Analysis: Azerbaijan’s foiled four-day campaign brings Karabakh closer to recognition

As fragile truce reached in Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday after four days of fighting appears to hold, the parties to the conflict seem suspicious of each other yet, despite agreeing in principle to sit down at a negotiating table again.

The analysis of the four-day adventurous campaign of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Karabakh allows one to conclude that Stepanakert’s forcing Baku to agree to ceasefire may signify the beginning of serious negotiations and the signing of some document.

After the 1994 Russia-brokered ceasefire, there were no effective mechanisms to check the terms of the agreement in action as the document implied no sanctions against the party that breaks it. It, however, largely held until a few years ago when major violations began.

Before that, Azerbaijan appeared to be hoping that the international community would force Armenia to return the lands. It was this variant that was being discussed at negotiations. It implied an Armenian withdrawal from several districts outside the boundaries of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region and de-facto recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan within its Soviet-era borders.

However, at some point, Armenia, in fact, rejected the idea of returning the lands, and, although the so-called Madrid Principles continue to be the main basis of the talks, the question of territorial concessions appeared to have gradually gone into oblivion. At some point the demand to Aliyev was to recognize Karabakh within the borders that were established after 1994.

Now international pressure on Aliyev has increased: a fall in international oil prices, an unfriendly reception in Washington, as well as the publication of scandalous revelations about the offshore accounts of the Aliyev family in the international press are more evidence to this. Experts do not exclude that Aliyev went to war to capture at least some land and justify, before his own people, the upcoming recognition of Karabakh’s independence.

Did Aliyev manage to advance positions as compared to 1994? The Azerbaijani side says he did, but the Armenian military authorities insist that they recaptured the temporarily lost ground. President Serzh Sargsyan spoke about “200-300 meters of territory”. But perhaps it is these meters that will become an argument that Aliyev will present to his people, saying that he fought for Karabakh, but managed to defend only an inch of it.

Mediators now speak about a final settlement of the conflict and there are prerequisites for this – Azerbaijan has agreed a truce not with Armenia, but with Karabakh. CNN did an interview with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh as if indicating who the parties to the conflict are. In Armenia, the political leadership also spoke about formally recognizing the NKR’s independence.

Still, military experts suspect that Aliyev’s truce may be deceiving and that together with his elder brother, Turkey, he may be preparing something differing from recognition for the Armenian side. During these four days of clashes the Azerbaijani forces revealed their inhumane cruelty and the world can expect anything from them now. But the balance of forces still does not appear to favor Azerbaijan.