Karabagh Solution Stymied by New Cold War

By Edmond Y. Azadian

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has not been conducting himself as the head of a country which was beaten back after initiating an aggressive war against Armenia and Karabagh, our historic Artsakh. Instead, he is threatening Armenians with a new war counting on the expansion of his country’s military. Some of his comments are outrageously threatening and bordering on the declaration of war.

Recently visiting a military unit near Agdam, Aliyev offered some bellicose remarks to his soldiers, hoping that his threats would be heard across the border in Armenia and spread terror among the population.

He specifically stated, “Today, the fascist leadership, the military junta of Armenia, is leading the country into an abyss. They have occupied our lands, but at the same time, they have occupied the whole of Armenia. The Armenian people should get rid of the criminal and corrupt leadership. Otherwise, huge disasters are in store for Armenia. If the Armenian fascist state does not give up its dirty deeds, the very existence of the Armenian state can be called into question.”

This very much sounds as if Aliyev has borrowed it from the opposition leaders’ rhetoric in Armenia or from the mantra of its diasporan surrogates.

When the enemy is at the gate, any similar statement by any Armenian is not patriotic, to say the least.

But Aliyev also has his own rhetoric and does not owe authorship to any one else as he states: “Azerbaijan has been producing modern weaponry and equipment. At the same time, the equipment, machinery, weapons and ammunitions we purchase from foreign sources also meet the highest standards. The most advanced air defense installations have been acquired. Our army has the most powerful artillery. High-precision missile systems with great destructive power, combat and transport helicopters, combat aircraft, armored vehicles, tanks — all of those are factors that form the potential of the Azerbaijani army today. Today, the Azerbaijani army is capable of destroying any object in Nagorno-Karabagh.” Former Azeri president, Ebulfez Elçibey, made similar statement during the Karabagh war. That is why by the time of the ceasefire, most of the Azeri military hardware was in the hands of the Armenian forces.

Not only that, Aliyev threatens to occupy “the Erivan Khanate,” including Zangezour, and eventually hoist the Azeri flag over “all the occupied territory, including Shusha and Khankhendi [Stepanakert.]”

In an article in Outlook.com, Mark Dietzen, who is criticizing US Ambassador James Warlick’s unilateral plan to resolve the Karabagh conflict, also qualifies Aliyev’s statements in the following manner: “This is not the behavior of a losing side seeking reconciliation, but a losing side seeking revenge.”

Indeed, Azerbaijan’s arms’ build-up has been alarming in recent years. Following its defeat at the hands of the Armenian forces, Azerbaijan launched an arms race to destroy Armenia’s economy. Funded by its oil wealth, Azerbaijan has been on a military spending spree, allocating $3.44 billion for defense in 2013. Its defense budget has skyrocketed by 493 percent since 2004, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Armenia has tried to follow suit, spending $427 million on defense, a 115-percent increase from 2004, according to the same source. While Armenia’s spending is in the millions, rather than in the billions like Azerbaijan, the country does not have the all-important oil spigot to flood its coffers with money.

Most of Azerbaijan’s armaments are supplied by Israel and Russia. Even if Israel does not harbor any hostility against Armenia itself, its geopolitical interests compel it to have a foothold on the Iranian border, since the Azeri government also has a bone of contention with Tehran, over the so-called “Northern Azerbaijan” province in Iran.

The Russian Uralvagonzavod Concern just announced that it will send a new batch of military equipment to Baku at the order of Azerbaijan.

In view of Azerbaijan’s declared hostility against Russia, one would be at a loss to explain, let alone justify, Vladimir Putin’s policy of arming Azerbaijan. In a recent UN vote condemning Russia for taking over Crimea, Azerbaijan voted with the US against Russia. Azerbaijan has also cut an energy deal with British Petroleum worth $45 billion to supply Europe with oil and gas, bypassing the Russian territory.

It is believed that Moscow still entertains the notion of enticing Azerbaijan to join its Customs’ Union. It also has its own prospects for energy deals with Baku.

Just this past week, the Russian cabinet approved Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union, though it is hard to see the cohabitation of two enemies in the Russian camp.

Many people are alarmed and have been questioning the causes of recent border flare-ups between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Every time a summit meeting is planned between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Baku government orders intensified attacks, hoping to extract some concessions from Yerevan at the conference table. This time around, those clashes sounded like the beginning of an all-out war. The Azeris suffered significant losses and withdrew. There were fewer casualties on the Armenian side, but in a war situation, the statistics always remain questionable.

Armenia, in turn, raised its own war rhetoric. Reporting about the border situation to Armenia’s cabinet, Minister of Defense Seyran Ohanian concluded his remarks with the following statement: “I believe that they have fallen victim to their own lies. For years, they have preached to their people that they have a powerful army, that they are constantly rearming, that they are invincible. In this context, I must say that the Turk remains a Turk and we will act towards them according to the same rules that they wish to use against us.”

President Serge Sargisian’s comments were equally harsh. When referring to Aliyev’s bellicose tone, he said, “Armenia has ballistic missiles that have a range of 300 kilometers and can ruin any city. If they don’t care about their own lives, if they are aiming at Yerevan, let them consider the consequences.”

The escalation in tensions in the Caucasus cannot be viewed in isolation. Armenia and Azerbaijan are not alone in this game. The tensions in the Caucasus are the direct result of global power alignments. Although President Obama emphatically denied that instituting sanctions against Russia dance on the brink of a new Cold War, US actions in the world, supported by the European powers, are nothing less than the beginning of a new Cold war, with policies aimed at containing Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, in a unipolar world, the US enjoyed the privilege of global hegemony and obviously does not wish to retreat from that position. Despite promises given to Mr. Gorbachev, however, the West has been expanding the NATO alliance to encircle Russia.

As if reckless aggressions against Iraq, Libya and Syria had been in full compliance of international law, Russia’s annexation of Crimea has been treated by the US and its allies as the only violation of international law governing sovereign nations.

For 20 years, Russia, the US and France were cooperating within the framework of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but the US suddenly broke ranks and declared a unilateral policy to resolve the Karabagh conflict. That policy was enunciated by Ambassador Warlick, who has represented the US on the body, and later repeated by the US Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern. The new policy dissected the Madrid Principles to give an edge to Azerbaijan in the ultimate solution, but above all, introduced the element of peacekeeping forces on the Karabagh border. It was not difficult for analysts to conclude that under the guise of peacekeeping, the US is seeking a foothold in the Caucasus on the Iranian border, a foothold which will also doubly serve to encircle Russia.

Armenia refused the offer of peacekeepers, even when its ally, Russia, intimated that it could send its own peacekeeping forces, because once Armenia cedes power to foreign forces, it surrenders its right to negotiate on its own.

The most frequently-asked question recently has been who can win the war if events lead to that state. It is very difficult to predict the outcome. The result will be determined by the alignment of forces. Will Turkey participate? Will Russia intervene? There is more of a tendency in Washington for interventionism, especially when there may be a prize at the end to introduce a new wedge in the sanitary cordon around Russia.

One thing is clear that Russia does not wish to lose Azerbaijan to the West nor to alienate Armenia, more than it has already. Therefore, the status quo is the best solution for Russia by default. And it looks like that has also been the outcome of the much-anticipated recent summit meeting in Sochi, where President Putin brought together Presidents Sargisian and Aliyev. We need to be reminded that there was a similar offer by the French president, Francois Hollande.

But Putin took the first opportunity to bring the parties together. Aliyev’s pre-meeting maximalist stance that Armenia must return all occupied territories unconditionally was dampened. Instead, Aliyev played the UN card and accused Armenia of ignoring UN resolutions, after which Armenia’s president asked which UN resolution was honored by Azerbaijan itself? In the end, no party gave in and apparently Putin’s goal also was met. At the conclusion of the Sochi summit, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov summed up the conclusions: “The meeting was important. The presidents have confirmed their commitment to the principles outlined by the co-chairs of OSCE at the presidential level and those principles imply a necessity to seek a peaceful solution which respects the territorial integrity and the right of the people to self-determination.”

By the way, the concept of “territorial integrity” means different things to different parties in the dispute.

This means we are back at square one. Tensions may subside for a while, waiting for another cycle of cross-border shooting.

Is the Karabagh conflict contained? Certainly not. It has merely been postponed to another round.