Oleg Kuznetsov: "Chance to peacefully resolve Nagorno-Karabakh conflict already lost"

A little less than a year has passed since the April clashes for Karabakh, during which for the first time since introduction of the ceasefire in 1994 status quo has change and the occupied territories of Azerbaijan were liberated, but tensions between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops on the contact line arise once again, clashes are becoming more frequent and more bloody. Political consultant, candidate of historical sciences, Oleg Kuznetsov, discussed lessons of February and April clashes and prospects of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.

- How far did the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict advance over the past 11 months? 

- A real prospect of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement still existed last summer, since international mediators have made tremendous efforts to reconcile the parties and find at least some common ground between them, but this fall we saw how Armenia drifted away from the negotiations. The culmination of this drift happened in February, during the so-called "referendum" in the occupied territories, when self-proclaimed "Nagorno=Karabakh Republic" was renamed "Artsakh". It became a point of no return, since official Baku doesn't want to hold any negotiations with quasi-state "Artsakh", and this position was repeatedly voiced by President Heydar Aliyev and current President Ilham Aliyev. Right now the only possible option is war. A chance to peacefully resolve Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is already lost, and it's official Yerevan's fault. 

- How dangerous is it to postpone the negotiations? Is there a threat of resumption of active hostilities with further change in the status quo?

- Regular clashes with the use of small arms escalated into artillery duels with 122-mm guns and mortars. The next possible step is counter-battery fight with the use of heavy offensive weapons and possibly tactical aviation. Right now the situation is developing according to the same scenario as the one prior to April of last year, when there were small clashes on the contact line in January, and then provocations on the border line, which ended with a five-day large-scale military confrontation and death of a large number of troops on both sides. 

- What can stimulate the transition from diplomatic meetings to implementation of specific steps, such as liberation of the occupied territories around Karabakh and the return of refugees?

- I think this process no longer needs external stimulus, since diplomats have already made all possible proposals. I don't thank official Baku will negotiate with Yerevan over "Artsakh's" status. Especially since President Serzh Sargsyan has recently announced a new logical triad: "Armenia, diaspora and 'Artsakh' are united", thereby showing that Armenia won't give up on "Artsakh". Accordingly, the "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic" no longer exists as the object of negotiations, and no one recognizes "Artsakh", even Armenia itself, in other words, it simply can't be the object of negotiations. So negotiations are in a deadlock, and there can only be military solution.

- Azerbaijan has repeatedly stated that it's ready to fully restore damaged occupied areas after their liberation - current restoration of Chojuk-Marjanly village is a great example of this. Can this example become a stimulus for the Minsk Group and the population of occupied territories, which will make them believe in Baku's constructive approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

- I know at least two major scientific monographs, edited by Eldar Ismailov, former president of the Caucasus Strategic Development Bank, dedicated to the topic of reintegration of the occupied territories in the economic life of Azerbaijan in case it will return them. They contain detailed plans of investments and infrastructure development, not only economic, but also cultural, including the creation of mugham centers. Initially, under the prices of 2012-2013, Azerbaijan planned to invest about $6 billion. Due to recent events these costs will increase by 2-2,5 times, but if 20% of these territories will return under Azerbaijan's jurisdiction, it will be a major driver of economic development of the republic, and integration costs will pay off in 15-20 years. 

This is a normal model of macroeconomic development of the country based on Canada's model, which invested money in the development and creation of new industrial growth centers. Russia is trying to develop advanced clusters projects in the North Caucasus, Far East and other regions in the same way, expecting that they will help country's economy. In other words, reintegration model proposed by Azerbaijan has already been tested on the international level and it had positive results.

- Considering latest large-scale clashes in February, how urgent the problem of peaceful settlement is today? Will it end with the transition to implementation of certain steps or the resumption of active phase of the war?

- I believe that peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can be achieved only if "Artsakh" will surrender and Armenian troops will withdraw from it. There's no other condition for peaceful settlement. At the same time, I don't think it will happen, since Armenia is a country which suffers from the clash of two world powers' interests - Russia and the United States. The United States have a huge influence on this region, since this allows them to limit Russia's geostrategic presence in the regions of Asia and the Middle East, and its rapprochement with Turkey in particular. Armenia is just following what American politics tell it (it should be remembered that "referendum" in the occupied territories was held using the funds of one of US agencies under the program of development of democracy in the South Caucasus). That's why peaceful settlement of the conflict is simply impossible today.

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