Armenia pulls out of the negotiation process: analysis of the causes and possible consequences

The military and political leadership of Armenia has decided to ‘raise the stakes’ in the conflict
The military and political leadership of Armenia has decided to ‘raise the stakes’ in the conflict

The regional media has unanimously dubbed an interview given by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to Bloomberg  as ‘sensational’ – the Armenian leader announced that Armenia is actually pulling out of the process of the peaceful settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. However, in the context of the recent categorical statement by Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan that Armenia will not return ‘a single inch of land’ in Karabakh, the Armenian President's tone of speech is not so much surprising. These statements confirmed only the fears of many observers that the military-political leadership of Armenia has decided to ‘raise the stakes’ in the conflict.

Moreover, according to Sargsyan, Yerevan's return to the peace talks is possible only in case of providing of  ‘security guarantees’, because ‘now the situation is completely different.’ We will leave behind brackets the question of any of the further security guarantees, about which the president speaks, whose borders are guarded by the Russian soldiers, allowing Yerevan to concentrate the forces of the Armenian shock army in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. It appears that even the ‘safety belt’ (as the Armenian side likes to call the seven occupied regions around Nagorno-Karabakh) is no longer sufficient as a ‘security guarantee’ in the context of the recent events. Thus, the military-political leadership of Armenia has indirectly acknowledged the absolute military superiority of Azerbaijan, and decided to make adjustments to their own tactics  in the prevailing circumstances. The strategy remains unchanged – preservation of the conflict as long as the international community and Azerbaijan will accept the results of the occupation.

Yerevan’s previous tactic was to maintain the negotiating process in slow mode, but now, it seems, they have decided to use the recent military conflict with Azerbaijan as an excuse for the complete suspension of negotiations. Thus, a new step has been taken in the military and diplomatic game over Nagorno-Karabakh, in fact, we are talking about an open demarche. While the co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group and, in particular, Russian diplomacy are making efforts to revive the peace settlement, strongly emphasizing the inadmissibility of the status quo, Serzh Sargsyan's statement doesn't paint Yerevan in a positive light. Why did the Armenian leadership take this step now? Lets try to understand the logic of the Armenian authorities and highlight the main points that led the Yerevan authorities to tighten their own position.

Firstly, the loss of the ‘small areas in the north and the south’, which was officially recognized by Sargsyan himself, will inevitably cause more questions among Armenian society, agitated once again by the Karabakh issue. When the defense minister said ‘we will not return an inch’, and the commander-in-chief admitted that part of the lands was given eventually in order to avoid further bloodshed, then there are only two options. Either Sargsyan and Ohanyan represent different positions, or are playing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cops, getting ready to recapture the lost territories, if not through diplomatic channels, then  through military ones. The second option is more likely. The current president (and his Minister of Defence) is a representative of the ‘war party’, he came to power with his former colleague (and now political opponent), the ex-president Robert Kocharyan on a nationalist wave, on an agenda of being absolutely uncompromising in negotiations.

The heavy losses of the Armenian army in manpower and technology during the recent April clashes with Azerbaijan, as well as the loss of control over a range of heights, have hurt the image of the Armenian authorities in the wider circles of Armenian society. At the same time Westerners have become active, by deploying an anti-Russian campaign. Recall at the least the public complaint of Sargsyan during his press conference with Angela Merkel in Germany on the occasion of the obsolete weapons of the Armenian Army and supplies of the Russian weapons to Azerbaijan, which only contributed to this trend.

However, a far greater threat to the government of Serzh Sargsyan is the ex-president Robert Kocharyan, an experienced politician, well aware of the psychology of his former Defense Minister Sargsyan and having contacts in Yerevan’s corridors of power. The links of Kocharyan (who is now a director of AFK ‘System’) with Russian political and economic circles are not a secret either. The question of the survival of the political regime is at stake, and in such circumstances Serzh Sargsyan wants to stay on the crest of the resurgent nationalist wave.

Secondly, it is clear that each party in the conflict is trying to use the April clashes for the maximum diplomatic benefit to themselves. In the Azerbaijani case we are talking about the need to change the status quo, in the Armenian case about the introduction of mechanisms to investigate the incidents on the frontline (which, as official Baku fears, may lead to a further preservation of the conflict). By ‘security guarantees’ Sargsyan apparently means namely the implementation of such mechanisms or even the signing of a document renouncing the use of force in resolving the conflict. Azerbaijan would not mind signing this commitment if the non-use of force agreement also applies to the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Azerbaijani territories and the disarmament of the separatist groups. After all, only in this case would it be possible to talk about a real renunciation of force and the creation of the necessary prerequisites for the deployment of peacekeepers in the conflict zone and the return of internally displaced persons.

But the Armenian authorities will hardly agree to this approach. Instead, they have chosen to build up the pressure on the international mediators and Russia, with which it is connected only via the only military base in the South Caucasus, Gyumri, acting according to the formula ‘either the preservation of the conflict, or the complete failure of the negotiation process'. This implies that pulling out of the negotiating process in the existing conditions will mean the beginning of a new full-scale war, something that Moscow wants least, being interested in maintaining peace around the perimeter of its borders against the background of confrontation with the United States, Ukraine and Turkey. The war in the region is a large and real threat to the internal stability of the Russian Federation.

It should be noted that Russian-Azerbaijani relations have been developing especially rapidly in recent years. Neither the economic sanctions of the West against Russia nor the deterioration of the Russian-Turkish relations have become an obstacle for the partnership between Baku and Moscow. Iran's emergence from international isolation has allowed work to be sped up on the strategic transport project ‘North-South’, in which the Moscow-Baku-Tehran axis is playing a key role.

In this context, Yerevan's decision to pull out from the negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement will not bring diplomatic dividends to the country, and will only cause irritation of the two major players in the region – Iran and Russia, at the least. And a massive artillery bombardment of the Azerbaijani positions and settlements in the Agdam and Terter sectors of the front, started on the night of April 26th, creates additional tension, calling into question the ceasefire agreement reached with the mediation of Moscow on April 5th of this year. If Armenia is not ready to negotiate in the ‘changed circumstances’, it is likely that they will make an attempt  to restore the ‘old conditions’ ( to capture some of the territory controlled by Azerbaijan), and to raise their own prestige in society, as well as to strengthen their positions in the negotiations with Azerbaijan along with this. So Baku should be ready for the intensification of fighting on the front, and Russian diplomacy and political leadership, obviously, will have to take ‘manual control’ of the situation.

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