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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 50, New Delhi, November 28, 2020

Vladimir Putin’s Peace Deal On Nagorno-Karabakh To End Conflict Between Armenia And Azerbaijan | R G Gidadhubli

Saturday 28 November 2020

by R.G.Gidadhubli *

Armenia and Azerbaijan are neighboring states in the Caucasian region of the former Soviet Union. Nagorno-Karabakh is a small autonomous republic situated in the geographical territory of Azerbaijan but the majority of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh is Armenians while Azeris are minority. Moreover, there is religious diversity since people of Azerbaijan are Muslims while Armenians belong to Christianity. During the Soviet Communist era these differences had no relevance since entire country was ruled and controlled by Moscow and for hundreds of years the people of Nagorno-Karabakh were living peacefully being governed by their own affairs, with support from Armenia.

After the breakup of the former Soviet Union, during the last nearly three decades, as Armenia and Azerbaijan became sovereign and independent, these multi-ethnic and multi-religious diversities have caused and created conflicts. There were conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1994 and four day conflict in 2016 during which Armenia succeeded and a large number of ethnic Muslim Azeri civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh were pushed out of the region.

Politically Armenia was and has been close to Russia while Azerbaijan has been getting closer to Turkey, West and Middle East countries. Some efforts were made to end conflicts and bring compromise which did not succeed. For instance, the Minsk group comprising France, Russia, and the United States and the Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) made efforts to work out peace deal which were not successful and there were on-going conflicts.

The latest conflict started on 27th Sept. 2020 and lasted for about six weeks. It got aggravated resulting in war when Azerbaijan has won over Armenia during which over 2000 soldiers and civilians have been killed. It appears that Azerbaijan seems to have learnt lessons from its earlier defeats and failures and made efforts to succeed by developing its defense capabilities procuring advanced equipments such as hi-tech drones from Turkey which also transferred “a complete robotic warfare doctrine and concept of operations” to Azerbaijan as reported by analysts.

Secondly, equally important is the fact that Azerbaijan being oil-rich country has used petro-dollars earned by exporting oil to buy modern equipments from Europe. For instance, Azerbaijan purchased radar-jamming systems from Spain and self-propelled DANA howitzer artillery acquired in 2018 from the Czech Republic.

Thirdly, Azerbaijan ensured that it has technological superiority in waging this latest war against Armenia. Fourthly, the president of Azerbaijan Aliyev repeatedly insisted during Azerbaijan’s military offensive that his ultimate aim was the return of all of the occupied territory. Thus Azerbaijani forces made major battlefield gains to regain territory lost to Armenian separatists nearly three decades ago. In fact Azerbaijan’s military has now retaken much of the territory around Nagorno-Karabakh that had been occupied by Armenia since the early 1990s.

In contrast it is evident that Armenia had military equipments including as S- 300 from Russia but were not as modern as those procured by Azerbaijan. Hence Armenia has admitted that it was a “different war” than the early 1990s when they succeeded to take over several districts of Azerbaijan areas close to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Peace Deal by Putin

An important development took place on 10th November 2020 when the Russian president Mr Vladimir Putin having taken initiative succeeded in brokering a deal which was signed by the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia ending the long-drawn conflict and war over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. There are hopes and expectations that this deal might bring about durable peace in the region, even as the responses to the deal have been diverse by the people of the two countries

Secondly, as per the Peace Deal, Armenia has to vacate some 7 districts and hand them over to Azerbaijan by end of December. Armenia has to withdraw from three districts: Agdam; Kashatagh (which Azeris call Lachin) and Karvachar, which is known as Kalbacar in Azeri.

Thirdly, Russia will have about 2000 peacekeeping forces to maintain security and control the region for 5 years and prevent any fight between Armenia and Azerbaijan. They will also stand guard on the strategic Lachin Corridor, the sole road linking the region and Armenia.

Fourthly, Moscow has to work out a deal with Turkey which is strongly supporting Azerbaijan in the fight against Armenia with advanced technology and military supplies. It is a matter of great significance that there is consensus between Russia and Turkey on this issue to make the deal operative and successful.

Fifthly, there are different opinions about the Peace Deal and about Russia since Armenia has close ties with Moscow. As opined by a specialist on Russian Affairs Richard Giragosian "Russia is bound to defend, protect, and assist the Republic of Armenia proper, and not Nagorno-Karabakh per se" that means illegally entering Azerbaijan during the conflict. [1]

Sixth, for Armenia and Azerbaijan ending conflict and war and bringing durable peace in the region is important and there are expectations that the presence of Russia in the region for 5 years might secure peace.

Diverse Response

Since 10th November there have been wide public celebrations among the people in Azerbaijan. Immense happiness and pleasure was visible with children dancing and singing as mothers and grandmothers were looking at them. Some of those from Nagorno-Karabakh living in Azerbaijan want to go back to their own homes.

In contrast as expected Armenians are very unhappy and upset for losing the battle and even regard the peace deal as a surrender and a national tragedy. As per reports, there were demonstrations and political unrest resulting in angry crowds storming Armenian parliament and ransacking government buildings in Yerevan. There are 17 opposition political parties in Armenia and many of them are unhappy with the deal and want the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to resign for his failures.

Pashinian has been frank in stating that the decision to sign the truce was "inexpressibly painful". But he is confident that this deal is the beginning of national unity and revival for both the countries. Moreover, he reiterated that the peace accord was Armenia’s only option. At the same time Pashinian has dismissed his foreign minister in a cabinet reshuffle as he comes under mounting pressure from the president and opposition to resign over the peace deal with Azerbaijan. In fact, the foreign minister should have examined how Azerbaijan followed a policy of strengthening its military capabilities to defeat Armenia. Moreover, Armenia’s economy minister, Tigran Khachatrian, has tendered his resignation on 25th Nov. amid sharp opposition criticism of the government. The president of Armenia Armen Sarkisian has called on the government to resign and form an interim government of national unity pending snap parliamentary elections.

Concluding Remarks

In lieu of a conclusion, it may be stated that Russia has undertaken a major challenge in ending the long-drawn conflict and brokering PEACE DEAL. As expected there are different opinions on this issue and whether Russia should have helped Armenia succeed in the war. Some section in Armenia might question about the Peace Deal, whether Russia has let down the interest of Armenia despite Armenia has close ties with Moscow. These are complex issues. For instance, as opined by a Giragosian specialist on Russia Affairs "Russia is bound to defend, protect, and assist the Republic of Armenia proper, and not Nagorno-Karabakh per se" that means illegally entering Azerbaijan during the conflict. Thus Russia has not let down Armenia and not done anything illegal.

Lastly, for Armenia, Azerbaijan and for Nagorno-Karabakh and the Caucasian region as a whole ending long-drawn conflict and war and bringing durable peace in the region is important and there are expectations that presence of Russia in the region for 5 years might secure peace.

(* Dr R.G. Gidadhubli, Professor and Former Director, Center for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai)

25th November 2020

[1see: Armenians See Russia As ’Savior’ Not ’Scapegoat’ In Nagorno-Karabakh War by Ron Synovitz (RFERL, November 24, 2020)

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