The new trends of Nagorno-Karabakh conflictThe current rivalry over disputed region Nagorno-Karabakh broke out on the eve of the collapse the Soviet Union. The conflict lasted several years, cost lives of more than 30,000 people from both sides while the territory was illegally occupied by Armenian forces who declared independence for the region. Although a ceasefire agreement was reached between the belligerent partiesin 1994, the conflict, not quite frozen for two decades, has been constantlyaccompanied by fire exchange. The deadly skirmishes erupted in August 2014 and caused serious human casualties on both sides.

Taking into account the sensitive situation in the region, it should be noted that there has always been a balance of power in Nagorno-Karabakh but asymmetric. The overall military balance has been shifting in favour of Azerbaijan since the 2000s. The country has used its oil wealth to purchase new weaponry (mostly Russian-made) in order to increase the capability of the army. Even though official Baku is undergoing serious economic problems and financial shortages accompanied by social unrest in several cities due to the decreasing oil prices, the military budget of Azerbaijan, according to official statements of the Ministry of Defence, estimates around 2 billion dollars, as of 2016.

Regarding Armenia, there is a superiority of strategic place d’armes which means the country is able to defend easily the occupied territories rather than carrying out a new counter operation. As a part of it, Russian presence in this country both militarily and politically can be seen as a way of maintaining the balance of power, as Armenian army faced serious problems of modernization in recent years due to its limited military budget and manpower. Another point that secures Armenia from a surprise attack of Azerbaijan is a joint air defence agreement between Yerevan and Moscow. The agreement obliges Moscow to be the core defender of Armenia from any possible attacks of Azerbaijan, though it must be mentioned that it cannot, despite the claims made by Yerevan, serve as a pretext for the Russian involvement into the Nagorno-Karabakh affair as the separatist region is recognized as the territory of Azerbaijan by the whole international community. But anyway, it is obvious that Baku and Yerevan would not, bearing in mind the current geopolitical standoff, go into an all-out war.

The war woke up in early April between the units of National Army of Azerbaijan and the Armenian army (while official Yerevan claimed it was the separatist regime in Nagorno-Karabakh versus Azerbaijan in the battlefield) with the involvement of sophisticated armoured vehicles, heavy artillery, and battle tanks. Reportedly Azerbaijani army units managed to advance further and liberate several strategic points across the city of Horadiz (Fizuli). The escalation of a new phase of the conflict arose many speculations as on the eve of new clashes, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan were attending the Nuclear Summit held in Washington D.C. Even though both leaders were supposed to hold an official meeting, they had no chance to shake hands.

In tandem, the passive role assumed by Russia, the main mediator in the conflict, strengthened the concerns of official Yerevan, as Russia is the major guarantor of Armenian sovereignty alongside with the Kremlin-oriented Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). But the blind reaction of the closest ally crashed the Armenia’s hope for the further de-escalation of the conflict. From a broader perspective, the Russian factor appears more complicated than “simply” a military alliance with Armenia. For a long time, Moscow has been exploiting protracted conflicts, be it Nagorno-Karabakh or South Ossetia, to maintain grounds for its military presence in the former Soviet Union territories, while these deployments prolong the protracted conflicts, generating a vicious cycle.

Seemingly official Baku supported by Turkey, Pakistan, Israel, Ukraine, Germany, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and other countries, intends to remind that Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not frozen, comparing to the other conflicts in the post-Soviet area.

The endless talks and meetings over Nagorno-Karabakh issue have not justified the hopes of both sides. Therefore, some would surmise that there is a lack of compromises between the conflict sides but in fact, there were numbered of suggestions such as a large autonomy for ethnic Armenians in Karabakh within the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan, non-buffer zones and some international guarantees, and so on. Yet it is not so easy to persuade both sides and overcome political obstacles for compromise. Azerbaijan which lost 20% of its territories definitely refuses to hand over Nagorno-Karabakh demanding a full withdrawal of Armenian troops and termination of separatist regime. Unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia sees itself as a victor of the first Karabakh war but does prefer to maintain the status-quo claiming for independence for the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan.

The potential political crisis between Ankara and Moscow would make the situation more precarious. Turkey supports Azerbaijani army by providing it with missile systems and military advisors. This fact further was highlighted as a “negative” development in the South Caucasus by the Kremlin-backed media, blaming Turkey for encouraging a new war in the region. Nevertheless, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would become a battlefield for a proxy war between Russia and the regional power Turkey. Apparently, the source of concern for Turkey is energy security issue, as Azerbaijan represents one of the main natural gas suppliers of Europe through the Turkish territory.

There is a common perception in Baku and Yerevan that the key to a solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh war is in the Kremlin. Since, the involvement of the West and the U.S in the conflict does not go beyond the frames of official statements. Despite the fact that the Nagorno-Karabakh resolution process formally is being patronized by the OSCE’s Minsk group, in practice, its status depends on Russia’s attitude.

To sum up, by the current muscle show official Baku may achieve to enter the new phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations in the light of the official visits of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Russian Prime Minister Medvedev. Thus, Baku is eager to fulfil its goals through rapid counter operations along so-called line of contact (LoA). Hence, the latest deadly clashes showed that no one fully controls the situation in the South Caucasus.