Last post I briefly described what led to the Second Karabakh war, having in mind how the conflict evolved in the last 3 decades.
This post – again short and far from being exhaustive – is about the conjectural causes: as I said, the Aspera&Ardua of 2020.
1) Clashes have become more frequent in the last 10 years. For the first time in 2016, Azerbaijan regained possession of a part of the territory after a conflict of a few days. New clashes in July didn’t secure the same result and open the floor to additional military confrontations
2) External crises (Syria, Lebanon) caused the displacements of Armenians. Some of them, fleeing the Middle East, relocated to disputed areas, a fact repeatedly denounced by Azerbaijan
3) Change of government in Armenia: the status quo was based on the predictability of the positions of the parties. It was not a healthy predictability, and the negotiation process stagnated. At the same time, mutual distrust turned the negotiation mechanism into a very fragile one. Any slight change, or demand for a change, could make it fell through.
The new Armenian government wanted to sign discontinuity.
In particular, the post-revolutionary Armenian government has:
- Asked to review the negotiation format, including Karabakh
- Sent discordant messages: PM Pashinyan stated that the solution had to be acceptable to Armenians, Karabakhis and Azerbaijanis, but it also claimed (perhaps for domestic consensus/struggles, but still..) that Karabakh is Armenia
- Ask noted by Jirair Libaridian, in summer “Armenia made the Sevres Treaty an important part of the country’s foreign policy. […] These declarations were followed by the statement of the Minister of Defense of Turkey, who declared that henceforth Turkey considered itself a party to the Karabagh conflict. That means that (a) now the conflict is between, on one side, Armenia and Artsakh against Azerbaijan and Turkey, on the other side, and (b) Turkey is declaring that it is now ready to provide additional support to Azerbaijan, although it is not clear what form that new support will take. It is necessary to note, nonetheless, that this statement was not made by the minister of Foreign Affairs or any other functionary, but by the Minister of Defense.”
4) The COVID19 Pandemic:
- Legitimacy crisis: Governments in South Caucasus, like others, will be held accountable of how they handle the pandemics. The pandemic and the consequent economic crisis are creating discontent. In the case of Azerbaijan it as to be factored the volatility of the hydrocarbon market. It is important to score success elsewhere, to preserve social stability and cohesion.
With decreased incomes Azerbaijan’s military supremacy is harder to maintain. The country is nervous because it has to invest a lot in armament, and fears Armenia being armed “for free” (actually credits, Russian supplies are not presents)
- The international community distracted by the pandemic-related urgencies, different countries’ deterrence capacity is limited as they are mostly self-focused.
- Suspension of the confidence building, negotiation and monitoring mechanisms on the ground: No meetings in person; the team of the OSCE Representative returned to Europe
- Great vulnerability of Armenia, with an alarming health, which tops all others at regional level, and consequent severe economic crisis
5) Other factors: Turkey and Azerbaijani are at the peak of their positive relations. Turkey has a very pushy agenda in international theatres, and was ready to unscrupulously take Azerbaijan’s side.
On the other hand, Russia is very cautious. The removal or the fall of the Pashinyan government would not harm at all Russian interests. Strong signals of Russian disaffection were sent to Yerevan, not last the increase of gas price; President Putin called ex President Kocharyan while he was in jail and visited his wife in Armenia. Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov openly expressed discontent for the Armenian investigations on Gazprom, on Russian railways.
Moreover, Russia is ally to Armenia, but partner to Azerbaijan, and not ready blow up the not-so-easy cohabitation with Turkey. Russia is really walking on a tightrope to preserve its position of unbiased mediator to the conflict, and Armenian key ally, if not security guarantor.
It is hard to believe that the Armenian public is happy with the outcome of this strategic alliance, so far. There are casualties in Armenia proper, and it is undeniable that the country is at war. What is the point in being a member to the Organization for the Treaty of Collective Security and Eurasian Union if in the end no one shows up to openly side with you at the time of war?
It is not just Russia, where are all other so-called allies?
So far, the only open support came from Greece, a NATO, EU country.