On 2 April 2016, we have seen an unexpected war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The Armenian and Azeri chiefs of General Staff signed a ceasefire in Moscow on April 6th and the gunfire stopped. Jahangir Karami, senior fellow at The IRAS Institute, told Khabar Online (in Farsi) the behind-the-scenes secrets of this clash. The following is a condensed version of the interview.
While Russia is currently entangled in resolving the crises in Syria and Ukraine and her tensions with Turkey are high, how does Russia interpret the violation of Armenia-Azerbaijani ceasefire?
“There have been many instances of ceasefire violation in the past twenty years; but this one is the most severe. Many observers believe that there may be a link between the battle in Syria and, to a lesser extent, the Ukraine Crisis and Karabakh ceasefire violation. The rather grim rivalry between Russia and Turkey over Syria cannot be overlooked either. Since there are no clear evidence backing a link between the two events, yet, some argue that the recent official meeting between Turkey and Azerbaijan, concurrence with Russian withdrawal from Syria or recent diplomacy between Russia and the United States are enough signs to say Russia, or more plausibly, Turkey have provoked one or more sides of the conflict to violate the ceasefire. Of course, one cannot overlook the motivations of Baku. Some analysts have named Azerbaijan’s internal conditions such as a more formidable army, public pressure to reclaim lost territories or economic difficulties as some of the factors that could have fueled the violation.”
Which one do you think will benefit from an intensified conflict, Russia or Turkey?
“The Russian government may be trying to intensify the crisis so that the Kremlin can start a new round of talks with the western governments where she will try to negotiate on Syria, Ukraine and Karabakh crises as one package. In other words, Russia wants to end these crises so that can finally get rid of the sanctions of the past two years which have strained the Russian economy; but this scenario is kind of hard to swallow, since an intensified Karabakh crisis may lead to a series of problems for Russia that may not be able to resolve by negotiations and may even lead to some problems inside Russian territories. The Kremlin, for example, is facing a similar, albeit on a lower level, challenge in Moldavia and Georgian Abkhazia and Ossetia have not been resolved either. Moreover, there are even some similar cases in central Asia, again on a lesser level; therefore it seems unlikely that Russia would take such a risk in their current situation.”
“The second scenario is that recently Turkey has faced several difficulties in Syria and tensions are high, violence greatly spill over the Turkish borders that make Ankara to impose curfew in the southern part of the country. Therefore, it is not impossible that Ankara may be trying to exploit the Karabakh crisis to not only alleviate Turkey's pressures in the Syrian battle, but challenge the Kremlin in Near Abroad. The second scenario seems to be more plausible since the Turkish government has now entered serious geopolitical conflicts with Russia in northern black sea and the Syrian border. Ankara also entered the Ukraine crisis on the side of dissidents, tried to get in touch with Crimean Tatars and opposed Russia’s moves in Syria.”
“The Karabakh crisis is a paradoxical situation for Russia, since Armenia is a strategic ally of the Kremlin, yet always maintained a good relation with Azerbaijan. This balance in Russian-Azerbaijani relationship has been a product of dampened Karabakh crisis, but if this crisis reignites, Russia cannot delay supporting Armenia any longer. Therefore, Russia faces a more significant challenge and of course if this crisis gets more intense, it may also strengthen radical forces in the Caucasus region and could even help Daesh, which in turn could significantly impact the permeation of the crisis into the Russian southern Caucasus, therefore this scenario is plausible.”
What are the root causes in the second scenario, since you think is more plausible?
“The experience of Turkish crackdown on internal dissidents and her stance on Syria gave us significant insights. Erdogan government lost an election but used the Turkish law to his benefit and scheduled another election, but this time around he violated the ceasefire with PKK, which was holding for years and used the resulting tensions to his own benefit in the elections and actually succeeded and won the election.”
“In the Syrian crisis, the political equations changed dramatically after Russia entered the fray and the Assad regime gained an upper hand. The Turkish government shot down a Russian plane to counteract Russian role in Syria by escalating the crisis and bringing NATO into the conflict. In the Syria’s crisis, Russia entered Syria and successfully weakened radical and terrorist forces with bombings, the Syrian government achieved some victories on the operational front and then the Geneva negotiations were resumed where some important deals were made, but one country whose interests were not reflected in the deal was Turkey. Therefore they have tried to change the situation into a more favorable one but Russian and NATO restraint ruined the Turkish plan.”
“There is a very significant event that should not go unnoticed. Russian and American foreign ministers met in Moscow two weeks ago where they negotiated about a long list of issues, including Syria and Ukraine crises. The governments of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran have expressed their concern about the meeting, Turkey though is more worried about the American-Russian relation than others, therefore hurting this relation by keeping Russia under pressure and western sanctions, due to Ukraine crisis, and preventing any solution in Syria that does not reflect Turkish interests gives Turkey enough motivation to cause further challenges for Russia in the region.”
“All in all, I think that the Karabakh crisis is a good opportunity for Ankara to pit Russia against Azerbaijan, and maybe even NATO, so that the Kremlin will be caught in a series of crisis in her southern border that can easily permeate into Russian territories and entangle her in a domestic struggle.”