Aliyev's final warning
Passions in the Caucasus are heating up as the start of construction of a transport corridor from Azerbaijan to its exclave region of Nakhchivan through the territory of Armenia is delayed. Meanwhile, the implementation of this project, which changes the economic realities of the region, is one of the central points of the trilateral agreement of November 9, 2020 between Baku, Moscow and Yerevan. The issue has been consistently torpedoed by Yerevan, whose behavior seems to be causing increasing irritation in Baku.
The harsh tone of recent statements from Azerbaijan leaves no doubt: Azerbaijanis do not intend to put up with half-hearted decisions and attempts to blur the essence of the agreements reached with Yerevan through the mediation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Several days ago, Ilham Aliyev said that if Armenia refuses to implement the Zangezur corridor, as it is called in Baku, the Armenian side will be forced to open this corridor. In Armenia, these statements of the Azerbaijani leader were perceived as a threat to their own territorial integrity and began to remind of Russia's allied obligations to defend the republic. In Russia, which is remarkable, they did not react to this at all. At the same time, until recently, Armenia itself was a country violating the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. A circumstance that clearly demonstrates how the balance of power in the region has radically changed after the Second Karabakh War in 2020.
Another harsh message Ilham Aliyev voiced on April 27 during his visit to the liberated Zangilan region. "The military provocation recently perpetrated against our border guards on the Zangilan direction of the Azerbaijani-Armenian border should be the last such attempt. We, having shown restraint, did not respond to this provocation. But this is the last warning. If a similar attempt is made again, the enemy will be destroyed on the spot, "the Azerbaijani president said, referring to the April 22 border incident. Modern military equipment and dozens of Israeli "Harop" kamikaze drones, against which Aliyev spoke to his military, made his words even more convincing.
While the Azerbaijani president in an army off-road vehicle drives around the vast territories liberated by his army, political uncertainty continues to reign in Yerevan - a state in which the Armenian society permanently remains after the signing of an armistice (or an act of surrender, as the opposition in Armenia calls it). The paradox of the situation is that even despite the painful defeat in Karabakh, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan remains the most popular politician in the country. On April 25, he submitted his technical resignation due to early parliamentary elections scheduled for late July, where he will be re-elected together with his My Step bloc. Recent opinion polls have shown that no other political force is even close to Pashinyan's "My Step", whose rating is more than 30%. Reanimation as a political figure of the second president of Armenia, Robert Kocharian, is proceeding slowly and with a creak - his rating is only 5-6%, and he has not yet created his own political movement.
But on the eve of the elections, Pashinyan's team began to receive impressive support from the West. Friends, as they say, are known in trouble. US President Joe Biden called the events of 1915 "Armenian genocide", the chairman of the French Senate solemnly promised to promote the idea of independence of Karabakh in Europe, and the US Ambassador to Yerevan Lin Tracy announced her country's readiness to start negotiations with the CSTO member (!) Armenia on the supply of American weapons. All this is credited to the diplomatic successes of Pashinyan's team. The opposition has nothing to boast about.
The Armenian authorities tie the implementation of the Zangezur corridor to the issue of "return of prisoners of war." We are talking about a group of soldiers of the Armenian Armed Forces of more than 60 people transferred to the rear of the Azerbaijani army in Karabakh after the conclusion of the trilateral agreement of November 9. In Baku, they are considered saboteurs and are reminded that the arrested Armenian soldiers killed and wounded several Azerbaijani soldiers and civilians. Accordingly, the Azerbaijanis are not going to return them - at least not yet. Russia has taken a cautious stance on this delicate issue - on the one hand, Moscow at the level of the foreign minister confirmed Baku's data that the soldiers were illegally deployed after the conclusion of the trilateral agreement. On the other hand, the Foreign Ministry emphasizes that it is in favor of an exchange of prisoners on the principle of “all for all”. But the US Congress is preparing a resolution demanding from Azerbaijan the unconditional return of "Armenian prisoners of war". Thus, in this issue, one can observe a certain synchronization of the actions of the Armenian government and its Western partners. The topic of "prisoners of war" is one of the most problematic for Nikol Pashinyan, and it is easy to calculate a pre-election move to neutralize its negative impact on one's image by supporting the United States and France.
An interesting situation is developing in the region today. Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan are politically and economically interested in unblocking regional railway communications. The Armenian authorities, represented by Pashinyan, are blocking the solution of this issue, receiving rather serious pre-election bonuses from the West in return. Will Yerevan risk finally sabotaging the trilateral agreement - despite Vladimir Putin's unequivocal warning that it will become suicide for Armenia? Or such a maneuver and flirting with the West is just a pre-election game, the purpose of which is to maintain power and gain space for foreign policy maneuvers. In any of the options, there is a high risk that regional players - Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan - may very abruptly stop Nikol Pashinyan's flirting with the very unfriendly Bayden West. And in this context, Aliyev's statements about the possibility of "forcible" creation of the Zangezur corridor, his "last warning" on the occasion of the recent border incident, as well as Moscow's deathly silence, appear in a different, rather dangerous light for Armenia.