This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood asks Crisis Group experts how the Ukraine war has affected peacemaking elsewhere, notably Nagorno-Karabakh, where Moscow plays a major diplomatic role, and Libya, where the Kremlin backs one of the conflict’s main protagonists.
While security situation remained calm, diplomatic process between Yerevan and Baku did not advance significantly. Situation in NK remained calm throughout month: no reports of clashes, shootings or new causalities. Yet talks made little progress. Speaking to local media, Armenian PM Pashinyan 27 June accused Azerbaijan of undermining diplomatic efforts in order “to legitimise a new war”. Amid ongoing protests organised by Armenian opposition over govt’s stance regarding future status of NK, Pashinyan 15 June addressed parliament, saying that “any status” guaranteeing security, rights and freedoms of NK people should be considered “real solution”; he claimed alternative would be “annihilation not only of Nagorno-Karabakh, but of Armenia as well”. Azerbaijani President Aliyev next day accused Armenian govt of raising NK’s future status despite “verbal agreement” to refrain from discussing topic; also used opportunity to criticise Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, saying it had achieved “zero results” in NK conflict settlement and that there was no need for it. Other parties insisted it remained important international format for negotiations. Notably, U.S. official 20 June praised Minsk Group’s continued relevance and highlighted U.S. readiness to cooperate with Russia on NK; Pashinyan 28 June echoed support for OSCE Minsk Group. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 24 June once more accused U.S. and France of trying to dismantle Minsk group. Disagreements over resumed operations of transportation route between mainland Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan exclave via Armenia persisted (see Armenia and Azerbaijan).
Fresh clashes in and around Nagorno-Karabakh imperil the November 2020 ceasefire monitored by Russian peacekeepers. Even as they square off over Ukraine, Russia, Western powers and Turkey should endeavour to reach a quiet agreement on how to avert escalation in the South Caucasus.
The 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh left many issues unresolved and the front lines volatile. The parties should establish a formal communication channel to address urgent post-war problems, Russian peacekeepers need a clearer mandate and aid agencies must be granted access to the conflict zone.
Russian mediation succeeded in ending the six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh but left much unresolved, chiefly the region’s future status. If the cessation of hostilities is to become a sustainable peace, the parties should start by cooperating on humanitarian relief and trade before tackling larger questions.
Fighting in July interrupted what had been a stretch of relative quiet on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. The incidents underscored how quickly and unexpectedly this front can erupt. The two countries should take better advantage of a hotline created in 2018 to avoid dangerous misunderstandings.
The threat of coronavirus looms large in six self-declared republics that have broken away from post-Soviet states. War and isolation have corroded health care infrastructure, while obstructing the inflow of assistance. International actors should work with local and regional leaders to let life-saving aid through.
If they move quickly, Armenia and Azerbaijan could break out of their long impasse over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. They could pursue quiet talks on thorny issues – settlements, peacekeepers and final status – but along separate tracks rather than in a single package.
This is a more serious escalation [over Nagorno-Karabakh], much better prepared, with more troops, and happening simultaneously on all parts of the front line.
We are a step away from a large-scale war (between Armenia and Azerbaijan).
At some point there are things that require somebody to set a leadership agenda. [OSCE] can’t do all of that without somebody in charge.
It seems unlikely the [Azerbaijan-Armenia] crisis would escalate, as neither side has territorial claims on northern border areas and the fighting had not spread to Karabakh itself.
The chances for the potential escalation [of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict] are very high. And the conflict will be more deadly this time, since both sides know each other’s capabilities
[A border clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan] is really very strange and surprising. There have been very few incidents outside Nagorno-Karabakh this year.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Turkey expert, Nigar Göksel, about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent trip to Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Turkey’s involvement in conflicts in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus, and its wider foreign relations.
Originally published in ISPI
Every year Crisis Group publishes two additional Watch List updates that complement its annual Watch List for the EU, most recently published in January 2021. These publications identify major crises and conflict situations where the European Union and its member states can generate stronger prospects for peace. The Autumn Update of the Watch List 2021 includes entries on Afghanistan, Burundi, Iran, Nagorno-Karabakh and Nicaragua.
While the war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 moved the front lines in Azerbaijan’s favour, it has not brought peace. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2021, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to engage in humanitarian initiatives in both Armenia and Azerbaijan and continue to engage diplomatically through the OSCE Minsk Group.