Attention: Nagorno Karabakh
I regret that it gets harder and harder to write this blog not least because there are so many things to write about.
One of them is something few people tend to discuss these days – the frozen conflicts, and the one in Nagorno Karabakh in particular.
I think it will not be long before international diplomacy focuses its attention in the South Caucasus again. And just like the last time, it may be because of a conflict. Then however, it will be too late to comment and warn. In order not to face the harsh realities of negotiating seize-fire in the middle of a fierce conventional war, one would rather not leave the frozen conflicts on their own. Because they tend to defrost once in a while.
A good reason to say this now is not only the exponentially expanding defence budget of Azerbaijan, but also the recent accidents along the disputed border. Additionally, president Aliyev of Azerbaijan has strengthened his rhetoric on the issue claiming that a new era is coming for his country. No doubt, the oil and gas reserves of Azerbaijan are soaring ever higher, almost to a point when no one can actually say how much natural resources there are in the country. The South Caucasian state has also recently given the cold shoulder to the EU by toning down the importance of EU-sponsored Nabuco project gas pipeline which will supposedly operate with Caspian gas.
To a certain point Azerbaijan is trying to make noise around Nabucco in order to call EU’s support to solving the Nagorno Karabakh problem in its favor. Not long ago the European Parliament voted the so called “Kirilov report” which was interpreted as quite encouraging and siding with the Azeri’s point of view. This was followed by a surge of the Armenian diplomacy, which in turn pointed fingers at the military build up in Azerbaijan and the growing tension at the borders.
One would think that Armenia would hardly find any support, locked between two enemies – Turkey and Azerbaijan – but as a matter of fact, the recent breaking of Ice with Turkey is already yielding positive results for Armenia. Even though the Zurich Protocols (proposing unconditional opening of the Turkish-Armenian border) are likely to stay not ratified for a long time, Turkey has already used its leverage to stress Azerbaijan. The 80-million state has been quietly re-negotiating its support for Azerbaijan in Nagorno Karabakh in return of changing the conditions of a number of oil transit agreements. Geographically, Turkey is the only transport channel for Azerbaijan’s natural resources, a main source of income for the country. But Turkey also has interest in Azeri’s exports as it collects fees and receives significant and secure supply.
The role of Russia in all this is not only as one would suppose, to back up the old christian friend Armenia, but rather egoistically to watch out for its own interest, i.e. obstructing the Nabucco project as much as possible and as invisibly as possible. Russia’s interest in the region is to keep everyone against everyone, and with military bases in Armenia, who knows… to have control over the transit routes of gas and oil maybe.
The active presence of 3 diplomatic powers as the EU, Russia and Turkey already suggest certain level of inter-dependency which may potentially hinder immediate conflict. Yet, if we adopt a more balance of power approach to the problem and consider the military spending of the parties involved, we may end up with much grimmer view on the prospects of peaceful settlement in Nagorno Karabakh.
This is why I believe, now is the time to engage with this issue. EU has much less leverage in Armenia and Azerbaijan as none of them has any Trans-Atlantic ambitions or benefits from significant European aid. As far as I know the EUSR has found it difficult to work in the region, and it was not long ago when then Foreign Policy chief of the Union Xavier Solana was not welcome in Azerbaijan. The other two players in the region are hugely unpopular in at least one of the conflict parties, so we are very far from any serious trust building and permanent settlement. The opposite, I think it will not be long before we witness sparkles between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Sparkles that may inflame a recent memory of lack of preparedness, diplomatic leverage and forgetfulness of what lies behind a frozen conflict.