The situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region deteriorated again sharply on September 27, as they say in Baku, due to intensive shelling of Azerbaijani positions by Armenia. It also claims that at least 19 Armenian soldiers were killed in the retaliatory fire. Yerevan has announced a general mobilization and the introduction of martial law in the country. This is at least the third provocation in the past two months. And although international organizations have already called for de-escalation, Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan is unlikely to soften it. Earlier experts said that the external conflict allows him to shift his attention away from internal problems, especially since the counter-offensive of the Azerbaijani army is developing, apparently, successfully.
Despite the fact that the international community recognizes the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) as Azerbaijani territory, Armenia predictably continues to contribute to the failure of attempts at a political settlement. Thus, according to some experts, since July this year, Yerevan has made at least three attempts to escalate the smoldering conflict.
The first of these incidents began on July 12 when the so-called “Tavush clashes” took place – along the village of Movses in Armenia’s Tavush region and the village of Agdam in Azerbaijan’s Tovuz region. At that time, Yerevan tried to explain its attacks outside the Nagorno-Karabakh zone – for the first time in many years – by the fact that an alleged Azerbaijani subversive intelligence group (DSG) in the UAZ had attempted to cross the borderline, as a result of which Armenia opened fire. Even Pashinyan himself noticed the oddity of the “full intelligence-growth” version: during the government session, he doubted that Baku had decided to go deep into the front line in such a peculiar way.
But then the attempts to warm up the situation continued: the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan reported all summer about attempts to throw Armenian DRGs into its territory. As a result, on August 23, when Gurgen Alaverdyan, the commander of one of the groups in the Geranboy region, was taken prisoner, Armenian Defense Ministry Speaker Shushan Stepanyan hastily voiced an unusual version for the qualification of military intelligence officer: the officer disappeared because he got lost because of bad weather “while checking combat positions”.
The third incident took place just in the morning of September 27. At the same time, signs of preparation for the provocation were felt in advance. The Armenian media were actively promoting information about Turkey’s transfer of “mercenaries from the Hamza Division” from Syria, which could not withstand criticism due to the positional battles on the front. And it was Armenia who promptly introduced martial law and announced general mobilization on September 27. An indirect sign of preparations for escalation is that Pashinyan extended the quarantine in the country until January 11, 2021. Although, as a rule, the leaders of the states refrain from such long-term measures, realizing the necessity to give an incentive to the local and world economies that are subsiding in the “carpet” period.
The Azerbaijani side called on the civilian population in the occupied territories to stay away from military facilities and reported losses in equipment, although predictably not as large as Yerevan claimed.
The Armenian Ministry of Defense, in turn, does not recognize losses due to “intensive battles” hindering the calculations, but with amazing speed in numbers keeps “statistics” of the broken equipment of Azerbaijan. However, under the pressure of local journalists, the official representative of the Ministry Artsrun Hovhannisyan had to admit that “it is not right to say that we have no losses at all and will not have any.
The fact that provocations on the border and on the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh continue is quite indicative.
Pashinyan, who came to power on the wave of “protest voting”, cannot yet boast of his success as prime minister. First of all, the head of the Cabinet of Ministers faces serious problems inside the country: the reshuffles in the security apparatus, which led to the appointment of dubious personnel to senior positions, intensified the protest wave among both the population and the political opposition. Secondly, the coronavirus pandemic also plays a role, with which Yerevan is coping extremely badly – the indicators of morbidity in Armenia are among the worst in the post-Soviet space.
Under these conditions, Pashinyan is expected to play an “external threat” card, but unfortunately for him, this method does not give any effect. The CSTO, to which the Armenian prime minister is constantly appealing, is not in a hurry to get involved in a bilateral conflict, and the reason is quite clear: it was the current head of the Armenian government who actively “drowned” for leaving the Organization in his time, and then impeded the process of appointing its new head.
The second way Pashinyan would like to go is to draw into the conflict Russia, which has a military facility in the republic. But even here it is not all smooth. In the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Moscow has consistently played the role of mediator, not taking sides. Despite allied relations with Armenia, the Kremlin has repeatedly pointed to its strategic partnership with Azerbaijan.
Moreover, the Russian leadership cannot but notice the frankly Russophobic sentiments that reign in Yerevan and have quite concrete consequences, up to and including claims against the “daughter” of Russian Railways operating on Armenian territory. It is no secret that Pashinyan brought many bright pro-Western figures to the country’s leadership with his coming to power, who are not only connected with the United States in terms of world outlook but also financially – including through the Soros Foundation. The Armenian authorities are also in no hurry to stop anti-Russian speeches (like last year’s) and generally look through the fingers at nationalists who are constantly dissatisfied with Moscow.
At the same time, Azerbaijan remains Russia’s strategic partner and an important buffer in relations between Moscow and Ankara. This situation leaves only one way out for the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict – negotiations, which Yerevan does not officially refuse, but does not force them. A successful counter-offensive by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces may bring Yerevan back to the negotiating table – with the toughening of the struggle against the internal opposition Pashinyan has noticeably avoided any dialogue with Baku even with the participation of mediators.