Nagorno-Karabakh: a “Russian-style” settlement

On November 9 was announced an agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It should initially lead to a ceasefire.

This “Russian-style” settlement is similar to what was happening in the time of the USSR: a fit of anger, a rant with a few soldiers and hopefully everyone will keep quiet and accept it. That’s how most of the conflicts were repressed in the time of the USSR and did not express themselves. They all reappeared at the time and after the disintegration of the USSR.

It is good news that there may be an effective cessation of fighting, which we will be able to confirm in a few days. It is not the few Russian soldiers on the spot that will be enough to maintain this ceasefire but the repeated persuasion and determination of Russia with both sides.

Is this a settlement? No, it’s just a gradual return to the pre-1988 situation, with the same causes that led the Armenians to demand independence. Depriving Armenians of their cultural rights, in their language, their culture, their education, as Azerbaijan did before 1988, could reproduce the same effects.

Azerbaijan celebrates its victory but risks making the same mistake as Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in 1994. For 26 years, they took advantage of their military superiority to refuse any serious negotiations. Azerbaijan is preparing to make the same mistake..

We don’t have a lot of details about the settlement yet. It is only a temporary situation, like a truce in a conflict that is ready to bounce back, whether it is tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in 20 years.

There are grey areas such as Turkey’s request to be an observer and a stakeholder in the peace force. How can a country, which sent the cruellest Syrian militiamen (even if this country denies it) and provided all the military support to achieve victory, declare itself neutral? It is an ally of one of the countries at war, not a neutral and objective country.

This “Russian-style” settlement is a good thing and moreover there was probably no other short-term solution to avoid a bloodbath that would have been a new genocide. Europe remains non-existent outside itself, the United States is reliving its presidential victory and defeat, and the bodies supposed to settle conflicts on the European continent such as the OSCE are incapable of doing so..

But Putin’s Russia is comfortable when it imposes a settlement by force but uncomfortable when it comes to finding a new political balance that makes sense. Today, authority is needed to impose a ceasefire and make it stick. Tomorrow, something else will be needed to overcome this conflict whose roots go back more than a century and whose upheavals since 1988 have been bloody.

Let’s hope that a slightly more serious negotiation than the one that has been going on since 1994 can be resumed. It will take more than just a stance and a piece of paper to come up with a settlement that is a true balance.

November 11, 2020

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