Exacerbation in Karabakh
On Wednesday, August 3, in the Lachin region of Nagorno-Karabakh, through which the only road connecting Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) passes, a battle began with losses on both sides. The Armenian and Azerbaijani sides accused each other of provocations.
“Azerbaijani units, grossly violating the ceasefire regime, using mortars, grenade launchers and attack UAVs, fired at military positions and the place of permanent residence of one of the military units,” — announced in Stepanakert. Two Armenians died and 14 were injured.
Baku claims that the aggravation was provoked by the Armenians, who “on the morning of August 3 subjected to intensive shelling the positions of the Azerbaijani army in the Lachin direction.” Because of this, an Azerbaijani soldier died. In response to the death of its military, Baku announced a short and symbolic operation “Retribution”. “As a result, the heights of Girkhgiz were taken under control, as well as Sarybaba along the Karabakh ridge and a number of other important dominant heights,” — the Azerbaijani side said. NKR President Arayik Harutyunyan signed a decree on the beginning of partial mobilization in the unrecognized republic amid the escalation.
The next day, Russian peacekeepers issued a statement that the Azerbaijani side opened fire first. “Over the past 24 hours, four violations of the ceasefire regime were recorded in the areas of the Sarybaba and Buzduh mountains, as well as in the Mardakert region, by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces in the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent,” — according to the newsletter of the Russian contingent. The day before, in a report dated August 3, the Russians also recorded a violation of the ceasefire by the Azerbaijani side. And three more violations in the August 2 report.
In Yerevan, the actions of the peacekeepers were criticized. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Thursday that he expects Russian peacekeepers to stop any attempt to violate the line of contact. According to him, a number of events that have taken place in Nagorno-Karabakh since November 2020, including recent days, “raise questions in the Armenian society about the content and essence of the peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Azerbaijan's dissatisfaction with the fact that the Armenian side is in no hurry to build its section of the road around Lachin led to an escalation, a Russian diplomatic source told RBC. On the eve of the escalation, NKR President Arayik Harutyunyan also spoke about Baku demanding the construction of a road from the Armenian side. The Azerbaijanis, he said, conveyed their demand through Russian peacekeepers. Azerbaijan has already built its 32 kilometers bypass route (it bypasses Lachin and comes to the Armenian border south of the old road). The Armenian side needs to build only nine kilometers already on the territory of Armenia, a source in Moscow told RBC. However, the problem is not only in laying the roadway. Key communications also run along the old highway: a gas pipeline, power lines and an Internet cable.
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The day after the start of a new aggravation, Armenian Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure Gnel Sanosyan said that the road would be ready by next spring. Yerevan believes that the issue of laying a new route is not urgent. The terms of the tripartite declaration that stopped the war in November 2020 speak in favor of the Armenians. According to the sixth point of the statement, the route bypassing Lachin must be approved within three years after the end of the war, that is, before November 2023. Until then, the Lachin corridor will ensure the connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. After the construction of the new road, the Russian peacekeeping contingent should be redeployed, and Lachin should come under the full control of Azerbaijan.
Negotiations in Moscow
Azerbaijan is dissatisfied not only with the fact that Armenia is in no hurry to build a road bypassing Lachin. Since the end of the war, the parties have made virtually no progress towards a peaceful settlement. The status of Karabakh is still unclear, transport communications in the region have not been unfrozen, the delimitation of the new border between Armenia and Azerbaijan has not even begun. In addition, Baku demands the demilitarization of Nagorno-Karabakh, that is, “the complete withdrawal of Armenian troops from there and the disarmament of illegal Armenian armed formations.” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan denies Azerbaijan's accusations. “There is not a single Armenian soldier in Nagorno-Karabakh, no matter how Azerbaijan manipulates this topic,” — he declared on August 4.
Towards the end of August, a meeting of a trilateral working group (members of the vice-premiers) is planned in Moscow, which is just discussing the unfreezing of communications in the region, interlocutors from the Russian and Armenian sides told RBC. However, they note, the negotiations were in jeopardy due to the escalation in Karabakh. The construction of a road through the territory of Armenia, which will connect Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan, refers to the ninth point of the tripartite statement. “All economic and transport links in the region are being unblocked. The Republic of Armenia guarantees the security of transport communication between the western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic,— it says.
After more than a year and a half, the parties continue to discuss the customs regime and conditions for transit for Armenians and Azerbaijanis through each other's countries. At the same time, Yerevan has not yet submitted a feasibility study (feasibility study) of the project, and without this it is impossible to start construction, says RBC's interlocutor in Moscow. In Armenia, they insist that all security issues must first be resolved and the rules of passage must be determined, and only after that proceed with construction.
According to the interlocutor of RBC in Yerevan, then & mdash; in August or September— A meeting of the commission on delimitation, set up in May, is also planned. These two events can be held simultaneously, because the delimitation commissions of Armenia and Azerbaijan are headed by the same vice-premiers who supervise the negotiations in the trilateral working group,— Mher Grigoryan and Shahin Mustafayev. This will be her first working meeting since inception.
In addition to discussing the unfreezing of roads and delimitation, Yerevan and Baku continue at the highest level through intermediaries— Brussels and Moscow— negotiate a peace treaty. Moscow's proposal combines approaches from the basic principles that the countries presented in April. Yerevan and Baku agree 90% on the terms of the peace proposed by Moscow, the problem lies in the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, says a Russian diplomatic source.
Before the 2020 war, Yerevan always argued that the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic could not be within Azerbaijan. After the defeat, such statements were heard only from Stepanakert. Last week, Secretary of the Armenian Security Council Armen Grigoryan stated that the Karabakh problem is not a territorial issue, but a security and rights issue for the Armenians of Karabakh. In April, RBC reported that such a change in emphasis could also be interpreted as Yerevan's agreement to discuss the rights of Armenians in Karabakh, an autonomy within Azerbaijan.
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