By Rebecca Zuñiga Fonseca - International Relations student
Is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia-Azerbaijan closer to reach a peaceful resolution? This geo-political conflict has become one of the most dangerous unresolved conflicts in Europe. The two nations have been competing for over three decades to govern the Nagorno-Karabakh territory located in the Caucasus (Zangezur corridor) for its profitable and strategic location. Thus, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its Minsk Group (United States, France, and Russia) have failed to successfully solve the conflict, especially Russia who has acted as a mediator between the two nations to reach a cease-fire agreement in 2020. Therefore, the present article explains the role that Russia plays in this conflict, it presents three possible measures that could be taken to resolve the conflict, and it finally exposes the possible consequences or counterarguments that the parties involved could expose to oppose the measures.
Thus, it is important to understand that the territory at stake used to be part of the Soviet Union. In 1921, Stalin decided that the best way to maintain control in the Caucasus area was by allowing ethnic Armenians to inhabit the Karabakh territory, but it was going to be governed by Azerbaijan; which explains why Azerbaijan claims the territory as theirs (ECFR, 2016). With the disintegration of the Soviet Union the conflict emerged among the two nations. Furthermore, Russia has contributed as a mediator since 1994 and participated as a member of the Minsk Group to prevent the outbreak of hostilities. Nevertheless, Russia’s role is highly criticized as it acts as a supplier of weapons for both nations, as in 2013 it signed a $4 billion arms deal with Azerbaijan, but at the same time Russia is Armenia’s ally and must protect it due to the signature of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
Therefore, what measures could be taken by the international community to solve the problem? The first one goes through the OSCE’s restructuration. It is composed exclusively by the US, France, and Russia, but it is ineffective as it no longer represents all the actors involved. Iran, Turkey, Syria, Ukraine are all political actors interested in the Caucasus region, being Turkey the most interested one as it would mean the direct access to the oil and gas rich Caspian Sea and onwards to Central Asia (Antonopoulos, 2021). The second one would be to permanently ban Russia (Armenia) and Turkey (Azerbaijan) from selling weapons to both parties. There is an economic interest to continue with the political conflict due to the profit that both nations can make by providing weapons to both nations. Third, excluding Russia from the negotiations due to its conflict of interest by maintaining “friendly” and “democratic” relationships with both governments (Fenenko, 2016).
Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that the US, France, and Russia will work in conjunction with Turkey or Iran given the political tensions among these nations in the international arena (De Waal, 2016). Also, it is highly unlikely that Russia will agree to be banned from supplying Armenia or Azerbaijan with weapons, given the fact that Russia has been struggling financially, and it will just generate a bigger impact in its finances. At the same time, the idea of excluding Russia from the negotiations isn’t feasible as Russia will consider that its importance in the region will be diminished even more (as has been the trend in recent years). This means that the best option could be to involve an external mediator (e.g., England) to further improve the political situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and fulfill the expectations of all the parties.
In conclusion, Russia isn’t a neutral mediator as there are multiple economic and political interests at stake. The same happens with the remaining parties. For the conflict to be ended, it is necessary to have a neutral mediator that pursues effective negotiations within all parties. But if something is accurate is the fact that given the information provided, the conflict will not be solved in the short term due to its complexity.
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Antonopoulos, P. (2021, March 11). Azerbaijan preparing for a new war against Armenia. Greek City Times. https://greekcitytimes.com/2021/03/11/azerbaijan-new-war-armenia/
De Waal, T. (2016, April 7). The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/08/opinion/solve-the-nagorno-karabakh-conflict-before-it-explodes.html#:~:text=But%20Nagorno-Karabakh%20requires%20more%20than%20just%20shuttle%20diplomacy.,of%20a%20new%20catastrophic%20war%20in%20the%20Caucasus.
ECFR. (2016, September 1). European Council on Foreign Relations. https://ecfr.eu/article/essay_nagorno_karabakh_the_edge_of_russias_orbit/
Fenenko, A. (2016, April 5). Russia Direct. https://russia-direct.org/opinion/three-ways-peaceful-resolution-nagorno-karabakh-conflict