The outgoing year 2017 did not bring any serious headway in the talks to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia met once during the year – in the Swiss city of Geneva in October.
Eighteen of our army soldiers were killed in ceasefire violations between the sides in the outgoing year. Two civilians – Zahra Guliyeva, aged two, and Sahiba Guliyeva, 50 – were killed when Armenian troops shelled the village of Alkhanli in Fuzuli District on 4 July, which caused an international outcry.
Turkey boosts its role in the conflict resolution, even if only in words
Rauf Mirgadirov, who is an emigre living in Europe, believes that the sides continued their tactical maneuvers in the Nagorno-Karabakh talks in 2017. He said that Azerbaijan took certain steps to speed up the talks, but Armenia tried to protract the talks and paid increased attention to security and trust-building work.
“Although this is something that has been observed over the past few years, there have been certain changes. I mean that Turkey increased the role it has to play towards the resolution of the conflict, even if it increased it in words only. Ankara tried to turn the Nagorno-Karabakh issue into an element of its foreign policy.”
Mirgadirov recalled that although Turkey had always stressed that it was with Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, it developed a new position in 2017:
“I am talking about President Erdogan’s statements about Russia having a leading role to play in the resolution of the conflict. In any case, Erdogan hinted that he had discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh issue with Putin in the past two to three months and that he would try to pay more attention to it. After those statements were made, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov visited Baku and Yerevan.”
Russia demands that conflicts be its monopoly
The expert said that most people expect action from Moscow and there are some who believe that that action will be dangerous.
“Because Russia openly demands that conflicts in the post-soviet space be its monopoly. It suffices to recall Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s statement that ‘if the West had heard Russia in time, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and other conflicts would have long been settled and many would not have started’. That is, Russia finds conflict resolution to be possible within its own interests.”
He believes that it is not about those interests being different from the West’s interests. Mirgadirov stressed that the West has its own approach to the post-soviet space and conflicts in it.
“Russia’s interests are simply not in line with the interests of the sides involved in the conflict. In the short term, the West does not have wide opportunities to resolve the conflict because in the short-term military and political means of influence play a large role. At the moment, means of military and political influence in the post-soviet space are in Russia’s hands.”
Russia’s being barred from the Olympic Games damages Putin’s image
Regarding expectations from the year 2018, the political analyst believes that much will depend on the domestic economic and political situation in Russia. He believes that a very serious blow was dealt to President Putin’s foreign policy image at the end of this year. The fact that Russia as a state is barred from the Olympic Games can be considered a very bad attitude for this country. He said that at first glance it may have nothing to do with politics bit it is a very serious development:
“This has been the second such incident in the past 50 years. Most Western countries, led by the United States, boycotted the Moscow Olympic Games after Soviet troops were deployed to Afghanistan in 1980. Consequently, the USSR did not participate in the games that the United States hosted in 1984. True, Russian athletes will participate in the games, but the country being barred is a serious blow to Putin’s image at a time when Russia is back in the global arena. Even though Russian government agencies blackmailed the International Olympic Committee, the decision remained unchanged.”
He said the other serious factor is the influence of certain Russian domestic processes on this country’s foreign policy.
“The economic situation is very bad. Economists close to the Kremlin concede that poverty is on the rise in Russia. This turns upside down Putin’s statements about the start of economic revival. You know that one of Putin’s latest statements was, ‘We are back in the Middle East and have become a leading force in Syria’. Those kinds of statements have been made against a backdrop of the country being barred from the Olympic Games and a worsening of the economic situation. If the Putin administration sees that his domestic image is under a very serious threat, we can expect this country to make serious steps towards the resolution of conflicts in the post-soviet space.”
Nothing good is expected in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution in 2018
The political analyst said that by serious steps by Russia he meant achievement of conflict resolution in a way that met this country’s interests. In this context, Mirgadirov said that statements can be heard lately that conflict resolution is possible in the event of restoration of the empire.
“Just a simple example – Olympic Games were being held when Russia carried out military intervention in Georgia in 2008. In 2014 as well, the occupation of Ukraine’s territory began after the Olympic Games ended. Now, too, relations between Russia and the West started to get even worse ahead of the Olympic Games, and from that point of view, nothing good is expected in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2018.”
The present-day phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict started in 1988 after the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic laid territorial claims to the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. A war over Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region took place between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1991-94. Consequently, the Armenian Armed Forces occupied 20 per cent of Azerbaijan’s territory – Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven administrative districts around it (Lachin, Kalbajar, Agdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Gubadli, and Zangilan) – and more than a million people became refugees and internally displaced persons. Military operations ended after Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in Bishkek in May 1994.
The OSCE Minsk Group and its co-chairs – Russia, the United States and France – are involved in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.