Nagorno-Karabakh: Confident steps towards new war?
International community had hopes that since Nikol Pashinyan came to power in Armenia, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will be resolved, but it didn't happen. The "velvet revolution" happened a year ago, and thanks to it, 20 years later, Armenia is finally headed by a politician not connected to the "Karabakh clan".
However, this time was enough for Nikol Pashinyan to effectively and firmly consolidate full power in his hands. In fact, after the last parliament left due to protests under Pashinyan's control, he managed to hold early elections in November of 2018 - at the most advantageous time for him, because he had an impressively great ratings at that moment. As a result, today the National Assembly consists of 88 from his party (out of 132 deputies). At the same time, other two factions - “Prosperous Armenia” and “Enlightened Armenia” - cannot be called opposition either, since they agree with most of the Prime Minister’s policy. However, even without these two factions participating in "democratic process", Nikol Pashinyan has a convincing majority in the parliament supporting him.
Security forces also supported Pashinyan's "revolution”, so he can count on practically full support of the judiciary system. The wave of court-sanctioned arrests of opponents of the current government, especially Robert Kocharyan, was a clear confirmation of this. Armenian justice system is clearly affected by current trends and influence of the executive power, so it easily issue's "orders for arrests".
In other words, there are no questiongs about stability of Nikolai Pashinyan’s domestic political power, so nothing can prevent him from making compromises in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement. There was enough time for Armenian Prime Minister and his supporters to work out approaches to the settlement. Almost a year has passed since completion of the first stage of the revolution, in other words, since April 23 of 2018, when Serzh Sargsyan agreed to Pashinyan's demands.
During this time, Armenia's ruling team has formed its strategy of behavior in the context of existing foreign policy challenges, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Moreover, new government's strategy was formulated quite clearly: Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, represented by the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, should become the third "equal party" of negotiations with Azerbaijan. "The return of occupied territories around Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan" settlement formula" was officially ruled out by Nikol Pashinyan. In other words, today Armenian side rules out even slight possibility of returning control over areas occupied by Armenian troops around Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijanis. Now Baku questions whether this position should be interpreted as official refusal of Yerevan to negotiate.
In February of 2019, head of Armenian special services, Arthur Vanetsyan, finally gave response to this question, stating during a trip to occupied Fizuli region (located outside of Nagorno-Karabakh): "We will not surrender even a centimeter of earth." Moreover, Vanetsyan talked to leadership of the unrecognized "Nagorno-Kabakh Repucling" about the program that proposes to send population to territories along the bank of the Araz River. Finally, Armenian Defense Minister David Tonoyan also made statements regarding Armenian army, noting that in case of resumption of hostilities, it's ready to carry out offensive operations. In other words, Armenian leadership made it clear that Azerbaijan should forget both about Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied territories around former autonomy. Against this background, Armenian politicians' statements about "militaristic rhetoric" of Azerbaijani leadership are really surprising.
First of all, militaristic statements are regularly made by both sides. After all, Armenia and Azerbaijan are in a state of war. It's really strange that it seems like Yerevan truly believes that Baku should express love for invaders and fotget about occupied territoris, agreeing to Armenia's position - “we get everything, you get nothing.”
Second of all, after new government of Armenia came to power, the Azerbaijani side not only reduced frequency of the so-called "aggressive" statements, but also took a number of practical measures to reduce tensions on the front-line. For example, army units were on the border with Armenia were replaced by border troops. After a short conversation with Pashinyan in Dushanbe, President Ilham Aliyev agreed to create "hot line" between military officials of the two countries in order to prevent front-line incidents. Frequency of incidents on the line of contact between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces was practically reduced to zero, which was praised by international community and the OSCE Minsk Group mediators. Azerbaijan’s readiness for dialogue with Armenia was also highlighted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in mid-January: "I think that statements from Baku about readiness to look for solutions deserve real praise. I hope our Armenian friends will respond accordingly."
The fact that till the very last moment Baku tried to engage in active negotiations is also proved by the fact that Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov was ready to meet with his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanyan on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. “We will take any opportunity to meet,” Mammadyarov said before his trip to Munich. In turn, while he was already in Munich, Armenian Foreign Minister said in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza that no meeting with Mammadyarov was planned, noting that they would definitely greet each other if they accidentally meet.
Stagnant political situation around Nagorno-Karabakh, partially provoked by Pashinyan, increases risk that Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict will resume. At the same time, today Azerbaijan has an objective diplomatic advantage as the “constructive side,” since Armenian leadership made rather amateurish mistakes in the diplomatic field, and hurt the negotiation process in favor of tactical domestic political interests.