Karabakh: Russia's victory that no one noticed
Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text Last week, the situation in Karabakh sharply escalated. Shots were fired again, there are dead and wounded. But before we consider these events and understand them, we need to figure out what preceded them. By mid-July, the situation was developing positively. The daily protests that had been going on in Armenia for many weeks gradually subsided; Pashinyan's government maintained control over the situation and continued to establish contacts with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. Against this background, Baku has agreed with the EU on the prospects of increasing energy supplies to Europe. In parallel, active negotiations were held between Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Central Asian republics and Turkey on the development of transport corridors through the Caspian and Transcaucasia. At the same time, the thesis was clearly voiced that Armenia could profitably join these projects. All this allowed us to hope for gradual progress, the result of which was to be a complete normalization of the situation, the conclusion of a peace treaty between Yerevan and Baku, the unblocking of the Armenian-Turkish border, the creation of a basis for the development of transport arteries along the East-West and North-South lines. The main thing here was not to rush, not to adjust the processes artificially. The key issue, as before, is the status of Nagorno–Karabakh. It is clear to everyone, including Yerevan, that the territories that were ceded to Azerbaijan after the war remain his; the fate of the rest of Artsakh will be decided later, and with the obligatory consideration of Baku's interests. But the official, final recognition of this by Armenia is the most dramatic moment, the all–in, the point of no return. After this step, Armenia will become extremely vulnerable, anything can happen here. It is clear that there will be discontent. It is clear that the government will be sharply weakened. But it is not known what scale it will reach. And everything will depend on the game played by external forces: Russia, the EU, the USA, Turkey, Iran. For Yerevan , this question sounds something like this: who will give him guarantees of stability in the country? Who will provide support to the authorities in the inevitable clash with opponents (internal opposition, outraged Artsakh residents, external competing players)? In principle, such guarantees are provided by Russia and the CSTO. BUT! Russia alone, without coordination, at least with Turkey, Iran (and Azerbaijan), will not cope with this. To act without their consent is to create the foundations for a new conflict. And this is exactly what they are trying to achieve in the West in an effort to open a "second front" against the Russian Federation. At the same time, it is necessary to clearly understand what kind of conflict we can talk about: so far there has not been a direct clash between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a member of the CSTO. If – God forbid! – it happens, then the CSTO will be obliged to enter the war, which will lead to unpredictable, but extremely difficult consequences for everyone. That is why it is so important to achieve clear and guaranteed coordination between Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia. But it takes time. There is no doubt that the Karabakh problem was discussed in Tehran during the summit of the Astana Troika (Russia–Iran–Turkey) on July 19. And it is likely that a certain consensus was reached there. The three countries apparently gave Yerevan the necessary guarantees. Otherwise, it is unlikely that the Secretary of the Armenian Security Council, A. Grigoryan, would have declared publicly on July 20 that Armenia does not exclude the conclusion of a peace treaty with Azerbaijan without a final decision on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. This is a very serious statement, which said that the Pashinyan government is ready to take a "step into the unknown", relying on the guarantees of the troika. In fact, this meant that the path to peace was open. The probability of this was all the more great because the European Union, which was also actively working in the Karabakh direction, was doing the same thing. So, in any case, it seemed when looking at the mission of the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, and Moscow, by the way, welcomed the efforts of Brussels. However, since the beginning of August, the situation began to deteriorate rapidly. First, ardent Armenian nationalists, Dashnaks, came from France to their homeland. Yerevan was forced to ban them from entering Armenia. This, of course, caused discontent in society, gave rise to accuse the government of anti-national policy. This was followed by reports about the mining of the Yerevan metro. They turned out to be false, but they did not give calmness. Knowledgeable people immediately cited the example of Moldova, where such "mining" of the capital's airport and state institutions continued daily for several weeks. And if in Chisinau they react calmly to this, then in Yerevan the consequences can be much more serious… And against this background, a sharp aggravation began in the area of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh. And here it is appropriate to recall that in mid-July, the Head of the US CIA, Burns, unexpectedly arrived in Yerevan. It is not known what he talked about with Pashinyan. However, it would be logical to assume that the purpose of his visit was not so much to negotiate as to demonstrate Washington's benevolent attitude towards Armenia and Armenians in the face of the "Turks". In this context, it is very important that the United States skillfully manipulates the topic of the Armenian Genocide, supporting the illusion of a sincere pro-Armenian position in Armenia itself, in Karabakh, and in the Armenian diaspora around the world. American politicians do not stop even before the anger and indignation from NATO ally Turkey, regularly raising the issue of recognition of the Genocide. This game fuels the hopes of Armenian nationalists and other "irreconcilables", gives them a reason to talk about "relying on America" in the confrontation with the enemies of Armenia. And it is very possible that it was within the framework of this game that Burns' visit to Yerevan was carried out. He once again gave the "illusion of hope" to the "irreconcilable" in Karabakh. As far as one can judge, it was designed for the resumption of large-scale hostilities, followed by accusations against Russian peacekeepers (inefficiency, inability to fulfill the mission), their involvement in the conflict and accusations of bias. At the same time, steps were being prepared to involve Iran in military operations (in the wake of last year's events). As a result, there should have been a picture of the breakdown of the truce in the region due to the irresponsibility of Moscow and Tehran. This would be enough to achieve minimal goals: undermining Russian positions in Transcaucasia, worsening relations with Iran and Turkey (it is noteworthy that the situation in Iraq has escalated almost simultaneously, where Tehran and Ankara are vying for influence). If all this had escalated into a split of the Astana Troika and a new war in Karabakh, the maximum goal would have been achieved. Fortunately, this scenario didn't work. And this, without exaggeration, can be called an important victory for Russia. Of course, against the background of events around Ukraine, it is not too noticeable. But this does not detract from its significance. Apparently, Russian intelligence worked well: in parallel with Burns' visit to Yerevan, SVR chief Naryshkin visited Baku; it is quite possible that he informed the Azerbaijani side about the existing risks. At the same time, coordination between the Russian Federation, Iran and Turkey did not allow the situation to get out of control. The intensity of the Kremlin's telephone contacts with Yerevan (two conversations in a week) is also noteworthy, as is Pashinyan's confident behavior inside the country. It is impossible not to note the consistent course of neighboring Georgia to maintain neutrality in the confrontation between the West and Russia. If Tbilisi's policy had had a different orientation, things could have gone much worse. In short, this time it can be stated that attempts at destabilization around Karabakh have been stopped. And this success needs to be consolidated and developed. What can we talk about? First of all, about changing the role of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, not only from a military point of view, but also in terms of political and ideological. It must be strengthened. The status of our servicemen as the main guarantors of the security of the region and its population should be indisputable. At the same time, effective security guarantees from the Azerbaijani forces should be created: Baku is obliged to prove its ability to work on the ground in the name of peace and establishing mutual trust. Without a doubt, it will not be easy, and here, too, the role of Russian peacekeepers is difficult to overestimate. A lot of responsibility will fall on Iran and especially Turkey. They should make every effort and show maximum flexibility to achieve positive results in unblocking borders and transport links, establishing trade and economic cooperation with Armenia and Karabakh. It is quite clear that the interests of Ankara and Tehran in the region differ. Therefore, it is important not to allow their rivalry (which cannot be avoided) to escalate into conflicts in which Baku and Yerevan will necessarily be involved. And, of course, all participants in the process are responsible for the stability of the internal political situation in Armenia. It is very fragile, and it is clear that the opponents of the settlement (both internal and external) will seek to undermine it.