The Karabakh War 2020 (archive) has drawn to an end with a complete Armenian military collapse only averted by a last-minute Russian intervention.
Considering the battlefield situation, what is essentially still a return to the Madrid Principles (if on conditions much less favorable to the Armenians than would have been the case otherwise) was by far not the worst outcome.
- The seven Azeri territories surrounding Karabakh are to progressively go back under direct Azeri jurisdiction, with the process set to be completed by December 1.
- The territories reoccupied by the Azeri military as of the ceasefire on midnight November 10, including the city of Shusha, which figures prominently in both nations’ imaginations, will also go back under direct Azeri jurisdiction.
- All Armenian troops are to leave Azeri territory, with 1,960 Russian peacekeepers to replace them.
- These Russian peacekeepers will guard the Lachin corridor from Armenia proper to what remains of its Karabakh exclave, as well as man observation posts on the contact line. They will be present there for an initial period of 5 years, which can subsequently be indefinitely extended in further increments of five years unless either of the two sides vetoes it six months in advance of the deadline.
- There will be a joint monitoring center staffed by Russians and Turks.
- Azeri IDPs have the right to resettle in all of these territories.
- A new road will be constructed within the Karabakh exclave to bypass the current one passing through Shusha, which reverts to direct Azeri control.
- There will be a new road constructed from Azerbaijan to its exclave of Nakhichevan.
- Both routes will be guarded by the Russian FSB Border Service.
There are several issues which are still awaiting resolution.
One of them is the final status of the Karabakh region within Azerbaijan. Arrogantly, though understandably, Aliyev denies that it will have any autonomy whatsoever: “I offered them autonomy but they insisted on independence. Hey Pashinyan, what about now? No words of it there!” On the other hand, with the area policed by Russian peacekeepers, its unclear how direct Azeri jurisdiction is to be restored in practice.
The second issue is whether the Turks will participate in the peacekeeping alongside the Russians. There have been mixed signals on that, with Aliyev claiming that they would be, while the Russian Foreign Minister has insisted otherwise. The most expected outcome is that Turkish participation will be limited to a joint ceasefire monitoring center, and that Turkish troops will not be involved in policing the Karabakh areas that remained under Armenian control alongside the Russians. If that holds, this represents a decided victory for Russian influence in the area.
Leaving these areas will certainly be painful for the Armenians, though it needs be borne in mind that the Caucasus is a brutal place and that the Armenians had in their turn displaced 700,000 Azeris during the 1992-94 war. Its an open question how many of their cultural objects and monuments will survive in the abandoned territories, considering the Azeri destruction of the medieval Armenian cemeteries in Julfa. Of greatest concern is the fate of the Dadivank monastery in Kelbajar, whose abbot Ovanes Hovhannisyan made a memetic splash early in the conflict posing with a cross and a rifle (see right). That said, in a recent welcome development, its handover to Azerbaijan is now claimed to no longer even be a foregone conclusion. In any case, the least that can be said is that a large-scale humanitarian crisis – the short-term expulsion of most of Artsakh’s 150,000 people – has, at least for now, been averted.
Considering the manifold political, diplomatic, and ultimately military mistakes committed by the Pashinyan administration over the past two years, this is as good (or “less bad”) an outcome as the Armenians could have reasonably hoped for after the fall of the “fortress city” of Shusha on November 7. Shusha occupies the high ground over the breakaway republics capital, Stepanakert, so its capture would have only been a week or two away (at best). No Russian diplomatic intervention, and the Armenians would have lost all of Karabakh, not to mention an additional 5,000-10,000 soldiers on top of the ~5,000 already dead. They would have been saddled with a major refugee crisis on top of that.
Not that the diaspora-Sorosoid types who put Pashinyan in power in the first place will ever say thank you. But with any luck they will soon be out of power in Armenia and discredited for a long time. Yerevan is beset with protests by a population that had been misled into thinking they were winning the past few weeks (denial of Azeri advances had become something of a Baghdad Bob-tier meme by the final days), with the HQs of “Radio Freedom” and Soros’ “Open Society Foundation” having been ransacked.
Overall, this represents a significant victory for Russia, with the negative PR from one of its client states losing territory outweighed by the ability to play a mediating role and increasing both Armenian and Azeri dependence on it. (Though perhaps not everybody will see it that way, the Ukrainians now being inspired by the partial success of Azerbaijan’s “Operation Storm” to renew their probing attacks on the LDNR). Turkey benefited by helping its civilizational ally achieve its long-sought military goals, and will presumably expect adequate recompense (e.g. Caspian oilfield concessions). Azerbaijan got back its “sacral” city of Shusha – an event they even made video games about – while incurring human losses similar to Armenia’s but spread over a significantly larger population. As a bonus, they even got a connection to their Nakhichevan exclave, something that would not have been forthcoming even in the event of a total conquest of Artsakh. Meanwhile, although Armenia obviously lost, the scope of its disaster could have been much greater.
Overall, the conflict is now “frozen” again, but in a more sustainable state than was the case hitherto.