What do you make of the latest situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border? For a month we have been observing a tense situation, preceded by positive messages about getting closer to signing a peace treaty. But, as they say, something went wrong. What do you think it was exactly?
I think at this stage the Western countries, the United States and the European Union, which were trying to become effective mediators in the negotiations between Baku and Yerevan, have somewhat yielded their positions because the military junta in Karabakh was able to bring an absolutely Moscow-backed person to power. This seriously muddled the settlement prospects, and a completely new situation is now emerging. The reason was the fact that Western countries, the European Union and the US went along with the contrived issue of the so-called “blockade of the Armenian population” in Karabakh. There was a powerful information wave and political wave to portray Azerbaijan as the party “blocking the peaceful population” and “depriving it of humanitarian aid” and all other opportunities. This wave was raised, and on this wave the puppets managed to carry out the change of power in Khankendi. Now the entire geopolitical structure is changing: if earlier Armenia was the instrument of Russia’s presence in the South Caucasus (military base, mutual obligations, and so on), now that Armenia has taken a course to distance itself from Russia and integrate into the West, Moscow needed another hook, and Russian diplomacy expertly played the entire Western diplomacy in this matter by making a fuss about the non-existent “blockade”, the so-called “humanitarian crisis”, which never happened and is not happening in Karabakh. And amid this uproar, having replaced the “authorities”, Russia will try to secure its presence in the South Caucasus using the idea of “ethical cleansing”. This is what Putin explicitly said (quote): “Hopefully, ethnic cleansing will not be carried out in Azerbaijan.”
And now this phrase is a kind of “banner” of Russian presence in the South Caucasus. They have given up on Armenia, they let it be for now, and decided to secure their presence by talking about “ethnic cleansing” because of the alleged “potential threat”. I believe this is a significant miscalculation on the part of Western diplomacy, a failure of European and American diplomacy in the issue of settling the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russian diplomats have played them well.
This sounds disheartening, because if Russia today has a sort of carte blanche in Karabakh as a guarantor against “ethnic cleansing of Armenians” of Karabakh, doesn’t it mean that it will try to extend the duration of the presence of the “peacekeeping forces” as much as possible?
It is too soon to tell. The events unfolding in Karabakh are only an act of ongoing action, and we do not yet know what the overall outcome will be. But this round definitely goes to Russia.
Here is something I cannot understand: the Armenians showed videos from Khankendi as “facts of hunger and deprivation”, videos featuring rather well-fed children and no less well-fed adults shouting that they were “starving and dying”, that Khankendi was experiencing all but a “Holodomor”. How could the international community, which must have also seen these fake “facts”, fall for such a blatant lie?
And yet for some reason the West decided to play this game, and this game, as the current situation shows, was absolutely unwinnable. Its only result was a change of power in Khankendi. Will this reduce tensions? I doubt it. But this game has provided Russian diplomacy with a new potential instrument of presence.
Imagine that tomorrow another provocation is staged in Karabakh, which could spiral completely out of control. The Azerbaijani army could launch a military operation to eliminate the threats, and then Russia would say with a straight face that it is there to protect Karabakh Armenians from “imminent ethnic cleansing” on the part of Azerbaijan. While in fact there are no signs of “cleansing” and there can be none, the topic has already been introduced into the atmosphere of this process. And this is a significant oversight. Unfortunately, public opinion in the West was deliberately and very competently manipulated against Azerbaijan. Some of the blame for this lies on Azerbaijan’s domestic policy of the last three years. But the main miscalculation is on the conscience of those people in the United States and the European Union who made plans to settle the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. We are in an extremely unpleasant situation where we have to justify ourselves to external forces: “we do not want any ‘ethnic cleansing’, no, never, no way!”
Russia is one of the main instigators of the new round of escalation of the conflict in Karabakh, as our positions were fired on from the territory where the Russian “peacekeeping forces” are stationed.
The positions of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces were also targeted from the territory of the Republic of Armenia. And anyway, when you bring troops to the border, it only seems as if you are controlling the situation. In fact, you put the situation in the hands of the forces that need provocations and aggravation. It is even possible that not all of Armenia’s military units are controlled by Yerevan. It is quite possible that orders for certain actions are given from somewhere else. But we have lost only a round, not the whole battle. We can still turn things around. It is very depressing that public opinion in the West can be manipulated so maliciously, manipulated by those who shape policy with significant strategic errors.
Do you think Azerbaijan will try to upstage those who oppose peace?
There should be a clear goal: we will need to put more effort in the next round than we did in this one.
Russia’s aggressive behavior, confirmed by the sharp “barks” of Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, is perceived by Azerbaijani political analysts as nothing but retaliation for Azerbaijan’s recognition of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Yes, Maria Zakharova’s comment about Azerbaijan not recognizing the elections in Donbas, held literally a few days ago, was a “bark” indeed. And I think Russia sees Azerbaijan’s situation as mirroring its own in the issue of territorial integrity. But it would only be the case if Azerbaijan’s troops invaded the territory of Western Zangezur tomorrow, returned the population expelled from there and held a referendum and elections. I believe this is just diplomatic routine. The topic of “ethnic cleansing” thrown by Russia into the minds of the masses, on the other hand, is serious and extremely painful.
Baku insists on the use of the Aghdam-Khankendi route, but the Armenians are being stubborn. Moreover, they allow Russian cargoes in, while ignoring ours. Which once again shows that the “blockade” is a big brazen lie.
I cannot look into the heads of these illogical people, I have no X-ray vision that can do that. They have a “logic” of their own, most often irrational and unworkable. Azerbaijan offers a legitimate and correct perspective: the Lachin road should not replace or hinder the development of internal trade routes in the country. It should stimulate the development of trade routes, not discriminate against them. The demand for unconditional opening of the Lachin road is unacceptable, as it means only the following: lock all your other roads, they are not important for us, but the Lachin road should exist, which means that the Armenians of Karabakh will also exist. And everyone understands that Azerbaijan’s position is legitimate and fair. There are internal roads in the country, so why should anyone shut them down? And when we lock the border so that the force blocking the trade routes inside the country does not grow, we get complaints and accusations. Note that the West’s position shifted immediately after the change of power in Khankendi, and they started talking about opening both Lachin and Agdam roads at the same time.
What have we been saying? Have we not been saying the same thing? But Washington and Brussels came to this conclusion too late, when the power in Khankendi had already changed. They should have given it more thought earlier, when Azerbaijan presented this point of view. Why did they have to get to this idea through this wave of propaganda, through completely unfounded accusations against Azerbaijan? Unfortunately, the decision makers in European and American agencies have poor analytical skills.
Back to the issue of international political circles, I must ask you about the double game that France is playing. On the one hand, France has close economic cooperation with Azerbaijan, on the other hand, the mayor of Paris personally accompanies a humanitarian aid convoy to the “victims of the Armenian Holodomor” in Khankendi, and a new round of confrontation starts right after her visit. Do you think that in the light of this double game it is reasonable to expect either a reduction or a complete curtailment of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and France?
Let me put it this way: the mayor of Paris wants to run in the presidential elections after Macron, and she came to Karabakh as part of her election campaign. Let’s not overlook the fact that prior to her arrival Ilham Aliyev had a phone call from Emmanuel Macron. Moreover, the day after the mayor of Paris left Khankendi, Ilham Aliyev met with the CEO of the leading French oil company Total to discuss the expansion of its business in Azerbaijan. Yes, there is an internal political process in France, which has a resonance that affects the big picture in relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. But if the bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and France were in such a significant crisis, Ilham Aliyev would hardly have received the CEO of Total to discuss expansion of business.
The Presidents of Azerbaijan and France met and talked at the recent summit in Chisinau, and there was a lot of positivity in their interaction. Of course, on the one hand, there are some stakeholders in France with their own agenda and interests, as was the case with the visit of the mayor of Paris to Khankendi. In general, the background of Azerbaijan-France relations does not look particularly nice in the eyes of public opinion, but so far there is no significant material evidence that the relations between Azerbaijan and France are so bad that the diplomatic relations should be cut down or curtailed.
Translated from Minval.az