Heiko Langner: "2+2 format exists in the new reality of the South Caucasus: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia and Turkey"
Last week, a month after the signing by Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia of the trilateral Declaration on the end of the Karabakh war, the first cases of violation by the Armenian side of the terms of the peace agreement occurred: on December 8 and 11, the remnants of the occupying forces in the Khojavend region of Azerbaijan, taking advantage of the fact that they are out of control Russian peacekeeping mission, carried out attacks on Azerbaijani soldiers near the village of Hadrut. To suppress such terrorist acts in the liberated lands of the republic, the Azerbaijani State Security Service conducted a counter-terrorist operation, during which the militants were driven out of the villages of Kehne Taglar and Chailaggala. Russia recorded this first post-war conflict incident, recognizing the violation of the ceasefire by the Armenian side.
Vestnik Kavkaza talked with Berlin political scientist Heiko Langner about how the results of the Karabakh war and the prospects for stabilizing peace in the South Caucasus are seen today.
- First of all, how do you assess the results of the Second Karabakh War?
- In terms of the level of warfare, Azerbaijan surpassed Armenia from the very beginning of hostilities. The Azerbaijani army first of all neutralized the air defense systems of Armenia with the help of combat drones and blocked the routes of military supply. While mainly military-strategic positions were fortified in the northern sector of the front, the main blow of Azerbaijan's ground offensive was delivered on the southern flank in order to return the territories on the border with Iran, captured by Armenian troops, under its control.
The second Karabakh war was the first modern high-tech war. We saw that such a war had a much shorter duration and much less civilian casualties than during the war in the 1990s. At the same time, she also showed that the idea of a controlled or even "pure" war remains a dangerous illusion - unfortunately, civilians who were not involved in the fighting, including young children, were killed. According to official data, 2,783 soldiers from the Azerbaijani side were killed, and Armenia recognizes the deaths of 2,660 soldiers, whose number is likely to increase, since many soldiers are still missing and not all dead have been found.
- Was it possible, in your opinion, to avoid a military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
- Although a military defeat is very painful for Armenia, in this long-term conflict it is not at all a "sinless" party. The Armenian side has always only been playing for time to postpone the resolution of the political conflict for as long as possible. The expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis from Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories in the early 1990s was a crime. By stubbornly refusing to give the displaced people any serious hope of returning to their homeland, Armenia contributed to the escalation of the conflict, which resulted in it being defeated.
Not least for this reason, contrary to Yerevan's expectations, Russia behaved politically neutral and quickly made it clear that its contractual obligations to provide military assistance relate only to the protection of the internationally recognized state territory of Armenia. As the most important mediator in the OSCE Minsk Group, Moscow has always supported the "peace for land" conflict formula, that is, the return of the occupied territories to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan, by contrast, this time had significantly more active supporters than before, especially Turkey, Israel and Pakistan. Weapon technologies of these states ultimately played one of the decisive roles in the course of the war.
- How do you see the future of the situation in the South Caucasus?
- Any political decision based on negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group would be much more beneficial for Armenia than the ceasefire conditions dictated by the military, but now it needs to live in the conditions in which it has led itself. Azerbaijan, in turn, has basically achieved its goals, the military occupation of its territories has ended.
At the same time, changes are taking place on the geopolitical map of the South Caucasus. The main winners among external players are Russia and Turkey. Russia has strengthened the role of the regulating power in the South Caucasus, since it guarantees the security of the Armenian population with the help of 1960 peacekeepers in the Nagorno-Karabakh part and, in fact, takes exclusive responsibility for a broader settlement. Turkey, for its part, has strengthened its presence in the region. Now it is about organizing a sustainable peace process over the next five years that will eliminate the root of the problem.
Finally, it is necessary to overcome the mutual images of enemies so that the practical coexistence of the Armenian and Azerbaijani populations could be successful. Economic recovery in the liberated territories of Azerbaijan offers good opportunities, and the Armenian population can benefit from this, for example, in the form of employment in Azerbaijani companies and labor income. If both groups of the population learn that the peace process has a positive effect on their living conditions and increases their own well-being, the issue of the political status of Nagorno-Karabakh may gradually lose its significance.
After Armenia's military defeat, the dream of an independent Armenian micro-state in Nagorno-Karabakh is likely to collapse. Cultural autonomy of the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh is undoubtedly possible in the future, and some form of political self-government within Azerbaijan is also possible. For a long time, this was the proposal of the Azerbaijani government in peace negotiations, which was approved by international mediators in the conflict, but never satisfied the Armenian regime in Nagorno-Karabakh.
- What are the prospects of the OSCE Minsk Group?
- The 44-day war clearly indicates the failure of the peace efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group. It was not enough just to freeze the existing conflict; it was also required to make active efforts to resolve it. In 2007, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to the so-called "Madrid Basic Principles" as the cornerstones of a comprehensive peace agreement, but in practice none of this document was implemented. Political pressure on Armenia was necessary for the actual de-occupation of the Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, as it was envisaged in the "Madrid Principles". Even the German federal government at one time clearly stated in response to a parliamentary inquiry that the unwillingness of the Armenian side to withdraw troops is the main obstacle to progress in the negotiations. However, no practical conclusions were drawn from this.
As a result, now, after the conclusion of a new ceasefire agreement, a new reality has emerged, in fact, a new format of negotiations 2 + 2 has been established, that is, Armenia-Azerbaijan + Russia-Turkey. Therefore, it is no longer known whether the OSCE Minsk Group is still needed and to what extent. In addition, France caused damage to its co-chairmanship in the OSCE Minsk Group by its unilateral pro-Armenian position. Of course, the citizens of militarily weaker Armenia are happy when France takes their side and the French Senate demands diplomatic recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh. But this is detrimental to the credibility of the mediator in the conflict, because it is necessary to maintain at least a minimum of political neutrality in relation to the conflicting parties.