh in April have made Western partners strongly “recommend” that “peacekeepers” be deployed in the conflict zone. Judging from Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s recent interview with Bloomberg, U.S. is more than any other country concerned 0ver the probability of deploying “foreign troops” in the conflict zone.  At the same time, U.S. is trying to conceal its aspirations saying it has “learned from reliable sources that Russia seeks to deploy troops there.” It is not for the first time that allegedly “by means of Mass Media” (remember S. Sargsyan’s interview with Deutsche Welle) the West tries to put forth an idea that allegedly the world cannot do “without Western peacekeepers.” Simply, European and U.S. mass media often camouflage the word “Western” with the expression “international police task force” etc. 

Before addressing the deployment of peacekeepers in the conflict zone, it is necessary to look into the so-called “Madrid Principles.” One of these principles, actually the one at the bottom, implies something like deployment of peacekeepers subject to Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s approval.  Meantime, Stepanakert, the capital of NKR, has not changed its stance on the idea of “peacekeepers” in the conflict zone during the last 22 years. Find some proofs of that stance further in the article.  In 2014, after the trilateral meeting in Sochi, President of Armenia said that the issue of either “international” or “Russian peacekeepers” was not discussed at the meeting. If anyone casts a doubt upon the frankness of his statement, look back to the pre-Sochi (2014) statement by the NKR authorities saying that Stepanakert rules out any possibility of deployment of foreign troops in the zone of their military responsibility.  In 2015, Foreign Minister of NKR Karen Mirzoyan told journalists in Yerevan following the meeting with Herbert Salber, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, the best peacekeepers are already in the conflict zone – it is the NKR Defense Army.

Further, under the OSCE MG status, no co-chair country can form a peacekeeping contingent for the given conflict zone on a unilateral basis.  Since 2006-2007, the United States has been the only country to insist openly on sending “international police task forces” there. The then U.S. co-chair of the OSCE MG Matthew Bryza had repeatedly voiced that issue. Of course, some discussions were held behind-the-scenes those years. First, the discussions “faded away” after the August 2008 war in South Ossetia.  Second, it was known that U.S. offered contingents either from NATO or from the troops of the NATO countries that had neither “interest in” nor any relation to the conflict. It was hard to agree that a NATO member Turkey or even Hungary are the countries that have “no interest” in the conflict. Turkey helped Azerbaijan in the war by blockading Armenia, supplying mercenaries and retired officers to Azerbaijan, while Hungary supported Azerbaijan in the incident with Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani officer that axed to death an Armenian officer during training courses in Budapest.  Turkey backed Azerbaijan also in its latest aggression in Nagorno-Karabakh.

As many questions arise concerning Ukraine and Lithuania, Norway and Finland and others. The Scandinavian states during their “co-chairmanship” proved themselves as pro-Azerbaijani countries. For instance, Göran Lindblad, a Swedish politician, a member of the European Parliament, admitted that he lobbied in Europe for Azerbaijan’s interests on the Karabakh issue for a certain reward, which proved that the concerns of the Armenians about Scandinavians were not groundless.

Ukraine and Lithuania not only sent mercenaries to fight on the side of Azerbaijan, but also actively transited various (including NATO’s) weapons to Azerbaijan. In addition, Ukraine regularly repaired Azerbaijan’s military hardware. It is natural that in 2006-2007, such proposals by the U.S. could not be welcomed by Armenia and NKR. Then, Robert Simmons, NATO Secretary General's Special Representative in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, actively promoted the idea that Armenia should ask for Western troops in the conflict zone.  Other representatives of the West also advocated for deployment of troops in the conflict zone, for instance, in Tehran in 2008, at the International Conference of Cooperation and Security in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Since then, Russia has suggested sending peacekeepers there for a couple of times only and did it indirectly.  Eventually, it decided to set up peacekeeping contingent as part of the CIS military bloc – the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). However, the known developments of the August 2008 in South Ossetia spoiled its game. Nevertheless, at the International Conference for Security in South Caucasus and Central Asia in October of the same year in Tehran, all the Western experts insisted, “Armenians would face destruction, unless there are peacekeepers there.” A representative of … Sweden (!), a Slavonian-Macedonian by origin, tried to suppress the representatives of Armenia with her data on the scales of the arms procurement by Azerbaijan, on the size of its army etc.

However, the Iranian factor is quite interesting both in terms of the hypothetical “international peacekeepers” and the negotiation process, in general. Since the ceasefire agreement of 1994, all the ambassadors of Iran to Armenia and various high-ranking officials in Tehran have repeatedly said that Iran will not tolerate any foreign troops on its northern borders. The southern part of the conflict zone (and even Nakhijevan) is the northern borders of Iran.  It is necessary to understand that U.S. Co-Chair James Warlick’s remarks that the war is no longer “frozen” and his “principles” pursue reanimation of the talks about “international police forces” in the conflict zone.

Considering the speed and the areas of the Russia-Iran rapprochement of the last 3-4 years, we should understand that Tehran’s stance opposing deployment of ANY foreign military “from non-regional countries” in the Transcaucasia and the Caspian Sea region is not a personal fancy. It is part of Tehran’s regional strategy coordinated with Moscow.  In other words, resumption of war in the region and idle talks on peacekeeping contingent are in favor of the United States only.   It was the “Western camp” that tried to force the “talks” on peacekeepers for NKR in April 2016.  It should be recalled that in late September 2014, under pressure of Iran and Russia the other countries of the Caspian Sea region, including Azerbaijan, signed a political statement banning military presence of the non-regional countries. Of course, there could be doubts that all the signatory states consider the Karabakh conflict zone as part of the Caspian Sea region.  Nevertheless, Iran and Russia cast no doubt on that fact.  Therefore, if even Moscow will have to coordinate EVERYTHING with Tehran, the Western “international community” will certainly have to do it.

Since 1994, Iran has not changed its negative attitude to deployment of any foreign troops either in the conflict zone near its northern borders or generally in the region, no matter whether they call it the Caspian Sea region or Transcaucasia or even “South Caucasus.”  This attitude of Iran will hardly change in the future either.  When in comes to its northern borders, Iran considers Turkey “a non-regional state” too, because Turkey is a NATO member. The problem is not so much that the Western peacekeepers are not needed in the Transcaucasia, but that such scenario appears to be impossible in principle.  The West may talk with Armenia, Azerbaijan or even Russia about peacekeepers, but without direct talks and the consent of Stepanakert and Tehran, no military contingent may appear in the conflict zone legitimately. Even if Yerevan “exerts pressure” on the NKR authorities, though it is little probable, Iran cannot be “pressed,” negotiations of equal powers are needed. In this light, let us look back to the OSCE MG co-chair-countries’ arrangements made in Key West in 2001.  Then, for the first time, during the negotiations under the aegis of U.S. President George Bush-junior, the West, represented by the top leaderships of France and U.S., admitted that the Karabakh problem could not be settled ignoring the IRANIAN FACTOR. The then U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group Kerry Kavano said the co-chairs agreed that it is necessary and expedient to inform Iran about the results of the negotiations in Key West and possible following changes in the peace process. 

No matter who made such a proposal – the then French co-chair Phillip de Surmen or the Russian co-chair (Moscow suddenly increased the rank of its representative at the talks to the level of the 1st deputy minister of foreign affairs, special representative of the Russian president in the CIS), the former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia Vyacheslav Trubnikov.  The fact is that U.S. had to agree with the recommendations of France and Russia. It is noteworthy that Iran appointed the then ambassador of Iran to Armenia Mohammad Farhad Koleini as its coordinator at the office of the OSCE MG co-chairs. This indirectly speaks much of Iran’s stance on Karabakh.

As for Iran’s response to the recent four-day fighting in the conflict zone and Turkey’s role in a range of anti-Iranian actions (in the region and in the international arena), the following statements by Tehran speak much about it.  Thus, Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani warned (on April 20) that Iran and Russia will not let war to erupt in the conflict zone and that Tehran recommends the friends in Yerevan and Baku not to let a new war in the region. Major General Seyed Safavi, Senior Military Advisor of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ex-commander of IRGC, said at a news conference on April 28 that Iran’s political, economic and security-related relations with the political system of Turkey must be revised.  In addition, he urged certain measures as Ankara as the ally of U.S., Israel and some Arab countries acts in conformity with their policy.

These assessments and pragmatic statements show that Iran will torpedo any initiatives of U.S. and Turkey, especially if they apply to Nagorno-Karabakh and the conflict zone.  The same can be said about NATO’s initiatives, generally. Tehran’s stance comes from the U.S.-Israel-Turkey triumvirate that threatens the interests and security of Iran. Deployment of the NATO troops even under flag of “peacekeepers” on its northern borders will be perceived as preparations for aggression or at least armed provocations and sabotage attempts.   That is really why Iran has paid so much attention to Horadiz populated area. It is rather large a transport hub the control over it and the nearby heights will enable the enemy forces launch a constant deployment of troops, equipment, ammunition and others to the Iranian border.  It was on that territory that the Armenians and Azerbaijanis fought on April 2-5 2016. This is exactly why Iran along with Russia were extremely interested in immediate ceasefire in the conflict zone. 

Sergey Shakaryants, political analyst (Yerevan) for EADaily

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