About Karabakh conflict

11:42 02.12.2020 • Alexander Ananiev , retired Russian Foreign Ministry adviser

It is more of a job to interpret interpretations than to interpret the things M.Montaigne «The Complete Essays Опыты»

The fast pace of a settlement process in Nagorno-Karabakh and the arrival of Russian peace-keepers in the conflict zone took those Russian and foreign ”experts” that cashed in on the one-sided presentation of Russia’s policy, by surprise. Their interpretations of events while they were hot smack of confusion and mutually exclusive conclusions. The impression is that a guidebook for the “analysis” of the situation and “interpretation of interpretations” has yet to be written, so they interpret things at will, thereby creating their own “plausible” myths. Such free judgements range from the allegedly well-planned winning operation by “intriguing” Moscow in Nagorno-Karabakh to V.Putin’s 10 defeats in Trans-Caucasus[1]. What comes to one’s mind in connection with Moscow’s so-called “wicked games” to incite the conflict, is the parable about a man who saws a tree he is sitting on. A passerby tells him: «Don’t cut it – you will fall down», but the man continues to cut the tree. As he falls, at last, he exclaims: «Was it witchcraft that did it?». This can easily be applied to Armenia. It was Y.M.Primakov who warned the Armenians years ago that in the absence of a compromise deal the armed conflict in Karabakh was bound to erupt anew sooner or later: «Azerbaijan can work and wait. And it has the resources. 10, 20, 30 years, and they will gain strength and will grab EVERYTHING from you»[2]. The same warning came from Armenia’s first President Levon Ter-Petrosyan in 1997, and in 2011.[3]

The Armenians, while fully aware of the impending war, demonstrated inability to collect themselves to counteract the threat. They did not boost their defenses or purchased the required armaments[4]. The country’s combat readiness decreased as well: the new government, fearing a military coup, opted for the support of the army and replaced professional commanders with government-loyal laymen who had no links to the previous top brass[5]. Moreover, the government, which came to power as a result of a color revolution and consisted of officials who used to work for Soros organizations, began to gradually distance itself from its only true ally – Russia, closing Russian-language schools, launching ungrounded persecutions of Russian companies, imposing restrictions on pro-Russian media, think tanks, politicians and civil campaigners. All these measures were presented under the slogan of the versatility of foreign policy and the need to fight against corruption. The versatility of Armenian policy led to an equally versatile attitude on the part of Moscow: it demonstrated the same policy with regard to Armenian allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization and Azerbaijani partners. Thus, considering the suicidal can’t-care-less approach on the part of the Armenian leadership, it would be absurd to talk about the wicked intrigues of Moscow, which allegedly orchestrated the capitulation of Armenia with a view to “punish” its “democratic” leadership. Armenia orchestrated its own defeat (see below).

A common stance in favor of an immediate end to the bloodshed and a ceasefire control mechanism was repeatedly discussed with countries co-chairing the OSCE’s Minsk Group (the United States, France) at the presidential level, at the level of ministers, and by special envoys. But the formulation of a final three-party statement [6] did not appear possible - a delay was out of the question as it would jeopardize thousands of lives[7].

Russia, which put an end to the senseless slaughter while other members of the Minsk Group chose to keep a low profile, could hardly be blamed for ill-doing. Nevertheless, the ardent opponents of the "criminal regime” are set on presenting the entire conflict as a number of V.Putin’s defeats. А. Illarionov argues that there were exactly 10.

 Firstly, the Kremlin’s former economic adviser blames the Russian president for being unable to prevent and stop Azerbaijan’s aggression in the initial stage, and for failing to prevent the capitulation of Armenia. These are presented as V.Putin’s first three defeats.

What became a target for using force is Karabakh – an unrecognized republic, which received no recognition even from Armenia proper after nearly thirty years of its independence. Under UN resolutions, Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan, which is particularly relevant speaking of territories, occupied by the Artsakh Defense Army in the 1990s and comparable in size to the unrecognized republic itself. The problem is that since then Armenia has done nothing to legalize its paternalism in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh. The uncertainty of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status for Armenia, Russia’s ally in the CSTO, prevented Moscow from coming out in defense of this territory. Technically, the conflict was Azerbaijan’s internal affair: it did not attack Armenia’s territory, carried out military operations against separatists on its own territory. The Artsakh Defense Army was a good deterrent. Even Armenia chose not to deploy its army units in Karabakh but dispatch volunteer corps instead.

Given the situation, deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces was possible only on condition of approval from both parties. The negotiations were under way from the very first day of the conflict but N.Pashinyan, who counted on western assistance, would not agree to the conditions proposed after consultations with western curators. As military operations continued, the terms for a peace settlement became less attractive until on November 9th the situation grew critical with possibilities for a ceasefire deteriorating further.

Undoubtedly, co-chairing countries of the Minsk Group could have stepped in to guarantee an earlier ceasefire, by introducing a balance of strength, by imposing a strict ban on Turkey’s attempts at intervention in the conflict. This could have been secured within NATO, or by threatening with UN Security Council sanctions. However, in early November, one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (needless to guess, it was Britain) blocked a draft resolution proposed by three co-chairing members of the CSTO’s Minsk Group to ensure an immediate ceasefire and prevent third countries from meddling in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.[8], while NATO did not even raise such an issue. Given the situation, the Kremlin could not prevent an attack and neither could it force N.Pashinyan to sign a statement earlier, as the latter, until the very last moment, hoped that “the West will help us”. Therefore, it is the West that should be blamed for being unable to prevent military operations and to nip the conflict in the bud. Meanwhile, if we follow A.Illarionov’s logic, we must ascertain the defeat of the USA in 2008, when Washington proved unable to prevent M.Saakashvili’s attack on South Ossetia.

Russia entered Georgia after M.Saakashvili attacked Tskhinval from Grad multiple rocket launchers killing Russian peacekeepers who were deployed there on the basis of an official agreement signed by both sides [9]. The fact that M.Saakashvili was the first to start the war (having more than 100 military advisers from the USA and more of them in Georgia’s government agencies) – was pointed out in a EU report. This report, compiled by the EU independent panel, was ready in spring 2009 but was published only in the autumn, after the western media celebrated one year to RUSSIA’s attack on “small” “democratic” Georgia. The report by the EU panel was mentioned in passing[10]. What will be the case this time? If Russian peacekeepers come under attack from either of the parties involved and Russia takes retaliatory action, what will be the reaction of well-wishers, like A.Illarionov?

The war was stopped thanks to intensive peace-keeping activity by V.Putin personally, while Armenia’s capitulation was the result of its “versatile foreign policy” and assistance of western advisers (capitulation can be described as partial, since except Shusha and Hadrut, Karabakh remained under peacekeepers; the other, earlier occupied areas would have surrendered anyway sooner or later – in general, Armenians did not settle there).

As the fourth defeat, A.Illarionov cites the fact that Turkey’s assistance to Azerbaijan proved more effective than Russia’s aid to Armenia, which is rendered in full compliance with Moscow’s commitments as an ally.

An economist by qualifications, A.Illarionov could compare the budgets of the two countries and the oil money on which Azerbaijan for 26 years purchased cutting-edge weapons. Armenia has neither oil, nor the oil money, and the diaspora are not quick to loosen their purse-strings. According to experts, it would cost Armenia 10 yearly budgets to mount an appropriate defense of Karabakh, which, of course, was unaffordable, considering that even the available resources were spent irrationally. For example, Armenia chose to buy the old Osa missile systems from Jordan, though it could have bought ultramodern systems from Russia at prime cost or on credit. It was unclear why Armenia purchased Russian fighter jets which were absolutely superfluous for the country’s military needs and did not make a single flight in the course of military operations. A report to this effect was made a few days ago by an Armenian general, who serves in the capacity of chief military inspector of Armenia.[11].

As it happens, it is not enough to have the resources – it is also vital to have competent military experts. But the incumbent Armenian prime minister, as was said above, got them out of the way as he fought for power.

It is not Russia’s fault that Armenia could not use the opportunity of getting the assistance it needed. It was only after the start of military operations that the Armenian leadership became aware of the shortages of military hardware. Russia was quick to offer assistance but this aid took long to be delivered as it was transported via Iran after Georgia had shut the land and air border with Armenia because of the conflict. Georgia opened the air corridor for Russian peacekeepers alone after the signing of the statement.

V.Putin’s fifth defeat in the interpretation of A.Illarionov is (and this is strange for a liberal) the Russian president’s mediation in talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan instead of “dictating their will to smaller nations”.

As far as the Russian mediation is concerned, it would be more appropriate to blame co-chairing countries of the Minsk Group – the USA and France, which failed to act on their commitments to establish peace. They thus tend to shift responsibility from the guilty to the innocent. Should they have followed what Aliyev “dictated” (A.Illarionov writes this about the three-party statement), Azerbaijan would have captured the entire Karabakh, there would be no Russian peacekeepers there, and the observer center would have been opened without Russia. Armenia wouldn’t have welcomed it.

What A.Illarionov also blames the Russian president for is the absence in the final document of any mention of the status of Karabakh.

In the early days of the war, when the terms of peace were much more favorable for Armenia, N.Pashinyan, assisted by western advisers, missed the chance of reaching agreement on the status of Karabakh. After the defense crumbled and Shusha surrendered, this chance was lost altogether – status was not on the agenda, what was necessary was to keep what remained. V.Putin’s hint: talks on the status could be on the agenda in the future, at the moment the most important thing is to put an end to military operations.

In addition, A.Illarionov cites V/Putin out of context, by selecting some words and leaving out the main idea[12]: "Speaking about recognition-unrecognition of Karabakh as an independent state, there can be different opinions to this effect, but what proved essential was that the mere position of non-recognition of Karabakh, including on the part of Armenia, left a visible footprint on the course of events and on how these events were perceived».

V.Putin continued: «We must say about it openly: after the criminal, without doubt, activities of the former Georgian leadership, namely the strikes against our peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We acknowledged as fair the wish of Crimean people to become part of Russia, we acknowledged their free will, we did it openly. Some may be in favor, some may be against, but we did it in the interests of people who live there, in the interests of entire Russia, and we do not hesitate to openly say so. This was not done with regard to Karabakh, which made a tangible impact on what has been happening there».

While taking for granted the presence of NATO military contingents from Britain, Canada and Germany in the Baltic countries in 2017, А. Illarionov lashes at V.Putin for voicing no objections to the dispatch of Turkish military to Azerbaijan and their participation in the peace-keeping operation. This suggests a selective approach, a kind of “liberal logic”, under which the presence of NATO military in some former Soviet republics should be seen as appropriate while the presence of NATO servicemen in other former Soviet republics should be seen by Russia as inappropriate. The disfavored liberal economist is also indignant over V.Putin’s recognition of the sovereignty of Azerbaijan and his consent to the presence of observer centers consisting of Russian and Turkish experts on the territory of Azerbaijan.

The Turkish influence on Azerbaijan became reality in the 1990s, as a result of the irresponsible policies of Yeltsin/Kozyrev. While we are allies with Armenia, we are only partners with Azerbaijan, so the latter’s desire to win the support of one more guarantor is quite understandable. Had the co-chairing countries of the peace process – the USA and France – not withdrawn from the scene at a critical moment, they could have taken Turkey’s place. Now, instead of demanding, within NATO, that Turkey account for its actions to incite conflict in Southern Caucasus, which were perpetrated in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, western partners in the Minsk Group require Russia to account for the role of Turkey in the Karabakh conflict. They ought to ask themselves first.

About the peace-keepers, A.Illarionov distorts the facts: the statement envisages the presence of only Russian peace-keepers in Karabakh and empowers Turkey to establish a Turkish-Russian ceasefire monitoring center on the territory of Azerbaijan.

For an even score, A.Illarionov argues that among V.Putin’s other defeats is the use of drones in an online regime to monitor the situation along the division line, as the drones, he says, caused the death of Armenians. Does it need to explain that technical means can both carry death and control the peace process, depending on the set purposes.

What A.Illarionov disliked was V.Putin’s support of N.Pashinyan, who opted for putting an end to the bloodshed, eventually. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to assume that the interview by an initiator and mediator in the peace settlement was designed to obtain all but backing the Armenian prime minister, though at the present, his resignation could take place only as a result of an anti-constitutional coup. Deputies from the ruling My Step bloc, who control two thirds of seats in parliament, made it clear that they want N.Pashinyan to stay. So much public disappointment means that there is a chance that radical groups may come to power in Armenia, such as terrorist organization «Sasiatser», and these groups may disrupt all the agreements and unleash a war to a complete self-destruction of Armenia.

Considering an overwhelming public support (over 70%) for N.Pashinyan’s bloc My Step at parliamentary elections in December 2018 and in the absence of any alternative leader or party that would be equally popular, Moscow exerted every effort for 2,5 years to hit it off with N.Pashinyan, despite his apparent tilt towards the West.

When still in opposition, N.Pashinyan called for withdrawing from the CIS, from the Eurasian Economic Union, to join the EU and NATO, and for removing a Russian military base from the territory of Armenia. The “street” were hilarious. After becoming prime minister and waking up to the Armenian reality, N.Pashinyan stopped calling for an immediate breakaway from all integrational Eurasian organizations. Instead, he proclaimed versatility of the country’s foreign policy. In domestic policy he introduced the doctrine of so-called “transitional justice”[13], which enabled him to get rid of political adversaries under the pretext of fighting against corruption and without any legal instruments. He gave top government posts to a bunch of non-professionals who used to work in Soros organizations and had no experience of public administration.

The Armenians were either hilarious about what was happening, or condescending. For 2,5 years government-supporting media cultivated Russophobic attitudes among the public. It got so bad that some Yerevan residents complained that they found it “unpleasant” to see Russian border guards at Yerevan Airport, or Russian servicemen moving to Erebuni Airport via Yerevan (but there is no other way) – and all this instead of thanking their defenders with flowers. Russian border guards have been protecting Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran under a bilateral agreement of 1992, since Armenia lacks the resources to secure the protection of its borders on its own[14].

Even now, after a crushing military defeat, n.Pashinyan’s supporters tend to distort the course of talks on a statement signed on November 9th . As it seems, V.Putin gave an interview which is being "analyzed” by A.Illarionov for the purpose of providing undistorted account of the course of the negotiations. As for accusations of backing the Armenian prime minister, it’s either that the author knows nothing and is absolutely unaware of V.Putin’s manner of allegorically ironizing over political opponents, or he is set on deliberately misleading the reader. For example, as the Russian president spoke about the closeness between the US Democratic Party'’s slogans (BLM support) and the CPSU, he definitely spoke with tongue in cheek. In the case of Pashinyan the support by V.Putin of the Armenian prime minister made it possible for the Russian president to inform the people of Armenia about progress at talks with N.Pashinyan and the proposals made in the course of these talks (the latter would spread misinformation on the talks to justify his actions). In addition, Russia’s President “is defending” the Armenian prime minister because for V.Putin, what matters is not the person but the policy he pursues, which at the present stage meets the interests of Armenia and Russia – the national interests of BOTH countries.

If we are to examine the outcome of the conflict from the point of view of the “zero sum” (victory-defeat), I recall an interview of one year ago with one of the commanders of the Artsakh Army, a hero of the first Karabakh war. Asked about the future of the unrecognized republic he said that the best solution would be to deploy Russian peace-keepers in Karabakh, while for the republic itself the best option would be the status of a mandate territory like Palestinian Autonomy (until 1948) or Cyprus (until 1974). At that time I found it utopic as neither the co-chairing countries in the Minsk Group (the USA and France), nor Azerbaijan would never agree to such an option. Life, however, (or our diplomacy?) has made the impossible possible. Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh have got protection, Russia – the possibility of controlling both parties in the conflict. Of course, the peace-keepers’ mission is dangerous as there could be provocations on the part of the conflicting parties and on the part of the “co-chairs” as they run trying to jump on the step of a leaving train.

Many interpreters will try to compromise the Russian foreign policy, including those in the West who describe the successful establishment of peace in Karabakh on the principle of “a game with a zero sum” as a defeat of their countries.[15].

Peace has come, but history does not stop there. 

 

The opinion of the author may not coincide with the position of the Editorial 

 

[1] Vitaly Portnikov: Armeani and Azerbaijan sacrifice part of their sovereignty. (Interview of Radio Liberty observer in Ukraine V.Portnikov at UKR.Life TV 10.11.2020). URL: https://youtu.be/8m1ay7dnb1k; Illarionov А. Putin acknowledges crushing defeat (ten defeats). URL: https://echo.msk.ru/amp/blog/aillar/2743856-echo/. 18.11.2020.

[2] Cit.: Ivanova M. «Primakov’s Prophesy for Karabakh Coming True». 13.11.2020.

URL: https://news.rambler.ru/community/45231257-prorochestvo-primakova-o-karabahe-nachinaet-sbyvatsya/

[3] Levon Ter-Petrosyan: «War or Peace? Time to Become More Serious». URL: https://www.aniarc.am/2017/11/01/war-or-peace-ter-petrosyan-1997/; Levon Ter-Petrosyan: Karabakh Residents’ Ambitions Prevented Karabakh Settlement in 1997. URL: https://regnum.ru/news/polit/1396150.html. 18.04.2011.

[4] Aksyonov P. Why did Azerbaijan win Karabakh war? Military experts answer. URL: https://www.bbc.com/russian/features-54900906?xtor=AL-73-%5Bpartner%5D-%5Byandex.zen%5D-%5Bheadline%5D-%5Brussian%5D-%5Bbizdev%5D-%5Bisapi%5D&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fzen.yandex.com. 11.11.2020.

[5] Safaryan A. Resonance Statements by Movses Akopyan on Karabakh. Analysis of Messages. URL: https://ru.armeniasputnik.am/politics/20201119/25413623/Rezonansnye-zayavleniya-Movsesa-Akopyana-o-situatsii-v-Karabakhe-Razbor-messedzhey.html. 19.11.2020.

[6] Заявление Президента Азербайджанской Республики, Премьер-министра Республики Армения и Президента Российской Федерации. 10.11.2020. URL: http://www.kremlin.ru/acts/news/64384

[7] Russian Foreign Minister S.V.Lavrov Answer Questions on “RT” Channel, Moscow, November 19, 2020. URL: https://www.mid.ru/web/guest/foreign_policy/international_safety/conflicts/-/asset_publisher/xIEMTQ3OvzcA/content/id/4443523

[8] Yerevan Signals Disruption of Discussions on Karabakh by UN Security Council Member. URL: https://ria.ru/20201105/karabakh-1583200143.html. 05.11.2020

[9] The agreement on the principles of settlement of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict of 24.06.1992 was signed by B.Yeltsin and E.Shevardnadze.

[10] "Report. Volume I". "Report. Volume II". "Report. Volume III" (PDF). IIFFMCG. September 2009; Independent Experts Blame Georgia for South Ossetia War. URL: https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/eu-report-independent-experts-blame-georgia-for-south-ossetia-war-a-650228.html. 21.09.2009; EU-sponsored report says Georgia started 2008 war. URL: https://euobserver.com/foreign/28747. 30.09.2009

[11] Safaryan A.ibid

[12] Answers to Media Questions on Situation in Nagorno-Karabakh 17.11.2020. URL: http://www.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/64431

[13] Transitional justice – judicial and non-judicial processes and mechanisms which are connected with society attempts to overcome the legacy of large-scale violations of human rights, which include torture, executions without charge or trial, coercive disappearances, slavery, long arbitrary deprivation of freedom, and also a number of international crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of laws and customs, which are used during armed conflicts of national or international nature, that is, war crimes. There were no such violations in Armenia before the arrival of N.Pashinyan, for this reason the use of the doctrine was ungrounded.

[14] The Treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia on the status of the Border Troops of the Russian Federation deployed on the territory of the Republic of Armenia, and the terms of their functioning of 30.09.1992.

[15] Berman R.A. America Must Reshape Its Future With Nagorno-Karabakh. URL: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/america-must-reshape-its-future-nagorno-karabakh-172697. 16.11.2020: Popescu N. Russia’s win in Nagorno-Karabakh is EU’s loss. The EU risks becoming irrelevant in conflicts in its wider neighborhood. URL: https://www.politico.eu/article/russia-win-eu-loss-in-nagorno-karabakh/