Analysis: Azerbaijan pumps up tension on border to shift Karabakh issue from MG to UN

Analysis: Azerbaijan pumps up tension on border to shift Karabakh issue from MG to UN


Over the recent days the tensions on the line of contact of Armenian and Azeri armed forces have escalated drastically, and although the chronicle of all past years consists of reports on shootings on the border, never before has it reached this scale.

More and more often Western experts speak about the real threat of war. As experts at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute say “the deals and orders for acquisition of arms and armament by Armenia and Azerbaijan increase the chances for the resumption of active hostilities between the two countries over Nagorno Karabakh.”

And, as reported by Eurasianet, at a conference in Washington, D.C. Tuesday “regional expert Tom de Waal addressed the question of why international officials can't make more direct statements ‘naming and shaming’ whichever side started the violence. The problem, de Waal said, is that there's no way for them to know. There are 20,000 soldiers dug into trenches on each side of the line, and six monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Another stark statistic: since the beginning of 2011, 63 people have been killed in skirmishes between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Commenting on the results of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Baku and Yerevan, Sabina Freiser, director of European programs at the International Crisis Group, said in her interview to Turan that the Karabakh conflict might get out of hand.

“There is a real threat that the conflict will get out of control, and Armenia and Azerbaijan will start firing back as retaliation for each loss. As soon as it happens, it’ll become very difficult for the sides to step away from the brink of a precipice or win the war in a short time,” she stated.

The present escalation of tensions started in April when the Azeri armed forces opened a 30-minute non-stop fire at the border village of Dovekh in Tavush province, damaging the kindergarten, school and a shop. And between June 4 and 6 Azeri forces made several subversive raids or opened fire at border villages and, as a consequence, both sides have suffered losses.

Why is the sudden escalation of tension on the border? The thing is that since January 1 of this year Azerbaijan has assumed its non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council; the Azeri authorities have promised to use this status to transfer the Karabakh issue from the OSCE Minsk Group format to that of the United Nations.

Azeri politicians believe that if the UN, an organization that recognizes Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity within its soviet-drawn borders, takes up the Karabakh issue, the negotiation process might undergo a drastic shift.

The predictions are that peacekeeping forces of UN might be placed along the entire perimeter of the “internationally-recognized” Armenian-Azeri border, in which case Nagorno Karabakh would de facto be part of Azerbaijan.

Hence, Azerbaijan is highly interested in pumping up the situation on the border, so that it can blame MG of inability to control the situation and guarantee peace.

Obviously it’d be hard to choose better timing to demonstrate this point than Clinton’s regional visit. That’s why the recent uneasiness on the border “coincided” with the visit.

Azerbaijan keeps building its military potential with each passing year, and some twenty military industrial entities function in the country.

Recently it became know that Israel had supplied drones, anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems to Azerbaijan, valued at $1.6 billion

As for official Baku’s policy of military built-up of recent years, SIPRI experts state that “Armenia has a more limited circle of arms suppliers and is heavily dependent on Russia”; they also emphasize that Azerbaijan in this respect has an incomparably larger choice.

Nonetheless, Armenia isn’t just sitting back and doing nothing, it’s developing bilateral military cooperation with Russia as well as block cooperation within the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

“Over the past three years we have increased the level of our army equipment as much as we had done during all previous seventeen years since Armenia’s independence. We have imported to the Republic of Armenia essentially and qualitatively new armament, equipping our army with contemporary weaponry,” says Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan.

On the one hand, clearly Azerbaijan cannot be interested in war, as it would pose a threat to the oil and gas pipelines passing in close vicinity to the line of contact. They would be under the threat of destruction in which case Azerbaijan would lose its vitally important grounds for economic development and investments.

On the other hand, however, Azerbaijan’s political elite cannot keep forever promising its people to “return the occupied lands whatever it takes”, especially given that the opposition forming in that country is stronger than ever in the past several years and that the criticism against the current authorities takes more radical shape.