Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan

How to Prevent Azerbaijan’s New Aggression against Armenia

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In recent months, Armenia and Azerbaijan engaged in intensive negotiations to sign a peace agreement. Meetings took place in Brussels, Sochi and Washington. Yerevan and Baku signed statements in Prague on October 6 and Sochi on October 31, 2022. The US, which jumped into the negotiations in September 2022, pushed forward an idea to sign a peace agreement by the end of 2022. It seemed that Armenia and Azerbaijan were close to overcoming their differences and paving the way for lasting peace and stability in the region. However, despite all these activities, the experts, who are familiar with the negotiation process, clearly understand that several significant obstacles remain in the way of the agreement.

The main point of contention is the future of Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijan continues to claim that there is no Nagorno Karabakh, and that Baku destroyed it during the 2020 Nagorno Karabakh war. Azerbaijan accepts only the existence of an “Armenian minority in Azerbaijan,” which should have no special status and no special protection. President Aliyev stated that those Armenians who did not want to live as ordinary Azerbaijani citizens should leave Karabakh.

This approach is unacceptable for Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) Republic. The current Armenian government dropped the demand for the recognition of Nagorno Karabakh independence and stopped speaking about Nagorno Karabakh’s status and its people’s right to self-determination. The Armenian government pushes forward the narrative of providing rights and security for Nagorno Karabakh Armenians. These steps are very significant concessions by the Armenian side.

However, the Armenian government emphasizes the necessity for talk between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh with international involvement and argues that relevant international mechanisms should be created for that purpose. The Nagorno Karabakh Republic rejects any possibility of being under Azerbaijani jurisdiction. Its government is ready to speak with Azerbaijan, but with the mandatory involvement of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chair states; these talks should be discussions between two sides of the conflict and not between the Azerbaijani government and the Armenian community of Azerbaijan.

Probably mediators seek to overcome this deadlock, but all understand that the task is very challenging, and there is no clear path forward. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is signaling to Armenia and the international community that Baku will not wait for years to reach its goal through negotiations. Azerbaijan’s position is very straightforward — Armenia should accept all Azerbaijani demands and sign a relevant agreement. Otherwise, Azerbaijan will launch another large-scale war, defeat Armenia militarily and force it to accept its demands.

Azerbaijani logic is clear — under all circumstances, Armenia must accept Azerbaijani demands and sign a de facto “capitulation.” It is up to Armenia either to do it now or to sign such an agreement after a new “44-day war.” To show that Baku is not bluffing while speaking about a new war, it launched a large-scale military attack against Armenia on September 13-14, 2022, shelling bordering Armenian cities and villages and encroaching deep inside Armenian territory.

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A few days ago, President Aliyev stated that Azerbaijani soldiers were located on Azerbaijani lands, and they would not retreat even a meter.

Currently, Azerbaijan is actively implementing engineering and construction activities in the newly occupied territories of Armenia, intending to use these lands as a launch pad for a new attack against Armenia. In recent days, Azerbaijan increased the frequency of shooting along the Armenia–Azerbaijan border and the Azerbaijan–Nagorno Karabakh line of contact, wounding several soldiers in Armenia and civilians in Nagorno Karabakh.

Recent Azerbaijani activities forced the Armenian prime minister to publicly state that the Azerbaijani government is preparing to commit genocide against Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh and implements a policy of terror toward the population of Armenia.

There are several estimates of when Azerbaijan may launch a new large-scale offensive if Armenia rejects signing a “capitulation.” Some argue that it may happen by the end of 2022, while others speak about March – April 2023. Any timeframe is based on perceptions, misperceptions, and speculation, but Azerbaijan is preparing for war. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that even if Armenia signs a document satisfying Azerbaijani demands, Baku will not resort to force. The ambiguity regarding the meaning of restoration of communications and Azerbaijani demands to establish a “Zangezur corridor” provide plenty of excuses for Azerbaijan to start the war, even after the signature of the agreement, by accusing Armenia of violating its terms.

Currently, two options exist to deter Azerbaijan and prevent a new war. One option for Armenia is to significantly increase its military capabilities and narrow the gap between Yerevan and Baku. However, it is very challenging to do that within several months, especially as Azerbaijan continues its purchases of modern weaponry from Turkey, Israel, and other sources. Azerbaijan significantly (by approximately 17 percent) increased its defense and national security spending for 2023, allocating $3.1 billion for that goal. Armenia will increase its defense spending by almost 50 percent, compared to 2022, but still lags behind Azerbaijan up to $1.3 billion.

The second option to prevent the new war by Azerbaijan is to involve the international community and external players to put diplomatic pressure on Baku. In this context, the extension of the deployment of the European Union civilian observers’ mission in Armenia beyond December 2022 and the increase in the numbers of observers (the 40 observers are not able to provide relevant observation along the entire Armenia – Azerbaijan border) will be steps in the right direction.

As Armenia prepares to host the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit on November 23, a decision to deploy CSTO observers (civilian or military) along the Armenia–Azerbaijan border would provide an additional layer of deterrence. Armenia should closely work with its allies and partners, asking them to signal to Azerbaijan that a new war against Armenia will bring political and economic costs for Azerbaijan, including the imposition of sanctions.

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