Current circumstances in the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process raise a number of questions, writes Vasif Huseynov in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. "Above all, it is unclear whether Baku and Yerevan will be able to stand resilient against all this pressure from the Russian side. Retrospectively, both capitals have realistically assessed Russia’s influence in the region and avoided any confrontation with Moscow." He adds that there is "ambiguity and uncertainty in the regional geopolitical landscape which poses substantial challenges for the peace efforts between Baku and Yerevan and may prolong the signing of a peace treaty indefinitely."
In a similar vein to the fourth quarter of last year, Armenian and Azerbaijani officials have again started talking positively about the prospects of signing a peace treaty in the near future. To be more precise, an Armenian government representative recently stated that there is a good chance that the document will be signed by the end of this year. The vigorous dynamics observed in the recent peace talks further support this expectation, as they clearly indicate that both parties have dedicated significant efforts to the negotiation process and have reached mutual understanding on a list of thorny issues.
In parallel, the attendance of the Armenian leader at the inauguration ceremony of the Turkish President on 3 June for the first time in history was a highly symbolic occasion. It is important to note that Baku and Ankara have consistently emphasized the interconnectedness of the two tracks for normalizing regional relations, namely, the Armenia-Azerbaijan and Armenia-Turkey tracks. The latest developments have, therefore, raised optimism that the negotiations are nearing their final destination, i.e., the signing of a peace treaty between the two South Caucasian countries. However, while the negotiations between the local actors look to be on a progressive path, the current wider geopolitical situation in and around the region does not seem to be conducive to a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
First and foremost is the question of how the peace treaty will affect the future of Russia’s role in the region. As spokesperson for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova recently stated, the regional conjecture seems to have changed. Originally, in the trilateral statement of 10 November 2020, it was envisaged that Russia will take up the role of security provider both along the Lachin road and the land passage between the western parts of Azerbaijan and its Nakhchivan exclave through the Syunik (Zangazur) region of Armenia. Despite Russian objections, Azerbaijan took the initiative to establish its own border crossing post at the entrance of the Lachin road on 23 April. This move effectively granted Azerbaijan full control over the road, eliminating any potential for intervention by the Russian peacekeeping mission.
Russian influence in the region is waning, but Moscow can be expected to put up a fight
Emboldened by this development, Armenia has now started to voice plans to install its own checkpoints at the entry and exit points of the Zangazur road. The secretary of the Security Council of Armenia, Armen Grigoryan, in a recent statement signaled that Armenia would decline the control of the Russian border guard service in case of the future unblocking of economic and transportation routes. This is Armenia’s attempt to stave off the deployment of the Russian border guard service as envisaged previously and, indeed, would constitute a severe blow to Russia’s regional influence if Yerevan succeeds in this endeavor.
Maria Zakharova’s response to Grigoryan’s statement highlights Moscow’s displeasure with the position of the Armenian government and with the current situation overall. Zakharova emphasized the significance of the Russia-Armenia-Azerbaijan trilateral statements as the foundation for peace talks and urged the Armenian side to address these matters through dialogue instead of making public statements. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had previously warned his Armenian counterpart against disregarding Russia’s interests in the South Caucasus, stressing that “Russia has major interests at stake [in the region]. I am convinced that our allies are aware of that”.
It is widely believed by local observers that while Russia may have experienced setbacks in its invasion of Ukraine, it is unlikely to relinquish control over the South Caucasus without putting up a significant fight to protect its own interests and prevent others from replacing Moscow’s longstanding dominance in the region. It is no secret that Russia sees the growing mediating role of the EU and the United States between Armenia and Azerbaijan through the lens of geopolitical rivalry in the context of larger confrontation between the two sides. The deployment of the EU monitoring mission to Armenia in October 2022 and its renewal for a longer period in January this year caused major anxiety in the Kremlin. The EU’s recent announcement regarding the expansion of the monitoring mission further exacerbates the situation, as Yerevan has not yet given approval for the deployment of a similar mission by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
These circumstances raise a number of questions. Above all, it is unclear whether Baku and Yerevan will be able to stand resilient against all this pressure from the Russian side. Retrospectively, both capitals have realistically assessed Russia’s influence in the region and avoided any confrontation with Moscow. Armenia has been a Russian ally within the CSTO and Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Equally, Russian support has been a major factor behind Armenia’s maintenance of the Azerbaijani territories under occupation for the significant part of the post-Soviet period.
The present course of developments in the region could evolve in a different direction which would gradually spiral into serious problems, if not conflict, between Russia and the two countries of the South Caucasus. Neither Baku nor Yerevan wants it, despite the fact that Russia has increasingly limited policy options to impactfully affect regional processes. This all, however, creates ambiguity and uncertainty in the regional geopolitical landscape which poses substantial challenges for the peace efforts between Baku and Yerevan and may prolong the signing of a peace treaty indefinitely.
source: Dr Vasif Huseynov, is a Senior Advisor at the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center) and Adjunct Lecturer at Khazar University in Baku, Azerbaijan.
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