Russia Plays Key Role in Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire

Russia will question whether it has to continue the military-technical cooperation with Azerbaijan or to activate the military-technical cooperation with Armenia in order to preserve and strengthen the balance in the zone of Nagorno-Karabakh.

On April 5, 2016, Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan reached in Moscow a ceasefire agreement on the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh. Why the decision about truce was taken? Even few hours before these talks both sides admitted further escalation of the conflict.

"To answer this question, we must at first understand the cause of the conflict escalation. In my opinion, initially Azerbaijan did not want to conduct a large-scale military operation to capture the whole Nagorno-Karabakh. From a military point of view, presently it is impossible ", - said Sergei Minasyan, PhD in Political Science, Deputy Director of the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan.

According to him, the order for the start of the military operation was given by President Ilham Aliyev during his visit to Washington. "Probably, the American leadership put a quite hard pressure on him, including the Karabakh issue. There was also a meeting with the President of Turkey, and I do not exclude the possibility that, perhaps, it also played a role in escalation of the conflict ", - the expert said. Moreover, the Azerbaijani side repeatedly stressed that it saw no progress in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the basis of the Madrid principles.

According to Minasyan, if the Azerbaijani Armed Forces originally had the task of a full breakthrough and capture of the Karabakh territory, they would use the artillery and aviation more actively throughout the depth of the Karabakh territory and so on. However, this did not happen. "In any case, the fact that a few hours after the beginning of hostilities on April 2 the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan has issued a statement about readiness to cease fire, is an indication that a long-scaled operation was not planned. Apparently, even for the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense the caliber of the operation has already exceeded the planned one, and they were not prepared", - said the deputy director of Caucasus Institute.

According to Minasyan, Armenia's task was to prevent the large-scale fighting. "Consequently, after two or three days of fierce local fighting a truce was signed," - said the expert.

Farhad Mammadov, Director of the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) under the President of Azerbaijan, in his turn said that the ceasefire decision was justified in the first place by the hope to intensify the negotiation process.

"The escalation of the armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan at night of April 1-2 in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan continued for four days. On the second day, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has announced a unilateral ceasefire, but Armenia continued shelling of the civilian population, and Azerbaijan was forced to respond once again "- he said.

The expert reminded that co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group visited Baku, the next day they had meetings in Yerevan.

"Presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group: the Russian Federation, the United States and France have repeatedly declared that the status quo in the process of settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was unacceptable. Azerbaijan has also declared the inadmissibility of the status quo, as the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh is very sensitive and the distance between Armenian and Azerbaijani armed units in some zones of the front line is less than 200 meters. At any moment a provocation can happen with further escalation that we have seen over the past few days ", - Farhad Mammadov said.

Not accidental was the fact that the meeting of Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan took place in Moscow, said both experts.

"This meeting was preceded by telephone calls of Vladimir Putin to Serzh Sargsyan and Ilham Aliyev. It is clear that Russia has taken the initiative to achieve a truce - that was in 1994, when the previous truce was concluded ", - Sergey Minasyan said.

Farhad Mammadov also noted that in recent days the Russian leaders were in constant contact with the leadership of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

"Russia, as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group and the immediate neighbor of the region makes efforts to de-escalate the conflict. In the following days, Russian officials will visit Azerbaijan and Armenia to consolidate the ceasefire agreements. Time will tell whether it would be a new agreement or activation of the negotiation process on the basis of the existing pact"- the expert believes.

Speaking about possible future scenarios in Nagorno-Karabakh, Sergey Minasyan noted that "the Armenian side has no desire to resume large-scale hostilities." However, according to him, after the recent events Azerbaijan may be tempted to continue the escalation of conflict and the military rhetoric may increase.

According to him, the practice of similar ethnic conflicts shows that after the period of active hostilities the parties work out diametrically opposed views. "And if it could be possible to achieve a rapid peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the OSCE Minsk Group would not have 25 years of attempts without success ", - he said.

However, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh can be settled diplomatically only with ensured sustainable ceasefire. This "fragile truce", according to the expert, can be kept with help of external actors, co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, and first of all - of Russia. "It is clear that Russia will question whether it has to continue the military-technical cooperation with Azerbaijan or to activate the military-technical cooperation with Armenia in order to preserve and strengthen the military and technical balance in the zone of the Karabakh conflict, which is a key element of sustainable ceasefire" - deputy director of Caucasus Institute said.

In turn, Farhad Mammadov said that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not a frozen one, and you can always expect an escalation.

"The conflict cannot be frozen, since at the contact line between the armed forces of Azerbaijan and Armenia in the occupied territories there is no force, capable to stop provocations and further escalation", - he explained.

However, in his opinion, the situation can be corrected by activation of the negotiation process of the conflict settlement.

"The parties may make commitments on the basis of the ceasefire agreement, but at the same time no one is safe from provocations as it happened at night of April 1- 2. Therefore, we should expect the intensification of the negotiation process in order to achieve full and sustainable peace in the South Caucasus. The escalation has shown that the status quo at the front line was changed and a new situation appeared", - Farhad Mammadov said.

According to him, the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict requires attention of the world community. "The process should not be aimed at levelling the threat of a renewed armed conflict, it should contribute to the full settlement of the conflict based on the international law and UN Security Council resolutions", - Director of the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Azerbaijan concluded.
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