Styopa Safaryan (Founder and Head of Armenian Institute of International and Security Affairs (AIISA)) Will the Political Moment for the Resolution of Nagorno Karabakh Conflict Ever Come?

In the recent years the pendulum of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been fluctuating between war and peace in an increasingly unhindered, acute and unexpected manner, approaching the highest peak of risk level. In particular, during the four-day April war it had almost approached the scenario of a large-scale war, which, if unfolded, would render all the parties to the conflict and the region unable to come out of the post-conflict rehabilitation stage for decades.

Moreover, the consequences and the wounds of an over four-year war in the zone of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and the Armenian and Azerbaijani borderline, dating back to the early 90s of the past century, have not been eliminated in either Artsakh or Armenia or Azerbaijan. The very first aggressive attempt undertaken by the newly independent Azerbaijan to use force in order to suppress the aspirations of the population in Artsakh for self-determination factually showed that the war is the shortest and the best way to deepen and aggravate impasses, increase distrust between the parties and freeze the political regulation of the conflict. 

The Red Lines of Military and Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict

We may arrive at significant conclusions if we study both theinternal and external factors that led to the lightning attack of the Azerbaijani army against the Armenian side, taken by surprise on April 2, 2016, the invasion into the territory of Artsakh, the following counterattack of the Armenian forces and the almost complete restoration of the baseline positions along the entire stretch of the contact line, and the factors that prevented a full-scale war.

First of all, unlike 2014 and 2015 when Azerbaijan was not avoiding the creation of illusions of a large-scale regional war or a military confrontation with Armenia, the strategy of Blitzkrieg against Artsakh was undertaken in 2016. This shows that Baku was not confident about the possibility of solving such complicated problems as ensuring international legitimacy, counterbalancing the factors of Russia and the CSTO, protecting the exclave of Nakhichevan in case such a scenario unfolds. In fact, the involvement of Armenia, followed by Russia and the CSTO, would entail the inevitable activation of this theater of operations, too. Such a prospect was quite possible when Yerevan made Moscow approach the point of crossing the red line.

Whereas the volume of the military, political and information support Turkey provided Azerbaijan with was the maximum that Baku gained. But in order to win and balance Russia in a large-scale war, it needs much more, i.e. the open involvement of Turkey. Moreover, it should be noted that Aliyev received this maximum in the conditions of profound enmity between Moscow and Ankara in 2016. And it is still a major issue whether Baku will gain as much when Turkey and Russia have started to rapidly restore their strained relations for the sake of meeting their own priority interests in Syria, regarding a number of issues and spheres of vital significance (construction of a NPP in Turkey, the Kurdish Issue, procurement of S-400 anti-missile systems, TurkStream, etc.).  

In the conditions of such a profound interdependence Ankara is not very likely to sacrifice its own interests and go for a confrontation with Moscow within its influence zonefor the sake of its junior brother. Moreover, it is very unlikely that in the case of a large-scale war Ankara would take the same Nakhichevan under its direct protection, the “competence” for which was officially declared by the leaders of Turkey before.  Whereas a year later in 2011 the President of Turkey RecepTayyipErdoğan that paid an official visit to Moscow and personally handed the original copy of the Moscow Treaty over to the President of the RF on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of its signature, admitted in the course of a joint press conference that the “treaty is a turning point in our history. Our eastern borders were recognized by the Moscow Treaty.”

Thus, not only the liabilities of Turkey regarding the fate of Nakhichevan, but also the Eastern borders of the same Turkey, including the issue of territories transferred to it at the expense of Armenia, are regulated by a treaty that is prolonged every 25 years and its fate is also in the hands of Moscow. In this manner crossing of red lines for Ankara absolutely stems from its interests and the support provided in the course of the war is at the level of political assistance and is purposeless, as in the best case scenario, in comes in the forms of treatment for wounded soldiers in their hospitals, provision of instructors or even their own military in the Azerbaijani uniform. 

Baku could not be satisfied with the non-realization of its own expectations from Russia’s behavior. Although Russia did not give any categorical signals to prevent the aggression of Azerbaijan against Artsakh, and in the days of war acted as an arbitrator between its strategic partner Azerbaijan and its ally Armenia, the Kremlin was interested in one thing only: would the parties agree to deploy Russian peace-keeping forces in the conflict zone? Baku had long opposed this and now it was already Yerevan that opposed, seeing a conspiracy in these steps of the Kremlin and considering that Moscow, by its position, had given a carte blanche to Azerbaijan to ensure territorial advancement. Consequently, why shall Baku be awarded in such conditions when there is no agreement on the issue Moscow is interested in; moreover, when its multiple offers of the past about joining the EEU had remained unanswered? On the other hand, how could Baku agree to this, when already two days after the attack it had already lost the vast majority of the territories conquered in Artsakh, failing to gain a foothold on a new line, and from its own perspective, Moscow did not stop the counterattack of the Armenian forces in due time, and there is no and can be no guaranteed promise to return all and everything.

The meeting held between the chiefs of the General Staffs of the two countries in Moscow on April 5th with the mediation of Russia and on the same day the dissemination of hints in the media that perhaps a new ceasefire agreement might be drafted was already an act of eloquence. This might have given Moscow an opportunity to make Artsakh withdraw from the Bishkek Agreement of 2014 and more concretely assume the role of the guardian of peace in the conflict zone. However, as it was argued above there were not even slightly noticeable prospects for such a development: the parties were against, the Western Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group were against it too , the negotiators did not have such a mandate from their capitals. For Yerevan the Bishkek Agreement is a valuable document for actually it is on its basis that Stepanakert becomes a party to the regulations of the conflict and ensuring peace.

The next important factor that prevented the unfolding of a large-scale war was the demands of the international community to stop the military actions and to stabilize the situation: they came from the UNO, the incumbent Chairman of the OSCE before the Co-Chairs and the co-chairing countries of the OSCE Minsk Group,  which before, during and after this period, too, sharply apposed the resolution of the conflict by military means. Another indicator was that the President of Azerbaijan started to justify himself, saying that Azerbaijan counter-attacked the provocations of the Armenian side, and avoided the recognition that he himself was the attacker, which meant that the next red line was the impossibility of an international legitimation of the war, whereas Aliyev would not enjoy that legitimacy even for a local war.

The internal red lines for a forceful or peaceful solution to the problem were no less important. In the recent years the official propaganda in Azerbaijan constantly drew a picture according to which if there was no assistance to Russia, Azerbaijan, with a great speed and success, would the return Nagorno-Karabakh and restore its territorial integrity in a week, maximum a month: as the aide to the President of Azerbaijan put it.Another thesis in circulation was that the Armenian society was so unhappy with its authorities that in the case of territorial and human losses in Artsakh a domestic riot would break out, people would refuse to protect Artsakh, would refuse to send their sons to serve in Artsakh; in short, the only obstacle to success and the victory for Azerbaijan is the so-called "Karabakh clan", ruling in Armenia.

The Artsakh war completely put an end to these calculations of the Aliyev regime: despite the large deficit of legitimacy of the Armenian authorities, such an unprecedented and spontaneous mobilization took place since the very first days of the war that NagornoKarabakh even proved unable to accept and send such a large number of volunteer groups to the border. The repulse that the Armenian armed forces gave the Azerbaijani army invading Artsakh without any Russian support refuted another myth, showing that even the available resource asymmetry did not guarantee a victory for Baku.

Perhaps, only one calculation by Aliev was justified that in case the Armenian side incurred any territorial losses, there would be a rebellion against the authorities. This calculation was materialized in the summer of 2016, when the SasnaTsrer group, led by one of the outstanding leaders of the Artsakh war, ZhirayrSefilian, attempted an armed uprising, accusing the authorities of surrendering 800 hectares of land to Azerbaijan with the privy of Russia. They proclaimed the change of power a solution to disrupt the implementation of this plan later by either a new war or peaceful means.

Apparently, the edgy and harsh reaction of the official Moscow to the group and its actions, the reasons for putting forth accusations against the US and EU, and, finally, the former President of Armenia lay not only in the decolonization rhetoric of this group, but also in something the Kremlin knew, yet could not admit, i.e. the domestic political crisis arisen in Armenia would not allow to apply pressure on the official Yerevan for a long time, or even forever to make it agree to the Russian plan. The large public support shown to the group testified that the prospect of implementing the plan peacefully was dangerous, too, and any movement in this direction would simply add fuel to anti-Russian sentiments that broke out in Armenia. Finally, this result of suppressing the Russian plan suited the West and the Armenian authorities. Back then and to this day there is convincing evidence of a connection between the latter and the SasnaTsrer group.

No less important red lines began to be visible in Azerbaijan, too. First, concealing the real extent of the losses incurred in the April war until today shows that the Azerbaijani authorities also realize the disproportion of the achieved outcomes and the price paid for them. Serious problems of effective interaction between units of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan during the war were visible even to the Armenian side. Assurances to the Azerbaijani society made by Russian political scientists and Azerbaijani officials over years that Russia, as it promised to Azerbaijan and Ankara, would soon provide a breakthrough in the negotiation process, would put pressure on Yerevan, and the territories would be returned to Azerbaijan turned out to be empty talks. The repeated confirmations of even more support from Turkey turned out to be empty talk, too. An attempt was made to disguise this failure by unfolding propaganda around a few occupied peaks in the course of the war, with an eye to giving IlhamAliyev at least the image of the winning general and negotiator, but no more than that.

Lessons, Conclusions and Prospects: will the Velvet Revolution in Armenia Change the Situation?

The April war showed that military or peaceful attempts to impose a solution to the conflict settlement are doomed to failure. Moreover, it does not matter whether these attempts are coordinated in the Minsk Group or not, or come as a unilateral violation of the status quo by Azerbaijan.

The war tightened the positions of the parties even more: the President who achieved a small "victory" at a disproportionately high price (according to independent professional assessments, more than 600 dead and large losses of military equipment) continued to toughen his position by making statements about the return of Azerbaijanis not only to Artsakh but down to the "Erivan Khanate".

The leadership of Azerbaijan still cherishes illusions that the Armenian-Russian allied relations or the factor of Russia in the region will deteriorate and weaken so much that they will deprive Armenia of the hope for Russian assistance, and Turkey will be bolder in providing direct assistance. So, earlier in Baku the unsettled relations between the former Armenian authorities and at least part of the Kremlin elite prompted very high hopes, which, however, never came true. They are very unlikely to deteriorate under the new Armenian authorities, which have repeatedly stated that they will raise the Armenian-Russian relations to a new level, remain in the CSTO and the EEU, declaring this to be out of the question.

Apparently, now in Baku, even fewer people believe that Russia will lead to a breakthrough in the negotiation process, put more pressure on Yerevan and fulfill its promise fixed at the level of the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia in the "Declaration on Friendship and Strategic Partnership between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation" .

The appointment of Karen Karapetyan, a representative of the Gasprom elite, as Prime Minister on September 8, the seemingly "unquestionable" victory of the Republican Party of Armenia, the 2018 election of the Prime Minister in April were considered by some circles in Russia as an opportunity to continue the interrupted process of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement after the Russian plan. Being well aware of such expectations, the change of date for Azerbaijani presidential elections from fall to spring was not accidental in Baku, so that at the end of April, after the elections in Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, all the actors of the settlement process would be ready.

Whereas in Armenia, the unexpectedly successful coercion to the resignation of SerzhSargsyan on April 23 probably made some entities in Moscow cherish hopes for the transfer of power from SerzhSargsyan to Karen Karapetyan who was more legitimate, but at the same time more subject to control by Moscow. Not only Moscow's loyalty to the neutrality, non-interference position, but also appeals addressed to Baku, not to try to make use of the domestic political situation in Armenia were unprecedented.

The elites of Russia, through the lips of some of its emissaries, in particular the ex-co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group from Russia, ex-head of the Foreign Intelligence Service VyacheslavTrubnikov, glorified the wisdom of the Azerbaijani president, urging him not to obey the advice of the "hawks" from his entourage to take advantage of this opportunity and unleash a war. On the other hand, he called for launching the settlement of the conflict after the Key-West scenario after the change of power in Armenia, resolving the issues of "unconditional return of territories and establishment of Nakhichevan-Azerbaijan connection through Meghri".  However, the surprises continued, and NikolPashinyan himself assumed the post of the Prime Minister. And on the next day, May 9, in Artsakh making his speech on the occasion of the festivities marking the anniversary of the liberation of the city of Shushi that contained rather tough positions regarding the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, he announced the return of Artsakh to the negotiation table, and highlighted that the issue of recognizing Artsakh's right to self-determination was not subject to bargain.

Moreover, on June 22 in the summer of 2016, during the domestic political crisis in Armenia, NikolPashinyan openly opposed the so-called "Lavrov’s plan", calling it a plan that forcedArtsakh and Armenia to surrender, and accused the first president of Armenia LevonTer-Petrosyan of "entering into an alliance with SerzhSargsyan for the sake of its implementation."  In addition, regarding a compromise-based settlement, back then and during the presentation of the program of the Government in the National Assembly, hespoke about ensuring an atmosphere of mutual compromise and trust. Earlier, on April 9, 2016, in his speech at the National Assembly he spoke about version for the April war, summed up all the theses of the Russian-Azerbaijani conspiracy against Artsakh , stating that "if the version is correct, the Armenian-Russian relations need an all-round and fundamental revision. In any case, our strategic partner, Russia, needs to dispel the existing doubts of the Armenian public. I myself am ready to assist Russia in dispelling doubts. I hope there is an opportunity to disperse them in practice. "

It is not accidental that Pashinyan mentioned the sovereignty of Armenia and the need to form Armenian-Russian relations on this basis at all his meetings with the Russian President, already in the post of the Prime Minister of Armenia. On the other hand, it is obvious that the president of the Russian Federation does not touch upon the Karabakh issue at any of these meetings, not because the Kremlin does not know who – the President or the Prime Minister – will be negotiating on behalf of Armenia, as some Russian experts say. The main reason is that Moscow does not know how to deal with the new Armenian authorities in order to continue pursuing its previous goals. The maximum that could be and was done at this stage was to acquaint the newly-elected Prime Minister of Armenia with the Azerbaijani president, to convey the message that the settlement issue remains on the agenda of the Russian Foreign Ministry and to hint that the steps will be accelerated when the Armenian power will is formed conclusively as a result of the early elections.

The formation of power in Armenia with huge domestic legitimacy and public support and a stiffer position on the Artsakh issue has put Moscow in a very difficult position: any pressure to be directed at forcing Yerevan to unilateral concessions on the determination of the status of Artsakh is fraught with the threat of setting up the entire society of Armenia and Armenian nation against Russia. As a result of the Velvet Revolution, the Kremlin also lost channels of exerting pressure on the authorities from within the government and through other domestic political actors.

Conscious of these difficulties, Baku again demonstrates signs that its patience is on the wane, acting not only on the border of Artsakh-Azerbaijan, but also Armenia-Azerbaijan, in particular, in the Nakhichevan direction. After the April war, the installment of video-optical devices on the borders in Artsakh and Armenia deprived him of the possibility of a local war and blitzkrieg.

In conditions, when there are no opportunities for a victorious breakthrough in the negotiations and in case of unleashing military actions, the President of Azerbaijan has to create small victories, or rather invent the creation of new strong points at the expense of reducing the inter-position space, just as it was in Nakhichevan, and inflating it all again by means of propaganda to present it all as the continuation of the victory won in the April war.

The first meeting between the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan with the participation of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on June 12 in Brussels within the framework of the NATO Summit was merely a step to initiate official communication between the parties. In the conditions that put Russia's separate initiatives in a deadlock, perhaps this was the best time for the resuscitation of the negotiation process, which will not be easy given the positions already voiced by the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

However, it should be recalled that both forceful and political attempts to resolve the conflict in the past have demonstrated that, in the current geopolitical and regional realities, the goals and principles set forth in the statements repeatedly made by the leaders of the Minsk Group co-chair countries are not solvable by fragmented or step by step approaches. The maximum that can and should be done is to contain the war, restrain actors striving for war and form an environment for the settlement of the conflict. In this case, the implementation of the Vienna agreements and the more unanimous, coordinated functioning of the Minsk Group have no alternative. We must also avoid repeating the omissions of the past, when a parallel track of Russian initiatives was allowed and even legitimized under the auspices of the Minsk Group. Finally, it's time to realize that along with such omissions the main factor fueling military risks is the uncertainty of the status of Artsakh as a justification on the part of Azerbaijan for legitimizing its actions.

First, all windows of opportunity for the war must be closed, before it is too late. In this case, the political time for the settlement of the conflict will come.ридет политическое время урегулирования конфликта.


1Turkey a 'guarantor' of Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan, 28.04.2010,,
2Erdogan Presents Original Moscow Treaty to Medvedev, 16.03.2011,,
3Truce in NagornoKarabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan Was Achieved in Moscow, 05.04.2016, RT,
4Newspaper: Minsk Group US co-chair makes noteworthy revelation on Karabakh conflict,, 30.09.2015,
The Zhoghovurd,Warlick Revealed Remarkable Details: the Issue of Russian Peacekeepers Was, 30.09.2015, (in Armenian)
Warlick Revealed Remarkable Details: The Zhoghovurd,, 30.09.2015, (in Armenian)
5Escalation of Tension in the Zone of the Karabakh Conflict, 02.04.2016, TASS,
The Fragile Armistice of Karabakh, 05.04.2016,,
6Azerbaijan’s Incremental Increase On The NagornoKarabagh Frontline
7Declaration on Friendship and Strategic Partnership between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation, 3 July 2008, Baku 
8Former Head of Russian Intelligence: "To open the corridor in Lachin, liberate the occupied territories of Azerbaijan", 24.04.2018,,

9“Russia should convince Baku and Yerevan to make painful compromise”, Izvestia, 18.04.2016,
10NikolPashinyan. “LevonTer-Petrosyan Entered into an Alliance with SerzhSargsyan for Implementing Lavrov’s Plan”, The Aravot, 22.07.2016 (in Armenian)
NikolPashinyan announced about the launch of daily protests: “This Issue Shall be Solved by the People”, The Aravot, 22.07.2016,
Shameful announcement.NikolPashinyanabout Levon’Ter-Petrosyan’s, 22.07.2016 (in Armenian)
11If this version is correct, the Armenian armed forces saved not only the NKR, but also Armenia: Pashinyan,, 09.04.2016, (in Armenian)
12”Azerbaijan is getting ready for war, and in such situation, Mnatsakanyan’s statement can be called capitulation”: Kolerov, 12.07.2018, 168 Hour (in Armenian)


30 January, 2014
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