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Recognition of Karabakh: game changer in Armenia’s diplomacy

Photo: AP

A new war in the Karabakh conflict zone is inevitable, say politicians and experts of all sides to that protracted conflict. The next flare-up and unfreezing of the conflict is now a matter of time after the status quo was violated in the so-called “four-day war” in April 2016.

Armenian experts are calling for military diplomacy measures, while it is still unclear what the measures should be. They call for a new tactics on both military and diplomatic fronts with a focus on the Nagorno-Karabakh people’s right for self-determination.

The idea of “military diplomacy” implies comprehensive political and military measures to deter enemy in the conflict zone. The Armenian sides have been implementing such measures with changing intensity since May 1994, when the termless ceasefire was declared. Experience shows those 25 years did not become years of reconciliation for Azerbaijan. Quite the contrary, Azerbaijan’s militarization and anti-Armenian rhetoric and calls for military settlement of the conflict have reached a critical level.

In the military aspect, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh managed to do much more than in the diplomatic field. Independent analysts in Yerevan have been speaking of failed diplomatic efforts of Armenia’s leadership recently. None of the settlement schemes that are currently at the negotiating table meet Armenia’s national interests. “Territories for Status” settlement scheme may meet interests of the Armenian government that seeks to avoid responsibility. Implementation of renovated Madrid principles or any other ones may become disastrous for the Armenian people.

Armenian government keeps relying on the fact that Madrid Principles do not meet the interests of Azerbaijan more than the interests of Armenia. It was so before the “four-day war.” Saying that status quo has changed in favor of Baku, we mean that Azerbaijan sees any Madrid principles as a key to an interim, not final solution to the conflict.

Last April, Azerbaijan took several positions and one strategic height suffering serious casualties at the same time. Considering the troops and military hardware Azerbaijan used then, it was defeat rather than victory. Suffice it to say that newly drafted Armenian soldiers managed to throw back Azerbaijan’s special forces. However, those miserable gains helped President Ilham Aliyev show the possibility to gaining back the territories by force. Now, he can resort to diplomatic efforts to put those territories under control of Baku using the “Madrid algorithm.” Aliyev’s arguments for Azerbaijani people will sound like: “I took as much land as I managed to do by force then, after reanimation of the Madrid principles, I will take even more and without casualties.”

Azerbaijanis do not respond to reports on casualties as painfully as Armenians do. However, those several hundreds of killed Azerbaijanis proved enough for Aliyev to enlist support of ordinary people to move towards Madrid Principles. So, Armenian government’s hopes that Azerbaijan will again refuse from the “Madrid” may turn into a diplomatic defeat.

By our data, by next summer, Baku plans to “surprise” Armenians with its agreement to implement the “territories for status” algorithm. They are waiting for the optimal moment, relying on the effect of diplomatic surprise, which may become a real shock for Yerevan. Furthermore, Azerbaijan may take more steps to cause also a military shock to Armenia.

Receiving Azerbaijan’s agreement on interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh, a referendum in the unrecognized state, deployment of peacekeepers in the conflict zone, the Armenian sides will not get peace. They will face reality of inevitable new war with much worse positions on the frontline.

The territories to be ceded under Madrid Principles will not become a peace and security zone for Armenians, but a staging area for the Azerbaijani army to prepare for a winning attack. The Madrid documents do not provide for demilitarization of the 5 regions to be transferred to Azerbaijan (Jabrail, Zangelan, Kubatli, Aghdam and Fizouli – the last two are controlled by Armenian forced partially). Even if Armenian diplomats somehow “press” that condition in the final text of the Madrid Principles, it will not guarantee peace either. Any serious violation of ceasefire will result in deployment of Azerbaijan’s tanks and troops in the demilitarized zone. International guarantors of the peace process will find numerous reasons not to press the side violating the Madrid documents. Bitter experience of peacemaking operations of Big Powers showed that peacemakers have a mission to increase geopolitical positions of the countries rather than disengage the conflicting sides.

Time plays against Armenia. Yerevan shall grab the diplomatic initiative and recognize independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. Along with preventive, not retaliatory, actions on the Line of Contact, it will sober up many hotheads in Baku. Avoiding punishment, evident ceasefire violator is getting more and more confidence that its efforts to undermine status quo is the only right way.

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Yerevan had an unprecedented chance to do it during the “four-day war” and immediately after it, but did not. Many experts and politicians say Russia held Armenia from recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence then. In fact, Moscow recommended Yerevan to avoid undesirable “harsh steps” around Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the situation has changed and not in favor of Armenia. Russia has fewer and fewer reasonable ideas to hold its only ally in South Caucasus from decisions within its national interests. Besides, Moscow keeps arming Baku with striking systems. Baku, in turn, uses that fact to undermine the fragile status quo in the conflict zone.

Armenia has little time to strengthen its negotiation positions and combat positions. By our forecasts, Azerbaijan may make another serious attempt to break the status quo by force as early as next summer. However, it is “quite different story” that requires special analysis. Perhaps, it will emerge on EADaily when it is the right time for it.

Here are just some of the pros of recognizing NKR for Armenia’s military diplomacy.

  1. Recognizing of Nagorno-Karabakh as the second Armenian Republic will return the conflict and the peace process to the trilateral format. It will not predetermine anything related to determination of NKR’s future status by its people. It is important that determination of NK’s status will be beyond Azerbaijan’s political and legal claims. One of Armenia’s current strategic mistakes is that its political leadership and military command is discussing the status of NKR with potential aggressor without officially recognizing NKR as a subject of the international law.
  2. Recognition will expand Armenia’s field for diplomatic maneuvers, and not restrict it like many government representatives in Armenia think. In some cases, Stepanakert may delegate its powers to Yerevan, so that the latter acts on its behalf not instead of it. It is necessary to stay cool after Azerbaijan’s anticipated attempts to interpret Armenia’s step as final break of the negotiation process. Baku’s claims can be easily disclaimed by pointing at its systematic attempts to torpedo the peace process during the recent years, up to refusal to implement the arrangements made. The Armenian sides made a big concession by agreeing on two-format talks (Armenia-Azerbaijan), which did not help settle the conflict. Furthermore, Baku keeps increasing tensions on the Line of Contact minimizing the chances for peaceful resolution. Baku’s authorities did not assess Armenians’ concession and their gradual attempts to break status quo along with refusal to implement the arrangements made in Vienna and St. Petersburg in 2016 should not go unpunished.
  3. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh will get a chance to make a “big treaty” where the principles of the two countries’ relations will be spelled out. Official bilateral security guarantees and mutual assistance will among others allow Armenia’s Armed Forces to stay in the territory of NKR and on disputable territories around it on legal basis. The status of these territories cannot be discussed with Azerbaijan without participation of Stepanakert. Recall that Azerbaijan controls parts of Martakert and Martuni regions of the former Nagorno-Karabakh autonomy of Azerbaijani SSR, and Shahumyan region that was declared part of Nagorno-Karabakh by independence declaration of NKR dated Sept 2, 1991. Restoration of territorial integrity is not a “monopoly right” of Azerbaijan. If NKR is recognized at least by one UN member-state, Azerbaijan will lose that “monopoly.” The territorial aspect of the conflict will be moved to the aspect of trilateral efforts, and the two basic subjects of the talks shall be Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh.
  1. The current ceasefire was achieved and is maintained without involvement of external forces. Deployment of foreign peacekeepers at a remote stage of the conflict’s settlement shall be agreed with NKR’s political leadership if independence of NKR is recognized. The Armenian sides will hereby get more area for diplomatic maneuvering. Yerevan and Stepanakert are known to oppose deployment of any country’s peacekeepers.
  2. There is another painful issue for Armenia – supply of Russian arms to Azerbaijan. Recognition of NKR will not close that issue, but Yerevan will have a weightier argument to voice its discontent to Moscow. Armenia acquires almost all its striking and defensive systems from Russia and supplies them also to NKR. Actually, such transit is “illegal” and the territory of the unrecognized republic is a “grey zone” for arms supplies from the viewpoint of international law, unless Armenia recognizes NKR.

That fact holds Armenia from demanding Russia to change its arms policy in the region. The Kremlin closes eyes to the “grey zone” and Armenia should not demand too much from Russia. Only recognition of NKR by Armenia will break that deadlock. Many in Russia may not like it, but it will be a brave decision that will help breaking the stalemate almost on all areas somehow related to Karabakh.

(1) So far, Yerevan just makes unconvincing signals to Moscow and avoids voice the arms supply issue at high-level meetings. In an interview to a local TV program on July 16, President Serzh Sargsyan said Russian striking systems supplied to Azerbaijan have not had any serious consequence yet and there is no reason to blame Russia. Hence, it should be considered as Russia’s efforts to stabilize the situation in the region, the Armenian leader explained.

Vyacheslav Mikhaylov for EADaily

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