The Caucasus expert Uwe Halbach considers the risk of renewed war between Armenia and Azerbaijan to be a realistic scenario.
taz: Mr. Halbach, How does the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict differ from other conflicts in the post-Soviet area, such as between South Ossetia and Georgia or in eastern Ukraine?
Uwe Halbach: Until the outbreak of the Ukrainian conflict in eastern Ukraine, in Donbass, all of these conflicts were described as frozen. Nagorno-Karabakh has shown that you cannot rely on it. The conflict flared up again and again, for example in April 2016. This is the case again now. There have also been shootings on the armistice line in between. Therefore the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict cannot be considered frozen. Another difference to other conflicts in the post-Soviet area is that the interests of the external powers are different.
How do you assess Russia’s role in this context?
Russia maintains a military base in Armenia and supplies arms to both sides. However, unlike Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Moscow is not directly present in Nagorno-Karabakh. In my opinion, the Kremlin is more neutral in this conflict. This can also be seen from the fact that during the recent escalation Russia has urged both sides to exercise restraint.
How do the other powers position themselves in the region?
Russia’s position in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not that far from the positions of the United States or other western actors like France. In other words, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is less geopolitical competition between Russia and the West than it is in Georgia or Ukraine.
With regard to Nagorno-Karabakh, it is the only external actor that has only taken a one-sided position. Ankara has clearly sided with Azerbaijan and declared that it wants to support Azerbaijan in the event of war.
71, is a Caucasus expert from the Research Group Eastern Europe and Eurasia at the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) in Berlin.
Where do you see prospects for a possible conflict resolution?
First of all, prevent worse things from happening. That means consistently asking the sides to exercise restraint and not to go to war. However, there is a real danger. However, there is still no sign of a political solution to the conflict. There are significant contrasts between the two sides. Azerbaijan makes the withdrawal of Armenian troops at least from the seven provinces around Nagorno-Karabakh a prerequisite for resolving the conflict. The Armenian side insists on security guarantees for Nagorno-Karabakh. But these are currently not available.
Azerbaijan is opposed to Nagorno-Karabakh also sitting at the negotiating table. Armenia in turn demands exactly that.
I can understand the Armenian demand. Because Nagorno-Karabakh is clearly a party to the conflict and therefore itself affected. Nagorno-Karabakh was also at the negotiating table until 1998. Then the region was excluded. The Minsk Group has not campaigned for this to change.