Chances of peace in Karabakh slim to none
New alarming news are coming from the conflict zone in Nagorno-Karabakh as summer approaches. Recently, the Azerbaijani armed forces destroyed Armenia's 9K33 Osa and an ammunition re-supply vehicle. The Armenian side circulated a short statement about "partial damage to equipment" without personnel losses. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry released footage that shows the destruction of the 9K33 Osa, it could be distinctly seen that the locator was working when the missile hit, which suggests the presence of the crew inside. It is also clear from the footage that it was not partially damaged, but completely destroyed. Presumably, the Azerbaijani army once again used Israel's Spike anti-tank guided missile, the effectiveness of which was demonstrated as early as the April 2016 fighting.
The representative of the Karabakh separatists Babayan, commenting on the incident, in turn, said that "a fuel vehicle was partially damaged". However, he did not specify why "a fuel vehicle" had the rotating locator and why Azerbaijan decided to use the expensive Spike missile to destroy "a fuel vehicle". Armenia also preferred not to comment officially the footage, released by the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, as well.
In the evening of May 16, as a result the retaliatory action of the Armenian armed forces, Azerbaijan's positions in the Agdam direction were exposed to heavy fire, as a result of which the electricity supply to the village of Tezekend was stopped. Probably, Yerevan is trying to play one of its trump cards: the civilian population living in the Azerbaijani border villages are vulnerable to the attacks of the Armenian army, but there are almost no civilians living on the Armenian side of the front. However, such a tactic of the permanent threat to civilians conceals significant risks for the Armenian Armed Forces as well. One of the factors that caused the last year's large-scale April clashes was the death of several Azerbaijani civilians as a result of the shelling of the front-line villages that continued unabated for weeks. These military actions ended with the loss of a number of strategic heights by Armenia, large losses in manpower and equipment, as well as the resignation of the senior staff of the Defense Ministry, including Minister Seyran Ohanyan. In this respect, Azerbaijan in April 2016 set an important precedent for holding military operations to neutralize threats to its civilian population in the long term, including through offensive actions.
Many experts warned that the clashes in April 2016 are at risk of being the first but not the last serious battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the ceasefire was signed in 1994. The lack of progress in the negotiations remains a central problem blocking the establishing a climate of confidence and calm down the situation at the front. The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs repeatedly stated that there is no alternative to peace negotiations, which expresses the world community's concern about the risk of resumption of full-scale military operations in the region. On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to describe the current diplomatic situation as full-fledged peace talks, because the process has not moved one iota since the 23-year ceasefire. The game of cat and mouse, when the Armenian side in every possible way postpones the adoption of the inevitable decision on de-occupation of part of the Azerbaijani territories until the next parliamentary or presidential elections, and then starts the process from scratch again, cannot be called negotiations.
Not only Azerbaijan, which territories remain under occupation, is losing from this situation, but also Armenia in the medium term. Now the Armenian Defense Ministry is developing a project under which servicemen who served three years, in case of signing a contract with the army, will receive a one-time bonus payment of about 10 thousand dollars. The fact that the Armenian Defense Ministry is taking such measures to attract servicemen is a direct consequence of the deteriorating demographic situation in the country. According to official data, only in the first quarter of 2017 an application for the renunciation of Armenian citizenship was filed by 1,190 people.
It is a rhetorical question whether it is rational to keep the huge uninhabited territories around Nagorno-Karabakh under the occupation, dooming the country to isolation and desolation, from the point of view of Armenia's national interests in the medium and long term. The short-term interest of President Serzh Sargsyan and his team in preserving the status quo is quite obvious: as long as nothing changes in the Karabakh settlement, the risk of losing power is minimal, and being at the helm of the state allows him to save enough money for the necessary pre-election bribes to replicate his powers. After all, the price of 10 thousand drams (about $20) for the vote is far from the highest. In these conditions, the Armenian authorities are not interested in any compromises on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, since such steps conceal only the risks for the unpopular government. If the situation in Karabakh "explodes" again like in the last year, then the society, according to the already existing scenario, will unite around the authorities at the time of fighting, and strong nationalist trends in Armenia will ensure the citizens' faith in successes at the front - even if it fails as in April 2016.
In this connection, Serzh Sargsyan's government pursues two main goals in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue:
1) to prevent the beginning of large-scale military operations by Azerbaijan, which may result in Armenia losing control of large territories in Karabakh, which cannot be explained to the public. As the Armenian society still cannot forgive Sargsyan for saying that the territories lost in April were "unnecessary".
2) to prevent progress in the negotiations, since it inevitably means de-occupation of a number of districts, which may cause the resignation of Sargsyan. It is enough to recall the hype raised by Armenian nationalists after Sargsyan's famous quotation that "Aghdam is not a part of the Armenian homeland". That is, Armenia's necessary concessions are causing serious opposition of the nationalists, which allows Sargsyan, in a dialogue with international organizations and intermediaries, to present himself as hostage to public sentiments. At the same time, it is the authorities that derive the greatest benefit from the current situation, and nationalism is the ideological basis of the power itself.
Armenia's modern foreign policy strategy for the unresolved conflict revolves around these two goals, which ensure the preservation of power by the current government. The chances for a peaceful settlement under such conditions are practically zero, which gives grounds to predict that in the foreseeable future the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh will be on the verge of a big bang once again.