Staunton, November 29 – In the wake of the latest outbreak of the Qarabagh war, most analysts have viewed Azerbaijan as the big winner, Russia and Turkey as having gained as well, and Armenia as the big loser, Aleksandr Vorobyev says. While this view is not wrong, the reality for all four of the participants is in fact far more mixed.
In a commentary for the “Diplomatic Courier” supplement to Nezavisimaya gazeta, the director of the Moscow Center for Investment and Integration Cooperation argues that each of them faces a complex mix of pluses and minuses that are going to matter ever more with the passage of time (ng.ru/dipkurer/2020-11-29/11_8026_karabakh.html).
There is no question that Azerbaijan won more than anyone else. It recovered most of the seven Azerbaijani districts Armenian forces had been occupying as well as “a significant part of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh including the city of Shusha.” And it obtained transit rights across Armenia’s Zengezur district to connect it with Nakhchivan and Turkey.
All these achievements, the Moscow commentator suggests, are likely to be sufficient to guarantee political stability and consensus in Azerbaijan “for the next several years.” But Azerbaijan suffered many casualties, likely even more than Armenia did, because it was the attacking force.
Moreover, he continues, Azerbaijan must face a situation in which it stopped before recovering control over all its territory and now is confronted by the fact that there are foreign forces, Russian and Turkish, on its land. That opens the way for conflicts both over the terms of their presence and if Moscow and Ankara come into conflict.
“The authorities in Azerbaijan thus risk finding themselves between two fires,” between those who want an even more aggressive and pro-Turkish position, and those who fear that such a development would lead to conflicts with Russia and reduce Azerbaijan to the status of “Ankara’s satellite.”
Armenia clearly suffered loss of control over territory and loss of influence because of the poor showing of its military. Both have sparked a political crisis in Yerevan that shows no sign of ending anytime soon. But if one considers the situation more closely, Armenia did not suffer “a complete catastrophe.”
On the one hand, “Armenia preserved control over Armenian territory, retains a zone of influence in Nagorno-Karabakh, and maintains its economic potential.” Indeed, the defeat may lead to more economic reforms sooner than would otherwise have been the case. And the war may allow Yerevan to recover its ties with both the West and with Moscow.
For Russia, the conflict presented the most serious challenge: It did not want either side to win a total victory, but it did not want to take any step that would alienate one or the other from Russia. It suffered both political and image problems in Yerevan and it raised questions in Azerbaijan too.
But its cautious approach allowed it to gain something Moscow very much wanted: the reinsertion of Russian forces as peacekeepers in the region. That gives Russia new leverage, but it also involves Moscow in the conflict more deeply and in the larger geopolitics of the region involving Turkey and Iran as well.
And finally, Vorobyev says, Turkey benefited from the fighting and its outcome, strengthened its position in the South Caucasus and especially in Azerbaijan, and even won new sympathy from Turkic states in Central Asia. But in doing so, it came close to a confrontation with Russia and more immediately it alienated many of its Western partners.
The latter shift is already hurting the Turkish economy and the standard of living of the Turkish people, while the former may if the situation develops in an unfortunate direction mean that Ankara’s ties with Moscow are perhaps even more likely to fray than they were before the November 10 agreement.
Vorobyev argues that these economic problems and the need for constructive relations with other powers, along with growing unhappiness with the situation among the Turkish people, will perhaps force Ankara to be more cooperative, although that is only one way in which the situation may develop.