The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan approaches the point of no return… Ceasefire negotiations are always a difficult task for diplomats. The side that strengthens its position does not want to yield with an advantage, while the other side of the conflict also does not want to make concessions under pressure. This is the problem for US State Department officials who are trying to facilitate a stable ceasefire in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, reports The Washington Post.
This week, the administration of US President Donald Trump has tried to mediate the long-standing battle over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in the far Caucasus that lies within Azerbaijan, but is populated by Armenians.
Karabakh has been one of those “frozen conflicts” recorded in the status quo for three decades, a status that was favorable for Armenia and its strong ground forces.
But the conflict suddenly flared up with renewed vigor on September 27, when Azerbaijan, using military drones supplied by Turkey and Israel, was able to neutralize Armenia’s air defenses, artillery, and tanks.
The stable long-term outcome for this rocky enclave will be autonomous status, independent of any neighbor. But there is still a long way to the establishment of such a final status, while the cannons are still firing.
This conflict offers a vivid demonstration of how left unresolved regional problems can eventually escalate into a much broader crisis: Turkey boasts that it is ready to join Azerbaijan on the battlefield, Russian troops in Armenia can come out in support of Armenia under a defense pact. This war can easily drag other powerful countries into a military confrontation.
Fortunately, for the Trump administration, whose foreign policy is sometimes quite controversial, mediation between Armenia and Azerbaijan was different – a careful multilateral effort working in tandem with Russia and France. These three countries, as co-chairs of the Minsk Group, have been trying to resolve the Karabakh conflict since 1992.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have failed to reach a ceasefire, despite appeals from the international community and the efforts of the Minsk Group.
But American officials may be on the right track towards resolving the standoff over Nagorno-Karabakh. They propose to organize international monitoring of the ceasefire (which Armenia wants) and negotiations on “terms” for a “comprehensive settlement” (which Azerbaijan is striving for).
The Trump administration saw warning signs of an outbreak of conflict as early as September 25, when US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Bigan warned the ambassadors of Armenia and Azerbaijan against a military offensive because then the US discovered excessive military activity from Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Both ambassadors then promised that their countries did not intend to start a war, but after 48 hours Azerbaijan launched an attack, and Armenia immediately responded.
Russia negotiated a ceasefire on October 10, but it went out of order even before the ink of the agreement dried up; France tried to forge a truce on October 17, again to no avail. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then stepped in, summoning the foreign ministers of the two combatants to Washington last Friday for joint talks.
The United States stressed that both sides of the conflict must recognize that the status quo has changed. To ensure that the Armenians understand the need to reach a compromise, this message was conveyed by both the US Democratic Party and the Republicans.
“Of course, we are ready for reasonable compromises,” said Armenian Ambassador to the US Varuzhan Nersesyan.
But the Azerbaijanis, feeling that they were gaining an advantage in the confrontation, showed resistance. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev canceled the ceasefire agreement. Then several amendments were made to the agreement, and the new version of the agreements “received blessings” in Baku and Yerevan, as well as in Moscow and Paris. Trump even tweeted “congratulations” and said “many lives will be saved” when the truce takes effect Sunday night.
But this ceasefire quickly collapsed. It seemed that Aliyev could still smell the inevitable victory of Azerbaijan on the battlefield, and the Armenians were determined to prevent the Azerbaijanis from seizing the so-called “Lachin Corridor” connecting Armenia with Karabakh.
The United States must urgently think about how to stop the protracted fighting. Hindering the supply of weapons from Israel to Baku? Control over a potential Russian attempt to provide military support to Armenia? “Punishment” of Turkey for Interfering in Confrontation over Nagorno-Karabakh? However, the reality is that any ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh will be short-lived if the alternative is not more painful. On the way to peace, diplomats need to be decisive, the newspaper concludes.
Earlier it was reported that starting from 08:00 on October 26 local time of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the region, a new humanitarian truce was declared. On October 24, Foreign Ministers of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Azerbaijan, Jeyhun Bayramov, met with US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Bigoon and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, reaffirming their commitment to upholding the humanitarian truce, which was agreed on October 10 in Moscow.
However, on Monday, October 26, almost immediately after the start of another truce in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan announced a violation of the agreement by the armed forces of Armenia…
Baku launched an offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh, seeking to restore sovereignty over the region. The coming days will show whether Azerbaijan will be able to achieve its goal. In the meantime, the Azerbaijani army took control of six settlements in the region and several strategic heights in the conflict zone.