Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Moscow Takes Two More Steps to Freeze Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict in Current Status Quo

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 5 – The Russian government has taken two steps clearly intended not to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict all its claims to the contrary but rather to freeze the situation there in a status quo that will make it impossible to realize the November and January declarations but allow Moscow to continue to play one side against the other.

            On the one hand, Moscow has agreed to Yerevan’s request for more Russian border guards and to insert them along the Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire line and around Qarabagh, effectively preventing its return to Azerbaijani control (svpressa.ru/politic/article/306043/ and  znak.com/2021-08-05/rossiyskih_pogranichnikov_razmestili_na_granice_armenii_i_azerbaydzhana).

            And on the other, Moscow is pressing for the United Nations to dispatch a team from the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, who would require the return of both Armenian and Azerbaijani refugees and thus legitimize Armenia’s position, according to one prominent expert (pressklub.az/?p=96917).

            The United Nations has yet to approve Moscow’s request, but the Russian government has boosted its border guard contingent in Armenia; and despite suggestions by Russian officials that Moscow can do so on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on the basis of trilateral talks, it appears to be going ahead with inserting more guards without waiting for that.

            Armenia and Russia are moving ahead with this because since 1992, Russia’s FSB has been responsible for guarding the borders of Armenia and thus an expansion of the presence of border guards as opposed to peacekeepers whose presence followed from the November and January declarations is easier to defend (svpressa.ru/politic/article/306043/).

            Armenia has borders with four countries, Georgia, Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan. The Georgian border is largely unproblematic. The Turkish border is 330 kilometers long, and the Iranian, 45 kilometers. Both of which have long been under Russian FSB guard. The border with Azerbaijan, however, is problematic.

            Depending on whose map one is using, it extends some 900 kilometers. Until last year’s fighting, Armenian forces defended the borders of the self-proclaimed Artsakh Republic (Qarabagh) and some of the borders of the so-called buffer zone in what is recognized by nearly all as Azerbaijani territory.

            Another issue concerns the Armenian borders with Azerbaijan’s Nakhichivan exclave and a possible corridor between Azerbaijan proper and that autonomous formation. Armenian border guards have stood along the border with Nakhichivan, but they may be replaced by Russians, and Russian border guards are likely to be on any corridor through Syunik/Zengezur.

            While Moscow has not spoken out directly, the Russian ambassador in Yerevan, Kopyrkin has made it clear that Moscow is ready to assume responsibility for guarding the Armenian border with Azerbaijan, although he says this will require discussions “in a trilateral format” with Baku.

            Moscow clearly hopes to use its possible expanded presence to put pressure on Azerbaijan not to consider the opening of a Turkish base on its territory, but Armenians are jubilant and see the increased number of Russian border guards as “a guarantee” for Artsakh, as Armenians refer to their self-proclaimed state in Qarabagh (iarex.ru/articles/81989.html).


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