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«A Close Call in the Caucasus» («Тревожный звонок на Кавказе»)

«A Close Call in the Caucasus» («Тревожный звонок на Кавказе»)
Апрель 24
08:36 2016

Предлагаем вниманию наших зарубежных читателей размещённую на сайте американского издания The National Interest  статью «A Close Call in the Caucasus» («Тревожный звонок на Кавказе»), затрагивающую наиболее острые проблемы развития военно-политической ситуации в южно-кавказском регионе.

От редакции ENF:

Напомним, что The National Interest (TNI) издаёт неправительственная политологическая организация «Центр за национальный интерес» (более известен как Никсоновский центр, учреждённый Ричардом Никсоном 20 января 1994 года). Журнал связан с реалистической внешнеполитической школой. Был основан в 1985 году Ирвингом Кристолом (Irving Kristol).

Небезынтересен тот факт, что в 1989 году TNI, стремящийся поддерживать постоянное взаимодействие с Китаем и Россией, опубликовал спорную статью Френсиса Фукуямы (Francis Fukuyama) «Конец истории?». К освещению распада Советского Союза The National Interest привлек не только таких специалистов, как Ричард Пайпс (Richard Pipes) и Роберт Конквест (Robert Conquest), но и лауреата Нобелевской премии, писателя Сола Беллоу (Saul Bellow).

По убеждению автора материала Карла Радера (Karl Rahder), «новая разрушительная война» на Кавказе могла вспыхнуть из-за того, что азербайджанская армия, «совершив самое серьёзное нарушение договора о прекращении огня от 1994 года, который был достигнут в конце войны» (1991-94 гг. — ред),  2 апреля «пошла в наступление на нескольких направлениях и потеснила армянские силы Карабаха, создав условия для полномасштабного конфликта».

Рекомендуется к прочтению на языке оригинала.

Ссылка на русский перевод — в подвале статьи.


Just days ago, Nagorno-Karabakh almost boiled over.

That was close.

Most of the world wasn’t watching in early April when a new and destructive war very nearly broke out in the South Caucasus mountain range, an area encompassing Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. But the war that didn’t happen is still a very real possibility, and if it does, the entire region could go up in flames over a parcel of land not much larger than the U.S. state of Rhode Island.

That verdant and contested piece of real estate is Nagorno-Karabakh, the storied “highland black garden” tucked into the foothills of the South Caucasus. Karabakh was the prize in an all-out war between Armenia and Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991 and the majority Armenian population of Karabakh declared independence. The conflict that emerged, lasting until 1994, cost newly independent Azerbaijan control of Karabakh, took roughly thirty thousand lives and sent hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from Karabakh and the surrounding districts. Today’s self-declared “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” (NKR) is recognized by no one—not even its patron, Armenia—and has become a tiny, ethnically defined garrison state in the unenviable position of being under the constant threat of annihilation.

In short, Karabakh is cursed—as is the entire region—by geopolitics, ethnic and religious hatred, and the forces of nationalism and sovereignty. Just a few weeks ago, these forces came very close to blowing up the fragile pseudo-peace that has hung on by a thread for roughly twenty years. In the most serious violation of the cease-fire brokered in 1994 at the end of the war, the Azerbaijani army, in the predawn of April 2, launched a multipronged offensive that pushed back ethnic Armenian forces in what well could have spiraled into an out-of-control conflict.

After four days of intense combat and dozens of fatalities, the fighting diminished, and the two-decade status quo of “not peace/not war” had returned, more or less. But it’s clear, now that the dust has settled, that the dynamic has changed permanently. What is imperative is finding a way to avoid the wider war that nearly broke out, a conflagration that would have involved Armenians and Azeris by the thousands locked in a battle for survival. Such a war could easily drag in Russia, Turkey and Iran, igniting an arc of chaos and suffering stretching from the Black Sea to the shores of the Caspian in the largest armed conflict in Eurasia since the demise of the Soviet Union. Apart from the human cost, a major war would disrupt Europe’s small but politically important reliance on Azerbaijani oil via routes such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and throw into question Azerbaijan’s ambitions to ship large flows of natural gas to Europe in the future.

So what do we know and where do we go from here?

Very briefly, we can conclude the following from the fighting earlier this month:

• While accusations fly back and forth as to who broke the cease-fire on April 2, Armenia and the NKR have little incentive to begin an offensive since they control Karabakh and a large swath of the adjoining seven Azerbaijani districts that were taken in the first war. Further, Azerbaijan has been more eager to violate the truce in recent years. In 2010, shortly after the breakdown of peace talks, Azerbaijani troops launched an attack of unusual ferocity across the heavily fortified “Line of Contact” (LoC) that separates the military forces of the two sides. And in 2014, Azerbaijan shot down an Armenian helicopterflying parallel to the LoC. Despite the claims by the Azerbaijani government that the helicopter was on an attack vector, the available evidence indicated that the doomed helicopter had simply wandered into the no-fly zone.

• The quick movement of Azerbaijani army units in the first hours of the outbreak, and their ability to pivot and take territory, indicates a higher degree of readiness than at any time since 1994. This is a military that had long been dismissed as poorly trained, but early indications are that they can operate in a decisive fashion and achieve tactical gains. The Armenian and NKR armies are no doubt drawing similar conclusions.

• The purpose of the incursion was twofold: first, an opportunistic thrust to take a small sliver of territory and achieve at least a modest victory. But more than anything, this was a signal—that the Azerbaijani side has concluded that the status quo is unacceptable. Further negotiations will be conducted from a position of strength that they would not have previously enjoyed. At least that’s the perception from Baku, even if the overall military situation has not changed fundamentally. The critical corollary message is that the Azerbaijani side has also decided that the long mediation process sponsored by the OSCE Minsk Group (an ad hoc diplomatic effort sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and cochaired by Russia, the United States and France) has run its course. For Baku, the underlying premises of the Minsk Group process must change if it is to survive.

In a way, the Azeris are right: if the peace process is to continue, certain fundamental and even radical changes must take place in short order. And while agreement to the suggestions below will require an enormous effort, the alternatives are more incursions, with counterattacks, escalation and the possibility of a regional war of mammoth proportions and catastrophic consequences.

I would suggest that the Minsk Group use all the tools at their disposal (including a variety of carrots and sticks) to achieve the following:

• A commitment from both sides to agree on implementation of the so-called “Madrid Principles” put forward by the OSCE Minsk Group in 2007. This includes Armenian withdrawal from the seven occupied districts surrounding Karabakh, as well as an eventual referendum on its final status.

• Widen the LoC into a substantial demilitarized zone (DMZ). Both sides begin the withdrawal of heavy weapons including artillery, tanks, and air support.

• Bolster the current handful of OSCE monitors to a contingent of at least one hundred. They would have mobility inside the new DMZ and would inspect troop movements and investigate cease-fire violations by both sides.

• Stiff penalties involving economic and other sanctions for parties who violate the cease-fire.

• Serious consideration that the NKR be admitted as a partner in future peace talks.

• Finally, a pledge that both sides are willing to consider all noncoercive options, including land swaps, to bring about a just and lasting settlement. The last two conditions are the most difficult nut to crack, but they may be the key to a permanent peace.

The land-swap idea has a checkered past, and its best-known version is the “Goble Plan,” put together by in 1992 by Paul Goble. Credible stories have circulated that Azerbaijan’s late president Heydar Aliyev (father of current president Ilham) was in favor of giving up Karabakh before and after talks sponsored by the United States at Key West in 2001. In such a scheme, the concession of Karabakh proper on the part of Azerbaijan would be reciprocated by the Armenian side yielding all or most of the Meghri area, thus giving Azerbaijan direct access to its exclave of Nakhchivan. Such a trade would be part of a larger deal including Armenian withdrawal from the seven occupied districts surrounding Karabakh and so-called “special modalities” for the districts of Lachin and Kelbajar. The story of the failure of this elegant but painful solution is obscured by history and denials, but it is surely time to resurrect it and other alternatives to both war and the status quo.

The future referendum on whether Karabakh will rejoin Azerbaijan, remain independent or choose some other option has been the elephant in the room for many years. Who will vote: all of Azerbaijan, or only those who reside in Karabakh? The Azeris insist on the former, but the Minsk Group hinted in 2006 that they envisioned such a referendum as taking place in Karabakh only. In any case, the vote on Karabakh’s final status is almost rendered a moot point once the land-swap principle becomes a mutually accepted ingredient.

Heavy weapons such as long-range artillery, tanks, mortars and air support must be withdrawn from areas adjacent to the LoC. Following this, the LoC should be widened and demilitarized. A large number of mobile observers from the OSCE should be deployed, with the capability to detect violations and verify compliance. The enlarged OSCE observer mission should have a legal and forensic component capable of investigating allegations of war crimes and other human rights violations that take place during any future outbreaks of armed conflict between the two sides.

This is not synonymous with a peacekeeping force, which would be a component of the final peace settlement. Such a force (operating with a mandate from the OSCE or the UN) would be sufficiently large, capable and armed, and consist of military and civilian personnel from outside the region. Thus, there would be no contributions from Iran, Russia or Turkey. As a show of good faith, and to avoid arousing suspicions of interference, the United States would also not participate.

The NKR was excluded from peace talks in 1997, but their participation should be reconsidered as a means of kick-starting a final settlement. Even though the last two Armenian presidents were born in Karabakh, important differences on key positions exist between Yerevan and Stepanakert. For this and other reasons, the logical step is to allow them in. President Aliyev can spin it any way he likes, such as “We humiliated them on the ground in April and now I have forced them to come to the table,” but flexibility on this issue may help move the process forward.

There are a number of other creative possibilities, such as placing Nagorno-Karabakh under some form of international supervision until a final settlement is arrived at. I brought up the subject in 2009 when I met Georgi Petrosyan, who was at that time the foreign minister of the NKR. He brushed this aside, however, by returning to the issue of Karabakh’s status in negotiations, saying, “If Karabakh’s representatives are not going to be at the negotiating table, then there is a hardly a chance that there will be anything viable reached.”

Something should be said about Russia’s motives and its ambitions in the region, as well as the widespread belief on social media in Azerbaijan that, somehow, the Kremlin is behind the recent crisis.

Russia has managed to maintain relatively good relations with both Baku and Yerevan (although the allegedly malevolent shadow of Russia is one thing that both ordinary Azeris and Armenians seem to agree on), and has supplied weapons to both sides. The biggest asymmetry is Moscow’s long-standing defense pact with Armenia, although the terms of the agreement leave enough ambiguity that some analysts do not believe Russia would be obliged to come to Armenia’s aid if Azerbaijan launched an all-out attack to take back Karabakh. This ambiguity may give Russia the latitude to dictate terms in its favor if such a conflict does occur.

Russia has, however, worked in concert with its Minsk Group partners to find a way out of the unstable Karabakh stalemate. During his time as president, for example, Dmitry Medvedev (Russia’s current prime minister) made repeated efforts to achieve a breakthrough. The United States should strive to involve the Kremlin once again in applying pressure on both parties and bringing to the table a new set of demands.

If they possess any vision at all, President Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart, President Serzh Sargsyan, will—sooner rather than later—have to prepare their people for peace terms that are difficult to swallow. This is surely preferable to agitating for war, as Aliyev has done repeatedly since taking office in 2003. The superstructure of hatred in both countries that feeds upon itself, distorting history and spawning acts of intolerance or far worse, should be dismantled, but this is probably a lost cause. Suffice it to say that the presidents will find it all but impossible to implement a permanent solution that they eventually agree to if their people have been manipulated into never accepting compromise.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Marcin Konsek

Karl Rahder

Karl Rahder has taught international relations at universities in Baku, Tbilisi and the United States. As a journalist and regional analyst, has covered conflict, geopolitics and human rights in the former USSR and the Balkans since 2004.

(текст на русском языке)

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13 комментариев

  1. стоик
    стоик Апрель 25, 14:34

    так все именно к этому и шло (( ничего другого на кавказе и не ждали ((

  2. Екатерина
    Екатерина Апрель 25, 15:46

    Это не закончится никогда. (((

    • Ростан, Казань
      Ростан, Казань Апрель 25, 16:57

      Классический вариант «замороженного конфликта». По типу израильско-палестинского.

    • Гурман
      Гурман Апрель 28, 17:38

      Надо, чтобы сменилось 2-3 поколения, и исчезла свежая обида друг на друга, как и сама память о войне 1991-94 годов.

    • стоик
      стоик Апрель 30, 17:26

      по всему миру — не менее таких вяло тлеющих военных конфликтов.. ничего нового под Луной.. (((

  3. Ростан, Казань
    Ростан, Казань Апрель 25, 16:56

    Надо было в свое время армянским войскам идти без остановки до Баку без остановки. Не было бы сейчас подобных проблем.

      АНТИНАЦИ Апрель 27, 12:58


    • стоик
      стоик Апрель 30, 17:23

      ну ты и замахнулся, до Баку.. мож, ышшо до Эрзерума турецкого? (((

  4. Гурман
    Гурман Апрель 28, 17:36

    Другое совершенно непонятно: ежели Армения — военно-стратегический союзник России на Кавказе (единственный, кстати!), то какого хрена Москва продает азерам новейшее вооружение?


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