ARMENIA AND AZERBAIJAN: RECENT MILITARY CLASHES AND PEACE PROSPECTS

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https://www.heritage.org/europe/commentary/armenia-azerbaijan-war-2022- what-should-america-do#

Since 1992 Armenia and Azerbaijan have engaged in military hostilities over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. After two wars and decades of low-intensity conflict, we might be nearing a peace treaty, accompanied though by dangerous escalations.

Beginning the night of 12 and 13 September, and ending the evening of 14 September 2022, a significant militaryescalation took place between Azerbaijan and Armenia, almost two years after the signing of the 10 November 2020 trilateral statement1 which implemented a fragile but meaningful ceasefire after 44 days of war.

The recent armed clashes have caused a high number of victims and concern for a resurgence of hostilities, justat a time when the negotiations for a peace treaty seem, from several sources, to have reached an advancedstage.

The clashes have affected extensive sectors of the border between the two countries and also reached Armenian-inhabited centers, not immediately close to the border. In addition to the usual mutual accusations of havingcaused the escalation, it is worth pointing out that the events of mid-September did not affect the areas ofresponsibility of the Russian peacekeepers, deployed along the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh and along theLachin Corridor to enforce the November 2020 trilateral statement. This last aspect does not seem accidental, thenon-involvement of the Russian peacekeepers has in fact triggered an all in all modest reaction from Moscow which reaffirmed the need to resolve the conflict through diplomatic means. In addition, to the requestdelivered by

Yerevan to the CSTO2 invoking its article 43, which provides for the delivery of the necessary assistance, including military assistance “if one of the States Parties is subjected to aggression”, the organization resolved to send afact-finding mission and excluded a direct military intervention4.

The development would signal Baku’s willingness to reassert its superiority in terms of military capacity, population, wealth and strategic alliances over Yerevan while peace negotiations are at an advanced stage. Withthe Russian Federation fully engaged in Ukraine and currently unable to personally manage a second hot front, the Azerbaijani approach aims to get the most out of the negotiating table following the new reality that arose after the 2020 war.

More specifically, by the use of force, it appears that Azerbaijan is trying to dissuade Armenia from its intention to include at the negotiating table specific protection for the ethnic Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Further, Azerbaijan is well aware that the European Union is currently not in the condition to impose sanctions or other initiatives, given “the 27’s” desperate need to maintain and even deepen its ties with Baku due to its oil andnatural gas resources.

In stark contrast to the Russian inertia, there is a greater US presence following the events of mid- September, most notably through the engagement of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and on the occasion of the visit to Yerevan by the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. The greater US engagement may also be explained by the Biden administration’s need to contain the Turkish presence in the South Caucasus: through support for the Azerbaijani armed forces, especially via the supply of the famous Bayraktar TB2 drones, Ankara has favored Baku’s victory in 2020 and significantly expanded its area of influence in the region.

The Russian Federation, in addition to the aforementioned difficulties in intervening decisively in support ofArmenia, is being held back by its requirement to maintain a collaborative relationship with Türkiye, which remains among the few countries to have maintained important economic-financial relations with Moscow, in line with the now consolidated “coopetition” strategy between the two countries.

The recent clashes have nonetheless left the door open for developments in the field of the negotiations, in spite of major outstanding issues which include the border demarcation, prisoners of war, regional transport routes andde-mining, the idea of a peace treaty is now high on the agenda of the consultations.

On 2 October the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Geneva: Ararat Mirzoyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov exchanged ideas on the peace treaty text; discussion which further continued, this time at the highest political level, on the occasion of the “European Political Community” summit inPrague where the normalization process was extensively discussed

and an agreement was reached to send a civilian EU mission alongside the countries’ border “to build confidenceand, through its reports, to contribute to the border commissions”.

Most recently, a Putin-mediated Armenia and Azerbaijan meeting in Sochi served to reaffirm a mutual commitment to refrain from the use or the threat of using force, as well as to settle all disputes solely on the basis of mutual recognition of sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders. An interlocutory meeting in the complex peace mediation.

In this context, the recent clashes may actually produce an acceleration toward the peace process, with Armenia whose main obstacle is now the signing of an acceptable agreement for the ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, and Baku ready to capitalize on Moscow’s “inertia” before the mandate of its peacekeeping forces on the ground is automatically extended in 2025 for another five years.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and are expressed solely in hispersonal capacity

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1 Statement by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and the President of theRussian Federation

2 The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is an intergovernmental military alliance with similar characteristics to NATO, which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan

3 If one of the States Parties is subjected to aggression by any state or group of states, then this will be considered as aggression against all States Parties to this Treaty. In the event of an act of aggression against any of the participating States, all other participating States will provide him with the necessary assistance, including military, and will also provide support at their disposalin exercising the right to collective defense in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter.

4 Already on the occasion of the 2020 war the Russian Federation chose to adopt a “non-interventionist” posture, inter alia, due to the political initiatives and positions expressed by the Armenian leadership following the 2018 Velvet Revolution. This largely left thegreen light to the Azeri offensive, backed by Türkiye.

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