Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Recently, one of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy functionaries made another outrageous statement on the status of the Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Evgeniy Satanovsky, the head of Russian Institute of the Near East, visited the separatist region (in contravention of international law) in mid-June and declared: “As I understand it, the issue that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan, in terms of military logic and from the standpoint of practical politics is completely closed.” In an interview to the Azerbaijani news site Haqqin.az., he followed up with “Azerbaijan can grind any number of [its] people; it can use for this purpose any amount of time and money, but it makes very little sense, frankly. Unless, of course, [the Azerbaijani leadership] does wish that the war spilled directly onto the territory of Azerbaijan.”

This is an important view of those close to the Kremlin and expresses Russia’s persistent disregard for international law. It is galling in the context of Russia’s membership in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, the group tasked with resolving the now not-so frozen conflict, and given Russia’s repeated assaults on the territorial integrity of its neighbors. This should raise international concern and calls for a diplomatic response from Washington and the other members of the Minsk Group. Given this caused a major destabilization in the South Caucasus, critical for Western Europe’s energy security, it is imperative to put Moscow on notice that the West is aware that the hostilities unleashed by Armenia could not have transpired without at least their tacit approval.

Compounding this, a serious escalation of the military conflict over Karabakh in April prompted Armenian nationalists to raise the specter of recognition in an attempt to unilaterally change its international status. Armenian deputies initiated a bill to recognize independence, and the country’s president indicated he recognizes the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the aftermath of hostilities, Yerevan set the stage for recognition of Karabakh as a possible scenario as a deterrent to further Azerbaijani military successes, but later seemingly in retreat and under international pressure, emphasized the negotiation process, and Armenia’s “hope for a peaceful settlement.” Meanwhile, Baku responded that recognition of the separatist regime would cause a new war. On May 3, a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry stated: “Recognition of the Armenian illegal regime established in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, will mean the end of the official Yerevan negotiation process within the OSCE Minsk Group. In this case, Armenia will no longer retain a mandate to negotiate within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. It will be a challenge to the international community.”

Azerbaijan will no longer hold any negotiations with Armenia over Karabakh if it dares to provide official recognition of its independence in defiance of the international community. In addition, Turkey’s government unequivocally supported Baku’s position.

Let us look at the hard facts and clarify the status of Nagorno-Karabakh as an illegally occupied territory by the Armenia-backed military forces. This territory has only been recognized by other illegitimate states that exist under Russia’s security umbrella, namely Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the Transnistria. This is a clear demonstration of Moscow’s involvement stirring trouble in this sensitive region.

The U.N. Security Council, U.N. General Assembly, the Council of Europe and other international organizations do not recognize the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. All these international bodies have repeatedly expressed support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. This position is enshrined in the relevant resolutions of the United Nations: Resolution 822 (April 30, 1993), Resolution 853 (July 29, 1993), Resolution 874 (Oct. 14, 1993), Resolution 884 (Nov. 12, 1993), U.N. Security Council Resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh; Statement of the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (OSCE, 17.03.2008); General Assembly adopts resolution reaffirming territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, demanding withdrawal of all Armenian forces (U.N., 14.03.2008). In addition, the U.N., NATO, EU, Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Organization for Democracy and Economic Development do not consider elections held there to be legitimate as Nagorno-Karabakh is illegitimately held territory.

In March 2008, the member states of the U.N. with 39 votes “pro” and seven “con” and 100 abstentions, adopted a resolution recognizing the existence of the Azerbaijani “occupied territories.” The U.N. resolution demands “an immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan.” Russia, the United States and France voted against the resolution. These three countries serve as co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group.

If the members of the trans-Atlantic community (the United States and France) continue their “muddle through” approach toward this “unfrozen” conflict, another war in the Caucasus is inevitable.

Alexander Murinson is a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center and Bar Ilan University.

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