Concern over Russian peacekeeper presence amid SOCAR progress

By | Rachel Brooks

January 6, 2020 

Above image credit: “Socar Oil in Tbilisi” by vyilmaz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As the Karabakh conflict paused with Russian peacekeepers flooding the scene, regional oil and gas industry leaders commenced with the distribution of their products. Production of Azerbaijani state-owned SOCAR company, as well as the British Petroleum-owned TAP project, resumed mostly normal business as pathways cleared post-conflict. Likewise, Azertag News reported that Shah Deniz began deliveries to Europe as of December 31, 2020. Yet, with the presence of Russian forces, questions of politicization of the oil industry have emerged. 

In the wake of resumed and boosting production, political commentators have expressed their concerns over what a Russian military force might invite to the industry’s production sites. This sparked a political opinion piece in Deutsche Welle penned by DW staff Serdar Vardar on December 31, 2020, which argues that peacemaking should not only be the province of war.  Vardar called on the UN to take note of a vicious cycle of frozen conflicts in its history, and to make peacemaking a constant process, not a process of protecting politicized agendas.

Vardar drew a direct comparison to this problematic legacy with the issue of Russian peacekeepers in the gas corridor of Azerbaijan.

“Can we really expect superpowers to build peace in third countries? For instance the Russian government has no interest in achieving real peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Only a frozen conflict enables Russia to act as the “Big Brother” for both countries, and maintain a military presence in the region,” wrote Vardar.

“Other big powers are not innocent either. France recently said it would continue selling French arms regardless of a country’s human rights record. The same week the US Senate backed the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, a country that bombed a refugee center in Libya and is accused of committing war crimes in Yemen.”

The arguments surround the potential that Russia was using the Karabakh conflict as an excuse to institute a military presence in the region. The motive, in this event, would be the security of Russia’s massive investments in the oil industry, as Russia is almost entirely dependent on foreign oil to fully fuel its national needs. Russia has already established investment in Azerbaijan to fuel this mass oil need, but the access is limited, and procurement is problematic. 

Republic Underground News spoke with Ali Askerli regarding the Russian peacekeeper presence—

What do you see as the long-term and short-term consequences of the peace deal for the future of Karabakh?

The peace deal is quite fragile for several reasons. The tripartite agreement is not strong, and it has many uncertainties. For example, it is not clear what exactly the “contact line” means. 

In general, the agreement was signed very hastily, and it does not address the question of the status of Nagorno Karabakh. The Azerbaijani people learn about it from the statements of the President of Azerbaijan and not from the agreement. According to the Azerbaijani media, Nagorno Karabakh won’t have any political status and it is part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. However, as it can be observed, Nagorno Karabakh acts as a sovereign state and Russia supports it. Therefore, new problems are inevitable in the future if it continues like this. 

The short-term consequences of the peace deal are noteworthy because it stopped the violence, although it is not absolute as we can see people still die. It should also be noted that stopping violence and resolving conflict is different. Peace without resolution means that it is negative, and a new form of conflict will erupt at some point. Therefore, the peace deal needs to be consolidated through a new, detailed, and stronger agreement. The current form of peace is good neither for Azerbaijan nor for Armenia. Because of the uncertainties, it is only good for Russia who wants to be permanent in the region for strategic purposes. 

What are the mechanisms necessary to preserve peace and stability? 

The conflict started in 1988 and has remained unresolved for over 30 years. Just preserving peace and stability is not a solution. To reach permanent peace, it is important to address the root causes of the problem. In this case, it seems the people of both sides of the conflict are given a false impression in some way. Understandably, some more time is needed to handle the problems constructively. Yet transparency and trustworthy information are important not to create a false expectation for the people of both sides. 

Armenia had indeed occupied Azerbaijani lands through the use of force, and it is also true that Azerbaijan liberated most of those lands through the same means. But how about the true source of the problem? Wasn’t that about the Nagorno Karabakh part of Azerbaijan? 

The rest of the region occupied by Armenia and now liberated by Azerbaijan was not part of the original problem. The original problem still remains unresolved. Armenians still speak of Nagorno Karabakh as a de-facto state, whereas Azerbaijan claims that its territorial integrity has been restored. Isn’t this a discrepancy? If so, then the conflict continues, and peace and stability in the region carry a false nature. 

How do you see the role of peacekeepers? What are the concerns concerning the role of Russian soldiers?

Peacekeepers must be neutral with the mission of helping the sides to navigate from conflict to positive peace. In this case, Russian peacekeeping forces act like a state, as if Nagorno Karabakh is under their jurisdiction. Supporting Russians, the Armenian leadership of Nagorno Karabakh acts in a similar manner. This should not be acceptable to Azerbaijan, but we have not witnessed any objections from the official Baku so far. One of the important questions to ask is why Russia alone has peacekeepers in the region? Is this the result of its coercive policies against Azerbaijan? There are many signs of that.

Should the peacekeeping force be changed or reformed and if so how? What about the political objections from Russia? Do you think this is something possible to accomplish?

It should be changed or reformed to have a true character of peacekeeping, however, at this point, it does not seem realistic. Turkey made a few fruitless attempts about it and Russia’s objections were harsh. Russia does not want to share the power and position it has attained in the region with anyone. Russia acts like a true owner of the region and Armenians are very happy with that because they see Russians as their saviors. The situation may change only if there are dramatic changes in the region or in Russia forcing the Kremlin to formulate new policies.