Azerbaijan is ready for “intensive talks” to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said during a meeting with the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in Paris on May 15. The mediators supported Azerbaijan’s initiative, but no real progress has been observed since then.
The MG’s primary task for the time being is to restart contacts between Armenia and Azerbaijan after the mid-term presidential election in Azerbaijan and the velvet revolution in Armenia. In Paris, Mammadyarov said that now that electoral processes are over in both states, they can resume their talks. But while Azerbaijan has changed nothing in its state system, Armenia is in transition.
One of the consequences of the velvet revolution in Armenia will be a pause in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks. It is hard to say how long it will be, but Armenia will obviously need a couple of months for building a new political system and getting ready for intensive talks with Azerbaijan.
It may take parliamentary Armenia half a year or even more to form a parliament that will suit its new leader Pashinyan. So, the question is if Azerbaijan will wait for so long or will attempt to solve the problem by means of force.
There are lots of signs that the Azerbaijanis are not going to wait and are eager to gain some advantage very shortly. Their call for intensive talks was preceded by quite bellicose statements by their military commanders: while meeting his subordinates on May 12, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov said that his country was ready for “large-scale combat activities.”
This means that while the Armenians will be overcoming their political crisis, the Azerbaijanis may move from small-scale breaches of the ceasefire regime to large-scale military escalation.
We have two scenarios of how they will act and both of them may unfortunately end in a new war.
The first one is more realistic: the Azerbaijanis will refrain from large-scale escalation but will keep breaking the ceasefire regime. They will hardly start a big war in the next few months as the positions of the key external players are quite strong for the moment.
The day after the resignation of Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan, Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service Sergey Naryshkin visited Baku and made it known to the Azerbaijan authorities that Russia did not want a new war in Nagorno-Karabakh – and not only because of the internal political crisis in Armenia but also because of the June 1-July 15 FIFA World Cup.
On May 25, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev went to Turkey, where he met with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Supposedly, there too he was warned against escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh now that Turkey is preparing for mid-term presidential and parliamentary elections and will need time for building a new political system. Turkey’s next step will be a military campaign against Kurds in the north of Syria.
One more important event is due to take place on June 12: the launch of Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP).
So, in the months to come, Russia and Turkey are not ready for any surprises. But this will hardly discourage Azerbaijan from preparing for a new war and breaking the ceasefire regime in Nagorno-Karabakh in the meantime.
According to the first scenario, in exchange for its patience, Azerbaijan will be allowed to continue its military preparations under close control of Turkish instructors. We may also expect some joint military activities in Nakhichevan, where Turkey has a task force.
According to the first scenario, we may expect quite a long pause in the peace talks, with a couple of MG visits and foreign ministers’ consultations to fill the gap.
Pashinyan is not satisfied with the current political diarchy in Armenia and will certainly need mid-term parliamentary elections for getting rid of the Republican majority and forming a loyal parliament. Only then will he be able to negotiate with Aliyev the thesis he declared in Stepanakert on May 9. As regards Aliyev, he will have to wait and refrain from military actions till the end of this year.
The second scenario is related to Armenia’s plans to involve Nagorno-Karabakh into direct peace talks with Azerbaijan. In that case, Armenia will have to de jure recognize Nagorno-Karabakh – something Serzh Sargsyan and his team evaded for a whole decade.
Pashinyan has already made known his plans to make Nagorno-Karabakh a full party to the talks and to consider recognizing its independence. If Pashinyan does this, Aliyev will get a pretext for decisive measures. In such a case, we may expect Azerbaijan to take a proactive step: to start a new war before Armenia decides to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly warned both Russia and Turkey that it will withdraw from the ceasefire agreement if Armenia recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh. And once it does it, a new war will become inevitable.
In his turn, Pashinyan sees no sense in peace talks with Azerbaijan without Nagorno-Karabakh. The only way for him to involve Nagorno-Karabakh into the talks is to recognize it de jure. After all, Armenia cannot expect anybody to recognize a republic it refrains from recognizing itself. But this is a red line for Azerbaijan.
So, here we see a kind of an endless circle and only Armenia can break it by recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh, but once it does it, Azerbaijan will react with military actions.
Neither Russia nor Turkey would like this scenario to come true this year. Now that the nations are improving their relations, they are not interested in any problems. In contrast, they were at odds when the April 2016 four-day war broke out.
So, our conclusion is that whatever Armenia and Azerbaijan do in both diplomatic and military spheres in the months to come, they will have to keep in mind the inevitability of a new war in Nagorno-Karabakh. As regards their allies, Russia and Turkey, respectively, they will do their best to keep the sides from bellicose steps but will also have to be ready for the worst.
TANAP is supposed to pump 6bn c m of gas to Turkey. In 2020, the pipeline is to be connected to Trans-Adriatic Gas Pipeline (TAP) and to be able to pump 16bn c m. TAP is supposed to give Azerbaijan access to the European gas market. The shareholders of TANAP are SOCAR of Azerbaijan (58%), BOTAS of Turkey (30%) and BP of the UK (12%).
EADaily’s South Caucasus Bureau