Staunton, January 2 – Over the last several weeks, Russian workers have been rebuilding the airport at Stepanakert so that it will be able to handle heavy Russian cargo jets like the IL-76 and thus allow Moscow to supply its peacekeeping unit in Qarabagh directly rather than through Armenia or Azerbaijan by land.
According to Regnum commentator Stanislav Tarasov, the airport in the former capital of the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh will resume operations on January 10. He says that Russian peacekeepers have demined all of the area of the airport and adjoining territory (regnum.ru/news/polit/3156169.html).
Tarasov says that Baku has not reacted to this development but that Russian and Azerbaijani officials are negotiating about how things will develop. Baku in interested in having the Russian peacekeeping unit succeed and also in ensuring that the reopening of this airport will be accompanied by new transport links between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan.
These two projects as well as the opening of Armenian airspace to Azerbaijani and Turkish planes are all consistent with the logic of the November 10 ceasefire declaration, the Regnum commentator suggests. That accord called for the unblocking of all transportation networks in the South Caucasus.
In other comments, Tarasov says that the November 10 declaration requires that Azerbaijan recognize that it will have to pay for the international recognition of its reconquest of territory formerly occupied by Armenia. Moreover, it must “seriously change its attitude toward ethnic minorities, one of which could be the Armenians.”
Unless Baku does so, the commentator continues, “it will have “few chances of winning in the diplomatic duel that will take place in the OSCE Minsk group which will be involved with the definition of the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh.” Such a shift in approach, Tarasov says, will be difficult and take some time.
But he concludes that “the opening of the airport in Stepanakert and the appearance of direct links between Russia and Qarabagh mean that the process in the region is entering a new phase,” one in which both Armenia, on the one hand, and Azerbaijan and Turkey, on the other, will have to make concessions.