In an interview with EADaily, Russian and Azerbaijani political analysts Grigory Trofimchuk and Tofiq Abbasov have shared their views of prospects of the Karabakh peace process, Turkey’s stand on the conflict, introduction of the mechanisms to inquire into frontline incidents.
What do you think of the results of the recent meetings of Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers?
G.T.: The fact of the two ministers’ meeting is already a result. However, currently, we have reached a period when not talks, but even meetings are held just for show. The sides can remain silent and simply pose for the press cameras, since they have almost nothing to talk about: all stances are clear and unchangeable.
Bilateral meetings at various levels (political, diplomatic) are the last safeguard against threatening Karabakh war. At some stage, one of the sides will simply refuse to meet with the enemy any longer. That moment will come sooner or later.
T.A.: Speaking of the foreign ministers’ last meeting, I’d like to say that the contacts have turned into a technical process. In some ways, it is what Yerevan has been striving for during the recent years i.e. to defuse political heat, make Baku and the OSCE Minsk Group agree on occupation of the part of Azerbaijan’s lands. Indisputably, Azerbaijan will never agree on it and the OSCE Minsk Group should be blamed for diplomatic idleness, as in some strange way it agrees on silent boycott of efforts to unblock the conflict.
What are the prospects of the negotiation process, considering the two sides refusal to make concessions and their active military buildup?
G.T.: The negotiation process is unpromising, and the April war of 2016 was a result of it. Let’s not forget about it. For the time being, a keen observer will see clearly that Azerbaijan has chronical, steady allergy to any calls for new talks. This is not because Baku wants war, but because it realizes that there are no and there will be no changes on that way. All controllers and observers ought to factor in the psychological state of Baku, since unexpected outbreak of energy may happen now anywhere and at any moment. Actually, the situation around Karabakh has shifted to an uncontrollable phase, when all peacemaking missions have admitted their powerlessness. In this light, the only thing Armenians and Azerbaijanis can do is military buildup and stepped-up militarization.
T.A.: The only perspective is to wait until Yerevan declares its official stance and stops maneuvering. Everyone comprehends this, but not everyone dares to condemn that evident obstruction. Only Baku calls things by their proper names, while OSCE MG co-chairs indulge the aggressor. Yerevan can arm as much as it can, but it will not save it. It will never manage to change the balance of power in its favor. If Armenia keeps brandishing fists and shying away from talks, resumption of military actions is inevitable. Yerevan will get its bitters and will have to return to the negotiating table. It will just appear to be in a worse situation and suffer larger-scale casualties.
What will be Turkey’s stance, in case of a new flare-up, considering its active cooperation with Russia in Syria? How will Russia-Turkey normalization affect Ankara’s stance on Karabakh? Will Turkey try to hold Azerbaijan from abrupt moves?
G.T.: April 2016 will not repeat, as nothing ever repeats the same way. The next clash of the sides will claim more and heavier casualties. Therefore, there is no need to look back, they will find no answers to the key questions. The sides shall take into consideration one important circumstance: Azerbaijan’s all talks and hints about its readiness to settle the Karabakh conflict by force are making Armenia stronger day by day, since Armenia will not sit idle amid such statements. The conclusion is that Armenia is becoming stronger, not weaker, especially comparing to Armenia of March, 2016.
As to Baku’s indirect pressure on international mediators with such hints, it is a useless pressure. The mediators have no relatives fighting in the conflict zone. No one is facing risks; therefore, they do not care if there will be another flare-up or not. Some of them may even prefer war to peace in Karabakh and around it. There are other ways to press the mediators.
In case of any flare-up between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey will hardly link these two different wars, in Syria and Karabakh. Even if it does it, it will pursue pressing Moscow. Anyway, it is evident that Ankara will support Baku, not Moscow and Yerevan. However, Turkey may have its own plans about upsurge of tensions in the conflict zone to press also on its historical enemy in the region, Armenia.
Anyway, Turkey is a NATO member and may face a new coup, if it tries to go beyond its NATO commitments. So far, Washington is closely following Turkey’s attempts to play on all fields at the same time. Turkey will not be deterring Azerbaijan in the key regional issue, quite the contrary.
T.A.: I do not think that Turkey has a reason to hold Azerbaijan. Ankara is well informed of Yerevan’s stickiness and will be supporting its strategic ally Azerbaijan both diplomatically and physically to overcome the stalemate. It is known that Ankara and Moscow discuss the Karabakh issue during all their contacts. It is impossible to speak endlessly about something that is in stalemate. It is necessary to find ways out. Therefore, Turkey will be on Azerbaijan’s side without reservation. Baku, in turn, is keen to end the Armenian danger in the region.
Will mediators get Baku’s agreement to introduce mechanisms to inquire into frontline incidents?
G.T.: They should have done it long ago, after the Vienna and St. Petersburg summits in 2016. It is not clear what they have been doing so far, since they have not managed to settle even that issue. They are no long strict controllers, but passive observers who are unable to influence anything. An independent observer is free to implement his peacemaking scheme set during appropriate summits without asking for the consent of the sides, Yerevan and Baku.
T.A.: Mechanisms to inquire into incidents on the Line of Contact shall be introduced not in Karabakh, but along the Azerbaijani-Armenian state border. Yerevan keeps escalating the situation there by targeting Azerbaijan’s positions in Kedabek, Tovuz, Gazakh and other directions. The current borders in Karabakh are temporary, until the occupied territories are released. In fact, the proposal to boost confidence-building in the conflict zone is in favor of Yerevan, as it stirs discord in the political process undermining ceasefire.
Having about one million refugees and displaced people, Azerbaijan cannot violate ceasefire. Civilians live behind its military posts and have nowhere to flee. Meantime, there is no one behind Armenian occupants. Therefore, the occupants undermine temporary peace, target populated areas to finally break political talks.
Interviewed by Anar Husseinov