Different interpretations of the 10 November 2020 trilateral declaration which ended the 44 day Karabakh war resulted in an open sharp exchange between the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence and its Russian counterpart. “The Azerbaijani leadership is not in the mood to consider any concessions when it comes to the country’s territorial integrity”, writes Fuad Shahbazov in this op-ed for KarabakhSpace.eu.
More than a year after the signing of the 10 November ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia tensions in the Karabakh region again flared up in the last days, causing another round of war of words between Azerbaijan and Russia. The current discontent between Baku and Moscow seems more significant compared to August of 2021 when official Baku openly accused the Russian peace contingent in Karabakh of inaction while elements of the Armenian Armed Forces were transferred to this region.
The tensions this week escalated when the Azerbaijani Armed Forces advanced in Khojaly (Askeran region) district establishing control over Farrukh (Parukh) village, and strategically important Garakollu (Garaglukh) height in the south, which gave them the opportunity to monitor the Agdere (Martakert) road. According to Azerbaijani state media, this was a preventive measure taken by the Armed Forces to expel the remnants “of the illegal Armenian armed groups” as a part of the November agreement. Since the end of the active phase of the war in Karabakh, and after the deployment of the Russian peace contingent in the region in compliance with article 4, Azerbaijan demanded the demilitarization of the region and remnants of the Armenian armed groups to be withdrawn from the region immediately. Given the current rhetoric of official Baku, and the latest advances of its military, Azerbaijan seems unsatisfied with the way the ceasefire agreement Is being enforced by the Russian side.
As a result, the Azerbaijani authorities launched open criticism of the Russian peace contingent and raised questions about its “deployment in Karabakh region”. On the other hand, the ethnic Armenian community in Karabakh appeared also to be dissatisfied, and organized a demonstration against the inaction of the Russian peace forces and demanded more concrete steps to ensure stability.
It is important to note that the incidents of the last days occurred in Karabakh, in the zone of temporary deployment of the Russian peace contingent, Previous deadly skirmishes in 2021 occurred on Azerbaijani – Armenian international border. Until now, it appeared that official Baku was maintaining a low profile in the Karabakh region, awaiting concrete measures to be taken by Russia for the fulfillment of article 4. The problem with article 4 stems from its different interpretation by both sides since the Armenian side claims it is compelled by its provision to “withdrawing armed units from Lachin, Kelbajar, Agdam districts,” while Azerbaijan states that “all Armenian armed units must fully withdraw from Karabakh region.” Azerbaijan has been taking the issue of the Armenian military units in Karabakh in the post-war period very seriously, making it the main condition for the final peace talks, and putting pressure on both Yerevan and Moscow to deliver visible results. However, this was not the only issue that made Azerbaijan seek alternative solutions to the problem. The fact that negotiations with Armenia over unblocking of regional communication lines did not yield results had already led to the recent Azerbaijan – Iran deal to establish a new transit route via Iranian territory to Nakhchivan enclave, bypassing Armenia.
Recent events in Karabakh added more fuel to the war of words between Baku and Moscow. A recent bulletin issued by the Ministry of Defence of Russia that accused Azerbaijan of violating the ceasefire regime and did not mention the necessity of “dialogue between both sides”, triggered a sharp reaction by Baku. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a counter-statement dubbing Russia’s statement as one-sided and biased. On its part, the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry denied reports of the Russian MoD that it had withdrawn its forces from Farrukh (Parukh) village.
Seemingly, in the light of the current global security crisis, Azerbaijan now relies more on its own military power in dealing with the situation on the ground in Karabakh, unlike in 2021, when it was constantly reverting to the Russian military contingent. It is likely that with the spring season coming, the tensions between Baku and Yerevan in Karabakh will steadily grow, and this time the Russian peace contingent would be unable to offer much to both sides as dissatisfaction with the contingent in both communities has skyrocketed since 2020. The frequent conversations of Azerbaijani and Armenian Defence Ministers with their Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu also seem to be counter-productive. On its part, Azerbaijan proceeds with military reforms, increases its defence budget, keeps up harsh rhetoric, and conducts large-scale military drills. All this suggests that the Azerbaijani leadership is not in the mood to consider any concessions when it comes to the country’s territorial integrity.