“The Karabakh ceasefire agreement does not refer to a ‘Zangezur corridor’”
What were the causes of Azerbaijan's attack on Armenia for the second time after the 2020 ceasefire? Is it all due to the "Zangezur corridor" for which Azerbaijan is pressing? Did Russia's downturn in Ukraine, Europe's "rapprochement" with Azerbaijan over its need for natural gas supplies and the acceleration of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation efforts, revived after many years, play a role in the timing of the attack?
Explaining the differences and contradictions between the terms of the trilateral ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia, concluded at the end of the 44-day Karabakh War II in 2020, and Azerbaijan's demands, Kerim Has assessed Russia's role in the war in the South Caucasus and possible scenarios for +GercekNews readers.
What is happening on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border?
Azerbaijan's air attack on Armenian territory in the hours between Monday night and Tuesday (September 12-13) is of great importance. First of all, I believe that the Aliyev government would not have carried out such an attack if Russia had not faced serious difficulties in Ukraine. In particular, Moscow's defeat last week in the Kharkiv region against the Western-backed Ukrainian army and the forced withdrawal of Russian troops from the region may have encouraged Baku to increase pressure on Yerevan.
My feeling is that Baku assesses that Russia would be reluctant to devote time to the Caucasus when all its attention is focused on Ukraine, which is largely true. Thus, by using its military power, Azerbaijan intends to make the terms of a possible peace agreement with Armenia more favorable for itself.
"ALIYEV WANTS TO RAISE HIS HAND IN NEGOTIATIONS WITH YEREVAN"
With this attack, does Azerbaijan want to paralyze a possible "Turkish-Armenian reconciliation" as it did in the past, or does it want to strengthen its hand at the Turkish-Armenian negotiating table, where it is de facto unrepresented?
In fact, both Baku and Ankara have already largely tied the normalization process in Turkey-Armenia relations to the course of Azerbaijan-Armenia relations. So I don't think Aliyev's main goal at the moment is to paralyze contacts between Turkey and Armenia. This, as I said, is already connected with the previous link in the chain.
I believe that Baku's attack was mainly intended to have the upper hand in negotiations with Yerevan on the disarmament of Armenian forces in Karabakh, the immediate opening of the Zangezur corridor on an equal footing with the Lachin corridor, and the demarcation of the international borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia, on which no agreement has yet been reached.
However, it should be noted here that the trilateral ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia, concluded in 2020 at the end of the 44-day Karabakh War II, does not include an article on the disarmament of Armenian forces in Karabakh. There is, likewise, no mention of the Zangezur Corridor.
"THE TRILATERAL AGREEMENT DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY STATEMENT THAT THIS CORRIDOR HAS THE SAME STATUS AS THE LACHIN CORRIDOR, I.E. THAT AZERBAIJAN TOO HAS SOVEREIGNTY OVER IT"
Is the Azerbaijani demand for the "Zangezur Corridor" outside the ceasefire agreement?
The agreement states that all economic and transport lines in the region will be opened, including those linking Azerbaijan with Russia, Azerbaijan with Armenia and Armenia with Iran, and that Armenia will ensure the safety of civilian and transport vehicles, as well as the transport of goods between Nakhichevan and the western regions of Azerbaijan, which will be controlled by Russian FSB border troops.
This does not necessarily mean that this route will be opened through Armenia's Syunik region or through what Azerbaijan calls the Zangezur corridor. However, it is true that the cheapest and shortest connection between Nakhichevan and other parts of Azerbaijan is through Syunik region. Theoretically, however, Armenia could open this link through another region. In any case, the parties need to sit together, discuss, and come to an agreement. Moreover, the trilateral agreement does not contain any statement that this route has the same status as the Lachin corridor, i.e. that Azerbaijan has sovereignty over this route as well.
Therefore, the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia is also reflected in the difference in their interpretation of this trilateral agreement.
"RUSSIA WILL TRY TO REACH A CEASEFIRE"
On the second day of the attack, Russia still does not seem to have a clear position. What will Russia do?
I don't think Russia would want to join the war against Azerbaijan together with Armenia, when it already has enough problems in Ukraine. Opening a new front for Russia in the former Soviet sphere involving the ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia would be something Moscow would not like at all.
Opening of a new front in Russia's "backyard" would have been something eagerly called for by actors such as the United Kingdom and the United States, who want to turn Ukraine into a "quagmire" for Moscow. Therefore, I believe that Aliyev's strategy is not only directly related to the dynamics of the war in Ukraine, but also to the actors in Ukraine.
Given this equation, Russia would prefer to somehow re-establish a cease-fire between the parties, reduce the military conflict to a political-diplomatic level and conduct the process through negotiations. This, of course, would raise doubts in Armenia regarding its alliance with Moscow. Ultimately, this could be seen as a reflection of Russia's incursion into Ukraine in the Caucasus.
RUSSIA, STRUGGLING WITH SANCTIONS, NEEDS ALLIES AS A NEW "IRON CURTAIN" IS DRAWN BETWEEN IT AND THE WEST
Experts and the public are divided on who Russia is playing "big brother" to. Some think Russia is on Armenia's side, while others think its best partner in the region is Azerbaijan. Where do you think Russia stands?
Armenia would like its ally Russia to fight alongside it against Azerbaijan, or at least to show a stronger reaction. But Russia considers Armenia as its military ally, while Azerbaijan as its "strategic partner" in the region.
Moscow's and Yerevan's views of Azerbaijan thus diverge widely. For Russia, conditions in the South Caucasus are very different from those of the early 1990s. This applies to military-strategic relations as well as trade and economic relations, the energy equation, and humanitarian-cultural contacts.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan's importance to Moscow has increased enormously, especially since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Just a few days ago, Russian, Azerbaijani and Iranian officials reached new agreements in Baku on a "north-south" transport network from the Persian Gulf along the shores of the Caspian Sea to the Baltic Sea via St. Petersburg.
Russia, which is going through difficult times under sanctions as a new "iron curtain" rises between the country and the West, urgently needs its neighbors and partners to the east and south, especially China, India, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran. For this reason, Russia wants to open all economic and transport routes in the region today even more than in 2020, so it would be a mistake to evaluate everything on the basis of the usual generalizing or ideological approaches. Today, rather than long-term strategic alliances, it is sometimes conjunctural partnerships that bring more benefits to both sides.
*A long-time analyst on regional issues, Alin Ozinian holds a BA in International Relations and Diplomacy and an MA in Turkish Studies. She is currently a PhD researcher at YSU's Faculty of Political Science. Ozinian has worked at the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and has served as the Regional Coordinator of International Alert's Caucasus Development Network, based in London, and as a regional analyst for the Armenian Assembly of America, based in Washington DC. She served as press secretary for the Turkish-Armenian Business Council. In 2018, she received the Jampruk Research Award on migration issues, announced by the United Nations Association. Since 2021, Ozinian has been the executive director of the +GercekNews Portal.