More and more people in the West speak of a resumption of a full-fledged war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In preparing their reports, the US think tanks also mention Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which, in their view, has the potential to grow into a full-fledged war in 2018. According to Worldwide Threats Assessment report of the director of a serious law enforcement body of the United States, National Intelligence Daniel Coats in the part related to Karabakh, notes that tensions around Nagorno-Karabakh may grow into a full-fledged armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan which may involve Russia, with Russia taking the side of its regional ally, Armenia. The report also says that the unwillingness of both parties to make a compromise, growing external pressure, stable military modernization of Azerbaijan and purchase of new Russian weapons by Armenia in 2018 may lead to large-scale hostilities. How serious should Coats’ report be treated? Is Moscow interested in escalation of the Karabakh conflict? Which side will the Kremlin take if the Second Karabakh War begins? Let’s try to find the answer to these questions.
Presidential elections in Azerbaijan and Armenia
Russia and Armenia are to hold presidential elections in March, while Azerbaijan will do so in April. Currently these countries are actively preparing for elections, with the incumbent powers focusing solely on elections. Therefore, neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia are realistically thinking about war with each other. Even once the presidential elections are over, the possibility of war in Karabakh is very low simply because following elections, the new ruling party usually pays great attention to domestic issues and the fulfilment of election promises. The Azerbaijani side at least will not take any steps that would lead to a full-fledged war, given that Azerbaijan has long been positioning itself as a tolerant and multicultural country in the international arena, as a neutral state choosing non-alignment with any military alliance in its foreign policy. Azerbaijan has been a member of the Non-Aligned Movement since 2011, while Armenia is a member of the military bloc, the CSTO.
Why does the Kremlin not want war in Karabakh?
It is no secret to anyone that the West exerts great pressure on Russia. Washington continues to apply sanctions against Moscow in an attempt to weaken the Kremlin’s influence in the post-Soviet countries. Meanwhile, the European Union has recently moved to a more intensive promotion of its interests in the former USSR countries – both in the South Caucasus and in Central Asia. The situation in Syria took a twisted turn, with the US-led coalition recently crushing the Russian convoy during which an indeterminable numbers of Russians were killed.
As we can see, the geopolitical situation in the world is changing rapidly giving rise to new hotbeds (the Turkish-Kurdish war, the Iran-“Israel” clashes in Syria). The West’s threats toward Russia are growing. Considering the aforementioned facts, Russia is more interested in resisting the West’s influence than in escalating the Karabakh conflict.
However, one should not ignore the Russian-Azerbaijani relations which are growing gradually on the ascending line. Azerbaijan is occupying one of the priority trends in Russia’s external policy as is evident by the course taken by President Ilham Aliyev in increasing closer ties with Russia, strengthening trade and economic cooperation between Azerbaijan and Russia, as well as military and technical cooperation. All this gives us a firm ground to say that the Kremlin attaches great importance to cooperation with Baku and that Kremlin is interested in ensuring stability in the South Caucasus region as well as intensifying trust-building measures between the conflicting parties.
On its part, Russia takes active steps to resolve the Karabakh conflict and contributes to the negotiation process. During the press conference on results of Russian diplomats’ activity in 2017, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed the need for a phased solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry hailed Lavrov’s proposal.
A comforting sign in the negotiation process on Karabakh
In January 2018, Poland’s Krakow hosted the meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia Elmar Mammadyarov and Edward Nalbandian with participation of the personal representative of the OSCE chairman-in-office Andrzej Kasprzyk and OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs Igor Popov, Stephan Visconti and Andrew Schofer. The co-chairs proposed a number of creative ideas related to the conflict settlement. Though the details of proposals are not disclosed, it is to a certain extent encouraging that the co-chairs did not fully reject the negotiation process and some breakthroughs can be expected on the Karabakh issue. This is undoubtedly a comforting sign. But Baku hopes that the OSCE Minsk Group will soon take more effective steps.
Which side will Russia take in case of a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia?
In his report, the director of the US National Intelligence, Daniel Coats is convinced that in the event of a full-fledged war in Karabakh, Russia will take the side of its strategic ally Armenia. Let’s recall Russia’s actions during the ‘four-day war’ in April 2016 when Azerbaijan managed to liberate part of its lands. It is worth noting that the hostilities of April 2-5, 2016 were the largest since the ceasefire agreement of May, 1994.
At first, President of Russia Vladimir Putin urged both parties to end hostilities and get back to the ceasefire agreement. On April 4, 2016, Russian Foreign Minister said at a Moscow press conference that ‘Russia does not consider it expedient to change the format of the OSCE Minsk Group on Karabakh and to try to undermine the role of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.”
Now, Russia is actively cooperating with Azerbaijan in military and technical field and is the biggest trade partner of Azerbaijan, while in the 1990s the relations between the two countries were certainly not on that level. What could this mean? It means that Russia and Azerbaijan attach a great importance to bilateral cooperation. With this in mind, it is possible to make a conclusion that Russia will not take anyone’s side in the Karabakh war, instead it will undertake efforts to prevent a full-fledged war between the parties.
Thus, there are no serious prerequisites for the resumption of a full-scale war in Karabakh in 2018. While one cannot exclude the possibility of war in the future, for the time being at least, one thing is clear: that a large-scale war between Azerbaijan and Armenia is unlikely to happen this year, and the report of the director of US National Intelligence is nothing more than a guess.
DISCLAIMER: The views of the author are sourly his and do not reflect the view of Eurasia Future.