The published analysis also addresses the increased likelihood of a new military escalation in Karabakh, a consequence of the stalemate in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. At the same time, Stratfor experts believe that Iran’s direct involvement in the conflict is “unlikely”, even if Azerbaijan launches large-scale operations.
Recalling that the Azerbaijani army seized control of the Khankendi-Khalfali-Turshu road in Karabakh on March 25 and then captured new positions in Lachin towards the village of Tegh on the border with Armenia on the night of March 29, Stratfor describes these operations as “flare-ups” and considers them a response of Azerbaijan to the virtually stalled negotiation process. The lack of negotiations could prompt Azerbaijan to further demonstrate its leverage, including with force, which, according to Stratfor analysts, could eventually kickstart diplomatic progress.
Company experts view Baku’s proposal to set up a checkpoint at the beginning of the Lachin-Khankendi road as an adjustment of Azerbaijan’s position. According to them, at the moment, the opening of regional transit corridors and border demarcation are now largely matters of technical details, whereas disagreements over the future of the former Nagorno-Karabakh region are the main obstacle to a peace deal.
“So long as talks appear stalled, Azerbaijan will likely turn to small-scale violations of the cease-fire to seize tactically advantageous areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, or similar actions along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border,” the American analysts say. “Baku has used this strategy on multiple occasions since the cease-fire was signed in November 2020 to force diplomatic progress by simultaneously demonstrating and increasing its leverage.”
Still, Stratfor experts believe, it is unlikely that Azerbaijan will launch a large-scale military operation to seize the territory in Nagorno-Karabakh currently controlled by the Russian peacekeepers or in Zangezur, “as less costly methods can enable Baku to maintain progress toward its goals.”
At the same time the analysts acknowledge that each time Azerbaijani forces gain ground, it improves their tactical position, even if those territorial gains only move the de facto line of contact by a matter of meters.
“Such maneuvers also increase the Azerbaijani government’s negotiating leverage by making the threat of a large military operation more potent,” Stratford analysts are convinced. “Compared with large territorial seizures, this strategy enables Azerbaijan to continue gaining ground and increasing its leverage — all without the risk of triggering another full-blown war with Armenia, as well as international condemnation (and likely sanctions). Baku thus has little incentive to attempt a military operation to seize most or all of the remaining territory in Nagorno-Karabakh, and/or an operation to seize portions of southern Armenia.”
Moreover, according to them, Azerbaijan has little interest in unnecessarily jeopardizing a peace deal, which is likely to be largely in its favor.
“Despite Armenia’s efforts to flex its relations with countries including Russia, the United States, the European Union and even Turkey through the ongoing normalization processes, it is very unlikely that Yerevan will be able to secure any sort of foreign partnership capable of seriously undermining Azerbaijan’s leverage,” Stratford experts stress. “This means that Azerbaijan does not see a large-scale invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh or Armenia as a time-sensitive necessity, despite its public suggestions to the contrary.”
The Stratford article also examines Iran’s role in the region. It mentions that Tehran is against opening of Zangezur corridor, because from Tehran’s point of view, this could lead to Zangezur being handed over to Azerbaijan, cutting off Iran’s access to the Black Sea. For this reason Tehran stepped up threats against Azerbaijan, while ramping up diplomatic relations with Armenia.
Stratfor believes that Iran will also use “low-cost” methods of pressure and will continue to threaten Baku. But if Azerbaijan actually tries to take control of Zangezur, the probability of Iran’s direct involvement in the regional conflict remains highly unlikely, as it would endanger the Tehran regime by creating a risk of war with Türkiye.
Translated from Haqqin.az