The Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the Heads of the delegations of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries, released a joint statement on December 2, 2010, during the OSCE summit in Astana. They “agreed that the time has come for more decisive efforts to resolve the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.” The only relatively new element in this statement was a reference to the UN Charter as one of the cornerstones for the conflict’s resolution. Taking into account the ineffective role of the UN in conflict resolution generally, it is possible to state that the deadlocked situation in this conflict will continue. However, there are some visible changes in the behavior of the parties to the conflict and the so-called external actors.
Azerbaijani authorities have increased the direct threats against not only Nagorno Karabakh, but also against Armenia. This marks a qualitative escalation in the anti-Armenian posture. Public opinion in Azerbaijan is being prepared to accept war as inevitable.
In Armenia almost all strata have begun openly to discuss the possibility of a resumption of war in the conflict area. Besides responding to the militaristic statements from the Azerbaijani side, the society generally is gradually coming to the conclusion that the war for Karabakh is still not over. In the meantime, the fact that the conflict itself remains unresolved is being exploited by both the ruling political elites and opposition groups.
In Nagorno Karabakh there are simultaneously preparations underway for war and intensive efforts to acquire international recognition of the de-facto state.
As a whole there is nothing new in the position of the direct parties to the conflict. The crucial question remains whether Azerbaijan will move from verbal threats to military action. It is obvious that any military activity in this area:
– will endanger the oil and gas pipelines;
– will render difficult any prediction regarding the aftermath of this war owing to the current military-political balance in the conflict area and in the region at large.
As concerns the external actors, they will restrict their involvement in the conflict exclusively to statements that emphasize the necessity for a peaceful settlement.
On the current stage the behavior of the external actors – Russia, the U.S., Turkey, NATO, and the EU – is of interest. They constructively discuss the existing political and economic disagreements on behalf of reducing tension between them. As soon as Caspian energy sources and their supply to the Western market become considered as a priority, the conclusion can be drown that:
а) Preservation of the status quo in the conflict area is the lesser evil;
b) There is no intention to change the Nagorno Karabakh negotiation format;
c) The Astana OSCE summit indirectly confirmed the external actors’ expectations that the parties to the conflict will possess the foresight to reach a satisfactory settlement through their own efforts.
In the meantime it is necessary to pay attention to the growing tensions surrounding the settlement process itself. Each of the parties to the conflict understands the phrase in the above-mentioned joint statement – “the time has come for more decisive efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict”- in its own way. Unfortunately, there exists a real threat of resumption of war in the area of the conflict. Currently the constraining factors for Azerbaijan are a) the awareness that the Azerbaijani pipelines will be damaged and b) the military and political balance of forces in the area of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and in the overall region.
There now exists a short window of opportunity. It is necessary for Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia to utilize this period in order to secure the beginning of the formal international recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic.
The absence of the representatives of the NKR authorities in the negotiation process both condemns it to failure diminishes and makes the positions of the confronting parties more aggressive and uncompromising.
December 4, 2010