The truce in Nagorno-Karabakh is a new Russian-Turkish pact
This post was published in Defence24. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.
WARSAW, (BM) – The agreement on the truce in Nagorno-Karabakh (Arcach), signed on the night of November 9-10, is a huge success for Russia, and in a sense also for Turkey. Armenia is the loser and, paradoxically, also Azerbaijan. Although the details are unknown, it is known that 2,000. Russian soldiers have already entered Nagorno-Karabakh.
The signing of the agreement by Nikol Pashinyan, Ilham Aliyev and Vladimir Putin was preceded by a series of dramatic events, as well as a strong disinformation campaign aimed at undermining Pashinyan’s position and laying the ground for a change of government in Yerevan. This is crucial for understanding the next events. On November 7, Stepanakert was suddenly evacuated. This decision was made hour by hour in an atmosphere of panic. The inhabitants of the villages located in the mountains, through which the evacuation route led, were surprised because they did not know anything about the planned evacuation. There are many indications that the evacuation was not necessary.
The situation on the front line in early November actually started to worsen, and Azerbaijan started firing hard at Shushi. Still, this did not mean that the Armenians would lose this war. Information about the occupation of the Lachin corridor, i.e. the southern road connecting Stepanakert with Armenia, was untrue, although civil communication was in fact interrupted there because the Azeris came close enough that the road was shelled and the Armenian side was engaged in military operations in this area. Besides, in the first days of November, Azerbaijan’s gains were surprisingly small, and outside of one city, i.e. Hadrut, the Azerbaijanis conquered only uninhabited lowlands not within the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh before 1991. The situation therefore began to change suddenly with information about the creation of an advanced bridgehead between Hadrut and Shushia, which is crucial from the strategic point of view.
It is worth emphasizing that when writing “the Armenian side” it is about the Arcach Defense Army, not Armenia. Armenia was not officially a party to this war and did not commit its military potential, which was met with a lot of criticism in Armenia itself. In particular, according to some Armenian experts (especially pro-Russian), Armenia should have shelled Ganja and the pipeline leading from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Turkey, and they suggested that Pashinyan was not doing it under pressure from Europe, which in return did not provide Armenia with any assistance. Of course, Armenia’s direct involvement in this war would have its cost, i.e. relocating military operations to Armenia itself. It also threatened to attack Armenia by Turkey, but on the other hand, it would force Russia to engage in line with allied commitments.
Despite the emerging information on the shipments of Russian weapons (allegedly passed through Georgia’s airspace) to Armenia and further to Arcach, there is no evidence that this aid actually took place. For Russia, the deteriorating situation in the defense of Arcach was beneficial, as it led to an increase in support in Armenia for the idea of introducing Russian troops to Arcach, which Russia had wanted from the very beginning. For Russia knew perfectly well that in this way it would keep control of the situation, and this control had recently started to slip out of its hands. After the 2018 revolution in Armenia, the country, under the leadership of Pashinyan, carefully but clearly began to try to diversify its foreign relations by intensifying its cooperation with Europe.
In addition, the change of power in the US, i.e. the defeat of the pro-Turkish Donald Trump and the prospect of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who is associated with the Armenian diaspora, posed an increasing threat to Russia’s strengthening Western influence in the South Caucasus. Armenia has also started to take steps to improve its relations with Georgia. In such a situation, for Russia to share its influence in the Southern Caucasus with Turkey was less of a bad thing.
On November 9, two days after the controversial evacuation of Stepanakert, President Arcach’s entourage reported that Arcach forces had lost control of Shushi. This information was denied by Pashinyan and there are many indications that it was false, but it caused a boil in Yerevan and there were speculations that Pashinyan could be overthrown at night by the pro-Russian opposition, which blamed him for the defeat and demanded his dismissal. The logic of the accusations against Pashinyan is based on the suggestion that his pro-Western policy led to a conflict with Russia and, as a result, deprived Armenia of protection against a Turkish-Azeri attack. The conclusion promoted on the basis of this thesis is as follows: Armenia must be ruled by pro-Russian politicians because only Russia guarantees Armenia’s security and any independent policy of Armenia threatens its security.
At the same time, when the information about the Azeri capture of Shushi was announced, a column of Russian troops was heading towards Nagorno-Karabakh to take control of the region. Then there was an interesting and not entirely clear incident, i.e. the shooting down of a Russian helicopter by Azerbaijani forces stationed in Nakhchivan. The incident was confirmed very quickly by the Russians, and Azerbaijan apologized for the “mistake”. The problem is that even if Azerbaijan thought it was an Armenian helicopter, shooting it down in Armenia could be a casus belli for Russia’s allied intervention. It’s just that the Russian column of “mirotworców” did not start after this incident, but before. And the Russians entered Arcach before Aliyev and Pashinyan signed an agreement on this matter with Putin. This means that the issue had already been agreed between Putin and Erdogan, while Armenia and Azerbaijan were faced with a fait accompli.
The leaders of both countries had no choice, because if Pashinyan had not agreed to sign the treaty, the Russians would have ensured that Shushi would actually be in Azerbaijan’s hands, and the rumors about the city’s fall caused preparations to overthrow Pashinyan. The conquest of Shushi, on the other hand, opened the way to the conquest of Stepanakert (although this would not end the war either). It is worth noting that on November 9, allegedly after Azerbaijan conquered Shushi, there were no fights in Stepanakert, which also raises doubts as to whether this conquest actually happened. The mere fact that the influential (and it is worth adding – the pro-Russian) Armenian politicians from Arcach information about the fall of Shusha was also surprising at this stage, as it undermined the morale of the defenders and was completely contrary to the information policy of the Armenian side to date. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out (and it is suggested by anti-Russian politicians in Armenia and Arcach) that the information about the fall of Shusha was inspired by Russia, which, as I wrote, was already directing its troops towards Arcach at that time.
On the other hand, neither Aliyev nor Turkey were ready to confront the armed forces of Russia. The threat of Russian intervention forced Baku and Ankara to accept Russian conditions, which, moreover, are not so unfavorable for Turkey itself. Turkey has achieved, first of all, the fact that the South Caucasus has been included in the Russo-Turkish transaction system, and it cannot be ruled out (the details of the agreement are still unknown) that joint Turkish-Russian patrols will appear in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey’s greatest gain, however, is that it has taken effective control of Azerbaijan, which has de facto lost its independence. Russia formally retained the role of an “independent arbiter”, which was confirmed by Aliyev. Nevertheless, the foundation of the Turkish-Russian deal is the division of the South Caucasus between Turkey and Russia, with the joint conclusion of both countries that they will jointly fight any influence of third countries in this area.
Still, some question marks remain. According to preliminary information about the agreement, it does not indicate that the Azerbaijani administration will return to Nagorno-Karabakh. What is said is that only the areas of Nagorno-Karabakh occupied at the moment of signing the agreement will be under Azerbaijan’s control, while the rest will be de facto controlled by Russia. The remaining areas, still controlled by the Arcach, which did not belong to Nagorno-Karabakh before 1991, are also to return to Azerbaijani control.
Whether there will be any degree of Azeri control in Nagorno-Karabakh itself, and if so, what degree, will depend entirely on the Russians and will not be revealed until the near future. The Russians know that they cannot give too much to the Azeris in this regard, because if this is the case, the Armenians will not return to Arcach and then Russia will lose influence in Armenia. Anyway, pro-Western forces in Armenia are already talking about a Russian conspiracy and betrayal, and in Yerevan is still raging and many forces want to reject this agreement and continue the fight.
In conclusion, it is worth pointing to who gains or loses what on the concluded agreement:
1) Russia regains full control of Armenia and Arcach becomes its colony. Russia is on the verge of ousting from power and marginalizing pro-Western forces in Armenia as allegedly responsible for the defeat. At the same time, it maintains its position as an “impartial mediator” between Azerbaijan and Armenia. At the same time, since the fighting did not extend to the territory of Armenia, it did not face the accusation of not meeting allied obligations.
2) Turkey takes effective control of Azerbaijan and is expanding the scope of its transactions with Russia to the Southern Caucasus.
3) The West loses any possibility of influencing the situation in the South Caucasus in the near future and embarrasses itself with its passivity.
4) Armenia is losing control over Arcach and is in danger of completely subordinating Russia, which, due to its military presence in Arcach, will be able to enforce full dependence on Armenia. However, it is not to be expected that this will happen without protests inside Armenia.
5) Most of Azerbaijan’s gains, which the country bought with a loss of at least 2-3 thousand soldiers, he could have achieved through negotiations with Armenia in return for recognizing the independence of Arcach within the pre-1991 borders. Meanwhile, everything indicates that there will be no Azeri administration in the area of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Russians will also control the connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. When the Azeris find out that the terms of the agreement are different than they think now (i.e. that Armenia has capitulated to Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh is allegedly returning to full Azerbaijani control), Aliyev will have trouble, there are also many indications that the Turks may overthrow him and replace him a completely subordinate team.
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