The statement by Armenian Prime Minister on recognizing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan justified from a military strategic point of view, became Yerevan’s political capitulation in the struggle for Nagorno-Karabakh. Will the ruling regime in Moldova try to use such a seductive experience of Baku in regaining control over the Transnistrian region?
The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (part of the Azerbaijan SSR, mainly populated by ethnic Armenians) has been rightly viewed for many years as the most militarized and violent post-Soviet case. It is all the more paradoxical that it is now closest to the end.
After the 2020 war, the disposition of forces in the Karabakh settlement has drastically changed. The voice of Stepanakert, on behalf of which Yerevan traditionally conducted peace negotiations, has practically lost its weight, no more influencing the internal political situation in Armenia. Russian peacekeepers have entrenched in the region; however, they do not always effectively resist outbreaks of violence and the seizure of certain territories by Azerbaijan. The joint activities of the OSCE Minsk Group, including Russia, the United States and France, have actually been terminated. Now stakeholders prefer to interact directly with the parties to the conflict.
Thus, Russia and the CSTO monitor the peace keeping and restore civilian infrastructure, to the best of their ability. President Emmanuel Macron of France tried to support Armenia, but his efforts did not change the tough tactics of Baku, supported by Turkey. Nikol Pashinyan’s intention to rely on Washington, for geopolitical reasons, also did not allow Yerevan to reverse the critical situation, while significantly weakening Moscow’s enthusiasm to protect its CSTO ally.
The Madrid Principles of 2010, which assumed granting a sort of sovereign status to Karabakh, are no longer considered a realistic settlement formula, since all players recognize the victory of Baku on the battlefield. Even implementation of several provisions under the joint ceasefire statement by Nikol Pashinyan, Ilham Aliyev and Vladimir Putin, adopted after the 2020 war, seems unlikely.
As a result, the other day the Prime Minister of Armenia stated that peace with Azerbaijan is possible in case of mutual recognized territorial integrity of the parties within the borders of the Soviet republics. Nikol Pashinyan agreed de facto to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan and restart negotiations from these positions. “We proposed to attach maps of the Armenian and Azerbaijan SSR to the agreement as the basis for the territorial integrity of the two countries. However, here we come to the biggest and most complex issue, i.e. Nagorno-Karabakh. In this context, of course, it is extremely important to develop an international mechanism of negotiations and dialogue between Baku and Stepanakert, which will ensure the rights and security of the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
The leader of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, demanded by return to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijani and noted that the local population should enter Azerbaijani nationality or change the place of residence. This approach is in many ways reminiscent of the reintegration policy with regard to the Transnistrian region, where the issue of documenting the local population has been raised by Chisinau as a crucial aspect.
Our leadership demonstrates an interest in destroying the long-standing 5+2 Format, guided by the experience of Baku, which failed to properly protect its territorial integrity in negotiations with the OSCE Minsk Group and is now striving in every possible way to recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as its internal affair.
The ruling regime is clearly tempted by Baku’s military successes and is analyzing own potential for such actions, looking for similarities in the strategic conflict position. Moldova, just like Azerbaijan, has an influential regional patron. Turkey, which supports Baku, is a NATO country with a serious military industry and experience, including the use of mercenaries. Romania is also a member of NATO and the European Union with a powerful infrastructure and an Alliance task force deployed on its territory.
Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have no land borders with Russia or other CSTO countries, which greatly complicates the activities of Russian border guards, peacekeepers and special services, as well as logistics and supplies in general. The situation in Transnistria is the same, since Ukraine banned the transit of peacekeeping cargo through its territory back in 2015, and a little later, Moldova introduced a coordinated rotation of Russian peacekeepers, which subsequently became tougher.
Perceiving own strategic position as advantageous, especially in the context of Russian defense activities in most areas in Ukraine, the authorities are probably analyzing the use of force scenarios for ending the frozen conflict on the Dniester. This is voiced almost openly, albeit with the use of supposedly defensive logic. The principle of neutrality has been called into question, the demands for the withdrawal of Russian military personnel and peacekeepers have been repeatedly confirmed, military exercises are held regularly within the republic and on the territories of NATO countries. Moldova has adopted regulations on the mobilization and team training of national army with partners from NATO.
Former interior minister Dorin Recean has been assigned to represent the militaristic course towards Transnistria and Russia behind it. Despite the most difficult problems in the economy, social sector, transport, and agriculture, despite the protests, discontent of the population and the stalling of reforms, the government’s focus is primarily on the conflict in Ukraine and demonstrating loyalty to the West. Sanctions and entry bans are applied against Russian nationals and politicians, allegations of aggression and hybrid warfare have become an integral part of the government legend and an explanation for almost all processes in and around Moldova. Moreover, such a picture of the world, where all national problems are due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, seems much more convincing and simple than Dorin Recean’s attempts to formulate other causal relationships that result in insulting statements in the spirit of a “disabled nation”.
Drawing parallels between Moldova and Azerbaijan, it is important to note that Baku, unlike Chisinau, has never been in open confrontation with Moscow. And the patron of Azerbaijan, Turkey, does have privileged relations with the Russian leadership, actively mediating in the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative and the Ukrainian conflict in general. Some major politicians in Ankara are even trying rhetorically to disassociate themselves from NATO.
On the other hand, Moldova behaves fundamentally differently with Russia, just like Romania and NATO, which stand behind us. Therefore, Dorin Recean and Co. have the risk of running into a completely different reaction from the Kremlin in the Transnistrian case than it was in Nagorno-Karabakh. Moreover, Russian peacekeepers and numerous Russian nationals already live on the left bank of the Dniester, and the use of force could turn out to be quite tragic. That is why some Moldovan and Transnistrian politicians, as well as some international organizations like the OSCE, are trying in every possible way to avoid it. Time will tell whose arguments will outweigh in the end.