With the Russian mitigated ceasefire, not all is as it seems for the normalization process

By | Rachel Brooks 

November 10, 2020 

“Llegada de Vladimir Putin, presidente de Rusia” by G20 Argentina is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Russia has mitigated a cessation of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan, sending peacekeepers to the region. This was reported by Reuters on November 10. The agreement is a trilateral agreement to end hostilities, mitigated by Russia, accepted by Armenia by tactical neccessity, and likewise accepted and confirmed by Azerbaijan. The Russian agreement dictated a complete ceasefire in the region. Likewise, Armenia must return all the lands it has occupied in the Karabakh region to Azerbaijan by November 20. 

Thomson Reuters reported that the terms of the cease of hostilities were discussed separately with Armenia and Azerbaijan leadership and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The discussions occurred on November 1 and November 2. On November 10, the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Russia hosted a conference call on the ceasefire talks and what they will mean moving forward, as was reported by AzerNews. 

This sparked criticism from both sides of the conflict’s diaspora abroad. Armenians were outraged with their national government for agreeing to terms that would end the war. Some Azerbaijani likewise expressed skepticism that the terms of the deal would guarantee the Nagorno-Karabakh’s safe return to the Republic of Azerbaijan, fearing the politics of Russian intervention. 

Yet, the terms of Russia’s ceasefire mitigation were met with positive reception from the Azerbaijani government. The terms and conditions, effective as of midnight November 10 in Moscow time, include complete removal of Armenia forces from the Azerbaijani reclaimed territories. 

With the recapture of Shusha, the Azerbaijani government had solidified the reclamation of Azerbaijan’s heritage in the region. 

“ May God have mercy on our martyrs. With their blood and souls, they have shattered the geopolitical games that have been trying to make us accept the status quo based on occupation on the principle of ‘fait accompli’ for years. Our lands were liberated from occupation. Shusha, the heart of Karabakh, was liberated,” tweeted Hikmet Hajiyev, a presidential aide, on November 10, as throngs of Azerbaijani moved to acknowledge the martyrs of the recent conflict and other previous conflicts. 

Within the last day, Armenia, the swearing of the official defeat that was becoming inevitable by the reclamation of Shusha, continued to pelt civilian settlements. As of twenty-three hours ago, Hikmet Hajiyev also tweeted that Armenian forces had continued to shell Tartar. 

“Now: Tartar city is under heavy artillery attack by Armenia. One civilian is wounded. The political-military leadership of Armenia continues the policy of terror against civilians. Tartar firmly and proudly resists all targeted attacks of Armenia,” wrote Hajiyev on November 9. 

With these actions transpiring within such a narrow timeframe of the recent Russian-mitigation end to the conflict, concerns over increased terrorism risk are present. This has also led to posted opinions by media outlets, such as Radio Free Europe, that Russia was the true winner of the conflict. The Minsk Group co-chairs likewise responded with disdain, calling the group effectively “dead.” Russia was called the “kingmaker” by former members of the group. Radio Free Europe published the opinion that Russia will now utilize its peacekeeping efforts to push the other members of the Minsk Group, France, and the United States, off the map. 

Radio Free Europe’s opinion of the situation may have come prematurely, however. France appeared to lean in the Armenian favor during the conflict, and will continue to seek Armenian interests, as was reported by U.S. News. The United States has, however, adopted distanced-based mitigation from the outset, and elected to remain neutral. The U.S. had taken the position, from early on, that the conflict was territorial, choosing to pursue ceasefire mediation tactically.

Russia’s now active presence in the region invites stronger scrutiny from the United States of the Minsk Groups terms and whether or not they are being followed. The U.S. will not want to give Russia an undue advantage in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh because of the tactically vital role the Nagorno-Karabakh plays as an adjacent region of United States bitter rivalries, particularly with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has specifically attracted U.S. interest as of November 7 with comments made by the Supreme Leader Khamenei criticizing the U.S. election process, which is being legally challenged by the president incumbent Donald Trump. 

“The situation in the US & what they themselves say about their elections is a spectacle! This is an example of the ugly face of liberal democracy in the US. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is absolutely clear, the definite political, civil, & moral decline of the US regime,” tweeted Khamenei. 

The U.S. Secretary of State gave a direct response to this statement. 

“You’ve personally stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from your people. Your elections are a joke, with hundreds of candidates disqualified from even running. Today, your people starve because you spend billions on proxy wars to protect your kleptocracy,” tweeted State Secretary Pompeo. 

The U.S. criticism of proxy wars in this statement shows that the U.S. keeps a close eye on regional terrorism. The U.S. is a quiet but engaged party in the Minsk Group proceedings, and will likley keep an eye on the Nagorno-Karabakh normalization process due to the threat of insurgency presence during the active fire days.

With the reported cementation of Azerbaijan’s military gains, the United States may seek to strengthen its diplomatic relationship with Azerbaijan, a diplomatic relationship recently noted as a healthy one by the Azerbaijani president. 

The United States will be in direct favor of regional stability for its tactical advantages, and would respond proactively if Russia was to challenge that position in any way the U.S. deemed negative to its own regional tactics. For this reason, the end of Armenian occupation and the future of the Minsk group may be the catalyst of a reevaluated U.S.-Russia communication in the Caucasus. It is too early to analyze if this is a positive or negative communication, but the end of a historic conflict opens the door to a shift in geopolitics.  

The immediate conflict has been called finished, but the risk of terrorism is still present from the Armenian side. Pashinyan’s last public statement, tweeted on November 9, infers that Armenia will continue to vie for Shusha even after the agreement. Pashiyan had stated, up until the eleventh hour, that “the battles for Shushi continues.” Likewise based on satellite and photographic reports of foreign insurgents fighting for Armenia during the six-week conflict, the risk of terrorism in the region is increased by the ceasefire. Not all is as it seems. While the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war is effectively over, the battle for the stablization of the region has barely begun.