Politicians, analysts and the media worldwide are discussing the sharply aggravated situation along a demarcation line between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. The belligerents have engaged in a series of bloody hostilities, unparalleled in more than 20 years since the end of the war.
Politicians, analysts and the media worldwide are discussing the sharply aggravated situation along a demarcation line between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. Indeed, the belligerents have recently engaged in a series of bloody hostilities, unparalleled in more than 20 years since the end of the war.
Barring the scale of combat operations, the latest events fit nicely into the logic of developments over the past few years. The so-called “sniper war,” the inciting of tensions along the demarcation line and the acts of sabotage are tools of power politics that aim to wrest concessions from each belligerent. The latest incidents are unprecedented in terms of the scale and severity of the Armenian and Karabakh response and the inability of Azerbaijan to counter this response. Armenia retaliated on a massive scale after the July 31 killing of two Karabakh soldiers. An attempt by Azerbaijan to stage a similar was roughly thwarted. It is hard to estimate the total number of fatalities, which is being downplayed, but obviously, dozens of people have been killed. Azerbaijan’s military casualties exceed those of Armenia several times over.
However, a crushing defeat does not necessarily amount to de-escalation. The South Caucasus ranks among the most heavily militarized regions. The belligerents have stockpiled so many conventional weapons systems that they act as a deterrent, to quote military analysts. In short, the risks of war outweigh the potential benefits of victory, as proved by the latest incidents.
The Karabakh conflict stands out among post-Soviet conflicts. No peacekeeping forces have ever been deployed in Karabakh, and the regional status quo has been maintained by a mutual balance between the belligerents. However, border tensions, acts of sabotage and shootouts have become commonplace along the entire demarcation line.
The international context of this situation should also be taken into account. Wars in southeastern Ukraine and the Gaza Strip divert international actors from the South Caucasus. A low point in the relationship between Russia and the West creates problems for the Minsk OSCE Group, co-chaired by Russia, France and the United States. In situation described above, it would be important to de-escalate the tension and resume mutual talks. The upcoming August 8-9 Armenia-Azerbaijan-Russia summit in Sochi could play an important role in this context. Although this summit is unlikely to achieve any important results, it can help defuse tensions and resume talks, all the more so as the above incidents show that a military solution is not possible.