12 November 2020

What is stipulated in the Ceasefire Agreement from Nagorno-Karabakh. The winners and defeated of a total war

Sandu Valentin Mateiu

After a total war that lasted one month and a half, the peace was reinstalled between Armenia (AM) and Azerbaijan (AZ), after the Russian peacekeeper troops were dislocated in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK). Russia has announced, on 09.11.2020, that the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia have signed a joint ceasefire statement. It stipulates the concession from the Armenian side of some territories around NK, the provision of a communication line for the Armenians (Lachin-Shusha) and one for the Azerbaijanis (with Nakhchivan), but it does not say anything about the NK’s status. Russia becomes an arbitrator, meanwhile Turkey is not mentioned in the agreement. For now, Ilham Aliyev is presenting his victory and the Azerbaijanis are exulting, meanwhile the Armenians are demonstrating, and Nikol Pashinyan is about to lose his power (to Moscow’s satisfaction). The peace will last, as well as Moscow’s influence over the two states, especially over AM. Turkey did not get the role it wanted in the Caucasus because Ilham Aliyev has carefully planned its political future (Russia having a great role in this future), but it got a „geopolitical” communication line to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. Definitely, this will stay under the “Damocles sword”, just like the Lachin-Shusha corridor will be under the Azerbaijani sword, and both under the Russian one. There will be peace in the Caucasus, and the final status of NK is still unknown, only Moscow being the one to be aware of the solution.

Image source: Mediafax

The agreement stipulates the following:

(1) A complete ceasefire and end to all hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from 00:00 Moscow time on 10 November 2020. The Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia, hereinafter referred to as the parties stop at the current territorial positions they occupy. (2) Agdam District returns to the Republic of Azerbaijan by 20 November 2020. (3) Along the frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor there will be a peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation with 1960 military personnel with small arms, 90 armoured personnel carriers, 380 military vehicles and other special equipment. (4) The peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation is deployed in parallel with the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from Nagorno-Karabakh. The duration of the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation is 5 years with automatic renewal for the next 5 year period if none of the parties state otherwise 6 months in advance. (5) In order to improve the effectiveness of control over the implementation by the Parties to the conflict agreements, a peacekeeping command post is being installed in order to enforce the ceasefire. (6) The Republic of Armenia will return to Azerbaijan the Kalbajar District by 15 November 2020, and the Lachin District by 1 December. The Lachin corridor[1] (5 km (3.1 mi) wide) which will provide access from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia remains under the control of the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation. The town of Shusha located within the corridor will remain in Azeri possession. By agreement of the Parties, a construction plan will be determined in the next three years for a new route of movement along the Lachin corridor, providing a link between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia with the subsequent redeployment of the Russian peacekeeping contingent to guard this route. The Republic of Azerbaijan guarantees the safety of traffic along the Lachin corridor of citizens, vehicles, and goods in both directions. (7) Internally displaced persons and refugees return to the territories of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas under the control of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. (8) The exchange of prisoners of war is to be made, hostages, and other detainees as well as the remains of casualties. (9) All economic activity and transport links in the region are to be unrestricted. The Republic of Armenia guarantees the safety of transport links between western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in order to organise the unimpeded movement of citizens, vehicles and cargo in both directions. Transport control is carried out by the bodies of the Border Service of the FSB of Russia. By agreement of the Parties, the construction of new infrastructure linking the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with regions of Azerbaijan is to take place.

What does the agreement involve:

The agreement involves territorial exchanges disfavoring the Armenians, even though they will keep the vital corridor Lachin-Shusha (A), but, not the Lachin and Shusha cities. AM only keeps the NK territory that is still controlling (B). AZ gets back three districts around NK, which will be evacuated by the Armenians: the Kalbajar district (C), in North-West NK, the Lachin district (D), in West NK, and the Agdam district (E), in East NK. To these we also add the districts won by AZ through fighting: the Fuzuli district (F), in South-East NK, the Jabrail district (G), in South NK, the Qubadli district (H), in South-West NK, and the Zangilan district (I), in the West side, at the border with Armenia.

 Thus, AZ got back all its districts, except for those from NK, however, it won: 1) a great part of the Shusha district (J): the territory that covers Hadrut-Shusha side, including Shusha city; 2) an area from the Tartar district (k), which still is divided between AZ and NK: Madagiz and Talis.

AZ gets back also some part of the Gazah district (L), which was controlled by AM. AZ gets the possibility to connect to its autonomous Nakhchivan region through AM’s territory (M). The future borders will, most likely, follow the existent border lines at the ceasefire moment, as there are fewer chances for those to be changed. Also less likely is refugees’ return in the territories which are now controlled by the enemy side.

„Veni, vidi, vici”: Russia is controlling the entire military situation

Russia is controlling the entire military situation, which will allow it to lead the negotiation process towards its political solution on the NK’s status, because there will be no other important territorial exchanges, and AM and AZ will keep the territories they have now from NK. The Russian peacekeeper troops will provide the control over the NK borders which are on the Armenian side and over the Lachin-Shusha corridor[2]. Russia will control through its border guard troops the transit through AZ and AM towards Nakhchivan. Thus, Russia is not only the arbitrator between AM and AZ, but it has also eliminated from this game the newbie, Turkey.

The only obvious advantage Turkey got is that is has a “geo-economic” land route from Nakhchivan, trough AM, to AZ and, hereof, towards the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. Turkey is not mentioned in the agreement and, regardless of what Aliyev stated, it will not have peacekeeper troops dislocated between the conflicting sides. Turkey’s attempt to be present in the peacekeeper centre will be only symbolic[3], as it will not be placed in the NK’s contact area, but in one of the Azerbaijani districts around NK (as stated by Dmitry Peskov). Hereof, there might be some differences between Russia, which is a winner in this situation, being the only power directly involved in the conflict, and the excluded Turkey. Ankara and Baku might change the status of their relation, because after Ankara massively supported Aliyev, politically and militarily, to “go all the way”, he carefully estimated the future, between Russia and Turkey[4].

Behind the satisfaction statements, Ankara is unpleased, a clue to that end being the French messages which warned it to not move to challenges in NK. The excitement of the Turkish contacts with Baku and Moscow is another clue. Moscow has eliminated Ankara from the future negotiation format, calling on the continuation of the current format, with the co-presidents of the Minsk group. Russia will decide, together with the pro-Armenian France and the US (which are still uninterested). Russia won by using its arguments (known and unknown), starting from a carefully calculated position, not taking anyone’s side, only helping AM as much as not to bother AZ, pressuring Ilham Aliyev, however, not interfering but only after AZ got Shusha[5]. Moscow proved it knows better than Ankara how to work with post-Soviet authoritarian leaders, like Ilham Aliyev, as they speak the same language and know the pressures it has to use to get what it wants.

The Armenians are the defeated side

Vae victis! The Armenians are the defeated ones. They were militarily defeated and they lost not only the cordon sanitaire of the Azerbaijani districts around NK, but also parts of NK. Furthermore, AM depends on Russia to provide the NK borders and the connection through the Lachin corridor. Nikol Pashinyan admitted the seriousness of the situation, justifying his decision by saying that military leaders told him that that was the only solution ahead of a total defeat, which would have meant losing NK. Indeed, as the Armenians did not have many chances, after Turkey militarily supported the Azerbaijanis, neutralizing the Armenian qualitative advantage (without considering the numerical Azerbaijani advantage and the qualitative one of the weapons procured by Baku). Pashinyan had a responsibility in front of the angry Armenians. He might be overthrown, pleasing the pro-Russian opposition and Moscow, which cannot tolerate a democracy in his influence sphere.  However, even the opposition will follow the agreement. With the military presence in NK, Moscow’s control over Yerevan will increase, however this might be compensated by the possibility of a long-lasting solution for NK, but also for peace maintenance. For the Armenians, the agreement was a surrender, as Aliyev said, but also one that keeps them in NK, where they have been present for centuries.

The Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, is the winner of the moment

Para bellumm. Ilham Aliyev is the winner of the moment, showing up like the leader who got back almost all the territories lost by AZ in the 90’s. For three decades, the power of the Aliyev family was propagandistically built on preparing the nation for this war, which he eventually won. However, Aliyev did not get the final victory; he did not get back all the lost territories, like the one he presented as being the only objective behind all these sacrifices (the human sacrifices were not communicated yet!).  Aliyev must get ready for a new “war”, a political one, against his own nation, as the Armenians will soon start questioning whether this human and material sacrifice was worth it. Aliyev has no friend to stand by him all the way, as both Russia and Turkey have their doubts, the West does not know who are they dealing with, and Iran is suspicious. However, the Azerbaijanis are living their crowning moment.

Eventually, there will be peace

Pacem in terries. Eventually, there will be peace. This is everyone’s consolation, both Armenians and Azerbaijanis, the chances for peace to come being bigger than ever now, even if some differences between the sides, respectively their sponsors, will emerge at some point. Despite the military lessons, the drones and the artillery, and the political ones, the Russian influence sphere colluding with the Neo-Ottomanism , thousands of Azerbaijani and Armenian men, mostly young people, are now dead. Let’s not forget that the Kazan negotiations could have been possible without this war. It was not meant to be, and the politicians know the reason for that. Maybe this is the most important lesson of this war, along with the fact that it was a total war.

Translated by Andrea Soare

[1] The AM will maintain control over the Lachin-Shusha corridor, where Russian peacekeeping troops will be deployed. AM, however, will not have control over the cities of Lachin (ceded by AZ) and Shusha (conquered by AZ). Since the declaration agreement was only in Russian, some misinterpretations appeared, because the Russian wording "оставляя при этом за собой" was translated into English with the variant "leaving behind", not with the correct one, "while keeping". However, Russia could also exploit the first sense, pressuring the MA to negotiate by threatening to close the corridor. We will see how the Armenian presence in the corridor will materialize, the Russian one being already obvious.

[2] The 31st Airborne Brigade in Ulyanovsk became, "overnight" on 10.11, the 15th Peacekeeping Brigade. How long has the Kremlin been waiting to have such a "forgotten legion" (for decades to come) in the NK?

[3] Probably, even if Turkey insists, Russia will give it only such a symbolic role, far from the line of contact in the NK, neutralizing it with the Iranian desire for a presence (which will be hit by the AZ opposition).

[4] Interestingly, an indication that Aliyev was moving in this direction was the appearance, at the last meeting with Ankara's emissaries, of the Azerbaijani SMG chief. It had "disappeared" since the beginning of the war.

[5] A "holy" city is so important to both sides. It was inhabited, before the war of the 90s, mostly by Azeris (in a proportion of 85%).

[vi] A post-KGB leader in a Shiite country to which Iran is bound, even by its large Azerbaijani minority. We are not talking about the "sacrilege" of Aliyev's cooperation with Israel, Tehran being obsessed with the possibility of an Israeli presence, no matter how discreet, on its northern border.