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Russia drawn into the war in the Caucasus

The escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh may become another “hot spot” for the Russian Federation.Россию втягивают в войну на КавказеDespite the statement of the Azerbaijani leadership about a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh continues escalation of the conflict. On 4 April, the UN Office for the coordination of humanitarian Affairs reported that at least 33 people were killed and 200 wounded since fighting resumed in the region on the night of 2 April. Unofficial sources are already talking about a few hundred dead.

April 4, the Armenian defense Ministry reported about the battle along the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh. In Baku also confirmed the fact of increased collisions. Later, the Azerbaijani Ministry of defence reported the destruction of the headquarters of the Armenian army in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic “exact retaliation” and the death of a large number of high-ranking military personnel. However, a spokesman for the Ministry Karabakh Senor Hasratyan this information is not confirmed.

The President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan on Monday met with OSCE representatives stated that the intensification of the conflict could escalate into full-scale war. If this happens, Sargsyan promised to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. He also ordered “to work on the conclusion of the contract on military cooperation with Nagorno Karabakh” and added that Armenia will continue to perform their duties to ensure the safety of the people of Nagorno Karabakh as a party to the agreement on ceasefire of 1994.

In turn, the press Secretary of the Ministry of foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev said Baku will go to a ceasefire only under the condition that the Armenian armed forces leave Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, until it appears that the parties are ready to go for de-escalation and to sit down at the negotiating table.

The Russian leadership is now actively negotiating with the conflicting parties and persuades them to sit down at the negotiating table. The Ministers of foreign Affairs and of defence of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu discussed the situation with colleagues from Armenia and Azerbaijan and expressed hope that they “will hear the appeals of Russia, USA and France for a ceasefire”.

“We expressed serious concerns, reiterated the President’s message about the need as soon as possible to stop the violation of ceasefire. I hope that these appeals have been heard,” Lavrov said. He stressed that the conflict cannot be a military solution and added that contacts through diplomatic channels continues. It is noteworthy that at the same press conference, Sergei Lavrov said that although Russia accuses external players, including Turkey, during the outbreak of violence in the Republic, he did not rule out that a third party tries to disrupt the fundamental approaches in the peace settlement. It should be noted that on April 3, two ships of naval forces of Turkey entered the port of Odessa, as reported in “the framework of the international cooperation of the Ministry of defence and the Armed forces of Ukraine for 2016”.

Russia’s desire to resolve the conflict peacefully and by diplomatic means obvious. After the escalation threatens not only the destabilization of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the entire Caucasus region, but also the direct involvement of Russia in the fighting. We will remind that Armenia is member of collective security Treaty includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Yerevan chaired the CSTO from September 2015. The Secretariat of the organization stated that it is in constant contact with the military-political leadership of Armenia. Concrete steps are possible if addressed to the CSTO would be a formal request from the Armenian authorities. In addition, on the territory of Armenia is the 102nd Russian military base in Gyumri is 126 km North of Yerevan.

Can the further escalation of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh to lead to retraction of Russia in this war?

— For Russia, of course, it is important to remain in the role of mediator, — says senior researcher of Institute socially-political researches of the black sea region Vladimir Novikov. — For us this is the perfect position. Of course, we are strategic partners of Armenia, but we may lose Azerbaijan as a territory, which could have an effect.

— What will be the position of Russia in case of escalation of the conflict?

— Armenia is a CSTO member, in contrast to Azerbaijan. Necessary the official request of Armenia to the CSTO countries to be followed by concrete action. The only state that can really help in this case is Russia. But there are some legal subtleties that can be used for diplomatic games.

If the conflict would not expand from the zone of Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia on open channels might declare that they did not want to get involved in the war. Action on closed channels is another question. But it seems to me that in this situation Armenia is beneficial to Russia remain a mediator. Russia’s entry into the conflict meant that she, on the one hand, becomes the armed defender of Armenia, but on the other — falls out of the negotiation process. And the big question, do we care to Yerevan from Moscow to the status of mediator.

— That is due to the conflict in NKR does not oblige Russia to provide assistance in the framework of the CSTO?

— Nagorno-Karabakh de facto state entity. It encompasses state institutions and a unified military complex with Armenia. But in itself legally the NKR is not recognized by anyone, including Yerevan, and member of the CSTO is not. From an international legal point of view the situation is very vague and ambiguous — whether it is a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan, whether the attempt of the Armenians to establish a second Armenian state. Unless there is a war on the territory of Armenia directly, Russia might not intervene in the conflict and legally to be the mediator.

But in this there is danger. There is a very bad psychological situation, which will play a third force. In Azerbaijani society already has some degree of anti-Russian sentiment. The same sentiment can begin to kindle in the society of Armenian. You are already experiencing some speculation that the CSTO is a fiction and so on. We can run into the attempts of certain forces not inter-Armenian origin to play anti-Russian card.

— And if the conflict will leave for Nagorno-Karabakh?

— If there is expansion and intensification of the conflict across the border line, and even more so, if the Azeri shells begin to fall on the territory of the Russian military unit in Gyumri, Russia will certainly have to intervene. And the shells can fall not even because it is the intention of Baku, but because they can fall anywhere. And then we’ll have the beginning of a military situation with quite unpredictable consequences.

This raises an important question: whether Aliyev himself and the people around him to bring the situation to a full-scale war? It seems to me that is not ready. But the second question is, would the degree of mutual bitterness of the parties, the level and density of hostilities until the moment when the tail starts to wag the dog. That is, to a situation where a policy is not already in Baku, Yerevan, Ankara, Moscow or somewhere else will start to define the events, and all will see how many corpses on both sides, and decide to wage war to the bitter end. This scenario, unfortunately, is also not excluded.

If the war is stopped now, this is certainly good. But the Outlook is still quite disappointing. We see that at each stage the degree of tension excesses only grows. First, there were endless attacks from two sides from small arms. Then began mortar attacks, in 2014, was shot down a helicopter of NKR defense Army. Now we see a full-scale war on the frontline. If even now to stop, then I shudder to think what will be the next phase of the year and a half. A breakthrough into the territory, anything else?

— If the fighting goes outside of Nagorno-Karabakh, will allow Russia to Azerbaijan to win a part of its territory?

— Let’s just say, Russia is now favorable to the status quo that exists. And its change on behalf of Azerbaijan is unlikely to please Moscow.

Senior researcher, Center of problems of Caucasus and regional security MGIMO Vadim Mukhanov believes that the situation is already out on the local level of war.

— We see, at least, an unprecedented escalation, which is “thawed” stage. This escalation has not happened since the signing of the Bishkek Protocol of 1994. All the experts and journalists over the past 20 years are accustomed to the fact that at the contact line are shooting, clashes. But in the past they were mainly attended by small arms. Now approximate the loss is much higher than in previous years. Fixed the use of heavy equipment and aircraft. Is a large-scale military operation. The factor of spontaneity, which was mentioned in the beginning, may explain such aggravation, if it lasts day. But when heavy equipment is lifted, it speaks to the planned operation. What is happening today, can be described as local war. If the escalation will continue at the same pace, it will grow into a full-scale armed conflict. To avoid this scenario you need pressure to bear on parties to the conflict both Russia and other international players. The efforts of one country will be ineffective.

— What position Russia will occupy in this case?

— The Russian position voiced by the Russian President invited the leaders of the countries to immediately cease fire and to sit down at the negotiating table. The head of our foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke with his colleagues from Azerbaijan and Armenia, as defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Moscow is actively working, but, I repeat, on the background of the current unprecedented aggravation would be effective only comprehensive pressure on the parties to the conflict.

Sergey Lavrov at the press conference mentioned a “third party” trying to derail the peace process…

— Actually, the prerequisites for the aggravation of several. It is hardly possible to single out one reason, which became the trigger. There are both internal and external causes of escalation. Internal is a serious deterioration of the socio-economic situation in Azerbaijan, the decline of the manat, a sharp decline in incomes, the growth of protest moods. In Armenia socio-economic situation is not the best, and last year’s events showed that there is not all smoothly.

But it is Azerbaijan that initiated the current escalation, which is already not particularly hidden officials. The team of Aliyev decided to go the traditional path of nation-building, i.e. to search for an external enemy. Azerbaijan’s military budget equal to Armenia’s total budget, so the opportunity is there, like an external enemy. The return of these territories is included in the national idea of Azerbaijan. Thus, the President has shown that you need to not engage in protests against the authorities and fight the enemy. This conflict cannot be explained only by external factors, and to say that it is only Turkish provocation.

Although, as you know, they also affect the development of the Karabakh conflict. First, the background was the escalation of the Russian-Turkish relations. Both Russia and Turkey are the key players in the Caucasus. Disputes between and follow-up contributed to the fact that the fire broke out.

This conflict cannot be profitable under any scenario, especially given that we have already sufficiently problematic on its borders, including in the Caucasus. In case of extension of the conflict throughout the region faces a humanitarian catastrophe. Its exacerbation may lead to involvement in the opposition and neighboring States. Several shells flew into the territory of Iran. Further escalation of violence could lead to the loosening of the situation in the whole Caucasus region.

Russian political analyst, expert on South Caucasus, Andrey Areshev believes that Russia will act according to the situation.

Moscow was in a very difficult position. To make a choice between Baku and Yerevan did not like. But we see that one of the parties consistently works on escalating the tension and went to the breakdown of the already fragile agreement of ceasefire, which resulted in a large-scale conflict that could lead to serious consequences.

Moscow will act according to the situation. Karabakh conflict not only in the post-Soviet space, and every time Moscow acted differently. For example, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were recognized, other republics — not. While Moscow is counting on political and diplomatic solution to the problem. But it all depends on her. Clarity is expected to improve not only the upcoming tomorrow the meeting of the OSCE Minsk group in Vienna, and the upcoming visit of the Russian officials in Baku and Yerevan.

So far, the situation has not passed the military phase. Before connecting the diplomats, need to take stock of the battlefield. Neither Armenia, nor Nagorno Karabakh, as Russia doesn’t have the luxury to provoke anyone own weakness. Once the conflict has entered a military stage, the situation must somehow be brought to an end.

Those who seriously expect that military means can achieve results, must understand that their illusions were in vain. Cost tens, perhaps hundreds of casualties. But the party that has staked on the escalation, decided that these sacrifices among its own, including the population, is justified. But, in my opinion, this bet is wrong and it doesn’t work in modern military conflicts.


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