Staunton, November 2 – Some in Moscow desirous of ending the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan that threatens Russia’s interests in the Caucasus believe that Baku is more interested in acquiring the Zengezur corridor now within Armenia than in retaking Karabakh and that arranging a swap would solve its problems, Viktor Sokirko says
Russian military analysts have already noticed that Baku has focused more of its effort on advancing toward the Zengezur corridor in the south than in advancing into the Lachin corridor and pressuring Karabakh from the north (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/10/baku-hopes-to-unite-azerbaijan-and.html).
But the Moscow security analyst says that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan also involves diplomacy between Moscow and Ankara and that the latter may lead to “completely unexpected and unpredictable developments for all” if those involved do not pay close attention to what is at stake (svpressa.ru/war21/article/280326/).
Vladimir Putin has made clear that Russia will intervene on Armenia’s side only if Armenian territory is attacked and he excludes from that territory Karabakh. That would appear to lead to the conclusion that Baku could advance into the Armenian enclave without Russian intervention while any move into Zengezur would be met by Russian military power.
But if that is the military conclusion, the diplomatic one may be different, Sokirko suggests. He cites the words of Konstantin Sivkov, vice president of the Moscow Academy of Geopolitical Problems, that the chief goal of Baku and Ankara is “not the occupation of the entire territory of Karabakh.”
That region, Sivkov continues, lacks the natural resources and industrial base that might make it an attractive target and that Baku’s talk about recovering it has more to do with mobilizing public opinion to his side within Azerbaijan rather than being a reflection of Ilham Aliyev’s real intentions.
“Understanding the difficulties involved in occupying all of Karabakh,” the Moscow analyst says, the Azerbaijani president is concealing his real goal which may very well involve gaining control of the land between Azerbaijan proper and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan.
With Turkey’s blessing, Azerbaijan has moved up to its own borders there and thus implied with facts on the ground that it and Ankara would be willing to drop its demands for the recovery of “the Armenian part of Karabakh” if it were given control of the corridor “from Kapan to Agarak” that links Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan.
The idea, Sokirko says, is “completely logical.” Baku lacks reliable ground transportation between the two parts of its country and supposedly is “completely prepared for such an exchange of territories.” Such an arrangement would have to be achieved by diplomacy because Russia would intervene if Azerbaijani forces crossed into what is now Armenian territory.
The question for Moscow in its conversations with Ankara is whether the costs of such an exchange to itself would be so great that they must never be considered. Sokirko says that is the case, but he also suggests that at least some in Moscow desirous of an end to the conflict with “’minimum losses’” and of pleasing the West are now considering this.
Their arguments should be rejected. On the one hand, such a move by Moscow and Ankara would be an updated variant of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 when major powers divided up Eastern Europe without the participation of the countries involved. In this case, it would be without Armenia.
And on the other, if Zengezur passed to Azerbaijan, Ankara together with Baku would create an Islamic axis that would undermine Russian influence not only in the south Caucasus but within Russia’s borders in the North Caucasus as well. That danger should be enough to kill any thought in Moscow of moving in that direction.
The author of this Window is especially intrigued by Sokirko’s words because almost 30 years ago, he proposed a similar territorial swap as a means of ending the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. That idea notorious as “the Goble Plan,” was outlined in “Coping with the Karabakh Crisis,” Fletcher Forum, 16:2 (1992) at dl.tufts.edu/catalog/tufts:UP149.001.00032.00004. For a discussion of the fate of this idea, see also reliefweb.int/report/armenia/how-goble-plan-was-born-and-how-it-remains-political-factor.)