Pro-Western Armenian PM Signs a Humiliating Peace With Turkish-Backed Azerbaijan
Signs the death of the other Armenian state, the secessionist Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
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Six weeks after Azerbaijan launched its offensive on Armenian-held Nagorno-Karabakh the Armenians have admitted defeat and signed an agreement that amounts to the surrender of the region to Azerbaijan.
This means that the second Armenian state in the world, the unrecognized but de facto independent* Nagorno-Karabakh Republic which had been around since 1991 will be erased from existence.
According to the armistice, Azerbaijan keeps all of the areas it captured in the offensive. This amounts to some 40% of the land Armenian secessionist held before the resumption of the war in September.
Additionally, Karabakh Armenians will hand over to Azerbaijani forces some 60% of the remaining areas under their control, which will also leave them completely encircled, save for one road controlled by Russian peacekeepers.
Additionally, all troops of Armenia proper must evacuate to Armenia and will be replaced in rump Karabakh by Russian peacekeepers.
So far it actually does not sound that bad for the Armenians. The majority of the land Azeris recaptured in the offensive (save Hardrut and Shushi) and all of the land Armenians have to hand over in the next 30 days is outside the old Soviet-era autonomous Karabakh. This means it’s land that before 1993 was populated by Azeris and was left as an unpopulated desert since the war. Armenians captured it in the 1988-1994 war because it was of military-strategic utility to them (to secure their flank and rear and shorten the front), but had always been willing to hand it back to Azerbaijan in return for recognition of independence for the rest of their Republic.
Thus, handover of that land to Azerbaijan in return for protection by Russian peacekeepers actually wouldn’t be a bad deal for them. Especially since the armistice in no way prejudices the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh. (Ie there is technically nothing preventing them from continuing to profess their independence).
Except that isn’t the deal. Instead, the agreement in no uncertain terms states that 5 years from now Azerbaijan (or Armenia for that matter) can request that the Russian peacekeepers leave. Obviously, in such a scenario the encircled 140,000 Karabakh Armenians would fall in a matter of days to the 10-million Azerbaijan.
This means that in reality, Azerbaijan can dictate whatever terms it feels like to the Karabakh Armenians and they have no choice but to accept. Azerbaijan’s Aliyev has already gloated that he will not even offer them provincial autonomy but merely integration into a unitary Azerbaijan.
Armenian PM says he was forced to sign such an unfavorable agreement because the military situation was lost and had he not, Karabakh would have fallen in a matter of days anyway.
The agreement stops the bloodshed, prevents an even more humiliating military defeat, and postpones the handover of rump Karabakh to Azerbaijan for up to 5 years. Also, it means it will occur peacefully and under the supervision of Russian troops, rather than in the midst of hostilities, decreasing the likelihood of Azeri violence against civilians and property.
For the Azeri side, the agreement means they have to wait for their full reward a little longer, but will attain it with fewer losses and less political and moral fallout.
As part of the deal, Armenia has also obliged itself to build a road connecting Azerbaijan to the Azeri exclave of Nakhichevan where Azeri cargoes and travelers will be inspected by Russian border guards but not by Armenian authorities. Nakhichevan is geographically separated from the rest of Azerbaijan but borders Turkey so this opens up the prospect of direct Azeri-Turkish communication (albeit one ultimately nonetheless at the mercy of Armenia).
Russia gains little from mediating and guaranteeing the deal. The Azeri side taking over all of the disputed land militarily would have been perceived as a boost to Turkish prestige and left Armenians embittered, but it would have not threatened any key Russian interest. Also it is doubtful Armenians will be particularly grateful for this intervention either.
Nonetheless, Russian diplomacy was an obvious boon to the humanitarian situation in limiting the bloodshed and civilian suffering. Also, the fact the agreement gives both of the warring parties the right to demand a Russian withdrawal means there is little chance this becomes an entanglement for Russia that results in an unwanted war down the line.
A similar situation in Georgia that was the result of a Yeltsin-era diplomatic intervention eventually led to a Georgian-Russian war and Russia losing Georgia forever.* It is clear in this case Moscow has no intention of falling into the same situation where its peacekeeping duties bring it into a conflict with Azerbaijan and result in the later’s total alienation from Moscow.
Armenians will be hoping that Russian role behind the scenes will nonetheless lead to at least local autonomy where Karabakh Armenians may police themselves and run their own schools, and can serve out their mandatory national service to Azerbaijan as civilians and locally. Otherwise, it is questionable if any, except the very elderly, will remain (which in truh would suit Azerbaijan just fine).
What Russia is really hoping for however is that peace will lead to economic normalization in the region and the end of total Azeri and Turkish blockade of Armenia. The last point of the agreement actually calls for this to happen immediately, but in reality Turkey and Azerbaijan likely won’t lift their blockades until the terms of Karabakh’s reintegration have been finalized and accepted by the Armenians.
This would stabilize the region and help its economic development, particularly that of Armenia which is part of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. It’s nice to have members in your economic block but it’s even better when they’re not such a basket case as the blockaded Armenia currently is.
In summary then nobody gained anything particularly massive by signing the deal, but everyone gained a little — just enough to make it worthwhile to sign. If everything goes well it will be a mini win-win for all compared to the alternative of a full Azeri military sweep.
Which does not mean it is a happy occasion. The plucky Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is a walking corpse destined to be unceremoniously absorbed into Azerbaijan courtesy of arbitrary Communist-drawn administrative borders. There is one less rebel republic in the world. RIP Artsakh.
* Independent of Azerbaijan, but heavily dependent for survival on financial and military support of Armenia.
** Russia actually backed Georgia’s formal claim on Southern Ossetia but as the 1992 armistice guarantor opposed a military resolution — that all changed when a surprise Georgian offensive to recapture the breakaway region opened up with an all-night artillery barrage on Russian peacekeepers that leveled their base and killed 14.