Sunday, January 31, 2021

Russian ‘Peacekeepers’ in Qarabagh a Victory for Baku and a Loss for Moscow, Ukrainian Diplomat Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 29 – The conventional wisdom is that Moscow’s insertion of its peacekeepers into Qarabagh in the wake of the Armenian-Azerbaijani fighting last fall represents an unqualified victory for Russia and a defeat that might have been avoided by Azerbaijan. But in fact, Aleksandr Samarsky says, just the reverse is the case.

            Samarsky, who represented Ukraine in the OSCE mission in Qarabagh in 1997-1998 and again from 2004 to 2006 and later was Kyiv’s ambassador to Iran between 2010 and 2014, says that not only did Baku win and Moscow lose but that Moscow also has suffered a loss in its relations with Armenia and must now bear new burdens because of its peacekeeper.

            “The overwhelming majority of experts considers that as a result of the war, the balance in Azerbaijani-Russian relations shifted in favor of the Russian Federation,” the Ukrainian diplomat says. “At first glance,” there is some reason for doing so; “but in fact,” the notion that this was “an unqualified diplomatic victory for Russia and a defeat for Azerbaijan is mistaken.”

            As the winner in the war, “Baku in principle has significantly reduced its dependence on external influence by any international mediator in such talks, including Moscow, which has traditionally taken part in them,” Samarsky says.

            Moreover, the appearance of Russian peacekeepers changes little because “a large part of the territory populated by Armenians which now is under a Russian protectorate was not controlled by Baku earlier. There isn’t that big a difference as to who controls an occupied territory if it isn’t you.”

            And the notion that Moscow has suddenly acquired the ability to engage in provocations is overstated. There were Russian agents in Qarabagh before; and if Moscow wants to provoke something, it has had and retains enough levers to do so. But it really hasn’t acquired a large new capacity, Samarsky continues.

            In fact, and leading to a very different conclusion about the impact of Russian peacekeepers, “Baku received a definite benefit from the deployment of ‘peacekeepers’ of the Russian Federation in Qarabagh.” Indeed, at least one analyst, Farkhad Ibragaimov, says that Baku asked for them even before Moscow offered them.

            Had Azerbaijan retaken all of Qarabagh, it would have faced serious problems as far as its international image is concerned; and it would have had to administer a large and hostile population for which it would have had sold responsibility and would have had to train large numbers of officials to handle.

            Now, Baku has avoided those problems “at least for the medium term,” and thus can enjoy its victory without those costs.

            “Another positive moment for Azerbaijan is that in the package with ‘the peacekeepers,’ it was able to obtain additional preferences connected with the unblocking of transportation links connected the western districts of Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan,” Samarsky says. The peacekeepers were a price worth paying for that.

            “And so,” he argues, “Baku’s initiative about the introduction of Russian peacekeepers, the result of which is the formation in Qarabagh of a Russian protectorate really has brought Azerbaijan obvious benefits.”

            And if Moscow did not achieve a victory over Baku in the settlement process, it lost ground both during the conflict and after with Armenia, the Ukrainian diplomat continues. Moscow had to try three times to get a ceasefire, thus highlighting its weakness in the region, and while Armenian dependence on Russia has increased, Armenians are increasingly angry at what they see as Russia’s failure or even betrayal.

            Armenia is to be sure a Russian vassal, but “the status of being a vassal does not mean automatic friendly and positive attitudes by the vassal to the suzerain More than that, it lays specific obligations on the suzerain relative to his vassal. Moscow has failed in that, and Armenians, a historically obsessed people, aren’t going to forget.

            What that means is this, Samarsky says. “The long-term prospects for the development of Armenian-Russian relations are not so positive for the Russian Federation as they may seem today. And the situation may change sharply if Ankara is able to make Yerevan such attractive proposals that it simply won’t be able to refuse them.”

            Moreover, and this is not a negligible factor, the diplomat continues, putting peacekeepers in Qarabagh not only makes Russia more dependent on Azerbaijan for the supply route it needs but also imposes real costs, finance and image. The money costs may seem small but they add up, and the image of a protectorate is not an unalloyed good.

            “Thus,” Samarsky concludes, “as we see, the results of the Russian  pseudo-peacemaking look sufficiently contradictory even from the point of view of the defense and advancement with their help of its interests in bilateral relations with the sides of the Qarabagh conflict. Moscow has not been able to achieve here any essential advantages.

            And that in turn means that no one should be talking “about any ‘effective management of resolving conflicts’” in this case.

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