On Wednesday, November 25th, Warsaw Institute and The Warsaw Institute Review held an expert debate titled “Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. Old wounds, new war and uncertain future.”
We invite you to watch full video from debate now!
The discussion aim was to present the long-term conflict in the face of the recently concluded truce and its implications for the wider geopolitical scene.
In order to build thefoundation for further discussion, Mateusz Kubiak – an analyst and expert on the South Caucasus, outlined the history of the hostile encounters, as the ethnic and territorial armed conflict lasted between Azerbaijan and Armenia since the late 1980s. It is one of the most serious conflicts of this nature taking place in post-Soviet area after the collapse of the USSR. According to the expert, the tensions have been rising steadily since the Four-Day War in 2016. However, the hostile encounters in mid-2020 were intensified because the international arena’s attention was diverted – the world was preoccupied with the struggle with the pandemic and the resulting political misunderstandings, the United States had a presidential election and a number of internal political turmoil on its head, such as the anti-racist Black Lives Matter movement. On the other hand, in Azerbaijan the population opposed further restrictions resulting from the epidemiological state, where the turning point was the obligation to confirm each time by SMS when leaving their place of residence. It was agreed that as one of the key factors was also a relative submission of the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian. During over 40 days of hostilities, truce attempts were made three times. Russia and the USA were to participate in mediation, but many other countries – not only European ones – offered their support and mediation. Already at this stage, we could see the great importance of global powers and the need for their participation as the only actors who had a chance to have a real impact on the parties.
Next, Grzegorz Kuczyński, an expert in Russia’s politics, presented the conflict in the South Caucasus from Moscow’s perspective. From the very beginning, the Kremlin struggled with a conflict of interest. On the one hand, Armenia – its military partner, on the other, Azerbaijan, which has a much greater influence on politics in the region. The positive development in relations between Moscow and Baku in recent years has contributed to preventing Russia’s unequivocal partiality. A key partner of Azerbaijan was also Turkey, a military power with which Putin also managed to improve relations. Armenia, however, had no alternative – no matter what steps Moscow took, Armenia would remain faithful to it. Therefore, it cannot be said that the Kremlin has failed, despite the fact that the concluded truce recognizes Azerbaijan’s rightness. In spite of this, it was in Russia’s interest to weaken Armenia, as this would increase its dependence on Moscow. After the agreement was concluded, Armenian journalists pointed out the country’s relatively pro-Western politics as a factor that prevented Russia from supporting them more. It was said that despite earlier allegations that Russia’s influence in the region was diminishing, it was in some ways a winner – at least in the short term. One of the provisions of the agreement is the stationing of the Kremlin’s military in Nagorno-Karabakh, which will increase its control over key communication routes.
Wojciech Górecki, a specialist from the Center for Eastern Studies, presented the perspective of Turkey, which showed its ambitions towards the Caucasus even before the intensification of the hostile encounters. This was manifested, among others, by attempts to establish bilateral diplomatic relations with Armenia, which had not existed in any form since the collapse of the USSR. For this purpose, agreements were signed in Zurich, which, however, met with clear opposition from Azerbaijan. This ended with strong economic sanctions imposed by Baku on Ankara. Recognizing the claim of Azerbaijan, which is unequivocally backed by Turkey, will not contribute to improving its relations with Armenia. On the other hand, the presence of Russian military forces and their control over the communication routes may weaken Ankara’s position, which will have to take into account the increased presence of the Kremlin in its regional politics.
The last speaker, Tomasz Kijewski from the Warsaw Institute, outlined the significance of the recent events in the South Caucasus in the context of a broader international perspective. He drew attention to the reluctant attitude of many countries towards the conflict (not supporting any of the sides). The United Nations, the European Union, Russia and Iran have called for a ceasefire. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also called on both sides for a ceasefire. Ankara’s rhetoric stood out against this background. Turkey expressed unequivocal support for Azerbaijan “both at the negotiating table and on the battlefield”. The issue of Syrian mercenaries supporting Azeri military forces was also clarified.
At the end of the meeting, the specialists answered questions from the audience. When asked about the ineffectiveness of the international organizations in the pursuit of peace, it was pointed out that the decision-making vote is held by individual powers, not collectives of states. It was also emphasized that the parties to the conflict never took NATO’s voice into account – only Russia or Turkey could have an influence. When asked about the position of Poland, the experts unequivocally stated that the majority of external players rightly did not opt for either side. Despite the rightness of Azerbaijan in the light of international law, supporting it would have an extremely negative impact on relations with Armenia and eliminate the possibility of tightening cooperation in the future.
Summing up, the speakers emphasized that we are dealing with a truce, not a peace. One of the clauses in the agreement is to consider the continued stationing of Russian military in the region in 2025. The conflict will therefore return, and tensions will increase as this deadline approaches. In the near future, Turkey may be prevented from taking over the Russian Gazprom market, which may slow down the change of power in the global energy sector. It may also hinder the energy diversification of the European countries, especially the Three Seas Initiative, which reaches the south. A certain similarity to the Crimean events was also noted. Ukraine’s increased efforts to integrate with the European Union were suppressed by the Russian army. Similarly, in the case of Armenia, which sought to establish relations with Europe, Russia was not helpful. Viewers were encouraged to initiate their own thoughts. How can the situation in the South Caucasus affect energy security in the region? Will the Three Seas suffer because of it? Has Russia consciously failed to support Armenia, which had Western inclinations?
We will try to answer these and more questions in our future debates. Therefore, we encourage you to follow our web pages.
- Grzegorz Kuczyński – the director of the Euro-Asia Program at the Warsaw Institute and an expert on eastern issues. Author of many books and publications on the backstage of Russian domestic and foreign affairs.
- Tomasz Kijewski – the executive director and an expert of the Warsaw Institute. A graduate of, among others, study program at the European Center for Security Studies ofGeneral Marshall (Garmisch-Partenkirchen / Washington DC).
- Wojciech Górecki – the chief specialist in the team of Turkey, Caucasus and Central Asia Center for Eastern Studies. In the years 2002–2007, First Secretary, and then Counselor at the Polish Embassy in Baku. In 2009, an expert and consultant at the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (Geneva). Author of books and publications on the North and South Caucasus.
- Mateusz Kubiak – an analyst of the consulting company Esperis Consulting. An associate of several Polish and foreign think-tanks (including The Jamestown Foundation). Author of the blog Kaukaz Kaukaz (Caucasus Caucasus) and an expert on the South Caucasus.