The humanitarian ceasefire between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces started in the Nagorno-Karabakh region at 12:00 local time on October 10. The ceasefire deal was reached by the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides following long talks in Moscow a day ago. Russia played a key role in forcing the sides to accept the new ceasefire regime.
The negotiations involved Armenia’s Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov, and were mediated by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Azerbaijan and Armenia also formally agreed to begin substantive negotiations of a peaceful settlement of a military conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh that erupted on September 27. The talks will be mediated by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Minsk Group of international negotiators.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that the first phase of the military operation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is completed. According to him, the prospects of peace depend on the readiness of Armenia to accept the fact that these territories do not belong to it.
“The military unit, or its first part, has come to an end. Now we have reached a political settlement that will ensure that we reach the end and get what rightfully belongs to us,” Aliyev said.
For a peaceful solution to the conflict, Azerbaijan and Armenia will sit down at the negotiating table with the support of the OSCE Minsk Group. The Azerbaijani side is allegedly ready to do this “tomorrow”. Just a few days ago, the Azerbaijani leadership fiercely supported by Turkey was declaring that it was aiming to solve the Karabakh question by military means at almost any cost. Nonetheless, thanks to Russian diplomatic efforts (and apparently something else), this posture changed in a single day.
According to Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, Russia has demonstrated a balanced and neutral position during the escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.
“Russia is our neighbor, with whom we have strategic relations. Russia has demonstrated a balanced approach, has maintained neutrality during the escalation period,” Bayramov said at a press conference on October 10.
The position of Turkey, the main ally of Azerbaijan and the instigator of the current Armenian-Azerbaijani war, is more aggressive. The Turkish Defense Ministry said that Armenia must surrender the Azerbaijani territories that it controls.
“Azerbaijani Army acted heroically and achieved great triumphs to liberate its lands that were occupied. Armenia must now surrender the lands that it has occupied to their rightful owner,” the defese ministry said in a tweet. “Until then, we will continue to stand by our Azerbaijani Turkish brothers and sisters.”
Despite the ceasefire agree and the diplomatic decision to return to negotiations, the situation on the contact line remains complicated.
The Armenian Defense Ministry claimed that Azerbaijan launched an offensive into Nagorno-Karabakh five minutes after the ceasefire had been entered into. Armenia also reported that Azerbaijani forces shelled several civilian areas, including the town of Hadrut. In own turn, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported that “despite the ceasefire agreement” Armenia shelled several Azerbaijani regions. Local sources also report the continuation of artillery duels and sporadic firefights. Expectedly, both sides officially deny that they violate the ceasefire and blame each other.
After the exchange of accusations, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said that his country does not rule out the resumption of hostilities if Armenia “continues to imitate the negotiation process.”
“Armenia must fulfill its obligations, otherwise we do not rule out the resumption of hostilities. By the way, it is worth noting that Armenia is already violating its obligations – hostilities are ongoing on despite the ceasefire,” Bayramov said.
In turn, the aide to the President of Azerbaijan, Hikmet Hajiyev, noted that the military actions in Karabakh dealt a serious blow to the Armenian economy. According to him, the military operation of the Azerbaijani army was directly aimed at achieving this goal.
Regardless the propaganda claims of the sides, the Azerbaijani military achieved notable progress and dealt a painful blow to Armenian forces. The main reason of this tactical success was the air dominance and the significant advantage in manpower and heavy weapons.
As of October 10 evening, no side are conducting active offensive operations. Therefore, the ceasefire can be considered as mostly working. At the same time, the situation in the region still has chances to explode once again. Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, will now try to secure its current positions in the contested region on the diplomatic level and try to force Armenia to withdraw its forces from the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region. While the first goal will be easily achieved (by the argument of force), the second one will likely be rejected by Yerevan. As to the appeals of the Armenian government to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the so-called international community for a direct help in the war against Azerbaijan, they will not likely help. Armenia itself has not initiated the process of the official integration of it into Armenia as a part of the Armenian state and not even recognized the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as an independent state. Armenia has no legal reasons to claim that its territory came under attack.
Thus, the Azerbaijani-Turkish bloc still has an upper hand in the military and diplomatic standoff over the region exploiting the complicated situation in which Armenia appeared thanks to years of anti-Russian and pro-Western policies provided by its governments.
In these conditions, Russia remains the only guarantor of the Armenian sovereignty and territorial integrity that prevents Azerbaijan and Turkey from a direct attack on Armenian sovereign borders. As to the situation in Karabakh, Moscow is also not interested in the further destabilization of the region and the increase of presence of radical elements there. Thus, it will employ its diplomatic influence to froze the conflict and force the sides to return to searching a diplomatic solution of it. Nonetheless, in the event of the non-constructive position of Armenia, Yerevan should not count on the direct Russian military intervention to support its interests. On the other hand, actions of Azerbaijan and Turkey that may lead to the turning of the region into a new hotbed of terrorism by the deployment of radical militants there or attempts of ethnic cleansing of Armenian population could also face a direct or indirect Russian military response. For Russia, the increasing presence of al-Qaeda-linked terrorists near its borders is the red line that cannot be tolerated. As to the less radical scenario, Armenia, in the event of a more constructive position in its foreign policy, may count on the increase of Russian military supplies and non-direct Russian involvement aimed at restoring the status quo in Karabakh and prevention of the resumption of the war.