Karabakh’s Experience and Moldova’s Future

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Anton ŠVEC
The Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation is again close to the resumption of hostilities. Backed by Ankara, Baku is ready to finally close the Karabakh issue by force
The fate of Nagorno-Karabakh is a unique example of how the post-CIS conflict can be reignited, resulting in an almost complete restoration of the former Soviet republic’s territorial integrity. The 2020 war ended in a resounding defeat for Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh statehood, with significant territorial losses, was temporarily preserved only thanks to the intervention of the CSTO and Russia, which sent peacekeepers and border guards. The OSCE Minsk Group, including the US and France (whose parliamentary structures have repeatedly adopted resolutions condemning the Armenian genocide and supporting a peaceful resolution of the crisis), did not hinder preparations for hostilities and virtually abandoned any diplomatic efforts. The Madrid Principles formulated in 2010, which laid the foundation for the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, have faded into oblivion. Today, the population of Nagorno-Karabakh is under total blockade, as the Lachin corridor, through which the region was supplied, is completely blocked. We are talking about a humanitarian catastrophe, even the supply of food and essential goods has been banned. Meanwhile, destructive internal political processes are underway in the region, which have already led to the appointment of a new president by the local parliament. By the way, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration did not recognize these elections and declared its commitment to the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan cannot find a foothold in the current crisis, which threatens not only Yerevan’s supervised (but unrecognized) Karabakh, but Armenia itself. Now he is flirting with the West and criticizing Russia over its failure to unblock the Lachin corridor and prevent another Azerbaijani attack. Pashinyan boldly agreed to joint military trainings with the US and withdrew Armenia’s representatives from the CSTO. In parallel, he is trying to organize an urgent meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Despite all these curtsies, Armenia should not count on EU and US intervention on the side of Nagorno-Karabakh. Ankara, which stands behind Azerbaijan, is a NATO ally and a significant regional player. Baku helps European Union countries with gas supplies to avoid energy shortages in the context of anti-Russian sanctions. On the other hand, Russia also has a complex diplomatic relationship with Turkey and relies on it in terms of global trade, energy and agricultural supplies bypassing sanctions and mediate negotiations on Ukraine. We cannot exclude that Nikol Pashinyan’s pro-Western hemming and hawing are related, in addition to his previous experience, to his understanding of Moscow’s unwillingness to defend Armenia in an open confrontation with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Iran and Georgia also officially support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. All in all, the only alternative to the force scenario of the NKR’s final elimination is a diplomatic surrender of Yerevan brokered by the West. Apparently, Nikol Pashinyan suggests that he will negotiate a better deal with Washington, Paris and Brussels than by contacting Moscow. However, in fact, the chances are minimal, as Baku is unlikely to offer terms that will suit Armenians and save the political career of their prime minister. Thus, a new conflict with a predetermined outcome is almost inevitable. Therefore, this will once again lead to arguments about using force to restore the state’s territorial integrity. There are modern examples when such attempts failed due to their adventurousness, accompanied by a large number of victims, destruction and subsequent “depression” in the conflict zone. This happened in Serbia and Georgia. Something similar, with all the specifics of the global confrontation, is happening in Ukraine. The final outcome is unclear, but in fact, Russia controls and quite officially claims more territories than in 2014. Meanwhile, we should not forget that Mikheil Saakashvili’s regime in Georgia managed to regain control over Adjara partially by force. At that time, economic interests and Moscow’s non-resistance played a big role, which subsequently pushed the then Georgian leader into the Ossetian adventure. The vital question is how Moldova should deal with the existing, rather diverse, experience. The Ukrainian example shows that the West is ready to provide support, but not in amounts sufficient for a sweeping victory. Yesterday’s public clash between the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Germany only proved the growing misunderstanding. In any case the consequences are devastating for the country, even with such tremendous territories and population as Ukraine had. In order to follow its path, we need to have powerful resources, but even this state of affairs does not guarantee “a happy end”, as President Volodymyr Zelensky aptly put it. The Georgian case is a vivid example of how you can fail and lose if the interests of key regional stakeholders are ignored. On the other hand, Azerbaijan shows that it is quite realistic to achieve the solution of political problems by military means, provided that all the players involved are relatively neutral. In other words, it is enough just to choose the right timing and ensure the necessary preponderance of forces to succeed. Therefore, there is concern that the current regime, given the extensive support of the West and the powerful injections (both its own and by partners) into the defense sector, may also want to take a risk and unfreeze the Transnistrian conflict. There are many “hotheads” among the PAS leaders. It is clear that they are a minority among the population. However, the opinion of the veterans of the war on the Dniester is sometimes very weighty, and some Western supervisors can always exploit controlled chaos. The only question is whether such a development will be in the interests of the European Union and the United States. And whether Moscow will be as indifferent to the crisis in Transnistria, where its peacekeepers have been stationed for 30 years.