Author: Namig MAYILOV
Front-line briefs, reports of casualties, recriminations and denials again... It’s been the first clash of such a magnitude between Azerbaijan and Armenia since the four-day April war of 2016. This time, however, the incident took place not in the occupied Karabakh but on the border of Armenia with Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense reports that on the afternoon of July 12, Yerevan attempted to overrun a military position in the Azerbaijani district of Tovuz using artillery fire from the bordering Tavush region of Armenia. On the first day, the Azerbaijani army reported three dead and five wounded, while the Armenian side kept silent about the losses.
On the contrary, the Armenian Ministry of Defense reported that it was the Azerbaijani military, which crossed the state border of Armenia in a certain UAZ car, but left it and had to return after a warning from the Armenian side. After that, the Armenian side claims, Azerbaijani army began to attack their positions using artillery.
The skirmish continued in the following days. On July 14, Azerbaijan announced the death of two high-ranking officers. “I regret to say that Major General Polad Khashimov and Colonel Ilgar Mirzayev died in the fight,” Deputy Defense Minister Kerim Veliyev said press-briefing.
In general, according to the Ministry of Defense, the border clash claimed the lives of seven Azerbaijani soldiers.
Mr. Veliyev also said that since July 12, Azerbaijani army killed about 100 Armenian troops, and destroyed the equipment and the command post of the Armenian army. Azerbaijani Defense Ministry also distributed a video of attacks on military facilities in Armenia. Despite the silence of Armenia, information about dozens of casualties in the Armenian army leaked to the Russian media. Only after that did the Armenian Ministry of Defense admitted the casualties among the military personnel, distributing dosed daily reports on the number of killed and wounded servicemen.
At the time of writing, the fight on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border continues. It is too early to predict the consequences. It is clear though that it was not a violation of the ceasefire or a simple positional battle. There are political rather than military goals behind the intensity of the cross-border situation.
The day following the incident, President Ilham Aliyev convened the Security Council, while the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan convened an extraordinary meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers. Certainly, these two events show the scale of the current confrontation.
“This is not the first time that Armenia commits military provocations on the state border. In the past few months, such military provocations claimed the lives of our military and civilians. Yesterday afternoon, several military personnel died as a result of another provocation,” Mr. Aliyev said at the meeting of the Security Council, blaming Yerevan for the consequences of the provocation.
Mr. Aliyev also noted that Azerbaijan applied to international organisations, and foreign military representatives will be invited to Tovuz to learn about the situation on the site as soon as it is possible.
On the contrary, Nikol Pashinyan blamed Azerbaijan for the consequences. He did not hide his concern about the position of neighbouring states, in particular Turkey, which did not limit itself to an appeal for restraint. “We are extremely confused by the behaviour of Turkey, when the Turkish Foreign Ministry expresses unconditional support for Azerbaijani actions,” Mr. Pashinyan said.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry also condemned the statement of the Turkish counterpart for supporting Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Minister Movlud Cavusoglu repeated that Ankara was and is committed to support Baku as long as it concerns the issue of ensuring the territorial security of Azerbaijan. He also called on Armenia to be prudent. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on OSCE Minsk Group countries to avoid statements provoking an additional increase in tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Armenian media regarded this news as a response to the statements of Cavusoglu.
Azerbaijan thanked not only Turkey for its support, but also Russia, Iran and other countries for their concern about the situation. At the same time, the role of Russia, which is both the military-political ally of Armenia and the strategic partner of Azerbaijan, is of great importance. It is no coincidence that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had telephone conversations with both colleagues from the conflicting countries and his Turkish counterpart Mr. Cavusoglu.
By the way, Azerbaijani immediately drew attention to the attempts of Yerevan to involve third forces in the conflict. Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan, Hikmet Hajiyev, said that Armenia, as a member of military and political organisations, is trying to involve them in the conflict by provoking incidents on the borderline. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan made a similar statement.
Later, it became known that the Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan called the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), Stanislav Zas, and told him about "the inadmissibility of such actions in relation to a CSTO member state." Speaker of the Armenian parliament, Ararat Mirzoyan, sent letters to colleagues from the CSTO member states urging them to "condemn the provocation of Azerbaijan."
Athough the Secretary General of CSTO, Stanislav Zas, initiated an emergency meeting of the Permanent Council due to the incident on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, it was later postponed indefinitely.
According to CSTO spokesman Vladimir Zainetdinov, the meeting was postponed due to consultations between the parties, as well as the need to clarify the format of discussions.
Meanwhile, many Russian media outlets and experts share the position of Azerbaijan, recognising that the recent incident with Armenia was very likely a provocation committed by Yerevan to check the reaction of the CSTO. If true, then Nikol Pashinyan’s team will be disappointed. It is clear that Yerevan will not get unequivocal military and political support from CSTO, as the organisation postponed the meeting for consultations. Even if members of the organisation convene to discuss the situation, Armenia is unlikely to get support similar to the one that Azerbaijan received from Turkey. To check this, it is enough to consider the nature and level of bilateral relations between the CSTO member states and Azerbaijan. Not long ago it was the partners of Armenia in the organisation that tried to prevent the election of Yerevan’s representative as the CSTO Secretary General. By the way, this took place when Armenia was ruled by the pro-Russian authorities. Is it possible to discuss military and political support of the CSTO to Armenia, when Nikol Pashinyan has worsened relations with its traditional ally, Russia, by his attempts to drift the country towards the West. By the way, according to Gazeta.ru, immediately after coming to power, Pashinyan ordered the arrest of the then CSTO Secretary General Yuri Khachaturov.
On the other hand, Yerevan cannot rely on the West in this matter either. At least because Europe will not sacrifice its relations with Baku to please Yerevan. This was demonstrated at the recent online summit on the Eastern Partnership program. It is enough to compare the scale of mutual trade of Azerbaijan and Armenia with European countries, as well as the number of joint projects both countries implement with the EU. It is also worth considering the role that Azerbaijan plays in ensuring the energy security of Europe.
It is clear that the EU does not have big illusions about the economic dividends from cooperation with Armenia. But it is also clear that the EU would like Armenia as one of its partners, at least as a self-sufficient state. Instead, Armenia is a country with undeveloped economy, which is getting worse every day under the influence of the pandemic and lockdown.
The situation with democracy in Armenia is even worse. That is why both Europe and Armenians expected so much from Pashinyan’s revolutionary government. At least the situation could not be worse than it was during the reign of the military-criminal junta of Serzh Sargsyan. But time has shown the opposite. “Indeed, the number of Armenians dissatisfied with the Pashinyan government is increasing. During Pashinyan’s tenure in office, he demonstrated his small-minded, vengeful and authoritarian character, as well as an inability to turn from a destructive leader of the street opposition into a constructive and consolidating prime minister of the Armenian society,” Life.ru wrote.
Either way, due to its exorbitant ambitions and inadequate opportunities, Armenia has turned into a country with a complex of inferiorities that prevent Yerevan from finding its place in the system of international relations. Experts also consider the recent statements of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as a result of Armenia’s worsening position on the international arena. Mr. Lavrov has particularly said that it is the same phased settlement plan for the Karabakh conflict, which envisages the liberation of Azerbaijani regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh. This statement was sort of a slap for Nikol Pashinyan, who previously assured the Armenians that he would not continue negotiations from the point where the previous authorities stopped.
Another blow to Armenia’s positions on the Karabakh issue came from the EU, which adopted the resolution 2019/2209 (INI) just before the last summit on Eastern Partnership. It is logical continuation of the resolution adopted a decade ago, which recognises the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia and calls for the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from all occupied territories of the Eastern Partnership countries. This was the second document adopted in June in which Europe condemned the occupation policy of Armenia. Earlier, the European Parliament criticised Yerevan’s plans to build a new highway from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, as this decision was made without the consent of the official authorities of Azerbaijan and in violation of international law. “Therefore, we very much deplore this initiative (the construction of the road. - R+) as it does not help to create conditions conducive to trust, peace and reconciliation. We reiterate our unwavering support to the efforts of the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and their 2009 Basic Principles. For this mediation to have a chance of success, we call on the authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan to step up their commitment, in good faith, to the negotiation on the peaceful resolution of the conflict within the internationally recognised borders of Azerbaijan.” This statement was made by the European Parliament’s standing rapporteur on Azerbaijan, MEP Željana Zovko, the European Parliament’s standing rapporteur on Armenia, MEP Traian Băsescu and the co-chair of the EU Parliamentary Cooperation Committee on Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, MEP Marina Kaljurand.
This once again shows that Armenia’s actions disappoint all international authorities. Armenia continues to insist on territorial claims to its neighbours, undermies the achievements of international mediators and provokes a new surge of tension in the conflict zone, hoping to involve third forces in this insidious adventure.
Incidentally, right before the clashes on the border with Azerbaijan, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and President Armen Sargsyan made illegal visits to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Is this not yet another evidence that the Armenian authorities were preparing for the border provocation? By the way, in his interview with Lenta.ru, Assistant to President of Azerbaijan, Hikmet Hajiyev, noted that even before the start of the fight in Tovuz, Armenia dispatched heavy military equipment and manpower to the border with Azerbaijan. “This is an evidence that the artillery attack was planned in advance,” Mr. Hajiyev said.
With regard to the critical socio-political and socio-economic situation in Armenia, the Russian web-portal News.ru wrote: “Apparently, the Armenian prime minister decided to use the tested method by shifting public attention to foreign policy. The territorial dispute with Azerbaijan is a proven consolidating factor for the Armenian population.”
What can be the consequence of the recent border conflict? Experts consider a full-scale war between the two countries unlikely. Given the ongoing fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated economic problems, none of the parties, including external stakeholders, is interested in a full-fledged war at this stage of the conflict. Obviously, Baku does not give up its right to ensure territorial integrity, including by military means. But today Azerbaijan demonstrates its commitment to the call of the UN Secretary General to curb violence amid the global humanitarian crisis. Azerbaijan even initiated a special session of the UN General Assembly dedicated to the joint fight against Covid-19. In other words, Baku a priori could not be interested in the current incident. The same is not true for Armenia, where the number of Covid-19 cases has reached an almost uncontrollable level. Armenia is asking for help but is the only state, which opposed the UN special session. Not because it no longer needs help but only because the session was initiated by Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, the border incident threatens the future of the peace talks on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and creates extra problems for international mediators. The time has come when the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group cannot limit themselves to mere calls on respect for the ceasefire and must take serious measures to eliminate the roots of the conflict. There is no need to make up fancy wordings. It is enough to unequivocally require Yerevan to implement the UN Security Council resolutions on the “full and unconditional release” of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Otherwise, the conflict will continue to smolder, which is what the Armenian leadership is trying to do to extend its power like its predecessors did.
“Observers note that the clash with Azerbaijan took place just three days after the demobilisation of Pashinyan's son Ashot Pashinyan [from the army]. Pashinyan's critics found this coincidence not accidental, and suggested that he often puts personal interests above the national ones when making military-political decisions. After all, over the past year, while Pashinyan's son was in the military service, the situation was much better in general."
“Experts and political scientists believe that the recent tension on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border is related to the internal problems of Armenia, in particular due to the consequences of the pandemic and the declining ratings of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. They assume that the purpose of provocations is to distract the residents of the republic from the internal political and economic situation."
“Yet another factor of tension in Armenia is the struggle of authorities with political opponents. In June, the Armenian parliament approved legislative changes that make it possible to change the chairman and members of the Constitutional Court. Until recently, the Constitutional Court remained the only important state body independent from the Pashinyan team. In addition, the National Security Service of Armenia opened three criminal cases against the opposition leader Gagik Tsarukyan."
“Experts presume that the armed conflict on the border was provoked by Armenia to play the anti-Russian card and to attract the attention of the West to resolution of its internal political problems. At the same time, it was a chance to accuse the CSTO of inaction again."