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  The reason for the deadlock over Nagorno-Karabakh

Èeslovas Iðkauskas, political analyst
2011 07 21

Although in 1994 the armistice treaty was signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh (NK), the countries didn’t stop fighting. The meeting of Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan with Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev’s mediation in Kazan was one more step of the international community toward resolving the conflict.

Unfortunately, the meeting didn’t give the expected results. According to the newspaper „Kommersant“, the Russian president was so disappointed at the outcome of the Kazan summit that he was prepared to organize the next Aliyev-Sargsyan meeting only under the condition that the two countries’ leaders will finally sign the document on the principles for the Karabakh conflict settlement.

The OSCE Minsk group has been engaged in the preparation of this document since the beginning of the year. It was expected that document will be signed in Kazan and that this will be a culmination of negotiations in Meyendorff, Astrakhan and Sochi.  On the eve the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, together with Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers, confirmed that there were no doubts concerning a peace agreement and that the Road Map would be signed in Kazan.

The plan looked as follows: Yerevan was expected to return six regions around Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan, and 13 villages in Lachin region, but this region should remain the corridor linking Armenia to NK.  The plan was presented in November 2007. In 2010 the Minsk Group revised the plan and included the Article (pursuant to Madrid Principles) about the region’s status to be approved by calling for a referendum.

What happened? Diplomats brought dozens of new proposals to the meeting in Kazan which should supplement the document of the Minsk Group. Azerbaijan blamed Armenia for the distortion of the entire negotiation process. Since efforts to reach an agreement on the final document fell flat, nothing remained but to state that “certain progress has been reached in the negotiations”.

Soon after Aliyev’s return to Baku, it became clear that expectations of a break-through in Kazan were in vain. A grand military parade on the occasion of the 20th independence anniversary of Azerbaijan has been held in Baku.

The military parade was attended by 6,000 troops. The following state-of-the-art military equipment was on display: Russian-made S-300, “Matador” and “Marauder” carrier vehicles produced jointly with “Paramount Group” (PAR), modern Turkish, Israeli and Czech armored carriers and warships. The arms produced in Azerbaijan were also present in the parade.

But the key issue was Aliyev’s celebratory speech. He said that “the war in Nagorno Karabachos is not yet completed. The state budget has grown 16-fold, the military expenditures increased by 20 times and now are amounting to 3,27 billion USD. […] The fact that Armenia occupies 20 percent of our territory is a temporary phenomenon which cannot last long. Therefore we should be even stronger… “

On 8 June 2010 the Azerbaijani Parliament approved the military doctrine. Pursuant to it, Azerbaijan has a right “to liberate the occupied territories and restore territorial integrity by using all necessary means”.

Thus, the countries have reached a deadlock: Yerevan accuses Baku for offering too many amendments on the very last minute, Baku accuses Yerevan of misleading the world community. Armenia has no economic or military power to compete with the neighbor and mainly relies on Russia defending Armenia against foreign aggression and maintaining military bases in the country. But Russia would hardly interfere in the war for Nagorno Karabkh since this is Armenia’s territory.

Over the past couple of years the situation on both sides of the line worsened rapidly, more soldiers and civilians were killed during the shootings. OSCE (Lithuania has recently took over OSCE Chairmanship) treats this frozen conflict as one of the most dangerous of other post-soviet conflicts, but Vilnius doesn’t hide that it would hardly be possible to reach an agreement during Lithuania’s chairmanship. After the meeting in Kazan Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Aþubalis stressed the importance to continue the efforts toward reaching common understanding and encouraged “the leaders to follow through on the agreements made in the previous tripartite meetings in Astrakhan in October 2010 and in Sochi in March this year, including to investigate possible incidents on the Line of Contact and refrain from the threat or use of force”.

Although the OSCE chairman’s words were not compelling, they reflected the current situation of Azerbaijani-Armenian relations. But Russia, the key mediator of negotiations was quite satisfied with this region’s status quo.

Paradoxically, the only real prevention from escalating a new conflict is oil pipeline routes in the Caucasus. Close to them there are two major - Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan and Baku–Supsa pipelines. Military actions in NK would be a serious threat to oil pipelines and Russia’s interests in Caucasus. In case of new disorders, none of the region’s states will avoid catastrophic consequences, therefore Russia, the West and OSCE are inclined to tolerate the policy of “spontaneous flow” in the region. This flow brings Lithuania downstream.

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